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updated 3/19/2012 12:59:54 PM ET 2012-03-19T16:59:54

Guests: John Heilemann, David Corn, Tyler Mathisen, Atia
Abawi, Lilly Ledbetter, Allyson Schwartz, Joan Walsh, John Feehery

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Republicans rumble in Chicago.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
My kind of town, Chicago is. And the rest of Illinois, too. That`s the
tune Rick Santorum hopes to be singing after next Tuesday`s Illinois
primary. The Obama team might also like to see this GOP race drag on, in
fact, all the way to Tampa. So they could well be rooting for Santorum to
nail another hole (ph) in Mitt Romney`s deflated case of inevitability.

Also, the war on women. To Republicans, it`s a Democratic fiction.
To Democrats, it`s the season narrative. But catch this, the tie-breaker.
Arizona Republicans are about to pass a bill that actually allows employers
to require women getting reimbursed for birth control to prove they don`t
plan to use them for birth control. Get it? We`ll try to.

Plus, Republicans say the price of gas would come down if only we`d
"Drill, baby, drill." Democrats say we`re already drilling and the price
keeps going up. Who`s right?

And as if things couldn`t get worse in Afghanistan, President Karzai
wants U.S. troops confined to barracks by next year. And hue`s now
questioning whether only one American was involved in that terrible
massacre. Is there any way out of this mess over there?

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with the long family secret of ours of who my
mother voted for back in 1960 in the Kennedy-Nixon race. It`s a big St.
Patrick`s Day story.

We begin with the fight for Illinois. John Heilemann writes for "New
York" magazine -- that`s "New York" magazine -- and David Corn writes for
"Mother Jones." Both are MSNBC political analyst of the highest order.

Let`s look at the latest polling. It`s not the greatest poll. All we
got is this one, poll taken Wednesday, two days ago, of likely Republican
voters in Illinois, shows Romney on top with 37, Santorum at 31, Gingrich
way down there at 14, and Paul at 8.

Let me go right now to you, John Heilemann. This pick (ph) -- is this
a chance for greatness for Santorum to actually win a really big state?

JOHN HEILEMANN, "NEW YORK," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it`s
certainly a chance for greatness, Chris. You know, the state, Illinois,
has not had a competitive primary in decades on the Republican presidential
side.

And it is very much a state that is geographically divided between the
north and South. You`ve got these Republican -- suburban Republican
counties around Chicago and suburbs that are pretty moderate and should be
Romney country. And then downstate Illinois, very conservative, much more
like the South than like anything around Chicago, and that`s good hunting
ground for Santorum.

Gingrich has more or less abandoned the field there and is headed down
-- he made a quick stop there, I think, today or yesterday, and now is
headed basically to camp out in Louisiana. So that 14 percent that
Gingrich has may erode considerably, and it may erode to Santorum`s
advantage.

It would be a huge win for Santorum if he can pick up Illinois after
coming in so close in Michigan and Ohio, winning in the industrial Midwest.
It would be a big blow to Romney psychologically and it would give Santorum
huge bragging rights going forward.

MATTHEWS: Well, I love this idea because nothing has -- has impressed
me as much as the pictures I`ve seen in movies -- I`ve never been there --
of the beautiful Chicago suburbs. I keep thinking of that wonderful movie
with the gorgeous, I must say, Elisabeth Shue, "Adventures in Babysitting."

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Those people look to me like perfect Romney voters, well
off, well turned out, well educated Republicans who are probably good on
the fiscal issues because they love to save the taxpayers` money on poor
people`s programs, but are pro-choice and all the other good things on the
social issues.

Romney country, right, John?

HEILEMANN: Yes. Yes. Sorry, I thought you were talk to go David
Corn.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... we`re talking about a lot of rich Republicans.

HEILEMANN: Absolutely. Look, Chicago suburbs -- I went to college at
Northwestern University, so I know those suburbs pretty well. It`s very --
they`re very well off. They are -- they are culturally, socially and
politically well aligned to Romney. But as I say, downstate, it`s very
conservative and there are big numbers of Republicans down south. You go
around down around Peoria, and it`s a lot more like Nashville than it is
like Chicago.

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You know,
it`s...

MATTHEWS: What about northwest side, the ethnic people, all those
Polish people and all the other Catholics there? Are they going to go with
Santorum?

CORN: Well, they well could on, you know, cultural conservative
issues. I mean, you were talking about sort of John Hughes territory...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CORN: ... if you think of, you know, the movies, "Home Alone"...

MATTHEWS: OK...

CORN: ... and things like that. If I was the Mitt Romney campaign...

MATTHEWS: Was that the Chicago suburbs, too?

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: OK.

CORN: If I were -- if I were -- if I were in the Mitt -- in the Mitt
Romney camp and I saw poll numbers like that, 36 -- 37-31, a 6-point
spread, I`d be damn scared because Rick Santorum continues to outperform
his polling numbers.

