MSNBC: Tim, it seems like it’s been very hard for any candidate to get momentum going, because there’s a different winner in almost every state contest.
Tim Russert: Particularly on the Republican side. It’s amazing. Three different contests, three different winners.
It looks like the battle in South Carolina is now on the Republican side, Saturday.
MSNBC: Who has to do well Saturday in South Carolina in order to hope to go much further?
Russert: Well, it’s Mike Huckabee versus John McCain. Mitt Romney has abandoned the state. He’s heading out to Nevada, which I think he’ll win. But South Carolina’s too close to call. Whoever can turn out most of their base is going to win and have a real chance when they go into Florida the following week.
Huckabee has locked up the evangelical Christians. John McCain has locked up the war veterans.
You know 60 percent of the voters on the Republican side are evangelicals. Huckabee gets 33% of those. With non-evangelicals, it drops down to 11%. He has a very strong base with born-again Christians, but he hasn’t been able to expand it.
When it comes to John McCain and Mike Huckabee, the latest polls are a tossup.
MSNBC: How concerned is McCain’s camp that it’s going to be “2000-ed” in South Carolina again – referring to his 2000 presidential effort where a lot of things were said about McCain that really hurt his campaign?
Russert: It’s rough and tumble politics in South Carolina.
The brochure that’s being circulated about McCain is vile. They have him back as a POW, suggesting he sold out his country, when in fact he spent 5 years baking in the sun, had a chance to leave because they knew who his dad was - an admiral in the navy – and he refuse to leave without his men.
When you see politics be debased to that level it’s pretty discouraging, but it’s what we have seen in South Carolina over the years.
I just think it’s a race that’s going to move on emotion right to the very end. Who’s going to turn out? Will evangelicals come out in record numbers? If they do, Huckabee wins. If McCain can get his veteran base out he’s going to win.
MSNBC: Florida, it seems, will be pivotal for a couple of people – Rudy Giuliani and maybe Romney. Does Giuliani have to win there big?
Russert: He has to win. You know he’s been saying his whole strategy is Florida and he didn’t go anywhere else, but he spent a lot of time in New Hampshire and a lot of money up there. He spent a considerable time in Iowa. Florida is it. He has to put some points on the board in order to go on.
MSNBC: These days, is Bill Clinton helping or hurting Hillary Clinton’s campaign, what with his recent ad-libs that seem spur of the moment and unplanned?
Russert: There’s a real debate within the campaign and outside the campaign He’s shown some real raw emotion with that reporter in California regarding the lawsuit in Nevada over who can vote and where, then in New Hampshire talking about Barack Obama, saying its “risky” and “give me a break”.
You know, many people don’t think it’s presidential, but clearly he is injecting into the political dialogue and bloodstream something they want said about Obama that can be a part of the dialogue and part of the debate.
So, I don’t think he’s going to slow down. I’m told he’ll be in South Carolina and he’s going to go door-to-door if he has to. He has taken this campaign on. He’s the defacto campaign manager and we’re seeing it play out, day in and day out.
MSNBC: Who will we see Sunday on ?
Russert: Because we’ll have Nevada and South Carolina Saturday, we’re going to go through all the results on Sunday. We’ve got presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, NBC's Tom Brokaw and NPR's Michele Norris. We’re going to try to put everything in perspective, take a deep breath and say, “All right folks, here’s where we are. This is what it means.”
And then it’s on to South Carolina for the Democrats and after that, on to Super Tuesday, on February 5th.”
Another rock-n-roll on Sunday.