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Cheney to Undergo Procedure for Irregular Heartbeat; Hands-On Approach to Peace; Trent Lott Quitting
Aired November 26, 2007 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now also, President Bush taking a new hands-on approach to Middle East peace. Will his talks today with Israeli and Palestinian leaders set the stage for a breakthrough tomorrow?
Also this hour, Mitt Romney under bitter attack, losing some ground heading into the CNN/YouTube debate. I'll ask Romney to respond to fresh charges by his GOP rivals that he's soft on crime and not a true conservative.
Plus, a new outbreak of ugliness between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. We're going to tell you what they're arguing about now and how it might play in Iowa.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But we begin this hour with the breaking news, another trip to the hospital for the vice president, Dick Cheney. A new chapter in his long history of heart trouble.
Let's go to our White House correspondent Ed Henry, who's watching this story for us.
Update our viewers on what we know. What has happened, Ed?
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you're right, there's been a series of health problems. Back in March, the vice president had a blood clot. In July, he had a new defibrillator installed in his heart.
This morning we're told he went to see his doctors because of a lingering cough from a cold, but his doctors found out that there was more, that he had an irregular heartbeat, according to an aide to the vice president. The diagnosis was atrial fibrillation. That's an abnormal rhythm in the upper chambers of the heart.
The vice president actually, after meeting with his doctors this morning, came back to work, was here at the White House during some of the President Bush's meetings on Mideast peace. But he's expected this afternoon to go back to see his doctors at George Washington University Hospital.
We are told the vice president expected to have an outpatient procedure, basically an electrical impulse delivered to his heart. But this is an outpatient procedure, and aides say that he's likely to his residence if all goes well tonight -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Let's wish the vice president only the best on that front.
Thank you, Ed.
There's other important news though at the White House today as well, including the president. He's now getting directly involved in trying to promote the Israeli/Palestinian peace process.
Update us on that. What's going on?
HENRY: That's right, Wolf. It's a major shift. A president who started out deeply skeptical of the Mideast peace process is now putting his weight behind it in a big way.
HENRY (voice over): After seven years of shunning personal involvement in Mideast peace, President Bush is now a convert, hosting Israeli and Palestinian officials in separate meetings on the eve of Tuesday's conference in Annapolis, Maryland.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking forward to continuing our serious dialogue with you and the president of the Palestinian Authority to see whether or not peace is possible. I'm optimistic. I know you're optimistic.
HENRY: Instead, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was bullish about prospects for peace thanks to the participation of officials from Saudi Arabia and Syria, among dozens of nations attending Tuesday's talks.
EHUD OLMERT, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: This time it's different because we are going to have lots of participation in what I hope will launch a serious process of negotiations between us and the Palestinians.
HENRY: A sentiment shared by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
MAHMOUD ABBAS, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY PRESIDENT (through translator): We have a great deal of hope that this conference will produce permanent status negotiations, expanded negotiations over all permanent status issues.
HENRY: Mr. Bush's direct participation is a dramatic change for a president who came to office believing former President Clinton set the process back by pushing too hard for peace at Camp David near the end of his presidency. In February 2002, then White House spokesman Air Fleischer charged Clinton tried to shoot the moon and came up with nothing.
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: President Bush is intent to learn the lessons of all previous presidents and focus on what he thinks can be successful, which is an incremental approach. HENRY: Reaching the end of his own presidency, Mr. Bush sees a chance to shape his legacy, so he's taking a more active role.
BUSH: The United States cannot imposed our vision, but we can help facilitate.
HENRY: Now, White House officials point out that President Bush was the first U.S. president to publicly call for the creation of a Palestinian state. And they say he was waiting for President Arafat to leave the stage. He now believes President Abbas has renounced terror and is a partner in peace, in their words, but critics will obviously wonder whether there were missed opportunities for the president not getting involved more actively much sooner -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House.
Thanks very much.
This note -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is not necessarily expecting a whole lot from this Middle East peace conference. My interview on a wide range of topics, that's coming up over the next three hours right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Now to a senator's bombshell announcement today. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the number two Senate Republican, says he'll give up his seat before January. His retirement coming just a year after his reelection to a fourth term and his remarkable comeback within the Republican leadership.
Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's standing by watching all of this.
He's gone up, he's gone down. I take it this is pretty much a surprise to his colleagues, Jessica.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is, Wolf. Republicans here were caught off guard by this announcement, but they say they're not entirely surprised that Trent Lott has made the decision to retire. They say he's been ready to make this move for a while.
