updated 1/22/2008 1:52:27 PM ET 2008-01-22T18:52:27

Guests: Gail Collins, Michael Goodwin, Frederic Dicker

TIM RUSSERT, HOST:  And we are in New York moderating the results of the Nevada primary, Democrat and Republican, and tonight’s Republican primary in South Carolina, and also taking a close look at three potential presidential candidates from the Empire State—Senator Hillary Clinton, the Democrat; former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani; and the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, weighing an Independent run. 

Let’s put it all in perspective with three veteran and terrific journalists.  From “The New York Times,” you can read her column on Thursday and Saturday, Gail Collins.  From “The New York Daily News,” you can read his column Wednesday and Sundays, Michael Goodwin.  And from “The New York Post,” Fred Dicker.  He has a column on Monday and exclusives most every other day.

Welcome all. 

Grisly veterans. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That means old, right?

RUSSERT:  Well, yes.  Welcome to the club. 

Ladies first.

Gail Collins, how do you see the race playing out?  You were in Nevada—Las Vegas. 

GAIL COLLINS, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  Oh, I want it to go on forever.  I don’t want it ever to play out.  Just do this forever.  It’s wonderful.

Gosh, what drama.  I don’t know. 

RUSSERT:  We’ll take the Democrats first.  Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, locked into a pretty close race all across the country now. 

COLLINS:  Yes.  And you know, I hate the Nevada thing.  It just drives me nuts.

The caucuses are something that nobody in Nevada has ever really taken part in before.  And the number of people who are going to show up today is pretty much predicated on who has got the best turnout operation.  And it’s interesting, but I don’t really think you want to say, oh, here’s the tie-breaking person, here’s the one who won two caucuses because their union was better than the other union who got out the vote.  And that’s really what it comes down to. 

RUSSERT:  And the estimates could be from 20,000 to 100,000.  No one knows, right? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, you can’t predict that.

COLLINS:  Well, last time it was 9,000, which I thought was really great. 

RUSSERT:  There you go.

COLLINS:  That’s my block, really.

MICHAEL GOODWIN, “NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”:  The oddities of the system as we move from the caucuses in Iowa to a real primary in New Hampshire, where Independents can come over and then you can go back to caucuses in Nevada, it’s a strange situation.  And that’s why I think it probably behooves all of us to kind of let it play out and not make predictions, because the predictions are getting upset every time another state weighs in. 

RUSSERT:  Fred?

FREDERIC DICKER, “NEW YORK POST”:  I’ll make a little prediction.  I mean, six months ago, I think a lot of us thought that we might have as many as three New Yorkers in the presidential contest.  Right now, I think it’s pretty clear we’re only going to have one at best, and that’s Hillary Clinton. 

I mean, from where I sit, it’s just astounding what’s happened to Rudy Giuliani.  And I still can’t take what Mike Bloomberg is up to very seriously.  This is one of the longest-running political fan dances I’ve ver seen.  But in the end, I don’t see him running. 

So there’s a prediction there. 

RUSSERT:  That’s pretty good.  Fred Dicker, what have you got on the table?  Roll that grenade right across here.

All right.  Let’s start with Hillary Clinton. 

Gail, have you been surprised by Hillary Clinton in any way, shape, or form during this campaign? 

COLLINS:  Oh, no.  I don’t think so.  I was surprised that she did so badly and looked like she was so much on the ropes when she got into New Hampshire. 

RUSSERT:  After Iowa. 

COLLINS:  But she is just extraordinarily—you know, just takes a licking and keeps on ticking kind of person. 

RUSSERT:  Is it ironic that this self-avowed feminist went to New Hampshire, showed some emotion, and that seemed to be a real help to her with women voters? 

COLLINS:  You know, it did.  And we truly—you know, it’s such a great story.  You really want to hang on to it if you possibly can, but if you look at women voters, women voters are conservative in sort of a nonpolitical way. 

They—when something comes up, they immediately go back and say, well, wait a minute, what about this?  And what about Social Security?  I mean, they are very, sort of, let’s take care of all of our ducks.  And she—I think even if she was a man, she would be in the end the one that women would gravitate to. 

RUSSERT:  Interesting. 

COLLINS:  Yes.

RUSSERT:  Michael Goodwin, you saw Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire.  On the ropes—I mean, her staff the day of the primary said, our track shows us down nine.  We have written a concession speech, not a victory speech.  We are going to have a staff shakeup. 

It wasn’t spin.

GOODWIN:  Right.

RUSSERT:  They were pouring their hearts out, and many thought it may be the last hurrah.  And what a comeback. 

GOODWIN:  Right.  Look, she’s got a real history.  She’s got a record. 

She’s got name recognition.  She’s got money.  She’s got her husband. 

So, any time you—you can’t count the Clintons out.  I mean, I think that would be a mistake in any way. 

You know, I was thinking recently, if you look back at the whole campaign before she got in—and I think what has been surprising is how Obama has stolen so much of the thunder and upset all of their sort of predictions of how things would go.  I mean, I think they anticipated, of course, John Edwards, they anticipated probably John Kerry, too.  And the Bidens and the Dodds and those people.

But Obama has just stolen so much of their game plan in a way by being more a change agent than they ever could be.  And it’s kind of fascinating to see how they try to recover from all that. 

RUSSERT:  She did start her campaign trying to run as the inevitable nominee. 

GOODWIN:  Right. 

DICKER:  You know, for years now, in New York, we have seen Hillary Clinton as this very guarded, difficult to approach kind of braniac.  I mean, she’s very, very bright, she gets good reviews here in New York when it comes to policy.  But on a personal level, it really isn’t there.

I mean, very, very difficult to get to her.  I mean, only recently—and you did a great job with her last week, Tim, where she’s making herself available to the media.  Then comes along Barack Obama, who has electrified young people.  I have never seen a phenomenon quite like this since my days of being a young person.  And, I mean, it’s very, very exciting.

