Transcript: 'The Journal Editorial Report,' February 2, 2008

This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," February 2, 2008.

PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: Up next on the "Journal Editorial Report" — Super Tuesday showdown. As voters coast to coast get set to head to the polls, can a big ad blitz by Mitt Romney slow John McCain's momentum? Can some high profile endorsements help Barack Obama close the gap with Hillary Clinton? Plus, the electability issue — no matter who is on top after Tuesday, which Republican and which Democrat will make the strongest general election candidate? Our panel will weigh in after the headlines.


GIGOT: Welcome to this special edition of the "Journal Editorial Report," our Super Tuesday preview. I'm Paul Gigot.

With nearly half of the states holding nominating contests this Tuesday, the remaining presidential candidates are kicking their campaigns into over driver. First, to the Republican race where Mitt Romney is mounting a last-ditch ad blitz against John McCain in delegate-rich California and other key states.

Joining the panel, "Wall Street Journal" columnist and editor Dan Henninger, Senior editorial page writer Colin Levy and columnist John Fund. We also pleased to have a special guest, Democratic strategist Dan Gerstein.

Dan Henninger, the Romney camp argues McCain so far has won his primaries with moderate and liberal Republicans. Not conservatives. He lost every primary, he's lost the conservatives. So if Romney can get the conservatives on Super Tuesday, he is going to win that a plausible strategy?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST AND EDITOR: It is a plausible strategy. But let's talk about reality. Romney threw resources a lot of resources into Iowa and New Hampshire and he came up short. Told me that there was something was fundamentally wrong with the Romney candidacy. He just didn't quite have it.

If you look at the exit polls out of Florida, it is true Mitt Romney got the people who describe themselves as very conservative. But he did not make much in road with moderate conservatives or Independents.

GIGOT: An exit poll said he won that vote 37 — among self-described conservative 37 to 29. A win, but not a big win.

HENNINGER: Not a big win. He is really over on the right. And McCain beat him by 5.5 point in New Hampshire and 5 points in Florida.

I think Mitt Romney's problem is not that McCain is wiping him out. He is just not even with McCain. McCain is 5 points better than he is because he cannot pull votes from the center. You have to do that in this election.

GIGOT: Colin, as long as Mike Huckabee is in the race pulling conservative voters, particularly on the social issues, it makes it harder for Romney to consolidate that party electorate.

COLIN LEVY, SENIOR EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: I think that's true. Mitt Romney's been making the point for awhile that when Republicans act like Democrats the whole party is weakened by that. I think the thin McCain is doing now — there is this momentum behind him. And you have a situation where he is getting the endorsements so there is a perception that — with Schwarzenegger and Giuliani and everybody lining up behind McCain, this is part of his appeal. But obviously, with a conservative backlash building up, there is the potential for that to go wrong.

GIGOT: Dan Gerstein, Colin made the point about the Republican establishment. John McCain, the former maverick, being endorsed now by every — seems to be every Republican office holder in the United States. What does that tell about the nature of the race and where it stands?

DAN GERSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There's the whole classic cliche about Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line. The Republicans postponed the line fall and it reflected so much of the disdain that conservatives have for John McCain.

But they are seeing Mitt Romney is a fundamentally flawed candidate. He has a huge character problem that makes him unelectable in a general election.

GIGOT: This is the authenticity?

GERSTEIN: He is Captain Camellia. He has changed his colors on not just small issues but fundamental life, death issues, going from one extreme to the other. John McCain has expertly called attention to that. Pounded on it. Iraq is a great example.

To me, in this campaign, Iraq has been a character issue for McCain as much as it has been national security. When he hit Romney in the debate for flip flopping on a timetable he was saying was, this guy, you can't trust him. Not just to be commander in chief, but every responsibility of a president.

GIGOT: John Fund, let me talk to you about the flap you created this week in your reporting with your piece saying that — you reported that John McCain once said he would not have named somebody like Samuel Alito to the supreme court where as he would have John Roberts. McCain came out and said, well, in fact, I would. But your report was backed up by Robert Novak so it looks solid. What happened there?

JOHN FUND, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM COLUMNIST: Well, first of all I reported McCain said he might not have appointed Alito. Even that equivocation hurt him with conservatives because conservatives have a long memory of John McCain creating problems on judicial nominations. He was part of the gang of 14 that did not overturn Democratic filibusters of Bush judicial nominees. He also has constantly said the Senate has to seek comity, to seek a consensus nominee.

John Roberts and Sam Alito are many things, but they are not consensus nominees. They are conservatives. I think this opened a raw wound with conservatives and John McCain. He is moving to heal it. He is forming a judiciary committee, giving a speech at CPAC, which is the Conservative Political Action Conference, next week.

