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THE SITUATION ROOM
Mitt Romney Scores New Points in Iowa and New Hampshire; Obama's Tough Talk; 'Blank Check' for War: Iran Sanctions & Presidential Race; Chris Dodd Interview
Aired October 29, 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: Happening now, Iowa expectations. Republican Mitt Romney builds on his lead, but Democrat Hillary Clinton finds her self in a neck-and-neck horse race.
This hour, brand new poll numbers in the kickoff presidential contest.
Plus a gay and lesbian backlash against Barack Obama. The reason? A gospel singer and Obama supporter who claims Jesus delivered him from homosexuality.
And the president's choice to be the next attorney general may be swerving off track a bit. Even some Republicans now say Michael Mukasey needs to answer questions about torture.
I'll ask senator and Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd if Mukasey is going to get the job.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Maybe the Red Sox' winning streak is running off on the former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney. On this day after Boston's World Series victory, Romney finds himself scoring new points in two crucial campaign arenas.
Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is standing by.
Some good news today for Mitt Romney, as far as the polls are concerned, Bill.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: That's true. And the two places that matter most to Romney right now, New Hampshire and Iowa.
SCHNEIDER (voice over): Mitt Romney is having a good day. He won the endorsement of Judd Gregg, New Hampshire's popular senator and former governor.
SEN. JUDD GREGG (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: If somebody else said I was going to endorse the former governor of Massachusetts for president of the United States, I'd say, well, I didn't think the Red Sox were going to win the World Series twice in my lifetime, either.
SCHNEIDER: Meanwhile, in Iowa, Romney's numbers keep climbing. He's at 36 percent in a new Iowa poll, up eight points since August.
Why is Romney doing so well in Iowa? Two words: time and money.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've had to spend a lot of time and a lot of money here, of course, because people didn't know me.
SCHNEIDER: He spent more than $2.5 million on TV ads in Iowa. No other candidate comes close.
ROMNEY: And I've probably spent more time here than anybody. I've been in 57 counties.
SCHNEIDER: Romney is much better known in New Hampshire, where he was the governor of neighboring Massachusetts. The latest poll does show Romney winning New Hampshire, too.
Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire have gotten to know Romney, but Romney is less well-known nationally. Our October Poll of Polls shows Romney running fourth among Republicans nationwide.
Romney is counting on wins in Iowa and New Hampshire to give him national momentum. The question is, will there be time? Next year, big states like Florida, New York and California will be voting early, and Romney is facing very prominent national competitors.
SCHNEIDER: Keep in mind that Iowa is a difficult state to poll because it's a caucus state. It's hard to predict who's going to show up for an evening-long meeting on a cold winter's night two days after New Year's -- Wolf.
BLITZER: January 3rd for those caucuses. Also, a big football game that night as well, further complicating the situation.
BLITZER: Bill, thank you.
In the Democratic race, Hillary Clinton is holding on to her frontrunner status in Iowa, but barely. She leads Barack Obama 29 percent to 27 percent in the new Hawkeye poll.
John Edwards has lost ground in the survey of likely Democratic caucus-goers, and he gets about 20 percent, but Barack Obama sees an opening in Iowa, and he's coming out swinging against Hillary Clinton.
Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Candy Crowley. She's here.
This is finally getting tougher. Obama, he's been -- I guess he's coming out a little bit more swinging more. CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: A little bit more. It remains to be seen whether it's enough. But looking at those poll numbers, what we do know is that if Obama is to make a move, Iowa is the place and now is the time.
CROWLEY (voice over): Sixty-six, the number of days left to the Iowa caucuses, the number of days left to knock Hillary Clinton off stride. Pressured by donors and frustrated supporters, Barack Obama has once again said he's going to get tough on Hillary Clinton. His latest attempt is to contrast her generalities about Social Security with his specifics.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a program that millions of people depend on. I don't want to just put my finger out to the wind and see what the polls say. I want to bring the country together to solve a problem.
CROWLEY: Pretty mild stuff. No names mentioned, and a subject that's not a burning issue in the Democratic primaries.
Early on and ever since, Obama has also tried to draw the line between his constant opposition to the Iraq war and her vote to authorize it.
OBAMA: And most of all, people are sick and tired of a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged.
CROWLEY: Months of this with no noticeable effect. Then, Clinton voted yes on an amendment urging the president to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.
OBAMA: George Bush and Dick Cheney could use this language to justify keeping our troops in Iraq, as long as they can point to a threat from Iran. And because they could use this language to justify an attack on Iran as part of the ongoing war in Iraq.
CROWLEY: Clinton's strategists were antsy enough about this to send out a flyer in Iowa explaining her vote.
