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Romney Stung in New Hampshire; Obama vs. the Clintons; President Bush Signs $555 Billion Bill; Interview With Duncan Hunter

Aired December 26, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Mitt Romney under the gun. A second New Hampshire paper is urging voters not to support him. And his leading rival, Mike Huckabee, is showing him up on the hunt in Iowa.
Also this hour, Barack Obama versus Bill and Hillary Clinton. With eight days to go before the Iowa caucuses, there's no sparring over who would bring change and who has the experience.

And racing to 2009. President Bush gearing up for a year of globetrotting and legacy building here at home.

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

Republican Mitt Romney is racing into the new year with fewer reasons to count on a celebration in New Hampshire. He has now been hit with not one, but two anti-endorsements, as they're now being called by local newspapers. The stinging criticism speaking to some bigger problems for the former Massachusetts governor in the state next door.

Let's go out there. Mary Snow is standing by. She's covering the campaign trail for us out in New Hampshire.

Tell us about this latest slap directly at Mitt Romney, Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this latest slap comes from the "Union Leader," and I can show you here, again, a very critical editorial against Mitt Romney. This is the second one in four days.

It's titled "The Romney Backlash." And at one point saying, "In this primary, the more Mitt Romney speaks, the less believable he becomes."

What's being questioned are his conservative credentials. The "Union Leader" saying he's not been able to convince the people of this state that he's the conservative he says he is.

Just a short time ago we got a chance to ask Mitt Romney about this criticism being hurled toward him. He says that he was endorsed by "The National Review," and he said that has proven that he is the conservative that people should back, and said that he wasn't all that worried about the image going forward in terms of campaign strategy. He said he felt that his campaign here is strong. These editorials, Wolf, come on the heels also of a new poll that was out this week showing that John McCain is really gaining ground here in New Hampshire, and Mitt Romney has had his campaign here since last January or February, so he's had a very well-organized campaign here. A lot of money pumped into this, and now to see his lead really slipping here in these final days before the primary -- Wolf.

BLITZER: As McCain's numbers go up, Romney's appear to go down.

So what is Romney trying to do, Mary, to regain his footing in New Hampshire?

SNOW: He's really trying to distinguish himself from his Republican rivals, particularly John McCain. And today he criticized John McCain on his immigration reform bill, suggesting that this was a very important issue going forward, and saying that unlike McCain, he -- he would not want any illegals to get amnesty here.

This is a repeat of attacks on McCain in the past couple of days. The other day it was on tax cuts.

BLITZER: Romney doing to McCain what he was doing to Huckabee out in Iowa, where he's got some serious problems as well.

All right. Thanks very much.

Mary is on the campaign trail for us in New Hampshire.

Let's go over to Iowa right now, where Democrat Barack Obama is trying to get at Hillary Clinton through her husband. It's another round in an ongoing series of attacks and counterattacks between the Obama and Clinton camps.

CNN's Jessica Yellin is out on the campaign trail for us out in Iowa.

So what's he trying to do, Obama, right now with this latest back and forth?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he's taking on Hillary Clinton on her closing argument. That's what they're calling it here in Iowa, as these candidates get down to the wire just ahead of the caucuses. They are making their final pitch.

Hillary Clinton's pitch is that she is the change agent who has the most experience inside Washington, that she knows how to get things done in Washington. In fact, her husband Bill Clinton said that going with Barack Obama is a risk, an unknown, and this is what Obama had to say to that position.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Don't, you know, try something different, because, you know, that's going to be too risky. You know, you don't know what you might get. So, even though you know what's been done in the past doesn't work, stick with it. You know, I know that that's not how America's made progress.


YELLIN: And Wolf, so what he's saying is that Hillary Clinton's insider way, we know it doesn't work. That's his message. He's saying you've got to go with change, and that's Barack Obama. They're facing off here for the next eight days in Iowa with those two messages -- Wolf.

BLITZER: At one of his campaign events today, an Obama campaign event, an audience member got all choked up. I want our viewers to listen to what happened. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And every so often, the Congress plays politics and decides will we fund healthcare for veterans this year? If so, how much? This system needs to be changed so that we can count on healthcare for our veterans who are returning now, more and more of them with terrible injuries, and we can't desert them.

Thank you, sir.


BLITZER: All right.

Jessica, how did Senator Obama respond?

YELLIN: Well, this man broke down weeping even at the beginning of that sound bite, just before what you heard, and Barack Obama went up and hugged him. That's significant because in the past, Obama has been criticized for being big with his spirit but not personal, intimate with people, unwilling to hug them and touch them. And we saw him break through that today and give this man a big hug. That went over well with the crowd -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And speaking of crowds, you're seeing some differences, I don't know how significant, in the crowds for the Clinton events and the Obama events. What's going on?

