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McCain Loses More Ground to Giuliani; Has Hillary Clinton Had a Change of Heart on Iraq?

Aired March 12, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, a Republican presidential frontrunner losing more steam. Our brand new poll shows a strong dose of dissatisfaction at a time when the GOP field may be in flux.
Also this hour, Republican wildcard -- Senator Chuck Hagel's big announcement produces more questions than answers and former Senator Fred Thompson is keeping his party guessing and some of his party hoping.

Plus, has Senator Hillary Clinton had a change of heart on Iraq?

We're examining the Democratic presidential candidate's new take on a withdrawal deadline. And we'll tell you why she's comparing herself to JFK.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Up first this hour, the Republican presidential contenders on a roller coaster of new twists, turns and teases. Our brand new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows Senator John McCain losing more ground to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Today, Giuliani won the endorsement of Louisiana Senator David Vitter despite the Southern conservative's reservations about Giuliani's moderate views on several social issues.

As it were Senator Chuck Hagel didn't answer the will he run question today, as many had expected. Instead, Hagel said he won't make a decision until later this year.

And another question mark hanging over the field today. "Law and Order" star and former Senator Fred Thompson now says he's leaving the door open to a 2008 presidential bid.

Let's get a closer look at the Giuliani-McCain competition and whether Republican voters want more options.

We'll turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's joining us with the latest numbers we're getting -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, are 10 candidates enough or are Republicans hoping yet more people will jump into this race? (BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Only two Republican candidates show support in double digits -- Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. In January, Giuliani was six points ahead of McCain. Now Giuliani leads McCain by 16 points. McCain's support is at its lowest point in six months.

Republicans like Giuliani, they really like him -- 72 percent favorable. Giuliani's leadership after 9/11 looks like a transcendent issue.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You achieve peace through strength and through having very, very strong objectives and not going back to the kind of defense that we played before September 11.

SCHNEIDER: Do Republicans like McCain?

Yes, but not quite as much -- 56 percent favorable. People's view of McCain is linked to how they feel about President Bush's troop build-up in Iraq.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: There are some small glimmers of success already. Let's give it a chance. Give this great general and these young people a chance to succeed in Iraq, which...

SCHNEIDER: Are Republicans happy with the candidates they've got? Sixty-two percent say they have not definitely made up their mind to support anybody. It's early. They're open to new choices.

How about a lawyer turned actor turned senator turned actor?

FRED THOMPSON (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I don't know. I think that the Democrats -- I think it will become apparent a little later on this year.

SCHNEIDER: Or, a conservative who's been critical of the war in Iraq. Not much market for that message among Republicans right now. Eight percent have a favorable opinion of Chuck Hagel, 15 percent unfavorable. Three quarters say they don't know much about the Nebraska senator.


SCHNEIDER: McCain's people say he's happy to be the underdog in this race. That way, any time he wins, it will be a surprise -- just like in 2000 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Given Giuliani's moderate views on several social issues like abortion rights, gun control, gay rights, how do conservatives in our most recent poll feel about him?

SCHNEIDER: The same as other Republicans. He tops the field among conservatives just as he does among Republicans as a whole. He comes in first. He's got a solid lead over John McCain -- 13 points among conservatives. And, in fact, his favorability rating with conservatives is almost exactly the same as his favorability rating among all Republicans.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Bill Schneider with the latest numbers.

Let's get more now on Senator Chuck Hagel's so-called big announcement today -- or, rather, his non-announcement, as it turned out to be the case. The Nebraska Republican coaxed journalists to his home state today amid hints he might -- might jump into the presidential fray.

Instead, Hagel watchers were told to stay tuned.

Our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is joining us now live from Omaha with more.

Tell us why you're in Omaha -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's 75 degrees here. I thought I could come and get some sun, maybe some steak, maybe some investment advice from the oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett.

No, seriously, we are here because this had all of the trappings of a media strategy for a presidential announcement.

Last week, an advisory went out with big fonts saying that the senator was going to talk about his future plans here and there was informed speculation that he would, in fact, dip his toe, at least, into the presidential waters.

In the end, a local Nebraska reporter, Wolf, came up to our photographer and said it was a "Seinfeld" press conference about nothing.


BASH (voice-over): It was billed as a hometown press conference about his future plans. The buzz was that he'd announce presidential intentions. But Senator Chuck Hagel came out to a suspense filled room of Nebraska supporters and didn't announce anything.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: I'm here today to announce that my family and I will make a decision on my political future later this year.

BASH: It was the political version of kicking the can.

HAGEL: I believe there will still be political options open to me at a later date. But that will depend on the people of Nebraska and this country. I cannot control that.