And it seems to me Mrs. Clinton is off balance now because she’s got to be a real person, talk reality and talk genuinely.  And that’s what she did in New Hampshire, and it helped her.  And I suspect she’s going to keep doing it. 

But their instincts, and certainly the former president’s instincts, too, are to be hostile to the media, not answer questions.  And here’s Barack Obama going everywhere, responding to legitimate questions as a real politician, in my view, in a democracy should do. 

RUSSERT:  When Hillary Clinton comes to Albany, where you live and cover for “The New York Post,” do you have access to her? 

DICKER:  I do a radio show up there every day.  I have done it for 10 years.  I’ve had her on three times in seven years. 

She wouldn’t come on during her own re-election cycle in 2006.  So, the answer generally is, no, nobody else does either.  Local TV stations have been inviting her on for years, talk radio stations. 

She’s never available, except maybe around election time for maybe a national or a New York City show, and that’s it.  So I think the predisposition has been to be secretive.  That played out in Iowa, and I think it hurt her there. 

RUSSERT:  How about “The Daily News?”  Does she come to the editorial board meeting?

GOODWIN:  She will come.  Usually when she comes, most of it’s off the record. 

RUSSERT:  Really? 

GOODWIN:  Yes.  And a lot of her conversations with reporters are off the record.  And I think that, you know, their argument is, well, she can be more relaxed, but I think that that does reflect the guardedness.  She is afraid to say anything on the record without kind of—I don’t want to say poll-testing it, but thinking it through, calculating who might be offended, that sort of thing. 

She is quite personal in those private conversations, and very informed.  She is a very smart person, knows a lot, works hard.  It is a shame, I think, because I think in some ways, this guardedness and secrecy has been a real detriment to her. 

DICKER:  And it’s not just the press, if I can just quickly jump in.  Many politicians in New York, Democrats, will say the same thing about her in private, that she seems very controlled, preprogrammed.  They like her.  I mean, they think she is very, very good at what she does...

GOODWIN:  Yes.

DICKER:  ... but there’s something a little off about her in terms of being a real person. 

GOODWIN:  I’ve actually talked to a supporter of hers who raised a lot of money for her over the years, and we talked about this very question.  And he said to me, “Look, I’ve had a martini with her,” you know, and she’s been drunk, he said, “But I can’t say I know her.”  Even then she’s opaque.

So it’s a very—it’s a very strange persona.

RUSSERT:  Same thing with The Times?

COLLINS:  Yes, she comes.  And I think it’s always a mistake if we judge people in terms of how easy it is for us to get to talk to them. 

And frankly, with Hillary Clinton on the record, it’s not all that useful to talk to her, because she is—I mean, she has got every—her things.  I mean, the people that went around with her when she was on her listening tours and stuff, you wanted to shoot yourself after a while. 

But, regular people really like her.  And they really like the way she talks about, you know, programs and things like that.  I don’t imagine if you lived Hillary Clinton’s life that it’s conceivable you would not be a completely guarded person when you were dealing with the outside world, because...

DICKER:  Yes, but she’s a politician and is supposed to be answerable to the people. 

COLLINS:  Unlike most politicians, if a normal—if Chuck Schumer says something to somebody it’s something that maybe is an anecdote at dinner.  If Hillary Clinton says something, it’s in the next book or it’s here tomorrow. 

RUSSERT:  And you can get access to Chuck Schumer.

(LAUGHTER)

DICKER:  The comparisons are striking.  Those are our two senators, right?

RUSSERT:  Particularly on Sunday for the Monday paper.

We’re going to take a quick break.  A lot more with our New York journalists right after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we are back live from New York.  It’s Saturday afternoon. 

We are in the “Saturday Night Live” studio here, guys, having a good time with it all. 

DICKER:  It’s just a little early. 

RUSSERT:  That’s all right.

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSERT:  I’m with some real characters, I can tell you. 

Bill Clinton worked very hard to establish his credentials, a former president traveling around the world with George Herbert Walker Bush.  This campaign, he has thrown himself into it, almost like a campaign manager, Michael Goodwin. 

His comment about Barack Obama’s Iraq voting record—“Give me a break.  The whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.”

GOODWIN:  Right.

RUSSERT:  Yesterday, he said he was in hotels in Nevada with Chelsea, and he was being mobbed by Culinary Workers Union members saying, “We want to vote for Hillary.”  And he said he saw a union representative saying to people, if you’re going to vote for Hillary, we’re going to change your shift so you can’t go vote. 

I mean, he’s taking a pretty active role. 

GOODWIN:  Right.  Yes.

And as you say, he did work really hard.  I mean, he and George Bush, the elder, with their trips abroad and tsunami relief, that sort of stuff.  His AIDS medications programs in African and elsewhere.

You know, what you hear from insiders and people who know them both say, he wants it more than she does.  I mean, I’ve been hearing that all along. 

I mean, you see them on the stump.  He has got more fire about it.  And it’s probably inappropriate for that relationship now. 

I mean, she would be the one who wants it more.  So you begin to feel it’s more about him than her.  I’m not sure how it would work should she win the election. 

RUSSERT:  How would it work? 

GOODWIN:  Well, they’d be very strange.  I mean, if something goes wrong in Pakistan, is she going to call Bill before she comes out and makes a public statement?  Is he going to have security clearance?  Is he going to be in on national security meetings and cabinet—I mean, there are all kinds of ways where you could see a co-presidency again, which hearkens back very much to what they ran on in ‘92. 

Then they eventually dropped that and she—after the health care debacle, she kind of withdrew and became a more traditional first lady, at least publicly.  So it’s very hard to imagine an ex-president in the White House counseling the president.  We’ve never had anything like it. 

RUSSERT:  In ‘92, Gail Collins, it was buy one, get two.  And they realized that may not play so well.

