This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from May 15, 2007.
JIM ANGLE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Next on SPECIAL REPORT, Fox News is live at the Koger Center in Columbia, South Carolina, where later tonight 10 G.O.P. candidates square off for the Fox N ews first in the south presidential debate. The candidates are prepped and ready. The questions have been sharpened. The stage has been set and the lights are on. Who will emerge from the pack? Who will falter? Which candidate will capture the imagination of South Carolina voters, who have traditionally had much to say about who eventually gets the GOP nomination. Also, today, the passing of an influential religious and political leader. Complete coverage of the sudden death of the Reverend Jerry Falwell. It all starts right here, right now. I am Jim Angle in Washington. The stage is set and the candidates are ready for tonight's Republican presidential debate. Chief political correspondent Carl Cameron is standing by in Columbia, South Carolina, and he joins me now with a look at what each candidate needs to do tonight to move his campaign forward, Carl.
CARL CAMERON, FOX NEWS CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jim. And a lot of candidates there are; 10 candidates and 90 minutes, hosted by Brit Hume, panelists Wendell Goler and Chris Wallace of Fox News. All of the candidates have one common agenda, they want to get out of this thing unscathed. And they each have a little bit of work to do. Rudy Giuliani, the national front runner has spent the last week working on, clarifying his abortion position. And like all of the rest of the candidates, he toured the debate stage today, getting a feel for things, familiarizing himself with the podium, getting used to the lights and getting ready for the grilling. Mr. Giuliani, at the last debate, had some lengthy and some say confused answers on his abortion position, and it caused him this week to give an exclusive interview to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, and give a speech in which he talked about abortion for some 15 minutes, after aides say it would probably be only three or four. One of the things he knows he has to do is avoid talking too much and talking himself into a corner. Here is what he had to say earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The challenging part is how do you get your answer into the 30 seconds or the 60 seconds. I think everyone of these people up here knows their answer. And they can probably give it for 10 minutes. But you have to get it into 30 seconds or 60.
CAMERON: Are you saying brevity isn't your strong suit? GIULIANI: There are have been times in which people have said that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMERON: One of the guys who got a good review from his first debate performance was Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. Romney today getting a feel for how the stage felt, getting ready for the debate tonight. One of the things he has to be careful of is the appearance of coming across as actually too polished. Some critics have become to suggest he comes across as so smooth that it makes some voters suspicious. And, of course, there is the question of his Mormon faith. He says the real goal is to introduce himself, because what is hampering his ability to ascend in the polls is a lack of name recognition, Mitt Romney.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have been answering questions for the last year and a half or so. And by virtue of having done that, there shouldn't be any big surprises. So, you want to let people understand what you stand for and hopefully connect with people who are looking for someone who can change things in Washington.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMERON: And then there is Arizona Senator John McCain, who ran in 2000 and has a little bit of baggage from the campaign here in the Palmetto State back then, when he had a brutal bruising fight with George W. Bush. Mr. McCain, in his first debate performance, was to some—appeared a little bit old, and perhaps a bit too feisty when it came to his position on the Iraq war. One of the things that he wants to do today is try to be a little bit more relaxed. And he made a joke about how difficult it is. They have so much rehearsal. It all gets real in just a matter of hours. Here's John McCain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: The fact is, you have to get yourself mentally prepared to make sure that you are looking at the camera, to make sure that you pause before answering, make sure you think about your response. And all of that goes out of the window as soon as you get out there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMERON: So they have been rehearsing their answers, anticipating what the questions will be. That will be up to Wendell Goler, Chris Wallace, and Brit Hume. Of course, there is a second tier on this stage, a total of seven other candidates. And many of them, struggling in the polls, struggling in the fund raising and for name ID, are expected perhaps to take advantage of the opportunity to share the spotlight and, perhaps, roll a grenade at the feet of the front runner. Jim
ANGLE: Thanks very much, Carl. We don't want to miss a minute of that. Thank you. The reverend Jerry Falwell, on a sadder note— Television evangelist, educator, founder of the Moral Majority political movement is dead. He was 73. Falwell was found unconscious this morning in his office at Liberty University. Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979 and helped conservative Christians become a political force in the 1980's. He also founded the religiously conservative Liberty University. Correspondent James Rosen has more on his accomplishments.
