This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from December 6, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My faith is grounded on these truth s. You can witness them in my marriage, and in our family.
We're a long way from perfect, and we surely stumble along the way, but our aspirations, our values, are the selfsame as those from the other faiths to stand upon this common foundation. And these convictions will, indeed, inform my presidency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: So there was Mitt Romney today in a speech which got him a standing ovation from the audience in the room there at the George H.W. Bush Library down in Texas.
But it also got him some pretty clear plaudits from conservative Christian leaders, whose doubts about him have been thought an obstacle to his nomination.
Just to give you a sample, this is James Dobson of "Focus on the Family" — "Governor Romney's speech was a magnificent reminder of the role religious faith must play in government and public policy. His delivery was passionate and his message inspirational."
Some thoughts on all this now from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of "The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.
Fred, I suppose if somebody had set a standard for a reaction from a conservative religious leader, he could hardly have done much better than what he got from James Dobson, and some others as well.
FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Dobson — I tell you, I wasn't ready to say I thought Romney had really helped himself politically. But what when I see what Dobson said, and I hasn't heard it until now, that moves the political needle.
Remember, Dobson was the guy who attacked Fred Thompson because he saw no evidence that Fred Thompson was a Christian. So I think that helps. I think it was a very good speech.
It would have been a speech we could have ignored if it were just about political religious liberty, or just about the need to have religion in the public square, and so on, and we have heard all those arguments. He had to address his religion directly, and that's what he did, and also —
HUME: You mean in terms of the effect it would have on him?
BARNES: In terms of the effect. He said his religion — and there were two ways in which he said things that were, I think, directed to differentiate himself from Mike Huckabee, who is running pretty much as a Baptist minister.
Huckabee has said "My faith defines me." What Romney said was that his faith does not define his candidacy, that's not what is spurring him. And he said no one should be elected because of their faith or rejected because of their faith.
And I think the suggestion there is that Huckabee is seeking election, at least, in Iowa, where there are a lot of Evangelical Christians, on the basis of his faith.
And there was one other paragraph that I thought that was important, and that was the one where he talked about Jesus Christ, saying he believes in Christ, Christ is the savior of the world, but did concede that Mormonism has some different views on Christ than regular Christianity does, and said, look, we shouldn't criticize our differences. They should be a test of tolerance.
I think in this speech — he surprised me as how good it was.
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think he did himself good.
One of the reasons he gave the speech is because Mike Huckabee is doing so well among conservative Christians in Iowa. And Romney, until the rise of Huckabee, was going to be the consensus candidate for this group, and it hasn't worked out that way. But I think when you get those quotes from James Dobson or Lou Sheldon —
HUME: Lou Sheldon was already for him.
LIASSON: Yes, but he is from the "Traditional Values Alliance." He is a conservative Christian leader.
I think that he did himself some good. He didn't delve into Mormonism, and I don't think he could have, because if he had he would have opened up a can of worms, and there is no way of answering all those questions.
HUME: Kennedy didn't really delve into the theological tenets of Catholicism. He made the famous speech that everybody now cites as the model for this sort of thing — Charles?
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, it was a model, and I think Romney's was a very good speech. But I agree with Fred Thompson that it's a pity that he actually had to give it.
You would imagine that this is the country in which a man running for the presidency doesn't have to give a speech defending his faith and explaining it the way that he had to. We had that 50 years ago, as you said, with Kennedy in Houston, and you would have thought in half-a-century we would be beyond that.
Look, Romney's dad ran for the presidency in 1968, and his Mormonism was not an issue. In 1976 —
HUME: He didn't get far enough for it to become an issue.
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, I'm not sure it would have been an issue at all. We see that, because eight years later, Mo Udall, who was a very strong candidate for the Democratic nomination, and his religion was so irrelevant that nobody remembers today even remembers that Udall was a Mormon.
Five of the Senators in the U.S. Senate are Mormons, and I defy anybody to name, because it is an irrelevancy in how they conduct office. I think it would be a better country if a man did not have give a speech explaining his religion.
HUME: Right, but it is the country that it is, so how much ground did he gain within that?
KRAUTHAMMER: He gained a lot because he did exactly what he had to do. He explained the common values he has with other people of faith, all faiths. He says he is animated by those. That's what's important, not to the theological superstructure above it. Kennedy's themes worked well, and that's why it worked.
BARNES: In the Kennedy speech, people have criticized Romney, some conservatives saying gee, he mentioned Jesus Christ, and so on. That means he just opens himself up to all these questions about the precepts, as he called them, of his Mormon faith.
I don't think so. When you look at the Q&A with Kennedy after his speech, there were no questions about the virgin mother or about transubstantiation, or anything like that, not at all.
So I don't think that Romney is going to be faced with that. And he can say, look, read my speech.
