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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on the Race for the White House

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from November 19, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT NOVAK, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I wrote that the Clinton campaign had i njected into the Democratic political bloodstream a report that they had that derogatory, scandalous information about Barack Obama, but we're not going to put it out because it would hurt the Democratic Party, and probably hurt Senator Clinton if that information was out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: Barack Obama jumped all over that, and demanded an explanation from the Clinton camp, which, in effect, denied the whole thing after a while.

But, in the meantime, in the aftermath of a debate the other night — Thursday night, to be exact — in which Hillary Clinton was thought to have made a good comeback from a weaker debate performance before, and Obama had been seen by many as having a rough night, this new poll emerges today from ABC News and The Washington Post that shows Obama with a narrow lead now over Clinton.

That is the first time all year that he has led her in Iowa. And Iowa, of course, is considered critical to launching everybody, but particularly critical in this race for the Democratic presidential nomination that is thought critical to Obama.

So, in the aftermath of the debate, the flap over the idea that the Clinton camp had dirt it wasn't using on Obama. Some thoughts now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Nina Easton, Washington bureau chief of Fortune Magazine, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer — FOX News contributors all.

Fred, what do you make of this?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, it makes a poll, let me start with that — look, Obama has a very strong campaign in Iowa. He has made a huge effort there. He has 33 offices around the state. He has campaigned there a lot. He is an attractive candidate.

I don't think this has anything to do with Hillary's performance, good or bad, in the last debate. And it is in a technically inside the margin of error — this was a 4.5 percent margin of error — very hard to poll in Iowa, but it does show —

HUME: That means four 4 1/2 either way, which means a total of nine points. So 30 to 26 could be a tie, or even Hillary ahead.

BARNES: Iowa is up for grabs.

Let me mention about the Bob Novak thing. Look, I know Bob Novak extremely well. And he said he had two sources for this. First he heard it from one Democrat, and then checked with another, and they both said that they heard from Clinton people that the Clinton campaign had some scandalous material on Obama. And then he wrote it.

I think Hillary Clinton's campaign's response was disingenuous.

HUME: Wait a second. I think we have that now. National Spokesman Phil Singer had this to say about that charge —

"This is how Republicans work. A Republican-leaning journalist," that would be Novak, here, "runs a blind item designed to set Democrats against one another.

Experienced Democrats see this for what it is. Others get distracted and thrown off their game. Voters should be concerned about the readiness of any Democrat inexperienced enough to fall for this."

BARNES: Let me mention something about Bob Novak. You know Bob Novak as well. Bob Novak is a conservative. He is not partisan whatsoever, and spends most of his time attacking Republicans.

The last I heard he used to be a registered Democrat. I don't know whether he is anymore, but he is not at all partisan. He says he didn't talk to single Republican about this. I believe him.

HUME: Do you believe that?

NINA EASTON, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: I believe that. It seems like it was someone not directly in the Hillary camp, as he said, it was somebody from the Hillary camp talking to somebody else.

But, regardless, what I thought was more telling was how they reacted to it. Just going back to Iowa, first of all, Iowa has always been the weak link for Hillary Clinton. Her numbers have been the tightest there. And her campaign has always been most fearful of losing Iowa. So that poll is kind of tracking with those fears.

Secondly, I think this is a sign that — the reaction to this is a sign that things are just going to get uglier. You saw that response from the Clinton campaign, saying that he was inexperienced — going right to the heart of Obama's, vulnerability.

You see Obama coming back talking about slime politics — again, going right to the heart of the vulnerability of Hillary Clinton.

But what these guys should remember is 2004. Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, slugfest in the Iowa caucuses. The Iowa voters — it didn't appeal to Iowa voters, and you ended up with a race between John Kerry and John Edwards.

So I think they are both treading in dangerous waters.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: This Novak episode is really strange. After all, it is Novak saying he was told — and I believe him absolutely — by an unknown Democrat that unknown Clinton operatives were spreading an unknown rumor about an unknown scandal about Obama.

That's enough unknowns to stop a quadratic equation. It has the air of unreality, of the Dennis kiss sin itch UFO sighting, and he had a corroborating witness.

I think this is a two-day story because there is nothing really here. Obama's response —

HUME: The story hit on Saturday, and it's Monday. So this is the end of its lease on life?

KRAUTHAMMER: At midnight tonight it turns into a pumpkin.

Look, Obama had to respond. Whenever there is a whiff of a scandal out there, you have to knock it down, and he did. It wasn't an experience, it wasn't a trap — he had to respond.

And the Clintons — I can't imagine that any of this was authorized. It's not because they are incapable of doing it — with flowers and with Monica Lewinsky, they spread rumors and stories to destroy the character of the people with Lewinsky.

