updated 12/13/2007 1:11:55 PM ET 2007-12-13T18:11:55

Guests: Roger Stone, Hilary Rosen, Bob Franken, Mike Huckabee

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC ANCHOR:  The Republican presidential candidates walked on to an Iowa debate stage this afternoon with Mike Huckabee on the rise, Rudy Giuliani in decline, Mitt Romney in the mix.  See what happened next effect their standings.  We‘re about to tell you. 

Welcome to the show. 

Most recent polls indicate Mike Huckabee is now the frontrunner in the state of Iowa.  How did he get there?  Can he hold that position after today?  But what about the revelations in this morning‘s “New York Times” that Huckabee might have slighted Romney‘s religion.  Plus the man himself, Mike Huckabee, joins us live. 

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side today, a poll of New Hampshire voters by television station WMUR shows Hillary Clinton, who once had an overwhelming lead in that state, is now in a virtual tie with Barack Obama. 

Reports on the state of the Clinton campaign suggest former President Bill Clinton with his wife‘s operation and is working to overhaul her team and retrieve the commanding lead she once held.  Can he save the day?  Does the day really need saving?  We‘ll tell you. 

And our sources tell the program that former Vice President Al Gore who has vowed not to seek another term as president has been talking with New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg about the possibility of a run for president.  What‘s going on with Gore and Bloomberg?  And what would the implications of that perspective partnership be on the ‘08 race? 

More on that story in a minute. 

But we begin with the Republicans who, just this afternoon, debated for the last time before they faced Iowa voters in the caucuses on January 3rd

Well, joining us to assess exactly what happened, we welcome Democratic strategist and MSNBC political analyst Hillary Rosen.  She‘s coming up in a sec, but, first, legendary strategist Roger Stone. 

Roger, it‘s great to see you. 

ROGER STONE, GOP STRATEGIST:  Tucker, great to be here. 

CARLSON:  Well, thank you.  I was amazed by a number of lines here, but maybe my favorite line of all came from Fred Thompson.  I don‘t think anybody noticed this.  He said, “I‘m probably the guy you ought to elect president.  I‘m probably the guy.”  Is that the most laid back formulation you have ever heard? 

STONE:  Yes, he‘s strolling for president.  I think that he‘s ambling towards the White House. 

CARLSON:  He‘s ambling.  That‘s amazing. 

STONE:  You know, this was overall a pretty boring debate.  The Huckabee pile-on is interesting.  I think the reason he is having a surge here is, in many ways, he is every man.  He‘s a pleasant enough looking man, but he‘s not really handsome.  He‘s your average guy.  He doesn‘t move in the social milieu of the Romney s and Bush‘s.  He is a southern Baptist and populist. 

He‘s quite an orator and frankly, he‘s red hot at the moment. 

Remember, without the TV, without the massive television buy that Mitt

Romney has put out, Huckabee has vaulted to first place, and he is gaining

and he‘s also, I believe, gained dramatically in South Carolina and he‘s on the move in New Hampshire.  It‘s very interesting. 

CARLSON:  How did you think he handled his religion, his own religion, not the religion of anyone else, including Mitt Romney?  But today he mentioned the bible a number of times, quoted from it.  He is, of course, a Baptist preacher.  That‘s central to who he is his public identity.  How does he—I mean how is he handling that issue? 

STONE:  Well, you‘ve always got to appeal to your base.  He understands who his base is and who‘s propelled him in this race so far.  It‘s the adherence of evangelical Christians who had their own suspicions about Mormonism anyway. 

Look, when Lawrence O‘Donnell is going on national TV and laying out the laundry of the Church of Latter-day Saints, as he sees it, which is fair political discourse and talks about reincarnation on other planets and other things, that‘s going to happen throughout this campaign. 

We have a first amendment in this country.  Some people will find that repugnant.  Other people will find it enlightening.  That‘s America.  But it‘s a significant factor in this race. 

CARLSON:  Do you think it helps Romney in the end? 

STONE:  No, I really don‘t think that it does.  I think it may be a wash in Romney‘s case or it may be very harmful to him.  There‘s a large subsection of people in this country who have their doubts about this very late-forming religion.  And it does have some aspects that to mainstream Christians and mainstream Jews, and maybe even mainstream Muslims, sound odd.  It‘s going to be a factor in this race. 

CARLSON:  What is—I hate almost to bring this up, but anybody who watched the debate, the hour and a half of it this afternoon on Iowa public television, I think, noticed two things.  Number one, the moderate was—he‘s not a great moderator.  Completely overwhelmed, I thought at times.  And second. 

STONE:  You are the weak link.  She was very nice. 

CARLSON:  Yes, she was the weak link, yes.  Alan Keyes dominated parts of the debate.  We‘ve got tape in case you didn‘t see it.  This is Alan Keyes going after the moderator, who really I thought went out of her way to give him air time.  It wasn‘t enough.  And let‘s see if we can put up here Alan Keyes‘ response to her. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN KEYES ®, PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  I would like to address the question of education. 

UNIDENTIFIED MODERATOR:  Go ahead. 

KEYES:  I don‘t wish it to pass on without see me do it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MODERATOR:  Go ahead.  Please—you have 30 seconds. 

KEYES:  They had a minute.  Why do I get 30 seconds?  You see, your unfairness is now becoming so apparent that the voters in Iowa must understand there‘s a reason for it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Has there ever been a more annoying debate performance?  Here‘s my question: why was he there?  If the Democrats are debating tomorrow, Gravel and Kucinich are not there, only the adults, what is he doing there? 

STONE:  It‘s very simple.  This is a business for Alan Keyes. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

STONE:  Alan Keyes raises campaign money with which, and you can see this in the federal election numbers, he pays himself a salary.  This is just part of his job, running for president.  You‘re a TV commentator, I‘m a consultant, Alan Keyes runs for public office as an avocation.  So it‘s a moneymaker for him. 

Number two, the man has a colossal ego and he likes to be on TV.  And as Gore Vidal said, never give up the opportunity to either have sex or be on TV. 

