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Countdown to Caucuses

Aired January 2, 2008 - 19:00:00   ET


MIKE GALANOS, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, countdown to the caucuses. With less than a day to go, the candidates make their final pitch to the voters in Iowa.

Plus, why it may not matter who wins. When the average American can`t even identify the candidates running for president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What`s his name? He`s the Mormon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can`t tell you who it is. Couldn`t tell you.

GALANOS: And late-night TV is finally back for the networks. Leno, Letterman, and the rest of the gang rev up the laugh tracks after two months on the picket lines.

All that and more, next.


GALANOS: Hello, America. I`m Mike Galanos in for Glenn Beck tonight.

We`ve got just 24 hours until the caucuses. And you`ve got to know there`s a political feeding frenzy going on in Iowa right now.

You know the candidates` names. By now you`ve probably heard their pitches. For Democrats like Hillary, Barack, John Edwards, it`s all about change, with each doing their best to convince voters they`re what the nation needs and needs now.

Just listen to Senator Clinton on the stump.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As far as I`m concerned, we are the people who are those best at solving problems, meeting challenges, being prepared for whatever the future holds.

So I am running for president to renew America`s purpose, to provide that kind of positive change that Americans deserve in their own lives, in their country and the world.


GALANOS: There you go. The "change" word.

On the Republican side Rudy, Romney, and others all trying to prove they`re the toughest when it comes to securing America, both here at home and overseas.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The people of Iowa have a right to know the truth. The people of America have a right to know the truth. They need to know, if we`re at war, why? They need to know how we`re going to win it. They need to know that, if our borders are broken, why are they broken, why is it our government hasn`t done one thing to fix those borders in over 20 years? And who is going to fix it, and how, and when? You have a right to know that.


GALANOS: For an update on how the war of words is playing out in Iowa, we`re joined now by Jan Mickelson. He`s the host of "Mickelson in the Morning" on radio station WHO in Des Moines. He`s been hearing from the candidates and the voters.

Hey, Jan, with it so wide open on both sides, have you ever seen anything like this?

JAN MICKELSON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: No, this has been the first time it`s been as open for, I think, about 50 years. There`s no incumbents. It`s all up for grabs. And it is as tight as it`s ever been. There`s more energy. There`s more money. There are more people crawling over the state than have ever happened in our Iowa caucus history.

GALANOS: Fun for us to watch. Let`s talk about who`s got momentum right now as we count down the final hours. Let`s talk about the Republicans. Is Huckabee going to hang on? What do you think?

MICKELSON: It`s a big issue. We`re still trying to figure that out. He had a Huckaboom a couple of weeks ago, when the evangelical right finally decided on a candidate. And he got ahead 10, 15 points, and then everybody said, "Hey, not so fast. We don`t want to make a mistake." They began the evaluation process.

And also, Fred Thompson pushed up the heat a little bit, moved from single digits to -- to 15, 20 points, mostly at the expense of Huckabee. And so that puts the Huckaboom -- it gives it a little bit of a shake, and puts it well within the reach of Romney.

GALANOS: One more quick one on Huckabee. Are the evangelicals lock stock with the governor?

MICKELSON: No. They`re kind of demoralized. They like the guy. He`s much like Iowans. He`s smart. He`s funny. He`s a happy guy. We want to like him. But we don`t want to make another mistake. And people are giving it a second thought, and independents that are being attracted to the next level are an uncertainty. We don`t know who they`re going to land upon.

GALANOS: You mentioned independents. We know Barack Obama thinks he can draw some of those independents. Let`s talk Democrats. Who`s got the Obama on that side?

MICKELSON: Obama does. By a hair, he`s got the warm fuzzy factor. Iowa Democrats have adopted him. They just love him to death. When he goes out to speak, he has standing-room-only crowds. People are soaking up everything he has to say. He has the chemistry here in Iowa.

The question is does he have the organization and money? The money issue is not important between now and tomorrow, but the organization is. Can he attract those independents to come out and vote for him on a cold January 3rd Orange Bowl night?

GALANOS: Yes, good point there. Some folks still watching some football, sipping that eggnog. Real quick give me your picks of Republicans, one-two. We know one-two. But who?

MICKELSON: I think Romney has a hair`s breadth edge...


MICKELSON: ... simply because he`s been here a long time, spent lots of money. His organization is very well-funded and motivated. The Huckabee people, there`s a lot more of them. But will they show up, and have they locked in? That`s a big question mark.

GALANOS: About the Dems, real quick.

MICKELSON: I think Obama has the warm fuzzy edge, but Clinton has the organization. I give her just -- I give her an advantage.

GALANOS: OK. All right. Jan Mickelson with WHO Radio in Des Moines.

We appreciate your time. Thanks for giving us that feel from Iowa. Thanks again.

We also want to handicap the caucuses with our very own Keith Boykin. He`s a "New York Times" best-selling author and host of BET`s "My Two Cents." Also joining us is CNN political analyst Amy Holmes.

Welcome to you both. Good to talk to you both again.

