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Interview With Presidential Candidate John Edwards; Down to the Wire in Iowa

Aired January 1, 2008 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, happening now: Iowa up for grabs. Two days before the caucuses, we have new evidence that both the Republican and the Democratic contests will be nail- biters.
Plus, a presidential popularity contest. Which candidate is most likable, and does that really matter in the end? The best political team on television considers what voters want.

And Benazir Bhutto's final challenge to the Pakistan government: a secret file and very serious allegations. We have the document Bhutto was preparing to give to two U.S. lawmakers the day she was killed, all that.

I will also speak with Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

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

It's 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. Two days before the first contest in Iowa, there's new reason to believe that anything is still possible.

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

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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 caucus-goers, 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The CNN poll was taken less than a week before the caucuses. And you know what? More than a quarter of the Democrats and nearly half of the Republicans say they haven't made up their mind. They're Iowans. Don't rush them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They still have two days. All right, Bill, thanks very much for that.

In Iowa right now, the top Democrats know all too well that the race is very, very close, that time is running out to win over voters.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is covering the Democratic candidates. She is out there right now.

What strikes you in this campaign, Candy, with, what, only two days to go? CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what strikes me is that they are all coming home to kind of their original message, their basic core message.

For Hillary Clinton, throughout this entire year, the dilemma has been, how can she be both an agent of change and sell herself as almost an incumbent, the most experienced one, the one that is ready to go from day one in the Oval Office? So, she has been selling herself as the person most experienced enough to make that change.

Today, she returned to the experience issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oil is moving quickly toward $100 a barrel. Global warming is happening, despite the denial of our current president.

And we know that, not only are those problems and others that we can talk about awaiting our next president, but, as in life, there's all the unexpected and unpredictable challenges and opportunities as well. We need a president who is ready on day one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: What's also interesting about Clinton at this point, Wolf, is that she has returned to her number-one target. And that, of course, is George Bush -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And what about Barack Obama? He has got a very busy agenda himself. Has he come back to his original line of attack on this day?

CROWLEY: He absolutely has. And what this is -- and mind you, all of them are kind of out there closing this off with a positive message. Just subtle digs at their rivals. And for Barack Obama the base message has always been agent of change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a moment in the life of every generation where if we are to make our mark on history, that spirit of hope has to come through. This is our moment. This is our time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: One last thought, Wolf, is that, as we have seen from those polls, it is so close. And despite all the confidence coming out of all these campaigns on the Democratic side and on the Republican side, they don't know either what is going to happen on caucus night -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, we will know in 48 hours or so.

All right, thanks very much, Candy Crowley checking in on the Democrats.

Let's take a closer look now at the various Republican candidates. The top two rivals, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, at least out in Iowa, are vying right now for the spotlight and they're also vying for the undecided voters.

Mary Snow is tracking the GOP contenders. She's in Iowa as well.

What's the latest, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, really the tone here is one of urgency. The campaigns are cautious to make any kind of predictions and the candidates are really canvassing the state as they make their closing arguments.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And the Republican candidates are also taking to the airwaves, launching new ads, including one that Mike Huckabee does want supporters to see. He came out with an ad showing his backing by the Iowa Christian Alliance. It's a very influential social conservative group here in the state, certainly a group that Mike Huckabee is hoping will come out and support him on caucus night. And in this ad, he's talking to the group about his opposition to abortion.

Tomorrow, both the candidates will be in Iowa, but Huckabee is also taking an unconventional turn, leaving then for California to be on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," which is going to be on the eve of the caucus -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We will see how that plays out as well, Mary. Thank you.

Iowa gained its reputation as a powerful springboard for presidential candidates back in the '70s. In 1976, Jimmy Carter's victory in the Democratic caucuses transformed the former Georgia governor from a long shot to a leading contender and eventually president. In 2004, John Kerry's come-from-behind Iowa victory was considered crucial to his winning the Democratic nomination.

Iowa has been less influential for the Republicans. In 1980, George Herbert Walker Bush won Iowa and five other states before losing the nomination to Ronald Reagan. But the Iowa victory helped convince Reagan to choose Bush as his running mate. And, of course, Vice President Bush went on to win the White House in 1988.

President Bush has often met one-on-one with Pakistan's embattled President Pervez Musharraf. Would the Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards do the same thing?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is somebody that has to be dealt with at great arm's length with a lot of skepticism and cynicism given his history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We will talk with the White House contender John Edwards about the crisis unfolding in Pakistan and what he would do on the first day that he became president.

Plus, did Benazir Bhutto uncover plans to rig Pakistan's own elections? We're learning she intended to give a secret file to two U.S. lawmakers on the day she died.

And a crash course in the Iowa caucuses: what you need to know to make sense of the contest that could help decide who's next for the White House.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Democratic White House hopeful John Edwards already has some ideas for what he would do first if he were elected president. He's also strongly defending himself against criticism he has been way too angry out on the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

EDWARDS: 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 will 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 8 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Benazir Bhutto's secret files, new claims that Pakistani authorities planned to use violence, fraud and U.S. money to rig elections.

