This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," April 15, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: More in-your-face controversy on the campaign trail, another giant name making controversial statements about race and about Senator Obama. This time, it is not a white female former vice presidential candidate. It's a man, a billionaire, and yes, an African- American, BET founder Bob Johnson. As you know, on March 11, Senator Clinton's supporter, former VP candidate Geraldine Ferraro, said if Obama were a white man, he would not be in this position. Now, that comment raised hackles in the Obama campaign, and the very next day, Ferraro stepped down from her role on Senator Clinton's finance committee.
Well, now, Bob Johnson, another supporter of Senator Clinton, is defending Geraldine Ferraro's statements, saying, "What I believe Geraldine Ferraro meant is if you take a freshman senator from Illinois called Jerry Smith, and he says, I'm going to run for president, would he start off with 90 percent of the black vote? And the answer is, probably not. Would he also start out with the excitement of starting out as something completely different? Probably not. He would just be a freshman senator."
Joining us live is Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to President George W. Bush and now a FOX News contributor. Nice to see you, Karl.
KARL ROVE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER, FOX POLITICAL ANALYST: Great to see you, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, I guess what Bob Johnson said, pretty biting words. Your thought on whether it has any impact on the race?
ROVE: Well, I'm not certain how much impact it has on the race. Bob Johnson -- I know him. I respect him. He is probably -- I think probably the first African-American billionaire in America. He got it the hard way. He earned it, a very hard, very difficult rise in business, a very able guy. He certainly has earned the right to opine about it.
He's -- the question he's groping with I think is the right one. How is this freshman senator from Illinois, with no real experience and with no real record of achievement after three years in United States Senate, only three years, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination?
I think he may be right that there's an advantage, a tactical advantage. He's enjoyed wide support among the African-American community in large part because he is an African-American candidate with a credible chance to be the nominee and the president of the United States. But I think there are actually four or five other things that come into play here that we ought to look at and step back and take into consideration as an answer to the question that Bob Johnson raises.
First, the Clintons have always -- there's always been a doubt inside the Democratic Party about Hillary Clinton's candidacy. Democrats right from the start, big donors, activists, party leaders have been concerned about her candidacy, and as a result, have been looking for an option, an alternative. He -- Barack Obama has stepped forward as one of several, and ultimately today, the only other option -- alternative to Hillary Clinton. So this anti-Clinton sentiment has helped him.
The media has helped. They've given him very positive and glowing coverage. His message has helped him, you know, post-partisan, I'm not red country -- you know, red state, blue state, United States, an urgent call for leadership on the big issues facing the country. This message helped him, particularly since Senator Clinton had no similar message. It was, Vote for me, I'm entitled.
Also, it's interesting, primaries are more about personality, not about issues. These two have agreed on the issues a lot. So the fact is, he's got a good, charming, wonderful, warm personality that has shown through a heck of a lot better than hers has.
And finally, she's run an appallingly bad campaign on all kinds of fronts, in all kinds of ways. Just one example is the caucuses, where he was much better prepared for the caucuses than she was. I think all of these are part of the explanation.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Back up before everybody dropped out of the race, when there was a huge array of Democrats. If you look at sort of the experience, not who you agree with because, you know, (INAUDIBLE) expect you to agree with any one -- anyone running on all the issues in the Democratic Party, maybe perhaps some. Who had the most experience and the best resume at the beginning?
ROVE: Well, you had Senators Dodd and Senators Biden and Senator Edwards, all of whom had more credible experience to claim than did Senator Obama, but each one, for their own reasons, failed to move forward. Governor Richardson of New Mexico had more credible experience than Senator Obama. But each one of them fell short either because they weren't effective in cultivating the media, they didn't have a good message, they weren't well organized in the early states.
