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Special Report

Showdown in Hawkeye State

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," August 11, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEWT GINGRICH, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that this could be one of the most interesting debates in a sense because what's happening around us is so historic.

TIM PAWLENTY, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm looking forward to the debate. It will be a great time opportunity for each candidate to share their record.

RICK SANTORUM, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They come with real tough questions. They take this responsibility here in Iowa very seriously.

HERMAN CAIN, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because of the success of the debates including tonight, which we also with high expectations, we have gone from a campaign that was in crawl to run.

REP. RON PAUL, R - TX - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hope you are there and I hope I have your vote and if you can round up a few more it may be significant because this is a significant event on Saturday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: A significant event in the straw poll here in Ames, a significant debate tonight as candidates try and stake their ground and differentiate between each other. Let's introduce our second panel. David Yepsen spent 34 years as political writer, editor, and columnist with the "Des Moines Register," - he's now the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, Kathie Obradovich is currently a political columnist for the "Des Moines Register," and Dave Price us a political reporter for WHO-TV it Des Moines. Welcome. Thanks for coming back.

Dave, I want to start with you. The sense about this thing, the importance of tonight, put it in perspective for people who don't live here.

DAVID YEPSEN, SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY: Well I've covered all these straw polls and this is the biggest, this is huge. Never had a straw poll combined with the debate so close to it. So how the candidates perform in this debate is going to have a big impact on the results that we see on Saturday. Candidate makes a mistake no time to recover, a candidate who does well tonight could have some momentum going into that poll. High stakes.

BAIER: Kathie?

KATHIE OBRADOVICH, "DES MOINES REGISTER": Yeah, I agree, I mean, if you are watching and you are committed to a candidate, you have a ticket to the straw poll, you want to know that your candidate is going to do well, cause you may find something else to do on Saturday if they don't. And conversely there is still time for you to decide to come on Saturday if you see somebody that really lights your fire. BAIER: Dave, do you agree?

DAVID PRICE, WHO-TV: Well you have so many dynamics here though because you have those who really campaigned and invested heavily in this straw poll, others who are maybe thinking ahead to the caucuses and then you have still others who are thinking beyond Iowa. So you have all of those different factions going at it tonight.

BAIER: Would you say that more people are undecided when they arrive this week, when they come to this debate or watch it, go to the straw poll? I mean the people we've talked to still are fishing.

PRICE: They are a lot of undecideds out there, but it's a little tougher to get the undecideds to actually show up here. Granted free barbecue and free music helps a little bit --

BAIER: Dairy Queen Blizzards?

PRICE: Yeah. But you wonder, will those undecideds find the motivation to actually show up here. Sure we're gonna have some of them.

BAIER: Kathie?

OBRADOVICH: Yeah, most of the time people come with thier candidate. The candidates are paying the tab, for the most part. It's a $30 ticket to get in and so ya know, sometimes people change their mind and they don't necessarily dance with the one that brung 'em sometimes, ya know. But that's kind of discouraged. Most of the time, they know who they're gonna vote for, some of them will vote and leave. In fact, I saw a Santorum ad that was promising 30 minutes in and out of Ames. So, ya know, some people are not going to stick around long enough to change their mind.

BAIER: David, for the debate, ya know it is logistically an issue when you have eight candidates and you are trying to get specifics, you're trying to follow up, you're trying to set the environment where they can go after each other. Who do you think stands to pick up the most tonight, who maybe has the most to lose?

YEPSEN: Well, I think Tim Pawlenty clearly has the most to lose. One of the functions of the straw poll, for better or worse is that it can knock a candidate out of the race. And I think Tim Pawlenty after his poor performance in an earlier debate really is under the gun here to try to punch through that clutter of all these candidates and galvanize his people. He has got a lot riding on Iowa. So I think -- I'm watching Tim Pawlenty.

BAIER: And the most to gain perhaps? Is that tough to judge, I mean, somebody could have a big night --

YEPSEN: Well, the obscure, somebody could and ya know, Michelle Bachmann did the last time. And so you can see that. I think Mitt Romney who seems to try to downplay Iowa a little bit. I think he's got a lot riding on here. He's first place in the polls in this state he spent 10 million in the state four years ago, he's got a good investment in this state. I think Romney is one to watch for the quick kill. If he can win in Iowa, he will run the table.

BAIER: It's interesting Kathie, he's not really playing in the straw poll and obviously spent a lot of money to win the last time. But as David mentions, he is still up there in the polls in this state.

OBRADOVICH: Yeah, Yeah, well he's not playing in the straw poll but he is on the ballot and so he does stand to possibly -- if he does well, for example, in the debate, he has supporters in Iowa who may come to the straw poll to support him. And he could do better than some of the candidates who are actually there competing. And he has no expectations at all. But anything he does that may be better than some of those lower tier candidates would be good for Mitt Romney.

BAIER: He had a bit of back and forth with a Democratic group at the state fair today which he said he's not going to raise taxes numerous times. Dave, but he's kind of sneaking in here in Iowa. I mean a lot of people said, maybe he's not going to do well here.

PRICE: It's sneaking a little bit, but he still makes a little bit of noise. Because he has a staff here, so why he personally hasn't come here, what? But about two times or so? He's got staff a staff that's worked pretty hard, so they still are working to get the vote Saturday so they can say hey we didn't really try here but look at all these votes we got.

BAIER: Last thing, down the row very quickly, Sarah Palin coming in town making a difference or just a publicity stunt?

YEPSEN: I think it's more of a publicity stunt. Keeps her name in the buzz. At some point she's got to get serious about whether she's a presidential candidate or not.

OBRADOVICH: I think it just continues to talk about who else may be out there, and that continues to feed that buzz.

PRICE: But is this just the first half of this one-two punch. Because she's coming back Labor Day weekend too. So if there would be a time to announce wouldn't that be it, if it's for real?

BAIER: Ah yes, we shall see. Not only that but Texas Governor Perry, it's very interesting here in Iowa. Thanks for having us, thanks for being here. That's it for the panel but stay tuned for some final thoughts ahead of tonight's debate.

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