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Middle East Peace Gamble; Primary Season Rush is On; Interview With Tom Vilsack; Efforts to Scrap Electoral College

Aired November 23, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, HOST: Happening now, a new U.S. gamble on Middle East peace getting a boost today from Arab nations. We'll look at the stakes for the region and for President Bush at next week's conference in Annapolis.
Also this hour, the end of the year rush is on. While you're shopping, the presidential candidates are gearing up for a campaign blitz.

We'll start the countdown with the first contest with a key Hillary Clinton ally, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack.

And the Republicans get their shot at making history. The next CNN/YouTube presidential debate is just five days away. We'll set the stage for the face-off and show you some of the questions submitted online.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations are offering a new glimmer of hope today for the long-stalled Middle East peace process. They are saying yes to an invitation to a U.S.-sponsored conference here in the Washington area next week. Now, as you would expect, the Bush administration is certainly welcoming this decision.

Our CNN's Kathleen Koch is at the White House for us.

Kathleen, obviously this is a very important move forward for President Bush.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And certainly it is, Suzanne. And this a clear boost for something that if the president were to succeed, would mean a lot to building his legacy as he faces just one more year in the White House.

Now, there had been a lot of concern about whether the summit would even happen with all the players that were supposed to participate. Hamas had been pressuring Arab countries not to attend. Tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets of Gaza today.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister saying even up until today, that his country had been reluctant to attend, but now he says they're going with the consensus. And that's a real breakthrough, because Saudi Arabia has refused to recognize Israel, no senior Saudi official has ever met publicly with an Israeli official other than at the United Nations.

Certainly, again, the White House is applauding the vote. A spokesman for the State Department, Edgar Vasquez (ph), saying, "We welcome the decision by the Arab League follow-up committee to attend the Annapolis conference at the ministerial level. This is a signal they believe this will be a serious and substantive meeting."

And certainly the goal out of this on the part of the administration is the formation of a Palestinian state. President Bush has very proudly pointed out that he is the first American president to suggest this two-state solution. But while the administration is saying it would like to see perhaps before he leaves the White House to see that goal reached even this week, the spokesman -- press secretary for the White House Dana Perino was injecting some reality, Suzanne, saying they understand the conference is not going to have "instant results."

MALVEAUX: Kathleen Koch at the White House.

Thank you so much.

And joining us now, former defense secretary and former U.S. senator William Cohen. He is now head of the global business consulting firm The Cohen Group.

Thank you so much for being with us.

WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Good to be with you.

MALVEAUX: Now, obviously, the expectation set very high here, the bar. It was surprising when we heard Secretary Rice say they want to deal by the end of the administration.

I want to read for you here -- this is something that Senator Biden actually -- a statement that he made about this, saying he "... strongly supports the upcoming Annapolis conference. It presents a real opportunity, but if it's a one shot deal, it won't work. The Middle East peace process needs to the sort of sustained day-in-day- out engagement at the highest levels that this administration has, thus far, shown little interest or aptitude for. This conference will only be meaningful if it's the start of a continued effort, not the end of one."

We have seen fits (ph) and starts from this administration. Is this too little too late?

COHEN: I think what Senator Biden has said is correct. I don't know of anyone who's had more experience in dealing with this issue, who is stronger in his support for Israel, but also stronger in his support for a two-state solution than Senator Biden. So I take him at his word.

I think he's correct that this can't be a one-shot -- sort of a photo-op, walk-on proposition. This has to be a sustained effort. And I think the effort has not been made, certainly during the first term of the Bush administration. President Bush should be given credit for now initiating this with Secretary Rice, really moving as hard as she can. And I would expect that she will continue to follow this on a day-by-day basis to achieve an agreement if one is possible.

MALVEAUX: Do you think she's been effective so far?

COHEN: I think she's been effective. And we're seeing it. We're seeing Saudi Arabia, the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, all coming together for this conference. That's a major step forward.

MALVEAUX: I want to play here -- read to you Giuliani, obviously one of the Republican presidential candidates who says this about the Middle East conference. He says, "It's not in the interest of the United States at a time when it is being threatened by Islamist terrorists who assist the creation of another state that will support terrorism."

Why aren't the Republicans on board and backing Bush in this conference?

COHEN: Well, it's curious. All of the candidates, Republican and Democratic, have said that failure is not an option in Iraq, and now some seem to be saying that a failure of the Middle East peace process or a rejection of it is acceptable. I find that hard to reconcile.

This is a political process. Much as we're seeing a political process unfold in Iraq, this is a political process that has to unfold between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And so to say we don't want this, then tell me what the option is. Does it mean no two-state solution? Does it mean that Israel becomes just barricaded behind walls?

MALVEAUX: But why not focus on, say, a big conference dealing with Iraq reconciliation? Because obviously that is what really -- that's the key here. I mean, why focus on the Middle East?

COHEN: Because these are all tied in together. Syria, for example, is very much involved in Iraq. Syria looks to make an agreement with the Israelis.

The Israelis -- I was with Prime Minister Olmert back in the spring. He very much wants to move forward in dealing with the Syrians. And so it all is tied together, and you can't just separate, let's just deal with Iraq. You cannot separate it out. You must deal with Iran, Syria, and the Palestinians as well.

MALVEAUX: Real quick, are you optimistic that this is going to produce something?

COHEN: I think we have to be clear-eyed and not dewy-eyed on this. Real clearheaded that we know the objectives are, we continue to work at it. Don't have unrealistic expectations, but don't give up. This is the best chance for moderating the Palestinian approach, empowering Mahmoud Abbas, and reaching an agreement by the end of the Bush administration's term.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you so much.

COHEN: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Bill Cohen.

And now to the race for the White House. Well, 'tis the season for candidates to actually campaign like crazy. The first context in Iowa now less than six weeks away.

Here's our own CNN's Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Suzanne, it was so nice having a day without presidential politics, but we better cherish the memory, because right now an onslaught is coming.

(voice over): Thanksgiving is over and the holiday season is under way. And that means the mad dash for gifts has started. But that's not the only contest shifting into high gear.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: After a brief break for turkey, expect the presidential campaign to come back with a vengeance.

FOREMAN: With less than six weeks to go until the first presidential primary contest, the pace really picks up. Next Wednesday, the Republican White House hopefuls face off at a CNN/YouTube debate in St. Petersburg, Florida. In December, most of the action will move to Iowa. That's because the Iowa caucuses which kick off the presidential primary voting will take place on January 3rd, the earliest date they have ever been held.

With Christmas just nine days before the caucuses, will we see campaigning on the 25th of December?

Senator Joe Biden was one of the candidates who made the rounds on Thanksgiving Day. With so much at stake, it might be hard for the campaigns to totally go dark on Christmas Day, and here's why.

In Iowa, in the race for the Democratic nomination, it appears to be a dead heat between senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and former senator John Edwards. And on the Republican side, Mitt Romney's on top, but polls there indicate the race is also tightening.

STEINHAUSER: Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani are the front- runners in the national polls, but in Iowa it's a very different story.

FOREMAN (on camera): So if you live in one of the early contest states, like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, you're just going to be buried at this point. But, as we say in raw politics, the rest of us aren't off the hook, either. The simple truth is we're almost all going to see some kind of ads or hear them on the radio, or just be pummeled by news coverage of the presidential campaign, just like this, all the way up until the voting -- Suzanne.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Tom.

Now, look for presidential hopefuls to zero in on three early battleground states this weekend. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson and Joe Biden all campaign in the leadoff caucus state of Iowa in the next two days. Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John Edwards, and Dennis Kucinich all plan to stump in New Hampshire. Now, Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson have scheduled weekend swings through South Carolina.

And Jack Cafferty and "The Cafferty File" are off today, but back on Monday.

We're counting down to the CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate. We'll give you a preview of possible questions, including those asked in, well, kind of off-the-wall ways.

Also ahead, Hillary Clinton has lost some steam in Iowa. Could she stumble in the leadoff contest of the primary season? Well, I'll ask Clinton supporter and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack.

And California voters might get a chance to turn the electoral process upside down and sway the outcome of the presidential race. A national showdown is playing out right now in the Golden State.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Well, look for Hillary Clinton to put extra time and energy into Iowa in the days ahead now that her front-runner status has suffered a new blow there. The latest poll from the leadoff caucus state showing Barack Obama gaining ground on Clinton.

