'Special Report' Panel on Iowa Caucuses

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from January 2, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't predict what the outcome will be in Iowa. I'm sure hoping that I get a first place finish. If I don't, I will keep right on battling. I honest believe that I'm going to get the nomination for our party.


BRIT HUME, "SPECIAL REPORT" HOST: Well, that was about as much as anybody would say on the Republican side in the way of a prognostication at this late hour, and here's why: this race, as the Real Clear Politics average of all the recent polls in Iowa clearly shows, is very close indeed.

It boils down, at this point, at least, to a two-person race, although it might be interesting to see how some of the trailing candidates fare in relation to the expectations for them.

Some analytical observations on all this now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Juan Williams, senior correspondent of National Public Radio, Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, and Nina Easton, Washington bureau chief of Fortune Magazine; all are FOX News contributors.

Fred, you have had a chance to nose around a little bit and get a sense of what is going on, to the extent it is possible to go outdoors in this state at this time of the year. What are you seeing and hearing?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I lived in Alaska when I was growing up, but this is colder here in Iowa!

I think it is looking more like Iowa is just not going to be definitive. You will have a lot of candidates that will still be alive coming out of here. Certainly Mitt Romney will be. Mike Huckabee, whether he loses or not, will at least move on to South Carolina where there are a lot of evangelical Christians. John McCain is hovering around, ready to face Romney in New Hampshire.

HUME: And he's doing very well in New Hampshire.

BARNES: He is. And he is even making some headway here without any kind of organization.

On the Democratic side, they're all very close.

Anyway, with the Republicans, if Romney wins, and then wins New Hampshire, usually when you win those two, you win the nomination. If he is knocked off by Huckabee here, he will have to win New Hampshire or else he will be out of the race.

HUME: What do you see in the trend among Republicans, Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT FOR NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think the big trend has to do with fundamentalist Christians, people who I think make up half of the GOP caucus goers here in the state. And when you look at them, it breaks down more than 2-to-1 in favor of Mike Huckabee.

And I think people have seen Romney gaining speed, and all the polls indicated he was the one that was coming on, and —

HUME: Yes, I think we may even have a graph that will show that trend line that you are talking about in which Huckabee had gotten well ahead, it appeared — and there you see the Huckabee-Romney trend lines. You can see that there has been the seeming spike you are pointing out in the polling in that yellow line there.

Go ahead, Juan. I'm sorry.

WILLIAMS: That's what the political pros around here are talking about.

The question is — how does the money stack up? In other words, does the church organization stack up to the fact that Romney has invested so much money — I think he has spent about $6 million in ads here in Iowa, and he has a strong organization. Huckabee does not have a strong organization, unless you count church organizations. So that's the battle.

HUME: They organize themselves.


HUME: Bill.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: The Huckabee spontaneous organization of evangelicals is pretty impressive, pretty interesting. I think he will fall short of Romney because of the mistakes over the last couple of weeks, which I really do think have taken —

HUME: Which of those do you think have hurt him, have been ones that has mattered the most, if it is possible to tell?

KRISTOL: It's hard to tell. I just think some of the Romney negative ads seem to have an effect.

I talked to someone who had been at a Huckabee meeting. This was interesting — it was spontaneously organized by Huckabee supporters, no contact with the campaign. They all belonged to a couple of churches in a small town, and they got together and said they worked for Huckabee and talked about Huckabee.

And a couple of them had questions, and apparently the questions had to do with the issues raised by the Romney ads: taxes, immigration. But they were sort of answered to these people's satisfaction, and they left the room apparently still intending to vote for Huckabee.

To me, the question is — do the questions that have been raised about Huckabee's record, about his foreign policy views and experience, do those knock some Huckabee voters off, or do people just decide this is politics and they always raise these questions. Mike Huckabee is a good guy, a solid guy, one of us, we're sticking with him. And I think that's the big question.

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, FORTUNE MAGAZIN: Full disclosure on my part: my husband is a Romney advisor. But this is all about turnout and who turns out.

You have the Romney operation is your pretty traditional turnout operation. They've been here a long time. They have all the field operations in place.

Huckabee is relying on these churches, home schoolers, big evangelical churches, who are quite good —

HUME: They will have to do it for him.

EASTON: They will have to do it for him. And they are quite good at organizing themselves for their own causes, so they know how to organize. Whether that can be translated into caucuses, which, by the way, a very tiny percent of Iowans are going to turn out to. So I think that's what we have to watch with on the Huckabee-Romney level.