BASH: The most prominent Republican critic of the president's Iraq strategy said he wants to focus on ending the war, not "political considerations" and then bristled at the suggestion he's perceived as an opponent of war.

HAGEL: I am not an anti-war candidate. I have never been anti- war. There are times in a nation's history -- and we have seen them certainly in ours -- where force is required.

BASH: The press conference wasn't even halfway over when Hagel was asked about a pundit already on TV calling it bizarre. He insisted he was just making good on a promise to talk about his political plans after the first of the year. He said he still doesn't know those plans, but had the press conference anyway.

HAGEL: If that's not good enough for somebody's time line, that's -- I understand that. But I can only do things that I think are right for me, my family and the institution I represent.

BASH: Some Hagel supporters who came thinking they'd hear whether he'll run again for Senate, run for president, anything defensive, were disappointed.

CRAIG CHRISTIANSEN, HAGEL SUPPORTER: I'm worried about the fact that the rest of the parade is marching down the street and the fact that he may, in the future, if he decides to get in, he may be running to catch up.


BASH: Now, most Hagel supporters here say that they were frustrated, perhaps a little disappointed. But they also say there is a flip side, and that is Senator Hagel can try to figure out if he has the fund-raising ability by trying to fill his Senate campaign coffers while also waiting to see if the leading candidates, who had such an early start, Wolf, will become so bruised and bloodied that they would, perhaps, fizzle out a little bit and create an operating for Senator Hagel down the road -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, as you know, one of the intriguing hints he was thinking about maybe running for president was this presidential candidates forum that he's already accepted an invitation to.

What do we know about that?

BASH: Well, he said today, Wolf, he's still going. He was asked, well, if you're not necessarily a candidate, what are you going to say?

He kind of made a little bit of a joke, paused a little bit and then eventually just said that he'll talk about the future of our country and what I think is important.

It's going to be interesting to see if Senator Hagel is invited to or at least asked to go to other future candidate forums, maybe even debates. At this point, Wolf, his aides say that he has no immediate plans for travel into some of the key early states to test what he said he wants to test, which is his ability or the kind of power he might have as a candidate in the future -- Wolf.

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

With an eye toward the 2008 campaign, Democrats in Congress agree set to take some significant steps this week toward setting an actual deadline for all combat troops to leave Iraq.

Meantime, Senator Hillary Clinton is raising some eyebrows with her latest comments on a timetable for a withdrawal. And as if that weren't enough, the Democratic presidential frontrunner really got people buzzing by likening herself to the late President John F. Kennedy.

Our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel, is joining us -- what's her latest message, Andrea, on Iraq?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, for months Senator Clinton has resisted setting a deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq. Not anymore.


KOPPEL (voice-over): In between hugging babies...

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: We're going to be here week after week after week.

KOPPEL: ... courting Democratic bigwigs in New Hampshire, Senator Clinton explained why she believes Congress must now set a deadline, March 31, 2008, as a goal for U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq.

CLINTON: A goal, to try to move the president to understand what needs to be done in order to change the mission in Iraq and begin to bring our troops home.

KOPPEL: Clinton says her position has not changed. But just listen to what she told CNN in January.

CLINTON: I am not advocating a date certain, an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

KOPPEL: Last month, Clinton was criticized by some in New Hampshire for refusing to apologize for voting to authorize the war in 2002, as John Edwards has done.

Independent voter Matt Van Wagner says that still bothers him, but he appreciates the senator is now taking a stand.

MATT VAN WAGNER, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Whether it's the right stand or not, at this point I'd almost just as soon the military guys tell us when we should come and when we should go.

KOPPEL: This was Senator Clinton's third visit to the Granite State as a presidential candidate. But for the first time during a sold out speech at the state Democratic Party's premier fundraiser, she made a direct comparison between her candidacy and John F. Kennedy's. CLINTON: And a lot of people back then said well, you know, America will never elect a Catholic as president. So when people tell me or one of the pundits says that I don't think a woman can be elected president, I say we'll never know unless we try.


KOPPEL: Now, Clinton aides explained the reason that Senator Clinton was likening her candidacy to John F. Kennedy's is that she was speaking to the 100 Club of New Hampshire, Wolf, which was established back in 1959 as a way for New Hampshire Democrats to help this unknown individual, this Catholic candidate for president, John F. Kennedy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrea, thank you very much.

Andrea Koppel on the Hill.

President Bush, meanwhile, is plugging free trade today in Guatemala. That's the latest stop on his five nation tour of Latin America.

Along the way, protesters have been having their say about Mr. Bush's visit.

Let's turn to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

He's traveling with the president.

How has he been greeted, first of all -- Ed, in Guatemala?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in Guatemala, the White House today, Wolf, was very eager to showcase the president meeting with local schoolchildren, being welcomed with open arms, visiting the historic Mayan ruins, getting an up close look at that.

