Skip to main content
U.S. Edition
Search
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 

Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Explosion of Violence in Iraq; Will President Bush Offer Way to Kick America's Addiction to Oil?

Aired January 22, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, a new explosion of violence in Iraq and fresh evidence of a Republican revolt against President Bush. This hour, why U.S. senators competing with one another right now, at the same time they don't want a troop build-up. We'll tell you what's going on.

And on the eve of the president's State of the Union Address, has Mr. Bush gotten serious about ending America's addiction to oil?

We're going to peek at his new strategy.

Plus, two men and a former first lady. They're the latest members of a crowded presidential field. But only one of them is sucking the oxygen away from others. This hour, the Clinton factor and our brand new 2008 poll.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up first this hour, Iraq awash in more carnage. Insurgent attackers are now trying new tactics in trying to inflict maximum civilian casualties. At least 88 people were killed in two car bombings in an outdoor market in Baghdad today. Officials say metal objects were packed into the explosives, ripping into flesh and leaving body parts everywhere. Hours later, another dozen people were killed in an attack at another marketplace north of the Iraqi capital.

The U.S. military says 3,200 more American soldiers are being deployed in Baghdad and should be fully operational by February 1st. They're part of President Bush's plan to increase troop levels by a total of 21,500 or so.

The U.S. military is now investigating a raid at a secure command in Karbala that killed five American soldiers. Authorities say about 30 gunmen successfully used an alarming new tactic. They were able to pass through three checkpoints -- three checkpoints -- by posing as American military officers. Twenty-seven U.S. troops were killed over the past two days in Iraq, bringing the death toll since the start of the war up to 3,056. We'll have a full report from the Pentagon and from Baghdad. Much more on this latest round of violence. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

On Capitol Hill right now, Republicans are sending new and powerful messages to President Bush about this worsening situation in Iraq and about troop levels for a troop build-up.

Let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just in the last hour, we've had two significant events happening simultaneously, the latest and clearest signs that the president certainly has his work cut for him when it comes to his own party's support of his plan to increase troops in Iraq.

Let's start with the Senate side. One of the most influential senators when it comes to military matters, John Warner, the former Armed Services Committee chairman in the Senate, the senior senator from Virginia, he teamed up with a few other Republicans and a conservative Democrat to offer a new resolution making clear, and I'm quoting, "The Senate disagrees with the plan to augment our forces by 21,500."

Now, Warner, until this fall, had been a strong supporter of the president's strategy in Iraq. But now he says that he does not think it's good idea to add more U.S. troops to what he calls an increasingly sectarian war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: The purpose of this resolution is not to cut our forces at the current level or to set any timetables for withdrawal, but rather to express the genuine -- and I repeat, the genuine concerns of a number of senators from both parties, about the president's plan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, Warner's resolution borrows heavily from some of the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, saying that the strategy in Iraq should be to focus on encouraging Iraqi leaders to make political compromises and also focus on training Iraqi forces.

Now, Warner was asked why he thinks the president will listen to this kind of non-binding resolution. Warner replied: "I accept the president at his word. He did not once, twice, but three times, say that he will listen to the ideas of others."

Meanwhile, at the exact same time, on the House side, the House Republican leadership had their own press conference and they said that they actually do support the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq. But they also say that they want the president to give Congress progress reports every 30 days on how the Iraqi government and military is doing, and if the Bush administration is meeting its goals. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), OHIO: Well, I've made it clear to the president that the support on the Hill amongst Republicans is still strong. But there are a lot of members of our party who are skeptical that the plan will work because of its dependence on the Iraqi -- the new Iraqi government stepping up its activities.

And, as a result, I thought that more needed to be done to engage our members.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, Republican leadership aides in the House tell us that there has been a lot of pressure on the Republican leadership there by many in the rank and file who are very concerned about the president's strategy in Iraq to do something, to somehow make a public statement or challenge the White House on the strategy.

So this is the compromise that they came up with, the fact that many in the Conference, the Republican Conference, support the idea of sending more troops. Many disagree. So what they have decided to do is just say simply to the president that he needs to keep the Congress updated every 30 days.

And it's also, they say, a challenge to the new Democratic majority because they want Speaker Pelosi and other Democrats to sign onto this idea, too. As John Boehner said today, the two options are either challenging the president to give progress reports or cutting funding for the war. And, as the speaker and other people have said, they simply, at this point, the leadership on the Democratic side does not support that kind of dramatic step -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Several competing resolutions already emerging on the Hill.

Dana reporting.

