Karl Rove on McCain's VP Pick, Clinton's Delegate Fight and Swing State Indecision

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," May 21, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: First, both Hillary Clinton and Senator Obama campaigned in the state of Florida today, and Senator Clinton — well, she made it clear that the nomination battle is not over.

In an interview with the Associated Press today Hillary Clinton said she is willing to take the fight for seating the Florida and Michigan delegations all the way to the convention in Denver. At a rally in Boca Raton today she also compared her fight to get the Florida delegation seated to the abolitionists who fought against slavery. But no racial politics here.

Meanwhile there is big news on the Republican side tonight as well. The New York Times is reporting that John McCain will meet tomorrow or Friday with two governors who are widely believed to be on the short list for vice-president, Florida governor Charlie Crist, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, and former governor Mitt Romney is mentioned.

Now for more on these significant developments we are joined tonight by the architect, FOX News contributor who gets the best press of anybody in this business.

Sir, welcome back.


HANNITY: Well, let's start with the choice for vice president. You got Bobby Jindal. You got Charlie Crist and Mitt Romney. What do you think?

Watch the interview: Part 1 | Part 2

ROVE: You know, some interesting names here and some strong talent. There are strengths and weaknesses of each of them. Bobby Jindal is a terrifically intelligent and reform-minded governor of Louisiana. It's sort of hard, though, to say I'm experienced and my opponent is inexperienced, but incidentally forget the fact I've chosen a very young man who's been governor for a year and a half as my running mate.

Charlie Crist is in sort of the same situation. You know, again, if Senator McCain says Senator Obama's unqualified and inexperienced and he's young and has only been in the Senate for three years, and incidentally I'm picking a governor who's only been in office for two years, creates a little bit of discountenance.

HANNITY: Yes, I — so can I infer from that — and I don't want to, you know, read minds here or look into a crystal ball.

ROVE: Well, Romney — Romney, look, Romney was governor for one term.


ROVE: He's got a record — he's got a broader record that people can associate with, head of the U.S. Olympics, successful business person. I'm not suggesting that he is the only person that McCain ought to consider, but I have been surprised how many conservatives have expressed a confidence and an enthusiasm in Romney.


Let's go to the exit polls last night from Kentucky because I think they're very revealing. I thought this was a massive victory for Hillary Clinton last night. When you have less than half of Democrats in the state of Kentucky thinking that Barack Obama, their likely nominee, is honest and trustworthy, when you have nearly 33 percent, 32 percent, saying they would vote for John McCain over Senator Obama, and a majority think that he shares the views of Reverend Wright, that is — it shows to me an incredible weakness for him heading into the general election...

ROVE: Right.

HANNITY: ...especially because it reinforced the exit polling data in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and some other states.

ROVE: Yes. And what was interesting to me was that it's not only the Appalachian region on the eastern part of Kentucky, but spreads all throughout central Kentucky and on to western and southwestern sides of the state which are more Midwestern and southern than they are Appalachian.

And we know he's got a problem in places like southeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania and West Virginia — western and southwestern Virginia, and western North Carolina, the Appalachian region, but this, this is a problem that he's got among white blue-collar voters.

HANNITY: All right. I think there are five issues that have totally changed the narrative on Senator Obama, and we talk a lot about them. Reverend Wright, the association, the friendship with Bill Ayers, his comments in San Francisco, his — his wife's comments about America being mean and not being proud of her country, and also, I think, it's this issue of, you know, negotiating without preconditions with dictators in the world...

ROVE: Right.

HANNITY: ...like Iran and Syria.

ROVE: Right.

HANNITY: . and possibly invading an ally Pakistan.

ROVE: Yes.

HANNITY: How does he overcome those five difficulties?

ROVE: Well — and I'd add a couple more to it. I think this sort of callous attitude that he had being dismissive of people wearing a flag lapel pin by saying that's not true patriotism, and then as he begins to prepare for the general election, showing up frequently with a flag lapel pin on, is a problem for him.

So — look, his problem is that he is, is that he is increasingly seen as an elitist who's out of touch with the values of middle America...


ROVE: And dismissive of them.

COLMES: ...It's Alan Colmes. Before we get to my disagreement with what you just said, I.

ROVE: Yes.

COLMES: Are you going to the McCain barbecue this weekend?

ROVE: No, sir. Are you?

COLMES: I'd like to get that invitation. By the way, I'm not on the list for VP either so just to ease your mind.

