This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from February 7, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because I love America, in this time of war I feel I have to now stand aside for our party, and for our country.

JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will stand on my convictions, my conservative convictions, and trust in the good sense of the voters, and in my confidence that conservative principles still appeal to a majority of Americans, Republicans, Independents, and Reagan Democrats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: First Mitt Romney and then John McCain both speaking to the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference here in Washington, Romney with what to many people was a tremendous surprise announcement. They might have thought he would get out, but it wasn't clear that he would do it this soon or this quickly.

Some thoughts on all of this now from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of "The Weekly Standard," Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of "Roll Call," FOX News contributors all.

I guess we have two subjects. Romney getting out, let's discuss that first. This means it's really over, right?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yep.

HUME: Well, you have Huckabee saying he isn't getting out.

BARNES: All right, I'll let somebody else get Huckabee out of the race. I have done it about three times already unsuccessfully.

Look, I think one of the things that drove Romney out is -- did you see the final delegate results from California? I think McCain won 50 of the 53 districts in the winner-take-all, and the McCain think when absentee ballots are counted they may win the other three. Right now, it's something like 164-9 or 6, or something like that.

HUME: So he ran a good race out there, almost won, and got nothing because of it.

BARNES: Exactly. So it was time to get out.

But the speech he gave today; I have heard a lot of Romney speeches, and a lot of them have been very good. And that was the best one of all.

HUME: Oh, my.

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: I agree with that. It was a great speech.

I said a couple of days ago that I thought if he handled this right he would be the frontrunner for the 2012 Republican nomination if McCain lost, and I think he went on his way to doing that today by delivering a great speech to hit all the conservative buttons, did not, significantly, did not get that crowd on its feet roaring about immigration, left that off to the side so it didn't embarrass McCain later when he came up.

The next thing he has to do is, of course, endorse McCain at some point full-throatedly, and then work his can off for the ticket, and Republicans down the line --

HUME: But getting out does McCain a lot more good than an endorsement at this stage.

KONDRACKE: Absolutely. But getting out and delivering that kind of speech, and rallying -- his speech was a lot better than McCain's speech.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, I don't know about that. But McCain -- it was a completely different task that both of them had.

Now, yes, John McCain is the prohibitive frontrunner, and the soon to be presumptive nominee. And now he has a lot more time to do all of the very hard things he has to do. He has to unify the party. He tried to start today by appealing to conservatives. It is a really tough road to hoe.

HUME: Do you think, by the way, Mara, that if all those people who cheered Romney so lustily today and booed his announcement that he was getting out had come around to him and embraced him so warmly sooner that we might have had a different picture here?

LIASSON: I talked to many of them who said just that -- they are feeling guilty.

I talked to a woman who said that: "I'm sorry I only got on the Romney bandwagon recently. I feel like if we had all gotten behind him earlier, this wouldn't happened." Yes, I think they do think that, some of them.

Now the question is what can McCain do? He made a start. He tried to be humble. He said I need your help and I need your support, and he didn't necessarily change his positions, except where he explained his new approach to immigration.

HUME: You thought it was not particularly good speech?

LIASSON: I thought it was fine.

KONDRACKE: It did what it was supposed to do, but it was all about him. It was about him and them.

HUME: What would you expect it to be about?

KONDRACKE: No, no -- but Romney's speech was about us, conservatives, and the country.

HUME: It was about getting out.

KONDRACKE: Of course. But, nonetheless, what McCain needed to do was rally those people --

HUME: To him!

KONDRACKE: OK, but he could rally them by talking about conservative principles.

HUME: Fred -- wait a minute. Go ahead, Mara.

LIASSON: I just think that going down the line, there is a certain number of conservatives that, of course, are going to hold their nose and vote for John McCain, especially if Hillary Clinton is the opponent.

But the big question for McCain is he talks about himself as a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution; he needs foot soldiers of his own. He needs a mighty army of volunteers, and that means a fired up, energized base --

HUME: Right. Do you think he made a down payment on that today?

LIASSON: A little one. I think it is going to be very hard for him to get that.

BARNES: I don't think he is going to have those volunteers.

Look, I loved his speech. I thought it was a good speech. Did you notice he quoted Edmund Burke twice? That's pretty good for a McCain speech. I haven't heard Edmund Burke quoted -- I don't think Romney has quoted Edmund Burke twice. Maybe that's why he lost.

