Democrats offended by GOP debate on MLK day?

Chairman of the SC Democratic Party, Dick Harpootlian, takes issue with GOP debate coinciding with MLK's birthday


This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," January 16, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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Now for the "Top Story" tonight. It is Martin Luther King's birthday a federal holiday. But like everything else it has become political.


DICK HARPOOTLIAN, SOUTH CAROLINA DEMOCRAT: And you hear Mitt Romney, all -- all of these folks very subtlety infusing race. And by the way, the Republicans have scheduled their big debate for Monday, on Martin Luther King Day, without any regard whatsoever to the civil rights issues that this state has faced.


BILL O'REILLY, HOST: Now, that sound bite confused me so joining us now from Columbia, South Carolina is Dick Harpootlian. The chairman of the state's Democratic Party. Are you offended Mr. Harpootlian by the Republican debate tonight because it's MLK day?

HARPOOTLIAN: No I'm not offended by it and Bill what I was trying to say was that in a state where one out of three voters are African- Americans, there has not been one single -- other than Newt Gingrich going to a church -- one single ad on African-American radio, no mailings to African-Americans. No outreach to African-Americans in a state where we have a African-American Republican Congressman. No effort made whatsoever to reach out to the African-American community and attempt to convince them their policies or their positions are better. And adding insult to injury, of course, is the debate on Martin Luther King and sort of ignoring Martin Luther King's birthday.

And let me point this out.


O'REILLY: Whoa, wait, wait, let me stop there, who is ignoring Martin Luther King's birthday? Who is doing that?

HARPOOTLIAN: Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Santorum.

O'REILLY: Why would they be ignoring -- why would they be ignoring his birthday? Why would they be -- how do you know they are ignoring it?

HARPOOTLIAN: Well, they've made no statement about it. They've made -- there was a march here in Columbia where many, many people gathered and to commemorate his birthday. And --

O'REILLY: Do you think it's really fair to say they are ignoring it? You don't know if they are ignoring it. I mean it sounds to me like they're offended that they're having the dog and pony show which these debates are inevitably on Martin Luther King Day. Are you offended that they chose that day?

HARPOOTLIAN: I -- well, here -- here is my point on that. In 2003 I hosted a debate as Chairman, George Stephanopoulos did it and we're going to do it on a Friday night. Joe Lieberman called and indicated that he couldn't do it because his Sabbath began on Friday night.

O'REILLY: Right.

HARPOOTLIAN: We've moved it to Saturday night to accommodate him. No one, I submit, has raised any issue with Fox about it being appropriate or inappropriate it's just sort of -- they've ignore that.

O'REILLY: Well, wait, wait -- maybe that -- maybe that's because in 2008 what happened? What happened in 2008 in South Carolina? Mr. Harpootlian? What happened?

HARPOOTLIAN: We had Democratic primary.

O'REILLY: What happened? Yes you had a Democratic debate in 2008 on MLK day. Did you know that?

HARPOOTLIAN: But -- I understand it.

O'REILLY: Well, wait, wait did you know that?

HARPOOTLIAN: No, no I knew that. I knew that.

O'REILLY: Ok and who sponsored -- who sponsored that debate?

HARPOOTLIAN: One of the networks I can't remember who sponsored that.

O'REILLY: No, no, the Congressional Black Caucus.

HARPOOTLIAN: Black caucus and I tell you --


O'REILLY: Yes on Martin Luther King Day. Debate, Democratic.

HARPOOTLIAN: But -- but, but what happened on that day? Every Democratic candidate.

O'REILLY: They got a debate.

HARPOOTLIAN: Yes. But they also participated in a number of events leading up to that.

O'REILLY: So there is a litmus test now that any political candidate has to participate in the event? Look --


HARPOOTLIAN: No. Recognize it. Recognize it.

O'REILLY: -- let's discuss this on the table. Wouldn't you say to me that if had you to rethink this Mr. Harpootlian because you're a no spin guy I think who was foolish to say the Republicans shouldn't debate or whatever you said on Martin Luther King Day is in hindsight of what has already happened?

HARPOOTLIAN: No, what I said was it is indicative of a process in which they have not engaged the African-American community in this state.

O'REILLY: No maybe they feel that that's not their constituency. Obviously African-Americans lean heavily Democratic.

HARPOOTLIAN: But -- but they -- if you've never asked them or never approached them or ignore them, of course they will.

O'REILLY: Look if it were me I would have been marching in the Martin Luther King Day, Columbia parade or Charleston, wherever they had it. I'm agreeing -- you know I don't see that's a bad thing. But I think you injecting race into this is not a good thing for the country. I don't think that's good.

HARPOOTLIAN: No, what I'm telling you is the Republicans have injected race by -- by Newt Gingrich and Santorum saying that the most -- this will be the most important election since 1860. Now what happened in 1860? We elected Abraham Lincoln.

O'REILLY: Well that was Lincoln's election but that's their opinion that the country is at a crossroads whether we go into the social justice, Western/European model or go back to the traditional capitalistic model. You can make a case to that.

HARPOOTLIAN: No, no; 1860 -- 1860 we elected a president who -- who passed the emancipation proclamation.

O'REILLY: And they said this is the most important election since 1860.

HARPOOTLIAN: Why 1860? I don't get it unless they're referring to --


O'REILLY: Because that's Lincoln coming in to try to keep the union together. That's what happened in 1860. Surely you know that.

HARPOOTLIAN: But well the union didn't stay together, well, we in the south have a little different version on what happened in 1860.

O'REILLY: All right, whatever version you have. That was a pretty damn important election in 1860. And all they're saying is this is the one that's you know right -- right after that. Come on Mr. Harpootlian, you look, you're a smart guy. You are getting killed here on this program tonight. These points are speeches.

HARPOOTLIAN: Well Bill, whoa, whoa, you are the referee and the boxer? You're killing me here?

O'REILLY: Of course I am.


O'REILLY: When you get to Harpootlian factor you will be that too.

All right we appreciate you coming on tonight. Thank you very much.

Next on run down, the other side in South Carolina. We'll talk to Senator Jim DeMint.

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