It's worth noting today that at least one Senate Republican who had been wavering on the president's plan for a troop build-up now says he supports it. That would be David Vitter of Louisiana. He says he backs the plan as what he calls a final attempt to stabilize Iraq.

Some sharp words today, on the other hand, from a Senate Democrat, making the case that Bush administration should simply commit more of its military might to hunting down Osama bin Laden.

Listen to what Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota said on the floor today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BYRON DORGAN (D), NORTH DAKOTA: Does anybody hear anybody talking about Osama bin Laden? Or perhaps better described, Osama been forgotten these days? Nobody wants to talk about him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Senator Dorgan says al Qaeda killed thousands of American citizens and eliminating its leadership should be the primary interest of the United States right now.

Let's turn to the jam-packed race for the White House.

On the Democratic side, the field has now grown by two. Federal election officials tell CNN they've received Senator Hillary Clinton's paperwork to open her presidential exploratory committee.

The same goes for the paperwork of the New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson.

Both announced their plans over the weekend. They join six other Democrats who either are exploring a presidential bid or already have dived right into it. Several others thinking about doing the same thing.

As for the Republicans, Senator Sam Brownback is off and running for the White House. He made his campaign announcement on Saturday. Seven other major Republicans are exploring their presidential options right now, but Brownback is the only one to formally launch a presidential campaign. He's beyond the exploration stage.

We also have a brand new CNN/Opinion Research poll on the ever growing presidential field.

Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

He has the latest now for us -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, the country is in danger of being overrun.

Illegal immigrants?

No. Presidential candidates. Three more over the weekend. Let's try to sort them out.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): This presidential race is beginning to look like "American Idol." Two more Democrats just got in -- a governor who can claim international experience...

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Well, I served as congressman, ambassador to the United Nations and as secretary of energy.

SCHNEIDER: And a senator who can claim White House experience.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: If you work hard and play by the rules, you can build a good life for yourself and your family.

SCHNEIDER: She's got the best political adviser money can't buy.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you work hard and play by the rules, you get rewarded.

SCHNEIDER: Hillary Clinton dominates the Democratic field, according to the CNN/Opinion Research poll. She's followed by Barack Obama at 18 percent and John Edwards at 15. After that, the last two Democratic nominees, neither of whom has declared an intention to run.

Obama is the new guy on that list.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: I've been struck by how hungry we all are for a different kind of politics.

SCHNEIDER: Clinton does especially well with Democratic women. Forty-two percent support from women, 27 from men.

Obama is African-American, but Clinton leads him by nearly two to one among minority Democrats.

In the race, two frontrunners, Rudy Giuliani, with 32 percent; John McCain, with 26. No one else in double digits.

Older Republicans prefer McCain, the Vietnam War hero. Younger Republicans prefer Giuliani, the hero of 9/11.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: The first report I got of September 11th, back on September 11th, was a twin engine plane hit the North Tower.

SCHNEIDER: Do conservatives prefer one over the other?

No.

That's the opening Brownback is hoping to exploit.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: I am a conservative and I'm proud of being a conservative. But I'm a conservative that believes in addressing problems, not ignoring them.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER: There are three frontrunners in each party. For the Democrats, Clinton, Obama and Edwards, and they all face questions about their electability. For the Republican side, Giuliani, McCain and Romney. They all face questions about their conservatism.

Which is why so many other candidates think they have a chance -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's getting complicated, but it's only just the beginning.

SCHNEIDER: Right. BLITZER: Bill Schneider giving us some good analysis.

Let's get some more on this now.

A score card may come in handy for those of us trying to cover these early presidential competitions.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is keeping tabs on all the players and their game plans.

What are you picking up, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if you ever had any doubt that the 2008 presidential election was underway, this weekend cured it.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Wow!

It's getting crowded in the pool.

RICHARDSON: Hello. This is Governor Bill Richardson. Today, I'm announcing the formation of...

CLINTON: ... a presidential exploratory committee.

OBAMA: I wanted to tell you first that I'll be filing papers today.

CROWLEY: That was a week that was. Within six days, two power players and one well credentialed lesser known, joined the '08 presidential campaign, infusing the race with a panoply of potential firsts in the Oval Office -- first Latino, first black, first woman.

CLINTON: It'll be a -- a great contest with a lot of talented people and I'm very confident. I'm in. I'm in to win. And that's what I intend to do.

CROWLEY: It is a testament to Hillary Clinton's star power that the press corps flocks to an otherwise routine health care event, that the logo on her presidential press releases says "Hillary," like Cher, that she's the one rivals take shots at.

