This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," December 12, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Fresh off today's debate and back on the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidate and former Governor Mitt Romney joins us from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Governor, welcome back to the program.

MITT ROMNEY, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks Sean. Good to be with you.

HANNITY: Well, you just heard from Frank Luntz. We had a focus group. You have won other debates, according to our focus groups, but the difference this time is that they saw you as presidential. That's got to make you feel good.

ROMNEY: It sure does. I'm glad Frank had that focus group and people were responding positively. I had a good chance to talk about the things I care about. This was a debate where we got a lot of discussion about issues, not a lot of peripheral things. I'm pleased that they responded favorably.

HANNITY: Especially that global warming question. I didn't see you raise your hand on that one either, which I thought was a pretty funny moment in the debate. Governor, look, it's — we are now 22 days outside of Iowa. Things are getting hot on the campaign trail. You're going up against Mike Huckabee. Mike Huckabee has had a surge in the polls. You've come out with an ad saying some good things about him, but also comparing and contrasting your positions on immigration. Do you view him as your chief rival there now?

ROMNEY: Well, I think in Iowa Mike is the chief rival. He leads in the polls here. And so it's important to me to talk about our differences on issues. And by the way, if you — if they like his positions, people will support him; if they like my positions, they'll support me. But then, of course, I'm also battling in New Hampshire, where it's a different array. There it's probably Rudy Giuliani and John McCain and Fred Thompson, So I've got different leading foes at each of those two early states.

HANNITY: Let me go — I know this is probably annoying to you. It's actually annoying to me that the issue of religion comes up again. And I thought you gave a terrific speech last week. And I said so both on my radio show and right here on this television program. But there is an issue that's going to appear in New York Times Sunday Magazine this week, and it's some comments that Governor Huckabee had made specifically, "don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"

Now, I understand that there was an apology offered to you by Governor Huckabee, and that it was accepted by you. Can you tell us what happened?

ROMNEY: Yes, following the debate, Mike Huckabee apologized for that, if you will, sort of traditional smear on our faith. And the church also put out a statement and said that this kind of thing comes up from time to time, and that it's not an accurate perception of our faith. And Mike apologized for that. I, of course, accepted his apology.

But look, we face real challenges in this country. We have different experiences among the different candidates. We have different views on issues. And we really shouldn't be attacking a person's religion in this nation. We shouldn't be dividing America based on religion. We should come together by virtue of our common belief that this is a nation of diversity and diverse personal beliefs. And I think Americans are going to ultimately shy away from any effort to define candidates based on their faith, and instead will decide who they're going to support based on their experience, and their vision, and their values.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Hey governor, it's Alan Colmes. Thank you for coming on with both of us this evening. Appreciate that very much. You were looking very good in Iowa. As you pointed out, you're battling one set of candidates there, another set in New Hampshire. You spent 21 million dollars and TV and radio ads all together. Huckabee starts advertising November 26th, and now he's giving you a run for your money. What happened?

ROMNEY: Well, Alan, I think he always had a good base here among evangelicals who are very interested and supportive of a Baptist minister. And that gave him a good start. But, you know, I've seen some surges here before. We had the McCain surge, and that came down, as people took a closer look at his positions. And then we had the Giuliani support, and that's come down. And then the Fred Thompson surge, and that's come down. And now we have the Huckabee surge, and, I must admit, I think that as people take a close look at his record, for instance on pardons and commutations — a thousand pardons and commutations, including 12 murderers? I gave out none as governor.

And so I think as people look at our records — spending, for instance; he went from 6.7 billion in spending up to 16 billion. My growth in spending was just over 2.2 percent, according to the Club for Growth. So, these differences, I think, will give me the support in the final analysis. I sure hope so.

COLMES: Governor, Sean referenced the ad you have out. You have an ad about Mike Huckabee. You go after him for having tuition benefits for illegals. You said in 1994 — you said, I do not believe that we should deny all services to people who come here from across the border. Have you hardened your view about how to deal with people who are here illegally from what you were saying back when you had a campaign in 1994?

ROMNEY: Of course not, Alan. We provide emergency care and education to those would have come here illegally, as the court requires. But when a — the Massachusetts state legislature presented to me a bill that said they were going to give tuition breaks to illegals, I vetoed that bill. So, Alan, you've got good news here. You don't have to go back and find old quotes, and see if we can look at it find something that looks different. You can look at my record as governor. And as governor, I said no driver's licenses for illegals, no in-state tuition breaks for illegals, and I authorized my state police to enforce the federal immigration law.

COLMES: You have another ad out called "Experience Matters," which seems like it's aimed at Hillary Clinton. Have you decided that she will be the nominee? And if you're the nominee, that she's the person you'll be facing?

ROMNEY: You know, I'm not sure who the Democratic nominee will be. But in this regard, they're pretty much all the same that you have in Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and John Edwards three people who really haven't run anything, who don't have executive experience, who don't really understand how the economy works. I spent my life in the economy, 25 years in business. I know why jobs come here, why jobs go. I understand something about international business. I have worked in some 20 different countries. And by virtue of that experience, I think I have something that I can bring uniquely to our federal government to make sure that we keep good jobs in America.


COLMES: We continue now with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Did you have second thoughts at all about giving what's been called "the speech" on religion? Because now, of course, everybody wants to ask questions about that, and it reopens that door. You were convinced that was the right thing to do?

ROMNEY: Well, you know, I saw it as an opportunity. I saw a chance to speak about faith in America and religious diversity, and the fact that this is a nation which settled upon a view that people would worship according to the dictates of their own conscience, that we would select political leaders without a religious test. That that was so unique in this country, it was important to talk about that.

