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Iowa Cliffhangers; Changing Their Tune: Huckabee vs. Romney; Secret Bhutto File Revealed

Aired January 1, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the election year begins with high drama. Not one, but two nail-biters unfolding right now in Iowa. This hour, we find out what likely caucus-goers are thinking two days before Iowa decides.
Plus, is John Edwards losing any ground in Iowa? I will ask the Democratic presidential candidate about his slugfest with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and whether he will come out a winner.

And Benazir Bhutto's final challenge to the Pakistan government. The opposition leader made some very, very serious allegations. CNN has now obtained a document Bhutto was preparing to give to U.S. officials on the day she was killed.

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

It has been a long and bumpy road to 2008. Now the American people are finally about to play their role in the process of choosing the next president of the United States. Two days before the first contest in Iowa, there is new reason to believe that anything can happen.

Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is in Iowa with the CNN Election Express, bringing our campaign coverage across the state and the nation.

All right. Let's go to Bill right now.

The latest numbers in Iowa, where do things stand?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: We are on the edge here in Iowa, Wolf. We have got cliffhangers in both parties.


SCHNEIDER (voice over): It is down to the wire in Iowa. The latest CNN poll of likely Republican caucus-goers conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation shows a close race between Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Two weeks ago, Huckabee had an eight-point lead. Huckabee is still six points ahead in "The Des Moines Register" poll.

Why is Romney gaining ground in the CNN poll? The number one issue for Iowa Republicans is the economy. And the candidate Republicans say is best qualified to handle the economy, former business executive Mitt Romney.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I understand why jobs come and why jobs go.

SCHNEIDER: The Democratic race had been a three-way contest between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. The CNN poll now shows a close two-way race between Clinton and Obama. Edwards has fallen behind.

Obama leads by seven points in "The Des Moines Register" poll. That poll shows a high turnout of first-time caucusgoers, young voters, and Independents. If those voters do show up Thursday night, it could be good news for Obama.

Iowa Democrats say Clinton has the most experience and the best chance to win in November.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have been standing against the Republicans, George Bush, and Dick Cheney, and I will continue to do so. And I think Democrats know that.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats say Obama is the most honest and most likable candidate.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can vote for Obama, because he's too nice. He's too polite.

SCHNEIDER: Iowa Democrats' hearts are with Obama. Their heads are with Clinton. Tough choice.

Iowa Republicans rate Romney best on experience and give him the best chance to win in November. But they consider Huckabee the most honest and most likable candidate.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The people of Iowa have a right to know the truth. The people of America have a right to know the truth.

SCHNEIDER: Iowa Republicans hearts are with Huckabee. Their heads are with Romney. Tough choice.


SCHNEIDER: The CNN poll was taken less than a week before the Iowa caucuses. And you know what? More than a quarter of Democrats and nearly half of Republicans say they still haven't made up their minds.

They are Iowans. Don't rush them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They've still got two days. All right, Bill. Thanks very much for that.

Let's check in on the candidates right now out on the campaign trail in Iowa. Top Republican rivals Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney are vying for the spotlight and for those undecided voters.

Mary Snow is tracking the GOP contenders. What's the tone out there on the campaign trail, Mary, right now?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the tone really is one of urgency. The campaigns are cautious in any predictions and the candidates themselves are canvassing the state making their closing argument.


SNOW (voice over): Mike Huckabee tried to strike a positive chord with voters in Iowa one day after yanking at the last minute a negative aimed at rival Mitt Romney. Huckabee had been accusing his chief rival of waging a dishonest campaign. He played his ad for the press Monday to prove he had it, and he was still talking about it today.

HUCKABEE: The pundits think I'm crazy. They may be right. Thursday night, I would like for you to prove that the pundits are wrong and that principles matter. And it may just help to change the way we elect a president.

SNOW: Mitt Romney used a sports theme to dub his campaign event "House Party Huddles," going into living rooms hoping to sway the undecided. After weeks of targeting his opponents, the former Massachusetts governor is now playing up optimism and trying to portray himself as a Washington outsider, touting his experience in business and as head of the winter Olympics.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just ask you to consider the fact that I spent my life not as a politician, but as someone who's lived in the private sector. I know how to create jobs. I know why jobs come and why they go. I know how to keep us strong.

SNOW: Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, is contrasting himself with his main rival, suggesting the Republican Party take on another voice.

HUCKABEE: That voice for those folks out there who are working in the factories. Not just guy in the corporate boardroom, but also for the guy out on the factory floor, the guy that's carrying his lunch in the paper sack.


