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CNN Poll: Huckabee Soars to Top; Huckabee on Gays & AIDS;

Aired December 10, 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, the Republican rocket man soars higher. Mike Huckabee's rivals may shutter when they see our brand new national poll. But will his views on gays and AIDS pull Huckabee back down to earth?
We're all over this story.

We also have some new eye-popping poll numbers on the Democratic race for the White House. Is Hillary Clinton's front-runner status now in danger nationwide? This hour, the numbers and the battleground reports from a wide-open Iowa as well.

Plus, what does Barack Obama do for an encore after a show- stopping weekend with Oprah Winfrey. The early reviews, they're in on Oprah mania and its impact on the presidential race.

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

But up first this hour, a huge shakeup in the presidential race. Our brand new CNN poll shows Republican Mike Huckabee now in a virtual tie with Rudy Giuliani as the top choice of Republican voters nationwide. Our brand new poll also shows a significantnt tightening in the Democratic race nationwide as well.

But the biggest news is certainly Huckabee. The former underdog now a top dog, and not only -- not only in the battleground state of Iowa.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's joining us right now in the leadoff caucus state. He's out in Iowa for us.

All right. So what's the message we're getting from our brand new CNN/Opinion research Corporation poll, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, just like you said, front-runners beware. Somebody's gaining on you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice over): A big shakeup in the Republican race. Last month, Rudy Giuliani was the clear Republican front-runner. Fred Thompson second, John McCain third.

But look at the race now. Mike Huckabee is breathing down Giuliani's neck, a statistical dead heat. Huckabee's support has more than doubled in the last month. Mitt Romney is now running third. He too has picked up support. It looks like his Texas speech on faith and politics just before this poll was taken earned him some gains.

The big loser? Fred Thompson. He's now running fifth.

Huckabee now leads among conservatives and evangelical Republican voters. Did Romney's speech earn points with evangelicals? No. No gains at all for Romney in that constituency, where he's still running fifth.

But Huckabee's gains are not limited to the Republican base. His support has nearly tripled among women.

What do Republicans like about Huckabee? He scores well on likability and on representing Republican values. But Giuliani is still seen as having the best chance of beating the Democrats.

And the Democrats? Some shakeup there, too.

Last month, Hillary Clinton was 19 points ahead of Barack Obama. Now her lead has shrunk to 10 points.

Barack Obama has made big gains with men, where he now leads Clinton. She has retained her strong lead among women.

Last month, Clinton was leading Obama by 2 to 1 among liberals. Now Obama is 10 points ahead among liberal Democrats.

Obama is rated most likeable and least like a typical politician, but Clinton has a big lead when Democrats are asked who has the best chance of beating the Republican?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The same thing happening in both parties, candidates are emerging who are considered likeable and who appeal to the party's base values, but Clinton and Giuliani are still seen as the strongest nominees -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider out in Des Moines, Iowa, with the CNN Election Express bus.

Bill, thank you very much.

Now that Mike Huckabee is looking more and more like the Republican to beat, he's getting the kind of intense scrutiny reserved for front-runners.

Our Dana Bash has the latest on the Huckabee situation now under the microscope -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the issue now dogging Mike Huckabee from his past is a survey he filled out running for Senate in Arkansas in 1992, controversial comments about homosexuality and HIV/AIDS. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice over): Fifteen years ago, Mike Huckabee called homosexuality an aberrant, unnatural, sinful lifestyle. Does he still believe that?

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, I do. I believe that -- let's understand what sin means. Sin means missing the mark.

BASH: He makes no apolicy for his staunch belief then and now that marriage, any relationship, should be between a man and a woman, period.

HUCKABEE: If we didn't have that as the ideal, we wouldn't have a civilization that was able to perpetuate. So rather than read into something incredibly out of line, just read into the fact that I believe that the ideal relationship is one man, one woman for life. I believe in traditional marriage, and I believe in (INAUDIBLE).

BASH: That kind of stance is endearing Huckabee to socially conservative voters who are helping propel his rise in the GOP polls.

It is harder for Huckabee to explain what he told The Associated Press in 1992 about AIDS patients, that he wanted to "isolate the carriers of this plague."

HUCKABEE: My position then was that in the world of public health, the public health protocols call for isolating carriers of epidemics. And I did not suggest that we should do it. I'm just saying that it was an unusual approach that we had taken.

BASH: Yet, Huckabee expressed that view six years after the surgeon general made clear you could not get AIDS through casual contact and two years after this appeal from the Republican president...

GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is only one way to deal with an individual who is sick -- with dignity, with compassion, care and confidentiality. And without discrimination.

BASH: Yet, Huckabee insists there was still uncertainty about AIDS in 1992 and equates it with last year's tuberculosis scare.

HUCKABEE: People from the left and right were just outraged that he might have infected them. Now, we know that this particular type of it probably was not that contagious and infectious to other people, but at the time there was this incredible concern. That was my point.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: In that 1992 survey, Huckabee opposed spending more federal dollars for AIDS research, saying Hollywood AIDS activists should reach into their own pockets to help find a cure. On that he has changed. Huckabee reiterated to us today here in Florida that he wants to boost federal spending to help find an AIDS vaccine -- Wolf. BLITZER: Dana Bash joining us.

Thanks, Dana, very much.

Mike Huckabee's position on Cuba also raising some eyebrows today. He told powerful Cuban-American leaders in Miami that he would veto -- veto any legislation to limit the U.S. embargo on Fidel Castro's regime. But back in 2002, when he was the governor of Arkansas, Huckabee urged President Bush to lift the Cuba embargo, saying it hurt U.S. businesses. Huckabee admits he's had a change of hard, in part because he says Cuban-American leaders have helped him to better understand this issue.

Dana Bash and Bill Schneider are part of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television. And remember, for the latest political news any time, check out our political ticker at cnn.com/ticker.

Now to the non-candidate who is still casting a big shadow over presidential politics. That would be Al Gore, who today accepted his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. The former vice president also dropped some new hints about his political future.

CNN's Jonathan Mann spoke with Al Gore exclusively in Oslo, and he asked him about his recent return to the White House, where President Bush honored Al Gore and his fellow Nobel laureates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AL GORE, NOBEL PEACE PRIZE RECIPIENT: He was very gracious in calling me to say congratulations, and inviting me to come. And not only that. He went further and set up for the two of us a half hour personal conversation.

JONATHAN MANN, HOST: What was that like? What was the chemistry like?

GORE: It was a private meeting.

MANN: Was it a tense private meeting?

GORE: No, no, no.

MANN: Was it a relaxed private meeting?

GORE: We talked about the climate crisis the entire time. The atmosphere was very cordial, and it was -- it was a great conversation.

And of course we have disagreements, and I wish that the U.S. executive branch would change its policy. It's unfortunate that my country, which I believe should be the leader of the world, is now blocking action in Bali.

Both -- I will go along with Pachauri to the negotiations in Bali from here in Oslo two days from now, and I hope that there will be an uprising of political pressure across party lines. This shouldn't be a partisan issue, it's a moral issue. And I hope that that will result in pressure to change the U.S. position.

MANN: OK. You could try to lead that, in fact. You've been asked this question any one of a number of times, but we're on live television, there are hundreds of people here, there are millions of people around the world.

GORE: Yes.

MANN: Will you run?

GORE: Oh, well, thank you, Jonathan, for asking the question. You may have heard my answer in other venues. I have no plans to run.

MANN: OK. Let me ask you then, having made that clear before, would you serve in the next administration if you were invited?

GORE: No. No.

If I -- you know, I haven't ruled out the idea of getting back into the political process at some point in the future. Don't expect to, but if I did get back, it would be as a candidate for president, not in any other position. But I don't expect to ever get back into the political process.

MANN: Let me ask you about the people who are running, whether on the Republican side or maybe, more appropriately, on the Democratic side. Do you like any one of their platforms enough to feel confident that the ideas that you represent, that are represented here, are going to be heard in the White House? Do you like the plans you're hearing from Hillary Clinton or anyone else?

GORE: One of the reasons I have been devoting so much of my time and energy to trying to change people's minds at the grassroots level is that the political system, as it now operates, makes it very difficult for these candidates to make it the number one priority. I want to change the way people think so that when they walk down the street in Iowa or New Hampshire or any other state, they will be buttonholed by people across party lines saying make this your top priority.

Now, that having been said, several of the Democratic candidates and a couple of the Republican candidates have made statements and issued position papers that I think move very far in the right direction. And I'm encouraged as a result that whichever party wins this next election, we'll see a change in policy in the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Al Gore speaking exclusively with our Jonathan Mann in Oslo earlier today, right after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

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

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, Rudy Giuliani says that it was the New York City Police Department that decided his then mistress Judith Nathan needed security escorts paid for by the taxpayers. The Republican presidential candidate said on "Meet the Press" on NBC over the weekend, "I didn't make the judgment, I didn't ask for it. Judith didn't particularly want it, but it was done because police took the view that it was serious, and it had to be done that way. And it was done the way they wanted to do it."

