'Special Report' Panel on Politics, Elections and World Affairs

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from December 20, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


MIKE HUCKABEE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He ought to win, just by virtue of — if you look at how much money, the resources, and everything, I mean, he ought to win. And that's what I'm saying: if we win, it would be a miracle.


BRIT HUME, "SPECIAL REPORT" HOST: Well, I'm sure he didn't intend to low ball there. Mike Huckabee talking about Iowa where he and Mitt Romney are in a close race, one in which all the momentum in recent weeks, or virtually all of it, has been to Huckabee, with polls showing him ahead — miracle, indeed.

Some thoughts on this race now 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 all.

Let's look a couple of polls. These are national polls, and it is not at all clear how much they mean at this stage, but they will tell you something. First, the latest FOX News opinion dynamics poll shows that Rudy Giuliani is now at 20 percent. Back in November he was at 33.

McCain is up a little from 17 to 19, Huckabee from 8 to 19 percent — you can see where all of Giuliani's points went. Romney up a little, still at just at 11, and Fred Thompson has dropped a couple of points.

That is, basically, the same trend shown in a similar poll from NBC news and The Wall Street Journal, where you can see that Giuliani and Romney are basically tied, Huckabee at 17, which is up quite a bit, McCain and Thompson where they are.

But, Iowa, ABC/Washington Post poll out of Iowa — this is the guy who says it would be a miracle if he wins. He is said to be at 35 percent, Romney trailing at 27. So, miracle, indeed.

Mara, what do you sense is happening here?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: The guy is a good politician. It is always nice to set yourself up in case you win, it's a miracle. That's what he is doing.

What is happening is that Huckabee has had this extraordinary rise. In the space of a couple of months he has gone from single digits to being the leader.

And I think what has happened there a structural part of the vote in Iowa and it belongs to Christian conservatives. They took a very long time to settle on a candidate, and they finally settled on him — estimates are up to about 40 percent of the Iowa Republican caucus vote.

Now, I think that's what he is tapping into. That's what is responsible for his rise. A lot of people have tried to court them —

HUME: Yes, he's at 35 percent. That's sounds about right.

LIASSON: Yes. A lot of people have tried to court them, including mitt Romney, and it hasn't worked.

Now, the thing to watch for is his rise is kind of organic. He doesn't have a lot of money to make to make an organization on the ground like mitt Romney does, who spent an estimated $7 million in Iowa alone on organization and on television advertising.

So what we will find out on caucus night is whether this kind of organic movement, home-schoolers of evangelicals who are really excited for Huckabee turn out, or will Romney's what he calls "super volunteers" — they're paid volunteers, and he has a big network of them — will they do the trick for them?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "ROLL CALL": And Huckabee is not only surging in Iowa, but he's now first in South Carolina as well, and he is second in even Florida and California. That's amazing.

Whether it can last, who knows? But so far, there's been a lot of stuff thrown at Huckabee, especially by Romney, and he's going fast an furious on the immigration issue, on amnesty for prisoners and stuff, pardons and clemency, and stuff, and his tax record — and it hasn't affected Huckabee yet.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I agree with that. You know, look, I haven't cut Huckabee much slack, but if he wins or even comes close, it is a miracle.

HUME: In Iowa?

BARNES: From where he came from? A month ago, he was nowheresville, and now he is leading Romney. That's a political miracle.

HUME: You're talking about a miracle that's already occurred.


HUME: He's talking about a miracle that's about to occur.

LIASSON: Yes, because — (INAUDIBLE)

BARNES: In any case, he's certainly — look, he is rated — if Romney beats him, he has certainly lowered expectations for Romney. If Romney wins, he will call it a miracle as well.

But Huckabee is being hit pretty hard now, and I wouldn't expect it to affect the polls immediately. And just because there is some article on, you know, "National Review Online" or "The Weekly Standard" Web site that is critical of Huckabee, folks out in Iowa probably aren't reading that stuff. But they have heard Romney.

And one thing is clear, Huckabee does not like to be criticized. He responds angrily, and he say "Why is he doing that? It's wrong." It's like it's unfair and your not allowed to do this in politics, attack the people who are running against you in an election.

And he responds. He says he doesn't respond, but he does respond and criticizes Romney. The test will be if he runs ads attacking Romney. Certainly Romney has ads attacking him.

KONDRACKE: The second thing that is important that has been happening is that Giuliani has been faltering. We have all said isn't it amazing that Giuliani continues to have a national lead in spite of social views, his personal life, Bernard Kerik.

I think it is catching up with him, I really do.


KONDRACKE: And the Bernard Kerik stuff. There has been a lot of — Bernard Kerik got indicted —

HUME: So you would suggest that there is a lead time from the day that the stuff begins to appear and builds to some kind of volume, and the time that it affects you.

KONDRACKE: And if it seems to be validated over time. The story doesn't get knocked down, it doesn't go away. It keeps coming back and people keep talking about.

HUME: How long can a guy in the person of Mike Huckabee, who clearly disagrees with the president of the United States and most of the Republican Party on foreign policy issues, who is clearly a man who has raised taxes with some regularity while governor of Arkansas, who is supported by the National Education Association, which is a bete noir of the Republicans, how long can a man like that remain on top of the polls?

BARNES: They may not know what people are voting on. They may just be glad because he's a social conservative.

The problem for Huckabee, though, is that most social conservatives are not just social conservatives. They tend to be economic conservatives and foreign policy conservatives as well.

So I think it's quite possible for Romney or somebody else to cut into this Evangelical base that Huckabee has in Iowa. It doesn't seem to happen yet, but it might happen.

