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STATE OF THE UNION

Interview With Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee; Interview With Arizona Senator John McCain; NFL's Cloud

Aired February 1, 2015 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: ISIS strikes again, and Mitt Romney closes the door on 2016.

I'm Dana Bash, and this is STATE OF THE UNION.

ISIS says it has beheaded a second Japanese hostage. A video released by the terror group appears to show the decapitated body of journalist Kenji Goto. The apparent killing comes just one week after ISIS beheaded Goto's fellow Japanese captive.

Let's go straight to CNN's Will Ripley in Tokyo.

Will, what's the reaction in Japan?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dana, people here are deeply saddened by this awful end to this hostage crisis which has gripped the country, much like the rest of the world.

There was hope as Kenji Goto appeared in several different ISIS propaganda messages and ISIS had purportedly offered to exchange his life for that Jordanian -- for that Iraqi woman held in Jordan, Sajida al-Rishawi. There was hope that Goto might make it out of this alive even as recently as just a few days ago.

But then, when that ISIS deadline passed with no word, there was growing fear here that this video would come and that this would be the end, the awful end for a father of two with two young daughters who aren't going to see their dad again.

But here in Tokyo, there is also some growing questions, certainly from opponents of the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and even members of the public about the way that this was handled, because keep in mind that just two days before the first ISIS video featuring Kenji Goto and the other beheaded Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, Prime Minister Abe pledged $200 million very publicly. He made a public announcement -- it made headlines all over the Middle East -- that he was going to support the coalition against ISIS.

And he did that knowing that there were two Japanese citizens in the hands of ISIS. People are saying that the situation could have been handled differently perhaps, that the announcement could have been made more discreetly and that perhaps these two men may still be alive.

Today, it's about grieving, but in the coming days, we expect to see that debate continue here, as people wonder how this tragedy happened and what can be done to prevent it from ever happening again -- Dana.

BASH: Terrible, terrible. Thank you, Will, for that update.

And we're going to continue to monitor this story and check back with you for any updates as we go through the show.

But, today, we're going to talk about February 1, because it is exactly one year from the Iowa caucuses. It is, of course, the first contest in the presidential nominating season.

And, in 2008, Mike Huckabee was the triumphant winner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: I wasn't sure that I would ever be able to love a state as much as I love my home state of Arkansas, but, tonight, I love Iowa a whole lot.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: I was there that night. I remember it well.

But Huckabee's White House bid fell short. But the preaching, guitar-playing former Arkansas governor has quit his job at FOX. And he's not exactly making it a secret that he's quite interested in making another run in 2016.

Governor Huckabee, thank you for coming on.

We are going to get to Iowa in one second.

But I want to play a TV moment that everybody is talking about. FOX's Megyn Kelly had you on her show to explain that when you sparked controversy talking about trashy New York women, you didn't mean your former colleagues at FOX.

Then she said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: We are not only swearing. We're drinking. We're smoking.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: We're having premarital sex with birth control before we go to work, and sometimes boss around a bunch of men.

HUCKABEE: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: I got to leave it at that.

HUCKABEE: See, I -- oh, I just don't want to hear that. I don't want to hear that.

KELLY: Sorry. That's just reality, Gov.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: So, Governor, I want to tell you that here at CNN, the women are not smoking, or drinking, or having premarital sex, in fact, not sex before work, no cursing. So welcome back to CNN.

(LAUGHTER)

HUCKABEE: Thank you, Dana.

And, by the way, you know, I think what I should have told Megyn was, my gosh, Megyn, I have only been gone three weeks, and the place has just gone to the dogs.

(LAUGHTER)

BASH: They need you there.

HUCKABEE: It was a funny moment.

It -- yes, no, it was funny. And, you know, I was in on the joke, as was Megyn, and yet I read stories where people said, Megyn Kelly really took it to Mike Huckabee.

And I'm thinking, you guys need a sense of humor. I thought it was hilarious.

BASH: Yes. Well, I hope -- I...

HUCKABEE: And she's a terrific person. We had a lot of fun with it.

BASH: We will see if anybody takes what I just said seriously.

But let's move on to something that is serious, a brand-new poll out this morning in Iowa that shows that you're doing OK, but not -- you're not at the top of the heap there. Scott Walker, the governor from Wisconsin, is at the top, 16 percent. There you see Rand Paul at 15 percent. You are at 13 percent. And the list goes on and on and on and on and on.

Let's just talk about Scott Walker first. What do you think of his mojo?

HUCKABEE: Well, he's definitely, you know, moving forward. A lot of people are interested in him.

He's done a great job in Wisconsin. He's weathered three elections. So, sure, he's an incredibly important contender for our party. But, I mean, look at the stable. There are a lot of people. And I just remind people that, eight years ago, when I was starting this, I wasn't even mentioned. I was an asterisk.

