updated 12/4/2007 11:34:49 AM ET 2007-12-04T16:34:49

Guests: Artur Davis, Bob Franken, Jonathan Martin, Hugh Hewitt

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST:  There is fresh evidence tonight that Hillary Clinton‘s nomination is not inevitable—surprise, surprise.  She may not win after all and no one was more surprised by that than the Hillary Clinton‘s campaign which is lashing out even as it falls on the polls. 

Welcome to the show. 

The new Des Moines Register poll would likely Iowa caucus goers shows Barack Obama at the top of the field and ahead of Hillary Clinton.  The margin now, 28 to 25 percent.  The numbers representing swing of 10 points in Obama‘s favor since the last register poll in October.  At that point he trailed Mrs. Clinton by seven points. 

And the surge in Obama‘s support appears to come largely from - surprise, surprise again—women.  Women preferred Clinton by a 13-point margin in October.  But now they prefer Obama by five points. 

The Clinton‘s campaign‘s response to this shift?  Attack Obama, of course.  Today Clinton went after Obama as indecisive and cited his absence on the Kyl-Lieberman vote on Iran and seven present votes he cast on issues related to abortion.  All this followed a Clinton campaign press release that cited Obama‘s grammar school teachers to make the point that, contrary to his claims, he has in fact always wanted to be president.  That‘s right.  His grammar school teachers. 

Will Hillary Clinton‘s sharpened attack undermine Barack Obama?  Or, do they make her seem hostile and unlikable? 

In a moment, we‘ll get the Obama campaign‘s side of that. 

Also today, Republican hopeful Mitt Romney announced that he will address his Mormon faith and the role of religion in politics in a speech he‘s giving this Thursday in Texas.  That comes as Romney‘s Iowa standing shows erosion especially relative to that of Mike Huckabee, the former Baptist minister. 

There are risks associated with Romney‘s speech and Hugh Hewitt, who has written a voter‘s guide to Mitt Romney, joins us later and talk about them. 

We have that and much more.  But we begin with the contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and the Clinton campaign‘s new highly aggressive stance. 

Joining me now is Obama supporter and Democratic congressman from Alabama, Artur Davis. 

Congressman, thanks for coming on. 

REP. ARTUR DAVIS (D-AL), OBAMA SUPPORTER:  Tucker, thanks for having me.

CARLSON:  Here‘s the moment where you knew this was getting hostile.  Hillary Clinton asked the other day by a reporter: do you think Barack Obama has character problems?  Her answer - and I‘m reading it verbatim—

“It‘s beginning to look a lot like that, it really is—where we can‘t get a straight answer on health care, where someone runs on ethics and is not taking money from certain people, and is found out to have at least skirted if not violated FEC rules, and used lobbyists and PAC money to do so, et cetera.  It‘s beginning to look a lot like he has character problem,” says Hillary Clinton. 

What does that tell you about her character, Congressman? 

DAVIS:  Well, Tucker, it‘s beginning to look a lot like Barack Obama is now the frontrunner in Iowa and he‘s closing in on this race nationally.  I‘m disappointed.  As an Obama supporter, but as a Democrat in the tone the Clinton campaign has taken. 

Wolfson on “Face the Nation” yesterday in these comments about, well, the country doesn‘t know a lot about Obama and they‘re going to find it out.  Senator Clinton made a reference to the Republican playbook and to innuendo based attacks that come out of the Republican playbook several weeks ago in the debate in Las Vegas. 

I think the Clinton campaign appears to be doing the exact same thing that she denounced.  It‘s obvious what‘s going on.  Voters in Iowa are not buying it.  That‘s why in the latest polls in Iowa the people believe that Senator Clinton is running the most negative campaign of the three. 

CARLSON:  Well, she.

DAVIS:  It‘s unbecoming of someone who‘s been a frontrunner and it‘s going to continue to damage her campaign in the last weeks of his campaign. 

CARLSON:  It‘s all surprising, too, considering there‘s some months ago, Obama, in this poll, only up by three points.  It‘s not like he‘s trouncing her, as she has trounced him in the polls up until now pretty much.  She doesn‘t go after his positions.  She goes after him as a man.  He is a man of bad character.  It‘s an awfully heavy thing to say.  Why now?  Is that an overreaction, you think? 

DAVIS:  This is something that the right wing of the Republican Party has done for a long time, and, frankly, the Clintons ought to recognize it because they‘ve been victimized by it for a lot of the last 20 years.  The right wing-based innuendo-laced attacks that we‘re seeing now, they resemble what the Clinton campaign is trying to do to Senator Obama. 

I don‘t want to spend a lot of time on it, though, because I think, frankly, voters aren‘t paying a lot of attention to it. 

CARLSON:  Have you.

DAVIS:  Barack Obama‘s campaign is moving along.  I‘m sorry? 

CARLSON:  I mean you‘ve been in Washington long enough to have seen the Clinton operation in action.  Surely, you can‘t be too surprised that they‘re savagely attacking a man personally. 

DAVIS:  Well, I‘m never surprised when the second place person takes shots at the first place person. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

DAVIS:  I‘m never surprised when someone who thought her nomination was going to be inevitable, now sees that she‘s scrambling for dear life because here is the reality.  After Iowa, voters are going to reassess this contest all over the country.  Second of all, Barack Obama‘s message always gets traction when people hear him, and when they see him in action and they hear about the fundamental change he promises the Democratic Party. 

The reason this campaign is moving is because voters realize that, with all due respect, it‘s not just enough to elect a Democrat as president.  You‘ve got to elect someone who can break the gridlock in American politics. 

CARLSON:  But wait a second. 

DAVIS:  Bringing someone out of the gridlock-based era is not going to do that. 

