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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Progress of Presidential Primaries and Caucuses

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from January 16, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED THOMPSON, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have had different winners in different states, and it's my turn, and it needs to be my turn.

MIKE HUCKABEE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to keep working and we're going to win south Carolina.

JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will win here in South Carolina, and that's all there is to it.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to spend time here to try and strengthen my position, but I'm also going to be spending time in Nevada and spending time in Florida, and then we go on to 22 other states.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: That seems to me like Mitt Romney does not expect to win in South Carolina, but those other three guys are talking seriously about winning.

So let's look at what their chances would appear to be based on an average of the current polling, this courtesy of our friends at Real Clear Politics, and it shows John McCain with a narrow lead over Mike Huckabee, with Romney well back and Thompson back of that, Giuliani and Ron Paul neck in neck.

It would suggest if Thompson is going to win, he would have to get busy. Romney would, presumably, if ordinary political rules held, have a chance coming out after his win in Michigan. But who knows? Let's find out if one of these three people knows.

Some thought from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of "The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of "Roll Call," and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Well, so far this has been the year of no-mentum, or no-mo. You have heard of slow mo, you have heard big-mo; this appears to be no-mo.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": What happens is you win a primary, you win the caucuses, and your poll numbers go up. But it doesn't affect the actual voting. And that's what really maters.

HUME: Mitt Romney does not appear to think that his momentum from Michigan will carry him anywhere, particularly in South Carolina, which is coming on Saturday.

BARNES: He does not. He is low-balling it, lowering expectations, which is probably the right thing to do.

But I suspect his poll numbers will go up in South Carolina as a result of winning in Michigan. He's going to win in Nevada on Saturday if only because he is the only Republican who has made an effort there, but he will get a gold medal for it.

HUME: That's right, he'll get a gold and he'll get some delegates.

BARNES: He'll get a third gold, and he'll get some delegates, but he's really aiming at Florida, which is the big one on January 29.

You can have something in South Carolina where you have a three or four-way tie — you could have Huckabee, McCain, Thompson all bunched together. Somebody will come in first, but there will be no real winner.

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "ROLL CALL": I basically agree with that diagnosis. But what we're heading into now is primaries where there are no Independents or Democrats who are allowed to vote and it is all Republicans. And so the contest now becomes serious.

Up until now, Romney has been the leader among those chasing Republican votes. I mean, at least in New Hampshire and —

HUME: You mean among the Republican voters.

KONDRACKE: With the Republican voters in those primaries, exactly.

And so I think he has got an advantage. Maybe not in South Carolina, but, as Fred said, he will get something of a bump. He is running in third place. That's important for Romney. He has been creeping up on the others, and he is not very far behind.

HUME: You're talking about in South Carolina.

KONDRACKE: In South Carolina. So I don't expect he will win, particularly, but he is whacking McCain, who is the poll leader. Meanwhile, Thompson is whacking Huckabee.

HUME: And McCain to some extent.

KONDRACKE: In the number two place.

So, the regular Republicans were thought to be divided among Thompson and Romney. This is do or die for Thompson. If Thompson — and he admits it — Thompson admits he needs a win. If he doesn't win there, then the field of regular Republicans, it seems to me, is Romney's.

HUME: What do you think, Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Romney is the long-distance runner in this fare. He has the money. He's going to compete everywhere, and he gets a gold or silver or bronze almost everywhere he goes.

But I think the first major results are a disaster for the Party. You have the three constituencies are perfectly split. You've got Romney winning and economically depressed Michigan with an economic message, a traditional conservative economic message. Huckabee, of course, he wins in evangelical Iowa with a social conservative message.

And in between, you get McCain in the flinty, live-free-or-die with New Hampshire winning on national security. But that's a perfect split.

HUME: There is an interesting number on the war today that has indicated that McCain lost among the people who favored the war in Iraq; that he did better than his rivals, particularly with Romney, than Romney did on those who are opposed to the war in Iraq.

BARNES: Those are completely misleading poll numbers.

HUME: Why?

BARNES: Because, look, it's clear that the success of the surge in Iraq has been a huge boost to the McCain campaign. If you look strictly at those numbers in the poll, you think, gee, it's the people who don't want us to be in Iraq. They are the ones supporting McCain the most.

HUME: That must have been the case. You just don't believe it?

BARNES: No, I don't think that's the case at all. McCain has benefited from the surge. People are voting for him partly for that reason. I mean, you're taking those numbers literally and interpreting them wrongly.

KRAUTHAMMER: McCain isn't winning on economics or on social issues, that's for sure, or on immigration or any of those. All he has got is national security.

HUME: Well, he has also got personal character. And his standing by the surge when it wasn't popular feeds into that.

KRAUTHAMMER: Exactly.

But the point is that the three elements which Reagan combined all into himself: the economic and the social and national security — that's why he was unbeatable — are now split among three winners in three constituencies. And the winners and constituencies don't have a lot of love lost between them.

HUME: So which candidate among the three, when it gets down to it, because they can't have the first choice, who are they likely to settle on, given the issue profiles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Thompson. Look, he is the one guy who, in theory, would have been a uniter.