YELLIN (voice over): Trent Lott made it clear no one and nothing pushed him to leave. This is a personal decision.
SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: I don't have any problem. This is not a negative thing. There's no malice, no anger. There's nothing but happiness and pride at the job that I've been allowed to.
YELLIN: It's a dramatic turnaround from five years ago, when the Mississippian was forced out as Senate majority leader after making thinks comments supporting one-time segregationist Strom Thurmond... LOTT: We're proud of him. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years either.
YELLIN: Lott rehabilitated his image, climbing back into Republican leadership, but in recent years he's expressed frustration with the partisanship in Washington.
During the struggle to pass immigration reform...
LOTT: Are we men or mice? Are we going to slither away from this issue and hope for some epiphany to happen?
YELLIN: And the fight to confirm conservative judges, like his friend Leslie Southwick.
LOTT: This is -- well, it's emotional for me, because this is a good man, he'll make a great judge.
YELLIN: Lott planned to retire last years but changed his mind after Hurricane Katrina devastated Mississippi. It destroyed his own House.
LOTT: I decided I had to run again because the people I love the most in the world were struggling so much with Katrina. We wanted to -- you know, we just had work to do.
YELLIN: Mississippi's Republican governor, Haley Barbour, will appoint Lott's replacement. Among the names floated? Seven-term congressman Roger Wicker and former Lott aide and protege, Congressman Chip Pickering.
YELLIN: Now, Wolf, some GOP sources close to Trent Lott tell me that the senator plans to go into the private sector. And because of the timing, he'll do it right before new ethics rules go into effect in January. Under those rules, lawmakers or former lawmakers will not be allowed to lobby on the Hill for two years after they leave. That's a more restrictive rule than currently exists and would not apply to Trent Lott -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That might --repeat, might -- explain his timing.
All right. Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.
Senator Lott joins five other Republican senators who are retiring. They are Wayne Allard of Colorado; Pete Domenici of New Mexico; Chuck Hagel of Nebraska; John Warner of Virginia; and Larry Craig of Idaho, now best known by many Americans, of course, as the senator caught in that bathroom sting operation.
In better days, Craig and Lott both were members of the Singing Senators. They performed in the 1990s with then colleagues John Ashcroft and Jim Jeffords. Their signature tune? "Elvira."
How can we beat that?
Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York with "The Cafferty File".
They did a pretty good job with "Elvira."
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: No, they didn't. That was just awful. The only thing worse than listening to them trying to sing "Elvira" is listening to you sing old rock 'n' roll songs during the commercial breaks on THE SITUATION ROOM.
CAFFERTY: I'm not sure which is worse, but they're both painful.
BLITZER: I can assure you my singing is a lot worse.
CAFFERTY: Yes, you might have something there. I've heard it. You might be right.
All right. Any irony here? The United States is hosting a Middle East summit meeting aimed at kick-starting the peace process. Forty countries, maybe more, expected to attend, including Syria, Saudi Arabia. But the only country currently at war in the Middle East is us, the United States.
Prosecuting two separate wars there -- count them, two -- one of them an unprovoked act of naked aggression. That would be the war in Iraq.
The issue of a separate Palestinian state and peace between Israel and the Palestinians has been virtually ignored by the Bush administration through almost two terms. The last time serious attention was paid to the subject was the Camp David meetings in 2000, under then President Clinton, and they were attended by only the U.S., the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The United States, of course, entering an election cycle. President Bush is the lamest of ducks at this point. And don't kid yourself. Part of the reason for this is his legacy, try to burnish it up a little bit. It ain't in real good shape.
The international approval rating of this country is lower than it's been in decades, maybe ever. Mainly because of our unprovoked invasion of Iraq.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice generally considered to have been less than effective when it comes to diplomacy on issues considerably smaller and less complicated than achieving peace in the Middle East. No mean feat that.
Suffice it to say anything substantial coming out of this summit would border on the miraculous.
Here's the question them. Is now the time? And is the United States the right place for a summit on Middle East peace? E-mail your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you very much.
Coming up, a lot more on that story as well.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, taking a mocking tone, targeting Barack Obama over and over again. Is it a sign that the Democratic front-runner is running scared?
Plus, Mitt Romney says the underdog nipping at his heels is "desperate" -- his word. I'll ask Romney about the attacks on him and how his rivals are giving him a run for his money.