CARLSON:  But, Congressman, once we know more about Barack Obama, the question the Clinton campaign is asking is will we still love him?  Witness this.  This is a press release from the Hillary Clinton campaign.  And it points out that while Senator Obama has claimed that he has never planned to run for president while in kindergarten he wrote an essay entitled, I want to become president.  My question to you is: will there be more revelations from Senator Obama‘s kindergarten years that could potentially derail his campaign? 

DAVIS:  Well, we may found out that In second grade he said he wanted to be a U.S. senator.  You know, if you start digging back in kindergarten and second grade, who knows?  He may have said he wants to be a politician at some point.  You know, you got to wonder about these first graders who want to be politicians. 

CARLSON:  Well, here‘s the. 

DAVIS:  This is exactly what I think people are losing interest in, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  I‘m fascinated by that. 

DAVIS:  Actually—Obama ought to be celebrating this because it makes the Clinton campaign look as if they‘re unraveling.  As an Obama supporter, I ought to be happy about this, but as someone who believes in the future of the Democratic Party, I‘m saddened by it. 

CARLSON:  Here‘s the one attack or one of the attacks that I take seriously.  This is leveled by Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama.  She says, essentially, look, he‘s criticized her for her vote in the Kyl-Lieberman legislation on Iran for taking what he believes is a hawkish position on the subject of Iran and bombing Iran, potentially, in the future.  And yet, he didn‘t even bother to vote on this.  She says on—of other votes in the legislature of Illinois where he voted present rather than yea or nay. 

He clearly is dodging hard votes, at least in these specific circumstances.  Isn‘t he?  What could possibly be any other explanation? 

DAVIS:  So (INAUDIBLE) is respect.  But with respect to the votes in Illinois, what Barack Obama was doing is not playing into some of the games the Republicans were playing.  They were bringing bills to the floor they knew weren‘t pass, trying to force people into casting votes simply to hurt them politically, and he wouldn‘t play the games.  As far as the Kyl-Lieberman vote goes, Senator Obama has admitted that he wishes he cast that vote. 

CARLSON:  So why didn‘t he? 

DAVIS:  But he‘s been very clear about his position.  His position is that the Kyl-Lieberman resolution looks dangerously like the Iraq resolution several months ago—Barack Obama—or several years ago.  Barack Obama is all for sanctions against Iran.  He‘s been advocating tough sanctions against Iran, a lot tougher than the sanctions of Bush administration has imposed.  But the reality is that Kyl-Lieberman is a lot more than sanctions.  It‘s a long narrative that looks exactly like the findings of fact that Senator Clinton and Senator Edwards voted for five years ago. 

So I got to think this is an effort to distract from one of Senator Clinton‘s weakest points - her fundamentally flawed judgment on the war on Iraq in 2002.  She got it wrong.  It‘s the biggest vote that she‘s cast.  We would have been better if she hadn‘t shown up for that vote but she did. 

And she got it wrong. 

CARLSON:  Congressman Davis of Alabama.  Appreciate it.  Thanks a lot, Congressman. 

DAVIS:  Thank you, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Move over, Mitt Romney.  Mike Huckabee is now leading the Republican race in the state of Iowa.  How is he doing in other key states?  Plus, John McCain picks up a front-page endorsement from New Hampshire‘s most important newspaper.  We‘ll tell you what they said and whether it will help.  That‘s coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Mike Huckabee is gaining ground in Iowa pulling ahead now of Mitt Romney for the first time.  The question is: how is he doing it?  Huckabee‘s secret weapon ahead. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  With every passing week, it looks like Iowa, like the national media, falls deeper in love with Mike Huckabee.  New polls show the former Baptist minister and governor of Arkansas making strides against Mitt Romney. 

Has Huckabee stepped in to fill a vacuum left by evangelicals who can‘t bring themselves to vote for a Mormon?  What is the secret to his apparent surge? 

To answer that question, among others, online columnist Bob Franken joins us as is senior political reporter for “The Politico,” Jonathan Martin. 

Welcome to you both. 

Before we get to the secret sauce in the Mike Huckabee campaign—and clue, there is something—I am just—I am struck by two things.  One, going after Obama‘s kindergarten record from the Clinton campaign.  This is a sign of a campaign in trouble.  And, two, Karl Rove, whose column last time you criticized rather justly, has a, I thought, a pretty smart column explaining what Obama can do to beat Hillary. 

Here‘s part of it.  Here‘s his advice.  “Focus on the fact that many Democrats have real doubts about Hillary.  They worry she can‘t win, that she‘ll be a drag on the ticket.  You know better than most what they‘re worried about.  It is why you‘ve done so well raising money from Bill‘s backers and gaining support from Clinton officials.  Talk about those doubts.  Put them in a bigger context.  Remind primary voters that these shortcomings will hurt Democratic chances.” 

I think it‘s a great point.  Why hasn‘t Obama introduced the idea that she could lose?  That she‘s not inevitable?  Why hasn‘t he said that? 

BOB FRANKEN, ONLINE COLUMNIST:  Well, I think he‘s said it a lot of times.  First of all, let‘s considered the source of this column.  It‘s certainly not hard to see that Karl Rove was a Republican.  Most of the column, if you read it from top to bottom, is a party the GOP putdown of not only Hillary, but of Obama.  Both of them. 

CARLSON:  Yes.  But there‘s no doubt. 

FRANKEN:  Right. 

CARLSON:  But I actually thought his advice was sound.  Don‘t be afraid of her.  Look her in the eye.  I mean, it‘s weird that the number of Republicans who prefer Obama to Hillary.  Have you noticed that? 

FRANKEN:  The number of Republicans? 

CARLSON:  Yes. 

FRANKEN:  Well, we‘ve talked about it a whole lot, sure. 

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO‘S SR. POLITICAL REPORTER:  Oh, absolutely. 

CARLSON:  It‘s amazing.  And I don‘t know.—maybe I‘m naive.  I read his advice as sincere and actually pretty smart, and I wonder why they‘ve kind of seeded this inevitability argument to her. 