But almost immediately, some local priests announced that tomorrow they're going to be holding what they call a cleansing ceremony to take out any bad spirits, they say, that may have come in during the Bush visit.

It gives you an indication of the disconnect on this trip. That's why you're seeing these protests.

What the president is trying to do is come up with a legacy item here and basically talk about ending global poverty, zeroing in specifically on Latin America during the seven day trip.

But on the ground, a lot of Latin Americans feel this is very late in the Bush presidency, the seventh year of his presidency, and all of a sudden he's focusing in on this.

And that's why you're seeing the protests, because there is some anger here. They don't see how much of a difference U.S. aid on the ground has made -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Security has been tight every stop of the way -- Ed.

What is it like in Guatemala City?

HENRY: Well, certainly heavy security here. But nothing like it was in Colombia yesterday, Wolf. I can tell you, obviously in addition to the U.S. Secret Service, of course, which always has heavy security around the president overseas, there were some 21,000 Colombia troops, 6,000 or 7,000 police officers lining the streets. And then the Secret Service still took the extraordinary step of having a second mock motorcade to make sure there was a wrong target, if you will, in case any narco-terrorists were targeting the president.

And, finally, it was so dangerous, despite all that security, the Secret Service would not let the president sleep in Bogota. We only stayed on the ground about six or seven hours and then flew here to Guatemala -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And what about Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela?

He seems to be following the president of the United States, at least symbolically, almost every step of the way.

HENRY: Absolutely. He's having a shadow tour, if you will, basically hurling insults every step of the way, things like "go home, gringo."

The White House is really annoyed by all of this, of course. And the president has repeatedly side-stepped direct questions from reporters here on the ground, both Latin American and American reporters, about Chavez, has not mentioned his name, in fact. And at one point, one U.S. reporter almost goaded Mr. Bush and said, you know, Chavez says you're afraid to say his name.

Mr. Bush still would not take the bait. And that's calculated. The White House has a strategy. They don't want a one-on-one between Bush and Chavez. That -- they think that only gives Chavez attention, which he so desperately craves. The White House believes he's a sideshow. But when you look at these protests, it's clear he at least has a following and he's tapping into that anger in Latin America that I mentioned -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry on the scene for us in Guatemala City.

Thanks, Ed, very much.

The president will be answering some questions in the next hour.

We'll update you on that.

Ed Henry, Andrea Koppel, Dana Bash, Bill Schneider -- they are all part of the best political team on television. And remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at

Let's get to Jack Cafferty. Another week, another week of The Cafferty File -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you plan to work the whole week with us this week...

BLITZER: Yes, I'll be...

CAFFERTY: ... or is this just another...

BLITZER: I'll be working all...

CAFFERTY: ... part-time gig for you?

BLITZER: I'm working all of this week, as opposed to last week. I actually took two days off.

CAFFERTY: You know, Suzanne Malveaux did a great job...

BLITZER: Well, she's a...

CAFFERTY: ... filling in for you.

BLITZER: She is an excellent, excellent journalist...

CAFFERTY: She a lot...

BLITZER: ... as are you. As are you.

CAFFERTY: She's a lot prettier than you are, too.

BLITZER: That is also true.

CAFFERTY: All right, for the sake of the nation, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should step down. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer also said Gonzales putting politics above the law and that he's shown more allegiance to President Bush than to Americans' legal rights.

As examples, Schumer points to the FBI's illegally snooping into people's private lives, as well as the controversy surrounding the Justice Department's firing of federal prosecutors.

Schumer isn't the only one questioning Gonzales. Democratic Senator Joe Biden says Gonzales has lost the confidence of the vast majority of the American people.

A "New York Times" editorial says the attorney general "has never stopped being consigliore to Mr. Bush's imperial presidency."

And it's not enough that attorney general of the United States is a glorified water boy for the White House. The Bush administration also is admitting now that its number one political hack, Karl Rove, passed along complaints from Republican lawmakers about U.S. attorneys to the Justice Department and to the White House Counsel's Office -- a political adviser playing a role in the hiring and firing of U.S. attorneys. It's disgraceful. Here's the question -- should U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez resign?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to

If you look up the word weasel in the dictionary, Wolf, you'll see Alberto Gonzales's picture there.

BLITZER: You don't like him?

CAFFERTY: That's correct. I don't.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty will be back with your e-mail shortly.

Thank you, Jack, for that.

Coming up, the verdict against Lewis "Scooter" Libby casting a political cloud over the White House.

Do Americans think Vice President Dick Cheney was part of a cover-up?

We have some new poll numbers. That's coming up ahead.