And hooray for Hollywood. More than a few presidential hopefuls feel that way, but only one now has the support of a multi-media mogul loved by millions.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Just when some thought that it couldn't get much nastier between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the attacks and the counterattacks concerning campaign financial practices now escalating.
And who has the better ideas for fixing the nation's health care system as well? That's become a huge issue between these two Democratic presidential candidates.
Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is standing by.
What's happening right now, Bill, in the Democratic race?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: What's happening? It's getting rough out there, Wolf.
SCHNEIDER (voice over): In the Democratic race the gloves are off.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a big difference between Senator Obama and me on health care. I have a health care plan that covers every single American, he does not.
SCHNEIDER: Senator Obama responded to what some folks were saying about him.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There have been some folks, some other candidates who have said that it's not possible to provide universal health care coverage unless there's a mandate.
SCHNEIDER: Clinton even adopted a mocking tone.
CLINTON: He said it was universal, he said it was sort of universal, he said it wasn't universal. He said it covered everybody. He said it didn't cover 15 million. He has a mandate for kids, now he's against mandates.
SCHNEIDER: Now the Clinton campaign has issued a statement responding to news reports that Obama's political action committee has given campaign contributions to officials in the early voting primary and caucus states. "It was surprising to go learn that he has been using his PAC in a manner that appears to be inconsistent with the prevailing election laws."
Obama's campaign spokesman called it "... a completely false attempt to misrepresent Barack Obama's full disclosure of his campaign finances," adding that Clinton is in no position to point fingers until she discloses her own White House records.
It's getting rougher because it's getting tougher. Clinton's national lead over Obama climbed to 30 points in October. Now it's a little closer, 19 points.
In New Hampshire, Clinton led Obama by 23 points in September. Now her lead is 14 points.
In Iowa, Obama and Clinton were neck and neck in July. Now Obama may be ahead by a nose.
SCHNEIDER: In politics, you can afford to ignore your opponents until you start to feel them breathing down year neck -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's getting close out there.
All right. Thanks very much.
Bill Schneider reporting.
And the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is also spilling onto the Web.
Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's watching this.
What are they saying about each other online, Abbi?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, these are the rapid response Web pages from those two campaigns.
From the Hillary Clinton camp, it's "The Fact Hub." From Barack Obama's team, it's "Fact Check." And if you look at these sites over the last couple of days, you'll see they're pretty much dedicated right now going after each other.
From the Hillary Clinton campaign, a flurry of posts in the last couple of days targeting Senator Obama. And over here, the Obama Web page at "Fact Check," Senator Clinton's name comes up in the last half dozen posts or so.
The focus of these exchanges in the last couple of days, it's health care. "Shifting positions," says "The Fact Hub" from Hillary Clinton of Senator Obama. And it's "Clinton's false claim" posted a few days ago from the Barack Obama camp.
There had been earlier focuses, earlier attentions a week or so ago from these two sites, but right now the focus is clear -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.
And as Clinton and Obama fight each other, John Edwards says he's ready to fight the Washington establishment for you. Edwards says voters should trust him to "fight like hell to fix what's wrong with the government." And Edwards is touting his success as a trial lawyer. He says he helped countless individuals win against massive companies, and that makes him uniquely positioned to shake things up right here in Washington.
Hillary Clinton is the Democrat many Republicans love to hate, but is she also the Democrat best to beat Republicans? Clinton's claim dissected, that's coming up in our "Strategy Session."
Also coming up, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney in a new campaign boxing match. We'll have the report on the jabs. And then I'll go one on one with Mitt Romney, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, he beat Al Gore to the White House. Now President Bush welcomes him back. It's Gore's first time there since conceding the 2000 election. You're going to find out why and if they've now buried the political hatchet.
That's coming up.
Wouldn't you just say no to a presidential candidate who used drugs in the past? What impact can that have on a campaign? We're watching this story.
And they talk the talk, but will they walk the walk on the picket line? Candidates who support writers on strike, will they put their money where their mouths are when it comes to donations from the entertainment company executives?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Mitt Romney's becoming a favorite punching bag of some of the Republican presidential candidates less than six weeks before the leadoff contest in Iowa. Look for Romney to take some fresh hits when the GOP candidates square off in the CNN/YouTube debate in Florida on Wednesday.
