This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," January 24, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


NEWT GINGRICH, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I thing the size of the rally we're about to go to is a pretty good sign we are going to win. But when you have a guy like Mitt who will say anything and who has $13 million or $15 million or $18 million of advertising I got to tell you, that is pretty formidable.

MITT ROMNEY, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The speaker has been all over the place just in this year on a whole host of issues. He says very inflammatory, exciting things, but his record as speaker shows that he hasn't been able to deliver in a consistent, effective way.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: The battle for Florida ongoing. Look at this, the Florida Public Policy Polling out today, Gingrich 38 percent, Mitt Romney at 33 percent. If you look at the Real Clear Politics average, a couple of new polls in this average. And it's about the same. About an eight-point spread right now. There you see Santorum and Paul.

Meantime, we finished a debate last night on NBC and Speaker Gingrich was not too happy about the crowd.


GINGRICH: I wish in retrospect I protested with Brian Williams, took him out of it because I think it's wrong. And I think he took them out of it because the media is terrified that the audience is going to side with the candidates against the media which is what they've done in every debate. And we are going to serve notice on future debates, we won't -- we're just not going to allow that to happen. That's wrong. The media doesn't control free speech.


BAIER: The crowd was quiet. We're back with the panel. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, it's obvious what happened in South Carolina is that Gingrich got a rocket ride out of two moments in two debates. And the theory I had last week was that, if you hadn't had the audience it would have had, to use a Newtonian word, a dramatically different effect. That I think the response would have been a different one not only in the hall of the debate but actually in the election results.

And we had a controlled experiment last night where the audience was a silent audience and Newt had a flat night. It wasn't a bad night, but it was a flat night. He has the ability to work a crowd, to appeal to an audience and to grab it and to use it, and to actually -

and to get a lot of mileage out of it. That is one of his talents as an orator. And you take away the crowd and he lost a lot, as we saw last night.

And his protest now is the proof of the pudding. He knows it. He knows the reason that last night was a flat night for him, and that's why he's demanding that the audience be allowed to participate. And he also -- he went on to say, it's a defense of the free speech of the audience, which is sort of a preposterous defense. It's because he wants to have a tactical advantage that having an audience had given him.

BAIER: Juan, the momentum still appears to be with Gingrich, at least according to the latest polls. Plus today you have former Senator Fred Thompson, former presidential candidate Fred Thompson endorsing Newt Gingrich. What about how this is shaping up?

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR EDITOR, THE HILL: Well, I got to tell you, I'm stunned at how quickly you've seen a transfer from South Carolina, where again, Newt built this tremendous momentum, to Florida, which I think has a very different Republican electorate. And it's just evidence of how passions are swinging, which is why to pick up on Charles' point, Newt Gingrich needs people to react emotionally to him and to the idea that he is a fighter, he'll get out there, because I think we still come back to this critical issue -- who can beat president Obama? And if you are asking voters that and they don't get involved with what I consider to be sort of a talk show sensibility or aesthetic, which is what Newt appeals to, if they are just looking at the poll numbers, if they are saying who has the argument, I think Mitt Romney wins.

BAIER: Let me just say one thing, play one sound bite. Rick Santorum who had arguably, by most analysts a very good night that was overlooked.


RICK SANTORUM, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Tea Party which is really the conservative base now of the Republican Party, you know, started on three issues. And it was, you know, Obamacare, it was the Wall Street bailouts, and it was cap and trade. All three of those issues, we give them away if we nominate Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.


BAIER: Polls don't show that he is taking off, but he did have a good debate according to most.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I think he does well on substance in virtually every debate. He struggled I think last night because the beginning of the debate last night, the first 20 minutes were the most exciting. And it was almost exclusively Mitt Romney versus Newt Gingrich.

Let me agree a little bit with what Charles and Juan are saying and then disagree on something else. I think there's no question that Newt Gingrich does better when he has a crowd reaction like he did. But I think there are strategic reasons that he turned in a lower key performance last night. First, he didn't have the kind of substantive strong comeback answers that he had in both of those previous two debates, one responding to you, one responding to John King. So there wasn't that moment whether there was a crowd or not. Secondly, he doesn't need to do that anymore. His job now is a totally different job than it was in South Carolina where he was coming from behind and had to make up a lot of ground in the space of a week. Now he is the frontrunner and he needs to establish himself as somebody who could be seen as a serious, sober statesman. So we saw it both in the debate last night but we also saw it in his victory speech in South Carolina where he wasn't the bomb-thrower, he wasn't the flame-thrower. He tried to present a new side to Newt Gingrich because he is trying to sell voters on something quite different.

BAIER: Ron Paul, we should point out, was not campaigning in Florida today. He is, as we've pointed out before, concentrating on the upcoming caucus states, including Maine and Nevada. We will have it all covered. It is getting interesting.

That's it for the panel. But stay tuned for a special Chinese new year message.

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