Race for Democratic nomination defies expectations

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 5, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Secretary Clinton does represent the establishment. I represent, I hope, ordinary Americans.

HILLARY CLINTON, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have to just jump in here because, honestly, Senator Sanders is the only person who I think would characterize me, a woman running to be the first American president, as exemplifying the establishment.

SANDERS: Being part of the establishment is in the last quarter having a super PAC that raised $15 million from Wall Street.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Democratic debate last night. Outside is very pretty, but inside is so much warmer. It's really good. Let's bring in our panel inside, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, Steve Hayes, senior writer for "The Weekly Standard," and Julie Pace, White House correspondent for the "Associated Press."

OK, Mara, you and I were at this breakfast this morning with Joel Benenson, the chief strategist for the Clinton campaign. They say this Q poll, the Quinnipiac poll out today, it's a national poll showing Clinton's lead essentially evaporating, down from 44 percent to 42 percent. And there you can see the move. They insist that this is an outlier. But boy it raised some eyebrows across the Democratic Party.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: It raised some eyebrows. It is a scary thing for Democrats at a time when she's gone through Iowa and now, here she's trailing Bernie Sanders by a big amount. And it is making Democrats really nervous about her weaknesses as a general election candidate. And along comes that poll, and it might very well be an outlier. We have to wait and see some more national polls. That's a very precipitous drop. It looks to me like an outlier.

But I think what was interesting this morning, Joel Benenson did not try to spin New Hampshire as, well, if we lose by this much, it is a comeback for us. No. They don't expect to win here. They are looking beyond New Hampshire. She scheduled a trip to Flint, Michigan, before New Hampshire votes. That tells you she is looking at South Carolina, more friendly turf, big African-American electorate. They just want to I think get through this and go on where they can win.

BAIER: You look at the Real Clear Politics average of polls in New Hampshire and Bernie Sanders still with a big lead. Most expect that that lead will hold. And there you see 55.3, although Clinton has closed a bit in recent days.

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, she has. But he is still clearly the prohibitive favorite. Just to pick up on Mara's point about the national poll, it may be the case that that poll is an outlier.
But what it is not is any change in trajectory. We've seen this tightening for a year. We've talked before, just to put in it context, how she was up this time last year 60 percent to four percent for Bernie Sanders. People dismissed him at the time as this crazy socialist senator from Vermont who nobody paid much attention to. And here he is tied with not just the establishment but the center of the establishment of the Democratic Party, a key piece of the Democratic establishment for 25 years.

I think she didn't have a great debate last night. I think she made several gaffes. She had several answers that people were following up on all day long she has yet to explain. I think she got herself in hot water with her answer on the e-mails. And if she is the nominee, we'll look back and say this was a rocky part of her walk to the nomination.

BAIER: So rocky, perhaps, this businessman Bill Bartmann with the "Draft Biden" campaign, saying "I would urge all of you to join me in keeping our powder dry until we see it. If this is a good story for the party and the country we should resurrect the Draft Biden movement. We cannot afford to lose the White House."

JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: I don't think any of the hearty Joe Biden supporters out there should get too excited about this. There is a loyal following, people who really think not only should he have gotten in the race but he still should get in the race. I don't think that's going to happen. I think if you're a democrat, your choices are Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. You should make your decision between those two.

BAIER: What about this whole answer on the Wall Street funding the speeches, the transcripts from speeches? Is that problematic for her?

PACE: I think it is hugely problematic, mostly because she is fumbling around for a good answer on this, and I don't think there is a good answer.
It is very difficult in this economic climate and this political climate for Democrats to explain why you did the speeches in the first place, let alone what that means for your policies toward Wall Street. And every time that Bernie Sanders seems to stumble on foreign policy or on another area where he is not quite as strong, he can always go back to that and it is always a winner for him.

BAIER: Mara?

LIASSON: Yes, I think that's what happened last night. I think she was very feisty, fiery. She was really kind of fighting to shrink the game between her and Sanders as much as she could. But then the question came up. What about releasing the transcripts? To me the easy answer is sure, why not? But she hedged and said she'd look into it. I think it reminds me of the emails. Didn't want to release them at first, and then they ended up being released.

BAIER: Speaking of e-mails, I want to play this sound bite at a question and answer and what that's all caused today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is an open FBI investigation into this matter about how you may have hand classified material. Are you 100 percent confident that nothing will come of this FBI investigation?

CLINTON: I am 100 percent confident. But I have to add, if there is going to be a security review about me, there are going to have to be security reviews about a lot of other people, including Republican officeholders, because we've got this absurd situation of retroactive classifications.


BAIER: What about that, Steve?

HAYES: Can you believe the answer she gave there? Think about it. She apologized for what she had done with respect to her e-mail. She acknowledged that she made mistakes with respect to her email. And now suddenly she is the victim in this whole thing? She's the one who set up the private server. She's the one who sent and/or received classified e- mails, including 22 that were top secret. Hillary Clinton is not the victim here. This is typical from the Clinton playbook, going back to the 1990s. She also took a question which she suggested there is this vast right wing conspiracy, that it still exists, that it is better funded today than it was back then. This is Hillary Clinton trying to play the victim because she doesn't have a good answer.

BAIER: Last thing, Julie. There are 1,600 plus e-mails. Clearly this investigation is ongoing. It seems a bit more than a security review.

PACE: I think we will probably find out as we get through this at the very least if it is just a security review she still has to keep answering questions. And as long as she is answering questions and Bernie Sanders is doing the "I could criticize you but I'm not going to line," then I think it is just going to continue to be a drag for her, especially on that trustworthy number. That is the problem for her in this primary.

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