COLLINS:  Didn’t work out.  And they stopped doing it.  And you know, actually, that goes back, I think, to the Texas governor, Ma whatchamacallit—Ma Ferguson, was it, who ran...

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS:  No, when she ran—when her husband was impeached, and then she went to jail and she ran on the buy one get one, too.  He was in the clink, but they really liked him still, so she won.  I think it was Ma Ferguson.

RUSSERT:  Right.

COLLINS:  But I think he should go away.  I really do.  It’s never—all of her worst moments have come when they’ve tried to work this deal out where they’re both doing it together and they’re both in power. 

She is always at her best when she is just by herself.  And I mean, obviously, they are going to continue to talk, and he’ll continue to advise her, but I really think he should go home.  It’s just bad. 

RUSSERT:  But there are some people in that campaign who believe that Bill plays a very important role.  He is not afraid to roll out the negative.  Obama is too risky or taking a chance, saying things that she won’t say.  But he’s not afraid to go negative. 

DICKER:  Right, no question about it.  I was going to say, to the extent that the Republicans, who have a really difficult situation right now, can find some solace, they find it in what’s coming down the road, because if, in fact, Hillary is the nominee, they see a tremendous—and I think correctly so—advantage in having this kind of clouded situation of not knowing for sure who the president is going to be, and having the capability or the potential in Bill Clinton of somebody who could blow up—Gail, somebody wrote today about him having kind of an attack a week, a meltdown a week. 

COLLINS:  Right.  A state—per state.

DICKER:  OK.  And, I mean, we expect that to happen throughout this year. 

RUSSERT:  Right.

It is interesting.  Obama gave an interview to a Nevada newspaper about Ronald Reagan saying that he was a transformative president, and that Obama said, “The Republicans are the party of ideas, challenging conventional wisdom over the last 15 years.”

Bill Clinton came out and said, well, the leading opponent just said that the Republicans had better ideas than the Democrats for the last 15 years. 

Is that a fair interpretation? 

COLLINS:  Not quite, but you can see how he would take it...

RUSSERT:  Close enough?

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS:  Yes, close enough.

You know, the thing about Barack Obama is he’s living out that feeling that most smart people when they first get into politics who are of good heart and mind want—this is silly, why are we not speaking the truth?  Why don’t we admit that the Republicans did this? 

Why don’t we—why are we doing all these dumb things?  Let’s just be real.  Let’s be real, for gosh sakes. 

And most people get it beaten out of them and it boils down.  And as he said, he’s not boiled down.  And it’s very interesting to watch somebody trying to run a “this is all really silly” kind of race for president.  It’s very interesting. 

RUSSERT:  But when you match Hillary Clinton against, say, Governor Mike Huckabee, and Barack Obama against Mike Huckabee, in our “Wall Street Journal” poll he wins by 12, she wins by 2.  And the difference is, Obama gets the Independent vote.  He gets 20 percent of the Republican vote.

Is Hillary Clinton capable of reaching out and putting together a coalition of Independents and even a few Republicans? 

GOODWIN:  Well, you know, the old (INAUDIBLE) that you run in a primary to the right or the left, depending on which party you’re in, they you tack to the middle for the general, he is upset with that strategy, even with the comments about Ronald Reagan and his appeal to Independents.  So, he has kind of, I think, just flumixed them across the board in what he says, how he says it, the attraction to young people, the attraction to young women, you know, coming to his campaign.

So, all kinds of things that he just, I think—the calculations, you can almost see them going haywire in the war room.  That, this is not how we planned it.  This is not how we planned it. 

So, I think for him to say, for example, Ronald Reagan, during a Democratic primary, is quite an extraordinary thing.  You won’t see anything on the Republican Party.  Nobody on the Republican Party would tout Bill Clinton at this point, right?  I mean, it’s an extraordinary thing. 

DICKER:  The mistake Obama made there was not quoting Pat Moynahan at one time, a very famous and highly regarded Democratic senator from New York who said much the same thing about the Republicans.  But I think what you are touching on, Tim, is a very high negative rating that Hillary Clinton has. 

That’s why her appeal is limited.  And that’s again why the Republicans, even with this confused situation they now have, think down the road of, if she’s the nominee, she may turn out to be a weaker one than Barack Obama. 

RUSSERT:  African-Americans here in New York, there’s exchange between Obama and Clinton over the last week.  It got pretty intense, but what we did see is a dramatic turnaround in South Carolina, where Clinton had been ahead amongst blacks, Obama now ahead considerably. 

Are we going to see something similar here in New York State? 

DICKER:  I don’t think so.  There are two polls that are coming out next week.  And we don’t have the numbers yet, New York polls.  But the indications are on the inside that there hasn’t been much movement from the black voters. 

That said, there is a great deal of nervousness though on the part of black elected officials in New York.  I heard this the other day from someone right on the inside that, in fact, black constituents in their congressional districts—in Harlem or in Brooklyn—may wind up going for Barack Obama, leaving the local elected Democrats behind, because they have virtually all of the African-American—with a few exceptions, Democrats in New York have endorsed Hillary Clinton.  They seem to be a little bit out of touch now with the electorate. 

RUSSERT:  It was interesting, Gail Collins, how Both Obama and Clinton realized after a few days, time for a truce, because this could have long-term ramifications. 

COLLINS:  You could so see that in the last debate, that sense that they were scared.  I mean, they did not like where they had gotten to. 

And you know, the interesting thing that, through all the states we’ve done so far, you talk—I have not run into one Democratic voter I have talked to who has not said, well, I like X, but they are all fine.  I like them all.  I’m going to be happy.  And it’s that sort of general sense of, well, whoever wins, I’m good with it, that you don’t want, I’m sure, if you are either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, to let slide at this point. 