Well, joining us now, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, national chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Governor, thank you very much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

TOM VILSACK, FMR. IOWA GOVERNOR: Glad to be here.

MALVEAUX: I want to start off by presenting two polls to you. Obviously very consistent on the national level.

She is up ahead here, Clinton, at 48 percent. Obama trailing at 21 percent. Edwards, 12 percent. Kucinich 4.

But then you look at your state, the state of Iowa here, the latest ABC News/"Washington Post" poll showing Barack Obama inching ahead here 30 percent. Hillary Clinton, 26 percent. John Edwards, 22. Bill Richardson, 11. Joe Biden, 4.

You know the folks of Iowa better than anybody here. What is happening? Why is she sinking in the polls? Why is she losing traction in your home state?

VILSACK: Well, I would, first of all, say that there have been 12 polls since October 1st, and Senator Clinton's been ahead in 11 of the 12. I think this poll and all of the other 11 that show her ahead basically show one thing about Iowa, and that is that it's a very close race between Senator Obama, Senator Clinton and Senator Edwards. It's been that way for several months, it's going to continue to be that way. At the end of the day, it's not going to be about polls, it's going to be about organization, who's able...

MALVEAUX: But why do you suppose she's losing ground?

VILSACK: Well, I would take issue with whether or not she's actually losing ground. T hose polls are -- again, 2 polls, 11 she's ahead, one she's behind. I would say, as I said before, unless you're Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, 11-1 is pretty good.

The bottom line is it's tough to poll Iowa because you just don't know who's going to show up at a caucus, you don't who's going to be viable. And so therefore, the focus is on organization, making sure you get your people to the caucus.

And I think ultimately what Iowans are going to look at is whether or not they are in a position to nominate someone who can win and someone who's experienced enough to be able to lead from day one. And I think when they look at those issues, they're going to conclude Senator Clinton is the strongest candidate for the party.

MALVEAUX: Now, there's something that some Iowa voters are quite concerned about, and that really is whether or not she is honest and trustworthy. I want to take a look at this poll here -- honest and trustworthy. They score Obama at 31 percent, Edwards at 20 percent, Clinton goes down to 15 percent, just above Richardson, at 13 percent.

Does that pose a problem for her?

VILSACK: I don't think so, because as Iowans get to know Hillary Clinton, as she gets to travel around the state, as she is going to continually do through the month of December, they're going to continue to get to know her. And when they do, they sign supporter cards.

They get to know her, not the caricature of her, not the cartoon of her, and not what her opponents are trying to suggest about her, but who she really is. And I will you, I've been in a number of events with her. People gravitate to her, people are excited about it, passionate about it. I think we've got a lot of momentum going on in this state, there's no question about it. And I expect us to do quite well on caucus night.

MALVEAUX: And Governor, you made a comment in a TV interview that's created quite a stir here, raised some eyebrows lately. As you said before, you said, "There's no question she was the face of the administration in foreign affairs," talking about Senator Clinton.

Richardson's folks shot back immediately. This from Tom Reynolds, his spokesperson, saying, "Governor Vilsack's enthusiasm for his candidate has clouded his judgment. We take some exception to this opinion. I also think Madeleine Albright might disagree, too."

Do you want to clarify your comment?

VILSACK: Well, I'm not sure Madeleine Albright would necessarily disagree. I will tell you what my source is. It's Bill Clinton, the president of the United States, who has suggested and has on many occasions in Iowa that during the first term, because he was busy with Bosnia and other areas, he sent Senator Clinton out as his representative, as the country's representative.

She's been to 82 countries, she knows world leaders. There's no question about the fact she was an integral player and a significant player in the first Clinton administration. That's one of the experiences she brings to the table that's unique and different about her than the rest of the candidates.

MALVEAUX: So you're saying Bill Clinton signed off on that evaluation, she's the face of foreign affairs?

VILSACK: He has suggested that on numerous occasions, that he sent her around the world. She's visited 82 countries, she knows world leaders, and she is ready on day one to begin repairing the relationships that have been damaged so tremendously during the Bush administration.

MALVEAUX: I want to play real quick here -- this is an ad that was on her Web site for the caucuses. They've got you doing a bit of a jig here.

I know people have said you have gone out of your way to support her, and we see this has gone to great lengths, because you're out there doing your thing. Let me ask you this, on a lighter note, do you think that this gives you a bit of extra boost here perhaps to be her running mate? There's been a lot of discussion about that.

VILSACK: Well, I was kind of hoping it might get me a spot on "Dancing With the Stars," but apparently the early reviews are suggesting otherwise.

We wanted to make sure that people knew that there were some things in life that are hard. Dancing is very hard for me, as you can see. But caucusing is easy, and we have a lot of first-time caucus- goers. We want to make sure they're comfortable with the notion of going on January 3rd and standing up for Hillary Clinton.

MALVEAUX: If she asked you to be her running mate, would you say yes?

VILSACK: You know what? I am focused on making sure she's our nominee, and then she'll make the right choice for the country and the party.

MALVEAUX: OK.

Thank you so much, Governor. Appreciate it.

VILSACK: You bet.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, one day after the 44th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination, a disturbing new claim that Lee Harvey Oswald might have never gotten the chance to kill Kennedy because others plotted to do that three weeks before Kennedy was assassinated.

Also, a ship hits an iceberg and starts sinking in the ocean. Find out what happened to the 150 people on board.

And fresh attempts to solve an international missing person's mystery. Police reanalyze some evidence regarding Natalee Holloway's disappearance in Aruba, and some suspects in the case face longer detentions.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's how we pick the leader of the free world, but many of you may not even know what it is or even how it works. Well, it's the Electoral College, the way Americans pick a president, conceived long ago to make that process as fair and level as possible. Some think it's time to scrap it.

Our CNN's Jill Dougherty explains.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the Electoral College has been around in one form or another for 220 years. It was a compromise, and has been controversial almost since the beginning. Some critics today call it undemocratic, a political dinosaur they want to kill off.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice over): Maryland's historic State House built during the American Revolution. These days its lawmakers are taking aim at how Americans elect their president. It's the first state in the nation to reject the current Electoral College system.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Electoral College is a wacky institution in our history. And there have been many attempts both in the Constitution and by the states to deal with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are our First Amendment rights.

DOUGHERTY: Soldier in this new revolution, Maryland state senator and law professor Jamie Rasken (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think we have come up with a pretty good way of dealing with it to get us to a national popular vote, which is what the vast majority of American people want.

DOUGHERTY (on camera): You've heard of the Electoral College?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know much about it. I remember learning about it in, like, grade school.

DOUGHERTY (voice over): But most Americans do remember the 2000 election, the fight over disputed ballots in Florida, when George W. Bush lost the popular election by nearly 544,000 votes, but won the Electoral College vote. It was the fourth time in American history that's happened.

Just how does the Electoral College work? Americans go to the polls, but the results aren't official until electors in each of the states cast their votes.

The number of electors each state gets depends on the number of U.S. senators and representatives they have. California, for example, gets 55 electoral votes. Montana gets only three. In all but two states, it's a winner-take-all system, even if the vote in that state is close.

(on camera): Under the national popular vote plan, whoever gets the majority of votes nationwide wins. The Electoral College would be required to cast their vote for that national winner.

(voice over): That simple logic has won over several of Jamie Raskin's (ph) law students.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's kind of a sham where you can end up with a vote in the Electoral College that is at odds with the popular vote.

DOUGHERTY: But some experts who ponder elections without the current Electoral College system warn it could splinter Americans into multiple parties, even lead to the election of populist tyrants.

STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: We end up with something that might even look like a European system that we don't like very much. And we are guaranteed virtually some sort of runoff election. So we have more elections than we need.

DOUGHERTY: Polls by Gallup have consistently found that some two-thirds of Americans favor a national popular vote for president.

But, just down the street from Maryland's Statehouse, even husbands and wives can't agree.

Just listen to Michael and Cherilyn Murer, both lawyers.

MICHAEL MURER, ATTORNEY: It's actually a good system that has served us well throughout our country's history.

CHERILYN MURER, ATTORNEY: No, I like the popular vote. I think it is something we should consider.

DOUGHERTY: Legislative chambers in seven states have passed bills in favor of a national popular vote. But many more would need to reject the current Electoral College for a national popular vote to become reality.

