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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on the Florida Primary, Presidential Candidates and Elections

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from January 23, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM DELAY, (R), FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: John McCain is not going to do anything to build the party or build the conservative movement or represent the conservative part of America.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: McCain, frankly, has shown conservatives little but contempt over many years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: A couple of samples from the Republican right of the opinion held there of John McCain, at least by many in that part of the party.

Some thoughts on this and what it may mean in this race from Fred Barnes, the Executive Editor of "The Weekly Standard," Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and Mort Kondracke, the Executive Editor of "Roll Call," FOX News contributors all three.

It's no secret that McCain is held in minimum high regard by a number of people on the right. So far, though, he's moving right along toward the Republican nomination, and there are some who think he can't be stopped.

But what does this sentiment tell us, if anything, about whether he can be stopped, or will be?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: Well, nothing becomes him so much as his enemies: the far-right.

But — and they're fulminating, especially because he seems to be the frontrunner at the moment, and they have a lot of beefs with him — the gang of 14, he's in favor of quote, unquote, amnesty for illegal immigrants, and wants to import drugs from Canada, which I, frankly, think is a bad idea, too, but —

HUME: You don't have to be far-right to think that, do you, Mort?

KONDRACKE: No, you don't. I think it is a terrible idea — it will inhibit medical research. In any event —

HUME: If you were a conservative Republican, would you believe that John McCain is a reliable tax cutter?

KONDRACKE: I would not, based on his record. Would I believe that Mitt Romney is an anti-immigrationist? N. I mean, he flipped on that.

Would I believe that Mitt Romney is against abortion? I guess I would.

HUME: We're talking about McCain here. We'll get to Romney later.

KONDRACKE: The point is that they both flipped and McCain is now — OK. Look, McCain is not inevitable by a long shot. He got 30 percent of the conservative vote in South Carolina. He got less — I forget what the number was, but he certainly did not carry Republicans in South Carolina. He won because of independents and moderates and liberals, to the extent that there are any.

So he's got to prove somewhere that he can win the support of Republicans and conservatives. And so far, he has not proved that.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Yes. Look, I think that McCain is not the inevitable nominee at all. He is not even the solid frontrunner. He has won South Carolina and New Hampshire, which has some historical significance.

HUME: It's important.

LIASSON: Yes, and those historical rules are good until they stop working.

But, look, I think it's not a good idea to underestimate the forces arrayed against McCain, and there are people who are quite passionate about it. And there are a lot of them, and they will probably start coalescing behind Mitt Romney.

But McCain has to show, as Mort said, he can win Republican votes. He is going into a period of closed primaries. Some of the states allow Independents to vote, very few of them, and he has to win in states that only let Republicans regulars vote. And these are winner-take-all primaries.

HUME: So what does Giuliani's presence in the race do, help or hurt?

LIASSON: I think that it helps Romney. As long as Rudy Giuliani is standing and fighting, he is splitting the moderate vote with John McCain, especially in states like Illinois and New York and New Jersey and California. And that is a good thing for Mitt Romney.

You always want to run against a field of people that split your opposing vote. That's what happened to him.

HUME: Let's talk about Florida where the polling average has it a three-way tie, McCain, Romney and Giuliani, basically.

There is a new poll out tonight from The Miami Herald, also purchased by other newspapers, that has Giuliani falling off the table down to 15 percent, tied with Mike Huckabee, who is unable to mount a full effort in Florida. Look, that's one poll, but it's of some interest, perhaps.

Fred, Mara mentioned the possibility that the conservatives might coalesce behind Romney.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes, but we've been hearing about the possibility of this —

HUME: But they haven't done that so far. What is going on there?

BARNES: The sure haven't. There is some resistance to Romney not just among conservatives but among Republicans in general. And although he is the ideal candidate, at least by what he says now issue- wise —

HUME: On paper.

BARNES: — on paper; he is a social conservative and economic conservative and foreign policy conservative.

On Foreign policy John McCain is campaigning as a conservative. If I were campaigning as a conservative, I wouldn't worry about what Tom DeLay says, but I would worry about what Rush Limbaugh says, because Rush Limbaugh matters. He has a huge audience, it's mainly conservatives and Republicans, people who are going to vote in primaries like Florida.

That's why my advice would be, if I were John McCain and I'm a conservative, I would certainly want to go — and Rush Limbaugh lives in Florida — I would want to go see him and express my conservatism to him.

HUME: He's not going to do that, I don't think.

Let's assume for the sake of discussion that McCain moves forward here. Can the Republican Party ever really united behind him in your view?