JAMES ROSEN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, Reverend Falwell had a history of congestive heart problems, but there was no reason to believe that he was near death.
ROSEN (voice-over): Like no other televangelists, that cadre of post-war preachers who sought to harness America's newly ascendant medium to reverse what they saw is the great moral slide of the 1960s, the Reverend Jerry Falwell succeeded in converting evangelical gospel into political power and in many jurisdictions, the law of the land.
JERRY FALWELL, TELEVANGELIST: I received Christ as my savior. That was the life-changing moment for me. ROSEN: A native of Lynchburg, Falwell founded the Thomas Road Baptist Church in 1956 and Liberty University in 1971. As a fundamentalist Christian, he recoiled at modern secularism and preached a set of core, or fundamental, beliefs that included the virgin birth, resurrection and imminent return of Jesus Christ, and the infallibility of Biblical scripture.
FALWELL: Open offices there on Capitol Hill.
ROSEN: In 1979, Falwell created a network of political action groups to advance these teachings, which he called the Moral Majority. Polls showed that name, which infuriated the left, was somewhat inaccurate, as Falwell's views sometimes commanded a plurality among American voters and sometimes did not. The Moral Majority supported prayer and the teaching of creation theory in public schools, opposed any state legitimization of homosexuality.
FALWELL: God created Adam and Eve. It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.
ROSEN: And championed, above all, the nascent pro-life movement.
FALWELL: I think abortion is the killing of unborn children.
ROSEN: Itself a response to Rove v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion.
TOM MINNERY, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY: And he realized that culture was sliding very fast, particularly with that abortion decision, and he led the fundamentalist wing of the church into social action. We had not seen that before in the 20th century church history. He was the first pastor to make it respectable for other pastors to talk openly about the evil of abortion. ROSEN: In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Falwell was forced to apologize after remarks he made to fellow televangelist Pat Robertson.
FALWELL: I really believe that the Pagans and the abortionists and feminists and the gays and the lesbians, who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, you helped this happen.
ROSEN: In recent years, Falwell had largely shifted his energies from the political arena to Liberty University, where the last man to see him alive, breakfast companion Ron Godwin, suggested there will be no battle for succession.
RON GODWIN, FRIEND OF JERRY FALWELL: He has two wonderful sons who will exercise that leadership. ROSEN: The Reverend Jerry Falwell was 73. In Washington, James Rosen, Fox News.
ANGLE: Later in our program, more in advance of the Fox first in the south Republican presidential debate. Brit Hume, Chris Wallace, and Wendell Goler have been honing their questions for the ten GOP candidates. We'll check in with Brit later in this broadcast. But next, a look at how the candidates may handle the issue of abortion. We'll be right back.
ANGLE: The nation's long-running debate over legalized abortion always gets a little bit louder in election years. It will surely come up in tonight's debate, particularly for Rudy Giuliani, whose position differs from a number of the other Republican candidates, and, as correspondent Steve Brown reports, the demonstrators are already out doing their thing in Columbia.
STEVE BROWN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Outside the site of tonight's Republican presidential debate on Fox, a Planned Parenthood demonstration. The organization says it knows a pro-choice candidate when it sees one, and that includes Rudy Giuliani.
RANDALL MOODY, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: I think he said so. He has had a little difficult time doing that. Hopefully, he has gotten that straightened out.
BROWN:But if Planned Parenthood officials are urging on Giuliani, one supporter says they need to take a closer look at the mayor's current position.
ED GOEAS, GIULIANI CAMPAIGN POLLING DIR: There are some things in what he's said that they will find to support, and some things they won't.
BROWN:As a White House candidate, Giuliani contends states should decide how or if to restrict abortions. And despite his—and pro-choice politics, Giuliani is yet to take a hit in polls of Republican voters. The abortion issue, and the Roe V Wade decision, may loom even larger this election, in part due to a recent poll.
ED WHELAN, ETHICS & PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: There is much greater support for overturning Roe when people focus on what Roe really means.