All right, Amy, let`s start with you. I live in California. I don`t even live in Iowa. I`ve been sipping eggnog for a couple of weeks. All of a sudden I tune in. I`m done with the bowl games. Why does Iowa matter to me? Will Iowa decide who my choice is going to be for president?

AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It doesn`t necessarily decide who`s going to be president or even the eventual nominee. But Iowa is first. That`s its big advantage, and it can make or break a candidacy.

We know with Iowa Huckabee, he is betting everything on Iowa. If he doesn`t win there, his campaign is kaput. Hillary, you know, she had to make a very strategic decision whether or not to invest in Iowa. She decided to. And now she`s facing the repercussions of that, that Obama might best her there and be a real contender for the Democratic nomination.

GALANOS: Keith, let`s get your take on that. Hillary Clinton, some say she wasted her time, should have skipped Iowa. Do you agree with that?

KEITH BOYKIN, HOST, BET`S "MY TWO CENTS": You know, it`s amazing that people are Monday-morning quarterbacking. It`s not even Sunday. It`s like we`re Saturday-afternoon quarterbacking right now.

It`s way too early to decide if she wasted her time. She`s a competitive candidate in Iowa, and she has a good chance of winning in Iowa. If she wins tomorrow, everybody who said she should have skipped the race in Iowa will be -- will have egg on their face. But if she loses they`ll say, "Oh, we told you so."

So it`s really hard to tell. You know, this race is all over the place, and nobody knows what`s going to happen.

GALANOS: Let`s stay with you, Keith. The get-out-the-vote so huge with the caucuses. On the Democrat side it seems the passion candidate is Obama. Is he going to get the most folks out?

BOYKIN: Well, he definitely has the most enthusiasm, I think, among the Democratic candidates, but whether he can turn people out, I`m not sure.

And you know, it`s interesting that the commenter before was saying that the real issue here is about money. Obama`s got plenty of money. That`s not an issue for him. The organization, I think he`s got a great organization, too.

It really depends on what people do on this particular day. It`s like any given Sunday. It`s any given day and the whims of the day: the weather, the way that people feel that day will determine whether people want to come out and show up to the caucus, not just to cast a ballot but to stay there for hours and hours and vote in public with other people. That`s not something everybody wants to do.

GALANOS: Great point there. As our previous commentator mentioned, well, a football game to watch, as well, on a cold night.

Let`s talk likeability, staying on with what Keith said. He gets the most enthusiasm on the Democrats` side. It seems Mike Huckabee is the passion candidate. Is that going to equal caucus-goers? Are the evangelicals going to come out, regardless of weather, for Mike Huckabee?

HOLMES: You know, like Keith said, that`s the million-dollar question. But I go with Senator Grassley from Iowa. Chuck Grassley told the "Des Moines Iowa" -- the "Des Moines Register," rather, that he gives this to Romney because of better, tighter, more organization.

Romney has poured almost $80 million now into this presidential contest. He`s got precinct captains all over the place.

I think it`s very telling, actually, that Huckabee is going on Jay Leno tonight to try to make that final pitch instead of being in Iowa on the ground rounding those -- rounding those caucus-goers up. As you said, he`s like, you know, hijack a church bus if you have to to get to the polls.

Well, let me tell you, Romney, he`s hiring those buses to get his people to the polls. So I think greater organization might just win here.

GALANOS: Real quick on that, Mike Huckabee on Jay Leno. Isn`t that good for him, though? He`s funny, he`s affable, he`s going to be on the show where the name of the game is laughs. Seems like it would play in his favor.

BOYKIN: I don`t know if it`s good for him if he needs to be in Iowa, though. It`s like when Fred Thompson was not in New Hampshire. He was busy being on Jay Leno, you know, when he was announcing his campaign.

You`ve got to be where the vote is. You`ve got to be where the action is. And right now the action for the next 48 hours is in Iowa, not in Los Angeles. So he needs to get there as quickly as he can.

GALANOS: Keith, let`s stay with you real quick. Expectations are key, or how you spin what happens. Can anybody -- let`s start with the Democrats. Can anybody lose and still play it as a win? And if so, how?

BOYKIN: Well, that`s a good question. I think while Hillary and Edwards and Obama are all neck and neck, so if any one of them loses they`re all going to try to spin it and do it to their best interests.

But nobody really wants to lose, but I think Hillary has the most wherewithal to go if she does lose. And Barack has the enthusiasm now. So he`s kind of expected to win. So it`s hard to -- it`s very hard to predict what`s going to happen and how people manage the expectation.

But the reality is the game is not about who wins; it`s about who wins the expectations game.

GALANOS: Right. Amy -- go ahead.

HOLMES: I was going to say I would add that Hillary can afford to lose in Iowa but not by very much. He can`t -- Obama cannot best her to such a point that he has so much momentum, so much goodwill, so much attention and publicity that he rolls into New Hampshire.

I would say on the Republican side, again, Romney may be able to afford to lose Iowa because he`s doing very well in New Hampshire and people aren`t sure that Huckabee has the money or the infrastructure to really go the distance. So again, Iowa, it can make a candidate, but it can also break a candidate.