CARLSON:  Well, I guess, I‘d like to be in the Republican debate, too, or the Democratic debate for that matter.  What the hell.  I like to talk.  It would probably help me.  How did he get—I mean David Shuster from MSNBC was out in Iowa today, and he asked—he asked Keyes, you know, have you actually met any Iowa voters, and Keyes wouldn‘t answer the question truly because the answer is no. 

So how did he get in?  Why did the other candidates allow him in and don‘t you think it hurts all Republicans when he gets up there and makes a spectacle? 

STONE:  The question for me would be is he on the ballot legally in Iowa?  If the question is then he can make a case, that he is entitled to be on the ballot, remember, the rule said you needed one 1 percent.  He did run third when he ran against George W. Bush, getting more than 1 percent, because there‘s a lot of crazy people out there. 

Secondarily, his—unfortunately, his race plays a role here.  No Republican wants to be seen blocking a black man from being in the debate.  So he gets a free pass on that issue.  Is it idiotic?  Yes, it‘s idiotic?  Does the guy like to hear himself talk?  Absolutely.  But, you know, it is not to be taken seriously. 

CARLSON:  And no one asked the most interesting question which was, what‘s it like to run against Barack Obama, one of the great people has done that.  Do you think that Mike Huckabee, who has had this kind of amazing life—like him or not, you have to stand back in awe and be impressed by what the guy has done with so little resources. 

STONE:  Well, I think he‘s done this by being himself.  I mean he. 

CARLSON: Yes.  And it‘s been very effective. 

STONE:  Has he peaked too early, though? 

CARLSON:  There‘s a genuiness about the guy.  No.  But he is out there with a long time in which the people behind him are going to, not only resent his surge, but try to take him down.  In other words, he has become a target about two weeks earlier than you might have wished that he had peaked.  Whether he can sustain this really is based on clever use of the resources he does have now because you‘re getting to the part of the campaign where the Giulianis will go on TV and so on. 

And Rudy is not out of this race by any means.  He has sustained some damage, but his performance was strong, even under withering attack.  He handles himself well, and he is disciplined about getting back to his central message.  He is not out of this entirely yet. 

CARLSON:  I think you are exactly right as always.  I always think you are exactly right.  Roger Stone, thanks al for coming on. 

STONE:  Ticker, great to be here. 

CARLSON:  Al Gore says he‘s not interested in serving in a new administration.  And the only way he‘d return to politics would be to run for the White House.  So will he run in ‘08, this time, as an independent?  Some say he‘s planning it. 

Plus, Fred Thompson has a well-earned reputation for being laid back, even to a fault.  And yet today, he took control of the Republican debate.  We‘ve got that tape coming up. 

ANNOUNCER:  TUCKER is brought to you by. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  The Republican candidates faced off for the last time before the Iowa caucuses.  That‘s just three weeks away.  Who won, who lost.  We‘ve got all the highlights coming up next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Well, the debates go, this one was about as hot as the ice storm that blanketed Iowa all week.  About that hot.  The format itself didn‘t lend itself to the fireworks we‘ve seen from these candidates in the past, but, still, there were some interesting exchanges.  The question is: did Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani or John McCain, maybe even Ron Paul, do anything to cut into the lead of the brand new front runner Mike Huckabee of Arkansas? 

Joining me now with the answers, Democratic strategist and MSNBC political analyst Hillary Rosen, and online columnist Bob Franken.  Welcome to you both. 

Here‘s the most amazing line, I thought, in the whole thing by a guy nobody is paying attention to, John McCain.  He was asked a question about economics, kind of an open-ended question, say whatever you want.  Here‘s what he said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  I will also eliminate subsidies on ethanol and other agricultural products.  They are an impediment to competition, they are an impediment to free markets, and I believe that subsidies are a mistake. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  That‘s unbelievable.  He didn‘t need to say that.  He‘s in Iowa and he comes out and he says—by the way, your cherished federal program, no.  That would be like going in Nevada and saying, “I‘m 40.  I‘ll come out—and coming out against surfing in California.”  Pow, pow, pow.  It‘s—I‘m so impressed that he did that. 

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  How much can I show you how independent that is, yes. 

CARLSON:  Yes, I mean. 

BOB FRANKEN, :  Exactly.  Yes. 

ROSEN:  And make you really hate to be... 

CARLSON:  No wonder he‘s not going to win. 

ROSEN:  The only way you‘re ever going to vote for me is if you so admired my ability to disagree with you. 

CARLSON:  Yes. 

ROSEN:  That‘s John McCain.  That‘s why I love him. 

CARLSON:  I do.  Yes, but - it‘s in - people actually don‘t give him credit for that.  People pretend, “Oh, I like when people speak their mind.”  No, they don‘t. 

ROSEN:  No, they don‘t.  You want to be a great. 

CARLSON:  They love panda bears.  And yes, they love Bill Clinton. 

ROSEN:  Yes. 

FRANKEN:  Well, we don‘t know that.  I mean maybe tomorrow everybody is going to say, “Wow, what a freethinker.  I really like that guy.”  But wasn‘t that, we all agree, the most boring debate perhaps in the history of debates. 

CARLSON:  Yes. 

FRANKEN:  It was like watching interviews of the Miss America candidates. 

ROSEN:  But anyone. 

(CROSSTALK) 

CARLSON:  The newspaper people who put that debate on, I think, thought, “Well, you know, we‘re going to take all the flash out of it and just give people what they really want.”  But in fact, I found that no more informative than any other debate, you know, that kind of—that we produce, the slick, well-lit debates.  I thought tell us more in that debate. 

ROSEN:  Well, they‘re sick of talking about the hot issues of the day. 

They want to talk about the issues that people aren‘t paying attention to. 

FRANKEN:  Right.  That matters. 

ROSEN:  That they‘ll bring to light that matters.  But this debate just highlighted for me the miserable choices I would have as a Republican primary voter in Iowa or any other state. 

