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updated 12/2/2007 12:50:42 PM ET 2007-12-02T17:50:42

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  the war in Iraq.  Is the military surge working?  Can there be political reconciliation?  This decorated Vietnam Veteran, former secretary of the Navy and now United States senator from Virginia returned yesterday from his first visit to the war zone.  And this morning Democrat Jim Webb is our guest.

Then, the Republicans square off in Florida, the Democrats in Iowa.  Bill Clinton creates a stir with this comment:

(Videotape)

FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON:  Even though I approved of Afghanistan and opposed Iraq from the beginning...

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  And Oprah prepares to stump for Obama.  Insights and analysis from David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, David Gregory of NBC News, Michele Norris of National Public Radio and Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post.

And in our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE, former Congressman Henry Hyde, who steered the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, died this week at the age of 83.  Nine years ago he reflected on his role right here on MEET THE PRESS.

But first, Senator Jim Webb of Virginia has just returned from his first trip to Iraq.

Senator Webb, welcome home and welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

SEN. JIM WEBB (D-VA):  Well, nice to be with you again.

MR. RUSSERT:  Iraq, is the military surge working?

SEN. WEBB:  I think this is—that’s a very complicated question in its—in its connotations, and I’d like to take a few minutes and, and go through it, if, if I may.

MR. RUSSERT:  Please.

SEN. WEBB:  There are certain elements in Iraq that I think have benefited from the surge, and I think there are other elements that have had their own momentum.  And I think it’s important to make those distinctions.  There are a lot of pieces in, in motion over there.  I would look at four different components that have come together to give us an interval here, a very important interval, where hopefully we can move forward with some of the overarching diplomatic approaches that I and some other people have been advocating for a long time.

The first element is al-Anbar.  And this is a—this is a piece—the awakening, the Sunni awakening, which has been used by the administration as evidence of the fact that the surge is working.  This was happening before the surge began, well before the surge began, and it would have been happening even if there wasn’t a surge.  There are three different pieces that were in motion out there in al-Anbar.  My son was there fighting as a Marine while this was going on more than a year ago.  You had al-Qaeda, who had not been operating in Iraq until our invasion, that had developed something of an alliance with the Sunni insurgency, and they overplayed their hand.  They badly overplayed their hand before the, the surge was announced.  They were assassinating tribal leaders in the areas.  And the Sunni leadership made a deal.  They decided that, at least for the moment, the al-Qaeda situation was worse for them than the American occupation, and they have moved toward us.  And in that environment, we have, for the moment, a, a, a sense of calm.  We have a lot of people who were in the insurgency who are now Iraqi police in the streets in Ramadi, where, where this—where the centerpiece of this took place.  Short term, that’s good for us.  Long term, it could be the same sort of thing that we saw with Osama bin Laden when he was working with us against the Soviets in Afghanistan early on, until that changed.  So it’s, it’s a, a temporary situation that could benefit us, but, but not necessarily will.

The second situation is the rift in the Shia.  And we had a period of calm because Sadr, who is the most aligned with Iran, has cut, basically, a six-month deal here where he’s looking at the Maliki government.  The events of this last week, with respect to this proposal that the Maliki government and the Bush administration had moved forward for long-term reconciliation with the security implications in it have apparently offended the Sadrists. We got to, we got to look at that.  Short term, we’ve got a period of calm, the military’s been able take advantage of that.  Long term, different situation.

The third is the elements of international terrorism.  International terrorism is a fluid environment.  Right now we’ve done a good job.  The American military has done a good job taking advantage of the situation with respect to terrorism in Iraq, but the most dangerous area for international terrorism right now is the fragility of the situation in Pakistan and the events that’re going on in the Afghani-Pakistan border.  Coalition casualties are actually up in Afghanistan.  I think this reflects a movement of international terrorism.

The fourth piece is what’s happening up in the Kurdish areas.  We have a situation, as you know, where the, the Turkish parliament itself has authorized action inside Iraqi territory.  One can only imagine what people here would be saying if it was the Iranian parliament that had been authorizing Iranian action inside Iraqi territory.  But I think this has been a bit of a wake-up call for the Kurds, who have been pretty much independent. They realized that they need to be working with the Iraqi government and with the Americans to forestall some of that sort of situation.

So those components have come together, they have coupled with the fact that wherever the American military has gone they have done their job tactically, whether it was the initial invasion or now, and they have given us this moment.  And I think Secretary Negroponte spoke yesterday of having this, this interval as well.  We need to take advantage of this in a regional way, not simply an Iraq way.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Washington Post wrote an editorial last month, and let me share it and see if you agree with it or disagree.

“The evidence is now overwhelming that the ‘surge’ of U.S. military forces in Iraq this year has been, in purely military terms, a remarkable success.  By every metric used to measure the war—total attacks, U.S. casualties, Iraqi casualties, suicide bombings, roadside bombs—there” have—“has been an enormous improvement since January.  U.S. commanders report that al-Qaeda has been cleared from large areas it once controlled and” “its remaining forces in Iraq are reeling.

“Markets in Baghdad are reopening, and the curfew is being eased; the huge refugee flow out of the country has begun to reverse itself.  Credit for these achievements belongs in large part to U.S. soldiers in Iraq, who took on a tremendously challenging new counterterrorism strategy and made it work; to General David Petraeus, the architect of that strategy; and to President Bush, for making the decision to launch the surge against the advice of most of Congress and the country’s foreign policy elite.”