ROVE: But you know what, Colmes?


ROVE: Yes — you know, I'm finding whenever I travel that people come up to me and tell me they're fans of you and Sean. Today I was on the train, and a guy accosted me said his daughter Anna Dickstein in New York City watches you two regularly.


COLMES: Did he tell you to mention her name on the air? Is that.


ROVE: His dad — her dad threatened me if I wouldn't. But I.

COLMES: I'd say it — there you go.

Look, Karl, I know that you would like to see a Republican win.

ROVE: Yes.

COLMES: And so some of the things you're saying appear to me to be hurtful to Barack Obama.

ROVE: Well, no, look, there is a problem that he has. I'm trying to be as objective as I can on this. He has a problem and it's showing up persistently.

Look, everyone knows that he's going to be the nominee. He's 70 delegates away from getting the nomination at 2,026 delegates, and yet he can't close the sale in places with a lot of working class voters. In fact, I thought it was also interesting — look, he did not go back to Kentucky. He spent the last four or five days out in Oregon, and I think it was because the rumor was that the polls showed some tightening there, and he wanted to make certain that he was not embarrassed with a narrow victory in Oregon.

COLMES: We're not talking about some of the problems John McCain has had with lobbyists, which happened to fire — or five people resigned in the last couple of weeks, with the — his issue of wanting to have reform, for supporting legislation 12 years ago that if it were enacted would not enable him to run the campaign he's running.

ROVE: Well, look.

COLMES: I mean we're not.


ROVE: Yes. Alan, I'd be happy to address each one of them if you want to bring them up serially. Look, I do think there is a problem for Senator McCain in trying to set these standards regarding, you know, lobbyists and former lobbyists and so forth in his campaign. He should have done that a long time ago.

But let's be clear about this. Senator Obama has bundlers who are former lobbyists. Senator Obama has received campaign contributions from law firms that have very robust lobbying practices in Washington. Senator Obama is the beneficiary of very large amounts of money and financial support outside the normal campaign system from unions, which obviously have lobbyists in front of Congress.

So you know, Senator Obama would be smart to not focus on John McCain's problems with lobbyists, but let that sort of stir along in the press all by itself.

COLMES: But John McCain has made.

ROVE: . and not engage as he has today.

COLMES: He has made this key to his political career basically and that tried to enact legislation.

ROVE: Well, look, I mean — look, I mean, you know, go around Washington, he's not popular among lobbyists because he is not — he's not very accommodating to them.

COLMES: All right. We're going to take a break. More with Karl Rove right after the break.



COLMES: Well, new polls out in four swing states might shed light on which Democratic presidential candidate is more electable when pitted against presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.

In Colorado — look at the screen there — Barack Obama beats McCain by six points while Hillary Clinton trails McCain by three. In North Carolina, McCain has an eight-point lead on Obama, but doesn't fare as well against Clinton who is ahead by six. In Missouri McCain beats Obama by three points, but Hillary edges McCain by two points, and in Virginia both Democrats trail McCain. Obama by eight points and Hillary by nine.

We now continue with Karl Rove. You put together the Electoral College, and everybody's talking about delegates and popular votes. It's really about the Electoral College as we discovered in 2000, did we not?

ROVE: Yes. Yes.

COLMES: And you put together maps about where things stand in terms of the Electoral College.

ROVE: Yes. And you've found an interesting dichotomy here. I'd add to that, for example, Florida, where Hillary Clinton beats John McCain by five, if you average the last month's polls together, and Senator McCain beats Obama by eight.


ROVE: West Virginia where Senator McCain beats Obama and loses to Senator Clinton, and you know, it's an interesting map. Where you have a significantly larger-than-average percentage of — college educated voters, Obama will do better, and if you have a state with a larger working class population, you'll — Obama will be — will do worse.


ROVE: And then Florida sort of an — I think it has a lot to do with Obama's refusal to seat the delegation. This irritated a lot of Democrats.

COLMES: How fluid are these numbers? We still have ways to go. We still need to get the nominees until the convention.

ROVE: Very fluid. Oh very fluid.

COLMES: So what happens between now and November?

ROVE: Very fluid. Look, they're going to be three or four geological ages that are going to come or pass before the fall. We're going to see — I wouldn't be surprised to see in June sometime Senator Obama move to a pretty dramatic lead over Senator McCain. And — but you're right, this thing is going to ebb and flow a lot between now and the election.