FRANKEN:  Well, they didn‘t hand it. 

ROSEN:  They‘ve just can‘t—they can‘t. 

FRANKEN:  But they didn‘t even hand that.

ROSEN:  They just can‘t—they can‘t simply figure out who they are.  These guys just jump around the stage.  They attack each other for taking the same position that they took, the day before.  It‘s unbelievable. 

CARLSON:  But you didn‘t see—I looked at Fred Thompson, and I thought, I‘ve not always liked Fred Thompson.  Kind of a laid back, very laid back guy.  I like a laid back guy, and I thought he kind of took control.  Watch this.  This is Fred Thompson just like taking the whole debate and taming it.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED THOMPSON, ®, PRESIDENTIAL JHOPEFUL:  My goal is to get into Mitt Romney‘s situation where I don‘t have to worry about taxes anymore.  But.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, clap wasn‘t going to get near your answer. 

THOMPSON:  Well, you know, you are getting to be a pretty good actor, actually. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Well, that was not actually Fred Thompson taming the debate.  That was Fred Thompson taming Mitt Romney, whom he clearly despises as does every other Republican running for president. 

Why does everyone hate Mitt Romney so much? 

FRANKEN:  Well, I think he is becoming everybody‘s straight man.  I mean I was particularly noticing his a bit subtle.  But I notice that his campaign has gotten very sensitive to the anchorman hair thing.  So when they sprayed that they had a couple of strands that were askew, I think, that they were trying to send a message, that he‘s a regular guy.  But the point is he‘s. 

CARLSON:  Here‘s what—only a long-time anchor man would notice that. 

ROSEN:  Yes. 

FRANKEN:  Well, that‘s right.  Hey, who is wearing hairspray, in the name of full disclosure?  If I fell over, my hair would shatter. 

ROSEN:  He‘s a little - go ahead. 

FRANKEN:  But the point is, his would, too.  And I think that he‘s become sort of a caricature. 

ROSEN:  I think it‘s - Mitt Romney is so Teflon in so many ways.  He doesn‘t seem to be held to his, and worse, you know, his positions have dramatically changed over the years.  He‘s really rich, and people resent that because he is not as stressed out about money in this campaign as other people are, and he just—he has a thin skin and he‘s proven himself to just hit back very hard and kind of nastily when people take him on in the campaign. 

CARLSON:  Well, his staff certainly has. 

ROSEN:  So they don‘t like him. 

CARLSON:  Well, there‘s no doubt.  And it‘s—clearly, I think class resentment has something to do with it.  I have to say, watching Mitt Romney I think is much more appealing than reading about Milt Romney.  I see him up there and I think, “I don‘t know, he doesn‘t look.”

ROSEN:  No, he performs well. 

CARLSON:  .great to me.  Looks like kind of a nice guy.” 

ROSEN:  Actually, I think that Democrats who underestimate how tough he would be in a general election. 

FRANKEN:  Well, but I think what you have there is the same kind of criticism you have for, how shall I say it, the other Hillary.  That is to say that people claim of their contrivances.  And I think that a lot of people look at Mitt Romney and say every word is because somebody has pushed a button and out come the words, and I think that‘s the complaint about Hillary Clinton. 

CARLSON:  Even his explanation of abortion, I find totally—I‘m not sure I agree with him.  But I love the fact—yes, actually I was pro-choice before, and I chained my mind, and that‘s just sort of what it is. 

FRANKEN:  It‘s his choice. 

CARLSON:  Well, but I admire—that seems pretty direct to me. 

FRANKEN:  He sees a convoluted. 

ROSEN:  But as soon as I change my mind, he doesn‘t try and convince people, like Fred Thompson has tried to and like Rudy Giuliani has tried to. 

CARLSON:  Right, didn‘t. 

ROSEN:  .that, you know, actually what - you‘re just misinterpreting my old position.  Really (INAUDIBLE). 

CARLSON:  No.  I agree with you.  I think he seems more straightforward than he‘s been given credit. 

ROSEN:  And he has been a little more direct about that. 

FRANKEN:  Whether he gives his explanation, it‘s really kind of convoluted and one could describe as obfuscation where he talks about—but the first bill that came to my desk, I took the pro-life position.  What does that mean?  What did he feel?  What does he feel now? 

CARLSON:  Oh, he says he changed his mind.  I don‘t know. 

FRANKEN:  It‘s not the only issue.  We‘re talking about guns. 

CARLSON:  No, I got, you know, I got that. 

ROSEN:  That‘s right. 

FRANKEN:  Yes. 

ROSEN:  It‘s everything. 

CARLSON:  We‘ll be right back.  Mike Bloomberg, the independent mayor of New York City, has been seen dining with Barack Obama.  Apparently, though, he‘s also been talking with Al Gore. 

Could there be a Gore-Bloomberg ticket in 2008?  It‘s a real possibility, believe it or not. 

Plus, Mike Huckabee is the frontrunner among Republicans in Iowa.  He is now number two in the national polls.  Can he win the nomination?  He is joining us live.  In just a minute, we‘ll ask him. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Every presidential  election season brings rumblings of the dream ticket.  This year is no exception.  Some people might wish for a Ron Paul-Dennis Kucinich ticket.  How about Al Gore and Mike Bloomberg?  Both men said they have no, quote, “no intention of running,” but apparently the two are talking, and not just about saving the polar ice caps. 

Joining me now Democratic strategist and MSNBC political analyst Hillary Rosen and online columnist Bob Franken. 

Hillary, I have heard from someone on, I think, fairly good authority that they are, in fact, talking and that Bloomberg has, in effect, offered Gore a spot on a ticket as an independent with him, presumably as president, and offered to bankroll to the tune of $1 billion. 

ROSEN:  Well. 

CARLSON:  I believe that is true. 

ROSEN:  That would be a fantastic ticket and appealing on so many levels, but I don‘t think it‘s going to happen.  But we all know that the Bloomberg operation is very serious about a plan. 