If I even got mentioned in a poll or in any conversation, it was, "Oh, and, by the way, there are some other people running, including," so it's a little early to take too much into it.

Now, quite honestly, if I were at the top of the poll, I would tell you this is very significant.

(LAUGHTER)

HUCKABEE: The fact that I'm not, I'm going to tell you, well, it's not as important as it seems to be.

I mean, that is how this game is played. And, Dana, you know it as well as anybody in America. But it's an interesting to see where Iowa is moving at this point. I'm delighted to be where I am. It's a very tight bunching. It's a long way, a year, as you said, from the caucuses today.

BASH: But you mentioned 2008. And I just want to put on the screen the pack back then, because it wasn't small, but it was a lot smaller than today.

And so that sort of gives you a sense of how different it is, but also, back then, you ran very successfully with no money -- I was there -- by getting out the grassroots conservatives, the evangelicals, the homeschoolers. But you didn't have a lot of other candidates in that part of the field doing that.

This time, you do, a lot. How are you going to compete with that?

HUCKABEE: Well, I think the most important thing is that I never really got most of my support from the evangelicals, though that was the narrative.

A lot of my support came from people who felt like they were in the bottom of the economic pool. And one of the reasons that we attracted a lot of working-class people, people who had been Democrats, people who weren't that politically connected and people that, let's say, weren't regular goers to the party meetings were because they saw, in what I was talking about, how we could truly change this country and make the economy work for the people at the bottom.

Here's a sad fact. Over the past 40 years, the people in the bottom 90 percent of America have had stagnant wages, stagnant, largely because of the instability of the dollar. I think when we talk about these things and how to lift people up, the message gets through. And so I don't see myself as a one-dimensional candidate just with value voters.

BASH: Sure. Well, and to that point, the person that you -- one of the people

that you beat back then was Mitt Romney. We have to talk about his big news on Friday, saying that he was not going to run for a third -- run a third time. Listen to what he said when he talked to some of his supporters.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BASH: The next generation. He's trying to tell you to get out of the way? What do you think?

HUCKABEE: No, I don't think so.

You know, I mean, Mitt has stepped aside. And so I looked at it as one down, several more to go. I'm hoping the others drop out, leave me by myself. That would be delightful for me. And if that news happens, the rest of the next few months, I would be delighted, Dana.

(LAUGHTER)

HUCKABEE: That would be great.

BASH: Don't hold your breath.

HUCKABEE: No.

(LAUGHTER)

BASH: We're going to talk about your book in the next segment, but before we get there, I just want to talk about one specific issue about the Republican Party.

You really took aim at outside groups and what they do to the Republican Party. And you even compared them to the Fort Hood shooter. And I want to read part of what you say: "I really don't think Nidal Hasan is the role model the GOP wants to emulate. We should leave that kind of Sunni-Shiite fights to the real jihadists. The goal of conservatives should be to build up America, not blow up the Republican Party."

Now, you're not the first person to complain about outside groups, but that's a little strong. I mean, you could argue that they have a right to do it.

HUCKABEE: Well, it's -- sure they have a right to do it, but the question is, is it the right thing to do in order to win in a general election against Democrats?

And I don't see how we help ourselves when we have fratricide within the conservative movement and more specifically within the Republican Party. I look at other Republicans as people on the same team, and we're all vying for the job of being quarterback.

Well, if I want to be the quarterback of the team, I have got to play the best game on the field. I don't become quarterback by taking a baseball bat to the kneecaps of everybody else who wants to be quarterback.

BASH: So, what are you going to do about it?

HUCKABEE: And I just -- well, I think I will talk very positively about what I want to do for America, rather than what I want to do to one of the other candidates and what they failed to do.

And I would always remind voters that the most unreliable information they will ever get about a candidate is from either the individual or the group that hopes somebody else gets the nomination. It's just utterly unreliable information. And if people kind of look at it that way, it might hopefully decimate the influence of the negative advertising.

BASH: Governor, I'm going to ask you to stand by just for a minute. We're going to squeeze in a break.

And, when we come back, I want to talk more about the book and what you say in there about Bubbleville.

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: We're back with former and likely future Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

His new book is "God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy," debuting number three on "The New York Times" bestseller list.

Welcome back, Governor.

I want to talk about the book. The whole concept in here is about Bubbaville, what you call the flyover region of the country, vs. Bubbleville, where I am in Washington, New York, L.A., and the cultural contrast between the two.

And you talk about it in detail on a whole range of issues. But what I want to ask you is, if you want to be president, you need to reach out to people in Bubbleville, because you consider yourself part of Bubbaville.