BROWN:The survey, commissioned by two conservative groups, looked at the impact of the landmark decision. It asked voters if abortion should be legal if the mother's life was at risk or if there war fetal deformity, and under various other circumstances, such as an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, or an unpreferred gender of the fetus. Before talking about the various abortion circumstances protected under Roe, voters were asked if Roe should be overturned. No was the overwhelming answer. After discussion of the circumstances, a statistical tie on that question. Another candidate who's had to explain his position on abortion is former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
BARBARA COMSTOCK, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN CONSULTANT: He changed his mind on abortion. He decided it had been wrong. He looked at it and he supports creating a culture of life.
BROWN:And the once pro-choice Romney now endorses an informed consent bill moving through the South Carolina legislature, which not only requires a doctor to perform and ultrasound exam on a fetus to be aborted, but it also mandates the mother certify in writing she had reviewed the ultrasound images herself.
BROWN:Now, the Republican-controlled state Senate is expected, scheduled actually, to vote on that ultrasound bill tomorrow, where it is expected to pass. And the legislation enjoys the backing of all three top tier GOP presidential candidates, Giuliani, Romney and John McCain. Jim?
ANGLE: Steve, thank you. A new Gallup poll finds Americans even more unhappy with the U.S. Congress that they are with President Bush. Only 29 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, while 64 percent disapprove. That is down seven points since February. In the meantime, the president's approval rating is holding steady at 33 percent; 62 percent disapprove of the job he's doing. Later on SPECIAL REPORT, a dramatically compelling tale told in a Senate hearing. And in Columbia, South Carolina, the Republican presidential candidates are gathering for debates starting at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time. We will carry it from start to finish. So stick around.
ANGLE: The Pentagon today released the names of two of the four American soldiers who were killed in Iraq on Saturday, and Fox News has learned the name of a third man. In the meantime, the massive hunt is still on for three of their fellow soldiers who were taken captive, apparently by al Qaeda. National security correspondent Jennifer Griffin is standing by with an update. Jennifer?
JENNIFER GRIFFIN, FOX NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, DNA samples from the four U.S. soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter who was killed in the initial ambush have been at Dover Air Force Base. They have been tested there. It has been very difficult to identify them because they were badly burned. Earlier today, we confirmed the names of three of the dead.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Among those killed Private First Class Christopher Murphy of Lynchburg, Virginia, Specialist Daniel Courneya from Vermontville, Michigan also died in the Ambush. He graduated from high school two years ago.
WENDY THOMPSON, MOTHER OF PRIV. DANIEL COUNEYA: He died living his dream, and that was being a soldier.
GRIFFIN: Sargent First Class James Connell from Lake City, Tennessee served 18 years in the military. He was recently home on leave two weeks ago. Connell's sister was with his daughter after being told of his death.
ANGELA REYNOLDS, SISTER OF SGT JAMES CONNELL: I'm extremely proud of him. It is hard to say at this time, with the emotions so raw, whether or not the sacrifice was worth it.
COURTNEY CONNELL, DAUGHTER OF SGT JAMES CONNELL: I'm proud of my dad, because he didn't really fight for himself. He fought for the country.
GRIFFIN: Meanwhile, the search continues. Eleven Iraqis have been detained, hundreds interviewed. The eight-man team was ambushed from a static post observing insurgents placing roadside bombs. They had stopped for the night, set up concertina (ph) wire around their two humvees, and then, according to the military, were hit with grenades, explosives, and small arms fire.
GRIFFIN: Jim, the Pentagon has just released us—we have been speaking here—the names of the rest of that eight-man team that was struck in the ambush. Among these four names that I'm about to read are three of the missing U.S. soldiers. I will read from the list: Sargent Anthony Schober of Reno, Nevada; Specialist Alex Jimenez of Lawrence, Massachusetts; Private First Class Joseph Anzack of Torrance, California, and Private Byron Fouty of Waterford, Michigan. Again, the reason that four names have been listed as duty status whereabouts unknown is that one of those names that I just read are among the remains that are at Dover Air Force Base, but it's been very difficult to identify them. So among those names I just listed, three of the missing U.S. soldiers. This is the first we've had confirmed from the Pentagon. Back to you.
