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Voters' Trust Issues With Clinton; Stem Cell 'Milestone'; Interview With Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick

Aired November 20, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a scientific breakthrough giving experts some hope and President Bush some satisfaction. It involves hopes that stem cell research could help prolong lives without doing what some see as destroying lives. That may now be on the horizon.
We are watching this story and the political fallout -- potential.

Also, it appears some of you do not necessarily believe all that Hillary Clinton is saying. New polls suggest many Americans have trust issues with the senator and that's taking an apparent toll on her campaign.

And just in time for the presidential race, the potentially monumental political showdown. It involves the U.S. Supreme Court and the right to bear arms.

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

But we begin with the presidential race and an angry war of words between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton is questioning Senator Obama's experience, saying just because he's lived in a foreign country doesn't necessarily mean he's ready to be president of the United States.

But Obama is not leaving that unanswered. He's reacting by linking Clinton to President Bush and Vice President Cheney as leading the United States into what he calls the worst foreign policy disaster in a generation.

All this coming amid some fresh poll numbers that show Senator Clinton's support slipping in some key polls.

Let's go to our chief national correspondent, John King. He's joining us from New York.

It's getting rough out there on the campaign trail between these two Democratic front-runners. Update us on the latest, John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is remarkable, the most pointed personal back and forth between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama in recent hours. Senator Clinton started it. She is out campaigning in Iowa and she talked about all her world travels as first lady, saying she has met with foreign leaders around the world, trying to make the case that she is prepared on day one to lead the United States in the war on terrorism and to restore its image abroad, and she went on to say this; "Now voters will judge whether living in a foreign country at the age of 10 prepares one to face the big, complex international challenges the next president will face."

That, of course, a reference to Barack Obama, who lived overseas as a young boy. The Barack Obama campaign quickly firing back, Wolf, linking, as you said, Hillary Clinton to the Bush administration. A spokesman for the senator saying, "Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld have spent time in the White House and traveled to many countries as well, but along with Hillary Clinton, they led us into the worst foreign policy disaster in a generation." Senator Obama of course referring to the Iraq war there.

Now, why is it getting so nasty between the two leader contenders for the Democratic nomination? The numbers tell you.


KING (voice over): The Democratic race is tightening in the early states, and there's fresh evidence questions of trust are taking a toll on the front-runner.

GEOFF GARIN, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: It is far too soon for her or for anybody else to be looking past the primaries.

KING: In New Hampshire, Senator Hillary Clinton maintains a double-digit lead over closest rival Barack Obama, but her support is down seven points from the last CNN/WMUR New Hampshire presidential primary poll. And in Iowa, it is Obama with a tiny edge in a new "Washington Post"-ABC News poll.

GARIN: From Jimmy Carter's rise in 1976 to Howard Dean's fall in 2004, the Iowa caucuses have been the surprise package of presidential politics.

KING: The new surveys come after weeks of sharper attacks on Senator Clinton.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What the American people are looking for right now is straight answers to tough questions. And that is not what we have seen out of Senator Clinton on a host of issues.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The issue is whether we can have a president that can restore trust for the American people.

KING: And the new numbers suggest a toll. In the New Hampshire poll, only 13 percent call her the candidate most honest and trustworthy; 27 percent give Obama that label. And in Iowa, Obama again beats Clinton by 2-1 on the trust question. GARIN: We have had a period that has really accentuated Obama's strengths and put some focus on Senator Clinton's one big area of vulnerability.

KING: Six weeks to Iowa, Republicans are a little less certain. But for the most part, still betting on Senator Clinton.

WHIT AYRES, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: I think that Hillary Clinton is not going to fold even if she does not win Iowa. This is not a family that folds once they take a punch. And I think that Hillary Clinton is still the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination.


KING: But Wolf, after watching this direct attack on Senator Obama today and the ratcheting up of the rhetoric, call around to the Republican strategists, call around to the Democratic strategists, and they will tell you that Hillary Clinton would not do this herself, not so personally ratchet up the direct confrontation with Senator Obama, unless, as one put, she's more than a little worried -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I take it that poll in Iowa, that "Washington Post"-ABC News poll, may have rattled them a little bit, showing Obama now ahead in Iowa. Albeit within the margin of error supposedly.

KING: The front-runner always falls, Wolf, always stumbles. The question is, can you get up?

