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‘Meet the Press’ transcript for Jan. 6, 2008

Transcript of the Jan. 6, 2008 broadcast of NBC's 'Meet the Press,' featuring John McCain (R-AZ).

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  In Iowa, it was Obama for the Democrats...


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL):  You have done what the cynics said we couldn’t do.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  ...and Huckabee for the Republicans.


FMR. GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE:  Well, tonight we proved that American politics is still in the hands of ordinary folks like you.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  And now it’s New Hampshire, as Hillary Clinton and John Edwards try to bounce back.  And John McCain, in a must-win comeback against former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.  Can he re-create his victory here in 2000?  Our guest, Republican candidate for president Senator John McCain.

Then, the candidates debated last night.  A look at the tactics, the strategies, the messages.  He worked for Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon.  He worked for John McCain and Mitt Romney, Republican strategist Mike Murphy.  The New Hampshire primary, 48 hours to go.

Senator McCain, welcome back to New Hampshire.  This is it.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ):  Yes, it certainly is.  By the way, I saw that intro.  I don’t know about the Democrat, but you can’t trust Murphy, OK?  I know him.

MR. RUSSERT:  You paid him.

SEN. McCAIN:  Yeah, that’s right.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me go to the very latest MSNBC/McClatchy newspaper poll. Here it is:  John McCain, 32; Mitt Romney, 24; Mike Huckabee, 12; Rudy Giuliani, nine; Ron Paul, eight.  What does that tell you?

SEN. McCAIN:  It tells me that there’s about—in that poll I think they’ll say that 50 percent of the voters are still undecided.  So we have, you know, it’s all-out these last 24 hours--48 hours.  And a lot of voters in New Hampshire, we all know, make up their minds in the last few hours or even when they go into the ballot booth.  So we’ve still got a lot of work to do.

MR. RUSSERT:  Many had given your candidacy up for dead.  Are you surprised by your current situation?

SEN. McCAIN:  I’m pleased.  I can’t say that it’s surprise.  But I know we were at a very low point.  We came here to New Hampshire, and we’ve been traveling around the country telling people the truth.  And here in New Hampshire people, frankly, don’t mind it if you disagree with him as long as they think that you’re telling them the truth.  And that’s the beauty of the town hall meeting here.  We had, we had our 100th town hall meeting here yesterday in Peterborough, and it was well attended, and we had some very spirited exchanges.  I think, I think that’s what, what the people of New Hampshire want.

MR. RUSSERT:  I had a chance to see you out in Urbandale, Iowa.

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  And you said something that caught my attention.  I want to play it for our viewers and come back and talk about it.

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  Here’s John McCain.


SEN. McCAIN:  I think we all know that the American people have lost their trust and confidence in their government of the United States.  Our failures at Katrina, the war in Iraq, corruption and spending in Washington.  We know that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Lost their trust and confidence.

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  Katrina, the war in Iraq and spending.

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  That’s a denunciation of George W.  Bush.

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, it’s certainly a criticism, but I also have pointed out, as I did last night in the debate, we’ve not had another attack on the United States of America.  I think he deserves credit for that.  He led this nation after 9/11 and united us.  There’s a number—at least he’s had the good judgment, finally, to change the strategy in Iraq so that we now have a winning strategy.  Look, I think the president of the United States has made mistakes, but I would say the biggest one is spending.  That, that’s what our base is unhappy about.  That’s what I’m going to fix.  That’s what I’ve fought against for years, and I’ve done so pretty effectively.  Saved the taxpayers a couple of billion dollars in a Boeing tanker deal.  I—the reason—I led the investigation of Jack Abramoff.  But our base has got to have—restore—got to have their confidence and their trust restored because they have lost it, and there’s no doubt about that.  And spending...

MR. RUSSERT:  But you say...

SEN. McCAIN:  ...on the part of Congress has been one of the big factors. The approval rating of Congress is far lower than it is of the president.

MR. RUSSERT:  But Katrina and Iraq...

SEN. McCAIN:  Yes.  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...and spending, that’s George Bush.

SEN. McCAIN:  Yes.  It’s, it’s, it’s George Bush with a lot of help from a lot of people, and one of them was Donald Rumsfeld, who I said I had no confidence in, and I believe that he should be—should have resigned long before he did.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to your contest with Mitt Romney.

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  Governor Romney’s on the air here in New Hampshire...

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...with a television ad.  Let’s play part of it and come back and talk about it.

(Videotape of ad)

Ad Announcer:  He voted against the Bush tax cuts.  On immigration, McCain supported this year’s amnesty bill.  Higher taxes, amnesty for illegals, that’s straight talk for being in Washington too long.

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY:  I’m Mitt Romney, and I approve this message.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Let’s talk about it.  Bush tax cuts.  You did vote against them in May of 2001, May of 2003...

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...and, in fact, you said “We can’t afford tax cuts for the fortunate at the expense of the middle class who need tax relief.”

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, I also said that the reason—major reason why I was opposed to it was because there was no spending cuts.  I was proud to be part—a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution.  And we had tax cuts, but we had spending cuts that went right along with it.  And without spending cuts, it was clear that the—we would be facing the financial debacle that—fiscal debacle that we are in today.  I had a tax cut proposal which had significant tax cuts, but it had spending restrain in it too.  And unless we cut spending then, then we are going to end up in a—the serious situation we’re in today. I will cut spending.  And I will continue to support making the tax cuts permanent, which I’ve voted already twice.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you voted the third time for the tax cuts, but there weren’t spending cuts.

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.  No, but I thought that we ought to keep the tax cuts permanent because if we had increased taxes, which that would have had the effect of, if I had voted in the other way.  So, look, we need to have spending cuts.  I know that, everybody knows that, and if we had done what I wanted to do in 2000, we would now be talking about more tax cuts because we would have had spending cuts to go along with it.  And it’s just facts.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you believe that voting against the Bush tax cuts was a mistake?

SEN. McCAIN:  Of course not.  As I just said, I believe that we needed spending cuts to go along with it, the way we did in the Reagan years.  In the Reagan years, we cut spending along with the tax cuts.  Unfortunately, later on, we did away with Gramm-Rudman and some of those other requirements for spending cuts, then that—and that caused us problems.  But, look, you can’t—Ronald Reagan used to say you can’t expand the size of government without paying for it.  And if you’re going to pay for it, obviously, you can’t have tax cuts.  So it has to go hand in hand, and that’s, that’s what I will do as president.

MR. RUSSERT:  Bob Novak, in his column, wrote this:  “McCain has admitted to me that those tax votes were a mistake.”

SEN. McCAIN:  I, I, I can’t, I can’t account for, for Bob Novak’s comments or anybody else’s comments.  I know what I’ve said on the record thousands of times.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to immigration, an amnesty immigration bill.

