'Special Report' Panel on Campaigns and Elections

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from November 12, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When I go into a town hall meetin g, I never know what questions to expect. And that's a good thing, because the people in New Hampshire should expect that their candidates are going to hear what's on the voters' minds and not what has been concocted by the candidate's staff.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it was news to me. And neither I nor my campaign approve of that, and it will certainly not be tolerated.


CLINTON: You know everything I know.


BRIT HUME, HOST: What are they talking about? They're talking about a couple of instances, one of them recent and one of them less so, when people in an audience that Senator Clinton was going to address were encouraged to ask certain questions.

In the first case it didn't work, and in the more recent case it did. The question got asked, it was about global warming. She remarked in answering it that young people always ask about global warming, and some might be inclined to say "Small wonder."

But, some thoughts on this and the current state of the Democratic race from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of "The Weekly Standard," Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of "Roll Call," FOX News contributors one and all.

This is not the biggest deal ever, but it is a moment which comes as an awkward moment for her, because it is believed that she didn't have a great outing in the last debate, and that Barack Obama gave a socco speech on Saturday night out in Iowa where all of them, I guess, appeared, and he was said to have been the best.

So is anything really happening here in your judgment, Mara?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, what is happening is, in addition to the two things you mentioned, Iowa is a dead heat. She does not have Iowa sewn up. She is not the prohibitive, presumptive frontrunner that she has been trying to be for all these months.

HUME: What are the margins now, roughly?

LIASSON: I think she is a couple points ahead of him, but they are all bunched up in the 20's.

HUME: And Edwards isn't terribly far behind, right?

LIASSON: No. It's a very, very close race there. The heat is on. The campaign is going to get a lot more intense, and the when that happens, little things like this loom large.

And in this case, the little thing is this planted question, which was a completely innocuous question—it wasn't, "Gee, do you think Obama is really a terrible guy?" No. It was something about global warming, which you hear from a young person at every single campaign for every single candidate.

HUME: Anyway.

LIASSON: But, it feeds into this preexisting stereotype of her being calculated, controlling, running this poll driven, programmed, robotic, even, campaign.


Look, it's not as though every question at every town meeting is a planted question for her.

HUME: Yes. So far we know of two over instances over six or seven months. That's not much.

KONDRACKE: The worst you can say about it is that is, she didn't even know about it, so far as we know.

HUME: So far as she says.

LIASSON: She seems sincere to me.

KONDRACKE: OK, so—but, as Mara says, what is happening here is that we're getting down into the final month-and-a-half or so of this campaign, and things are going to get intense.

She had been the frontrunner. They smell blood. She stumbled a little bit because of debate the other day. Obama had this wonderful speech that everybody says is so wonderful—I watched it on TV, and it was not that John F. Kennedy inaugural address, it was a good speech. But everybody was enthusiastic about it.

I thought that he, for example, I don't see what he says—

HUME: Was it palpable to you that the people watching out there are more excited than they were by any other campaign?

KONDRACKE: Yes. And it is a big dinner, it is 9,000 of the most active activists.

LIASSON: And historically it has turned the tide in primaries there. Maybe not this one, but—

KONDRACKE: You could see where she could lose the Iowa caucuses.

Now, what happens after that? The question is, I think, how much does she lose by? Does she finish third? If she finishes third, what does that do to New Hampshire? You can draw out a scenario where she doesn't win the nomination because of all of this, and this is the beginning of the rock rolling down the hill, or not.

LIASSON: Or not.

HUME: I have a feeling that we are going to hear from Mr. "Or Not" right now—Fred?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, WEEKLY STANDARD: Planting questions, that is pretty close to Watergate.


I think it was completely innocuous, but it was—

HUME: If it is so innocuous, why didn't she say "Big deal"?

BARNES: Because it does play on this notion that the Clintons, they skirt the outer boundaries of what is appropriate in practice. I don't think there is anything ethically wrong with it.

HUME: It is a little deceptive.

BARNES: A little fishy, like some of this fundraising, where, somehow, people working at the poverty level are maxed out at the Clinton campaign.

The truth is, though, I watched the Obama speech. He said nothing substantively important. But it was well delivered. The crowd was very, very excited.

And that's what strikes me about the Democratic events in general compared to Republican events. Democrats are a lot more excited about their candidates, and they are very excited about Obama. He is likable, he gives a good speech.


BARNES: So I bet Obama wins in Iowa.

HUME: You think so?


HUME: What do you think, Mara? Does he have a good chance?

LIASSON: I think he has a good chance.