The other thing to watch, though, tomorrow night is Fred Thompson. I do think he has to come in third to stay in the race. Is it going to be Fred Thompson or John McCain? It's not clear yet.

HUME: Thompson has gained ground lately, hasn't he?

EASTON: He has gained ground. He has been here for two weeks. He is trying to make enough of a comeback to stay in the race. But I think that's another one to watch.

BARNES: Normally, if you were going to pick a winner, you would pick the candidate with the moment rather than the one who might be ahead in the polls.

The question about Huckabee is, clearly, he had the momentum, but whether it stopped over the last couple of weeks, as Bill said because of his gaffes and his uncomfortable conversations about foreign policy, and so on, and for that reason, I suspect Romney will win here.

HUME: What about that business with the negative ad that he ceremoniously announced at a news conference he wasn't going to air, and then showed it to the press. I wonder whether that — Iowa voters are supposed to be a little bit averse to negative ads, although no electorate ever really is, but what about that?

BARNES: The most peculiar thing about it is what was in the harshest language in the ad was Huckabee accusing Romney of being dishonest. Well, Huckabee has gone on to say that elsewhere in public.

I don't know. Is it just ads that Iowans are mad about? If you say it in person, it's OK? I'm not sure. Iowans can be strange when it comes to politics.

WILLIAMS: I was struck by the idea that the "Register" people tell me —

HUME: That's the local influential capital city newspaper.

WILLIAMS: Correct. They did not play that story, I think. They stuck it in the back.

HUME: The story about him announcing to the press — apparently reporters were openly laughing at him.

WILLIAMS: Right. And David Yepsen wrote in "The Des Moines Register," their prominent and influential columnist, wrote that he considers it a bizarre act, goofy, on Huckabee's part.

But do Iowans take it seriously? And the reason that this is so key as a late step — this is what Bill Kristol was saying about late missteps. But the fact is 40 plus percent of caucus goers don't make up their minds until the last few days.

And so everything is in flux is what I am trying to say.

BARNES: Juan, goofy is not good.

KRISTOL: I think Iowans watch national media as well as reading local papers. If you are an evangelical Christian, you can be proud that Mike Huckabee has made such a strong run, you can be sympathetic to him. But you wonder — if you look at the last two or three weeks, some of them will wonder — is he the right guy to be president of the United States?

I think these people are not one-track voters who don't pay attention to other things.

Ed Rollins, Huckabee's campaign chairman came on two three weeks ago — some of us who have seen Ed Rollins and what he has done to other campaigns thought that was the kiss of death. And it think it may turn out to have been.

He was the one who pushed the negative ads. Huckabee wasn't comfortable with it. Huckabee ended up overruling Rollins, and now Rollins is telling all the reporters about how it was a good idea, it's too bad his boss, his candidate Mike Huckabee overruled it.

HUME: I hate to see that happen.

Next up with our panel, we'll look at where the Democratic presidential race stands going into Thursday night's caucuses in a three- way tie.



SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, D-N.Y., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tomorrow night, not just the eyes of America, but the eyes of the world will be on you here and in every part of the state. It is perhaps the most important political decision you will make.


HUME: Hillary "Patton" Clinton in front of the big American flag making a final appeal to Iowa caucus goers to turn out for her. Back with our panel to discuss the state of the Democratic race, which appears, according to the Real Clear Politics average of al the current polls to be really a remarkably close three-way tie.

We can get that up on the screen and take a look at it and see what the numbers there from the Real Clear Politics average show. We are talking now about Democrats, and so if the people in the control room would be so generous to perhaps show us the Democratic one, we would be grateful indeed.

There you go: Obama, 32, Clinton, 25, Edwards 24. That is The Des Moines Register poll. We're really not particularly interested in that. What we're looking for, folks, is the Real Clear Politics average of the latest Democratic polls, which do show, believe it or not, a three-way tie.

OK, good. Anyway, Nina, take my word for it.

EASTON: It's a three-way tie. It is incredibly fluid, too.

HUME: By the way, the three are —

EASTON: The three are John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.

HUME: Exactly.

EASTON: And by the way, this is not a Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama race. I spent time watching Barack Obama yesterday. He is just as worried about John Edwards as he is about Hillary Clinton. He spent as much time criticizing him, not by name, but saying we need less heat in Washington, not — more light, less heat.

And it was clearly a reference to John Edwards' heated rhetoric about corporate greed and so forth, his class warfare rhetoric. So he spent a lot of time with that.

And the other thing I came away noticing from that Barack Obama rally was the second choice is going to be key with the Democrats.