Also, he's riding high in the polls, number one in our brand new poll that's out today.

But is Rudy Giuliani's 9/11 image coming under some attack?

Our Candy Crowley standing by with that story.

And his numbers are dropping in our new poll.

So how does Senator John McCain try to turn things around?

I'll ask our John King.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Some dramatic pictures coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from Texas.

Carol Costello is monitoring this situation.

The pictures are very, very dramatic -- what other...


BLITZER: ... what other word can I use?

It looks scary.

What's going on? COSTELLO: Well, apparently some workers were laying a pipeline and maybe they hit a gas line. As you can see, that gas line caught fire. Flames shooting feet into the air. Some employees are missing. We don't know, you know, if they've been injured or killed, but they are looking for them at this point.

Several vehicles were burned out. This is in Weatherford, Texas. That's about 30 miles west of Fort Worth. And as you can see, the flames are going out of control. Firefighters figuring out -- you know, they have to shut the gas line down, obviously. They have to shut the gas down and then they have to figure out how to put out these flames. And then they can begin looking for those employees.

But as far as we know, they were laying this pipeline. Maybe they hit that gas line, Wolf.

We don't know the exact cause, but that gas line is certainly -- well, it's certainly on fire and it's out of control right at this time.

BLITZER: Yes. We see those vehicles around there, as well.

All right, we're going to continue to keep an eye on this story, Carol, and get more information, update our viewers coming in from Parker County, Texas.

We thank our affiliate WFAA for those live pictures.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, you may know him from "Law and Order" or his many appearances in the movies.

But will you soon see Fred Thompson out on the presidential campaign trail as an actual candidate?

We have some details coming up in our Political Radar.

And his poll numbers are up, but Rudy Giuliani's P.R. could be better. We'll take a closer look behind the Republican presidential contender's shine.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Vice President Dick Cheney is lashing out today at Democrats' latest efforts to set a timetable for pulling out of Iraq.

Cheney spoke here in Washington to a leading pro-Israel lobbying group. He warns a drawdown of U.S. forces would invite more attacks on Americans.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When members speak not of victory, but of time limits, deadlines or other arbitrary measures, they're telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out.


BLITZER: New evidence also today of a cloud hanging over Vice President Cheney and President Bush. That would be the perjury and obstruction conviction of former Cheney aide Louis "Scooter" Libby.

Our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll gauges public reaction to the CIA leak trial verdict.

When asked if President Bush should pardon Libby, most Americans -- 69 percent -- said no. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed say they believe Vice President Cheney was part of a cover-up of the CIA leak. Twenty-nine percent say he was not. Nineteen percent aren't sure.

The Libby verdict apparently is helping keep Cheney's approval rating in troublesome territory. Our poll shows just 34 percent of those surveyed approve of the way he's doing his job.

However, President Bush's approval rating is up 3 points from January, to 37 percent, and his disapproval rating has dropped to 54 percent from 63 percent back in January.

Up next, a potential embarrassment for Rudy Giuliani online. We'll take a look at his Achilles' heel with conservatives. That's caught on tape.

And you can say this much about Senator Chuck Hagel -- his I'll tell you later presidential announcement caught many by surprise. James Carville and J.C. Watts take on that question.

What was Hagel thinking?

That's coming up in our Strategy Session.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Happening now, President Bush in Guatemala. It's the latest stop on his Latin American tour. He's talking free trade, immigration policies and other topics with the Guatemalan president. We're watching for a news conference with Mr. Bush. That's coming up. We'll monitor that.

Also, guerrilla warfare and the constant threat of death -- that's what U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan face virtually every day.

So when they return from war, how might it affect their minds?

A new study makes an ominous conclusion on the mental wounds of America's warriors.

And some are calling him public enemy number one. The young man who attacked a woman who is 101 years old. And he's still out there. He's still at large. Now, police are saying what you can do to try to help catch this guy.

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

It's risky being on top. Right now, Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani leads his rivals and yet that might be a problem.

Let's turn to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

As she always does, she's here in THE SITUATION ROOM to explain -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you can sum up the current state of the Giuliani campaign in bumper-sticker form: great poll numbers, not-so-great press.


CROWLEY (voice-over): He is still the toast of the party. Rudy Giuliani is holding on to his head-of-the-pack position. Thirty-four percent of Republicans say they want him as their presidential nominee. So, what's to worry?

Well, for starters, being on top means everybody is gunning for you. His honor is taking some incoming.

After a to-and-fro over a speaking invitation, the International Firefighters Union delivered a scorching indictment of Giuliani, accusing him of prematurely ending the search for remains at ground zero. "The fundamental lack of respect is unforgivable," wrote the president of union.