SNOW: And as for these final days, Mitt Romney plans on nonstop campaigning here in Iowa. Mike Huckabee will also be out on the trail here in Iowa tomorrow. But then later heading to California, where he's going to be taping the Jay Leno -- "The Tonight Show" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's an unusual move only a few hours before the caucuses. Huckabee, presumably -- I guess he knows what he is doing by doing that.

But let's talk a little bit about what we call the ground game, getting the vote out, bringing people actually to the caucuses all over the States. What are you hearing? What are they trying to do in these final hours?

SNOW: Well, you know, you were just talking about this with Bill a few minutes ago, but a lot of people in Iowa are still undecided. We went to one house party today where Mitt Romney was speaking, and, you know, there were about 40 people at this house party. Half of them, an estimated half, say that they are still undecided and whittling down their choices. So, it could very well be this nail- biter up until the very end with people making up their minds on their way to the caucuses.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thanks very much.

And as our viewers know, Mary and Bill Schneider, they're both part of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television.

Please be sure to join us Thursday night for up-to-the minute in- depth live coverage of the Iowa caucuses. The winners, the losers, the issues, where the presidential race goes from here -- our special coverage begins from the CNN election center 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

And remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out

Much more on the elections coming up, including my interview with John Edwards, but there's other important news we are following right now.

One of the big issues on the U.S. campaign trail has been the crisis that's unfolding in Pakistan. Sources now telling CNN Pakistan's parliamentary elections are likely to be postponed, at least for a month, following former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Those elections had been scheduled for next week, January 8th.

And now there's word that Bhutto actually planned to give U.S. lawmakers a secret file on the day she was killed. This is a sensitive story. Brian Todd is watching it for us.

Brian, you learned what has been -- what was in that so-called dossier, that secret file.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have, Wolf. Some serious allegations about an attempt to rig that parliamentary vote, charges that take on enormous weight in the aftermath of Bhutto's death and have the government on the defensive.


TODD (voice over): Ready to challenge her opponents to the very end, sources close to Benazir Bhutto tell CNN that on the day she died, she was preparing to give a document to visiting U.S. congressmen detailing alleged efforts by Pakistan's intelligence services to rig parliament elections. CNN has been shown the document by a top Bhutto adviser who helped write it. Among its key allegations, "Where an opposing candidate is strong in an area, they have planned to create a conflict of the polling station, even killing people if necessary to stop polls at least three to four hours." The government denies this.

CNN analyst Peter Bergen says this is not a shocking development in Pakistani politics.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Certainly Pakistani politicians and those people in power try to rig Pakistani elections.

TODD: The report also accuses the government of planning to tamper with ballots and misuse American-made equipment to monitor communications of opponents. One Bhutto source says the document was compiled at her request and claims the information was given to her party by sources inside the police and intelligence services. Two Pakistani diplomatic sources say this dossier is baseless, and President Pervez Musharraf's spokesman also fired back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I think that they are just a pack of lies.

TODD: Even if the information is legitimate, observers say, there is no evidence of a connection between the document and Bhutto's death.

BERGEN: There's no reason to believe that she was killed because of this dossier, because the people behind her killing almost certainly are al Qaeda and the Taliban. And they have got nothing to do with the election or vote-rigging or anything else in this dossier.


TODD: Now, that U.S. congressional delegation which Bhutto was going to share her information with was led by Republican senator Arlen Specter. After repeated calls to his aides, we were told late this afternoon the senator is still overseas and would have no comment. The State Department also had no comment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Democratic congressman Patrick Kennedy was on that same delegation, together with Specter.

But you are hearing -- correct me if I'm wrong, Brian -- that this dossier was also going to be handed over to some of the U.S. presidential candidates?

TODD: That's right. A source close to Bhutto told me this afternoon that after she was going to give it to Specter, she had planned on sharing it with Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidates. Obviously, it never got that far.

When we called their aides, they said they could not comment on the dossier. They hadn't seen it.

BLITZER: We are going to have a lot more on this story coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour. Zain Verjee is on the scene. She's following it as well.

Thanks very much, Brian.

Brian Todd.

Like all candidates, John Edwards makes some big campaign promises. But what would he do in his first day, in his first week in the White House? The Democrat joining us next.

And John McCain's comeback reaches new heights in New Hampshire. An eye-popping new poll number in our "Strategy Session."

And as of today, same-sex civil unions are legal in New Hampshire. Will that influence voters in next week's primary?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Democratic White House hopeful John Edwards is seeking to outpace his rivals in Thursday's fast--approaching Iowa caucuses. He's also defending himself against criticism he has been too angry out on the campaign trail.