GALANOS: Real quick, Amy, isn`t McCain really rooting for Huckabee, though? You get a Huckabee win in Iowa, all of a sudden maybe McCain gets a bump in New Hampshire.

HOLMES: Sure. You know what? The greatest boon for Giuliani is to have a divided field going into Florida, to have Huckabee, for example, win Iowa, for McCain to win New Hampshire. That knocks out Romney, who then won`t really be contesting in Florida, and Giuliani can then make a new pitch. So that divided field really hurt -- really helps Giuliani on the Republican side.

GALANOS: Yes, with it so wide open, these dominoes can fall any which way.

And how about John McCain? Real quick from both of you. How is he back?

BOYKIN: I think John McCain`s going to win in New Hampshire. Actually, I think -- my prediction, I hate to be the one to make the predictions, but I predict that McCain and Obama will win in New Hampshire. And I actually think that Hillary Clinton is going to win and Huckabee`s going to win in Iowa tomorrow. So we`ll see what happens with that, but that`s what I`m guessing right now.

GALANOS: All right. Give me your one-two, Keith, in Iowa. Let`s get back to Iowa.

BOYKIN: OK, Iowa, I`m going to say that Huckabee`s going to win and Romney`s going to come in second. And...


BOYKIN: And Hillary Clinton`s going to win and Obama second.


HOLMES: Tough. You`re making us go on the record. You`re making us put down...

GALANOS: Come on, get it out there.

HOLMES: OK. Iowa, I give that to Romney because of organization, although I think Huckabee will be very close. I don`t necessarily want to be held to that.

New Hampshire -- or I`m sorry, on the Democratic side I think Obama has momentum. I`d like to see Obama win Iowa.

GALANOS: OK. All right. Thank you both. Amy, Keith, we`ll talk to you guys again in just a little bit.

And we`re going to stay with politics here. One week Hillary leads Obama by 20. The next, she`s down five. Political polls change like the wind. So how can we get an accurate prediction from these things? We`ll take a look at the latest numbers and try to decipher them for you. That`s coming up.

And we`ve talked a lot about Mike Huckabee, gambled, showed the press a negative political ad that he won`t air on television. So what`s the real motive behind a move like that? Find out in a bit.


GALANOS: With crisis erupting in Pakistan and the political fate of one of our closest allies in the war on terror seemingly in the balance, what should the United States do? That`s something each of our political candidates are asking themselves. We`ve got that story coming up in just a bit.

But first, as America waits with breathless anticipation for voters in Iowa to caucus -- maybe that`s an exaggeration. We still want to know. Iowa`s setting the pace for us. But you know, there`s a little room to argue. This political horse race has been tough to call from the start, and it`s only gotten more so as decision time approaches.

Let`s give it a look. The most recent poll numbers in key states like Iowa and New Hampshire, they`ve been statistical dead-heats for the top three Democratic candidates for several weeks now. And should one poll show a surge as the final "Des Moines Register" poll did for Senator Barack Obama, that data immediately gets called into question by the rivals as expected.

On the other side of the aisle, the information could at best be described as erratic. You may recall, it seemed like the days of yore, the good old days when, for some anyway, when the clear front-runner Rudy Giuliani was the front-runner. Then it was Mitt Romney. Then of course, you had the surprising surge from Mike Huckabee and an ascension from the old veteran, John McCain. And we`re not even talking about national numbers here.

Yet it`s really the kind of stuff that leaves political pundits and pollsters excited. They`re loving it. And the voter, maybe you`re a little bit confused out there. Let`s wade through this a little bit and try to make some sense of all this.

Joining us now to talk about this, one of the leading pollsters in the country, Scott Rasmussen of the Rasmussen Report. Also from "Congressional Quarterly," Jonathan Allen.

Gentlemen, thank you for being with us.

All right, Scott, let`s talk with you. Take a quick look at the "Des Moines" register poll on each side. Start with the Democrats. We just mentioned a big surge for Barack Obama. His numbers go. He`s got a seven- point lead, according to that poll, over Hillary Clinton, eight-point lead over John Edwards.

Republican side, Mike Huckabee still hanging on by six points over Mitt Romney.

Scott, what can we make of this? Can we say, "All right. That`s the way it`s going come caucus night"?

SCOTT RASMUSSEN, RASMUSSEN REPORTS: Absolutely not. You can`t say that. What these polls tell us is a lot about what might determine who wins.

But, for example, on the Democratic side that poll assumes there`s going to be a big surge of unaffiliated voters, independents showing up to vote for Barack Obama. If there`s a big turnout, and those independents come out, Obama will win. If not, the "Register" poll shows that Clinton has a slight lead among Democrats.

It`s also worth remembering that four years ago, the final polls before election day showed that John Kerry would get between 21 percent and 26 percent of the vote, and he ended up with almost 38 percent.

And what we know from the polls is who are the competitors and what some of the issues are. On the Republican side Mike Huckabee has to get a good turnout from the evangelical base. He`s relying on an organization that is not a conventional political organization. If they turn out, he wins. If not, Mitt Romney wins. And none of us know who will win the critical third spot in the Republican caucus.