ANGLE: Jennifer, thank you. President Bush has named Pentagon Operations Director Lieutenant General Douglas Lute as the administration's war czar. If he is confirmed by the Senate, he will oversee the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The White House has described the war czar as someone who would report directly to President Bush and could cut through bureaucratic red tape to coordinate both civilian and military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Testimony on Capitol Hill is not always the most riveting stuff you have ever heard. But the story the Senate Judiciary Committee listened to today had all the drama of a political novel. It concerns a U.S. attorney general so ill he seemed barely conscious, and a bedside power struggle between two powerful government factions. Here is the story.
ANGLE (voice-over): It was march of 2004, and Attorney General John Ashcroft and his staff were reviewing the terrorist surveillance program for a periodical renewal, as required by the president's executive order. James Comey was his deputy.
JAMES COMEY, FMR. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: We had concerns as to our ability to certify its legality, which was our obligation for the program to be renewed. The attorney general was taken that very afternoon to George Washington Hospital, where he went into intensive care and remained there for over a week.
ANGLE: As a result, Comey was acting attorney general and refused to recertify the program, which, at that point, had been reviewed and reapproved every 45 days for a year and a half, about one dozen times in all. After Comey's refusal, Chief of Staff Andy Card and White House legal council Alberto Gonzales rushed to the hospital to get Ashcroft to overrule him, but Comey was already there.
COMEY: And Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me. He lifted his head off of the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me.
ANGLE: Ashcroft supported his deputy and told Card and Gonzales it was Comey's call as acting attorney general. The next morning, Comey went to the White House with FBI Director Robert Mueller for a regular briefing on counter-terrorism.
COMEY: And as I was leaving, the president asked to speak with me. He took me in his study. We had a one-on-one meeting for about 50 minutes.
ANGLE: After which, the president met privately with Mueller as well. COMEY: And the, after those two sessions, we had his direction to do the right thing, to do what—
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: At the president's direction, to do the right thing
COMEY: we had the president's direction to do what we believed, what the Justice Department believed was necessary to put this matter on a footing where we could certify to its legality.
ANGLE: Schumer suggested the White House was trying to get the Justice Department to do something against the law, but Comey told Senator Specter he wouldn't go that far, that the regular review wasn't required by law, but rather by the president himself.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: OK, then it was not illegal.
COMEY: That is why I hesitated when you used the word illegal.
SPECTER: OK, now I want your legal judgment. You are not testifying that it was illegal. Now, as you have explained that there is no statute or regulation, but only a matter of custom, the conclusion is, even though it violated custom, it is not illegal.
COMEY: Not so far as I am aware of.
ANGLE: Comey resigned, even though the Justice Department prevailed. He says no one forced him to leave or even treated him badly. But critics seized on this episode as another black mark against Alberto Gonzales, who some continue to insist should resign. World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz reportedly has failed to win the support of key allies in the group of seven to keep his job. A bank board sources says only the U.S. and Japan back him, while five others democracies, including Canada, oppose his continuation. Wolfowitz appeared in his own defense before the board today. He has been found in violation of bank rules for helping to arrange a pay raise and a job transfer for his female companion who was a bank employee. In the current environment, with so many voters dissatisfied with the state of American politics, might they look favorably at a credible third party candidate? And what if that third party candidate had a billion dollars at his disposal? There is a great deal of talk right now that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is worth billions, is thinking seriously about entering the presidential fray. Correspondent David Lee Miller has a closer look at that.
DAVID LEE MILLER, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Big city mayors came from all around the world to discuss climate change. But at this news conference at New York's Central Park, much of the attention was on their host, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and a report he is considering a run for the White House as an independent. (on camera): Mayor Bloomberg, along the lines of global warming, the speculation continues to heat up, if you will, about a possible presidential run.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG ®, NEW YORK: Let's focus on global warming. I think that's a little more important.
MILLER: But according to Tuesday's "Washington Times," Bloomberg confided to a long time business advisor he has set aside one billion dollars to go for it. The report also says Bloomberg, a Democrat turned Republican, sought advice from former independent presidential candidate Ross Perot's senior people, a claim he specifically shot down.
BLOOMBERG: But I do not think I have ever had a conversation with him about national office, and I certainly have never talked to any of his advisers about running for national office.