YELLIN: Well, I think this is very significant. It's one of those things you can only get perspective on when you're here on the ground.

You go to the Barack Obama events and the crowd -- you look at it, it is young people. They are vibrant, young people who are in their 20s and 30s, and 40s. You go to the Hillary Clinton event, it's such a stark contrast -- much older crowd, lots of women, many senior citizens.

It's as if they're going for two totally different groups. And if you look at them, you can just see it for yourself, who these people are targeting. And it really holds true.

Hillary Clinton is trying to turn out mainly older women. Barack Obama is hoping to turn out younger people, college age and up. And the two of them are targeting new voters in both categories.

The question is, which of these new voters are more likely to come out caucus night? Historically, older people vote more, but this could be the unknown, the unpredictable caucus when they all come out. Who knows, Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll see in eight days. Thanks very much.

Jessica Yellin watching this story for us.

Eight presidential candidates are in Iowa today heading into this, the final week before the caucuses on January 3rd. All told, they'll visit 16 cities and towns across the state. Two of those candidates, Bill Richardson and John McCain, both swing through Council Bluffs today. Joe Biden stops in the biggest city hosting a presidential candidate today. That would be Des Moines, the state capital, population of more than 193,000.

Hillary Clinton has an event in the smallest Iowa town on any candidate's itinerary today. Cumming is a suburb of Des Moines and the hometown of the Iowa senator, the Democrat Tom Harkin. Get this, it's population, 274.

President Bush today completed a major piece of work during his vacation. Riding on Air Force one to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, the president signed into law a $555 billion spending bill that allocates $70 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The president signed the bill even though it has more than 9,000 earmarks.

Mr. Bush says he hopes the White House Office of Management and Budget can still find a way to elimination most of those. The president also signed 15 other bills, including the Tax Increase Prevention Act, as it's called, which puts a one-year freeze on what's known as the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Joining us to talk a little bit more about this massive spending bill is our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's covering the president -- I guess it's a vacation down in Crawford, Texas.

He's looking ahead, the president, right now not only to the next few days or next few weeks, he's looking ahead to the next year.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. I mean, as you noted, ripping into Congress, almost grudgingly signing this bill into law, really ripping into them on that issue of earmarks, those special projects that lawmakers put in to benefit their individual states.

One quick example, $113,000 for rodent control in Alaska, one of the many earmarks in that massive bill. The president declaring after he signed this into law in a written statement, "I am disappointed in the way Congress compiled this legislation, including abandoning the goal I set earlier this year to reduce the number and cost of earmarks by half. Instead, the Congress dropped in the bill nearly 9,800 earmarks that total more than $10 billion. These projects are not funded through a merit-based process and provide a vehicle for wasteful government spending."

Now, the point her is the president wanted to sign this into law because he had some victories here, like the war funding you noted without any strings that the Democrats originally wanted to attach. But conservatives are irate about some of the earmarks, the spending in this bill, so he's trying to send a signal to his conservative base that he hears what they're saying on spending, but he doesn't have necessarily a lot of power.

As you know, the president does not have a line-item veto like a lot of governors have to wipe out these individual projects. Instead, he's having his budget chief, Jim Nussle, take a look at what he could do, maybe executive orders, for example. Some conservatives saying that since some of these projects were added at the end of the process, Congress may not have legal standing to actually fund it themselves, but maybe the executive branch can cancel out some of these projects -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed, thanks very much. We're going to get back to you later in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Ed Henry at the Crawford ranch.

Mike Huckabee is opening fire in Iowa, literally.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These three birds all said they would not vote for me on caucus night. You see what happened to them?


BLITZER: The Republican on the hunt for game and for votes, and he may be taking a shot at Mitt Romney along the way.

Also, GOP presidential candidate Duncan Hunter, if he doesn't win the White House, would he consider running the Pentagon? I'll ask him.

And the John Edwards camp is predicting what Hillary Clinton will do in the days ahead. Bill Bennett and Peter Fenn on the countdown to Iowa, only eight days away. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

Eight days to go until the Iowa caucuses, Republican Duncan Hunter trails in the presidential polls, but he's still trying to leave his mark on the race and the campaign debate.

Congressman Duncan Hunter of California is joining us now from San Diego.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hey. Great to be with you, Wolf. How are you doing?

BLITZER: I'm doing fine.