CARLSON:  Yes, they are serious. 

ROSEN:  They have, you know, a very specific idea of how to get on the ballots.  They have a very specific financial plan, and they have the resources to do it.  And we know that, you know, come March, if the Republican and Democratic nominees are not catching fire. 

CARLSON:  Yes. 

ROSEN:  .the country, then, you know, Bloomberg is going to go.  Al Gore is not going to be on the ticket with him, but Bloomberg is going to go. 

CARLSON:  Well, Bloomberg is worth somewhere in the range of $20 billion.  Someone who knows him just told me.  $20 billion.  He wants to spend it all.  If—I mean, I just can‘t get—my mind can‘t get around the affect $1 billion would have on this race. 

FRANKEN:  Well, first of all, a Gore-Bloomberg ticket would be the bland leading the bland.  I mean this would not be a ticket that is fraught with personality. 

CARLSON:  No. 

FRANKEN:  But it might be where the country has really gotten tired of the personalities.  I could see them sitting there.  I have always not believed the protestations by the draft-Gore people that they had no connections whatsoever to the Gore campaign or the Gore non-campaign. 

I have always felt it was there.  I have never been able to prove it.  I‘ll get a couple of angry e-mails for even saying that, but this is a man who has an operation that is set up as if he‘s a candidate.  A press secretary who keeps the news releases coming.  The whole ball of wax headquartered in Nashville as we all know.  Why?  Waiting for his chance to come and rescue the country. 

CARLSON:  Well, then, also, why wouldn‘t he?  I mean, as James Carver once said to me, running for president, it‘s not something—it‘s like sex.  You know, once you do it once, you‘re apt to kind of want to try it again.  You know what I mean?  It‘s not one of those things you try a single time and you give up. 

ROSEN:  So actually, Al Gore believed just the opposite. 

CARLSON:  You think so? 

ROSEN:  That he‘s had enough of running for president.  I think he‘d like to be president. 

CARLSON:  Right.

ROSEN:  But the running not so much.  And I think that‘s really the issue here, is that he has made it clear he likes his life, he‘s happy where he is, I just don‘t think you‘re going to see him get into a food fight. 

CARLSON:  But—but wait.  OK. 

ROSEN:  Which is exactly what it would be for a third party candidate. 

CARLSON:  No, no, wait. 

ROSEN:  .against, you know, two strong Democrats, whether it‘s Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.  I think it‘s Hillary Clinton.  But either way, a significant fight would (INAUDIBLE). 

CARLSON: And either scenario is hurt by Bloomberg.  Let‘s just take Gore out of it.  You have a billionaire intent on running for president, and I really believe this is a real possibility.  That‘s going to kill the Democrat, period.  Don‘t you think? 

FRANKEN:  Well, first of all. 

ROSEN:  You know, actually I thought so, but there are some polls that show that an independent candidacy by somebody like Bloomberg could take an equal amount or even more away from the Republicans. 

FRANKEN:  First of all, Carver didn‘t answer the question, what happens if you had sex that came to such a tragic and unhappy ending?  So he didn‘t answer that one.  But the question. 

CARLSON:  Very few people remain celibate, Bob.  I think that‘s kind of the answer. 

FRANKEN:  I‘ll have to ponder that one. 

CARLSON:  To extend the metaphor. 

ROSEN:  There is pretty nothing about running for president that is as good as. 

FRANKEN:  (INAUDIBLE) We‘re about one second away from being. 

CARLSON:  Mike Huckabee comes out of nowhere to take the lead among Republicans in Iowa right now.  He‘s running second in national polls.  Can he win it all?  We‘re going to ask him coming up next. 

Plus, many conservatives are having a tough time choosing a presidential candidate, but the national reviews decided to throw its support behind Mitt Romney.  Will that help among conservatives? 

You‘re watching MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Mike Huckabee steps into his first controversy as a newly minted frontrunner.  Will it hurt him and how has he responded so far?  Plus, the man himself, Mike Huckabee, joins us live next. 

But first, a look at your headlines. 

(NEWSBREAK)

CARLSON:  What began as the unlikely presidential bid of an amiable but little-known former governor is now the Republican campaign to beat.  The latest polls in Iowa show Mike Huckabee a top to field and two new national polls have Huckabee in a virtual tie with Rudy Giuliani for the top spot.  Along with his new standing has come new scrutiny of his record and new controversies. 

Here to talk about his rise and all that accompanies it, the former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee. 

Governor, thanks for coming on. 

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  My pleasure, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  So what‘s the truth behind this “New York Times” story this morning in which you are quoted asking, don‘t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil were brothers?  Why did you ask that question and what was the implication? 

HUCKABEE:  Well, the reporter was actually telling me things about the Mormon faith that I didn‘t know, and I was asking and even said in the story, it was innocent.  I went up to Mitt Romney today.  I apologized because it was not a question of his faith.  It‘s been blown totally out of proportion. 

I‘m glad we‘re going to be able to move on past this and now start talking about things that really matter to the people of this country and that‘s why I think I‘m doing well in the polls.  It‘s not these little dumpster diving incidents. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

HUCKABEE:  .that people are going through right now. 

CARLSON:  What is—so what did you say to Governor Romney, and what did he say back? 

HUCKABEE:  Well, I told him that it was absolutely just amazing to me that that was lifted out of an 8100 word story.  I told him that I deeply regretted it, that I personally wanted to look him in the eye and apologize, that I never would intend to question his faith, and that I wanted him to know from me face-to-face, and his being a Mormon was neither a reason that people should vote for or against him for president. 

And I believe that, Tucker.  No more than people ought to vote for or against me because I‘m a Baptist. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

HUCKABEE:  Just hope all the Baptists won‘t vote against me because I‘m a Baptist.  That‘s not what I hope at this point. 

CARLSON:  So, Governor, you said that—just to be totally clear, the Romney campaign appears to be saying they think this exchange took place over the telephone.  You‘re saying it took place in person. 