RUSSERT:  Another quick break.  We’ll be right back with more of our New York journalists.

We are live from New York right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we’re live in studio 8H, the home of “Saturday Night Live,” where we’re talking politics this Saturday afternoon. 

Michael Goodwin, blacks in New York, an interesting voting bloc to watch.

GOODWIN:  Well, I think what we saw in South Carolina, Tim, was that after Obama won in Iowa and did very well—though he finished second in New Hampshire, blacks began to believe in his candidacy.  And now you’ve got a huge—we’ll see what happens today—we’ve got huge black support for Obama in South Carolina. 

If he were to win South Carolina, it’s kind of a rolling thunder experiment here.  And I think if he does well in a southern state with a lot of black voters, then I think black voters in the North are going to feel liberated to vote for him and believe in him.  And I think there will be a ground swell. 

So, what we see now I think will change depending on the outcome of South Carolina, especially. 

RUSSERT:  Fred Dicker, the lieutenant governor of New York, David Paterson, African-American, made a comment about Barack Obama after he was out in Iowa campaigning for Hillary Clinton. 

DICKER:  Tim, he did.  And it raised eyebrows in the Hillary Clinton camp.  They weren’t happy about it, because here was David Paterson saying, of course I’m supporting Senator Clinton for president; however, Barack Obama gives me a sense of pride.  I have to admit that. 

And he was admitting it to The Associated Press.  They did a profile on what was going on.  They weren’t happy to see that. 

But then it did accurately reflect—and it’s to Paterson’s credit, I think—the feeling on the part of lot of black political figures in New York.  And how could anyone blame them? 

This guy is such a remarkable phenomenon, and he makes people—white, black, Hispanic, whatever—feel good.  He came out of the blue, really.  We never expected him to win in Iowa.  And because of that, as Michael just said, he still has a lot of upside potential with those black voters who may be with Hillary now, but depending on what the outcomes are in the next couple of weeks, may move away. 

COLLINS:  Well, Hillary Clinton (INAUDIBLE).  I don’t know with what degree of happiness and cheer, but whenever she does her thing now, she says, isn’t this a great time?  What pride everyone has and how wonderfully Barack Obama is doing.  And John Edwards is a son of a mill worker. 

DICKER:  Oh, really?  I never heard that. 

COLLINS:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSERT:  You know, growing up in Buffalo and observing New York politics, I understand ethnic politics, race politics, gender politics.  I remember when I was 10 years old, my dad, 174 Woodside (ph) Avenue, hammering the sign on the wall, “Jack Kennedy for President.” 

I said...

DICKER:  And Jimmy Griffin for mayor? 

RUSSERT:  Well, we’ll get to that. 

So I said, “Dad, we’re for Kennedy?”  And he said, “Yep.”  And I said, “Why?”  He said, “He’s one of us.”

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sure.

RUSSERT:  I now say to my dad, “You didn’t tell me he was rich.”

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSERT:  But there’s something to this not only in New York, but all across the country.  If you’re an African-American and you see someone of your race a chance to be president, if you’re a woman, to see someone, the first woman in history, it’s something to be considered and analyzed. 

COLLINS:  Yes.

DICKER:  Especially with the history of, you know, black slavery, the history of denial of women voting in the United States.  I mean, who wouldn’t take pride in someone of their own background, especially when they come from a background?  Rudy Giuliani and Italian-Americans, seeing someone rise to that level.  Al Smith in 1928.

I mean, it’s a natural and perfectly acceptable thing to do. 

GOODWIN:  And it’s part of the American story, really.

COLLINS:  Sure.

GOODWIN:  I mean, as groups come to America, become citizens, learn English, vote, participate, get a share of the pie, the government pie, and of jobs, that’s how groups rise.  That’s how they get into the middle class. 

RUSSERT:  It is interesting.  I went to the Pentagon one time.  Collin Powell was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and I said, “Can I use the restroom first before our meeting, General?”  And he said, “Yes. we have twice as many as we need.”

And he explained to me, there used to be white and colored bathrooms at the Pentagon. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Wow.  Wow.

RUSSERT:  I mean, it truly is remarkable. 

And yet, Gail Collins, it’s so interesting.  When you talk about a woman running for president, everyone thought the threshold would be, is she tough enough?  Could she be commander in chief?

That’s not Hillary Clinton’s problem, is it? 

COLLINS:  That’s what she says now, that that’s not the problem.  The problem is being warm and fuzzy a little bit and letting people get a little bit closer to her. 

She is not warm and fuzzy in an unusually cold kind of way.  I mean, she really does sound programmed when she talks often.  But, you know, when she just goes and talks to people, she kind of gets past that.  You know?

RUSSERT:  But it is interesting watching Hillary Clinton in command, people can see her as commander in chief, Michael Goodwin.  But I moderated the Rick Lazio debate in 2000 when he “violated her space” by going to the podium.

The other—after the Philadelphia debate, it was the boys are piling on.  We saw the emotional tears in New Hampshire. 

There are a lot of sensitive sides to being a woman that seem to help Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. 

GOODWIN:  Well, and we shouldn’t forget that particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire, and I think this is probably going to be true in most states, 56 percent of the Democratic voters are female.  So she’s got a natural base.  And we’re talking about ethnic politics, gender politics.

She’s got a natural base if she can bring them in.  Now, nobody gets 100 percent of any group, but if you can get a large chunk, a large majority within your favored group, you don’t need to do so well against the other groups. 

So, look, she has got to play to that base.  That is her strength going in.  They knew that.  It’s how to—it’s how to maximize the turnout among women and keep them on her side.  She has got a shot in every state because of that. 

DICKER:  It’s worth keeping in mind—I was just going to say, not only do campaigns have people who specialize in looking for these kinds of openings—and whether she genuinely felt offended or not is really beside the point.  They see an opening and then they exploit it, whether it’s race or gender, whatever it may be. 