And to make sure that we don't push God out of the public square, as some secularists would do. This was, in some respects, an opportunity for me. I — I don't know if it's helpful politically or harmful politically, to tell you the truth, but it was something that I thought was important to do and talked to my family about it. And this seemed like a good time to do it.

COLMES: You said you believe in religious freedom. You said any person who has knelt in prayer to the almighty has a friend and ally in you. Do they have a friend and ally in you if they're not a believer, if they're agnostic, if they're struggling with their faith, if they're not believers in Jesus Christ, if they've fallen into any of those, if they're atheists, for example, do they also have a friend in Mitt Romney?

ROMNEY: Of course they do, and the first part of that sentence you read was to indicate just that. It says anybody who believes in religious liberty. And that's true of a person who's an atheist or a non-believer or someone who's a very devout believer.

In addition, anybody who has knelt in prayer has a friend in me. So yes, I — my — my love of the American people encompasses all of our people, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity.

You can't — you can't be the president of the United States, recognizing the need to call on the goodwill of the people of the United States, without recognizing that you have to unite people, and you have to hope that you can get the prayers of all the people of our country.

COLMES: You said freedom requires religion, religion requires freedom. But aren't there people who are very religious in countries that are not free? And aren't there people who have the freedom to have no religion? So I wonder if it's really true that religion requires freedom and freedom requires religion in every case?

ROMNEY: Well, that was not referring person by person, of course, Alan. That was a — that was a comment I made following the quote from John Adams, where he said this nation and our Constitution could not survive, could not work without morality and religion.

And his point, which I summarized, is that in fact, freedom in this nation, the greatness of this nation does require, in my view, a religious base, a conviction that there is a creator. That doesn't mean every single person has to be religious, but that overall, a recognition of the role of a creator is an important element of our morality and of our society.

And I think that long-term you'll see that this country remains a great nation, as we have a religious foundation.

COLMES: Who do — how do you — what do you see as the role of a president in terms of being a moral leader, religious leader? Does that have any role in the job description of a president of the United States?

ROMNEY: You know, I think it's important to have a person that recognizes the religious heritage of this country, that recognizes that this is a very diverse religious base with peoples' freedom to choose to worship or not worship as they might, but that at the same time that we're not going to push God out of our nation.

Our founders in their ceremonies referenced the name of deity. Our founders in our documents such as the Declaration of Independence, indicated that our rights flowed from our creator. We don't want to remove God from our textbooks, from our history books, if you will, about our nation. We don't want to remove God from our coins, from our Pledge of Allegiance. We don't want to remove God from our nativity scenes and the menorahs — menorahs at holiday season. These are part of our heritage, part of our culture. And I think it's important to retain them.

HANNITY: Governor, I want to go back to the issue of your chief rival now in Iowa, and that is of course Mike Huckabee here. You mentioned the issue of parole and commutations and pardons. And do you think there's a vulnerability here?

We heard about the case of Wayne Dumond, the guy that was sentenced to life plus 20 years, other convicted murderers. The list goes anywhere between 700 and 1,000, depending on what list you're looking at.

Do you think that we're witnessing here a similar situation to Michael Dukakis, weekend furloughs, Willie Horton, and are you planning on coming out with any ads in the next knew days about this issue?

ROMNEY: Well, I think it's a very instructive issue. I think — I think having a governor that commuted the sentences of 1,033 people — that's one every four days he was in office including 12 murderers — it is a very telling decision on his part.

And at the same time, I had a number of people bring forward commutation requests and pardon requests. I reviewed them. I looked to see whether there was some kind of misconduct or misapplication of judicial discretion or prosecutorial discretion. If those things existed, or of course, if subsequence evidence showed somebody was wrong, then that's something I would have considered.

But I offered, and issued no commutations and no pardons. And I think it shows a different degree of respect for that judicial process.

HANNITY: Are you planning on running any ads on the issue?

ROMNEY: You know, time will tell. There are a number of things.

HANNITY: You're not going to tell me?

ROMNEY: I'm certainly not going to tell anybody else, and frankly, we're going to keep our options open as to what our ads are going to look like. I haven't got — I haven't got any ad like that in my pocket or in the can.

COLMES: I think he would tell me first. I think you would tell me.

HANNITY: You wouldn't tell Colmes ahead of me, would you?

Let me go to the rising polls of Barack Obama. We now have a poll showing him in the lead in Iowa. A new poll out today by Scott Rasmussen has him in the lead in New Hampshire. The latest South Carolina poll has Barack Obama within two points of Hillary Clinton. And that is pre-Oprah Winfrey's appearance this weekend with 30,000 people in Columbia, South Carolina.

I think it was conventional wisdom that Hillary was going to be the candidate for the Democrats. Do you think they're — that's shifting?

ROMNEY: Well, you know, it looks like it's opening up a bit. I thought Hillary Clinton had it locked solid, but it looks like it's opening up a bit.

I must admit: I find it a little surprising that a guy who has virtually no experience of an executive nature, leadership nature, never run anything, no experience of any significance in the private economy, as a state legislator. He was not doing a lot of heavy lifting in the United States Senate. He hasn't been the champion of a major piece of legislation. And somehow, because he can talk well, why, we think he can be president.

I — I have to shake my head, because I think it takes more to be president than just being able to talk well. I think you have to show that you have a record of demonstrated success in leadership in a number of ways.

And I've got to tell you, if we're going to select our nominee in the Democratic side based on the number of celebrities they know, like Oprah, it's a pretty frightening — frightening course.

HANNITY: Governor Romney, thank you for being with us. We appreciate your time, as always.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Alan and Sean. Good to be with you.

COLMES: Thanks very much.

ROMNEY: Thank you.

HANNITY: Thanks.

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