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Transcript: Obama Overtakes Clinton in Delegate Race; McCain Coasting to GOP Nomination

This is a rush transcript from "The Beltway Boys", February 16, 2008, that has been edited for clarity.

FRED BARNES, FOX CO-HOST: Coming up on "The Beltway Boys," Barack Obama overtakes Hillary Clinton in the delegate race, and his campaign insists the nomination is in the bag. We say not so fast.

MORT KONDRACKE, FOX CO-HOST: John McCain is coasting to the Republican nomination. We'll tell you how he's preparing for the general election.

BARNES: Should there be a do-over in Michigan and Florida? That's what some Democrats want.

KONDRACKE: And the Democrats fumble on two key national security issues in Congress. We'll have all the fallout.

BARNES: "The Beltway Boys" are next after the headlines.

(NEWSBREAK)

KONDRACKE: I'm Mort Kondracke.

BARNES: I'm Fred Barnes. We're "The Beltway Boys."

KONDRACKE: The first story of the week is not so fast. The Obama campaign and much of the media are claiming that Barack Obama's momentum is so devastating, so inexorable that he's all but got the Democratic nomination wrapped up.

It's true he's won 8 out of 8 primaries since Super Tuesday, and he's going to win another two probably on Tuesday in Wisconsin and Hawaii. Obama's got a delegate lead of 1276-1220. That's not a lot.

Looking at the situation, David Wilhelm, who used to be Bill Clinton's manager in 192 and has gone with Obama, said this. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID WILHELM, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: Senator Clinton will need to win 70 percent of the remaining delegates at stake in order to draw even among pledged delegates at the end of the primary season, and it is very difficult to see that happening.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KONDRACKE: Hillary Clinton is not exactly buying this, and she's got Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania coming up, Ohio and Texas on March 4th which she's looking at to be her firewall. And what the Clinton campaign says is that if she wins those events, then she'll be running even with Obama and will be back to fighting over super delegates. Here is what Hillary Clinton had to say about what Wilhelm had to say. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a long journey to the nomination, you know. Some weeks, you know, one of us is up and the other is down, and then we reverse it. And as many of you who have followed this from the very beginning know, it's a long and winding road, and we're all picking up delegates as we go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNES: She's right about that. It's a long and winding road.

I want to note a couple things at the outset. I think this is the first time the word inexorable has ever been used on "The Beltway Boys" and we've been doing this a long time. David Wilhelm is best friends with David Axelrod who is in the Obama campaign. A lot of people were saying, particularly in the media, that the nomination for president of Hillary Clinton is inevitable.

Remember everybody was saying that the nomination of Hillary Clinton is inevitable? It wasn't to drive Obama out of the race but it was to say he didn't have a chance. Well, you know, can't the media just wait and let the primaries and the caucuses decide these things without rushing to judgment?

KONDRACKE: Everybody's got to try to look smart.

BARNES: But so often you look dumb. I think they finally figured it out. No, they haven't figured it out because as you've pointed out, they want to drive Hillary out.

Anyway, we have the primaries coming up. Clearly she's in trouble, although I certainly agree with the way you characterize it as not so fast, saying it's over for her. Remember, after Iowa, then she was gone. Gone, baby, gone. Then she recovered in New Hampshire. After South Carolina, it looked bad for her. She was blown out there. She has come back from that, and so look, she can rebound. The Clintons are survivors, if nothing else.

As you said, her survival, her winning the nomination, what chance she has depends on Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania. Ohio and Texas on March 4th, Pennsylvania sometime I think in April, on the 22nd, and of course, she has to hold onto super delegates. If she does, if she wins those three, I think she can hold onto the majority of the super delegates because she'll have momentum to the extent there is any, and she can do well.

There are some polls in those states. The latest poll in Ohio puts Hillary ahead of Obama 55 to 34 percent among registered Democrats which is pretty impressive. In Pennsylvania, she leads Obama 52 to 36 percent. Now, both of those polls were taken before Obama's Potomac primary sweep on Tuesday. A brand-new poll taken in Texas shows Obama with a 6-point lead but other polls show Clinton ahead, so she has a chance here. I mean, that's why not so fast really fits.