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  This is what John McCain said to the Tucson Citizen, home state paper, back in 2003.  “I think we can set up a program where amnesty is extended to a certain number of people who are eligible.”

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  “And at the same time make sure that we have some control over people who come in and out of” the “country.  Amnesty has to be an important part because there are people who have lived in this country for 20, 30 or 40 years, who have raised children here,” paid “taxes here and are not citizens. That has to be a component of it.”

SEN. McCAIN:  Look, I have said time after time that no one can be reward for—rewarded for illegal behavior.  The context of that conversation, don’t you call that “amnesty.” Look, I have said and, and hundreds of hours of debate on the Senate floor, we reward no one for illegal behavior.  They have to pay fines.  They have to take the naturalization.  They have to—we have to put them into certain categories.  I have said, as Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, has said that we have a lot, about two million people here in this country who have come illegally, have committed crimes here in America, and they have to be deported immediately.  Then...

MR. RUSSERT:  How would you do that?

SEN. McCAIN:  You, you round them up and you find them.  And you also...

MR. RUSSERT:  Two million people, though?

SEN. McCAIN:  It—look, with...

MR. RUSSERT:  Logistically, how do you do that?

SEN. McCAIN:  We cannot—it’s very hard, but what’s the choice?  Having people who are breaking our laws in our country illegally?  But the other aspect of it is that people come forward, and we—and those that don’t come forward, then obviously it’s easier to identify them, and then we address their, their situation according to how long they’ve been here, what their record is, but they cannot be rewarded for illegal behavior.  In other words, they can’t be put in front of anybody else.

But the fundamental point here is we have to secure the borders first.  That’s what we know, that the American people, because of their lack of trust and confidence which you and I just talked about, they want the borders secured. As president, I will secure the borders.  I will have the border states’ governors certify that those borders are secure.  Then we will have a temporary worker program that has to do with tamper-proof biometric documents, electronic verification systems and others.  But I will not and cannot support something that rewards illegal behavior.  So there is no amnesty involved in it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Fourteen million illegal immigrants here, let’s say two million have committed crimes.

SEN. McCAIN:  Yeah.  Yeah, sure.

MR. RUSSERT:  You’ll take steps to make move them out.  The remaining 12 million...

SEN. McCAIN:  Sure.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...they have children born here, they pay Social Security taxes.

SEN. McCAIN:  Sure they do.  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  They will stay?

SEN. McCAIN:  I have said in debate after debate, it’s not that they will stay, it depends on their category.  If someone is 80 years old and been here 70 years and they have a son or grandson fighting in Iraq, I’m not interested in calling him up and telling him I’m deporting his grandmother, OK?  As I’ve said time after time, we have to address this in a humane and compassionate fashion.  But our first priority is our nation’s security. That’s why we have to secure our borders first, so that there’s not another inflow of people illegally after we address this group of people who are here illegally.

MR. RUSSERT:  That’s a given, secure the borders.

SEN. McCAIN:  Sure, sure.

MR. RUSSERT:  That’s a given.

SEN. McCAIN:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  But those 12 million who did not...

SEN. McCAIN:  Some may have to, some may have to be deported immediately. Some may...

MR. RUSSERT:  If they have children here that are American citizens?

SEN. McCAIN:  Some—not—look, each one has to be treated in a humane and compassionate fashion, and I can’t tell you each individual case.  But there’s some that may have to go back to the country that they came from for a while and be checked out before they come back here.  That’s all got to do with a resolution of this huge issue once we have secured the borders.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mike Huckabee said, “If we deported 12 million illegal immigrants...”

SEN. McCAIN:  Yeah.  Sure.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...”it would destroy our economy.”

SEN. McCAIN:  I think it would have significant economic impacts.  I think it’s obvious that our economy, to a large degree, has grown dependent upon illegal workers.  And that’s why I’m for a temporary worker program that’s truly temporary that has a tamper-proof biometric document so we can fill those jobs that, that Americans won’t fill.

MR. RUSSERT:  And if an employer in the future...

SEN. McCAIN:  But first we got to secure the borders.

MR. RUSSERT:  In the future, if an employer hired an illegal immigrant, you would hold that employer accountable?

SEN. McCAIN:  Absolutely.  Because they would have a way to hire someone who, under a tamper-proof biometric document, coupled with an electronic employment verification system, and then the employer would not have any excuse for not using that system rather than today, where someone shows up with a beautifully counterfeited Social Security card or birth certificate.  So—but look, we can do this sitting down, Republican and Democrat together, recognizing we have a national security issue here.  We’ve got to secure the borders and then address the other aspects of the issue.  And there’s no reason why we can’t do that.  Because the status quo of 11 or 12 million people here illegally, two million of them having committed crimes, not a valid temporary worker program, is an unacceptable situation.

MR. RUSSERT:  That was a Mitt Romney ad I was referring to.

SEN. McCAIN:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  It seemed in last night’s debate, all the other candidates were pouncing on Mitt Romney.  Why?

SEN. McCAIN:  Hm, I don’t, I don’t know.  I think he’s—I think Governor Romney’s a good man, and I think that...

MR. RUSSERT:  Now, Senator, you don’t like him much.

SEN. McCAIN:  Oh, Tim, I—first of all, I don’t know him well.  But what I know I like him.  He’s, he’s a very good family man, he’s...

MR. RUSSERT:  What kind of campaign do you think he’s run...

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, I...

MR. RUSSERT:  ...against you?

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, obviously the negative attack ads, no candidate enjoys those.  But I think it’s pretty clear that the people of New Hampshire reject that kind of campaigning.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you think he...

SEN. McCAIN:  But I, but I think he’s a, a good man, a good family...

MR. RUSSERT:  Has he been consistent in his views?

SEN. McCAIN:  He has changed his positions on almost every major issue.  That is a fact.  I could chronicle it for you.  But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a good person.  I—look, we’re in a political campaign here, and, and we have—I want to debate this, this campaign on the issues, not on personalities.  And that’s the important thing.  And I think when I say that to the people at town hall meetings, they say, “Good, let’s hear the issues.  Let’s not hear whether there’s any personal animosity or not between the candidates.” They don’t care about that.  That’s not what determines their futures.

MR. RUSSERT:  If he was the nominee, you’d support him?

SEN. McCAIN:  Of course I will support the nominee of my party.  And...

MR. RUSSERT:  You’d never run as an independent?

SEN. McCAIN:  Oh, no.  I, I had that opportunity a couple of times in the past.

MR. RUSSERT:  That’s why I’m asking.

SEN. McCAIN:  No, no.  No, certainly not.

MR. RUSSERT:  Osama bin Laden.  This is what John McCain...