How do you do that?

HUCKABEE: I think by being honest. I don't think many people who are honest about the influence of

New York, Washington, and Hollywood, if they actually read the book, are going to say, no, that just doesn't happen. I mean, people who have some understanding about how influential the culture of those three communities are on fashion, finance, politics, government, music, entertainment, television, I think they would understand that, yes, there is a difference.

That doesn't mean that you don't relate. It just means that you recognize the difference. And, of course, Dana, this book was not so much a political treatise, as it is sort of a cultural review of the country and what polarizes it, because I think it's not just polarized by Democrats and Republicans. I really do think it's polarized culturally.

And that's the essence of the book. It's not safe, or sanitized, or sterilized, as you well know, because you have read it. And I think you would attest to the fact it is not a typical book written by somebody who is likely to run for office.

BASH: Yes, that is a good point. That is true.

But let's talk about gay marriage, because that is one of the topics in this book. And you write about your opposition to same-sex marriage as a religious conviction, but you also say this -- and I'm going to quote -- "I have friends who are gay. My wife and I have entertained gay friends, including gay couples, in our home. I do business with gay people and have had gay people working for me. My beliefs and convictions don't change with the people I'm around. I accept people who disagree with me and genuinely appreciate that they accept me as a friend and associate."

You write that you think that that is going to surprise people. Do you do that and put your tolerance out there because you believe that being gay is not a choice?

HUCKABEE: You know, for me, that's not the big question.

The bigger question is, how does it relate to law? How do we change law? We don't change law because some people in a black robe just decide that they don't like the fact that 70, in some cases 80 percent of a state's population have affirmed natural law marriage.

BASH: Right.

HUCKABEE: And I write a lot about the process and about the fact that Barack Obama had the same position I had when he spoke about it in 2008, and for the same reason.

BASH: But...

HUCKABEE: He said it was because he was a Christian and because God is in the mix. Those were his words.

BASH: But, Governor -- Governor, I'm going to ask you about gay marriage in one second, but just staying on the topic of this topic, because you do write very eloquently about it being a religious conviction to oppose to -- oppose gay marriage, but then you also talk about the biblical backings of being heterosexual.

So, given that, how do you kind of square that religious conviction with being open to having gay friends?

HUCKABEE: Well, people can be my friends who have lifestyles that are not necessarily my lifestyle.

I don't chuck people out of my circle or out of my life because they have a different point of view. I don't drink alcohol, but, gosh, a lot of my friends, maybe most of them, do. You know, I don't use profanity, but, believe me, I have got a lot of friends who do.

Some people really like classical music and ballet and opera. It's not my cup of tea. I would like to think that there's room in America for people who have different points of views without screaming, shouting, and wanting to shut their businesses down.

What worries me in this new environment we're in, it's not just that someone might disagree. They don't want to argue with me, even take a different point of view. They want to close someone's business down, put them really in an economic position of disenfranchisement. I find that very, very disturbing.

BASH: Governor, you talked about gay marriage. So let's talk about that and how much your own party has changed even since you ran in 2008.

According to Pew, in 2008, 19 percent of Republicans supported gay marriage. Now it's all the way up to 30 percent. That's a pretty big jump in not a lot of years. So, you talk about the big tent in the Republican Party. Shouldn't there be room for those who want same-sex marriage to be the law of the land?

HUCKABEE: Sure, there's room in the tent. I hope the party doesn't change its overall view.

But, you know, the very fact that I talk about the relationships I have with friends who are gay indicate that I'm not a person who shuts everybody out around me who disagrees. To be honest with you, Dana, I find a lot more interesting conversations that I can have with people who don't agree with me.

And I accept a lot of people as friends maybe whose lifestyle I don't necessarily adhere to, agree with or practice. Doesn't mean that -- that I can't have a good relationship with anyone or lead them or govern them. But, for me, as it was for President Obama in 2008, this is not just a political issue. It is a biblical issue.

And, as a biblical issue, unless, you know, I get a new version of the Scriptures, it's really not my place to say, OK, I'm just going to evolve. It's like asking somebody who's Jewish to start serving bacon-wrapped shrimp in their deli. We don't want to do that. I mean, we're not going to do that. Or asking a Muslim to serve up something that is offensive to him or to have dogs in his backyard. We're so sensitive to make sure we don't offend certain

religions, but then we act like Christians can't have the convictions that they have had for over 2,000 years.

BASH: Governor, before I let you go, I have got to ask you, who is the Super Bowl team from Bubbaville? Is it the Seahawks or the Patriots?

(LAUGHTER)

HUCKABEE: Oh, gosh.

