Return to Transcripts main page


Dems Stage All-Nighter Anti-War Spectacle; Interview With Governor Bill Richardson

Aired July 16, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, curse words and high drama in the revolt against the war in Iraq. A Senate Republican using profanity to give Karl Rove a piece of his mind. And Senate Democrats staging an all-nighter to demand a pullout timetable.
Also this hour, burning through cash like there's no tomorrow. We have new numbers on the presidential candidates' big-spending ways. Are they literally going for broke?

I'll talk about it with Democrat Bill Richardson, the state of the race. That's coming up.

And one of the wealthiest White House hopefuls reaching out to some of the poorest Americans, and he blasts President Bush along the way. Is John Edwards' so-called "poverty tour" connecting with voters?

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

Get out the cots and the midnight snacks. Senate Democrats now planning an all-night extravaganza. A new attempt to set a deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

They may feel more emboldened now that more Republicans are rebelling against the president's Iraq policy. We have new information about a no-holds-barred confrontation between one Republican defector and the White House deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove.

Our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is standing by with that.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, first.

Dana, what exactly are the Democrats planning on doing?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're going to be debating now all night tomorrow night, Wolf. You know, pulling an all-nighter is really a tried-and-true way to get attention around here. But the reality is it may get the Democrats some good press, but not necessarily what they really need -- votes.


BASH (voice over): It will be a classic Senate spectacle. Democrats plan to roll in cots for the cameras and stage an all-night Iraq debate. Pure political theater intended to shine a spotlight on Republicans who won't vote for a deadline for troop withdrawal.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: They're protecting the president rather than protecting our troops.

BASH: Privately, Democrats admit their theatrics are not likely to produce GOP votes. Only three Republicans now support the Democrats' withdrawal deadline, nowhere near enough to pass. And just one other GOP senator, Maine's Susan Collins, says she is considering voting yes.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: There's only one vote that will change the course in Iraq, that will force the president to change the course in Iraq. And that is the vote on Reid-Levin.

BASH: Democratic leaders insist they will only vote for a plan that brings troops home. And that's why several less strict Iraq measures from Republicans trying to pressure the president are not likely to pass.

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: I admire my Democratic colleagues, but when they see something good, sometimes they like to push back real quickly.

BASH: Many Democrats oppose legislation from two influential GOP senators that would force the president to send Congress a plan to narrow the Iraq mission. The same goes for a bipartisan measure backed by half a dozen GOP senators to adopt recommendations from the Iraq Study Group, including a goal of troop withdrawal starting next spring.

REID: There's not a single tooth in that proposal. No, I can't vote for it.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: If Harry Reid would play less politics and the president would be more flexible, we could have 60 votes in the Senate for the Baker-Hamilton recommendations.


BASH: Now, it's not just the Democrats who are dug in. The White House is making clear, they're not budging either, Wolf. They are saying that they are not going to support and are going to try to convince Republicans to vote against any and all Iraq legislation now, at least anything until -- until this comes back up in September.

BLITZER: Well, speaking of September, the Democrats clearly in the Senate don't have enough votes to break a filibuster. They need 60 for that.

They certainly don't have enough votes for a two-thirds override of an expected presidential veto. They'd need 67 votes for that. They don't have either of those votes now.

But what about in September?

BASH: You know, that is really the thing to watch. We talked to several Republicans around the hallways, time and time again, and they are suggesting, even some Republicans, Wolf, who sort of flew under the radar here, like Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, that they are going to give the White House more time, but when it comes to September, when General David Petraeus does return that particular report, then all bets are off.

But you might see many -- maybe not many, but several Republican senators actually really breaking with the president on this critical issue, the bottom-line issue, which is forcing the president to withdraw troops from Iraq.

BLITZER: And the pressure will be enormous, especially in those Republican senators up for re-election next year.

BASH: For sure.

BLITZER: Dana, thank you for that.

Let's go to the White House now, where there's new evidence that officials there are sweating the growing Republican revolt against the president when it comes to the situation in Iraq. The talk behind closed doors and in private phone conversations is getting more blunt and more urgent.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's following this story.

What have you learned, Ed, about an important conversation that Karl Rove, the top political adviser to the president, had with one Republican defector?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's quite interesting.

Karl Rove did place a phone call early last week to Republican Senator George Voinovich. He had already broken with the president on the war, and Voinovich confirms to CNN that he told Rove that so many mistakes have been made in the war that the only way to save the president's legacy at this point is to come up with some sort of a workable plan to withdraw U.S. troops, that does it in a way to keep as many U.S. troops as safe as possible, and also tries to stabilize the reason.