The United States may have been born in revolution, but, when it comes to presidential elections, it seems to prefer evolution.

(on camera): This isn't the first time critics have proposed getting rid of the Electoral College, but, so far, no one has been able to do it. Americans prize democracy, but they also value stability -- Suzanne.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And, currently, at Jill mentioned, only two states currently that do not follow the winner-take-all rule for the Electoral College. Those states are Maine and Nebraska. Maine has four electoral votes and Nebraska has five. Both states use a proportional system in which their electoral votes are allocated by congressional district.

Meanwhile, some people in one state are trying to revamp the way votes are doled out in the presidential election, but not everybody is happy about this.

Our CNN senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, has those details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (on camera): Suzanne, remember hearing about a ballot measure that would change the way electoral casts its electoral California? It was supposed to be dead. Well, guess what? It's come back to life.

(voice-over): A national political battle is being fought out in California, but the voters there don't seem to know or care much about it. National Republican money is coming into calling to pay for gathering petition signatures to qualify a ballot measure that would divide California's electoral votes.

TONY QUINN, CALIFORNIA POLITICAL ANALYST: If this passed, rather than 55 electoral votes going to the Democratic candidate, you would probably have about 35 going to the Democrat and 20 going to the Republican candidate. So, that could have a major impact on how we elect the president in 2008.

SCHNEIDER: You bet it would. Twenty electoral votes is as many as the whole state of Ohio. If the measure qualifies for the ballot -- the deadline is next week -- Republicans will argue that it's fairer. Why should the 44 percent of Californians who voted for George W. Bush in 2004 not get a single electoral vote for their effort? It would also bring the presidential campaign to California. Right now, the state feels like an ATM machine. Candidates raise money in California, and spend it somewhere else.

Democrats will argue it's unfair to split up California's electoral votes unless other big states do the same thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Democrats will say it's a power grab.

SCHNEIDER: That's one thing Democrats have going for them, voter skepticism.

QUINN: It's very hard to see that there's any major, major issue here that the voters care about. Generally, they have refused to involve themselves when the fight is between the two parties. They say, gee, that's not my -- that's not my fight.

SCHNEIDER: When California voters don't understand or care much about a ballot measure, they usually vote no. They figure somebody is up to something.

(on camera): A lot of the money behind the California ballot measure is coming from Republicans with ties to Rudy Giuliani. And a lot of the effort to stop it is coming from the Hillary Clinton forces. It's turning into an early showdown between the two front- runners, and the voters of California don't even know it -- Suzanne.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Well, you're asking, and the Republican presidential candidates will answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Would you be willing to open up Guantanamo Bay to public viewing?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: That is just one possible question the candidates could get in our CNN/YouTube debate. We will preview questions that you are sending in.

And it is football season, but our strategists will talk about tackles on the campaign field. They will pull out their playbooks and offer advice to Democrats and Republicans on how to win in Iowa.

And could John F. Kennedy have been killed three weeks before he was actually assassinated? There are some startling claims you might not believe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Well, the Democrats made presidential campaign history by taking part in our first-of-its-kind CNN/YouTube debate. Now Republicans are about to get their chance at answering questions submitted by voters on line. The first CNN/YouTube debate was groundbreaking in its format, and it raised provocative issues for the Democrats, including whether or not to open a dialogue with Iran and other nations hostile to the United States.

Just take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them -- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration -- is ridiculous.

(APPLAUSE)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort because I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are. I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Well, some of the questions raised eyebrows as well. Do you remember the talking snowman?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Hello, Democratic candidates. I have been growing concerned that global warming, the single most important...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Well, some Republican candidates were reluctant to answer questions from the likes of a talking snowman, but now the GOP contenders are set to take part in the CNN/YouTube debate this coming Wednesday in Saint Petersburg, Florida.

CNN's Josh Levs has been looking over the questions submitted online.

What does it look like? What's the response?

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is no less fun. It is so -- I have had the best time the last couple of days.

MALVEAUX: I'm sure. LEVS: I'm breezing through hours of these questions. I love what we do.

You have got to see some of this stuff. I mean, people are not holding back. And, folks we are getting inundated with questions, not just from all over the country, but from Americans living all over the world.

And, no surprise, people are not holding back.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEVS (voice-over): The Republican candidates can run, but they cannot hide from your questions in the CNN/YouTube debate, which may include some sharp jabs.

QUESTION: What are going to you going to do to return the civil liberties to the American people and stop these outrageous acts on our security and our privacy?

LEVS: Some offer personal stories, like this man, who says he's a gay registered Republican.

QUESTION: But a vote for you is a vote against my family.

LEVS: A few bring up some of the wackier topics on Earth or beyond.

QUESTION: UFOs and aliens.

LEVS: Maybe he ought to be asking this YouTuber.

QUESTION: I am one of many from another dimension.

LEVS: Around 4,000 questions are in, more than the 3,000 sent in for the Democratic debate in July. All the questions are viewable online. And we're not saying this ones may be used, just giving you a taste of what we're getting.

QUESTION: What are you going to do as president to ensure diversity in your administration?

LEVS: There are unique spins on expected subjects, like Iraq, taxes, and the national debt. Some want specifics.

QUESTION: Would you be willing to open up Guantanamo Bay to public viewing?

LEVS: There are serious subjects that don't often make the headlines.

QUESTION: But what about the war going on in your own country, black-on-black crime?

LEVS: And questions all about character.

QUESTION: What is your one greatest strength and your one greatest weakness?

LEVS: Getting candidates to admit weaknesses? Good luck. Maybe he's in cahoots with this guy, who apparently wants to lull the candidates into some form of hypnosis, though there are plenty of characters to keep them on their toes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(LAUGHTER)

LEVS: Left the building, right?

All right. Well, the debate is going to be Wednesday night in Saint Petersburg. And it's not too late to submit your questions. The deadline for those questions is this Sunday night at midnight. Just go to CNN.com, click on politics. You will see the link. It will trace you through exactly what you have got to do.

Even -- Suzanne, even if you're not that tech-savvy, people can handle it.

MALVEAUX: OK.

LEVS: It's so good.

MALVEAUX: Well, it's already fascinating.

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: Interesting stuff.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: Now, have you been told which questions are actually going to be used?

LEVS: No, they won't tell me.

MALVEAUX: They won't tell you?

LEVS: No. There's this secret cabal that decides this stuff. It's like in a hidden room.

So, have they told you?

MALVEAUX: No. I have no idea.

LEVS: Oh, really?

MALVEAUX: No, I don't know.

LEVS: Oh, I feel so much -- see, if they haven't told Suzanne Malveaux, they're totally not going to tell me.

(LAUGHTER)

LEVS: So, I feel better.

MALVEAUX: All right, Josh, looking forward to it.

LEVS: Thanks.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Josh.

And in the "Strategy Session": The clock ticking and the days are dwindling between now and the kickoff to primary season, the Iowa caucuses. Our strategists have words of wisdom for the three Democrats whose fate may be made or lost in Iowa and the Republicans, whose time, money and energy spent there may not be enough.

Donna Brazile and John Feehery are standing by here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Competitors trying to take down rivals, teams intensely plotting their strategies, and, on the sidelines, spectators cheering and booing. What may sound like a football game is actually the race to win the Iowa caucuses.

Here to play coach on how candidates might win, our CNN political analyst Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist, and Republican strategist John Feehery.

Now, Donna, we're going to start off with you kind of playing coach for all the different candidates here. Let's first start off with Senator Clinton. She's ahead nationally, a wide margin, with Barack Obama. But we have seen it close. And it's almost, I guess, a statistical dead heat in Iowa. What does she need to do?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, her theme has been that she's ready to -- to lead from day one, when she gets into the White House.

So, I think she needs to articulate her vision. What's her vision? Where is she going to take us as a nation? Look, we don't want to go back down memory lane. We want to go forward. The next president will inherit a divided country, will inherit great challenges. Tell us what you plan to do.

Secondly, I would advise Senator Clinton to address her vulnerabilities. She's been called too cautious, too calculating. Talk about -- go back to her experience, her strength. Talk about what she has accomplished, so people feel more comfortable with her as a person.

Look, she's taken some tough positions on some very controversial issues. Highlight the positive, and I think Senator Clinton can remain in the lead position.