MILLER: Fueling the Bloomberg 2008 speculation, Republican Senator Charles Hagel from Nebraska, who suggested on Sunday an independent Bloomberg/Hagel ticket could win the White House.
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA: It is great to think about a New York boy and a Nebraska boy to be teamed up leading this nation.
MILLER: Although Bloomberg later dismissed the remark as joking around, Bloomberg watchers say the major's high profile trips to bellwether states to discuss national issues is an indication he is at least considering a presidential campaign. Former U.S. Senator Al D'Amato believes a Bloomberg presidential candidacy is a real possibility.
AL D'AMATO ®, FORMER NY SENATOR: there's no doubt in my mind, given the fact that he could spend upwards of a billion dollars to carry his message. He does not have to depend upon the political support of the different ward leaders. And today, they mean less and less in politics. And people are craving leadership, so there is no doubt in my mind that he could fashion kind of campaign that would make him a contender.
MILLER (on camera): If he decides to run, Bloomberg would not be the first fiscally conservative socially liberal candidate in the race. The other is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. According to a recent survey, most New Yorkers believe Bloomberg would make a better president.
In New York, David Lee Miller, Fox News.
ANGLE: We have to take a break to give our sponsors a word and update the other headlines. When we come back, wait until you hear what one Guantanamo detainee defines as mental torture. That's next on the Grape Vine.
Washington bureau chief Brian Wilson is standing by now in Columbia, South Carolina along with Washington managing editor Brit Hume who will be moderating tonight's Republican presidential debate. Hello, you two.
BRIAN WILSON, FOX WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Hello, Jim. Thank you very much. We're here in the Kolger Center in Columbia, South Carolina, where you can feel the excitement in the air because we are getting closer and closer to the first in the South FOX debate for GOP candidates, 10 of them total. I have here with me, Brit Hume, the managing editor for FOX NEWS in Washington. Brit, 10 candidates on the stage, how do you manage—it is like herding cats I would imagine.
BRIT HUME, FOX WASHINGTON MANAGING EDITOR: Well, it's a challenge. I mean, set up here this afternoon, all of us, going through the format for the debate and questions we want to ask them and, you know, there's all kinds of pitfalls with every question and you have to worry about being fair, and giving everybody a chance, and not having it becoming so dispersed over 10 candidates that the think has no focus. So it is really a challenging thing to try to do.
WILSON: All right, now how do you think this one will be different from past debates we've seen? I was privy to some of the conversations today, you have a few things up your sleeve.
HUME: Well, first of all, we're not going to be up on the stage with the candidates, we feel like, you know, we don't want to be the story, we want them to be the story and that may seem different from some other debates. The other thing is we're going to try something a little different in the final segment of the debate. We're going to pose a set of hypothetical facts to the candidates and ask them to react to them. Something we think will prevent them from using talking points on specific issues, because this will all be a little different. Now it may work, it may not, but we think it's worth a try.
WILSON: All right, if you're one of the minor candidates—or considered one of the minor candidates right now, how do you punched through in a situation like this?
HUME: Well, the—one way to do that, of course, is to take on, on some way, one of the major candidates. Now, so far, that hasn't happened at any of these debates, really on either side. And at some point, you think it's got to happen the minor candidates—it can't go on forever, their money will run out if they don't make a little move of some kind. Whether they'll choose to do it in that way, nobody knows, it's hard - I mean, that's something that strikes sparks, generates conflict is what makes news and what becomes memorable out of a debate, and if you take on one of the major candidates, sometimes you can hurt the major candidate, the problem is, you don't always look good doing it. So, you can see that it's a potential double edged sword that may make some of these candidates reluctant to take them on.
WILSON: And if you're one of the candidates who's doing well in the polls right now, what is your goal in this?
HUME: The goal in this debate is to get off of the stage without making a mistake and to be, you know, to—faithful to the things you've said before. And you know, that's—because I think it's hard in a field of 10 to really shine if you're ahead in a debate like this.
WILSON: Talk about the importance of South Carolina to the GOP primaries?