We have what Bhutto planned to hand over to U.S. lawmakers on the very day she died. This is a CNN exclusive.

And dozens of people burned alive in a church, at least 150 others killed in post-election violence, thousands desperately seeking shelter -- it's all happening at what had been a favorite destination for Western tourists.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Coming up: Barack Obama, he is comparing his competition with Hillary Clinton to a famous showdown on ice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: All the smart folks, they were saying, OK, his only chance now, he has got to kneecap her. He has got to do a Tonya Harding on the front-runner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Has Barack Obama now taken the high road? And, if so, have Iowa voters noticed? The best political team on television standing by.

And we're looking at the question, which candidate do voters like the most? And does that get in the way of winning?

And they're cold as ice, really, really cold -- the perils of covering the candidates in the frigid state of Iowa.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: a secret file alleging an election conspiracy in Pakistan. CNN has now obtained a copy. And we are going to be sharing with you details of what Benazir Bhutto was planning to share with two U.S. lawmakers on the day she was assassinated.

Also, down to the wire in Iowa -- presidential hopefuls campaigning furiously with just two days to go before their first crucial test with voters. New polls show cliffhangers on both sides.

And which candidates do voters find most likable? And which do they think has the right experience? We are going to show you the answers, and they could surprise you -- all of this, plus the best political team on television.

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

The countdown is on. The Iowa caucuses are now only two days away in the crucial first test for the presidential candidates where likability counts, but so does experience.

Joining us now to talk about that and more, our chief national correspondent, John King -- he is in New Hampshire -- our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger -- she is in New York -- and our CNN senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's out in Iowa. They are all part of the best political team on television.

John, let me start with you. On the Democratic side -- we will do the Democrats first -- who is the most likable, we asked likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa. Obama came out atop with 37 percent, Edwards second with 26, Hillary Clinton 24 percent, everybody else down way, way below.

Likability, how important of a factor is that?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's very important all the time, Wolf, in picking a president.

We talk about their policy in Iraq. We talk about their policy on the economy or health care, but likability matters. The voters like to be with somebody. They like to have a president they are going to see at home on the evening news every night. So, likability matters a lot. And that is part of Obama's fuel, if you will, in the Democratic race.

What is so interesting this time around, though, is that Democrats are also hungry, after eight years of George W. Bush, to get the White House back. So you have likability, but you also have electability, which I think you have numbers on, as well. So you have the likability factor, which really helps Obama. Some of the other factors tend to help the other candidates.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right.

We'll put this up, Gloria. Take a look at this.

Who is most likely to beat a Republican nominee?

Hillary Clinton comes out on top among likely Democratic caucus goers, 41 percent; Obama 28; Edwards 21 percent. So maybe she's not the most likable, but they think she is the most likely to beat a Republican, which is significant factor in this contest.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's absolutely right, Wolf. Democrats want to win this time. They care about electability more than likability. I think Hillary Clinton herself, if I'm not mistaken, on the campaign trail said so recently, you know, you voted for the fellow you wanted to have a beer with the last time around.

How did that work for you? And so she's making the point, you know, you may not love me, but I can beat any Republican. And that counts.

BLITZER: And her message of experience is also resonating, Candy, with likely Democratic caucus goers in Iowa -- who has the right experience to be president. Clinton comes out on top with 44 percent. Edwards and Obama only come in with 16 percent on this issue of experience. That further bolsters her credentials, I assume.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely does, because, obviously, the Democrats are making the point that we tried, if you will, and inexperience, at least on the international scene, President and George W. Bush. And now they're making the case it's time for somebody with a resume.

What strikes me here is that the more things have changed over this past year, the more they've stayed the same. From the very beginning, the Clinton campaign knew that her problem was going to be likability. We've had this "the Hillary I know" campaign out here for the past couple of weeks. They brought in her Sunday school teacher and they brought in the people that were a crossing guard with her in elementary school. They were trying to get across the more personable side.

And Obama's problem from the very beginning has been is he experienced enough?

So he's brought out all these foreign policy experts to have a very judicious discussion about foreign policy.

So they have both been kind of fighting against what they have known and what these polls show are their weak points.

BLITZER: You know, Gloria...

BORGER: But...

BLITZER: Gloria, go ahead. You want to weigh in.

BORGER: Well, Wolf, if Hillary Clinton, though, you know, gets the nomination, say, this likability issue could still be an issue for her in the general election because, as Candy was pointing out, they went out of their way to present to voters the warm and fuzzy Hillary Clinton in Iowa and that really hasn't worked. People still don't like her more than they did before, but they do believe she's experienced and that counts.

BLITZER: And, you know, it's interesting -- and we spoke about it with John Edwards, John, that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are trying to paint John Edwards as simply one very angry man.

KING: And, Wolf, that is to the effect that you can't win the White House by being angry. And they're trying to push Edwards aside, if you will, trying to be more optimistic. And you see all the candidates getting more optimistic -- both on the Democrat and the Republican side. You know, we're talking about the Democrats at the moment, but as you get closer to the vote, the candidates obviously see something. It's from their close interaction with the voters in these small events in Iowa and New Hampshire.