BARNES: I think they can, but it will take a lot of work by John McCain convincing conservatives that he is one of them. He'll have to repudiate what he has done not in the last year, but the seven years before that, which was sort of poke 'em in the eye and develop ties to Democrats.

HUME: Do you think he can do that?

LIASSON: I don't think he can do that.

HUME: You don't think he can, or will?

LIASSON: No, I don't think he will repudiate — John McCain, if anything, is true to himself. When you say "if he moves forward," you mean winning Florida? I think winning Florida would be a very important thing for John McCain, and that will help some people get over their McCain problem. Not all of them, but he doesn't need all of them.

KONDRACKE: And if Hillary is the nominee, that will help. If you're Rush Limbaugh, would you rather have John McCain or Hillary Clinton?

BARNES: McCain does not have to be untrue to himself, but he can be a little more solicitous of conservatives.

LIASSON: That's different than repudiating everything you've done in the past seven years.

HUME: When we come back, can Hillary Clinton win by losing in South Carolina? We'll talk about that and her strategy against Obama next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The only thing I want to make sure of is that when he goes after me that he goes after me on the basis of facts and policy differences, and stuff isn't just made up.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He has put forth facts. And I know facts are stubborn, and I know it's sometimes hard to keep track of facts, but facts matter. What you say matters. What you do matters. And it is clear that this is a difficult subject area for Senator Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Well, OK. There they go. Obama says they're lying about his record, and she says no, we're not. She speaks of he, of course she is talking about her husband, who has been in the forefront in critiquing Barack Obama.

In the meantime, we have a poll to show where this race stands in South Carolina, and this is the outcome that, roughly speaking, everybody expects — that Obama will win probably handily.

And this raises the question of whether or not the effect of this will be to simply pigeonhole him or portray Barack Obama as somebody who really can only win where there is a huge black turnout and it overwhelms the other vote.

LIASSON: That's wasn't true of Iowa.

I don't think that will be the effect of the South Carolina win for Barack Obama, and he really needs to win there. Of course, it will be discounted by the Clinton camp who will say he always was supposed to.

And she, of course, left the state for a while. She is coming back tomorrow to give an economic speech. She has left Bill Clinton in her stead. So now he really is running against Bill Clinton literally in South Carolina.

But I think the spectacle of what is happening in the Democratic Party is quite extraordinary and has a lot of Democrats worried. The level of animosity, the level of attacks has gotten so intense — directed by the Clintons to Barack Obama — that —

HUME: He shot back, though.

LIASSON: He shot back, but you would have to say that the aggression started on their part. And he's been forced, which is exactly what they wanted to do, to answer charge after charge after charge. Instead of giving inspiring speeches, he is there refuting the things they're saying about him, which is exactly what they wanted to do.

And it raises questions on the part of some Democrats why isn't it better to merely beat this guy rather than obliterate him? In other words, for the Clintons, don't they want to co-opt and bottle what he has?

This is somebody who is extraordinarily inspiring. He has inspired Democrats like no other politician in generations.

You would think that they would want to somehow co-opt that rather than try to make him out to be just another corrupt politician with ties to sleazy people, which is what they're trying to do, and there are plenty of Democrats who think this is ultimately very bad for the party.

BARNES: They want to win.

LIASSON: Is that the only way to win?

BARNES: Look, Hillary Clinton isn't John F. Kennedy or Franklin Roosevelt. She is a very flawed candidate. I chuckled when I heard what she was saying. It's so typical of the Clintons, attacking their opponent for what is their own very strong weakness.

And certainly truth-telling is one of Hillary Clinton's weaknesses, so what do they attack Obama on? What he says about Iraq and his Iraq record is fairy tale. Nobody has shifted one's position more, and more often, depending almost every week on whether there is a Democratic debate or not on television, than Hillary Clinton on Iraq.

I tell you, the Clintons, they are brazen. And they do have poor old Obama in the position where Bill Clinton gets so much media attention, and he doesn't have any bigwig who can step out and respond to Bill Clinton. He has to respond to Bill and respond to Hillary. And he is spending all his time responding, and that's not good.

KONDRACKE: You remember in 1988, Bob Dole was opposing George Bush the First, and he famously said "Quit lying about my record!"

Well, he lost. And anybody who is in the position of constantly saying stop lying about my record, and Obama, in fact, says it much more politely than that, is going to lose, because he can't go on the offensive against his opponent.

All I can say is I feel sorry for him, but if he can't deal with the Clintons, how is he going to deal with Ahmadinejad or Putin?

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