Now, Rove tells CNN he did have this call with Voinovich last weekend. In fact, they speak frequently together, and they did talk about the president's legacy. Rove won't get into details, though. He says he wants to respect the privacy of these conversations.

But in other private talks, I can tell you, Senator Voinovich is a little more blunt than he was with Rove. He's using a profanity to describe the White House's of Iraq, charging the administration "(EXPLETIVE DELETED) up the war." And that's the problem here.

And Voinovich also, while publicly right now he's giving the White House some breathing space, saying he'll wait until September to hear from General David Petraeus and his progress report, privately Voinovich right now is warning that if the president doesn't have a new strategy in place by mid-September, Voinovich is going to endorse a Democratic plan that would, in fact, as Dana was just noting, set a timetable to withdraw U.S. troops -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about in general? How's the White House dealing with all this pressure coming from Capitol Hill right now?

HENRY: Well, it's interesting. You've got also moderate Republican senator Susan Collins, who has also previously expressed concerns. Today in "Newsweek" magazine, she's saying that she's lost patience with the administration's strategy in Iraq.

Previously, the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, had insisted to reporters everybody was overplaying this story, there really were not Republican defections. But today he took a new tact, admitting the obvious.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Some Republicans are broken, but a number of these Republicans previously have expressed skepticism. And if you look at the difference in votes, it's not huge. But on the other hand you also have expressions -- you can call it a break, but if you take a look at senators Warner and Lugar, for instance, they -- they're concerned about getting to a point where you can pull American forces out -- out of the front-line role, but they are not talking about leaving.


HENRY: Now, another thing the White House did this afternoon is they've got the new White House counselor, Ed Gillespie. Remember, he replaced Dan Bartlett. A lot of experience, used to be a Capitol Hill staffer.

He had a meeting behind closed doors in the Roosevelt Room here in the White House a short while ago with Republican press secretaries, trying to coordinate their message on a range of issues, domestic, as well as foreign. But obviously, Iraq a major issue.

So they're going to try to use Gillespie's congressional credentials to try to reach out to Republicans at a time when they really need to get people on the Hill to calm down -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Former chairman of the Republican Party as well, Ed Gillespie.

Thanks very much, Ed, for that.

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

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush has a plan when it comes to peace in the Middle East. The president announced today an international conference will be held this fall that will include Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and some other Arab countries in the region.

Now, all nations attending will have to reject violence, support the two-state solution and support Israel's right to exist. This could hold attendance down. They will work on restarting Middle East peace talks and review progress in building democratic institutions.

So, who is at the head of this massive task, you ask? Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The president said Rice and her counterparts will look at the progress that's been made so far in building Palestinian institutions and that what can be done to support further reform. Mr. Bush also pledged $190 million to the Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas. Many Western countries hope that by supporting Abbas' government they can isolate Hamas and encourage peace between Palestinian moderates and Israelis.

So here is the question: How successful will Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice be in brokering peace in the Middle East?

E-mail us at or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, a lot of analysts have suggested, this is, for her, her last chance at a real legacy as secretary of state to do something as far as the Israelis and the Palestinians are concerned. And if she doesn't succeed in this area, she's not necessarily going to have a whole lot to show for her four years as secretary of state.

CAFFERTY: I was going to say, it might be her last chance at the Israeli-Palestinian -- it's her last chance, period. I mean, what has she got to show for the six years she's had this job? What has she done?

It's just a question.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

Jack will be back shortly with your e-mail.

Also, we're going to have another report from the White House on the president's new efforts he announced today to try to broker some sort of deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. What are his chances for success?

Also coming up, I'll ask presidential candidate Bill Richardson if he feels other Democrats are trying to force him out of the debates.

That's not Bill Richardson. That's John McCain.

And speaking of John McCain, his presidential bid suffering another painful blow. One well respected political analyst declaring his campaign effectively dead. And YouTube's greatest hits. The video Web site just might make or break a presidential candidate this year. We'll explain what's going on.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The White House today is reaffirming President Bush's support for the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, saying the mixed progress reported in Iraq last week is not due to a lack of effort. Mr. Bush spoke with Maliki in a videoconference earlier today.

The administration says Mr. Bush wants results from the Iraqi leadership, even as he's pleading for patience from political figures here at home. Many Democrats, though, including those running for president, insist the American people don't want to wait any longer to bring those troops home.


BLITZER: And joining us now from Manchester, New Hampshire, the governor of New Mexico, Democratic presidential candidate, Bill Richardson.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.


Thank you.