The former New York City mayor seemed defensive when Tim Russert asked him a hypothetical question -- if a presidential mistress should get Secret Service protection, saying it "would not be appropriate in the absence of a credible threat."

Giuliani did not name a specific incident that led police to create this full-threat assessment for Judith Nathan; however, he said he had been the target of several death threats. He wouldn't say what the threat was against her.

Giuliani has faced questions recently about the accounting of his security expenses when he was mayor that charges were shifted around to obscure New York City agencies. He says that allegation is inaccurate, that all expenses were ultimately paid by the New York City Police Department.

So the question this hour is this: When it comes to Rudy Giuliani's time as New York City mayor, are you satisfied that nothing improper was done with regard to security for him and his then girlfriend Judith Nathan? Or mistress, if you prefer.

E-mail us at caffertyfile@CNN.com or you can go to this new thing. We have a blog now. You can go there to the CNN.com/caffertyfile, which is like you did before, but then you click on "comments" when you get there, and then you can put your little -- the e-mail that you would send the old way goes on to this blog where other people can read it.

And you can find "Cafferty File" commentaries and video clips and recipes for cookies and stuff there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very important, those recipes for cookies, at this time of the year.

CAFFERTY: This time of year.

BLITZER: Very important to Jack Cafferty.

CAFFERTY: We try to be an all-service blog.

BLITZER: The Jack Cafferty chocolate chip cookie.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: We're looking forward to that one.

All right. Stand by, Jack. We're going to get back to you shortly.

We're learning right now also some more about those destroyed CIA videotapes capturing the interrogation of alleged terrorists. We're watching this story.

Coming up, one of the few lawmakers who knew about the tapes before they were destroyed. That would be Congresswoman Jane Harman. She's standing by live. We'll ask her some of the tough questions.

Plus, she pulled the crowds in, but did Oprah Winfrey give Barack Obama what he needs, an edge over Hillary Clinton? Ahead, snapshots from the Oprah-Obama campaign-fest.

And later, what do Iowa voters really want? We're sounding out Republicans in the leadoff caucus state, where front-runners are often made and destroyed.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The president's top press secretary says she's been advised by White House lawyers not to answer specific questions about the destruction of those CIA tapes. Tomorrow the CIA director general, Michael Hayden, will appear before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to discuss those tapes showing the interrogation of terror suspects.

We're joined now by Congresswoman Jane Harman. She was the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee back when those tapes were first reported on -- actually, back in 2003. That's when she was the ranking Democrat. The tapes were actually made in 2002.

Congresswoman Harman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. JANE HARMAN (D), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Now, you wrote a letter that's I know highly classified still until this day, but it's now been publicized, saying don't destroy these videotapes, once you became the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. The question is this: what did you hear that made you say to the CIA in 2003, a year after the interrogation, don't destroy these tapes?

HARMAN: Well, as you know, all these meetings are highly classified, and we sign oaths both when we're members of the Intelligence Committee and members of Congress not to disclose, and I take that very seriously. I became the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee in 2003.

BLITZER: Right. The tapes were made in 2002.

HARMAN: Yes. Briefings on this subject apparently started in 2002. I was not in those briefings. As a rookie ranking member two weeks in, I was briefed on interrogation matters. I was concerned enough about some of the things raised in the briefing that I wrote a highly classified letter, which I have asked be declassified, but it hasn't been declassified. But Director Hayden basically raised the subject last week, so I can say that in my letter, I say that any planned effort to destroy videotapes would be ill-advised.

BLITZER: Well, did they tell you at the time that they were thinking of destroys these videotapes?

HARMAN: There wouldn't be any other reason to put that in my letter.

BLITZER: So that's why you wrote the letter. And they ignored your advice later in 2005 and they went ahead and destroyed these tapes.

HARMAN: Yes. In 2005, I was still the ranking member. Our committee was investigating interrogation practices at the CIA. No one notified the committee that they planned to destroy the tapes or that they did destroy the tapes.

BLITZER: Well, that's a total contradiction to what General Hayden said in his letter to CIA employees last week when he said, "The decision to destroy the tapes was made within the CIA itself. The leaders of our oversight committees in Congress were informed of the videos years ago." That's true, you say that. "And of the agency's intention to dispose of the material."