BLITZER: And joining us now from the campaign trail in Iowa, former senator John Edwards, a Democratic presidential candidate.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Wolf, for having me.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama seem to be making the same point in criticizing you. They suggested yesterday -- Hillary Clinton said it's not something you have to do by yelling and screaming. They are talking about your being supposedly one angry man. Barack Obama saying change doesn't come by hollering.

What do you say to their criticisms that you are just running over around the state screaming and hollering and making a lot of noise, but you're not ready to really get things done to work to get things done?

EDWARDS: Well, I would respectfully say that the reason both of them are attacking me is that they know from what they are seeing and their campaigns are seeing is that we are moving up every single day. All the polling shows it, I see it on the ground.

We have huge crowds, overflow crowds. We just had one here in Ames. It's true everywhere I'm going, Wolf.

And -- but the mistake that is being made in the criticism, of course, is I'm not the normal politician doing political talk. Instead, I'm speaking from my heart and soul and my gut about what I believe needs to be done in this country to stop corporate greed and to strengthen the middle class. And they are seeing the response, and they are trying to figure out some way to blunt it.

BLITZER: You got the endorsement -- I don't know if the endorsement -- at least some strong support from Ralph Nader, who is obviously a strong opponent of Hillary Clinton. He calls her a panderer all the time, but he is now telling his supporters that you may represent the best hope right now.

I wonder if you welcome that kind of statement from Ralph Nader.

EDWARDS: Oh, I welcome support from any American who supports me. I'm always proud to get support. But I think the most important thing, Wolf, is for people in Iowa, caucus-goers in Iowa to continue to hear me say, hear me personally say -- because that's very different than reading about it in a newspaper -- how strongly I feel about what we need to do to strengthen the middle class and protect jobs in this country and create jobs.

It's why I'm start this 36-hour marathon for the middle class. I'm actually going to campaign for 36 straight hours with Elizabeth, which is a pretty amazing thing.

BLITZER: Well, you're not going to sleep at all? Is that what you are saying?

EDWARDS: Well, I didn't say that. We'll be on the bus like for an hour or an hour and a half. I'm going to try to nod off a little bit. But I won't be able to sleep a lot.

BLITZER: All right. On the Ralph Nader thing, you know he is despised, as you know, by a lot of Democrats because they blame him for George W. Bush taking the election in Florida back in the year 2000. Could you see yourself bringing him out to campaign with you, using him as a surrogate, or is he too poisonous right now among Democrats?

EDWARDS: Oh, I don't know about all of that. I did not know he -- I have had no contact with Ralph. I did not know that he was going to announce that he supported me.

He has got a long history and he has done very some good things. And there is the issue about 2000, which I strongly disagreed with him about.

But the bottom line is people don't vote or caucus for a candidate because of some particular person supporting them. That's absolutely clear. They look at you, they look at what kind of human being you are and what your fire and your passion is.

The beliefs you have, are they something that you read in a book and something you learned academically, or something you carry around inside of you? And when they hear me in Iowa and New Hampshire and other places talking about corporate greed, strengthening the middle class, restoring the promises of this country for everybody, they know this is coming from inside me. It's what I believed for 54 years, and I believe it today.

BLITZER: What's the first thing that you will do as president of the United States, that first day right after you are sworn in? What's the immediate issue on agenda?

EDWARDS: I would do two things, Wolf. I would have the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and my military leadership in my office to tell them we are going to end this war and I want all of our combat forces out of Iraq within a year, and begin to talk with them and consult with them about exactly how they implement that, bringing the war to an end.

The second thing I would do is bring in the leadership of the Congress, submit a universal health care proposal to them, and begin to work with the Congress to get that passed.

BLITZER: And what about issue of corporate greed, which is a big issue for you, helping the middle class? What would you immediately on that? What could you do?

EDWARDS: Well, that's a longer process, because you have to galvanize the American people both in the campaign and in the presidency to standing behind you in this effort. And there are lots of things that need to be done.

They're universal health care, trade policy that works, tax policy that works, attacking global warming. But the sort of underlying thing that needs to happen is we need to get their money influence out of politics by preventing them lobbyists from giving money, stopping the revolving door between lobbying and the government and back, and ultimately publicly financing all of our campaigns.

BLITZER: Senator Edwards, it looks like the government of Pakistan is going to postpone maybe for a month, maybe longer, the January 8th scheduled parliamentary elections. Is that good or bad?