Giuliani responded that firefighters are his heroes.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Some tend to be heavily Democratic unions. So, you are going to have all kinds of agendas there. But it does nothing for my bond with firefighters or what I would do for them if I were president of the United States.

CROWLEY: Also getting closer scrutiny, business dealings within Giuliani's security consulting firm -- the trials and tribulations shade Giuliani -- and the standard bugaboos, including his pro- abortion-rights stand.

This piece of history now circulates on YouTube.


GIULIANI: There must be public funding for abortions for poor women.


CROWLEY: While Giuliani still has more conservative and evangelical support than his Republican rivals, there are constant reminders that his views on most social issues are totally out of step with party orthodoxy. Even endorsements require the two-step.

SEN. DAVID VITTER (R), LOUISIANA: Obviously, I disagree with Rudy on some significant social issues. And these are very important to me and to many people I represent. But, after numerous personal meetings with the mayor, it's very clear to me that he is not running for president to advance any liberal social agenda.

CROWLEY: Still to come, the fine-tooth comb dragged across Rudy's record prior to 9/11 -- critics remember an increasingly unpopular mayor who rode roughshod over opponents and ran the city with an iron fist.

Let's just say the bloom is off the rose.


CROWLEY: Still, the numbers remain sweet.

The latest CNN/ Opinion Research Corporation poll shows Giuliani is 16 points ahead of John McCain among registered Republicans. And, in truth, the only worse thing than being targeted for being on top is not being on top at all -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are you getting the sense that a lot of these conservatives are becoming more pragmatic; they don't want to necessarily sacrifice the good, at the expense of the great, and they think Giuliani can win?

CROWLEY: Well, there is -- there is some sign of that.

And Giuliani himself has sort of seized on that as part of his normal shtick, which is quoting Ronald Reagan, saying, hey, if we can agree 80 percent of the time, we will have a pretty strong party.

So, he obviously thinks that that's the way he can get at these conservatives, saying: I can win. We share more in common than we don't have in common.

BLITZER: And left unsaid often is his contention -- or at least some people close to him -- his -- their contention that he can beat Hillary Clinton...


BLITZER: ... and a lot of other Republicans who may be better -- quote -- "on the social issues" could not.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BLITZER: Candy, thanks very much.

As Candy noted, Giuliani's past statements on abortion are getting big play on YouTube right now. But today's video is not the first one to use Giuliani's words against him. As all the GOP front-runners jostle for position and court conservative voters, many of their past statements are coming back to haunt them online.

Let's get some more from Abbi Tatton. She's looking into this -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is the latest video posted yesterday, date-stamped 1989.


GIULIANI: ... not deny any woman the right to make her own decision about abortion because she lacks resources.


TATTON: It's one of a growing list of videos featuring Giuliani, in his own words, designed to challenge his conservative credentials.

Another one from just a couple of weeks ago -- in advance of a speech Giuliani was giving to conservative activists in Washington, this one showed up, a compilation of sound bites, Rudy Giuliani talking over the years about gay marriage, about abortion.

But it's not just Rudy Giuliani being targeted by this archival video that is showing up on the site -- Mitt Romney, 2002, in this video saying that he was devoted to abortion rights -- Mitt Romney, 1994, in this one, saying he was supporting abortion rights and gays in the Boy Scouts.

He's responded to this one online, saying -- quote -- "I was wrong about some issues back then."

And Senator John McCain has not escaped either -- this clip here showing past criticisms about the religious right.

Now, on each of these videos, there is no name attached. There is no explanation of how the footage was acquired. We have reached out to each of these people, but not received any response.

There is a place on YouTube where the '08 hopefuls are putting their own official videos. But, frequently, it's the unofficial videos that are delving right back into the archives that are getting a lot of play -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The unofficial videos almost always are a lot more interesting.

Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

Let's get some more now on this Republican presidential field.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is -- is here.

This gap between Giuliani and McCain is widening. JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is.

And, if you talk to Republican strategists, they are fascinated by this. There are many who say they believe Rudy Giuliani won February. But they believe he has peaked, because, in part, they believe now the other candidates will be much more aggressive.

We have seen it on the Democratic side with Clinton and Obama. What -- I have talked to several Republican strategists today involved in the campaigns. They say look for former Governor Huckabee of Arkansas, Senator Brownback of Kansas, and even John McCain, if necessary, to start raising not only Giuliani's support of abortion rights, but he's on the record supporting what critics call partial- birth or late-term abortions.

They say, this guy can't be the Republican nominee. Or, if he is, imagine a Republican Convention, with so many pro-life, anti- abortion delegates on the floor, that the party would fracture and not be there in November.

But they look at poll numbers, and they say, well, maybe we're wrong.



KING: But they just can't make any sense of it.