Our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is following all the campaign action from St. Petersburg down in Florida, some jabs coming in left and right.
What's going on, Dana?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, jabs left and right for sure, especially, as you mentioned, between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani has increasingly stepped up his campaign in the state of New Hampshire.
BASH (voice over): Day three for Rudy Giuliani in New Hampshire and his new rhetorical rumble with rival Mitt Romney.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do a mandate? What happens? People don't buy more health insurance. They end up getting taxed...
BASH: Giuliani did not name Romney or his Massachusetts health care plan there, but he didn't have to.
BASH: The campaign trail is crackling with the two trading barbs over everything from health care, to crime, to their economic records.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He came in there was a budget gap, but when he left, he left a budget gap twice as big as the one he inherited.
BASH: Giuliani is ahead in the national polls but still behind Romney in key early contest states like New Hampshire, which vote in just six weeks. Running out of time means the jabs are now more personal.
Giuliani lit into Romney for appointing a judge who later released a convicted killer.
GIULIANI: I think that this whole appointment of a judge goes to a much bigger point, that Governor Romney had a poor record in dealing with murder and violent crimes as governor.
BASH: Romney responded by going after Giuliani's judgment -- support for long-time friend Bernard Kerik, indicted on corruption charges.
ROMNEY: He put somebody in place as commissioner who had a very questionable past and then recommended to the president of the United States this person be made the secretary of homeland security, despite the fact that he at this point was under investigation.
BASH: But this is nowhere near a two-man GOP race. In Iowa, Mike Huckabee is neck and neck with Romney, and he's try to go seal the deal.
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When Mitt was saying that he was OK with same-sex relationships and would do more for same- sex couples than Teddy Kennedy, I was taking the completely different position.
BASH: Now, whatever the reason for -- the Romney campaigns, they say he is under increasing attack because of the fact that he's ahead in the polls in many states, in many of the key early states. But again, whatever the reason, Wolf, all of this new willingness to really go for the jugular will no doubt make for a very spirited debate here in the Sunshine State on Wednesday -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Dana is already down in St. Petersburg.
Thanks very much for that.
Mitt Romney is lying low in his home state of Massachusetts today before heading to Florida for the CNN/YouTube debate.
BLITZER: And joining us now, the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney. He's a Republican presidential candidate.
Governor, thanks very much for joining us.
ROMNEY: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you.
BLITZER: Yesterday I interviewed one of your rivals, Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas. He's really moving up in this ABC News/"Washington Post" poll from July, at only 8 percent. Now with 24 percent right behind your 28 percent in November.
And I want you to listen to what he's saying, because he's really going on the offensive against you. Listen to one of the accusations he's been leveling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUCKABEE: Mitt's changed his position. He's been all over the board. But my conservatism has been consistent.
When he was pro-abortion, I was still pro-life and always have been. When he was for gun control, I was against it. When he was against the Bush tax cuts, I was for them.
When he was against Ronald Reagan's legacy and said he wasn't part of that Bush/Reagan thing, I was a part of that Bush/Reagan thing. And when Mitt was saying that he was OK with same-sex relationships and would do more for same-sex couples than Teddy Kennedy, I was taking the completely different position.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right. That's a whole list of charges against you.
BLITZER: I wonder if you want to respond to Governor Huckabee.
ROMNEY: Well, I guess -- I guess he's getting a little desperate at the end here. Obviously, his comments are inaccurate, one after the other.
But, you know, that's the nature of what happens in this -- this very late stage, that the right thing to do is to look at someone's record. And, as Bob Novak said just over the weekend with regards to Mike Huckabee, he said he is a false conservative. He may be conservative on social issues, but, when it comes to economic issues, like immigration, he's a liberal on immigration.
He fought for tuition breaks for illegal aliens. He raised taxes time and time again as the governor of Arkansas. And he more than doubled the state budget when he was governor of Arkansas and raised the state employee number in Arkansas.
So, his -- his record speaks very loud. And, with regards to my own views, I'm very proud of the fact that I became pro-life, just like Ronald Reagan did, when -- when theory met reality. When I became governor, every action I took as governor came down on the side of life.
BLITZER: The other accusations, though, that he's made, in addition to changing your view on abortion, included, for example, gun control, the Bush tax cuts, the Bush/Reagan thing, as he called it, the Bush-Reagan legacy, and same-sex relationships.
Is he specifically wrong on those four points that he's leveled against you?