EDWARDS: Well, I'm less concerned about the exact timing of the elections as long as they are reasonably soon. I'm more concerned, as I expressed to President Musharraf when I spoke with him a few days ago, I'm more concerned about the elections being open and fair, that opposition parties be participating in a very real way, and that they be secure and verifiable. That's what needs to be clear about the elections.

BLITZER: Could you do business...

EDWARDS: They have to be...

BLITZER: Could you do business with President Musharraf, do you think? Is he the kind of guy you could deal with?

EDWARDS: I know Musharraf. I met him in Islamabad years ago. He is somebody that has to be dealt with at great arm's length with a lot of skepticism and cynicism given his history.

BLITZER: So you are at least open to working with him if you were president of the United States, given the stakes involved. Is that what you are saying?

EDWARDS: Yes. Of course. As president I would work with him, but I would recognize that this is a guy who has a very, very serious and checkered history, and he has not been a great proponent of democratization in Pakistan. And so he is somebody who has to be pushed, and we have to use all of our leverage with him.

BLITZER: Give us a prediction. Are you going to come in first, second or third in Iowa?

EDWARDS: The prediction is I'm going to do great in Iowa. I can't tell you exactly what the finish will be. But I feel very, very good about it. A lot of energy, a lot of momentum.

BLITZER: Senator Edwards, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck.

EDWARDS: Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: President Bush has a wish for Americans this New Year's Day and he has a special message for U.S. troops. We're going to tell you what the president wants them to know on this, the first day of 2008.

And dozens of same-sex partners are getting civil unions in New Hampshire this New Year's Day. Will that shake up the Granite State's primary next week?

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



BLITZER: For all the talk about the Iowa caucuses, a lot of people don't know how they really work. We are going to give you a crash course on the quirky process, information you need to know.

And later, we separate fact from fiction in campaign ads. You are going to find out if the presidential candidates are telling it like it really is.

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


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

Happening now, a United States diplomat shot to death in Sudan's capital. He was trying to help bring back peace to this war-torn region. Was his death a random attack or was it a targeted assassination?

We are following the stories. We will have details coming up. Chaos in Kenya. Violence sweeps across the country. At least 148 men, women and children are dead in rioting following last week's presidential election.

And remember the voting machine messes of 2000 and 2004? Voters could face some other big problems all over again this election year. We have got details.

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

By this time next week, Iowans will have chosen their White House favorites, New Hampshire primary voters will be going to the polls. Let's talk about where the race stands right now, where it may be a week from now.

Joining us is our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She is in Iowa. And our chief national correspondent, John King, he's in New Hampshire for us.

Let's start with you, John.

You just spoke moments ago with John McCain, who has had a resurgence of support, especially in New Hampshire. What does it say that this, two days before the Iowa caucuses, he is in New Hampshire, he is not in Iowa?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he wouldn't like to come in third place in Iowa, although most polls I think show him still in fourth place out there. He would like to perform well in Iowa. But John McCain knows do or die state for him is here in New Hampshire.

He won the state in 2000, although he won't say so flatly. He knows a victory here is essential to keep the money coming in to give him enough momentum to perhaps have a chance to surprise the field in South Carolina.

So Senator McCain is here now in New Hampshire. He did spend a little time in Iowa last week.

An interesting dynamic, though. Mike Huckabee, of course, near or at the top of the polls in Iowa among the Republicans. Senator McCain near or at the top of the polls here in New Hampshire. Both being attacked aggressively on television by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Governor Huckabee has gone as far as saying he thinks Governor Romney is dishonest. And if he's dishonest as a candidate, he would be dishonest as president. So I put the question to Senator McCain here at the Tilton Diner a short time ago, saying, "Senator McCain, do you believe like Governor Huckabee that Mitt Romney is dishonest?"


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's very clear that he has changed his issue -- his position on almost every major issue.

But I don't make that allegation. Look, I have gotten to know Governor Huckabee. I think he is a -- he is a good man. And I think he's a good and decent person. We may have disagreements on our issues, but I think he is an honest man, and I like him, and we do have that in common.


KING: So, Wolf, a little taste there of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, in the sense that McCain and Huckabee now uniting, if you will, to criticize Governor Romney.

It will be interesting to see if Governor Huckabee can hold on and win in Iowa, whether Senator McCain's love of Governor Huckabee might change a little bit coming into the New Hampshire primary one week from today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, love is a temporary feeling, I guess, out on the campaign trail.


BLITZER: Talk a little bit about, John, about this latest CNN poll out in Iowa. And it still shows pretty much neck and neck between Romney and Huckabee.