GALANOS: And Jonathan, what about these polls? Good snapshot? They tell us anything? Or is New Hampshire since it`s a traditional primary, is that a better gauge for us when we look at the polls?

JONATHAN ALLEN, "CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY": Well, I think it gives you a framework, perhaps a lens through which to look at the primaries.

But primaries are incredibly difficult to poll. You never really know who`s going to show up, where the intensity`s going to be.

Scott mentioned Iowa and Huckabee and the evangelical Christian voters. They`re an informal network, but they often show up to vote. They have a very strong informal network. We see that a lot in congressional races and statewide races. That the Christian conservative base often will show up in large numbers for candidates.

The other thing to remember in Iowa on the Democratic side is that you`ve got a two-round caucus voting system, where people show their preference within the caucus for one candidate and, if their candidate doesn`t get 15 percent, they reorganize with another candidate. So polling the first preference isn`t always very indicative of what`s going to happen at the end.

GALANOS: Real quick on that, Mr. Kucinich said, "Hey, if you have to go with the second choice, go Barack Obama." How significant is that for Obama?

ALLEN: Well, I think it`s, you know, a good thing for Obama. He certainly can`t be hurt by more support. It remains to be seen whether Kucinich`s supporters will do that. Kucinich pushed people toward Edwards last time. So you might be able to view this as an un-endorsement of Edwards as much as something powerful for Obama.

But my guess is with Dennis Kucinich, he`s trying to see this nomination contest go on as long as possible so he has as much influence as possible in the nominating process at a convention later this year.

GALANOS: Good point there.

Hey, Scott, let`s take a look real quick at some New Hampshire polling. As it stands, Hillary Clinton with a four-point lead over Barack Obama. I believe the last poll we saw 34 to 30. That`s a CNN poll. And on the Republican side Mitt Romney, John McCain in a dead heat. What do you -- how much does Iowa affect that?

RASMUSSEN: Well, it has an impact in a couple of ways. It`s not that people will actually sit home and say, "Well, gee, the voters of Iowa said this, so I`m going to change my mind." But it might affect who turns out and votes.

And one of the key competitions is actually cross parties; it`s between Barack Obama and John McCain. They`re hoping that independents will vote in their primary in New Hampshire so they can benefit. And that means that, if Barack Obama does poorly, John McCain might benefit in New Hampshire. If John McCain does poorly in Iowa, Barack Obama might benefit in New Hampshire.

And right now we`re waiting for the first event to take place. We`ll data adjust (ph) that. And then we`ll begin to get a better handle on who`s going to show up and vote in New Hampshire.

One important thing about all of this, though, is winning with independents is better than losing, but sooner or later, if you want to capture the party nomination for either political party, you have to begin to win among the party base.

GALANOS: Excellent point there. Gentlemen, we have to leave it there. Scott Rasmussen, Jonathan Allen, we appreciate it. Thanks again.

ALLEN: As always.

GALANOS: All right. It`s officially an election year, so you know, that means some dirty politics. Negative campaign ads have already hit the airwaves in Iowa and New Hampshire. And sooner or later it`s coming to a TV near you. Oh, joy.


GALANOS: Welcome back. I`m Mike Galanos filling in for Glenn tonight.

You know, in what has seemingly been the longest presidential campaign in history, we`re finally closing in on the home stretch, and that can only mean one thing: some negative campaign ads and lots of them. Candidates on both sides are guilty of the tactic to varying degrees.

And in an innovative backhanded pledge to not go negative, former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, showed an attack ad, critical of rival Mitt Romney to a bunch of political reporters, saying he wouldn`t run it, arguably garnering him more press than if he had.

As CNN`s Tom Foreman reports, for better or worse these attack ads are definitely in play.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the sport of politics, what better way to score and score quickly than with an attack ad?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John McCain, an honorable man, but is he the right Republican for the future?

FOREMAN: Mitt Romney, who has spent more on TV ads than any of the other candidates, is leading the way, unleashing a round of ads on his competition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: McCain pushed to let every illegal immigrant stay here permanently, even voted to allow illegals to collect Social Security.

FOREMAN: Perhaps an effective punch, but "Keeping Them Honest," it`s not as simple as that.

Senator McCain pushed to allow illegal immigrants to stay and receive Social Security benefits only after going back to their home country, paying a fine, and obtaining legal status.

Part of the Romney campaign`s beef with McCain, though, is that he voted for a bill that would have allowed those newly legal immigrants to collect benefits for all the time they had been in this country, as if they were legal all along, and that`s true.

Romney isn`t stopping at McCain. He`s also going after the leader in Iowa polls, Mike Huckabee.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But who is ready to make tough decisions?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mike Huckabee, soft on government spending. His foreign policy, ludicrous, says Condoleezza Rice.

FOREMAN: Ouch. But wait, that isn`t entirely correct either.

The ad uses the secretary of state`s response out of context. She was not calling Huckabee`s entire foreign policy ludicrous but something more specific: his accusation that the Bush administration has had an arrogant bunker mentality in international affairs.

McCain returned Romney`s hit with an ad of his own, but he quotes other sources attacking Romney.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The "Concord Monitor" writes, if a candidate is a phony we`ll know it. Mitt Romney is such a candidate." That`s why Romney`s hometown newspaper says the choice is clear: John McCain.

