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Hannity

Primary Lessons From the Past: Two Months Out, Nothing's a Sure Thing

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," October 27, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: It's difficult to predict what will happen in any primary battle, and the race for the 2012 Republican nomination has been no different. Now, the past two months of this contest have been one incredible roller coaster ride. Now, we've seen frontrunners come and go and some unlikely candidates surge to the top of the pack.

Now, at the moment, we are just about two months away from the Iowa caucuses. And to give you an idea of what could lie ahead, well, let's take a look at what the GOP field looked like just two months ago.

In late August in a Fox News poll, it was Rick Perry with the commanding lead over his rivals. Mitt Romney was still running strong with 18 percent of the vote. Sarah Palin was still in the mix and Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann rounded out the top five.

But that was then, this is now. Herman Cain who was not on anybody's radar back in August is the frontrunner with 24 percent of the vote. Mitt Romney remains in second. Newt Gingrich is in double digits with 12 percent, and Rick Perry has fallen to only 10 percent. Ron Paul now running in fifth place.

So, it gives you an idea of just how dramatically things can change in only two months.

So, how's this field going to look come January? Here with some predictions, the author of "Courage and Consequence," senior adviser to George W. Bush. He is a well known Fox News contributor, best known for his white board, the one and only Karl Rove. Sir, how are you?

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Fabulous. How about you, Sean?

HANNITY: All right. You want to even add more texture to this. I understand you have a perspective going back to 2008 that's pretty interesting. What do you got?

ROVE: Yes. Well, look, first of all, let's use one set of numbers which is the Real Clear Politics average of all the recent polls. And you're right. Herman Cain has come from nowhere to lead in that by 25. Mitt Romney at 24. Rick Perry at 11, and Newt Gingrich at nine. Now, the Real Clear Politics average is a good way to sort of get, you know, sort of the outliers out of it by averaging together recent polls but it's also a lagging indicator. And Herman Cain sort of peaked two weeks ago at 29 and 30, the highest numbers he hit in a couple of polls, drifted down a little bit, but this is a pretty astonishing move from, you know, way back in the pack up to the top.

But let's not forget that things change pretty dramatically. Here's where the contest was four years ago today. Rudy Giuliani at 28. Fred Thompson at 18. McCain at 14 and Mitt Romney at 11. And we know that by January 3rd, the Iowa caucuses, Mike Huckabee came out of nowhere and became a real contestant, and Rudy and Fred were gone by the time of the Iowa caucuses.

So, we have about 68 days until the Iowa caucus vote on the third of January. You take out the Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year's holidays, and there's about a 45 days during which these candidates can campaign. And we're going to see lots of ups and downs between now and then. Because that's the nature of a primary contest.

HANNITY: All right. Now, we had Herman Cain on the program last night. Now, he made some comments about you and he doesn't like that white board of yours in case, I don't know if you saw those comments, and he said, wait a minute...

ROVE: He likes this one. He likes this one.

HANNITY: Well, I don't think there's anything not to like there.

ROVE: Yes.

HANNITY: All right. He has been able to sustain, you know, he's gone through a debate defending his 9-9-9 plan and he still remained on top. It seems that the other comers surged and fell off a lot more quickly. Why do you think he's been able to sustain his surge, and interestingly, Mitt Romney just holds in there in the mid 20s the entire time.

ROVE: Yes. Well, first of all, I'm not certain that he's necessarily sustaining it longer. He began this move in essence in late September after the disastrous performance in the Florida debate by Rick Perry and the Florida straw poll vote and has moved up. But then he hit his high point mid-month at 29 in one national poll, 30 in another and has began to decline it. I think it's a similar pattern that we saw for Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry himself who, you know, had basically a seven-week swing where he was at or near the top of the pack. So, we'll see how sustained it is. But look, I don't want to diminish how important it is.

And look, I understand he's a little thin skinned. My job is not to be a cheerleader for every candidate simply because they have an R behind their names. I get paid by the News Corp, Fox News, to call balls and strikes. And what I said about him was that he had an opportunity here and he needed to exploit that opportunity by showing up in the early states Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Instead, he's doing things like he's in Arkansas tonight. And I also said, which really got his goat was, look, everybody gets mulligans. He gets more mulligans than others because he's so passionate, he's a businessman, he's not a politician, he can say "I don't know." But you take the laundry list of problems. Like, you know, are we going to negotiate with terrorists, the self inflicted wound that he had on abortion. If he thinks he's kind of, you know, I don't know what the Palestinian's right of return is. I don't know what a neoconservative is.

HANNITY: I asked him about this last night. Look. I'm a registered conservative in New York where you can register as a conservative. I'll tell you what I'm looking for, if this means anything to you, because I'm also undecided, and I'm just, I'm not there because I don't need to be there, and the process having been through this a number of times is fascinating to me because there's a lot of ups and downs and changing of positions. And I want to see these guys when they're under fire.

