'Special Report' Panel on the Kennedy Clan and Barack Obama

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from January 28, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. TED KENNEDY, D-MASS.: I love this country! I believe in the bright light of hope and possibility. I always have, even in the darkest hours. I know what America can achieve. I have seen it. I've lived it. And with Barack Obama, we can do it again!

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: I stand here today with a great deal of humility. I know what your support means. I know the cherished place the Kennedy family holds in the hearts of the American people.


BRIT HUME, HOST: And it was, indeed, the Kennedy family, or at least several prominent members thereof — it was not just Senator Kennedy but also Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late president Kennedy, and also Ted Kennedy's son Patrick, who is a congressman from Rhode Island.

Thoughts on this endorsement and on the Democratic race now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and Mort Kondracke, the executive editor of Roll Call — FOX News contributors all.

This was kind of a conspicuous event: American University, scene of a famous John F. Kennedy speech, big crowd, lots of noise, Kennedy summoned himself for one of these stem winders that he can from time to time give. It was amusing and interesting to watch.

What about it? What political difference does it make, Mara?


Look, endorsements don't make a lot of difference in general. I think this one carries a certain amount of symbolism. It was a real "dream will nerve die" speech, or rendition there.

And I think the Kennedy family still holds a real pull on the Democratic electorate's imagination. And he is also very popular with Hispanics. That doesn't necessarily carry over to the person you are endorsing, but he was the champion of the immigration bill, and we are going into a whole bunch of primaries where the Hispanic vote is very important, and the black vote will be relatively less important, although there are some southern state where Barack Obama is expected to do very well.

I think it came at an important moment. He won big in South Carolina. He exorcised some of the ghosts of the defeat in New Hampshire. And this is a boost to him.

But he is going into terrain again where all of his strengths are not going to be — it is not as hospitable to his strengths as the primaries that we just went through.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I would say of all the endorsements that don't matter much at all, this is the best one. You would rather have Kennedy and the entire family up there — huge news day —

HUME: This may not matter much, but it doesn't matter the least!

BARNES: And certainly we know that the Clintons made a huge effort to have Senator Kennedy not to do this. They would much rather have had him remain neutral, which he had been up to know, than endorsing Obama.

This is a huge news day for Obama, a big up day, and so on. I don't know how many people it will bring with it; probably very few voters, but he would certainly rather have it than not.

I think much more important than this, though, is if anybody watched Barack Obama's victory speech in South Carolina, his victory speech after winning that victory down there so overwhelmingly over Hillary Clinton, so overwhelmingly over Bill Clinton as well, who had been down there trashing Obama all week, and when I watched that speak speech one thought came to my mind and stuck with me through the whole speech, and that was "This guy will be president of the United States, probably this year."

HUME: Probably this year?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: I think he still has an uphill climb because you are going into states where Hillary Clinton has an advantage that's got to be beaten down somehow. It's doable, it's definitely doable, and I think —

HUME: What does he have to do to do it? What does it take? The guy comes out. He is for change. He is as attractive as he has ever been. We know all that —

KONDRACKE: It occurred to me watching on Saturday night: every other candidate I have ever seen for president, you look at their logo and it says the name — "Edwards." It says "Clinton." It says "Hillary." It says "McCain." In this case, it says "Change."

It is the message of the campaign — it is all about change, and it is the front and center message. Obama is in little writing. I think that sort of gets into people's consciousness.

I thought it was significant —

HUME: So they go vote for Mr. Change?

KONDRACKE: But it is clear that when he says it's not about me, it's about change, that there is some validity to it, or at least it's consistent.

But, look, Teddy Kennedy had all kinds of digs in this speech at the Clintons, at demonizing — we're going to get over demonizing candidates, misrepresenting their position.

He did not call Hillary to tell her about this decision of his. He called her husband.

HUME: Her husband is the one that has been leaning on him.

KONDRACKE: Well, but her husband, as though he is the boss of the house. And, strangely enough, the Clinton campaign has still not figured out what the new marching orders for Bill are. They're still talking about it. One option is to give him an adult handler with him —

HUME: I thought you were going to say adult bookstore!

LIASSON: Yes. There is no handler —

KONDRACKE: There are some people who are grown-ups who can tell him "tone it down."

LIASSON: From what I've heard, it's all going to be positive from now on. There's not going to be any more attacks on Obama.

He is still a very revered figure in the Democratic Party. And we are going into a whole lot of primaries where people haven't been paying much attention.

HUME: Question: can he make any news being positive?

BARNES: He did today.

HUME: Who, Bill?

BARNES: Sure he did. He certainly did on Fox, mentioning her all the time and not trashing Obama, and so on.