I think it's a golden opportunity for John McCain to explain to conservatives where he comes from, why he standing by what he stand for, but where he can seek accommodation with conservatives.

He entered politics because Ronald Reagan inspired him to join the conservative coalition. Now he leads the conservative coalition, I think I have to put forward the reasons why he can be their leader.

GIGOT: Colin, I won't want a read you a quote from John McCain in the debate this week — against Romney. Quote, "He managed companies. He bought and sold and sometimes people lost their jobs. That's the nature of that business," end quote. Is that the way to seal the deal, as John says, with Republican conservatives? Attacking business?

LEVY: I think it is the worst thing McCain can be doing now. It plays to the populist energies and shows a real disrespect for the private sector where McCain, as he said himself, hasn't spent much time. He spent his time in the military and government. He just is very sensitive...

HENNINGER: And Romney's problem was he didn't same what Colin Levy just said in response. He never went for the jugular on McCain. He is so vulnerable and he will be vulnerable going forward.

GIGOT: Dan Gerstein, it tells me something about McCain which is unattractive about him as a politician. He has a righteous streak. He doesn't and the think people who oppose him are wrong. he thinks they are immoral somehow. That comes across. He may not think that but he projects that.

GERSTEIN: For a lot of Americans that sense of moral certainty and strength of character is very appealing, especially when you look at the wishy-washiness of a lot of politicians.

But to Colin's point, I understand a lot of conservatives see it that way, but to a lot of other folks and to me personally, when I heard McCain say — I didn't see him attacking business. I heard him, again, going after Romney on his character problem. He was exposing the hypocrisy of a guy saying — in Michigan saying I will fight for every job. I will fight for every job.

And then when he had a chance, working the private sector, how did he make his millions? By acquiring companies, dismantling them and then selling them for more money and laying off a lot of people.

GIGOT: Thanks.

When we come back, Hillary is still considered the frontrunner in many Super Tuesday states. Will a growing Clinton backlash push Democratic voters to the Obama camp?


GIGOT: Hillary Clinton remains the frontrunner in many key Super Tuesday states but the growing liberal backlash against team Clinton has helped pushed some high-profile Democrats into rival Barack Obama's corner.

Dan Gerstein, despite those endorsements, Barack Obama still trails nationally in the polls. What does he have to do to be able to beat Hillary Clinton?

GERSTEIN: He is starting off in a very different place than most insurgent candidates have because he is African-American. He has a big claim on the African-American vote, which, you look back at history, Kelly or Bill Bradley, these guys struggled because were the line-track candidates. They appealed to upper middle class white voters.

He have has that advantage over most of it, but still he has had trouble breaking into down-scale voters, blue collar voters, Reagan Democrats.

I think what he has to do is — he's got this hang up where he kind of goes to the ten yard line but can't get into the end zone. He can't sort of grab the voters who want to leave the Clintons. There is a big swing group of voters who are ready to leave the Clintons.

GIGOT: But does he have to make an economic argument or a more strategic argument to Democrats and say you don't want to go back to the 90's. That wasn't good for our party. We lost the Congress. We didn't get health care reform. We lost the election because Al Gore carried Bill Clinton's baggage. Does he have to make that kind of an explicit, strategic argument to get to the goal line?

GERSTEIN: I don't think so. He shouldn't get into the 90's. He has to keep looking forward. His strength is the future.

What is holding people back is his timidity. I am so swept up in his post partisan message, the way he reaches out to Republicans and Independents and his ability to build a coalition. But what he failed to do is essentially walk the walk. He talked the talk. Say something bold that will shake up Washington that will...

GIGOT: But how — is it an idea — what that an idea...

GERSTEIN: link conventional wisdom. It's a statement of leadership. I wrote a piece where I basically said what if he came out and said I am going to capture Usama bin Laden. That's the top priority of my presidency because he is the busiest mass-murderer in the United States and he's the number one security threat to our future. And if I don't do it, I won't run for reelection. Can you imagine a presidential candidate — I know it sounds out there — but imagine a presidential candidate saying I won't run for reelection if I don't do the job.


John Fund, you said early on Bill Clinton was a real asset to Hillary Clinton's campaign? Do you still think about all of this hoopla about South Carolina and Bill Clinton playing the race card, that Bill Clinton is still an asset?

FUND: I think it has cost the Clintons short-term factors but, in the long run, look, she is has polarized the race. She has effectively gotten a lot of is Hispanic voters to side with her. I think ultimately the Clinton machine and loyalties and chips the Clintons have will be called in and Bill Clinton holds a lot of those.