ROMNEY: Yes, absolutely. I have always opposed same-sex marriage. That's always been my position. At the same time, I don't discriminate against people who are gay.
With regards to guns, my position is the same as it's always been, which is that I believe that people have the right to bear arms in this country. And that's my view. It always has been my view.
Let's see. What was the other one?
ROMNEY: Bush -- Bush-Reagan -- Bush-Reagan legacy?
Look, Ronald Reagan gets smarter and smarter as time goes on. I must admit that I find the -- the vision and the -- the direction that Ronald Reagan laid out for this country to be very powerful and very compelling. And I will tell you, Ronald Reagan would have never raised taxes like Mike Huckabee did. Ronald Reagan would never have said, let's give tuition breaks to illegals, like Mike Huckabee did. Ronald Reagan would have never stood by and pushed for a budget that more than doubled during his term as president. Mike Huckabee, as a matter of fact, has a very different record than Ronald Reagan. And I'm -- I'm pretty proud that my record stands up quite well.
BLITZER: He -- he -- specifically, on the gun control, there was a story in "The Boston Globe" suggesting that, back in 1994, when you were running for the U.S. Senate, the report said you backed measures the NRA opposed, such as a five-day waiting period on gun sales and a ban on certain assault weapons, and "The Boston Globe" noting that you didn't join the NRA until August 2006.
Was "The Boston Globe" right or wrong on that?
ROMNEY: Well, the -- the story is very straightforward, which is, I had -- I supported the Second Amendment. I continue to support the Second Amendment.
Before we had instant background checks, I was in favor of a waiting period. Now we have instant background checks. I'm in favor of those instant background checks. And if there are weapons of unusual lethality, then those are weapons that shouldn't be in the public hands.
And, so, just like President Bush, I supported the assault weapon ban. There's no -- there's no version of that which has been brought forward that I support at this stage, but my position is the same. And I still believe in the Second Amendment and the right of people to bear arms and to have -- to have guns.
BLITZER: The same ABC News/"Washington Post" poll showed that his support, Huckabee's support, was relatively solid compared to your support.
It -- it showed that 50 percent say they're very enthusiastic among his supporters about supporting Huckabee, compared to 28 percent for Romney. Forty-eight percent of Huckabee's supporters are definitely for him. That applies to just 29 support of Romney's. Forty-two percent of Romney's supporters say there's a good chance they may change their mind. Among Huckabee's, that falls to 26 percent.
I guess the question is, how worried are you that, despite all the money you have spent in Iowa, and despite the lack of money he has spent, he could potentially really challenge you in the first contest of the year?
ROMNEY: Oh, there's no question he's a real serious contender. And it's going to be a real close race.
And I think that the challenge he's going to have is that, as people finally begin to scrutinize his record, and not just listen to him talk about a couple social issues, but instead explain why it is he thinks illegals ought to get a tuition tax break in this country -- or tuition break -- I think, as he explains that, he's going to lose a lot of support. And I think, as people look at his record raising taxes time and time again as the governor of Arkansas, they're going to say, boy, that's not for me. And, as they look at his record on spending, more than doubling state spending, adding state employees, they will say, that's not our kind of conservative.
And that's why a column like Bob Novak's that said, this is a false conservative, that is going to -- that is going to, I think, have an impact in the people's thinking in -- in Iowa, and, of course, in other places as well.
And, of course, perhaps the greatest challenge that he will have is that he's really made no effort in other states. He's -- he's spent all of his effort and time in Iowa. That's fine. But there are a lot of other states, if you want to become the nominee. And he's, frankly, almost nowhere in those other states.
BLITZER: Coming up: a lot more of the interview with Mitt Romney. He responds to attacks by Rudy Giuliani that he's soft on crime.
More of my interview with the Republican presidential candidate, that's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Also, remember, all the Republican presidential candidates will square off Wednesday in our groundbreaking CNN/YouTube debate on stage in Saint Petersburg. They will face a variety of videotaped questions. It's a chance for voters to get the answers they want from the candidates.
Join Anderson Cooper and the best political team on television, beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Wednesday, only here on CNN.
The queen of daytime talk wants to chat with you. She has a new talk show, of sorts, all to talk you into doing one thing. We will explain what's going on.
Also, in our "Strategy Session": Rudy Giuliani suggests, America's reputation is now in tatters. You are going to find out why he thinks that is.