SEN. WEBB:  Well, that’s The Washington Post.  You know, they have strongly editorialized in favor of this war from, from the beginning.  And as I just said, there are a lot of moving parts in play.  I don’t want to take anything away from the performance of the United States military tactically when they’ve been put into a situation.  But there are a lot of other pieces to this, and al-Anbar is a classic example.  And I just said to you exactly what I said to General Petraeus in September when he was testifying, and I reiterated to him when he was over there.  I think if General Petraeus—unless, unless General Petraeus wants to enter the realm of politics, he should be the first to, to acknowledge the situation in al-Anbar preceded the surge.

MR. RUSSERT:  But should President Bush receive credit for undertaking the surge in other areas?

SEN. WEBB:  What I said the night that the surge was announced is what I continue to believe, and that is that it was a tactical adjustment; it didn’t change the overarching strategy of what we were trying to do.  We should express our gratitude for the quality of our fighting people when they’ve been sent into these situations.  But there are three components in terms of a national strategy when—as it relates to Iraq.

The first is the military component.  They have gone again and again to our military, and our military has always met the expectations.  The second are the components inside Iraq, and, with respect to the surge, I think we should remember, there are a couple of objectives that President Bush laid out in February when he announced this surge.  One was that the Iraqi government would’ve taken over all the provinces of Iraq by now, by the end of the year. The second was that there were going to put $10 billion of their own money into local reconstruction.  I met with the special inspector general’s office in Baghdad when I was there, and the representative of that office told me that, from her best estimate, that number was probably 25 percent, maybe to 40 percent of the money that the Iraqi government said they were going to put into these projects.  They’ve got the money.  They clearly have the money. Their oil revenues are, are going strong.  Oil’s now $100 a barrel.  They have not put the money out.  The goal now for total control by the Iraqis in Iraq is next July.  But that’s one piece, the Maliki government and meeting those standards.

And then the biggest piece, the one that has not been met, the one that this administration has to step up and accept responsibility for, is the failure for the last five years to match the quality of our military performance with robust regional diplomacy.  The Baker-Hamiltion Commission recommended a year ago that we, we begin immediately.  We, we saw last week the first step toward something of that sort with the Annapolis Conference on the Palestinian-Israeli situation.  That could have been done five years ago.  But that’s the only way that we’re going to be able to take advantage of the, the quality of work that our military people have done, and we’re still waiting.

MR. RUSSERT:  Does the Maliki government have the capability of bringing about a political reconciliation at the national level?

SEN. WEBB:  I think that’s a really tough question, and it’s always been a tough question.  When I, when I look at Iraq, I, I see a lot of what I saw in Beirut when I was a there journal—as a journalist in 1983.  You had a very weak central government surrounded by strong, armed tribal factions, each of which has their own agenda.  And the question is whether the central government can compel certain actions.  But there’s two ways that we need to look at that.  One is that we have given them the underpinnings, and we’ve now called them on this.  They have to be able to step forward.  But the other is, as the deputy prime minister mentioned to me when I was there—he’s a, he’s a Kurd—he basically said, “Every country in this”—and this is his words—“Every country in this region has a dog in this fight.” And I said, “That’s a lot of dogs.” And the question is how you can bring these countries to the table in a constructive way.  That’s, that’s the way you’re going to be able to, to, to make the change or the, the changes we’re trying to help bring about with the domestic government work, and we haven’t been doing that.  We need to get them on the table overtly.

MR. RUSSERT:  As you well know, funding for the war is a big issue in the Senate.  Every major Democratic candidate for president has opposed funding for the war except Joe Biden.  The president on Thursday called on Congress to continue funding the war.  Here’s what the president said:

(Videotape)

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH:  Pentagon officials have warned Congress that the continued delay in funding our troops will soon begin to have a damaging impact on the operations of this department.  The warning has been laid out for the United States Congress to hear.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  You talked about this small opportunity, this small window. Should the Congress continue to fund the war in Iraq?

SEN. WEBB:  Well, the problem with the administration’s approach to this is they constantly use fear tactics.  They did the same thing when I offered this wartime amendment, where basically all I was saying was however long our military people have been in Iraq or Afghanistan, they deserve to have that much time at home before they go again.  And the Pentagon, the administration, started saying this was going to cause Americans to die and etc., etc., etc. President Bush has said that...

MR. RUSSERT:  Call up more Guard.

SEN. WEBB:  Or you can, you can develop a rotational policy after, after five years of doing this that’s going to ensure people the same amount of time at home before they go.  If President Bush had said to do it, they’d have been saluting and doing it.  And this is the same sort of thing.  There’s, there’s no one in the Congress that is going to interrupt funding that goes to the ability of the military to take care of the present responsibilities.

The difficulty that, that we have here, it’s sort of the elephant in the bedroom for this entire time period, has been how long are we going to be in Iraq?  What are we funding implicitly as opposed to explicitly?  And we don’t get to have this debate, and so the, the lever that the Congress has, the one pure, clear, constitutional lever, is the appropriations lever, and so the question becomes what is it we’re funding?  If you’re, if you’re—if you want bases in Iraq for the next 50 years, which is what the Republican leadership now is finally openly saying—Mitch McConnell said it on the Senate floor several weeks ago, “This, this should look like Korea 50 years from now”—then you’re going to have one sort of approach, which you ought to be open about it.  So we’re voting for these things, where in there you have money that’s directed toward ongoing operations, but you have all these other sorts of things as well, and so, you know, the question becomes how you draw the line. But the one thing for sure is nobody’s going to cut off funding for the, the things that are necessary for our people to be able to do their job on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

MR. RUSSERT:  But many Democrats have said, “We want to stop the funding for the war, period.”