I — these maps are, in a way, you know, sort of like methadone maintenance program for political junkies. I mean, look at them every week and.

COLMES: Excuses our (INAUDIBLE) and.

ROVE: That's right.

COLMES: There's a Gallup poll this week that shows the country is closer to where Oregon is in terms of certain voters than Kentucky, where Obama is tying Clinton among whites, among people with no college, and leaning with women in this particular Gallup tracking poll.

Is that an indication of where things are going?

ROVE: Look, I'm not familiar with the poll, but look, you know, Kentucky and — Kentucky is, I think, frankly closer to the rest of the country than is Oregon. Oregon is one of the most secular states in the union, for example. It has the lowest percentage of church attendance, I think, of anyone in the states, or maybe it's 49th out of 50.

So, you know, Oregon is a battleground state, but I think it's a little bit different than — and Kentucky is not. I think Kentucky is going to be in the Republican column, but it's — I think Oregon is a little bit different than the average.

HANNITY: Hey, Karl, by the way, I don't know if anyone's brought this to your attention yet. But you know you have a new best friend out there, and her name is Hillary Clinton.

And Hillary was quoted as saying the following, "Just today I found some curious support for the position that she's the stronger candidate against Senator McCain. Well, one of the TV networks released an analysis done by, of all people, Karl Rove saying I was the stronger candidate. Someone got ahold of the analysis, and there it is.'

Are you now an unpaid advisor for the Hillary campaign?

ROVE: No, no, no. Well, her husband said something, too, and it — you know, it's — it was really — they've been using my name, but generally in vain. So I mean it's — it was a little unusual to hear Senator Clinton to use my name.


ROVE: .without a derogatory adjective in front of it.

HANNITY: All right. You know, I'm a bit — a little bit frustrated with the Republicans. We now see the Republican brand is hurting a little bit. We lost three important elections — Mississippi, Louisiana, and Dennis Hastert's seat. The political reports today that John Boehner and Tom Cole are going to unveil a series of changes aimed at quelling criticism in terms of the positioning of the Republican Party.

I put on my Web site, Hannity's top 10 issues that I think candidates ought to run on. But I don't think the message is getting out there about what Republicans stand for on this election — congressional elections.

Do you agree with that?

ROVE: Well, I — and look, I don't think the brand's in a little trouble, I think it's in a bunch of trouble.

HANNITY: Yes, me, too.

ROVE: And look, I also don't think that you have a single national message. We look back at the contract with America and think that everybody in America understood that this was the Republican pledge for what they would do in the 1994 election. Its big utility was that it gave 10 ideas and good language for people who were individual candidates to go out and talk to the people in their districts about.

And that's what got to happen this time around. People have got to have a robust, aggressive, conservative reform agenda for the domestic front that individual candidates can adapt and put in their own words and run with locally.

HANNITY: Well, I have 10 simple items. They've got to be the party of national security, the party that won't.

ROVE: Right.

HANNITY: . negotiate without preconditions, the party of tax cuts, eliminating earmarks, fiscal responsibility, the party of energy independence, the party that'll secure our borders, health care reform, but free market health care reform, et cetera, et cetera, save Social Security, education, and be the party of the American dream.

ROVE: Yes.

HANNITY: Ten — at Hannity.com.

ROVE: Yes, there we go.

HANNITY: Why aren't they doing this? This is frustrating to me and I know a lot of other conservatives?

ROVE: Well, look, here's the deal. This is a process that John Boehner's done a good job of, you know, recognizing several months ago that things needed to be done differently, and he has a process led by Eric Canter and Adam Putnam and other members of — at the leadership.

Putnam, in particular, has done a lot of work on this, of getting members to understand that there's a problem and to getting them — to get buy into the process. What you don't want is you don't want the leader to sort of come up with a list and say this is it, boys and girls. And you run on it. You want to have it to be a collegial and team building process. And that's exactly what Boehner's been doing. How effective it is? We'll see in the weeks and months ahead.

But it's absolutely critical the Republicans hope to do as well as they possibly can in the fall election.

HANNITY: I totally agree with you. And — by the way, if you get a chance, check out my 10 items on Hannity.com. I'd.

ROVE: I've made a mental note.

HANNITY: I'd like to get the Rove analysis of it.

ROVE: There we go.

HANNITY: All right. Karl Rove, the architect, thanks for being with us, my friend. Have a great weekend.

ROVE: You bet. You, too.

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