So, we’re not sure, I think it’s fair to say, that Hillary was genuinely upset by some of these things going back to 2000.  But the opening is there, and she’s effectively used them.

RUSSERT:  The—I’m sorry.

GOODWIN:  Well, just in terms of the parties, it’s one of the differences between them, is in the first two states, for example, where we had good data, 56 percent of the Democratic voters were female, 56 percent of the Republican voters were male.  So you really have mirror images of the parties on the gender line which goes a long way to reflecting and determining their policies. 

Republicans tend to be more macho.  You know, military versus health care, kind of guns and butter argument.  And so the parties are really mirror opposites on the gender issue. 

RUSSERT:  If Hillary Clinton was the nominee, Gail Collins, could she make this historic argument, even though you may be a Republican woman or an Independent woman, or more conservative than I am, this is a chance to make history?

COLLINS:  Probably not too much.  I mean, frankly, you don’t have any data that says that women ever vote for somebody just because she’s a woman. 

This is a little bit different because it’s the first woman president thing.  And I think you’ll get some, but I still think that it goes—the woman thing transcends her actual gender. 

It has to do with Barack Obama.  You have this sense it’s very intellectual.  He wants to do it a different way—we’re going to work a different way.  The processes will be different. 

With Hillary Clinton, you have a much stronger sense of, boy, I really want that daycare program here, or I really want to do that.  And that’s the kind of stuff that really does appeal greatly to women voters.  And I think she transcends just her sex when she talks to women. 

RUSSERT:  That was her Christmas video, a little pre-k...

COLLINS:  Yes.  And that drives Republicans completely nuts, but it really works well. 

GOODWIN:  But there are—among women, even, there are big differences among the age groups.  And income, and that sort of thing, and racial.  So, it’s not going to be a lock for her, though she does have an advantage. 

RUSSERT:  Another quick break.  We’ll be right back with more.

We’re in New York today talking about the race for the White House 2008.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we are back in New York talking to three august members of the New York press corps—Fred Dicker of “The New York Post”; Michael Goodwin of “The New York Daily News”; Gail Collins of “The New York Times.”

Such comedy, harmony, the three New York papers together in one here, huh? 

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSERT:  Seeking the truth. 

Start us off.  Rudy Giuliani, the frontrunner in the Republican primary race four or five months ago. 

DICKER:  No question.

RUSSERT:  And you think he’s in trouble? 

DICKER:  I think he’s finished.  I mean, it’s an extraordinary story, in part because those of us who have been in New York a long time remember him as this crusading prosecutor in the 1980s.  And the 1990s, a mayor who took on a city that most people I think thought was ingovernorable—or that was the claim. 

He cleaned it up in many ways.  He brought a spirit of optimism to the city, that these problems that seemed to (INAUDIBLE) so long could be addressed.  And, of course, he was America’s mayor after 2001, after what I think is widely regarded as very strong leadership after this horrendous terrorist attack. 

But he leaves office.  He becomes a mega millionaire.  He goes out and becomes a big businessman, eventually gets into the race for president.  And then we don’t see any of the special qualities that we saw in the ‘80s, the crime fighter, in the ‘90s as an administrator, in 2001 as a national leader, to the point where it seems to me, he hasn’t scored a single point with the American people over the last six months. 

And we’re seeing a guy who is just sort of a pale imitation of what he once was, living on past glories.  No organizations underground.  His supporters in New York and in other places are very worried about him, and yet, primary after primary, caucus after caucus, still nothing from Rudy Giuliani. 

And the idea that we have to wait until January 29th in Florida to finally see the real Rudy Giuliani emerge I find just hard to believe. 

RUSSERT:  And he did spend a lot of time in Iowa and New Hampshire. 

DICKER:  Right.

RUSSERT:  It just didn’t register. 

DICKER:  Right.

RUSSERT:  Michael Goodwin, one of the story lines about Rudy Giuliani, the problem, was the indictment of Bernard Kerik, his former police chief who he recommended to George Bush to be secretary of homeland of security. 

GOODWIN:  Right.

And then an issue that your paper covered very aggressively, Giuliani’s use of a security force paid for by the taxpayers to guard Judy Nathan, his then girlfriend.  That really did seem to resonate with voters. 

GOODWIN:  Well, I think going in he probably had more of a problem than we recognized.  And I think probably looking back, the national polls that had him the frontrunner were probably misleading to him, as well as to all of us. 

It boasted basically about name recognition and 9/11.  When he got into these states, what struck me is that how badly he has pulled votes in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina today. 

I mean, he’s basically in single digits, 5 percent or so.  And Iowa and New Hampshire I think are really interesting because they’re swing states.  And if you can’t pull your own party or Independents, particularly in New Hampshire, what is your claim to be able to be the best general election candidate? 

That’s what I think has really—so, he had a series of things go wrong.  But fundamentally, it all just seemed to melt. 

Now, look, he’s still alive.  I mean, we don’t know what’s going to happen with Republican.  Nobody has won two or two in a row. 

So, Florida, if he could pull Florida out and get some money after that, he would have a shot on February 5th.  But February 5th is not going to lock it up for him now.  He’s gong to have to fight beyond that, obviously. 

RUSSERT:  And that’s his...

GOODWIN:  If he does survive.

RUSSERT:  That’s exactly his thinking.  Michael is right—win Florida, and then parlay that win into Super Tuesday, where he could win New York and New Jersey and the surrounding states, and be a player and perhaps try to broker something down the road. 

COLLINS:  You know, many, many, many, many people in New York, when this whole thing started, honestly, said, wait?  Rudy Giuliani.  I mean, he was horrible his second term in office, except for 9/11. 

It was awful.  I mean, Bernard Kerik was awful, he had awful people working for him who had really no standing his second term around.  He’s not really very good unless he’s fighting with somebody, having a war, and he doesn’t really have a presidential temperament. 