And I think there`s a good reason why. It`s the intensity gap. If on
Tuesday, you look out the window and it looks like it just maybe a chance
of rain, the Romney voters are going to say, Oh, I don`t think so. But the
Santorum voters will say, Oh, biblical rain? This makes sense! I`m going
to the polls!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I love it! Well, let me -- let`s take a look at -- here`s
Mitt Romney, his ad in Illinois. This is the killjoy of all time. It`s
what we`ve been watching now, the most desultory aspect of this campaign, a
big word for really something really petty, the absolutely negative ads
being run over and over again by Mitt Romney, usually by his offshore
operation, this Restore Our Future super-PAC, but this one run by his
actual campaign with his name on it.

Just take a look at the new Mitt Romney campaign ad running in
Illinois that goes after Rick Santorum.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who can turn around the economy and defeat Barack
Obama? Not Rick Santorum. Santorum`s real weakness is the economy. He`s
never run a business or a state. His plan? Economic illiteracy.
Inexcusable. The worst idea of any GOP candidate. Rick Santorum, another
economic lightweight. Mitt Romney, ready to lead the nation to a new era
with the boldest GOP agenda since Reagan.

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m Mitt
Romney, and I approved this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That is the most downbeat, grim ad. It`s dark in color,
dark in mood, dark in music. And only at the end does it say anything even
slightly upbeat.

John, that is the despicable kind of politics I hate. It drives down
voter participation. It runs people out of politics. Who wants to join a
business described like that? Who wants to be a young person in their 30s
and run for politics if that`s the crap you got to put up with? John
Heilemann.

HEILEMANN: It is certainly not inspiring. But as you know, Chris,
the Romney campaign has been very successful running negative campaigns
throughout this primary season, and they do it very well. And they`ve been
successfully doing it.

When they poured -- they had big financial advantages and poured a lot
of negative ads on the air, whether it`s through the campaign itself, or
more -- usually more...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HEILEMANN: ... moreso through the super-PAC, it`s worked for them in
the past. I talked to John Brabender last night, Rick Santorum`s chief
strategist, and was saying, you know, We have got to stay focused on the
economy in Illinois. Santorum wants to talk an economic message to rebut
those kind of ads. He`s had a hard time being disciplined enough to stay
on the economy. We`re going to see...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HEILEMANN: ... over the course of the next three or four days whether
he does.

MATTHEWS: And also, does he get any free media. Let`s take a look at
this, David. Here`s the pro-Santorum super-PAC, Red, White and Blue Fund.
It`s up in Illinois right now. It`s got an ad on Romney, another negative
in the other direction. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Meet the real Mitt Romney, supported the Wall
Street bail-out, putting America trillions in debt, raised job-killing
taxes and fees by $700 million, leaving Massachusetts over a billion in
debt, his health care takeover, the blueprint for "Obama care." Mitt
Romney, more debt and taxes, less jobs, more of the same.

Rick Santorum, a bold plan for the middle class, create dynamic jobs
and cut wasteful spending. Rick Santorum for president!

Red White and Blue Fund is responsible for the content of this ad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I don`t know.

CORN: I saw -- I saw it the other day, and it reminded me of "The
Wizard of Oz." It`s all black and white until you get to Rick Santorum,
and then it bursts into color, Chris!

(LAUGHTER)

CORN: You know, and it`s like -- it`s the polar opposite of the
Romney ad.

MATTHEWS: Except it seems a little more fact, point by point, not
just derogatory.

CORN: But can you imagine if Mitt Romney should happen to lose on
Tuesday just how darker the ads will be. You know, the desperation just
keeps mounting. You know, he says the math is inevitable, but the
desperation keeps mounting. You know, he says the math is inevitable, but
the desperation keeps mounting on the Romney -- on the Romney side.

MATTHEWS: You know what I have -- I want you first on this, John,
then you, David. I have a sense there`s four or five maybe men, a couple
women, I don`t know how it works out gender-wise -- not important -- four
or five smart sort of market analysts, what do you call -- data miners.

They sit somewhere in Massachusetts, somewhere near Boston or Belmont,
and they`re working for Romney. And they`re thinking, OK, coming up?
What`s coming up now? Oh, we got Louisiana. How much ad can we
(INAUDIBLE) how much money have we got to put into negative TV advertising
just to kill this guy, whoever that guy happens to be? Now it`s Santorum.
And just spend just enough, not a nickel more than necessary, like Joe
Kennedy use to say about his son, I`m not paying for a landslide, son.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: It is so -- it`s so business-y. Is that what`s going on,
John Heilemann?

HEILEMANN: Yes, it`s a very precise campaign, Chris, and it`s a very
data-driven campaign. Mitt Romney`s a data-driven guy. The people around
him are data-driven people. And they have -- you know, they are -- and
there`s a reason for it, at least when it comes to the ad spending.

This is a campaign that was supposed to be -- one of its great
advantages was going to be its financial advantage. And it has spent a ton
of money and a lot more money than it ever expected to have to spend on
this Republican nomination fight.

And they are -- they still believe they are going to be the nominee,
that Mitt Romney`s going to be the nominee. They are trying to conserve
resources because, eventually, they`re going to have to go against Barack
Obama.