Sixty-six days and two questions: Does Barack Obama have to take an even tougher line? And does hoe have the stomach for it?
CROWLEY: Obama is clearly struggling to step up his game without looking desperate, without turning off Democrats, and without abandoning his politics of hope theme, which as you know the Clinton campaign has been only too happy to throw back at him -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's interesting, also. She's firing back at a new ad on Social Security.
CROWLEY: Absolutely. And what she's doing in this ad is saying, listen, I was there on Social Security, I fought back against President Bush's attempts to privatize Social Security.
What this says is two things to me. One is what those poll numbers say, that they know in the Clinton campaign that this is a very important state and that it's very close. And the second thing is that very early on in her first visit to Iowa I was there with Hillary Clinton, and she said, you know, "When somebody hits me, I'm going to hit back."
So they're going to respond to these things, albeit this was not a tough ad, this was about what Clinton has done.
BLITZER: Right from her husband's playbook.
BLITZER: Somebody hits him, he hits right back.
You know, we did some research. We're, what, about two months from the January 3rd Iowa caucuses right now. And we wanted to take a look at four years ago where the Democrats stood in Iowa.
Take a look behind you right over there.
Two months before the Iowa caucuses, Howard Dean was leading in a poll at 29 percent; Dick Gephardt was second at 21 percent; John Kerry third, at 15 percent; and John Edwards weighed on at 8 percent. Now, when the dust settled back in 2004, after the Iowa caucuses, Dean came in third, Gephardt I think came in fourth, Kerry came in first, Edwards second.
So when Bill Schneider says you have got to be careful looking at these Iowa polls, he has got a good point.
CROWLEY: Absolutely. And look, those polls may be correct right now. The problem is we do have those 66 days.
And it is tough to, A, know who's going to go out on that cold night. But B, what they're really thinking.
A lot -- something that the Dean campaign said to me at one point was they would go into these houses in Iowa and they'd say, oh, yes, we really like your guy, sure we'll think about doing that, and two things happened. One, Iowans are really nice and sometimes they say those sorts of things. And two, the Dean campaign didn't go back and say, OK, do we really have your vote?
So, a lot of stuff can change in 66 days.
BLITZER: Well, we've got 66 days. That's not a long time.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for that.
All eight Republican presidential candidates, by the way, have agreed to take part in a CNN debate at the end of November. The YouTube debate, that's taking place November 28th in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Also this note. On November 15th, I'll be in Las Vegas, Nevada, to moderate a debate in that key western state among the Democratic presidential candidates. November 15th, the Democratic candidates with me in Las Vegas.
Candy Crowley and Bill Schneider, as you know, are both part of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television.
Remember, also, for the latest political news at any time, you can check out our political ticker at CNN.com/ticker. It will be a busy, busy political season.
Sixty-odd days, Jack Cafferty coming up. That's a sprint to Iowa.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and it can't happen fast enough.
Remember back when the Democrats won control of Congress last year? Who could forget?
Included in their string of broken promises was a vow to actually put in five days a week. You know, like the rest of us.
Well, fast-forward about 10 months. Just like their vow to end the war in Iraq, it turns out they lied about their work schedule, too.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer now says the House will not be in session next year on Fridays, except in June to work on appropriations bills. Hoyer says he wants more time for members of Congress to "work in their districts and be close to their families."
Democrats insist they have made significant gains since they've been the majority party. They point to raising the minimum wage and some watered-down ethics and lobbying legislation. That's pretty much it.
The House also cast a record-setting 1,000 roll call votes, but Republicans point out only about 100 of those were on bills that got signed into law and more than 40 of them were things like naming post offices and other property. Not exactly heavy lifting, is it?
As for the shorter workweek, well, Republican whip Roy Blunt asks if this is a reward for all of Congress' accomplishments this year.
The public has had a bellyful of Congress. Their approval ratings are the lowest they have ever been. Gee, I wonder why.
Here's the question: Is it a good idea for the Democratic-led Congress to revert to a shorter workweek?
E-mails your thoughts to email@example.com on go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. You know, on the one hand, they lied about working five days a week, Wolf. On the other hand, if they're not in session, they can't do a lot of harm to the country, either.
BLITZER: Well, maybe they could find a post office, the Jack Cafferty Post Office, someplace.
What do you think?
CAFFERTY: You know what that would be? That would be the dead letter office.
BLITZER: Stand by, Jack. Thanks very much.
Coming up, a Barack Obama supporter is dragging the candidate into a new controversy. He says homosexuality is the choice -- the supporter says that -- and he chose not to be gay with God's help.
We're going to take a look at the fallout for the Obama campaign.
Plus, even the first lady, Laura Bush, is now weighing in about what some are calling the poisonous fight over children's health care. We're going to tell you where the battle goes from here and whether kids may suffer.