HUME: Well, nobody how hasn't won here has been elected president or been nominated, actually, in the Republican Party going back to 1980, at least, it is an important state. And they're determined, here in South Carolina, to keep their primary first in the South. And of course, you know, last night we reported on the juggling that's going on with the calendar with Florida potentially moving its schedule up ahead of South Carolina's current schedule, South Carolina says if that happens, we're going to move our date up. Buddy, you and I could be covering politics on Halloween this year, the way things are going.
WILSON: It is such acceleration of the process.
HUME: Never saw anything like it.
WILSON: Now, here's the real question. You got a couple of guys out there who could be big players in this ultimate race, who just aren't going to be on this stage tonight. How important is that to them to not be here?
HUME: Well, both of them, Newt Gingrich and Fred Thompson are doing so well by not being candidates that it's, I am sure they're going to get in anytime soon, at the rate they're going. I mean, look at Mitt Romney down here in South Carolina, he has raised his name recognition which had to be small, up to 87 percent. That's pretty high, and he's done that by spending a lot of money.
WILSON: People know of him.
HUME: People know of him. They've heard of him. They've no doubt have heard something about him, they've seen him in ads. He stands at eight percent in the polls. That would seem anemic. He's got two guys, Gingrich and Thompson, who haven't spent a dime or announced and they're ahead of him. So you can imagine what this—you know, what a challenge he faces.
WILSON: Now, I've been inside for the last couple of days as they prepare in this lovely facility for this debate, it's really a magnificent hall and a magnificent venue for...
HUME: Oh yeah, this is a—this is a—this is a beautiful place here, and a nice city. Columbia is a kind of a livable manageable city. We've had beautiful weather. It's been nice being here.
WILSON: And not heavy traffic like Washington.
WILSON: Well, Brit Hume, thank you very much.
HUME: Later, Brian.
WILSON: We'll be watching carefully as you continue the moderation of the debate tonight with Wendell Goler asking some questions.
HUME: And Chris Wallace.
WILSON: And Chars Wallace asking some questions.
We're going to take a break, again, our thanks for Jim Angle for filling in there at the top of the show. When we come back, the FOX all-stars will sit down. We'll talk about the life and times of Jerry Falwell, stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD GODWIN, LIBERTY UNIVERSITY EXEC VP: Dr. Falwell was a giant of faith and a visionary leader and he is a man—has always a man of great optimism and great faith, and he has left instructions for those of us who have to carry on, and we will be faithful to that charge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILSON: Some surprising, some sad news today with the passing of the Jerry Falwell, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, the man who was in charge of Liberty University, the man who was in charge at one time of the Moral Majority, leaving the scene today unexpectedly with some heart complications. We're here with some analytical observations of all this from with Fred Barnes, the executive editor of the Weekly Standard; Jeff Birnbaum, columnist of the Washington Post; and Bill Sammon, senior White House correspondent of the Washington Examiner, of course all of these fine gentlemen are FOX NEWS contributors. Gentleman, good to have you here us in the Columbia, South Carolina. We'll talk more about the debate in a moment, but let's start by talking a little bit about what Jerry Falwell meant. At one time, Fred Barnes, Jerry Falwell, and immensely influential person in conservative Christian circles.
FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARDS: Absolutely, and not just conservative circles but in American political circles because he spurred on of the most important transformations in modern times and basically taking a group, millions of conservative Christians who'd been apathetic about politics, really since the 1920s and turning them into an active, lively, concerned voting block, that basically joined the Republican Party and gave the Republican Parity rough parody with Democrats. We would not have a realignment that brought the parties to pretty much to even status without this role that Falwell, not alone, but he was certainly one of the principal actors, and he stirred it. And here's what's also important about it, Brian. It stayed. It still exists. These people are still in politics, still conservatives and mainly still republicans.
WILSON: You know, it's fair to say though, they—in recent years he's moved more away from the political circles and focused more on his education responsibilities and his religious life.
BILL SAMMON, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: He has but that influence has remained in politics, in fact, I think tonight at this debate, abortion is going to be a major issue. I do not think it's an exaggeration to say that it remains a major issue in part because of Jerry Falwell putting social issues like that into the political mainstream, you know, and not just abortion, I mean, you know, gay marriage and a whole host of social issues are font and center on today's political radar because of people like Jerry Falwell. So, he's had tremendous influence. He's been caricatured by the left because he's a Christian conservative and certainly he said some things that were over the top, but he's done a half a century of good works, and I think, on balance, he's done more good than the five missteps that he's made that everybody keeps quoting all of the time. WILSON: It is true, the left pretty much made him a poster boy for.