HUME: There are polls from Rasmussen reports, and he polls with some regularity, that suggest that the Huckabee momentum, which was growing steadily, has at least slowed down or stopped. That doesn't mean he won't win, and it doesn't mean he isn't ahead. But, it means —

LIASSON: But you have to look at the calendar. New Hampshire has less proportion of Evangelical. He can hop right to South Carolina where there is a fair amount of them. But on February 5 a lot of states with bigger parts of the population are not tailor made for him.

HUME: Let's talk about that scenario for a second. There will be a tremendous big story about whoever wins Iowa.


HUME: Only a few days later we'll have New Hampshire. If he doesn't do well there, what happens to all that momentum? Will that carry over into New Hampshire or not?


KONDRACKE: He's got a strong base in South Carolina. Again, Christian conservatives are sustaining him in South Carolina. And wherever there is a large group of them, he will do OK.

HUME: When we come back, the all stars will take a look at how the Democratic sweepstakes are shaping up. Don't go anywhere.



SEN HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So you can ask the people of New York that when I tell you that I will help you, when I tell you I will fight for you, when I tell you I will give you my best effort, that's exactly what I do. That may sound hopelessly old fashioned, but that's who I am.


HUME: I don't know if it was old fashioned or not, but, apparently, a lot of people believe that according to the new Fox News Democratic primary national poll, which shows that Hillary Clinton, who was thought to have been slipping, at least in early states, has been gaining in the national polls. She's up from 44 to 49.

Barack Obama is thought to be down, and the same is true of John Edwards, at least marginally.

So, if you look here at an "ABC News/Washington Post" poll on Iowa, you see Obama ahead by a few ticks. That's all margin of error stuff, we understand that.

But look at Hillary Clinton on the question of favorable and unfavorable ratings. In November, she was rated favorably by 49 percent of the people. That's down to 45. And her unfavorables are at 49, and that's the highest of any candidate in the field.

So kind of a mixed picture there for somebody who was so far ahead in the national polling.

KONDRACKE: Well, she — look, she has been playing the negative against Obama for a long time.

She said the fun stuff was going to start, and the fun turned out to be a bunch of attacks on Obama's experience, on his drug use as a young man, on his allegedly being a Muslim — somebody dribbled that out and it got a lot of circulation on the internet, and Bob Kerrey sort of mentioned it and then withdrew it. And it looked like —

HUME: Bob Kerrey in the course of endorsing Hillary.

KONDRACKE: And complimenting Obama ostensibly, saying he had gone to a secular madrassa —

HUME: A contradiction in terms.


In any event, it was unrelieved negativism on the part of the Clinton campaign. Some of it was on purpose, some of it maybe not on purpose, but, nonetheless, she gets the blowback from that.

Now she is on the likability tour. And she has got all these friends of hers who have been friends of hers for life, and they're going around with her attesting to what a great person she is.

HUME: She did every national morning show in America, all the networks plus all the cable channels one day this week. That's unusual for her.

KONDRACKE: Three out of the four polls that have been conducted recently in Iowa indicate that she's in the lead. And all four of the last four polls that have been conducted in New Hampshire indicate she has a lead, and it is measured at about seven percent in New Hampshire.

There is — I'm told that every Monday morning there's a little poll that's conducted among the Hillary Clinton staff in Iowa, and the last poll among them indicated that they thought that Edwards was going to win. And, frankly, the Clinton people hope that Edwards wins if she doesn't, because if Edwards wins then Obama's momentum will be slowed.

LIASSON: If she is number three? I don't think so. If she comes in third in Iowa, that will be a big setback for her. If she's second, that's different, and Obama third, of course I agree.

BARNES: Was there a poll of the Edwards staff? Maybe a poll of the Obama staff? That's not a poll taken in American that I've heard of.

Look, Hillary, I agree with everything you said, however. She's hurting. Sometimes it works, sometimes you have to do it. Sometimes you get blowback, and she is getting blowback.

All these candidates have Christmas ads. I think you played a couple of days ago the one by Mike Huckabee, a very good ad. Hillary has one — or I should say Senator Clinton has one — and it shows her putting these things like "alternative energy" and "troops coming home" under the Christmas tree. It's pretty clumsy, I think.

On the other hand, John Edwards has one talking about — look, I'm not a John Edwards' fan — but talking about not forgetting the poor and homeless and so on at this time of the year — extremely good Christmas ad.

LIASSON: Yes. I think what the Clinton campaign is worried about is a third place finish. I think they feel that she can withstand a second place finish if it's not too far back. She might even be able to call herself the comeback kid.

HUME: Wait a minute, she is supposed to be ahead.

LIASSON: In the ABC/Washington Post poll, but the point is —

HUME: The next thing you know she will be saying it will be a miracle if she wins.

LIASSON: What's happening in Iowa, I think — first of all, it's very, very hard to poll because it's hard to know who is going to show up to these caucuses. I think it's fair to say that it is a dead heat, even a three-way dead heat in Iowa. No poll has shown anyone ahead outside of the margin of error.

BARNES: This likability thing is better if it comes naturally. Ronald Reagan was likable. Her husband, Bill Clinton, one of the most likable people in the world. You can fake it, but it's hard, and she's not doing a very good job.

HUME: Well, so anybody got a forecast here? We're about to go into what presumably will be a lull here for the holidays.

KONDRACKE: I think it is totally impossible to know who is going to win the Iowa caucuses on the Democratic side.

HUME: Either party?

KONDRACKE: I would say Huckabee looks like he will win on the Republican side.

LIASSON: The interesting thing in the Republican race — I think the movement in the national polls reflect something that is happening in the states. But in the Democratic race, the movement in the national polls: there is none. It's static. She is ahead, she has always been ahead. But she's slipped a lot.

HUME: That's it for the panel

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