Also coming up, the Iranian president's influence hovering over the race for the White House. The former defense secretary William Cohen, he's standing by.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Stiff new U.S. sanctions against Iran the subject of fierce political debate on and off the presidential campaign trail. At issue right now, questions about whether the Bush administration is moving a step closer to war with Iran and questions about whether Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is helping to give the president a blank check for a new war.
Joining us now, the former congressman, the former senator and the former defense secretary William Cohen. He's in the international consulting business right now as head of The Cohen Group here in Washington.
Is Iran slowly but surely -- the threat of a war with Iran becoming, in effect, the new Iraq as far as the Democratic presidential candidates are concerned? Is this becoming a bigger issue, in other words?
WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, it's becoming a bigger issue, but I think both parties have to be concerned here to take some caution, exercise some caution, and not simply engage in a lot of rhetorical flourishes that make one look tough. We had exclamations about what a cakewalk it was going to be going into Iraq. And I think for anyone at this point to think that we're going to go into a military confrontation with Iran and have it over in a matter of a few days, or few weeks or months, is sadly mistaken.
So I think President Bush is doing the right thing now by trying to impose sanctions to get the attention of the Iranians and to get the attention of our allies and friends who say this is a bad thing if Iran goes forward with a nuclear weapon programs. But words have to be matched with deeds. And so we're hoping that China, Russia, other countries will join in the effort to prevent Iran from going forward. But I think at this point to start rattling sabers is a mistake.
On the part of...
BLITZER: You know, let me just interrupt for a second, Mr. Secretary.
BLITZER: Because virtually all the Republican candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, are saying the same thing, you have got to be tough, you can't accept a nuclear weapons program in Iran. Mike Huckabee saying whatever it takes -- I interviewed him yesterday.
On the Democratic front though, there is a debate. How far do you go, especially in giving what some of Hillary Clinton's critics are saying she gave when she voted for that legislation? They say it's a blank check to President Bush once again to do whatever he wants to do.
COHEN: Well, I think there should be no blank checks. Congress has an absolute role to play in any discussion about going to war with any country. And it's time for Congress to assert it's responsibility, which in the past has been somewhat derelict in not asserting a much bigger role as far as Iraq is concerned. And I think here is an issue that really should galvanize the public's attention.
I think it's all well and good for people to talk tough, but I think what ought to be done is a public hearing, so to speak, have the American people see what the implications would be for talking about war, what it would mean to go to war. Lay out all the scenarios, so we then at least have some idea of what the consequences are, unlike the notion of going into Iraq, thinking it would be over in a matter of a few days or weeks, and then all would be settled.
This is something that's far more serious. It's serious for Iran to pursue a nuclear weapons program. And that's why its incumbent on all countries who are concerned about this to come together to find a way to deter them from moving forward. Sanctions are one way to do that.
BLITZER: I suspect it's going to be even a bigger issue as this campaign season goes on.
Yesterday I had a chance to speak with Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He has a lot of credibility on this issue because before the war with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, he said he had no evidence that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program, in marked contradiction to what the Bush administration was claiming at the time. You remember all the talk about mushroom clouds, et cetera..
But at the same time, he says right now the U.S. hasn't given him any hard evidence that Iran is developing some sort of nuclear weapon. He hasn't seen the evidence. He wants everybody to lower their rhetoric right now, and he clearly feels all this talk from Bush administration officials, including the president -- of World War III -- and the vice president, Dick Cheney, is simply counterproductive and is going to make matters even worse.
COHEN: Well, what is clear is that in the past we've had insufficient evidence both going back to the Persian Gulf War I, Desert Storm, where it was assumed that Saddam Hussein was anywhere from five to 10 years away from having a nuclear weapon, and of course we found he was much closer than that.
And with respect to Saddam on the second war and this effort that was made, we were wrong again. We assumed he had weapons of mass destruction, and he didn't.
So I think that the words of caution are well-deserved here, that we ought to take care that we don't ratchet up the rhetoric to such a degree that either all of the presidential candidates feel they must take a hard and fast position and be labeled -- either they're hawks who favor tough action against Iran, or they're doves who favor simply talking about it and not doing anything about it.
I think it's a big mistake. We need some statesmanship here, we need some leadership here. And we need to have straight talk with Iran, to be sure, but also with our allies and friends, and find a way that we can bring enough pressure to bear on Iraq that they can see wisdom of reaching a diplomatic solution which will allow them to have nuclear power, but not nuclear weapons, and allow Russia and other countries to play a significant role in all of this.
So, what we need is a lowering of the rhetoric and a serious contemplation of what the consequences are of going to exercise that final option, which I think would be a mistake.
