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Dead Heat in New Hampshire; Larry Craig's Bathroom Bust Revisited

Aired September 26, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much guys.
Happening now, it's a dead heat right now in the republican presidential contest in New Hampshire. We're only seconds away from releasing brand new poll numbers.

Also, we're keeping tabs on the democrats desperately chasing Hillary Clinton.

Also this hour, a judge revisits Senator Larry Craig's bathroom bust, and the Idaho republican apparently is rethinking his resignation plans again. We're live in Minnesota for a critical hearing.

And the house speaker's frustrations. Can Nancy Pelosi explain the low marks voters are giving the new democratic-run Congress? Find out. More of our exclusive interview coming up this hour.

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

But up first this hour, dramatic new turns in the presidential race. It's now neck and neck at the top of the republican field in New Hampshire. Our brand new CNN/WMUR poll reveals who is gaining, who is slipping, and who is at a stand still in the lead off primary stake.

Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is the with the CNN election express in New Hampshire.

Bill, we've just gotten these new poll numbers that we're allowed to release at our new survey. Yesterday we saw Hillary Clinton's expanding her lead in New Hampshire. What about the republicans?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The republicans, Wolf, just the opposite.

Hillary Clinton's lead is growing among democrats while the republican race is looking more and more like a dead heat. Rudy Giuliani has been the national republican frontrunner all year. This month Fred Thompson got in and republicans said, wait, wait, let's rethink this. Giuliani's national lead has been shrinking.

In New Hampshire, Mitt Romney has been the frontrunner for month. New Hampshire republicans are familiar with the former governor of next door Massachusetts, but Romney's support has dropped nearly ten points in New Hampshire. He's now virtually tied with Giuliani. Both Giuliani and John McCain have picked up support.

Wait, wait, New Hampshire republicans seem to be saying, let's rethink this. Republicans are becoming the party of second thoughts. Why? For one thing, republicans are not as happy with their choices. 19 percent of republicans say they're very satisfied with their field of candidates. Among democrats, 49 percent are very satisfied.

New Hampshire republicans see different things in different contenders. Who do they think is most likely to bring needed change? Romney. Who do they think has the right experience? McCain. Who has the best chance of beating the democrat? Giuliani. What about Thompson? He may be a national celebrity but the voters of New Hampshire haven't met him yet. He stiffed them when he skipped their debate and went on the "Tonight Show" to announce he was running.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Fred Thompson wants to compete in New Hampshire, he has to get off Jay Leno and get into the town halls and start to meet people.

SCHNEIDER: And talk about second thoughts, the McCain campaign, once given up for dead, is showing signs of life in New Hampshire. No surrender?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a question of the character of the candidate, that he's not afraid of taking controversial positions. He sticks to his guns. He tells you what he thinks.

SCHNEIDER: Two republicans, two, have to win New Hampshire in order to stay alive. McCain and Romney. So what are the voters saying? Wait, wait, isn't there somebody else? After all, two-thirds of New Hampshire republicans told us they could change their minds between now and the primary.

Wolf.

BLITZER: And Fred Thompson, who is not doing so well in this poll, he was repeatedly warned going into that republican debate a few weeks ago, instead of going to Jay Leno, you have to really have to show up in new Hampshire. He decided it was more important to go national as opposed to focusing in on the voters in New Hampshire.

SCHNEIDER: And you're seeing that in the polls. He didn't gain a thing. Unlike other candidates, he gained nothing from June or July until now when he got into the race. That shows that New Hampshire voters want to see the candidates right up front and real close.

BLITZER: They're spoiled, and they like it that way. All right, Bill. Thanks very much. Bill Schneider on the scene.

Let's go to Capitol Hill here in Washington right now. At a time when many lawmakers are trying to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq, the defense secretary, Robert Gates, is asking Congress now for more money to fund America's wars. Let's go to our Congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin. She's up on the hill.

So what exactly is the Bush administration asking for right now, Jessica, and what's Congress likely to do about it?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Secretary Gates came here to say the president wants $200 billion to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan next year. That is a record high, and it's about $40 billion more than the president had previously said he wants for next year. Secretary Gates said this will do everything from provide new armored vehicles for the troops to help consolidate bases in Iraq.

Now democrats, as you know, have been kicking and screaming for some time now that this war is costing way too much. And one of the senior democrats in the Senate did so again today.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: We did not create a democracy at the point of a gun. Sending more guns does not change that reality, and this committee will not rubber stamp every request that is submitted by the president.

YELLIN: Now, they have not, as you know, been able to resist White House pressure for more funding all along, and Secretary Gates again today said that this money is essential basically to support the troops.