You know, once the Cowboys weren't in it, it kind of lost its interest for me. And I didn't even hug Jerry Jones. I mean, I just -- I'm a Cowboys fan. And that -- that kind of broke my heart.

But I'm probably going to go with the Seahawks, just because I -- you know, I kind of like their style, and I think it will be fun. And they haven't been there as much. So, give them a shot.

BASH: All right. Sounds good. Thank you very much for joining us, Governor. Appreciate it.

HUCKABEE: Thank you, Dana. Great to be with you.

BASH: Thank you.

And the Vietnam War veteran takes on anti-war protesters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: You are going to have to shut up, or I'm going to have you arrested.

Get out of here, you lowlife scum.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Does John McCain regret calling that protester a lowlife scum?

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: And joining me now is Senator John McCain, who's chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Thank you for joining me.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: Appreciate it. Let's start with 2016 politics, Mitt Romney deciding at the end

of the week he is not going to run. You know him. He was your competitor and then your friend. Does that surprise you?

MCCAIN: I thought he was going to run, to tell you the truth, when I had heard all of the -- all of the rumors. I had talked to him on the phone about it.

And I think he seriously considered it. And then I think he decided that it was not in his best interest. I'm a great admirer of Mitt Romney. I think there's going to be many ways he can continue to serve this country. But he may have, frankly, spared his family from the ordeal, which we all know is a very difficult one.

BASH: You said that you thought he was going to run. What did he say to you that made you think that?

MCCAIN: Well, when we talked on the phone, he made it very clear to me and -- that he was seriously considering running again.

And I'm sure that he spent a lot of time with his family and friends and came to the decision that he -- that he made. And, again, I have great respect and affection for Mitt Romney. And I think he ran an honorable campaign.

BASH: Do you think he could have won the primary even?

MCCAIN: I don't know, because I -- the reason why I don't know is because, you know, you only have so many chances at the brass ring, and then people say, well, it's somebody else's turn.

There's no education in the second kick of a mule.

BASH: Another person who you knew from those days, Sarah Palin, she was in Iowa this past weekend, I'm sure you saw.

And she's taking some heat from some conservatives about the speech, the way she spoke and the content of it. Just listen to some of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: We need to ask, who carries on Reagan's legacy? Who will lead our freedom movement to victory? It's going to take more than a village to beat Hillary.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PALIN: The man can only ride you when your back is bent, so strengthen it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: What do you make of that?

MCCAIN: She's very popular with a lot of people. If she -- I think, if she wants to run, she can certainly -- that's her choice. She still has a strong base of support.

I love her. I am grateful to her. And I will say again, I thought the treatment that she received when she was my running mate was still the worst that I have ever seen any politician receive. But that -- but, you know, that's over and done in my life, and I'm sure in Sarah's. You move -- you move on.

BASH: Do you think Sarah Palin should run for president?

MCCAIN: I think that she ought to do whatever she feels that she'd like to do, and I'm very supportive of anything that she does.

Obviously, Senator Lindsey Graham is the person I'm supporting, but I hope she -- I wish her every success.

BASH: After the speech in Iowa, even some of her conservative supporters said, what was that all about? Byron York, for example, wrote that it was rambling and no one understood what she was doing, but also, specifically, the Republican Party needs to figure out what her place is going to be in 2016.

MCCAIN: Mm-hmm.

BASH: Do you think she could be an asset in 2016?

MCCAIN: Oh, I think so. But I did not see her speech, so I can't comment on that.

But she still has a strong base of support around the country. And, again, I think she has still a degree of popularity. If -- if she did not give a good speech, she's not the first politician that didn't give a good speech from time to time, including me.

BASH: You had her come and campaign with you during your last reelection campaign for the Senate.

MCCAIN: Yes. Yes.

BASH: You're on the ballot again.

MCCAIN: Yes.

BASH: Will she come and campaign for you?

MCCAIN: Oh, sure. I'm confident of that, absolutely.

BASH: The whole question of 2016 seems to be settled with you, because your dear friend Lindsey Graham is running.

MCCAIN: Mm-hmm.

BASH: Are you happy he made this decision?

MCCAIN: Well, I'm happy that Lindsey has decided he wants to at least explore it. He's smart. He's got a great American story of a young man whose

parents died, raised his sister, serves in the military. He's -- and he also -- there is no one in America that knows better than Lindsey Graham about the threats to this country. And his knowledge and depth on national security are unmatched by anyone.

BASH: Do you really think Lindsey Graham could win the Republican nomination?

MCCAIN: I think Lindsey Graham will do very well in debates. In New Hampshire, he will shine in the town hall meeting.

BASH: I asked him about you, but specifically whether he would run the kind of maverick campaign like you did in 2000.

Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: John is a dear friend.