And if you're a Democrat and you've watched Iowa in recent years, or over the past 25 years, you know it is the trouble ground. And Senator Clinton has a good ground operation. But if she loses anywhere, there will be -- this aura of inevitably will be punctured. So of course that is the biggest challenge. And it is no surprise that her sharpest attack on Senator Obama comes the day after that new Iowa poll showed him inching ahead.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, John. We'll be back later

Hillary Clinton isn't holding back in a new campaign ad that started airing in New Hampshire. In the ad, an announcer says the Democratic White House hopeful is the only candidate who can beat -- and I'm quoting now -- "the Republican attack machine." The ad also calls Clinton "one candidate with the strength and experience to get us out of Iraq."

It's been hailed as the scientific equivalent of the first airplane by the Wright brothers, a biological breakthrough so major some experts are applauding it. The White House is praising it.

Today, scientists reporting they successfully made ordinary human skin cells act like embryonic stem cells without doing some of the destroying of lives, as opponents of embryonic stem cell research suggests. There's still, though, plenty of skepticism about this advance and experts admit lots of questions remain unanswered. But this could allow, could allow a way around the ethical and political minefield related to using human embryos.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux. She is watching this important story for us.

Suzanne, what's the White House saying?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, absolutely an important debate here. And the Bush administration hopes that this scientific breakthrough really is going to be a potential political breakthrough as well.

The White House using this announcement today to essentially make the case that the president has been on the right side, the ethical side of this issue. They point to the fact that in his first year in office he was the first president to approve federally funding stem cell research, but that was existing stem cell lines. He also issued his first veto July of 2006 against expanding that research funding if it involved destroying human embryos.

Now, we got a statement from the White House today. Dana Perino saying that, "President Bush was the first president to make these federal funds available for human embryonic stem cell research. His policy did this in ways that would not encourage the destruction of embryos. In July 2006, the president highlighted research into the possibility of reprogramming adult skin cells into pluripotent stem cells without intruding on human embryos or eggs."

And the important political aspect of this, Wolf, is that it really has scored big points among the conservatives, the religious Republican base here. He has scored those points. At the same time, he did pay a price splitting the Republican Party, taking on the former first lady, Nancy Reagan, celebrities such as the late Christopher Reeve, who obviously did not agree with the president's position. But the president and this Bush White House believes that they're validated in their position -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, they may be. It's still a lot of work, a lot of science still needed on this issue.

In fact, the Democratic senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, he's a leading, leading supporter of embryonic stem cell research. He just issued a statement, and let me quote from Senator Harkin.

"These scientists performed truly groundbreaking and historic accomplishments. Still, our top researchers recognize that this new development does not mean that we should discontinue studying embryonic stem cells. We need to continue to pursue all alternatives as we search for treatments for diabetes, Parkinson's, and spinal cord injuries."

So the debate will continue. Let's hope the science moves forward.

Aside from the political debate, we're going to take a close look at the real chance for a medical advancement on this reported breakthrough. Coming up in the next hour, we'll speak with our medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. She has been talking to a lot of researchers, talking to a lot of experts.

We'll get the assessment of how significant this apparent breakthrough is. That's coming up in our next hour.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty though right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the White House is refusing to comment on a truly horrifying, outrageous story out of Saudi Arabia. We talked a little bit about this last night.

A court in Saudi Arabia has doubled the number of lashings for a gang-rape victim, apparently because she talked to the media about being gang-raped. This is a 19-year-old woman. She was raped by seven men in 2006.

She, the victim, of a gang rape, has been sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison. Human Rights Watch has called on Saudi Arabia's king to immediately void the verdict and drop all charges against the rape victim.

It is no secret that conditions for women under Saudi law are harsh. How about subhuman? They are subject to a ridiculous dress code, they can't drive, they can't vote, they need a man's permission to travel or to have surgery.

So what's the Bush administration saying about this case? Precious little.

See, the Saudi royal family is close friends with the Bush family. Has been for years.

Remember this? That's President Bush in 2005 walking hand in hand with Crown Prince Abdullah in Crawford, Texas. At the time the president calling him a friend and referred to Saudi Arabia as an ally in the war on terror.

And of course, we buy a lot of their oil. An awful lot of their oil. So what's a little beating of a woman gang rape victim among friends, right?

The State Department calls it surprising and astonishing. Not criminal. Not outrageous. Not barbaric. Just surprising and astonishing.