Let's talk a little bit about some of the issues. And I want to pick your brain. Put on your hat as the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, the former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. A couple issues involving Russia.

First of all, they tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile within the past couple days or so, capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads. Should that be of any concern to the U.S.?

HUNTER: Yes, it still is concern, Wolf. You obviously have lots of strategic systems, some of them very modern that the Russians have still targeted on American interests and on American territory. And you know, it takes two things to constitute a threat. It takes capability and intent.

While the Russian intent changed as the Berlin Wall came down, the capability remained, and the intent, and the shifting politics in Russia right now are still a cause for concern for the United States. Still a dominant nation of all of our potential adversaries, still a dominant nation with respect to strategic systems. Nuclear-tipped missiles still very, very effective, and I think we're going to have to be very vigilant.

BLITZER: So you're worried about what.

What about this other decision by the Russians now to sell a new anti-aircraft missile to Iran, a pretty sophisticated anti-aircraft missile? I suppose that worries you as well.

HUNTER: Yes. We've got to be drawing a line in the sand. And what's happened here, Wolf, is this -- every time we've moved toward really tough sanctions and tried to really put the -- put the pressure on Iran, China and Russia have worked to blunt (ph) really difficult sanctions, and, you know, we're getting closer to the edge of the cliff. And the edge of the cliff is when the Iranians are able to refine this weapons material that's used for a nuclear device, where they get it up to the 50, 60 percent refinement level. And we should probably draw a line in the sand in which we say we're not going to let them get past what it takes for a commercial reactor, for a domestic reactor.

The problem that I'm worried about is that as we get closer to the edge of the cliff, I think the Iranians are trying to follow what I call a North Korean model. The North Koreans talked and built, talked and built. And finally one day they said we have nuclear devices, you're going to have to live with them.

BLITZER: But Congressman, this latest national intelligence estimate that the CIA, the U.S. intelligence community put out saying they stopped trying to weaponize their nuclear program four years ago, a lot of people say that simply pulled the rug out from U.S. diplomats who were seeking to pressure the Russians, the Chinese and the Europeans, for that matter, to increase the sanctions on Iran.

HUNTER: And you know, the conclusion that they gave us and the conclusion that we drew, that they had stopped, is flat wrong, Wolf, because as you know, it takes a number of components to make a nuclear device -- the trigger mechanism, the initiation mechanism, and, of course, the nuclear material, the weapons-grade material. It's like building a rifle, and you've got a barrel in one room, you've got a trigger assembly in the other, you've got a stock in the other.

While they stopped some of the things, they continue to do the most important part of that program, and that is to refine uranium. And they're doing that at Natanz, as you know. And they have 2,952 centrifuges going full time trying to turn out this weapons-grade material, so they're going full bore on the most important part of the weapons program.

How can you reconcile that with a conclusion that says they've stopped? Absolutely an erroneous conclusion.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about your future.

Mike Huckabee was quoted in "The New York Times" magazine the other day as saying this about you: "Duncan is extraordinarily well qualified to be secretary of defense."

Are you interested in that job?

HUNTER: Well, you know, right now what I'm interested in is the same thing that Mike's interested in. And I'm just starting my radio and television in New Hampshire.

I don't think there's any daylight in Iowa. I think that is a two-man race, and I think Mike Huckabee has waged a superb campaign in Iowa.

I think Iowa is definitely with him, way out front, with Mitt Romney trying to catch up. So I'm going to concentrating on New Hampshire.

I'm going to be in Nevada tomorrow with Chuck Yeager. We're doing work there. We're working the western caucuses and primaries.

I think that Iowa is a two-man race right now, but very nice of Mike. And he's really a quality candidate with great character. It's been a lot of fun to stand next to him, and as you've hosted a couple of the debates that he and I have been involved in, he's a great guy. But I'm going for the same thing he's going for right now.

BLITZER: But you're not really registering in the polls as he is. Obviously, he's doing very, very well. At what point do you decide, you know what, this is not happening, it's not working out, it's time to move on? HUNTER: Well, listen, I've never contemplated defeat. That's how I've struggled through this 27-year career.

I do have a secret weapon you may be interested in though, Wolf. I have got a 4-year-old granddaughter who can really sing "The Star- Spangled Banner." When I turn her loose on New Hampshire, I think things will turn around.

BLITZER: That could be your secret weapon.

HUNTER: That's it.

BLITZER: Would you take the pledge to support any of the Republican candidates no matter who that may be? I ask the question because of Rudy Giuliani's position on some of the social issues, like abortion and gay rights, on gun control. John McCain's support for what you would call amnesty involving illegal immigrants, which he denies is amnesty, or Ron Paul's opposition to the war in Iraq.