SEN. McCAIN:  Hm.  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...has said about him.  Let’s listen.


SEN. McCAIN:  I’ll get Osama bin Laden.  I’ll get him even if I have to follow him to the gates of hell.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  “I’ll get him.”

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  George Bush has tried...

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...for seven years.

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  What will you do differently than George Bush?

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, first of all, I will dramatically—I wouldn’t have passed up some of the opportunities we passed up, such at, as at Tora Bora, and President Clinton passed up.  But most importantly, I’ll improve our human intelligence.


SEN. McCAIN:  Well, you’re going to recruit, you’re going to train, and you’re going to send people in who can blend into the culture, into the, to the, the tribal communities and in—very tough.  Not easy.  I didn’t say it was going to be easy.  I said it was going to be tough.  But I will get him. And why is it so important?  One, he killed 3,000 Americans.  But two, in the last two weeks he’s gotten out two messages.  He is recruiting, motivating and instructing radical Islamic extremists who want to kill and destroy everything we stand for and believe in.  This guy is a continuing threat because of his very adroit—as well as other extremists—use of cyberspace.

MR. RUSSERT:  If, if your...

SEN. McCAIN:  So he’s a continuing threat to America.  He isn’t just a guy who’s holed up someplace.

MR. RUSSERT:  If your advisers said to you, “Mr. President, this is where Osama bin Laden is.”

SEN. McCAIN:  Yeah.  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  “We can get him tonight.”

SEN. McCAIN:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  “But understand, if we go in, we could very well destabilize Pakistan, perhaps bring about the overthrow of President Musharraf.”

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  Would you trade Osama bin Laden for Musharraf as president?

SEN. McCAIN:  I would, I would never have that situation arise, because Musharraf and I have an, a relationship that goes back a number of years.  I would be in constant communication with him, and I’m sure that maybe publicly or privately he would be working very closely.  That’s the benefit...

MR. RUSSERT:  Could he, could he be trusted?

SEN. McCAIN:  Sure he could be trusted.

MR. RUSSERT:  You don’t think he’s surrounded by Taliban sympathizers?

SEN. McCAIN:  I, I, I think there’s a real problem, part of it bred by us back when we cut off all relations with their military.  I think there’s a problem, and there’s a problem in their intelligence service.  But Musharraf himself, I think he’s a good man.  But I think he’s made mistakes, don’t get me wrong.  And we’ve got to have—move forward with these elections and have them free and fair.  But I can work with him.  He understands the threat to his country that the Taliban and al-Qaeda present.  I mean—and radical Islamic extremists.  He’s a very smart man.  He’d be one of the first to go. They’ve tried to kill him nine times, OK?  Nine times they’ve tried to kill Musharraf.  He’s not their favorite guy.  So I would be able to work with him, and, and, and I—as I have in the past.  So I don’t, I don’t see that scenario arising.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me ask about Iraq.  You were at a town hall meeting here in Derry, New Hampshire...

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...and here’s what you...

SEN. McCAIN:  I’m glad you’ve been paying attention to these town hall meetings.

MR. RUSSERT:  I follow you closely, Senator, believe me.

SEN. McCAIN:  God bless you.

MR. RUSSERT:  Here’s the question and answer.


Unidentified Man #1:  President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years.

SEN. McCAIN:  Maybe 100.

Man:  Is, is that...

SEN. McCAIN:  How long...

Man:  Is that...

SEN. McCAIN:  We’ve been in, we’ve been in South Korea—we’ve been in Japan for 60 years, we’ve been in South Korea for 50 years or so.  That’d be fine with me, as long as Americans...

Man:  So that’s your policy?

SEN. McCAIN: long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, then it’s fine with me.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  In November, you go the American people...

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...and say, “I’d be all right with having U.S. troops in Iraq for the next 100 years”?

SEN. McCAIN:  Most importantly, so would the American people if Americans aren’t dying.  We have a base in, in the neighboring country of Kuwait, very large base.  We have a base in Turkey.  We have a base in Japan, Germany. We’ve had bases there.  It’s not American presence that bothers the American people, it’s American casualties.  And if Americans are safe wherever they are in the world, Americans—the American people don’t mind that.  So what I believe we can achieve is a reduction in casualties to the point where the Iraqis are doing the fighting and dying, we’re supporting them, and, over time, then it’ll be the relation between the two countries.  With Kuwait, they want us there and they want us there for a long time, so we’re glad to be there.  The Saudis?  They didn’t want us there for various reasons, so we left.  That’s going to depend on relations between the United States government and the Iraqi government.  My point was—everybody says, “How long are we going to stay?” My point is, how—when are we going to succeed?  Which we are succeeding now so that the Iraqi government is functioning, and we have stability in the region.  Instability in Iraq means instability...

MR. RUSSERT:  What kind of troop levels for the next 10, 20 years?

SEN. McCAIN:  I—you know, that’s very hard to say.  But they—but the troops would be out of harm’s way.  That’s the key to it.  And...

MR. RUSSERT:  Would you have permanent bases?

SEN. McCAIN:  If, if that seems to be necessary, in some respects.  It depends on the threat.  I mean, look, what if, what if Jordan falls?  What if there’s another war with Israel?  What, what if Egypt, that, that there’s tremendous upheaval?  This is a very unstable part of the world as we just found out in Pakistan.  So it depends on our national security threats and the needs to meet them.  But right now I just want to look you in the eye and tell you that al-Qaeda is on the run and they are not defeated.  But we are succeeding, and many, many experts said that the surge would not succeed and said that I was wrong.  And, my friend, I was right.

MR. RUSSERT:  Looking back at the beginning of the war, back in March of 2003...

SEN. McCAIN:  Yep.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...if you had known then, if the intelligence came out and said, “We know that Saddam Hussein does not have biological...”

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...”or, or chemical or a nuclear program...”

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...would you still have voted to authorize the war?

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, obviously, given information that we have changes your decision-making process.  But Saddam Hussein was still a threat.  The sanctions were breaking down.  There was a multibillion dollar Oil for Food scandal in the United Nations.  The—every day American airplanes were being shot at.  Saddam Hussein had used and acquired weapons of mass destruction in the past, and there was no doubt there was going to be in the future.  The problem in Iraq, my friend, was not whether we went in or not, it’s the way it was mishandled after the initial invasion.

MR. RUSSERT:  Yeah, but, Senator, it’s an important question because President Bush...

SEN. McCAIN:  It’s an important...

MR. RUSSERT:  President Bush has said...

SEN. McCAIN:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...”Even if I knew he did not have biological, chemical or nuclear program...”

SEN. McCAIN:  Yeah.  Yeah.  Yeah.  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...”I still would go into Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein.” Would you have?