HUCKABEE:  No, it took place in person right after the debate.  Mitt was standing right next to me, and I just—it was an opportunity that I had, and I wanted to say it face-to-face.  I wanted to clear up anything.  Look, there‘s enough stuff in politics where people get all upset with each other.  Things get tense.  They get hostile. 

When it‘s all over, Republicans are going to need to unite together.  I hope they all unite around me when I‘m the nominee, but I want there to be good blood, not bad blood.  We have enough of that in politics.  We need to be focusing on what‘s good for this country.  Not just pointing out something wrong with somebody else and I‘m just not into that.  I have avoided it like crazy. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

HUCKABEE:  I want to talk about this country. 

CARLSON:  You said something so interesting, I thought, in the debate today.  You said if a person claims to be a man of faith, you got to ask him how does your faith motivate you to act in certain ways?  The implication is that, you know, faith is a good thing and being a person of faith is a good thing. 

Does it matter which faith it is? 

HUCKABEE:  I don‘t think so, as long as the person is consistent with

it.  All in the world that that helps the voters to do is to understand

what your frame of reference is.  Tucker, everybody‘s got a frame of

reference.  Everybody has a world view.  Whether you are a person of faith

or not, but if you are a person of faith, and you say that‘s really important to me but it doesn‘t touch the way I think or the way I believe or what I would do, then you have to wonder, well, what kind of faith is that? 

A person can say I don‘t have faith at all.  Fine.  Just tell me that.  So then I‘ll know that your frame of reference and point of view is based on something else.  Let me know what that is.  Then I‘ll know what your convictions are.  Not just your preferences.  That‘s all in the world I think people are look looking for. 

They don‘t have to have a particular faith in a person.  They just wanted you to know that you have some core values that you yourself can articulate to them. 

CARLSON:  There was a series of polls done by CNN earlier this week that asked people about you and about how they thought you would fair against the leading Democrats in a general election, and the numbers weren‘t good from your point of view.  People thought that you would lose pretty dramatically to the top three Democrats. 

People clearly like you on the Republican side.  You‘re the frontrunner by some measures, but they don‘t seem to think you can win.  How are you going to change their mind on that? 

HUCKABEE:  Well, that‘s—Tucker, it‘s odd because there was another poll that was taken just a few days ago that showed that I actually polled better than any of the other Republicans against Hillary Clinton.  So when I hear these polls, you know, I don‘t know.  There‘s a lot of disparity in that. 

I think I would do quite well because, frankly, I‘m the only guy—you know this having lived in Arkansas—I‘m the only guy that actually has run against the Clinton political machine, understand what I would be going up against, and actually has beaten it four times, so nobody is better prepared to run that race than I would be. 

CARLSON:  During conversations in the debate today about domestic issues—health care and education—you were asked about the government‘s obligation toward the public on those two issues. 

HUCKABEE:  Yes. 

CARLSON:  Here‘s part of what you said in response. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE:  Everyone has an opportunity.  You give education and health care that you don‘t have some that are more equal than others. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  You seem to imply that the government ought to guarantee that everybody starts in the same place.  Is that what you meant to say?  Is that what you believe? 

HUCKABEE:  No, not at all.  If we have a public education system, an African-American child shouldn‘t be subjected to an inferior education because he is African-American and lives in a struggling neighborhood.  That‘s really one of the things that I worked hard in my state, and I think every governor does.  Not just me. 

You want to close the achievement gap.  You don‘t have a quality of opportunity if one kid doesn‘t have access to a decent way of health.  A kid sitting in a classroom with a tooth ache, tummy ache, headache, can‘t learn, no matter how good the teacher is. 

A child who has a completely disadvantaged educational opportunity doesn‘t have the ability to live the American dream, so is it guaranteeing everybody the same footing?  No.  I didn‘t have the same footing as a lot of people, that‘s why a lot of people are supporting me for president. 

I represent the guy, like so many Americans, who started way down at a little bitty rent house in Hope, Arkansas.  They want to know that a guy can become president from where I started, but I also know that when I got here today because I did have access to a decent public school in my hometown.  That‘s what I‘m saying. 

CARLSON:  Where are you on vouchers?  Giving kids and their parents the choice in where they go to school? 

HUCKABEE:  School choice is a good thing.  In rural states like mine, it‘s not very practical because most of our schools are rural.  The idea of creating competing schools in a very small area would be difficult.  While I think vouchers has some tremendous potential, I also belief in charter schools. 

I think parents ought to make home school an option.  More than saying about vouchers, here‘s what we ought to say.  Empower mothers and fathers to make these education decisions.  Give them a stake in it.  Ultimately moms and dads, not governments, ought to decide what‘s best for their children. 

CARLSON:  If—surveys are pretty clear that the Iraq war has become less important to voters, or at least they say it has become less important. 

HUCKABEE:  Yes. 

CARLSON:  .when they think who they‘re going to vote for.  Should it begin to rise again in importance over the next six weeks?  Will that hurt you? 

HUCKABEE:  No, it won‘t because my position on the war has been the same, and it‘s been clear.  We need to win.  We need to win with honor.  The good news is for all Americans, not just those who support the war, for all Americans, civilians deaths are down 76 percent.  Military deaths are down 62 percent since the surge has started. 

CARLSON:  They‘re coming for you, Governor. 

HUCKABEE:  Thank you.  Yes, I think they are coming for me. 

CARLSON:  Mike Huckabee, on the street, as you can see, in Des Moines, Iowa. 

Governor, I really appreciate you coming on.  Thank you very much. 

HUCKABEE:  Thank you, Tucker.  I think they‘re coming for you. 

CARLSON:  I‘m too far away.  Thank God.  Thanks, Governor. 

Bill Clinton reportedly is growing nervous about his wife‘s campaign for president.  Will his recipe to save it work? 