HUME: Because you have second and third tier candidates that aren't going to make the 15 percent threshold: Biden, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, perhaps.

EASTON: That's right. So there will be a second round of voting, and those who don't make the 15 percent, those supporters can go to one of the three big ones.

HUME: So who is winning the second choice sweepstakes?

EASTON: Obama's people claim that they're winning the second choicers.

HUME: And some polls suggest that's true, right?

EASTON: That's right. And they spent a lot of time, again, on the stump. He spends a lot of time saying even if I'm not your first choice, because there are some undecideds at these rallies, make me your second choice. And that can make a big difference.

KRISTOL: I'm rattled because Hillary Clinton said not just the eyes of America, but the eyes of the world will be on us tomorrow night.

HUME: Which means that perhaps the eyes of the world could be on us when we report?

KRISTOL: I know. I am going to have a tough time sleeping tonight.

I think the eyes of the world will see Hillary Clinton lose Iowa tomorrow night. I have talked to several Democrats today her in Iowa who think that Obama had momentum — that Edwards had momentum last week. And I thought that might take him over the top.

That Des Moines Register poll they showed which had Obama in the lead suggested undecided voters who didn't want Hillary Clinton and were open to the two others may go to Obama rather than Edwards.

HUME: So Edwards stock has plunged a bit in your book?

KRISTOL: A tiny bit. People I have talked to seem to know what they are talking, and would put Obama first now, partly because of the second choice voting issues.

But I think Hillary Clinton could run third. That would be pretty interesting. I think it could be Obama, Edwards, Clinton, or Edwards, Obama, Clinton.

WILLIAMS: It is so close. I don't expect if Hillary Clinton were to drop to third, that she would drop far. I think it would end up two or three points separating people out, and at that point then you're on to New Hampshire six days from now.

But the fact of the matter is that the cold weather and the football games, and all that, there are not a lot of people that espouse great enthusiasm at the moment. They're not necessarily going to show up, I don't think.

And that means that Hillary's organization pays off. That means the fact that Bill Clinton is here tonight giving his thoughts, appealing to all the political pros in town and people who benefited from his largess in the past, all those people are going to say, we owe that, and we better show up.

That's why I think Hillary actually will do very well tomorrow night.

BARNES: "Very well," what does that mean? Win?

WILLIAMS: I think she will probably win tomorrow night.

HUME: Who has in your estimation the biggest organization, the biggest field organization?

WILLIAMS: Clinton.

HUME: I am hearing in terms of sheer numbers of people here to try to turn out votes, she has the biggest. That doesn't make it best.

BARNES: It probably is a good one, because there is a Clinton base in the Democratic Party. It comes from her husband and they worked it over the years, and it is a real base. It is something that Obama doesn't have. It's something that exists for Hillary Clinton in every state.

Obama has a big one here in Iowa, but he doesn't have one in other places. You probably wonder, Brit, whether Iowans believe this stuff when Hillary Clinton says "the eyes of the world are on you. You're the most important people in the world."

HUME: That's what Walter Mondale said this very state 24 years ago.

BARNES: Iowans love that stuff. I think they believe it. But that's not going to help Hillary.

When the polls are closed, go with the candidate that has the momentum. And I think that is still probably Obama.

HUME: Really? Nina?

EASTON: Back on this organization thing. Hillary actually got a late start here. There was a time when her campaign was considering not even playing in Iowa.

Obama has actually been here longest and, you could argue, has the deepest ties. And she has had some problems trying to position herself here, this whole question of am I commander-in-chief or am I a nice person? She has had some messaging problems.

KRISTOL: Neither.

HUME: Let's stop for a second.

BARNES: If that's a problem, then you're in trouble. For Ronald Reagan, he was both, and everybody knew it.

HUME: Let's talk for a second about Bill's scenario. Let's assume Hillary loses not in some huge route, but ends up third. She's got a ticket out of here, doesn't she?


HUME: And if John Edwards doesn't win, does he got anywhere to go?

BARNES: Yes, he will be around. He has done well enough to — if he's close, if he's just a part of the pack of three, then sure.

WILLIAMS: I really don't think so. He doesn't have the money.

He needs a big win to establish that he is a frontrunner. He has been in the top three here. Can he be in the top three in New Hampshire without money? He has to win here.

HUME: Final thought, Bill?

KRISTOL: Edwards will get matching funds and stay in the race. It's a three-way race for the next couple of weeks.

HUME: So there are at least three tickets out of here?


HUME: All right. That is it for the panel, folks.

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