But they won't criticize the Saudi government directly, saying they cannot get involved in specific cases in Saudi Arabia dealing with its own citizens. Which led me to wonder how big the atrocity would have to be to bring a condemnation from this bunch of hypocrites in Washington, D.C.

Here's the question. How should the U.S. respond to a Saudi court sentencing a gang rape victim to 200 lashes and six months in prison?

E-mail or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, you showed that picture of then Crown Prince Abdullah with President Bush in Crawford when they were holding hands. You know he's now the king. He's moved up.

He could end this just by issuing a little decree if he so wanted. But what they are saying is they want to let the judicial process move forward before he were to do any such thing.

CAFFERTY: Judicial process, that's what they call this?

BLITZER: That's what they're saying, the Sharia court, the Islamic courts, have to deal with it in their own way and then they will have a chance maybe down the road to do something about it. But they have to let the process go forward.

CAFFERTY: Well, let's hold our breath, shall we?

BLITZER: Yes. I think this is an outrageous, outrageous story. And Carol Costello, who reported it yesterday, is going to have a lot more in our next hour, Jack, as well. We're going to watch the story closely.

A big state governor is supporting Barack Obama, even though the governor used to work for President Clinton. And he used the former president to help win his current office.

We'll speak about that and a lot more with the Massachusetts governor, Duval Patrick. He's standing by live. I will ask him why he has become such big Barack Obama fan.

Also, the U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in on the right to bear arms. This is a potentially monumental showdown.

We're going to watch this and the political fallout.

And imagine not being able to work -- actually, imagine this -- not being at work, I should correct myself, but being able to say you are working. That's what the United States Senate is doing right now, all to stop President Bush from using one of his constitutional powers.

We'll explain what's going on the floor of the Senate.

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


BLITZER: Welcome back.

Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick is throwing his support behind White House hopeful Barack Obama. This, even though he has ties to Senator Obama's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. He was President Bill Clinton's assistant attorney general for civil rights. And both Obama and the former president campaigned strongly for Deval Patrick in Massachusetts. The governor is joining us now live.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: It must have been a tough decision for you. You worked for President Bill Clinton, you worked closely with Hillary Clinton. But in the end you decided to support Barack Obama.


PATRICK: Well, we have a -- you know, as I say, a Democratic -- a wonderful, rich bench on the Democratic side, and I have relationships with a number of them and loved working in the Clinton campaign. And I think Hillary Clinton has run an almost flawless campaign herself.

But I am not interested just in friendships or, frankly, even in party. I think what we need right now is a leader. And we need a leader who is going to make a claim on our times, as great leaders have in the past, for service and for sacrifice. I think our challenges are just too big to make these kinds of judgments in the usual way.

BLITZER: And that's why...

PATRICK: And I think Barack Obama...

BLITZER: ... you endorsed Barack Obama?

PATRICK: I think he is uniquely positioned and qualified and able to bring that kind of visionary, hopeful leadership that can make a difference both at home and abroad.

BLITZER: The other day he said this. He said, "Probably the strongest experience I have in foreign relations is the fact that I spent four years living overseas when I was a child in southeast Asia." He lived in Indonesia from the ages of 6 to 10.


BLITZER: To which Hillary Clinton, in a statement that's just been released, really pounded. Listen to this. This is what she says.

"Now voters will judge whether living in a foreign country at the age of 10 prepares one to face the big, complex international challenges the next president will face. I think we need a president with more experience than that."

As someone who supports Barack Obama, what do you say to Hillary Clinton?

PATRICK: Well, listen. I understand the -- I understand the point. But the fact of the matter is, is that any president has access to the best experts in foreign policy theory on the planet. And President Obama would as well.

What he brings that's unique is some life on the ground, some understanding that our actions actually have an impact not just in, you know, palaces and capital cities and so on, but in huts and villages and remote parts of countries as well. We have got to knit back together a sense of worldwide community. And I think that Senator Obama brings a unique set of strengths and experience, life experience, not just -- not just political experience, to help us do that.

BLITZER: The wife of Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, she said in a speech at South Carolina State University something intriguing, that the country really needs an African-American, a black president right now.

She says this. She says, "Imagine our family on that inaugural platform. America will look at itself differently. The world will look at America differently. There is no other candidate who is going to do that for our country."

What do you think?