So there`s -- there`s a reason for them to be careful to try to spend
no more than they need to. But yes, they are a very, very careful,
methodical and spread-sheet-driven operation.

MATTHEWS: Does anybody like Mitt Romney more because of the $100
million he spent already, whatever?

CORN: Of course not. What the problem is -- they`re trying to sell a
Northeastern moderate Republican governor to a Republican primary base that
has gone so right, it`s almost off the cliff.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CORN: And so they`ve had to spend a lot of money rebranding,
repackaging Mitt Romney, and it`s caused an issue because there`s the
authenticity gap here.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CORN: And they`re going to keep doing this. They -- John is right.
Just the way David Plouffe was good with metrics, they`re good with
metrics, but in a sort of a different way. They`re selling something that
the base doesn`t want, and they`re trying to cram it down its throat by all
these ads, and mainly by attack ads.

MATTHEWS: I`m sorry. I was inspired by Barack Obama, as everybody
knows, dramatically so. I don`t know anybody inspired by Romney, right,
left or center.

CORN: What`s the -- what`s the...

MATTHEWS: Nobody`s inspired by...

CORN: What is the Romney message?

MATTHEWS: And I do believe this country`s a presidential country.
And if you don`t have some kind of inspiration at the top, the country`s
not led. And I see nothing from Romney in terms of positive. I see a lot
of smart business here, and he is a man of business.

Anyway, thank you, Heilemann. Have a nice weekend, John Heilemann...

HEILEMANN: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: ... up in New York. And David Corn, thank you so much, my
buddy.

Coming up: Republicans insist there`s no war on women. Of course,
they don`t see it that way. The Democrats do. And this is hot, hot
politics, gender politics.

And then why are Republicans, by the way, out in Arizona about to pass
a bill that would require women trying to get reimbursed for birth control
to prove that they`re taking it for medical reasons not to do with birth
control? This is strange, and we`re going to try to explain it. And this
doesn`t help the Republicans, but it`s ahead.

And you`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Earlier in the week, of course, actor George Clooney was
here on HARDBALL, telling us about the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan
at the hands of the Sudanese.

Well, this morning, Clooney was arrested for trespassing in an act of
civil disobedience -- there it is -- at the Sudanese embassy here in
Washington. Clooney, his father, activist John Prendergast and NAACP
president Ben Jealous were among those protesting Sudan blocking
humanitarian aid to the people of South Sudan.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... and a landmark law so that a woman that does
the same job as a man can get the same pay.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will make sure that
our daughters have the same rights, the same chances and the same freedoms
to pursue their dreams as our sons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. Welcome back to HARDBALL. That excerpt is from a new
17-minute Obama campaign video. It`s a feature, by the way, that message,
of the president`s stump speech these days. He makes clear that the first
piece of legislation he signed as president of the United States was a law
that benefits women.

At a time when women`s access to health care is being challenged in
Washington, D.C., here and in numerous state legislatures around the
country, it`s a powerful message and very hot politically.

Lilly Ledbetter, the great -- there you are -- has fought for women`s
rights, the right to equal pay. And she didn`t stop until it was law, the
Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. She tells her story in her book, "Grace and
Grit."

And we`re also fortunate tonight to have U.S. Congresswoman Allyson
Schwartz of Pennsylvania, from where I grew up, one of the nine states with
legislation pending that would -- it`s not her fault, by the way. This is
in the state legislature. She`s a national legislator -- that would have
women take -- have to have ultrasound before an abortion. Welcome to you
both.

I don`t know where to start, but let`s start in Pennsylvania. There
are two measures. Let me go with Congresswoman Schwartz. Try to explain
to us -- I know you`re opposed to it. I can assume you are.

But why are the Republicans in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, diddling
around with this kind of stuff, ultrasound requirements in an age, what, 40
years after Roe v Wade? And isn`t this just another undue burden, another
way to stop or to punish -- or what -- people having chosen to have an
abortion?

REP. ALLYSON SCHWARTZ (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, I can`t speak to
motivation of the legislators who are pushing for this in Harrisburg or the
governor, who is supporting it, and really was pretty offensive when he
said, Look, you know, women can just look the other way when this invasive
procedure, an unnecessary one at that, is being done to them. It`s pretty
insensitive and outrageous.

And all you can say is that they`re ignoring the real concerns that
women and men have, which is access to health care, access to women`s
health services that includes pap smears and mammograms and full
gynecological examinations, and yes, contraception.

And it`s pretty off the charts in terms of what, really, most men and
women in this country are thinking about, which is, I want access to health
care that I need.

And honestly, we`re really interested in the economy and jobs -- and
thank you, Lilly Ledbetter, for stepping up -- and the concerns that so
many of us have. We ought to be meeting those challenges. And instead,
we`re seeing legislation that is, you know, just time and time again
hammering on ways that they can make it much harder for women to access the
health services they need.

MATTHEWS: Well, hold on, Lilly Ledbetter, because the congresswoman
has brought up something. We have to get a right response. Here in his
own words is the governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, on this issue.

