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Hannity

GOP Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee Talks on Latest Poll Numbers

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," December 10, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: We get right to our top story. Everybody's talking about the recent surge in the polls by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. He joins us from Dallas, Texas tonight. Governor, how are you?

MIKE HUCKABEE, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm doing great, Sean. Hi, Kirsten. How are you doing?

KIRSTEN POWERS, GUEST CO-HOST: I'm great. Thanks for being with us.

HANNITY: All right, governor, let's start with the good news, and it's coming from all over the place. This is the latest Newsweek poll. You're up in Iowa by 22 points. Look, as an observer, I think everybody is pretty stunned by that.

You've got a poll out by The New York Times/CBS that just came out hours ago that you're within a couple of points of Rudy Giuliani, one point as a matter of fact. Explain the Hucka-boom.

HUCKABEE: Sean, I wish I could explain it. I think a lot of it is that it seems that the more attacks come, the better the numbers get. So rather than being afraid of them, I probably need to just look at it as the hotter the furnace, the purer the metal gets. And that's seemingly what's happening.

But there's an awakening around in this country that I may not be the favorite of the guys on Wall Street or Washington. I know that. I'm not the establishment candidate. But there are a lot of people in this country who want a president who has had the same kind of struggle in life they've had. And they see in me that kind of struggle. They see in me the experience of having been a governor, making tough decisions. And they know a president has to make tough decisions, not just make some speeches.

HANNITY: Governor, let me go to one of the controversies that has emerged here, and that's the issue of pardon and clemency. I spoke to you a little bit about this on Friday. And more specifically, your opponents now — and I guess this is all part of being a front runner — are now attacking you over this, that you had 700 to 1,000 commutations or pardons. Let me, for example, tell you the story of this guy, Wayne Dumond, which has gotten a lot of press.

He was a convicted rapist, and he was eventually allowed — he was sentenced originally to Life + 20 years. Governor Clinton and Guy Tucker created the scenario under which he could get paroled. But it happened during your administration. He got that parole, went to a neighboring state, Missouri, and killed a woman. And there are about 11 other cases of murderers who have gone free. How do you explain that, if you can?

HUCKABEE: Well, I explain that by the fact that governors don't parole people in Arkansas. The parole board does. That parole board was made up of people from the Clinton and Tucker years. But let me be honest, we all feel awful, horrible about what happened. Nobody can sit back and act indifferent to the fact that a person, an innocent person, was murdered by one who got out of prison. And rather than point blame — and I've often said, if somebody wants to hold me accountable or responsible, they can certainly feel free to do so. Nothing any of us are going to say is going to bring her back.

But we talked about this last week, Sean, on your radio program. And, as you well know, a lot of the issues here have been totally distorted. ABC News ran a big banner over this story and talked about the "pardon." There was never a pardon even considered for this person. So if people will get the facts and the full story, I feel like they'll realize that in government, mistakes are made. Should this guy have been let out, in retrospect? No. But at the time, the Parole Board, in making the decision to let him go, felt it was a prudent decision to make.

I actually denied his commutation, not once, Sean, four different times.

HANNITY: Let me follow up, if I can, governor. I think what your critics are saying and your opponents are saying in this race is they're raising the question of the number of commutations that took place, which they say is excessive, that exceeds six neighboring states in total. And they're specifically citing a letter that you wrote Wayne Dumond, in which you said the following, governor — and I want to give you an opportunity to explain in full. And I want you to be able point to your Web site, where you put out other information about this.

But in this letter, you said, "my desire" — and this is a guy convicted of raping a cheerleader and sentenced to life plus 20 years — you said, "my desire is that you be released from prison. I feel now that parole is the best way for your reintegration into society to take place." Can you explain that.

HUCKABEE: Read the next sentence, Sean. It says "and for that reason, I'm denying your commutation." See, that's the problem. You're reading part of the letter, but not all of it. The whole letter is a letter of denying his commutation...

HANNITY: You said it's a desire to be released from prisoner.

HUCKABEE: ...through the parole process, he would have supervision. If I had commuted his sentence, he would have had no supervision. He would have walked out the door. In fact, that particular letter was written — he still didn't get out for another two and a half years.

POWERS: But, governor, you said that governors don't parole people. But they had voted against this parole before you were governor. Then you came in. And according to people on the parole board, they said that they did feel pressure from you. So you did play some sort of role in this, did you not?

HUCKABEE: Kirsten, let's discuss that. They said that six years after they voted to do it. They also — the year they voted to do it, if you'll look at the news clips, they said they didn't feel pressure. Six years later, during an election year, after they had not been reappointed to $75,000 dollar a year jobs, suddenly they decided that they remembered it differently. That's why I'm inviting people to go to the Web site and get the facts. The truth is my best friend here.

But you know what? It's not about me. It's about the people who were murdered. And I just regret that people take the horrors that have happened to these women, and the next thing you know, it's become the political weapon of choice. Do we not have any decency left in this country when politics has become nothing more than an attack, an attack, whether it's Bill Clinton or anybody else.

POWERS: Governor, I understand what you're saying. But would you then consider releasing the records to show what happened? I mean, they're — your gubernatorial records that show what type of deliberations you did around this, because you do have people coming out saying quite clearly that they felt that there was pressure, and that they had — they changed their position on this person?

HUCKABEE: Well, the records that are available through the Parole Board would be available for public inspection as much as the law would have them. I don't have those records.

POWERS: But what about your own records. You must have records in your office, I mean, your records as governor.

