HH: I’m joined by two of America’s preeminent political analysts. From the Fox News Channel Beltway Boys, Morton Kondracke, and from Fox News Channel, Mr. American Politics himself, Michael Barone. Gentlemen, welcome to you both and Happy New Year, glad to have you both here.
MK: Hey, Hugh, how are you?
MB: Good to be with you in Orange County, Hugh.
HH: Thank you. Michael, I’m going to start with you, because I’d like you to do a little numbers for us. How many independent voters are there in New Hampshire? And in 2000, what percentage of them went for John McCain? And what are you expecting they’ll do in terms of voting R or D on Tuesday?
MB: Well, if you’re looking at party registration, I think it’s over 40% of the voters that don’t have party registration. They’re eligible to vote in either the Republican or the Democratic primaries. They just go in and vote. My recollection is that in 2000, when John McCain was running, you had something like 30% of the voters in the Republican primary were self-identified independents. And they voted very heavily for John McCain over George W. Bush.
HH: And do you expect they’ll be back?
MB: …contributing to his 48-30% victory.
HH: Do you think they’ll be back voting in the Republican side this time around, Michael Barone?
MB: I think probably a smaller proportion of them will be, because I think they’re more likely to, a lot of them are going to vote on the Democratic side, many of them for Barack Obama. At least certainly Mr. Obama hopes so, and he’s going to be making a major effort. And he came out of Iowa with a big victory that I think may help him in that effort.
HH: Morton Kondracke, you’re kind of one of these decline to state people. If you were up in New Hampshire, and they handed you a ballot, would you go over to the Republican ballot box or the Democratic ballot box to play on which side?
MK: Well, you know, I mean, independents are notoriously either Republican leaners or Democratic leaners. I mean, the people who are genuinely independent independents, except for a little sliver like me, generally speaking don’t vote. So you know, some of them are going to go, and I think in this case, McCain is back with a bit of a renegade point of view. At least it’s independent of the mainstream. So he’ll get some of them. I agree with Michael that probably a larger proportion this time will go in the Democratic primary, because Obama is so attractive. But you know, so is McCain in this race.
HH: I got a fascinating e-mail from an ex-pat in Brazil, Tony, who writes, “The Clinton personal destruction machine will get up and running in New Hampshire tomorrow. Independents, being maverick minded, will instinctively run to protect Obama.” What do you think, Michael Barone?
MB: Well, I’ve heard some rumors, including I think on Rush Limbaugh’s program today, that the Clinton attack machine, as one might call it, has got some stories on Barack Obama. There have been a couple of damaging stories about him, the way he financed his house, purchase of a house on adjacent property with collusion with a guy named Tony Rezko, a political fixer close to the Governor, Rob Blogoyavitch, who is now got, Rezko’s now got legal problems of his own of significant odor. That was a little fishy. The mainstream media did not go into that with the aggressiveness they might have done if this had been, let’s say, an appointee of George W. Bush’s. So we may see a few more angles on that. You know, Obama has made himself quite comfortable with the Chicago political establishment. That is a cleaner establishment than it used to be, but maybe it’s not entirely squeaky clean.
HH: What do you think, Morton Kondracke? Does Barack Obama have vulnerabilities to the Clinton machine? And is that machine revving up?
MK: You know, I don’t…if the Clinton attack machine is revving up, fine. You know, it seems to me that every potential president who’s got a chance deserves to have a vetting, and deserves a scrub or having the scrutiny machine turned on, or whatever you call it. And if the press isn’t going to do it, then the opponents are going to have to do it. The question is, you know, is it on the up and up kind of stuff? I mean, in his record, his votes, his accomplishments, all that stuff, or is it this snide kind of stuff about how you know when the Republican attack machine starts talking about his cocaine use, that kind of stuff. That clearly backfired on them, got traced back to them, and it hurt Clinton. So all that stuff that’s history, that’s known, can’t be revisited. But new stuff? You know, legitimate stuff, record stuff, you know, I want to see it.
HH: Now let’s turn over to Mike Huckabee. Obviously, a big win for him last night, he was on Leno on Wednesday, he’s on Letterman tonight. Does he have to show something for that in New Hampshire, Michael Barone? Shouldn’t that translate into a third or probably a second place finish?