Let me just explain the setup here. Here he is explaining his defense
of this requirement in this new piece of legislation and a state law that
would require that women be -- be forced, basically, to look at a screen of
a sonogram, I guess, in effect, an ultrasound, before they choose to have
an abortion as part of the procedure. Here he is explaining what he thinks
about that requirement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. TOM CORBETT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Wouldn`t change it, as long as
it`s not obtrusive. But I`m -- we`re still waiting to see.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) I mean, making them watch and (INAUDIBLE) does
that go too far, in your mind?

CORBETT: I don`t know how you can make anybody watch, OK, because you
just have to close your eyes. But as long as it`s on exterior, not
interior.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Lilly Ledbetter, I want you to get into this
generally. I know you`re not an expert on this, but here is a case of
where the Republican Party, for whatever reason, is pushing very hard here
to, I think, make having an abortion, which is also certainly not a joyful
experience for anybody -- to make it even less so and make it something --
I would think, putting a burden on a woman, forcing her to have to go
through a new procedure on top of the ones she`s already going through.

What do you think`s going on here? You`ve been in all these --
through all these fights. You`re a pioneer.

LILLY LEDBETTER, ACTIVIST AND AUTHOR: Well, I`ll tell you, Chris,
you`ve hit the nail on the head. This is a war on women. And women across
this nation, I hope, are waking up and listening to what`s being said by
the Republican Party.

And this is too much control over the women`s lives and to (ph) say
that they have in their life because this is not right in this country.
And I`ll date myself. I go way back. I remember when Roe versus Wade was
passed into law. I remember young women who needed abortion and could not
get one. They would have to use other means, go out of the country because
no medical doctor or facility would do them before Roe vs. Wade, and no
matter what the reason.

And this is a war on women. And now we can`t get our birth control
medication insured and get payment for it without having to prove all these
things? This is not right. This is not right.

MATTHEWS: Well, I have to go back to Congresswoman Schwartz.

This is politics: Try to divine the other side here. You`re out
there defending the rights of women to their own decision making, which
makes perfect sense to most people. On the other side, there seems to be
people culturally or whatever from their own moral perspective or whatever
getting very aggressive here.

And these issues I thought were settled. Certainly, I have not heard
a sermon in my own religion against birth control since the 1950s,
seriously. As a churchgoing person, I have never heard it even within my
cultural world and my religious world. To bring it into the public square,
to bring it into the legal world, to fight it there, it just seems to be
very aggressive for people. My thought.

Your thought.

SCHWARTZ: You know that you have seen men and women across this
country support access to contraception. They do. And they use
contraception or they don`t. That`s their personal decision.

But the fact is that it is a part of women`s health care, and men
support it as well. So from a political perspective, I have to say, I
understand there are people who -- it is a very difficult issue for some
people, and people feel very strongly about it, but religious freedom in
this country really means that our government doesn`t make those religious
decisions of you or moral decisions for you, and offers opportunity for
women to get the health services they need.

And this is a conversation that I thought we have had years ago, that
we would be -- have access to important women`s medical care, and it would
be done in a safe and legal way. And so, really, this is really an
interesting political decision on the part of the Republicans to take this
on time and time again.

On the federal level we have seen -- we almost shut down the
government over trying to not fund Planned Parenthood and family planning
services.

MATTHEWS: I know.

SCHWARTZ: We have seen obviously recent legislation to try and make
sure contraception is not part of standard insurance packages, which it is
now in this country. So you`re right. Some of this felt that it was
settled.

They`re bringing up issues that feel very extreme, very right-wing,
and it`s a very narrow agenda, again, when all of us, many of us, and most
Americans want us to be tackling improved access to health services for all
Americans, making sure we tackle the issues around the economy. Just it is
hard to understand. And it is losing women`s votes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It`s great to have you represent my own area, where I grew
up. Thank you.

SCHWARTZ: Absolutely. Always good to be with you.

MATTHEWS: Where I had my old paper route.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: The 58th Ward, it`s great to have you up there with those
people.

Let me ask you, Lilly Ledbetter, who you really are the most famous
person to come on this show in a long time, what do you think politically
is going on in the Republican Party? Why do they take up the cause against
-- as you see it, against women as a gender? What is it in their culture
that makes them keep going to the ramparts in these war against women`s
rights?

LEDBETTER: Evidently, they don`t recognize women for what they`re
worth and their value.

And, two, it sort of distracts from the campaign right now what really
is important, and it is just like what the senator said. We need jobs in
this country. We need to put women back to work. We need to get our women
for our family`s sake paid equally to what the men are paid. And we have
got to focus on our American families to get this country built back up to
where we were at one time, being number one around the world.

And we`re losing it with our family issue, with women having to work
two jobs, maybe two-and-a-half, working on a weekend, to make ends meet,
and still can`t, and have to have help from their families.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

LEDBETTER: Another thing I learned traveling this country, Chris, is
that the older women in this country make up the largest group of seniors.

