This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, Jan. 2, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIAN WILSON, GUEST-HOST: As we first reported, the first votes of the 2004 presidential election will be cast in little more than two weeks in the Iowa caucuses. And on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time, FNC will air the Iowa Democratic Presidential Debate sponsored by the Des Moines Register. And joining us from Des Moines is The Register's political director, David Yepsen.

David, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

DAVID YEPSEN, DES MOINES REGISTER: Happy New Year, Brian.

WILSON: Happy New Year to you. You know, I'm going to throw up this Pew poll that we've been talking about. There are no real, current polls, but this one is pretty characteristic of all the polls that have been done in recent days. Shows Dean with 29 percent, Gephardt with 21 percent, Kerry with 18 percent, Edwards with 5 percent. Is that pretty much the way you think it's going to come down or can Gephardt take Howard Dean in the last days?

YEPSEN: Oh, I think it is entirely possible for Dick Gephardt to take Howard Dean. One, as you point out, that poll was taken some time ago, prior to the capture of Saddam Hussein (search). And I think some of Dean's momentum has certainly flattened out as a result of that.

He is also coming under withering attacks, not just from Dick Gephardt, as Major Garrett pointed out. But certainly, John Kerry and some of the others have pointed out. And so with a lot of undecided Democrats out here, or even people who have preferences, saying they're willing to at least rethink this. These candidates -- this thing is not over with by a long shot.

The other thing just to note about that poll, Brian, I mean I was struck by how close John Kerry was to see Dick Gephardt for second place.

WILSON: Yes.

YEPSEN: Now, we need to keep an eye on that because if John Kerry should beat Dick Gephardt for second place, that would have a huge bounce for Kerry in New Hampshire, where he's in a close fight with Wesley Clark, as you just pointed out.

WILSON: There has been some talk that perhaps Gephardt's people would be able to persuade some of the other candidates to support him in Iowa; if for no other reason to keep Howard Dean kind of out of the limelight. Do you pick up anything on that?

YEPSEN: You hear that talk among strategists and political reporters. But as practical matter, it is hard to pull off. I mean here you are on caucus night; you have got hundreds of people packed in a hall. And you show up there for John Kerry and somebody is telling you, no, you really have to be for Dick Gephardt. As a practical matter, that just isn't how it works.

WILSON: You know, in American politics, when you talk about the country at large, they say that people don't really focus until the last few days sometimes on what's going on. Is it different in Iowa? Do they start looking ahead of time?

YEPSEN: It's different to this extent. Active -- caucus activists -- I mean, I call a lot of them are professional undecideds. They make a virtue out of hanging loose, of waiting to see all developments in the campaign. We've got three debates, yet to go. These activists understand that developments happen, the capture of Saddam Hussein, for example. Some candidate may go to Miami with his girlfriend.

There are events that happen in campaigns that can change the outcome of them, and these activists, they want to see all the episodes play out before they to go in and make a decision. So it is not a sign of weakness. It is just a sign of some pretty, tough Democratic activists out here wanting to pick a bin winner.

WILSON: To put it another way, you think that these polls we're seeing are pretty squishy. These numbers are not hard and solid?

YEPSEN: Absolutely. And here is another reason. They may be missing a lot of Howard Dean, a younger activist ...

And they may be missing a lot of the labor unions people who are being generated to come out for Dick Gephardt. So we have to be very careful of using the polls as predictors, a good picture of what's going on...

WILSON: We apparently are having some kind of audio difficulty from our remote location at the Des Moines Register. We apologize. We're going to take a commercial break, see if we can get it straightened out. We'll be back in just a minute. Stay with us, everyone.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILSON: I want to pick up our conversation with David -- I'm sorry, Mr. Yepsen. Let's talk, very quickly. Dean supporters who are they? What is his base of support there?

YEPSEN: Well, his base here is the same as it is elsewhere, a lot of younger people, a lot of new people, got a lot of energy, true believers behind their candidate. Not a real record of going to caucuses, but certainly very committed to this candidate.

WILSON: All right. And your sense of the first question that will probably be asked in the debate this coming Sunday, a very important debate?

YEPSEN: Everybody expects it to be about Saddam.

WILSON: Really? About what Howard Dean has said about Saddam?

YEPSEN: Well, absolutely. The whole issue of the capture of Saddam Hussein and what it means. I mean that has been the big development in this campaign since the last debate.

WILSON: OK. So, tell me what you think is going to happen with the Gephardt and Kerry because those are the No. 2 and the No. 3 guys? And everybody seems to think they're sharpening their attacks. Sometimes that has a negative impact with the voters. The voters don't like that.

YEPSEN: That's really true, Brian, particularly with a lot of these activists. I mean it's a very -- Kerry and Gephardt are walking a very fine line here. They have got to slow Howard Dean down. And a lot of undecided Democrats, you know, they're not with Howard Dean yet. And so it is good to be raising questions about him.

But at the same time, you don't want to savage the man in such a way that it becomes difficult for him to be an effective, Democratic candidate in the fall. So Gephardt and Kerry have to walk a fine line because, as you say, a lot of activists out here get turned off by a lot of these negative attacks and that sort of thing. So it is a fine line that Kerry and Gephardt will have to walk here.

WILSON: Iowa is such farm country. I wouldn't think that Dean sells very well out there. But apparently he does.

YEPSEN: Well, remember. We're not talking about farmers here. You know, this is a state of 2.9 million people. Maybe 120,000 people will show up on caucus night. Only a few thousand of them will actually be farmers, people who till the soil.

WILSON: All right. David Yepsen, sorry for all the confusion earlier. Appreciate you being here.

YEPSEN: Thank you.

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