MARTIN:  No, I think he was trying to actually help him.  I think that there‘s a lot of curiosity about Obama and the fact that a ways in the offer of white rose is trying to give him some advice and sort of grab him by the lapels, and say, come on, buddy.  You know, you can do this.  I think it says a lot about the sort of expectations that have been unmet by Obama, but you know, that said, look, he‘s come on like gangbusters in Iowa right now.  Otherwise, Tucker, Hillary wouldn‘t be hitting him like she is. 

FRANKEN:  Well, then the other thing is maybe Karl Rove was trying to help Barack Obama because Rove and the Republicans, we‘ve heard, really want Hillary as the candidate.  That‘s the person who they can demonize more.  That‘s at least—that‘s the Machiavellian view. 

CARLSON:  I believe the smart ones—the smart Republicans, and there are, like, eight of them left, understand that she could easily beat the Republican.  I don‘t think that they think she‘s as weak as they claim to be. 

FRANKEN:  Well, I certainly think they‘re doing a lot of apple surge. 

MARTIN:  Well, there‘s a lot of apple on both of them though.  I think there‘s plenty on fodder there to go after a Clinton or Obama as down as the GOP is right now, the fact is there are ways to run against Clinton and Obama, and there‘s, you know, plenty, plenty there to exploit.  There‘s no question about it. 

CARLSON:  How can he be surging too early in Iowa? 

MARTIN:  I think that he has heightened the expectation for himself by not just being competitive now, Tucker, but by actually taking the lead, and that now is going to put a bill‘s bulls-eye on his back for the next four weeks through these caucuses, and he‘s going to take a lot of incoming now, not just from the folks like the Romney Campaign but also from some of these third-party groups too. 

CARLSON:  See, it‘s not just a boutique candidacy.  It‘s not just Oh, wow, there‘s another former governor of Arkansas who is running for president.  He‘s lost a lot of weight appealing guy, kind of amusing.  It‘s—he‘s  the frontrunner, maybe. 

FRANKEN:  Well, that‘s the thing.  Now he has the—what expectations game, and peaking too early might mean that he is now expected to do well, and if he does anything but beat Romney, he is going to have fallen short. 

MARTIN:  Well, as a truth point.  The fact is in if had still been just below Romney through the actual caucuses themselves.

CARLSON:  Right. 

MARTIN: .and then he came in second by two or three points, that‘s a big, big showing for him, and he probably steals the headline.  Now that he is up, you know, five points at the start of December, if he comes in second place, that‘s not bad for a guy who came from nowhere, but it‘s not the sort of shock the world headlines. 

CARLSON:  But why is he five points over Romney?  I mean, is it some speculations set on the religion questions. 

FRANKEN:  Right. 

CARLSON:  The evangelicals in Iowa uncomfortable with the Mormons so they take the former Baptist preach.  Do you think that‘s accurate?

MARTIN:  I think it‘s three things, Tucker.  Huckabee is evangelical. 

He connects well with people and he‘s consistent on the cultural issues.  Romney is neither of those three and therefore, Huckabee has become the Romney alternative, consolidated, what is a considerable evangelical block in the Iowa party. 

CARLSON:  You buy that?

FRANKEN:  Well, I just would add the word genuine.  I think that Mike Huckabee has the label that came across..

MARIN:  Right.  We get that. 

FRANKERN:  as genuine and you know, we‘d used in this life before.  Key to success in politics is sincerity or being genuine.  If he can fake that, you got it made.

But beyond that, Mitt Romney has had a problem because a lot of people think he looks like, dare I say it, an anchorman.

CARLSON:  Yes.  And there‘s really no worst insult than that. 

MARTIN:  (INAUDIBLE)

CARLSON:  Some guy who steps behind the desk yapping all day long. 

Holy smokes. 

MARTIN:  You scared the (INAUDIBLE). 

FRANKEN:  He‘s desperate, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  But he‘s also right. 

Fred Thompson‘s campaign says phonetic campaigning not the key to success.  Critics call them lazy?  Can you become president without sweating?  We‘ll find out.  Plus, John McCain gets a big endorsement in New Hampshire.  Mike Huckabee rises on top in Iowa.  Could the two of them be the perfect match? 

With the Republican ticket, this is MNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Presidential candidates are often accused of doing anything to win, trying too hard, of wanting the job too much.  It‘s a rare candidate who is accused of not wanting the job badly enough.  Fred Thompson is that candidate.  A “New York Piece of the Weekend” pointed out that Thompson appeared at only a single event one recent week and left early. Is Fred Thompson lazy and if so, is that a good thing or a bad thing? 

Online columnist Bob Franken joins us as is senior political reporter for “The Politico,” Jonathan. Martin. 

Bob, amazing piece, “The New York Times.”  I just got to read you an excerpt from it because it just sums it up a lot.  “Mr. Thompson‘s performance at the debate capped a week-long period,” a weeklong period, “in which he held only one retail campaign event, a ‘Meet Fred‘ rally last Saturday in a small room at the back of Sticky Fingers, a barbecue restaurant in South Carolina.  There was no music or food.  There were not even chairs.  And so more than 100 voters waited to see him and had to stand for three hours before he arrived.  After brief remarks, in which he cited broad conservative principles, he took just half a dozen questions.  The appearance lasted less than 30 minutes.  He left without mingling with customers elsewhere in the restaurant.” 

I kind of respect that because it‘s such a glaring middle finger to the public that I don‘t know, I kind of like it.  How do we read this? 

FRANKEN:  Well, first of all, middle finger politics is usually not very successful, but—

CARLSON:  Oh, no, I have noticed that. 

FRANKEN:  Except in New York, of course. 

CARLSON:  Yes. 

