'Special Report' Panel on John McCain's Acceptance Speech

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This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from September 5, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not running for president because I think I'm blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need.

My country saved me. My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her as long as I draw breath, so help me god.


BRET BAIER, GUEST HOST: John McCain accepting the nomination of his party in St. Paul, Minnesota last night. It was the most-watched speech in convention history, just shy of 39 million viewers. That was 500,000 more viewers than Barack Obama had in Denver.

What about this speech and the implications? Some analytical observations from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard; Kirsten Powers, New York Post columnist, and Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call -- FOX News contributors all.

First of all, Fred, your overall impressions of the speech, and, you know, what comes out of it?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, it turns out Sarah Palin was a hard act to follow. I mean, her speech was electrifying on Wednesday night, and I will have to say McCain's wasn't quite that good.

He did well. He did about as well as Obama did. And both of their speeches had a certain state of the union quality about them, you know. And if you're in journalism, I dread state of the union addresses, because they go on too long and they have to talk about them and they're not very interesting.

There was one thing, though, that I think is interesting in a comparison between Obama's and McCain's. McCain expanded his universe of appeal. He was obviously appealing for independents and soft Democrats and so on, and said he would be bipartisan and he has a record of that and so on.

I thought Obama narrowed his appeal by dropping all the stuff about how he was going to bring people together and so on and taking the standard, liberal Democratic approach.

And so in that sense, I think McCain's speech was better.

BAIER: Kirsten, we have heard the story about John McCain and the Hanoi Hilton many, many times on the stump. But last night he really did get much more personal than I had ever heard. Did you find that very effective, and your thoughts about the speech last night?

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK POST: I think it is extremely effective, actually, because, like you, I have heard the story before, but I think that with the video, actually, you got much more of a sense of that and sort of the duty and sacrifice and I think things that really resonate with the audience I think are really important.

And I think that he just really hit on an important point. I think with the selection of Palin, it allows McCain now to kind of go back to being who he is really good at being, which is the independent, the maverick.

She's taking care of the base. Their fired up. They love her. He is going after going after the independent voters, and he is able to now start saying "I'm bipartisan, kind of post-partisan," when, in fact, that used to enrage the base. They didn't like the fact that he worked with Ted Kennedy and did these things.

Now he can go back and do that, and that's where this election will be decided.

BAIER: Most analysts looking at this speech say it was low-key overall. Then it came to a crescendo, Mort. Take a listen to this.


MCCAIN: Stand up to defend our country from its enemies! Stand up for each other, for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America! Stand up! Stand up and fight! Nothing is inevitable here! We're Americans, and we never give up! We never quit! We never hide from history! We make history!


BAIER: I talked to delegates on the floor. They said they had goose bumps throughout that.

MORT KONDRAKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: Well, it is a rousing ending, there's no question about it.

You know, there is a conflict between saying that you're going to work across party lines, you are going to reach out to everybody and that you've done it-and he has done it in the past, and "fight, fight, fight, fight -- we're going to fight the trial lawyers, we're going to fight the oil companies, we're going to fight the pharmaceutical companies, we're going to fight Republicans."

He didn't say we're going to fight Democrats, but you know, who are his allies going to be? Who is going to support him? Who is going to -- you know, who is going to come along with him?

You can't be going to the country all the time, and, you know, saying these people won't cooperate with me. You got to work out some allies.

BAIER: Although he has more evidence of doing that than Barack Obama does.

KONDRAKE: No question. Immigration, cap and trade, you know, across the board, gang of 14, there is no question about it that when you match up bipartisan real accomplishment and effort, McCain is way ahead.

But in order to get stuff done as president, it seems to me that you have to form alliances, and he -- you know, the wonderful thing about McCain is that he is a maverick, and he is operating against, you know, enemies and fighting with this one and fighting with that one.

I think when you're president, you have to form coalitions. That's the thing.

BAIER: Kirsten, can this change message somehow be co-opted by the McCain-Palin ticket?

POWERS: Yes. I think it probably can.

And I think the bigger issue, actually, is it has taken the Obama campaign off of their game. And you're seeing them scurrying around. You are watching Barack Obama come out, and I was astonished to see Barack Obama start arguing that actually his experience isn't just being a community organizer. He was also a professor.