And one of the most technologically advanced fighting forces says some cave-dwellers are winning in one important war. It involves NATO, Taliban terrorists, and YouTube.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: When she talks, millions of people listen and read and take notice. Oprah Winfrey, very soon, the talk show giant will chat up people for a different reason, trying to talk them into supporting Senator Barack Obama. She could be coming to a place near you.
Let's go to Mary Snow. She is in New York.
It is going to be very, very exciting, interesting, to see what this lady can do for Senator Obama.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It will be, Wolf, because Oprah Winfrey is untested on the campaign trail. Now, we have seen her recommendations send books to the bestsellers list. But can her persuasion be as powerful in recommending a presidential candidate?
SNOW (voice-over): It marks a first for talk show queen Oprah Winfrey. She's plunging herself into politics in a way she hasn't before, hitting the trail and campaigning for Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama.
JENNY BACKUS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Oprah Winfrey brings not just a wow factor, but a wow factor to anybody out on the trail. And that's what this means for Obama.
SNOW: Winfrey already endorsed Obama last spring.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")
OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, "THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW": What he's shown was worth me going out on a limb for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: She held a fund-raiser for him at her California home that raised millions for his campaign. But now her support for him has been ratcheted to a new level.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And this creates excitement and an event. And, hopefully, we can attract some people who might not otherwise be interested in politics.
SNOW: The prime target? Women.
KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: Hillary Clinton simply seems to be the woman's candidate, regardless of race. I think that's what Obama may be really trying to reach, is women.
SNOW: Enter Oprah Winfrey. She will campaign for two days in December in the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. In Iowa, the Winfrey events are open to the public. But to secure a ticket, people are being asked to either volunteer four hours to the Obama campaign or attend a caucus training. Winfrey is no doubt drawing attention to Obama, but some political observers are skeptical her support will translate into votes in a state like Iowa.
STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": While Oprah Winfrey has terrific ratings and very high favorables, I think Iowans are going to depend on their own judgment, rather than hers. SNOW: But, sometimes, a star surrogate can have sway. Just look at the Clinton camp. Its star surrogate, Bill Clinton, even went on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in recent months to tout his new book. Is Oprah a better surrogate?
OBAMA: Bill Clinton is a great surrogate for Hillary as well, you know? And, so, you know, if -- if he wanted to endorse me, I would take it.
OBAMA: I don't think he will.
SNOW: Safe bet that is true.
But, unlike Bill Clinton, the novelty of Oprah Winfrey, say some strategists, could prove to be a plus for Obama. But, they add, it could also be a minus if she overshadows him -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Mary, thank you.
Barack Obama hopes Oprah certainly can do for him what she's already done for herself and so many others. For 21 years, she's had the number-one daytime TV talk show. Various books aren't even ranked until they make it into Oprah Winfrey's book club. Many go on to become bestsellers.
Winfrey herself has stakes in successful talk shows for Dr. Phil and Rachael Ray. "Forbes" recently named her the number-one celebrity who generates the most earnings and the most buzz and estimates -- get this -- she earned $260 million between June of this year and last.
Oprah Winfrey appeared on -- Obama, that is, appeared Oprah's show, as seen here, back in 2006. According to "TIME" magazine, Internet searches on him skyrocketed 358 percent the week after that appearance alone. She's got a lot, a lot of clout. We are going to talk more about it in our "Strategy Session."
Other celebrities are putting their star power behind a candidate. Chuck Norris wants you to support Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, calling Huckabee -- and I'm quoting now -- "a respected and fearless leader." The actor and martial arts star will join Huckabee at our CNN/YouTube debate, by the way, in Florida on Wednesday. He's a surrogate for Governor Huckabee. The two already have made an amusing ad making its rounds on YouTube and in Iowa.
In our "Strategy Session": Despite a tightening in the polls, Senator Clinton still focusing in on a general election argument.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that I have a very good argument that I know more about beating Republicans than anybody else running. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But is the New York senator counting her chickens before the eggs hatch? Does her campaign still think her nomination is inevitable?
And Barack Obama says, when it comes to the heir of President Clinton's legacies, Senator Clinton is trying to have the best of all worlds and forget the rest -- all that, a lot more, coming up right here THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Senator Hillary Clinton isn't holding back. The Democratic presidential hopeful says she has the best chance against the Republicans, because she knows more about beating them than anyone else running.
Joining us in today's "Strategy Session" to discuss that and more, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Sure.