BLITZER: There is a sense out there, at least you hear it from General Petraeus, among other U.S. military commanders -- I've spoken to General Odierno, General Lynch -- they're saying, give us some more time to try to turn things around, they are pleading for more patience, let's see what happens by September.

What's wrong with that request?

RICHARDSON: Well, what's wrong with that request is that this policy is not working, and the president himself admitted in his benchmarks report that the two main areas, Wolf, that need reform -- that is, getting security trained by the Iraqis -- is not happening. The reconciliation of the three groups in Iraq to form a coalition government, divide oil revenues is not happening. And American troops today, they are in danger. They are targets.

What we need is a withdrawal by the end of the calendar year, but with a diplomatic plan that involves achieving those objectives.

BLITZER: Well -- but there are those who say if you pull out too quickly, it's going to be -- as bad as the situation is right now, it's going to even be worse.

Listen to Senator Jon Kyl, what he said. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: I'd really like to ask my friends who think we've already lost or that we can't win, what is their plan for dealing with the violence, the genocide, the terrorism, and all of the conflict that will result if we do leave prematurely?


BLITZER: All right. You want to respond to Senator Kyl?

RICHARDSON: Well, I sure will.

There's a civil war right now. There's sectarian conflict right now. Sending more troops and not leaning on the Iraqi government, by the way -- that is, saying the Maliki government, that they don't need us anymore at a time, Wolf, when the Iraqi people are saying, 61 percent of them, it's OK to shoot at an American soldier -- what I want to see is a disengagement, but with a plan that brings all the Muslim countries together.

They don't want Iraqi refugees in a civil war. That's the motivating factor. But it's American leadership to make that happen.

BLITZER: But, you know, if you speak to the Iraqis, at least the leaders, whether the prime minister, the foreign minister, the national security adviser, they say exactly the opposite, that they need the United States, they're counting on the United States right now to prevent what Senator Kyl called a genocide erupting inside Iraq.

Here's the question. What kind of moral responsibility does the U.S. have right now to prevent that scenario from unfolding?

RICHARDSON: Well, we have a moral responsibility to protect our troops. They've become targets. This is an endless war, Wolf. And I believe we do have a responsibility not to just wave good-bye.

But if you have a strong American leadership, diplomatic plan that involves Iran and Syria, they don't want to have a dissolution of Iraq and hundreds of refugees. And diplomacy -- bring everybody together to the table.

What we have today is a policy that I heard the Iraqi prime minister, Mr. Maliki, say, oh, the Americans can leave any time they want. I believe that made major headlines.

This is a government in Iraq that is ineffective, that has little public support, that is not following the benchmarks. And the best thing to do is disengage with honor, with a plan.

Let our military decide how we disengage. Put some of those forces in Kuwait where we do...


RICHARDSON: ... where we are needed. Find some way in Afghanistan that we can redeploy those forces to fight al Qaeda.

BLITZER: All right.

RICHARDSON: Al Qaeda is getting stronger according to intelligence since 9/11. This is not a policy that's working.

BLITZER: Let's talk about politics for a moment while I have you.

You heard the complaints from Dennis Kucinich when Hillary Clinton and John Edwards were talking, at least off mic -- they thought they were off mic -- about limiting the forums, limiting the debates. Kucinich saying as a result of that, "Whispering, trying to rig an election, then denying what's going on and making excuses. It all reflects a consistent lack of integrity."

Where do you stand as someone who's, shall we say, in the second tier, at least right now, according to the polls of the Democratic candidates?

RICHARDSON: Well, I am moving into the first tier. And you'll be seeing that in Iowa and New Hampshire, too. But I believe for now, Wolf, everybody should participate.

We shouldn't limit who participates and who doesn't. Because candidates like Dennis and others have that disadvantage.

They don't have the millions the top-tier candidates have. And so this is an opportunity for them to be heard by the public, unfettered without consultants, without money. So, I say leave the debates the way they are.

Maybe right before the primary, if a major network like yours wants to do another debate, maybe at that time you limit those with the highest poll numbers. But for now, this is six months away from the election. Let all the candidates show their stuff. The best way to do it is unfettered debates.

BLITZER: Here's a question I think you're probably not going to like, but I'll ask it anyhow.

Dana Milbank, writing in "The Washington Post" last June 28th said this. He said, "Running for the vice presidency is a delicate operation, but Bill Richardson seems to be getting the hang of it. If Richardson makes it through the campaign without antagonizing the frontrunner, he has a decent chance of sharing the stage at the Democratic convention."

What's wrong, Governor, with being vice president of the United States?

RICHARDSON: Well, there's a better job. It's called governor of New Mexico. And I've got four years to go.