And we, most of us, are widows, and we -- some are having to move into
their children`s homes, and this is not right. This is a hardship in this
country on the American family. And it`s just a fundamental right that our
families can get these health care services covered, that we can be paid
equally for our work, because it is a fundamental American right.

MATTHEWS: Well, thank you so much. It is an honor having you on,
Lilly Ledbetter.

My daughter, by the way, she works at Google now. She`s a college
grad from Penn. And if she ever found out that one of the guys working at
her level was making more money, I wouldn`t want to be between her and the
boss.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Lilly Ledbetter.

LEDBETTER: Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Allyson Schwartz, Congresswoman, thank you so much from
Pennsylvania.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`m watching your career, by the way, all the time,
watching how well you`re doing on Ways and Means.

SCHWARTZ: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And perhaps something greater soon -- up next -- at some
point.

Up next: Mitt Romney`s dogged once again -- dogged once again by that
old story about the dog, the Irish setter up on the roof of his car. It
ain`t going away, Governor. Check out the "Sideshow."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Here we are, back again, back to the "Sideshow."

First up, the joyride continues. Yesterday, we had some fun with that
infamous, notorious story of Mitt Romney strapping his dog, fair enough, in
a kennel to the top of his car for that long road trip to Canada, and that
will just continue to dog him, if you will, on the campaign trail.

An article by Bob Shrum, our friend here, suggests who has got the
role of Romney`s dog in the 2012 presidential race -- quote -- from Frum`s
column -- "Republican voters are now the political equivalent of Mitt
Romney`s famously abused dog, Seamus. Mitt has put voters on the roof of
his car, and he is driving for the nomination, whether they like it or not.
More accurately, he is sputtering toward the nomination as the roof-bound
electorate periodically poops on his parade."

There`s a graphic picture for you. Great picture words there, Bob.
Thank you for that.

Up next, on the offensive, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President
Obama`s ex-chief of staff, just delivered a dig at Mitt Romney. Remember
Romney`s reaction to Rush Limbaugh calling a Georgetown University student
a slut for supporting employer-covered contraception? Remember that?
Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will just say that it`s
not the language I would have used. I am focusing on the issues that I
think are significant in the country today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, here is Rahm, the mayor of Chicago, in his signature
attack mode.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAHM EMANUEL (D), MAYOR OF CHICAGO: I`m not going to give advice to
the Republicans. (OFF-MIKE) They will make whatever decision they want to
make.

But if just you take a look at the fortitude, the strength, the
determination and the vision the president made on the auto industry and
juxtapose it to Mitt Romney, who doesn`t have the fortitude, the strength
or character, mind you, to stand up to Rush Limbaugh. If you can`t stand
up to Rush, how are you going to stand up to Russia?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. Romney hit the Chicago suburbs to campaign for next
week`s primary out there.

And finally, just kidding? Talk about a campaign snafu. When the
Republican and Democratic parties in Monroe County, Iowa, held their
conventions last weekend, not everything went without a hitch.

Here`s a hint. Both conventions were held in the same building.
Enter GOP candidate Dan Dolan, who arrived after multiple events to speak
at the Republican Convention. According to the candidate -- quote -- "My
staffer runs up and says, `Hey, Dan Dolan is here. Can he speak?` So they
stopped everything, and I get up there, and give my speech. I get it done.
A guy raises his hand and says, `I think you want to talk to the
Republicans.`"

That`s right. The Republican hopeful, Dan boy there, was speaking to
a room full of Democrats. Well, that`s the stuff of nightmares. Ask about
it later -- asked about it later, Dolan said he is "not sure how many votes
I won in that room that day."

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, it happens.

Up next: Republicans want to drill their way to lower gas prices,
something experts say isn`t possible. President Obama is vulnerable to the
charge, well, the problem of rising gas prices in this country. What
options does the president have? Well, that`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TYLER MATHISEN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon. I`m Tyler
Mathisen with your CNBC "Market Wrap."

The Dow ends down 20, but logs its best weekly gain since September.
That ought to tell you how strong stocks have been lately. The S&P is up
1.5 and the Nasdaq was done by one. As for the economy, February consumer
prices posted their biggest gain in 10 months as gas prices rose. The
higher fuel costs also dented consumer sentiment, which unexpectedly fell
in early March. And Research In Motion surged about 7 percent on talk that
Samsung may be -- may make an investment in the firm.

That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to
HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

High gas prices are making it painful to fill up your gas tank these
days. The national average, by the way, for a gallon of gas, this is for
regular, has jumped 30 cents, 31 cents in the last month, to $3.82, again,
for regular. Obviously, high test is much higher, up over $4 now.

What is the Republican plan to lower the price? Drill, baby drill, of
course. You hear it a lot. Here was Mitt Romney`s rendition of it on FOX
News last night. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are a lot of people
really suffering, having tough times right now because of these gas prices.
And I can cut through the baloney in the task force, and just tell them,
Mr. President, open up drilling in the Gulf, open up drilling in ANWR, open
up drilling in Outer Continental Shelf, drill in North Dakota, drill in
Oklahoma and Texas.