And then there’s all the strange stuff, too.  But—so everybody was kind of—a lot of people were kind of—those who did not think he was a great candidate thought he would be a horrible candidate.  And I think it’s just sort of coming around.

However, I have got to say one thing for his strategy.  If you are a troubled candidate anyway, what I would do would be to pick one state and say, I love you, state, you are my state.  I love you more than any other state. 

Forget New Hampshire.  They are a bad state.  You are the really good state that I love, and I live here.  And see how that works, because sometimes that seems to be—New Hampshire repaid John McCain for all that time of loving. 

RUSSERT:  And a state Florida is a lot like (ph) New Yorkers. 

COLLINS:  It could happen.

DICKER:  His issue has evaporated, though.  His issue was fighting crime and fighting terrorism.

Now he’s trying to fight, you know, a terrible economy and trying to make the case that he’s really Mr. tax cutter.  I mean, he is rebranding himself in Florida, with Steve Forbes running around trying to say, well, he really is about tax cutting.

Well, he wasn’t.  He was about crime fighting and leadership . And now, of course, with the subprime mortgage problems and the economy tanking, it’s just not his issue.  And to the extent that his issue is out there, John McCain, I think, has it.

Tim, you’ll find this interesting.  One poll that’s going to come out here next week, I’m sworn to secrecy on some of the details.  However, not on this point.  It’s going to show John McCain overtaking Rudy Giuliani in his home state of New York, I am told.  And that will be just extraordinary. 

RUSSERT:  That’s some interesting news, Fred Dicker. 

DICKER:   Yes.

RUSSERT:  Thank you for rolling that out.  That’s pretty good.  “New York Post”...

GOODWIN:  And one of the things you do see, of course, that he and McCain are sort of sharing the same pot.  Just in many ways the way Huckabee and Thompson are, too. 

So, at some point, the Republican Party is going to have to decide, which of these two does it want?  And throw the other two away.  So, we’ll have to see. 

I think, you know, Florida is not a lock for him, but he’s been courting the Cuban community very assiduously in Florida.  A big part of the Florida vote.  And the tax—I actually disagree.  I think the taxes have always been part of his appeal. 

I mean, he’s run on a tax cutter in New York.  In the first debate he mentioned that.  But he clearly—it hasn’t worked so far.  But it’s not over. 

RUSSERT:  And his issues on the social and cultural issues present a problem with large blocks of Republicans.  If you are pro abortion rights, pro-gay rights, pro-gun control, no matter how much you can try to say you’re going to appoint strict constructionist judges, your record can be a problem. 

COLLINS:  You might be willing to swallow all that if you thought this was the great, stupendous candidate and there was no other candidate nearly as great and stupendous as this one great man who could keep us safe, but he hasn’t really got that anymore. 

GOODWIN:  I think one of the iconic moments of this campaign is him taking the cell phone call at the National Rifle Association.  Tremendous blunder.  I think that just kind of opened the door to a lot of weirdness, particularly with his wife now. 

I mean, it’s just—and the same way with the billing story.  I think it wasn’t so much about the billing per se, which may not have been as bad as initially advertised, but it opened the door.  Kind of a back door to that whole saga of the—you know, of the divorce and, you know, the affair, all of that stuff.  So he’s just got a lot of baggage that had surfaced at the wrong time for him. 

DICKER:  But the indications early on were that people were—Republicans voters were prepared to look away from some of the baggage and look away from some of his social positions because he seemed to be so strong on national security.  But national security is not the big issue right now than it was just a year or two ago with voters, and certainly not what it was four years ago. 

GOODWIN:  But that could change in an instant. 

COLLINS:  If something weird like that happened...

RUSSERT:  We’ll find out, I guess.

COLLINS:  ... you would have a whole different scenario on both sides.  If you had some bad event, suddenly Hillary Clinton becomes much stronger against Barack Obama, I think.  And John McCain and Rudy Giuliani... 

RUSSERT:  She keeps raising that issue. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right.

RUSSERT:  When Gordon Brown was elected...

COLLINS:  She does.  She does raise the terror card. 

(CROSSTALK)

GOODWIN:  I mean, that’s like mentioning Ronald Reagan, almost. 

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSERT:  Michael Bloomberg, the current mayor of New York, was in Texas yesterday.  Had time to fit in a meeting with the fellow who was the chief delegate counter and petition drive overseer for Ross Perot.

Kevin Sheekey—he works with Mayor Bloomberg—has been meeting endlessly with people around the country saying, is there room for an Independent candidacy?  Someone close to the mayor said to me, if it’s Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee, we see an opening that is so wide in the center. 

What do you think? 

GOODWIN:  Yes.  I think all along that has been his thing, that, can I see a middle path between, you know, left and right, if the parties nominate somebody who doesn’t have a claim to the Independents?

His nightmare, on the other hand, is Obama versus McCain, because then there’s no middle.  Both of them are trying to appeal to Independent voters. 

So, almost anybody else, no.  The problem is the major parties have a lock on the electoral process in most states.  Should there be no clear winner in the Electoral College, it goes to the House, which is Democratically controlled.

The Electoral College is the one stopper, but he wants to do it.  So he is looking for reasons to do it rather than reasons not to.  He is leaning forward into it. 

DICKER:  I think it’s worth mentioning, Tim, if I could just quickly jump in that Mayor Bloomberg is term limited.  In a year and three-quarters he’s got to get out.  He’s looking for a job. 

RUSSERT:  Yes.

DICKER:  But what is his selling point to the American people?  I mean, the idea that this guy could run for president when he doesn’t have a single transcendent issue that’s going to appeal to the American people, that’s going to be able to have him do something that hasn’t really been done since Abraham Lincoln in 1860, I think is ridiculous. 