SEN. McCAIN:  I—yes, but the point is that if we had done it right, it’s been well chronicled in many, in many books, you and I wouldn’t be even discussing that now.  The mishandling after the war.  Look, I met with a high-ranking former al-Qaeda operative in Iraq recently.  And I asked him, “How did you succeed?” He said, “The lawlessness after the initial invasion and Abu Ghraib.” And so they were able to recruit people because of the disorder and the mishandling.  So you would not be asking me if it hadn’t been mishandled, you would’ve said because we succeeded in an established and stable Iraq, you would’ve said, “Aren’t you glad we went in?  Because Saddam Hussein, one of the most brutal, most terrible dictators in history, who fought in several wars, used weapons of mass destruction, invaded his neighbor, is now gone from the world scene.” That’s what you’d be saying.

MR. RUSSERT:  But I think there’d be a real debate with the, with the—amongst the American people if we were told he did not have biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

SEN. McCAIN:  If frogs had wings—look, Tim, we can talk about lots of hypotheticals.  Would we have, would we have stopped Saddam Hussein from going into Kuwait back in ‘91 when, when he went in?  Would we have, would we have said that the Chinese aren’t going to cross—would we have known—if we had known that the Chinese were going to cross the Yalu in the Korean War, would we have done it differently?  I’d love to get into thousands of historical hypotheticals with us, but what we knew at the time and the information we had at the time that every single intelligence agency in the world believed he had weapons of mass destruction.  So...

MR. RUSSERT:  So bottom line, the war was not a mistake?

SEN. McCAIN:  The war, the invasion was not a mistake.  The handling of the war was a terrible mistake.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you an ad that, and our viewers, that you have on the Web...

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...about Mitt Romney.

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let’s watch.

(Videotape of McCain advertisement)

Announcer:  Mitt Romney says the next president doesn’t need foreign policy experience.  John McCain for president.

SEN. McCAIN:  I’m John McCain, and I approve this message.

(End videotape)

SEN. McCAIN:  Pretty good, eh?

MR. RUSSERT:  Not over the top?

SEN. McCAIN:  Of course not.  That—those clips are from the evening news. My friend, those are what Americans see every evening about what’s going on in the world.

MR. RUSSERT:  Are you suggesting that Mitt Romney couldn’t handle that situation?

SEN. McCAIN:  I am suggesting, in fact strongly recommending, my candidacy because I have the experience and the knowledge and the background and the judgment.  I’m the only one that’s running that said “Rumsfeld’s strategy is going to fail, and I have no confidence in him, and we’ve got to change the strategy.” That’s why I’m running, because of the transcendent challenge of the 21st century of radical Islamic extremism, of which Iraq is the central battleground, as we speak.

MR. RUSSERT:  Governor Bush...

SEN. McCAIN:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...Governor Clinton, Governor Reagan, Governor Carter all ran for president with no foreign policy experience.

SEN. McCAIN:  And...

MR. RUSSERT:  They were all able to conduct American foreign policy.

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why would you suggest that Governor Romney would not be capable?  He has executive experience.

SEN. McCAIN:  Well, I’m not saying, first of all, he wouldn’t be capable.  I am saying that I am the one with the background and the knowledge, experience and judgment.  Well, look, Ronald Reagan fought against communism for 30 years.  Ronald Reagan had visited 60 countries as the president’s special emissary in other ways before he ran for president of the United States.  It’s just a misnomer to say that Ronald Reagan did not have foreign policy experience.  And some of the others...

MR. RUSSERT:  What about Governor Bush?

SEN. McCAIN:  ...well, some of the others—well, I think mistakes have been made, and obviously that in the year 2000 we were not at war.  In the year 2000 when I ran we were not in two wars and a conflict with radical Islamic extremism.  Now we are, and we know the threat that we face.

MR. RUSSERT:  New Hampshire, must win for John McCain?

SEN. McCAIN:  We will win.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you—if you don’t win it’s over.

SEN. McCAIN:  Oh, I don’t know about “being over” or not, because it’s based on expectations and all that.  But, look, we’re doing fine.  And we’re happy and it’s wonderful at this particular time in the campaign.

MR. RUSSERT:  So if you win here, where do you go?

SEN. McCAIN:  Obviously the next primary...

MR. RUSSERT:  Michigan.

SEN. McCAIN:  ...Michigan, South Carolina, etc.  But we’re having a great ride.  And, look, I will look back on this campaign as I—win or lose—as I did in 2000.  We conducted an honorable campaign, and I’m proud and I’m grateful for so many wonderful people who have been in support of us, and, and we love them dearly.

MR. RUSSERT:  But straight talk, this is make or break.

SEN. McCAIN:  I—it’s—I will win.  I will win.  But, of course, it’s vital. But it depends on the expectations.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator John McCain, as always, we thank you for sharing your views.  Be safe on the campaign trail, and we’ll see you at those town meetings.

SEN. McCAIN:  Thank you, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Coming next, the strategies, the issues, the debate last night, we will put it all in perspective with two political strategists:  Democrat Steve McMahon, he worked for Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt; Republican Mike Murphy, he worked for John McCain and Mitt Romney.  They are both coming up right here only on MEET THE PRESS.

MR. RUSSERT:  Our political roundtable, live from New Hampshire, after this brief station break.


MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back with my favorite New Hampshire law firm, McMahon and Murphy.

MR. STEVE McMAHON:  The Irish mafia.

MR. RUSSERT:  There you go.

MR. MIKE MURPHY:  One eight hundred results.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let’s look at the latest polls.  On the Democratic side, MSNBC/McClatchy, here they are:  Barack Obama, 33; Hillary Clinton, 31; John Edwards, 17; Bill Richardson, seven.  We polled over three nights.  On Wednesday and Thursday it was Obama, 27; Clinton, 30.  Friday, the day after the Iowa caucuses, Obama spikes, 39-32.

Here’s the breakdown.  Amongst Democrats it’s Obama, 30; Clinton, 33; independents, who make up 45 percent of the voters here in New Hampshire, it’s Obama 42-to-25.  And here’s the gender gap:  Men prefer Obama 32-19, women prefer Clinton 40-to-33.  Here’s the generation gap:  Under the age of 50, look at this, Obama 47-to-18.  Over 50, it’s Clinton 40-to-23.  Then viewers who prefer the quality of change in their presidential candidate, they prefer Obama 65-to-9.  Those who prefer the quality of experience, they say Clinton 49-to-15.

Mike Murphy, what does this say to you?