If any of those three were to get the Republican nomination, could you live with that?

HUNTER: Well, you know, I've -- I've been with those guys in I think some 10 debates now, and I'm impressed with the quality of the Republican field. And I think that they're far and above the Democrat field right now in terms of my preferences, all of them.

They all have strong points. They all have a few weak points in some areas. But I would support the Republican nominee.

I think -- I think the Republican field is a quality field, but I would say this: I think if you -- if we take the Republican field to a position where they no longer stand for the value of human life -- that is, if they're no longer pro-life, that great centerpiece of the Republican Party, of Lincoln's party, we will no longer be what I call the party of Lincoln. I think respect for human life is the centerpiece of our party, it's the character of our party, it's the soul of our party. And I think we're going to have a nominee who is strongly pro-life.

BLITZER: Well, Rudy Giuliani does support a woman's right to have an abortion.

HUNTER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: So that means -- am I hearing you -- you wouldn't be able to live with that if he were the nominee?

HUNTER: I'm saying I would support -- I would support any of the Republican candidates over what appears to be the Democrat candidates, because they're all pro-choice, as you know.

BLITZER: Including Giuliani?

HUNTER: And -- no, I'm saying the Democrat candidates are...

BLITZER: No. You would support Giuliani if he were the nominee?

HUNTER: Well, yes, but I don't -- I would, but I don't think he's going to get it because the vast majority of Republican voters are -- in the center of our party is very much pro-life, and so I think we're going to have a pro-life nominee. That's my take on it.

BLITZER: Duncan Hunter is a Republican presidential candidate. He's also a long-serving member of the Congress.

Thanks very much, Congressman, for coming in.

HUNTER: Thanks a lot, Wolf. See you.

BLITZER: And Happy New Year to you.

HUNTER: Happy New Year.

BLITZER: President Bush's last year in office could be one of his busiest. Would that change his White House legacy for better or worse?

Plus, they're the wildcards of this presidential contest. Two candidates could shake up the race and throw front-runners in for a loop. We'll tell you what's going on.

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



BLITZER: They could spoil the front-runner's well-laid plans, presidential candidates who could pull off some major upsets. We're going to tell you about their chances. What are they?

And President Bush doesn't know what he'll do after he's president, but he seems sure what he'll do before -- shore up his legacy. We're going to tell you about his plans to try to make some history, a history-making schedule he has for the coming year.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, progress and sadness in Iraq. The U.S. is nearing 3,900 U.S. troop deaths, but we could also see the lowest number of U.S. deaths in a month. Can that progress hold? We're watching the story.

Also, some Jews in Iran are getting out. They're leaving on secret journeys, many of them fearful that anti-Israeli rhetoric from Iran's president could be a warning sign of things to come.

And a nightmare for anyone who's ever been to a zoo -- a 300- pound tiger escapes and attacks. There's a death and casualties. As for how the tiger got out, police are now calling the area a crime scene.

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

In about a week, everything we think we know about the presidential race could dramatically change. Some candidates considered sleepers could spoil plans laid out by some of the top-tier candidates. And that would shoot this race into an entirely new dimension.

Our senior political correspondent, Bill Schneider, is standing by live.

Bill, there are certainly some wild cards in this race.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, there are, Wolf, one in each party.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): In the Democratic race, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been getting most of the attention, but there's a wild card in the Democratic race: John Edwards. Polls in Iowa show a tight three-way race between Clinton, Obama and Edwards. Edwards is betting heavily on Iowa.

DENNIS GOLDFORD, PROFESSOR OF POLITICS AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, DRAKE UNIVERSITY: John Edwards, we have to remember, never really left after the '04 caucus cycle. He had a good, strong organization here in Iowa.

SCHNEIDER: After some initial missteps, that $400 haircut, Edwards has adopted a strong populist message.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have fought for jobs and the middle class and health care. I have fought for the kind of working people in the middle class that I grew up with.

SCHNEIDER: If Edwards wins Iowa, he could become the Clinton alternative, instead of Obama.

In the Republican race, the focus has been the hot race in Iowa between Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. John McCain was written off last summer, when his campaign nearly ran out of money. But he may be coming back to life in New Hampshire, where he won the endorsement of an influential conservative newspaper.

McCain's now running a strong second in New Hampshire. In 2000, when McCain beat George W. Bush in the Granite State, he was the maverick. Now he's the candidate of experience.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It really has a lot to do with experience, and knowledge and background that I have on national security issues throughout my entire life.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans have mixed feelings about McCain.