One of the highlights of my time in politics is for him. And he -- I know he loves me dearly. We're truly friends. But he wouldn't say to anybody that I should be president if he didn't really mean it and believe it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I would point out that he has served his active duty in Iraq and Baghdad -- in Baghdad and in Kabul. He knows the men and women in the military. He knows what they're going through in these foreign places in a way that no one standing for presidency does.

Lindsey Graham does. And I'm proud -- and I'm proud of his service to the country.

BASH: Let's turn to Israel and the prime minister being invited to speak before Congress. The speaker did so without informing the White House, which is traditionally protocol.

Was that a good idea?

MCCAIN: I think that, given the way that relations are between the president and the speaker and the majority leader, Senator McConnell, it's not surprising.

Obviously, we would want everybody to work together. But there's a real crisis going on. And that is these negotiations with Iran, which many of us believe are already fatally flawed, that the speaker felt the overriding concern was to have him appear before the American people and tell them about the dangers of a very bad agreement with Iran on nuclear weapons.

BASH: I know you are a -- somebody who reverses institutions and you are an institutionalist. Would you have done it a different way, though? I mean -- and informed the White House about it? Because it certainly caused a diplomatic rift.

MCCAIN: Obviously I would have talked to the White House, but I may have, and I hate to put myself in these leaders' place, but I might have at least informed them. But I certainly agree that we don't need their permission given the state of relations.

BASH: What about the relationship between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the president, which is, you know, widely to be known is not great.

MCCAIN: It's poor, as we know, and it's the worst that I've ever seen in my lifetime, and that in itself is a tragedy because it's the only functioning democracy in the entire Middle East.

BASH: Why do you think it's the worst that you've seen in your lifetime?

MCCAIN: I think because the president had very unrealistic expectations about the degree of cooperation he would get from Israel particularly on the Palestinian issue as well as the nuclear issue with Iran. And I'm not putting the entire blame on the president of the United States, but I will say this, no other president has had such difficult relationship with the state of Israel since it became a country.

BASH: Bush 41 didn't have the greatest relations at times.

MCCAIN: He didn't, but at the same time it never reached this level. I agree with you about Bush 41. I remember when Jim Baker testified before Congress, if they want to call me, my number is 202 -- I remember that. The relations with Israel have not always been excellent, but I think any observer would argue they've never been worse.

BASH: This past week you had a widely covered moment when you were chairing the Armed Services Committee hearing with Henry Kissinger where protesters called him a war criminal and worse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Arrest Henry Kissinger for war crimes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And you used some language that was also pretty intense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I have never seen anything as disgraceful and outrageous and despicable as the last demonstration that just took place about -- you know, you're going to have to shut up or I'm going to have you arrested. Get out of here, you low-life scum.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now that we're past that, past the heat of the moment, do you think that that was the way you would handle it again?

MCCAIN: Yes. These people were physically threatening Henry Kissinger.

I'm used to people popping up at these hearings and yelling and then they're escorted out. That's at least some version of free speech. These people rushed up. They were right next to Henry Kissinger waiving handcuffs at him.

He's a 91-year-old man with a broken shoulder who was willing to come down and testify before Congress to give us the benefit of his many years of wisdom. Of course I was outraged and I am still outraged. It's one thing to stand up and protest, it's something else to physically threaten an individual, particularly an individual who has served so much to his country, whether you agree or not. As I happen to believe he's one of the great statesmen of my lifetime or maybe of the whole 20th century.

BASH: You called them scum. That name-calling do you think --

MCCAIN: I think they are terrible people, OK? I think they are terrible people that would do that to a 91-year-old man with a broken shoulder that -- to physically threaten him. That is -- that is beyond any normal behavior that I have observed.

BASH: From your perspective...

MCCAIN: I said -

BASH: ...it wasn't what they said or the fact that they were protesting.

MCCAIN: Yes.

BASH: It's the way they handled it and who they were talking to?

MCCAIN: The way they literally surrounded him and were physically so -- in such proximity to him that he was in danger of being harmed. That's -- that's what I -- that's what I object to. I don't object to them -- I don't particularly like it when they stand up and yell. This is far different.

Look at the video. There's a person who's waiving handcuffs right over his head, and if it hadn't been for a couple of people, including my colleagues, I've never seen this before, came down from the dais, and to stand with Henry Kissinger and -- between him and those people who, in my view, and I think the video will corroborate it, were physically threatening him. No one deserves that, much less Henry Kissinger.

BASH: On a much lighter note, Super Bowl is in your state...

MCCAIN: Mm-hmm.

BASH: ...in your hometown...

MCCAIN: Mm-hmm.

BASH: ...later today. Who's your team?