MR. MURPHY:  Obama’s going to be the nominee for the Democratic Party. One—these polling numbers show the generational stresses and all the differences, and one of the things that’s been prevalent in the argument is that she has experience, he has change, which way we’ll go.  The problem is the change power is much stronger than experience, so he is on the bigger, stronger side of the argument.  And these polling numbers are like a snapshot of a moving train, so I think her numbers are continuing to decline and his numbers are growing, which you can feel on the ground here in New Hampshire. So I think the Clinton campaign now is—they don’t have enough time to stop him here.  We’ll see what happens.  It’s still fluid, but I think the trend is Obama.  They’ve got to figure out a defense and depth strategy and try to stop him, but I think it’s going to be really hard.  Because if he comes out of here a winner and goes into South Carolina, which is half African-American in the Democratic primary, they’re going to need kryptonite to stop him.  He’s going to have all the momentum in the world.

MR. RUSSERT:  Steve McMahon, what do these numbers tell you?

MR. McMAHON:  Well, I think Mike summed it up pretty well.  I’m not sure that I agree that Barack Obama is going to be the nominee.  I think he certainly has the momentum right now.  The Clintons, anybody who underestimates them does so at their peril.  But you can see the stresses within the party, and you can see that he is on the, he is on the side of a wave that seems to be sweeping over New Hampshire.  And the question is, if he comes out of here, what can the Clintons do to stop him?  I mean, this was supposed to be the firewall state for the Clinton campaign, and now the firewall is on fire.  And so the question is, do you move the firewall?  What do you do?  At what point do you make a stand?  And I think they’ve got to start thinking really long and hard about that, because they—if they don’t stop him soon, they’re not going to be able to.

MR. RUSSERT:  And Bill Bradley, who ran for president in 2000, lost narrowly here to Al Gore in New Hampshire, is endorsing Barack Obama this morning, an indication that more establishment Democrats are willing to reach out and embrace the Obama candidacy.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah.  I think he’s 70--Obama’s 72 hours away from having a whole new group of friends in Washington, the people for what’s going to happen caucus.  And—because they’re pragmatists, and they’re seeing this guy. And he is also—look at the turnout dynamic in Iowa, what we may see here, too.  He pulls new people into the process, and that is golden politics.  It’s real power, and it allows you to be a successful candidate.  So I think Clinton was banking on electability argument against him, but he’s showing a lot of power to go out and win elections with new people, and that’s a very, very attractive trait.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me look at the favorable/unfavorable in this race, and this is interesting.  Favorable, Obama, 77; unfavorable, eight.  Edwards is 64-to-19.  Clinton is 62-to-21.  That issue was addressed in last night’s debate.  Let’s watch this exchange with Senator Clinton.


Unidentified Man #2:  My question to you is simply this:  What can you say to the voters of New Hampshire on this stage tonight who see your resume and like it but are hesitating on the likeability issue, where they seem to like Barack Obama more?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY):  Well, that hurts my feelings.

Man #2:  I’m sorry, Senator.  I’m sorry.

SEN. CLINTON:  But I’ll try to go on.  He’s very likable.  I, I agree with that.  I don’t think I’m that bad.

SEN. OBAMA:  You’re likable enough, Hillary.  No doubt about it.

SEN. CLINTON:  Thank you so much.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Steve McMahon.

MR. McMAHON:  I thought that it was the best moment of the debate for her last night.  The first hour of that debate, she seemed a little tense and she seemed tired, and she actually seemed like she might be a little agitated. The second, the second half-hour, 45 minutes, she, she did great, after that break.  I think if you, if you look at her campaign, voters are making a judgment about not just where she is on experience and strength—they know she’s experienced, they know she’s got great strength—they’re just not sure how much they like her or whether they like her enough.  With Barack Obama, they know he’s smart.  They worry a little bit about his experience, but they like him a whole lot.  And right now, the likeability is working real hard for Barack Obama, and the experience isn’t working quite as hard for Hillary Clinton.

MR. RUSSERT:  How about his retort, saying “You’re likable enough, Hillary”?

MR. McMAHON:  Well, I thought it was—I mean, listen, I thought it was a light moment.  I thought it was an opportunity for them to kind of show themselves as people.  I think Barack Obama probably could have maybe been a little bit warmer, but...

MR. MURPHY:  Oh, I think...

MR. McMAHON:  ...I thought he was, I thought he was—overall, he did what he needed to do in that debate, which was not make a mistake, look presidential, and he did both of those things.

MR. MURPHY:  The best part of these debates is every once in a while you’re lucky enough to see the veneer get pulled back a little.  And fact is, they can’t stand each other.  And she’s thinking, “How’s this guy killing me?  I’ve done all this work, I’ve been this big superstar.” He knows that she has the big grind coming in the last attempt to try to stop him, so there was a little moment of truth broke out in politics.  The fact is she did pretty well last night.  But it’s not enough.  She needs a big game changing thing here, and just a decent debate performance won’t do it.

MR. RUSSERT:  It was interesting watching John Edwards last night.

MR. McMAHON:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  He came in second in Iowa, barely ahead of Senator Clinton.  He had to make a decision last night:  Was he going to go after Obama or Clinton? He opted to go after Clinton, playing for second place, in effect.  Let’s watch Senator Edwards in that exchange.


FMR. SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC):  Any time you speak out powerfully for change, the forces of status quo attack.  That’s exactly what happens.  I mean, I didn’t hear these kind of attacks from Senator Clinton when she was ahead.  Now that she’s not, we hear them.  And any time you speak out, any time you speak out for change, this is what happens.

SEN. CLINTON:  I want to make change, but I’ve already made change.  I will continue to make change.  I’m not just running on a promise of change, I’m running on 35 years of change.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON:  Well, I’ve been in hostage negotiations that are a lot more civil than this.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Nothing like a little humor there, right?

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah, that was great.

MR. RUSSERT:  A little flash of anger there from Senator Clinton.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah.  She was kind of—what I interpreted that is she wanted to reach through the camera and grab the voters by the lapels, “You idiots, didn’t you read the plan?  I’m supposed to be winning here!” You can see the frustration coming through.  And I think Edwards was smart because he knows Obama’s going to win here, so he’s trying to beat her in to second to stay alive to either somehow have the miracle upset against Obama, or second, start to maybe being—he’s a young guy and he’s always on the make.  And so I think he might be looking at the long-term plan, so attack the one he doesn’t think is going to be around.

MR. McMAHON:  You know, you know, you can see where candidates kind of feel like they are in a race by just watching them on a stage.  With Barack Obama last night, I felt like he was growing into his presidential suit.  He was starting to imagine that he could be president of the United States.  With John Edwards you saw a guy who had nothing to lose.  He was going to be sunny and optimistic, he was going to talk a little bit about his, about his past and about why he’s in the race, and he’s going to try to paint Hillary so that he can be the guy who gets the one-on-one with Barack Obama later.  And with Hillary Clinton, it looked like she was almost trying to force, you know, in, in, in, in an athletic event, where someone’s trying to force a play every single time.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah.