I do think there was a chance for Senator Edwards early on to become the alternative to Hillary Clinton in Iowa. I think that's what his entire campaign was predicated on, and he spent all of his time in Iowa. But he just didn't catch on to the degree that he needed to, and the fact that Obama won Iowa made him sort of the not Hillary Clinton candidate.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why didn't Senator Edwards catch on? I mean, he spent an awful lot of time there.
ROVE: Well, I think it was a disconnect. I think people saw him as one thing in 2004 and something different in the run-up to the 2008 election. And they looked at him and said, This is not credible, that he was one way in 2004 and a different way today. They might have liked one or the other of, you know, the 2004 and the 2008 version better, but at the end of the day, he simply lacked credibility as a candidate. You know, look, he did spend a lot of time there, and some people wear well and others don't, and he didn't.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. To what effect do you think -- I mean, cable news, all the networks are being accused of being biased, the cable and the broadcast. How important is that in a race? I mean, how much can these cable networks and broadcasts affect this?
ROVE: They can affect it. Sure, they can, because, look, either the narrative that they establish about a candidate or the nature of the coverage that they have -- for example, let me give you an example. Last year, when Senator Obama in early 2007 appeared on "Meet the Press," he was asked a question about his book. In his book, he said, We progressives must be willing to end government spending programs that do not work. When he was asked on the program, Give me an example, by Tim Russert, of a program that you would end, he said, Well, you know, I -- he didn't give an example.
He said, What we ought to do is we ought to, in order to save money, insist that Medicare and Medicaid require electronic billing. Don't accept a piece of paper if you're billing Medicare or Medicaid. That -- and he said, We'll save hundreds of millions of dollars. The only problem was the government had insisted on that starting in 2003, four years before he appeared on the TV to suggest the idea. He was so out of touch that he didn't know that.
Well, the media could have created the narrative that, Look, he's a smart guy, but he doesn't know what the heck he's talking about and he's trying to BS his way through it, and instead, they just passed over it. And you know, they're -- all along the way, he's done things, and many times the media has given him a pass on it.
VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask a very difficult question, goes back to Bob Johnson and from the beginning. If he doesn't have the experience, and if you look at the polls, 90 percent of the African-Americans support him, is this really -- is this an issue of race, at this point? If he doesn't have the experience and if the media's -- you know, media's not jumping him on that stuff -- they'd jump -- they'd jump McCain about it, and they might jump somebody on it, might jump Clinton about it.
ROVE: Well, look, I think people are entitled to make a decision on a variety of factors. Some people will put experience at the middle of it. Obviously, Bob Johnson is. He's wondering why this inexperienced three- year freshman center with no experience and no record of accomplishment is a frontrunner, and this is where he ends up.
But look, people look at a lot of different candidates and make a decision about who they're for based on a complex, you know, algorithm that involves their own personal definition of what's important to them. And look, I can -- I think all of America could understand why a member of the United States Senate who's African-American, running for president, is the most likely candidate to get large, enthusiastic support among the African- American population.
VAN SUSTEREN: Then why don't the women candidates -- and not just Senator Clinton, but other women candidates -- Senator Dole ran for president, Liddy Dole ran for president -- the women are more than 50 percent, but they don't get the 50 percent of (INAUDIBLE)
ROVE: Well, again, over the course of a campaign, people end up making a judgment on the basis of a large number of characteristics, and I do think it tends to be that women candidates do tend to perform better. You know, women Republican candidates tend to do better among women Democrats than male Republican candidates so. Similarly, women Democrat candidates tend to do better among Republican women than male Democratic candidates do. So there is some crossover appeal on the basis of gender, and that's just the way it is in politics.
We like identifying with people who are like us. That's why, you know, in places with a lot of German-American candidate -- a lot of German- American voters earlier in our history, both parties attempted to recruit and run German-American candidates, or Irish-American candidates in heavily Irish communities, and so forth, because it was a way for people to be more comfortable in voting for the candidates of one party or another.
VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, as always, thank you.
ROVE: Great. Good to be with you, Greta.
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