FRANKEN:  But what are we going to do?  What are we going to do if the expectation game is played, and he wins in Iowa or does well?  More to the point, what is he going to do?  What if he has to continue campaigning?  I mean, this is hard work. 

CARLSON:  Well, this is his—the greatest spin ever from the Thompson campaign, from the campaign manager, in fact, about Fred Thompson‘s campaign style.  He says, quote, “Republican voters are going to decide if they want the Energizer Bunny or Richard Simmons, or a consistent conservative.” 

FRANKEN:  No.   No. 

CARLSON:  If 30 minutes of Q&A at the back of sticky fingers is not enough for you once a week, then you‘re some of kind of Richard Simmons‘ weirdo. 

MARTIN:  That‘s a perfect 10 in spin.  Bo Derek. 

CARLSON:  Is there a middle ground between Fred Thompson and Richard Simmons, do you think. 

MARTIN:  I think he does get this sort of lazy raps, but he feeds the wrath by events like the one he had there ion summer or the barbecue restaurant.  And the fact is that he does not keep the kind of campaign schedule that his rivals do, and you know what?  He is not going to. 

CARLSON:  Why? 

MARTIN:  Because, you know—I think that he wants to (INAUDIBLE) every kind of campaign that doesn‘t include 10 stops a day in five town halls among them.  But the fact is that whatever he‘s doing is not working.  You know, I‘m not sure it‘s because of this but he does have a huge perception problem.  He is sort of stuck in this perception vortex right now and it‘s hurting him in the polls. 

Not just nationally, but in some of these key states.  You know, and he‘s behind Giuliani right now in Iowa, in fourth place.  He‘s fallen in half in Iowa since going on TV in the state.  I think he come four there.  That‘s a pretty important state for him.  He is going to be hard pressed to get the nomination. 

CARLSON:  Well, I like Thompson, and I admire the way he is not campaigning.  Is there any, in your years of following politics, about any precedent for a candidate who doesn‘t really campaign in getting the nomination? 

FRANKEN:  Well, they claim Ronald Reagan.  But. 

MARTIN:  McKinley? 

FRANKEN:  McKinley perhaps.  I think I understand he was kind of slow. 

MARTIN:  (INAUDIBLE) Yes.

FRANKEN:  Yes, a little bit.  Harding, maybe.  But you know, they talk about the Energizer Bunny, and they present it as a contrast to conservatism.  What if the winner is the conservative Energizer Bunny?  I mean, the fact of the matter is we have all these people out there who lay claims to being conservative who are breasting their necks to get out there and try and win this nomination, and I think maybe. 

CARLSON:  Well, begin with the thing that doesn‘t works, right? 

FRANKEN:  Well, buy maybe he has decided that all he has to do is have people turn on their television sets where it‘s hard to avoid reruns, reruns of  “Law & Order” and that serves his campaign. 

CARLSON:  But you get this sense, I mean, I never want to read into people‘s motives because ultimately they‘re unknowable.

FRANKEN:  Sure. 

CARLSON:  But there‘s a lot of evidence that suggests to me that he doesn‘t want to run for president.  That‘s—I don‘t know what other conclusion to draw from this? 

MARTIN:  It‘s pretty much inescapable the fact that he appears less than, you know, less than passionate about this race, and, you know, you talk to some of his aides, probably know, say, look, there are days where he is not really showing up, then he is sort of apparently questioning why he is even in this race, but you know, the fact is we‘re now less than a month . 

CARLSON:  As the aides say, there are days he doesn‘t show up? 

MARTIN:  Yes, I had a story about a week that I‘m proud.  Aides do say there are days where he is not really there.  So. 

FRANKEN:  Does he have any aides left?  Didn‘t he pretty much fire all of them?

MARTIN:  Boy, see I think it‘s - I don‘t know if you read “Being There,” one of the great novels.” 

FRANKEN:  Sure.  Sure.  I think “The Gardener,” yes. 

CARLSON:  This man deserves to be president on the basis of his, but I know it‘d Ian or Christopher who are with that.  So.

RANKEN:  Look, look.

MARTIN:  You‘re saying the gardener should be president?

CARLSON:  Yes.  I think Fred Thompson, you can‘t totally write him off. 

MARTIN:  But real fast.  And Fred Thompson, the race is still open so you can‘t tell him write them off. 

CARLSON:  Yes.  I hope not. 

MARTIN:  Who knows what‘s going to happen, you know?

CARLSON:  Good guy. 

All right.  Coming up next, Mitt Romney decides to give a speech this week about his religious faith.  It worked for Kennedy in the 1960.  Will it work this time?

Plus, Hugo Chavez loses his first election.  Venezuelans vote him out of office when he‘s current term ends in 2012.  Is that country moving back toward Democracy and will Chavez obey the will of the people he claims to speak for. 

You‘re watching MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Still to come, Mitt Romney decides to give the Mormon speech.  How big a risk is he taking? 

Plus, John McCain gets a big endorsement and Mike Huckabee takes the lead in Iowa.  Could the two of them be the winning ticket for the Republican Party? 

We‘ll tell you in just a minute, but, first, here‘s a look at your headlines. 

(NEWSBREAK)

CARLSON:  Forty seven years ago, the religious beliefs of a presidential candidate from Massachusetts made some Americans uneasy.  So John F. Kennedy went to Houston, Texas in September of 1960 and reassured the country that he believed in the absolute separation of church and state.  Two months later, he became the first and so far only non-Protestant president in American history. 

This Thursday, another Massachusetts politician with movie star looks will go to College Station, Texas to deliver a speech about religion and his candidacy.  What will he say?  What will the results likely be?  Here to analyze Romney‘s religion speech, we welcome back online columnist Bob Franken and the senior political reporter for “Politico,” Jonathan Martin.

Is this a wise move?