GOLDFORD: His two main issues cut in opposite directs. Republicans don't like his stance on immigration. They do like his support for the war in Iraq and particularly for the surge.

SCHNEIDER: Those are the same feelings that Republicans have about President Bush.


SCHNEIDER: If McCain wins New Hampshire, the Republican race will look totally different. And so will the Democratic race if Edwards wins Iowa. That's why they're wild cards -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And there may be another wild card out there as well, Bill, especially in New Hampshire. And I'm referring to Ron Paul, who's raised a ton of money, who has got incredibly passionate supporters out there, and who could appeal to those independent voters. And that could affect the Democratic and the Republican contest, if you will.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. He could attract independent voters, who can vote in either party's primary. There are many candidates who are anticipating a heavy independent vote. But, if they vote for Ron Paul in the Republican race, that could do damage, say, to Barack Obama, who's always done well with Democrats -- with independents voting in the Democratic primary.

Yes, he has a lot of money, and he could make a big impression in this race.

BLITZER: A lot of the people I'm talking to are saying, wait until we see what happens in New Hampshire. And that Ron Paul factor could be really significant. We will see.


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Bill -- Bill Schneider...


BLITZER: ... joining us from Des Moines.

We are going to be speaking to Ron Paul tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Bush is getting ready to do what he has never done as president, visit Israel and the Palestinian territories. And that is happening in just under two weeks, where a broad Middle East tour will mean stops elsewhere in the region as well, among other places, Saudi Arabia.

It will help the president bolster his latest push for peace in the region, and it will also add a new chapter to the president's legacy that's still being written.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, once again. He is joining us now more on this story.

It's going to be a very, very busy year for the president. He's trying to rewrite history, if you will. He's looking toward improving to his legacy. And he's got, what, 13 months to do it.


In fact, he's here ringing in the new year in Crawford, at his ranch, trying to get some downtime to prepare for all those big overseas trip, Israel, but many others as well, as he tries to shore up his legacy.


HENRY (voice-over): President Bush on the tarmac in Texas, just one of many airports he will be breezing through during his final year in office, as he gears up for his heaviest international travel schedule ever.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking forward to going to the Middle East.

HENRY: He heads to Israel January 8, then stops in hot spots like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, following up on the Annapolis summit.

BUSH: Got a couple of objectives. One is to advance the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Secondly is to continue to work with our Arab friends on reconciliation with Israel.

HENRY: Then Air Force One heads to Africa in February, European summits in April and June, as well as two stops in Asia, Japan for the G8 Summit in July, and China for the Olympics in August.

Mr. Bush is resting up in Crawford for all that globe-trotting, because he's in search of other legacy items beyond just the Iraq war, a major reason he will be focusing so hard on foreign policy initiatives like broader Mideast peace.

The president's domestic legacy is thing, beyond the Medicare prescription drug benefit. His signature education reform law is struggling to be renewed because of conservative opposition, while any benefits of the Bush tax cuts could be overshadowed by economic uncertainty and the mortgage crisis.

And while the president's liberal use of the veto pen this year proved he's still relevant, it also antagonized the very Democratic leaders he will need to compromise with next year to rack up major accomplishments on the domestic front.

BUSH: I don't know what I'm going to do after I'm president. Michael, I have got an exciting 13 months ahead. And I know you're just waiting for me to say sprint to the finish line, so I won't.



HENRY: Now, the only sprinting for the president here in Crawford will be on his mountain bike. For Christmas, the first lady gave him some winter biking gear. And, in turn, he gave Mrs. Bush a new purse and a silver tray -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And I assume, in the foreign policy area, number-one priority is to make sure the progress that's unfolding in Iraq really holds over the next 13 months, and continues to go forward. But he's really investing a lot of his energy in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as well.

HENRY: He is, because the president himself acknowledged last week that, while there have been security gains in Iraq, there's not been enough progress on the political reconciliation front.

And another big issue, in addition to Mideast peace, is the war in Afghanistan -- the president acknowledging last week that his administration is conducting a top-to-bottom review to figure out why it's hit such a rough patch in Afghanistan. He admitted that he's worried that NATO allies may get tired and weary of that fight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed, thanks very much -- Ed Henry out at the Crawford ranch in Texas.

A Republican presidential candidate goes on the hunt, but Mike Huckabee has his eyes on more than just wild game.

Also, John Edwards' campaign warning voters about Hillary Clinton. His campaign says she will try to pull some classic Republican moves and says voters shouldn't be fooled.