BLITZER: Secretary Cohen, thanks very much for coming in.
COHEN: A pleasure to be with you.
BLITZER: And coming up, it could be Senator John McCain's only real hope. Can he gain ground in New Hampshire by roughing up Rudy Giuliani? Donna Brazile and Terry Jeffrey, they're standing by live for our "Strategy Session".
And Vice President Cheney's allies are worried about criticism from Gerald Ford. Beyond the grave, the dustup over the late president's off-the-record remarks. That's coming up as well.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: They've been fighting over it, but today will Democrats and Republicans be able to accomplish an objective on behalf of many of America's children and their health care?
And one presidential candidate could create major problems for President Bush's nominee for attorney general. Democratic Senator Chris Dodd says he'll oppose Michael Mukasey. I'll ask him why.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Happening now, are young children working in filthy sweat shops as modern-day slaves to make some of the clothes we all wear? We're going to tell you about what one person calls sickening allegations against one of the most popular fashion brands.
Also, is a man who helped plan an attack that killed 17 American sailors in custody or not? There are new developments right now regarding a man sentenced to death for the USS Cole bombing seven years ago.
And fires still burn. We're going to tell you what spots in California firefighters have not yet been able to put out.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Democrats and Republicans are picking up where they left off in a nasty brawl over children's health care. The two sides are talking today. And even the first lady is stepping into the fray. But is there any sign of budging?
Let's turn to our congressional correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's watching all of this on the Hill.
So what's the latest in this battle that clearly has enormous ramifications for millions of American kids?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's true, Wolf. And this evening, House Democratic leaders are sitting down with a handful of Republicans to see if they can't break this ongoing deadlock over the children's health insurance bill. But at the same time, Democrats are also launching a new round of ads attacking opponents of the bill in swing districts.
YELLIN (voice over): President Bush is heading into contested terrain, fund-raising for Ohio Republican Steve Chabot, the target of Democratic ads for his votes against the children's health insurance program. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So while Chabot is busy raising money with Bush and their rich friends, over 200,000 children here in Ohio are on the verge of losing their health coverage.
YELLIN: The latest accusations in the increasingly bitter war of words come from perhaps the president's fiercest defender.
LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: You know, it's really easy to blame people for so-called voting against children, and it's just a perfect issue to demagogue, and instead of really trying to work on something that both sides could come together on. I think that's the easy way out.
YELLIN: The House has voted three times on the children's health care bill. The latest included what Democrats called compromises and what some Republicans dismissed as cosmetic changes.
It actually lost one Republican who previously supported it. That's Representative Vernon Ehlers, who tells CNN, Democratic leaders are "doing their best to make it a political issue and to embarrass the president." He believes the atmosphere is getting poisonous and doubts a new SCHIP bill will pass this year.
Republican Heather Wilson, who supports the bill, is also critical of the Democrats, but she says there's plenty of blame to go around, telling CNN, "Some of the demagoguery on both sides is a great example of why people can't stand Washington."
YELLIN: Now, Wolf, Democrats insist that they want a bill, not just an issue. And House Democratic aides tell CNN quietly that they feel Republicans keep moving the goal posts, so that they can avoid handing Democrats a victory on this issue -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thanks very much.
We will watch this fight unfold.
Let's get to another fight, though, that is brewing on Capitol Hill right now, this one over the fate of Michael Mukasey, the man President Bush wants to be the next attorney general of the United States.
My next guest says he will oppose his confirmation, and part of it has to do with his concerns about what some call torture still being conducted by the Bush administration.
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Chris Dodd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Wolf. BLITZER: Well, he came in with glowing reviews. The chairman, Patrick Leahy, was all for him and everything. What happened? Why are you now saying you won't vote to confirm Michael Mukasey?
DODD: Well, I'm concerned about the water-boarding. First, that is just blatant out -- illegal.
BLITZER: Now, explain what water-boarding is. A lot of our viewers might not know.
DODD: Well, it goes back to the Inquisition. This is a torture that's been used. The Khmer Rouge used it. This is to create the drowning effect, where you're either pouring water -- you gag someone, and then pour water over them, so the sensation of drowning, or you constantly dunk them, what kids may have happened growing up in a pool where some bully would constantly hold your head under water.
That frightening feeling that you're drowning is what is considered water-boarding. There are variations of it, but that is what it is.
BLITZER: Because the administration denies that it engages in torture. And, when he was pressed on this, during his second day of testimony, Michael Mukasey, he answered the question this way.
I want you to listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Is water-boarding constitutional?
MICHAEL MUKASKEY, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: I don't know what's involved in the technique. If water-boarding is torture, torture is not constitutional.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, he was sort of suggesting he doesn't know specifically what the technique involves, so he can't say whether or not water-boarding is torture. He does say, though, that they don't use torture.