MCCAIN: I have reason to dislike both teams because they've beaten the Arizona Cardinals, but this -- if there was ever a closer game where it's going to be a tossup and we're going to see it right to the very end, these are two very closely matched teams with two great quarterbacks.

BASH: And we are going to have more on the big game later. In fact, this is a live signal outside the stadium where shortly we'll talk with four-time super bowl winner and MVP, Lynn Swann.

Next, who's the big winner of Mitt Romney's 2016 stand down and what's up with Hillary Clinton? Will she? Won't she? When will she? Our panel sizes up the 2016 landscape when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: Republican candidates around the country are courting Mitt Romney's donors as we speak, and that's just one of the ripple effects of Romney deciding against a third try at the presidency.

Joining me now around the table, Kevin Madden, who is a senior aide to Mitt Romney, two times at both of his presidential campaigns, "Washington Post" chief correspondent, Dan Balz and Donna Brazile. The Democrat who among other things ran Al Gore's presidential campaign. Thank you all of you.

Just also want to put back up a poll that I showed to Governor Huckabee earlier in the show (INAUDIBLE) from Iowa Scott Walker, top of the pack.

Dan, you broke the story this week that Scott Walker started his pack to make his run. What do you - what do you make of the fact that he's at the top of the heap now?

DAN BALZ, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I have a slightly counter intuitive notion on this which is obviously it's good. I think it's early for him to be at the top of the pack. I mean, I have always thought that he was somebody who would creep his way up and be a real factor in this race.

He gave a very good speech in Iowa a week ago and he clearly got a bump out of that. But to be at the top of that means he's now a target.

BASH: You're exactly right.

And Kevin, I mean, you've done this before. It's nice to be on top but you don't want to peak too early.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. (INAUDIBLE) I did point out that Iowa is a particularly opportunity for someone like Governor Walker to build a profile in that state with those voters and then ultimately build a national profile one handshake at a time, but I didn't think it would happen this early.

One of the big risks now is that the element of surprise is gone. We always usually see somewhere in the summer somebody go from two percent to a top percent and that's now gone. So, he's going to get another level of scrutiny now. It will be interesting to see whether or not his campaign this early on is prepared for that.

BASH: And Donna -- go ahead.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Now, it goes to show that on the Republican side the race is wide open.

I mean, just a week ago when Scott Walker appeared he seemed nervous but you know what, the crowd reacted. They liked what he had to say. He's a fresh face. He's run three times over the last four years, won in a blue state. He is somebody who --

BASH: Are you trying to talk him up because you think you could knock him down...

BRAZILE: Well, I would like to knock down a few of them but this --

BASH: ...as a Democrat?

BRAZILE: There are just so many Republicans running right now. And this gives him an advantage to go out there and raise money, get to meet the activists. But you know what? I still believe that we're a long way from deciding which candidate from the establishment, from the group of rabble rousers, because, you know, those are my favorite Republicans, the ones who would just -- like to stir the pots, and of course the cultural war Mike Huckabee being elite and -

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: You mentioned the establishment. One member of the establishment will not be there, Mitt Romney. Now, obviously was the big news this week.

I want to read a quote from, Dan, your story this weekend. Because when he ran -- when he was deciding whether or not to run, of course he did a very Romneyesque thing. He gathered a lot of data, trying to figure out if it was worth it.

Here's what you wrote. "During the deliberations Romney and Bush, Jeb Bush, met once at Romney's Utah home on January 22nd. Romney arrived armed with a mountain of polling data that his team had collected, which seemed to shape his view of the race. Romney shared that information as a way of explaining his motivation to thinking about running again."

So, how do you think he went from that to days later saying, oops, never mind?

BALZ: It's very interesting. The information he got, which was polling data a donor of his

from the past had commissioned. It showed him in very good shape at this point in a lot of states, up to 20 states as I was told, but what he came to conclude and in part because of the reaction he got after he announced his interest in running again, he concluded that by the time he got through another really tough, brutal Republican nomination battle, he might not be in the kind of shape to be able to take on presumably Hillary Clinton in the general election. And I think that according to a couple of people who were quite close to him shaped his ultimate decision about not running.

BASH: So, that's his head but what about his heart?

I mean, Kevin, you knowing him. You spent so much time with him both of his presidential campaigns. You know how he makes decisions. You even talked to him...

MADDEN: Yes.

BASH: ...so enlighten us.

MADDEN: No, I think there was a genuine struggle between the head and the heart here.

I think in his heart he believes that he would be a great president and he's uniquely positioned to help the country given some of the challenges that we have. But there is also this other side to Mitt which is the clinician, the data driven guy. I think looking at the field, looking at the prospects of a very divisive primary he recognized that having a president -- a Republican president come January 2017 that this is much larger than him and that he wanted to avoid --.

