This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 21, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


MITT ROMNEY, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm convinced that any one of the people on that stage, the Republican debate, we'll have a debate on Thursday, in Orlando. We'll probably have eight or nine people on the stage, any one of them would be a better president than President Obama.

RICK PERRY, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With the help and the courage of the American people, we will get our country working again. God bless you, and god bless the United States of America.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Welcome back to Orlando, one day before the big debate here. You saw Governor Perry's new TV ad, also a statement from Governor Romney in Miami about the debate tomorrow. We thought we'd talk some local politics and bring in a panel of local political experts.

Joining me now, William March, senior political writer for the Tampa Tribune, reporter Shannon Butler of Fox affiliate WOFL here in Orlando, and Professor Steven Craig of the University of Florida. Thank you all for being here. Really appreciate it.

William, let's start with you. What's on the minds of Floridians? What's most important? What do you think is getting overplayed?

WILLIAM MARCH, TAMPA TRIBUNE: Well, the economy is the biggest thing by far, Bret. Florida has been one of the states hurt worst by the economic bust. But the Social Security issue that's arisen in the campaign in the last few -- last couple of weeks is also going to make a pretty big splash here, I believe.

BAIER: And you were mentioning in the break, Senator Marco Rubio and his campaign and how he ran on that issue effectively here in the state of Florida.

MARCH: Well, Rubio did run on a reform Social Security platform, and to some extent he's been cited as having proved that that meant Social Security was no longer quite so much the third rail of politics. He touched it, he grabbed it, he jumped all over it and he did not die.

Rubio, however, did it in a little bit different way than some of what we're hearing now. He softened his reform Social Security stance partly just by talking about his mother, his elderly mother, who depends on the program. He never questioned the constitutionality or legitimacy of the program.

BAIER: Which Texas Governor Rick Perry has done in a book and has called it a Ponzi scheme and obviously Governor Romney, Shannon, has tried to beat him up on that very issue. What about you and that issue in particular and how it plays here in this state?

SHANNON BUTLER, WOFL TV: I think people beat Perry up a little bit too much about the calling it a Ponzi scheme. I think here in Florida, people just want someone to be straightforward with them and that means you call it a Ponzi scheme and that's what you think, that's fine. The problem, I think, is he didn't give a plan to people. He said, oh, give it back to the states. I think that here they just want to know what your plan is. And if that means it goes to states, if it stays with the feds, I don't know that they care yet what's going to happen, just tell them something so they can figure it out and then make a decision. I think it's getting a lot of play now just because he said that.

BAIER: Right, but you still think the economy drives the day here in Florida?

BUTLER: I do. I think jobs, at least when you talk about the I-4 corridor is really, really important here because of the Space Coast. We lost all those jobs out at NASA and I think there are a lot of people out of work here, they want to go back to work. The foreclosure rate is out of control in this state, and I think, number one, you've got to get these people back to work.

BAIER: Steve, politics, how it's playing here in the state, a new Miami Herald poll out today has Governor Romney and Governor Perry tied at the top. Newt Gingrich is actually next, I believe, in that poll. But way down, how do you think the candidates are playing to Florida and what's sticking?

STEPHEN CRAIG, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA: Well, the candidates are playing reasonably well to Florida, I suppose. But it's hard not to remember four years ago on the Republican side when at this time of year the top two candidates in the polls were Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson. I think that those candidates had some shortcomings that maybe these guys don't have, but nevertheless, it's awfully early to start thinking that it's all over.

BAIER: Do you see one campaign really dominating or trying to make a mark here in the state?

CRAIG: They both are and they both need to. There is a sequence. Florida's managed -- or is managing to position itself earlier. We're going to have an impact on the race in ways that we haven't in the past. But it's still pretty unsettled.

BAIER: Yeah, William, when you look at the polls about how President Obama is doing in Florida, and we had a piece from Shannon Bream about this earlier, whether the president can hold this state again, it looks more grim for the White House.

MARCH: Well, it doesn't look too good for Obama right now. Of course, he's lost a lot of Independents. The Democrats are saying that he will come back, that the Republicans are to extreme. Florida is very much a purple state and it will still be a swing state. Obama hasn't organized and worked in Florida yet as much as at least some of the Republicans, particularly Romney.

BAIER: What do you want to hear tomorrow night, Shannon?

BUTLER: I think they have to tell people how they're going to fix the economy here. This is such a diverse state and I think it could go any way. If you're going to be a candidate and you're going to win in this state, you better be diverse and you better travel around and you better be able to be kind of a chameleon in this state, and kind of apply to everyone because you just can't, it's such a grab bag here.

BAIER: Question tomorrow that you want to hear?

CRAIG: These debates are great entertainment and they're a wonderful opportunity for the people who are paying attention to learn something about the candidate. But historically debates don't decide anything. They really -- the political junkies, the hardcore activists are the ones who are really the audience right now. And ya know --

BAIER: You never know. This could be the one. This could be the one.


CRAIG: It could be the one if somebody steps in it, yes. Absolutely it could be the one.

BAIER: Thank you all for being here. I really appreciate the time.

That's it for the panel. But stay tuned to hear a theory on why President Obama may have been giving so many speeches lately.

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