Focus Groups on Democratic Debate

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," April 16, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: We go live to Pennsylvania, where a group of undecided Democratic voters are with our own Frank Luntz.

Frank, I'm dying to get their impressions of tonight.

FRANK LUNTZ, POLLSTER: So am I. So let's go right to it.

You watched the hour-and-a-half debate on ABC. The first question is who won it? And you've got to choose. By a show of hands, how many of you thought Hillary Clinton? One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Looks like it's going to be narrowly Clinton.

How many thought Barack Obama? It's pretty darned close.

How many of you walked in here, leaning ever so slightly towards Hillary Clinton, but you're going to walk out of here ever so slightly towards Obama. Anybody? One individual. Jackie, tell me why.

Click here to watch Frank Luntz's focus group react to the Philadelphia primary: Part 1 | Part 2

JACKIE, AUDIENCE MEMBER: I just felt that he presented himself better. He -- he addressed the issues, he answered. I was more leaning towards Hillary in the beginning, but now I'm leaning towards Obama. I just felt he presented his issues better; he answered the questions better. Even the negatives.

LUNTZ: And did anyone go in the other direction? Did anyone walk this here supporting Obama, and now you're leaning towards Hillary? Go ahead. Tell me why.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every time -- every time they start talking about policy decisions, it was a no-brainer that Hillary knew what she was talking about and could talk about it. The rest of it, Obama is just touchy-feely for me.

LUNTZ: OK. You're nodding your head. You thought Hillary did better on policy, just on policy. OK, so she wins on policy. Isn't that enough? Isn't that enough?

JACKIE: It should be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's supposed to be the reason.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, because the Republicans always bring out the evangelists, and they also bring in the religion and where do you stand on abortion, gay rights and the whole schmear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that when they talk about Reverend Wright, that is important. He spent 20 years in this temple. I've left synagogues when people have said worse than that. And I think that that is important to people.

And I think Hillary won. I think if we could get a candidate with Obama's charisma and Hillary's mind, we'd be in good shape.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the last question, that Obama ducked on the gun control in Washington, D.C. He's a former constitutional law professor. He doesn't have an idea as to whether -- whether that law is constitutional?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said he didn't read the briefs. I mean, you're a lawyer, so he's not going to just go off the cuff about...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A constitutional law professor has a view as to what...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...It's not a question of whether he was briefed or not. We know what the D.C. ordinance says. And whether or not it's constitutional or not, he has some idea...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's a lawyer. He cannot say, "I know the answer to this question," if he doesn't know the answer to the question. The question was...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a typical lawyer answer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lawyers are pretty smart. That's not a typical thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not going to get a straight answer from an attorney.


LUNTZ: Hold on. Philadelphia is supposed to be the city of brotherly love.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We love each other. We spend all this time with one another.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He gave the same answer during his confirmation hearings, that he never even thought about the abortion issue.

LUNTZ: John.

JOHN, AUDIENCE MEMEBR: He knows right from wrong. He knows what side to be on, as far as weapons are concerned, that they're killing people needlessly in the streets of Philadelphia and elsewhere in this country. The guns should be controlled. Not necessarily banned, but controlled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think, looking at Washington's murder rate, that anyone believes that people who are -- criminals are going to suddenly say, "OK, guns are banned. I'm never going to touch them again." So I think it's a ridiculous issue to ban them anywhere. I think that bad people...

LUNTZ: But I want to focus on the debate. I want to focus on the two -- and maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I should be focused on the issues, not the personalities. But you all seem to be focused on both.


FELIPE, AUDIENCE MEMBER: I think Hillary's been a lot more crisp in her answers, but Barack has been much more focused on the core issues that matter to people.

LUNTZ: Such as?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Such as the economy, such as national security, not so much the different controversies in terms of Reverend Wright and in terms of Bosnia, those kind of things.

LUNTZ: And I want to show -- I want to show the audience something which has never happened in the debate before. How many of you in this room, if your candidate isn't chosen, will consider voting for John McCain? Raise your hands. Never at a Democratic -- you're all Democrats in here.

What is it about John McCain? Evan, what is it about John McCain that causes you to consider him as someone who's looking between Hillary...

JON, AUDIENCE MEMBER: It's that, he's got experience. He's got leadership. He's shown over an extended career in his period in the House that he can work across the aisle. He's done things and has more experience than Barack and Hillary combined.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, he's a very liberal Republican, if there's - - such an animal exists. He's very liberal, and you can trust his character, basically.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think two things. When you look at the people who have come against McCain on the far right, there are people I disagree with. So that makes me lean towards him.