FORMER SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And it is important for those who want to have a leadership position, whether it's in the Congress or whether they end up running for president of the United States, not to be being careful and cautious and weighing their options.

CROWLEY: She's still the one to beat, 100 percent name recognition, an unmatched fundraising machine, a nationwide political structure.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Is there a ceiling where people just say no? And no matter, I mean, no matter how many ads you run, no matter what you do, they just end up saying no?

And we don't know the answer. If there's not a ceiling, she's going to be the nominee. And then everybody else is running to be the vice presidential candidate.

CROWLEY: And if the question is whether she has peaked, the other question is whether he is ready.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ted.

OBAMA: Hi, guys.

Thank you.

CROWLEY: In a country desperate for change, Barack Obama is the fresh face -- an electric politician with sizzling passion.

Will voters see this post-baby boomer as too inexperienced for the post-9/11 world?

As Obama and Clinton vied for headlines in the week that was, it looked for all the world like a two person race. But there are variables and unknowns in the equation. More people may jump in. And with a single misstep, a front runner can slip.

RICHARDSON: Before I became governor of New Mexico, I served as congressman, ambassador to the United Nations and as secretary of energy.

CROWLEY: Lesser-knowns can become known. Twelve months until the first primary.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

CROWLEY: And it is mighty early for the race to be this crowded, but it all boils down to a single word, Wolf -- money.

BLITZER: And they need a lot of it. And a lot of suspicion that Hillary Clinton came in a little earlier than she originally thought because of money.

How much money does she need?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, try to pin somebody down on how much money they're going to need from now until the election. I've heard everything from $100 million to $200 million. The "L.A. Times" had a piece today talking about Hillary being able to raise $500 million by the end of the election.

You know, we'll see. But it is one of the reasons why the Clinton campaign let it be known that they will not be taking federal matching funds. They are going to go outside the system and raise as much money as they possibly can. Obviously, this helps with, you know, getting elected. But it also helps, maybe, in scaring people out of the race, which is something we're going to have to watch, because are, too, still, some pretty big heavyweights that may get in, one of them Gore, one of them Kerry.

So --

BLITZER: By not accepting the matching funds, she can raise unlimited sums of money?

CROWLEY: Absolutely. She could get that $500 million.

BLITZER: Yes, she might.

All right, good.

I'm sure her husband will help her a lot in the process, as well.

Candy doing some good reporting.

Candy Crowley, Bill Schneider, Dana Bash -- they are part of the best political team on television.

And remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at cnn.com/ticker.

Let's go to Jack in New York for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a horribly bloody day in Iraq today. One hundred people killed, 200 wounded in attacks there. And this follows one of the bloodiest workers of the entire war for the U.S. military. Twenty-seven of our troops killed over the weekend in Iraq.

That included an attack in Karbala, where armed militants posed as American military officials and succeeded in killing five of our troops.

So far, our representatives in Congress are only paying lip service to stopping the war. Nothing more. Their gestures are symbolic, not meaningful. It seems like the administration will be able to continue go forward with its plan in Iraq, no matter what anyone else thinks. In a TV interview last week, Vice President Cheney defended the president's plan to increase the troops in Iraq, thereby escalating the war. He said the administration didn't overrule its commanders on the ground.

So if the Congress isn't going to do anything about it, maybe it's time for the American people to think about acting. Some are already doing that. There is a national rally planned for Washington, D.C. for this coming Saturday to protest the war.

Our question this hour is, is there anything the average person can to try to end the war in Iraq?

E-mail us at caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There's a lot they can do and I'm sure our viewers will have some good recommendations for them, Jack. Thank you.

Coming up, President Bush hunkers down in the White House on this day working on tomorrow's big speech. We're going to take a closer look at what we expect will be in his State of the Union Address. That airs tomorrow night.

Also coming up, on the road to the White House, you have to survive Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina. Paul Begala and J.C. Watts analyze the campaign in our Strategy Session today.

And later, she's the daughter of the speaker of the House. Alexandra Pelosi joins us to talk about her new film on god. We'll talk about politics. We'll talk about her mom.

All that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As President Bush prepares to give his State of the Union Address tomorrow, only about one third of Americans, 34 percent, to be precise, approve of the way he's doing his job. With Iraq weighing heavily on the Bush White House, the president is expected to try to refocus on some key domestic issues in his big speech tomorrow night.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Ed Henry -- Ed, what are you hearing?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, CNN has learned that the president has now had at least three run-throughs of this big speech, the first one on Friday in the old family theater in the East Wing of the White House. The second practice session came on Saturday. Then the president spent all weekend at Camp David tweaking and editing this speech.