Let`s start getting our oil resources. The president is looking for
someone to blame and he ought to look in the mirror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, there`s only one problem with this. It`s not really
true. Oil prices are set on a global market basis, of course, and the U.S.
makes up a small portion total production.

In other words, you pump it here, it is on the world market two
seconds later. Nevertheless, the Republicans think they have found a
winning political argument here, and they may well have. President Obama
could find himself feeling the pain if prices continue to soar. Of course,
we all know the facts, politically.

Joan Walsh is an MSNBC political analyst and editor at large of Salon.
And John Feehery is a Republican strategist.

So, let me start with the problem here.

Joan Walsh, you start. You`re a strong arguer for -- in even
difficult cases. I believe that there`s a gasoline price that could defeat
any president any time. I don`t know whether it`s six bucks a gallon,
seven bucks a gallon. There is a point that the public will just say I
don`t care what the reason is, I`m blaming you because you`re the only guy
I can blame.

Is that the politics, pure and simple, of gas prices?

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SALON.COM: You know, I think it could
be, Chris. I don`t know that we`re going to get to that number, but
Republicans probably hope that we do. That seems to be their strategy.

You know, unemployment is coming down. Consumer confidence is going
up. The Republican Party is off on a crazy jihad against contraception and
around privacy issues that they`re going to regret. And this is the one
thing that they do have. Prices are going up, and it is painful for
middle-class people to fill the tank.

So, you know, they`re playing politics with this. But, at the same
time, we also can see very clearly that production, domestic oil and gas
production is at an all-time high. It has increased 50 percent since 2006.
Now, in that same period, you have seen the price of gas go up since 2006,
pretty steadily.

So, really, there`s not a whole lot of connection between our domestic
drilling and production and the price of gas at the pump. As you say, it
is a global phenomenon, we are in a global market. India, China,
developing nations are competing, want the same -- want the same gasoline.

And so there`s not a whole lot a president can do. People don`t want
to hear that necessarily, but it is the truth.

MATTHEWS: John, is it a global market for gas? In other words, if we
pump gas here, we go find a new Eureka, a new Titusville, Pennsylvania, the
minute that gas gets above ground and you have the -- it blows up there,
all of a sudden, it`s on the world market, the Chinese can buy it as fast
as we can?

Why does all this drill, baby, drill thing have any relevance to the
price we pay at the pump, if it is a global price?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, obviously, it is a global
price. And with supply and demands, you have that -- those market forces
working.

The problem for the president is he is very vulnerable when it comes
to gas prices. His energy secretary is quoted as saying, I am for
increasing energy prices. Now, he`s recanted that lately, but he`s on
record saying that.

The president has said he`s not going to do Keystone, which is a key
thing. The big question for me is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: How would Keystone reduce the price?

FEEHERY: When does the president cave on Keystone?

The fact is, is, he is politically vulnerable on this because this is
about long-term price -- this is about long-term price stability.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I think you have got a good case. It is difficult for the
incumbent to ever defend high gas prices.

FEEHERY: Right.

MATTHEWS: We all know that. I have seen what happened to Jerry Ford.
I saw what happened to Jimmy Carter when I was working there.

Here is the question. Keystone, it`s a good argument. You may be
right. Here is Keystone gone down through the country. People like Robert
Redford, Daryl Hannah opposing it.

The average Joe six-pack don`t care damn about that.

But there`s the question, I understand the gas goes to Texas, into
the refineries and then goes to China.

WALSH: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: That stuff is going overseas.

Let me get Joan get in there. Joan, get in there.

WALSH: Yes, it is.

MATTHEWS: But I think it`s relevant to this argument. Go ahead.

WALSH: If you talk, you know, have Representative Ed Markey on your
show, Chris, he`s talked about this a lot. He even had the CEO of Trans-
Canada in a hearing and said to him, hey ,how about making sure some of
that gas, if we get go ahead on this, how about making sure some of that
product gets sold here. He said no.

The point is, it`s a tax free zone. They get to sell it to Asia,
mostly to China. It`s not about the domestic market.

The other argument they have, jobs, it will create a few thousand
temporary construction jobs.

Neither argument, neither jobs nor gas prices works for Keystone.

MATTHEWS: Let me go -- I know the politics, we know the politics.
Higher the gas price, worse off the president is. I understand that.
Everybody knows that.

But when I talk to the guy I go to for money advice, investment
advice, I said, why is the price of gas going up? And he tells me it is
fear over possible war in Iran.

FEEHERY: No question.

MATTHEWS: That everybody, just like you hoard, people hear a flood
is coming, they go out and buy bottled water. When they hear that`s
something is coming, you go buy what you`re afraid you`re going to need.
And you won`t be on the market.

So, everybody is hoarding, everybody is grabbing oil around the
world, buying futures or whatever, because we`re afraid. And, by the way,
I watched the president, as we all did, and I think he notched it up with
Cameron. I think we notched it up with the -- he said the outlook for
avoiding a war with Iran is shrinking, the possibility for avoiding it.
Well, that`s the end. Well, maybe it`s B.S. talk, maybe it`s power talk to
the other side.