I'm not running for vice president. And I believe that after this debate is over, Wolf, I'm going to win. But I don't want to be vice president.

I've got the best job of governor of New Mexico. You say you love New Mexico, too. You know what I mean. I can go ride my horse and be a governor and get into foreign policy, as I've done as a governor.

BLITZER: So, just to be -- just to be clear, you'd rather be governor of New Mexico than vice president of the United States?

RICHARDSON: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right.

Bill Richardson, joining us now from Manchester, New Hampshire.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.


BLITZER: Still ahead, Democrats are trouncing Republicans in the presidential money race. Can the GOP candidates overcome that big financial gulf? Paul Begala and J.C. Watts, they're standing by for our "Strategy Session".

Plus, a massive earthquake and a radioactive leak. Coming up, the disaster and the damage.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: By the way, a few hours ago, a 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit the Sea of Japan. But an earlier quake last night did the most damage. It was also a magnitude 6.8, killed at least seven people.

It caused a leak of radioactive water at one of the world's largest nuclear power plants. It's about a half a gallon, but the water contains radioactive material.

According to the Tokyo Electric Power Company, the leaked water stayed inside a reactor at the plant. More than 300 gallons of water with radioactive materials leaked into the Sea of Japan, but they stress, the level of radioactivity was not large enough to harm the environment.

Some feared this might be similar to the Chernobyl disaster, but in that case, an ongoing fire sent contamination into the air and spread over a very wide region.

Still to come, the presidential candidates on a spending spree. New numbers raising this question: Will the cash dry up before any votes are even cast?

John McCain is feeling the money crunch more than most. Now one political analyst suggesting the McCain campaign is all but over.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Happening now, Joint Chiefs chairman General Peter Pace goes to Baghdad. Our Barbara Starr is the only U.S. broadcast reporter on the trip. She's standing by to report on a very disturbing charge that Iran may try to cause more trouble, some major trouble in Iraq, before the September progress report, as it's been dubbed.

More manpower and resources to catch the world's most wanted terrorist. Officials in Pakistan now say they've intensified the hunt for Osama bin Laden. We're standing by for details on that.

And text-messaging while driving. Many people do it, but could you die from it? Some police think so. Some people want to ban it.

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

For the top four presidential candidates it's the gift that keeps on giving. That would be the race for the White House.

The campaigns have filed their full financial reports to the Federal Election Commission, and Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are raking in lots of cash. But they're also spending a lot of it.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching all of this unfold.

What do the campaign finance figures just filed, Bill, actually show?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: That the presidential campaigns are breaking records, and not just for contributions.


SCHNEIDER (voice over): This campaign is breaking all records. In just the first six months of this year, candidates have raised more money than during the entire year before the last election. Usually Republicans raise more money than Democrats. Not this time.

Total raised so far by Democrats? About $160 million. And by Republicans? About $105 million.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: You have a Democratic base that is willing to open up their wallets and to give these candidates $5, $10, $15, $250, $1,000 donations. They see a chance at the opportunity to take back the White House. SCHNEIDER: Money raised is only half the story. Many of the candidates are burning through that money at unprecedented rates. Mitt Romney has spent nearly three-quarters of the money he's brought in. Rudy Giuliani, about half. The candidates who have raised the least are in the most danger, like Jim Gilmore, who spent almost all of his money and dropped out of the race, and John McCain, who has had to scale back his campaign.

PRESTON: John McCain is running as a grassroots campaign. Instead of having an operation in all 50 states, John McCain in going to focus on four states. He doesn't have the money to do anything else.

SCHNEIDER: Look at the cash on hand for each contender. Among Democrats, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are clearly in a class by themselves. No Republicans have cash comparable to theirs. McCain is now a second-tier contender, along with Ron Paul. Can candidates with little cash even make it to the first primaries?

PRESTON: As long as a so-called second-tier candidate is judicious about how he spends his money at this point, there's no question that they're in the race until January.


SCHNEIDER: Those second-tier candidates, like McCain, have to concentrate on relatively small and inexpensive states, like Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, that vote first, and hope for a breakthrough to give them momentum to run in the states that they can't afford to run in right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider watching all this money for us -- Bill, thank you very much.

So, what might Tom Hanks, Jamie Foxx, former "Bay" (sic) star Alexandra Paul have in common, besides being Hollywood heavyweights? They're all contributing to presidential candidates. Next hour, we are going to tell you who they are giving their money to. That's coming up.

Meantime, Senator John McCain's embattled presidential campaign taking another big hit today. Nearly all of the press operation resigned from their posts -- a respected political analyst now declaring McCain's presidential bid -- bid all but dead. That would be Charlie Cook, the editor of "The Cook Political Report."

