FNC Post-Debate Analysis

Published January 23, 2004

| FoxNews.com

This is a transcript of Fox News Channe's post-New Hampshire debate analysis, which aired Jan. 22, 2004.

BRIT HUME, HOST: That concludes Fox News Channel's portion of this debate. Up next, reaction and analysis from Washington, anchored by Chris Wallace — Chris.

CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: Good. Thanks.

Like all of you, we've been sitting here watching the Democratic debate. And I'm joined about our Fox All-stars: Fred Barnes, executive editor of "The Weekly Standard"; and Mort Kondracke, executive editor of "Roll Call."

Gentlemen, it seems that in the aftermath of what seems to have been a backlash in Iowa against negative campaigning, that these candidates took it very seriously. There was an extreme reluctance to say a contrary word about each other, which perhaps made for a less than scintillating debate.

But, Fred, what stood out for you?

FRED BARNES, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think that's right. The candidates didn't engage, despite efforts by Brit and Peter Jennings and others to get them to engage each other. They didn't.

I like them this way. I mean, there's always a winner in a debate. And the winner is the frontrunner in the race, as long as he or she doesn't do something to knock himself — and in this case, it's John Kerry — off the perch. And I don't think Kerry did.

I think he did fine. He's still the frontrunner.

I thought Lieberman was very strong in defending the pro-war position. Very, very strong. We saw him right at the end. Edwards was very forceful, John Edwards, but he didn't know what the Defense of Marriage Act, how it works. He got that wrong.

WALLACE: Or the intricacies of the practices of Islam, either.

BARNES: Exactly. I don't fault him for that. I don't think anybody could have answered that question very well, any of these candidates.

Howard Dean, I'd say, was forth — he was kind of subdued. And maybe that was understandable after what happened last Monday.

Kucinich was — well, we've heard all that stuff. It's the same stuff he says in every debate.

Sharpton didn't seem to know what the Federal Reserve — and I said I would put in last place General Wesley Clark, particularly for not repudiating that statement by Michael Moore when endorsing Clark last weekend, and saying President Bush is a deserter. It seemed to me all Clark had to say was, "I don't degree with that. I'm sorry he said it."

WALLACE: Mort, I'm going to ask you about that. It was the one place where my reporter's antenna went up. And I thought, "This is news."

You know, it reminded me of when Howard Dean in December sort of raised the theory of — that President Bush had been warned in advance about 9/11. Said it's an interesting theory, didn't say he believed it but didn't knock it out either.

What did you think of what Wes Clark said?

MORTON KONDRACKE, EDITOR, "ROLL CALL": Yes, well, I agree with Fred that Clark should have distanced himself from it. He said that Michael Moore was not the only one who had pursued that theory, thereby indicating that he might, that he, Clark, might give it some credence.

There is a distinction, I think, with the Dean matter with — on the Diane Reeves (ph) show. Dean brought it up himself. He volunteered that a theory going around is that the Saudis might have warned us in advance of 9/11.

In this case it was a questioner who sort of threw it in his lap and he had to deal with it. And I'll grant you that he boggled it. He didn't handle it well. But it's not as though he brought it out of nowhere and said that Bush was a deserter and underscored it himself.

WALLACE: But let me ask you: to the degree that one of Wes Clark's jobs tonight was to show that he is up to being a president, that he is, if not a professional politician, he's professional. Doesn't that raise questions of perhaps being a little amateur?

KONDRACKE: He is not facile with questions of that kind, especially when there's a conspiracy involved, you know? He always sort of leans toward it. I mean, he sips the Kool-Aid, no matter what Kool-Aid is around, and I think, you know, what he should have done is thrown the cup away.

WALLACE: All right. We're going to come back and talk a little bit more, but when we return our own campaign Carl Cameron will join us from New Hampshire.

You're watching Fox News, your source for fair and balanced news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: Carl Cameron is someone we rarely see here in Washington these days. He's too busy out on the campaign trail, traveling with the candidates.