FRANKEN:  I call it in my column today the I‘m Mormon but not a nut case speech.  Apparently they decided that this is enough of a damaging issue, fairly, or, obviously, unfairly, that it needs to be addressed.  I wonder now, does Mike Huckabee have to go on and defend the fact that he is a Baptist, and Rudy Giuliani go on and defend the fact that he is a Catholic, although some Catholics are not happy with this.  I mean, how far does this go?  How important is this all to how a person can govern?

CARLSON:  That is an excellent question.  It may be an irrelevant one for the purposes of this campaign, however.  They‘ve got to be concerned by the numbers on the question of Mormonism.  People are uncomfortable with it. 

MARTIN:  That‘s exactly right, which is why he‘s doing it.  It‘s coming up more and more on the campaign trail.  The fact is that he is at these town hall meetings.  Last Friday, I was there in Iowa.  A guy brings it up, and Romney barely conceals his sort of disdain for the question, and he keeps having to answer it.  And so, finally, he decided it‘s obviously a factor.  It‘s starting to hurt me, particularly in Iowa, where you have a strong set of evangelicals, and so he‘s going to try to take it head on. 

The danger, Tucker, is that he is highlighting the very issue that is hurting him right now.  So he does risk sort of making the problem worse.  But in his eyes, and some of his close advisers around him, the time has come to really try and address this and to try to put it to rest, but I‘m not sure if that‘s—

CARLSON:  I‘m not sure that will be the effect either.  Amazing story in New Hampshire that‘s being ignored, because John McCain‘s campaign itself is being ignored.  But McCain gets the endorsement of the “Union Leader,” the newspaper there, a very conservative paper, front page endorsement.  Here‘s part of what it says—this is amazing because McCain, of course, was, I think, derided by the “Union Leader” as a liberal eight years ago. 

“We have known John McCain for several years,” says the editorial.  “We will write more about him in the days ahead.  For now, we leave you with this to ponder, when McCain was shot down and taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese, he was repeatedly beaten.  When his captors discovered his father was a top U.S. admiral, they ordered him released for propaganda purposes.  But McCain refused, insisting that longer held prisoners be released before him.  So they beat him more.  He never gave in then.  He won‘t give in to our enemies now.  John McCain is the man to lead America.”

Interesting, after all this, it still comes down to Vietnam. 

FRANK:  And what a shame that the “Union Leader,” for John McCain—that the “Union Leader” is not really the force that it was in the old days in New Hampshire.  You have to wonder about the significance of it, but—

CARLSON:  It‘s still the biggest paper in the state? 

FRANKEN:  Number one.  And number two, it‘s certainly good news for a man who‘s really been desperate for some really good news. 

MARTIN:  I agree with Bob.  It doesn‘t have the relevance as it did 20 years ago, like all papers.  But the fact is, this is a really, really nice moment for McCain, and this is why.  It‘s not just the one endorsement on Sunday.  They‘re going to keep banging this drum for the next month, doing more editorials, some of them on the front page of the paper, which is their tradition out there, and they‘re really going to try and help him out. 

Of course, McCain is going to take all those pieces, turn them into mail pieces and flyers and really try to maximize it. 

CARLSON:  They‘re helping him in exactly the way, it seems to me, he needs to be helped, from the right.  McCain needs his bona fides as a conservative pumped up in New Hampshire and elsewhere.  That‘s who is voting in this primaries. 

FRANKEN:  But there‘s sort of a muddiness right now to John McCain‘s image.  On the one hand, the conservatives are upset with him for campaign finance reform and a variety of other stands that he has taken, immigration being the most notable one.  On the other hand, this is the man who has been the stalwart for fighting the war in Iraq.  And even though he has criticized the conduct of that war, nevertheless, the conservatives, as the paper points out, have to appreciate his stand on the war in Iraq, those who continue to support him. 

CARLSON:  They don‘t.  They hate him anyway. 

FRANKEN:  They hate John McCain?

CARLSON:  They hate John McCain anyway.

FRANKEN:  Don‘t forget, he won last time around. 

CARLSON:  Right, but not by conservatives.  Republicans voted for

George W. Bush in New Hampshire last time.  He won by 19 points because he

had Democrats and independents.  I‘m not attacking him, but I‘m pretty sure

MARTIN:  The base of the party is not terribly fond of him.  It‘s not because of any one issue.  They don‘t like the cut of his jib because they don‘t view him as, frankly, one of them.  But there‘s no question that this endorsement, Tucker, is in a large part because of McCain‘s stalwart support for the war and his sort of views on national security issues. 

CARLSON:  The McCain-Huckabee ticket floated by a certain well-known Washington journalist, David Broder. 

FRANKEN:  We all have to stop and pause for a moment of respect. 

CARLSON:  I agree with that completely.  So David Broder says if the Republicans really want to win, McCain/Huckabee is the ticket. 

FRANKEN:  That raises the question that certain people are going to raise, should it not be the Huckabee-McCain ticket, something like that? 

CARLSON:  Hard to imagine that. 

FRANKEN:  Hard to imagine that.  But what if Huckabee does pull off Iowa and what if McCain does well in New Hampshire?  Then what?  What if at the end of the day they‘re still really strong viable candidates and the favorites have been knocked off? 

MARTIN:  This thing is so tough to handicap.  Nobody right now who has a shred of sanity is going to put any kind of money at all on any outcome in this GOP race.  Look, if somebody had said, Tucker, at the start of the year that the Iowa poll at the start of December would have Mike Huckabee up over Giuliani, McCain, Thompson, and Mitt Romney, they would have asked what you were smoking probably. 

MARTIN:  But what about—there‘s another possibility.  Think of this one, Rudy Giuliani-Mike Huckabee ticket, or vice versa.  You would capture all the bases. 

MARTIN:  If Huckabee wounds Romney in Iowa, Rudy owes him big-time. 

