This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," March 31, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
MEGYN KELLY, CO-HOST: Barack Obama may not be the man he appears to be. Something in his past is coming back to haunt him, but it is not his former pastor this time. Is Obama even more liberal than he's been letting on?
The latest evidence comes from an amended version of a questionnaire filed during his 1996 bid for a state Senate seat in Illinois. The questionnaire is saying Obama is against capital punishment without exception and wants to ban the sale and possession of all handguns.
Now, Obama says those weren't really his views despite the fact they appeared in black and white in the questionnaire, but is that credible?
Joining us now: Democratic strategist and Young Voter PAC president, Jane Fleming; and, FOX News political analyst, Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review.
RICH LOWRY, NATIONAL REVIEW EDITOR: Hi.
JANE FLEMING, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Hey, Megyn.
KELLY: OK. Rich, let me start with you. So, we get this questionnaire. We knew about the first questionnaire, Obama's campaign came out and said, look, he didn't know anything about it. He didn't write, somebody submitted that on his behalf when he was trying to get the endorsement of this group back in '86.
Now, Politico.com finds an amended questionnaire that's got Obama's handwritten notes on it, reflecting some very liberal views including that he's totally against capital punishment and that he wants to ban all handguns. They're trying to say, look, those still don't reflect his views. Can we buy it?
LOWRY: Look, there are questionnaires that candidates get all the time like this and staff do fill them out. But if he's actually holding it in his own hands and writing notes on it, you'd think he would have a little curiosity about what his positions possibly were according to this questionnaire.
And this goes to the real core contradiction of Obama's candidacy. He's campaigning as this bipartisan unifying figure when his entire record is as an orthodox left winger down the line. Every bipartisan deal — major bipartisan deal in the Senate that's entailed some risks for the people who have been part of it, he's eschewed and not been part of. So, this is going to take some explaining, and it's a problem for him.
KELLY: Jane, let me ask you. Before I get to you, let me just give the Obama statements from the campaign. They say about this questionnaire, "Senator Obama did not fill out these state Senate questionnaires — a staffer did — and there are several answers that didn't reflect his views then or now."
Is that going to do it, Jane?
FLEMING: Well, you know, a candidate has to take full responsibility for any staff that fills out surveys. So, they should do that off the bat. If they felt, they lamented, is going to mean it doesn't matter. What the thing is - is that candidates change their minds.
We see this with John McCain. He's campaigning as the straight talker. Well, in 1990, he made it very clear on the Senate floor that we shouldn't go into Iraq because it would cost too many American lives.
KELLY: Jane, let me ask you about the statement from the Obama question. I wanted you to respond to my question, which was — the Obama camp statement says it doesn't reflect his views then or now, so they're not saying in essence that's his changed, they're saying those were never his views despite the fact that they appeared in black and white.
FLEMING: Again, I think the Obama campaign should take full responsibility for those surveys and if they change their minds, they change their minds. They're clearly going to take another political stance. I don't think that's the smartest move for them.
But this happens in campaigns, and John McCain also does not give straight answers and I don't see you guys going after him asking him why he voted against the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, and is now saying that he would make those permanent.
KELLY: Rich, is that a fair response that, you know, all candidates waffle, they, you know, they take (INAUDIBLE) as time goes on?
FLEMING: Candidates change their positions, but, look, clearly, I don't think it's credible for Obama to say these never were his positions, because it was his campaign manager supposedly filling this out. And, are we supposed to believe that Barack Obama is really this, you know, extremely moderate Democrat and his staff just didn't know he's a secret moderate?
No. He's a left winger operating in this left wing Democratic environment on the south side of Chicago and these were his positions. And if he's going to be, you know, a different kind of politician, he should fess up about it and give us a straight story and it's perfectly respectful to say what Jane said, I changed my mind.
KELLY: Jane, what about it? Because his campaign goes out and says, look, those weren't his views, when it comes to gun control, yes he's in favor of it to some extent but he also thinks it is legitimate to have handguns in certain circumstances and they say he is against capital punishment except in the most extreme cases. So, they say those are really his views and you can't believe what he wrote down on this piece of paper. Does that then turn into a credibility problem for the voters?
FLEMING: You know, I don't think it's a credibility problem for the voters. And, I think, in the big scheme of things, this is going to be, maybe, a one-day news cycle item. But the Barack Obama campaign, again, I think that they should have just come out and said he's changed his mind.
He should take full responsibility for any campaign survey, even if he never saw it, even if he didn't give approval for his staff, it still came out of his campaign. So, take responsibility and move on.
LOWRY: I'll say two things really quickly. One, this is another sign that the press is just really beginning to do its due diligence on Barack Obama, especially back in that Chicago period. So, there's still more to learn about Barack Obama.
And two, I think he's developing a little bit of a credibility problem. If you look at NAFTA where he'd said, you know, he'd abrogate the treaty, but then one of his staffers went to the Canadians says no, he didn't really mean that.
You see what he says on Iraq, I'd pull out more or less immediately and one of his top foreign policy advisors told the BBC, no, he didn't really mean that. And if you look at the Reverend Wright thing, I think, he's simply not credible on what he knew about Reverend Wright when.
So, all this makes him look more and more like a standard politician. And that's a very dangerous thing for Barack Obama.
FLEMING: Wait, you bring up, you know, Barack Obama's minister but how about McCain and Hagee? Nobody seems, and I don't see Sean or you doing a moral outrage on Hagee...
LOWRY: So what? It's different. Barack Obama sat in his pews for almost two decades listening to these ravings.
KELLY: OK. We've got to leave at that, guys, but a fiery finish. Jane Fleming and Rich Lowry, thanks so much for being here.
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