He's quoted in "The New York Times" today saying this of the McCain campaign: "It's effectively over. The physicians have left the hospital room and it's the executors of the estate that are taking over."

Joining us now, our chief national correspondent, John King, who has covered a lot of these campaigns.

These are not good days for John McCain. It seems like, almost every day, something bad happens. JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are not. You have more of the press staff leaving, some field organizations leaving. Most of those can be replaced. Noteworthy, though, one of the people leaving in Iowa, Marles Poutma (ph), she is a very well- respected Christian conservative, organizer and activist. That's what hurts you. A press spokesman, you can replace.

But those -- even those people, they are privy to the plan. They know the campaign. They know the rhythm. So, they are going through all this turmoil right now. The biggest question, Wolf, is, can they get back on a positive message to Republican voters? The Senate is debating Iraq this week. That doesn't help John McCain. And can they start to raise money?

And, when you have people like Charlie Cook, a respected analyst, saying, he's dead, when you have Bill Schneider just saying right now he's in the second tier with Ron Paul, John McCain is in a lot of trouble. And the biggest, urgent discussion concern in his campaign right now is, how we you get a new dynamic, change the subject somehow?

BLITZER: Clearly, what hurt him big time with the conservative base was his stance in favor of immigration reform and a pathway towards legal residency for the 12 million or so illegal immigrants. And what hurt him, apparently-, with a lot of the independent voters is his stance on the war in Iraq.

KING: Right. So, there he's in a very tough political polls. He can go back to being the old maverick John McCain. But how do you do that? He can say, I am who I am.

And that is what he's going to have to do. He has no choice about that. And, so -- but he can't back away in Iraq. And he won't back away in Iraq. But what that has done to him, it has linked him so closely with President Bush. And think of the irony of

that. The guy who ran against President Bush in 2000, was against the Bush tax cuts at the beginning, saying they didn't do enough to bring down the deficit, is now viewed as negatively and is linked, if you will, with a very unpopular Republican president.

BLITZER: When -- when -- looking back, when he reached out to the conservative evangelical base, with Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, given what we now know, was that a mistake for him, to become more a traditional establishment-type of Republican candidate?

KING: I think the latter part is where you're dead on. There's no harm to anybody reaching out to anybody. Some figures are controversial. You will take hits to reaching out to a Jerry Falwell, for example, as McCain did.

But that's not so bad. The problem is, they built a $150 million campaign, and then they didn't raise anyway near that amount of money. So, now they are faced with a decision where they are just about broke, and they have to decide what to do. You saw Senator McCain in New Hampshire last week, going back to the old "Ask John McCain anything you want" casual town halls. The big question now is, can they compete even in the pared-down list? He said he will compete in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. But, in the campaign, there's already a tug-of-war about whether they can afford Iowa.

Some people are saying, get out of Iowa altogether. At least scale back your organization there. Focus on New Hampshire. Try to win New Hampshire again and reignite the campaign somehow. Wolf, they simply don't have any money right now. The new CEO, the day-to-day man, is Rick Davis. He has told everybody, I need a week to try to get the lay of the land here.

But watch Iowa. That will be a big decision.

BLITZER: All right, we will. Thanks very much, John King, reporting to us.

John King and Bill Schneider, as all of our viewers know, they are both part of the best political team on television.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out the Political Ticker at

Coming up: He can now joke about the $400 he spent on a haircut. But presidential candidate John Edwards takes the suffering of the poor very seriously. We're going to show you how he's trying to drive home the problem.

And we're standing by for a news conference from the senator who has been linked to the so-called D.C. madam. There's a lot of speculation right now about what Louisiana Republican David Vitter might actually say. We will know soon enough.

You will see it. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There's a disturbing story we're following out of Denver, Colorado.

Let's go back to Carol, who is monitoring this.

What are you picking up, Carol?

CAROL LIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, not very much. But it is disturbing, Wolf. In the Colorado governor's office, there has been a man shot and killed. Apparently, he was armed. The governor, Bill Ritter, has not been injured.

Now, we don't know who exactly shot the man or who the man was. I'm still trying to ferret out information. But, apparently, the governor was unhurt. But this armed man inside of his office was shot and killed. I'm going to try to find out more information. And I will pass it along, Wolf. BLITZER: All right. Fortunately, the governor is OK. Thanks very much, Carol. We will get back to you as we get more information on what's happening in Denver.

Meanwhile, John Edwards, he's on the campaign trail today in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee. His campaign says this isn't a regular political event.