PATRICK: Well, I think she's right. And frankly, I think that's something that -- you know, on a whole host of levels, beyond race, a lot of Americans sense, which is to say that if we close our eyes and try to imagine the kind of visionary leadership we want, if we -- the unifying leadership, the leadership that is willing to look out beyond his or her term in office about what decisions can be made today that will serve our long-term interests, then when you open your eyes, the image that you see, that you conjure is of Barack Obama.

But the Democratic establishment and, frankly, a lot of the political establishment, is constantly telling us we can't have what we want. That that's not electable in some sense. And I think that what is so wonderful about Senator Obama's candidacy is that he is -- he's offering something other than just the usual argument about how to win. He's offering a vision for why he should, and it can lift us all up.

And I think it's very exciting.

BLITZER: Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, thanks for coming in.

PATRICK: Great to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

By the way, we invited a surrogate from the Clinton campaign to join us as well. But unfortunately, they were unable to provide someone today. We do hope to have one of Senator Clinton's supporters join us later in the week. We'll get obviously a very different perspective then. It's a sign of a mistrust between the Congress and the White House, the U.S. Senate taking a highly unusual step over a holiday break to stop President Bush from exercising one of his constitutional duties.

We're going to tell you what and why and all -- what and why is going on. Why it's going on and why it should matter to you.

And guess what's the number one issue for many Republican voters in Iowa? It's not necessarily Iraq. And it's not terrorism.

We'll tell you what they are saying right now, right here, in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Coming up, gun control, it could take center stage in the race for the White House. The U.S. Supreme Court is now set to weigh in on the handgun ban right here in the nation's capital. Why some say this is long overdue. The ramifications of a new Supreme Court decision could be enormous.

And the 30-second congressional session, you could be seeing a lot of it this holiday week. How Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is now trying outmaneuver President Bush.

We'll explain that and a lot more right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Saudi Arabia's justice ministry is defending a much-criticized sentence handed out to a gang rape victim. It says the woman sentence was increased to six months in jail and 200 lashes after unspecified further evidence came to light against her.

We're watching this story. More coming up.

An advocacy group says millions of dangerous toys could still be on the store shelves despite this year's massive recalls. It says hazards include toys with lead and dangerous small magnets the kids could choke on.

And stunning new details about the night Princess Diana died. A witness now telling a British inquest jury a distressed Diana yanked an IV out of her arm in the ambulance and had to be restrained.

We are watching this story as well.

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

A sweeping 31-year-old ban on handguns right here in the nation's capital could -- repeat, could -- become history. The U.S. Supreme Court announcing today it will decide whether the ban violates the Constitution, and this could put gun rights front and center in the campaign for the White House.

We're going to have a full report on this potentially very, very significant development. But first, I want to go up to Capitol Hill.

Imagine not being able to work for two weeks over the holiday but being able to say you are working. That's the case with the United States Senate right now. Senators have left Washington for the Thanksgiving break, but the Senate is not in recess. It is still technically open for business.

Our congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin is up on Capitol Hill watching all of this unfold.

They're -- they are doing this, Jessica, to stop the president from exercising one of his powers.


And it is a measure of the mistrust between this Democratic-run Congress and the White House. Senator Harry Reid is so frustrated with President Bush, that he's taken an unusual step to block the president from making any so-called recess appointments. It means that he has to ask a few senators to come on in during their Thanksgiving break.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning, sir.

SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA: Good morning.


WEBB: Pretty good.

YELLIN (voice-over): It is not your typical day on the job for a U.S. senator.

WEBB: This is the first time coming to work actually makes news.

YELLIN: Senator Jim Webb spent approximately 30 seconds on the clock, gaveling an empty Senate chamber into session...

WEBB: The Senate will come to order.

YELLIN: ... and then out of session.

WEBB: The Senate stands in recess until Friday, November 23, 2007, at 10:00 a.m.

YELLIN: All to block President Bush from making so-called recess appointments, which are possible when senators are on break for three consecutive days. Democrats say Mr. Bush has gone around the confirmation process too many times.

To stop him, they are technically not recessing, instead sending in a lone senator just often enough to keep business going.

WEBB: I have been enormously frustrated over the past six years at how this administration has inappropriately pushed the envelope of executive power. So, I'm really happy about this. I think that the -- the Congress needs to do more of this to -- to reassert the balance between the legislative and executive branches.