HUME: You heard it here—Obama has a god chance. Wow!

Next up with the panel we will look at Republican race. We will find out who has a good chance over there.



MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Their names are hidden. You can't even see who the people are that are giving to that effort. And the irony is literally dripping as you look at the formation of this C-4 to support Senator McCain.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's ironic that I, the author of campaign finance reform, should have these ads run. I fought against opening of this new poll. I am adamantly opposed to it. I have asked anyone involved in it to not contribute and to have this ad taken down.


HUME: Mitt Romney says there are ironies. There sure are. One of them is his sounding like a campaign finance zealot complaining about John McCain receiving the benefit of an ad placed for him by one of these independent expenditure groups which McCain was very much opposed to, and labored, as he said, to keep from being permitted by the Campaign Finance Regulations, which he was very active in passing.

Nonetheless, it made a somewhat embarrassing day in which Senator McCain had to do a lot of explaining when he would prefer to have been emphasizing the fact that he is, himself, a veteran on this extended Veterans Day weekend, and so on.

Do we have anything happening here, or not?

LIASSON: You just summarized it. He got distracted for a day, period.

The fact is that Mitt Romney wants these people to be able to do this. He doesn't want campaign finance reform at all. And McCain has issued a statement, he's called on these people to cease and desist. He is not for it.

Romney is saying McCain is doing this thing.

HUME: Wait a minute, Mara, a skeptic would have to observing that while the names are hidden, we know who the founders of the group are.

LIASSON: Rick Reed, who was involved in the Swift Boat—

HUME: And some of the other people are McCain supporters, right?


HUME: So we have McCain saying "Supporters, stop supporting me." And they saying "No, we will continue to support you."

LIASSON: They have said they are duty bound to ignore his request.

HUME: What about it, Fred?

LIASSON: That's what they said.

BARNES: What McCain calls a loophole, you know what I call it? "Free speech."

These are people, they want to put an ad on. Why shouldn't they put an ad on? And the fact that his crummy campaign finance reform bill somehow didn't cover that—he tried to shut out free speech everywhere else he could in that bill—I have no sympathy whatever for McCain on this. It serves him right.

HUME: It serves him right get this support?

BARNES: It serves him right to be held up as a hypocrite on this.

On the other hand, the ads will probably help him.

KONDRACKE: Look, he's consistent. He's against 527's. He's in favor of campaign financial reform. He is sticking by his guns. He is asking these people to drop the ad. So I think he is completely in the clear.

I think that if there is a hypocrite here, it's Romney. And one suspects that the extent of his vehemence about this whole thing, it must have something to do with McCain sneaking up on him in New Hampshire.

HUME: Speaking of that, how much help does Fred Thompson, whose standing in the polls, at least, has been flagging from the fact that tomorrow, we are given to understand, the National Right To Life Committee, which is very active and probably the most prominent of the antiabortion activist groups in Washington, anyway, is going to endorse his candidacy?

KONDRACKE: It helps him. He was the furthest behind in the religious right sweepstakes. When everybody else was getting an endorsement last week, he didn't get one. So know he has a big one, so it helps him.

LIASSON: And it helps him particularly because he was in the hole with these particular people since he had that appearance on television where he seemed to suggest—he almost talked in the language of NARAL, which is what some right to life activists were saying.

His antiabortion credentials have been suspect, and I think this will shore them up.

BARNES: Well, it won't shore them up, but I will have to say, it does help him.

And the National Right to Life Committee was all against the campaign finance reform bill. I thought that's why they didn't like McCain or Thompson, who was all for it as well. And yet they—

LIASSON: But he's repudiated it.

BARNES: Well, I know, but he was still all for it. And he has a fuzzy background—

HUME: So why are they for him?

BARNES: I'm surprised. I couldn't tell you. I thought they would be for somebody with a long, consistent record of being right to life, someone like Mike Huckabee, for instance. Or even Mitt Romney, who had has a firmer stance.

HUME: I want to get your guys take on this in particular, and that is the evangelical Christian movements, conservative Christian movement, which is very important in this party, is being pulled in a lot of different directions.

How difference, in the end, will all these leader organizations make in the way the individuals vote?

BARNES: Not much at all.

LIASSON: They might cancel each other out, but some of them mean more thanking others.

KONDRACKE: Some people will be favored by them. I think Mitt Romney having changed his position on abortion will get some of them, obviously.

Thompson, I don't quite understand. He has got this good pro-life record, but in the beginning, he was pro-choice. So he has flipped, too.

HUME: That's it for the panel.

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