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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Barack Obama's Momentum and GOP Voting Controversy

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from February 11, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know my sense of caucus s tates. They are primarily dominated by activists. They don't represent the electorate. We know that.

As I said, my husband never did well in caucus states either. So it doesn't surprise me. It doesn't affect me one way or the other.

We picked up delegates. We continue to pick up dele gates. We're going to pick up delegates. And at the end of the day that's what's going to eventually determine the outcome of this nomination.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, GUEST HOST: That was Senator Hillary Clinton today talking about what was a rough weekend for the Clinton campaign: a bunch of losses, five of them in all; Barack Obama picking up a number of those races over the weekend.

As you look at the delegate scorecard, the overall delegate picture, we have it at 1,136 for Hillary Clinton and 1,108 for Barack Obama as we head into the Potomac primaries coming up tomorrow.

Now some analytic observations about this race: Bill Sammon, senior White House correspondent of Washington Examiner, Mara Liasson national political correspondent for National Public Radio, and Jeff Birnbaum, columnist of The Washington Post — FOX News contributors all.

Jeff, we'll start with you. Heading into the tomorrow in the Potomac primaries, it is clear that Obama has momentum.

JEFF BIRNBAUM, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: He also has poll numbers that look very formidable. He is in the mid-50s, basically, versus Hillary Clinton in the 30's in Virginia and Maryland; also a sizable lead in the District of Columbia.

And if that were to come true — and we need to be careful about that; we've been wrong about looking that too closely at polls in the past, in particular — it will mean, I think, that Barack Obama will actually be literally the frontrunner. He will have more delegates than Hillary Clinton in all likelihood, and that will be a formidable position.

And it doesn't look like there are many races between now and March 4th, the next Super Tuesday, the mini-Super Tuesday that includes Iowa and Texas, that Hillary Clinton will have — Ohio, excuse me, and Texas- -will have a very good day.

BAIER: There was the shakeup in the Clinton campaign, the campaign manager stepping down and changing to Maggie Williams, a long time aide of Hillary Clinton. And, Mara, as you look at this race, is the Clinton campaign in trouble heading into this week?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: This week, meaning tomorrow, you could say they're in trouble because they fully expect to lose three primaries tomorrow. And, privately, they'll say they expect that after tomorrow night that he will be ahead in the delegate count, including super delegates, which hasn't been true up until now.

However, they think they are very well positioned in Ohio and Texas and Rhode Island, which are the March fourth primaries. And, don't forget, there is the final firewall, April 22 in Pennsylvania.

Those states have her kind of electorate: lunch bucket Democrats, blue collar Democrats, a lot of older voters, especially in Pennsylvania, and, also, she does well among white women and Latinos in Texas. That's been her coalition.

We don't know if he can make inroads into that. He has in some states done better with her voters. She hasn't really made inroads into his coalition, which, of course, is young people, African-Americans, and what you might call upscale, affluent, kind of Bradley-Tsongas-type Democrats.

But what you've got is this big, long period. We have never had two weeks between them. Now we will have practically a leisurely march here where you could get that sense of momentum building for him. He really hasn't had this much time to do that kind of campaigning.

BAIER: Bill, before you weigh in, I want to play Barack Obama on the campaign trail talking about his chances in the general election. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can get more Independent votes and more Republican votes and offset whatever advantages he may have, and actually succeed.

I think Senator Clinton starts off with 47 percent of the country against her. That's a hard place to start if you want to win an election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: And the heat Barack Obama is talking about is the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain. As you look at AP match-ups that just came out, new polls, Barack Obama: 48 percent, McCain: 42 percent; Hillary Clinton: 46 percent, and John McCain: 45 percent.

So Obama is taking that message to the trail.

BILL SAMMON, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Yes. He's also correct. Republicans are very much worried about running against Barack Obama. They would much prefer to run against Hillary, because she has all those juicy negatives you can sink your teeth into. She is so polarizing you could really throw a lot of baggage at her.

Republicans are worried that if Barack Obama gets the nomination, it is like running against hope. How do you attack hope? How do you attack the dream candidate? Very tricky, as Hillary has found out.

I also think that Hillary Clinton is becoming in danger of becoming the Rudy Giuliani of the Democratic Party. All this talk about firewalls — I can afford to lose five contests over the weekend, three tomorrow, even two next week in Hawaii and Wisconsin, as long as I can win Ohio and Texas three weeks from tomorrow, or, if not then, maybe I can win the final fire wall of Pennsylvania.