JEFF BIRNBAUM, WASHINGTON POST: That's right, a poster boy for intolerance. A lot of people remember his complaint about the supposedly homosexual Teletubby, that was Tinky Winky, by the way, a lot of people will remember. He complained gays quite often including when Ellen DeGeneres, the comedian, came out on television. He complained about that. But I think that those things are just bumps in the road, essentially, for what was an amazing career. It wasn't just that he organized the Christina right into a lasting, in fact, permanent part, I think, of the Republican Party. He also learned how to use television and was one of the first televangelists and really brought together a community of Christians in a way they had not been together before, and then he took the extra to bring them into politics. I think that is an amazing legacy, and I agree that it will be talked about tonight. The values issue—when they're talked about tonight, it will be, I think, an important legacy of Falwell.
WILSON: Do you think that some of the candidates on the stage will be make reference to this tonight?
BARNES: I think probably all of them.
BARNES: Well, one thing about Liberty University, that Jerry Falwell founded, you know, there's been a big revival of Christian colleges around the country, not lead by Liberty, but Liberty has become—it may be the biggest Christian university in America. I think it has about 25,000 students and one of, of course, Jerry Falwell's aims was to train Christian political leaders. In fact, I had dinner last night with a speech writer for South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, Barton Swane (ph) who's a Liberty graduate. WILSON: We're going to have to leave it right there. Good discussion. We are, of course, in Columbia, South Carolina, for tonight's big debate. We're going to talk about what's ahead tonight, what the candidates have to do to break through all of the clutter when you have 10 people on the stage. Taking a commercial break. We'll be right back in just a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You want to let people understand what you stand for and hopefully connect with people who are looking for someone who can change things in Washington.
RUDY GIULIANI (R-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You go over the questions and you think, you know, it is kind of like, for a lawyer, kind of like moot court.
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WILSON: A couple of the top GOP candidates say in the back hallways here at the Koger Center in Columbia, South Carolina, where they we're preparing for the First in the South FOX debate tonight. Ten GOP candidates will be on the stage tonight, trying to—some of them will be trying to break out of the pack, some will trying to get out without being harmed, as you heard Brit Hume say earlier. Let's talk to our panel now and see what they think is the most important thing that a candidate needs to do in this debate tonight. You're looking, by the way, live in a hall there as preparations are underway. Fred, start out for us. What do these guys need to do tonight?
BARNES: Well, I think if you're one of the three frontrunners, so-called, and that's Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney, and John McCain, you don't want to hurt yourself. You know, when you're tied in the front and you don't want to say something that—some sound bite that's going to be played for weeks that'll make you look foolish or stupid or something, you want to play defense. But if you're one of the seven also-rans, they don't want to be called that, but.
WILSON: Well, let's just fact it, there are major and there are minor candidates.
BARNES: There's top tier and there's the other tiers, if you're one of the people in the second tier of two tiers, you want to say something memorable. You want to have—you'd love to have a sound bite to get on the air, something will make your candidacy stand out.
WILSON: Bill, there have been moments, though, when lightning does strike both in a good and a bad way. A good line gets tossed out and everybody is playing it the next day, and somebody goes from obscurity to being the person everybody's talking about. You can also flub it, and that's what you talk about for.
SAMMON: And I think when you flub it, then when the next debate comes along, you're the onus is on you to repair it and I think that's what we're going to see with Rudy Giuliani because he is widely seen to have flubbed the abortion question in the first debate. People were very critical that he was so cavalier about his answer: Well, it doesn't matter, it's OK if Roe versus Wade is overturned, it's OK if it's not overturned. I think tonight, he has to come out and decisively address the issue. It almost doesn't matter as much what he says as much as it matters how he says it. He has to be decisive, he has to be passionate and show that he cares about this important issue.