HUCKABEE: Let me explain the process. It comes to us in a big, thick file folder. I make a decision after reviewing that. And then it goes back to the parole board. And every state has different processes of how they do it. That's how we do it in Arkansas.

POWERS: Well, okay, why don't we switch to another topic then. You're getting attacked on immigration. This is something that keeps coming up, and it's very important to the Republican base, obviously. Are you concerned that now that you're the front-runner, that they're really focusing on this issue, that it could hurt you?

HUCKABEE: I think the issues are going to help me. The issues I've taken a stand on are the issues that people know about. And the fact that I'm getting attacked, I think, has just rallied my troops even more, because they recognize that people are attacking for a reason. They're frantic. They're scared. They've spent a hundred times the amount of money I have, and I'm leading them. So why wouldn't they be attacking me?

We realize how politics works these days, but I think the average American recognizes that they want a candidate who's for something, not just one who is able to crack the knee caps of his opponent.

POWERS: Great, thanks. We'll be right back. More with Mike Huckabee after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

POWERS: We now continue with presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Governor, thanks for being with us.

HUCKABEE: Thank you, Kirsten.

POWERS: You're the front-runner now, and so everybody's coming after you. And another issue that's come up is that you had previously been lobbying President Bush to lift the embargo on Cuba. And then in a recent debate said the opposite. What changed?

HUCKABEE: What changed was I'm running for president. I'm not the governor of just Arkansas. And if I'm the president, I have to be president of the whole country. About a year ago, I met with some members of the Cuban-American community in Miami and became better aware of why lifting the embargo would be a very bad idea as long as Castro or, for that matter, his brother is in power.

In 2002, when that letter was written, we were in a recession, nationally, and our rice markets were depressed. I made trade trips to Taiwan, to Japan, to South Korea as governor to help find open markets for our rice. And so it's a different situation. But more importantly, there's no reason that we should lift that embargo because of the oppressive tyrannical regime of Fidel Castro. And even worse, if his brother should take succession.

I recognize this is a position that is best for the United States, even if it's not best for the immediate needs of the rice farmers of my state. But that's part of being president. You have to be president of all 50 states.

POWERS: You're a minister. Your faith is very important to you, and you've talked about it a lot. In a previous ad, you had the phrase "Christian leader." And you have two ads coming out now. The Christian leader is gone. Now it says proven leader. Can you explain a little bit of that strategy to us?

HUCKABEE: Well, sure, the first spot was an introductory spot. A "Christian leader" is a description what I had been as a denominational leader and as a pastor. It was simply that. It wasn't, as many people tried to read into it, something else. That same ad also said "one of America's five best governors" by Time magazine." Nobody asked me about that. I would have love to talked about that, but everybody asked about the Christian Leader, as if there was something nefarious about it. If I had said I was an atheist leader, I guess people would have asked me about that.

People have asked me more about my faith than probably anyone running. And, you know, it's good, and I'm glad. I'm not angry about it because I've had an opportunity to talk about my faith. And maybe it will influence somebody in a positive way. And if it does, then all the more reason to rejoice in all of that, so, that's okay...

HANNITY: Governor, keep me in my prayers, and we have to work on Alan Colmes. I think it's only through prayer and fasting that you can convert him from his liberalism, that is.

Governor, I want to give you one more chance on this, because I sense that you feel you're under attack on this issue of clemency. I want everybody to hear from you. This isn't a game of gotcha. These are important, significant issues. We know, for example, that when Michael Dukakis was running for president, the issue of weekend furloughs and a name that became well-known nationwide, Willie Horton, was a big campaign issue, here. And I have no doubt that in the next coming days here, your opponents are going to point out 700 paroles, clemencies, and including, for example, a list of about 11 murderers that were released or given clemency while you were governor.

I'm asking you this question to inform our audience. Do you think that was a mistake? Why were you so generous with clemency?

HUCKABEE: Sean, I did something that governors ought to do. I took my job seriously. If I had acted in my own political interest, do you know how many clemencies I would have given? Zero. Because no governor is ever in trouble for denying one. You only get in trouble for actually granting it. But it's part of your job. And if people want a person elected president who looks after his own political interests rather than taking that job seriously and looking at each case with responsibility, I'm sure there's somebody else that will play politics with the lives of other people.

Let me mention two things — let me tell you why this isn't going to be an issue when it comes down to the presidential race. In the first place, crime went down in my state during my tenure as governor, not up. The second reason is I had to do something — and I did it — that no other candidate, Democrat or Republican, has done. And that's — I had to carry out the executions of 16 different people.

Now, you don't call a guy soft on crime when you carry out executions. So the whole idea that somehow I'm a soft guy —

HANNITY: I'm not saying — but in the case of a lot of people that had, for example, death sentences, that had committed murder, and while you were governor, their sentences were commuted — people that otherwise would have spent the rest of their lives in jail or gotten the death penalty were set free here. You know and I know in the world of politics it doesn't matter what I think or what anybody else. You know your opponents are going to use that against you. And how do you respond when they say, well Mik Huckabee let 11 murderers out of jail and some committed other crimes?

HUCKABEE: First of all, I didn't let 11 out of jail. Nobody was on death row who was let out. There was one person on death row whose sentence was commuted to life without parole and that was because of new evidence that came in, the very purpose for which we have commutation. There were other who had life sentences or either long sentences whose sentences were commuted to parole eligibility. Even then they had to meet the criteria for the Parole Board.

HANNITY: All right, governor, it's always good to see you. We always appreciate your time. Congratulations on those poll numbers. We appreciate it. We've got 24 days to go, and it's getting heated out there on the campaign trail. We appreciate your time.

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