There was an unusual disruption in the hearing, I should add, when some anti-war protesters stood up. Senator Byrd actually gaveled things to a close. Let's look at what happened.

BYRD: I have tolerated all I can stand. I stopped it before you were born. I said stop it before you were born.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We tolerated all the war we're going to stand. We tolerated all the children dying ...

BYRD: Get out of this place. Here, let's go. Clear this room.

YELLIN: As you can see, some real political theater here. Now, the hearing has continued, but, Wolf, we do not expect any vote on this issue any time soon.

BLITZER: Senator Biden, as you well know Jessica, has long suggested perhaps a soft partition, as he likes to call it, of Iraq may eventually be in the cards. Some analysts say it's already happened in a de facto basis, but the Senate considered today. Tell our viewers what happened.

YELLIN: Yes. The measure is to suggest that Iraq should be divided up short of along ethnic lines in three pieces, and the Senate actually voted overwhelmingly for that. It's a significant move because it says this is the direction the Senate would like the president to take and a real change in political course for Iraq.

BLITZER: All right. Jessica, thanks. Jessica Yellin on the hill for us.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York with the Cafferty File. Hi Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the nuclear issue of Iran is now closed. Well, at least that's the world according to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At the U.N., the Iranian president said an agreement reached between his country and the International Atomic Energy Agency over the disputed the nuclear Iranian program means the matter is settled. Of course, not everybody sees it that way.

Senior state department officials say it's safe to say he's the only one who thinks the file on Iran's nuclear weapons program is closed. That's a quote. And the White House says that Iran knows what the international community wants when it comes to its nuclear program, and the administration believes this can be solved diplomatically. But the French, go figure this, the French, the president, Nicolas Sarkozy had some tough words ahead of Ahmadinejad's speech at the U.N. Sarkozy said that allowing Iran to build a bomb would be an "unacceptable risk to stability in the region and in the world," adding that the Security Council should not let down its guard while continuing to negotiate with Tehran.

So here's the question. Now that Iran's president has declared the dispute over his country's nuclear "closed," what's next? E-mail us at caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

Wolf.

BLITZER: And we interviewed Bernard Kouchner, the foreign minister of France. That new lien, that new tone from France, Sarkozy and Kouchner clearly coming through. It's a whole new world out there, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Them steroids must be making the rounds over there. They're getting tough.

BLITZER: They are.

Thanks Jack. We'll see you in a few moments.

The house speaker Nancy Pelosi says she shares the public's frustrations about Congress.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: Well, to tell you the truth, I don't approve of the way Congress is ending the war in Iraq myself.

BLITZER: So what can Nancy Pelosi do about that? She's defending her turf, laying into republicans. More of our exclusive interview. That's coming up. You're going to want to see this.

Also ahead, a new hearing for Senator Larry Craig trying to make the uproar over his bathroom bust go away. Can he get his guilty plea thrown out?

He's fresh off a hit TV show, but Fred Thompson apparently isn't a hit with the Hollywood crowd. We're going to take a closer look at the entertainment industry's lack of support for the republican presidential candidate. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Congressional democrats took control of Congress promising to get things done. Nine months later, many Americans are still waiting for those democrats to deliver.

I sat down with the house speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in her office on Capitol Hill for an exclusive interview.

The anger, the frustration, you feel it every day. The poll numbers. Since the democrats became the majority in the Senate and the house, Congressional approval has gone down since the republicans were the majority, and now the job approval for Congress is lower than the job approval of the president of the United States. How do you explain that?

PELOSI: Well, what I like to focus on is we're 20 points ahead of the republicans in almost every category you can name in terms of trust of the American people in dealing with education and health care, the economy. Our national security, even fighting terrorism we're ahead of them in the polls. So from the standpoint of democrats versus republicans, the American people know the difference.

BLITZER: In the Gallup poll, the last one, about 24 percent -- only 24 percent of American public thinks that Congress is doing a good job.

PELOSI: Well to tell you the truth, I don't approve the way Congress is ending the war in Iraq myself. That's because of the 60- vote barrier in the United States Senate. But don't mistake, expert that you are, the audience should not mistake the rating for Congress as the rating for the democrats. We're as high as we've ever been. We're up 53 percent to 30 something for the republicans in terms of favorability of a political party in the Congress.

So turning this big ship around, we've drained the swamp with the biggest ethical reform in the history of our country and to claim so by the reform groups. We've introduced fiscal soundness, pay as you go, no new deficit spending, and in doing so, we're able to do what we said on the first day, to pass a 9/11 commission recommendation, reduce the cost of higher education with the biggest proposal ...