Senior aides say they expect a third one probably this afternoon, may be a little more practice tonight.

What's interesting is early on, we heard this speech was going to be shorter. But as they've been tweaking it, we now understand it's running 40 minutes plus, which is just about where it was last year.

Now, as far the substance, top aides still maintain this will not be a laundry list of sort of bite sized policy initiatives. Instead, the president trying to pick off just a few thematic, sort of thematic approaches to a few big issues, to try to be big and bold in the final couple of years of his presidency.

Whether or not he delivers on that, of course, another question. But politically, this enables the president to try to broaden the focus beyond just Iraq, which is weighing him down so much.

It also lets him try to show that the difficulties in Iraq are not preventing him from dealing with domestic issues like health care, education, as well as immigration. Here's White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: George W. Bush is a president that's not somebody who is going to cease to be bold because there has been -- because right now people are concerned about the progress of the war. Instead, he understands his obligation as commander-in-chief is to go ahead and address forthrightly big problems and come up with solutions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, how big and bold?

The White House will not confirm this yet. But on energy reform, Republican sources expect the president to call for higher fuel efficiency for vehicles in the United States, something to reach out to environmentalists. On health care, we know the president is planning to create a new standard tax deduction for health care benefits. That is an effort to try to decrease the number of uninsured in America.

But on the flip side, that now makes health benefits taxable income. Democrats already pouncing on it as a tax increase, forcing the White House to try to push back.

Here's the Health and Human Services secretary, Michael Leavitt.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MICHAEL LEAVITT, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Politics is politics. But this proposal does provide a benefit to over 100 million people and will allow people who currently can't afford to have health insurance to get it. This is a profoundly important proposal and one that I think the American people will embrace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: And I can tell you that senior Republican strategists are privately saying the White House is going to have to do a better job of selling this. The president is really going to have to do a good salesman job to the American people to explain this complicated change on health care. And, also, Republicans admitting privately they're still so skeptical that a lot of these initiatives will really be big and bold -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed, when you say 40 minutes in the president's practice runs, that's without interruption for applause. So it could go on, what, for an hour?

HENRY: Well, probably not that long. In fact, some Republicans are privately joking they are not expecting too may applause lines now that the Democrats are running Congress. So whereas in previous years, with a Republican Congress, it would have gone on and on, this time they're expecting a lot less applause -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right, we'll watch every second of it together with you.

Ed reporting tonight from the White House.

And remember, our coverage tomorrow night starts at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. We're going to have an expanded two hour SITUATION ROOM from 7:00 to 9:00. Paula Zahn will be here with me to co-anchor our coverage. The president's address beginning at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Stay with us for that.

And this important note to our viewers. We're going to get a very high level assessment of the president's State of the Union Address and what comes next here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Wednesday.

I'll have an exclusive television interview, a one-on-one interview with the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, Wednesday. That will air here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And coming up, the race for the White House.

Who has the early lead? Who can best survive the crucial early contests?

I'll ask Paul Begala and J.C. Watts. They're standing by for today's Strategy Session.

And we'll have much more on this very deadly day in Iraq. Next hour, our Arwa Damon will report from Baghdad on the violence and on the arrival of new U.S. troops on the scene.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is in touch with all of our reporters and producers. She is monitoring the wires, keeping an eye on the video feeds coming in from around the world.

She's joining us now from New York with a closer look at some other important stories making news -- hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Hello to all of you

Their job is to uphold the law, but the FBI says it could have done that better in the case of the former congressman who sent explicit instant messages to young Congressional workers. That's the conclusion of a Justice Department report. It says the FBI should have acted instead of declining when it learned Mark Foley sent the messages to a former House pages. The report did not find any misconduct by FBI officials.

If you or someone you know is age 50 or older and taking some of the more popular anti-depressants, beware. A new study from Canadian researchers says older people taking anti-depressants like Zoloft, Prozac and others, face double the risk of bone fractures. However, the study says more research is needed to actually confirm this and that the risk of bone fractures should be balanced against the positive beneficial effects of these drugs.

In the meantime, the world's biggest drug maker hopes to shed some pounds, so to speak. Pfizer says it will cut 10,000 jobs and close at least five facilities. Pfizer hopes to cut annual costs by up to $2 billion next year. Pfizer hopes to better battle the fierce competition with the makers of generic drugs.

Those are the latest headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll see you in a few minutes, Carol.