And Iowa and New Hampshire's big contests fast approaching -- virtually, all the candidates are campaigning in those two states right now. So, why is Rudy Giuliani in Florida?

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


BLITZER: In Iowa today, Republican Mike Huckabee joined the ranks of the presidential hopefuls eager to be seen with a rifle in his hand and dressed in hunting gear. That kind of photo-op can certainly help the candidates or leave them wounded.

Our Dana Bash went along with Huckabee on the campaign trail, as well as on the hunt.

Dana, how did this hunting trip go, politically speaking, shall we say?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was a different kind of strategy for Mike Huckabee. Usually, traditionally, he has small meet-and-greets with voters. That is where he has found the most success. But, today, he opened his final push here in Iowa with a play at imagery.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... going with us.


BASH: Governor, what kind of gun is that?

HUCKABEE: It's a Benelli 12-gauge Black Eagle.

BASH (voice-over): Mike Huckabee wants Iowans to know and see that he's a hunter who knows his stuff.

HUCKABEE: You know, it would help if I get some shells. Who has got those?

BASH: A not-so-subtle contrast to Mitt Romney, his chief rival here, who declared himself a lifelong hunter, only to have his campaign admit he's only hunted twice.

HUCKABEE: Maybe it will show that, you know, I certainly understand the culture of being outdoors. It's not a -- it's not something I had to go and get a primer in.

BASH: The former Arkansas governor says he would normally be duck hunting back home after Christmas, claims he goes some 30 times a season.

But, in Iowa, it's pheasants. And, after a couple misses...

HUCKABEE: Red is fire. So, it's away from me.

BASH: ... some problems with his safety lock, he bagged a pheasant, three for his whole party.

HUCKABEE: These three birds all said they would not vote for me on caucus night. You see what happened to them. It's very positive. You vote for me, you live. You don't? Hmm. There you go.

BASH: Beyond the folksy, if-not-slightly morbid humor, a closing argument for Iowa voters.

HUCKABEE: That what I bring to the race is the most experience of actually running a government. And I think I also bring a level of authenticity and credibility to the campaign.

BASH: But even here, evidence Huckabee still has work to do -- fellow hunter Clint Robinson thinks he's going for Huckabee, but:

CLINT ROBINSON, HUNTER: Immigration is certainly an issue. It's -- his stance isn't necessarily in line with what I think needs to happen either.

BASH: Lucky for Huckabee, he got some quality hunting time to lobby Robinson. HUCKABEE: Lunch will be at 11:30.

BASH: And maybe a meal.


BASH: And, Wolf, there was no way Mike Huckabee was going to go hunting and not make a joke about Dick Cheney, of course, now notorious for accidentally shooting a fellow hunter. When asked whether or not he invited the vice president, he responded, without missing a beat, "I really want to survive, you know, all the way through the deal here," his way of saying, no -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. He's got a -- I guess he's got a good sense of humor, although some of it, as you point out, could be a little morbid.

What about Huckabee going off to Florida? What's that all about?

BASH: He's on his way there right now. It is kind of odd that this is sort of a make-it-or-break-it state for him, and he's leaving with eight days out. But he needs money, Wolf. And he's found a fund-raising base clearly in Florida. That's why he's going.

He initially joked about the fact that he needs the money in order to stay on TV here. I asked him if that means he doesn't even have money to survive for the next eight days here in Iowa. And he said, no, he actually is going to raise money in order to continue his campaign in South Carolina, for example. That's the next primary state where he feels that he could have success, of course, because, just like Iowa, it has a very large evangelical Republican base -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of money in Florida, as we all know, especially this time of year. All right, thanks very much, Dana.

Dana is on the campaign trail for us.

Rudy Giuliani is also focusing in on Florida once again today, while many of his Republican rivals, of course, are braving the chill in Iowa and New Hampshire. He's making a new push to win the votes of veterans in the January 29 primary -- primary. That's a must-win state for Giuliani.

Let's go to CNN's John Zarrella. He's watching all of this in Largo, Florida.

All right, so, what's his message involving the military today, John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Wolf, you know, his first message was that he feels great. And he certainly looked energized. And that follows the scare about a week ago, when he was briefly hospitalized for headaches that he suffered.

The test results are back. He says everything is great, and he's moving on forward, of course, with his campaign, largely here in Florida. He met here in Largo, Florida, at the American Legion post, with veterans.

And his message to veterans was: Look, I'm going to take care of veterans when they come home, make sure veterans get taken care of. And I want to see the military even stronger than it is today. It needs to be strengthened -- certainly words that the veterans who were gathered here wanted to hear from the former mayor.