FOREMAN: Huckabee also hit back, even while saying he wouldn`t. He promised not to air his attack ad, but he did show it to reporters, ensuring it would get plenty of coverage on national TV.

HUCKABEE: Conventional political wisdom is that, when you`re hit and it`s beginning to do damage, that the smart play is to hit back. So we prepared a television spot. It`s supposed to start running at noon today. This morning I ordered our staff to pull the ad.

FOREMAN (on camera): Despite all of that, the Romney camp says all of its accusations are accurate and verifiable. And they hope the voters will listen.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Des Moines.


GALANOS: And our thanks to CNN`s Tom foreman for that fact check.

Well, chaos continues to sweep through Pakistan, and President Musharraf points the finger at terrorists. How all of this has affected Pakistan`s upcoming parliamentary elections and our presidential election right here. That`s next.


GALANOS: Well, the Hollywood writers strike moves into month three, but all is not lost. Tonight, late-night television returns with some fresh episodes. Some hosts will have their writers back. Others do not.

So who`s going to come out on top of all that? Find out in just a bit.

But first, nearly one week after the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the global ripple effect from that astounding act of violence is still being felt. Pakistan`s election commission today delayed the country`s parliamentary elections by six weeks. That in light of the widespread chaos and violence there.

Also today, President Musharraf addressed the nation, expressing condolences to the people of Pakistan in general and Bhutto`s Peoples Party specifically. But the violence and tenuous elections there have already had an impact on the elections right here. We`re going to have more on that in just a second.

Right now we want to get to CNN`s Matthew Chance in Pakistan on Musharraf`s national address and the latest from the ground there -- Matthew.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He went out onto the national airwaves to, first of all, offer his condolences and pay tribute to Benazir Bhutto, offer his condolences to her family, her supporters. He said that he understood their sadness and their anger after she was "martyred," in his words, by terrorists in Pakistan.

He also said the need was very important to get to the bottom of what actually happened to her, to the assassinated former prime minister. Because of that he said he`d requested assistance from British detectives from Scotland Yard to come to Pakistan as soon as possible to help with the investigation. Here`s what he had to say.

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTANI PRESIDENT (through translator): I would like to find out what exactly happened, and I want to bring the facts in front of the nation. So far, whatever the confusion is, we need to solve that confusion. And I would like to ask all the people, media, private channels, and foreign media, to -- not to compound this confusion.

CHANCE: Well, President Musharraf also said that in the aftermath of the killing of Benazir Bhutto, it was a time in the country for reconciliation, not for confrontation. That attempting to allay the anger, if you will, of the main opposition parties for the delay in the parliamentary election date which was announced today.

It was meant to take place on January the 8th. It`s been delayed to February the 18th. And there`s been reaction from the former party of the assassinated former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, from her widower, Asif Ali Zardari.

ASIF ALI ZARDARI, BHUTTO WIDOWER (through translator): Today, Pakistani society has decided that we will (INAUDIBLE) like-minded political parties, and we will condemn the postponement of the election. But we will go to the election at all the costs and will not let them run away with the election.

CHANCE: So the head of the Pakistan Peoples Party, the successor for Benazir Bhutto, saying the Pakistan People Party will take part in these elections. There was a warning, though, from President Musharraf. He said because of all the violence since the killing last week, he`d taken the decision to deploy the army, particularly in the south of the country, in Sindh province. And he said anybody breaking the law during this election period would be dealt with an iron fist.


GALANOS: All right. Our thanks to Matthew Chance, reporting for us from Islamabad.

Well, the world keeps a wary eye on the unrest in Pakistan and the fragility of the upcoming elections there. We sharpen our focus a little closer to home, specifically the campaign trail.

The December 27th assassination of Benazir Bhutto calling attention to the alarming lack of discussion about where candidates stand on foreign policy issues other than the war in Iraq. A seeming liability to candidates who had been fashioning themselves as change agents and an asset to those more inside the beltway touting experience. It`s an issue that no seasoned campaigner would let go unexploited, as evidenced by Senator McCain`s new Web ad.


ANNOUNCER: Mitt Romney says the next president doesn`t need foreign policy experience.

John McCain for President.

JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m John McCain, and I approved this message.


GALANOS: There you go. It`s direct, many would say effective, but does that fear necessarily equal smart foreign policy?

To help me sort through all this, including other global issues and how talk of that affects elections right here, we welcome back BET host Keith Boykin, CNN political analyst Amy Holmes, and Congressional Quarterly`s Jonathan Allen.

Thank you three again for joining us.

All right, Jonathan, let`s start with you.

When foreign policy`s on the table, first off, do voters here care? Did the Bhutto assassination make people stop and say wait a minute, I may have to reassess my voting priorities?

JONATHAN ALLEN, "CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY": Well, it`s a big question as to how many people in Iowa or New Hampshire or the early -- other early primary and caucus states, how much they care about what`s going on in Pakistan. Clearly, the candidates all reacted pretty quickly.

