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Special Report

Republicans plan for Sunshine State showdown

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," January 23, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just encourage you to look at the candidate who has the best chance of making that case in the American public, the best chance of providing that clear contrast. If I do say so myself, I think I am the best person to do that.

RON PAUL, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's been three elections and a total of 37 delegates have been chose son far, less than 2 percent, like 1.5 percent. This is the beginning of a long hard trial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Congressman Ron Paul and former Senator Rick Santorum fighting on in Florida and beyond. Of course Santorum won the Iowa caucuses, as per the Iowa GOP and Congressman Paul finished second in New Hampshire, in South Carolina, third and fourth, Santorum and Paul. Now what happens in Florida? We're back with the panel. Let's start with Senator Santorum. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, I think his calculation is this has been such a wild election with such wild swings. There is no reason he can't hanger on as long as he finishes third in state after state, because it's quite possible as we have seen one candidate after another who is way ahead, could implode. It could be a Gingrich it could even be a Romney. Romney we expect would be in there all the way because of his resources. Who knows? If he collapses he could have historic collapse.

And I think if you are a Santorum you can position yourself either as the anti-Romney or the anti-Gingrich. And if you look at a guy like Pawlenty - who dropped out after the Ames straw poll - had he stayed around, just hung around like as he might have in another year, he could be a viable alternative to either of the frontrunners. So I think Santorum unless he runs completely out of money and collapses into a fourth place, stays in the race, and without some possible logic to it --

(CROSSTALK)

BAIER: And that clearly helps, A.B., Mitt Romney in one sense. You have another attacker in these debates, because likely Newt Gingrich, who would be leading the polls, would be under attack from all sides.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Right, it brings more attack to Gingrich. And it divides the vote. You have to assume that if Rick Santorum dropped out before Florida, many of his votes would go to Newt Gingrich. The good news on the debate stage also for Mitt Romney is that Ron Paul will show up. The bad news for Mitt Romney in Florida is that Ron Paul is not really contesting it. He wants to spend his money elsewhere, in caucus states. He's going to be counting up his delegates, looking to Nevada and Colorado and Minnesota and Maine and other places.

And he, as he says in his remarks after these elections, he is looking for -- you know, he's looking to hang in until the end. It's literally a battle for delegates. And he doesn't need the flash of winning Florida. He is not trying to be the nominee. And so again, it does help Romney on the debate stage, but it would help Mitt Romney if Ron Paul was really actively campaigning in Florida, it could take a bunch of votes away, potentially from Newt Gingrich. And that's just not gonna be the case this time.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: On Santorum, I would say it's a much, much greater benefit to Romney that he is splitting the vote, not much more in the debates. I think there aren't going to be as many debates, at least not with the same frequency. And on the debate stage Santorum has gone after Mitt Romney several times and has done so I would say quite effectively. So that's sort of a 50-50 split on the debate stage.

But I think the fact that he is staying in and presenting himself as the real conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. Newt is not really that conservative. Look at the things he has done. He is not really conservative. Santorum calls himself, the "consistent conservative alternative."

BAIER: Have you heard in Newt Gingrich's speeches a try, an effort to coopt some of Ron Paul's language about concern of the Federal Reserve, about hard money, about a number of things that have been showing up in Newt Gingrich speeches?

HAYES: I think you can argue that at some point in Newt Gingrich's speeches you have heard a little bit of everything, because his speeches -- he doesn't really have a stump speech. He says kind of what comes to mind, he's got a couple of themes. But there is no question that he has adopted some of the language of Ron Raul. And that he has tried to at least show that he is open to some of these ideas that animate Ron Paul supporters, not because he thinks that Ron Paul is going to be dropping out and these people might then flock to Newt Gingrich. But I think, setting up what Gingrich and his team see as a potential convention fight where he wants to be on Ron Paul's good side.

KRAUTHAMMER: And that I think is the strategy that Paul has. The reason he's gonna go to caucus states is because a caucus is a measure of intensity as opposed to a vote statewide, a vote which is a measure of other things. And he has the intensity, and I think his idea. He spoke openly about this, I think after the New Hampshire vote on election night, where he spoke about the fact that he is building a movement. That is what he's interested in, this is the movement. And if he ends up in Tampa with a substantial number of delegates he will make a stand. He will give a philosophy which is clearly gaining adherence. And that will be a place where he could launch a movement that will live after him.

BAIER: A.B., quickly, if Rick Santorum finishes a distant third, like where he is placing in that Rasmussen poll, in Florida, will pressure build for him to step aside?

STODDARD: You know, I just don't know. I think as long as he can pay the bills he's gonna stay in for a while. I think there are a lot of people probably encouraging Rick Santorum to stay in. I think there are a lot of people in town who want a brokered convention. A lot of Republicans not happy with Romney now or Gingrich. And I think that helps Santorum stay in.

BAIER: That's it for panel. But stay tuned for a quick flash back to glory days for some of the GOP candidates.

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