MALVEAUX: Now, Barack Obama, we have really seen, just within the last week or so, really catching up when it comes to Iowa and some of the other states here. Obviously, he's developed relationships in that critical state. What does he need to do to maintain that?

BRAZILE: First of all, I think Senator -- Senator Obama needs to go back to that theme, the change we can all believe in.

Most Americans want to believe that the next president of the United States will bring us together, will unite the country around controversial issues, will help us get out of Iraq. I think Senator Obama needs to go back to doing that, and not focus all this time on attacking Senator Clinton. She has her problems. He needs to go back to that -- that positive theme that he put out there from day one.

MALVEAUX: And John Edwards, consistently in third place, but also kind of laying back a little bit here. Does he just let the other two fight it out?

BRAZILE: Oh, absolutely not. Look, he's thrown a lot of -- he's like the kid who throws mud and hides his hand behind his back. I think he needs to go back to being the John Edwards of 2004, someone that we could believe in, someone who started his campaign in 2008 in New Orleans in the Ninth Ward. So, go back to addressing those tough issues.

MALVEAUX: John, let's take on the Republicans here.

Obviously, Mitt Romney, all this money and time in Iowa, and Huckabee is at his heels. What does he do?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Romney has got to keep the focus on illegal immigration. It's the number-one issue for Iowans right now and the Republican base.

And, also, he has to stay positive. If he goes negative, it might -- what happened to Howard Dean in the last election might happen to him, where he loses a big lead. He doesn't want to lose that big lead by going negative on Mike Huckabee, who he is hearing his footsteps. He wants to make sure he stays positive.

MALVEAUX: And Huckabee, how does he maintain that? How does he...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: I think what he does, he does two things. First, he expands -- he -- he excites his base, which is the Christian conservative base. And they're really important in caucuses. They come out more than -- heavily than anybody else.

Then he's got to expand the base. And, by that, I mean he has got to go after the economic populist in Iowa. It's a very populist state. And he is the only top-tier candidate who has an economic populism message. And I think he can excite -- expand that base by talking about those type of issues.

MALVEAUX: Is Giuliani getting old at this point? FEEHERY: Well, I think Rudy made a mistake early on by deciding not to play in the straw poll. So, right now, he has got to do two things.

First of all, he has got to play down expectations, because he's not going to win. And third place would be good for him. Second, I think he has got to pray that Huckabee knocks out Romney, because what's bad for Romney is good for Rudy.

MALVEAUX: All right, thanks, coaching on both sides. We will see how it all plays out, if they listen to either one of you.

What -- did you have anything you want to take on that John has said about advice to Republicans?

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: No, I thought he gave good advice, especially to Rudy.

But, look, I also think that John Edwards needs to write himself a check. He has money. He should spend money this month and next month to win those Iowa caucuses. But, if he loses, he's out of it.

MALVEAUX: So, YouTube debate with the Republicans is coming up next week. Who's -- who is likely to perform well here, one on one, facing off with the voters?

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: I think the two guys who are the best quipsters and off the cuff are Giuliani and McCain. And those are the ones I think that can go with the flow. McCain is very good off the cuff. He's got a good sense of humor. I think Rudy is the same way.

MALVEAUX: Who's going to suffer?

BRAZILE: McCain needs to worry about Ron Paul. Ron Paul is catching fire up in New Hampshire. McCain needs to douse that fire before it consumes his campaign.

FEEHERY: I agree with that. Ron Paul has raised a lot of money. He's getting a lot of silent admirers who will come out in the caucuses, a lot of independents, too.

MALVEAUX: So, what about Ron Paul? Does he actually have a chance of coming back?

BRAZILE: No, but he's the gadfly of this race. People enjoy listening to what he has to say, but I think he -- he could pose some trouble to John McCain on the Republican side.

FEEHERY: He's like -- he's like that football team that's just not that good, but it can knock off the number-one contender, is kind of a spoiler. And he can do that with McCain. He can be the spoiler for McCain by coming in third.

And, you know, he excites a lot of people that don't traditionally come out and vote.

MALVEAUX: So, what if Rudy loses in Iowa, New Hampshire? Can he still make it? Can he win the nomination?

BRAZILE: I think it's going to be hard for him to get momentum and to really refuel his campaign to win in Florida and beyond.

Look, I also believe, on the Democratic side, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, they're out there really competing in Iowa. So, I wouldn't be surprised if one or two of those candidates end up with double digits.

FEEHERY: Can I respectfully disagree with Donna on Rudy? He has not actually planned on winning either Iowa or New Hampshire. And, so, his whole strategy is based on a 50-state strategy. Now, we will see if that works, but that's how he's planned it. And, if his plan comes out, I think he still has got -- has a shot.

MALVEAUX: Is there any question that the candidates should avoid in the YouTube debate here, anything that could possibly get them into really big trouble?

BRAZILE: I think they need to go beyond immigration and border security, which clearly is a very important issue, but talk about the middle class. The middle class is hurting. People out there are afraid. They're losing their homes. I think they should address economic issues, beyond tax cuts.

MALVEAUX: John?

FEEHERY: I'm trying to think. I can't -- it's hard, because you don't want to seem avoiding big questions of the day.

I mean, you want to be careful on the immigration question, so that you're going after the illegal activity, and not legal immigrants. And Republicans have to do a better job of talking about the legal immigrants that come into this country, work hard, and actually contribute a lot to this economy.

MALVEAUX: OK.

We're looking forward to seeing the YouTube debate, some of the tough questions obviously that are going to come about.

All right, Donna, thank you.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, John, as well.

Is one of Mitt Romney's most important supporters wishing he could eat his own words?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JUDD GREGG (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Well, I have always, being from New Hampshire, viewed Iowa as being a place where they pick corn and New Hampshire being the place where we pick presidents.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Well, that's from New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And it's forcing Mitt Romney to respond.

Ready or not? That's what some people wander about New Orleans' ability to hold a presidential debate, but some in the city are insulted even at that question.

And one man talks about shopping and sinning. There's a push to get you to stop shopping this holiday season. To help you convince you of that, some are asking, what would Jesus buy?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: On our Political Ticker this Friday: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is trying to make amends in Iowa. At a time when polls Romney's lead in Iowa has diminished or even evaporated, it may not have been, well, a great time for one of his key supporters to dis the leadoff caucus state.

Listen to what New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg said here in THE SITUATION ROOM earlier this week, and what Romney is saying about it now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREGG: Well, I have always, being from New Hampshire, viewed Iowa as being a place where they pick corn and New Hampshire being the place where we pick presidents.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Both states are key states in picking the president. I'm sure the senator from -- from New Hampshire is proud of his own state.

I must admit, I like the process that we have in this country of selecting the nominee of each party. I like the fact that the first two states to focus on the -- the candidates get to know the candidates on a personal basis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Well, expect questions for Romney about Iowa's importance on Monday. He will be Wolf Blitzer's guest, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And now that the fall presidential debate schedule is set, some people in New Orleans are feeling left out, and others feel downright snubbed.

CNN's Sean Callebs joining us from New Orleans.

And, Sean, an angry reaction there to the fact that New Orleans did not make the cut to host a presidential debate. SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly, Suzanne.

I think a lot of people here thought a debate would have been a great national platform for this city to show that, yes, it is indeed making progress. But that won't happen. And what the Debate Commission allegedly said to the city isn't playing well here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CALLEBS (voice-over): New Orleans likes to put on a show...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on down. It's a party.

CALLEBS: ... and is trying desperately to tell the world that it is coming back.

So, when New Orleans lost out in its effort to lure one of the presidential debates here, local organizers were more than a little miffed.

ANNE MILLING, FOUNDER, WOMEN OF THE STORM: According to the commissioners who spoke to us, I was contacted by the co-chairman Paul Kirk, and he said to me -- quote -- "The city isn't ready," which, of course, we feel is a terrific insult, because of all the things that we have done.

CALLEBS: That list includes two Mardi Gras, with tens of thousands of tourists, the Sugar Bowl, JazzFest, large conventions, and New Orleans is hosting this year's NBA All-Star Game in a few months.

The co-chair of the Debate Commission says, he wants to set the record straight.

FRANK FAHRENKOPF, CO-CHAIRMAN, PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE COMMISSION: Well, it's not a question of whether you can hold a major event or not hold a major event. I think they can hold major events. They have proven that.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have got a lot of work to do here in New Orleans.

