Importance of South Carolina Primary Debate

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 4, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.



SCOTT HUFFMAN, WINTHROP UNIVERSITY: To win in South Carolina, you need to find the balance of social conservative and fiscal conservatism. If you are a one-note conservative you're just not gonna do as well in South Carolina, and that's why South Carolina is good at picking the eventual nominee.

GOV. NIKKI HALEY, R-S.C.: You can't come to South Carolina and not think you're gonna get grilled. This is the great state to prepare for the rest of the country.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: The first debate of the presidential season tomorrow night right here in Greenville. Before the break, we asked you which participant has the most to gain in Thursday's GOP debate, here in South Carolina. Herman Cain leading with 44 percent, Tim Pawlenty has 33 percent.

As you see, the five candidates who qualified and will be participating tomorrow night, Herman Cain, businessman; former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, and Congressman Ron Paul.

We're back with the panel. Tucker, first to you. What about this debate, the importance of South Carolina as a state, and this whole thing kicking off tomorrow night?

TUCKER CARLSON, THEDAILYCALLER.COM: Well, South Carolina is the shoals upon which many a presidential campaign has been wrecked. It's a state that is complicated. Campaigning there is famously tough.

The question I have, honestly, when I look at this line-up, is like, where's everyone else? And it's not clear to me, if I can say, what exactly Mitt Romney gains from not showing up. What exactly Newt Gingrich, I think in the case of former speaker Gingrich it's a tad more complicated, but with respect to Mr. Romney who I think by many measures would be considered the frontrunner, it's not at all clear. What he gains from not being there at all.

And I think the idea is that he shows himself above the fray. And he is not going to be on stage with, ya know, Gary Johnson and he will show himself to be sort of above the rest. But I don't think that is the effect at all. I think he is diminished by not being there.

BAIER: Yeah, Charles, do you agree with that, the potential backlash in South Carolina?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Yeah I think so, I think that is true. I mean he's thinking of this nationally. I think he does think that he doesn't want to be seen with what he would consider a second tier. And also as the frontrunner, the one who has been, ya know, around the track, took a lot of heat last time around, he's got a history of being -- changed opinions on certain issues. And, of course, he would have to defend healthcare in Massachusetts. That he would be a target -- the target. In fact, if you were one of the lesser known candidates you would want his scalp as a way to make yourself visible.

I mean, I think what's interesting in this debate will be how Pawlenty conducts himself. This is him stepping out on the stage for the first time we are all going to see him. And perhaps, is there anybody in the rest of the field who will be on tomorrow night, who will stand out the way Huckabee did in '08, where nobody took him seriously at the beginning but he did so well in debates that he propelled himself into the first tier.

BAIER: A.B., one of the things that is obviously tough in this environment is coming in the week after Usama bin Laden's been killed and many people are saying that President Obama is getting a big bump, obviously, and we could see that develop even more in coming weeks. Take a listen to some potential candidates reacting right away to that development.


MITT ROMNEY, FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: I congratulate the president, the intelligence community, our military on this extraordinary accomplishment.

TIM PAWLENTY, FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR: I congratulate tonight, starters President Obama for his decision-making and handling in the killing of Usama bin Laden. I think it was an exceptionally proud moment for our country to bring this killer to justice.

GOV. MITCH DANIELS, R-INDIANA.: Immense pride and gratitude for the people who did this, starting with the president, or both presidents you could say, both had a role.


BAIER: So A.B., I mean it's -- on this point, it's a tough environment to go into, especially on foreign policy.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Well, I think it's easy, actually, for those who are going to get up and debate tomorrow night. If they are magnanimous and credit the president for this and obviously I think the three governors you just showed were all statesman-like in crediting the members of our military who, ya know, showed extraordinary courage in this very risky operation, as well as the president who directed it and really had a hands on role. I think that that is the kind of response that they should give and then move on.

This is a temporary bump and bounce for the president in the polls Bret. It's not gonna last very long. The easy answer on any foreign policy question tomorrow night is to come up with their real, ya know, world view and foreign policy viewpoint. If it comes to the specific question about the operation that killed Usama bin Laden tomorrow night, they need to say, you know what, hats off to president Obama and everyone who was involved, it was a very successful mission. I mean that -- anything that deviates from that just looks silly. And then you move on. I don't think this bounce is gonna last very long.

BAIER: And Tucker, last thing. You know a lot of people say this debate is so early. If you look back to the 2008 campaign the first debate was in March 2007. A little later than that, but the Republican field does seem to be developing a little bit later this time around.

CARLSON: Well, and that's not just perception as you said, I mean -- it's true. And in fact, in the last presidential cycle you had -- the major candidates had, I think at this point, all officially gotten into the race, that's not at all the case now.

And I think, as I travel a lot, I keep hearing the same thing from Republicans everywhere, anyone who follows this does -- where are the rest of the candidates? I mean, I think there is -- this is not to diminish anyone who has announced or has anticipated to be forming a campaign. But there is, undeniably, this feeling among Republican activists that there ought to be more people, they're sort of waiting for, ya know, for the nominee to get in. and I think a lot of them don't see him in the field yet.

BAIER: Potential benefit for the people who are showing up tomorrow.

CARLSON: That's right, that's exactly right.

BAIER: That's it for the panel, but stay tuned for look at how President Obama was really pretty good at keeping a secret.

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