Plus, if you have ever ridden the New York subway, you have no doubt witnessed some surprising scenes, but pole dancing.  That‘s right.  Bill Wolff takes us on a wild ride underground when we come back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  On the Fourth of July, she was a sure win for the Democratic nomination.  That‘s what we told you anyway.  And now, as we hang the stockings by the chimney with care, Hillary Clinton is in danger of losing two early states to Barack Obama, a man most Americans haven‘t even heard of in July, who, just a couple of years ago, was languishing in the state legislature in Illinois. 

And now we hear rumors of dissension in the campaign as former President Bill Clinton steps in to try and rescue his wife before her assumed ascension to the Oval Office blows up. 

Joining me now, Democratic strategist and MSNBC political analyst, Hillary Rosen, and online columnist, Bob Franken. 

Bob, how seriously can you we take these reports of recriminations within the campaign? 

FRANKEN:  Well, I mean perception is reality and we‘re starting to see more of those and I think that what‘s probably more important is that it is explaining away something that people seem to be taking as a fact.  And that is, if the Clinton campaign—this Clinton campaign is in serious trouble. 

So I think we have to take them seriously for that reason.  Second reason is because they‘re appearing in one—more than one news medium.  Al Hunt has the same story the day before the “Daily News” had it and there are reports now on other media.  It‘s picking up sort of its own reality as these stories go on. 

And the last thing is, there‘s probably some truth to it.  The campaign, to a large degree, has been mishandled in the minds of many. 

CARLSON:  Well, you would think there would be recriminations.  I mean, let‘s be real today.  It was a foregone conclusion she was going to get the nomination and she still may, I think you have said the odds are that she still will.  But boy, they‘re coming pretty close to screwing it up.  Somebody should be held accountable for that, no? 

ROSEN:  Well, the place—you really have to look at the places where this matters.  Iowa has never really been a factor here because John Edwards was always so strong in Iowa. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

ROSEN:  And there was always so little chance of him going beyond Iowa.  And when the Edwards supporters finally break off, they‘re not likely to go to Hillary Clinton. 

CARLSON:  No, they‘re not. 

ROSEN:  They‘re likely to go to Barack Obama. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

ROSEN:  Because that tends to be an insurgent viewpoint.  So Iowa really was never a must-win for Hillary Clinton.  So if there‘s a very good chance you can come in second in Iowa, New Hampshire is really critical.  And New Hampshire is where this lead has gotten reduced. 

CARLSON:  Take a look at the numbers.  (INAUDIBLE). 

ROSEN:  And there‘s only one thing the Clinton campaign needs to do in New Hampshire, which is to go there and remind them that Iowa doesn‘t matter.  And that‘s how you win in New Hampshire. 

CARLSON:  They won‘t have a lot of time to do it.  You know?  They‘ve got less than a week to do it. 

ROSEN:  Well, that‘s what they‘re already starting to do.  They‘re focusing on New Hampshire.  They‘re sending some of their best people there. 

CARLSON:  Boy, that‘s—but that‘s seeding a lot.  I mean it‘s hard to be the guy—you know, the person, in this case, who is, you know, having the coronation, the inevitability candidate if you‘re already giving up an early state or the earliest. 

FRANKEN:  Well, this is. 

ROSEN:  No, no, you don‘t have to give up Iowa to remind New Hampshire how important New Hampshire is in this set up. 

CARLSON:  And I was just some slut you‘ve been dating but you‘re really in love with New Hampshire.  Is that what you‘re saying? 

ROSEN:  Well, New Hampshire has been significant in the Clinton political operation. 

FRANKEN:  One way to put it.  One way to put it perhaps, Tucker, but there is certain comeuppance here.  I mean I‘ve always grown weary of the conceit of the campaign handlers, the consultants, the pollsters, that they can gloss over a candidate‘s flaws.  And inevitably, you find out they cannot.  And I think we‘re seeing that here.  Hillary Clinton has a reputation for being quite mechanical, for being somewhat of a contrivance, and I think that they‘ve only made it worse. 

ROSEN:  Well. 

CARLSON:  Well, that—the Clinton campaign, you know they‘re desperate when they‘re doing this.  But—this is a story right off the wires right now.  Billy Shaheen, the husband of the governor of New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen, who is running for Senate in this next season, just told reporters that he‘s very concerned that if Barack Obama gets the nomination, his admitted drug use, his use of cocaine and marijuana, will be fodder for the Republican dirty tricks machine.  Basically going after Obama for admitting he got high when he was a kid. 

ROSEN:  Yes. 

CARLSON:  I think that‘s low. 

ROSEN:  Well, I‘m not so sure you can attribute everything that people like Billy Shaheen, who‘s a politician in his own right. 

CARLSON:  Well, you‘re maybe right. 

ROSEN:  .to Hillary Clinton.  But. 

CARLSON:  No, but his—I mean they are—I mean they are, in effect, surrogates for Hillary. 

ROSEN:  What we do know, though, was that Obama has done really well these last couple of weeks.  Look, I‘m not knocking Barack.  I think he has finally hit the stride of becoming the Obama that some people saw early on, but the rest of us really couldn‘t find in debates and in big speeches. 

He has hit his stride.  Hillary Clinton has had to go negative in a way and people don‘t really like it when Hillary Clinton goes negative. 

CARLSON:  No, they really don‘t. 

ROSEN:  And she needs to get back into the positive space and that kind of 10 days before the January—before January 3rd in the Iowa caucuses, that‘s holiday time.  Voters don‘t want to see candidates be negative during holiday time. 

CARLSON:  No, (INAUDIBLE), no.  No—and also, people are zoning out, don‘t you think?  I mean Christmas spirit. 

ROSEN:  So I think they‘ll zone out.  I think New Hampshire and South Carolina are salvageable for the Clinton campaign.  And I expect they‘re still going to get there, but Obama is doing well. 

CARLSON:  But I wonder is this a new—is this kind of a new litmus test for candidates, for Democratic candidates?  Have you smoked marijuana?  Have you done cocaine? 

FRANKEN:  Well, first of all. 

CARLSON:  Now I wouldn‘t think they‘d want to go there, Franken. 