KING: And it is the classic case now. We are going see whether or not the passion that Governor Huckabee has among the evangelicals, among the grassroots homeschoolers can overcome the resources and the deep organization of Governor Romney in Iowa.

All of the campaigns concede the organization and the resources question goes overwhelmingly to Governor Romney. He has poured more time, more money, more staff resources into the state of Iowa. Governor Huckabee is counting on the evangelical base of the party to rally around him.

There was a sense last week that Governor Huckabee had stumbled somewhat. Remember what many called a debacle. Just yesterday, he was going to run a negative ad. Then he didn't run a negative ad.

The question is, can the passion behind Governor Huckabee propel the surprise candidate of the Republican race so far, or can Governor Romney right himself? Governor Romney very much was counting on a win in Iowa to propel him here into New Hampshire. So, while New Hampshire does not always follow Iowa's lead, Wolf, the results in Iowa will, without a doubt, affect the terrain here in New Hampshire in the final days before the vote here, one week from today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, you are out in Iowa. Let's talk about the Democrats right now.

The new CNN poll, as we saw at the top of this hour, it shows it is still pretty much neck and neck between Obama and Clinton, although Edwards seems to be slipping somewhat. But give us a little flavor of, 48 hours before these caucuses, what's going on.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think frenetic probably will do it. They have called in the reinforcements. For most of these candidates, it means the family. They sometimes appear together, but, mostly, they are sending out their surrogates and their families into as many counties and precincts as they can get.

What they are all looking at this point are two things, first of all: How do I get the people who I know are for me to those caucuses on the 3rd? So, that takes place largely in their headquarters. The phone calling, the door knocking, the promises of baby-sitting and rides and all of that takes place in the headquarters.

The candidates are out there really on a two-pronged mission, first, to keep the faithful and those they know will caucus for them excited and those also who are still undecided. And when you talk to these campaigns, their real focus is on the undecideds, because it is so very close -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you have been watching Hillary Clinton now closely for a long time, but very closely for the last year, since she has been a formal presidential candidate. How has she evolved, Candy, over this period?

CROWLEY: Well, it has been more stages than anything.

When she first came out, it was very important to the campaign to show that she was tough, that she could be a commander in chief, to kind of overcome the woman thing. Yes, she could be as tough as a man. Yes, she could be tough against bin Laden, that kind of thing.

Then they moved her into kind of a policy rollout to show her competence across the board, they think, with so many issues, from education, to energy, to global warming, that kind of thing. So, they rolled out a series of policy speeches.

You recall that she ran into a bit of trouble in these final months, where -- whereas, before, she was sort of going after George Bush and kind of ignoring her Democratic rivals, she had to take them on recently to try to tamp back what have been aggressive campaigns after her.

What's interesting now is that Hillary Clinton has kind of gone back to plan A. And that is, her chief rival is George W. Bush.




CLINTON: Happy new year!

I don't know about you, but I am feeling great. You know, after seven long years of George Bush and Dick Cheney, starting Thursday night, we are taking our country back. And you all are going to lead the way!



CROWLEY: Really hard to describe to you now, Wolf, how many campaigns we have calling and e-mailing, talking about their numbers, talking about their get-out-the-vote efforts, very, very tense here, very, very frenetic.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley and John King, two of the best in the business, guys, thanks very much. You both will be back later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

All Iowans can participate in the Republican or Democratic caucuses, even if they aren't affiliated with a party or registered to vote. All they have to do is sign a statement saying they actually live in the precincts where the caucus is held and that they will be 18 years old by Election Day in November.

Sounds easy, but, in 2000, the last election, with no incumbent president, less than 7 percent of eligible Iowans actually took part in the caucuses. Slightly less than 3 percent went to Democratic caucuses. About 4 percent took part in the GOP caucuses.

The Iowa caucuses stand out not just because they're the first contest of the presidential campaign, but also because of the many confusing rules participants simply have to follow.

Let's go to CNN senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin to get up to speed -- Jeff.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, everybody knows how elections work. Secret ballot. You have to be 18. You can vote all day. But that's not how the Iowa Democratic caucuses work.


TOOBIN (voice-over): Imagine an election with no secret ballot, no all-day voting, the age requirement, only 17. And, finally, you can vote for more than one candidate. If that sounds un-American, it's actually how the Iowa Democratic caucuses operate.

And listen up. You care because those folks in Iowa may actually choose your next president. In fact, the rules here are so strange that the campaigns in Iowa run training sessions on how to vote. Step one, stand up and be counted.