The people who hope to replace President Bush are out making moves. But as virtually anyone can tell you, the road to the White House used to and always still does, at least for now, wind through New Hampshire.

Our national correspondent, Bob Franken, is joining us from Manchester, the state capital -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a well worn road already, Wolf. The candidates have been coming here over and over because New Hampshire has a tradition that goes back a long, long time, to 1920, with its first in the nation primary.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

FRANKEN (voice-over): In exactly one year from today, the first primary of the 2008 presidential race takes place here and the candidates are already coming out of the Web work. But they'll need to leave their computer screens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They need to come here. And they need to talk to us and let us know that we're going to see some real changes and real benefits to the people of the state and the country.

FRANKEN: The people of New Hampshire are often belittled as too small in number, too white, too quirky, perhaps, to have such an influence on the presidential race. But these supposedly atypical people have the very typical belief that the State of the Union, their union, too, is in need of an overhaul.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have to find a strong candidate who is willing to talk about the things that we ought to be doing in this country.

FRANKEN: Interestingly, the concerns seem to go far beyond the war in Iraq -- more a general feeling that the state of the union is a state of discontent. And they're looking for candidates who can address that discontent -- face to face.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's always multiple candidates running and I -- I really feel that we have a chance as citizens of New Hampshire to really -- to meet all of the candidates. And so until I have an opportunity to meet all of the candidates, I -- I won't -- will make a decision after that.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

FRANKEN: And everything is well underway here, Wolf.

As a matter of fact, the first in the nation presidential debates, Republican and Democrat, are going to be held in April. And they're sponsored by -- co-sponsored by WMUR TV -- almost an institution here, too -- and, who else?

CNN.

BLITZER: All right, Bob, thank you for that.

I want to just correct one thing I said -- Manchester not the state capital -- Concord, New Hampshire, the state capital. Before all of you write to me with that, I apologize for that. Certainly apologize to all our friends in New Hampshire.

And, as Bob just noted, as we head deeper into the 2008 presidential race, remember, CNN is a partner in that very first presidential debate of the campaign season. As Bob mentioned, CNN, WMUR Television and "The New Hampshire Union Leader" will sponsor back-to-back debates among the Democratic and the Republican presidential candidates on April 4 and 5 of this year.

It's an unprecedented early kickoff to a very wide-open race for the White House, the first debates in the leadoff presidential primary state. Mark your calendars.

Up next: much more on the race to the White House -- in our "Strategy Session," a preview of who is up, who is down in the early nominating states.

Stay tuned. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.

Happening now: Even shopping in Iraq can be very deadly. One official describes body parts everywhere after an attack on a clothes market in Baghdad that left 88 people dead. Only hours later, a bomb in a vendor's cart near Baquba kills 12.

China says a controversial move is not a threat -- Chinese Foreign Ministry officials telling a visiting U.S. officials, its recent test of an anti-satellite weapon should not be seen as threatening -- that according to the State Department.

And there are explorers and there are contenders. The road to the White House is getting more jammed, as more Democrats and more Republicans join this list.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's a rare moment in politics. Right now, a well-known Hispanic, a woman, and an African-American are all making moves for the White House, the three Democrats who have joined an ever-growing list of presidential prospects, one that also includes a growing number of Republicans.

Here to discuss that in our "Strategy Session," our CNN political analysts. Paul Begala is a Democratic strategist. J.C. Watts is a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma.

Let's take a look, Paul, at the Democratic side first in our brand-new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll.

If you take a look at the front-runners, Hillary Clinton with 34 percent, Barack Obama, 18 percent, John Edwards, 15 percent, Al Gore, who is not even running -- at least not yet -- 10 percent, everybody else in single digits, as you can see right there.

As a political strategist, a year before New Hampshire -- exactly a year before New Hampshire -- what, if anything, does this mean?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it means a couple of things.

Hillary is the front-runner. And that is not altogether good news for Hillary. I mean, look, I support her. I worked for her husband for years, as you well know. You covered us. But, you know, it's hard to be the front-runner in the Democratic Party. My party tends to destroy its front-runners.

Plus, I would caution our viewers to note that this is a national poll of Democrats all across the country...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Registered Democrats.

BEGALA: Registered Democrats. But we don't have a national primary.

We go state by state in a whole variety of -- of quirky systems and interesting places. So, I wouldn't read too much into that. It's good news for Hillary. You would still rather be first than last. But uneasy lies the head that wears the crown...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let's take a look, J.C., at the Republican side.