BLITZER: But there's still plenty of what they call pork barrel spending, the earmarks, the pet projects, the hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars that go for certain projects that may not necessarily be all that useful, but a lawmaker wants them, a lobby wants them, and this is a reason why there's a lot of Americans who are losing faith with the Congress.

PELOSI: Well, they will see in this legislation and as I travel the country and as I travel all the time, I see articles there that are recognizing even articles outside the country that are recognizing that under the democrats, these earmarks have been cut in half and have been made transparent. Everybody knows where an earmark comes from. BLITZER: But they don't know until it's passed. It's not in advance ...

PELOSI: Some of it is transparent in advance.

BLITZER: Only if the lawmaker himself or herself wants to make it public.

PELOSI: It's on the Internet. When they make the request, it becomes part of the public record. When the request is made, the request is made by the legislator. But the fact is this, there are people will say that all of this pork is not a good thing. Well, this is a decision of should Congress have the discretion to institute some spending for the localities or the districts they represent or should it all be determined by George W. Bush.

BLITZER: Because there was a time when the roads, the nation's infrastructure, the bridges, are crumbling, to hear about museums or bike paths, money obviously a lot of people remember the bridge to nowhere.

PELOSI: The bridge to nowhere is by no means in the category of bike paths and museums. So let's not confuse the issue.

BLITZER: It was more expensive you mean.

PELOSI: Well, it was a bridge to nowhere, and that's not nothing that anybody supported, and by the way, it was not in an appropriations bill just so you know. But I'm not here to talk about that.

What I'm saying to you is when we came in we pledged honest leadership and open government, and we passed the biggest ethics reform bill in the history of Congress and we said when it comes to earmarks, if it's a worthy earmark, you will be proud to associate yourself with it so your name will be next to it and it will be transparent. All the world can see, and we have said, in addition to that, we're having half the number of earmarks in our legislation so that you have to establish your priorities more clearly.

My personal wish would be to do with them. I grew up on the appropriations committee. When I came to Congress, we didn't have earmarks. This is a phenomenon that came in with a vengeance when the republicans took control, and now has some affection in the Senate more so than in the House. But that's where they usually start.

BLITZER: You've been speaker now almost a year, nine months.

PELOSI: Nine months.

BLITZER: The first woman to be speaker of the House of Representatives. What's it been like over the past nine months?

PELOSI: Absolutely fabulous.

BLITZER: What do you love about it so much because it seems like it's headache after headache after headache?

PELOSI: Well, the opportunity to provide more affordable higher education, to raise the minimum wage, to protect the safety of the American people with the passage of the 9/11 commission recommendations, to pass SCHIP which will expand health care for many more children in America, to, again, as I said, the ethics bill was a very important one for us, to pass the innovation agenda.

BLITZER: So you're still excited about that.

PELOSI: We came in to say as we protect the American people, we will do so in a way that honors our commitment to the constitution and to our responsibilities to protect the American people. We will do so in a fiscally sound way and the most honest and open way. So how we protect the American people, how we grow the economy with our innovation agenda, how we strengthen families and children with the increase in minimum wage and support for education and health care for children, how we preserve our planet with our energy bill, all paid for. No new deficit spending.

BLITZER: I remember when we spoke right after your election, the victory and the democrats became the majority, you were really reaching out to President Bush. You wanted to work with him.

PELOSI: Sure.

BLITZER: Start a new chapter. That hasn't happened, has it?

PELOSI: Well, we tried. We tried to work with the president on the immigration issue which needed more leadership on the part of the president for something to pass but we at least tried to work together on that. We tried to work with the president on the innovation agenda and he signed that legislation. I've reached out to the president ...

BLITZER: I guess I'm asking what kind of relationship has developed between you and the president over these past nine months.

PELOSI: I think a good one. I have had an amiable relationship with the president as democratic leader of the house in the time of his presidency as well, and I respect him as a person. I respect the position he holds. He respects the position of speaker of the house. He knows he has to do what he has to do. He knows that I have to do what I have to do, and so I think we have a good rapport. We understand each other, and I don't -- it's not about his personality. It's about his policies, and I'm very upfront and clear to him about where the difference is between a democratic agenda for a new direction in our country or a commitment to the status quo.