BLITZER: It's pretty impressive, the way he's doing on those poll numbers.

And -- and there are other Republicans that are now being coy, like Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator, the movie star, if you will. Chuck Hagel was very coy earlier today. And there may be some others out there as well.

KING: Well, there's this school of thought -- former speaker Newt Gingrich is the first to advance it and to publicly advance it -- that this campaign started so early, that people are going to get tired of all the other candidates by the end of '07, and, maybe, at the beginning of '08, some new faces, fresh faces, will come in.

Senator Hagel is perhaps thinking that. Speaker Gingrich is perhaps thinking that, and now Fred Thompson. And some reporters say, don't count this guy out, hasn't been in the Senate for a long time. He's been on television. Everybody knows who he is.

They say, look at the power of Barack Obama. It's not just that he's a fresh face. It is because he's such a good communicator. And Fred Thompson certainly has those skills. Could he raise all the money? Is he right on the issues?

Most people would say, every cycle, there are candidates like this, who say: I'm going to wait. I'm going to wait. I'm going to wait. And then they would also say, you remember the Cuomo presidency? It doesn't happen.

But this cycle did start so early, some say let's see.

BLITZER: No-show Mario, I remember that...


BLITZER: ... that campaign very, very well. That was back in '84 -- some of our viewers probably old enough to remember that campaign.

Let's talk a little bit about Fred Thompson. I had heard from a lot of people who were here for the CPAC conference, the Conservative Political Action Conference, they like this guy because he reminds them, to a certain degree, of Ronald Reagan, conservative on the social issues, very likable, and a movie star, if you will. He brings a lot of those Ronald Reagan traits to this field.

KING: And he hides his toughness behind the affable sense of humor. He's a polished attorney. He doesn't just play one on TV.

Go back to the Watergate days, when he was there with Senator Howard Baker on the committee. He's a very tough attorney. He can be very tough, play hardball politics. But he does it with a smile. He does it with a joke.

One of the reasons he's thinking about this now is because he assumed he would not have a place in this race, because he thought the former Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist would be the Tennessee candidate, if you will.

Fred Thompson calls Tennessee home when he's not in Hollywood. And, now that Senator Frist is not running, Senator Thompson says: Let me take a look at this.

Most people think, here's another guy trying to get some attention, trying to dabble in. But, again, this is a -- this is a unique campaign. It started so, so early, with so many candidates. And the war is so hurting John McCain, the man many thought would be the Republican front-runner all along. The drag of Iraq on President Bush and now on John McCain is causing a lot of people to think this one might not go like we thought it would.

BLITZER: And he's going to be getting a lot of exposure. He's filling in for Paul Harvey on video. And that -- that has a huge audience out there as well.

We will be watching.

KING: And it won't show up on YouTube.


BLITZER: Thanks for that, John. John King, Candy Crowley, Abbi Tatton, as all of you know, they are part of the best political team on television.

Coming up: Former Georgia Senator and decorated Vietnam war veteran, Max Cleland, he will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM today. I will ask him what he thinks about the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal and what is going on in Iraq right now.

And the company that builds James Bond's car of choice is now on the trading block. Will the venerable Aston Martin find a new home? Not in my garage, unfortunately.

That's coming up, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Carol is keeping an eye on all the feeds coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Check them out. They are coming in from around the world. She's watching all the wires. She's got some headlines coming up right now.

Hi, Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, a sad one to lead off, Wolf.

New York is mourning the deaths of those nine children and one woman who died last week in a brutal fire in the Bronx. Today, family and friends attended a funeral service. Mourners lined the streets. Many openly prayed. In attendance were Senator Hillary Clinton and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

A stolen newborn baby back in her mother's arms -- the infant was kidnapped Friday night from a hospital in Lubbock, Texas, by a woman posing as a nurse. An Amber Alert went out, and the baby was found a day later, 100 miles away in Clovis, New Mexico -- a 21-year-old woman now under arrest.

Martin, Aston Martin -- yes, the financially troubled Ford Motor Company is selling the company that makes the pricey James Bond mobile. A consortium, including two Kuwaiti investment firms, will buy the luxury car company from Ford for $925 million. Ford, which lost nearly $13 billion last year, will retain a small stake in the Aston Martin company.

TV talk show host Regis Philbin says he will be undergoing triple heart bypass surgery later this week. He's expected to be off his daytime show, "Live With Regis and Kelly," for about five weeks. Philbin is 75 years old.

And, Wolf, he's listed in "The Guinness Book of World Records" for most hours in front of a TV camera, 15,662 hours, and probably just a few more hours than you.

BLITZER: I think he beats me, but I wish him a very, very speedy recovery. I have met Regis Philbin. He's a really nice...