In the meantime, before the Ohio and Texas and Pennsylvania primaries, they'll fight it out in Hawaii and Wisconsin. They're already dueling in ads over whether there should be a special debate in Wisconsin before the primary on Tuesday. You know, this is one where I think Obama gets the best of it, but watch the two ads.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AD NARRATOR: Both Democratic candidates were invited to a televised debate here in Wisconsin. Hillary Clinton said yes. Barack Obama hasn't. Maybe he would prefer to give speeches that have to answer questions.

AD NARRATOR: After 18 debates with two more coming. Hillary says Barack Obama is ducking debates? It's the same old politics, the phony charges and false attacks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KONDRACKE: I think 18 debates is a lot of debates. They don't have to debate every place.

(CROSSTALK)

KONDRACKE: Although you can understand why Hillary wants it because she think she does better than Obama. Frankly, on the merits, I say debate. I like to watch debates. I don't know if you do, but I do.

Ohio and Texas cannot come soon enough for Hillary because in addition to everything else, she is beginning to lose the endorsement race. The Service Employees International Union, a big union, and an aggressive union has decided to back Obama. John Lewis who is a distinguished civil rights, former civil rights leader and now a congressman had been with Hillary. Now he says that at least as a super delegate, he is going to vote for Obama because his Georgia district went for Obama, but you know, it is a pullback from where he was.

Now, the next big endorsement to probably drop is John Edwards. I mean, John Edwards is going to probably do something quite soon. My guess is that he's more inclined to go with Obama than he is with Hillary.

BARNES: That would be my guess, too, but there are a couple things that matter more than endorsements. One thing in particular, that's having a governor in the state on your side. Hillary has that in Ohio with Ted Strickland and in Pennsylvania with Ed Rendell. These are people who have political machines, have political apparatus over the whole state so they can help. It guarantees nothing, but you'd rather have that than just some endorsement.

Coming up, could this be the match-up for the general election? Both have been taking swipes at each other. We'll fill you in on the early jousting — next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNES: Welcome back to "The Beltway Boys."

Hot story number two, fall previews. That's a question mark at the end of that, you know. This may be the skirmishing between McCain and Obama. That may be what happens this fall. Obviously McCain has a commanding lead for the Republican presidential nomination and he won this week the endorsement of Mitt Romney, not that that's a huge surprise. We knew he would. Did you notice, they didn't hug? They shook hands, but they didn't hug.

KONDRACKE: It was a very brief press conference.

BARNES: It was. Nonetheless, I think Mitt Romney, you would agree, would make a good running mate. Anyway, McCain is obviously giving some thought to the general election because he's already started going after Obama.

Here's McCain in his victory speech after winning all the Potomac primaries on Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MCCAIN, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To encourage a country with only rhetoric rather than sound improvement ideas, the trust in the strength and courage of free people is not a promise of hope, it's a platitude.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNES: He was talking about Obama there in case you wondered about that. What he's basically saying is Obama's a lightweight. It's all fluff we're hearing from him. It's aspiring fluff, but it's all fluff. At least he hasn't referred to the entire Obama narrative in the campaign as a fairy tale as former president Bill Clinton did.

Obama responded, too. Here he is. Watch his victory speech. He's attacking McCain on the Bush tax cuts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He said I don't understand economics very well, and after what he said, it shows because his main economic philosophy is to continue the same tax breaks that George Bush has been perpetuating over the last seven years and that, in fact, guess who, John McCain criticized as irresponsible back when he wasn't running for president of the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KONDRACKE: I'll tell you. I think that's a pretty devastating point. I mean, McCain was against the Bush tax cuts because they went to rich people, not because there weren't competing — there weren't extra compensatory spending cuts.

BARNES: No, he didn't.

KONDRACKE: That's his big pander.