Having said that, we're hoping to work with the president on our energy bill. He has made some public statements about energy efficiency and global warming. Some I agree with, some I do not, but at least he's focused on the issue and hopefully we can find common ground there because that's a national security issue, an economic issue, an environment issue, and an energy issue. So it's been interesting. The rumor in is the rumor I greet presidents, prime ministers, and kings. And the president every time he comes to make the state of the union address and today I'm happy to welcome you here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. Good luck.

PELOSI: Thank you.

BLITZER: The former Vice President Al Gore still on the sidelines in the presidential race, but does he have any favorites? Al Gore weighs in on his signature issue and the campaign he decided to skip. That's coming up. Our exclusive interview with Al Gore later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, John McCain is on the rise in New Hampshire. Fred Thompson is not. What's happening in the republican presidential contest? And what may happen next. Bill Bennett and Paul Begala, they're standing by for our strategy session.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Story coming into CNN right now from New York. Let's go to Carol Costello. She's monitoring this development.

What do we know, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, St. John's University in Queens, New York, remains on lockdown today after security on campus apprehended a man with a rifle in a bag. That man was also wearing a mask. Now, they turned him over to New York City police. That man is now in custody. But they're not sure if there are any other people on campus who are armed. So the university remains on lockdown. New York City police are going building to building, dorm to dorm searching for anyone suspicious. Classes have been canceled this evening. And as far as we know, the campus will remain on lockdown until, of course, police are done with their search. I will keep you posted on any new developments.

Also in the news this afternoon, the first nationwide strike against General Motors in 37 years now over. United Auto Workers end their two day-strike after the union and General Motors reached a tentative contract agreement. Both sides say the deal involves a trust that GM will fund and the union will run to administer retiree health care and the deal will reportedly also involve bonuses and lump sum payments for workers. The UAW members must still ratify the deal.

And Americans are buying less big ticket manufactured goods, everything from commercial jet liners to home appliances. They're called durable goods, items expected to last three or more years. And demand for them plunged last month by the largest amount in seven months. That's according to the government. Experts fear it's yet another sign of a softening economy.

That's a look at what's happening now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Carol, for that. A senator's political future may now rest in the hands of a judge. Republican Senator Larry Craig is trying to get his guilty plea in a bathroom sex sting thrown out, and his resignation plans are hanging in the balance.

Also, Barack Obama and John Edwards under more pressure right now to put a nick in Hillary Clinton's armor. The stakes, the polls, and a new democratic showdown in New Hampshire.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, gunshots and mass arrests, a test of wills between monks and the military government in Myanmar. It appears the government is stepping up its crackdown.

Cuba's acting president wants Cubans to be brave and reveal their true thoughts about what is wrong with their country, but can they speak freely? We're going to go to Havana.

And regarding a high profile crime mystery involving a recent boating trip from Miami Beach, one man aboard says the boat was hijacked. That according to an FBI affidavit. In it the man also claims the hijackers killed the boat's crew members. However, the affidavit says officials do not believe the man's story.

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

He said he was guilty. Now he hopes to show he's not. Just a short while ago that senator busted in a sex sting in a men's room used his attorneys to do an about-face regarding his admission of guilt.

Our Congressional correspondent Dana Bash is in Edina, Minnesota right now.

First of all, tell our viewers what happened today where you are in the courthouse behind you.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the court hearing lasted about 45 minutes, Wolf, and the headline when it comes to the heart of the political story here is that the judge announced at the end of the hearing that he will likely not have a decision on whether or not he will accept Senator Craig's defense attorneys' plea for -- the senator's guilty plea to withdraw, and he won't decide that until the end of next week at least.

So what we are waiting for -- we just got an e-mail saying momentarily is a statement from Senator Larry Craig himself to say what he plans to do about that self-imposed deadline of September 30th, whether or not he intends to keep it or not. There seems to be a lot of confusion about what the senator plans to do. He has even over the past month suggested he will stay, suggested he won't stay. Earlier today a source involved in discussions with Senator Craig told us that perhaps Senator Craig will say that he's going to stay in office until the judge decides on this motion today.

But we do expect a statement very soon from the senator himself about that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What were the -- if you could, summarize the arguments that were made today by Larry Craig's lawyers -- there you are -- by Larry Craig's lawyers, as well as the prosecutors.

BASH: To summarize, the senator's lawyers made the case that, first of all, on a technical point, that a judge didn't actually sign off on the plea agreement, so it's not necessarily fair to keep this plea agreement intact.

But, on the legal point, what Senator Craig's lawyer, Billy Martin, argued before the judge is that what the senator did, peering through a bathroom stall, tapping his toe, he said that does not constitute a crime.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILLY MARTIN, ATTORNEY FOR SENATOR LARRY CRAIG: While they may be consistent with what the officer says is behavior that he recognizes, senator Larry Craig denies that he went into that restroom for anything other than to go to the restroom.