BLITZER: ... guy and we wish him only -- only the best. Hope he will be back very, very soon on that show and his other shows, and let him crack that -- that record even wide open.

Thanks, Carol, very much.

A birthday tops today's "Political Radar." GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney turns 60 today. When it comes to the age factor, how does Romney stack up against his top Republican competitors? The former Massachusetts governor is three years younger than Rudy Giuliani, 10 years younger than Senator John McCain.

Remember what Bill Clinton said when he turned 60 -- at least he's reported to have said -- remember, 60 is the new 40. That's what Bill Clinton reportedly said.

No planned celebrations for Romney today -- he's busy on the campaign trail in Las Vegas.

And Ron Paul made it official today. The nine-term congressman from Texas announced he's running for president. Paul made the news during an appearance on C-SPAN. He describes himself as a lifelong libertarian.

Up next in our "Strategy Session": What -- what do you make of the unrest on the right with the field of presidential candidates? And what does Fred Thompson have that others don't? We are going to turn to James Carville and J.C. Watts. They're part of the best political team on television. They are coming up.

And Vice President Cheney offered a sharp rebuke for Democrats once today when it comes to the war in Iraq. We will get reaction from former Senator Max Cleland.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: In our "Strategy Session" today: poll position. Who is up? Who is down? The seemingly ever-growing field of Republican presidential prospects.

Joining us now, our CNN political analysts. James Carville is a Democratic strategist. J.C. Watts is a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma.

You saw our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. Back in January, Giuliani was ahead of McCain 32-26, six-point spread. It's now 34-18, a 16-point spread.


BLITZER: You have your own theory on what may be going on, on the Republican side. CARVILLE: Well, first of all, there's great dissatisfaction with the Republican field. Every poll shows that. And I don't think that Senator McCain, I don't think he has his heart in this. And I think the poll numbers reflect that.

I would not be surprised if he's not a candidate in -- in -- when the Iowa caucuses go. He -- he seems -- he seems tired. He seems like he's playing a role that he's not accustomed to playing. He's to be the party establishment candidate. He's not an establishment guy.

And his numbers keep fading in every poll that I see. And then there's great dissatisfaction with Senator McCain within the Republican Party, as there is great dissatisfaction with this field.

And I -- I just -- I just detect a real weary -- and this is no inside information. This is this is strictly just watching him on television. He looks like a man who is tired and doesn't have his heart in this race.


J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I would obviously disagree with that.

I -- I think John -- John has the challenge of trying to be a senator, as well as a presidential candidate, and being a senator in a time that we have got a lot of consternation concerning the war, trying to keep the economy on the right track, which we have done a pretty good job of.

But this war thing drains a lot of energy. But I can tell you, as I travel around the country, John McCain has a real presence throughout the country. He's got a good organization. He's raising good money. John McCain said himself -- he said: I would rather lose an election than lose a war.

And I -- I think, if there is some division, it's because he is focused on trying to do the right things in Iraq and get us out of there.

CARVILLE: Again, I -- I will point to the -- these poll numbers are consistent with everything I have seen. He just doesn't seem to really have his heart in this race. And that's just an observation from an old political guy.


BLITZER: So, you think he could -- he could actually drop out?

CARVILLE: I do think so.

WATTS: Well...

CARVILLE: And -- and I also think that there's a good chance that the Republican nominee is not even in the race yet.


BLITZER: So, give me some names.

CARVILLE: Jeb Bush. He's -- he's the only person I know who could unify the Republican Party.

With Giuliani, it's impossible for him to unify the Republican Party. The same is true, I suspect, with Romney. Why are you seeing Fred Thompson talk about get in? Why are you seeing Ron Paul get in? Why are you seeing Chuck Hagel talk about getting in the race? Why are you seeing Newt Gingrich?

Because these politicians -- there's a political market. They see that there's great dissatisfaction with this field. And each one of them thinks they can fill a void.

I don't see a unifying force within the Republican Party right now that can run for president, other than Jeb Bush. That's why I think that, in -- in the end, the party will turn to him.

WATTS: Wolf, this is typical primary politics, I think on the Republican and Democrat side.

I can say the same thing for a Democratic candidate. But it doesn't mean that the Democrats are not going to be united when they get a candidate.


WATTS: And I -- and I think the Republicans are going to be the same way. We're...

CARVILLE: But, J.C., I'm saying something different.

WATTS: We're going to...

CARVILLE: Democrats are satisfied, by and -- by and large, are satisfied with their choices. Republicans are dissatisfied with their choices.

WATTS: Well, I -- I think you probably would find the same dissatisfaction on both sides, because, you know, you're always going to find about 20, 25 percent of the electorate on either side is going to be unhappy, regardless of who you have in the race.