That's where you're saying that is a lie?

HARMAN: Well, I'm not saying it was a lie. I'm saying information I heard in a classified briefing in 2003 made me concerned and I wrote a letter saying don't do this. Two years later, when they did do it, they did not notify me, as ranking member, or Pete Hoekstra, who was then chairman, who has spoken out this weekend saying he didn't know anything...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So, in other words, when he then goes on to say, General Hayden, "Our oversight committees" -- meaning the House and Senate intelligence committees -- "also have been told that the videos were in fact destroyed," you're saying you personally were never told back in 2005 that those videos were destroyed.

HARMAN: I was never told that they were destroyed. The committee apparently was notified sometime this year. I'm no longer a member of the committee. I learned about it first from the media in the last several weeks.

BLITZER: Here's the explanation that General Hayden, who himself was not the CIA director in 2005 when the tapes were destroyed -- it was Porter Goss who was then the CIA director, a former congressman, a colleague of yours -- he gives this explanation why lower-level officials at the CIA destroyed the tapes.

"Were they ever to leak," he writes to employees at the CIA, "they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the program, exposing them and their families to retaliation from al Qaeda and its sympathizers."

Does that sound right to you?

HARMAN: It doesn't sound adequate. Why did they make the tapes in the first place? Apparently, it was to be some kind of spot check to be sure they were following procedure. Why did they make them and then say that they would expose people and had to destroy them?

I also don't think it's credible that lower-level people made decisions about this program. I think there were directions from higher-level people.

BLITZER: Outside of the CIA as well?

HARMAN: I don't know, but I doubt it is the case, and we'll find out. Congress fortunately starts investigating tomorrow.

BLITZER: Tomorrow there will be closed-door hearings, but do you trust the new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, to get the job done over the weekend? He announced there will be a preliminary investigation into alleged crimes.

HARMAN: Well, I think it's an early test of him, but I don't think the executive branch should investigate himself. That's been the problem, the MO of this administration for seven years.

BLITZER: But you agree with Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate...

HARMAN: No.

BLITZER: ... that there should be a special counsel?

HARMAN: Maybe we'll come to that, but I actually agree with Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, that Congress should have a shot at doing this ourselves. After all, we were ignored in 2005.

He was then ranking member on his committee, as I was of the House committee. We were told nothing. And I think we should have a shot at seeing whether, in the face of our investigation, we were denied information by the CIA. If there are issues involving court cases, then I think the Justice Department has to investigate.

BLITZER: One final question.

Nancy Pelosi, the new speaker of the House, she put out a statement yesterday in the aftermath of ""The Washington Post" story. When she was the ranking member in 2002, once these videotapes were actually made, that she was told about -- apparently in these closed- door briefings about the waterboarding, the other harsh interrogation techniques. "The Washington Post" did a whole piece yesterday saying nobody really complained. Maybe one member complained.

Did she drop the ball, Nancy Pelosi, when she was a ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee?

HARMAN: I don't think so. And she's speaking for herself. I wasn't in the meeting she attended. But she says that she has complained about this.

I want to make it very clear, I thought that the videotape -- destroying videotapes was wrong, and I spoke out in 2003. I think that waterboarding constitutes torture. I buy John McCain's view of that.

And I also think that the CIA should not have separate interrogation procedures. That's why I voted against the Military Commissions Act two years ago which had a carve-out, let the CIA have a separate program. Congress should fix that and is about to fix that, I believe.

BLITZER: Jane Harman chairs the Intelligence Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee now, a Democrat of California.

Thanks for coming in.

HARMAN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: A new Supreme Court ruling today on prison sentences for crack cocaine offenders.

Plus, a new twist in the CIA leak case against Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Lots of news coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: She can certainly sell magazines and turn books into huge bestsellers, but can Oprah Winfrey sell a presidential candidate? After a weekend making her pitch, we're going to take a closer look at how the Oprah-Obama sell might turn out.

And in one of the reddest parts of Iowa, what do Republican voters really think of the Republican presidential candidates? You may be surprised at what many people there have to say.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: No comment, that's what the White House now says that we have -- now that we have learned that the CIA destroyed some of those videotapes of the terror detainees being interrogated, and now that there's an investigation. The White House says now no comment. Some administration insiders are talking secretly, though. We will tell you what they're suggesting.

Also, are Iranian defectors passing along secrets about Iran's nuclear weapons program, or lack thereof, to the CIA? You're going to find out why some argue that is the case.