Folks like McCain and Hillary Clinton look at it as an advantage to them, having had some foreign policy experience, where they can say I`ve been to Pakistan, I`ve met with Bhutto, or Bhutto and Musharraf. But it remains to be seen whether folks in Dubuque really care that much.

You may remember it was only about eight years ago that a major presidential candidate couldn`t name the president of Pakistan. What`s to make us think that voters can?

GALANOS: That`s a good point.

And Keith, you`ve done the Iowa thing. Do the folks there really care about this? Is this going to move the meter in Iowa?

KEITH BOYKIN, HOST, "MY TWO CENTS": I think the people in Iowa care about gasoline prices. They care about the price of oil. They care about health insurance. They care about the economy and jobs.

I don`t think they directly are concerned about what`s going on in Pakistan, but I do think that they are aware of it. I don`t think it`s going to change anybody`s votes, at least not on the Democratic side. On the Republican side it might have some minor impact. But the reality is that most elections, as Tip O`Neill said, are local. All politics is local.

GALANOS: Good point there.

Amy, we just mentioned the candidates who possibility could get a bump if the conversation is foreign policy. That being John McCain, Hillary Clinton -- Fred Thompson can talk that way. One candidate who seemingly was hurt by all this, Mike Huckabee.

Let`s listen to one of his missteps. Want to get your reaction.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In light of what happened in Pakistan yesterday, it`s interesting that there were more Pakistanis who illegally crossed the border than of any other nationality except for those immediately south of our border.


GALANOS: All right. That`s one of a few missteps that Mike Huckabee had.

Amy, how much does this hurt Mike Huckabee? Can he recover?

AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I don`t think this hurts Mike Huckabee among Mike Huckabee supporters. Look, the evangelical supporters that like him like him because of his position on social issues.

I think these foreign policy questions, they`re helpful for those candidates for whom that`s a strength. And as you saw with the John McCain ad, he could use that to batter Mitt Romney.

But as, you know, Keith and I were discussing earlier, you know, frankly, these local issues are a lot more important. And let`s face it, if these foreign policy questions were so much at the top of voters` minds, Joe Biden would be doing a lot better than he is right now.

GALANOS: This is for -- John, let me throw this one at you.

John McCain, he wants to make this one an election about being commander in chief. How do you do that? How do you spin the dial that way?

ALLEN: Well, one of the ways that he`s trying to do that is to show leadership. I think he believes that the surge in Iraq has helped him show that because he`d been a big proponent of it early on, and obviously the violence has gone down in Iraq to some degree. And I think that`s the case with a lot of other issues.

And being able to show leadership on foreign policy, he talks about having been to Waziristan. I`m sure there are few other presidential candidates who can make that claim. It may show that he`s got worldliness that other folks do not.

GALANOS: Amy, does that win with Republicans, to take the John McCain example and say I was for the surge, it seems to be working. Is that a good way to go?

HOLMES: I think that wins with Republicans. And more broadly speaking, with voters.

They want a candidate who doesn`t necessarily know all of these details, and they`re not necessarily going to hold it against these candidates if they don`t. But they want someone who has a clear vision.

If you remember back in 2004, John Kerry said that he thought that the war on terrorism was a criminal issue, that it was a police issue. And Republican voters could not have disagreed more. And the candidate -- and George Bush, who pursued it as a war issue, got their vote.

So again, I mean, looking at the Democratic side, Barack Obama is gaining so much support against -- amongst those antiwar Democrats because he has a clear vision of what he thinks foreign policy should be, whereas Hillary Clinton is not getting that kind of support because they feel like she`s been all over the map on this, voting for the Iraq war and then saying if I knew what I knew now what I knew then, and then voting for the Iran resolution. It`s that kind of unclarity and sort of messiness in the position that really hurts a candidate.

GALANOS: Right. All right.

Keith, who has the best position? When we talk Iraq, John Edwards, he`s saying that`s the first thing he`s going to do, is end this war and get troops out of there. Is that a win for him?

BOYKIN: I don`t know if the Edwards point is the only solution or the best solution, but the Democrats have the best solution on Iraq because the American people agree with the Democrats. The American people voted in 2006 to get the American troops out of Iraq. And we`re still trying to do that.

The Republicans have been basically preventing that from happening. I think what we`re going to see is that even though there`s been some change on the ground in Iraq that the public hasn`t changed its position about the war in Iraq, and I think that the issues in terms of foreign policy will clearly help the Democrats, at least with the issue of Iraq.

I don`t think it`s going to resonate like they did in previous campaigns. We won`t be able to use the war on terror. We won`t be able to use the fear tactics and scare tactics that the Republicans used in previous years in this election because we`ve been through it before and the American people will not buy it.

HOLMES: Well, Keith, let`s hope not. And let`s hope that there`s not a terrorist attack on American soil. And let`s remember that George Bush, president of the United States, has helped keep that from happening.

BOYKIN: Well, we don`t really know who`s kept that from happening. I think that`s part of the problem, Amy. You know, the truth is there was no terrorist attack for many years from the first World Trade Center bombing until the second one, 2001, and Bill Clinton was the president.

HOLMES: Well, there was an attack on the USS Cole. There were a number of...