LIASSON: I think at this point he will be covered like a candidate from her on in.


LIASSON: He will still be covered because everybody is going to be on the lookout for him to say something —

HUME: But if he doesn't say anything, is he going to get anybody's attention?

BARNES: He will get a lot of attention because he's Bill Clinton. He can't help her.

She needs to have him go hide in the kneehole of his desk somewhere, because all he does is overshadow her. He causes her nothing but problems.

HUME: When we come back, the verbal battering between Republicans Mitt Romney and John McCain. Is this getting out of hand? And what about Giuliani? More on all of that in a moment.



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: I appreciate the fact that Governor Romney has been entirely consistent. He has consistently taken at least two sides of every issue, sometimes more than two. Congratulations.

MITT ROMNEY, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All three of the major pieces of legislation he championed are liberal legislation. And if you want to know what he would be as president look at McCain-Feingold, McCain- Kennedy and McCain-Lieberman. And that's not the direction that the Republican party wants to go, it's not the direction conservatives want to go.


HUME: In answer to that, of course, McCain says well, Romney was a liberal governor of Massachusetts. So the lines have pretty clearly been drawn between these two guys in Florida. The polls show the race as essentially a tie.

So what about this? Who benefits? What's going on in Florida, Fred?

BARNES: It is hard to tell. There was a bunch of endorsements that McCain got: Governor Charles Crist, Senator Mel Martinez, over the weekend. But those don't matter of course, as I've often said. I don't even know why I'm mentioning them.

HUME: It happened.

BARNES: It happened, yes. Though they do get angst. The press has to report it.

HUME: The other thing is you have all the cable networks are on the air, and much of, I'm sure, Florida media are on the air on Saturday night to report on the outcome of the South Carolina Democratic primary.

So the Crist endorsement is done live on a Saturday night, not when you normally do a big political event, but it got on T.V.

BARNES: Sure, it certainly got on T.V. I'm sure it got on all the channels.

Look, I have no idea who is going to win in Florida. I don't think anybody is going to particularly get any momentum out of it. The only thing that looks for sure like it will happen is that Rudy Giuliani will not get the boost he was hoping from Florida to then go on to Super Tuesday, that this will hurt him.

There is no way to know at this point whether McCain or Romney will win. They will both go on to Super Tuesday anyway. You would rather win than lose, but how you can tell? I can't.

LIASSON: Yes. It is impossible to tell. You don't know who are among those hundreds of thousands of people who have already voted and voted since January. And we assume that a lot of them did vote for Giuliani because he was up back then, and those are votes that re not lost- -

HUME: You would figure a lot of them probably would have to go for either Giuliani or McCain, who were better known. Romney — I'm told if you're in Florida, you can't turn around without seeing a Romney ad. And McCain, while he has to buy, he hasn't been able to match that. So maybe that is some advantage.

LIASSON: Romney has generally done well in the polls when he has saturated a state. And when he loses or pulls his ads, his support plummets. And this is one state where he has kept consistently on the air.

He has the Jeb Bush coterie of advisors and apparatus. That should help him.

And I agree with Fred — it's absolutely impossible to tell. I think McCain really needs to keep on winning. If he's going to wear down the resistance of the people in the Republican party to like him, the only way to do it is keep on winning.

KONDRACKE: This is an especially big test for McCain because if he wins this, it will prove that he can carry a primary, which is a closed, Republicans only primary, which he has not been able to do up until now.

Rasmussen has a poll indicating that when you ask people what is more important to have in a leader, someone who can handle national security or the economy, even though the economy is the biggest issue that people want now, it is 52-35 for national security, which is, of course, McCain's strong suit.

And I don't know what the truth is exactly of McCain's charge that Romney once was in favor of public financing, or that he was in favor of capping trade on the environment, but he certainly did say that the McCain-Kennedy Immigration Bill was "reasonable" at one point, and now has changed his mind about that.

BARNES: So has McCain changed his mind on that, and he is going to a different strategy. He will get to the amnesty stuff later — he doesn't call it that, but that is what it is. It is a bill I like, by the way, and we'll do the border now.

Of course, most of the border stuff is already being done by the Bush administration to build it up so there won't be much for the next president to do.

I don't think the ads matter. Romney has a lot more than McCain does, that's for sure.

HUME: Where would he be without them, though?

BARNES: OK, they certainly help him, but there is just so much news coverage of this primary — there's not another one going on for Republicans now. The candidates are all over the state. It is one of the biggest stories in the country, and I'm sure people are following it in Florida. So I don't think that gives Romney a particular advantage.

Look, people want, Mort, people want a president who is good at national security and the economy.

KONDRACKE: Of course.

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