BLITZER: Listen -- listen to former Senator Fred Thompson, who is a major movie star. Listen to what he said yesterday.


FRED THOMPSON, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Obviously, I feel like that I may have some leadership ability that might be useful to my country.


BLITZER: A lot of Republicans look at him, conservatives, and they see similarities to Ronald Reagan.

WATTS: Well, I -- I know Fred. And I think he is, you know, A.C., all class. I think he's a good guy. I think he has -- he has got that Tennessee way about him that I think connects with people.

You know, I -- but I don't think that Fred Thompson -- and you mentioned Chuck Hagel -- I don't think Fred Thompson or Chuck Hagel necessarily believe that they have to have president in front of their name to make a contribution. I don't think John McCain feels like that.

So, you know, Fred Thompson will be interesting. That's somebody that's only been stirring the pot for the last couple of weeks. He will be very interesting, if he decides to do something.

BLITZER: Speaking about Chuck Hagel, you know, there was a huge buildup, at least among us political news junkies...


BLITZER: ... to what he was going to say this morning. And the bottom line, here is what he said.

Let's listen...


BLITZER: ... to this clip.


SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: I am here today to announce that my family and I will make a decision on my political future later this year.



BLITZER: Is -- is that going to hurt him, you think, the fact that we were anticipating an announcement...


BLITZER: ... and that's what we got?



WATTS: Hurt with who?


CARVILLE: To -- to kind of mix my metaphors here, he came, he saw, and he punted. (LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: I mean, you are getting -- you're ready for the guy to come out in a shotgun formation, stand about, what, six yards or, you know, five yards behind the center. And there he is 15 yards back, getting ready to punt.


CARVILLE: We all got excited, thought it was going to be something different.

WATTS: Well, I think what the senator did today was -- was announce that: I'm going to wait a little bit longer to see how this thing unfolds. I think Newt Gingrich is kind of taking the same posture.

But, again, I am not impressed that Chuck Hagel is some -- it wouldn't surprise me if he didn't get in the race, because I don't think that he feels like he has to have senator or president in front of his name to be a -- to make a contribution to our country.

BLITZER: We will see what happens, guys. Thanks very much for coming in.

CARVILLE: Thank you.

BLITZER: James Carville and J.C. Watts, as you know, 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

Still to come: "The Cafferty File." Should the attorney general of the United States, Alberto Gonzales, resign? Jack Cafferty is standing by with your e-mail.

And what ails America's military hospitals? Former U.S. Senator and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland offering his prescription -- all that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Several people in Congress, the United States Senate are suggesting that it's time for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign. And we asked this hour if you thought that was a good idea.

Don writes from Florida: "Jack, a better question is: How soon should Alberto Gonzales resign? And what should be the punishment for his crimes?"

Ralph writes: "Nah. They would just replace him with somebody more dangerous, someone who knows how to run a police state without getting caught."

John in Philadelphia: "Actually, he should have been fired. We all know how long that takes, though. Remember Rumsfeld? This worm is exactly the type of hatchet man that Bush likes. Don't ever do the people's work. Just do my dirty work."

Larisa in Seattle: "Alberto Gonzales should have resigned yesterday or last year or two years ago. Look at the guy's legacy: torture memos, spying on Americans, and now substituting GOP cronies for lawyers who are supposed to be defending the public good and upholding the Constitution."

Robert writes from Ohio: "Resign? He ought to be perp-walked."

J. writes: "Jack, of course he ought to resign, but we both know he won't. His role right now is to cover the backside of the most corrupt administration in history, which is a tall order for such a little man."

Jody in Tennessee: "Yes, he ought to, but that won't happen. He's a Bush buddy. Every time I see him on TV, he looks like he's laughing at us."

And Jenny in New York: "From this administration? No way. He's doing a heck of a job."

We got no letters suggesting that Alberto Gonzales was doing a great job, and that we were out of line by quoting some of the people, like Chuck Schumer in the Senate, who are calling for the man's resignation. Nobody wrote and said, this guy is doing a good job.

BLITZER: Out of how many? About hundreds did we get, thousands?

CAFFERTY: I don't know. Yes, it was 800, 900 e-mails. I didn't read 800 or 900 of them, but I -- I spun through probably a couple of hundred. There were none -- none. Nobody wrote to say, Alberto Gonzales is doing a good job as the attorney general of the United States.

I mean, that alone says something, doesn't it?

BLITZER: It certainly does.

Jack, thank you very much.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: unseen wounds. There's a stunning new study just coming out. It shows many combat veterans returning from Iran with mental illness -- even as the Army fires its top doctor, the latest casualty in the controversy over medical care.

I will speak about all of this with former U.S. Senator Max Cleland, himself badly wounded in an earlier war.


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