YELLIN: According to the White House, approximately 190 confirmations are pending in the Senate. And a spokesperson says, "Since senators aren't really on break, we encourage them to make the most of this time by holding hearings and votes on these nominations."

As for first-term Senator Webb...

(on camera): How did you get enlisted for this duty?

WEBB: I'm from Virginia. I'm in town. And I'm very junior.



YELLIN: Now, among the nominees still awaiting confirmation the president's pick for surgeon general, Dr. James Holsinger, who has met with some controversy for views he expressed on homosexuality.

Senator Harry Reid says he has some Democrats he would like the president to put in some posts, so maybe they could work something out. He says, if the president will meet him halfway, well, then maybe some senators can take off their full Christmas break in a few weeks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thank you.

And, with this unusual tactic, Democrats effectively are telling President Bush he got away with recess appointments in the past. This time, they are saying, it will be different.

Back in 2005, the president angered Democrats by naming John Bolton as his U.N. ambassador when lawmakers were away. The president also did that this past April when he appointed Republican fund-raiser Sam Fox as the U.S. ambassador to Belgium. Fox was a supporter of the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which attacked John Kerry's military record.

And, in 2004, President Bush used a congressional break to install Charles Pickering to a federal appeals court. Some Democrats had accused Pickering of supporting segregation as a young man.

Let's get back now to that sweeping 31-year-old ban on handguns right here in Washington, D.C., a ban that potentially could become history.

Brian Todd has been looking at this decision.

Update our viewers, Brian, on what is going on, because the ramifications for guns in this country potentially could be enormous.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They could be enormous, Wolf. And this issue could be heard right when the candidates are going to have a chance to talk about it. Oral arguments likely in February or March in the Supreme Court, right in the middle of primary season, gun control now promising to be a red-hot issue during this campaign.

But, in the city where we are standing, it never cools down.


TODD (voice-over): On the streets of the nation's capital, police struggle every day against gun violence. More than 130 gun- related deaths were reported last year in Washington. And city officials are convinced it would have been worse if they didn't have a sweeping ban on handguns.

But the Supreme Court will now decide if that ban violates the Constitution.

GEORGE LYON, PLAINTIFF: I want, for myself, the right to protect my home and my family in the event of violent attack.

TODD: George Lyon sued the city to overturn the law which forbids people from keeping guns in their homes. In March, a federal appeals court ruled the law is incompatible with the Second Amendment, which says a well-regulated militia and the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

PAUL ROTHSTEIN, PROFESSOR OF LAW, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: The main question before the court is whether the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, is an individual right accruing to the individual citizens or whether it is collective right that just accrues to the states to have their own militias. If it is an individual right, it is pretty much hard to regulate. If it is a collective right, regulation of guns would be completely OK.

TODD: Shanda Smith, whose two teenage children were gunned down in D.C. 14 years ago, has this warning if the city's handgun ban is overturned.

SHANDA SMITH, MOTHER OF TWO SLAIN CHILDREN: What's going to happen to the kids? Mothers are going to be lined up in the cemeteries putting flowers on their children's graves.


TODD: The Supreme Court could rule on this by late June, of course, a political tinge to that as well, just before the party conventions. But the issue is never far from the candidates' minds.

A recent NRA convention attracted seven Republican candidates. And the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives just passed legislation that strengthens background checks. Wolf, it's going to be center stage again this political season.

BLITZER: We will watch it every step of the way with you, Brian. Thank you.

Iowa, it is miles up from the U.S. border. So, why is immigration now the top concern with a lot of voters out there? We are going to take a closer look and check out how the Republican presidential candidates are responding.

Plus, a lot of people couldn't wait for Fred Thompson to join the race for the White House. So, why is he falling behind right now?

And Democrats and the Bush administration locked in a battle over paying for the war in Iraq. We will see if either side is backing down.

Lots more coming up -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Guess what's the number-one issue on the minds of many Republican voters in Iowa? It's not Iraq. It is not terrorism. It is illegal immigration. Many Iowa Republicans are angry about its negative impact. So, the Republican presidential candidates are trying to show they feel that anger.

Our congressional correspondent Dana Bash is joining us now from Des Moines. She is watching this story.

They are talking a lot about illegal immigration on the campaign trail, Dana.


