This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from October 27, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: The New York 23 race was the one race that was really a microcosm of the national debate. The other races in Jersey and in Virginia were really state races, very much focused on state races, Jersey was very much focused on Governor Corzine. But in New York 23, the issues that we're discussing every day in Washington were very much on th e ballot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRET BAIER, HOST: Well, here are the big winners of the races that we focused on the most, Chris Christie in New Jersey, Bob McDonnell in Virginia, and as you hear there, the Democrat Bill Owens in New York congressional district 23.
How does that translate to the president? Here is the latest Gallup approval rating polls — 50 percent approve, 43 percent disapprove. This is the latest today.
And what does this election mean for this White House? Let's bring in our panel, Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.
Fred, it's not a surprise that the White House wants to hang a hat on New York 23.
FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I know, because the Democrat won.
I have known David Axelrod for a long time. He was a great reporter. He covered city hall for the Chicago Tribune. He knows better.
But now his job is to spin because something quite different happened. Charles talked about it is last night in fact, and that is the Obama star is expiring. The margin that he brought to the Democratic Party and the other candidates is gone completely.
And just think if Jon Corzine had been reelected governor of New Jersey, and he lost by 4 points. If he was elected, David Axelrod would have claimed credit for the president because the president did spend a lot of time with Corzine. Corzine really wrapped himself all around the president and it didn't help.
And Creigh Deeds in Virginia did a little of that, too, and it may have hurt in Virginia, which is one of the reasons why Deeds had an on again/off again relationship with the president.
But there are a couple of things that happened, and one big one, and that is that the Republican Party turns out to be a competitive party now, which we didn't think was true five, six months ago, three months ago.
And why is it? Why is the Republican Party coming back? For one reason. They have attracted independents and suburban voters. Those are the ones who had been drifting away in the last couple of elections. There are tens of millions of them. And Republicans won them overwhelmingly in New Jersey and in Virginia.
And if they can hold on to them, Republicans, independents, plus the tea party people who, I think, voted for the Republicans in Virginia anyway, it's a majority coalition.
Now, there are a lot of internal tensions, but you can see the outlines of that coalition.
BAIER: Mara, the independent number in New Jersey was 58 percent and 63 percent for the Republicans in Virginia. That is the number that the White House has to be looking at.
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: That is a big change. There is no doubt that these races can be overanalyzed, but there is so much in these races, lessons for both parties.
Barack Obama's coalition was built on independence plus all these new voters he brought in, like African-Americans and younger voters. Those voters, the African-Americans and younger voters basically didn't turn out, but the independent voters broke the other way.
And at least for the last two election cycles they have been acting like Democrats. This time they acted like Republicans. That has to worry the White House, and they have to think about what will they do to get them back in 2010 and again then in 2012.
I do think of the two governors' races, New Jersey probably had the least to do with President Obama. It was really all about Corzine. But Virginia, I think, is a real model for Republicans as they look forward to how to win statewide races in swing states. Bob McDonnell is a committed social conservative. He ran with a moderate style. He was very mainstream. He talked about transportation jobs and education, all things that suburban voters in Virginia care about.
And he kept his base and he reached out. That is almost the exact mirror that Democrats have used in the past to win in these same kinds of states.
BAIER: Charles, you look at the exit polls, and the people said coming out that President Obama didn't factor into their vote directly. However, for conservative moderate Democrats in the House who look to the election next year, how does this election translate for them?
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It scares the hell out of them, because if you are a conservative Democrat and you see the great swing between '08 and '09, you know that this idea that you can ride the coattails of Obama, there is a great realignment last year, is false, and they are now extremely exposed.
There was, for example, in Virginia, the second most important issue that was reported in the exit polls was healthcare. Now, you didn't have a debate about state healthcare. It was about national healthcare, because Virginia is in the D.C. media market, so all this debate spills over.
About a quarter of the electorate had it as the most important issue. So it clearly affected this election. It was, in many ways, a national election.
In the end, I think what happened yesterday is that it completely demolished the myth about the meaning of the '08 election. It had been read endlessly by the mainstream media and by Democrats as a great realignment, all these constituencies that Mara had talked about. The Republicans were going to become a rump party of the deep south of angry white men.
And now we see that the youth vote was cut in half this time as compared to '08, and Virginia declining the African-American vote by about a fifth.
And again, as we heard, independents, a huge swing. Obama had gotten a slight edge of Virginia in independents. We estimate it was about a 30-point swing in favor of Republicans.
So all these elements of the great new constituency and the great new FDR-like coalition disappeared, which means that '08 was an anomalous election. It was not a trend. It was not a new era.
It was a one-shot, one-off election where all the stars were aligned in the Democratic favor, and you had a charismatic candidate and the first African-American who ascended to the presidency.
So '08 was an anomaly, '09 is the norm.
BAIER: Fred, we talked about it yesterday — 49 Congressional districts John McCain carried in those 49, he carried overall 193. So those 49 congressmen or women, they have to be looking over their shoulder.