Among registered Republicans, Giuliani at 32 percent, John McCain at 26 percent, they're one and two -- everybody else down in single digits, with Newt Gingrich, who hasn't announced -- he says he's only going to think about it later in the year -- at 9 percent, Mitt Romney at 7 percent.

It looks, at least according to these early numbers, a two-man race between Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and, Wolf, I thought the interesting bump in that was Newt Gingrich at 9 percent, replacing Mitt Romney, who has usually been in the top three in most of those polls.

And I think two more members, Duncan Hunter, who is ranking member on Armed Services, and Mike Huckabee, who is a conservative governor out of Arkansas, I think those are two other people we should watch. But...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Even though they are only at 1 percent right now?

WATTS: They're -- they're only at 1 percent, I think. There's -- there is plenty of time here. As Paul said, the front-runner is always going to be, you know, the target. You are going to be getting punched every day.

But, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, they're going to be up there. But I thought the interesting thing in that poll was Newt Gingrich moving up to the third -- or in the third-place finish. Very interesting.

BLITZER: He's a formidable politician...

WATTS: He is.

BLITZER: ... as all of us know, and as you remember...

BEGALA: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... very well.

Let's talk about some of the early states, Iowa, the earliest of the early. As far as these numbers are concerned, knowing what you know about Iowa, what do you make?

BEGALA: Iowa is the hardest place to poll. Actually, before we came out, I pulled Bill Schneider aside, our -- our CNN polling guru. And he agreed with me. It's awfully difficult to poll.

And Hillary is at a big disadvantage there, because, first, her husband did not run in the Iowa caucuses in 1992.

BLITZER: Is it because of the dynamics of a caucus or because of the nature of the Democrats in that state?

BEGALA: Well -- well, both, but, first, the dynamics of the caucus. There's 1.9 million eligible to participate in the caucuses. Last time around, only 124,331 showed up. That's 6 percent. So, 94 percent of the people who can participate do not participate. So, it's almost impossible to poll.

There's two major polls out in Iowa. One has Hillary in first place by 11 points. The other has her in fourth, behind by 12 points. So, pick it. There's no way to know what is going on in Iowa.

BLITZER: What about on the Republican side?

WATTS: Well, I think you -- you -- going into those things, if you're in the top three, it keeps you in striking distance.

You have got to be on the ground and you have got to have a presence. But, you know, caucuses are very tricky. I mean, it -- it is a public vote. So, you know, it's hard to kind of get your hands around that, or -- or to tangibly be able to measure that sometimes. So, it's -- it's -- it's a caucus. It's a tough deal.

BLITZER: Normally, we would talk about New Hampshire next. But, on the Democratic side this time, there is a wrinkle. There's another caucus, this time in Nevada.

BEGALA: A place that has not held a major presidential caucus. So, we have no idea what is going to happen there.

There has been some polling. But, again, polling in a caucus is really not going to be accurate at all. Smart money in Nevada, particularly, is looking at John Edwards. He has got very strong union support. He's been out there a whole bunch. He's the person a lot of Hillary Clinton supporters think could be even an bigger threat to her than Barack Obama.

And, then, also look at Bill Richardson, who you mentioned a moment ago, the New Mexico governor, the first Hispanic to -- to run for president in a major, in a serious way in -- in my party. He is going to do very well in Nevada. So, that is going to be a really interesting place to go.

BLITZER: Well, the Republicans don't have to worry about Nevada.

But they do have to worry about New Hampshire. And there's a lot of history in New Hampshire. What do you make of the New Hampshire primary, the first primary in the nation, and the Republican side?

WATTS: Well, Wolf, I think, on both sides, Republican and the Democrats' side, I think it's -- I think it's -- it's an interesting atmosphere.

And I think the voters are in somewhat of a funk. The -- the Iraq war has forced them to hone in on politics probably a little more than they -- they would at this time of the year. And -- and I think, for candidates like a Barack Obama on the Democrats' side, in New Hampshire, I think candidates like a Duncan Hunter or a Mike Huckabee -- I mentioned those two earlier -- even a Newt Gingrich, it could be very interesting, how those guys factor into all of this.

So, it's just an interesting time. And -- and, boy, put your seat belts on, and hang on.

BLITZER: When Barack Obama was in New Hampshire, he was treated like a rock star there.

BEGALA: Phenomenal. Phenomenal. He -- hundreds of people came out. In fact, the state party chairman joked that they were going to bring the Rolling Stones in, but that Senator Obama would sell more tickets.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: The interesting thing about New Hampshire, also, is that unaffiliated, undeclared voters, independent voters, we call them in most places, can vote in either primary.