Let's go to CNN's Tom Foreman. He's covering all the action for us.

So, what is Senator Edwards up to, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the campaign calls this Road to One America Tour. That's what they are calling this, the Road to One America Tour.

And Edwards started his day in a city that is desperately trying to get back on its feet.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And up here, we have Mr. Pipps (ph). He's just waiting for his electricity to be turned on. He's been living in his FEMA trailer.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Is that Mr. Pipps (ph) right there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's Mr. Pipps (ph) right there, as a matter of...

FOREMAN (voice-over): John Edwards back in New Orleans to kick off his tour to highlight poverty in America.

And the former senator from North Carolina is blaming the White House for the slow recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

EDWARDS: The money's not getting to the ground. It's not getting to the people who need help. I think some of it is bureaucracy. I think some of it is red tape. But these are all things the president of the United States could do something about it.

FOREMAN: Edwards is a frequent visitor to the Crescent City. Late last year, he formally announced his candidacy there.


EDWARDS: I'm here to New Orleans to -- I'm in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans to announce that I'm a candidate for the presidency of the United States.


FOREMAN: The campaign calls this three-day, eight-state tour a break from politics, saying that Edwards is not visiting any states with early primaries. But, with his wife at his side, and appearances on network television, the tour seems quite political.

EDWARDS: I think a lot of Americans think of -- of people who are struggling, low-income families as people who don't want to work. And that's just complete nonsense. And we need to make sure that the country sees that.

FOREMAN: Fighting poverty has been Edwards' signature issue since his last run for the White House, and his campaign is quick to point out that this tour evokes memories of a similar trip by Robert Kennedy, when he ran for president 40 years ago.

But Edwards' image as a populist took hits thanks to his well- paid work at a hedge fund and because he spent $400 on a haircut. He says he's learned his lesson on the haircuts. And now he jokes about it.

EDWARDS: You can come from nothing to spending $400 on a haircut.



FOREMAN: Edwards also pointed out that he got a very cheap haircut just a few days ago, and he says he's going to keep on getting on cheap haircuts.

But, Wolf, this is a very interesting gamble he's making here, trying to make poverty and the economy the central issue of his campaign. It will certainly set him apart from the other candidates. The only question, will it have real resonance with the voters the closer we get to voting time?

BLITZER: Thank you, Tom.

Tom Foreman is reporting for us from New York today.

Our own Anderson Cooper, by the way, was with Senator Edwards today on the campaign trail in New Orleans and Mississippi. Anderson's going to have a lot more on the Edwards poverty tour, as it's called tonight, on "A.C. 360." That airs at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

John Edwards is also going online to highlight his signature issue.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's watching all of this unfold.

How is the Edwards campaign using the Web to push this poverty tour, as it's called?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this web video from New Orleans from John Edwards yesterday part of a new media blitz that the campaign is undertaking over these three days. At the Web site, a map highlights the locations and states that he's visiting, including Prestonsburg, Kentucky, where, in 1968, Bobby Kennedy concluded his tour of impoverished regions.

Well, nearly 40 years on, the methods for delivery and coverage of this kind of thing are very different. From the Edwards campaign, we have seen the YouTube videos. We have seen the online map. We have also received text messages of everywhere he's going -- the Web site Twitter also updating people of all the places he's visiting every few hours.

So, who gets to see this kind of online coverage? Well, the Pew Center did a study earlier this year of how many people in this country have access to high-speed Internet that lets you watch this kind of thing, found that almost half of Americans, 47 percent of people, have access to high-speed Internet.

They found, also, not surprisingly, stating that it's the lowest- income people that have less access, the most underrepresented group in this area, finding that 30 percent of people earning less than $30,000 a year have access to high-speed Internet.

But, Wolf, they found that that is a section of society where that percentage is really growing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi, thanks very much. Almost half the households have that high-speed Internet access.

Up next in the "Strategy Session": money and presidential politics. Senator McCain vows to push on.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... know how campaign in the state of New Hampshire. I can win in New Hampshire, as I did in 2000. And I know that I can, and I know that I will.



BLITZER: The push for cash in this year's race exposing the haves and the have-notes.

And Republican Senator George Voinovich's choice cuss word for the White House and its war effort. Is the senator's outburst an omen for President Bush and the war? All that coming up.

Paul Begala, J.C. Watts, they're here live in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We will be right back.


BLITZER: The presidential campaigns have filed their full financial reports to the Federal Election Commission. They show they're pulling in lots of money, but they're also spending a lot of it. Joining us now for our "Strategy Session," our two CNN political analysts. Paul Begala is a Democratic strategist, J.C. Watts a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma.