DODD: Well, that's a legitimate issue and one that ought to be pursued. He's going to answer that question.
But, Wolf, I have a deeper problem with Michael Mukasey, and that is his answer to the question of whether or not, if the president violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by conducting wiretapping without the authority under the law, what is it -- is that OK to do that? And his answer was that would depend on what goes outside the statute as authorized by what the president's authority is to defend the country.
There's nothing more basic in our Constitution that we are a nation of laws and not men. If a former federal judge does not understand that the president must also follow the law, he has no right whatsoever to avoid a constitutional federal statute. That's the major issue here.
BLITZER: But is he referring to some enormous national security crisis unfolding which required -- would require the president to do extraordinary things?
DODD: Then you go and you get the authority to do it. Then you would have presidents, as we saw with Harry Truman, who tried to make a case on nationalizing the steel industry because of the Korean War. There have been examples where presidents have tried this.
But if you believe that the -- presidents can trump a federal statute, you're violating the most basic, fundamental principle.
BLITZER: How determined are you to try to block Michael Mukasey's nomination?
DODD: Well, determined, because I think that -- we have been through this now. We saw it with secret prisons, Abu Ghraib...
BLITZER: Because there are techniques, as you know, you have been in the Senate for a long time...
DODD: I know that.
BLITZER: You could put a hold on his nomination. Are you ready to go that far?
DODD: Not at this point here. I would oppose the nomination.
BLITZER: Explain to our viewers what that would mean, if you were to put a hold on his nomination.
DODD: The hold is just a tradition. There's no -- it's no Senate rule that protects you. It's a tradition that is generally respected. If senators want to hold a nomination up or a piece of legislation, they can do that for a limited period of time. It's not endless.
BLITZER: But you're not ready to go that far yet?
DODD: Not at this point. I have expressed my opposition to him over that point, more so than the water-boarding, Wolf. I want to make that distinction. The water-boarding issue troubles me deeply.
But, when you have a nominee to be the attorney general of the United States who believes that the president can trump a constitutional federal statute, that goes back to the very essence of who we are and what our Constitution stands for. No one less than a former assistant U.S. attorney, constitutional professor at Yale, said this nomination ought to be defeated on that grounds.
BLITZER: So, you're going to vote against him, no matter what? DODD: Absolutely, on that grounds. How can you possibly have someone...
BLITZER: But do you think he has enough votes to be confirmed?
DODD: Well, he may. I mean, I'm not -- I don't do nose counts at this point. You had asked me how I feel about it.
This -- again, when we saw the secret prisons, Abu Ghraib, the warrantless wiretapping that goes on, the politicization of the Justice Department, the desire by this administration, the Military Commissions Act, there is a pattern here that worries me deeply. And when your nominee to be attorney general suggests somehow that a president of the United States is above the law, then you have just broken one of the most fundamental principles of our Constitution.
BLITZER: There was an article critical of you in Bloomberg, the financial news service, the other day, October 16: "U.S. banking panel drifts as Dodd focuses on presidential run." I will read a line from the article.
"The U.S. Senate Banking Committee" -- and you're the chairman of that -- "has failed to fill two seats on the Federal Reserve Board, including one vacant for more than a year, and has relied on another panel to press for an overhaul of the credit card business, and it is has yet to push legislation on subprime mortgages, even as markets have been shaken by the industry's collapse."
Are those criticisms of you as chairman of the Banking Committee fair?
DODD: Absolutely not. We have adopted 17 pieces of legislation, had 33 hearings. I'm not going to rush on these Federal Reserve appointments. One of them is for 17 years here. And so I don't -- we want to take it carefully.
The paperwork hasn't been completed on those at all. We're waiting. The Federal Reserve Board is coming out with a series of regulations on the subprime market. I have said to Ben Bernanke, "I will give you a chance. Put those regulations out for comment. I won't rush to legislate ahead of you." That's just formal -- normal processing.
BLITZER: Is running for president, though, taking up too much of your time so you're not devoting to the Senate Banking Committee the time you should be devoting to it?
DODD: No, no, not at all. It's taking time, obviously, here. But we have passed out the same number of bills, the same number of hearings that my predecessor, the Republican chairman, who did a very good job, Dick Shelby, did. So we're right on track, doing a good job, getting a lot of cooperation. We put out three bills the other day. We only had one negative vote out of the entire Banking Committee. You don't get that without a lot of work ahead of time and preparation for a markup. The committee's doing good work.
BLITZER: So, you're saying you can do two things at the same time?
BLITZER: Senator Dodd, thanks for coming in.