Now, that allowed John McCain, in 2000, to beat George W. Bush by 19 points, because the Democratic primary between Al Gore and Bill Bradley was, frankly, a little -- a little less interesting, I think, to independent voters. So, the undeclared voters all went for McCain.

Where will they go this time? We're going to have a very interesting Democratic field, I think the most talented primary field either party has put together in a century, in the Democratic Party. So, I think the independents will go to my party in New Hampshire.

BLITZER: We have got to leave it there, guys, because we're out of time.

But, remember, we are going to have the first presidential debates April 4 and 5 from New Hampshire. It will be an opportunity for everyone in New Hampshire to check out all of the candidates and the rest of the nation as well.

Paul Begala and J.C. Watts, and, as you saw earlier, Bob Franken and Ed Henry, they are all part of the best political team on television.

Coming up, we will have more on the race for the White House on our "Political Radar." What is on the candidates' schedules?

And there's something new on the road to the White House, the increased use of the Internet to get a candidate directly onto your P.C. Our Internet team has a special report.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Senator Hillary Clinton is the third Democrat in the last week to use the Web to launch a possible presidential bid. But among more than a dozen Democratic and Republican hopefuls, which ones are doing the best job of engaging the public online?

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, with the story -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, so far, the Democratic presidential hopefuls are doing more with their Web sites than Republicans.

Joining Senator Hillary Clinton, announcing her exploratory committee online, Senator Barack Obama did the same thing, as did Governor Bill Richardson.

Now, as for those who have announced they are actually running, former vice president -- vice presidential candidate John Edwards used his Web site to make the announcement. He's also done a series of online town hall meetings. Congressman Dennis Kucinich uses his Web site to blog. And former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack uses his Web site to video blog.

Markos Moulitsas runs the top liberal blog, Daily Kos. And he says, all of this makes perfect sense, that candidates are going to announce and engage in a space where people are paying attention. And nobody is paying more attention now than the political netroots.

On the Republican side, Senator John McCain was the first we saw to launch an exploratory committee Web site. We saw Rudy Giuliani follow suit. We saw the same from Mitt Romney. And we saw Senator Sam Brownback, who now changed his exploratory Web site to an actual campaign site.

Now, some of these sites are flashier than others, but none is particularly interactive at this point.

We spoke to Patrick Hynes, who is a conservative blogger. He also consults for McCain. And he said that, just because, at this stage, these sites are not particularly interactive, don't expect them not to become more so, that, as Republicans move from the exploratory phase into the campaign phase, that these static sites will become more dynamic -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacki back from a two-week assignment in New York -- Jacki, welcome back...

SCHECHNER: Thank you..

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... to THE SITUATION ROOM.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: The race for the White House tops today's "Political Radar."

Senator and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton plans to send a message to President Bush during his State of the Union address tomorrow night. She and other members of the New York congressional delegation have invited special guests to the speech, people who they say are suffering illnesses caused by exposure to dust over at ground zero. Senator Clinton and her colleagues want President Bush to provide more money to treat first-responders who rushed to the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley says he will do everything he can to help Senator Barack Obama if the Illinois Democrat formally jumps into the presidential race. Obama is in Chicago today formally endorsing Daley's reelection campaign. Daley has stayed neutral in previous Democratic presidential primaries.

Anti-abortion activists are rallying here in Washington today to mark the 34th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. Senator and GOP presidential candidate Sam Brownback is a vocal abortion opponent. He spoke to the demonstrators.

Our new CNN/Opinion Research poll, by the way, shows just 29 percent of Americans want to overturn the Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion in the United States. Most, 62 percent, do not want to throw out Roe vs. Wade. Those numbers are in line with many surveys in previous years.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

Up next: The speaker's daughter meets the Bible Belt. Filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi joins us to talk about her new film about evangelicals in America.

And, in the next hour, CNN travels the globe to get to the bottom of the story behind the story of Senator Barack Obama and his early education. This is something you won't see anywhere else. We went to Jakarta. We went to his elementary school there. You are going to want to stick around and see this, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: She's a highly respected documentary filmmaker who chronicled the first presidential campaign of George W. Bush. Now she has turned her focus to the country's evangelical Christians and their political views in the process.

Alexandra Pelosi is joining us live from New York. And she also happens to be the youngest daughter of the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

We will get to that, Alexandra, shortly.

Congratulations on this new film that airs Thursday night on our sister network HBO.