MR. McMAHON:  It just seemed like she felt like she had to do something big at every opportunity, and I think that, you know, if she had just been herself, if she’d been as warm and engaging at the front end of the debate as she was at the back end of the debate, it would have been a better debate for her.

MR. RUSSERT:  Clinton advisers acknowledge that this photograph from the night of the Iowa caucuses—and we’ll put it on the screen for our viewers—is an indication of that whole generational change.  With Madeleine Albright, Wesley Clark and Bill Clinton...


MR. RUSSERT:—did that photograph capture?

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah, it looks like a wax museum.  It’s horrible.  I, I think they made a big mistake on election night in the Clinton campaign.  Part of the reason Barack Obama is doing so well is he’s running not only against a chronology of Hillary Clinton but the style.  You know, the old-school politics, the calculation, the, somewhat, the manipulation.  And she got up there in third place in Iowa and gave a victory speech, which I think voters at home said, “Oh, that’s more of the same old stuff.” If she’d gone up there and said, “You know, I lost.  I got beat, I learned something and I’m going to change some things...”

MR. RUSSERT:  A friend of Hillary Clinton said to me if she had gone up to the podium and said, “So much for inevitability...”

MR. MURPHY:  Right, exactly.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...”you know, congratulations, Senator Obama.  I’ve been beaten.  I know what it’s like to be knocked down.  I’m coming back.”

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah, then there’s a narrative of a comeback, and then there’s some authenticity to it, instead of this phony...

MR. McMAHON:  Yeah.

MR. MURPHY: know, I’m going to have to beat up on Mark Penn a little bit—this poll speak that she does, which I don’t even think is English, it hurts her and Obama...

MR. RUSSERT:  Roger Simon, the columnist, said that, you know, Hillary had been advised—Hillary Clinton had been advised by her deputy campaign manager, “Why don’t you bypass Iowa?  This is not your kind of state.” You look at John McCain, what he’s doing here in New Hampshire, could she have had that luxury, or is she too much of a well-known commodity and national candidate, she couldn’t have bypassed Iowa?

MR. McMAHON:  Well, I think at the point which they were about to make that decision, it was a little late in the process.  She probably should have made that decision early on, and she certainly could have gotten away with it.  I mean, there was a lot, there was a lot of hostility within the Democratic Party already about Iowa having as much influence as it did.

MR. MURPHY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. McMAHON:  If she had simply said, “I’m going to skip Iowa.  I’m going to make my stand in New Hampshire,” I think she would have gotten away with that because she’s a Clinton.  And, frankly, back in 1992, Bill Clinton did the same thing.  Wes Clark tried to do it in, in 2004, it didn’t work for Wes Clark.  It, it might have put her in a difficult spot, but...

MR. RUSSERT:  But Clinton had a native son, Tom Harkin, running.  A little bit different.

MR. McMAHON:  Clinton had a native son, Tom Harkin, running, but...

MR. MURPHY:  It’s just...

MR. McMAHON: seems to be working for the Republicans who are employing that strategy.  I mean, you know, it’s almost like you’ve got, you’ve got these guys who are, who are deciding to saddle up at different points in the race and they’re putting on their track shoes and poor Mitt Romney has to run around the track five times just to get to them.

MR. MURPHY:  The one problem for her, though, hard to be the inevitable candidate and not be in Iowa.  She tried the inevitable thing, big risk.  When you lose early, it’s, it’s real trouble.

MR. RUSSERT:  Bill Clinton, who’s been on the campaign trail very vigorously on her behalf, was asked at a town hall meeting here in New Hampshire, “Will—are you willing to change the game?  Are you willing to take away all the meanness out of politics?”

MR. MURPHY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  And his—here’s his answer, and it’s quite interesting.  “I think we can change it as long as” we “you have access to information by people who are committed to judging everybody by the same set of rules and following the same set of rules.  According to the most recent media analysis, that’s not” what has “happened” here “so far, but yeah, I think it should be done.  Nobody would be happier to see all this go away than us.  But you can’t ask somebody who is at a breathtaking disadvantage in the information coming to the voters to ignore that disadvantage and basically agree to put bullets in their brains.” President Clinton exasperated at what he thinks is the media coverage of his wife’s campaign.

MR. McMAHON:  See, I think they’re exasperated with the results in Iowa.  If you look at what they did in Iowa, I mean, in all, in all candor here, there was an election, and they turned out 72,000 people or thereabouts, 30 percent of 240,000 for Hillary Clinton.  In any other year, at any other time that would have been a huge victory.  I think what you’re seeing in the Clinton campaign right now is a campaign that’s reeling.  They expected to win in Iowa.  They came to New Hampshire, they really didn’t have a plan B, they certainly didn’t have a plan B for a, for a margin like they saw in Iowa and for the momentum that Barack Obama’s getting right now.  It’s very, very difficult to break a wave like this.  They’ve got to figure out quickly how they’re going to do it and where they’re going to do it.  It doesn’t look like they’re going to do it here.  And if they don’t do it soon, they’re not going to do it at all.

MR. RUSSERT:  Last week we had Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee on MEET THE PRESS.  This week we had John McCain.  We invited Senator Clinton, she declined our invitation.  Doing very few media interviews.  I am told she might be doing “Access Hollywood” on Monday.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah, I don’t understand it, because if she doesn’t grab this thing fast—and it’s not her fault, she’s just not what they’re looking for, but she’s making it worse with this kind of campaigning—she’s going to turn into Ed Muskie in a pantsuit and there’s no chance.  She has, I think, about 10 days, which means South Carolina, which is even harder for her.

MR. RUSSERT:  Here, here’s the calendar, Mike Murphy.  Let’s put it on the screen.  New Hampshire is this Tuesday, then Nevada.  That’s a caucus on January 19th.  South Carolina on the 26th.  Super Tuesday on February 5, that’s Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Kansas, Massachusetts, Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Oklahoma.

MR. MURPHY:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  Half those states are open, where independents can vote.

MR. MURPHY:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  The other half are closed.  Can Hillary Clinton afford to wait until super Tuesday without a victory?

MR. MURPHY:  I don’t believe it.  I’ll eat my hat if she can pull that off and give her a big salute.  This is what Rudy Giuliani’s been talking about on the Republican side.  “I’m going to lose for a long time, and then, like a panther, I’m going to spring forward and win at the end.” Nobody’s ever pulled this off because money follows buzz in politics, and if you start losing, you run out of money, you have no dollars for television.  Those February 5th states, that’s half the country.  I—it’s a momentum game.  If you can’t start winning early, it’s very hard to restart.  No—people have tried it, never worked.  Maybe she’s the first.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if Hillary Clinton pulled an upset here, she’s back in the game.

