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Special Report

Santorum, Gingrich fight for non-Romney spot intensifies

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," January 17, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One again last night people h ad a sense that I was the guy who could best explain conservatism and could best stand there face to face with Obama and win the debate. And I think that's going to be a big factor Saturday as people look for somebody who could actually defeat Obama, not just talk about it.

RICK SANTORUM, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This nomination is not going to be decided in two or three states. It's going to be decided over the course of the long process. I understand why Mitt Romney wants this thing to be over soon. It's not going to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, there you see Senator Santorum and Newt Gingrich. As you look at the Real Clear Politics average of polls in South Carolina, this is the average of the most recent polls there. Mitt Romney is still with a pretty big lead over Newt Gingrich. There you see the rest of the pack. There is this battle, Charles, for as we have been talking about, the conservative alternative, if you will, and Santorum, Gingrich and of course, Perry battling it out. What about Santorum? It could come to the end of the week here where Iowa in their recount, he could actually win Iowa, in looking back if it's certified that way.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Yeah, but if he did, it would be too late. It's like the '92 New Hampshire race between Buchanan and Bush, the president, where in mid-evening it looked as if Buchanan had had a stunning upset and those were the headlines in the morning. He ended up way back behind by at least 10 points, but the impact of the original headlines had already had its effect and Buchanan had a moral victory.

The fact that, you know, it could -- a party of 12 changed over in the final count in Iowa is not going to make any difference. Santorum's problem is if he is in a race with Gingrich, Gingrich had a good night. I'm not sure how important debates are. They have been up until now. If the debates are that important, and they could be, then Gingrich would get a boost from last night. And if he repeats it tomorrow night he could actually give Romney a run for number one. So I think that Santorum will end up on the losing end of this. But Gingrich I think overestimates in his claim that he would be the best candidate in the general election. He overestimates the importance of debates in the general election. It's been extremely important up until now in this race. We've had 16 of them and they shaped the whole campaign. But those debates in October, are gonna be three debates at the end, an hour-and- a-half. They're rarely decisive. He may win in a debate, but the question is who will win in the election?

BAIER: I just want it noted that at least three-quarters of your statement was pro-Gingrich.

(LAUGHTER)

BAIER: I mean just for those keeping track at home.

KRAUTHAMMER: I call them as I see them. As I tried to say last week -- this is analysis, it's not advocacy.

BAIER: OK. Let's play a back and forth between Senator Santorum and Governor Romney on one of the attacks that the senator is saying is happening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: Do you believe that felons who have served their time, gone through probation and parole, exhausted their entire sentence, should they be given the right to have a vote?

BAIER: Governor Romney?

MITT ROMNEY, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First of all, as you know, the PACs that run ads on various candidates as we unfortunately know -

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: I'm looking for an answer to the question first.

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: We have plenty of time. I'll get there. I'll do it in the order I want to do --

SANTORUM: This is Martin Luther King Day. This is a huge deal in the African-American community.

ROMNEY: I don't think people who have committed violent crimes should be allowed to vote again. That's my own view.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: What about that exchange, Kirsten?

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK POST: Well, I think Santorum, I mean he's always been a good debater but he just seems to really have grown in to this. I agree with his position, which probably means it didn't go over very well in South Carolina. So I think he's substantively is correct. I don't understand Romney's position when somebody has served their time, why they would have a basic right taken away from them, but he was obviously more in line with the voters on that one. It was sort of an interesting fight for Santorum to get into, frankly.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: He won the exchange but I think he loses the bigger battle. It doesn't -- it's not something that I think helps Santorum's candidacy longer term.

The interesting thing that I think has developed over the last 48 hours between these two, between Santorum and Newt Gingrich, is a different approach to where the race goes from here. Newt Gingrich has said several times that South Carolina is it. He has got to win South Carolina. He needs to win, and the unstated --

BAIER: Although he said today that he may go on if he doesn't win.

HAYES: But he has clearly -- he spent the better part of the last two days saying South Carolina is huge. Santorum has been rather consistently saying this is a long process. I mean, the clip that we played, this is a long process. Just because Mitt Romney wants it to be over soon doesn't mean it's going to be over. Just because the media has decided that these two or three contests are going to be determinative doesn't mean that they in fact will be.

So he is clearly planning for a longer run here. It's just hard to see how one sustains that. If Mitt Romney goes on and wins South Carolina, decisively as polls suggest that he might, and I think he will win very decisively in Florida. I mean he has got a campaign team down there. He has got absentee ballots that he is working. He is set up to do quite well in Florida. It's just hard to see where the money comes from for the non-Romney candidate, where the enthusiasm comes. How does one continue I guess is the question.

BAIER: That is it for the panel, but stay tuned to see a potential new campaign ad.

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