SEN. WEBB:  And I think that’s just not a winning formula.

MR. RUSSERT:  How long do you think we’ll be in Iraq?

SEN. WEBB:  That’s going to be the big debate of the next year, you know. Actually, I wrote a piece for The Washington Post six months before we invaded Iraq, and the subtitle is—of, of the piece was “Do you really want to be in Iraq for the next 30 to 50 years?”

MR. RUSSERT:  This agreement the president signed with the prime minister, what it—of Iraq, what do you think that portends?

SEN. WEBB:  I, I have a, a lot of concern about the agreement and the comments that General Lute, who is the officer in charge of this, made during a press conference after the agreement, and the fact that the insinuation is that the Congress should not have a specific approval process as it relates to it.  I think, you know, I’ve been doing this a long time.  Generally when you have basing agreements, clear basing agreements, they are pursuant—in the past, they have been pursuant to bilateral security treaties, whether the Philippines, Japan, whatever in the past.  There, there has to be a formula here where the United States Congress specifically ratifies the notion of long-term bases, if that’s where they’re going.  I do not believe we should have long-term bases in Iraq.  I believe we should get this overwatch done, we should move our combat troops off the streets of Iraq, and we should move toward a situation where we do not have a large military presence in that region.  It’s, it’s not in the strategic interest of the United States to have a permanent, large term military presence in Iraq.

And we’re hearing right now, for instance, from the commandant of the Marine Corps that it’s time to, to move, to move troops out.  The Marine Corps would like to shift its mission over to Afghanistan where that’s a, that’s a live expeditionary, clear terrorist environment rather than the occupy—occupation duties that they’re, they’re doing in al-Anbar right now.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to Iran.  Back in September there was a resolution offered which said this:  “The United States should designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization and place it on the list of Specialty Designated Global Terrorists.” At that time, on the floor, you said this:  “Categorizing this organization as a terrorist organization is not our present policy of keeping the military option on the table.  It is for all” political “practical purposes mandating the military option.  It could be read as tantamount to a declaration of war.  This is not the way to make foreign policy.” Do you believe people who voted for that resolution, in effect, were voting for war with Iran?

SEN. WEBB:  I think a lot of people voted for that resolution without considering the possibility that, that that was happening.  And I, I saw—I—when, when I saw that the resolution was coming up, I sat down with my staff, and I, I asked which entities have we designated formally as, as foreign terrorist organizations?  And there was not one other actual governmental entity that the United States had ever characterized as a foreign terrorist organization.  And if, if you think about that in terms of logic, international terrorism is, is nongovernmental by design.  International terrorism works the seams of, of governmental, you know, bodies of, of—boundaries and this sorts of things.  That’s what makes it so fluid.  So if you turn around and say that a, a piece of an actual foreign army is a terrorist organization, essentially what you’re saying is that we are at war with that country, because we are at war with actual foreign terrorist organizations.  So it was interesting to me—I spoke about this the day before the vote.  We got 70--what?--I think it was 72 to 25; 25 people voted against this resolution.  But among the 25 were the top six people in terms of seniority on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  So I think the people who really have long experience in foreign policy—that was including the two Republicans, the top four Democrats and the top two Republicans.  I think the people who really are thinking in terms of the process understood the, the concern that I and some others had.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Biden said that if President Bush attacks Iran without authorization from Congress that impeachment charges should be brought against the president.  Do you agree with that?

SEN. WEBB:  Here’s what I think.  We don’t need to get to that process. We—to that point where we would, we would call for an impeachment.  We have the availability, inside the constitutional process, to prevent this from happening.  I introduced a bill in March which basically said no funding will be authorized for the assumption of unilateral military actions against Iran, absent basic commonsense situations like repelling an attack or pre-empting an immediate attack available, or the operations of our intelligence activities. Those are some things.  Setting those aside, the way to preclude this is to, is to do what’s called an appropriations retrenchment, say there will be no money to start an activity rather than saying there will be a bad result if you conduct the activity.

MR. RUSSERT:  And you have the votes for that?

SEN. WEBB:  No.  But that’s the, that’s the approach.  We...

MR. RUSSERT:  But if the president goes forward and attacks...

SEN. WEBB:  If he goes forward now, he would say—this is, and actually this is the reason that I decided to put that legislation in—he would be saying right now that his signing statement after the 2002 authorization was broad enough that it would allow him to do it in the general war.  And if that were the case, there would be a lot of people, I think, who would step up and perhaps call for some sort of retaliatory action against the president. And...

MR. RUSSERT:  Such as?

SEN. WEBB:  Possibly impeachment.  I’m not saying that I would, I would actually do that, but if he were, if he were to do so, absent a clear justification, that’s where you’d end up.  The problem is, as always, you blur the lines and you, you, you, you have a situation where there’s not a clear line on that.  So the best way to do it is through the appropriations process, and it makes it very clear.

MR. RUSSERT:  2008 presidential election, do you think the Democrats can capture Virginia in a presidential race?

SEN. WEBB:  I think the Democrats have a, have a very good chance in, in Virginia.  If you look at the demographics of Virginia, how they’ve changed and how the statewide elections have gone over the past three cycles, two governmental cycles and my race, I think they had—the, the state is open. One of the things that I was very strong about when I decided to run was that it was time for the Reagan Democrats to come home, the people who, on issues of economic fairness and, and, and social justice moved away from the Democratic Party and who, who have a reason to come back.  And I think if you look at the state elections last November, you look down in the, the Hampton Roads are, the Tidewater area, the Democrats picked up four seats in traditionally Republican areas.  And they’re the kind of candidates that I was talking about.  One of them was a former police officer, one was a retired Navy captain, one was a person who was a, a Reagan Republican.  Another was a—is a former Army doctor, all in, in Republican areas.  So...

MR. RUSSERT:  Who’d be the strongest Democrat?

SEN. WEBB:  In Virginia?  I’m going with whoever’s nominated.

MR. RUSSERT:  If that nominee said to you, “Jim Webb, I want you to run as vice president because you can help me carry Virginia,” would you run?

SEN. WEBB:  I don’t think that would be—first, nobody’s talking to me.  And I don’t think that would be a great...

MR. RUSSERT:  But what if they did?  If they...

SEN. WEBB:  I don’t think, I don’t think that would be a, a compelling enough reason for me to leave what I’m doing right now.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you don’t rule it out?

SEN. WEBB:  I just don’t—I have no desire to do it, so—and I’m not trying to be coy here.  I just...

MR. RUSSERT:  But you’re not ruling it out?

SEN. WEBB:  I have, I have, I have a lot of loyalty to trying to move forward the Democratic Party in the right way, but I really am not interested in that.

MR. RUSSERT:  And you wouldn’t accept it?

SEN. WEBB:  I really—those are what ifs, and Ronald Reagan said never answer what ifs.

MR. RUSSERT:  You were very critical of Bill Clinton, talked about his ethical fraudulence, he—that he left with arrogance.  Are you more receptive to Hillary Clinton?

SEN. WEBB:  Hillary Clinton has been, been very good to work with.  She’s been very impressive.  I, I sit on the Armed Services Committee with her.  She has taken some positions and I’ve aligned myself with her on, on a number of positions over the past year.

MR. RUSSERT:  She make a good president?

SEN. WEBB:  I think Hillary Clinton would be a good president.

MR. RUSSERT:  How about Barack Obama?

SEN. WEBB:  I think Barack Obama would be a good president.  Barack Obama is a, is a very bright individual, and he—he’s got a lot of good ideas.  He’s very charismatic, and I—I’ve enjoyed working with both of them.

MR. RUSSERT:  Protecting your options there, huh?

SEN. WEBB:  Well, I just happen to—I happen to have respect for both of them.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Jim Webb, we thank you very much for joining us to share your views.

SEN. WEBB:  Thank you very much.

MR. RUSSERT:  Coming next, only 32 days to the Iowa caucuses and 37 days to the New Hampshire primary on January 8th.  Our political roundtable sorts it all out:  David Brody, David Gregory, Michele Norris, Eugene Robinson.  Coming up only on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Our political roundtable—only a month until Iowa—after this station break.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we’re back.  Welcome all.

New information this morning.  The Des Moines Register, everybody, has their new poll out.  First the Democrats.  Look at these numbers:  Barack Obama now at 28; in October he was at 22.  Hillary Clinton, 25; in October she was at 29.  John Edwards has stayed the same, 23.  Barack Obama, the new front-runner in Iowa, according to The Des Moines Register.

And here’s how he did it:  Amongst women, look at this, 10 point increase from October amongst women.  Hillary Clinton dropped eight points.

David Gregory, what do you make of it?

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  Well, I think that Barack Obama has sort of found his voice in this race.  He’s got the way to attack Hillary Clinton on her judgment, on her experience, on what people don’t like about Hillary Clinton. And he’s got a campaign style that’s finally comfortable for him, and it’s showing results.  He’s got a lot of money in advertising in Iowa, he is really moving around that state, he’s forcing Hillary Clinton to have to beef up her forces there.  So he is making a real race of it, and he’s got some momentum behind him.

MR. RUSSERT:  Gene Robinson.

MR. EUGENE ROBINSON:  Well, I, I think what’s, what’s happened—the other thing that’s happened is that the Clinton juggernaut, the inevitability factor, was really damaged by that, that—her performance in that debate, I guess it was in Philadelphia, a few weeks ago.  And that kind of gave people permission to look around.  And, and, and Obama, he kind of deals with the experience question by being there, by having, you know, the, the more he’s there, the more you hear him talk about national security and, and all the other issues that people care about, the more—the less it seems relevant, that perhaps he doesn’t have as long an experience as, as others.

MR. RUSSERT:  As they get to know him, to know him.

MR. ROBINSON:  Right.  It feels like he’s been around for a while.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Brody, you spent a lot of time in Iowa.  What’s your sense?

MR. DAVID BRODY:  Yeah, well, a couple of things.  One, I think Barack Obama should be getting a thank-you card from the John Edwards campaign any moment now.  I mean, John Edwards has done the dirty work for Barack Obama, at least initially, and now Barack Obama obviously continuing on.

I mean, the reality is Barack Obama spent a lot of time in Iowa.  It has been a concerted effort.  You can make the case that Hillary and others have been there, too.  But Barack Obama has gone ahead, especially from a staffing standpoint, as you were talking about, David, he’s been able to capitalize on that, and it’s been like that since day one.  It hasn’t just been money.  It’s been staffing, it’s been the blocking and tackling that he’s done very well there in Iowa.

