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Special Report

Does Gingrich Pose a Real Challenge to Romney?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," November 30, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have run a consistently p ositive campaign. I haven't worried about any of the Republican alternatives. And I have focused on Barack Obama. I am going to continue to run a positive campaign and continue to focus on Barack Obama. And, candidly, it seems to be working.

HERMAN CAIN, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I happen to think that these attacks on me are coming from the other side, because once I moved into that top tier, I think they became a little bit threatened. My star was shining and rising too fast. This is a direct character assassination pure and simple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Herman Cain and Speaker Gingrich talking about the campaign. This -- and this is the status of the campaign, the newest polls out. Quinnipiac on a national level has a poll out in which Newt Gingrich is up four. Plus or minus three is the difference there. You can see the rest of the field behind him.

Now let's take it to New Hampshire, the latest poll is Rasmussen. Romney up 10. That is narrowing with Newt Gingrich at 24 percent. And then in Iowa, American Research Group has Newt Gingrich at 27 percent, Romney at 20, and Ron Paul at 16 percent.

We're back with the panel. Steve, status of the race? Where things stand?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I mean really? Is it wise for me to tell you of what I think the status of the race is now?

(LAUGHTER)

HAYES: Because it could be different in a week or two.

I think one thing is true and has become more evident over the past several weeks. Washington D.C. has underappreciated the momentum and the support that Newt Gingrich has in the rest of the country. People in Washington who have worked with Newt Gingrich enemies he made here, you know, all along going back months and months have suggested he can't catch on. He has got this baggage. He has been on all sides of the issue.

And we're seeing increasingly in the polls and anecdotally talking to voters that that just doesn't matter to them. I mean, I think people are not concerned about Newt Gingrich's personal baggage. We have seen it again in those polls and in others.

The question is going to be can he get through this next five weeks, six weeks, until the voters actually start voting and people go to caucuses without making a big gaffe, without doing something that people are expecting from Newt Gingrich that could harm his candidacy?

BAIER: Meantime, Kirsten, Herman Cain is saying that he is innocent and that this is an effort to take him out of the race. Associated Press just moved a story about Ginger White. That is the Atlanta businesswoman who charged that she had a 14-year sexual affair with Herman Cain. They are saying she has faced repeated financial troubles and once lost a lawsuit accusing her of spreading damaging lies about an ex-business partner. They're just moving that story right now. What about this and Cain's response? He did a long interview with Neil Cavuto today.

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK POST: Well he says that he is reassessing and reevaluating his campaign, so he obviously knows that he is not in a good position. I think that whether or not any of this is true, it's obviously harming him because he is having to spend so much time responding to these accusations. But even without these accusations, I don't think he would be in that great of a position. He was already starting to make a lot of mistakes and fumble a lot. And he probably would be dropping off, maybe not at the same rate, but I think his star would be fading and Gingrich's would be rising regardless of these affairs or alleged affairs.

BAIER: A lot of reaction today, Charles, to Mitt Romney's interview here on "Special Report" last night. Here's a clip that we did not air talking about his record.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know there are going to be some in the Democratic Party and in my party that are going to do their very best to try and make this campaign about something other than their record. And the great news about Newt Gingrich, about myself, about Barack Obama is that we each have a record. And you can look at our records and say who is the best qualified, who is best equipped to get America on track to create jobs and remain the leader of the free world? And I believe that's me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Thousands of e-mails and varied responses on all sides about how Governor Romney did, how the questions were, what the interview atmospherics were, pretty amazing response all over.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think as Newt is rising we're now gonna see Romney's biggest challenge. The others who have risen up against him were either rookies or people who are not substantial, like Cain. But now he is up against Gingrich, who knows how to argue, who knows how to debate and has been on all of these issues for decades. So he is a substantial counterweight. And Romney's gonna have to answer questions.

Up until now he went through 11 debates unscathed in part because when you have a lot of folks up on the stage you don't get the follow ups. And what happened in your questioning of him yesterday was that you were able to follow up and present him with evidence of stuff he had said in the past. And that's when he stumbled. He stumbled on immigration where you showed a clip from 2007.

BAIER: A quote.

KRAUTHAMMER: A quote. Essentially he had said something almost hard to distinguish from what Newt has been saying about people who have been here for a long time illegally. And then also, on the issue of Romneycare he's had a standard answer. but you asked there was a quote in the past in which he seemed to be implying that the Massachusetts experiment was example for the whole nation. So he ended up with a fine distinction between an example to other states versus an example for the federal government.

Nonetheless, it shows that now as the race is narrowing and as these other pretenders fall away, if he is in a one-on-one or one-on-two where there are gonna be close questioning follow-ups as you offered yesterday, he's gonna be tested, and we'll see whether he gets a free ride as he has up until now in the large debates, or not.

BAIER: Did your perception evolve in 24 hours?

KRAUTHAMMER: I said yesterday that on immigration he did badly, and on the question of his Romneycare, he was sort of equivocal and drew a distinction that was not terribly credible. He handles himself always rather well. He is not flustered. But there was an edge in which he wasn't used to having the follow-ups. And that's what I think will be his test in the future.

BAIER: Steve?

HAYES: Well, I thought it was a great interview. I thought the questions were fair but tough. And I think he didn't do himself any favors in part because he is usually someone who doesn't get flustered. And in this case he was clearly flustered.

What I think has to trouble Romney supporters at this point is this has been a great campaign so far that his team has run. This is the central question about the Romney candidacy, the one that you pressed him on at the beginning of this. Is this somebody who says things for political expedience, does he have these core convictions, will he be the same guy if he's in the White House? And how does he answer for the fact that he had different views back then than he has now? And he wasn't able to answer it.

That I think has to trouble them. They know this question is coming. It hasn't come for the reason Charles has suggested, but it's now going to come again and again and again as they continue to do more interviews and as the race intensifies.

BAIER: Kirsten's thoughts in the online show. That's it for the panel. Stay tuned for a presidential trip to the bookstore.

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