CHELSEA WALISER, MOCK CAUCUS ORGANIZER: And what you will do is then you will get up out of your seat and you will go walk to the corner or space by the wall designated for the candidate of your choice. Okay, ready, go.

TOOBIN (on camera): At Obama's Iowa rehearsal caucus, they practice without candidates. Instead, they use winter activities. We have got ice skating here, drinking hot cocoa, snowboarding, building snowmen, and, of course, snowball fights.

(voice-over): So, once again, they are not choosing candidates in this rehearsal. They are choosing favorite winter activities. After the first round, anyone who is not standing for a candidate -- well, activity in this case -- that meets the threshold of 15 percent of the room, is out of luck.

(on camera): Turns out on this night, not enough snowboarders. Very sad. So, what happens now? If the snowboarders want their votes to count at all, they have to pick a new candidate before the second and final tally.

WALISER: Each group that is viable gets to send one ambassador over to the snowboarding group and try to persuade them to join your group.

TOOBIN: Now it's let's make a deal. The other groups all send someone over to the snowboarders to say come on, join our side. A little arm twisting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ice skating, you feel free, you feel free to be on one feet, two feet. You can twirl around.



TOOBIN: The snowboarders decide ice skating is their second choice, and they all make the switch.

Understanding that the persuasion period and how to win over second choice voters is so important, candidates have Web videos to explain it.


NARRATOR: And He makes his best pitch to his neighbors who are still making up their minds.


TOOBIN: And even highlighted on the stump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you hit that floor and work it and try to get them. It's like a fun game. It's like Monopoly. You go over and say, hey, well, your man isn't going to make it. Come over here. Remember I loaned you that snow shovel or...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Obama and Clinton and Edwards are all knotted up, it really does matter who the second-choices can be, because they can tip that relative standing of those three candidates.


TOOBIN: One more implication of all these complicated rules: It makes polling very difficult. No one knows who is going to win here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, good explanation, though, Jeff -- Jeff Toobin out in Iowa for us.

The Democratic presidential candidates are covering all their bases by laying out the Iowa caucus process step by step online to attract as many caucus-goers as possible.

Let's go over to Abbi Tatton. She's watching this for us.

How are they using their Web sites, Abbi, to get the message out?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, they have converted parts of them into these like online caucus training centers.

Take a look at this one from the Barack Obama campaign, walking the supporters through step by step what to expect in the evening, how to group into those initial preference groups, and then trying to take a stab at explaining the complicated caucus math of the evening.

But the leading Democratic candidates, they are all trying this online. There is that video in comic book style from the John Edwards campaign. And from Hillary Clinton, last fall, she had that caucusing is easy video that's now displayed prominently at her Web site.

For the Republican candidates, these online instructions are far less elaborate, much like their caucus process themselves. But, for these Democratic candidates, trying to get their supporters educated all the more important for those first-time caucus-goers.

And a new "Des Moines Register" poll found that 60 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers will be attending a caucus this week for the first time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much -- Abbi Tatton.

Iowans, you, too, can be part of the best political team, like Abbi. For those of you caucusing on Thursday night in Iowa, we want your I-Reports. Send us your I-Report at We will feature some of your I-Reports in our election coverage Thursday night right here on CNN.

Will same-sex civil unions trigger disunion in New Hampshire? Gay and lesbian couples celebrating their legal partnerships -- we're going to take a closer look, though, at whether it could impact the nation's first primary next week.

Also ahead, who has it? Who doesn't? From likability, to honesty, we're checking out our new poll numbers on the presidential contenders. That's coming up next in our "Strategy Session."

And stunning new revelations that Benazir Bhutto actually planned to give a secret file to U.S. lawmakers before she was killed. My interview with the top spokesman for President Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan, that's coming up.

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


BLITZER: Gay couples in New Hampshire have more reason to celebrate this New Year's Day. Today, New Hampshire became the fifth state to recognize same-sex unions.

Let's bring back Brian Todd once again. He is watching this story.

The timing coming, what, only a few days before the New Hampshire primary, could be significant.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It sure could, Wolf. Now, the -- the law was passed last spring. But the civil unions started today. The question now, will the issue have a last-minute impact on voters as they head to the polls in the nation's first primary next Tuesday?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I now declare you civilly united. And you may kiss each other.

TODD (voice-over): Same-sex civil unions became legal in New Hampshire with the start of the new year. And 37 couples turned out for a midnight ceremony at the state capitol.

