MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
He calls himself a reliable conservative. And, this week, this former governor of Wisconsin and former secretary of health and educationhealth and human services announced he is running for president.
Tommy Thompson joins us now from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Governor, I want you to think about the most successful Republican administration in recent history. Thats the Reagan administration. How will you uniquely fill that legacy?
TOMMY THOMPSON ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think there are several reasons.
As you know, Ronald Reagan tried welfare reform in the state of California. I was able to pass welfare reform, and became the father of welfare reform. President Reagan tried to do something in educational choice. I was able to pass the first private school choice in America.
President Reagan tried to veto several pieces of legislation in California. I vetoed over 1,900 pieces while I was governor. And I also am an individual that is able to get along with people on both sides of the aisle, as you know, Chris. And that was also the legacy of Ronald Reagan.
He was able to sit down with Tip ONeill, be able to talk about things, and selland tell an Irish story. And they really enjoyed each other. Then they could go and argue over policy. But he was able to develop a friendship.
And I have been able to do the same thing throughout my whole life, especially since I was governor with the Democrats in the Congress and in the legislature.
MATTHEWS: Why do we elect governors, rather than senators, traditionally?
THOMPSON: Becausebecause governors know how tohow to execute.
Governors know how to govern.
You know, I put together a budget in the state of Wisconsin for 15 straight years. And I also put together the largest budget in the federal government. A lot of people think its the Department of Defense, and the Pentagon, but, basically, the Department of Health and Human Services has got a larger budget, except for the war in Iraq, over $600 billion. And I put together that budget four years in a row.
So, people really rely upon people that know how to govern, know how to put together budgets. And thats why governors, I think, are individuals that people have more confidence in and more trust in.
MATTHEWS: Speaking of the Irish, the latest betting in Ireland, which is the only place you can bet on American elections right nowII check it almost every week...
MATTHEWS: ... has the Democrats with an advantage, generically, in other words, not knowing who their candidates are going to be. The Democrats have an advantage of about 56 percent.
Why do think you can offset that sort of historic edge for the Democrats this time around? It is sort of their turn coming up. How can you offset that trend?
THOMPSON: Well, I think the only way that a Republican can win in 2008 is carry the Upper Midwestern states, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. And I think I am by far the strongest candidate to carry those four states. And I dont think...
MATTHEWS: You can beat Hillary inyou know, youre speaking my language. I agree with you. That is the vulnerability of a Hillary campaign.
THOMPSON: That is right.
MATTHEWS: Michigan, Ohio, those states in the industrial Midwest, theyre sort ofwell, I think they are macho states. They are gun owner states. They may not like people like Hillary.
But you tell it your way. Why would you do better up there than Hillary?
THOMPSON: Well, I think there is no question about it, because you just got done saying it.
These are states that are progressive, but they are also states that look forward to making sure that people rely upon each other, have a strong work ethics. That is why welfare reform was so favorably received in this particular area. That is why private school choicesthats why people like the fact that we talk about fiscal conservatism. I just think the values, the ethics, the work ethics are the kinds of things that II represent in the Upper Midwest. And I think...
MATTHEWS: Is Hillary Clinton vulnerable on the Second Amendment?
THOMPSON: I think she is. I think most Democrats are, but especially Hillary. I think the Second Amendment are individuals that really believe in gun rights. And those individuals usually will vote for Republicans, especially somebody like myself, that is a hunter.
MATTHEWS: And Hillary is not a hunter?
THOMPSON: I dont think so, but Im not sure.
MATTHEWS: But you said she is especially vulnerable on the Second Amendment. How so?
THOMPSON: Well, I think most gun owners are quite suspicious ofof Democrats in general, as far as being gun owners. And they are also very suspicious, I think, of Mrs. Clinton.
And that is a problem I think she is going to have to overcome, if she is going to get elected president of the United States. But I think people in the Upper MidwestI ride a motorcycle. I hunt. I fish. That are the kind of values and the kind of things...
THOMPSON: ... that people, you know, really relate to.
MATTHEWS: I think you are on to something up there. Well, you know that area better than I do. I just sense it up there.
Anyway, thank you very much, Governor Tommy Thompson, running for president...
THOMPSON: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: ... running for the Republican nomination.