That strategy didn't work well for Rudy Giuliani because by the time you get to those states where you think you're ahead, the dynamics starts to shift, and it changes. She may not be ahead in Ohio or Texas and Pennsylvania if she keeps losing all the intervening contests.

LIASSON: One other thing about these — look, electability does matter to Democrats, obviously, but these are within the margin of error. I think both Democrats — when you look at a general election, what states is Hillary Clinton going to get that Barack Obama can't, or vice versa? That's how you have to really look at this.

Both of them are actually equally as strong against John McCain. It is hard to argue that there is a state that Barack Obama can get that she can't or vice versa.

BAIER: And Hillary Clinton was talking states today, saying the ones that Obama already won really wouldn't mean anything for Democrats.

LIASSON: No. Democrats aren't going to get Idaho or Nor Dakota, or those states he won. But is she also saying that he can't win California, New York, or New Jersey, the states she won? That doesn't make sense.

BAIER: That's it for this topic. When we come back the all stars size up the Republican presidential race: John McCain versus Mike Huckabee, who is winning where; and that voting controversy — next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MCCAIN, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's pretty clear that we won, and some of these are close. There was a couple of close races we had with Governor Huckabee, but he certainly has the right to challenge if he chooses to.

MIKE HUCKABEE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What happened in Washington is nothing short of outrageous. It's the kind of thing that one does not expect in America, and most certainly does not expect in the Republican Party — for a Party Chairman to simply say, well, we counted 87 percent of the ballots, and that's enough for us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: There's John McCain and Mike Huckabee talking about Washington State. The caucuses were held there on Saturday night. The GOP chairman there, Luke Esser, called the race for John McCain even though it was just 87 percent in.

Right now, we can tell you 93 percent of the vote. They're still counting out there in Washington State, and there are a little more than 200 votes separating the two candidates.

Let's go back to our panel. Bill, this is obviously — Mike Huckabee is saying this is a big deal, we got to keep counting. It's 18 delegates on the line. He still trails a lot, but it is still a matter of votes.

SAMMON: At this rate, in another week we will have the entire 100 percent counted. This is ridiculous. They never should have called it without finishing.

It is not like a network projecting a win. This is a state party that is supposed to count all the votes and then decide who has won. I think even McCain sees the merit in Huckabee's argument.

It is not that Huckabee is going to change the outcome of his nomination contest; McCain is clearly going to be the nominee. But as long as Huckabee stays in the race he provides a vehicle in which conservatives can register their unhappiness with McCain for not being with them on a number of issues.

And so I think McCain is learning that it's not just one quick speech at C-PAC that's going to assuage all the conservatives and bring them onboard, it's going to be a long drawn out process, and people are going to be voting for Huckabee, and people are even going to vote for Romney, even though he's out, because he's still going to be on the ticket as a way to protest McCain.

But I think eventually most of them will come around.

BAIER: We get angry e-mails from Huckabee supporters who say there is still a way. We can still prevent John McCain from getting to the 1191 delegates. We can go to a brokered convention. Mike Huckabee can still get this nomination.

LIASSON: It is hard to see mathematically how he does that, he is so far behind.

However, I don't think it's that bad that John McCain has to go around and win conservative's hearts. He needs to do that for the general election. He might as well take the remaining few weeks that he has got before he absolutely wraps it up to do that.

We're not talking about having this go through April, like the Democrats might. I agree with Bill: he needs to do more than just C-PAC. He has an opportunity. Campaigning is good for him. He has to unify his Party.

BAIER: He has the endorsement of the former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, also Gary Bauer.

LIASSON: There is not doubt that the Party is coming around behind him, but that's not what he needs. He doesn't need the establishment figures of the party. He needs a fired up, energetic base who are going to go out and work for him and turn out for him.

BIRNBAUM: This does give him a few weeks to try to stir up the conservative base, but that's not what's going to get him a victory in November, I think.

What he needs to do is, as he's stirring up the base, to find conservative surrogates who can go out for him, and be his voice to the conservatives so that they don't stay at home. But he needs to move to the middle and to use his advantage with independents and moderates in order to —

LIASSON: He doesn't have to move, man. He's there!

BIRNBAUM: But he has to remind people that that is who he is, and especially if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee — who knows who the Democratic nominee is going to be. Obama is very strong with Independents as McCain is, but in what promises to be a Democratic year, McCain's hope is to move to the middle and find independents while securing as much of the conservative base as he can with the help of others.

BAIER: If we have an update on that Washington State number, we will bring it.

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