BARNES: Sure they do. And Virginia is a good example of where they ought to be scared, because there are three freshmen, one in central Virginia and one in northern Virginia whose districts were won overwhelmingly by Bob McDonnell, the Republican.
And he ran — he may not have run on social issues, but he did run on conservative economic issues, on transportation and taxes and spending.
It's very easy — President Obama knows how he can win back independents. It's very simple. All he has to do is change his policies completely on spending, on the deficit, on taxes, and on healthcare. It's a simple solution.
While Iran stalls the U.N. nuclear fuel and beats down anti- government protestors, it allegedly tried to ship weapons and missiles to Hezbollah terrorists. We will talk about what is going on with Iran when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER (via translator): At night we captured a ship smuggling arms on the way to the terrorism scene in the north. Iran, through its messengers Hezbollah and Hamas and the other terror organizations, are trying to hurt the core of the civilian population in Israel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: Israel's defense minister talking today about this — 500 tons of weapons, according to the Israeli military, ten times the largest seizure in the past, discovered by the Israeli Navy.
The load includes Katyusha rockets, 107-millimeter rockets, bullets, hand grenades, artillery shells and mortars. Israeli Navy commandos stormed the Antiguan flagged ship 100 miles off Israel's coast in the Mediterranean Sea.
These containers all clearly were marked Iran shipping lanes group. The cargo certificate shows the load originating in Iran. Israel says the weapons were intended to be offloaded in Syria, ultimately given to Hezbollah guerillas. Iran is denying it shipped the weapons and missiles.
We are back with the panel. What about the latest with Iran — Charles?
KRAUTHAMMER: It looks like our smart diplomacy of engagement with Iran continues working. They cracked down on dissidents. Their supreme leader particularly insulted us in a speech yesterday. They dither with us and insult us by rejecting our offers of uranium enrichment in our negotiations.
And now we discover, as you say, this unbelievably large shipments of weapons intended for Hezbollah. Everybody understands what Hezbollah and Hamas are about. They are intent, self-declared, on destroying Israel and never accepting a settlement of any kind. So this is about war, war making, the proxies of Iran. Ultimately these weapons are intended to attack Israeli cities and kill as much as possible.
And the Israelis have demonstrated this in the capture, hoping the world will do something. But of course, it will do nothing. Tomorrow at the United Nations, the Goldstone report condemning Israel's defensive action in Gaza earlier this year is going to essentially outlaw Israel's self-defense against terror attack.
That's how the world responds, and America now is engaged in useless negotiations over settlement freezes which are entirely irrelevant regarding this issue of Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas.
BAIER: Mara, again today we had demonstrations and protests in Tehran that were put down by the regime. The administration, the U.S. administration in David Axelrod, said that the administration is not naive about what we're dealing with here, but says there is a united international community putting pressure on Iran. What about that?
LIASSON: The White House certainly hopes there will be a united international community putting pressure on.
The probably is Barack Obama was pretty clear. He said he wanted to try negotiations, but if they didn't work, his patience wouldn't last forever.
He was hoping that by making the extra effort he would convince the Europeans and Russians and the Chinese to come onboard with tough sanctions that is supposed to be plan b.
But so far he hasn't gotten any agreement from the Russians to do that. And we have even seen this extraordinary spectacle that inside of Iran, the opposition, the people we are rooting for, sometimes not loudly enough, but we rooting for them, are actually putting pressure on Ahmadinejad not to agree with the international community on nuclear weapons.
It seems like that is the one thing all political spectrums can agree on in Iran, that they want weapons.
BAIER: Fred, in the meantime, this back and forth about whether uranium is going to be shipped out of Iran to Russia and France. They were going to do it, they weren't going to do it. Now they're not going to do it again.
BARNES: I thought they were willing to do small amounts over a long period of time, which is a delaying tactic.
BAIER: Meanwhile the Iranians are still enriching uranium.
BARNES: Of course they are.
And what they have succeed in doing is setting their enrichment aside and we're talking about these side issues. Are we going to go in and inspect this plant that's not finished yet? What about sending uranium to Russia and so on? These are side issues that really don't matter.
On the engagement policy, what are the two countries in the Middle East that the engagement policy of President Obama was most aimed at, that he would talk to them and his administration would and be respectful and conciliatory and non-threatening? And those countries are Iran and Syria, the two countries involved here.
It is so obvious, as Charles suggested — well, he did more than suggest — that that policy is absolutely not working. We see all the things that both of those countries are doing. And there was another one that you didn't mention, Charles. Look, if the Iranians were warming up to the conciliatory approach of President Obama, would they be having a huge celebration of the takeover of the American embassy in Tehran 30 years ago? That's what they were doing today. There is some good footage of that on your show. And yet that's what is going on.
Here's my fear about the engagement policies, that it is not a means to achieve something. It is an end in itself. And so we will just have engagement forever and ever regardless of whether it achieves anything.
BAIER: Last word.
KRAUTHAMMER: The Iranians are interpreting it correctly as a sign of utter weakness, and the world is taking note.
LIASSON: We don't have an unlimited amount of time. At some point in fairly short order, the Iranians will have a nuclear weapon.
BAIER: That is it for the panel.
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