And also, I think he's the candidate that knows what it takes when you send people into battle. His son has been overseas, and we all know his story. And I trust him to send people overseas if he needs to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we've had -- in George W. Bush we've had one of the most dishonest presidents that we've had in a long time. And I think people are willing to go outside the box in order to find a truly honest person. If it turns out that...

LUNTZ: Outside the Democratic Party?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not about dogma. This is about honesty.

JOHN: There are two major issues in this campaign to me: the war in Iraq and the economy. John McCain is on the wrong side of both of those things.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And there's no way...


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You'd be amazed at how many guys want to go fishing with me these days.

Well, thank you very much, Steve. Thanks for the introduction. Lynn and I have enjoyed ourselves very much this evening. We want to thank the Radio Television Correspondents' Association for inviting us, and we congratulate all the award recipients.

You all know how to make a guy feel welcome. Obviously, you're not the kind to look down on a "bitter" man who clings to his guns.

And I was just as surprised as you were to see Governor Mitt Romney. And though I enjoyed his props and slides, I won't be needing any myself. I'm counting, as usual, on the power of my charm and charisma.

But Mitt was great, and I understand he's interested in running for vice president with Senator McCain. Mitt, let me give you a little nugget of advice. Never mind the resume, the policy ideas, or any of that stuff. Just get yourself on that search committee.

As the president said in his video message, he's hosting a dinner in honor of the visit of Pope Benedict, and I myself met with His Holiness this morning at the White House. So between that and this dinner with the media, it's been quite a day for me. I spent the morning with one infallible authority, and now I get to spend the evening with a thousand of them.

I was glad to talk to the pope. It's rare that I run into somebody who's heard more secrets than I have. When the moment was right, I even took the pope aside and confided to him that I'd been thinking a lot of unkind thoughts lately about the news media. I went on and on, and finally said, "Your Holiness, I just don't think they like me."

The pope replied, "So?"

It's always very exciting when the pope comes to town. And I am modest enough to realize that all of you would rather see the pope standing here than me. But instead of the successor to St. Peter, you're stuck with me, the successor to St. Al.

Speaking of Vice President Gore, I'm sorry to relate that he's a little bit sore at me. He's convinced that, on global warming, I just don't get it. But lately with every passing day, the evidence has been catching my attention. I have no doubt, none at all, that we are in the midst of a global warming, or as I prefer to call it, spring. And I don't want to sound like an alarmist, but it's going to get a lot warmer before it gets cooler.

But I want you to know I'm doing my part to meet the crisis by reducing my carbon footprint big-time. Every time I'm rushed to the hospital, I insist on a hybrid ambulance.

You heard it from the president himself tonight, that I'm the funniest guy he knows. I'll take that compliment, but I'll try to forget that it comes from the same fellow who thinks that 9 p.m. is late, who believes ginger ale is a night cap, and who thinks paradise is 40 miles west of Waco.

It could also be that, by sending me here, the president's trying to soften up my image. After all these years, all the time we've spent together, he persists in thinking I come across as a cold, forbidding, even frightening man.

But the president's not alone. Even my wife seems to think my image needs polishing. At breakfast today I asked Lynn if, deep down, it bugs her that people have taken to calling me Darth Vader. She said, "Not at all. It humanizes you."

All the same, I'm very glad to be here tonight, in the president's usual place, and it's good to share the stage with so many dignitaries, including Majority Leader Hoyer, Minority Leader McConnell, Chairman Dingell, Minority Whip Kyl, and that great TV personality and blogger, Mo Rocca.

In case you don't know it, Mo's blog is titled "Mo Rocca 180: Only Half as Tedious as the Regular News." Among his other credits, Mo used to host a TV show called "Things I Hate About You." I'm sure I've seen that program. Only I believe it's now called "Countdown with Keith Olbermann."

Keith's not here tonight to savor my company, but we do have many big names from the broadcast media. And you could use a little good cheer, because these are tough times in your industry, in this age of YouTube and the blogs that threaten to overshadow the old media.

At times you must feel like you're at the center of events, but nobody's really paying attention to you. You understand the world better than anybody, but no one wants to hear it. Now you know exactly what it's like to be vice president.

But I've had frustrations of my own. I'm old news in this election, but I want a piece of the action. I'm fired up for my own candidate, but the feeling isn't always returned. I feel kind of like Bill Clinton.

But like you, I've been watching the campaign with interest, and I really want John McCain to win. I'm proud to support John, even though one of the Democrats running is a relative of mine. He's Senator Obama to you, but he's cousin Barack to me.