It was a terrific speech. I loved what he said about immigration, too. He didn't back away from his original position, but explained and said "after we secure the border, I'm going back to that," is, basically what he said. It was an excellent speech.

And here's what's going to happen from now on. I don't know that he can stir that army of volunteers that Bush had in 2004, but he's just going to lay out the differences between himself on practically everything between him and the Democrats, whether it's Obama or Hillary Clinton.

And the one thing McCain said in here that's very important is those differences are great. And if he does it well, he can win. He can beat Hillary; Obama would be harder.

LIASSON: The Democratic base so fired up and energized. How can he win without a fired up base?

BARNES: With great difficulty.

HUME: On the other hand, it is the case that if it's Hillary Clinton that will fire up the base to some extent for him, right?

LIASSON: Yes. I think Republicans are putting a lot of weight on one thing.

HUME: I agree with that. They are going to need more than that.

KONDRACKE: The starker he makes the differences with Hillary, the more he will be threatened of losing independents. His strength is with Independents as well as conservatives.

HUME: In other words, do you think you he can take Independents votes away from Hillary -- people who are inclined to vote for Hillary Clinton, McCain can get?

KONDRACKE: No, but there is 30 percent of the electorate that decides the election that is in between the two of them. He has to get those people.

HUME: When we come back, we will discuss the money race in the Democratic presidential contest, and the race in general.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Senator Clinton has asked for a debate a week from here on out. Why not do that?

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because I have to spend time with the voters, and we have seven primaries in seven days. You know, senator Clinton is better known in a lot of these states. I have to do more work on the ground.

But we will have more debates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: So the contest will not be played out with very many debates between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the near future. It is playing out in a fund-raising contest in which Hillary Clinton, having loaned herself some $5 million out of her own pocket, has now raised in excess of $6 million in the last few days, her campaign says.

Obama has out-raised that, and, I guess, continues to enjoy an advantage on money.

Mara, your thoughts on the state of that race, quickly.

LIASSON: First of all, it is a draw; it's an absolute draw. Yes, she has some more delegates, especially when you count the super delegates, but those people can change their minds if they see the wind blowing in another direction.

I think they're pretty even. I think the next round of primaries coming up favors him. First of all, he has got a little more time to work his magic -- when he campaigns in a place, he usually does pretty good. So they are not coming in as a rapid succession as we have seen.

I think D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Louisiana, Nebraska, those are good states for him. After that we have Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania at the very end, which are, theoretically, good states for her.

I think the big question for them is can they approach each other's collision? In other words, can he get white women and Latinos, and can she get black voters -- which I think is unlikely -- and more white men?

Right now they have fought themselves to a draw with those two coalitions.

KONDRACKE: Martin Frost, a former congressman and a very smart politician --

HUME: A Fox News contributor.

KONDRACKE: -- a FOX News contributor, said she does have a chance in Maryland, that the racial history in Maryland is dicey going back historically, and only 30 percent of the electorate in Maryland is African- American.

So that would be her chance, although I have talked with some Maryland politicians who say Obama is way ahead in organizing and getting offices open, and she has basically had nothing there.

So Virginia also is a place with a rather small African-American population -- 20 percent. So if he can score victories in all those places, that will tend to indicate that he could win white votes. He would have to win white votes --

HUME: It might also close the delegate gap, too.

BARNES: About 30 percent in Maryland of the Democratic electorate, or of the whole electorate?

KONDRACKE: You're right -- the whole electorate.

BARNES: That makes it much higher. So I have a pretty good feeling Obama is going to win in Maryland and win in Virginia.

The best thing he said was there is only one more debate, and he said I have a lot of other things to do: basketball games to watch, books to read. I am tired of these debate. Can you imagine 18 debates they've had already? And that's not enough?

And Mara is right, he does better when he spends time campaigning. They serve him better than debates do.

HUME: She's probably bogging him down with debates.

LIASSON: That is the tactic of someone who has ground to make up. That is not the tactic of a front-runner. That is kind of interesting.

BARNES: It is kind of tough to refuse debates. You look like you are afraid to debate her. And, of course, the Clinton people think that she does better in debates than he does. I'm not so sure.

LIASSON: She does.

HUME: I'm not sure if she does better, but he does way better than her on the stump, not so much better in debates.

KONDRACKE: I think, overall, she has been better in debates that he has. And she thinks she knows how to play him in debates and create issues, and he is kind of passive in those debates.

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