But isn`t that the reason gas prices are up? Threat of war with
Iran.

FEEHERY: Of course. It`s one of the reasons. There`s plenty of
reasons gas prices are up. It is a very complicated argument.

What voters see, they see that Barack Obama is the president and gas
prices are going up and you know what? They blame him. And you know what?
They always blame the president.

MATTHEWS: OK. I think we got a nice circle of agreement. It`s not
the president`s fault.

FEEHERY: That`s not what I said.

MATTHEWS: What did you say?

FEEHERY: I said that he`s going to get blamed for it. And somehow,
Keystone thing is going to be blame for him. Steven Chu said we`ve got
increased energy prices, he`s the energy secretary. That can be used. And
the fact of the matter is, he`s going to --

MATTHEWS: What can the president do to reduce gas prices, right now?

FEEHERY: Well, allow for more production.

MATTHEWS: That would lower the gas prices?

FEEHERY: He can say yes to Keystone.

MATTHEWS: Joan, is that right?

WALSH: No. You know what? That`s not right. John knows it`s not
right.

MATTHEWS: Keystone is going to China. Go ahead.

WALSH: Keystone oil goes to China. If we drilled every single
square inch underwater, on land that we currently don`t drill on, it might
create half a million gallons a day. That`s a lot. That`s a lot. But
that would be in 2030.

And analysts say it might bring down the price per gallon by three or
four cents, which is not nothing, but we`re talking about in 2030. So it
does nothing. It does absolutely nothing.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s let Mitt Romney make the case. He blamed the
president, the one you`re making --

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: -- for high gas prices. But in earlier interview on FOX
News, he conceded the price of oil was not ultimately in the hands of the
president. Let`s listen to your guy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No one can guarantee what
the price of oil is going to be. But what we can do is take advantage of
what we know we have, which is abundant energy resources in this country.
The president has lots of places to point his finger, and, of course, we
alone don`t set world energy prices, but we can affect whether we send
billions of dollars out of our country to people who don`t like us very
much, and we can determine whether we have effect on direction of those
energy prices by having abundant supplies here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: OK, what did he say there?

FEEHERY: Romney is right.

MATTHEWS: He said you can`t affect the price, all you can affect is
whether we buy from the Arabs or we buy from us.

FEEHERY: He is right about that. I mean, the market place --

MATTHEWS: But you can`t affect the price. You want to play it
again?

FEEHERY: Well, you know, you`ll have policies, long term policies
that impact the price. If you have hostility towards the oil industry like
Barack Obama does, it`s going to increase prices.

MATTHEWS: How does that work?

FEEHERY: He wants to increase taxes on them. He wants to make it
harder to produce energy here, and that`s what`s going to happen. And
prices are going to go up because of policies of President Obama.

MATTHEWS: Well, I thought you would make a strong argument, John
Feehery. It`s good to have you.

WALSH: See, there`s no argument to make.

MATTHEWS: Can we agree on one thing, got the snakes out of Ireland.
I went to that holy -- the cathedral at St. Patrick`s in New York, he`s
still a legitimate saint. He hasn`t been taken off the list. He`s back
on, he is real, OK? He`s not a legend.

Your tie is definitely for real, my friend. Next time somebody says
you`re overdoing it, I punch them in the mouth.

Anyway, somebody always says you`re overdoing it a little.

Anyway, thank you, Joan Walsh. They say that to you: do what you
have to do.

WALSH: Happy St. Patrick`s Day, Chris.

MATTHEWS: They always, you`re overdoing it a little bit, aren`t you,
Joany (ph)? Anyway, thank you, over do it. Thank you, John Feehery.

Up next, Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he is at the end of his
rope after that horrific massacre by the American soldier over there.
We`re going to get a front lines report from Afghanistan for the weekend.
You`ve got to get this. As Americans, we`ve got to know this.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, it looks like Utah Senator Orrin Hatch may well
survive the primary challenge he is facing. After all, Republican
caucusgoers elected 4,000 state delegates last night in Utah. And those
delegates will gather next month to vote on the party`s nomination. An
early and anecdotal reports of more than 2,000 caucus sites last night
suggest Hatch won the majority of delegates, an encouraging sign for the
six-term senator.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

And it`s been nearly a week now since an American soldier went on a
killing rampage, murdering 16 Afghan villagers over there in Afghanistan,
including nine young children. The suspect, an Army sergeant, has been
transferred back to the United States, living behind a country enraged
about the massacre.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai slammed the U.S. over its probe of
the shooting today, saying he was at the end of the rope over the U.S.`s
alleged lack of cooperation, as he put it.

Well, joining me now to talk about the situation over there on the
ground in Afghanistan is NBC correspondent Atia Abawi. She is in Kabul.

Atia, I guess it`s a wide-open field for you tonight for a few
minutes. What is going on? Do they really believe there was more than one
shooter? Is this something that`s going to continue as an issue, or what?