Amazingly enough, it turns out that Barack is also related to Brad Pitt. That means Dick Cheney and Brad Pitt are related, which explains what Angelina sees in that guy. In case you're looking -- in any case, you're looking at somebody who is just a couple degrees of separation from the sexiest man alive.

Barack Obama and I have had our disagreements, and, frankly, I do wish he'd keep these things in the family. For example, I keep telling him it's time to start thinking about a choice for vice president. He says he'll find a running mate just as soon as he's got himself a new pastor. I like that one.

I guess my cousin Barack has sat through some mighty riveting sermons over the years. If he gets elected, you're not going to want to miss those Washington prayer breakfasts.

Of course, there are two Democrats running, and they're still hopelessly divided over who's the real uniter. And you in the press need to go easy on Senator Clinton on the whole business about running and ducking from gunfire in Bosnia. She made an honest mistake. She confused the Bosnia trip with the time I took her hunting.

Did you see that footage of Hillary knocking that -- back that shot with a beer chaser? People say she did it like an old pro. I hadn't realized she'd been in the Senate that long. Looks like she replaced Mark Penn with Johnny Walker.

Apparently, it was pretty strong whiskey, and there might have been a few more when the cameras stopped rolling. When the 3 a.m. phone call came in, it went right to voice mail.

Maybe I've sympathetic to Hillary because I've had my own troubles. The big buzz last week was about that picture of me fishing. In the reflection in my sunglasses, it looked like I'd reeled in something a lot more interesting than trout. You should have seen the one that got away.

I get asked a lot about that photo. The most common question is: what lure was I using? Anyway, that's the last time I'll go with an outfitter called the Emperors Club VIP.

With that, I think it's time for Mo Rocca and less Cheney. But before I turn over to Mo, I want to tell you that I like and admire the broadcast media more than I usually let on. I want to tell you how much I've come to appreciate the work you do, often under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

I want to tell you that you're here in Washington, because you're among the finest in your profession. You do hard work. And you do it well. I want to tell you all these things, but I just can't bring myself to do it.

But since it is our last time together at this dinner, I think it's enough to leave you with words I once addressed to Senator Pat Leahy. Go straight home, have a good night, and thank you very much.

HANNITY: Now we just heard from Vice President Dick Cheney as he is at the radio and television correspondents' dinner in Washington. And we'll bring you more of the speeches as they happen live tonight.

But first we go back to our friend, Frank Luntz. He's standing by with a group of undecided voters in the great state of Pennsylvania.

First of all, did they like the speech, before my first question, Frank?

LUNTZ: OK. Let's find out. Did you like it? Does Dick Cheney have a good sense of humor? Yes or no?


LUNTZ: Yes or no?


LUNTZ: OK. So you give him credit for that?



HANNITY: All right. Frank...

LUNTZ: Who said that? Who said that? John just said he's been a clown for eight years. John's Social Security number is 064...

HANNITY: Hey, Frank, I want to go back to -- obviously, they've been watching the debate tonight, and for the first time some very interesting questions came up.

More specifically, I want to get reaction to whether or not the narrative on Senator Barack Obama, among your undecided voters, has changed, in this sense, about Reverend Wright and his shifting positions?

Do they -- question one, do they believe that he really didn't know about Reverend Wright's controversial comments for 20 years? And No. 2, what is their reaction to the story that I've covered a lot, Bill Ayers, Weather Underground, unrepentant terrorist who said on 9/11 in The New York Times, "I don't regret setting bombs"? He bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol, and New York City police headquarters.

Is this an issue, that was brought up for the first time tonight by George Stephanopoulos, that concerns them?

LUNTZ: Sean, I'll tell you first, from the dials, which we can't show you because of coverage rules. You'll get a chance to see it on Sunday evening.

When they were dial testing his response to the Reverend Wright and explaining it, the lines went lower and lower and lower. And I'm going to be curious to ask them why.

And when they asked the questions about the Weather Underground, that too, did not provoke a favorable response.

What was it about what Obama either was saying or not saying that agitated you? Why were you dialing it down?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I resent the fact that he explained Reverend Wright's patriotism by saying he was a Marine. Timothy McVeigh was in the Army. You know, that doesn't mean anything. He has yet to explain why -- whether or not he truly was there and what he actually thought of it for 20 years.

LUNTZ: Evan, quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With Barack and the whole...

HANNITY: Hang on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... he didn't seem honest and sincere when he was talking. He seemed like he was backpedaling, and he wasn't being truly honest when he was talking to the camera.

LUNTZ: Sean?

HANNITY: Frank, hang on one second. We're going back to the radio and television correspondents' dinner, and...

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