Here are the numbers for the top three Democrats, if you take a look. They have raised, if you add them all up, $134.8 million. There they are for Obama, Clinton and Edwards. Let's take a look at the top three Republicans. They have raised, if you add up for Giuliani, Romney and McCain, $93.3 million.

That's a difference, Paul, of about $40 million. Big deal, little deal?


Democrats, traditionally, are less well-funded than Republicans. I mean, the last couple of elections, they have raised enough to be competitive. But this is a real watershed. And it's continuing across the spectrum. Democratic Senate candidates are outraising Republican Senate candidates. Democrats House candidates are outraising Republican House candidates.

And it's awfully early to be projecting to November of 2008, but it does bode well for the Democrats. You know, Napoleon said, God is on the side of the big battalions. Well, very often, voters are on the side of the big campaign war chest.

BLITZER: It does demonstrate, J.C., that that Democratic base out there, they are energized, and they're -- they're -- they are showing it by writing checks.

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's what it shows exactly.

I think, when you look at the Republican base around the country -- and I travel around the country -- Republicans are just disillusioned right now. They -- you know, you have got the debacle with the U.S. attorneys. You have got a war that they feel like has been mismanaged, although they think we have to win it.

You have got the scandals. I mean, you have got so many things going on. You have lack of outreach in the party, in my case, to, you know, make it, you know, look like it's not just a white party.

I think there are a lot of things going on, and that -- that Republican that can give 25 bucks, they're not. That Democrat that can give 25 bucks, they are. And I think that's been the difference. And I think Obama, you know, when you look at the contributors around the country that he's pulled in, I think that confirms my -- my theory there.

BLITZER: Does it also translate into actual voting, the fact that the Democrats are getting a lot more money than Republicans? Does that -- does that necessarily mean they're going to get a lot more votes? BEGALA: Not always. You know, there used to be a rule that whichever candidate raised the most money in a year before the election won the nomination in my party, and I think in the Republican Party as well.

That -- that fell flat last time around. You remember, Howard Dean had all the enthusiasm. He really had a terrific Internet ability to raise grassroots, clean, ethical money. And, yet, he fell short, losing in Iowa to John Kerry. So, it's not always the case.

But, particularly with the less well known, less experienced candidate, like Obama -- and Hillary Clinton not only inherits her husband's name, but a whole lot of his support. And she's very well known. Barack less well known, but he will have more than enough money to tell his story.

And, still, keep your eye on John Edwards.


BEGALA: You know, I mean, he's saying interesting things, and he's going to have a lot of money.

WATTS: But let's also -- I think we need to put this in some perspective, as well, because, you know, when you go back four years ago, George Bush, at this time in the campaign, had raised about $39 million, had $36 million on hand. John Kerry had raised about $17 million, had only spent about $4 million. George Bush had raised about $39, had spent about $3 million.

So, we have got a campaign that started eight, nine months ago. So -- and you have got 10 candidates on the Republican side, eight candidates on the Democrat side, a lot of people raising money. So, that means there is going to be more money in the cycle. But, nevertheless, there's a lot of money that has been raised.

BEGALA: But it's not only just what you raise. It's what you can spend. Cash on hand, when I was a campaign manager, that's what drove my mood every day, not just how much we have raised, but cash on hand.

And -- and this is why John McCain is beginning to collapse. While Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each have $30 million cash on hand, poor Senator McCain has only got about $3 million, at the most. They have been spending money over there like -- like David Vitter at a New Orleans cathouse, and it shows. They have got nothing left to run a campaign on.

WATTS: Or John Edwards at a barbershop.


BLITZER: What about -- what about the statement that Charlie Cook made -- he's the editor of "The Cook Political Report" -- the McCain campaign is effectively over; the physicians have left the hospital room, and it's the executor of the estate that are taking over?

Is it premature, that kind of assessment?

WATTS: Well, I -- knowing John McCain, I would say it's probably a little premature.

Candy Crowley said -- I heard Candy say once, she said, John McCain's comfort is his discomfort. John McCain is -- is more comfortable when he is a second-tier candidate, he's not the front- runner, when he's -- when -- when people think that he's miserable and he's making other people's lives miserable. That's when John McCain is in his comfort zone.

I think he's have to take it a state at a time. You can't take 10, 15 states.


WATTS: ... have to take it a state at a time.

BLITZER: And it will be a lot harder without -- without any money.

But what do you think?

BEGALA: He needs an issue. He needs something to talk about. Right now, all he's only talking about his own campaign and his own campaign problems. Some of that is our fault. We're covering it in the media.