And two presidents and allies are not seeing eye to eye. It involves the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden. You're hear what President Bush says, and, in a one-on-one interview, how the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, disagreeing.

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

When Oprah Winfrey talks, millions of people listen and buy and read. But will her fans listen to her urging people to support Barack Obama for president? Right now, that's what many are trying to assess, after Oprah and Obama took off on a speech-filled, crowd- policing weekend in states critically important in the presidential contest.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's talk about the early reviews. What are they saying?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the fact is, Oprah Winfrey is a gifted speaker. She is a very popular woman, as you know. So, on that score, she really delivered.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Oprah.

OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, "THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW": Backstage, somebody said, are you nervous? I go, you're damn right I'm nervous.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Obama.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have some had big crowds here in Iowa. We have not had this big crowd in Iowa.

CROWLEY: Oh, my. It was a dazzling weekend, a big O-blitz across three key states and every bit as much strategy as showtime, a political one-two step. She brought them out.

(on camera): But you really came for?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oprah.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: He reeled them in.

OBAMA: Iowa, I need you to stand up, so that our children have the same chances somebody gave me.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CROWLEY: More than half the Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa are female. Seven of 10 are 45 or older. This was about them. And she was about him.

WINFREY: I'm here to tell you, Iowa, he is the one.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

WINFREY: He is the one. Barack Obama!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CROWLEY: In South Carolina.

WINFREY: You know, Dr. King dreamed the dream, but we don't have to just dream the dream anymore. We get to vote that dream into reality.

CROWLEY: Almost half the Democratic primary voters in South Carolina are black.

OBAMA: The fire hoses came out, the dogs came out, but they kept on standing up. Because a few stood up, a few thousand stood up, and then a few million stood up, standing up with courage and conviction. They changed the world.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: South Carolina, we can change the world.

CROWLEY: And then New Hampshire.

WINFREY: He can bring us all together as one United States of America.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

WINFREY: As a United States, not the red states and the blue states and the left and the right.

CROWLEY: In New Hampshire, half the voters in the '04 Democratic primaries identified themselves as independents.

OBAMA: I want to summon the entire nation around a higher purpose, rally us around a higher destiny. That's why I'm running for president of the United States.

CROWLEY: Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Barack Obama hit the trifecta this weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I came for Oprah, hoping to hear something good from Barack Obama. And I think I did.

CROWLEY: Bingo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Now, not even the Obama campaign, Wolf, would say that they think her endorsement is going to directly lead to votes. But they really think, this weekend, that they stirred up a lot of passion, that they got a lot of attention. And even that, in and of itself, was quite enough.

BLITZER: I think one thing was clear. If Oprah Winfrey ever decided to run for office, she would do amazing. It would be a pretty big pay cut for her, though, if she decided to do that.

All right, Candy, thanks very much.

The Obama campaign is hoping to turn the tens of thousands of rally-goers into actual campaign supporters.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what's the Obama campaign doing to try to keep in touch with these huge crowds?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, first of all, look at the online video that some of the members of the crowd put onto YouTube and other sites, people recording the event with their cell phones.

Well, the Barack Obama campaign is trying to take advantage of the cell phones that were out there this weekend, before the events, inviting people in the crowds to take out their phones and text message the campaign to sign up for campaign updates, local updates that they will be receiving in the coming weeks.

Other campaigns have been doing this, too. From Hillary Clinton, her text message campaign started back in May, and John Edwards has been going on for a lot longer. Barack Obama, as well, has been trying it, and, this weekend, used those vast crowds to try and expand that program.

The campaign would only say that it was a huge success. They didn't say how many phone numbers they received this way, but they would say that 68 percent of people that asked for tickets for this particular rally that we're looking at,the one in South Carolina, had had no communication with the campaign before. That's a whole new crop of contacts -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Abbi, for that.

With a former underdog surging and a front-runner facing new political threats, what do Republicans think of the Republican choices for president now? We're going to take you to one of reddest parts of Iowa.

Also, the Republican Party launching an ad that casts Hillary Clinton as some sort of boogey-woman. Are they trying to scare voters into voting against Democrats in some upcoming special elections?

And an amazing story of a police officer who's fighting terror. You are going to want to hear how he does it, even though he's blind.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's now a little over three weeks before the Iowa caucuses on January 3. And the outcome of the leadoff Republican contest there could depend on a section of the state that tends to lean right.