BIRNBAUM: I think it really will matter what he says, not just how he says it. And I think that Rudy Giuliani—you won't see it, because he'll be facing at the camera, but he has a big target painted on his back, basically, that just about every other candidate, including the top tier, by the way, I think, they will want to take punches at him. He is the frontrunner, according to the polls, and a lot of the candidates there think that he shouldn't be because of his positions on abortion, on gun control, on gay rights in particular, and I bet all of those issues will come up and be—and they'll be pointed at Rudy Giuliani. He will have to punch back in an effective way, or I think his candidacy will be damaged.
WILSON: You mentioned some key topics everybody is going to be talking about. What are the other topics, Fred, do you think people are going to be focusing on?
BARNES: Well, I mean, look, it's going to be on a range of issues, I think Romney's Mormonism will come up again, it's just bound to, it's a continuing issue, particularly because he did so poorly in this recent poll of Republicans in South Carolina, coming in in fifth place behind two candidates who aren't even candidates, and getting only eight percent of the vote. Raising the suspicion that, perhaps, it his religion that is holding voters back. He's certainly got a great—he's got money, he's got an organization and so on, but he's lacking the voters.
SAMMON: Well, I think it's, you know, but you got to—you have to give him credit for having an extraordinary couple of weeks. He is widely seen to have won the first debate. He's won the money sweepstakes. He raised more money than other Republicans. I think the other big issue, of course, is Iraq. I mean, I think Iraq will be a dominate issue, it's the issue of our era, and there's going to be a lot of questions about that.
BIRNBAUM: Well, I think there'll be a lot of questions on a lot of topics, and I think the candidates will be tested, and I think other than the Rudy Giuliani question, the Romney question is the big issue, I think. Can he, and also McCain, prove themselves to be someone who can replace Giuliani at the top.
WILSON: Now, we got 10 guys going to be on the stage. Everybody's got a preselected position and a podium that they're going to be standing behind, but there are two guys that the Republicans are still talking about who are not going to be here. Is that a good strategy, not to play right now?
BARNES: It's a good strategy up to a point. Fred Thompson appears—he's giving speeches to Republican groups almost every night and he's on television a lot. At some point, he's going to have to pull the trigger here. I mean, being coy only takes you so far. Newt Gingrich says he's going to wait until September. If Fred Thompson gets an early and builds up some strength, that may not leave room for Newt Gingrich.
SAMMON: Yeah, there's more conventional wisdom now starting to coalesce around the idea that Fred gets in Newt actually doesn't get in because when you get right down to it, Newt's a brilliant guy, but he's probably not electable.
BIRNBAUM: The people who are in are in, and the people who are out, are not. You can't win the presidency without running for it, and unless Fred Thompson gets in, then he's not a contender, and so, all of this talk is just, I think, a manifestation of discontent with the candidates who are in already, which is a problem for the Republicans.
WILSON: Jeff Birnbaum stating the important obvious.
We need to take a break. We'll have more from Koger Center for the Arts, here in Columbia, South Carolina after the break, stay with us everyone.
WILSON: You're looking live inside the Koger Center, here on the University of South Carolina campus. Inside the center, we have been spending a great deal of time. Big men wearing black uniforms have been working for about a week now to get this stage in—in the state you see it in now. We have one of those flying cameras like you see at the football games in the room. Going to be a great television event. But I'm wondering, Fred Barnes, as we wrap up here, what will be the thing that people are talking about at 11:00 tonight?
BARNES: You know, I think the headline will be, at least in tomorrow morning's paper, will be Giuliani attacked by Republican rivals. Nice three-column head in newspapers.
SAMMON: Rudy digs himself in deeper on abortion. Romney and Huckabee turn in additional strong performances.
WILSON: All right, what do you think—Jeff.
BIRNBAUM: Republicans take the gloves off, Romney goes on the attack.
WILSON: One way or another, it's going to be pretty good television if you love politics, so you want to be sure and tune in. and by the way, here, FOX NEWS wants to know what you would ask the Republican presidential candidates when they debate here in Columbia, South Carolina, tonight. So please e-mail your questions to email@example.com, include your name, your town, yours state, and a contact number so we can call and verify. Please keep your questions sharp, brief, and to the point. You can watch the debate live here on FOX NEWS CHANNEL at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 Pacific. And you will see if your question was selected. Thank you for watching. See you later.
Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. EST.
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