Assessing GOP candidate campaign strategies

All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 14, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


RICK SANTORUM, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you look at the other can didates in the race, they are not well positioned to take on President Obama on this issue. One in particular is uniquely disqualified. We won't mention his name. But don't go to Massachusetts to try to get any health care is what I have to say.

MITT ROMNEY, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The ot her guys have spent their life entirely in government. In my view it's helpful to have been involved in two businesses, and Olympics, and a state and have the chance to run those as an executive.



BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: According to the latest polls there are two frontrunners the race of now. As you take a look at the new CBS News/New York Times poll, Rick Santorum is ahead 30 percent to 27 percent, Ron Paul at 12, Gingrich at 10, plus or minus five percent there. The national Real Clear Politics average, average of all the recent national polls, and there you see a tight race at the top, Gingrich in third and Paul in fourth.

We're back with the panel. Jeff, what about the strategy as you head towards Arizona and Michigan, what the Santorum campaign hopes for. Michigan is obviously hometown front for Mitt Romney.

ZELENY: The Santorum campaign is focusing on Michigan in large part because Arizona is a winner take all like Florida was. Michigan is not. Michigan is up for grabs in terms of delegates. So Senator Santorum is looking at a strategy in Michigan of appealing to a lot of those Tea Party activists in the western part of the state around basically everything except for metro Detroit. And he is really trying to tap in to a unified Tea Party movement. Michigan has had a really interesting Tea Party movement. It's been fractured in a lot of places, but it's really organized and cohesive in Michigan. So he is trying to tap into that.

And for the Romney campaign, it has become -- Michigan is almost symbolic of sort of what is wrong with the campaign. He has to go to the beginning and reintroduce himself. People there know who he is. I think Michigan over the next two weeks is going to be an absolutely fascinating laboratory.

And the Romney campaign is not sure how aggressive to go after Santorum. It worked in Florida, just a scorched earth sort of strategy. But it drove up his negatives. I think right now the Romney campaign is trying to figure out how aggressive to be after Santorum. The spending arguments they've been trying to use aren't necessarily working.

BAIER: The Romney super PAC, the super PAC that supports Romney. It's not run by the campaign technically. Steve, it's running ads against Gingrich in these states, in Michigan and Ohio, and I think Georgia and Arizona.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: This has people in Washington and elsewhere scratching their heads trying to figure out exactly what they are doing. They are two basic working theories. One, they don't know what comes next. So they are waiting to see how they are gonna go after Rick Santorum. And when they figure that out they'll run ads against Rick Santorum --


BAIER: In other words, they don't have the ad.

HAYES: They physically don't have the ad.

The second theory is they've seen candidates come and go a number of times, including Newt Gingrich, including Rick Santorum. And there is this possibility, however unlikely it seems right now, that Newt Gingrich could resurface once again as a candidate in the south where he is presumably stronger than he's been in the past couple of contests and be somebody that Mitt Romney needs to worry about again. I find it difficult to believe, but it could be the theory.

BAIER: Well he is -- Newt Gingrich that is, the former speaker is out in California trying to raise money for his campaign. He spoke about his way forward.


NEWT GINGRICH, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think I'm clearly much bolder than either Santorum or Romney. I think my ideas are much clearer and much more specific. And I have to focus on communicating those ideas. The two periods where I focused on communicating those ideas I ended up number one in Gallup both times. And we're gonna go back and do what we did that works.


BAIER: The question is, Charles, if Arizona and Michigan do not pan out for Newt Gingrich, can he then take anything in to Super Tuesday to the so-called southern strategy?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I still think he will have strength in the south, but I don't think he has a path to the nomination. I don't think that will discourage him. I think he will go all the way to Tampa.

But I think what's really interesting is how Santorum has chosen his targets. I think Michigan is a lot about the symbolism. In the same way that he understood, as most observers didn't, the importance of the three states that were run last week, Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri. Everybody said there were no delegates at stake. And there weren't. But he understood it's not about delegates. He is now tied for the national lead as a result of what he did on Tuesday last week in states with no delegates at stake.

But he showed that if he took on Romney one-on-one, which had been his argument, and in Missouri, Gingrich wasn't on the ballot and he beat Romney by 30 points. And he did that of course in the other states. So he not only was able to show how weak Romney is if he's up against a plausibly presidential opponent, but he was also was able to push Gingrich out of way. Perhaps not out, but out of the way. And that is what he will try to do in Michigan because it's Romney's home turf. If he defeats Romney in Michigan, the game starts all over. It's the first quarter, and the score is zero-zero.

BAIER: Meanwhile, Congressman Ron Paul says it's all about delegates. He was hoping for a win in Maine. Some of his supporters say they are still hoping for a win in Maine and think they can get those votes in that last counting. Take a listen as he adds up the delegates to Neil Cavuto.


RON PAUL, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Within a month or so we think we are going to win the delegates, so I mean that's the win that counts even more so than the straw vote.


BAIER: so he is saying, Jeff, in all the caucus states especially the allocation of the delegates comes in a series of contests, precinct, county, state and then you appoint the national delegates. The Paul people think they are going to win some of those states.

ZELENY: They're definitely going to win some of those. And they're - - he is not going to arrive in Florida at the convention empty-handed. Newt Gingrich is going to have South Carolina and perhaps that's it. But Ron Paul is still not competing in these primary states. He is not competing, or at least planning to compete in Ohio and Georgia aggressively. He is just going for these caucus states. So he's absolutely right, he's going to have these delegates, but not enough delegates to win this.

But he is on the Virginia ballot. That's one thing that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are not. So for all these, sort of hand-wringing now at Romney headquarters, they do have this Virginia sort of thing in their back pocket that he could win all those delegates.

BAIER: And isn't it interesting that the Paul campaign doesn't swing that hard against Mitt Romney?

JEFF ZELENY, NEW YORK TIMES: It has been one of the most interesting sort of side stories or under the radar things of the whole campaign. Their wives are very friendly. I think he has been a big help to him. And he has never laid a punch on him and he certainly could. His supporter would be happy if he did.

BAIER: That is it for the panel. But stay tuned for a scene from behind the news.