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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on the Remaining Candidates' Chances at Taking the Tight Presidential Race

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from January 29, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mayor Giuliani and I haven't a ttacked each other. Governor Huckabee and I haven't attacked each other. Fred Thompson and I didn't attack each other. Ron Paul and I haven't attacked each other.

It has only been Governor Romney who decides to attack opponents when he thinks that they are moving up and succeeding. I mean, that's just the way he campaigns. It's just a matter of record.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: One is tempted to say "Welcome to national politics Senator McCain."

Some thoughts on the Republican race in Florida now from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of "The Weekly Standard," Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of "Roll Call," and Bill Kristol, Editor of "The Weekly Standard," and Nina Easton, Washington Bureau Chief of "Fortune" Magazine, FOX News contributors all.

We're not going to say anything about what the exit polling may have told us, the portion of it that we have gotten yet about how the horse race stands, except there is nothing in the exit polling that suggests that the race will be anything other than what the polls going in said: very tight.

Having said that, there are some things to be commented on about this race. Let's start with you Fred. What struck you about the way the voters seem to be voting, and why?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": There are a couple of things that I thought were interesting. One: John McCain still has a problem with conservatives, and the more conservative they are, the bigger his problem is with them.

Obviously, there were all these criticisms on him and criticism from Rush Limbaugh and other talk radio people, and Mitt Romney said he's a liberal. McCain is a liberal that joins with Democrats on all these things. I'm laughing because that's laughable.

HUME: McCain turned around and said that Romney was a liberal governor of Massachusetts.

BARNES: I know.

And the other thing is Hispanics are voting for McCain overwhelmingly. McCain, of course -- his policy, or at least his former immigration policy, has been much more generous toward them and liberal. I happen to agree with it, but -- toward Hispanics, toward immigrants, toward illegal immigrants in particular.

Romney has jumped all over him on that, and McCain seems to have gotten the better of it with Hispanic voters in Florida.

HUME: Except that the immigration -- people concerned about immigration would presumably include those Hispanics, all told, went for Romney.

BARNES: Yes, but those are the people who are conservative anyway. And so --

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: On this immigration issue -- in South Carolina, 52 percent of the Republican voters wanted to throw all illegal immigrants out of the country forthwith. Fortunately for McCain in Florida, since they know a lot more Hispanics and they work with them and all that, that number is much less. It's in the 30's, I think.

HUME: That's still high.

KONDRACKE: It's still high, but it ain't like South Carolina. And so that will reduce Romney's advantage to some extent.

The other fascinating thing to watch is going to be to see -- Mel Martinez and Governor Crist endorsed McCain at the last minute after many, many people had voted absentee already. I don't know why they waited so long.

But clearly McCain is going to benefit from those endorsements. But what about the people who cast their ballots ahead of time? Those people may vote for Romney.

HUME: And that turns out to be a critical factor, Bill, this business with the absentee ballots. It is apparently a big project in Florida. It has been going on awhile. It could decide the election.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": They have had two weeks of early voting and/or absentee voting in Florida. No one is quite sure what percentage of the vote is going to be early and absentee. Obviously you won't know until the actual, real vote is counted, and that's not something you can decide from an exit poll.

And even though you can ask in telephone polling beforehand --

HUME: Did you vote, yes.

KRISTOL: Did you vote, and how did you vote -- those numbers are hard to get.

So a lot will depend, it's clear, as Megan Kelly reported, that Romney did better among early voters. It's clear that McCain did better among those who voted today. And a lot will hinge on what percentage is the early vote. Is it 25 percent, is it 30 percent? Could it be as high as 35 percent?

And we won't know that until the real vote comes. So I think it will be a fun night. We are in an old fashioned election night in the sense that we really will have to look at the raw vote as it comes in.

And it could be a little misleading, too, because if they dump in all the absentee early voters at 8:01, when the polls close --

HUME: Presumably they have them tallied.

KRISTOL: They have them tallied, and most counties usually just throw them in right at the beginning, you could have misleading numbers for Romney probably early on.

And Miami-Dade, with the large Cuban vote which McCain seems to be doing well in, always seems to come in late for various reasons. Its part of the Miami spirit. They get up late, they go to bed late, their vote comes in late.

HUME: Did you hear that? I didn't hear that.

Nina, your turn.

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: I want to throw in two names we need to put in the mix here: Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani, both of whom topped the charts just months ago in both cases, topped the polls nationally, and both --

HUME: First Giuliani, then Huckabee.

EASTON: First Giuliani, then Huckabee. Giuliani, you can track his downward spiral from mid-November when a lot of news about his personal life started coming out. Huckabee looked like he was -- certain people here on this panel thought he could be the nominee at one point.

But, anyways, the point for tonight is that there is rumors about whether Rudy Giuliani will actually pull out tomorrow. Mike Huckabee has left the state. He's clearly going to come in third or fourth.

But what I wanted to say is that them leaving has thrown two interesting voting blocks into play. Mitt Romney actually is doing quite well among evangelicals, and McCain, as we talked about, is doing well among Cubans, even though -- by the way, he did not issue a Spanish language ad in that community, so it's clear both immigration and the emphasis on national security on his part has really helped him there.

