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Special Report Roundtable - Aug 7

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume

MIKE HUCKABEE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've caught up with John McCain in Iowa. I have broken out from the pack of the so-called second tier. I'm not uncomfortable with where I am. I would like to be further ahead, but I'm much happier having started at the bottom, and moving upward and forward, than I would be having started at the top, and either going nowhere from there, or slipping backwards, as many of the candidates now are.

BAIER: That is former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee talking about his chances. The Iowa straw poll coming up this weekend. And, obviously, Republican candidates are positioning there.

You can see a recent poll here--Washington Post, ABC News poll. Mitt Romney in the lead, Rudy Giuliani second, and then Mike Huckabee an John McCain tied in this poll, at eight percent.

So what about the GOP horserace? Now some analytical observations about what is going on. Bill Sammon, Senior White House Correspondent of the Washington Examiner, Mort Kondrake, Executive Editor of Roll Call, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Bill, Huckabee obviously thinks he is going to use this straw poll to take him to at least name recognition around the country. What do you think?

BILL SAMMON, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, I think it will help him. I think Romney is clearly going to win. You have the other top tier candidates, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, having skipped this event. So it gives Huckabee a chance to place strong and second place.

And you know, he is a very likeable guy, he is the best debater, I think, in the Republican field. He is the best communicator. I think, ultimately, he probably doesn't have what it takes to get the nomination, but I see him as a Vice Presidential possibility because if Rudy or Romney get the nomination, these are northeastern guys with troubles with their abortion credentials. What better person to put on your ticket to balance the ticket than an ordained Baptist Pastor like mike Huckabee from the south.

So I think that he is very young, he is 51-years-old. I think he is ultimately angling for a veep slot. And I that that is why he is not criticizing the top tier candidates right now, because he doesn't want to burn his bridge.

BAIER: Mort, what about Giuliani and McCain now being in this straw poll? How big a difference is that? It is a fairly big deal for Iowa, but they are choosing not to be a part of it.

MORT KONDRAKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: Iowans like people who participate, who are there. In fact, they expect candidates to be there a lot. And that is mainly why Romney is so much in the lead, that he has spent a lot of money there, he has spent a lot of time there. He has got a big organization there. And so he is in the lead.

The question is now that Giuliani has decided--he is not going to go to the straw poll--but Giuliani has decided that he is going to spend time there, and he is gong to spend money there. He is already in second place- -he is at 13, I think Romney is at 26. Does Giuliani, when he gets there and starts banging away at Democrats and starts talking about the threats of terrorism and reminding people about New York City post 9/11, does he start climbing?

And then, of course, you have Fred Thompson, who hasn't spent any time there, either, and will compete with Romney for the regular Republican vote, and may cut into that. You could see a reshuffling of the race, where Giuliani comes close to tying.

BAIER: This web video surfaced this week of Mitt Romney in a radio interview caught when he thought it was off-air. It hit the web. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So what should I do? So tell me what I should do. I should not have done pro choice. And therefore I'm just finished, right there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are pro choice, therefore you distance yourself--

MITT ROMNEY: No, no, the point is I made a mistake when I--every Mormon should be pro-life?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If that's what your church says.

ROMNEY: Well, that's not what my church says. That's not what my church says, the leaders of my church that are pro choice. You are wrong. That's your vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: So that is mitt Romney, a bit unplugged there, Charles. He is pushing back on this whole issue of him being a Mormon. How does that play?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, unplugged is the right word. I mean here is a man who has had a reputation for being so elegant and eloquent and polished that he looks like an android.

Well, apparently he was unplugged, and he is actually human. I think that really helps him. I don't think it was planned, that will be a level of cynicism almost unimaginable--Clinton-like, if you like.

But, it shows you that he is animated, he will defend his church. I don't know on the substance of this how many church leaders there are who are pro- choice, but the fact is he was annoyed by a radio host, and he struck back.

Look, Romney is ahead here. I think his strategy is because he wasn't a national candidate, he would concentrate on Iowa and New Hampshire, and hope for the bounce. Giuliani, being nationally-known, has stayed out.

But now Giuliani is looking at Romney's huge lead, and I think he wants to cut into it. So he is going to spend time in Iowa.