I mean, this has nothing to do with being president. And they're getting rattled by the fact that she attacked him, that she was ridiculing his community organizing, and started to defend it. That's not their turf. Their turf is not experience. Their turf is change.

And the McCain camp has lured them, and Sarah Palin specifically, has lured them on to their turf, and they're having this argument that is not going to benefit them.

BAIER: Last word on this panel.

We are less than two months from the election, but how has this race changed in the last two weeks since these conventions began? We will talk about that after the break.


BAIER: We started the in Denver and went to St. Paul. It has been a busy two weeks of political coverage.

How has this race changed after these two weeks? Mort, let's start with you.

KONDRAKE: They went in tied. They both had conventions that they did what they had to do. They both ended up being unified.

The Democrats had the melodrama about the Clintons. There is always a melodrama about the Clintons. That got resolved. There was a great celebration at the end with fireworks and all this kind of stuff.

And the Republicans did what they had to do. They unified the party. They got excited. Their fireworks were Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin, and Sarah Palin. And so they're coming out with their themes in line, and I think they're basically even.

What I can't get over is what a masked ball each of these conventions was. When George Bush was running, the masked ball was diversity. They put every African-American and every Hispanic that they possibly could in the camera to make you think this was a diverse party.

This time they showed what they are, totally lily-white, hardly any African-Americans, hardly any Hispanics. This time they masqueraded as mavericks, these establishmentarians.

The Democrats have a masked ball, too. "Liberal," never mentioned. The word "liberal" never mentioned. They're "progressives."

BAIER: There you go, Mort and the masked ball.

Kirsten, what is your thought? Looking forward, bouncing out of these conventions, where does this race head from here?

POWERS: I think it is neck in neck. And I do think that Democrats thought that going into the Democratic convention, and certainly at the end, they were feeling pretty good about things, and feeling maybe a little too sure of themselves.

And this was pre-Palin, of course. And they went in expecting a very boring speech from John McCain and it was going to be very lackluster. I don't think anyone expected there to be so many people watching John McCain.

And I think Sarah Palin came in and just completely turned the race upside-down, and it's just completely changed the dynamic of the race now that you have an experience and change on one ticket with the Republicans.

And so they're left over here trying to battle, convincing people that they have experience, but they're going to change things. And I just think it's going to be a tight race.

BAIER: Two weeks compressed into 25 seconds. Take a listen.


SEN. JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: On the most important national security issues of our time, John McCain was wrong and Barack Obama had been proven right.

GOV. SARAH PALIN, VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We tend to prefer candidates who don't talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn't know.

MCCAIN: We're going to recover the people's trust by standing up again to the values Americans admire.


BAIER: A lot of stage craft, Fred. A lot of substance that people listened to.

BARNES: I liked that.

Let me point out first that Republicans can't win with Mort. He didn't like them when they had African-Americans and Hispanics. So when they didn't have them, he didn't like them again. They are terrible. They're lily white. So --

BAIER: Where is the race headed from here?

BARNES: It has been turned over with Sarah Palin, no question about that. But I think you have to remember one thing, and that is that there are larger forces involved in this race than even Sarah Palin, and they tend to favor the Democrats. You have a bigger Democratic base and a shrunken Republican base, even though the Republican base is enthusiastic.

You have the economy, which we saw the unemployment number jump again today. You have more Democratic registration, you know. You have all these larger forces which are still there and still helping Democrats even though the race looks like it's tied at the moment.

BAIER: Quickly, Kirsten, since you're in between the beltway boys here, do you think this big city versus small town thing can work for the Republicans? The Sarah Palin --

POWERS: Sure. Well, I'm little biased because I'm from Alaska and from a small town.

And I think that the way that the Obama campaign came out and immediately attacked her from being from a town of 9,000, being the mayor of 9,000, was a major misstep, because it really played into the idea of them being elitist and out of touch with small town America, adding the bitter comments.

She is really speaking to that. She represents most of America, frankly. Most of America lives in small towns. And I think that that's very powerful.

BAIER: That is it for our panel. Kirsten, good to have you aboard.

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