BARNES: No, he says he's for keeping them permanent now because if he didn't say that, that would be a tax increase. He's never voted for a tax increase.

KONDRACKE: In any event, he's changed his mind.

And as to the charge of platitude, the very next day after he said that, Obama came out with a rather substantial and detailed economic plan for dealing with the sub prime crisis, for providing opportunities, educational opportunities for the middle class, tax cuts for the middle class, and also creating American jobs with large scale energy projects and infrastructure projects. It's not just - he's not just reciting platitudes.

You'll hear more in the way of specific policy recommendations, and you'll see Obama talking a lot more about what he will do to fill in this gap of where's the beef which people have legitimately asked about the Obama campaign.

BARNES: Particularly you.

KONDRACKE: Yeah. Me included.

Right now the polls indicate McCain trails Obama and he trails Hillary Clinton by one point. As many people have mentioned, considering the condition of the country and how much people are dissatisfied with things as they are and want change, that's pretty good for McCain. He's basically even with those two Democrats.

BARNES: It looks like a Democratic year.

KONDRACKE: Sure, you want to be there now.

BARNES: There's the Bush primary, and McCain is winning that, to. He already got the endorsement of Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida. He's going to get the endorsement of former president George H.W. Bush. That's two out of three. President Bush has spoken kindly of McCain who was his foe in the 2000 election. They've gotten along well since the surge last year.

Now, I don't think George Bush, number 41, when he endorses McCain is going to talk much about his economic plan, and the truth is I think McCain's criticism was not that he didn't have a plan but he never talked about them. His speeches were all platitudes. We'll see if he talks in his speeches about the plans.

I don't think when it comes to understanding what makes the economy grow, I don't think Barack Obama has a clue, at least according to what he said and this plan. I mean, he talks about how you're going to drive the economy from the bottom up. That's not the way it works, you know. If you want to have productivity gains and a growing economy, you have to have investment which mainly comes from the top down. I'm sorry. That's where the money is.

These are the people whose taxes he wants to raise and particularly take away the huge incentives to get people to invest, and that is a 15 percent tax rate on dividends and capital gains.

So far as I can tell from what Obama talks about, he wants to raise those to some higher level. I'm not — I'm not sure what it would be. I think that would be a mistake. What he's talked about, at least to me, is not a recipe for economic growth.

KONDRACKE: Well, I think it would be a mistake if he raised dollars, the capital gains rate, but to raise the top rate on individuals like you and me and much richer people than I am, and you are back to the level of the Clinton years is not going to ruin the economy.

BARNES: Why through?

KONDRACKE: What?

BARNES: Why?

KONDRACKE: Because you want revenues to do other things, such as...

BARNES: Is every federal program working?

KONDRACKE: Just a second.

To create college opportunities for kids who otherwise go deeply in debt, to try to even out — he wants to try to even out the income levels for people who have lost out in this recovery, and other things that compassionate conservatives would have done if we had one.

BARNES: Mort, you love tax increases.

KONDRACKE: Coming up, the battle between Hillary Clinton and Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean over tough party sanctions and those unseated delegates in Michigan and Florida. We'll tell you what's at stake.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNES: Welcome back to "The Beltway Boys." Let's check out our 'Ups and Downs."

Down: Democrats. They took a hit on two major national security issues this week. First, by dragging their feet on the Protect America Act, and second on the first anniversary of the troop surge in Iraq, still clinging to the notion that the war is a lost cause.

KONDRACKE: Yeah. This is why the Democratic Party ever since the Vietnam War has not been trusted on national security by the American people. There is every evidence that the surge is succeeding. The Democrats said in the beginning to send more troops to Iraq was just to plant them in the middle of a civil war. Now they say, well, OK, so more troops did help keep down the violence but there wasn't any political reconciliation.

This week there was major — three major steps towards political reconciliation. They just can't deny that, and I hope that in these debates that are coming up that they will be grilled on this and make them face up to the fact that political progress has been made and not let them poo-poo it.