But I'm looking for, because I think conservative principles work for the country, the most conservative candidate that also can win, and that means beat Obama in a debate and beat him in the general election. Do you see that candidate yet? Have you gotten to the point yet where you have not?

ROVE: No. No. Look, first of all, I may be one step beyond you. I've decided I'm not going to make up my mind until I get to the Texas primary because look, I'm focused on helping American Crossroads raise a boatload of money to help defeat President Obama. And it is better for me to stay focused on that. And basically, look, I'm like a lot of people. In fact, it was funny, I was talking about three or four different people today in different parts of the country talking about politics, talking about Crossroads, talking about the presidential race. And every one of them had the same thing which is, I'm not yet settled. I want to make certain that whoever gets the nomination is capable of beating President Obama. But the longer they can look at them, the better off they feel.

HANNITY: Is anybody out in your mind for example. Rick Perry has just come out with his flat tax plan and his energy plan. He surged very quickly, he's gone down in large part I think because of his debate performances. Can he bounce back, for example, in your view?

ROVE: Sure. Look. Remember, we had John McCain if you recall here.

HANNITY: Eleven percent.

ROVE: He is at 14. He is at 14.

HANNITY: Good point.

ROVE: He jumps ahead of these guys. So, really, the conduct, how they conduct themselves in the next 68 days, it matters a great deal. Can they come back, yes, absolutely, we'll watch them closely.

HANNITY: All right. What do you make, it seems that after every debate Newt Gingrich gains another two or three points. The Fox News poll that came out this week has him at 12 percent. And this is an average I think that goes back a month. But after every debate he goes up. Do you think he could possibly emerge as a challenger?

ROVE: No.

HANNITY: What?

ROVE: Absolutely. Look, here's this. Last Friday night, Greta asked me a similar question. I said, sure, he was the adult on the stage. He did an excellent debate performance, he looks like he's the most informed person about all of these issues which he is, and he's got an opportunity.

HANNITY: OK. Next question.

ROVE: Yes.

HANNITY: I'm not trying to cut you short but I'm trying to get everybody in. All right. Governor Romney seems to be -- there seems to be questions in the conservative ranks whether or not a governor from a liberal state like Massachusetts, is he the conservative that he sounds like on the campaign trail and in the debates, or is he the guy that supported Romneycare and changed some positions in Massachusetts? What do you -- I think he's performed very well in the debates, but this is what I hear from a lot of conservative friends.

ROVE: Yes. Look, he's gone a long way towards reassuring people by his debate performances, which frankly, have been surprising. But you put your finger on it. He's got the issue of what he did in Massachusetts on health care yet to answer. The interesting thing to me is he's been so stable in the polls and behind the scenes more and more people are saying he's my second choice. Now, whether or not he's able to carry it across the finish line again depends upon the next 68 days and how he conducts himself.

HANNITY: All right. Last question. Rick Santorum. I'm surprised. I think he's given a number of really good debate performances. Michele Bachmann, I was surprised she dropped as much as she did so quickly. Can they come back? And where does Ron Paul as libertarian stand in all of this?

ROVE: Yes. Well, the Ron Paul crowd has been basically talking to himself. You know, they have got to reach outside their comfort zone of talking to other fellow libertarians and give a message that will broaden out. I'm not certain he can necessarily do that, because particularly on foreign affairs he has such a different opinion than the vast majority of Republicans, that's going to be hard.

Now, Bachmann and Santorum are going to have to depend upon a high stakes game which is breaking through in Iowa. There's the old saw that you get three tickets out of Iowa. The top three winners in Iowa get to move to the next round. They've got to be in the top three or maybe four depending on how bunched up it is with so many candidates that we've got, to get a ticket out of Iowa onto the next parade, and they've got to try and break through in a way that either they do much better than somebody who is expected to do better than they are, or they actually win the contest.

HANNITY: All right. Karl Rove, good to see you. I love the white board.

ROVE: Thank you.

HANNITY: You know, for Christmas I'm going to buy you an iPad.

ROVE: Look at that. I've got an iPad, man. But what do you think? I got the ones that moves around.

HANNITY: I think we could use a little more high tech, although it's very Russert-ish, if you will.

ROVE: Next time, Sean, I'm going to use my iPad and use a special program that I can turn it into a white board.

HANNITY: You might as well use the white board, then. What's the difference?

All right. Karl Rove, good to see you.

ROVE: Thank you, Sean.

HANITY: By the way, the year is 2011.

ROVE: Don't be so critical, the true conservatives believe in the tested, tried and reliable.

HANNITY: You don't write with a crayon, do you?

ROVE: Sometimes.

HANNITY: OK. Karl Rove, thanks for being with us.

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