HUME: When we come back, why does Hillary Clinton seem to be slipping in the polls in some of the early states? More with the all-stars, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: So, at some point, you got to ask yourself, who is really committed here? Who is doing it just for political reasons, and who has a lifetime of conviction and commitment? And that's the choice that I'm going to ask Iowans to make.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: One reason she may be asking Iowans to make the choice on that basis is what the latest polls are showing about where Hillary Rodham Clinton now stands in Iowa vis-.-vis her surprisingly successful challenger Barack Obama.
John Edwards is still in the hunt out there, as you can see, but Barack Obama, at least in this poll, has surged into the lead. This is mirrored by other polls as well.
And look at the goings on now in New Hampshire, where she once enjoyed a very high lead. Obama is now within six points. That, if you stretch it out a little bit, is within the margin of error. That has certainly tightened.
And in South Carolina — get a load of this — the race is, within this poll, anyway — two percentage points. Of course, it could be more or less based on margin of error. John Edwards trailing badly in the neighboring state to his home state there.
But there you see a dramatically tightened race, with Hillary Clinton, clearly, in nothing like the commanding position that she appeared to enjoy just a month or so ago.
The questing arises, what is going on here? So, what do you think, Mara? You cover these races.
LIASSON: Well, I think what's going on here is that people are starting to pay attention. They had a lot of the internal weaknesses. Hillary Clinton, I should say, has tremendous strengths, but he does have some internal weaknesses.
In all these polls, she is seen as someone who scores less on honesty and candor and trustworthiness. People are asked "Who has more strength and experience?" She wins that one every time.
But now more people are saying it's more important to have a new face, fresh ideas, than it is to have someone who has strength and experience.
HUME: Which is benefiting Obama.
LIASSON: That's Obama's theme.
So I think that without — I think that all of the attacks on her are definitely taking their toll. I mean, at one point — finally, you know, her opponents started shedding some light on her weaknesses.
And the tough situation she is in now is she's got to find a way to hit back at Obama, and the argument she has been using — I don't know if they are so effective, to say who is doing it for political reasons, as if he is and she isn't. I don't know if that really changes people's minds.
But she is now clearly in what she calls the contrast phase of this race, where she is going to be attacking him directly over and over again.
KRAUTHAMMER: I think all that is true, but I would add a factor that would explain why she and Giuliani are slipping. These are the candidates, have been all year, of strength and toughness in a world that's really rough out there and dangerous. And the other candidates are risky in that environment.
Look what has happened in the last six months or so — all the real dangerous spots in the world appear to be turning around. You've got Iraq, a war that was lost, and now it is better. Our casualties are down.
Iran — it hasn't even impacted yet, but it will. It is supposed to be a source of war, perhaps an American attack, going nuclear. We now have a report saying all that is of the table.
Palestine — we had a war a year and a half ago with Lebanon. Now you have Annapolis. Even Pakistan, a couple weeks ago, was going to explode — you don't hear about it.
If the world is getting quieter and all these foreign issues are declining, then you can turn to an Obama or Huckabee. Obama is a candidate of change, risk, romance, all of that which you wouldn't think about if the world is going into war.
I think all of that is helping the challengers and hurting the frontrunners.
BARNES: Charles is famous for coining the phrase "The holiday from history," which is basically the 1990's, after the cold war ended, before the terrorist attacks before 9/11. This is an awfully brief holiday.
LIASSON: It's pretty new.
HUME: A weekend holiday!
BARNES: I want to add one more thing. I think where we have come from — was it just last week when Hillary Clinton was telling Katie Couric it was a lock, it was inevitable, of course she was going to win, now question bout that, it was inevitable.
Now — there's one really suspect number, though, in that poll, and that's South Carolina. If Obama does well in Iowa, New Hampshire, or either one of them, for that matter, when he gets to South Carolina, he is going to take a lot of that Hillary vote because that Hillary vote, a lot of it is African-American, which is half the Democratic turnout there.
And at the end of the day they are going to vote for Obama.
LIASSON: And I think they are waiting to see if he can win before they decide to go with him. They know her, they know her husband. I think South Carolina is waiting to see what those other states do.
HUME: How much is all of this, and both parties can be attributed to the natural tightening that always occurs as Election Day draws near. We've been waiting a long time —
BARNES: I think it's more than that.
HUME: You do?
BARNES: I do. The wheels aren't coming off Hillary's campaign, but Obama is more exciting. And he gets attacked by Hillary on these grounds, and his response is kind of a sigh — well, you know, there they go again. It's Washington types. It's the old politics. And people seem to like that.
LIASSON: And also, the Clinton campaign does have a tendency to overreact, to use two sets of brass knuckles when one would do.
When they went back and found all the quotes that he has actually been running for president or thinking about it, and then they found a quote from a kindergarten teacher, or the essay, why I want to be president when he was five-years-old — that was a mistake.
KRAUTHAMMER: I agree on the tactical events and influences, but if the world is getting calm out there, you are going to take a risk on a challenger.
HUME: That's it for the panel.
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