MR. MURPHY:  She is totally back in this.  Like a steamroller.

MR. McMAHON:  Absolutely back in the game.  The other thing that’s going to happen is, do you know, the last poll in South Carolina had the race relatively even.  It had Hillary Clinton doing still reasonably well among African-Americans.  I think what you’re going to see now is there are a lot of African-Americans out there who are waiting to see if Barack Obama could get white votes.  And Iowa, which is 96 percent white, New Hampshire, is going to prove that he can get white votes.  And I think what you’re going to see pretty soon, Mike said, you know, he’s going to be in the new friends business.  It’s not just going to be new friends in Washington, it’s going to be the African-American community.  And if that solidifies at 85, 90 percent for Barack Obama, it’s going to be very, very, very difficult.

MR. RUSSERT:  Particularly in those February 5th Southern primaries.

MR. McMAHON:  Particularly in those Southern primaries.

MR. RUSSERT:  What would happen if Obama won the first four, was perceived as the front-runner.  And African-Americans, who are very loyal to the Democratic Party, would they then go to Hillary Clinton and say, “Our time has come. You’ve lost four in a row to Barack Obama”?

MR. McMAHON:  Yeah, well, I think the, I think the Clinton campaign is in a very difficult position because, you know, Bill Clinton likes to think of himself as the first black president, and he’s often referred to that way. And so here’s a guy who comes along who could be the first real black president.  And the question for the Clintons, ultimately, might be, “Do we want to be the people who stand in the way of that?  Do we want to be the people who take him down?  And if we do, what does that mean for the general election?” Because you’re tearing the hearts out of so many people who have put all their hopes and aspirations in this man, and he’s become a movement and an idea more than a candidate.  And you can’t just take him out like you would take out another candidate.

MR. MURPHY:  I really believe if he wins here and South Carolina, she can’t stop him.  He can stop himself with a horrible mistake, but she’s going to be out of money and the support will be eroding, and it—it’ll turn in on itself. That’s the problem with being the front-runner.  Every time you read those stories about “you can’t lose,” the guillotine blade goes a little higher. And if you start losing, it’s a tough business.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let’s go to the Republicans.  Here’s the latest.  I shared it with Senator McCain.  Thirty-two, McCain; 24, Romney; Huckabee there at 12; Rudy Giuliani, 9; and Ron Paul at 8.

Look at these.  Same internals.  McCain on Wednesday/Thursday was ahead 29, 25, 12; Friday, the day after the Iowa caucuses, the day that Mitt Romney lost to Mike Huckabee, he—McCain spikes to 35; Romney, 24; Huckabee, no bounce whatsoever here.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah, it’s funny.  I thought Huckabee would get a little bounce here.  And I think maybe over—after the debate last night he might have a little, but clearly this ain’t Iowa.  You know, it, Huckabee, for all his success, was kind of born on second base in Iowa with those pre-built Christian voters that are a big part of the electorate.  Lot fewer of them here, so a lot less natural Huckabee base.

MR. RUSSERT:  In Iowa, evangelical Christians were 60 percent of the vote. He carried those 2-to-1.

MR. MURPHY:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  The 40 percent nonevangelical, he only got 14 percent of those.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let’s go back to the poll, break down Republicans, independents.  There’s McCain, ahead of Romney, 28-26; of Huckabee, amongst Republicans.  Independents, 45 percent of the electorate here, look at that. McCain, 50; Romney, 18; Huckabee, 6.  McCain and Obama splitting the independent vote here in New Hampshire.

MR. MURPHY:  Right.

MR. McMAHON:  I think, I think what you have here is there’s a, there’s a desire for authenticity.  There’s a desire for, for somebody who, who people think will tell it like it is, regardless of whether it’s good or it’s bad. For whatever reason, Barack Obama seems to have captured that on the Democratic side.  John McCain’s always had it.  I mean, he’s the guy who was for Iraq, stayed for Iraq, was for the surge, didn’t think the surge was enough, is willing to stay for 100 years.  You can disagree with a guy like that, but you can’t think he’s a man without a core and a principle.  And, and, you know, I think he’s really benefiting from his authenticity.

MR. RUSSERT:  Back to the poll.  Men/women, there—here it is, a gender gap. McCain with men, 40 to 21; women, very close, Mitt Romney ahead, 28, 26. Let’s go to the favorable/unfavorable.  McCain, 68 to 13; Romney, 59, 24; Huckabee, 36, 35.  Unknown a little high, but that’s a pretty high negative. Rudy Giuliani, 48, 21.  Huckabee, that’s a problem in this state.

MR. McMAHON:  Yeah.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah, it is.  You know, this state doesn’t like Southerners that much.  I was here working for Lamar in the old days against Phil Graham.

MR. RUSSERT:  Lamar Alexander.

MR. MURPHY:  He had problems here.

MR. RUSSERT:  From Tennessee.

MR. MURPHY:  You know, obviously the president did.  There’s something, the bigger the belt buckle, the more trouble you get in New Hampshire.  And, and Huckabee, though he’s good, is a Sunbelt guy.

MR. RUSSERT:  Rudy Giuliani, Steve McMahon, a favorable, 48; unfavorable, 21. Terrorism, taxes, the two key issues here.  This was a state designed for Rudy Giuliani, and he’s pretty much pulled out.

MR. McMAHON:  He’s pretty much pulled out, and it’s going to be interesting. You know, he’s, he’s the guy who’s lacing up his track shoes in the, in the third round of a four round—four lap race.  And, and I can’t imagine, once somebody gets the momentum—and on the Republican side, as you pointed out a few weeks ago, chaos favors Rudy Giuliani.  Chaos is his only hope.  And he’s got to continue to hope that the, that the results coming out of these states are going to be mixed.  But if John McCain wins here, goes to Michigan, wins there, the McCain people think if he wins here, he will win in Michigan.  They believe he’ll have a nice, nice wind at his back in South Carolina.

MR. RUSSERT:  But then it would be Huckabee vs.  McCain in South Carolina.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah.  That’ll be a race.

MR. RUSSERT:  Lot of Southern Baptists.

MR. MURPHY:  That’ll be a race.

MR. RUSSERT:  Brings back memories of 2000, Bush vs.  McCain, Mike Murphy.

MR. MURPHY:  Indeed.

MR. RUSSERT:  And you were there.