MR. GREGORY:  Tim, I think another factor is that there’s been a fundamental decision that has not been made about Hillary Clinton among Iowans.  You have undecided Iowans, as, as you were saying a minute ago, of 49 percent.  And they don’t want to get it wrong this time, and I talked to Democrats out there, they feel like they got it wrong with John Kerry.  And so she hasn’t closed that deal.  The race is static.  It hasn’t moved in several months, which seems important.

MR. RUSSERT:  Michele Norris, you’re in Des Moines.  You were a moderator of the Brown and Black Caucus last night, forum last night.  Tell us what happened.  There you are on the screen asking a question of the Democratic candidates, one of whom I think is Chris Dodd.  There he is.  Tell us what happened last night.  All of us were watching college football.

MS. MICHELE NORRIS:  Hello.  It was actually, probably, weren’t able to, to get it depending on where you were.  But what was interesting, the hallmark of the Brown and Black Forum is that the candidates are able to actually pose a question to another candidate.  Each of them had an opportunity to do that, and what was interesting is only a few of the candidates used that to try to land a punch.  I mean, most of them were lobbing softballs, easy questions. In one case, Dennis Kucinich, who felt that he wasn’t getting enough time, posed a question to himself to make sure that he had enough time to speak to, to the audience.  So what I read in that is that you’ve got candidates with a race that is so close right now it seemed to be playing it safe going into these last weeks.  They’re, they’re willing to make attacks in some cases, but on the stage last night they missed an opportunity.

I just want to reach back to something that Gene said, though, about inevitability, now that I’ve spent some time here in Iowa.  That’s a word that a lot of people that I’ve talked here do not like.  Iowans take very seriously the, the role that they play in the early voting process.  They take these caucuses very seriously, and the sense that Hillary Clinton was the inevitable candidate did not go down easy with a lot of voters that I spoke with.  They don’t want to be told that their votes don’t count.  They want to know that they have—that they play an important role in this process.

MR. RUSSERT:  Most interesting.

Let me show you New Hampshire.  After Iowa comes New Hampshire on January 8th, and here’s the latest numbers from New Hampshire.  Barack Obama in the Fox News Opinion Poll is at 23; Hillary Clinton is at 30; John Edwards, 17; Bill Richardson, 17.

In the Suffolk University, it’s Clinton, 34; Obama, 22; Edwards, 15; Richardson, 9.  Hillary Clinton hopes to make that her firewall in any kind—if she loses Iowa, try to rebound New Hampshire.  If not, what happens? On to South Carolina, and look at these numbers:  Clinton, 19; Obama, 17; Edwards, 12; Richardson, 1; undecided, 49.  Clinton is down seven from August. Some of the other candidates are up a bit.  But the undecideds have gone up from 35 to 49.  And look at African-Americans.  They will count for half of the turnout at—in the primary in South Carolina.  Obama is now in the lead at 25; Clinton, 21; Edwards, 3; don’t know, 50 percent.

MR. ROBINSON:  Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT:  The favorite son of Orangeburg, South Carolina, tell us what’s going on.

MR. ROBINSON:  Well, people are taking another look at the race.  The, the kind of initial reaction was Clinton.  We know the Clintons.  There, there are questions about whether an African-American can really win the presidency. Can, can Barack Obama really win?  Come on now.  And, and who is he anyway? What, what does this guy have?  And now that, you know, Obama has been around, he is doing well in Iowa, leading in Iowa, people are taking another look at the race and saying, “Well, hold on there.  Let’s wait a minute.  Let’s wait until...”

MR. RUSSERT:  Gene, are you suggesting that if Obama won Iowa and because independents in New Hampshire decided to involve themselves in the Democrat primary, and he happened to win New Hampshire, he would then go in to South Carolina and black voters would say, “This may be the potential president, and we’re more willing to embrace him?”

MR. ROBINSON:  Well, I’ve always thought that Obama would do better in South Carolina than those early polls were suggesting.  Because my sense of, of people down there, just anecdotally, was there was a real willingness to, to take a look at him, a fondness for him, an admiration for him, but questions about electability and also the, the experience question, is he ready?

MR. RUSSERT:  But if he, if he lost Iowa and New Hampshire...

MR. ROBINSON:  If he lost Iowa and New Hampshire, why not go with Hillary Clinton.  But if he, if he won Iowa and New Hampshire, I would bet he wins South Carolina.

MR. GREGORY:  I also think there’s a dynamic here.  You know, all these Republicans go out and talk about that Hillary Clinton is the shoo-in, and then they, they all pile on her in a, in a debate context or out on the campaign trail.  I think in some ways that hurts her in this regard.  I think a lot of Democrats see that, and they’re reminded of the fact that—how, how polarizing she is and that these Republicans know how to run against her. They look at a Barack Obama, and they say, “Wow, he really is new on the scene.  He might be a little tougher to contend with.” I think that has some impact on a—on people thinking, “Is she really the one?”

MR. BRODY:  Also, in South Carolina, two other issues:  faith—you know, it’s South Carolina.  All of a sudden now, Barack Obama is going to make the church circuit run.  And you’re going to see that.  We haven’t really talked so much yet about Oprah, but here comes Oprah...

Offscreen Voice:  Yeah.

MR. BRODY:  ...December 8th and 9th down as—into Columbia.  I mean, there are two major intangibles right there.

