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This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," on December 9, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

KONDRACKE: Welcome back to "The Beltway Boys." Let's take a look at the "Ups and Downs" for the week.

Down: Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama's surge in popularity has Hillary and her staff scrambling to catch up in the race for the 2008 Democratic nomination. She has a comfortable lead in our latest FOX poll, though; she leads by 22 points in a head-to-head match up now that — not that it counts for much this early. And she has a wide lead over the rest of the 2008 Democratic contenders.

Now, when you ask what comes to mind — this is the Gallup poll — when you ask what comes to mind when you think about Hillary Clinton, the top three responses are: "dislike her"; "qualified to be president"; and "riding her husband's shirttails."

When you ask what comes to mind when you think about Barack Obama, the top three Gallup responses were: "young and inexperienced"; "fresh face with new ideas"; and "good candidate." I'm not sure how that balances off; they both have negatives.

BARNES: Mm—hmm.

KONDRACKE: Now, Hillary's staff tells me that she is 95 percent set to go, that she's excited about the race. She's not scared off by Obama; that she likes competition.


KONDRACKE: And she's — you know, she's rearing to go. And they say that's not spin.

BARNES: Likes competition. No politician likes competition. They all like a sure thing.

And look, I'll give you the numbers on those Gallup questions. For Hillary, two out of three were negative. I thought for Obama, two out of three were positive — maybe three out of three. Maybe even.

KONDRACKE: Young and — young and inexperienced.

BARNES: Young and inexperienced? Yes.

KONDRACKE: You think, for a president of the United States? I don't think so.

BARNES: I think if that's what people like — eh, it's not unequivocally negative, anyway. So on those things, he certainly did better.

Now I think Obama's rise is testimony to Hillary's weakness. He wouldn't be the most.

KONDRACKE: Lionized?

BARNES: (INAUDIBLE) Lionized or — or whatever Democratic politician if Hillary were someone who was likeable by the Democratic hordes. And she's not very likeable, though, you know, they feel that's inevitable. And she — look, she is quite formidable. There's no question about that. She's smart. She does her homework. She got 67 percent in running for re-election in New York. That's not nothing.

But for Obama, it's win-win. Whatever he does here, it's win-win. I should say, it's win-win if he runs. One, he'll win the nomination. Or two, he'll be a nice candidate and he'll be, say, Hillary's running mate. Or three, he'll build up such a name for himself he'll be a presidential candidate the next time around where a Democratic could win. And that's — so — so what's he got to lose?

And Hillary — I agree with you. Hillary can't back out against him. You know, some guy — some 44-year-old who a couple years ago was in the Illinois legislature — I'd say it's 100 percent she's going to run.

KONDRACKE: I think it's an exciting field. Hillary — and — and there are other good candidates. I mean, Tom Vilsack is a good candidate. And, you know, there are a whole bunch of — a string of them. I think the debates are going to be fascinating if you can find a stage big enough to fit them all onto.

BARNES: Yes, and the Republican side, too. Because Republicans have some very formidable candidates. John McCain, for one, the next guy in line.


BARNES: And then you have the governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney. You have the most — one of the most lionized — speaking of lionized politicians in America, Rudy Giuliani. And you know who the sleeper is in the Republican race? Is Newt Gingrich. I mean — I mean, Newt Gingrich gives a great speech, and Republican primary voters love it.


BARNES: So I think we're going to have a couple of great races here - actually unlike some other years.

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