This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from November 14, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE HUCKABEE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For the past ten months or eleven months people have been writing my political obituary. But what they fail to understand is that the American people are looking for a president, not a fund-raiser for the United Way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME, HOST: In other words, says Mike Huckabee, "Look out Mitt Romney. You may have more money, but I'm coming after you in the polls," and the polls are supporting that.
Some thoughts on all this now from Bill Sammon, Senior White House Correspondent of "The Washington Examiner," Bill Kristol, Editor of "The Weekly Standard," and Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of "Roll Call," Fox News contributors all.
Let's look at the poll that got everybody talking. This is the latest from CBS News and "The New York Times", which is matched by several other polls as well, but here's this one.
You can see Huckabee is at 21—that puts him ahead of everyone but Romney. The margin of error is plus or minus five, which means you could have a ten point swing, and it could be that the race is a tie, or it could be something else.
Clearly, though, it's confirmed to some extent by other polls, so it appears something is happening. Bill, what do you think it is that's happening?
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think Huckabee is rising in Iowa.
He is a good candidate. He is a good candidate. He did well in the debates. He spent a lot of time in Iowa. There are a lot of social conservatives in Iowa, and Huckabee is the authentic social conservative in the race, or so he says, and he says it with some credibility.
HUME: What has happened to Fred Thompson, who appeared to be the guy that was going to receive that mantle?
KRISTOL: He faltered a bit.
I don't think it is over. We have plenty of history, if we compare what happened in—
HUME: Is it possible that Huckabee is peaking too soon? The story is that he is a last minute player?
MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "ROLL CALL": He has gotten this wonderful press. The media coverage of Mike Huckabee, based on interviews with him—and he is a charming fellow. I have talked to him, and he is a lovely guy.
And he has a nice message. He is the one Republican candidate who shows any concern for middle class angst, for example. One-third of Americans from generation to generation fall below where their fathers and mothers were on the economic scale.
One-third stay the same, and only one-third increase, according to this latest Pew study. He seems to care about that stuff, unlike the others, who are all trying to cut taxes for rich people all the time.
But, now that he is risen in the polls, the scrutiny machine will go on. And it began with a big long article in "Salon Magazine" by the editor of Alternative Weekly in Arkansas which says that this guy has been up for the Ethics Commission of the state, sanctioned about five times, and has carted off stuff that was given to the governor's mansion as his own.
KONDRACKE: In any event, if he becomes a serious contender, people are going to go to Arkansas, test out the record, and see whether it all adds up.
HUME: So you think it probably won't last?
KONDRACKE: Look, if a third of the stuff that's in that article is true, I think he is finished.
BILL SAMMON, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: You two just said contradictory things. You talked about how he could be the legitimate conservative, and you talked about how he doesn't want to cut taxes like all those conservatives.
KONDRACKE: I didn't say that.
Well, I don't know what—actually, his plan is the fair tax, which would raise sales taxes. Now that doesn't seem to be a very popular idea.
HUME: But it would eliminate the income tax completely.
KONDRACKE: Who would that benefit, though?
HUME: You need a constitutional amendment to do that.
KONDRACKE: It helps rich people.
SAMMON: The press has been talking about the Huckabee dark horse story for a year, but never believed it. I think in the in the last week or so, there is a sense that this guy could be for real, that he could legitimately scramble this race in Iowa.
It is still going to be a long shot, but people used to think of him only as the vice presidential-likely guy. Now they're starting to think, well, he could do something.
Rudy Giuliani's top advisors did a conference call yesterday and talked about how they basically are acknowledging that Romney will win Iowa, and they are now vying for second place, not with Thompson, not with McCain, but with Mike Huckabee. I thought that was very telling.
HUME: It was interesting to see Rudy Giuliani and Huckabee saying nice things about each other, because—
SAMMON: They want Romney to fail.
HUME: Yes, they want Romney to fail.
SAMMON: But one thing you write about, Mort, and that is when you're a top tier candidates, and these Republican top tier candidates have discovered, the press always accentuates the negative. Romney is a Mormon, Rudy is pro-choice, McCain is too old.
And when you are a lower tier candidate, they say "Look at Huckabee. He is so nice and likable, and he plays the guitar and lost weight," and all this. But now that he's succeeding, the scrutiny will ramp up, and they will say he raised taxes, he increased spending, and he is soft on immigration.
Mark my words. They will go after him now.
KRISTOL: People in the press think the press is powerful. Huckabee is not rising because of the press. Huckabee is rising because he has run a good campaign in Iowa. He will fall if the other candidates go after him, not because of media scrutiny.
And that's a challenge for Romney, especially. Huckabee is a serious threat to Romney.
HUME: Not that the media don't matter in a place like that?
KRISTOL: The media matters, but there is not evidence that conservatives in Iowa are going to Huckabee because of one favorable story in "The New York Times."
Huckabee has run a good campaign so far. But it is very wide open. At the end of the day, there are a fair number of social conservatives in Iowa. Either Huckabee or Thompson, who are the easiest sells, I think, to social conservatives, one of them will run in the top two in Iowa, I think.
