'Special Report' Panel on Clinton's W. Virginia Win, Obama's Weakness and Whether the GOP Is Losing Ground in Congress

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This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from May 14, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRIT HUME, HOST: That is a live picture from out in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Barack Obama is about to bring on the stage with him the right honorable John Edwards, who will at long last declare his allegiance in this primary season to him and not to Hillary Clinton.

Some thoughts on this development and others now from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

There is plenty to talk about today. Let's talk about the latest thing, which is the John Edwards decision a week after North Carolina, where's he's from, to endorse Barack Obama. Big deal, little deal, what?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: No deal. It is a profile in caution on the part of Edwards.

But, look, it helps this way — Obama suffered a 41-point defeat in the presidential primary in West Virginia yesterday — 41 points. And the big story today is not that, it's John Edwards with his meaningless endorsement of Barack Obama who is already the presumptive nominee. But it helps on what we're talking about.

Let me say one more thing about that 41-point defeat. Frequently in presidential campaigns there will be some challenger who hangs on and wins some primaries. Jerry Brown did against Jimmy Carter and Gary Hart did in 1984 against Mondale.

HUME: Ronald Reagan did in 1976.

BARNES: But never a 41-point victory over the nominee.

HUME: This is the moment — there the two are out on the stage together. This is what the Obama people planned, and they had it hit while the evening news is still on the air.

OK, Fred, sorry, I interrupted you.

BARNES: Look, this is good T.V. It's on there, and nobody is talking about this devastating defeat, 41 points in West Virginia, that should be extremely alarming.

HUME: Mara?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Yes. Look, I think that West Virginia exposed his vulnerabilities. We knew about them, but this one, there were no urban areas with big black populations to offset that. This is a state almost filled completely with the kind of voters he hasn't been able to get.

And he didn't even try that hard, which is interesting. I think he has a case to make, actually; certainly a case of clean coal technology. He comes from a coal state. West Virginia is a coal state.

He didn't spend a whole lot of time there, and he didn't make a big effort to —

HUME: Was that a mistake in your judgment, not to contest West Virginia more seriously?

LIASSON: It was not so much about West Virginia, but there was an opportunity for him to start practicing, at least, for how is going to reach these voters. He doesn't need to get all of them, but he needs to do better with them than he has been doing.

It doesn't mean that a certain amount of them aren't going to come to him in the fall just naturally. He went to Michigan, of course, Macomb County, which is the home of the Reagan Democrats, other white voters that he needs.

But I think this just exposes his vulnerabilities. He is going to get the nomination, and he has a lot of work to do.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: And from Hillary's perspective, a victory of this size will certainly keep her in the race. There is no reason at all she is going to leave the race.

There is 150 delegate difference between them, which is large if you are trying to overcome him — it's actually impossible. He will be the nominee.

However, in Denver, in August, when they all gather, that difference in the hall of 4,000 delegates is going to be miniscule and indiscernible. In other words, if she stays in the race, she's going to have control of half of that hall, which is a big deal, because these things are supposed to be television events. She will use that as a bargaining chip.

HUME: A bargaining chip to get what? On the ticket?

KRAUTHAMMER: At most, on the ticket, at the least, a primetime speech —

HUME: She will get a primetime speech regardless.

KRAUTHAMMER: Or — there is a menu of things.

HUME: A primetime speech for her and a primetime speech for him?

KRAUTHAMMER: A Supreme Court nomination for him to get him off the street, and a paying off of her debt.

LIASSON: Or for here. She could get the first Supreme Court development.

KRAUTHAMMER: There's a lot of stuff on this shopping venue.

HUME: But she is borrowing money to build up a bargaining chip to pay off the debt, right?

KRAUTHAMMER: She already is 8 or 10 in the hole.

HUME: Nina Easton said last night, Charles, that she thinks Hillary is not simply running to be Vice President.

KRAUTHAMMER: That's her number one item on the list.

HUME: If she comes in with the kind of delegate strength that Charles is describing here, and with the weakness that Obama has shown among a certain category of voters, can she really be denied that nomination?

LIASSON: One of the things I have really been interested in is can she force her way on to the ticket.

HUME: Yes.

LIASSON: What I have been told from talking to a lot of people on this is probably not. It's really up to him, unless there is this incredible organized effort among her supporters to say —

HUME: Do you think for a moment that there will be such an effort?

LIASSON: There will be an effort, but there will be another countervailing pressure, which is to bring this party together.

HUME: Her choice would be to unite the convention, wouldn't it?

LIASSON: Yes, but he is going to choose a vice president much earlier than Denver. That's going to be done.

HUME: Maybe, maybe not.

LIASSON: Especially if she is out there wanting it, he's gong to choose it earlier.

BARNES: If he did, and someone like Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, can you imagine introducing Rendell in Denver to several thousand screaming feminists who are all for Hillary Clinton? I think that would be kind of hard to do.

LIASSON: I think the question is will she try to force her way onto the ticket?

BARNES: Of course it's possible.

HUME: Doesn't she come to the convention as the obvious choice? She got the second most votes, and darn near as many as the winner.

LIASSON: There is no doubt about it that she is going to be in a strong position, and the longer she stays in the race and the more votes she accumulates, the stronger position she will put herself in for whatever she wants.

KRAUTHAMMER: That's why she is staying (INAUDIBLE)

BARNES: Yes, but she will have to show her strength ahead of time, because Mara is right. Obama won't wait until the third night of the convention —

HUME: So if he doesn't want her, the thing to do is to announce his choice sooner rather than later, right?