FRANKEN:  First of all, Obama, all he said is he did inhale. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

FRANKEN:  Second of all, one could argue that by doing—saying what he did, he now is going to be able to lay claim exclusively to the boomer vote. 

CARLSON:  Well, I think that‘s where he is going in the first place. 

FRANKEN:  Oh, yes, he‘s one of us.  Absolutely. 

CARLSON:  I think that‘s right. 

FRANKEN:  Yes.  Absolutely.  And the last thing is anybody who dilly dallies with that thing is really viewed as a hypocrite, and correctly so.  The man just said, “Of course, I did.  Didn‘t everybody?” 

CARLSON:  No, I think. 

ROSEN:  I don‘t think that‘s much of an issue. 

CARLSON:  You don‘t think the drug thing is much of an issue? 

ROSEN:  No, either way, no. 

CARLSON:  I think it actually hurts Hillary because I think it highlights the age difference between them, the generational difference between them, and I don‘t think—I don‘t think that that helps her. 

ROSEN:  And I don‘t think you‘re going to see the Clinton campaign going after Obama in sort of a dirty tricks way.  I just don‘t see that. 

FRANKEN:  Well, I think. 

CARLSON:  Well. 

FRANKEN:  But Shaheen was talking about the Republicans.  Believe me, the Republicans, the way they campaign.

CARLSON:  But that‘s a ludicrous thing to say. 

FRANKEN:  .they‘re going to find something.  Yes. 

CARLSON:  That—no.  But, you know, he saying, “You know, I worry for my friend Barack Obama, since his, you know, basically a drug addict, the Republicans are going to, you know, use that against him.  Wait, no, I‘m sorry, you just brought it up.”  I mean. 

FRANKEN:  Sure. 

CARLSON:  And speaking of attacks that may or may not be attacks. 

ROSEN:  Well, flexibility has been the entire Democratic. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

ROSEN:  .rationale for not being for Hillary Clinton, when you‘re the Obama and Edwards campaign.  I don‘t think it‘s inappropriate for people to start looking at the electability of alternatives because that‘s what we want to do as Democrats.  We want to win.  And so the same way they‘re doing that on the Republican primaries. 

CARLSON:  (INAUDIBLE) those person? 

ROSEN:  Who—well. 

CARLSON:  The person that you really agree with who represents genuine change. 

ROSEN:  See, Democrats are actually satisfied with all of our choices unlike the Republicans. 

CARLSON:  I love that.  OK. 

ROSEN:  No, we really actually feel good about all of them.  We want to do well, though, in the general election campaign. 

CARLSON:  Did you buy Mike Huckabee‘s explanation for why he asked the question he asked about Mormonism and its specific belief? 

FRANKEN:  I have trouble with it.  He is no slouch when it comes to cunning politics, and one of the things that the cunning politician does is he says, very piously, now, I don‘t believe this, but I hear that Mormons believe that Satan was the brother of Jesus.  Now, mind you, I don‘t believe that. 

And then, of course, he gets to back off, and he gets to apologize, looking like a real humble human being, but at the same time, that‘s out there, and the true believers are saying, “Wow, maybe there‘s something to this.” 

CARLSON:  Boy, I just think in the end this does help Mitt Romney because people—I mean, I think the Romney campaign benefits from this.  Every time someone is perceived to have slighted Mormonism, Romney can say, you know, “I‘m above that.  America is above that.  We all should be above that.”  And he gets the moral high ground. 

ROSEN:  Well, he gets the rhetorical high ground.  Whether or not it works because people still hold prejudices is yet to be seen. 

CARLSON:  So you think in the end, being Mormon detracts from. 

ROSEN:  I don‘t know.  I just don‘t know enough about Christian voters and their views, deeply held views on this.  But I do think that he—when Romney is attacked on this issue, he gets to try and hold America to a higher standard, and that‘s a useful political stance.  But what people do in the privacy of the voting booth is yet to be seen on these issues. 

CARLSON:  I must say. 

ROSEN:  Just like that you have to been seen for an African-American candidate or for a woman. 

CARLSON:  I—well, I can tell you that in every poll we‘ve seen, almost nobody admits to being biased against black people or women.  Almost nobody.  That‘s it.  They may be biased, but they don‘t admit it.  Lots of people admit to being biased against Mormons.  They‘re just—they‘re out there.  You know, they conceded right upfront. 

Today the story about Huckabee and questioning Mormonism has such play.  I mean it was just everywhere.  He really got the feeling the press is eager to dig in to Mike Huckabee, and I got a feeling I would not want to be Mike Huckabee for the next three days. 

FRANKEN:  You know, it‘s funny.  When I covered the McCain campaign the last time around, when he had this love affair with the press for the longest time, we did nothing but all these wonderful stories about the “Straight Talk Express.”  There was this amazing collective decision after a while and we each reached it individually, OK, honeymoon‘s over. 

CARLSON:  I was there for that, yes. 

FRANKEN:  That‘s right.  And we all decided time to go trash John McCain.  Now I‘m not saying this proudly, even though I was one of those who did, I started digging in and looking for stuff so it didn‘t look like I was part of what he called derisively his base.  And I think that same kind of thing - that same kind of dynamic is inevitable with Mike Huckabee. 

CARLSON:  So you‘re saying that the press is so dumb. 

FRANKEN:  Well. 

CARLSON:  .that it basically thinks as a group, as a herd, not as individuals, but just sort of as a pack that makes these decisions. 

FRANKEN:  I can only speak for myself.  Yes, I‘m so dumb. 

CARLSON:  Yes. 

FRANKEN:  And yes, her journalism is almost a knock, is almost redundancy.  Yes, there is an awful lot of that.  But even if that isn‘t so, the fact is that I think pretty much all of us got to a point where we were getting sickened by the wonderful things we were writing about somebody.  Can‘t be true. 

ROSEN:  Well, in fairness to the other candidates—Romney and Thompson and Giuliani have taken their hits from the press and some digging over the last couple of months, and Huckabee hasn‘t.  It may just be his turn by de facto. 