And I can tell you that part of it is part of a recent poll that proves why. A whopping 86 percent of Republican voters here in Iowa say they think immigration is somewhat or a serious concern.


BASH (voice-over): Des Moines, Iowa, is more than 1,200 miles from the Mexican border. Yet, walk down the street into a random small business, as we did, and find a Republican caucus voter like Tammy Ramey, who calls immigration her top issue.

TAMMY RAMEY, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: People that are coming out against amnesty, that want tougher restrictions on immigration, those are the people that are -- I'm going to be more willing to look at.

BASH: Iowa's meat-packing industry has become a magnet for illegal immigrants. The impact on taxpayer regularly makes local headlines. Iowa Republicans say, immigration can now make or break a GOP campaign here.

CHUCK LAUDNER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, IOWA REPUBLICAN PARTY: As the immigration issue plays out and candidates start to settle in -- into a position, you will see Iowa caucus-goers lining up behind them.

BASH: No wonder this was Fred Thompson's first Iowa TV ad.


FRED THOMPSON, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Giving up by granting amnesty is not the answer.


BASH: And immigration is now a major point of combat between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. Romney mailed this to Iowa Republicans, slamming Giuliani's so-called sanctuary cities policy in New York, which prevented city workers from reporting illegal immigrants at schools and hospitals.

Monday, Giuliani went to the Mexican border to promote his support for a virtual fence and to defend his immigration policies in New York, calling them:

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The most successful in the history of the country in creating an orderly, legal, lawful society.

BASH: Back in Iowa, Romney is pouncing.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mayor Giuliani, instead of distancing himself from his sanctuary policies as mayor, said that the sanctuary illegal alien policies he had as mayor made his city more lawful, orderly, and legal. That is turning reason on its head.

BASH: Giuliani's campaign distributed data claiming illegal immigration went up in Massachusetts when Romney was governor. To that, Romney shot back, New York was worse.

ROMNEY: On every possible way that I could think of, we were tough on illegals, welcoming legal immigration, but ending illegal immigration.


BASH: And the tit-for-tat between the candidates and their campaigns over their immigration records are going -- it's going on and on. And it is not likely to let up.

After Mitt Romney gave a lengthy speech on health care here, a voter approached him and said, "That's nice, Governor, but I would like to hear more about your plan to end illegal immigration" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's getting intense out there.

All right, thanks very much, Dana, for that.

Coming up: head to head in Iowa. Our "Strategy Session": We are going to check out what one leading Republican in Iowa thinks about Mitt Romney, about the former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, their respective chances of winning.

And we will also take a closer look at what's happened to Fred Thompson. Why isn't his campaign living up to a lot of really high expectations?

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


BLITZER: Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is making his picks known to who is going to win the upcoming caucuses. And they are not very far down the road, January 3.

Joining us now in our "Strategy Session" to discuss this and a lot more, CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Paul Begala and conservative commentator Terry Jeffrey. He's editor in chief of Cybercast News Service.

Guys, thanks very much.

Well, Grassley thinks that Mitt Romney is going to win in Iowa. And the latest poll that we have here shows he is -- he is ahead. He has gone back in July from 25 percent to 27 percent. But look at these numbers. Look at who is second, the former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee. He went from 2 percent in July to 18 percent in this latest poll.

What's going on in Iowa?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE: Well, I think one thing that's happening is, whereas some people have discounted the power of social and cultural conservatism in the Republican primaries this season, Huckabee's rise and the fact that Romney is holding on in Iowa and some other places still prove that they are the determining voter in the Republican primaries, Wolf.

BLITZER: It is possible that Huckabee could win in Iowa. That's definitely within the realm of possibility, even though he does not have a whole lot of money, and Romney has a lot of money.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Keep in mind, in 1988, when President Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, was a pretty popular vice president, he was beaten in Iowa not only by Bob Dole from the neighboring state, but by Reverend Pat Robertson, a very socially conservative Republican presidential candidate.

So, he could. And, if I were advising Huckabee, I would go right at Romney on those social issues, because he's -- he is a Romney-come- lately. You know, he's -- Huckabee has always been conservative on these issues. Romney has just flip-flopped on all of them.

JEFFREY: Huckabee's liability, though, in Iowa is an issue you were just pointing out. He's not tough on illegal immigration. Romney's positioned significantly to the right of him on that issue.

BLITZER: In his position now, but it wasn't always like that. (CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY: That's right. That's right.