BARNES: Right.

KRAUTHAMMER: But she can let him know it will be trouble if he does, and trouble is not what you want in a televised event.

LIASSON: But that is also considered bad form —

HUME: Do you really think the Clintons care about bad form!

LIASSON: One of the storylines right now is that there is a Clinton watch on to he see if she does anything to undermine him. And she has been busy sending all sorts of signals, as she did today in an interview on CNN, that she is going to be working hard for the nominee. She doesn't want to do anything to undermine the party.

To basically have a stickup to say put me on the ticket or else, I don't think that will go down well with the super delegates.

BARNES: I don't care what she says, when she beats Obama by 41 points in a presidential primary, that undermines him.

HUME: And you mentioned an interview she did. She did one with Major Garrett today in which she said that we're in the last minutes of the game. I'm going to the buzzer and possibly into overtime.

LIASSON: She is sending so many different messages because I don't think she has quite decided on her strategy.

HUME: You're saying she's not doing anything to undermine him when she just womped(ph) him by 40 points in West Virginia, and she will beat him in Kentucky by a potentially similar margin, and you say she's not doing anything to undermine him!

KRAUTHAMMER: Her strategy is to do a subtle stickup.

HUME: Subtle?

BARNES: Subtle as a hammer!

KRAUTHAMMER: A behind the scenes saying here is what I want. Let's see what you will offer me, and I offer you a nice, happy convention in return.

HUME: And maybe a united party.

LIASSON: She has to think about her future in the party. Does she want to blow up the village to save it?

KRAUTHAMMER: You're saying he will call her bluff.


KRAUTHAMMER: He may not want to call her bluff.

LIASSON: I think he may want to call her bluff, and then the party will unite to tell her to get in line.

HUME: Her delegates are going to unite to tell her to get in line?

LIASSON: I think there will be enough pressure on her —

HUME: I love you, Mara, but I think you're crazy.

LIASSON: I can't imagine that the Democrats are going to put up with a case of chaos at the convention.

HUME: All right, next up with our panel, do Republicans now need a major shakeup or win or at least keep from losing all of Congress next fall? Stay tuned.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are a lot of reasons for the loss of those three seats, and, trust me, we're very disappointed in the loss of those three seats. But for us, and I told our colleagues this morning, it's time for us to get off the mat and show people that we can, in fact, deliver this change for them. It is just not rocket science.


HUME: It may not be rocket science, but it's proven pretty difficult for Republicans these days as John Boehner, the House Republican leader was just saying, they lost three consecutive special elections, all in seats that had been in Republican hands and were not thought to be particularly vulnerable seats until now.

And the latest of course is Mississippi yesterday. That was a district that George Bush carried with 60 percent of the vote and Republicans lost by eight points.

So in how bad of trouble are congressional Republicans, and possibly by extension, the national Republican ticket in terms of the brand, Fred?

BARNES: Very, very, very bad trouble. These special elections have always been indicators of what may happen in the general election. We go back to 1994.

There was one, in particular, a veteran Democrat, retired from a seat in Kentucky, was won by a Christian bookstore owner, who I don't think had ever run for office before, Ronald Lewis, and it surprised everybody that Republicans won special election after special election, which is exactly what Democrats are doing now.

HUME: And losing by a landslide.

LIASSON: Look, I think this is Watergate-style proportions.

HUME: Then what does it mean for the national ticket? McCain continues to hover —

LIASSON: McCain runs better than his brand, and I think he will continue to do that. And, of course, it puts more pressure on him to differentiate himself from the brand and from Bush.

I thought that the statement that to Tom Cole, who is the head of the National Republican Committee, put out last night was extraordinary. It was a real batten down the hatches, every man for himself, run kind of statement. They are not mincing any words. They're saying this is bad. Every incumbent has to get ready, buy more sandbags, basically.

I think Republicans are completely freaked out.

HUME: Which suggests, Charles, the possibility that you get a democratic president a democratic Congress with a filibuster proof majority in the Senate.

KRAUTHAMMER: Which means Republicans will be back in power in two years or four for sure. It always happens that way.

But, look, I understand the panic. It's a terrible Republican year. The wrong track numbers are 80 percent, historically high.

These guys in Congress have three things to do — distance themselves from George Bush, distance themselves from the Republican congress, which held sway for half of this decade, and pray. And of the three, I think prayer is probably the most effective in this election.

HUME: And yet we see tonight that passed in the House of Representatives a whopping, bloated Farm Bill, at least in the estimate of many, that the president had said he will veto, and it does not appear that the veto could be sustained for absence of Republican votes in the House of Representatives.

KRAUTHAMMER: What sways people is now what passes or doesn't in the congress. It is inflation, food, and fuel, which in part is because China and India, and in part because of the insanity of the ethanol —

HUME: But the Democrats are in charge of congress. Why don't they get blamed?

KRAUTHAMMER: Because it has only been two years.

HUME: So we have residual blame here.

KRAUTHAMMER: It's been almost half decade of unified control, a president with two houses of Congress, and that's what everybody attributes our troubles to today.

BARNES: All the Republicans are reading this memo by Tom Davis, this 21-page memo — the former head of their campaign committee, a congressman from Virginia who is retired. And he says, look, Republicans have done nothing to improve their brand since 1994.

He said "Voters don't like our dog food. They may not like the democratic either, but for now and through November, they appear to be buying it."

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