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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Barack Obama Taking on Bill Clinton

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from January 21, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: For the last two days he said President Reagan was the engine of innovation and had a more lasting impact on America than I did. And then the next day he said in the '90's the good ideas came out from the Republicans, which will be costly, maybe, down the road for him, because it is factually not accurate.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The former president, who, I think, all of us have a lot of regard for, has taken his advocacy on behalf of his wife to a level that I think is pretty troubling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, GUEST HOST: There you see former president Bill Clinton and Senator Barack Obama back and forth. Obama is now pushing back against some of the things that President Clinton has said.

And today Representative James Clyburn from South Carolina, a very prominent African-American, who is uncommitted in this Democratic race so far, said the former president needs to "chill out."

So what about this back and forth? How about some analytical observations from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer — FOX News contributors all.

Mort, let's start you with. President Clinton obviously has been fairly effective on going after Barack Obama, and the Obama campaign has had enough.

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: Yes. Well, Bill Clinton is playing Hillary Clinton's hatchet man and expending his worldwide reputation as the guy who is beating up on Barack Obama.

And some people are criticizing him and even some people in the campaign are criticizing him, but he would not be doing what he is doing if Hillary didn't want him to do it. And I've got to say, it is pretty effective, because it is driven Barack Obama into rookie mistakes.

One of the major rookie mistakes that you should not make is to get into a fight with a surrogate of the candidate that you're opposing. So now he is in a fight with Bill Clinton. It is like you are the presidential nominee and you get into a fight with the vice presidential nominee of the other party — it's crazy.

The second thing you don't do is you don't get on the defensive, and Barack Obama is on the defensive and explaining himself and saying other people are lying about me. He is not going after Hillary's vulnerabilities, such as saying "35 years of experience? Like what?" That sort of thing.

BAIER: What about the line that Senator Obama said, "I have a formidable opponent — actually, I have two," and this whole line about "I'm not just running against Hillary, I'm running against Bill Clinton"?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: If he is trying to imply that a two on one is unfair, it won't help him. He is a big boy and these are the big leagues, and you got to fight. So I think in that respect, it is not going to help him.

But Bill has been quite effective. I think Mort is right about this. He has actually managed to focus this on Obama.

What he did is he took a candidate who was sort of transcendent with his great soaring rhetoric, and he brought him down to earth by challenging him on his votes, his experience, and what he has done in the past — something that the media had not done. And because he's the ex- president, and because he's the spectacle of his red-faced rants are so compelling, people could not ignore him.

And when Hillary is running against an icon and transcendent character, she doesn't have a chance. The moment it is her as a person against him as a person with a record and a past, she does, and she wins, as she did in New Hampshire, and, of course. in Nevada.

BAIER: Fred, is there any backlash potentially from the Clinton campaign from the former president? You have, as I mentioned, Representative Clyburn. Senator Ted Kennedy said "Take it easy." Senator Rob Emanuel said "Hey, slow down a little bit President Clinton."

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": It's been reported they said that to President Clinton, but they have to come out publicly and say it if it is going to have an effect.

Quietly leaking words to "Newsweek" about how tough they were with Bill Clinton, that doesn't stop much.

I don't think the Clintons will stop. They have a unique advantage, and that is Bill Clinton, not just the candidate, but Bill Clinton, because he can get enormous media attention in whatever he says.

The charges saying Barack Obama said Republicans had good ideas back in the '90's, and so on, is wrong. What Obama said was they were the party of ideas back then, and it was true. The Republican Party was — and they aren't so much now, as a matter of fact.

But no matter what Bill Clinton says, he gets enormous attention as if he were the candidate himself. It is like a basketball team that you are facing, and they have two great scorers. And you concentrate on one and be pretty good against one, and then the other one — you concentrate on Shaq, and then Kobe Bryant buries three-pointers.

And that is what Clinton has been doing, and it hurts. It's unfair, but politics is unfair.

BAIER: So the consensus on this panel is that the Clintons have been effective in their strategy and there is no backlash.

KONDRACKE: Not yet.