MR. RUSSERT:  I want to get to that.  Let’s talk about things that you cannot predict that can happen in any campaign.  It’s a long five weeks away.  Look on Friday in New Hampshire, in Rochester, New Hampshire, this man went into Hillary Clinton’s headquarters.  There he is taking off some, thank God, fake explosives, surrendering to police.  Senator Clinton monitored the situation, flew to New Hampshire that night and made these comments:

(Videotape)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY):  I also want to thank all of law enforcement.  We were in touch from the moment this began with local, county, state, federal law enforcement.  And I am so grateful to them for their response which brought this hostage situation to such a good ending.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Clinton trying to show strength and experience in a difficult situation.

That same morning, Friday morning, where was Barack Obama?  Having breakfast with Mayor Mike Bloomberg, an independent thinking about running for president.  Obama trying to suggest change, independence.  The campaign being played out before our very eyes on events that really aren’t—are beyond the control of voters.

MR. GREGORY:  And, you know, this is what’s so important, I think, these moments that are spontaneous, that are unscripted.  So something horrible happens to the Clinton campaign, and it does—it showcases her ability to show strength, to act presidential, to act as, as a president would in a crisis and how she handles that.  And, and Barack Obama, again, playing to his strength. He understands that Mike Bloomberg is a power center for independent voters and ideas.

MR. RUSSERT:  You mentioned, David Brody, Oprah Winfrey.  Here is Oprah Winfrey greeting Barack Obama on her show in October.  He called her then “his girl.” She has now agreed to go to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina.

Michele Norris, what’s your sense?  Does the celebrity of Oprah Winfrey translate into political support for Barack Obama?

MS. NORRIS:  Well, you’ve got two celebrities at work here.  You’ve got Hillary Clinton’s husband, Bill Clinton, last night at the Brown Black Forum. When he entered the hall, it was like a rock star had walked into the auditorium.  People were standing up.  it was almost a stampede to try to get close to him.  So it’s almost like the Bill Clinton-Oprah Winfrey showdown.

The, the use of Oprah Winfrey in this state is particularly strategic.  She is—her program is the most watched program in the state of Iowa.  When you look closely at her viewership here, it’s women over 50.  And, you know, Iowa is a very conservative state.  There are a lot of stay-at-home moms; there are a lot of people who watch Oprah.  And when you look at Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey, both celebrities, but celebrities that touch people in very different ways.  Bill Clinton a former president; Oprah Winfrey someone that many voters, many people, many women in that key demographic look at and see as—almost as a friend.

MR. GREGORY:  And, of course, women over 50, that’s Hillary Clinton’s strength in Iowa.  That’s what she wants to be her strength.  She wants to get those women who have not caucused before to get out there.  Also, Oprah Winfrey—it’s not just about the women’s vote.  She touches women in a unique way, in an empowering way.  She can bring new people into the process.

MR. ROBINSON:  We, we just know a little bit about Oprah’s impact because the Pew Research Center actually did a poll in September asking what Oprah’s support for Obama would do.  And the findings, you know, they’re kind of half of this, half of that.  But they do suggest that her support helps Obama with Democrats in general, with women and with African-Americans.

MR. RUSSERT:  Bill Clinton, one of the best campaigners in the history of American politics, an asset to the Clinton campaign.  This week even members of her own—Hillary Clinton’s own campaign staff got upset.  He, he went out on the campaign trail and offered these comments about the Iraq war:

(Videotape)

FMR. PRES. CLINTON:  ...even though I approved of Afghanistan and opposed Iraq from the beginning...

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Other campaigns couldn’t wait to put out this comment from back in May of 2003:  “I” support the president—“supported the president when he asked the Congress for authority to stand up against weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” The president’s comments got a lot of play across the country, David.

MR. BRODY:  Yeah, and I think a couple of things went on here.  Obviously, Bill Clinton, anytime he’s above the fold in a Washington Post or The New York Times instead of Hillary Clinton, that’s not a good day obviously for the campaign.  Besides that, it plays into the Barack Obama narrative that they’re trying to form here, which is the baggage of the ‘90s with the Clintons, and every time he has a “misstep” so to speak, it plays into that.  You know, I, I kind of—I’ve been thinking about this, and it really seems like Bill Clinton’s like Allen Iverson in basketball.  You know, he’s, he’s a great player, hall of famer, the fans love him and everything, but sometimes he misses practice, and, you know, you take the good with the bad.  And it—it’s really an interesting scenario.

MR. RUSSERT:  They call Iverson “The Answer,” so...

MR. BRODY:  Yeah, that’s a good point.

MR. GREGORY:  Way in—the question is, what is the answer to what a lot of Democrats don’t like about George Bush, you know, the, the certainty of George Bush or the stubbornness of George Bush.  Is the answer, what a lot of critics of the Clintons say, a Clintonian way to approach issues, sort of too cute by half, a little calculating.  And, and that’s what his appear—his answer appeared to be on the Iraq war.  It’s what her answer appeared to be on the driver’s license questions in the debate in Philadelphia.  So it—it’s a reminder of what some people who don’t like Hillary Clinton don’t like.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the Republicans.  Des Moines Register poll out this morning.  Look at these numbers.

MR. BRODY:  Mm.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mike Huckabee is now the front-runner in Iowa at 29, up from 12 in October.  Mitt Romney’s at 24, down from 29 in October.  Rudy Giuliani at 13.  Fred Thompson at 9, down from 18.  I wanted to underscore that Mike Huckabee has spent $300,000 in Iowa.  Mitt Romney spent seven million, David Brody.