Look, I think Obama can surprise. There are two states we should look at Tuesday, California and Massachusetts. These are states that have been big Clinton loads. Obama is moving up fast in both. I understand in California it there are overnight tracking polls that show him with single digits. If he pulled off an upset in one of those, especially given Hillary Clinton's strong standing with Hispanic voters then we are talking about an earthquake in the race.

But long trench warfare, I think Hillary Clinton wins because the super delegates will be in her corner because of all the loyalties to the Clintons.

GIGOT: John, there is no question the union machine, most of the unions, are supporting Hillary Clinton and not Barack Obama, right?

FUND: And that's important, because in low turn out primaries, union people bring out the vote. They organize phone banks. They do all kinds of things that don't show up on campaign finance reports. Having almost all of the unions in her camp is an enormous asset and will show up Election Day.

GIGOT: One fascinating thing about this race, Colin, the Democratic race, is the degree to which we are seeing liberals in the press and in the party super divorce from the Clintons. We have famous liberal columnists who were some of their biggest supporters, who get their quotes on screen, who now say, my god, we can't have them leading the party. They lie. What do you make of that?

LEVY: I think it is interesting. There is a lot of disillusionment that — a lot of people had no idea. It was just kind of lurking behind the surface. It was interesting watching Hillary Clinton in California this week because she is surrounded by a lot of the people that were part of Bill Clinton's constituency. That's Hollywood. And...

GIGOT: But some of those people are also going for Obama because David Geffen said explicitly he didn't believe the Clintons. So there is this suing for divorce thing.

HENNINGER: Yes, I think one of the interesting things we are seeing here is what happened when John Edwards dropped out. Edwards was the candidate of the blogosphere left, the people who emerged from Howard Dean's candidacy. And were supposedly the new power in Democratic Party with all this fund-raising ability. But what we are seeing, I think, is the Democratic base is really a lot of union workers who want pieces of budgets. And they are the ones who will come out and vote for Hillary Clinton. And I don't know where that leads the progressive left in the Democratic Party.

GIGOT: Thanks, Dan. Last word for this segment.

Still ahead, McCain or Romney, Clinton or Obama? Who are the strongest general election candidates? Our panel tackles the electability issue when we come back.


GIGOT: For many voters heading to the polls on Tuesday, it may all come down to a question of electability. Which Republican and which Democrat will be toughest to beat come November?

First the Republicans, Colin. In Florida about 10 percent of Republican voters said electability was their most important issue. McCain won among — and most of the Republicans said McCain was more electable than Romney by 46 to 33. Do you agree with them?

LEVY: I am note sure if — I am not sure if I agree with them or not. One thing interesting about the Florida vote is people noted broadly that a lot of McCain's support came from old people in Florida and...

GIGOT: There are a lot of those voters in Florida. It may help him win the state.

LEVY: And there's a lot of those voters. They always come out in the general election too. That's very important. But they also like him because he is old. And this is something that will be an issue of match ups. If he watches against Barack Obama, it will a more difficult comparison than Hillary Clinton.

HENNINGER: This is sort of like fantasy football, Paul. We are playing fantasy presidents with the match ups and who do you want. Mitt Romney can't beat Barack Obama. That is not going to happen.

GIGOT: Why not? Is it an authenticity issue? What's the problem?

HENNINGER: Barack Obama is a powerful candidate for what he represents. A slick white guy won't beat the first very impressive African-American candidate. It won't happen.

But I think Mitt Romney can beat Hillary Clinton because you are talking about one technocrat against another technocrat. And I think he has a good chance against her.

If it is Obama, you've got to go to with John McCain. One narrative of hope against another one.

GIGOT: One thing that strikes me, Dan Gerstein, about John McCain is about how inarticulate he is on domestic issues. He has the narrative and he understands national security, but when it comes to health care and tax cuts, taxes and the economy, he is almost hopeless.

GERSTEIN: I think that's a little strong. I wouldn't call him hopeless. One advantage you have in a presidential campaign that you don't have — excuse me — in the general election that you don't have in the primary is surrogates. He will rely more on surrogates. The party will come together. He have a lot of smart people to be able to go out and make his case on those domestic issues and allow him to focus on the big picture and national security.

I do think, though, there is no question, you talk to Democrats, they are champing at the bit to take on Mitt Romney. He is unelectable on a national scale. He blew it the minute he flipped flopped so dramatically on those issues.

In the campaign, he has proven himself beyond that to be a terrible campaigner. He is unpersuasive. And to go to a match up against Obama, Obama is powerful because he comes off as genuine. He is easy, comfortable in his own skin and Romney seems like force, like someone stuck him in a suit. And he couldn't convince anyone.