KRAUTHAMMER: It may hurt them in the general election. He is not as popular among, obviously, the Independents and Republicans. He is worshipped among the Democrats and he gets away with this. But in the general he would be a huge liability.

BAIER: The last subject on this topic.

When we come back — many Republicans say the real fight will be in Florida as each of the four leading GOP contenders considers the gateway to a successful Super Tuesday. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's looking real good. There is no question we have put a lot into Florida, and we have been campaigning here for quite some time, as you know. And we believe a victory here is very important, so we're working as hard as we can to reach every voter in Florida to get them out to vote, to make their vote count.

JOHN MCCAIN, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When we come into Florida with some wind at our back and recognize we have hard campaigning in the next eight days or so. I'm confident that we can win here in this very important state that represents so much of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: There you see Rudy Giuliani and John McCain today about their chances in Florida, the next big stop on January 29 for the Republicans.

A new poll out today, it's only one poll, the newest, here, and you see it. The numbers are interesting: 25 percent for Mitt Romney, 20 percent for John McCain, and Rudy Giuliani at 19 percent. This is Rasmussen reports, it's an automated phone poll. It's the newest one out and the only one out, but it is one look at the situation in Florida.

We're back with our panel. Fred, how are you looking at this race as it sets up this week? A lot of campaigning.

BARNES: I think those numbers that you showed — 25, 20, 19 — show that, for primary polling, it's a tie, that any of those three could win. I don't think Mike Huckabee, who, I think, was at 13 and Fred Thompson at 12, I don't think they really have a chance at winning. But it's going to be a o tough race involving Romney, McCain, and Giuliani.

Giuliani, you know, gave up everything else and is really emphasizing Florida, and he has been getting voters out. You can vote early in Florida, I think they have been doing it for two wee, and you can vote absentee very easily. The early voting is what matters.

I'm not sure how much of it there has been, but there has been a considerable amount. And Giuliani is there getting people out.

I think the difference in this is you're going to see a much more conservative sounding John McCain. You're not going to hear a lot of his jibes about other conservatives or Republicans he doesn't like and smart aleck talk.

He is going to, obviously, talk about national security, but he is also going to talk about taxes and talk about the economy. He is going to talk about the conservative judges, and things that he hasn't talk enough about in the past.

And a lot of conservatives — he has alienated a lot of conservatives. He is going to try to win a good number of them back.

BAIER: Mort, the assumption is that Senator Fred Thompson will pull out of the race. He has already pulled out of the debate this week, which is a pretty much a telltale sign. We don't know when that announcement will come. It could come as early as tomorrow. If that happens, where do you think those voters go?

KONDRACKE: I think they go to Romney, primarily. The Thompson vote was largely a regular Republican conservative vote. I mean, some of them might go to Huckabee in so far as some of them might be evangelicals and pro-life people, because he was endorsed by the National Right to Life committee. But I think, in the main, they will probably go to Romney.

When Florida is over, I think we will either have a three-man race if Giuliani can score well. He probably has to win, but maybe a close second would suffice. Or it's going to be a two-man race between Romney and McCain.

Romney has the advantage of the economy being bad, and that's his strong suit. Foreign policy has been fading a little bit. So I think advantage Romney at the moment.

BAIER: Charles, Giuliani has spent 49 days campaigning in Florida. Do you think this is going to pay off?

KRAUTHAMMER: He now calls it home. He has a lot of snowbirds who are ex-northeasterners he would appeal to, but yes, this is it for him. He has this long-shot gamble that he can ignore all the earlier states.

And if he wins in Florida, you got to remember, Super Tuesday is only a week later, and New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut are all winner-take-all.

Now, Giuliani has slipped in all of those states. He is no longer even ahead in New York. However, if he wins in Florida, then he gets all the media attention, which, of course, he lost in the last three weeks. He regains it.

And if he wins all those states, which are winner-take-all, he is a in a very strong position. So it's a gamble with a high payoff.

And as to the polls which you cited, it really is essentially a tie right now. It's impossible to say between McCain and Romney and Giuliani. All you can say is that Huckabee is trailing.

BAIER: It's going to be an interesting time before January 29.

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