BASH: Which is by the way hard for somebody who -- anybody who runs for president has got enough -- have had enough of an ego to think that they're the best person.

MADDEN: Yes. It's ego but also that inner circle around them. Those that are closest to -- those of us who are closest to him really also do believe he'd make a great president...

BASH: They do.

MADDEN: ...and felt a loyalty to that desire that he had.

But ultimately this was a decision, I think, that he made because it was much bigger than him and because he didn't want that divisive primary.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Donna, I spoke to some of those people who are close to them and they were -- some of them were surprised and they were definitely bummed out. They were disappointed.

BRAZILE: I'm sure because -- look he received 60 million votes in 2012, 202 electoral votes. Of course he came up short, but the truth is is that Mitt Romney represents something in the Republican Party that I think is missing from this current group of -- current crop of candidates, although Jeb Bush is interesting, and that is he's run a state. He has -- he had ideas that he believed would turn the economy around, although President Obama has scored a lot on that front. But I think at the end of the day Mitt Romney took a look around him and said, you know what, I'm out of here.

BASH: Well, let me just ask you about somebody else that you have been thinking about, Hillary Clinton.

BRAZILE: Yes.

BASH: There's a lot of debate over when she should get into the race.

I want to read something from one of her fundraisers told "The Associated Press". "No one wants a complete coronation but it's hard to see who a credible challenger will be." So, what's the deal, Donna? Should she -- I mean, where are you on this? Should she get in and sort of get her sea legs or should she wait and avoid being out there too long?

BRAZILE: You know, she's casting a wide net. And I'm sure that -- for Vice President Biden and former Governor O'Malley and many others who thinking about it, Jim Webb, the former senator of Virginia, this is an opportunity for her to really figure out, is she ready? Does she want to run? Does she want to put her body through this? Does she want --

BASH: But do you think she should get in sooner or later?

BRAZILE: What's the rush? There's no x mark that she needs on the calendar. The Democratic Party hasn't even decided on a venue for the convention.

So, I think she should take her time, cast this wide net, figure out her approach this time. This is not 2012 nor 1996.

BASH: Dan, what are you hearing about Hillary Clinton?

BALZ: Well, I'm hearing a couple of things.

One, she is going to take some time. You know, my guess is that we are going to see her out if not as a formal candidate, we're going to see her out as a politician by, you know, by mid spring. I don't think she's going to wait entirely until summer. She may wait until summer to make a formal declaration of candidacy, but she's a politician at this point.

I mean, the idea that she can avoid the notion that she's still, you know, not a politician is, you know, is fanciful. So she's in the arena in one form or another. She's taking her time to put together a team that she's comfortable with, that's different than she did the last time, one that perhaps will be less dysfunctional than the previous one. And as we all know, she's trying to figure out what that message is really going to be.

BASH: Kevin, you've got a 10 second addition.

MADDEN: Well look, at a certain point what does all this -- I get that they -- you know, the reason of wanting to stay back and stay above the fray but a (ph) certain point it looks like reluctance and voters don't like reluctant candidates.

BRAZILE: She's a warrior. She is not reluctant.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: (INAUDIBLE).

BASH: Hold that thought. We will talk about it at another time.

(INAUDIBLE) thank you Kevin, Donna, Dan. The (ph) best.

Politicians of all stripes are not just thinking about their own futures, believe it or not. They are going to be thinking about the Super Bowl tonight.

Next, former star wide receiver Lynn Swann on the state of the NFL and what it's like playing in football's biggest game of the year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: Politicians have been football fans long before Chris Christie hugged Jerry Jones at the Cowboys' game.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASH (voice-over): Teddy Roosevelt kept the sport for being outlawed for excessive violence. Gerald Ford helped the Michigan Wolverines win two national titles. Ronald Reagan played college ball that made his mark in the movies playing Notre Dame's George Gipp.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Go out there and win one for the Gipper.

BASH: Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp led Buffalo Bills to two AFL championships. And before he ran for Pennsylvania governor, Lynn Swann, was a four-time Super Bowl champ with Pittsburgh Steelers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And joining us now from the site of Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona is Lynn Swann and CNN's own Rachel Nichols. Thanks for joining us, guys.

And Lynn Swann, I want to start with you. Talk about what it feels like? You won four Super Bowls with the Steelers in six years. You had that famous 64-yard catch and run in Super Bowl X. What do the players who were going to go on the field in a few hours feel like, the anticipation? LYNN SWANN, NFL HALL OF FAMER: Well, it's just that. It's the

anticipation. It's the excitement that 30 other teams are sitting at home watching them play for the championship and one team, you know, is going to walk away with the ring. Or I should say, another ring.