BLITZER: Here's the clip of what Senator Clinton said. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I believe that I have a very good argument that I know more about beating Republicans than anybody else running.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You think she does?
PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I will tell you, she certainly is battle-tested, battle-scarred. I think the question, is she battle-weary at this point?
But she's -- look, she knows how to play hardball. Politics ain't beanbag, Wolf. And she knows that. And one of the things -- the arguments they're making is, we know how to go into a general election with these Republicans. We know how to beat them.
BLITZER: She -- well, certainly, her husband beat them twice. The question is, does she have that capability to do the job?
SANCHEZ: Well, there's two things to think about.
One is, she's definitely a uniter, not a divider. She unites Republicans against him. And it's not only because of her liberal philosophy, but also because she's the one that bore the burnt of those political scandals of her husband's. And she has the scars to prove it. There is a reason she has almost 50 percent of the country disliking her. And that's a tremendous obstacle to overcome.
BLITZER: Barack Obama is going after her.
In an interview with ABC News that will air later, he says this: "I think the fact of the matter is that Senator Clinton is claiming basically the entire eight years of the Clinton presidency as her own, except for the stuff that didn't work out, in which -- in which case," he says, "she has nothing to do with it."
BLITZER: The gloves are clearly coming off.
FENN: Listen, if the gloves aren't off, the knuckles are still -- are sure showing here. I think what you have got, Wolf, is five weeks to go. These folks are -- are letting it fly on both sides of the aisle. And you're going to see tough, tough stuff.
But, if anybody can dish it out, Hillary Clinton can.
BLITZER: Yes. And, you know, when you say five weeks, that's not a whole lot of time...
BLITZER: ... before the January 3 caucuses in Iowa.
And you have to think about how late people are actually going to be making up their mind in terms of their primary candidate in those early states. And it's really probably going to come back to that last three-week period, so it's very much -- right now is when they have to be fighting.
BLITZER: How big of a deal is the fact that Oprah Winfrey is going to be in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina...
BLITZER: ... campaigning for -- for Barack Obama? And, clearly, she has a lot of influence with women voters, something Hillary Clinton thinks maybe she had an advantage....
FENN: I will tell -- I will tell -- I will tell you, Wolf, I think the timing of this was brilliant.
I mean, they announced this a couple months ago. Everybody knew it. But they're bringing her into these states now. The latest polls in Iowa show that Hillary Clinton and Barack are about even amongst caucus-goers.
Well, if this pushes women towards -- towards Barack, this is big-time. SANCHEZ: Hillary Clinton doesn't have a lot of a margin to play with there, you know, in terms of the surge support that Barack Obama has.
And what's funny, it's -- if you go back to 1960, he's very Kennedy-esque. He's the new frontier, the change. And he's positioned her as the status quo candidate. And that's a very difficult thing for the Republican -- for the Democratic Party to -- to...
BLITZER: If the -- if the Obama sends in -- campaign sends in Oprah Winfrey, the Hillary -- the Clinton campaign is going to have to send in Bill Clinton again.
BLITZER: Because that would be the -- the battle of the titans.
FENN: He's going to be -- he's going to be living there in the next -- for the next five weeks.
I think -- you know what they're going to do, Wolf? They're going to send him to some of the smaller cities, smaller towns in Iowa to try and meet with those -- with those delegates.
SANCHEZ: But the Oprah Winfrey effect, it does a lot in terms of publicity. There's not necessarily a guarantee of transference among women voters. Women voters are way more sophisticated than that.
FENN: That may be -- that may be right.
BLITZER: I want to play a little clip of what Rudy Giuliani says about why the U.S. image around the world is in such trouble right now.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you tell me America's reputation is in trouble in various parts of the world, I say, what has our ambassador done to protect that reputation? How much explanation has the ambassador done on television?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's suggesting, I think, that there's a public relations problem the U.S. has, that they're not doing a good job conveying the message to people around the world.
FENN: I can't wait for the Rudy Giuliani 30-second ads to promote the U.S. around the world, like -- like the Chamber of Commerce.
Look, that's dead wrong. I mean, the problem that we have right now around the world is George Bush, this administration, the war in Iraq, and our -- and our foreign policy, which is falling apart.
BLITZER: It sounds like he's slamming Karen Hughes, whose job...
BLITZER: ... was public...
BLITZER: ... diplomacy, getting the U.S. message out to the Middle East, to the Muslim world, around the world.