Remember, they spread the story of a stalker who is disturbed and imagining (inaudible), and that worked. But there the stakes were high. The Clinton presidency was hanging in the balance.

HUME: I don't know if it worked. He got impeached.

KRAUTHAMMER: No, no — it gave him six months. Had he admitted it happened in January, he would have been out. He got six months of respite, and when he admitted it in August, the country was ready to forgive him or move on.

But the stakes here are so low. Why would you risk reinforcing the image of the Clintons as Nixonian liars in order to score a marginal advantage on a non-scandal on Obama?

BARNES: I can tell you why — I don't know that they did or not, but campaigns do stupid things frequently.

HUME: Particularly when it gets heated and close, and it's got heated and close.

Next up, is Republican Mike Huckabee a viable threat to Rudy Giuliani, or is an alliance more likely? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We think we're on target not only to do well in Iowa, but to go on with that momentum to do better than expected in New Hampshire, go to South Carolina.

Then it's a whole new ballgame. By that time you may have some of these folks who have been riding the waves of the frontrunners, they may be bowing out by then.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Mike Huckabee on "FOX News Sunday," in which he was questioned closely by Chris Wallace about what is an apparent surge for his campaign in Iowa.

Let's take a look at this new poll about the Iowa caucuses. It shows that Mitt Romney is still ahead, but that lead has become increasingly narrow, and is down, at least in this poll, to two points.

Now, let's not get into the margin of error stuff. All it tells us is that it is probably a tie. But both those guys are well ahead of everybody else, that's certainly safe to say.

So what about Mike Huckabee and his campaign? He is attractive guy, he is exceedingly well-spoken. We were talking yesterday — what is it about Arkansas? Dale Bumpers, Bill Clinton, Mike Huckabee — these guys are smooth talkers, they're attractive people, voters like them. Why not Huckabee?

KRAUTHAMMER: It's something in the water in Arkansas that nobody has been able to diagnose.

If you saw him on FOX News this Sunday, Chris threw everything at him- -taxes, charges of corruption, the kitchen sink, and he fended it all off elegantly and smoothly — again, with the smoothness of a Clinton.

I think it was Shrum who said of John Edwards, he is Clinton without having read the books. Well, Huckabee is Clinton without the wandering eye. He is an attractive guy.

But his weakness, apart from the political weakness of the low national name recognition, and not a lot of money, is that he's very weak on foreign affairs. And we're in wartime, and you don't elect a president who has got that thin of a resume on foreign affairs. He has given one speech on it, and it was extremely unimpressive.

I think in that circumstance, if he does well in Iowa, he could be a viable number two on a ticket, particularly with Giuliani. His doing well in Iowa would really hurt the Romney campaign, derail the strategy of winning Iowa and New Hampshire as a sling shot into the larger states, and he could be a counterpart to a Rudy.

EASTON: Full disclosure — my husband is a Romney advisor. That said, I think it is not a surprise that he is doing so well in Iowa. He is a Southern Baptist preacher, conservative Iowa voters.

You've got Brownback who has dropped out. You have Gingrich not running. You've got Fred Thompson, very surprisingly, not gaining traction there. So those voters are there to be had, and he's done a very good job of grabbing them.

HUME: So he could now emerge as the conservative alternative to the others.

EASTON: He's a social conservative.

HUME: Right.

EASTON: But he hasn't been attacked yet. Chris threw him real hard questions.

HUME: He handled them pretty well.

EASTON: But he raised questions about taxes. Club for Growth is attacking him. And Fred Thompson called him a pro-life liberal.

So I think he's right now benefiting from the fact that he hasn't been a front runner, hasn't been up in that top tier, and hasn't been attacked.

HUME: So Fred, is he peaking now?

BARNES: He is certainly doing well now.

HUME: Is his peak yet to come?

BARNES: Well, look — remember Pat Robertson? Religious figure, Christian conservative in 1988, came in, won the Iowa straw poll, came in second in the Iowa caucuses with 25 percent.

Then the next stop, though, was in New Hampshire, one of the most secular states in the country. He got nine percent, and, basically, faded from the race. And something similar to that could happen to Huckabee.

Huckabee has benefited particularly in Iowa because there haven't been that many campaigns competing there. Giuliani hasn't done much, doing more now. Fred Thompson hasn't done much. Romney has done a lot for sure. Sam Brownback, who dropped out, was emphasizing Iowa as well. So Huckabee has had a pretty free slog there so far, and he has done well.

But here is the biggest problem. I agree that foreign policy is one, but he would have no chance if he did well in Iowa, and so on — when you get down to February 5, not that far away, he would never get a chance to raise all the money that you need to be competitive in those 21 or 22 primaries that day.

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