GIGOT: Let's move to the Democrats.

John Fund, most Republicans I talk to say they want to vote against — they would rather run against Hillary Clinton. Is that what you are hearing and what are — what is their argument?

FUND: Well, the argument is that Hillary Clinton has some of the highest polarizing negatives figures of any American politician. Something like close to 50 percent of American people simply won't vote for her.

So in a race in which Democrats not only hope to gain the presidency, but also to gain Senate seats and House seats, Barack Obama would be less of a drag on the ticket. In fact, he would be a lift to the Democratic ticket. Hillary Clinton would probably depress the Democratic involvement. That's why Democratic congressmen are looking forward to running with her.

GIGOT: Say what you will about Ted Kennedy, but he is a shrewd politician. One thing behind his endorsement of Obama in week is he thinks Obama is the big change. He's the chance to mobilize new voters and get a big majority in the Senate and a big majority from the House and that's one reason he endorsed him.

HENNINGER: I think he will be disappointed. I think Hillary will win the nomination with the Democratic base. And the sadness is that Obama probably would be the stronger national candidate. But he isn't going to get there.

GIGOT: What about Obama's liberal voting record? "National Journal," Dan Gerstein, this week said, in 2007, he had the most liberal voting record of any Senator, all 100 of them. Would that come out in a general?

GERSTEIN: The Republicans will try to use it. In talking to my Republican friends, one thing they are scared about for Obama is they don't have a play book for him. He is an X factor. They know how to run against Hillary, not him. That scares a lot of Republicans.

I don't think he is as liberals as many make him out to be. Those voting records complication often are based on a narrow universe of votes. They're skewed. A lot of them are based on partisan procedural stuff where you have to vote the party way.

I have been in small settings with Obama and heard him speak, and he is — he is — I wouldn't say he is centrist but he is an iconoclast, an independent thinker on a lot of issues.

GIGOT: All right, we're going to watch.

We have to take another break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.


GIGOT: Winners and losers, picks and pans, "Hits and Misses," it's our way of calling attention to the best and the very worst of the week.

Item one, Jon Voight unplugged — Dan?

HENNINGER: Jon Voight was part of the battle of the celebrity endorsers in this campaign. Barack had Oprah and Mike Huckabee had Chuck Norris.

But Rudy Giuliani had Jon Voight. And I got to see Jon Voight up close out on the tarmac at the Fort Meyers Airport. And believe me. this guy doesn't act like a celebrity. He is like some old politician from the 1940s. He just sort of wanders into the crowd and works people and talks to them and warms them up. He's very garrulous. And I've watched him in a couple settings do that.

By contrast, Rudy Giuliani expressed a kind of diffidence towards his audience. Didn't get involved with them. If Rudy Giuliani had had Jon Voight's ability to mix with the masses, he might have been a contender.

GIGOT: All right, thanks, Dan.

Next, a hit to the Mike Huckabee to his tax-me-more fund — Colin?

LEVY: I love that he brought this up this week. It is worth remembering from a few years ago. This is something he did when he was governor of Arkansas and people were saying he should raise taxes more to make up for a budget shortfall. And he declined to do that but said, hey, if you are interested in paying more taxes, you are welcome to. I will set up a special fund where can you say tax me more. Give as much as you want, as little as you want. As he mentioned, it turned out, after a certain amount of time, he only had collected about $1,200. So this is a real opportunity for people to remember they have an opportunity to put their money where there mouth is.

GIGOT: All right, Colin, thanks.

Finally, his endorsement may give John McCain a boost in California but Governor Schwarzenegger has problems there of his own — John?

FUND: Yes, Paul. Now in 2005, Arnold Schwarzenegger lost a series of reform ballot measures in California. He made a sharp left turn, hired Gray Davis' former deputy chief of staff and moved in a liberal direction.

Well, it hasn't worked out too well. This week Arnold Schwarzenegger lost a battle for his health care plan which was modeled after a Hillary Clinton's plan. He has a $17 billion budget deficit that's as big as the one he inherited from Gray Davis. And he is about to lose his attempt to weaken California's term-limit law. He may also lose some Indian casino measures.

Arnold Schwarzenegger may have picked up a different policy script with staging directions to move left, but it is still bombing at the political box office.

GIGOT: John, is that health care plan dead for sure? Briefly?

FUND: This year, it is dead. I think it has national implications because Hillary Clinton is running on its exact model.

GIGOT: Thanks, John.

That's it for this week's edition of the "Journal Editorial Report." Send your e-mails to and visit us on the web at .

Thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching.

I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you here next week.

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