(CROSS TALK)

CARLSON:  It‘s possible, though.  Who would have thought a year ago that Mike Huckabee would be taking campaign advice from Dick Morris?  That‘s the real question.  I‘m not attacking Dick Morris, but he is not sort of your classic evangelical political consultant.  Of course, he was Clinton‘s political consultant for all those years and I think his closest.

MARTIN:  He has had a long association. 

CARLSON:  Absolutely.  There‘s a piece in a publication we call Politico.com that alleges this.  I‘m going to give you the response from former Governor Huckabee to this allegation, quote, “Dick,” Morris, that is, “is not available for doing political consulting work.  Frankly, I wish he was because he is a brilliant political mind and I still consider him a friend.  I run in to him from time to time or I may talk to him.” 

That‘s Huckabee‘s explanation to George Stephanopoulos on ABC yesterday.  Is that a denial of your story? 

MARTIN:  I think it sounds like a non-denial denial.  I assume those conversations are probably about, I would guess, campaigns and elections. 

CARLSON:  To what extent is Dick Morris involved in this campaign? 

MARTIN:  It‘s uncertain at what level he actually is involved, but what we do know is that he is talking to Huckabee.  Look, Morris has been Huckabee‘s friend and consultant going back to Huckabee‘s run for lieutenant governor in 1993, where Morris was credited with moving Huckabee to the middle, getting him elected in this Democratic-leaning state that is Arkansas.  And the fact is, they are still talking. 

Anybody who knows Dick Morris knows that if you are talking to him, you are talking strategy.  You‘re talking politics.  And the fact is that they have a long-standing relationship.  Morris can‘t stay away from the game.  And he is still talking to his old friends. 

CARLSON:  You‘re from Arkansas, Bob.  There‘s only one political consultant who advises former governors of Arkansas when they run for president? 

FRANKEN:  It‘s a small state. 

CARLSON:  I would say. 

FRANKEN:  Do I understand correctly that Morris denied this at first? 

MARTIN:  Well, he said that he is not an adviser to Huckabee, but he acknowledged talking to him still.  So, look, you can make your judgment.  Obviously, we don‘t know what those conversations are all about.  But both of them admit they are talking still, so—

FRANKEN:  Let‘s review what we learned tonight.  We have Dick Morris who is, in one form or another, an adviser to Mike Huckabee.  And now we have Karl Rove presenting himself as an adviser to Barack Obama.  This is a very interesting campaign.

CARLSON:  Signs of the end times.  You have a piece about a pro-Huckabee group push polling in Iowa. 

MARTIN:  Right. 

CARLSON:  Huckabee—this is something else that he is apparently denying.  Give us the perimeters. 

MARTIN:  This is not actually Huckabee‘s campaign.  In fact, they denounced this group today.  This is a third party organization that supports Huckabee that is being funded by a few wealthy business executives in Ohio.  They were involved in the campaign last cycle, working on some Senate races.  What they‘re basically going to try to supplement what Huckabee has on the ground, which, frankly, is not that much right now, at least organized in Iowa. 

If they can raise the money and if Huckabee does well in Iowa, they‘re going to try to extend their reach and help him out also in places like New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina, as well.  Huckabee‘s folks don‘t want this.  They don‘t want this outside group doing negative push calls, but any kind of help they can get, as far as boots on the ground, they‘ve got to welcome at this point. 

CARLSON:  It‘s just amazing to me that Mike Huckabee, who I still think of as this one man insurgency campaign, all of a sudden has these outside groups.  You have spent a lot of your life around powerful politicians, egomaniacs who are pursuing power. 

FRANKEN:  That‘s just in our business. 

CARLSON:  That‘s what I mean.  Can you, when you look at what happened to Hugo Chavez yesterday in Venezuela, losing the referendum that would have allowed him to be president for life, can you really believe that this is the end for him, that in 2012, when his term expire expires, he will get off the stage peacefully. 

FRANKEN:  Well, 2012 is a long way away, number one.  Number two, if that is not his intention, this could ultimately help him because the paradox is now he can say that, see, I believe in the Democratic process.  You have to trust me, saying what he‘s saying now.  And then he can just make his move, if he wants to, later.  but maybe he will. 

Maybe we all get caught up in the demonization of somebody simply because is he anti-American and maybe he really is the egalitarian type that he says he is. 

CARLSON:  Maybe he is as evil as he seems, you know, clamping down on the press, killing his opponents, trying to control all the power. 

FRANKEN:  Providing oil to the people of New England. 

CARLSON:  Right.  I don‘t think there‘s a mistaken despot in this case.  Bob Franken, thank you very much.  Jonathan Martin, thank you. 

Mitt Romney is getting ready for the most anticipated speech of his campaign so far.  But is giving a speech on his faith as a Mormon a mistake in the first place?  We‘ll ask Hugh Hewitt, an authority on all that is Romney, when we come back. 

Plus, the weekend‘s exciting football games didn‘t do it for you, then maybe you should have tuned into Japan‘s robot fighting championship.  Get all the details from somebody who didn‘t miss a minute of it, our own robot builder, Bill Wolff.  That‘s next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Mitt Romney‘s standing in the latest Iowa polls shows his support sagging under the weight of the newly slim Mike Huckabee.  Huckabee is, of course, a Baptist minister.  Romney is a Mormon.  In a strategic shift, Romney will give a speech this Thursday specifically about his faith, presumably to, quote, put the problem to bed, as fellow Mormon and Republican Orin Hatch suggested just last week. 

So how risky is it for Romney to make that speech?  And what should every American know about him and his faith?  To give us his assessment of both questions, we welcome Hugh Hewitt, syndicated talk show host and the author of “A Mormon in the White House, Ten Things Every American Should Know About Mitt Romney.”  Hugh, thanks for coming on.

HUGH HEWITT, “A MORMON IN THE WHITE HOUSE”:  Good to be here, Tucker. 