MR. BRODY:  Bang for your buck, Tim.  That’s called bang for your buck.  You know, but listen, the reality is, what turned this around for Mike Huckabee was in October at the Family Research Council Value Voters Summit.  That was in October, his numbers started skyrocketing starting in October and beyond. And—because what he did—I like to call that the “I’m one of you” speech because that’s exactly what he did.  He walked into that ballroom at the Hilton hotel and basically said, “Listen, I speak your language,” talking to the evangelicals.  But beyond that, he talked about his electability, and that was very important, and national security.

MR. RUSSERT:  Michele, you’re out in Iowa.  Are you hearing much about the Republicans?

MS. NORRIS:  I’m hearing a lot about the Republicans.  The person who’s not in Iowa right now, though, is Mike Huckabee, and that tells you something. That’s confidence.  Once those numbers started rising, he started leaving the state, feeling that he could actually leave the state to raise money elsewhere, and that says a lot.  You know, there, there—I’ve spent some time talking to evangelicals here.  And I, I spent some time with a, a Christian conservative pastor, and, and he’s just flummoxed.  He looks at the lot and he just—he, he can’t settle on any one of them.  They all have issues for him. And so, you know, Mike Huckabee is the one that they can settle on, but, for a number of people, they still look at that tax issue with Huckabee, and they’re still not comfortable there.  So there still may be some surprises.  But I think the most interesting thing, in that Des Moines Register poll, was when you move down, and when you see where McCain is at right now, down there with Ron Paul and Tom Tancredo.  And what you might see is an interesting thing, you know, as, in those last five weeks, Ron Paul starting to pick up, slowly pick up support, he may actually come in third here.

MR. RUSSERT:  And the tax issue with Huckabee is, as governor, he did raise some taxes, and there’s a widely-circulated tape of his speech he gave to the legislature by the Club for Growth which has him on the record on that.

After Iowa comes New Hampshire.  And let me pick up on what Michele was saying about John McCain.  This is the state McCain is trying to make his claim.  And look at this, it’s Romney, 29; Giuliani, 19; McCain, 21; Huckabee, 7; Ron Paul, 4; Thompson, 4 in one poll.  The other, 34, Romney; 20, Giuliani; 13, McCain; Huckabee, 7; Ron Paul, 8; Thompson, 2.  Some news this morning.  The Manchester Union Leader, the biggest paper in New Hampshire, Manchester Union Leader, New Hampshire Union Leader, endorsing John McCain.  This is what they said:  “What is most compelling about McCain is that his record, his character,” “his courage show him to be the most trustworthy, competent and conservative of all those seeking the nomination.  Simply put, McCain can be trusted to make informed decisions.” Back in 2000, that same paper endorsed Steve Forbes and said that John McCain was the most liberal guy on the Republican side.  So even Joe McQuaid has a capacity for growth, the editor.

After that, we go on to South Carolina.  Here’s the Republican now.  Look at this.  Thompson is at 15; Giuliani, 9; McCain, 11; Romney, 17; Huckabee, 13; Paul, 6; undecided, 28.  This is wide open.

MR. GREGORY:  I, I spoke to a prominent Republican who said that if you go Christmas ‘06 to Christmas ‘07, the field is more chaotic, more fluid than it was in Christmas 2006.

You, you show those polls, Tim, and a couple things leap out.  One is there’s different figures in every state.  And if you’re Rudy Giuliani, that’s exactly what you want.  You want this muddle in the early states, so he can bring in his February 5th strategy and really, and really run the tables, since he’s not as strong in the early states.

MR. RUSSERT:  With big states:  Florida, California.

MR. GREGORY:  Right.  Where they think that he—he’ll do much, much better.

You talk about McCain, particularly in New Hampshire, and it’s interesting. His people believe that if—that on the—the ideological continuum he will fall in between Giuliani and Romney.  And so it puts him in a good place. Because if, if voters come off either of those candidates, they’re likely to go to him.  They hope a winning strategy there.

MR. RUSSERT:  Gene, a big week in the press for Rudy Giuliani, one that he really...

MR. ROBINSON:  Oh, yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...wouldn’t enjoy.

MR. ROBINSON:  Yes.  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  Here’s how the New York tabloids played it up, and look at this:  “Doesn’t Add Up!” “Tryst Fund.” An analysis piece by Glen Johnson, the Associated Press, wrote it this way:  “Security billing case raises questions Giuliani has tried to avoid in campaign.  The revelation that security costs for Rudy Giuliani trysts with Judith Nathan were spread to obscure New York accounts exposes the former mayor to harsh questions his campaign wanted badly to avoid—about character, truthfulness and a penchant for secrecy. Conservatives who are already troubled by Giuliani’s support for abortion rights and gay rights have further reason to wonder about the thrice-married candidate’s morality.  Republicans seeking a candidate who can challenge” Democratic “Hillary Rodham Clinton on issues of integrity may feel betrayed.”

MR. ROBINSON:  I think you’d have to say the worst moment of the week was when Bernie Kerik came out and said, “Oh, it was just fine,” and, you know, in support of Giuliani.  That’s not what you want to have happen, you know.  You don’t want Bernie Kerik as your character witness, I think.

MR. BRODY:  And, and I think it’s all—it goes to the authenticity issue. Because Giuliani has said all the time on the campaign trail that this is what he’s about.  “I’m not going to lie to you, I’m a straight shooter.”