ATIA ABAWI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Chris. They actually
do believe there was more than one shooter. Right now -- today, actually,
there were family members of the victims who made their way to Kabul,
including a man who lost nine family members in that Sunday massacre,
crying to President Karzai and crying for justice.

As President Karzai was listening to them, he was paying attention to
what they had to say, but he also paid attention to this Afghan delegation
that he sent down to Kandahar to investigate what went on, a delegation
that included two of President Karzai`s brothers. They came back saying
that they do believe that there was a possibility that there was more than
one shooter, even after U.S. officials showed them surveillance video from
a security blimp in the area with one U.S. service member coming back to
the base and surrendering.

But hearing from the Afghans, hearing them cry makes President Karzai
believe them. And right now, he`s not hearing much from the Americans that
he wants to hear from, such as President Obama.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the larger question. In the
wake of this tragedy, which everyone recognizes is horrific and something
has got to be done about it. This idea that he`s going to now ask our
soldiers over there to basically head to the bases, to their barracks, and
basically just be there in reserve. In other words, sort of withdraw from
visibility.

Is that what it`s about, getting us out of exchanges and interaction
with the people? Is that what he`s trying to do, Karzai, or just to punish
us?

ABAWI: It`s not clear exactly what he`s trying to do to be honest
with you. But if the U.S. and NATO forces do come out of those villages,
this goes completely against the counterinsurgency strategy, the COIN
strategy that was implemented in 2009. And the whole purpose of the COIN
strategy was to have U.S. and NATO forces in these villages, interacting
with these Afghans, trying to win their hearts and minds.

Right now, what it seems is if President Karzai pulls these soldiers
and marines out of these areas, it`s as if to say, you`re not going to win
the hearts and minds. You`ve already lost the hearts and minds of the
Afghan people. But more so, he`s saying that he doesn`t believe in the
mission. And that`s what people are getting from it.

But we should also say that Leon Panetta, secretary of defense who
was here the last couple of days, he had an exclusive interview with an
Afghan TV station here and himself said that beyond 2014, they want to
implement and continue with the counterterrorism strategy, which is kind of
what President Karzai is kind of pointing at, by staying in the main bases
and just going out on big operations or when the Afghan people ask them for
help.

So, it`s not necessarily going against what the Americans are aiming
to achieve in the coming years.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Thank you so much for that report. It seems like
what we`re getting towards is what Vice President Joe Biden recommended, a
counterterrorism strategy rather than a counterinsurgency strategy. We`re
just going to get there a bit sooner.

Thank you so much. Take care of yourself over there. What a battle
site, what an assignment you`re on -- Atia Abawi in Afghanistan for NBC
News.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with the revelation in my family of
the 52-year-old secret. It`s the perfect gift for me -- in fact, other
members of my family for St. Patrick`s Day.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

My brother, Jim, who is a Republican politician in Pennsylvania, gave
me the greatest St. Patrick`s Day gift the other day. He told me how my
mom voted in the 1960 presidential election, a family secret for a half
century.

As some of you know, I grew up in a Republican family and since we
were Catholic back then, we`re always been Catholic, that presented
something of a conflict. When I asked my dad whom he intended to vote for,
he said Nixon without hesitation. Aren`t we Catholic, I pushed him?
Shouldn`t we be for Kennedy? "I`m a Republican," he insisted.

It was his simple, all-explaining answer. A Catholic convert with a
mother from Northern Ireland and a father from England, dad didn`t feel the
tribal pull the way the all Irish side of the family did. So my mother
born Mary Teresa Shields, Irish to the core, daughter of the Shields,
Conroys and Clenmans (ph) all the way back to Donegal, is the person of
interest this night before St. Patrick`s Day.

I could tell she was keeping her sympathies to herself back then, as
if to make less trouble in the house.

Well, this week, my beloved brother Jim broke the family secret. He
told me that while watching President Kennedy on television one day back in
1961, out of nowhere, quote, "Mom blurted out, `Don`t tell your father,
he`d kill me, but I voted for him,`" meaning Kennedy.

Well, Kennedy`s election, to those too young to realize it, was a
huge, historic event for the Irish and Catholics and real way for Jewish
people and other minorities in this country. Jack Kennedy had broken the
door down to the American presidency, changing things, showing that the
country was changing itself, that opportunities were opening for all right
up to the very top. It was more than just getting through that door
himself.

As my son Michael pointed out just the other day, in one year, Jack
Kennedy`s election turned a segregationist party, the Democrats, who had
segregationists all through the party, into a civil rights party. It was
Kennedy who used his presidency to breakdown the barriers to racial
equality in this country. It was Kennedy who took federal troops into
action to end discrimination, who went on national television on June of
1963 to say, "It ought to be possible for every American to enjoy the
privileges of being an American," who introduced -- Kennedy introduced the
historic civil rights bill himself.

Well, it`s something to recall tomorrow on St. Patrick`s Day, that it
was an Irish American who did these great things and is a matter of great
family pride that my mom, my mom, had the nerve to quietly break with my
father`s old-school ways and walk into that voting booth and make her mark
for the blood.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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