I mean, Teddy Roosevelt tried it with a real issue in 1912.  Henry Wallace in 1948.  George Wallace.

I mean, they were really divisive issues.  That is to say, issues that ignited a certain percentage of the American people to a third-party run. 

What is his issue?  He’s going to run as a technocrat and electrify America?  I just don’t see it. 

RUSSERT:  How about commonsense competence?

(CROSSTALK)

DICKER:  All the political consultants want to get on his gravy train.  That’s the issue.

COLLINS:  But, you know, the funniest thing to me is that both—you know, I have no idea what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton say, but both Barack Obama’s people and Hillary Clinton’s people believe that Mayor Bloomberg has said to their candidate, if it is you, I won’t go, which means, I guess, if it’s Mike Huckabee and John Edwards, he’s a lock.  But other than that, you know, I wonder.

RUSSERT:  I think every candidate has heard that at one time or another.

GOODWIN:  You know what else?  I think for Bloomberg it’s a no lose proposition.  As Fred says, he’s out of a job in a year and a half.

I personally believe he’ll end up running for governor against Eliot Spitzer.  That’s—because of the timing.  He will not be president.  He will run for governor.  That’s what I think is the most likely scenario. 

DICKER:  And he could win.

RUSSERT:  As a Republican. 

GOODWIN:  Yes.

RUSSERT:  Yes, he does not want to do a Perot.  He doesn’t want to be a spoiler.

GOODWIN:  Right.

RUSSERT:  If he got 21, 25 percent of the vote.  He wants to find a way to get 38 to 40 percent of the vote and win those 270 electoral votes.

GOODWIN:  Yes.

RUSSERT:  And unless he can see that path, pretty tough.

GOODWIN:  Yes.

RUSSERT:  Another quick break.  We’ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we are back in New York. 

Michael Goodwin is suggesting that Mike Bloomberg may run as governor of New York, as an Independent.  Perhaps even cross-endorsed by the Republicans. 

Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York, ironically today’s “Wall Street Journal”: “Spitzer’s Nemesis,” and it says here the veteran journalist is one of many reasons the New York governor swears. 

This is Fred Dicker right here. 

(CROSSTALK)

Yes—that’s...

DICKER:  Thanks.

RUSSERT:  But Eliot Spitzer has had a tough patch.  Is that fair? 

DICKER:  Fair to say.  We have never seen a governor or any politician in New York come in so high.  He was at about an 82 percent approval rating a year ago, and (INAUDIBLE), where something like only about 23 percent of New Yorkers say he should run for re-election. 

He has had some problems, whether it was a proposal to allow illegal aliens to get drivers’ licenses, or something that’s called Troopergate or Spitzergate, where his top aides used the state police—and Mike Goodwin has written a lot about this, too—used the state police to trail and try to set up in a plot against his leading Republican opponent. 

He described himself as an steam roller in dealing with the legislature.  It didn’t help him there very much.

Here’s a guy who’s gone from the height of popularity to not only being disliked by a lot of New Yorkers, but by his own fellow Democrats to a point now where they probably like the Republican leader of the senate, Joe Bruno, more than they like their own governor, Eliot Spitzer. 

RUSSERT:  It had talked about in Spitzer’s circles, Michael Goodwin, that he would be the first Jewish president of the United States of America. 

GOODWIN:  Right.  Yes, it turns out, he has got more ambition than skill.  And as Fred mentioned, just a series of missteps. 

I don’t think there’s so much political problems though.  I think it’s character.  And I think character is destiny. 

And Eliot, I think, throughout his history—I mean, when he first ran for office, he basically lied about how he was raising his money.  It was coming from his father.  He lied.  And when I challenged him, when he eventually admitted it, I said, “Eliot, you lied.”  He said, “I had to.”

Now, that kind of an idea from a guy who would then become the sheriff of Wall Street, you would think he would have learned.  You would think he would have sort of cleaned up his past, stopped making those mistakes.  But he repeated them once he became governor. 

And as Fred said, using the state police to try to embarrass—he also tried to—after all of the hullabaloo, after it got him in a big jam, he then had somebody write a letter to the IRS trying to get Joe Bruno in trouble.  So, it’s this use of law enforcement for political purposes, which I think is a line that we’ve all agreed we don’t cross that.  That’s something I think that is a post-Watergate reform in American politics, but he just runs right across it. 

It’s a bizarre situation.

RUSSERT:  If Hillary Clinton was elected president of the United States, the governor of New York would opponent her successor in the U.S. Senate.  Who would he opponent? 

DICKER:  Well, we don’t know yet, obviously, Tim.  I mean, right now, the leading candidate is the lieutenant governor who we talked about earlier, David Paterson.  But could Spitzer doublecross Paterson?  A lot of people think that’s possible.  He may just pick somebody who’s been close to him, someone else we don’t know about right now.

COLLINS:  Can he appoint himself? 

DICKER:  He could.  And—but we don’t expect that, unless maybe he thinks Mike Bloomberg is going to run against him.  Then that would be a good way out.

RUSSERT:  Time to get out.

GOODWIN:  He’ll appoint Bloomberg.

DICKER:  And Andrew Cuomo.

RUSSERT:  Yes.  Andrew Cuomo, the attorney general, who he sees as a potential threat in the Democratic primary.

DICKER:  Yes, absolutely.

RUSSERT:  Why not put him in the U.S. Senate?

DICKER:  It makes sense.  Did Earl Warren wind up as chief of the Supreme Court because the president feared...

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSERT:  But I like this.  He can say to David Paterson, I’m not going to make you senator, I’m going to make you governor.

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSERT:  See you later.

DICKER:  Paterson would like that, too. 

RUSSERT:  All right, Gail Collins.  We talked about—Michael called him the sheriff of Wall Street, the mayor of Buffalo, the president of Eerie County, the president of the United States...

COLLINS:  Your man and mine, Grover Cleveland!