But it's kind of interesting because, you know, Seattle will come into it having just played and won a Super Bowl. So they feel like, OK, this is -- this is where we're supposed to be. You know, a lot of guys from the Patriots who have never been in the Super Bowl. And so guys like Tom Brady will be trying to get them to focus and say, look, don't think that you're going to get this opportunity every year. The games you played in, you lose, missed opportunities to get to a Super Bowl. So, take advantage of this moment. Everybody, play as hard as you can and then leave -- you (ph) leave nothing behind. Just go after it.

BASH: And Rachel, everybody wants to know about Tom Brady's cold. What do we hear about his health?

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yes.

BASH: He's got a cold, right?

NICHOLS: Yes. We have got evidence this week. Finally, Tom Brady is mortal because he had a problem -- a lot of the rest of us have. He got sick because his kids got sick at school. And then he said that the cold ran through his family. Apparently Gisele is also human, we got to find out this week. She gets the sniffles, too. And it caused him some problems early in the week.

The only reason this is an issue for the Super Bowl, he'll obviously be able to gut it out and play through it, but a quarterback is the one yelling on the field. It's going to be loud in there. If he gets hoarse throughout the course of the game that will affect the Patriots out (INAUDIBLE). He says he's feeling OK and his voice is OK. But we'll have to, you know, we'll keep an eye on that as the game goes on.

BASH: OK. Let's talk, Rachel, about your moment this week with Roger Goodell. You asked the NFL commissioner about investigations into "deflategate", about -- investigations into the Ray Rice domestic violence incident and whether they can be independent. Here's what you asked.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICHOLS: Even when you do everything right in one of those situations, it opens you guys up to a credibility gap with some of the public and even with some of your most high-profile players.

ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: Well, I think we have done an excellent job of bringing outside consultants in. Somebody has to pay them, Rachel. So unless you're volunteering, which I don't think you are, we will do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: Now, Rachel, I said to Wolf Blitzer, on air this week that

when I grow up, I want to be Rachel Nichols, because I know how hard it is to ask tough questions. And I also know that generally when somebody attacks the questioner, it means you struck a nerve. How did you read it?

NICHOLS: Yes (INAUDIBLE).

Look, I just thought it was a little bit of a missed opportunity for Roger Goodell. This is a huge issue that people have been talking about. All week from the time we got to Arizona, and one of the most high-profile players in the game, Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks, questioned whether the NFL office could really do an investigation into a team where the owner pays the commissioner's salary. And in fact, Robert Kraft who owns the Patriots is so close to Roger Goodell, that a recent "GQ" article labeled him, "the assistant commissioner".

So, there are conflicts here and it does give the NFL a problem that even if they do, as I noted in my question, even if they do things with the highest integrity, even if they do everything right, there is that credibility gap. And unless you erase that in the public's mind, unless you erase that in the minds of your own players, it doesn't matter how that investigation ends up. So, they have got to start to take steps to mitigate that.

You hope they are more open to that in the future because these issues are going to keep coming up. It's not like you can just make them go away by shooting down a question.

BASH: And Lynn Swann, what do you think of how the NFL is handling these investigations?

SWANN: I think most of it is just a matter of process and the process hasn't been very good.

I think they've got to learn and got to put better processes in place. You know, you've got 32 owners. You know, they have got to empower the commissioner to do things in a particular way and where he doesn't have to play favorites or do any of those kinds of things. So the commissioner has to have power to be able to make decisions, to bring in the special investigator and have a process that everybody can rely on to make sure -- now (ph) you take in (ph), you know, "deflategate". OK. You're not going to have that issue in the Super Bowl because they changed the process. So, that process in and of itself is going to change probably for every game throughout the year so it no longer is an issue.

BASH: You mentioned "deflategate", so I've got to go there.

You were a wide receiver. Would you rather be catching a fully inflated ball or a slightly deflated ball, Lynn Swann?

SWANN: I'd rather be catching any football in the Super Bowl, whether it's flat, whether it's too hard, whether it's too high or too low. I get paid to catch a ball. I don't care where it is. I think

the ball is supposed to be coming in my hands and I hold onto it. And so, you know, Tom Brady, you know, played a great game. I mean, if this game was a point or two points, maybe there might be some impact from a -- from a softer football. I really don't know. In Pittsburgh, Bradshaw threw it so hard everything hurt so it didn't really matter.

BASH: OK. We've got to leave it there. Very diplomatic answer.

Lynn Swann, Rachel Nichols, have a great day. Have fun out there. We are all very jealous. And we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: Thanks for watching STATE OF THE UNION.

Fareed Zakaria, "GPS," starts right now.