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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Yesterday on the program, we talked with two Democratic county chairs in states that will vote early in the upcoming primaries. Today, we'll hear from two Republicans in early states to talk about what they heard in last night's Republican Candidate Debate.

Tom Hudson is the Republican Party chair in Placer County, California - that's just north of Sacramento town. Welcome and remind us, please, of when the California primary will be.

Mr. TOM HUDSON (Republican Party Chair, Placer County, California): February 5, 2008.

BLOCK: Okay. And Kelly Hurst, executive director of the Republican Committee in Manchester, New Hampshire. And Kelly, big mystery of when New Hampshire might vote, it could even be this year, it sounds like.

Ms. KELLY HURST (Executive Director, Republican Committee, Manchester, New Hampshire): It could be, amazingly. It could even be as early as before Thanksgiving.

BLOCK: Because New Hampshire always wants to have the first primary.

Ms. HURST: Yes. We feel that's very important.

BLOCK: Your Democratic counterparts yesterday, when I was talking with them, felt strongly that the war in Iraq would be the key issue in the vote this year. It was also, obviously, a big issue in the debate last night on MSNBC. Let's listen to a little bit of what Senator John McCain had to say about the war.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Now, I think it's on the right track. The war was terribly mismanaged. The war was terribly mismanaged, and we now have to fix a lot of the mistakes that were made.

BLOCK: Tom Hudson there in California, do you hear that John McCain trying to distance himself from George Bush, and with that - if in fact that's the case -would that go over well in California?

Mr. HUDSON: You know, I have to be honest with you and say that the sense I get is that the management of the war is not the big issue in this primary that the press, in some of the questions last night, would have you believe.

BLOCK: What would you say is the big issue there?

Mr. HUDSON: Well, I think overspending in government and the increased growth and the size and scope and intrusiveness of the federal government - that's a huge issue for us. And of course, needless to say, the government's absolute failure to deal with the illegal immigration as a huge issue here in California - that' something that people really do hold against President Bush.

BLOCK: Kelly Hurst, in New Hampshire, do you hear John McCain trying to put some critical distance between himself and the president?

Ms. HURST: I do. I think what he was most likely trying to do in that statement was set himself off as being strictly John McCain, and being his own man. I think it was interesting how he managed to, kind of, play both sides of the fence almost. He said, yeah, it was mismanaged, but now we're on the right track, and we have to stay in there and finish that. I thought was - an interesting place to put himself in.

BLOCK: In New Hampshire, among Republican voters, would you say there is a great deal of discontent with President Bush on the war?

Ms. HURST: Yes, I would. And I don't think that that is unique to Manchester or unique to New Hampshire.

BLOCK: Another issue that came up in the debate that has proved somewhat problematic for at least two of the candidates is abortion, the candidates being Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani. That Romney's been accused of flip-flopping on the issue of abortion. Let's listen to how he responded in the debate last night.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts): Well, I've always been personally pro-life, but for me it was a great question about whether or not government should intrude in that decision. And when I ran for office, I said I protect the law as it was, which is effectively a pro-choice position. About two years ago, when we were studying cloning in our state, I said, look -we have gone too far. It's a brave new world mentality that Roe v. Wade has given us, and I changed my mind.

BLOCK: Kelly Hurst, do you hear Mitt Romney giving an answer there that would be satisfying to voters in New Hampshire?

Ms. HURST: I'm not sure. I think for some, it could be, and some not. He did say in that - quite courtly - I changed my mind. And I think that that's fair. I think that we all change our minds. Others might say, well, isn't that politically convenient? Well, yes it is. He also said that he was personally pro-life; however, he believed that leaders in government should uphold the law, which is currently a pro-choice law. That's something, I think, in true Mitt Romney form, in true politician form, he really walked both sides of the fence. It's really going to be tough to tell, and time will see if Republican voters in New Hampshire accept that or not.

BLOCK: Tom Hudson, would this be something that might cause Mitt Romney problems where you are in California?

Mr. HUDSON: Well, absolutely. But I think his response to the issue of his flip-flopping and his, you know, change of position on that, I guess he would say flipping, but not flopping. But I think that was an example of his being a very masterful debater.

So I think while the issue will be problematic for him and probably continued to be problematic. A lot of our Republican voters, particularly the Republican base that will show up on early primary election on a date we've never had before are likely to be, you know, very much pro-life and will be concerned about his past positions. But I think to be very frank and honest and impressive way that he handled that really helps him with those voters.

BLOCK: I think Rudolph Giuliani was probably the farthest to field of the 10 on this issue. He began by saying, I hate abortion. But then he went on to say this.

Mr. RUDOLPH GIULIANI (Former Republican Mayor, New York; Republican Presidential Candidate): But ultimately, since it is an issue of conscience, I would respect the woman's right to make a different choice. I support the ban on partial-birth abortion. I support the Hyde amendment. But ultimately I think when you come down to that choice, you have to respect the woman's right to make that choice differently than my conscience.

BLOCK: Rudolph Giuliani pretty much saying you have to respect a woman's right to choose there. Tom Hudson, you were talking about who votes in the primaries typically. Do you think this strain of Republican could win primaries across the country?

Mr. HUDSON: I think what the Giuliani strategy depends on is a crowded primary. I think he was taking out a very liberal position on this issue, and a variety of other issues. I think that's how - if he thinks he can get, you know, 25 percent of the vote by appealing to the hard left, I think that may be the strategy. If it comes down to there's only two or three candidates, then I think that strategy doesn't work very well.

BLOCK: And Kelly Hurst, would he be then thinking ahead toward a general election where maybe a more moderate Republican could do better against a Democratic candidate?

Ms. HURST: That's probably likely. However I don't think it was that kind of voter that was watching very closely last night. You have to remember that our audience was primary voters. And I think the kind of Republican voter going out to vote in a primary may have a problem with that.

BLOCK: When I was speaking with your Democratic counterparts last night, I asked if there was somebody on the Republican side who they were most worried about, giving a Democratic nominee the run - his or her run for the money. And I wonder from your perspective, which of the Democratic potential nominees you're most concerned about?

Mr. HUDSON: Actually, this - I don't know how to answer that. I'm at a lost for word because at this point, I don't see any of the Democratic candidates being able to beat Hillary in the primaries. So I think it will be Hillary Clinton as their nominee. And I think Hillary is her own worst enemy with some of the things she says. And I think she's very much beatable. But as far as some of the other nominees, I confess that I haven't paid a lot of attention to them because it doesn't seem like any of them has much of a shot at knocking out Hillary.

BLOCK: Kelly Hurst, what about you?

Ms. HURST: I agree that I think Hillary Clinton is beatable. I think that she's going to have a lot to answer for. I mean, even before she's in the Senate, she was the first lady. She was in the public eye since the early '90s. And that has been a tremendous amount of time for her to make a lot of mistakes and say a lot of things that she's probably going to regret. And she's very polarizing. If you ask people what they think about Hillary Clinton, they either really love her or really hate her. And you almost never find anybody who, with any kind of feelings in between.

BLOCK: Well, Kelly Hurst and Tom Hudson, thanks to you both.

Ms. HURST: Thank you.

Mr. HUDSON: Thank you.

BLOCK: That was Tom Hudson, Republican Party chair in Placer County, California, and Kelly Hurst, the executive director of the Republican Committee in Manchester, New Hampshire.

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