The mayor also said, of course, when asked in a briefing afterwards with the media that Florida is hugely important to him. Of course, you know, he's been getting the cold shoulder in the northern states. He's hoping for a bit of a break here in Florida, where he can raise some money and keep that campaign momentum going.

Now, again, he did talk about the military and how he wants to see it strengthened.


RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to make sure we support our military, make sure it has the resources that it needs in order to get the job done.

And, right now, the military needs to be increased. We need 10 more combat brigades. We need to increase the Marines to 200,000. We need to increase the Air Force, commitment to the Air Force, and the Navy, and the Coast Guard, and our commitment to veterans.


ZARRELLA: He's leading in Florida, Wolf. And he believes that this can be a springboard, that January 29 primary, to carry him to the big primary on February 5 with about 20 states. So, he sees this, certainly, as critical for him to move forward into February -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a risky strategy. We will see how he does.

Thanks very much, John Zarrella, in Largo for us.

The John Edwards campaign is revealing its strategy right now for the final eight days until the Iowa caucuses, and Edwards predicting Iowa voters won't be fooled, he says, by Hillary Clinton.

Bill Bennett and Peter Fenn, they are standing by for our "Strategy Session."

And the San Francisco Zoo, it's now the scene of a crime investigation after a deadly tiger attack. Animal expert Jack Hanna joins us to explain how this could happen and how to prevent it from happening again.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: John Edwards' campaign is putting out its warnings about Hillary Clinton, in a stinging comparison to President Bush, Edwards' campaign predicting she will try to frighten voters into supporter her. But the campaign says, voters should not be fooled.

Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now -- joining us, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and CNN contributor Bill Bennett. He's a Washington fellow of the Claremont Institute.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Jonathan Prince, who used to work in the Clinton White House, now works...


BLITZER: ... for Edwards, deputy campaign manager, among other things, saying: "We know that Senator Clinton will spend the week touting her national security credentials in a move that echoes George Bush's 2004 campaign. We believe Democrats will not be fooled by efforts to play on their fears."

What do you think?

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think that she hardly is going to take the George Bush line here. She's going out against George Bush.

But this is -- it's a funny memo. It's a spin memo, not a strategy memo, for this "Strategy Session," Wolf. And, basically, it's kind of interesting to me, because it's -- it's -- there's nothing in there that's not out in the public domain. But I think the attacks on Hillary -- he's feeling that he has got to go after her. He's got to take...

BLITZER: Edwards?

FENN: Yes, absolutely, that he needs to take some...


BLITZER: He could be a wild card in Iowa. You know, people are taking a look, Bill, at that close race. There are three contenders clearly in Iowa, unless there's a real, real wild card.

BENNETT: Yes, they make their politics funny in Iowa.

I mean, on the conservative side, those conservatives are real conservatives. And the liberals on the liberal side, some of them are real left. And he's going left, and he's going hard on Hillary. She's had a -- she had a bad day. This is a tough "New York Times" piece, too.

BLITZER: The piece said this...

BENNETT: Right. Yes. BLITZER: ... talking about her experience at the White House.


BLITZER: "During those two terms in the White House, Mrs. Clinton did not hold a security clearance. She did not attend National Security Council meetings. She was not given a copy of the president's daily intelligence briefing. She did not assert herself on the crises in Somalia, Haiti and Rwanda."

You read that piece.


No, for paranoid conservatives who think "New York Times" is in the tank for Hillary...


FENN: Yes.


BENNETT: ... it can't be, because this is a very tough piece. She's not warm and fuzzy. We know that. She's not Camelot, idealistic, like Obama is. The argument for her is experience. And this piece in "The New York Times" suggests, maybe not, no national security clearance and so on. We will see.

FENN: You know, I think it wasn't that bad at all, Wolf.

The fact is that you have a woman who is the strongest first lady that we have ever had in terms of policy. She was a strong first lady in -- in Arkansas, working on education, working on health care for kids. You know, and there's a lot of discussion about her involvement with her husband on these issues of national security.

So, you know, I think it highlights once again the fact that she is competent, that she's experienced, that she has a way to go. But, you know, I think that's why Edwards has got to come back. He's got to do something, because, if he doesn't win Iowa, he's dead.


BLITZER: He's in trouble.


BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little on the Republican side, Bill.


BLITZER: "The New Hampshire Union Leader..."

BENNETT: Yes. BLITZER: ... as it's now called -- it to be called "The Manchester Union Leader..."

BENNETT: Right. We know who are they are now.


BLITZER: ... it's an important newspaper in New Hampshire.