The Iowa caucuses and straw poll are all about courtship and attention. Iowans want attention. If you spend half of your life there, as Romney has, they might actually give you a victory.

BAIER: We will leave it there.

When we come back, one report says Basra is sinking back into violence, another says al-Quida has been chased out of Bakuba. So what is the truth about Iraq these days? Stick around. We are coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GEN DAVID PETRAEUS: We are making progress. We have achieved tactical momentum in many areas, especially against al-Quida in Iraq, and, to a lesser degree, against the militia extremists. We are also heartened by the number of Iraqi tribes and local citizens who have rejected al- Quida.

REP JOE SESTAK, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: What I honestly believe is that we have doubled down on a bad debt by believing that the surge could work. We will hear that the sun is beginning to rise when General Petraeus comes forward with his report.

BAIER: Well, there you hear General David Petraeus on the ground in Iraq in a radio interview today. And Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak talking about General Petraeus' upcoming report in September, the different sides of what to look at in this report.

Now, today we saw in The Washington Post a front-page story about Basra deteriorating as British troops leave. We also have another story from U.S. commanders on the ground, our own Anita McNought(ph) reporting that Bakuba has really turned the corner, no longer now an al-Quida safe haven.

So what are the ground truth? We are back with our panel. Bill, we do get these varied pictures, and, obviously, it is an up and down situation in Iraq. But, clearly, there are different situations on the ground.

SAMMON: The fact that the surge is working doesn't mean that things are always going uniformly well in every corner of Iraq. You have got--as you say, the corner has been turned in Baghdad, in Bakuba, in Anbar province, but at the same time they are having difficulty in Basra.

Guess what? That is a place, Basra, where they are pulling troops out, where the British are starting to pull back, and getting ready to pull out their last 5,000 troops. If anything, it's an argument that the surge is working, because in the other three places I mentioned, where the surge it taking full effect, it is actually turning a corner.

I think it is unfair for that congressman to suggest that Petraeus is going to sugarcoat his report in September, because when he gave his interim report in July, he said it was a mixed bag. He said on eight different factors we were doing better, and eight we were doing not so good.

And so I think it is really disingenuous to suggest that no matter what happens, he is going to sugarcoat it. I think the real truth is that no matter how much progress is made, it won't be good enough for the Democrats.

BAIER: Petraeus is coming forward with this report, Mort, in September, and some have painted it as the "be all, end all."

KONDRAKE: Well, as Bill said, he described the interim report as a mixed bag. There is no reason to think that in September it is going to be anything but a mixed bag--progress in certain areas, progress, especially, against al-Quida in Iraq in Anbar province, and so on, no progress whatever on national reconciliation. Quite the category, the Sunnis have again decided to pull out of the government.

So, what does that do politically in the United States? The Democrats will fasten on any negatives that they could possibly find, and there will be plenty of them. Some Republicans will be inclined to go off with the Democrats in September.

The question is will enough Republicans hang in there with President Bush, especially House Republicans, so that he can keep the surge going into 2008? And the hope for the Bush policy rests on being able to carry it into 2008, and having it work, having the Iraqi security forces step up to the plate, be bale to come in behind us, and for national reconciliation to begin.

Otherwise, if that doesn't happen, it is all over.

BAIER: The underlying message, Charles, from representative's Sestak's speech today and his question and answer session was how can we trust these U.S. commanders when they don't have the metrics, really, to measure what success is in Iraq? Is that a fair question?

KRAUTHAMMER: I would trust the man who attends the funerals of the soldiers that he sends into battle. If he believed the battle was worthless, he would not be doing this, or he would be a dishonorable soldier. And he has said so himself.

Look, it is not as if there are random ups and downs here, there are trends. What is happening in the south in Basra is not new. With the British having a light footprint and essentially withdrawing it is now a Shiite area where there are conflicts between the sects. Last October there was a fight in Amara, 150 miles north of Basra, but between the Badr Brigades and the Sadr Army.

So, this is not a new story. It is a Shiite area, it is not going to be under our control.

But what is happening is that the Sunnis, who are the ones who began the insurgency, which has stopped all of our progress and killed so many of our soldiers, have turned against al-Quida. And that is what we are exploiting with our new strategy in the surge.

BAIER: It is a story that won't go away.

That is it for the panel....

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