CARLSON:  It‘s an amazing story.  If he can win—if Mike Huckabee gets the nomination of the Republican Party, it will be one of the big stories that actually will be unbelievable. 

FRANKEN:  And the other thing—back to something we talked about earlier and that is Mike Bloomberg.  He hasn‘t had—he hasn‘t yet been put on the spit.  He‘s just been out there and he‘s been getting wet kisses from the media for the most part.  We‘re putting him up on this pedestal, and we do that, it pains me doing it, so we can knock him off. 

CARLSON:  It‘s fun.  Thank you both very much.  Hillary, Bob, it‘s unfair, though, I agree with that. 

It‘s that time of the year again.  The first lady is showing off holiday decorations and the president, his beloved pups are getting ready for their close-ups.  That‘s right.  Barney is back and he‘s coming to a television screen near you including this one.  Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Joining us now, the last person in the world ever to question another man‘s religion, but then again, he‘s not even running for president. 

Bill Wolff, vice president for primetime for MSNBC. 

BILL WOLFF, MSNBC VICE PRESIDNT FOR PRIMETIME: You‘re right on all counts, Tucker.  Why run for president when you‘re already vice president?  Hey now. 

CARLSON:  Good point. 

WOLFF:  There is, Tucker, a wide range of breaking news on the Los Angeles area tire fire that is Britney Spears at this hour. 

Earlier in the day we learned that Miss Spears‘s downward spiral may owe its pace and spectacular trajectory to her diet.  Dr. Timothy Brantley, PhD, tells a very fine show “Access Hollywood” that Brit‘s love of coffee-based sugar drinks is, quote, “very frightening.  She‘s a person addicted to sugar.  This is like heroin for a junkie.  She‘s literally on a rollercoaster to hell,” end quote. 

Aren‘t we all, though?  In any case, her rollercoaster ride today did not include a trip to the lawyer.  With the paparazzi assembled for her arrival at a deposition in her famed custody case, Britney was a no-show.  She apparently skipped the deposition because she wasn‘t feeling well. 

Roller coasters to hell will do that to you, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Yes, yes, they will. 

WOLFF:  Roller coaster to hell.  A doctor said that, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Tire fire. 

WOLFF:  Well. 

CARLSON:  You know how that‘s pronounced in the south, Bill? 

WOLFF:  Tire fire? 

CARLSON:  Tire fire.  Exactly. 

WOLFF:  Yes, tire fire.  I spent some time south of the Mason-Dixon Line. 

CARLSON:  I love the town. 

WOLFF:  Bristol, Tennessee, in such NASCAR country. 

But I am now a New Yorker, and as a subway rider, Tucker, I can report that among many adjectives, sexy is not one which can appropriately be applied to the New York City transit system, except for the N train in Brooklyn.  Look at that. 

On a dare from Web site, these lovely ladies decided to give it their best Pamela Anderson impersonation one day about a week ago.  For their efforts, they not only had the distinct pleasure of being ogled by commuting strangers, but they won $10,000 for best pole dancing in public. 

Not only that, but the fine folks at the Metropolitan Transit Authority are pissed off, said MTA spokes guy, Paul Fleuranges, quote, “While the rules don‘t specifically state lap or pole dancing, what is depicted here is disorderly conduct,” end quote.  Not only that, you can‘t tip the dancers with your metro card, so it‘s inconvenient, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  It looks strikingly orderly to me. 

WOLFF:  Yes.  Nothing disorderly about that, at all, and given what they charge you to get on the subway here in New York City, which is currently $2 and going nowhere but north, I think that‘s a nice service, a sort of an added bonus, don‘t you? 

CARLSON:  Absolutely. 

WOLFF:  Yes. 

CARLSON:  That‘s actually the nicest scenes I‘ve ever seen on a subway. 

WOLFF:  Yes.  I‘m sort of down on the MTA for their protest over this story.  Hmm, we‘ll see.  I‘ll organize.  I‘ll make a public statement. 

There is a new twist to nature‘s old cat-and-mouse game tonight, Tucker.  Two Japanese scientists have genetically altered mice to remove their fear of cats.  Look at that.  They did it by removing receptors in the mice‘s brain that react to the smell of a cat.  Here are the results.  A mouse prancing around with impunity in the presence of a cat who seems to have been stripped of its very nature, or, at the very least, given a heavy dose of the finest Jamaican catnip and mojito that takes the fight out of most of the cats I know. 

What kind of cat is that?  Just sitting there for you, pal.  Go get it. 

CARLSON:  The real question is: what are you doing to your cat, Bill? 

WOLFF:  Sonny Liston(ph)?  Hmm, I‘ll tell you off line.  He‘s very well behaved. 

Finally, Tucker, the White House puts on a little Christmas video show starring the Bush family dog, Barney, and it‘s out.  The reviews, I must say, are not good because the perennial stars have all resigned.  No Karl Rove.  No Rumsfeld.  No Gonzo.  So Barney has to carry the acting load all by himself, and apparently proved too much.  By the end the pooch had had enough. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Barney, I know you love the national parks, too.  Hey, did you know the White House grounds are a national park?  Come here, Barney.  Yes, you come here. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFF:  Yes, you come here.  Yes, you come here.  Oh, poor President Bush gets no respect from the dog.  Bad. 

CARLSON:  I don‘t know what to say. 

WOLFF:  You don‘t know what to say. 

CARLSON:  I kind of liked it, actually. 

WOLFF:  Well, it was cute.  It shows the president in a human moment unable to communicate with his canine captive. 

CARLSON:  I like people who like dogs.  That‘s my bottom line. 

WOLFF:  I like you. 

CARLSON:  Bill Wolf from “30 Rock.”  Thanks, Bill. 

WOLFF:  You got it. 

CARLSON:  That does it for us.  Thanks for watching.  Up next, “HARDBALL.”  We‘ll be back tomorrow.  Have a great night. 

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

END   

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