Let's go out there.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is in western Iowa right now.

You have been talking to a lot of folks on the ground. What are you hearing, John?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're in Le Mars, which is in Plymouth County. George W. Bush carried this county handily twice in both 2000 and 2004, the perfect place to come and get a sense of the dramatically changing Republican race.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): Winter in western Iowa is breathtaking. Snow blankets the rolling hills of farmland. Le Mars calls itself the ice cream capital of the world and is, without a doubt, conservative country.

DON KASS, PLYMOUTH COUNTY, IOWA, REPUBLICAN CHAIRMAN: We outnumber the Democrats here in this county by about two to one.

KING: A month ago, county GOP Chairman Don Kass (r)MD-BO¯says Mitt Romney was running well ahead around here. He calls it a toss-up now.

D. KASS: In politics, sometimes being the guy who gets the second look at the right time can be pretty -- pretty beneficial. The surge, I think, right now belongs to Mr. Huckabee.

KING: Huckabee's Iowa surge comes despite being overwhelmingly outspent. Romney has poured nearly $4 million into Iowa TV ads, Huckabee, about $220,000.

BOB VANDER PLAATS, IOWA CHAIR, HUCKABEE FOR PRESIDENT: So, it's going to be an interesting case study in caucus history. Can the volunteer network, the volunteer support of a Mike Huckabee, can it really overcome a paid staff, well-oiled machine that Mitt Romney here has in the state?

CLINT KASS, UNDECIDED REPUBLICAN VOTER: I got to meet Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson. KING: Clint Kass is the major target in the final weeks, an undecided Republican.

C. KASS: I'm looking for someone that shares the same views with me, and wants to get back to the Republican platform, you know, where we are, you know, less government, less spending, the conservative theme.

KING: Kass likes Romney and Giuliani, and is adding Huckabee to his list of candidates to study.

C. KASS: I think it's definitely more recently. I don't know. You know, three weeks ago, I probably wouldn't. He was on the radar, but I certainly don't think he was a leader. He was kind of an afterthought.

KING: An afterthought no more.

Don Kass considers it a two-man race and says recent anonymous mailings suggest a bare-knuckled finish.

D. KASS: I have seen material that attacked Governor Romney for his Mormonism, which I don't think it's fair. In fact, I think it's bigoted. I have seen some nasty things said about Governor Huckabee regarding his stand on immigration and his tax policy in the state of Arkansas. They're saying he was actually more liberal that -- than Governor Clinton.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And, Wolf, as for the back and forth directly between the candidates, CNN is told that the Romney campaign has decided to play heavily on the illegal immigration issue here in Iowa to try to stop Governor Huckabee's rise in the polls. Look for a very tough contrast ad from the Romney campaign to debut here in Iowa tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John, thanks very much -- John King reporting from western Iowa.

Let's get to the Democratic race right now. While much of the focus certainly has been on Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama, polls show John Edwards is still very much a factor in this first contest of 2008.

CNN's Jessica Yellin is out in Iowa with the CNN Election Express.

Edwards is still very, very viable out there, according to all of the polls. What's the latest? What are you seeing? What are you hearing, Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today, John Edwards kicked off an eight-day bus tour here. He's calling it the Main Street Express.

And one of the big questions he keeps getting asked is, how is his campaign going to compete with all the media attention Obama is getting for the Oprah tour and how much attention Hillary Clinton is getting with her husband, Bill Clinton, who is in the state today and tomorrow talking to many voters?

And, last week, Edwards was very dismissive of that celebrity effect, but, this week, he's getting in on the act. He has both actor Tim Edwards (sic) coming out on the trail. I think he's probably best known for "Bull Durham," " Shawshank Redemption" and also none other than Kevin Bacon. Yes, the Kevin Bacon.

They're playing on that old joke that Kevin Bacon is removed by every other actor by just six degrees, and they're calling it the six degrees of John Edwards' drive to get voters who support him to tell their friends to get on the John Edwards bandwagon.

Well, here, today, he launched this new tour. And here's how he framed his new message, America rising.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know that we're at crunch time now. And I know that I want to ask every single one of you to caucus for me in the Iowa caucuses.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: And I think I incorrectly said -- it's Tim Robbins, the actor who is touring with John Edwards out here.

And I can tell you also, Wolf, that the campaign says that they don't actually think these endorsements make a huge difference. They don't think they turn votes. What they do is, they get media attention, which John Edwards is getting now. And they also get people to start talking about the candidate.