RUSSERT:  Grover Cleveland.

You’re an expert on Grover Cleveland.  Why?

COLLINS:  We are the only two people in the world who really think Grover Cleveland is neat.  He was just the most exciting president.  I could tell you for hours—and you don’t want to hear it—but he... 

RUSSERT:  Underrated president?  Is that what I’m hearing?  I like this part of the story—remember, “Ma, ma, where’s my pa?  Gone to the White House.  Ha, ha, ha”?

Are you certain that Grover Cleveland was the father of that illegitimate child? 

COLLINS:  I’m almost certain he was not the father of that illegitimate child. 

DICKER:  Ooh, some news here.

COLLINS:  It was the father of his future wife who was the father of the illegitimate child.  See, that’s why you like Grover Cleveland.  You get stories like...

RUSSERT:  So he took the fall for this guy?

COLLINS:  He took the fall for the guy, who was dead and who was married.  He was unmarried and alive, and he took the fall, yes. 

RUSSERT:  You see what you can learn... 

COLLINS:  There you are.  See? 

RUSSERT:  ... at this roundtable? 

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSERT:  Let me go back to the Republican race, because it’s so exciting.  Tonight we’ll know the results of South Carolina. 

In the states I have been, Michael—and you brought it up—Iowa and New Hampshire, swing states, the turnout on the Democratic side has been twice of that on the Republican side.  What does that portend for the fall? 

GOODWIN:  Well, look, if I were a politician running this year, I would want to be a Democrat.  It’s so easy, in effect, to run against an unpopular war, an unpopular president, health care, and now the economy. 

I mean, George Bush and the Republicans, who have controlled Washington for the better part of these last eight years, have, the public believes, made a mess of most things.  Katrina stands out, things like that. 

So, it’s easier to be a Democrat.  Democrats have a—they have a good solid line of candidates, and they are probably going to increase their advantages in Congress in the fall.  So, it’s a great time to be a Democrat if you are running.  And yet, on a one-to-one, head-to-head for the presidency, the Republicans are very competitive.  So that’s the real interest. 

RUSSERT:  And five of the last seven presidents have been Republicans.

GOODWIN:  Yes.

RUSSERT:  It was interesting watching this, Gail Collins, over the last few days.  Senators from Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, so-called red states, endorsing Barack Obama and saying that they thought Obama could run better in their states than Hillary Clinton.  The Clinton camp countered, saying, well, we have Evan Bayh in Indiana and Ted Strickland, the governor of Ohio.

But, nonetheless, at this stage, post-New Hampshire, for those public officials to come out from red states and say, hey, take a new look at Obama, it was pretty interesting. 

COLLINS:  It’s very interesting.  It’s very powerful.  Although I have to say that in some ways, Barack Obama is a little bit like John McCain. 

John McCain now is a candidate that a lot of Democrats like for a Republican, but they wouldn’t vote for him in the end.  You’re seeing—I see, anyway, in the red states a lot of this sort of, oh, Obama is really neat, but it’s coming from people who probably aren’t going to vote for any Democrat, no matter who it is. 

They just find him, for a Democrat, to be really charming.  But it’s not the same thing.  And I think that that’s a little bit of what you get in those states, that sense of this is the safer bet for me to go with right now. 

GOODWIN:  But I think it would, in those states, though, if he were the nominee, it would require the Republicans to defend what they should not have to defend in those states.  And that’s a strategy in the presidential election—make people spend money and spend time in states that they normally don’t think they should have to. 

RUSSERT:  A Republican told me that if Obama was the candidate, he would be single digits in Mississippi.  He’d lose.

GOODWIN:  Right.

RUSSERT:  But he’d cut the loss to single digits, and they would have to spend money in Mississippi, which they don’t want to do. 

GOODWIN:  Yes.  Yes.  Sure.

RUSSERT:  Fred...

DICKER:  I was going to...

RUSSERT:  Yes, please.

DICKER:  I think it’s fair to say that Barack Obama may be a problem for the Democrats if he’s running for president in states like New York.  Jeremiah Wright, this controversial minister from Chicago, and some of the statements he has made have raised great concerns amongst a lot of Democrats, in particular Jewish Democrats in New York who are concerned about this.  So I think there could be—this can kind of cut both ways. 

And certainly if Hillary is the nominee, and Bill every week starts popping off, things could change very quickly.  I mean, I don’t think there’s any guarantee now that even though this turnout that you were talking about, Tim, all goes well for the Democrats, that doesn’t guarantee that a Democrat is going to be president by any means. 

RUSSERT:  As we saw in 2000 and then in ‘04, these presidential races tighten, tighten, tighten. 

DICKER:  Absolutely.  Like, one mistake.  You know, one unexpected disclosure, an external event—it could be something tragic—could change it all. 

RUSSERT:  You know, with a mild recession, you don’t want to be the incumbent party.  But you all raised the prospect of a terrorist attack and how that could change the whole thing.  But one interesting thing is we all thought that this would be over early, that someone would win Iowa and New Hampshire, and now, even after Super Tuesday, could we ever have a brokered convention? 

DICKER:  Can that be done legally?  I don’t know.

COLLINS:  Oh, all reporters, all veteran reporters want a brokered convention.  It will never happen. 

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS:  It will never happen.  Never.

GOODWIN:  Boston, as you said, had a good candidate.  Glover Cleveland. 

RUSSERT:  If you have four Republican candidates on the Republican side, they may start cutting deals with each other before we even get there. 

GOODWIN:  Sure.  Sure.

DICKER:  We may see that with Fred Thompson after tonight.

RUSSERT:  Fred Dicker of “The New York Post”.  Michael Goodwin, “Daily News”.  Gail Collins, “New York Times”.

Terrific, triumphant.

That’s a great law firm, isn’t it—Collins, Goodwin and Dicker.

See you.      

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