MR. RUSSERT:  “I’m not perfect.”

MR. BRODY:  “I’m not perfect.” But if this is a trickle, trickle, trickle story, and all of a sudden we’re talking about this in a month, then all of a sudden, you know, all bets are off on that argument.  And that could be the most problematic thing here.

MR. GREGORY:  Again, it becomes a practical argument as well.  In the general election, are evangelical voters who punished George Bush for his drunk driving record and sat home—are they going to do the same to Rudy Giuliani? Are women going to migrate toward a candidate who has an estranged relationship with his adult children?  These are questions that I think Republicans have to ask in the primary process as they look forward.

MR. RUSSERT:  And yet, Michele, Rudy Giuliani’s campaign believes that if Mike Huckabee beats Mitt Romney in Iowa, and Giuliani can come in a strong third, that will give him some momentum going into New Hampshire with a weakened Mitt Romney, and keep Giuliani’s hopes alive.

MS. NORRIS:  You know, months ago, people saying—were saying that Giuliani’s strategy was just crazy, that, you know, that he wasn’t spending enough time in Iowa, and the sort of three-point shot that he was hoping to make by surging late out of South Carolina, heading into that, you know, tsunami Tuesday on February 5th was just nuts.  And now it looks like, you know, it may have actually worked for them.  If, if Huckabee does win in Iowa, that’s very, very good news for Giuliani.

But I want to reach back to something that David said, you know, whether or not evangelicals will sit home.  Giuliani has picked up a few key endorsements on, on the Christian right.  But you know, what, what we’re hearing here in Iowa that—is that they will sit home.  That in many cases their ties to the party are more based on issues than based on the candidates and based on the Republican label.  And if the Republican nominee is someone who supports civil unions, is someone who has supported abortion rights, they—they’re, they’re telling us that they’re perfectly willing to sit this one out.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Brody.

MR. BRODY:  I think what we’re going to see is how powerful this evangelical bloc is not just in Iowa, but in other states as well.  I mean, because at the end of the day, Huckabee’s riding this in Iowa.  But, from an economic conservative standpoint and a national security standpoint, he’s going to have to kind of merge those other two sides.  And so, you know, one thing that’s interesting with Huckabee—and you know, Ronald Reagan is mentioned a lot here.  Well, all the candidates want to invoke Reagan’s name.  Huckabee, from a communications standpoint, may be the closest thing to it.  I mean, he has a way—and this is part of why, why what we’re seeing in the poll numbers—he has a way of it resonating.  You know, it’s like in the South where your, you know, where your grandmother might say, “You look ugly in that dress, bless your heart.” You know, it’s one of those things where, you know, it, it sounds—you wonder how it sounds, but the—but he, he can sugar coat it a little bit to where it sounds pretty good at the end of the day.

MR. RUSSERT:  Not my mom.  She used to say, “That looks ugly.  Go change.”

MR. GREGORY:  Yeah, right.

MR. ROBINSON:  But, I mean, the debates really have helped Huckabee, I think, because he comes across so well...

MR. RUSSERT:  (Unintelligible)

MR. ROBINSON:  ...as opposed to Giuliani and Romney, who in the, in the YouTube debate...

MR. RUSSERT:  But now, here comes the scrutiny for Mike Huckabee.

MR. BRODY:  And the, and the, and the Huckabee campaign telling me privately that “Get ready in the next month.” They’re not only ready for it, they say that—not necessarily white papers, but it’s, it’s coming—detailed policy positions are coming.

MR. RUSSERT:  And, Michele Norris, talking about debates, National Public Radio will have another debate this Tuesday from 2 to 4 Eastern time.  You’ll be there, we’ll be listening.

And our viewers should know that next Sunday on MEET THE PRESS, the former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, will be right here for our Meet the Candidates series next Sunday.  We’ll be right back on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.  Former Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois served in the House for more than 30 years, and appeared on this program seven times during his career.  In 1998 he led the impeachment against President Clinton.  Hyde reflected on the saga right here, MEET THE PRESS, October 4th, 1999.

(Videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Bottom line, Mr. Chairman, what’s all this done to tour politics?

REP. HENRY HYDE:  I think our politics has suffered, I hope not a mortal blow, but certainly a serious blow.  The name-calling, the negativity, the throwing of mud, the, the institution of the White House, the presidency, and Congress itself, people are looking at this in horror.  We have got to conduct ourselves appropriately with some dignity, with some purpose, and that’s my aim.  I am, not trying to stretch this out.  I am not trying to take political advantage of it.  This helps nobody.  We’ve got to do what’s best for our country, and that’s the bottom line.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Two and a half months later, the House approved perjury and obstruction of justice charges, two of the four articles of impeachment against President Clinton.  But on February 12th, 1999, the Senate voted to acquit the president.  Henry Hyde retired from Congress in 2006.  Last month he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his long service to the government.  His son, Robert, accepted the honor on behalf of his ailing father.  Henry Hyde died this week at the age of 83.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the Hyde family.

And we’ll be right back.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And a reminder, next Sunday, exclusive in-depth interview with Rudy Giuliani as part of our Meet the Candidates series.  Rudy Giuliani right here next Sunday on MEET THE PRESS.

That’s all for today.  We’ll be back next week.  If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.  Won’t make me popular here in the studio or in Washington, but go Bills, beat the Redskins.

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