MB: Well, Mike Huckabee had an impressive night in Iowa. He drew a lot of people to the polls who probably might not have come there otherwise. 60% of the voters classified themselves as born again Christians, as against some 40 some percent eight years ago that classified themselves as Evangelical Christians. They’re not quite commensurate categories. But when you look at those that didn’t classify themselves as that, he only got 13% of the vote. That’s an also-ran number. And he has not yet demonstrated his capacity to break out into that population that is the large majority of the electorate in New Hampshire, and that is the majority of the electorate in most of the states that will be voting. Proportions obviously vary from state to state. And you know, we’ll see how far he goes. He’s very likable. I mean, if he was a womanizer, he might give Bill Clinton a run for his money. But the question is can a Baptist preacher sell beyond the core? We don’t know.
HH: Let me play for you Charlie Bass, former New Hampshire Republican Congressman, endorsing John McCain today on John Gibson’s The Big Story. Here’s Charlie Bass:
CB: John McCain is quite different. He’s been very specific now, for years, about the things that he thinks are important – climate change, campaign finance reform.
HH: Morton Kondracke, do you try and sell John McCain to the Republicans on climate change and campaign finance reform?
MK: I don’t. Charlie Bass is a moderate, very moderate Republican who lost his seat in the last election. I don’t know that that’s the best sale for Republicans, but it may help among independents.
HH: Michael Barone, I have a note here from a Republican conservative activist, a Duncan Hunter supporter, and she’s going to stick with Duncan. But she writes, “There is no way that anyone who is really concerned about the border situation would vote for McCain or Huckabee.” Now all the surveys say immigration matters the most in the Republican primaries. How then to account for Huckabee and McCain?
MB: Well, I think that the issue dialogue, as it’s turned out, hasn’t focused on that issue in the long run, and I think it’s a hard issue to bring up, Hugh, for this reason. Voters recoil at anything that sounds like bigotry or ‘I don’t like this particular group.’ And there’s a danger when you start making emphatic points on illegal immigration that you cross the line between saying hey, we just want our laws upheld, and you sound like you’re saying ‘I don’t like Mexicans and people like that.’ So that’s a delicate line. That issue could work to the advantage of a Republican nominee, at least a non-McCain or Huckabee nominee in the general election, but there’s also a risk, not just from Hispanic voters, but from voters generally who are turned off by the articulating, the too loud articulation of a position which they actually agree with.
HH: Morton Kondracke, today a couple of stories on Politico on fundraising. Team Huckabee has only raised $350,000 after their win, way below expectations. John McCain was trying to squeeze blood from a stone as well. He’s out of cash. If the Republican candidate has to accept matching funds, and McCain’s filed the paperwork, he hasn’t said whether he will or not, doesn’t that doom the Republicans?
MK: Well, I think that McCain is hoping that he’ll win in New Hampshire, and he won’t have to collect public funds, because it would limit him enormously. And you know, the public funding doesn’t come in until after the convention, and there’s a very long time, if McCain were to be the nominee, when he would basically be dark, and he’d have to depend on Republican-leaning 527’s, who would be issuing messages that he wouldn’t maybe like.
HH: Michael Barone, do you think that John McCain raises anywhere near the kind of money that Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney does?
MB: He hasn’t so far, and I think that he may have trouble doing that. I mean, the Republicans generally are at a big disadvantage in money this year. Only the RNC has outraised the DNC, not by historic margins. But the other Republican committees are behind. The Democratic presidential candidates have raised lots more money, double the amount or more that the Republican candidates have. And then we saw this big surge of turnout. There’s a real enthusiasm problem for the Republican Party, of which the money raised is one metric. I think there’s also an issue problem. The median age voter in this election, Hugh, was born about 1963. They didn’t wait in gas lines. They didn’t try and pay their weekly bills while their taxes were getting squeezed by bracket creep, and inflation was raising the bills every day. They didn’t see America in retreat in the world under Jimmy Carter. That happened when they were children. And Republicans have benefited from the memories that many voters have of those bad, liberal years. And those memories are not held by half the electorate anymore.
HH: There’s a new memory, though, and I’ll point out, the Market got slaughtered today, down 2% on the Dow, almost 4% on the NASDAQ, as the investor class absorbed the idea of an Obama presidency, because Obama’s going to beat McCain or Huckabee. Morton Kondracke, what do you think the Market will do if you’ve got Obama and McCain coming out of New Hampshire next week?
MK: I don’t think…I think the Market is responding to the real dangers. It’s been volatile for months now. It’s over oil prices hitting $100 dollars, it’s over a credit crunch. You know, you can’t borrow money, because nobody knows what the value of property is. And it’s a fall off from the sub-prime mortgage…
HH: Investors aren’t dumb. They know what a President Obama means for profits. Michael Barone and Morton Kondracke, thank you both, Happy New Year to you, we’ll talk to you early next week, hopefully.
End of interview.