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Special Report

Focus on economy in presidential race

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 15, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Rather than putting out that spending fire, he has been feeding it. He has spent more and borrowed more. The time has come for a president, a leader, who will lead. I will lead us out of this debt and spending inferno.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Joe has a - has a favorite expression. He says, "Don't compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative." And I think what you will see in this campaign is two very different visions about how we move the country forward. I believe that we've got to invest in things like education, making college affordable, science and technology. Rebuilding our roads, rebuilding the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, two sides laying out their vision. And an economic battlefield lies ahead over the next few months ahead of the election. A new poll out from USA Today/Gallup. And the question was, four years from now, do you think the U.S. economy will be better or worse? And there you see under President Obama, and there you see under Romney, better 55 percent to 46 percent -- Obama, under Obama.

And there are numerous polls out obviously asking very different questions. But we're back with our panel.

The politics of this clearly, Jeff, the economy will drive the day in all of the messaging on both sides. And we're starting to get this sense of where both camps will be.

JEFF ZELENY, THE NEW YORK TIMES: No question. And I think what we're seeing in this poll and other polls that voters are giving Mitt Romney the benefit of the doubt, without even really knowing what his plans are exactly. In those same polls we're finding that almost a third of voters aren't quite sure exactly what his plan or program is. But they're still giving him higher ratings than the current administration, which is exactly why this White House, this Obama re-election team, is in a furious scramble here to try and define Mitt Romney before people's views of him sort of hardened.

They're trying to explain his business experience, what they say is not a job-creating thing. They're trying to -- over the next couple of months really before the Republican convention this summer trying to define him to try and bring some of those numbers down. But right now at this point, they like someone that they're not exactly sure about, Mitt Romney, more than they like President Obama who is of course fully defined.

BAIER: Do you sense a different feeling in the White House about -- and the campaign about Mitt Romney's stance right now -- where he stands?

ZELENY: I don't sense a different sense. I mean these -- I think the advisors to this president have always known that this is going to be a tight election. The only thing that perhaps I think worries some of them, when I speak to them privately, is that it's been a couple of good weeks and months for this president. He's had some accomplishments. And he's still at this position in the poll.

After a tough summer, after he sort of hit quite a bit from other side, how is he going to be then, but I think they've always known this is going to be a very tough election. Look at the economy and they see the same numbers that everyone else does.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Let me just say in response to what the president said in that clip. I personally have never been tempted to compare Obama to God Almighty but I'm glad that he's urging me and others not to. So I think it shows a certain humility which is refreshing in this presidency.

Look, I think it's very clear from the poll you showed that Romney has this advantage, 10 points on the economy. Interesting, it's a question that doesn't ask, are you better off than you were? The classic Reagan question. It's, where you will be in four years? That's a much stronger positive if you're Romney.

And it's interesting because I think Jeff is right. He said he has yet undefined. If you were to ask a voter what exactly is he proposing that will get us out of our debt and improve our economy, the answer probably will be a blank. But I think it shows you what the other polls have shown you, when you run a generic Republican against Obama, the generic wins, usually handily. But when you run a real Republican with a name on him, he doesn't do that well. So to the extent that Romney remains generic, to the extent that he isn't a negative and that the Obama -- negative campaign against him doesn't work, as long as he sticks on the economy, explains what he's going to do, and runs almost exclusively on that, he can win.

And I think he's got the discipline. And I would even add the dullness and the stolidity to stay on that right until the end despite all the urging that he get all sexy and interesting. I think that's the worst thing he should do.

BAIER: Steve --

(LAUGHTER)

BAIER: More Fox polls out tomorrow. New Fox polls out tomorrow. We've seen a number of polls, the CBS/New York Times has Mitt Romney up. There are some questions and concerns from the Democrats about the methodology in that poll. But overall, you're within the margin of error on all of these polls.

STEVE HAYES, WEEKLY STANDARD: Yeah, I mean I think the Romney campaign has to be very pleased to emerge from what everyone acknowledges was a bloody primary and find himself basically even with the president and better on some of these key economic numbers. I disagree with Charles about the way that he needs to run his campaign. He cannot afford to focus only on the economy, despite the fact that so many voters are telling pollsters again and again that it's the -- it's the most significant issue.

There are other issues that rank up high, too. Among them, debt and deficits. And it's one of the reasons that I was encouraged by the speech that he gave today where he spent time talking about debt and deficit. Not focusing just on unemployment numbers and things that no doubt matter to voters but it's got to be a bigger argument. It has to be a bigger case to the American public. And it has to be about leadership.

And you heard Mitt Romney say today we need a leader in this country. I think it's a good argument for him.

KRAUTHAMMER: But Steve, debt and deficits are -- they are part of the economy. Separate issue. So our disagreement doesn't really exist. I think he's exactly right. The weakest element in the Obama economic plan is what is done on debt and deficits. And that's an argument about the future on which Obama now loses to Romney. Precisely because of debt and deficits.

BAIER: Ten seconds. Do you think this is a big issue campaign right now as it's framing?

ZELENY: I think it is a big issue campaign. It's much bigger than other ones we've seen. Certainly much bigger than the 2000 campaign. I think it is about very different -- big differences, how they would handle the economy, spending size of government. It is big.

BAIER: Panel, thank you. That's it. But stay tuned to see how the president is handling Joe Biden's gaffes.

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