CALLEBS: Seven presidential candidates, five Democrats and two Republicans, signed letters asking the commission to hold one of the four scheduled debates in New Orleans.

Women of the Storm, which was formed in the aftermath of Katrina, worked with four universities in the city to sponsor the debate, and believe the snub sets back efforts to rebuild.

MILLING: Right after 9/11, the Republican National Convention chose to go to New York to showcase New York, to talk about the war on terror, but also to help the community of New York heal and bring tourists back to their city.

FAHRENKOPF: There were other cities, Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Miami, Portland, Oregon, that were unsuccessful. There's no allegation by them that somehow we were dissing their city or...

CALLEBS: But there will be convincing a battered city that politics kept the commission from doing the right thing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CALLEBS: And aside from the five candidates who thought the debate should be here, the "USA Today," "New York Times," and "Washington Post" also wrote editorials saying New Orleans deserves a shot at the debate -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Sean.

Well, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Were hitmen targeting President John Kennedy in Chicago just weeks before his assassination in Dallas? We will show you who is revealing details of a new alleged plot.

Also, they are used by the military. Now one local police force is getting a drone of its own. But what do they plan to do with it?

And one of America's most popular pastors, Joel Osteen, joins us, weighing in on hot-button issues, including gay rights. Find out why he says homosexuality is -- quote -- "not God's best."

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, HOST: Happening now, a new U.S. gamble on Middle East peace getting a boost today from Arab nations. We'll look at the stakes for the region and for President Bush at next week's conference in Annapolis.

Also this hour, the end of the year rush is on. While you're shopping, the presidential candidates are gearing up for a campaign blitz.

We'll start the countdown with the first contest with a key Hillary Clinton ally, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack.

And the Republicans get their shot at making history. The next CNN/YouTube presidential debate is just five days away. We'll set the stage for the face-off and show you some of the questions submitted online.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations are offering a new glimmer of hope today for the long-stalled Middle East peace process. They are saying yes to an invitation to a U.S.-sponsored conference here in the Washington area next week. Now, as you would expect, the Bush administration is certainly welcoming this decision.

Our CNN's Kathleen Koch is at the White House for us.

Kathleen, obviously this is a very important move forward for President Bush.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And certainly it is, Suzanne. And this a clear boost for something that if the president were to succeed, would mean a lot to building his legacy as he faces just one more year in the White House.

Now, there had been a lot of concern about whether the summit would even happen with all the players that were supposed to participate. Hamas had been pressuring Arab countries not to attend. Tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets of Gaza today.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister saying even up until today, that his country had been reluctant to attend, but now he says they're going with the consensus. And that's a real breakthrough, because Saudi Arabia has refused to recognize Israel, no senior Saudi official has ever met publicly with an Israeli official other than at the United Nations.

Certainly, again, the White House is applauding the vote. A spokesman for the State Department, Edgar Vasquez (ph), saying, "We welcome the decision by the Arab League follow-up committee to attend the Annapolis conference at the ministerial level. This is a signal they believe this will be a serious and substantive meeting."

And certainly the goal out of this on the part of the administration is the formation of a Palestinian state. President Bush has very proudly pointed out that he is the first American president to suggest this two-state solution. But while the administration is saying it would like to see perhaps before he leaves the White House to see that goal reached even this week, the spokesman -- press secretary for the White House Dana Perino was injecting some reality, Suzanne, saying they understand the conference is not going to have "instant results."

MALVEAUX: Kathleen Koch at the White House.

Thank you so much.

And joining us now, former defense secretary and former U.S. senator William Cohen. He is now head of the global business consulting firm The Cohen Group.

Thank you so much for being with us.

WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Good to be with you.

MALVEAUX: Now, obviously, the expectation set very high here, the bar. It was surprising when we heard Secretary Rice say they want to deal by the end of the administration.

I want to read for you here -- this is something that Senator Biden actually -- a statement that he made about this, saying he "... strongly supports the upcoming Annapolis conference. It presents a real opportunity, but if it's a one shot deal, it won't work. The Middle East peace process needs to the sort of sustained day-in-day- out engagement at the highest levels that this administration has, thus far, shown little interest or aptitude for. This conference will only be meaningful if it's the start of a continued effort, not the end of one."

We have seen fits (ph) and starts from this administration. Is this too little too late?

COHEN: I think what Senator Biden has said is correct. I don't know of anyone who's had more experience in dealing with this issue, who is stronger in his support for Israel, but also stronger in his support for a two-state solution than Senator Biden. So I take him at his word.

I think he's correct that this can't be a one-shot -- sort of a photo-op, walk-on proposition. This has to be a sustained effort. And I think the effort has not been made, certainly during the first term of the Bush administration.

President Bush should be given credit for now initiating this with Secretary Rice, really moving as hard as she can. And I would expect that she will continue to follow this on a day-by-day basis to achieve an agreement if one is possible.

MALVEAUX: Do you think she's been effective so far?

COHEN: I think she's been effective. And we're seeing it. We're seeing Saudi Arabia, the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, all coming together for this conference. That's a major step forward.

MALVEAUX: I want to play here -- read to you Giuliani, obviously one of the Republican presidential candidates who says this about the Middle East conference. He says, "It's not in the interest of the United States at a time when it is being threatened by Islamist terrorists who assist the creation of another state that will support terrorism."

Why aren't the Republicans on board and backing Bush in this conference?

COHEN: Well, it's curious. All of the candidates, Republican and Democratic, have said that failure is not an option in Iraq, and now some seem to be saying that a failure of the Middle East peace process or a rejection of it is acceptable. I find that hard to reconcile. This is a political process. Much as we're seeing a political process unfold in Iraq, this is a political process that has to unfold between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And so to say we don't want this, then tell me what the option is. Does it mean no two-state solution? Does it mean that Israel becomes just barricaded behind walls?

MALVEAUX: But why not focus on, say, a big conference dealing with Iraq reconciliation? Because obviously that is what really -- that's the key here. I mean, why focus on the Middle East?

COHEN: Because these are all tied in together. Syria, for example, is very much involved in Iraq. Syria looks to make an agreement with the Israelis.

The Israelis -- I was with Prime Minister Olmert back in the spring. He very much wants to move forward in dealing with the Syrians. And so it all is tied together, and you can't just separate, let's just deal with Iraq. You cannot separate it out. You must deal with Iran, Syria, and the Palestinians as well.

MALVEAUX: Real quick, are you optimistic that this is going to produce something?

COHEN: I think we have to be clear-eyed and not dewy-eyed on this. Real clearheaded that we know the objectives are, we continue to work at it. Don't have unrealistic expectations, but don't give up. This is the best chance for moderating the Palestinian approach, empowering Mahmoud Abbas, and reaching an agreement by the end of the Bush administration's term.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you so much.

COHEN: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Bill Cohen.

And now to the race for the White House. Well, 'tis the season for candidates to actually campaign like crazy. The first context in Iowa now less than six weeks away.

Here's our own CNN's Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Suzanne, it was so nice having a day without presidential politics, but we better cherish the memory, because right now an onslaught is coming.

(voice over): Thanksgiving is over and the holiday season is under way. And that means the mad dash for gifts has started. But that's not the only contest shifting into high gear.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: After a brief break for turkey, expect the presidential campaign to come back with a vengeance. FOREMAN: With less than six weeks to go until the first presidential primary contest, the pace really picks up. Next Wednesday, the Republican White House hopefuls face off at a CNN/YouTube debate in St. Petersburg, Florida. In December, most of the action will move to Iowa. That's because the Iowa caucuses which kick off the presidential primary voting will take place on January 3rd, the earliest date they have ever been held.

With Christmas just nine days before the caucuses, will we see campaigning on the 25th of December?

Senator Joe Biden was one of the candidates who made the rounds on Thanksgiving Day. With so much at stake, it might be hard for the campaigns to totally go dark on Christmas Day, and here's why.

In Iowa, in the race for the Democratic nomination, it appears to be a dead heat between senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and former senator John Edwards. And on the Republican side, Mitt Romney's on top, but polls there indicate the race is also tightening.

STEINHAUSER: Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani are the front- runners in the national polls, but in Iowa it's a very different story.

FOREMAN (on camera): So if you live in one of the early contest states, like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, you're just going to be buried at this point. But, as we say in raw politics, the rest of us aren't off the hook, either. The simple truth is we're almost all going to see some kind of ads or hear them on the radio, or just be pummeled by news coverage of the presidential campaign, just like this, all the way up until the voting -- Suzanne.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Tom.