PATRICK HOGAN, METROPOLITAN AIRPORTS: The plea was made voluntarily, accurately, and intelligently. In pleading guilty to the charge, the defendant knowingly accepted responsibility and culpability for his actions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And there you heard a taste of the prosecution argument inside that courtroom saying that the senator knew exactly what he was doing when he signed this plea agreement. He did it 1,000 miles away in his apartment by the Potomac, and the judge's questions were very skeptical of Senator Craig's attorneys in that courtroom.

But, again, we're not going to hear what his decision is until at least the end of next week. We are expecting a statement from Senator Craig, though, about his political future momentarily.

BLITZER: All right. As soon as we get that, Dana, we will check back with you. Thanks very much.

Dana is on the scene in Minnesota.

Let's head back to New Hampshire right now, where it's been a very busy day in the presidential race. Tonight, the Democratic presidential hopefuls square off in another debate. And our new poll out this week puts even more pressure on Hillary Clinton's rivals to slow her down.

Let's go to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's with the CNN Election Express in New Hampshire right now. Candy, here's a specific question. What do Barack Obama and John Edwards need to do tonight to try to get some momentum going for themselves?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, exactly.

In some ways, they both have the same mission before them, and that is to try to chip away at that huge lead that Hillary Clinton has, not just in the national polls, but here in New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Her part is easy. Keep doing what she's doing and make no mistakes, and, so far, in these debates, she has not. Hillary Clinton will be the voice of unity, the one who says the similarities among Democrats are far greater than the difference. She can easily dodge any rockets that may come her way. Among likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters, Clinton has a 23-point lead, pretty much the catbird seat.

QUESTION: There was a poll yesterday, sir, that was...

(CROSSTALK)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not worried -- I'm not worried about polls.

QUESTION: You're not worried about...

OBAMA: I never worry...

QUESTION: Can you make back -- can you make up the 20 points?

OBAMA: I never worry about polls.

CROWLEY: Camp Obama prefers to see that double-digit Clinton lead through a different lens. They are eying a field of opportunity in the 55 percent of voters still making up their minds, but significant progress may require roughing up Clinton, a quandary for Obama, who has criticized attack politics and said he's running a different kind of campaign.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: At this point in 2003, when I was also running, Governor Dean had a bigger lead in New Hampshire and was doing much, much better nationwide than the other candidates, and he never finished higher than third.

CROWLEY: Inside the third-place Edwards campaign, the thinking has always been that the race comes down to Hillary Clinton and someone else. Eyeing Obama's seven-point drop in New Hampshire polls, Edwards may turn his sights to Obama.

Still, rough-and-tumble politics can carry a price. In politics, more often than not, A attacks B, and C is the winner. Down the list, there are others who take heart that New Hampshire and Iowa can be quirky and surprising places. And, in general, Democratic voters are happy with nearly everyone in the field.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: This is now the eighth debate for Democrats, but the first fall debate, which means winter is not that far away. What some of these candidates really need is a breakout performance -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Candy, thanks very much.

Candy is the with CNN Election Express in New Hampshire.

Bill Clinton, meanwhile, is continuing to play a major role in his wife's presidential campaign. With the next fund-raising deadline approaching this weekend, the former president is out in full force for Senator Clinton.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is here.

Abbi, they have invited some supporters to lunch. What is going on?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, this time, it involves junk food, Wolf.

The latest fund-raising e-mail from the Hillary Clinton campaign, the chance to watch a debate with Bill on a big TV, they promise, with a big bag of potato chips. It's fund-raising deadline week, and the e-mails are coming in thick and fast.

In terms of dollars, Hillary Clinton trails Barack Obama, who's continuing online with his innovative Web pushes. Meal with a candidate, been there, done that. The latest push from the Obama campaign focuses on new donors making a contribution and others matching it.

Who is going to be ahead this quarter after all these efforts? Well, check out this Web page from the Hillary Clinton campaign at HillaryHub.com -- the headline, "Projections: Obama Leads Again." The Clinton campaign might be asking for contributions at one of their Web sites, but, on another one, they're trying to lower expectations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

Bill Clinton going after Republicans. He talks to CNN about Republican outrage over that MoveOn.org ad about General David Petraeus -- the former president suggesting their outrage is fake.

And many in Hollywood love Democrats, so might they support a Republican who is a fellow TV and movie star? We're going to take a closer look at Fred Thompson's possible Hollywood fortunes.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Actor-turned-presidential candidate Fred Thompson is a Hollywood insider, but he does not appear to have the inside track to that big money -- the big-money donors in Tinseltown.