Secondly, you have in Congress both the house and Senate Democratic leaders and Barack Obama in the Senate voted to deny liability for the lawsuits to the telecommunications company which cooperated with the United States government in tracking down terrorist communications in the aftermath of 9/11. The Democrats want to sic trial lawyers on them which endanger state secrets that were involved in getting this information.

Hillary Clinton was not on the Senate floor when this got voted last week, but, you know, my guess is that she would join Barack Obama in making the telecommunications answer to the ACLU and MoveOn.org and the trial lawyers.

BARNES: As you pointed out, first Democrats said the surge won't work. Once it worked, they said yeah, but that's not the real reason we sent the troops there. It was to produce a breathing space and security so there could be political reconciliation. Now that's happened. And they're still complaining and saying we've got to get the troops out of there immediately. I think they've really painted themselves into a corner.

By November, particularly, there are going to be elections in Iraq, probably in the early fall, by the first of October.

KONDRACKE: That's right.

BARNES: It's going to look completely differently from the way it does now.

Here's a point made by Harvard Law School Professor William Stuntz in the wonderful magazine, the "Weekly Standard." He writes. "It is no longer possible to say with a straight face that the war in Iraq is as good as lost or that the surge is a flop, yet Obama and Clinton compete to see who condemned the war soonest and who can promise to withdraw American soldiers the fastest. They're missing the point. The war can and should be won even if it shouldn't have been fought in the first place because we're not in the first place. Choices must be made from where one stands today, not some imaginary place in the speaker's choosing."

Pretty brilliantly written. And I think a great point. Yet when you see Barack Obama, he's not backing down. He zinged on McCain on the war. Watch this and then I'll show you what McCain actually said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: When I am the nominee, I will offer a clear choice. John McCain won't be able to say that I ever supported this war in Iraq because I opposed it from the start. Senator McCain said the other day that we might be mired for a hundred years in Iraq. A hundred years which is reason enough not to give him four years in the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNES: Actually, McCain didn't say mired, but when he was asked last month about President Bush's assessment that the U.S. would be in — would maintain — would need to maintain a presence in Iraq for perhaps another 50 years, here's what he said.

Make it a hundred. Sounds like McCain, doesn't it. "We've been in south Korea and Japan for 60 years. That would be fine with me as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. It's fine with me, and I hope it would be fine with you if we maintained a presence in a very volatile part of the world where al-Qaeda is training, recruiting, equipping, and motivating people every single day,"

So I'll let you referee that.

KONDRACKE: Clearly, he mischaracterized it.

Down: the Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean. He is under big- time pressure, especially from the Clinton campaign, to seat delegates from Michigan and Florida in this summer summer's convention.

BARNES: You notice when Dean said he wanted to call the Obama and Clinton campaigns together to resolve their differences on super delegates. They didn't show up. They didn't want to meet with him. He's somewhat of a laughing stock, but Hillary wants Michigan and Ohio to count.

(CROSSTALK)

BARNES: The Democrats had ruled their primaries out and said those delegates don't count, so 2.2 million people voted in Michigan and Florida.

KONDRACKE: I don't think you can disenfranchise them. On the other hand, the rules is the rules. This is going to have to be resolved or it's going to be the convention and be the subject idea of a big mess.

Don't go anywhere. "The Buzz" is up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNES: What's "The Buzz," Mort?

KONDRACKE: Forget about Wisconsin and Hawaii. Next week's big election is in Pakistan on Monday where two reliable U.S. polls indicate Pervez Musharraf's opposition should get almost two thirds of the vote. If they don't, or if they're not declared the winners, it's fraud and there will be demonstrations in the streets.

BARNES: One more dispute between Obama and McCain. Obama promised he was all for public financing for the general election. Now that he turns out to be a great fundraiser, he's waffling. We'll see. You think he'll break his word? We'll see.

That's all for "The Beltway Boys" this week. Join us next week when the boys are back in town.

Watch "The Beltway Boys" Saturday at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday at 1 and 6 a.m. ET

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