John Edwards has to bank on that theory, that his message matters more than his endorsements, because Iowa matters for him perhaps more than the other two other leading candidates -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thanks very much -- Jessica Yellin out on the campaign trail for us.

Today in our "Strategy Session" that's coming up; Al Gore says he's not a candidate, but there's only one office he covets.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I did get back, it would be as a candidate for president, not in any other position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is the Gore factor for real? And what does it mean for the rest of the Democratic presidential field? That's coming up.

And our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows the numbers are tightening between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Has Hillary Clinton lost her front-runner status? That's coming up. Jamal Simmons and Paul Begala, they're standing by live -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton now has even more reason to worry.

Let's get back to our top story, our brand-new CNN national poll showing a tightening race for the presidential nomination on the Democratic side between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Let's get to our "Strategy Session" -- joining us, two Democratic strategists to assess what we're seeing, CNN political analyst Paul Begala and Jamal Simmons.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

And we will show the numbers once again, because it does show, from November until now, the race getting closer on the national scale. Hillary Clinton went from 44 down to 40 percent. Barack Obama went from 25 up to 30 percent. Nationally, Edwards still at 14 percent.

It's a lot closer in Iowa right now. And a lot of experts -- I don't know if you agree -- say, forget about the national polls. Focus in on Iowa, New Hampshire, scandal .

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. In fact, those national polls will be lagging indicator.

The leading indicator is where are they in Iowa, where they are in -- to a lesser extent, but important, in New Hampshire today, where are they in Nevada and South Carolina. Those are the big four for Democrats early on. And, in all of those states, Barack Obama is doing very well. And so is Hillary Clinton. And that's about it. The two of them are just locked in this tango.

BLITZER: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It's really a three-way race in a lot of those states...

BEGALA: Right.

BLITZER: ... because you can't count out John Edwards.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: John Edwards is in the hunt. He's really battling it out. He's gotten a new aggressive stance there. He's the only candidate that's been to all 99 counties in Iowa. He has got his -- his celebrities are coming on, like Jessica Yelling was saying a few minutes ago. So, I think you can't count John Edwards out yet. It's tight as a tick, as they say.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: How much of a lightning rod -- and you're an expert on this subject -- will Hillary Clinton be for Republicans out there? Because they're already, in some of these special elections that are coming up, they're already pointing to her to try to help Republican candidates.

BEGALA: Yes, well, they're going to do that against any Democrat. And Democrats are going to do that against the Republican.

BLITZER: It's an ad that they're already running in some of these...

BEGALA: They're running it, yes, in those special elections in Ohio and Virginia, where the Republicans are doing that.

I have another suggestion. How about they use George W. Bush? How about the Republican runs and says, I'm a Bush Republican. I like everything Bush is doing. I want to stay the course and keep moving, because at least Hillary and Barack, and all the Democrats represent change. But this is where the Democrats have something better, right?

BLITZER: But, if you're a Republican, that's not necessarily going to get you a lot of votes.

BEGALA: Right.

BLITZER: But going after Hillary Clinton might.

BEGALA: It could.

Hillary Clinton, in some Republican areas, is unpopular. George W. Bush, across America, he's -- he would poll behind several different forms of venereal disease in most of this country. I mean, they hate Bush in America. And that's what I would do. I would put Bush out there if I was the Democrats. I would put him out there every day.

(CROSSTALK)

SIMMONS: Well, for the Democrats, it does make sense to put Bush out there.

But I think Paul hit on something else, which is that Hillary Clinton does have this sort of nagging negative number that is out there. We saw it in the CNN poll I think you talked about. And you can see where Barack Obama and John Edwards maybe are little bit more popular right now. But give them enough money and enough time, they will make -- the Republicans will make the Democratic nominee, whoever the nominee is, as unpopular as anyone else. BLITZER: What about Al Gore? You saw the exclusive CNN interview that we had. Jonathan Mann interviewed him.

Today was a big day. He got the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. He's saying, if he ever got back into politics, it would be for one office and one only. That would be for president of the United States.

Does he still hover over this Democratic field?

BEGALA: To an extent, yes, yes.

Morris Udall, the late congressman, used to say that the only cure for presidential fever is embalming fluid. And the vice president is far from dead. He's the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

And I think it's something all Americans should relish and cherish and honor. But I wonder if, in the back of his mind, he's not thinking at this field of Democrats and thinking, well, maybe there will be a stalemate. Maybe there will be a brokered convention.

