This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," December 6, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Speaker Gingrich is a friend. I respect him. But we have very different life experiences. And if the American people believe what we need is someone who spent the last 40 years or so in Washington, D.C., working as an insider, why he is the right guy.
NEWT GINGRICH, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't know that you ought to count running for the Senate in 1994, running for governor, then running for president for six years, I don't know if that makes him a career politician or not. I'll let you decide. It's fair to say I have been a successful candidate a number of times.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: This should get interesting. Speaker Gingrich and Governor Romney going back and forth. And some new polls out. A national poll from Gallup has Speaker Gingrich up and up big, 37-22. There you see Ron Paul in third at eight percent. This is a national poll.
Let's take a look at the New York Times/CBS poll out of Iowa. This is without Herman Cain in the race. Newt Gingrich at 31 percent, Mitt Romney, 17 percent, Ron Paul 16 percent. You see Governor Perry at 11.
Then a Washington Post/ABC poll out of Iowa -- a lot of polls. Iowa, there you see Gingrich at 33, starting to coalesce around double digit lead for Gingrich right now in Iowa.
And finally in South Carolina, a Winthrop poll just out, Gingrich at 38 percent, Romney at 22. And you can see the rest there.
We are back with the panel. Mara?
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, that is quite a lead. And it looks like he is doing what all of the other anti-Romney wannabes couldn't do, which is consolidate the conservative anti-Romney vote. So Newt Gingrich is on the top of the pack in those polls you just showed, plus I think Florida shows pretty much the same thing.
Newt is really surging. And the question now is what is the successful attack line for Romney to use against him? I don't think, the clips you showed, I don't think the career politician is gonna work because Newt Gingrich doesn't look like a blow-dried politician. He is totally authentic in that he has tremendous numbers of flaws, he's rumpled, he speaks his mind even when he gets himself in trouble. And I don't think that Romney can use the flip- flopper charge against Gingrich either because he has that problem himself. I do think the erratic leadership line might work a little better and I am waiting to see if he or his surrogates use that.
BAIER: But whether Romney can effectively deliver an attack or have the surrogates do it for him, A.B., there is some concern within the Romney camp. Former Senator Trent Lott, a Romney supporters early on and still, said this, quote, "I have disagreed with his strategy," speaking of Romney "I think he could have closed the deal out before now. He's run a little too much of a risk averse campaign. I would have liked for him to have had a higher profile, been more aggressive so it didn't wind up as Romney and one other. It is that now." A.B., can he go on the attack in time before Iowa?
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Well, I think that that's not really a fair assessment by Senator Lott because it was always gonna be -- it was always a two-man race at some point and Mitt Romney knew that the party was really going to resist him and that they would be looking for other choices initially. Voting has started and it's time to attack. I recommend surrogates like Tim Pawlenty, Chris Christie, Dan Quayle or a super PAC with ya know, nasty commercials about his very erratic leadership style -
BAIER: But there is somewhat of a history of a backlash in Iowa and New Hampshire when that whole process starts?
STODDARD: The problem, this is what, the only good news for Mitt Romney -- the bad news is he is serious and he can't wait any longer for him to self-destruct, he might but he can't wait. The good news is Ron Paul is doing very well in Iowa and can serve as a real spoiler. If he can depress Newt's numbers a bit so that the percentage that Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum get coupled with Paul can take some bang out of a Newt Gingrich victory there, then he has more momentum going to New Hampshire.
The hour might be late but he really has no choice. There might be a boomerang effect, but he really has no choice. These polls show 15-point leads in the early states. He has no choice but to move quickly.
BAIER: We should point out, Charles, that in Iowa and New Hampshire, five of 10, six of 10 voters say either they could switch their decision or they haven't decided yet. Meantime, we mentioned Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, all going for the conservative vote, two of them weighing in on Gingrich and Romney.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELE BACHMANN, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They're the great pretenders right now because they are trying to pretend and talk and walk like they are conservatives when they hardly have a conservative record.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything that Gingrich railed against when he was in the House, he went the other way when he got paid to go the other way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: That last one a Ron Paul campaign ad.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, we heard -- talk about surrogates here. I think Ron Paul is the best surrogate that Romney ever could have on this. Obviously, he is acting as an independent agent. And he does have a shot at ending up at least number two, possibly number one.
But I think the attack on Newt is gonna have to come from the others who want his spot, from a Bachmann or a Santorum in Iowa. You spoke about history of Iowa. This is two cycles ago when the Democrats had Howard Dean and Gephardt in the lead. They attacked each other savagely in Iowa and John Kerry slipped in ahead of them surprising everyone, and ultimately winning the nomination. I don't think Iowans are open to nasty attacks. I think what Romney has to do is to go to New Hampshire as the firewall. That's where he has to get, he has to win -- unfortunately, if you are a Romney supporter, he has to win big in New Hampshire. He had a huge lead, 30 points or more. Right now it's about 16. I think anything less 10 or 15 will be seen as a defeat. But that is where he stops momentum. Otherwise, I think he could collapse, unlike any other frontrunner in that position.
BAIER: Mara, New Hampshire has its own history of turning frontrunners away. And when Mitt Romney goes in with a big lead in the polls in New Hampshire, there well could be surprise there as well. You never know.
LIASSON: Look, I think it shows you how hard is it to play the expectations game. Romney has been cagey about Iowa, didn't want to try too hard so if he didn't win there it wouldn't look like a defeat. But now he faces the possibility of coming in third there, which I think is really bad for him. And in terms of New Hampshire, they do have a record of surprising -- of surprises. He has a deep, deep organization there. I think for him to not do as well as expected in New Hampshire, which is the equivalent of his home state, would be devastating.
BAIER: And last word, Jon Huntsman.
STODDARD: Jon Huntsman is not going to win New Hampshire.
BAIER: ...win, place, show?
STODDARD: I think he is going to do better than people think. But I think that Gingrich buzz is going to really shake up that race. I think the Gingrich phenomenon depresses Jon Huntsman support in New Hampshire.
KRAUTHAMMER: In New Hampshire, independents will participate and they possibly could be the ones who save Romney.
BAIER: That is it for the panel. But stay tuned for Herman Cain's parting shot.
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