Could this controversial issue impact the voting next week in the first-in-the-nation primary? Public opinion was mixed when the state passed the law earlier in 2007.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Relations between two people of the same sex is an abomination to God.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm absolutely thrilled that New Hampshire has finally done the good and just thing.

TODD: In 2004, exit polls suggested the issue may have increased the turnout of socially conservative voters, helping George Bush beat John Kerry in some key states. What about New Hampshire's primary?

JONATHAN MARTIN, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, "THE POLITICO": New Hampshire is more a sort of secular state, not terribly culturally conservative. Even Republicans are more concerned about tax issues than they are the gay issues. So, it has not been an issue so far among voters in New Hampshire during the course of the primary campaign.

TODD: New Hampshire pollster Andrew Smith tells CNN, 74 percent of residents say it won't affect their vote. And less than 1 percent said it was their top issue.

But, for voters who are interested, among the leading Republicans in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee support an amendment to ban same-sex marriages nationwide. Rudy Giuliani and John McCain do not.


TODD: Now, as for the Democrats, all of the leading candidates would let states recognize same-sex civil unions. Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who speaks forcefully on this issue in favor of gay marriage, was planning to go to a celebration for same-sex civil unions in New Hampshire today, but he was prevented by the snowstorm -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Snow in New Hampshire and in Iowa, it's a serious problem out there.


TODD: All right, Brian, thanks very much.

Coming up in our "Strategy Session": the likability factor. Our new Iowa poll shows that Governor Mike Huckabee has it.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Tonya Harding school of politics needs to stop. And we will -- we will be Nancy Kerrigan this week.


BLITZER: But do likely caucus-goers think he has the right experience to be president?

And what issues are on the forefront of the Democratic caucus- goers' minds? We will go inside all the numbers with our "Strategy Session." That's coming up -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: In our "Strategy Session" right, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Let's get to the inside numbers in our new CNN poll.

Peter, we will start with the Democrats. Among likely Democratic caucus-goers, their strength of support right now, 71 percent say they have definitely decided. Eleven percent say they are leaning to a candidate. But, look, 17 percent say that they are still trying to decide....


BLITZER: ... now 48 hours before the caucuses. What does that -- what does that mean?

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: A lot of coin flips out there, three-sighed coins, maybe, for the Democrats, you know, one with Clinton, one with Obama, and one with Edwards.

I think a lot of those undecideds right up to the end, though, Wolf, may not go. They may stay and watch the Orange Bowl.


BLITZER: They may do that? They may go and just until -- to see how they can be cajoled or influenced.



BLITZER: Among Republican likely caucus-goers, 51 percent say they have definitely decided. Twenty-one percent say they are learning toward a candidate. But look at this. Twenty-seven percent -- 27 percent -- say they are still trying to decide -- bigger uncertainty among the Republicans.

SANCHEZ: No, it is true.

There's two big things happening. One is they're evaluating likability and the second is electability. So, with that in mind -- and you have 40 percent who are independent in the state of New Hampshire -- so, there is a lot of moving around.

And -- and, truly, these are folks that like to see real-life situations, like to wait until the end to see how candidates are going to react to the changing environment and see if there's any gaffes, and really make a decision.

BLITZER: Now, let's go back to the Democrats now. Who would do the best job handling three key issues? And take a look at this, because, in all three of these issues, Hillary Clinton comes out on top.

The war in Iraq, she gets 32 percent, 26 percent for Obama, 14 percent for Edwards. On the economy, she gets 35 percent to 27 percent for Obama, 25 percent for Edwards. On health care, she gets 42 percent. Obama gets 23 percent, 26 percent for Edwards.

So, does that mean it is a slam dunk for Hillary Clinton, since...

FENN: I will tell you, on the issues, it certainly is. And, on experience, the number is even more incredible, Wolf. It is 44 percent for her and 16 percent for the other two. They are both tied at 16 percent.

That's a big gap. So, on experience and on the issues -- and this is where, you know, the Pakistan situation may play in to her strengths right now. BLITZER: So, she is doing well on this issue...

FENN: So, she's doing very, very well on that.

BLITZER: ... of who do would do the best job these handling sensitive issues.

FENN: Right. That's the good news.

BLITZER: Among the Republicans, among the Republicans...


BLITZER: ... we are taking a look -- among likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers, who is the most likable? Huckabee has 39 percent, to Romney's 29 percent. Who has the right experience? Huckabee, only 19 percent to Romney's 29 percent. Who is the most honest? Thirty percent for Huckabee, 22 percent for Romney.

I think this underscores the nature of the split out there in Iowa among likely Republican caucus-goers.

SANCHEZ: Oh, very much so. It also shows that -- what we all know to be true, is that Huckabee has very broad appeal and likability.

But it goes back to the two factors I talk about. These are voters who are evaluating likability and electability together, one way more. If you look at ideology, there is not a lot of change, you know, because it is within the party structure. But it is really, who do they see winning in November? Who is going to...


BLITZER: Let's take a look at New Hampshire right now, because there is a new poll, a Suffolk University poll, that just came out among likely Democratic primary voters.

And, remember, the New Hampshire primary...

FENN: Right.

BLITZER: ... is five days after the Iowa caucuses, next Tuesday.

Clinton looks like she has got a nice lead there, 36 percent to Obama 22 percent, Edwards 14 percent, Richardson 7 percent, Biden down at 4 percent.

How much will Iowa, whatever happens in Iowa -- we don't know what is going to happen in Iowa -- how much will Iowa impact on New Hampshire?

FENN: Well, I will tell you, since it is so close, I think you are going to have an impact there, Wolf.

But, you know, New Hampshire folks are very independent. They don't want to be told how to vote because of how Iowa voted. So, I think you are going to see a little bit of a pushback. You see it on the Republican side with McCain's strength there, too. But, you know, because it is so close together, there is going to be a little wave that will wash.

BLITZER: On the Republican side, this same New Hampshire GOP poll, the Suffolk University poll, likely Republican priority primary voters, McCain is now ahead in New Hampshire with 31 percent. Romney is second, 25 percent, Giuliani 14 percent, Huckabee only 9 percent, Ron Paul at 6 percent, Fred Thompson, only 2 percent for Fred Thompson in this Suffolk University poll.

But it is a startling comeback for John McCain.

SANCHEZ: No, it also speaks to what I said about the 40 percent independents that you have in New Hampshire. That's a very positive thing for John McCain.

But there's also an inverse relationship, I predict, between Obama and McCain. As McCain goes up, Obama goes down, because you have those voters moving back and forth and looking at electability.

BLITZER: So, we are going to watch all of this very closely. Guys, thanks very much, Peter Fenn and Leslie Sanchez, in our "Strategy Session."

Turning up the heat in the presidential race, some of the campaign ads have been getting down and dirty. And all of the mudslinging, is there any truth in all of that? We are checking it out. Howard Kurtz has a report.

Violence exploding, meanwhile, right now in Kenya. Looting and riots leave more than 100 dead and thousands more fleeing for their lives. We're watching the story. We will head out to Nairobi.

And an American diplomat shot dead in Sudan -- was it a random act or was he targeted? We are taking a closer look at that story as well.

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


BLITZER: On our Political Ticker today: The ad wars are heating up in the race for the White House, especially on the Republican side. But get this. Don't believe everything you hear.

Howard Kurtz, the host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," is keeping them honest.



NARRATOR: John McCain, an honorable man, but is he the right Republican for the future? McCain pushed to let every illegal immigrant stay here permanently. He even voted to allow illegals to collect Social Security.


HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR (voice-over): That's a distortion of the Arizona senator's position. McCain's compromise legislation, which was backed by President Bush, would have required illegal immigrants to return to their home countries and pay a fine for breaking the law before applying for legal status.

And McCain voted to allow illegals to receive past Social Security benefits only after obtaining legal status. Romney, for his part, ordered a police crackdown on illegal immigrants when he was governor of Massachusetts. It took effect two weeks before he left office.

While Romney is strafing McCain in New Hampshire, his target in Iowa is Mike Huckabee.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But who is ready to make tough decisions?"

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mike Huckabee? Soft on government spending. His foreign policy? "Ludicrous," says Condoleezza Rice.


KURTZ: Hold on. The secretary of state didn't call Huckabee's foreign policy "ludicrous." Rice was responding to Huckabee's criticism of the Bush administration for what he called an "arrogant bunker mentality" in world affairs.

McCain is fighting back by using criticism of Romney from editorial writers, which has the effect of making McCain seem less negative.


NARRATOR: As you hear Mitt Romney attack John McCain, consider these words from New Hampshire newspapers.

"The Union Leader" says John McCain has "conviction" and "Granite Staters want a candidate who will look them in the eye and tell them the truth. John McCain has done that. Mitt Romney has not."


KURTZ: Howard Kurtz, CNN, Washington.


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

Happening now: Benazir Bhutto's secret files, claims that Pakistani authorities planned to use violence, fraud, and U.S. money to rig elections.