But I want to play a little clip to start off the conversation.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FRIENDS OF GOD")

ALEXANDRA PELOSI, FILMMAKER: Ever since they started showing their influence at the ballot box, they have become a formidable force in our culture and our democracy.

But the evangelical movement is a big tent. So, we are going to hit the road to meet some evangelicals, to find out what they believe and what it means for the future of America.

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: They're singing a song: "I am a Friend of God. I am a friend of God."

Well, what did you -- what is the bottom line? In a nutshell, what did you discover, Alexandra?

PELOSI: Well, I think we spent a lot of time on cable news channels talking about who these evangelicals are and what their influence may be in the next presidential election. So, I hit the road to go try and meet some, to talk to them about what they believe, and whether or not there is a cultural divide in this country.

BLITZER: It seems like there is a -- a growing trend, at least among many evangelicals, to get beyond some of the traditional issues, worry about the environment, for example.

Did you discover that?

PELOSI: Well, I focused mostly on the 50 million to 80 million evangelicals that are more conservative, that had more influence in helping reelect George Bush in 2004.

The two main issues that they care about -- obviously, today, with the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade -- they care about abortion, and they care about gay marriage. After that, the issues start to get confused. And there are certain sections of the population, obviously, that care about the environment and that care about the war. But that really didn't come up. I focused mostly on the fundamentalists.

BLITZER: And -- and did you -- did you get a sense of how they're going to play in this upcoming election, presidential election?

PELOSI: Well, I think they are a formidable force in our democracy, and that we have to listen to them, especially the Republican candidate, obviously, has to listen to them.

And they go to church every Sunday. And they're organized. And they're mobilized. And they're getting together to talk about what is important to them. And they will be a force. So, we do have to listen to them in every election.

BLITZER: Tell us something about your mom, the speaker of the House of Representatives, that our viewers may not necessarily know.

PELOSI: Gosh, how much time do you have? BLITZER: Got 30 seconds.

PELOSI: Well, you know, for me, my mother was a stay-at-home mom. She was -- you know, she drove car pools, and baked cookies, and threw birthday parties, and made Halloween costumes.

And this is her second act. You know, this is really, for -- for us, it's like her empty-nest syndrome. You know, she went off to Congress when I went to college. So, for us, this is all new, too. There's plenty that we're just learning about her now.

BLITZER: And you must be so proud. Your mother is the speaker of the House. And -- and you have a new baby. So, congratulations to you on that as well. Congratulations on the film. It's entitled "Friends of God: A Road Trip With Alexandra Pelosi."

Good work. Thanks very much for coming in.

PELOSI: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: And it airs on our sister network Thursday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Up next: "The Cafferty File." Is there anything the average person can do to try to end the war in Iraq? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail, that is coming up, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question we asked is: Is there anything the average person can do to try to end the war in Iraq?

Mike writes this: "I have always wanted to write into this, but I never felt I had anything too valuable to say. Well, today is different. I feel now -- and always sort of have felt -- that the best way to get the government to agree to get out of Iraq is a general boycott. Pick a day, say, Wednesdays, and have all those opposed to the war refuse to do anything, no going to work, no buying gasoline, no buying food, no shopping, absolutely nothing. Cutting the government's funding by a seventh would surely send them a direct message that it's time to close down this horror show."

Thom in Michigan writes: "No doubt in my mind -- write your congressman, demanding the immediate impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney each and every day, over and over and over again, until they listen."

Jo Ann in California: "Stop paying our taxes. I'm tired of subsidizing Halliburton, while President Bush lets New Orleans drown and the middle class sink."

Sandra, Blue Springs, Missouri: "What can the American people do? I thought we already did the only thing we can do. On November 7, we practically screamed what we wanted. I don't know what else we can do, unless maybe go down to Washington with a bucket of tar and a bag of feathers."

Diane in Seffner, Florida: "Attend the rally in Washington this Saturday. If a million of us show up, we will support those in Congress who are looking for us -- to us, rather, for leadership."

And Dax in Disco (ph), Tennessee, writes: "Can't answer this one, Jack. I ain't average. I'm more of a rock 'n' roll karate superstar. But good luck with your question."

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: If you didn't see your e-mail there, you can go to -- I don't know. There's someplace you can go online. I forget what the address is.

BLITZER: CNN...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

CAFFERTY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a lovely place to go.

Thanks, Jack, for that.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

CNN U.S.
CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNNAvantGo Ad Info About Us Preferences
Search
© 2007 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by CNN.com
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines