'Special Report' Panel on President Bush's Endorsement of John McCain and the Democrats' Battle for the Frontrunner Spot

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


PRESIDENT BUSH: He's a president, and he's going to be a president who will bring determination to defeat an enemy, and a heart big enough to love those who hurt. So I welcome you here. I wish you all the best. I'm glad to be your friend.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm very honored and humbled to have the opportunity to receive the endorsement of the President of the United States, a man who I have great admiration, respect, and affection.


BRIT HUME, HOST: Did you catch the way that started? That was the north door there. That's the main door under the big portico at the White House. Foreign dignitaries sometimes arrive that way.

But guess who else arrives that way? The newly elected president on Inauguration Day, obviously something that those two men hope will be replicating next January 20.

Some thoughts on the Republican race now from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of "The Weekly Standard," Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent for National Public Radio, and Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of "Roll Call," FOX News contributors all.

Now, an electoral map has been done based on current polling in the 50 states suggesting how McCain would do against either Obama or Clinton.

Let's take a look first at the map of John McCain versus Hillary Clinton—this won't hold up, because it's just based on current polling.

The states that are in bright red there are ones that are set for the Republicans. Those are in bright blue set for the Democrats; pink and lighter blue leaning in two different directions, and the ones that are kind of yellow there are the ones that are tossups.

As you can see if you look at bottom of the screen there, McCain would get 282 electoral votes to Clinton's 172, with 82 in a tossup—would win it would seem based on current polling only handily.

Now let's look at McCain versus Obama state by state, same color coding—Obama, 252, McCain 216, 70 tossup.

So it would appear if the election were held today, which it won't be, that there is a real difference for John McCain's fortune in whom he ends up running again.

In the meantime, of course, we saw his clear embrace of President Bush today, running toward a man some people might think it politically wise to run away from, perhaps much as he ran toward a war some thought he ought out to run away from him.

Mort, your thoughts on McCain, the evident nominee?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "ROLL CALL": First, it is a remarkable performance, back from the dead, and all that. He is to be congratulated for that, for what pluck this guy has got, and courage.

Anyway, I know, as a matter of fact, that they're talking in the McCain camp about ways to separate themselves in some way from Bush, and they haven't figured out how to do it—some issue that he can be distinctive from Bush about.

Clearly it's not going to be the war. It's not going to be tax cuts. It has got to be something reasonably major so that the Democrats can't say this is just the third term.

HUME: And they are already beginning to do it.

KONDRACKE: Yes, they are thinking about what to do. More than that, I do not know.

I would suspect that the president—what McCain said today is that I would be glad to have the president out on the campaign trail, subject to his busy schedule. I suspect that his schedule will be very busy except for fund-raisers.

Now, I think what—McCain is clearly the underdog, I think, in both scenarios—a "Washington Post/ABC" poll that shows him behind by 10 to Obama and six to Clinton—and I think what he's got to do is he—

HUME: Micro-colors might look a little better, as that map suggests.

KONDRACKE: Right, but I think he has to have a positive, uplifting vision for the country. And he's got to learn economics and teach economics, because that is issue number one for the country.


Look, John McCain, more than any other Republican candidate, has the potential to be a new Republican. Remember what Bill Clinton did. He didn't take the party in a completely new direction. He built a bridge between the left wing of the party and the center and moved his party.

And I think John McCain can that. That he can solidify his group among conservatives, but he can be a real reform Republican. He has to define what McCain-ism is. Is it Sam's Club Republicanism plus something else, plus tax cuts? That's what he can spend the next six months doing.

And the great thing for John McCain is that the Democratic race is going on, and he is going to get a nice little respite while they are bloodying each others noses to staff up, get his policy portfolio and his vision, as Mort said, in order.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I don't know why the McCain campaign would have hunt around for issues that he disagrees with Bush on. There is a ton of them. There is global warming, there is ANWAR, there's torture, there's Guantanamo, there's campaign finance reform, there's guns. There are all kinds of them.

And this is one of his particular appeals, that he is different from Bush and conservatives, and that helps him with Independents.

HUME: Would it be wise for him to emphasize those differences at this stage?

BARNES: He doesn't need to now, but he shouldn't run away from them. And he has to make it clear that Independents are people that he has to get.

Look, what happened in 2006, causing a landslide for Democrats against Republicans, was that Independents left Republicans. Conservatives stayed there—they voted for Republican candidates.

McCain has to win the Independents back. I think he can do it. And when you look at earlier elections, McCain will probably fall even farther behind in polls than he is now, particularly if it winds up being a Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton ticket, one way or the other. But remember how far George H.W. Bush was in 1988—he was behind Mike Dukakis by 19 points in August.

HUME: He was 17 points down, but that was right after the convention.

BARNES: OK, but he was well behind, and many people thought—

HUME: And he won 40 states.

BARNES: Yes, climbed to victory, and others have.

So McCain, I think, is a perfect Republican candidate for a bad Republican year.

HUME: The fight goes on in the Democratic presidential primary race. We will look at that next.



SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: And I feel really good about where the campaign is. It's finally focused on the real differences between me and my opponent, and the differences between us and Senator McCain. And I think that's good for me as we move forward.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That she's married to a former president, she's got universal name recognition, and people in the Democratic Party are fond of her. And so, this is not a normal contest in that sense.

But, you know, what we believe is that we are in the process of closing the deal.


HUME: Well, here's what the delegate count shows. These are all delegates, super delegates that are not formally pledged included—the total is 1,564 for Barack Obama, 101 fewer for Hillary Clinton. That has tightened as a result of last night's results.

Mort, where does the race now stand in your judgment? Is Hillary Clinton really in a position to recover and win this nomination?

KONDRACKE: She is, but only by legerdemain. She has to win 60 percent, as I understand it, 60 percent of the remaining pledged delegates.

HUME: And you can't do that by winning 60 percent of the popular vote. You have to win more than 60 percent of the popular vote to get 60 percent of the delegates. So she would have to trounce him nearly everywhere.

KONDRACKE: Which she is presumably not going to do.


KONDRACKE: So she's got to do two things. She has to win a lion's share of super delegates, unpledged—they can go wherever they want- -and she has got to get Michigan and Florida delegations seated at the convention, or have a do-over of the Michigan and Florida—

HUME: For the benefit of those who don't remember, Michigan and Florida, in violation of the Party's rules, held their primaries before February 5, but millions of people voted. And in Michigan, Obama wasn't even on the ballot. So what about that? That's a mess, isn't it, Mara?

LIASSON: That is a big mess. Howard Dean was interviewed on National Public Radio today, and he has been begging these states all along to come up with some proposal for a do-over, which, apparently, they're weren't interested in, but now they are starting to say maybe they would. The Governor of Florida has said he would even help pay for it.

BARNES: He's a Republican.

LIASSON: The Republicans in Florida actually started this mess. In Michigan it was the Democrats who were so angry about Iowa and New Hampshire.

But, right now, Hillary Clinton has, quote, "won" those states, but there are no delegates. She wants them seated, of course. I don't think they're going to be because the Credentials Committee will be the final arbiter of this, and the Credentials Committee is elected just like the delegates are. So whoever has the most delegates will probably control the convention.

BARNES: I don't think it will ever get to the Credentials Committee. They are going to have to work something out here.

And, look, Hillary Clinton won the four primaries yesterday, Brit, by 329,000 votes. That's a huge popular vote advantage. Now, you have a bunch of other ones. There are 12 left.

LIASSON: And she got like 12 extra delegates.

BARNES: That's not the point. The point is that she looks good now. It seems like years away, the Pennsylvania primary, but it is held on April 22. and there are smaller state primaries. She will probably win Kentucky and Indiana and West Virginia, and so on, and he may win a few.

But if she can pile up more of a popular vote advantage, she can come into—and he's not going to have enough delegates to claim the nomination after the primaries are over, she doesn't either—but she can claim, look, wait a minute—she may have an advantage in the popular vote, which she doesn't now.

HUME: If you don't count Michigan and Florida, the popular vote totals show Clinton with a deficit to Obama of about 650,000, give or take, votes. You count Michigan and Florida, the difference is a mere 3,000.

BARNES: And you can argue for counting Florida, at least, among the popular vote.

HUME: What do you think is going to happen?

BARNES: I think they will work out something. They will have a do-over in both states—maybe not in Florida.

Bob Beckel had an interesting idea about Florida, and he knows about this, and that is John Edwards got 15 percent and Obama got 35 percent. If Edwards throws in with Obama, then they will just split the delegates with Hillary Clinton. But she may not settle for that.

HUME: Could she win it still, you think?

LIASSON: She could, but there would have to be a lot of buyer's remorse on Democrats minds about Obama.

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