BENNETT: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: And they came out with this editorial saying, among other things, this: "Romney has all the advantages: money, organization, geographic proximity, statesmanlike hair, et cetera. But he lacks something John McCain has in spades: conviction."


You know, I like Mitt Romney. He's got to wonder. It's really kind of turned on him. You know, Huckabee obviously has been all over him, and now McCain is on him. McCain, I think, is really moving in New Hampshire. And this idea of the proximity of New Hampshire to Massachusetts was going to help Romney seems to be wearing thin. He's got to be a little nervous at this point.

FENN: And to get the Joe Lieberman endorsement helps him with independents, no question.

BENNETT: Yes. Yes, it sure does.

FENN: And he has got that trifecta of "The Des Moines Register," "The Boston Globe," and "The Union Leader" endorsements.

So, if -- if -- if Romney does stumble in -- in Iowa, I think McCain's going to take him in New Hampshire.

BLITZER: Yes. But...

BENNETT: The cliche, as you know, that the Democrats support change, so Obama appeals to that. We're kind of a royalist party, at the end of the day.


BENNETT: We say, whose turn is it? It seems to me McCain's turn. The guy won't take no for an answer. It looked like he was on the mat and he's back up and fighting.

BLITZER: And you have got to give him a lot of credit for not being dead last summer, when a lot of us were suggesting maybe...

BENNETT: Like Mark Twain, reports of his death were exaggerated.

BLITZER: Yes, right.

He just put out a statement, McCain, going after Mitt Romney's latest criticisms of him on immigration and other issues.

"I know something," McCain says, "about tailspins. And it's pretty clear Mitt Romney is in one. It's disappointing that he would launch desperate, flailing and false attacks in an attempt to maintain relevance."

You get the point, what McCain is saying. But he's fighting back.

BENNETT: Yes. No, it's hardball. And he's a tough guy, and everybody knows that. And, again, the conviction politician, with all that is going on, all these people, you can sort it out and see the place that McCain takes. It's very clear who he is, unlike a lot of the guys.

BLITZER: And McCain would be a formidable nominee, given his credibility on a lot of these issues, at least for the centrists out there.

FENN: Absolutely, Wolf.

I mean, a lot of us really were fearful in 2000 that he was going to get that nomination and draw in not only independents, but Democrats. And the question is whether he could do that.

But one good thing for us, it take immigrations off the table.




FENN: ... we don't have to talk about immigration.

BENNETT: I'm going to reconsider, given what Peter is saying, if they fear McCain.


BENNETT: Anyway, no, it's -- he is a good candidate. And I think he matches up very well.

FENN: And, right now, they're not happy with their candidates.

BENNETT: No. It's...


FENN: It's a none-of-the-above situation.

BENNETT: You know...

FENN: And they're -- and they're going back to what they know. And what they know is McCain.

BENNETT: It's -- it's amazing.

I mean, I -- I don't go for this, you know, the undecided -- the glorification of the undecided, and how did they move today, but I have to tell you, there are so many people -- and I have this radio show. Most people are still undecided.

FENN: Yes.


BENNETT: I mean, it's very late. It's very unusual. I got a little boomlet for Jon Kyl for president this morning.


BENNETT: And it's really -- it's strange out there.

BLITZER: And he's not even running.

All right, guys....

BENNETT: And he's not running.

FENN: It might be better to have someone who is not running.

BENNETT: That's right.


BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much for coming in. We will continue this down the road.

Just ahead: crisis management, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez working toward the release of some hostages in Colombia. You are going to hear about a plan he's proposing for their freedom.

And some Jews leaving Iran, fearful that anti-Israeli rhetoric from Iran's president could be a warning sign of things to come. You are going to hear about their secret journey and how Iran is responding.

Plus, good fortune amid tragedy -- you will also hear about the sole survivor of a devastating plane crash and what she's saying.

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


BLITZER: The ad wars top our Political Ticker today.

John Edwards sticking to his populist pitch in a new ad in New Hampshire -- the Democrat vowing to stand up for the poor and work against those who exploit their power.

John McCain is sticking to military themes in his new ad that's running in South Carolina. It plays up McCain's service as a prisoner of war and his past calls for a change in strategy in Iraq.

All of Bill Clinton's campaigning for his wife may be helping his own image. In the annual Gallup poll of America's most admired men, the former president is in a statistical tie with President Bush for the number-one spot. Mr. Bush had a significant lead in that survey in the past few years. Hillary Clinton tops Gallup's list of most admired women this year, but she, too, is in a statistical tie with Barack Obama supporter Oprah Winfrey.

Remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at