I mean, Romney has changed on the lot of things, there's no doubt about it. But he has got a tougher position now on illegal immigration than Huckabee does. And I think that will help him in the final weeks...


BLITZER: And we just heard Dana Bash's report. Illegal immigration, at least in some of these polls, tops the areas of concern among Republican voters.

BEGALA: Absolutely. But it is that inconsistency that Romney has on immigration, like so many other issues, that makes him vulnerable to somebody who is more consistent, like Huckabee.

I mean, Huckabee ought to go at him and say, you know, Mitt has got more stances than Larry Craig in a men's room in a Minneapolis airport.


BEGALA: You know, I mean...

BLITZER: Let's talk about New Hampshire for a second on the Republican side.

Look at this CNN/WMUR New Hampshire presidential primary poll. Right now, Romney, from neighboring Massachusetts, still ahead, 33 percent. He has expanded his lead since September. McCain is holding at 18 percent, Giuliani, 16 percent. Ron Paul has gone from 4 percent to 8 percent.

But look at this. Fred Thompson, he was at 13 in September, high expectations. He has crumbled in New Hampshire to only 4 percent. That's less than Ron Paul. Whatever happened...

JEFFREY: Well...

BLITZER: ... to the Fred Thompson campaign?

JEFFREY: Well, the whole premise of Fred Thompson's campaign is that he was going to come in and be the superior conservative to take on Giuliani. He was going to be better than Romney, better than Huckabee, better than these guys.

And, Wolf, first thing, he won't sign the Americans for Tax Reform no-tax pledge, which is a huge issue in New Hampshire. Secondly, he ran for the Senate as a pro-choice candidate back in '94 and again in '96.

Two weeks ago, on "Meet the Press," he said, yes, he wants to overturn Roe v. Wade. But, hypothetically, if abortion were returned to the states, he didn't want to criminalize it for a girl or her parents or her doctor, which is the same thing he said back in 1994, when he ran for the Senate. Effectively, he is not a pro-life candidate. A guy who is not pro-life, not anti-tax is not going to rally the conservative voters in a primary.

BLITZER: When -- when he jumped into the race, even before he jumped into the race, a lot of his supporters, admirers, were saying, this is the new Ronald Reagan. He's likable. He's charming. He's a former actor. He has got name recognition, a star of "Law & Order," played presidents in the movies. And, apparently, it didn't work out exactly as a lot of those supporters had anticipated.

BEGALA: He had the name, the fame, the staff, the money, the endorsements. But he didn't have the fire in the belly.

And I'm a little worried about him this week. You know, Thursday is Thanksgiving. He eats all that turkey. That tryptophan kicks in. It makes you sleepy. He won't wake up until the South Carolina primary.


BEGALA: You know, he's just not a lot of energy, whereas he's running against guys, Rudy, Mitt, Governor Huckabee, they have a lot of energy on the stump. And -- and Fred doesn't.

JEFFREY: You know, another thing is, as much -- a lot of people who are hyping up Fred Thompson are inside-the-beltway Republicans and inside-the-beltway conservatives. And they are really trying to sell Fred Thompson as a conservative to the grassroots who are out there who are going to vote.

People out there are actually listening, especially in Iowa and New Hampshire, to what these candidates say and how they position themselves on the issue. And you can say Mitt Romney has flip- flopped, but the positions he's taking now are solid conservative positions. The positions Fred Thompson is taking are simply not.

BLITZER: Guys, we are going to leave it right there. But, both of you, have a nice Thanksgiving.

JEFFREY: You, too, Wolf.

BEGALA: And hook 'em, Horns. Texas is going to beat A&M on Friday. I wore my Longhorn tie...


BLITZER: You heard it. You heard it right here.


BEGALA: ... to salute my guys.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty has "The Cafferty File" coming up.

Also, "GQ"'s man of the year, he's suave and sophisticated, maybe. Find out which dark horse the magazine tapped this year.

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


BLITZER: He is a man of the year. That's what "GQ" magazine says. And that would be the Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul.

The magazine has picked the presidential candidate, along with 37 others. "GQ" calls Paul -- and I'm quoting now -- "the dark horse of the year." Paul is the only presidential candidate to be on the magazine's list. Paul's campaign says the candidate is humbled and honored.

As Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee rumbles with his rivals, he could get some extra muscle. Huckabee already heard the support of the martial arts star Chuck Norris. Now the wrestler Ric Flair -- he's also known as the Nature Boy -- says he is supporting Huckabee as well.

CNN has learned the wrestling star will co-host a Huckabee tailgating event at the South Carolina-Clemson football game this Saturday in Columbia.

Republican presidential candidate Huckabee, by the way, will be among my guests Sunday on "LATE EDITION" -- "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

And another presidential candidate hits a milestone, 65-year-old -- 65 years old. That would be Joe Biden. It's his birthday today. The Democratic candidate campaigned in Des Moines, Iowa. Supporters there gave him a birthday cake.

Happy birthday, Senator Biden.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our Political Ticker at

Anonymous e-mail have circulated on the Internet targeting Barack Obama. And now the Barack Obama campaign is using the Internet to respond.

Let's to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what's going on?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this Barack Obama's new fact-check page. It's touted as a place to respond with the truth, not to be confused with the Hillary Clinton campaign's fact hub that was launched earlier this month. That one is advertised as the straight scoop on election '08. Through these sites, the campaigns are slapping back online at media reports, other candidates, and particularly each other. But the Barack Obama fact check site has one added focus, this section, knocking down anonymous e-mails targeting him that are circulated online.

One claimed Obama had been educated at an Islamic madrassa. CNN traveled to Indonesia and found that to be false. Senator Obama has addressed these rumors on the campaign trail already. This site now denounces them and asks readers to forward any anonymous e-mails that they might receive to the campaign.

The campaign aides say that they set this up because false information spreads like wildfire, and they want to send a signal that: We will not let smears or falsehoods go unanswered -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Abbi, for that -- Abbi Tatton reporting.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He has got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: You know, this all suddenly reappeared after Obama mentioned the other day that he lived in Indonesia when he was 10 years old, somehow making the point that he had foreign policy experience. I mean, that does not make you Henry Kissinger. And he probably shouldn't have bothered to bring it up, because now they are throwing rocks at him for that statement, as well as these old rumors about the madrassa resurfacing.

The question this hour -- this -- this just blows me away -- how should the U.S. respond to the Saudi court that sentenced a woman who was gang-raped by seven men to 200 lashes?

John in Austin, Texas: "If you're left numb by the plight of the Saudi woman sentenced to 200 lashes, six months in prison, try to find out what becomes of her on her release back to her family. She will likely disappear at the hands of her father, brother, or some other male relative for bringing shame to the family. I lived in the Saudi kingdom from early 1999 through 2004, and I'm familiar with their culture."

Tim in New York writes: "I don't know. More hand-holding from Bush, Cheney? How about some nukes or more military aid? When are you going to wake up and realize the Bush cabal doesn't care about human rights? They hate them here. Why wouldn't they hate them over there?"

Rick writes: "What's the point of the question? It doesn't matter what we say or think. They have us by the barrels."


CAFFERTY: "We won't say a word about it."

That's barrels. Marty in Oakland, California -- or Florida -- "If Bush thinks this is OK, then he and the vice president should send their daughters to live in Saudi Arabia for a year."

Carley in North Carolina: "Our reaction to the Saudis should be at least as stern as the warnings to Iran. It's outrageous that we would condone these Neanderthal treatments of women in Saudi Arabia. I wonder how Laura Bush really feels about this treatment of women in a country whose king holds hands with her husband?"

Darren in Michigan writes: "Fifteen of the 19 terrorists on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia, and we attacked Iraq. You can't honestly believe the United States will take a position against their oil allies on something this trivial."

And Linda in California: "It must be OK, because the Saudi ruling family is good buddies with our president. And our president wouldn't be friends with anyone who does anything wrong, right?"

Wolf, they have us by the barrels.


BLITZER: Good line, indeed.

Jack, thanks very much. We're going to be discussing this later as well.

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

Happening now: like embryonic stem cells without the embryos, researchers announcing what they are calling to be a significant achievement that might -- repeat, might -- provide all the benefits, without the controversy of this important and promising medical technology.

Also, Rudy Giuliani's record under attack by 9/11 families, fair criticism or a repeat of the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry? We are going to hear from both sides this hour.

And new developments in a story that Jack was just reporting on, a story that has truly horrified a lot of the world: a rape victim ordered lashed and jailed for allegedly causing her own attack. Will the U.S. intervene?

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