Great to be back where. 

CARLSON:  Why is he giving this speech? 

HEWITT:  Well, I think this is a very shrewd move, in terms of the election calendar.  Voting starts in New Hampshire next week.  Believe it or not, on December 10th absentees are available to New Hampshire voters.  They can be cast the same day.  So Romney scheduled a speech that everybody in mainstream media has wanted him to give for a long time.  He is not calling it a speech about his LDS faith.  He is calling it a speech about religious liberty. 

Every camera in America will be there at the George Herbert Walker Bush Library in College Station, and pretty much every cable outlet will air all or most of it.  He will be looking very presidential.  He will be talking about high end things like religious liberty in America, and the right of every American to worship freely in the church or synagogue of their choice.  I think it‘s a very, very shrewd move to make sure that the momentum he has in New Hampshire, South Dakota, Wyoming, and, yes, in Iowa, where his organization is extremely well built out, remains a positive, even as Mike Huckabee gets traction in Iowa. 

CARLSON:  I‘m just sort of wondering, is the point of this speech to tell us, don‘t ask me about the particulars of my faith?  Do ask me about them?  How does it relate to his Mormon faith, which is, as you know, in all the polls an issue for him.  

HEWITT:  I don‘t think he‘s going to talk about the specifics of LDS theology.  At least I hope he doesn‘t.  That would be to breach what I consider to be a great wall in American politics.  I hated it when Mike Huckabee was on Bill O‘Reilly‘s show and O‘Reilly asked him if Adam and Eve were real literal being.  I don‘t like that.  That question from the—that stupid question about is, every word literal, and the CNN debate meltdown.  That was stupid. 

I think you‘ll hear him talking about religious liberty in America and the climate in American politics that has allowed everyone from the atheist Thomas Jefferson to the deist Abraham Lincoln to the Unitarian Taft, to everyone in between, to run for the presidency and be comfortable there, including the Orthodox Jewish Joe Lieberman eight years ago. 

CARLSON:  So the point is, don‘t ask me about my faith because?  I guess, here‘s the point I‘m making; I agree with you.  It makes me very uncomfortable when people get hassled about the particulars of their faith.  On the other hand, when someone, himself, makes it a part of the campaign, then it strikes me as more fair game.  So he is bringing it up.  He is giving a speech that, let‘s be real, is really about his faith and questions people have about it.  Why doesn‘t that open the door for the rest of us to say OK, now that you‘ve brought it up and you‘re using it in an effort to get elected, let‘s talk about the underwear. 

HEWITT:  I don‘t think we should ever be talking about any particular religious practices, no more than I would ask Rudy Giuliani when he was last at confession, would what I ask Mitt Romney—

CARLSON:  Wait a second, but he‘s giving—I wouldn‘t either.  Now that he is giving a speech on it, isn‘t it legitimate for people to ask? 

HEWITT:  Tucker, the press release that went out with the speech says he is giving a speech about religious liberty in America.  And if, indeed, he goes into the particulars of LDS faith, yes, he will be opening the door to people to ask him about those particulars that he raises.  If he talks about why we have an Article Six prohibition on religious test, if he talks about the free exercise clause and the no establishment of religious clause, that‘s a very different thing than talking about the particulars of LDS theology. 

I think he is going to give the latter.  I think he is going to make a very firm denunciation of the use of faith as a wedge issue in American politics.  I think he is going to talk about the export of religious liberties as being one of the greatest things that this country can do.  If does that, that doesn‘t open the door to any of the bigots out there to beat the drums of bigotry.  It simply reminds people of why we have been lucky in this country, since 1964 and usually before that as well, to banish religious tests from our private exercise at the ballot, as well from the public. 

CARLSON:  I agree with that, completely.  And that‘s where my instincts are.  I wonder, though, about your use of the word bigots.  Is it really bigoted for an evangelical to say of Mitt Romney, gee, we don‘t have the same faith?  I don‘t—

HEWITT:  No, that‘s not it, absolutely not.  It‘s bigoted for Jacob Weisberg of Slate to say he will never vote for a Mormon because of what they believe.  That‘s bigotry.  Substitute Jew, substitute black.  That‘s bigotry.  It is not at all bigotry to say, I‘m an evangelical, and I believe in the life of the unborn being sacred, and I would certainly, as Mike Huckabee, has -  and I would certainly work for that.  And I hope everyone else on this stage holds that same view. 

CARLSON:  You should never take theology into account.  That‘s the kind of blanket rule we‘re lying down here? 

HEWITT:  That is my rule.  I believe that American history backs up the idea that—

CARLSON:  No matter what it is.  So a Scientologist—a Scientologist runs for president, everybody believes—most people believe that Scientology is kind of kooky and threatening, but a Scientologist should not be asked about his faith? 

HEWITT:  The use of a hypothetical to introduce an attack on a more general faith, I don‘t think that‘s an effective way to go about it.  I think the most important thing—

CARLSON:  I‘m not attacking the guy‘s faith at all. 

HEWITT:  You attacking Scientology there.  Here‘s what I think, is that, faiths which are marginal will never get someone into the ring for the presidency.  Faiths which are mainstream will.  And once a faith is mainstream, it ought to be left alone, although certainly public declarations of what you believe in are appropriate.  Character is appropriate.  And if people are interested in what LDS theology is, they ought to go to LDS.org and look it up, not ask Mitt Romney. 

CARLSON:  That‘s exactly what I wanted to hear.  I just wanted it hear the standard, and I think that‘s a fair standard that you just presented.  Finally, when people do attack his faith or cast aspersions, or raise questions about it, my instinct is—my hunch is that it helps Romney with some people.  They look on and they say, you know, that‘s unfair. 