DODD: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: And many of you were asked, which presidential candidate would make the -- would make for the scariest Halloween costume? You may be surprised who won. We're going to tell you.
Also, John McCain is finding fault with Rudy Giuliani. He's wondering just how many conservatives will really support him.
And a man who helped plan an attack that killed 17 American sailors could be in custody, or not. He was sentenced to death for the USS Cole bombing seven years ago.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Today, Barack Obama was asked on the campaign trail about an event that has been giving him a lot of attention.
Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow. She's watching the story for us.
Some serious concerns as a result of what is going on. Explain to our viewers some of the background.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was a gospel event that mixed politics and the pulpit. Senator Barack Obama sponsored the concert called Embrace the Change. And it was met with criticism from gay activists.
DONNIE MCCLURKIN, GOSPEL SINGER: I don't speak against the homosexual. I tell you that God delivered me from homosexuality.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SNOW (voice-over): Pastor Donnie McClurkin has said that homosexuality is a choice and that he believes prayer is the reason why he is no longer gay. McClurkin became a lightning rod for controversy at a gospel event supporting Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama in South Carolina.
Gay activists demanded Obama withdraw McClurkin as a headliner, denouncing him as anti-gay. But Obama left him on the ticket.
MCCLURKIN: Don't call me a bigot or anti-gay, when I have been touched with the same feelings.
SNOW: McClurkin is well-known. He is a Grammy winner and sang at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Obama says including him at the event was part of an effort to reach out to the African- American church community in South Carolina.
But he acknowledged what he called McClurkin's anti-gay views.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am disturbed about those views. I said publicly that I disagreed with them. One of the things I also said, though, is, we have to reach out to those who have a different attitude on these issues, to try to teach.
SNOW: But some gay activists didn't buy that argument.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We question the fact that, if you're going to call yourself a new kind of candidate for change, you don't exploit people's cynicism. You don't exploit differences between people. And that is what is happening.
SNOW: About 20 gays and lesbians held a vigil outside the concert, which was small, compared to the 2,000-plus church members who attended the event, many who said they agreed with McClurkin's views.
While Obama is reaching out to church groups for African-American support in the early primary state of South Carolina, some political observers fault him for inviting such a controversial figure as McClurkin.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It put groups that are very important in the Democratic Party, gay activists on the one hand, African-American voters on the other hand, in direct conflict on that issue.
SNOW: And some political observers we spoke with said they believe that the turnout at the Obama event would have been just as big without Pastor McClurkin -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Mary, thanks very much -- Mary Snow reporting.
In an effort to connect candidates with young voters, MySpace and MTV teamed up for their second presidential forum today, this time bringing Senator Obama to a college campus in Iowa and streaming it all online.
Let's turn to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's watching it.
So, Abbi, what kind of questions did these young voters ask the senator? ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, they covered the big issues, education, Iraq. But other things came up as well, Stephen Colbert amongst them. And, also Barack, Obama was asked who would play him in a movie adaptation of his life.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I suppose Denzel is already taken. Will Smith is a possibility, because his ears match mine.
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TATTON: This event was with MTV and MySpace, billed as an unscripted forum for the young voted.
And, all the way through, you can see these "Register to vote now" banners were flashing alongside this feed that was coming in from Coe College in Iowa. The participants there on the campus were asked if they would be participating in the Iowa caucuses, and only a sprinkling of hands went up.
But this was reaching a much wider audience. Take a look at what's happening right now. This was real-time online voting going on as Barack Obama was answering the questions. The results overwhelmingly favorable for the senator from Illinois, though, when John Edwards spoke at a similar forum last month, he also got some pretty good results.
This is all just the latest in the candidates trying to reach out to online participants in this presidential race.
CNN, of course, teaming up with YouTube for the second of our debates which will be happening in November, and all eight Republican candidates will be joining -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, let's hope -- let's hope a lot of those young people actually go out and vote, because older people love to vote. The younger people are not voting in the big numbers they should be voting in. Let's see if that changes this time around.
Abbi, thanks very much.
In our "Strategy Session": Judging from today's polls, Mitt Romney's focus on Iowa may be having some results.
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MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have had to spend a lot of time and a lot of money here, of course, because people didn't know me. The household names, like Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, have that already going for them. I had to get out and get introduced to folks.
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BLITZER: But is the Iowa front-runner a paper tiger?
And John McCain, is his last, best hope for a win, would that be in New Hampshire? That coming up in our "Strategy Session." Donna Brazile and Terry Jeffrey, they are standing by live.
BLITZER: Right now, a fresh poll in Iowa shows which presidential candidates are on top of that politically important state.