MR. MURPHY:  I was there.  And I think John will have extra Kevlar on this time to go down there and really fight.  I think, I think that could be the scenario.  I see Tuesday’s vote here connected to next Tuesday’s vote in Michigan.  If you are a candidate after a week from Tuesday in Michigan, you haven’t won a big one, I think you’re in big trouble.  And so it’ll be interesting what happens here where I think McCain has the energy and the lead, but there is a, there is a Romney shot here if the independents who generally make up one out of four voters in a Republican primary all go to Obama, then that race gets a little closer.  That’s Romney’s shot.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if McCain wins here, they go to Michigan, Romney, that’s his native state.  His dad was governor.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah, and money.  You know, Romney has got more television and everything, so that’s Romney’s last stand, I think, if he loses here.  Then, you know, Romney can stay in awhile, he’s got resources, but if he loses two in a row, I think it’s big trouble.

MR. RUSSERT:  Everyone seemed to be going after Mitt Romney on the Republican side last night.

MR. MURPHY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let’s—here’s an exchange from that debate.  Let’s watch.


FMR. GOV. ROMNEY:  I also supported the surge from the very beginning.  But look, you know, Governor...

SEN. McCAIN:  I’m way older.

GOV. ROMNEY:  ...don’t try and characterize my, my position.  Of course this war has never been...

SEN. McCAIN:  Which one?

I just want to say to Governor Romney, we disagree on a lot of issues, but I agree, you are the candidate of change.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Now, you know Mitt Romney, you know John McCain.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah, you can feel the love.  I’m sitting there watching it with, like, all these conflicting feelings.  One, I’ve seen them both at their best.  I like them both; I hate to see them fight.  On the other hand, I’m thinking wow, that’d be a pretty good ticket.  And then I’m thinking oh, yeah, like, you know, you’d need Bill Richardson to work that deal out.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why are they all ganging up on Mitt Romney?

MR. McMAHON:  Well, I think, I think, you know, they—for the same reason that four years ago everybody ganged up on Howard Dean.  Fundamentally, they don’t think he belongs there.  They think it’s some kind of fluke of nature that he got there.  They don’t think he believes what he says.  They think he’s a, they think he’s a poll-driven campaigner and a poll-driven candidate. And they, they just, they don’t seem to like him at all, you’re absolutely right.

MR. MURPHY:  It’s also...

MR. RUSSERT:  Maybe if Romney loses here, he should give a scream speech.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah.

MR. McMAHON:  Worked pretty well.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah, a guaranteed winner.  And part of the problem is I think Romney did so well early by having the dollars for television.  He’s a very good candidate.  And I think the other guys who are out sucking up the donors all day just hated that.  And so—and Romney just had success, and that’s something the, the rivals don’t like.  But we’ll see what happens.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mike Huckabee said he’s not George Bush running for a third term, he’s running for his own term.  Smart to distance himself from George Bush?

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah, within reason.  I think all of—none of them can be the third term, and yet none of them can be totally all the way out there.  I think, in some ways, Huckabee occasionally goes too far.  But you’ve got to, you’ve got to—you know, the buck stops with the new president.  That’s one of the first things you have to communicate to the voters.  I thought all of them handled that pretty well.

MR. RUSSERT:  They all were asked about Barack Obama, and they all said that they would run—put him to the left and try to run to the center, portraying Barack Obama as a liberal.  But Mike Huckabee went out of his way to seem to try to embrace at least the phenomenon of Barack Obama.  Here is Mike Huckabee on Obama.  Let’s watch.


FMR. GOV. HUCKABEE:  I think we also ought to recognize that what Senator Obama has done is to touch at the core of something Americans want.  They are so tired of everything being horizontal—left, right, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican.  They’re looking for vertical leadership that leads up, not down.  He has excited a lot of voters in this country.  Let’s pay respect for that.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Smart politics?

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah.  He’s got a great ear for voter speak.  The vertical-horizontal thing’s a little softism, but he gets it.  And we’ve got to respect what’s happening with Obama and get into that business on the Republican side, or we’re going to be in trouble if he’s the nominee.

MR. McMAHON:  You could, you could see why the Clintons must be frustrated, because here you’ve got everybody on the Republican stage basically praising Barack Obama and what he’s done for politics.  I mean, I think, I think Mike Huckabee’s exactly right, he has done something unique and remarkable not just because he’s an incredibly gifted orator, but because he’s taken politics up to the next level.  I mean, for a long time political campaigns were all about where you stood on individual issues, and people thought if you aggregated enough agreement with voters on issues that you were going to win the election.  And I think that’s kind of, to some degree, the campaign the Clintons are running.  Barack Obama has taken it up another level and basically said if you want a, “If you want a change...

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah.

MR. McMAHON:  ...”a clean change, a clean break with the past, if you want to go in a different direction, if you believe that anything’s possible in this country because we’re a great country, I need your help.”

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah.

MR. McMAHON:  It’s an empowering message, it’s a positive message, it’s aspirational, and, frankly, it’s the one thing that Mike Huckabee, I think, is doing really well.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah, there’s a...

MR. McMAHON:  He’s a hopeful optimist about America.

MR. MURPHY:  ...very clear message out there.  If you’re—either party—if you’re part of the same old politics this year, you’re going to be toast.

MR. RUSSERT:  You guys will hate to hear this, but Mike Huckabee did it without political consultants.

MR. MURPHY:  I know.  We’ve got to do something about that.

MR. McMAHON:  What?  What was he thinking?

MR. MURPHY:  We’ve got a union!

MR. RUSSERT:  All right, Murphy.  You called Obama six months ago.

MR. MURPHY:  People were laughing at me.  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  Give me the nominees of the party.

MR. MURPHY:  Oh, man.  Obama.


MR. MURPHY:  And the Republican one’s a lot looser, and it could go—it could still get unraveled.  But if you put a gun to my head in the hot seat, I’d have to say John S.  McCain.

MR. RUSSERT:  And would you go back to work for him?

MR. MURPHY:  Well, that’ll be discussed.  I got a great life in Hollywood right now, and I’m lazy.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ah, the door...

MR. MURPHY:  (Unintelligible).

MR. RUSSERT:  ...the door’s open.

MR. MURPHY:  Either he or Romney, if they’re a nominee, I’d be proud to be associated with them.

MR. RUSSERT:  Steve?

MR. McMAHON:  Well, I think right now you have to give the edge to Obama.  I mean, the Clinton...

MR. RUSSERT:  And the Republican side?

MR. McMAHON:  John McCain.


MR. MURPHY:  I’m not certain.  I think the Republican is looser...

MR. RUSSERT:  McMahon and Murphy.  I understand.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  Thank you for your views.  We’re going to have you back.  We’ll be right back with more after this.


MR. RUSSERT:  Stay with NBC News.  The “Nightly News” with Brian Williams, the “Today” show.  MSNBC, we are going to be all over this story, the New Hampshire primary.  This is it, 48 hours to go.  Next Sunday we’ll be back because, if it’s Sunday, it is MEET THE PRESS.