Now, look for presidential hopefuls to zero in on three early battleground states this weekend. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson and Joe Biden all campaign in the leadoff caucus state of Iowa in the next two days. Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John Edwards, and Dennis Kucinich all plan to stump in New Hampshire. Now, Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson have scheduled weekend swings through South Carolina.

And Jack Cafferty and "The Cafferty File" are off today, but back on Monday.

We're counting down to the CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate. We'll give you a preview of possible questions, including those asked in, well, kind of off-the-wall ways.

Also ahead, Hillary Clinton has lost some steam in Iowa. Could she stumble in the leadoff contest of the primary season? Well, I'll ask Clinton supporter and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack.

And California voters might get a chance to turn the electoral process upside down and sway the outcome of the presidential race. A national showdown is playing out right now in the Golden State.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Well, look for Hillary Clinton to put extra time and energy into Iowa in the days ahead now that her front-runner status has suffered a new blow there. The latest poll from the leadoff caucus state showing Barack Obama gaining ground on Clinton.

Well, joining us now, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, national chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Governor, thank you very much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

TOM VILSACK, FMR. IOWA GOVERNOR: Glad to be here.

MALVEAUX: I want to start off by presenting two polls to you. Obviously very consistent on the national level.

She is up ahead here, Clinton, at 48 percent. Obama trailing at 21 percent. Edwards, 12 percent. Kucinich 4.

But then you look at your state, the state of Iowa here, the latest ABC News/"Washington Post" poll showing Barack Obama inching ahead here 30 percent. Hillary Clinton, 26 percent. John Edwards, 22. Bill Richardson, 11. Joe Biden, 4.

You know the folks of Iowa better than anybody here. What is happening? Why is she sinking in the polls? Why is she losing traction in your home state?

VILSACK: Well, I would, first of all, say that there have been 12 polls since October 1st, and Senator Clinton's been ahead in 11 of the 12. I think this poll and all of the other 11 that show her ahead basically show one thing about Iowa, and that is that it's a very close race between Senator Obama, Senator Clinton and Senator Edwards. It's been that way for several months, it's going to continue to be that way. At the end of the day, it's not going to be about polls, it's going to be about organization, who's able...

MALVEAUX: But why do you suppose she's losing ground?

VILSACK: Well, I would take issue with whether or not she's actually losing ground. T hose polls are -- again, 2 polls, 11 she's ahead, one she's behind. I would say, as I said before, unless you're Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, 11-1 is pretty good.

The bottom line is it's tough to poll Iowa because you just don't know who's going to show up at a caucus, you don't who's going to be viable. And so therefore, the focus is on organization, making sure you get your people to the caucus.

And I think ultimately what Iowans are going to look at is whether or not they are in a position to nominate someone who can win and someone who's experienced enough to be able to lead from day one. And I think when they look at those issues, they're going to conclude Senator Clinton is the strongest candidate for the party.

MALVEAUX: Now, there's something that some Iowa voters are quite concerned about, and that really is whether or not she is honest and trustworthy. I want to take a look at this poll here -- honest and trustworthy. They score Obama at 31 percent, Edwards at 20 percent, Clinton goes down to 15 percent, just above Richardson, at 13 percent.

Does that pose a problem for her?

VILSACK: I don't think so, because as Iowans get to know Hillary Clinton, as she gets to travel around the state, as she is going to continually do through the month of December, they're going to continue to get to know her. And when they do, they sign supporter cards.

They get to know her, not the caricature of her, not the cartoon of her, and not what her opponents are trying to suggest about her, but who she really is. And I will you, I've been in a number of events with her. People gravitate to her, people are excited about it, passionate about it. I think we've got a lot of momentum going on in this state, there's no question about it. And I expect us to do quite well on caucus night.

MALVEAUX: And Governor, you made a comment in a TV interview that's created quite a stir here, raised some eyebrows lately. As you said before, you said, "There's no question she was the face of the administration in foreign affairs," talking about Senator Clinton.

Richardson's folks shot back immediately. This from Tom Reynolds, his spokesperson, saying, "Governor Vilsack's enthusiasm for his candidate has clouded his judgment. We take some exception to this opinion. I also think Madeleine Albright might disagree, too."

Do you want to clarify your comment?

VILSACK: Well, I'm not sure Madeleine Albright would necessarily disagree. I will tell you what my source is. It's Bill Clinton, the president of the United States, who has suggested and has on many occasions in Iowa that during the first term, because he was busy with Bosnia and other areas, he sent Senator Clinton out as his representative, as the country's representative.

She's been to 82 countries, she knows world leaders. There's no question about the fact she was an integral player and a significant player in the first Clinton administration. That's one of the experiences she brings to the table that's unique and different about her than the rest of the candidates.

MALVEAUX: So you're saying Bill Clinton signed off on that evaluation, she's the face of foreign affairs?

VILSACK: He has suggested that on numerous occasions, that he sent her around the world. She's visited 82 countries, she knows world leaders, and she is ready on day one to begin repairing the relationships that have been damaged so tremendously during the Bush administration. MALVEAUX: I want to play real quick here -- this is an ad that was on her Web site for the caucuses. They've got you doing a bit of a jig here.

I know people have said you have gone out of your way to support her, and we see this has gone to great lengths, because you're out there doing your thing. Let me ask you this, on a lighter note, do you think that this gives you a bit of extra boost here perhaps to be her running mate? There's been a lot of discussion about that.

VILSACK: Well, I was kind of hoping it might get me a spot on "Dancing With the Stars," but apparently the early reviews are suggesting otherwise.

We wanted to make sure that people knew that there were some things in life that are hard. Dancing is very hard for me, as you can see. But caucusing is easy, and we have a lot of first-time caucus- goers. We want to make sure they're comfortable with the notion of going on January 3rd and standing up for Hillary Clinton.

MALVEAUX: If she asked you to be her running mate, would you say yes?

VILSACK: You know what? I am focused on making sure she's our nominee, and then she'll make the right choice for the country and the party.

MALVEAUX: OK.

Thank you so much, Governor. Appreciate it.

VILSACK: You bet.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, one day after the 44th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination, a disturbing new claim that Lee Harvey Oswald might have never gotten the chance to kill Kennedy because others plotted to do that three weeks before Kennedy was assassinated.

Also, a ship hits an iceberg and starts sinking in the ocean. Find out what happened to the 150 people on board.

And fresh attempts to solve an international missing person's mystery. Police reanalyze some evidence regarding Natalee Holloway's disappearance in Aruba, and some suspects in the case face longer detentions.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's how we pick the leader of the free world, but many of you may not even know what it is or even how it works. Well, it's the Electoral College, the way Americans pick a president, conceived long ago to make that process as fair and level as possible. Some think it's time to scrap it.

Our CNN's Jill Dougherty explains.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the Electoral College has been around in one form or another for 220 years. It was a compromise, and has been controversial almost since the beginning. Some critics today call it undemocratic, a political dinosaur they want to kill off.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice over): Maryland's historic State House built during the American Revolution. These days its lawmakers are taking aim at how Americans elect their president. It's the first state in the nation to reject the current Electoral College system.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Electoral College is a wacky institution in our history. And there have been many attempts both in the Constitution and by the states to deal with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are our First Amendment rights.

DOUGHERTY: Soldier in this new revolution, Maryland state senator and law professor Jamie Rasken (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think we have come up with a pretty good way of dealing with it to get us to a national popular vote, which is what the vast majority of American people want.

DOUGHERTY (on camera): You've heard of the Electoral College?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know much about it. I remember learning about it in, like, grade school.

DOUGHERTY (voice over): But most Americans do remember the 2000 election, the fight over disputed ballots in Florida, when George W. Bush lost the popular election by nearly 544,000 votes, but won the Electoral College vote. It was the fourth time in American history that's happened.

Just how does the Electoral College work? Americans go to the polls, but the results aren't official until electors in each of the states cast their votes.

The number of electors each state gets depends on the number of U.S. senators and representatives they have. California, for example, gets 55 electoral votes. Montana gets only three. In all but two states, it's a winner-take-all system, even if the vote in that state is close. (on camera): Under the national popular vote plan, whoever gets the majority of votes nationwide wins. The Electoral College would be required to cast their vote for that national winner.