Joining us for our "Strategy Session" right now are CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and conservative commentator Terry Jeffrey. He's editor in chief of Cybercast News Service.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Let's talk the Democrats. First, right now, in this University of Iowa Hawkeye poll, Senator Clinton at 29 percent, Obama 27, Edwards 20, Richardson seven, Biden give, all in single digits, 5.5. margin of error. This is a horse race in Iowa on the Democratic side right now.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Despite the national polls that show Senator Clinton with a commanding lead, in these early states, Senator Clinton is still trying to close the deal with these voters.
Look, Senator Obama is -- is now prepared to challenge Senator Clinton. He is becoming more aggressive. His campaign is now sending people to all of the 99 counties. I still think this race is quite fluid, and we may see an upset.
BLITZER: And they're hoping , Edwards and Obama, they can derail this Hillary Clinton momentum in Iowa.
TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE: Well, they need to do it. And this is especially good news for Obama, because John Edwards really pushed all his chips out onto the table in Iowa.
And for Obama to move ahead of Edwards and be in position maybe to defeat Hillary there really puts him in position where he has a chance of making it an Obama-Clinton race after that.
BLITZER: On the Republican side, the same University of Iowa Hawkeye poll, among registered Republicans, likely caucus-goers, Romney -- look at this -- 36 percent in Iowa, Giuliani 13, Huckabee 13 -- he will be on this program, by the way, tomorrow -- Fred Thompson, 11 percent.
What do you make of this? It's a really impressive lead for Mitt Romney in Iowa.
JEFFREY: Well, Romney has been -- his strategy is to win Iowa, win New Hampshire, get a lot of momentum going down South, where he may not naturally be as strong.
Interesting thing in that poll is Huckabee being tied with Giuliani. Huckabee clearly is on the move. And, if he does well in Iowa, he could be the candidate that goes against Romney in the South, as the candidate of the conservative Southerners.
BLITZER: Mitt Romney's rivals and their campaigns are all saying, well, look, he's spending millions of dollars there on advertising. It's understandable. They're not spending the kind of money that he is spending.
BRAZILE: Well, that's smart money. Look, he's invested in the caucus-goers. He understands it's winner take all in Iowa, unlike on the Democratic side, where we have proportional representation, and you can reach a threshold at 15 percent. Romney is investing carefully and strategically in that state, because he knows, if he wins in Iowa, wins New Hampshire, he can survive those next couple of primaries and caucuses.
BLITZER: John McCain, he has got to do well in New Hampshire. He's probably not going to do that well in Iowa. Is that right?
And, in fact, I think John McCain has the same problem all the Republican candidates, except McCain -- except Giuliani and Romney have. They have to find a way of beating Romney. If -- if Romney wins big in Iowa, he is going to have huge momentum going into New Hampshire. If he wins there, it's over for the other conservatives.
It will be Romney vs. Giuliani. McCain is very down in Iowa. I don't think he has a chance of winning New Hampshire unless he finds a way to pick up his numbers and beats expectations in Iowa first.
BLITZER: In Iowa...
BLITZER: ... last time around, he didn't even want to compete in Iowa, as you remember.
JEFFREY: That's right. He didn't compete in Iowa. But he was able to do it then and say, I'm going to win New Hampshire. He did beat New Hampshire. And that -- that made him competitive against George Bush going South.
He cannot do it this time. If he can't beat expectations in Iowa, Romney will beat him in New Hampshire, and it's over.
BLITZER: He told George Stephanopoulos yesterday on "This Week," Donna -- he said: "It's hard for me to accept the fact that we would nominate someone who has fundamental disagreements with" conservatives, presumably referring to some of the social issues, like abortion rights and gun control, gay rights.
Well, this is an excellent ploy and technique, for McCain to use Giuliani as a foil to try and gin up conservative support for him.
The irony there, Wolf, is that some of the same things that have disillusioned conservatives with McCain are the things that have disillusioned them with Giuliani. When McCain ran in 2000, for example, he flip-flopped around a little bit on abortion. McCain is bad on immigration, as far as conservatives are concerned. Those are two of the problems they have with Giuliani.
It's a smart tactic. I'm not sure it's going to work.
BLITZER: And it may be a little bit late for that. He's got to move quickly, relatively speaking. You know, people don't realize that, between now and January 3 and maybe January 8 or whenever the New Hampshire primary is going to take place, what, we're only about two months away from all of this, Donna.
BRAZILE: Look, I think it's too early to write McCain off.
He has tremendous sea legs. He has run before. He's credible. He is strong on national security. I think, for conservatives to write him off at this stage of the game is a huge mistake. He can still make a serious comeback in New Hampshire and go on to win a couple of other states.
BLITZER: You were suggesting -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- Terry, that Huckabee, Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, is really emerging as, what, the social conservatives' favorite right now?
