This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," October 19, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: According to Frank Luntz and his focus group, it was former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich who came away with the win at last night's showdown in Vegas. Now, the speaker will join me in just a moment. But first, let's take a look at the heated exchange that he engaged in with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.


NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: There is a lot of big government behind Romneycare, not as much as Obamacare, but a heck of a lot more than your campaign is admitting.

FORMER GOV. ROMNEY, R-MASS.: Actually, we got the idea of an individual mandate from you.

GINGRICH: That's not true. You got it from the Heritage Foundation.

ROMNEY: Yes. We got it from you and the Heritage Foundation and from you.

GINGRICH: What you just said is not true. You did not get that from me. You got it from the Heritage Foundation.

ROMNEY: And you've never supported --

GINGRICH: I agree with them. But, I'm just saying, what you said to this audience just now, plain wasn't true. That's not where you got it from.


HANNITY: Now, despite that sparring session with Romney, it was clear that Speaker Gingrich's main focus was President Barack Obama. Listen to this.


GINGRICH: As the nominee, I will challenge Obama to meet the Lincoln Douglas standard of seven three-hour debates, no time key, no moderator, only a time keeper. I believe we can defeat him decisively to a point where we re-establish a conservative America with our values.


HANNITY: And here with reaction to last night's debate is the man himself, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Mr. Speaker, welcome back, sir.

GINGRICH: It's good to be with you.

HANNITY: Well, you got to be happy with Luntz's assessment.

GINGRICH: Sean, you know, he does these focus groups and I think different people have done well. I have been delighted to always be, you know, in the top two or three. And last night was a particularly, I think, positive night, largely because, well, some other guys were spending on almost all evening bickering, I was trying to focus very directly on what does America need to do to solve its problems. How do we get jobs created? How do we balance the budget? How do we get out of the mess we are in?

And I also think that people are ready for, talking about a different approach. You know, these debates haven't only been debates. It's been almost like a Hollywood game show. You know some moderator asking questions, a minute here, 30-second rebuttal there. A lot of back-and- forth stuff. I think when you go back and look at the greatest debates in American history, which were Lincoln and Douglas, they met together seven times for three hours. They didn't have any moderator. They had a time keeper. And you had two adults who were talking about some of the most important issues in American history.

I think we are in a similar kind of period. I know that President Obama is going to try to raise a billion dollars. I know he's going to have huge advantages with the elite media. But I think that the American people are going to insist that he be accountable. And the issues are so large from Obamacare to the economy to housing, to National Security, that I believe there is a good case you can make that these kind of debates next fall and September and October would be exactly what he owes the American people about his stewardship and about the future of the United States.

HANNITY: You have been pretty outspoken that you think these debates, you even said it at the end of the debate last night, that they foster conflict and they are designed to do that, and the type of bickering. But for the most part, I mean, that was probably the only instance I can think of in any of the debates where you really got into it with another candidate.

For example, last night, you were pretty complimentary for example, of Herman Cain and his 999 plan. And even you said, even though you disagree with aspects of it, the same with Romneycare, you seem to be more conciliate, you know, you seem to be trying to bring the group together. And is that a strategy?

GINGRICH: Well, look, Sean, you know, it's very important for us to remember that the goal of this effort is to defeat Barack Obama and get America back on the right track. The goal of this entire project isn't have one ego or one ambition over another and then go get beaten by the president because we have beaten each other up so much.

In addition, I think there is a huge difference. You know, Herman Cain stood up for about 30 minutes under all of us in one way or another raising questions, but the questions were civil. They were direct. And they were based on policy, they weren't bickering. Once or twice last night, the level of intensity, particularly between Governors Perry and Romney got to be almost like seventh graders in a school yard.

And I felt very uncomfortable. And I thought it hurt the entire Republican Party. I know I have talked to people here in Arizona this afternoon who just plain turned it off. They said, this is so negative and so petty, I am not going to watch it.

Now, that's bad for the conservative movement and it's bad for the Republican Party. We ought to be able to set a higher standard than that. Doesn't mean we can't disagree. But we ought to disagree based on the facts.

HANNITY: Your poll numbers are interesting, especially when we compare your numbers to some of the others in the field. And we talk about the Pawlenty -- he surged for a while, then he declined and he dropped out. And Michele Bachmann went up. She settled down. Rick Perry came in gangbusters, he's come down quite a bit. Herman Cain is right now in the middle of a major surge. Question is, will he be able to sustain it?

You have not had a big surge like that. But you started at the bottom of the pack. Then you were held steady at four or five percent, now you're steady above kind of in third place with double digits in every poll that I have seen, which is little unique from the rest of the pack. How do you analyze those numbers?