KONDRACKE: This guy, Max Brandtley from the "Arkansas Times" says "Come to Arkansas and look." If he begins rising in the polls, people are going to go to Arkansas and look, and we'll see what the truth is.
HUME: When we come back, New York Democratic governor Eliot Spitzer put the brakes on his controversial plan to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. And impact the Hillary campaign, perhaps—stay tuned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIOT SPITZER, (D) NEW YORK GOVERNOR: I have concluded that New York State cannot successfully address this problem on its own. I am announcing today that I am withdrawing my proposal.
REP. JOSE SERRANO, (D) NEW YORK: Unfortunately—and this is my belief—he was not defeated by anything other than the hate in this country to its immigrants right now.
REP. ADAM PUTNAM, (R) FLORIDA: Governor Spitzer has no one to blame but himself for the harebrain scheme of giving illegals access to driver's licenses.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: And so he came to Washington and stood among his state's congressional delegation, or parts thereof, anyway, and announced, did Eliot Spitzer, that he was abandoning the plan that had attracted a tremendous amount of controversy and had embroiled Hillary Clinton in, perhaps, the first minor or major, depending on how you look at it, gaffe of her campaign when she had trouble explaining her position on his idea of giving driver's licenses to illegals.
The Obama campaign pounced tonight because she said she supported his decision. They are now saying he had six positions in two weeks on this.
What about this controversy over illegal—first of all, what about the question about whether it was defeated, as Serrano says, by the hatred toward illegal immigrants? Adam Putnam—Republican, of course—says harebrained scheme. Who is right?
KONDRACKE: It's become a harebrained scheme because it's so unpopular. This is all in the context of the Republican Party deciding to make this a number one wedge issue in the 2008 campaign.
And Adam Putnam is one of those Republicans who on practically every bill on the House floor has to add a codicil that no public benefits will be given to any illegal aliens, whether it's already illegal or not.
KRISTOL: Who was the first person who criticized Hillary Clinton for supporting Eliot Spitzer on this? Christopher Dodd on the stage of the Democratic debate. Is he a right wing Republican hater of immigrants.
KONDRACKE: Whoa, whoa. I'm responding to the Adam Putnam, and what Brit said.
This thing—many states have given driver's licenses to illegal aliens, including some Republicans, right? Now that it's been elevated to a hot button issue, it is a loser.
HUME: Loser for whom?
KONDRACKE: For anybody who tries to do it now. It's become like a third rail.
HUME: Because it's a good idea badly spoken of by Republicans?
KONDRACKE: Look, there are some states where it's worked, apparently. And it's a public safety issue.
Now, politically, it will not fly, and, therefore, Spitzer should not have even tried it. And Hillary Clinton should have said she was against it because it's such a loser, and concentrate on what Spitzer was absolutely correct in saying—this is a federal problem, and it ought to be solved by the feds.
KRISTOL: It was unpopular in 2003 when Grey Davis proposed it in California. It's one of the things that led to his recall. And Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is not a horrible right-wing Republican who hates immigrants, defeated him on this issue.
People do not think we should treat illegal immigrants the same way we treat legal residents, legal citizens, legal visitors to this country. It's a reasonable position.
You can be pretty liberal on immigration, as I am, and think their kids should go to public schools, and they should be treated in emergency rooms, and all kinds of things like that, without thinking they should get driver's licenses. It is not an act of hatred or bigotry to think this is a foolish idea.
SAMMON: This hurts any candidate from either party who appears soft on illegal immigration. Those are the ones it hurts. It hurts people on the Republican side, too. Remember when immigration came up in the Senate earlier in the campaign? And it killed John McCain.
And I think that the reemergence of this as a campaign issue will continue to hurt guys like McCain, guys like Rudy Giuliani, who is accused of running a sanctuary city, guys like Mike Huckabee, who supported the comprehensive immigration reform package that Bush proposed, which conservatives equate with amnesty.
And it will help those who take a tougher line and say "Secure the borders first, and then worry about comprehensive reform," like Romney.
KRISTOL: One reason this is so offensive, what Spitzer did, is we had a big national debate for immigration on whether we wanted to have amnesty and pass citizenship for the illegals who were here over the last year.
Some of us were actually friendly to the liberal proposals that lost. There was a genuine, authentic national debate.
Spitzer then ignores the Democratic process and says I just want to do this in New York and give them driver's licenses. Of course, they can use them anywhere in the country, not just in New York.
So I disagree. Someone like McCain, who said "I believe what I believe, but I have accepted the people's will. We need to close the borders first." Someone like Giuliani or McCain who says that, I think, is in a different category from Spitzer who is just flouting what people think.
KONDRACKE: But election in and election out, it's demonstrated that people who are hot dogs on the immigration issue, who are going to send them all home—they take the Tancredo position. I'm talking about J.D. Hayworth—
KONDRACKE: But, nonetheless, it's a loser. And they don't win with that kind of campaign, which the Republicans have dedicated themselves to in this election.
HUME: So the reform proposals don't work, and neither does the opposition to them, is that what you are saying?
KONDRACKE: I wish somebody would come up with the idea of impact aid to states in order to relieve them of the responsibility of the costs of handling illegal aliens.
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