The Howard Dean Express

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, November 13, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: The notion that the Howard Dean (search) insurgency has now become the Howard Dean express has become so engrained now that even the late-night TV hosts are on it.


JAY LENO, HOST, THE TONIGHT SHOW: Democratic candidate General Wesley Clark said today he has a plan for catching Usama bin Laden (search). Usama bin Laden? He can't even catch Howard Dean. What are you talking about? Please.


HUME: So, is Howard Dean now unbeatable? For answers, we turn to University of Virginia Professor Larry Sabato, who's there with the university's Center for Politics. He is in Charlottesville.

Larry, what do you think? Unstoppable?

LARRY SABATO, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: No. Not unstoppable, but clearly the front-runner with a lot of momentum. Look, no one is unassailable at this point in a campaign. An awful lot can happen. I think Dean is right to warn that New Hampshire could become a lot closer. He doesn't have to worry about Kerry as much as he has to see worry about Dick Gephardt (search). Iowa's first.

HUME: Let me stop you for a second on that about that.


HUME: One of the things that struck me is that people keep saying that Dean may slip up. He may mess up and topple from his perch. Some of the things that Dean has said and done, struck me when I first heard about them as being, uh-oh, this is trouble in this atmosphere. You know, you gaffe police are out there; the press are going to be after him.

This Confederate flag thing, where he seemed to alienate everybody on all sides of the issue of the flag, African-Americans were not particularly appreciative of it. It didn't appear that many whites in the South thought it was a particularly complimentary thing for him to say about them. He's still hearing about it. And yet it doesn't seem to have made a particle of difference. What is that all about?

SABATO: That's all about the fact that Howard Dean is the one Democratic candidate this year who has been able to activate the Democrats who really turn out in the primaries and caucuses. His issue, which is fundamentally Iraq, and dislike of Bush, has struck a note that rings very, very deep. It goes to see the core of most Democrats. And so, they're willing to stick with him. They are going to stick with him through a lot of the gaffes that would have sunk other candidates like, say, John Kerry.

HUME: Now, let's turn to Gephardt. You noted that Gephardt is in good shape in Iowa. What if -- Iowa, we keep hearing and reading from various potentates are saying and various pundits are saying, well, you know, Iowa has not been decisive in a very long time. It is kind of overplayed, not since Jimmy Carter (search) and later George W. Bush (search) got a big boost out of Iowa -- I mean, George Bush, excuse me, the first, has it really mattered all that much? What about that?

SABATO: I disagree with that, mainly because this year, the front loading is just amazing. You've had a compression of all of the caucuses and primaries. So this year, after you get past the District of Columbia on January 13, which is a beauty contest primary, you go to Iowa. Iowa is the big contest that all the national media will be following. Just a week later is New Hampshire.

Suppose Gephardt, who is now once again the favorite or at least a slight favorite in Iowa, suppose he beats Dean. Dean is going to lose steam going into New Hampshire. That means not necessarily that John Kerry, the former favorite in New Hampshire will beat Dean. But it means that we could have a surprise with Gephardt. Or even somebody like John Edwards could come out of the back of the pack, having finished, say, third, in Iowa and give Dean a run for his money. So, this is a really weird schedule and you cannot predict precisely in advance.

HUME: You sound "Bear"ish on Kerry's recovery possibilities. How come?

SABATO: I am very "Bear"ish on Kerry. You know, his campaign has imploded; whether they want to admit it or not. I saw where Senator Kerry today said he was doing fantastically. If this is doing fantastically, I'd hate to see his campaign doing poorly.

HUME: What went wrong?

SABATO: You know, his campaign manager was fired. He had other people on the campaign quit. There's an old saying in politics, if you can't run your own campaign, you certainly can't run the government. And unfortunately for John Kerry, he has proven that old saw accurate.

HUME: He is an attractive man, handsome, career in the Senate of some distinction, experience in foreign affairs, was a legitimate war hero, what went wrong with this campaign?

SABATO: The first thing that went wrong was he voted for the Iraq War. And then instead of really sticking with his vote, he's tried to qualify it and explain it away. And frankly, he's alienated both sides.

HUME: Now, we talked -- the last time we talked on this program, you suggested that things were going badly for Joe Lieberman and you didn't see any way he could recover. We were just looking yesterday at a poll in Delaware, which is a -- comes right after -- I guess it comes a week after, what, New Hampshire. Not a big deal. But you know, New Hampshire is not a big state, either. He seems to be leading in Delaware. Is there any chance, in your view, that he could make a kind of recovery along the way here, somewhere and get himself back into the hunt?

SABATO: Anything is possible in politics. But I would put him at the bottom of the top five running for president right now. I just think he is too conservative for the Democratic activists who are angry at Bush, and who are going to vote in the primaries and caucuses. And that is the whole general sis of the Dean candidacy.

HUME: Now if -- if you were right about Dean and the force of his appeal coming from the fact that he was unalterably opposed to the Iraq War, Kerry has trimmed on it, Gephardt has not done that. He voted for the resolution, has been critical of the president, but he hasn't sounded like Kerry. Is it possible in this season, in your view, for that issue to be - - for Democrats that have shown their love for Dean so far, to overlook that issue and support Gephardt?

SABATO: It's possible, only if Dean is weakened seriously. And I still put Gephardt in it; because frankly, he is the one candidate I've seen who's gotten perceptively better on the campaign trail during the past year. And he's still got a lot of labor support, despite the labor unions that have recently endorsed Howard Dean. So, you can't rule Gephardt out. But Dean is absolutely the favorite. I'd say a 2-1 favorite right now.

HUME: All right. That's the way I'll bet, Larry. Thanks very much. Always a pleasure to have you.

SABATO: Thank you, Brit.

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