CNN's Kareen Wynter is out in Los Angeles.

Are they interested in the former senator, former actor's bid for the White House, Kareen Wynter?

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he may have a tough time. You know, Fred Thompson, he wanted to make a big splash here in Hollywood. That's why, after all, he announced his candidacy on "Leno."

But the question now, some say, is, will he be able to reel in top campaign dollars in an industry he has worked in for decades?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WYNTER (voice-over): We have seen this before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")

FRED THOMPSON, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm running for president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WYNTER: A Hollywood actor making a political bid on late-night talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: And this is why I'm going to run for governor of the state of California.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WYNTER: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno in 2003.

Earlier this month, former Tennessee Senator and star of TV "Law & Order" sat on the same couch to declare his presidential run. So, where does Thompson stand in the battle for Hollywood bucks?

ERIC BAUMAN, CHAIRMAN, L.A. COUNTY DEMOCRATIC PARTY: I think Hillary and Obama have Hollywood pretty well locked up.

WYNTER: Many liberals in Tinseltown have already thrown their financial weight around Democratic front-runners Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Oprah Winfrey recently raised $3 million for Obama in a star- studded campaign fund-raiser at her California estate. Days later, basketball legend Earvin Magic Johnson hosted a fund-raising bash for Clinton.

Thompson may be an entertainment industry insider, but some Democratic analysts say the Republican candidate's social conservative views are at large with odds with the largely liberal Hollywood, not to mention Thompson's late entry in the political race.

BAUMAN: Many of those Hollywood donors on the Republican side or on the more conservative side have already been giving to Giuliani. They like him. They sort of view him as a pop star. And Thompson is kind of a Johnny-come-lately.

WYNTER: This political consultant says, don't count Thompson out just yet.

MATTHEW KLINK, REPUBLICAN POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Fred Thompson is smart enough to realize that Hollywood can help him communicate, but Hollywood is not going to get him elected.

WYNTER: Matt Klink says there's plenty of green to go around below the radar of A-list celebs.

KLINK: There's enough conservatives in California that stay below the Hollywood flash and sizzle that can help Fred Thompson raise all the money he needs to win.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WYNTER: We contacted the Thompson camp to get an idea of how they're doing on the fund-raising end, Wolf, especially here in Hollywood. A spokesman would only say they will have enough money to do what it takes to stay competitive and successful.

So, we will have to see -- Wolf.

Thanks very much, Kareen Wynter, in L.A. for us.

Now that fall is here, the presidential election is in even higher gear. And the CNN Election Express is logging lots of miles already.

Our Tom Foreman is out there with our state-of-the-art new bus in New Hampshire.

I want you to give our viewers, Tom, a little tour of what this bus is all about.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are very excited about this, Wolf.

It's a beautiful day here in New Hampshire. You can see we have thousands of people gathering out here for the big debate tonight, and people are showing all that excitement that you can only have when the general election is 14 months away. But we are very excited about this, because this is really a state-of-the-art vehicle, unlike anything that the news or the election cycle has ever seen before. Come on inside and take a look.

This is more than just a very big bus. This is actually a traveling newsroom and studio, unlike anything we have ever seen. Look at this. We have in here wi-fi hot spots throughout here, so that all of our people who are working here -- Candy Crowley, you saw a moment ago, was working here. Here is Paul Steinhauser with our political unit.

Over here, we have other computers, all linked into news coming from all over the world. We have video feeds coming in from all over the world. And we can bring in candidates at a moment's notice, or governors, or mayors, set up little studio lights, interview them right here, where the side of this bus pushes out.

Then, with all of that information, as it comes in, immediately, Wolf, we can go back here, where Josh Rubin, who operates our bus, can sit at the state-of-the-art editing facility, render these stories, and send them right back out to you. The material you just saw from Candy a while ago came through here at one point.

And here is the other part that make it is very special. You move back through some little living quarters here, and you come back to our satellite up- and down-linking area, all the way back here where we can take feeds in of news stories from all around the world, put them together, and get them back to you.

The big difference here is that, more than ever before, during this election cycle, we're going to be able to go directly to the story and have everything we need in this true traveling newsroom to get the story to you almost immediately. And that's going to matter an awful lot during this election cycle, because, really, it's unlike any one we have had before.

There are a tremendous number of candidates. And we're going to need to be able to get as close as possible. This is how we're going to do it, on the Election Express. You will be seeing an awful lot of it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fascinating, fascinating material. That bus is going to be busy.