(voice over): That simple logic has won over several of Jamie Raskin's (ph) law students.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's kind of a sham where you can end up with a vote in the Electoral College that is at odds with the popular vote.

DOUGHERTY: But some experts who ponder elections without the current Electoral College system warn it could splinter Americans into multiple parties, even lead to the election of populist tyrants.

STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: We end up with something that might even look like a European system that we don't like very much. And we are guaranteed virtually some sort of runoff election. So we have more elections than we need.

DOUGHERTY: Polls by Gallup have consistently found that some two-thirds of Americans favor a national popular vote for president.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, HOST: Happening now, a new U.S. gamble on Middle East peace getting a boost today from Arab nations. We'll look at the stakes for the region and for President Bush at next week's conference in Annapolis.

Also this hour, the end of the year rush is on. While you're shopping, the presidential candidates are gearing up for a campaign blitz.

We'll start the countdown with the first contest with a key Hillary Clinton ally, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack.

And the Republicans get their shot at making history. The next CNN/YouTube presidential debate is just five days away. We'll set the stage for the face-off and show you some of the questions submitted online.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations are offering a new glimmer of hope today for the long-stalled Middle East peace process. They are saying yes to an invitation to a U.S.-sponsored conference here in the Washington area next week. Now, as you would expect, the Bush administration is certainly welcoming this decision.

Our CNN's Kathleen Koch is at the White House for us.

Kathleen, obviously this is a very important move forward for President Bush.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And certainly it is, Suzanne. And this a clear boost for something that if the president were to succeed, would mean a lot to building his legacy as he faces just one more year in the White House.

Now, there had been a lot of concern about whether the summit would even happen with all the players that were supposed to participate. Hamas had been pressuring Arab countries not to attend. Tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets of Gaza today.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister saying even up until today, that his country had been reluctant to attend, but now he says they're going with the consensus. And that's a real breakthrough, because Saudi Arabia has refused to recognize Israel, no senior Saudi official has ever met publicly with an Israeli official other than at the United Nations.

Certainly, again, the White House is applauding the vote. A spokesman for the State Department, Edgar Vasquez (ph), saying, "We welcome the decision by the Arab League follow-up committee to attend the Annapolis conference at the ministerial level. This is a signal they believe this will be a serious and substantive meeting."

And certainly the goal out of this on the part of the administration is the formation of a Palestinian state. President Bush has very proudly pointed out that he is the first American president to suggest this two-state solution. But while the administration is saying it would like to see perhaps before he leaves the White House to see that goal reached even this week, the spokesman -- press secretary for the White House Dana Perino was injecting some reality, Suzanne, saying they understand the conference is not going to have "instant results."

MALVEAUX: Kathleen Koch at the White House.

Thank you so much.

And joining us now, former defense secretary and former U.S. senator William Cohen. He is now head of the global business consulting firm The Cohen Group.

Thank you so much for being with us. WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Good to be with you.

MALVEAUX: Now, obviously, the expectation set very high here, the bar. It was surprising when we heard Secretary Rice say they want to deal by the end of the administration.

I want to read for you here -- this is something that Senator Biden actually -- a statement that he made about this, saying he "... strongly supports the upcoming Annapolis conference. It presents a real opportunity, but if it's a one shot deal, it won't work. The Middle East peace process needs to the sort of sustained day-in-day- out engagement at the highest levels that this administration has, thus far, shown little interest or aptitude for. This conference will only be meaningful if it's the start of a continued effort, not the end of one."

We have seen fits (ph) and starts from this administration. Is this too little too late?

COHEN: I think what Senator Biden has said is correct. I don't know of anyone who's had more experience in dealing with this issue, who is stronger in his support for Israel, but also stronger in his support for a two-state solution than Senator Biden. So I take him at his word.

I think he's correct that this can't be a one-shot -- sort of a photo-op, walk-on proposition. This has to be a sustained effort. And I think the effort has not been made, certainly during the first term of the Bush administration.

President Bush should be given credit for now initiating this with Secretary Rice, really moving as hard as she can. And I would expect that she will continue to follow this on a day-by-day basis to achieve an agreement if one is possible.

MALVEAUX: Do you think she's been effective so far?

COHEN: I think she's been effective. And we're seeing it. We're seeing Saudi Arabia, the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, all coming together for this conference. That's a major step forward.

MALVEAUX: I want to play here -- read to you Giuliani, obviously one of the Republican presidential candidates who says this about the Middle East conference. He says, "It's not in the interest of the United States at a time when it is being threatened by Islamist terrorists who assist the creation of another state that will support terrorism."

Why aren't the Republicans on board and backing Bush in this conference?

COHEN: Well, it's curious. All of the candidates, Republican and Democratic, have said that failure is not an option in Iraq, and now some seem to be saying that a failure of the Middle East peace process or a rejection of it is acceptable. I find that hard to reconcile.

This is a political process. Much as we're seeing a political process unfold in Iraq, this is a political process that has to unfold between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And so to say we don't want this, then tell me what the option is. Does it mean no two-state solution? Does it mean that Israel becomes just barricaded behind walls?

MALVEAUX: But why not focus on, say, a big conference dealing with Iraq reconciliation? Because obviously that is what really -- that's the key here. I mean, why focus on the Middle East?

COHEN: Because these are all tied in together. Syria, for example, is very much involved in Iraq. Syria looks to make an agreement with the Israelis.

The Israelis -- I was with Prime Minister Olmert back in the spring. He very much wants to move forward in dealing with the Syrians. And so it all is tied together, and you can't just separate, let's just deal with Iraq. You cannot separate it out. You must deal with Iran, Syria, and the Palestinians as well.

MALVEAUX: Real quick, are you optimistic that this is going to produce something?

COHEN: I think we have to be clear-eyed and not dewy-eyed on this. Real clearheaded that we know the objectives are, we continue to work at it. Don't have unrealistic expectations, but don't give up. This is the best chance for moderating the Palestinian approach, empowering Mahmoud Abbas, and reaching an agreement by the end of the Bush administration's term.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you so much.

COHEN: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Bill Cohen.

And now to the race for the White House. Well, 'tis the season for candidates to actually campaign like crazy. The first context in Iowa now less than six weeks away.

Here's our own CNN's Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Suzanne, it was so nice having a day without presidential politics, but we better cherish the memory, because right now an onslaught is coming.

(voice over): Thanksgiving is over and the holiday season is under way. And that means the mad dash for gifts has started. But that's not the only contest shifting into high gear.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: After a brief break for turkey, expect the presidential campaign to come back with a vengeance.

FOREMAN: With less than six weeks to go until the first presidential primary contest, the pace really picks up. Next Wednesday, the Republican White House hopefuls face off at a CNN/YouTube debate in St. Petersburg, Florida. In December, most of the action will move to Iowa. That's because the Iowa caucuses which kick off the presidential primary voting will take place on January 3rd, the earliest date they have ever been held.

With Christmas just nine days before the caucuses, will we see campaigning on the 25th of December?

Senator Joe Biden was one of the candidates who made the rounds on Thanksgiving Day. With so much at stake, it might be hard for the campaigns to totally go dark on Christmas Day, and here's why.

In Iowa, in the race for the Democratic nomination, it appears to be a dead heat between senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and former senator John Edwards. And on the Republican side, Mitt Romney's on top, but polls there indicate the race is also tightening.

STEINHAUSER: Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani are the front- runners in the national polls, but in Iowa it's a very different story.

FOREMAN (on camera): So if you live in one of the early contest states, like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, you're just going to be buried at this point. But, as we say in raw politics, the rest of us aren't off the hook, either. The simple truth is we're almost all going to see some kind of ads or hear them on the radio, or just be pummeled by news coverage of the presidential campaign, just like this, all the way up until the voting -- Suzanne.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Tom.

Now, look for presidential hopefuls to zero in on three early battleground states this weekend. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson and Joe Biden all campaign in the leadoff caucus state of Iowa in the next two days. Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John Edwards, and Dennis Kucinich all plan to stump in New Hampshire. Now, Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson have scheduled weekend swings through South Carolina.

And Jack Cafferty and "The Cafferty File" are off today, but back on Monday.

We're counting down to the CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate. We'll give you a preview of possible questions, including those asked in, well, kind of off-the-wall ways.

