This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," January 17, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: With Saturday's critical primary in South Carolina fast approaching, last night's Fox News Channel-Wall Street Journal debate was critical for some of the GOP presidential hopefuls. And the five remaining candidates, well, they covered a lot of ground last night.


RICK SANTORUM, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I had something the Super PAC that was supporting me that was inaccurate, I would go out and say stop it, that you are representing me and you are representing my campaign. Stop it.

RICK PERRY, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a great example of the insiders that are having a conversation up here, and the fact of the matter is this. Washington D.C. needs to leave the states alone and let the states decide these issues and don't do it from Washington, D.C.

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    MITT ROMNEY, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My care about getting if into this race is about my belief in America. And my concern that what we're seeing with this president is the change in course for America to become something we wouldn't recognize. I think he's drawing us into something becoming more like a European social welfare state.

    RON PAUL, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You don't understand there's a difference between military spending and defense spending. Just because you spend -- spend a billion dollars on an embassy in Baghdad, bigger than the Vatican, you consider that defense spending. I consider that waste.

    NEWT GINGRICH, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe every American of every background has been endowed by their creator with the right to pursue happiness and if that makes liberals unhappy I'm going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job and learn someday to own the job.



    But will voters in South Carolina be persuade by what they have heard? Joining me now with reaction, from the great state of Alaska, FoxNews contributor, Governor Sarah Palin. Governor, welcome back.

    SARAH PALIN, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks so much. Sean, those clips that you've showed, that is a good reflection of these guys last night. Great debaters showing up and all of them seemed to be loaded for bear or moose or elk or whatever. It was a great debate.

    HANNITY: Yes. I thought by far the best debate of all the debates. And maybe it was because they all had a little bit more time. I liked the fact the interaction with the crowd was amazing, it was electric in that room. Do you have a feeling? Who do you think did best in the debate? What did you see about the candidates? What did you learn last night that you didn't know before?

    PALIN: Well, first Rick Perry, you know, he showed up having seemed to have been able to partake in some of that same as Texas chili and some Dr. Pepper too from his home state. Somebody must have imported it to him because he was on fire with some of those segments that he participated in. He was a true patriot and I was so proud of him and he should be proud of his debate performance. And then Santorum too, he had an opponent up on the ropes and that's what you have to do too in order to, you know, get to the truth, get to the foundation of some of the ideas and beliefs that are being espoused by candidates.

    But I do think that Newt is the one who won the debate, if you will. Because Newt came out just like South Carolina's own smoking Joe Fraser. He came out there swinging, talking about work, talking about jobs and work ethic and how government needs to get out of the way in order for all Americans to have a sense of opportunity to work. And I think that's what a lot of voters have been craving to hear.

    HANNITY: We talked last time about Todd, your husband going rogue. You haven't gone rogue yet, you haven't given an endorsement. Are you getting any closer to giving an endorsement?

    PALIN: Well, I can tell you what I would do if I were South Carolinian.

    HANNITY: Well, that's close to an endorsement.

    PALIN: Because, you know, a true believer in -- well, if I were a South Carolinian though -- and each one of these primaries and caucuses are different, Sean. I want to see this thing continue because iron sharpens iron, steel sharpens steel. These guys are getting better in their debates, they are getting more concise, they are get more grounded in what their beliefs are and articulating what their ideas are to get the country back on the right track and getting Americans working again. If I had to vote in South Carolina in order to keep this thing going, I would vote for Newt, and I would want it this to continue more debates, more vetting of candidates because we know the mistake made in our country four years ago was having a candidate that was not vette, to the degree that he should have been so that we knew what his associations and his pals represented and what went into his thinking, the shaping of who our president today is. That vetting did not take place. I want to see that taking place this time because America is on that precipice, it's that important. We need this process to continue.

    HANNITY: All right. Let me then ask, do you buy into the narrative that this is Romney, non-Romney, which so many people have spoken about it so often? Do you think Governor Perry, Senator Santorum and former Speaker Gingrich are battling for the more conservative vote in the party? Do you agree with that analysis?

    PALIN: Well, you know, the math is what it is. And you can't argue with the numbers. And the numbers seem to show that, yes, conservatives are splitting the vote between those candidates whom you mentioned and the more moderate Governor Romney. So, yes, the math is what it is. And at some point here, I don't think it's time yet, but at some point here, I believe that some of the more conservative candidates are going to have to decide, are they going to take one for the team? Are they going to step aside and pursue via one single conservative candidate, that nomination as they go up against the frontrunner today?

    HANNITY: All right. So then, one person you really haven't mentioned tonight is Governor Romney. Now, there are some questions about what the final vote tally will be from the Iowa caucus. We should know soon. We know he won New Hampshire by a pretty significant margin. He is leading, he has a lead in South Carolina and a lead in Florida, the next two states. So, are you saying, maybe after South Carolina that there's going to have -- that two of the three, quote, "more conservative" candidates are going to have to step aside? Do you think it has to be that soon? Because does it not become inevitable that Governor Romney -- and would you be against Governor Romney being the nominee?

    PALIN: I think a lot of people right now in the media and certainly on the left want to make voters believe that it is inevitable that today's frontrunner, who has all the campaign cash in order to run these ads and has, you know, strong super PACs that have a lot of money to run a lot of negative ads against opponents, they want us to believe that it's inevitable, that the more moderate candidate will be the one to face Obama in the fall. However, I don't personally believe that it is inevitable and I also don't believe that he with the most money actually has to be the one who wins. So, I don't know if right after South Carolina if that's the right timing yet.

    And Sean -- the right timing yet for somebody to drop out or a couple people to drop out and then coalesce around the more conservative candidate in order to very starkly contrast themselves in their ideas and their experience against Barack Obama.

    But, Sean, no, I have said, as I believe you have said from the beginning, anybody but Obama. We know that any of these GOP candidates are so much better and more experienced and grounded in what our constitution represents and how we are supposed to be using our constitution -- not changing it, using it as our blueprint to progress this nation. Any of them would be better than Obama.

    HANNITY: Can I ask you then if you were in South Carolina, you would vote for Newt Gingrich. That would be on Saturday. You want the process to continue. You want the vetting to continue u want to see these candidates pushing each other. Does that mean you would be leaning towards endorsing, like your husband, Newt Gingrich. If you had to choose today is that who you are leaning towards?

    PALIN: You know, I want that process to continue because with the frontrunner and with all the candidates there are still too many questions. We have to have these questions answered right now. And that has to do with their business dealings. That has to do with their experience while they served in office because all of them have a record, unlike Barack Obama not having a record when he was elected. Now, of course he does and now, of course, we get to run against his record that was so harmful to our nation. I want the process to continue because answers need to be given to American voters today instead of some October, early November surprises that you know the Democrats are just dying to be able to throw out there on whomever it is who wins the nomination on the GOP ticket. We need to make sure that frontrunner and all others have everything out there in open, as transparent as possible in order to let the voters be prepared for what's coming; make up our minds whether we believe that maybe an issue or two that they have that could cause some problems is paramount and would prohibit them being the best person to help lead our nation.

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