Tom Foreman is going to be busy as well. The best political team on television, or, should I say, the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television. Congratulations to everyone at CNN for getting that Emmy this week.

Today, in our "Strategy Session": President Bush's request for additional war funding gets a rude response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: This committee will not, in O.T., not rubber-stamp every request that is submitted by the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But is it good politics for the Democrats to hold President Bush's feet to the fire over funding the war?

And our just-released New Hampshire polls paint a different picture from the national polls in the Republican race. We're going to sort it all out with Paul Begala and Bill Bennett. They're standing by live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story now.

It appears the race for the Republican presidential nomination is now a dead heat between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney in at least New Hampshire. Our brand-new poll shows one candidate's surge. Another one is falling.

Let's discuss all this and more with our "Strategy Session," our CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and our CNN contributor Bill Bennett, also Washington fellow of the Claremont Institute.

You saw the new poll numbers in New Hampshire, the CNN/WMUR New Hampshire presidential contest. It's a dead heat, virtually, given the margin of error, certainly between Romney, at 25, Giuliani at 24, McCain at 18, Thompson at 13. It's been a very good month or so since July for Giuliani and for McCain -- not so good for Mitt Romney.

What do you think, first of all, looking at it as an outsider, as a Democrat?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first off, if this holds over the next couple polls, very bad news for Mitt Romney. In the past, everywhere he's run hard and run ads, he's run well.

And he surged to the lead in the states that matter. Hasn't been leading in the national polls, but they don't matter. This is the first time we have seen him begin to falter, and in a place where he should be doing very well. He's the neighboring state governor. He owns an estate in New Hampshire that's like -- it's something like half the size of the state. He's a very wealthy man. He's their kind of guy. And, yet, he's fading.

John McCain is doing a Lazarus act here. Look it, McCain is up six points since our last survey. So, it could be that -- you know, that he is still back in this.

BLITZER: I think, in that last Republican debate in New Hampshire, McCain really did well in that debate.

BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, he did very well.

BLITZER: He went from 12 percent on up to 18 percent. Romney has gone from 34 percent in July down to 25 percent now, and he's neck and neck with Rudy Giuliani.

BENNETT: Yes, well, what Paul says is true. That state is almost as big as the Edwards estate.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: That's a good point.

(CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: ... ready on that.

(LAUGHTER)

BENNETT: No, but Paul is right. This is a neighboring state for him. He needs to do well. He's put a lot of money in Iowa and New Hampshire. Everybody knows he's put a lot of money in Iowa and New Hampshire. He needs to do well. He needs to meet expectations.

Giuliani is not just hanging around. He is running very strong. People know who he is. I don't think it's the cell phone call from the wife that has -- that has boosted him up. That's kind of an odd thing. But, if he comes in strong in New Hampshire and breaks what people have predicted is the Romney momentum, it's very, very good for Giuliani.

BEGALA: Can I point out one last thing? Fred Thompson, a month ago, was at 13 percent in New Hampshire in our poll. And in that month, he's had nothing but good news. He's had the kind of coverage that politicians dream of, right? He not only gets to -- to go on news networks. He announces on "Jay Leno." And he's gone from 13 percent a month ago to 13 percent today.

BLITZER: That was in July, 13 percent in our CNN/WMUR poll.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And now he's still at 13 percent.

It's not...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: That's more fizzle than sizzle for that movie star.

BLITZER: People in New Hampshire, as I said earlier, they're spoiled. They want a lot of personal attention.

BENNETT: Yes. Remember, while he was announcing on the Jay Leno show, what was going on in New Hampshire was the Republican debate. And they're very jealous of this -- this sort of thing. But Thompson has -- you know, the debut came. You're right. He had everything going his way, but he had to meet expectations. Somebody got off a very good line the other day. I wish it was mine. They said, there's more demand for Fred than there is supply.

People really wanted him to be spectacular. He's been solid. He's been decent. But, you know, by waiting so long, he didn't give himself much of a margin. So, if he doesn't dazzle people, I think it's almost a disappointment.

BLITZER: I want to talk quickly about the president and the secretary of defense today seeking almost another $200 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But, what, $40 million of -- $40 million of that $200 million is to build up the equipment that Senator Biden, for example, wants, the MRAPs, these state-of-the-art up-armored vehicles that will save American lives. It could be a tough vote for Democrats, as it has been every single time the funding for the war has come up.

BEGALA: Right. And -- and you're right. The Democrats have been agitating for more and better armor for the troops. Even Democrats who oppose the war want more and better armor. This funding will do that.