BOYKIN: But you know what I mean, Amy. There was no U.S. attack here in our country...

HOLMES: Right, but I would suggest is to say that terrorism is not a front burner issue for American national security and foreign policy. And it`s really just wishful thinking.

BOYKIN: No, but that`s not what I said, though. My point is that the American people want the war to end in Iraq. Don`t confuse the war in Iraq with the war on terror. Those are two separate things.

GALANOS: Keith, Amy, let`s get Jonathan back in on this and let`s move it to the -- I wouldn`t want to say this, but I guess he has in some ways. Rudy Giuliani`s a forgotten candidate. Can he talk 9/11 and turn that into "I`m ready to keep this country safe"?

ALLEN: He`s certainly been trying to turn I guess homeland security experience, the 9/11 issue, into foreign policy experience, trying to use the Bhutto assassination to get himself back rebounded and get some momentum again. He was the first guy that came out.

He said -- he coupled New York with Rawalpindi in his press statement afterward, and he`s talking about the terrorists` war on us. Definitely, Rudy Giuliani is trying to make that bridge from the New York situation on September 11, 2001, to the Pakistan situation, December 27, 2007. It`s not clear whether he`ll be able to do that.

GALANOS: Hey, Amy, real quick, on Rudy Giuliani, how can he get back in the conversation?

HOLMES: You know, frankly, he won`t get back in the conversation until Iowa and New Hampshire are over. He`s not competitive there. Where he`s trying to stake his claim, and, you know, try to capture the nomination in Florida and the big states. So, until those two contests are becoming more clearly decided, we`re not going to see where Giuliani`s really coming -- he`s not going to be getting the attention that he wants.

GALANOS: I`m sure we all will be dissecting Rudy Giuliani`s strategy when it`s all said and done sometime mid-February.

All right. Keith, Jonathan, Amy, we appreciate it. Thanks again for your insight.

BOYKIN: Thank you.

HOLMES: Thank you.

GALANOS: All right. Coming up, after airing reruns for two months, late-night television returns. Who`s got the advantage in the quest for ratings glory?

Find out next.


GALANOS: Late-night talk shows were the first to be hit by the current Hollywood writers strike. So with no original content, monologues with the normal wit and banter provided by writers, late night decided to go dark.

Now, two months later, they`re back. However, that playing field is anything but level.

David Letterman`s World Wide Pants production company, which owns both "The Late Show," as well as the "Late, Late Show With Craig Ferguson," inked a deal with the Writers Guild allowing both Letterman and Ferguson to go on tonight with the writing teams intact. It`s a huge advantage over Jay Leno, Conan O`Brien, and Jimmy Kimmel, who will be left writerless.

So how does this one play out?

Joining us to talk about it, Robert Lichter. He`s a media analyst, as well as professor of communications at George Mason University. Also joining us, Dade Hayes. He`s the assistant managing editor of "Variety."

Dade, let`s start with you.

Here`s Letterman. He comes back, he`s got his writers intact. He`s got full go to get any guests he wants thanks to the union`s OK. He`s just going to crush the late-night competition, isn`t he?

DADE HAYES, "VARIETY": Well, he has a pretty good shot at doing just that, Mike. I mean, in the short run, the smart money is on Letterman. But we have to remember that Jay Leno has been the reigning champ for many, many years, and there have been these cases -- for example, after 9/11 or after Letterman returned from his heart surgery -- where there`s been a little blip maybe with a big guest or a big promo where he gets a little edge, maybe for a night, two nights, three nights, and then Leno`s right back at him.

So I would definitely say longer term, Jay Leno would still have to be the favorite.

GALANOS: So you say Leno still competes.

Hey, Robert, what about Jay Leno? What does he do to compete? He`s going to have Mike Huckabee on to start. But beyond that, aren`t the guests going to run a little thin?

ROBERT LICHTER, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, they come for the guests, but they stay for the host. And this is a real opportunity for Jay Leno to show how good he is, if he really deserved to inherit Johnny`s show.

And you know, he`s giving over this show in a year and riding off into the sunset. He doesn`t want to be the guy who jumps from the sinking ship that he helped to sink. So I think this is really an opportunity for Jay Leno to really show what he`s made of.

GALANOS: OK. Let`s get specific. I tune in to "The Tonight Show." Beyond seeing Mike Huckabee, what can Leno do to entertain me and show me he`s the man still?

LICHTER: Well, I`m not sure it`s quite mano-a-mano, but certainly he can engage in witty, spirited conversation, something that his predecessors, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, used to do and something that`s become a little bit of a lost art. Now, he`s also going to have an unusual entry into Republican presidential candidates because they can cross picket lines and they`re not as worried about crossing picket lines as Democrats. So the Huckabee story, I think, is a match made in media heaven, and you may get to see some of the other Republican candidates on as well.

GALANOS: That`s a good point there.

Dade, let`s get back to you on this. Is there any way this deal backfires as far as an industry goes?

Letterman strikes the deal, or his company, World Wide Pants. Can`t there be some fallout here? Bottom line, all of a sudden, Leno`s show does OK and we find out hey, writers, we don`t need you.

