OTR Interviews

Romney: A 'Turnaround Specialist' for This Time?

Sen. Kelly Ayotte on why she endorsed Mitt Romney and campaigning for the GOP presidential frontrunner in New Hampshire


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," January 4, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Our message to President Barack Obama is, you can run but you can't hide from your record of making this country bankrupt, from destroying our national security and to making this nation one that we have to restore with Mitt Romney as president of the United States of America!


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: A big endorsement, Senator John McCain shows up in New Hampshire today and endorses Governor Mitt Romney. Now, Senator McCain, who won New Hampshire four years ago on his way to winning the Republican presidential nomination, is still very popular in New Hampshire. So how big is this endorsement?

New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte has already endorsed Governor Romney. She was at today's rally with Senator McCain. Senator Ayotte joins us. Good evening.

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE, R-N.H.: Good evening, Greta. Great to be with you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Nice to have you. So tell me, with -- back in 2008 -- I'm a little bit fixated and I realize this, but Senator McCain really, you know, went hard at Governor Romney in this ad that, actually, I posted on GretaWire.com if anyone wants to see t. And so now today comes this big endorsement because people still like him.

But explain to me how in politics you can say such horrible things about each other, whether true or not, and then you can show up on the same stage saying, Let's work together.

AYOTTE: Well, I think it's this. You know, there's a candidate for each time. And John McCain came to New Hampshire today. We consider him almost our adopted senator here in New Hampshire. Obviously, we love him here. And it was a great endorsement for Governor Romney to get.

But what it comes down to this, is Governor Romney is the candidate for this time. Where we are right now in our country, we need to turn our economy around. He's a turnaround specialist. And to have that endorsement from John McCain means a lot, when you think about what he knows what is it takes to run a presidential campaign. And he also obviously connects with New Hampshire voters. And so that's what you saw today here in New Hampshire.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, everything, like, a politician says is dangerous, every single word. It's like being in the courtroom. When you say he's a turnaround specialist, the first thing I thought of us, Well, yes, in 1994, he was pro-choice, but not in 2008. 2002, according to the McCain ad, he supported tough gun laws in Massachusetts, in 2007, says supports 2nd Amendment, and he's been a hunter for life. And then he says, I'm not trying to return to Reagan/Bush.

That's, like, you know, I seized upon the word you say an I think, Ouch, you know, it's going to be used against you. I mean, that's the whole problem here, I think, in terms of looking at a -- especially at a Governor Romney candidacy is that you're going to get hit with that stuff.

AYOTTE: Well, listen, Greta, he's not the only candidate in this campaign who's changed his mind on something. But on the core issues that really -- what our country needs right now, you look at his private sector experience, his experience of turning around a failed Olympics to a success, as going into a Democrat state, turning around a deficit to a surplus -- I mean, this is the type of experience and the core convictions he has on the economic issues that we need to turn our economy around.

And he's the only one in this field with the private sector experience that really knows how the economy works. And when you think about where we are nationally right now, he is the person who can take on President Obama and win this election.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tell me, in terms of going to the other candidates in the Republican Party -- and I know that you've endorsed Governor Romney. I'm curious with -- who do you think has a better -- has a -- is going to - - has a stronger chance of doing better, Governor Huntsman or Senator Rick Santorum, knowing the voters, the Republican voters in New Hampshire?

AYOTTE: Well, certainly, Jon Huntsman has focused all of his attention, really, on New Hampshire. So he's been here quite a bit. I think he is the candidate to watch, but I don't think in terms of winning New Hampshire, but in a second or third position.

I think Senator Santorum will get somewhat of a bump from Iowa. He was in single digits. He'll probably move out of single digits. But really, if you look at his strategy over the last two months, it's been a one-state strategy. He has been in New Hampshire, but he doesn't have a strong grass roots organization, as Mitt Romney does. But certainly, looking at Governor Huntsman, how much he's been here, I would keep my eye on him.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, people always say that the people of New Hampshire have an independent mind. (INAUDIBLE) that's sort of the -- about -- coming out of Iowa, is that, you know, so you can win Iowa and then you go to New Hampshire and you get a rude awakening.

Governor Romney did win Iowa, but in the past, it's been sort of hard. If he doesn't have a strong showing, is that a huge blow to Governor Romney's candidacy? Not fatal, but a setback.

AYOTTE: Well, New Hampshire voters do certainly have an independent streak. That's why our state motto is "Live free or die." But Governor Romney has been here -- he has a very strong campaign. I have seen the support on the ground level, great activists, conservative activists supporting him. So I think he's going to do very well in New Hampshire. And he's done those town halls. He was doing it today in Manchester and Peterborough. He's getting that enthusiastic response that you want to see a week before the primary.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you think is the bigger issue on the voters' minds in New Hampshire, social issues or economic issues?

AYOTTE: I think the biggest issue is going to be the same issue as my campaign when I ran, you know, a year ago, which is spending, the size of government, and the state of our economy right now. Those are the primary issues on New Hampshire voters' minds. And I hear it in my own town hall meetings, and I think that's what's going to be the issue in this primary.

VAN SUSTEREN: Which is so...

AYOTTE: And when you look at Governor Romney's experience...


VAN SUSTEREN: When you look at every...

AYOTTE: ... what New Hampshire voters are concerned with.

VAN SUSTEREN: When you look at every candidate, every candidate in the Republican Party says he or she -- well, it's only he now -- wants to cut spending and wants to do that. So they all sort of have a little bit of that message, I guess.

AYOTTE: Well, absolutely. I mean, certainly, all the Republicans in the field, unlike this president, know that we need to cut back spending. I think Governor Romney, having the experience of going to a state like Massachusetts, having to deal with a super-majority of Democrats in the legislature, being able to actually balance the budget and go from a deficit to a surplus -- that's the type of leadership we're going to need in Washington to rein in the out-of-control spending and really get our fiscal house in order.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you. And of course, we'll be watching very closely...

AYOTTE: Thanks, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... what's going on in your state. Thank you.