KONDRACKE: In The New York Times today, front-page story, there was a fascinating one paragraph about how Giuliani rented a big plane to go from place to place, hopping around Florida, and he was showing up at these rallies and he had less than 100 people showing up at the rallies.

HUME: They were all on the plane!

KONDRACKE: It really is sad what's happening.

HUME: Let's talk about whether he will get out now. If he stays in, the argument, I suppose, would be well, he's from New York. He'll have strength there.

But doesn't he risk -- if he got out now, seeing the handwriting was on the wall -- he is the one who said, after all, that the winner of Florida will get the nomination -- doesn't he risk a humiliation in his home state?

BARNES: Look what John Edwards is saying among the Democrats: a brokered convention. If he had delegates he stays in and does well and wins New York -- it's winner-take-all in New York and New Jersey.

I'm not saying he is going to do that. I rather doubt that he does. But you can use that argument. There is this brokered convention excuse that a candidate who is not doing well can use them to stay in.

KRISTOL: He is, I believe, going to get out tomorrow.

HUME: When we come back: while Florida Democrats go to the polls, the candidates are spread out on the Super Tuesday states. We will take the temperature of that race next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The only issue you have to face today is this. It is a simple one. Who would be the best president, and how do you define that?

CROWD: Hillary!

CLINTON: You just remember that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Well, that's a different tone, or at least a different tune than Bill Clinton was singing just a week ago in his involvement in the Democratic race.

And make no mistake about it, Bill Clinton is a player and will be watched avidly. Barack Obama, of course, complains that he is running against two people, and perhaps he is.

Thoughts on this race now -- does this suggest to you what we're now hearing -- that was just a little bit of it, that Bill Clinton will trim his sails on this criticism of --

KONDRACKE: It sounds like he's off the negative stuff. They got whacked in South Carolina by everybody, practically, because of Bill Clinton's misbehavior. And as of yesterday they still hadn't decided quite how he was going to proceed.

But I guess they have decided now that he's not going to go negative, and he's just going to raise the issue of experience without being aggressive about it.

HUME: Will he be less noticeable and effective that way?

KONDRACKE: I think he will get less media attention. After a certain time, if he's not flaming out, I guess the media will cover him less, and therefore he will be a little bit less effective, although on the stump he can still get a crowd, and Democrats still revere him in most cases.

HUME: OK. Now, the polling that we have in all these Super Tuesday states show that when you take them all together in the big states Hillary Clinton still appears to have a quite sizable lead over Barack Obama.

We got a week to go here. Is there enough momentum generated and enough difference made by the South Carolina win and the Kennedy and other endorsements -- Kathleen Sebelius, the Governor of Nebraska today, who delivered the State of Union response last night -- to turn that around? Or is there not enough time?

KONDRACKE: I think that if Teddy Kennedy goes out and campaigns among Hispanics, which is what I understand he is going to do, maybe there is a chance of chipping into Hillary's lead.

HUME: Fred?

BARNES: I don't think so.

But, remember, there is proportional distribution of delegates, so Obama will get, even if he loses California to her, he will get almost as many delegates and so on.

But Bill Clinton, he still doesn't have it right, you know. Mort says the question is whether he's more or less effective. I think the question is whether he's more or less ineffective.

Remember, he started out introducing her. He was basically carrying her around Iowa on his shoulder. And then he goes to New Hampshire and starts thrashing Obama, and South Carolina he injects race.

Now he sounds like some schoolmarm chastising or scolding the voters. Now, you are remember that. You remember there's only one issue here!

That hurts. That's not helping.

HUME: Bill?

KRISTOL: Everyone is so mean to Bill Clinton.

There's plenty of time to Obama to win plenty of delegates, and I would say perhaps a majority of the delegates February 5.

The Kennedy endorsement is awfully important. It's a permission slip for liberals who respect Senator Clinton, they like senator Obama, but is Obama really possible? Could it happen?

If Ted Kennedy says I'm supporting Barack Obama, Tom Daschle, Senate Majority Leader while Bill Clinton was president, says I'm supporting Barack Obama, someone like Governor Sebelius of Kansas, various senators an governors from relevant states -- Claire McCaskill in Missouri, an important state on February 50 -- if they say I'm supporting Obama.

I think if you like them both, you like Hillary and you like Obama, suddenly it becomes plausible to vote for him, more plausible to vote for Obama.

EASTON: The other piece of the story we are seeing this is what I call the re-re-branding of Barack Obama. If the Clintons succeeded in somehow branding him as a black candidate, not only the passing of the Camelot crown, but Barack Obama today is in Kansas.

We saw this Sebelius endorsement, but the other piece of that story is that's where his white grandparents and white mother are from, and he's trying to remind people that, yes, he has a Kenyan father. He was raised by a white mother, white grandparents, and he is not just a black candidate. He is more transcendent than that.

And I think you will see more efforts by the Obama camp to break out of that mold that the Clinton camp tried to put him in.

BARNES: He just has to give a speech like that one Saturday night. Look, I think some people here may be over-thinking this. The fact is he is a guy that can inspire. He gives a great speech.

HUME: You think he is going to be the president, don't you?

BARNES: I do. Well, I think he has a better chance than anyone else.

But he has a vision, and all the Clintons have are tactics.

KRISTOL: There is a debate Thursday night with Obama and Clinton. So he can do all the speeches he wants to small audiences. That will have a national audience of Democrats watching.

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