GINGRICH: Sean, I think, first of all, it's important to recognize that this is a very long contest. This is a marathon. I sort of had the tortoise position, I'll try to go forward one step at a time every day. Recently, I think with the unveiling of the 21st century contract with America at Newt.org, we've had a tremendous increase in the number of people going there and downloading the entire contract, looking at it, sending it to their friends. In the last four days, we raised more money than we raised in all of July. And we're seeing real progress. We will presently have offices in South Carolina, New Hampshire and in Iowa in the next few days.

You are going to see a full-blown campaign to the kind that I always wanted to run and I think that we are beginning to get our rhythm. But I think we will be one step at a time because this is a very substantive campaign. What I am doing is different than any other candidate, except maybe Reagan in our lifetime. I am trying to develop an idea-oriented, solution-oriented program. That's why the Contract with America, the 21st Century Contract with America is a pretty long document. It is not what you think of it, the kind of thing that campaign consultants write. Part of it is from my heart, part of it from some of the smartest people I know. And it's going to keep growing and evolving and I think that makes us different than most campaigns.

HANNITY: What I hear most often about you is they think you are one of the smartest guys they've heard running for president. But there seems to be old perceptions, impressions of you, from '94 to today. And a lot of people say, yes, Newt's really smart. Is he going to be able to overcome those things?

What do you say to those people? How are you a different person? I don't really think you've delved into this. You were there during a very consequential time, it was a very combative time with the Clinton administration. A lot of things were accomplished. But there was a lot of negativity that was associated with you. How are you different? And what would you want people to know about you now versus then?

GINGRICH: Well, I think part of it is perception and part of it is reality. On the reality side, I am now a grandfather, have two grandchildren who are -- Robert is 10, Maggie is 12. That makes you, I think more thoughtful, more contemplated. I have had time to reflect on what I did right and on mistakes I have made. And I think in that sense, I'm probably a more mature person than I was in 1994. I have had a chance to learn a lot and to think about what didn't work. I have had a chance to work inside the Bush administration as a volunteer, both in National Security and on health issues and see the ways in which the bureaucracies today have to be reformed, the ways in which they don't work.

So, I think part of that is that I am an older, more mature, more serious person. Part of it is perception. You know, I had 121,000 ads run against me by Democrats and labor unions. Time Magazine had me on the cover as scrooge, holding Tiny Tim's broken crutch. It wasn't enough that I stole Tiny Tim's crutch, I had broken it --

HANNITY: I remember that ad. "The Gingrich That Stole Christmas."

GINGRICH: Now, that was Newsweek. Newsweek had me as a Dr. Seuss figure and I was the Grinch that stole Christmas. So I think part of what has happened with the debates is people suddenly seeing me as I am. I am different from the news media version --

HANNITY: -- maybe the caricature.

GINGRICH: So I think that actually helps me a little bit because I'm not the guy they saw on the cover of Time and Newsweek.

HANNITY: Let me ask you this, is the rise and fall of a lot of the candidates, is it becoming Romney versus maybe the Tea Party? Because it seems like Mitt Romney still has to struggle to explain over and over again, and it came up last night, Romneycare. Do you think that is where the divide is? Because he stays steady, he is 20, 25 percent regularly at the top of all polls.

GINGRICH: Look, I think that Mitt is a very competent manager and I think he's a very talented guy. He's been working on this for six years. He certainly has a base, it's a big base by any reasonable standard he is probably the frontrunner and can raise more money, he can put together more things.

The challenge is pretty simple. The reason I think he has a hard time getting above 24, 25 percent. This is a party, which decided starting in 1964 with Goldwater and then repeating it in 1980 with Reagan, we are a conservative party. We want to change Washington very dramatically. I think that Governor Romney has a more difficult challenge convincing people that a Massachusetts governor is necessarily the guy who represents that core value. And that's why if you watch Bachmann rises and falls, but the votes don't go to Romney. Pawlenty rises and falls, but the votes don't go to Romney. You know, Perry rises and falls, but the votes don't go to Romney.

So for some reason, there's about 60 or 70 percent of the party that continues to look for the "not Romney." And I think it essentially goes back to Reagan and Goldwater and this core divide between the North Eastern moderates and the rest of the party. Mitt is a good guy, understand. He would be a vastly better president than Barack Obama. But I think the challenge he will face, whoever is in the final round, I obviously hope it will be me, is going to be this philosophical distinction about where America needs to go.

HANNITY: All right, Mr. Speaker, thanks for being with us. We will see you on the campaign trail.

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