Our chief political correspondent joins us now from Spin Alley, where the candidates and their advisers tell the world how each of them blew away the competition tonight.

Carl, welcome. Good to have you here.

CARL CAMERON, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Chris.

I've got to tell you: I'm glad to be on the campaign trail and not in Washington, whether it's primary season or not.

But I tell you, there were a bunch of sort of big questions about what would happen tonight. Would there be a pivotal moment that might shake up the race? Would there be a defining moment for any one of these candidates?

First of all, John Kerry, the frontrunner, might he have been attacked by his rivals? Clearly, that didn't happen, and by most accounts, Mr. Kerry was able to acquit himself and show himself to be stable and strong and able to handle the questions.

The other big question was Howard Dean going to be able to redefine himself from something other than that portrait that he gave with his speech in Iowa after the caucuses?

And while Mr. Dean certainly didn't lose his temper, he seemed to have command of the issues, there was not any big standout moment that might erase that from the collective nation's mind.

The other big question was how in the Dean-Kerry battle on the campaign trail, either Wesley Clark or John Edwards might get into this debate. They have both been insistent on maintaining a positive, optimistic message.

And there was some speculation that perhaps Wesley Clark might sharpen his elbows and go at Kerry or Dean to get into this. He did neither of those things.

And it's worth, perhaps, noting that Mr. Clark, when he has attempted to say something critical about his rivals, he seemed very uncomfortable with it on the campaign trail. He's not a guy who is particularly artful with political attacks. So he steered away from it, as did John Edwards.

So no defining moment, no major, pivotal turning point here means for all intents and purposes, John Kerry escapes unscathed, remaining the frontrunner.

Howard Dean may have staunched the bleeding to some extent from his Monday night post-caucus performance, but certainly didn't seem to do anything to reverse it.

And Edwards and Clark remained somewhat back in the shadows, trying to figure out how to get into the battle and get into the debate at the top of the race.

WALLACE: Carl, you talked to all of the strategists, and we only have a little bit of time to talk about this now. But I guess my question is why not? If the dynamic of this race in New Hampshire seems so clear, with Kerry soaring, Clark and Dean bleeding, why didn't the people who were behind try to change the dynamic?

CAMERON: They all believe that negative politics backfired in Iowa. But in the case of Clark, he's just not good or comfortable with it.

In the case of Edwards, he doesn't expect to be in the top three here, unless something miraculous happens for him. He's merely trying to maintain a positive tone, hoping that his breakout state is South Carolina, the week after New Hampshire. Tiptoeing around the bonfire of the other candidates.

Dean couldn't get particularly feisty today because of the image that he left on Monday night, and Kerry didn't need to. He was the frontrunner, and all he wanted to do is get out of here without any wounds, which apparently he's done.

WALLACE: Carl, I'm going to have to leave it there. Thanks very much. I'll see you up in New Hampshire tomorrow.

CAMERON: You bet.

WALLACE: And we'll return with more thoughts from our Allstar panel right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: And let's get some final thoughts no on tonight's debate from Fred Barnes, executive editor for "The Weekly Standard," and Mort Kondracke, executive editor of "Roll Call."

Well, we kind of touched on it, but let's discuss it in a little bit more detail. If there was anybody who had an issue tonight, it was Howard Dean, to try to stop the bleeding from his very bad performance with the voters in Iowa, and then, of course, his very bad performance in that non- concession concession speech. I thought it was interesting that tonight he conceded and congratulated four days later, three days later, whatever it is, Kerry and Edwards. But did he do what he needed to do tonight?

BARNES: Well, I think he probably steadied himself and stopped the bleeding. But he's already fallen a great deal. And so the question becomes, Did he reverse himself? Can he win back people who have doubts about him mainly because of the performance — not coming in third, but his performance after the — after coming in third in Iowa. And I'm not sure whether he did that. I didn't really think it was something he could do in a single debate. But he gave a solid performance and I think won't sink any more. But he's in some polls in third place in New Hampshire now.