And while he didn't mention any names, it sounds like he's complaining about the way the Bush administration failed to do its international public relations.
SANCHEZ: In one sense, it's very difficult to defend the -- the idea that the Bush administration has done a good job at promoting public diplomacy across the -- around the world, basically.
And, so, I think he has a valid point, a point a lot of Republicans and Democrats and more importantly independents will agree with, regardless. And he's also distancing himself from this administration, showing how different and new he wants...
BLITZER: We're going to get Mitt Romney's response to Rudy Giuliani and some of the points. Part two of our interview, that's going to be coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
SANCHEZ: Thank you.
BLITZER: Peter Fenn, Leslie Sanchez, here in our "Strategy Session."
And you can get to question the Republican presidential hopefuls in Wednesday's YouTube debate right here on CNN. That's coming up Wednesday night.
Democratic candidate, by the way, Chris Dodd doesn't want to miss out of the fun and games. You are going to find out how he could be making a YouTube appearance himself.
Barack Obama admits, he did inhale. But is he making a mistake by being candid about experimenting with drugs when he was in school? Why some other White House hopefuls say, keep quiet.
And Rudy Giuliani once hailed Roe v. Wade, but the former New York mayor now sounds a very different tune about abortion.
Why he says he's not flip-flopping -- all that, and a lot more, coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack. He has got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour, Wolf: Is now the time and is the United States the right place for a Middle East peace summit?
Here's some of what you wrote to us.
Brian in Ohio says: "If the last four-and-a-half years of war have taught us anything, it should be that any time and any place are good to discuss peace. And, yes, of course United States is the best place to conduct these talks. This is the role we need to be playing in the world, negotiating peace and expanding democracy through discussion, rather than lobbing bombs and insults and conducting invasions and occupations."
Bat writes from Biloxi, Mississippi: "The talks and agreements should be held by both parties in their homeland. The deal should not look U.S.-brokered, as that has been a sore point for peoples on both sides."
Skip in Naples writes: "Hey, Jack, as much as I despise George Bush, I do hope the Middle East peace summit is successful. I have waited seven years for Bush to do something right. This may be it."
Linda, Kennesaw, Georgia: "Bush couldn't make it as the war president, so now he's trying to be the peace president. With the U.S. at war in the Middle East, why on earth should a peace conference be held here?"
Milton in Pennsylvania: "Any time we can get people together to make an effort to achieve a peace agreement is the right time. We can only pray this effort will bear fruit, even if it's only as a starting point for further substantive talks."
E. in Washington writes: "The best thing the U.S. could do to promote peace in the Middle East would be to stop selling weapons to everybody involved. Everybody."
Ted writes: "We should have started talking to them years ago, instead of ticking them off from the get-go. It's too late."
And Court in Salt Lake City: "George Bush trying to make peace in the Middle East is like Yoko Ono trying to get the Beatles back together."
CAFFERTY: Wolf. (LAUGHTER)
BLITZER: Jack, thank you very much.
On our Political Ticker this Monday: Democrat John Edwards is vowing to tackle corruption here in Washington in two new campaign ads. One airing in Iowa talks broadly of the so-called mess Americans are leaving to the next generation.
He's also out with a new ad in South Carolina, the state where he was born, Edwards reminding voters he's the son of a mill worker, and promising he won't forget where he came from.
Republican John McCain is trying to recapture his maverick image in a new ad airing in New Hampshire. McCain touts his work on campaign finance reform, his criticism of the presidents' Iraq policy, and his willingness to make special interests angry. Our latest poll found McCain running second, behind Mitt Romney, in New Hampshire, a state he won back in the 2000 GOP primary over George W. Bush.
Democratic presidential Chris Dodd is trying to influence the Republican presidential debate. He submitted a video question for the CNN/YouTube face-off in Florida Wednesday night. He asked the Republican candidates whether they're -- whether they believe Americans have to give up constitutional rights to be safer and what they would do to protect the Constitution.
Republican presidential hopeful Fred Thompson is accusing FOX News of being unfairly critical of his White House bid. During an appearance on "FOX News Sunday" yesterday, Thompson was asked to respond to criticism that he's run a lackluster campaign. The former Tennessee senator responded by accusing FOX of highlighting only negative analysis of his campaign.
Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can check out our Political Ticker. Simply go to CNN.com/ticker.
And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
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