This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," February 2, 2008.
PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: Up next on the "Journal Editorial Report" — Super Tuesday showdown. As voters coast to coast get set to head to the polls, can a big ad blitz by Mitt Romney slow John McCain's momentum? Can some high profile endorsements help Barack Obama close the gap with Hillary Clinton? Plus, the electability issue — no matter who is on top after Tuesday, which Republican and which Democrat will make the strongest general election candidate? Our panel will weigh in after the headlines.
GIGOT: Welcome to this special edition of the "Journal Editorial Report," our Super Tuesday preview. I'm Paul Gigot.
With nearly half of the states holding nominating contests this Tuesday, the remaining presidential candidates are kicking their campaigns into over driver. First, to the Republican race where Mitt Romney is mounting a last-ditch ad blitz against John McCain in delegate-rich California and other key states.
Joining the panel, "Wall Street Journal" columnist and editor Dan Henninger, Senior editorial page writer Colin Levy and opinionjournal.com columnist John Fund. We also pleased to have a special guest, Democratic strategist Dan Gerstein.
Dan Henninger, the Romney camp argues McCain so far has won his primaries with moderate and liberal Republicans. Not conservatives. He lost every primary, he's lost the conservatives. So if Romney can get the conservatives on Super Tuesday, he is going to win that a plausible strategy?
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST AND EDITOR: It is a plausible strategy. But let's talk about reality. Romney threw resources a lot of resources into Iowa and New Hampshire and he came up short. Told me that there was something was fundamentally wrong with the Romney candidacy. He just didn't quite have it.
If you look at the exit polls out of Florida, it is true Mitt Romney got the people who describe themselves as very conservative. But he did not make much in road with moderate conservatives or Independents.
GIGOT: An exit poll said he won that vote 37 — among self-described conservative 37 to 29. A win, but not a big win.
HENNINGER: Not a big win. He is really over on the right. And McCain beat him by 5.5 point in New Hampshire and 5 points in Florida.
I think Mitt Romney's problem is not that McCain is wiping him out. He is just not even with McCain. McCain is 5 points better than he is because he cannot pull votes from the center. You have to do that in this election.
GIGOT: Colin, as long as Mike Huckabee is in the race pulling conservative voters, particularly on the social issues, it makes it harder for Romney to consolidate that party electorate.
COLIN LEVY, SENIOR EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: I think that's true. Mitt Romney's been making the point for awhile that when Republicans act like Democrats the whole party is weakened by that. I think the thin McCain is doing now — there is this momentum behind him. And you have a situation where he is getting the endorsements so there is a perception that — with Schwarzenegger and Giuliani and everybody lining up behind McCain, this is part of his appeal. But obviously, with a conservative backlash building up, there is the potential for that to go wrong.
GIGOT: Dan Gerstein, Colin made the point about the Republican establishment. John McCain, the former maverick, being endorsed now by every — seems to be every Republican office holder in the United States. What does that tell about the nature of the race and where it stands?
DAN GERSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There's the whole classic cliche about Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line. The Republicans postponed the line fall and it reflected so much of the disdain that conservatives have for John McCain.
But they are seeing Mitt Romney is a fundamentally flawed candidate. He has a huge character problem that makes him unelectable in a general election.
GIGOT: This is the authenticity?
GERSTEIN: He is Captain Camellia. He has changed his colors on not just small issues but fundamental life, death issues, going from one extreme to the other. John McCain has expertly called attention to that. Pounded on it. Iraq is a great example.
To me, in this campaign, Iraq has been a character issue for McCain as much as it has been national security. When he hit Romney in the debate for flip flopping on a timetable he was saying was, this guy, you can't trust him. Not just to be commander in chief, but every responsibility of a president.