Also ahead, Hillary Clinton has lost some steam in Iowa. Could she stumble in the leadoff contest of the primary season? Well, I'll ask Clinton supporter and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack. And California voters might get a chance to turn the electoral process upside down and sway the outcome of the presidential race. A national showdown is playing out right now in the Golden State.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Well, look for Hillary Clinton to put extra time and energy into Iowa in the days ahead now that her front-runner status has suffered a new blow there. The latest poll from the leadoff caucus state showing Barack Obama gaining ground on Clinton.

Well, joining us now, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, national chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Governor, thank you very much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

TOM VILSACK, FMR. IOWA GOVERNOR: Glad to be here.

MALVEAUX: I want to start off by presenting two polls to you. Obviously very consistent on the national level.

She is up ahead here, Clinton, at 48 percent. Obama trailing at 21 percent. Edwards, 12 percent. Kucinich 4.

But then you look at your state, the state of Iowa here, the latest ABC News/"Washington Post" poll showing Barack Obama inching ahead here 30 percent. Hillary Clinton, 26 percent. John Edwards, 22. Bill Richardson, 11. Joe Biden, 4.

You know the folks of Iowa better than anybody here. What is happening? Why is she sinking in the polls? Why is she losing traction in your home state?

VILSACK: Well, I would, first of all, say that there have been 12 polls since October 1st, and Senator Clinton's been ahead in 11 of the 12. I think this poll and all of the other 11 that show her ahead basically show one thing about Iowa, and that is that it's a very close race between Senator Obama, Senator Clinton and Senator Edwards. It's been that way for several months, it's going to continue to be that way. At the end of the day, it's not going to be about polls, it's going to be about organization, who's able...

MALVEAUX: But why do you suppose she's losing ground?

VILSACK: Well, I would take issue with whether or not she's actually losing ground. T hose polls are -- again, 2 polls, 11 she's ahead, one she's behind. I would say, as I said before, unless you're Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, 11-1 is pretty good.

The bottom line is it's tough to poll Iowa because you just don't know who's going to show up at a caucus, you don't who's going to be viable. And so therefore, the focus is on organization, making sure you get your people to the caucus.

And I think ultimately what Iowans are going to look at is whether or not they are in a position to nominate someone who can win and someone who's experienced enough to be able to lead from day one. And I think when they look at those issues, they're going to conclude Senator Clinton is the strongest candidate for the party.

MALVEAUX: Now, there's something that some Iowa voters are quite concerned about, and that really is whether or not she is honest and trustworthy. I want to take a look at this poll here -- honest and trustworthy. They score Obama at 31 percent, Edwards at 20 percent, Clinton goes down to 15 percent, just above Richardson, at 13 percent.

Does that pose a problem for her?

VILSACK: I don't think so, because as Iowans get to know Hillary Clinton, as she gets to travel around the state, as she is going to continually do through the month of December, they're going to continue to get to know her. And when they do, they sign supporter cards.

They get to know her, not the caricature of her, not the cartoon of her, and not what her opponents are trying to suggest about her, but who she really is. And I will you, I've been in a number of events with her. People gravitate to her, people are excited about it, passionate about it. I think we've got a lot of momentum going on in this state, there's no question about it. And I expect us to do quite well on caucus night.

MALVEAUX: And Governor, you made a comment in a TV interview that's created quite a stir here, raised some eyebrows lately. As you said before, you said, "There's no question she was the face of the administration in foreign affairs," talking about Senator Clinton.

Richardson's folks shot back immediately. This from Tom Reynolds, his spokesperson, saying, "Governor Vilsack's enthusiasm for his candidate has clouded his judgment. We take some exception to this opinion. I also think Madeleine Albright might disagree, too."

Do you want to clarify your comment?

VILSACK: Well, I'm not sure Madeleine Albright would necessarily disagree. I will tell you what my source is. It's Bill Clinton, the president of the United States, who has suggested and has on many occasions in Iowa that during the first term, because he was busy with Bosnia and other areas, he sent Senator Clinton out as his representative, as the country's representative.

She's been to 82 countries, she knows world leaders. There's no question about the fact she was an integral player and a significant player in the first Clinton administration. That's one of the experiences she brings to the table that's unique and different about her than the rest of the candidates.

MALVEAUX: So you're saying Bill Clinton signed off on that evaluation, she's the face of foreign affairs?

VILSACK: He has suggested that on numerous occasions, that he sent her around the world. She's visited 82 countries, she knows world leaders, and she is ready on day one to begin repairing the relationships that have been damaged so tremendously during the Bush administration.

MALVEAUX: I want to play real quick here -- this is an ad that was on her Web site for the caucuses. They've got you doing a bit of a jig here.

I know people have said you have gone out of your way to support her, and we see this has gone to great lengths, because you're out there doing your thing. Let me ask you this, on a lighter note, do you think that this gives you a bit of extra boost here perhaps to be her running mate? There's been a lot of discussion about that.

VILSACK: Well, I was kind of hoping it might get me a spot on "Dancing With the Stars," but apparently the early reviews are suggesting otherwise.

We wanted to make sure that people knew that there were some things in life that are hard. Dancing is very hard for me, as you can see. But caucusing is easy, and we have a lot of first-time caucus- goers. We want to make sure they're comfortable with the notion of going on January 3rd and standing up for Hillary Clinton.

MALVEAUX: If she asked you to be her running mate, would you say yes?

VILSACK: You know what? I am focused on making sure she's our nominee, and then she'll make the right choice for the country and the party.

MALVEAUX: OK.

Thank you so much, Governor. Appreciate it.

VILSACK: You bet.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

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MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, one day after the 44th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination, a disturbing new claim that Lee Harvey Oswald might have never gotten the chance to kill Kennedy because others plotted to do that three weeks before Kennedy was assassinated.

Also, a ship hits an iceberg and starts sinking in the ocean. Find out what happened to the 150 people on board.

And fresh attempts to solve an international missing person's mystery. Police reanalyze some evidence regarding Natalee Holloway's disappearance in Aruba, and some suspects in the case face longer detentions. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's how we pick the leader of the free world, but many of you may not even know what it is or even how it works. Well, it's the Electoral College, the way Americans pick a president, conceived long ago to make that process as fair and level as possible. Some think it's time to scrap it.

Our CNN's Jill Dougherty explains.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the Electoral College has been around in one form or another for 220 years. It was a compromise, and has been controversial almost since the beginning. Some critics today call it undemocratic, a political dinosaur they want to kill off.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice over): Maryland's historic State House built during the American Revolution. These days its lawmakers are taking aim at how Americans elect their president. It's the first state in the nation to reject the current Electoral College system.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Electoral College is a wacky institution in our history. And there have been many attempts both in the Constitution and by the states to deal with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are our First Amendment rights.

DOUGHERTY: Soldier in this new revolution, Maryland state senator and law professor Jamie Rasken (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think we have come up with a pretty good way of dealing with it to get us to a national popular vote, which is what the vast majority of American people want.

DOUGHERTY (on camera): You've heard of the Electoral College?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know much about it. I remember learning about it in, like, grade school.

DOUGHERTY (voice over): But most Americans do remember the 2000 election, the fight over disputed ballots in Florida, when George W. Bush lost the popular election by nearly 544,000 votes, but won the Electoral College vote. It was the fourth time in American history that's happened.

Just how does the Electoral College work? Americans go to the polls, but the results aren't official until electors in each of the states cast their votes.

The number of electors each state gets depends on the number of U.S. senators and representatives they have. California, for example, gets 55 electoral votes. Montana gets only three. In all but two states, it's a winner-take-all system, even if the vote in that state is close.

(on camera): Under the national popular vote plan, whoever gets the majority of votes nationwide wins. The Electoral College would be required to cast their vote for that national winner.

(voice over): That simple logic has won over several of Jamie Raskin's (ph) law students.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's kind of a sham where you can end up with a vote in the Electoral College that is at odds with the popular vote.

DOUGHERTY: But some experts who ponder elections without the current Electoral College system warn it could splinter Americans into multiple parties, even lead to the election of populist tyrants.

STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: We end up with something that might even look like a European system that we don't like very much. And we are guaranteed virtually some sort of runoff election. So we have more elections than we need.

DOUGHERTY: Polls by Gallup have consistently found that some two-thirds of Americans favor a national popular vote for president.