HEWITT:  I think you‘re right, Tucker.  I have seen a couple of polling groups, focus groups, where attack on his faith have occurred when the focus groups were underway and being taped.  People hate it.  That‘s why we can‘t find out who did the anti-Mormon push polling in New Hampshire and Iowa, because if we do trace it back to Huckabee or Giuliani or Fred Thompson—we don‘t know who it‘s been traced back to—that campaign would be over, because to play to religious bigotry is very un-American, very disgusting. 

CARLSON:  All right, Hugh Hewitt, I sure appreciate it.  Thanks, Hugh. 

The woman who became Miss Puerto Rico overcame a sinister pepper spraying to win her crown, or did she?  MSNBC‘ pageant scandal correspondent Bill Wolff has the latest details and the story that grips an entire commonwealth.  That‘s coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Welcome back.  Now for an update from the pageant trail, our beauty contestant correspondent, Bill Wolff, joins us live from New York. 

BILL WOLFF, MSNBC VICE PRESIDENT:  Never a beauty contestant myself, Tucker, although a boy can dream.  This is a mystery wrapped in a riddle, drizzled with an enigma reduction sauce, Tucker.  It was Ingrid Rivera, the lustrous winner of the Miss Puerto Rico contest.  She was pepper sprayed during the competition over Thanksgiving Day weekend, or maybe she wasn‘t. 

Puerto Rican police, Tucker, say she was not.  A hair brush and gown tested for pepper spray by the Puerto Rican Forensic Sciences Institute came up negative, as in no pepper spray.  Now, police superintendent Pedro Toledo (ph) says he will investigate the possibility that someone lied to his investigators, which would be a felony.  Mr Toledo does not believe the fetching Miss Rivera, also known as Miss Puerto Rico, mislead the police.  He hinted, if someone did lie, it would likely be someone associated with the pageant.  The scandal continues to unfold. 

CARLSON:  Something is amiss in the world of Puerto Rico pageantry.  I think we can say that for certain. 

WOLFF:  Yes, we can say that for certain.  And for as long as the story goes on, Tucker, we will continue to put pictures of the comely Ms.  Rivera on television. 

CARLSON:  There‘s a public service. 

WOLFF:  I think all of our viewers appreciate it. 

CARLSON:  Now, it was an action-packed sports weekend, Tucker, as I know you know, including a real slugfest in Japan between robots.  The first ever Robot Fighting Championship was held Saturday in, of all places, Japan.  Twenty five man-made robots entered the ring to determine, at long last, which was the strongest two-legged robot on the planet.  In order to win, a combatant had to floor its opponent three times. 

There were conventional fighters and others which employed hidden weapons, like that balloon head you see.  See how effective it can be.  Now, for most of these robots, boxing was their ticket out of the workshop and a chance at a better life.  The winner was awarded a championship belt.  That part I did not make up.  Which it wore to the robot casino and to the robot gentleman‘s club after the fight.  That part I did make up, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Did the balloon head win? 

WOLFF:  I can‘t say.  I get it off that web site that doesn‘t give me that much information, so I kind of ad libbed most of it, Tucker.  But I will say this, it‘s a little upsetting that all these guys with all this technology are trying to figure out how to make robots violent. 

CARLSON:  I thought you watched it live with a 12 pack of Milwaukee‘s Best on your knees. 

WOLFF:  Well, the 12 pack of Milwaukee‘s Best, yes.  That was not the event I was watching live, though, Tucker.  I‘ll fill you in off-line.  If the robots don‘t get you, the chimpanzees apparently might, Tucker.  Chimps, of course, are the Mo, Larry, and Curly of the animal kingdom, spared by the ions because nature wanted them around for the laughs.  Well, fear the chimp because Japanese researchers just conducted two tests of short-term memory, pitting five-year-old chimps fresh from chimp Kindergarten against human adults, and the chimps won. 

The tests boiled down to a controlled version of the game Concentration.  The chimps and the people were shown numbers one through nine.  The numbers disappeared, and the challenge was to recall the numbers in sequence.  Chimps and people were about equal when the numbers appeared for about a second.  When the numbers were shown for only an instant, the chimps took the humans to school, Tucker.  Chimps, they‘re not so funny after all, are they? 

CARLSON:  Boy, that‘s kind of shocking.  That‘s legitimate?  You‘re not making any of that up? 

WOLFF:  Absolutely not making it up.  It is supposed that part of the reason that the chimps did better than the humans is that the chimps are younger, and that the mind is more elastic at a younger age.  The next test will be between five-year-old chimps and five-year-old people.  For the moment, kid chimps, better retention than adult humans, who, you know, for various reasons have lost their short-term memory, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  I don‘t want to insert a kind of heavy PETA-related moment into an otherwise light segment, but if what you said is true, it‘s maybe time to stop gruesome scientific testing on chimps then, if they‘re actually beating us in concentration games. 

WOLFF:  You can‘t do gruesome scientific testing on chimps.  They‘re the funniest animals on the planet. 

CARLSON:  You can and people do. 

WOLFF:  I hope they stop.  Finally, Tucker, some ratings-grabbing inter-species familial behavior to melt your heart.  Dateline Thailand.  This is a Bengal tiger, or tigress, a female Bengal Tiger.  She is a surrogate mom of those unbelievably cute piglets, all of whom are wearing tiger onesies.  The six-year-old tiger, named Saimai (ph), has nurtured groups of piglets since she was just two.  So far so good.  Very heart-warming until Saimai decides not to adhere to the kosher diet.  At that point, get those piglets out of there.  You know what I‘m saying? 

CARLSON:  As I‘ve said so many times, Bill, good pictures.  It won‘t end well.  Bill Wolff from headquarters.  Thanks a lot, Bill. 

WOLFF:  My pleasure. 

CARLSON:  That does it for us.  Thank you for watching.  We‘ll see you back here tomorrow night.  Up next, “HARDBALL” with the great Chris Matthews.  Have a great night.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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