KONDRACKE: That's the question. I mean, does he continue to sink or does he — does he contain himself? If he kept sinking, he was going to go into third place below — below Wesley Clark. And what I thought he was doing tonight was saying, in a — in a — not — not in so many words — I screwed up back in Iowa. I'm not a perfect person — he did say that, in fact. You know, I don't always come off the way I want to. I think with — I speak with my heart and not my head, which I think was a mistaken thing to say, and I'm — and I think Brit caught him on that. I mean, you want a president who thinks, you know, and acts on the basis of thought and not on the basis of his heart. But — but I think this apology routine or this explanation routine, I think, is the way to go, and I think he's done it reasonably well. Whether it's going to work or not, I don't know.

WALLACE: And briefly, to finish up on Dean, before we — I want to get to Kerry, as well. Do you feel that by talking about his record as governor that — you know, it's not — he's not just some firebrand. Yes, he certainly is against the Iraq war and he did draw — he was the one person who made a criticism under prodding of the senators who voted for the war, but talking about his record, social progressive, fiscal conservative — what does that do?

KONDRACKE: Well, I think — I think it helps. It's the next-door state. They've got health insurance for all children there. It's a reminder of what — the things that he accomplished, that he is a — that he is a — that he knows how to get stuff done. And all of that helps him.

BARNES: That just makes him just another candidate, though. What attracted people to Dean was his forceful stand against the war in Iraq and his very strong criticism of President Bush, stronger than any of the other Democrats. One of the things that's happened in this campaign is some of the other Democrats have caught up with Dean on criticizing the president. They've gotten awfully tough, too.

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: ... some kind of a lobotomy, is what you're saying. You take the passion out of Howard Dean, you...

BARNES: Yes.

WALLACE: ... you've lost — he's lost his mojo. Let's just talk briefly about John Kerry. To the degree that he is the frontrunner, to the degree — and you saw — it was interesting, the questions today. How are you going to stand up to what you know will be Republican attacks, another northeastern Massachusetts liberal? How did he do?

BARNES: I thought he did pretty well. But remember, he was just responding to a questioner. He didn't have President Bush sitting across from him. He has — he's not responding after having $100 million in ads on television used against him, as the Bush campaign will have between now and the convention time against whoever the Democratic frontrunner is. It was easy tonight. But he did a good job.

KONDRACKE: Yes, I agree with that. And he — he recited his long record of — from — from — veteran prosecutor...

(CROSSTALK)

BARNES: Yes, working against Richard Nixon, you know, to being...

KONDRACKE: Richard Nixon was going to throw him off the mall and all that, stood up to him, and he's fought acid rain and — et cetera, et cetera. And he went through his resume, and it's full and he was vigorous about it. And there was certainly nothing that knocked him off his perch. I mean, he is the frontrunner in New Hampshire, and there's no reason to think that he's not going to win it going away.

WALLACE: Well, that's the final question here. Where does this leave the race?

KONDRACKE: Well, I think it — I think Kerry is the — is — I don't see anybody now catching Kerry. I mean, this was the crucial moment for this week, and you know, something catastrophic would have to take place, and it didn't happen tonight. So Kerry is in the lead, and the question is who's No. 2, Clark or Dean. And Clark was, as of today, No. 2. And the question is, you know, Is Dean going to keep sinking? I think Dean is going to stop the sink. But the one other thing I would say is Edwards did himself no great good tonight.

WALLACE: Twenty seconds.

BARNES: Well, look, it will be very, very difficult to stop any campaigner, any candidate who's won both Iowa and New Hampshire. And if that's John Kerry, and it looks like it will be, he's going to be hard to stop.

WALLACE: Gentlemen, we're going to have to leave it there. Thank you very much for sitting here, keeping me company during the debate, and for your wisdom afterwards.

And we want to thank all of you for watching our live coverage of the Democratic debate from New Hampshire. Stay with the Fox News Channel, where you will find the most up-to-date reporting on the presidential campaign.

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