I think it's preposterous. But he's clearly -- you know what? He told the truth today, and I admire him for that.

BLITZER: Because I met with a top Democrat the other day who suggests that Hillary Clinton looks like she's fading -- may be premature. There are a lot of Democrats who still are worried about Barack Obama, his experience, or lack thereof. And they're beginning to think, is there something else out there that could unify the Democratic Party? And, of course, one name immediately comes up. And you know what that name is.

SIMMONS: Well, I think Al Gore is very popular. I worked for him. I think he's a great guy.

But I think we have got a cast of candidates that the people seem to be very happy with. The Democrats, when you poll them in all these states, say they're very satisfied with our candidates. And I think they're ready to go on until November and take on whichever one of these guys that the Republicans send up.

BLITZER: Two Democratic strategists, Jamal Simmons, and Paul Begala.

We're going to have two Republican strategists here in THE SITUATION ROOM later in the week.

BEGALA: Oh, my God, that is going to be boring.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It's going to be excellent.

BEGALA: Oh, I'm just kidding.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Thanks, guys, very much.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: President Bush says one thing, but Pakistan's president does not agree. It involves finding Osama bin Laden and how far the U.S. should go. You're going to hear what Pervez Musharraf has to say in my exclusive interview with him.

And the nation's oldest symphony orchestra headed to one of the world's most secretive countries. You're going to hear where the New York Philharmonic will play and why. You might not believe what's going on.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our Political Ticker this Monday; the presidential candidates' worst jobs.

Son of a mill worker John Edwards tells the -- tells the Associated Press that cleaning those mills was -- as a young man was awful. Mike Huckabee says he once had the thankless task of scrubbing fingerprints off the doors at J.C. Penney. Hillary Clinton worked in Alaska after graduate school spooning the guts out of fish.

Mitt Romney also had a dirty job working inside a sewage pipe in Idaho. Bill Richardson says the pay was terrible when he spent a summer laying sod on (r)MDNM¯Cape Cod. And one of the Fred Thompson's worst jobs, selling children's shoes. Barack Obama says his worst job was at a Baskin-Robbins, because he ate way too much ice cream.

Remember, for all the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

Jack Cafferty is in New York with "The Cafferty File."

I shudder to ask what was your worst job was, Jack. And don't say the current one.

(LAUGHTER)

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Did Paul Begala just say that President Bush would poll behind several forms of venereal disease?

BLITZER: Yes, he did. But he was joking.

CAFFERTY: Well, no, I understand he was joking. I thought it was very funny.

BLITZER: He was trying to be funny. CAFFERTY: And it was funny. It was also out there. I like Paul Begala a lot. I just was listening in my office. And that particular line got my attention, as it -- as it probably did yours.

The question this hour is, when it comes to Rudy Giuliani's time as New York mayor, are you satisfied that nothing improper was done with regard to security for his mistress at the time, Judith Nathan?

Kenneth writes from New York: "Giuliani misses the point. Doesn't matter who paid for the -- who asked for the security. The point is, taxpayers had to pay for security for both Mrs. Giuliani and mistress Giuliani. If Giuliani didn't have a mistress, the taxpayer bill would have been half as much. He should reimburse the city for the extra expense caused by his having a mistress. I make no judgment about whether he should have had a mistress or not. I just don't feel like she -- I should have to subsidize her."

Mark writes from New York: "I'm satisfied with the answers Rudy Giuliani is giving about his so-called accounting issue. Anyone who believes there was some variety of conspiracy going on is horribly misinformed and reactionary. He has explained it over and over again. And, to me, his explanation is enough."

Letty writes: "Security for a mistress? And she was, indeed, his mistress, not his girlfriend. A girlfriend is someone you date when you're single. My home security monthly payment is too much for me to pay, but I paid for Judith's security? What a bunch of a baloney. He should be made to pay that money back."

Frank writes: "If you have ever watched 'The West Wing,' you know the government official doesn't have control over his own security detail. Even Huckabee admitted he had the same situation as governor. Rudy cleaned up a cesspool of a city, despite mob threats and countless other controversies, that may have led to violent altercations. These security details may have been needed, even if Joe Brooklyn doesn't know specifically why. Taxes go to much dumber things than guarding a former prosecutor and current mayor."

Tom in Eudora, Kansas, writes: "Although I live in Kansas, I'm thinking there may be a credible threat against me. Can I get government security or do I have to have sex with Rudy first?" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See you in a moment, Jack.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thank you.

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