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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Sarah Palin's Speech and the People McCain Turned Down for Her

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from September 3, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, (R) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She also has to make a go od speech tonight, she has to answer the questions well, she has to show good instincts. I think she's going to show all that.

And, of course, being more unknown than some of the others, she will have to demonstrate that, and I believe she will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: Some thoughts on all this controversy about Sarah Palin and the anticipation of her speech tonight from Fred Barnes, executive editor from the weekly standard, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, Bill Kristol, Editor of The Weekly Standard, and Juan Williams, senior correspondent of National Public Radio, FOX News contributors all four.

I'm just trying to think — I really can't think of a vice presidential nominee's speech — and of course she won't officially be the nominee until tomorrow, but I guess this will be the only time she has to speak to the convention — ever where the speech was so important.

By the time Dan Quayle spoke in '88, the media and everybody had gotten a stronger first impression of him — not a positive one it should be added. But this is different, isn't it, Fred?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: It is different. It is an important speech for her and for John McCain.

But I think she will do fine for a couple of reasons. One, she really is really a political natural. She got where she is not because she's somebody's wife or sister or-she's not anybody's protege. She got there because she has this ability to connect with people.

Basically what she has is something you can't teach — star quality. She really has it. I think we saw it at the first event on Friday.

And then the other thing is, of course, she has a great story to tell. She is more like John McCain than John McCain is. Her opposition to lobbyists — they're barred from even setting food in her office.

Look, if you are a conventional Republican and are looking for a conventional Republican in Sarah Palin, you're not going to find it.

HUME: What are you hearing, Mara?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think she has to give a good speech.

Look, just like Barack Obama, she is a political entrepreneur. She is self-made, and she burst on the scene, like Fred says, with no help, certainly not from her party, with which she has feuded probably worse than John McCain has even feuded with the Republican Party in Washington.

HUME: Is there any that evidence Barack Obama has feuded with his party?

LIASSON: No. On that, she is not like him. But I'm talking about in terms of her gifts, at least what we hear about them, and her star power and her charisma, she is a lot like him, and the fact that she came up through the system pretty much by herself.

She has to establish herself. This is the first time other than Friday that she will have national attention undivided. And so far the story has all been about her. Now she gets to tell the story in her own words.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: It is revealing that Barack Obama came up through the Chicago machine and was sort of a made man, you might say, in Hyde park. And then he was blasted by the power structure there. Nothing wrong with that.

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: That sounds like mafia, "made man"!

KRISTOL: OK. I take it back. Like Harry Truman, many fine people have come up through machine politics. That's the way Obama came up.

Palin defeated the incumbent governor in a primary, defeated the former governor in the general election. As Fred says, if you talk to Alaska Republicans, the conventional establishment ones, they are not so thrilled with here.

But she has an 80 percent approval rating. So she is a very popular, charismatic young governor of an interesting state. John McCain took her. What a surprise.

I love the way the media just is appalled. He decided he should have an interesting pick that could win the election instead of losing gracefully and accepting his role as bit player in the year of Barack Obama. I think she will do fine tonight.

WILLIAMS: I was curious about whether or not there had been a speech in the way that you talked about. So I went back and I look at what Geraldine Ferraro had said way back in 1984 when she was the first.

And she said, quoting, I think, Dr. King, "There's some moments that are beyond words." And she said tonight is one of them, and she spoke with pride and spoke about her family and her mother's belief in her.

Part of that is exactly what I think Sarah Palin needs to do today to introduce herself to the American people, because she has been under wraps. Even at this convention she has been under wraps.

So, in a sense, it's curiosity writ large, and it will be flame on or flame out. But in any case, it is going to be explosive, and everybody wants to watch, not only tonight, not only every interview she does, not only the debate. She is a point of fascination, I think, for the nation at this moment.

HUME: It seems to me, just looking at this, that I was saying for a long time that this election was not going to be about John McCain, that this election was going to be about Barack Obama and that John McCain was a known quantity who would be seen as an acceptable alternative, safe alternative if people decided they didn't want to vote for Obama.

This picture suggests to me that what McCain has decided to do is to make the election a lot about him, too, and that he has this idea with her on the ticket, they become a reform ticket, which is kind of a rebuttal to the change message of the other candidacy and the other campaign, and that he's going to go for it in that way.

I'm wondering now that I think about this, has there ever been a vice presidential candidate who stood to make as much of a difference? I can't think of one. Can you, Fred?

BARNES: Not really. It's not in the conventional way of this vice presidential candidate will help me win a state or particularly appeal to a block, although she appeals to conservatives, particularly social conservatives. But she is someone who has enlivened the ticket.

Maybe the closest one was Al Gore. Remember, Bill Clinton didn't take the conventional route in 1992. He picked someone his own age, a little more foreign policy experience —

HUME: Wasn't that really what it was thought to be about, more than anything, Mara, was Gore was a foreign policy pick.

LIASSON: It was something else. It was to double down on the fact he was a new Democrat. They were young centrists from the south in a border states. I think it just reinforced Clinton's message in that year.