But you're right. It puts them in a very tough spot. I think what a lot of Democrats are going to try to do is to torment the president a little bit by linking up this extraordinary amount of money we're spending in Iraq with what the comparative pittance that he refuses to spend on health care for children.

You saw my old buddy Rahm Emanuel, the congressman from Illinois, the Democratic House caucus chairman, pointing out that the entire difference in funding health insurance for poor children could be made up by just 41 days of the cost of Mr. Bush's war. And I think that is a political move that works for the Democrats.

BLITZER: All right, very quickly.

BENNETT: Yes.

Well, I -- they can torment, but they're going to have to come through. They're going to have to support the troops. They're going to have to support the troops with the new improved material and along with everything else, too, because the momentum is still, after some very difficult times, is still, I think, with the president, particularly after the Petraeus hearings.

BLITZER: Bill Bennett, Paul Begala, thanks very much.

There's some breaking news that's coming out of Los Angeles. I want to go to Carol Costello. She's watching this.

Carol, what is going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it involves the Phil Spector trial, Wolf.

We're just getting word -- and you're looking at a live picture out of the courtroom in California -- there has been a mistrial declared in the trial of Phil Spector. He's on trial for second- degree murder, after actress Lana Clarkson was found dead in his home. She was found dead of a gunshot wound. Phil Spector claimed it was self-inflicted.

And, of course, prosecutors contended that Phil Spector was the one who pulled the trigger. Now, apparently, the jurors split 10-2, and they told a judge that no continued deliberations would bring them to any sort of conclusion.

Now, I would assume that we're hearing the judge decide what's going to happen next. This jury has deliberating -- has been deliberating, Wolf, a long time, 44 hours over 12 days.

There have been many strange things that have happened throughout this case. The judge had issued a gag order in the case. Supposedly, that gag order was violated in some way that we don't know -- we don't know what that was about as of this time, but, of course, we will probably know after things wrap up in the courtroom today.

But, again, a mistrial declared in the murder trial of Phil Spector, a very famous record producer...

BLITZER: All right.

COSTELLO: ... credited with creating the wall of sound -- back to you.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much.

I assume the prosecution is now going to have to decide whether to seek another trial against Phil Spector.

Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

Iran's president says case closed when it comes to his country's nuclear program. Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail on that. What happens next?

Plus: Is Al Gore any closer to endorsing a Democratic presidential candidate? The former vice president talks about the race he decided to skip, talks about global warming, and more. Our exclusive interview with the former vice president is coming up.

And President Bush grasping for words and stumbling on his domestic agenda. Is he giving Democrats even more ammunition in 2008?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go right to Jack Cafferty in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the question this hour is: Now that Iran's president has declared the dispute over his country's nuclear program closed, what is next?

Vince writes Pompton Plains, New Jersey: "Let Iran declare the case closed. Should the rest of the world declare Iran's borders just as closed? Basically, keep your nukes, Iran, and eat sand."

Hessam, San Francisco: "The nuclear matter in Iran was closed a long time ago. Being an Iranian myself, I know very well that we Iranians never take any B.S. from anyone, no matter how great their army or threat may be. What's right is right. If America has a right to own nuclear reactors and bombs, so does each and every other country in the world, and not just the countries the U.S. finds desirable for its own welfare."

Dean writes: "It's about time the non-Muslim free nations stopped screwing around with this most dangerous liar. The free world needs to destroy Iran's nuclear plants by whatever means necessary."

Doug in New York: "Iran, like Iraq, is not our business. I liked you better when you were not mouthing the words of right-wing nuts."

Dave in Los Angeles: "If Iran and America go eyeball to eyeball over nukes, America will blink, and the neocons will just have to get some eye drops. The people don't want war. The Iranian president has more guts than American president. Whether you agree with him or not, he spoke before a testy audience of college students. Bush only talks to pre-screened audiences at military bases."

Kiefer in Florida writes: "What's next? Well, we will attack Syria or Canada."

And Michael in New Jersey writes: "There aren't any nukes in Iran, just like there aren't any gay people. Looks like denial runs through Iran, not Egypt" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

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

Happening now: a massive new request for war funding, as the defense secretary voices new concerns about the thousands of private contractors in Iraq.

Also, the mystery deepening right now, intriguing new details emerging about two men rescued at sea, and the search intensifies for the missing crew of the boat they chartered.

And news just coming in to CNN on Senator Larry Craig, the Idaho senator, as you know, caught in that bathroom sex sting. We have new information coming in right now.

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

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