KONDRACKE: But I think that Romney is the frontrunner. And he's got the money, as Charles says, and it's regular Republicans from here on in. And I think unless Thompson pulls it out, it's going to be Romney.

BARNES: There is somebody we didn't mention, and that is that Huckabee really has not gotten out of this getting evangelical votes. His populist message has attracted practically no one. And the truth is Romney split the evangelical vote with him in Michigan.

I think McCain has the capability of getting out of just this national security box, and Romney does. So they are the two.

HUME: Next up with the panel, now that the Democratic candidates are trying to make nice, what would a win in Nevada mean, and what about that debate last night?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have put forward a plan that will get our troops out by the end of 2009.

SEN HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As soon as I become president we will start withdrawing within 60 days.

JOHN EDWARDS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think I have, actually, among the three of us have been the most aggressive and said that I will have all combat troops out in the first year that I'm president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: It was otherwise a fairly tame and peaceful debate, and all the negative stuff that had happened between the Obama and Clinton camps over race seem to be set aside, at least for the moment.

But they did have one little moment of competition there in which they were at a track meet to which of them would be the fastest out of Iraq. That was perhaps the hallmark of the debate among the Democrats last night in Nevada.

So, what about this debate? By the way, let's take a quick look at the poll. This is the latest poll we have, which was done from the ninth to the 14th of this month, and it shows Senator Clinton narrowly ahead, well within the margin of error, with Barack Obama, with John Edwards making a pretty strong third place showing there with 25 percent.

Nobody really knows what is going to happen out there, but what about the debate? Is there anything about their positions they are taking on Iraq now which could, in the end, cause them trouble down the road, whoever wins?

BARNES: I sure think so. Barack Obama, of course, said in that debate that the first job, his first job as president would be to call in the Joint Chiefs of Staff and say you have to start getting outside Iraq immediately — his first job as president.

They have gone so far now that I think they have put themselves in a vulnerable position. They never mentioned once the "S" word. You know what that word is? "Surge." It didn't come up.

And it should have been asked by Tim Russert and Brian Williams. They should have asked about that too and pointed out what has actually happened in Iraq, the progress in crushing Al Qaeda and reducing violence, the de-de-Baathification law that has been based, and all these things. They pretended like none of that had happened.

KONDRACKE: If they were asked, the Party line is, oh, well, we always thought if you put in more troops that it would have an effect on the situation on the ground. That's not what they said when they were opposing the surge. They said the surge would fail, and that our troops would all get chewed up.

Their performance on the surge and the success of the surge has been dismal. And I don't know — because the war is still very unpopular, I'm not sure that they're going to be punished for it, but they surely should. And if, in November, as the election approaches, we are really making political progress, they are going to look like fools.

Last night, Hillary Clinton said that what she would do as president is end the Iraq war and resolve the war in Afghanistan. The word "win" is not in the vocabulary of Democrats.

KRAUTHAMMER: What I particularly like in what you call the track meet of retreat was Edwards' use of the word aggressive. He would be the most aggressive.

Now, in normal discourse, "aggression" means showing initiative, and energy, and pressing ahead.

HUME: And fighting.

KRAUTHAMMER: And here he will be the most aggressive in calling the most humiliating, precipitous, and complete withdrawal and retreat and defeat.

I think what is most interesting here is that when Hillary was ahead early in the middle of last year and it looked as if she was going to be inevitable, she was running in the general election and had a more nuanced, and more, I think, intelligent position on Iraq, which was, I'd leave the options open. I'm in favor of ending it, but not locking herself in.

Because of the scare that Obama has put into her and the fact that she really was saved in New Hampshire by her base, and the base is extremely antiwar, she's now shifted into a position in which she is in a track meet of retreat, and it is going to hurt her in the general election.

If we're in September and the war has turned and the casualties are down and the Iraqi government is succeeding, to say we wanted to get out and have it collapse on the level of the collapse in Saigon I don't think is a winning proposition.

HUME: Let's talk for a minute about the Nevada caucus. On the Republican side, as you've noted, Romney is the one that has made a real effort there. He appears likely to win. Democrats are really fighting it out out there. And they are both Saturday.

What kind of a turning point, if any, is that outcome out there likely to be?

KONDRACKE: Well, the Culinary Workers Union and SEIU, Service Employees International Union, the state chapter, have endorsed Obama. This is a caucus. It's not a primary. And, therefore, organization matters a lot. So I would think that Obama would be and advantaged.

HUME: And if he wins, is he then the frontrunner in the Democratic race, or is it too small of a test?

BARNES: They have no idea how many folks are going to show up, but it won't be that many; 50,000 maybe. About 300,000 Democrats showed up in Iowa to the caucus, so it will be much smaller.

One of the problems with the union endorsements, the membership, and some of them are heavily Hispanic — Hispanics tend to not vote for African-American candidates.

HUME: That's an issue, we took some of that up in the focus group.

The reason we're not talking about Democrats in South Carolina is they don't vote until the 26th there.

That's it for the panel. Stay tuned, though, to see a fool-proof way for a debate moderator to keep those Republican candidates from going over their time limits.

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