HAYES: Yes, there`s a real danger of a boomerang effect for the writers for sure. I mean, they basically made a calculated gamble to hive off this one small portion of the media universe and try to pretend like, you know, big media is still on the other side of the fence.

So if Letterman, as you say, and Craig Ferguson -- let`s not forget, he`s on after Letterman, it`s produced by the same company -- if they both put together some good weeks here, some good numbers, it`s going to really hurt the cause, but, you know, you have to remember that viewer habits are pretty well established. And I think, you know, if Jay Leno even brings his B game I think people will be there for him.

GALANOS: That`s a good point there.

Let`s talk about some other shows. Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, they`re going to come back.

Dave, does this writers strike hurt? Are -- those guys funny, witty, innovative guys. Do you think they`ll be OK?

HAYES: Yes, I think they have a good shot. I mean, of course their writing staffs have been recognized at the Emmys. I mean, they`re very well known for being top of the line comedy writing staffs.

But I have to say, the nature of the show, especially Colbert, which is basically a one half hour sketch every night -- he`s doing a character - - and they rely so heavily on authors and pundits and guests who don`t have to really plug into that same apparatus that "The Tonight Show" and Letterman do.

GALANOS: Got you.

Hey, Robert, let`s talk about Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O`Brien. How will they fare without writers? Again, talented guys, but when the onus is really on them what can they bring to the table?

LICHTER: Well, I think they`ve got problems because they are dependent on the lead-ins. You know, they`re the later shows. And I think we`re going to see how well these guys do improv, whether they still remember what it`s like to be improvisational comics.

And once again, they`re going to have to rely on actually being a host and getting interesting conversation instead of just an A-list guest. You know, for Conan this is especially important, because he`s the next Mr. Tonight Show. So this is really a chance for him to show that he deserves to inherit that show.

GALANOS: Robert, you`ve got a smile on your face. You think some good`s going to come out of this, huh? Real quick.

LICHTER: I think it`s going to be fun. It`s a place where Americans go to sleep at the end of the day satisfied with humor and increasingly political commentary. And, like presidential primaries, I think it`s going to be fun for everybody to watch.

GALANOS: Good point. Sometimes we just don`t want everything scripted, we like a little off the cuff there.

All right. Robert Lichter and Dade Hayes, appreciate your insights. Thank you, gentlemen.

Well, coming up, in 11 months we`ll be selecting the next president of the United States. Here`s a question to you. How well do you really know this election cast of characters?

Stay with us.


GALANOS: Well, it`s officially a presidential election year. Familiar with all the candidates? No?

As CNN`s Richard Roth discovers, you`re not alone.


RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): So is everyone now finally ready to vote?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s been a while since I voted, so...

ROTH: They call it voter apathy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It does make me upset when people don`t vote. I mean, that`s our right.

ROTH: Some apathy analysts.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it`s much too long and it`s very confusing for everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think people get tired of seeing these faces.

ROTH: Ah, faces. Does the public really know who is running for president?

(on camera): Who`s this man?


ROTH: Correct.


ROTH: No, John McCain.


Cheney. I said Cheney. Yes, John McCain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Couldn`t tell you who it is. Couldn`t tell you.

ROTH: Really?




ROTH: Do you recognize the name?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nine more months.

ROTH: Mike Huckabee.

FRED THOMPSON, ACTOR, "LAW & ORDER": If I want a "yes" man...

ROTH (voice over): People recognized Republican Fred Thompson`s other jobs but not his name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s the actor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s the actor. Ah, yes. OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like his acting better than his...



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, he needed to get out there sooner. He waited too long. I think he let the opportunity...

ROTH (on camera): You`re describing my dating life.

(voice over): There is a Republican from Texas running.

(on camera): How about him?


ROTH: No, Ron Paul.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He looks like George Bush.

ROTH (voice over): But turnout grew when George Bush ran against John Kerry in 2004. The highest percentage of voter turnout in 40 years. And polls say interest is running higher among Democrats and Republicans this year.

In our Democratic street quiz, everyone knew two of the leading contenders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s Barack Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama. That`s the king right there. That`s Hillary, the queen.



ROTH (on camera): Is she your baby?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, she`s not my baby.


ROTH: How come you got her, the woman?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because she`s a woman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, God, do I have to say her name?

ROTH (voice over): The frustrated blamed the photo messenger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This one I don`t know.

ROTH (on camera): Mitt Romney.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh. Your pictures don`t resemble them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, I`m drawing a blank.

ROTH: Mitt Romney.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, that`s Mitt? Well, these aren`t very good photos. I know who Mitt Romney is.

John McCain. He`s the Arizona -- Giuliani.

ROTH: The photos are getting better, I see.




ROTH: Please. You`re right, these pictures are bad quality.

(voice over): And just like one of the candidates, this pollster can change his mind, too.

(on camera): John Roberts?


ROTH: John Roberts -- John Edwards. Hello?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: See, you don`t know them, either.


GALANOS: I love the one who says these photos aren`t good.

That`s it for tonight. Thanks for watching.

I`m Mike Galanos in for Glenn Beck.

From New York, good night, America.