But, you know, I think we should. It's a pretty legitimate issue, when the presumptive front-runner begins to -- to collapse and when he squandered that much money.

But he's got to have something to run on. When he ran the last time, he talked about -- against Governor Bush of Texas, he talked about campaign finance reform, where he was more progressive than most Republicans. He was one of the most progressive on tobacco.

If I was advising John McCain, I would pick this issue. First, I would -- he can't flip-flop on Iraq. John King said that. He's right. But he's the most progressive on global warming. He's got the most interesting...

BLITZER: Among the Republicans.

BEGALA: Among the Republicans, the most interesting -- and the country is moving green. It's not left or right.

Republicans are as pro-environment in the voting base as Democrats are. If I was advising John McCain, I would say, get on clean energy, and use that as your maverick issue. Say -- show that the rest of the guys are in the pockets of big oil.

Take on big oil, John. That's what I would tell him.


BLITZER: That will appeal to independent voters. I'm not so sure necessarily the conservative base...


WATTS: That's right.

BEGALA: But independents can vote in New Hampshire. That's why John McCain won New Hampshire by 19 percent in the year 2000. But you have got to have something. That's a big issue where...


BEGALA: ... can draw a distinction.

BLITZER: What do you think?

WATTS: Well, that's easier said than done.

Any candidate needs a base of support. And I think John right now is struggling with that base of support. And I had said all along that -- we talked about on this show how it's been interesting that John has never gotten beyond that 23 percent to 27 percent mark. And when you start to lose that -- that base of support, and, as you said in an earlier segment, with the independents, he's lost some independents on the war, I don't know where those issues come from.

I wouldn't go to a Democrat issue in a Republican primary.


BEGALA: It's not...


BEGALA: He needs an anti-Bush issue. Bush is killing him. It's killing him.

He has Bush's position on immigration. It's killing him with the base. He's got Bush's position on the war. It's killing him with independents. I would go right at George Bush on big oil and say, here is where I'm different from Bush. I will take him on, on big oil.


BLITZER: All right.


BEGALA: ... worth what you're paying for it, Senator McCain.

BLITZER: Free advice from Paul Begala.

(CROSSTALK) WATTS: I would hate to see him do that just for political reasons.

BLITZER: Paul Begala...

BEGALA: No, he actually believes that global environment's in crisis and that oil companies have too much influence in our politics. And I think he's right.

BLITZER: All right, guys...


BLITZER: ... thanks very much.


BEGALA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Paul Begala and J.C. Watts in our "Strategy Session."

Still to come: Will Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have any success in trying to broker peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail.

Also, the power of YouTube, it's the new must-see video source in the presidential race. Candidates know it.

And we're standing by for that news conference by Senator David Vitter of Louisiana. He's about to speak out amid the scandal over his connection to the so-called D.C. madam. When we know what he's announcing, you will know as well.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York with "The Cafferty File."

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the question this hour is: How successful will Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice be in brokering peace in the Middle East? The president announced he's going to convene some kind of a Middle East peace conference over there in the fall. And Condi is going to run it.

Buster in Poughkeepsie, New York: "Jack, Secretary of State Rice gives a great speech, smiles intensely at all her photo-ops, and plays a mean Rachmaninov. But poor Condi couldn't negotiate her way out of a paper bag, even if both ends were open."

Joseph writes: "Jack, she can't make a difference if any of the parties don't want to make peace." Danny in Bluefield, West Virginia: "Sure, send a woman to negotiate with Muslims that don't even eat in the same room as females, let alone have any serious discussions about anything with them. It always astounds me that Americans are so arrogant and disrespectful of other people's customs and traditions."

Sam (ph) in Ohio: "There might be hope, but only if Ms. Rice can demonstrate a more neutral position to the Palestinians than she has in the past. A one-sided proposal like the last one she offered the Palestinians, if accepted, will not endure the test of time."

Sandra in Texas writes: "She will get off the plane and wave, sit for a photo-op with various Middle East movers and shakers, then get back on the plane and wave. Mission accomplished. Nothing changes. She's incompetent, just like everyone else in this administration, maybe a little more articulate, but that is all."

Gail in Drakes Branch, Virginia: "Let me get this straight. We're going to turn Middle East peace efforts over to the Russian expert who has managed almost single-handedly to restart the Cold War through her skillful handling of Mr. Putin. Yeah, sounds like something the Bush administration would do."

And Mike writes from North Carolina, "Condoleezza Rice, she couldn't broker a peace deal with the Amish" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.

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

Happening now: Iran's role in Iraq and a disturbing warning of trouble to come, as the outgoing Joint Chiefs