I think the thing that is interesting now about what McCain has done. For a long time I think McCain was running a race that he had not set out to run. He was almost being forced to run as a more conventional Republican, which he isn't.

He has decided to go back to his roots, and to throw over some of the experience mantle. He certainly has lost the ability on some levels to make that charge against Obama by picking Palin.

On the other hand, he gets to go back to his maverick roots with her as a reformer. And I think that's probably the only chance he has this year, and he was smart to take it.

KRISTOL: The most important thing about this election has always been that there is no incumbent president or incumbent vice president on the ticket for the first time in 56 years. It throws out all the usual rules.

The reason the-your absolutely right, the reason the V.P. never matters is usually these elections are referendums on the president who is running for reelection.

Bush in '92, for all the talk of Clinton and Gore, we were the incumbent. I was part of that administration. People wanted to throw us out, they were going to throw us out. But they made a respectable V.P. pick whoever it was, or at least a vice president seeking to move up, and then sort of a referendum on his administrations and power.

This is a wide open election, and McCain I think grasped that and decided to go for the excitement with the pick of Palin.

HUME: Hold your thought, Juan, we have to take a break.

Some who were passed over in favor of Palin will get their turns at the podium tonight. We will set that up and recap the convention so far when we come back. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED THOMPSON, FORMER REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Democrats present a history-making nominee for president, history making in that he is the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee to ever run for president!

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN, (I) CONNECTICUT: I appeal to independents, Democrats, and Republicans. Let's come together this November to make a great American patriot, John McCain, our next great president!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Well, the delegates loved both the speeches. Fred Thompson whipping it on the Democrats, and Joe Lieberman speaking up for his friend John McCain. More of the same is he predicted tonight when the order will be Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee followed by Rudy Giuliani. All of that ahead, of course, ahead of Sarah Palin's big moment.

Some thoughts now on how this is going so far, and how well it seems that the Republicans are being able and will be able to present their case as the Democrats presented theirs in Denver. Juan Williams, you're first.

WILLIAMS: I think what you have here is people saying here is John McCain. And I thought that Joe Lieberman was effective last night, despite the fact that I don't think there were too many Democrats who were listening.

Bill Kristol said, and I think that is right, that there might be some independent-leaning people who might be taken by him. And I thought he did a very good job.

I think Fred Thompson was a little bit more red meat. I don't think he quite hit it. Fred Thompson, again said we're making an important decision. The excerpt we have from Rudy Giuliani so far says you're going to hire someone to do an important job.

And in a way that brings me back to Sarah Palin. Wait a second. Are we really thinking that Sarah Palin has the experience with her steep learning curve on foreign policy to be the president of the United States should John McCain meet some ill end? I think that's what people are worried about.

HUME: We can't get this subject out of our minds, can we?

KRISTOL: It's funny. You mentioned Huckabee, Giuliani, Romney, Thompson's spoke last night. They are all losers. They are all friends of mine - they were friends of mine. They lost to John McCain.

And the fact is Barack Obama picked a man who lost to him, Joe Biden, and lost 20 years ago. John McCain pick a winner. I believe it's true that neither McCain nor Palin has ever lost an election.

WILLIAMS: But she has never run for president.

BARNES: Actually she lost when she ran for lieutenant governor.

KRISTOL: Did she?

BARNES: Yes.

KRISTOL: OK, I take that back. But she is a winner in the sense that she won the gubernatorial election.

I think it is interesting. You see these guys speak and it is impressive and they're fine people. But watching them makes me feel if he had picked one of them as his V.P. it would have been how conventional as can you get? And he picked an interesting, charismatic younger person, and we'll see how she does tonight.

LIASSON: These choices were so completely different. Barack Obama did not pick Joe Biden because he is one of the people who ran for president. He picked him because he needed him to shore up his foreign policy experience.

HUME: Do you think he would have picked Biden if Biden hadn't run?

LIASSON: He might have. But also one of the things he saw in Biden when he did win was how well he did on the campaign trail even though he didn't get very many votes.

KRISTOL: He got fewer votes than Sarah Palin got running for mayor —

LIASSON: But it is how Biden handled himself in the debates.

Look, I think the thing about this roster is, yes, they were the losers. But also, look, Huckabee and Giuliani, they are pretty good speakers. And they're all in primetime. They're all leading up to Sarah Palin.

I think this is a pretty at least well-scheduled list of speakers, and they should start building a crescendo about making the case about Barack Obama and also for Sarah Palin.

BARNES: You know why Fred Thompson's speech was important? You saw how the crowd was hushed when he was going through the whole biography and the POW thing about John McCain. We all know that story. Most people don't.

I talked to my son who watched it on television in Ohio last night. He didn't know that. He thought the speech was a great speech. I think for most Americans, they learned a lot.

The other thing about picking Palin that I thought of — one thing that McCain wants to do is separate himself from Bush. And one way to do this is to sort of leapfrog Bush in the idea he is the third term, and you do it by, one, making the campaign about reform, and certainly Sarah Palin helps there, and, secondly, make it about McCain's biography and his strength and character. I think that's a winning strategy.

HUME: Thanks, panel. That's it for the panel.

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