JEFFREY: Well, I don't -- there's actually a debate among conservatives whether Huckabee should be the guy they go to. He's very, very good on the social issues. He obviously is an outstanding stump speaker. He's done great in the debates.
He's not as strong on immigration and economic issues. And there are economic conservatives. And, of course, immigration is a very big issue for conservatives right now, who are worried that that will happen. I think, if Huckabee is going to do it, he has got to reassure fiscal conservatives and people who are hawks on immigration that he can be their candidate, too.
BLITZER: He's from Hope, Arkansas.
And you got a little experience with politicians from Hope, Arkansas, Donna.
BRAZILE: Well, look, he sings the songs and he knows the music, but the fact is, if he doesn't have money in the bank, you can't get your message out. And, without getting your message out, you can't appeal to anyone at this point in the game. BLITZER: And the same goes for John McCain, too. He's got to start raising some significant sums of money to compete with Giuliani and Romney and others.
BLITZER: Money still talks in politics.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
One presidential candidate has a frightening lead in a new poll. It asks, which candidate would make the scariest Halloween costume? We will share that information with you. Find out who won.
Also, former President Gerald Ford's harsh words about some other politicians, including Bill Clinton. Find out what he thought of him in a book that is coming out right now, a book that was waiting -- that was waiting for him to, unfortunately, pass away.
And they hosted a fake news conference and answered some softball questions. Now at least one head rolls at FEMA. We will tell you what is the latest.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: On our Political Ticker this Monday: Republican Rudy Giuliani is highlighting his successful battle against prostate cancer in a new presidential campaign ad.
In the new radio spot, set to air in New Hampshire, Giuliani says, his chances of survival would have dropped significantly under what he called a socialized health care system. That's seen as a shot at his Democratic rivals, their proposals for universal health care in America.
CNN confirms Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo won't run for reelection to the House next year. But the Colorado congressman says he will continue his long-shot bid for the White House. The five-term lawmaker says his core issue, illegal immigration, now is in the national spotlight, and he doesn't need to remain in Congress to promote it. The 61-year-old Tancredo also says he wants to spend more time with his five grandchildren.
Hillary Clinton leading another poll, but, this one, she may not necessarily be very proud of. An Associated Press/Ipsos survey asked which presidential candidate would make the scariest Halloween costume. The Democratic front-runner came out on top with 37 percent. Republican Rudy Giuliani was a distant second, 14 percent. No other presidential candidates came close to Giuliani or Clinton in this very scary survey.
For -- and, remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.
Let's go back to Jack Cafferty. He has got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Those two are not just scary on Halloween, either, it should be noted.
CAFFERTY: Has anybody ever used their prostate cancer in a presidential campaign ad before?
BLITZER: That may be a first. That may be a first.
CAFFERTY: Yes, we have got to get our research people on that. I mean, what's next? I don't want to know what's next.
The question is, is it a good idea for the Democratic-led Congress to revert to a shocker workweek? Remember, when they got control in the midterms, they said, we're going to work five days a week? Well, they're not going to do that anymore. They're going to work four days a week, and then it's only a few weeks a year.
Richard writes from Ohio: "Jack, among other things, you forgot to mention the student loan legislation, very important to prospective students and the middle class."
Sorry about that, Richard.
"Congress has no chance at a decent approval rating until Iraq is handled. And that, between Democratic weak knees and Republican stubbornness, isn't going to happen any time soon."
Brad writes from Florida: "No. One thing people need to keep in mind is that those Democrats that were elected in the last election cycle are not the ones running things. Do you think a guy like Jim Webb would let things get this bad and be so ineffective? What needs to happen is, people like Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Steny Hoyer need to be replaced."
John writes from Wyoming: "Why not? The less they are in session, the less crap they can dream up to cost me money."
CAFFERTY: Bob in Illinois writes: "As long as Congress isn't going to do anything significant for the people of this country, I don't suppose it makes a whole lot of difference just where they are while they don't do it."
And A. in Herndon, Virginia: "Jack, I'm usually in agreement with you, but you got this one wrong. Congress needs balance at work, just like everybody else. How are we supposed to get our best and brightest citizens to go into public service with an unreasonable work schedule?"
Listen to this from Sue in Pittsburgh: "Just when we thought the sessions couldn't get any shorter. So, now they will be working, what, 70 days a year? Benefits, vacation pay, couple hundred days a year to secure your next election, pretty sweet. Do you know if they're hiring?"
And Matthew writes from Baton Rouge, Louisiana: "I guess they can do that, Jack, but why? Why would they dare use their power to give themselves less time to do nothing? Answer me that, Jack."
I don't have an answer for you -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, for that.
To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
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