This has been a long campaign and voters seem to be tired of the traditional politics and slash and burn. So you hear all of the candidates talking more about reaching across the aisle and being bipartisan.

And all of them, despite all of the attacks, some of them shrill, over the past months and months, all of them are closing on a much more positive message. So you have -- it's pretty gentle stuff. But both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are trying to say well, John Edwards is being shrill or he's being angry and you don't want that in a president, nor do you want that in a general election candidate. Again, historically pretty tame stuff, but a reflection of the environment when you get so close to the election.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by, because we're going to take a closer look now at the Republicans.

Who do the Republicans think is their most likable candidate and who has the best experience to be president?

We're going to show you what they think of the GOP contenders.

Plus, how to caucus -- it's a lot more complicated than you probably think. But we have a great explanation. Jeff Toobin standing by with that.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: So which candidate do Republicans find most likable and which one has the right experience to be president?

We're back with our chief national correspondent, John King; our CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; and our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Here's the numbers on the Republican side, John. Among likely Republican caucus goers, we asked them who was the most likable. Huckabee came out on top, with 39 percent; Romney, second, 29 percent; Giuliani, 10; Thompson, 9; McCain, 5; Ron Paul, 4 percent.

Huckabee seems to be the most likable among Iowa Republican caucus goers.

KING: And he is on a dead heat with Mitt Romney right now in that race. And that likability factor is one of the reasons he took off.

Remember, we were talking for months, would the conservative base find a candidate?

Would they coalesce around someone?

Many thought that candidate would be Fred Thompson, Wolf, in part because of his skills. People thought because of his communications skills, his Hollywood experience, that he would be the likable guy -- not just acceptable to conservatives on policy, but the more likable candidate, the more friendly candidate in the race, if you will. But Mike Huckabee has filled that void. It is a huge reason for his success out in Iowa. Evangelicals like him and they trust him.

BLITZER: And, Gloria, on the next question that we asked, which -- who is the most likely to beat the Democratic nominee, Romney comes out on top, not Huckabee, 31 percent to Huckabee 24 percent; Giuliani 16; Thompson at 11.

So they think Romney is more likable -- more likely to beat a Democrat, even though Huckabee might be more likable.

BORGER: Yes. I think this is Romney's strong suit. He's been talking about his electability. He's been talking about his experience. He, of course, wants the voters to like him. But don't forget, Huckabee is kind of running as the anti-politician and as a populist. And that appeals to voters in Iowa very much.

But I think this sort of measures the fact that Romney is having a bit of a comeback, if you will. Huckabee may have surged a little bit too early. And, in the end, Iowa Republicans may decide to go for the more establishment candidate rather than the populist fellow they like.

BLITZER: And there's a similar trend on the right experience to be president, Candy. We asked these Republican caucus goers who has the right experience. Romney, once again, does better than, Huckabee, 29 percent to 19 percent for Huckabee; Giuliani 17; McCain 16; Thompson 11; Ron Paul down at 6 percent.

So, all in all, they might think he's a nicer guy -- Mike Huckabee -- but they say that Mitt Romney has more experience and he's more likely to beat the Democrat.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. And I think, Wolf, when you go further down in those numbers, you've got an interesting story there, which is that Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, both of whom are running on their credentials and their experience, are further down the line on who is the most experienced. So, obviously, Rudy -- I'm sorry, Mitt Romney does not have any foreign policy experience to speak of. One always thought it and it's always been said, you know, on the Republican side, they are interested in the fight against terrorism. That's what Giuliani has based his entire campaign on. Now, John McCain on his foreign policy credentials. And to find that they are that far behind Romney has to be worrisome to both those campaigns.

BLITZER: You know, John, you spent time earlier today with John McCain. And he's clearly making a major push for New Hampshire. It's do or die for him in New Hampshire.

But why did he give up on Iowa earlier on? KING: Because he does not have great relationship with Christian conservatives, who are a big part of the base out in Iowa. And Candy just hit on a very telling point. Mitt Romney has had more than 200 events in Iowa. Mike Huckabee has focused exclusively in Iowa early on, until about now. Rudy Giuliani and John McCain have essentially ceded Iowa. You can count the number of days John McCain has spent in Iowa and still have some fingers left. The same for Rudy Giuliani.

John McCain will go out there, though, for about 10 events in the final hours before the Iowa caucuses. It will be interesting to see if he can move the numbers. He knows he can't win in Iowa. He would like to take some mainstream, establishment Republicans away from Mitt Romney so that Romney doesn't get a win there, believing that would help McCain here in New Hampshire, as well.

But his main reason for not going to Iowa is he didn't go there much eight years ago. He doesn't have a great relationship with Christian conservatives and knew very well that he needed to win New Hampshire and match his victory here in 2000 and did not want to be, if you will, distracted by spending too much time out in Iowa. But it is a risky strategy.

BLITZER: And, Gloria, speaking of risky strategy, Rudy Giuliani seems to have not only ceded Iowa, but also New Hampshire, because he's looking further down to the road to Florida in February.

BORGER: You know, one day, if he wins the nomination, Wolf, he's going to look at one of his strategists and say, you know, you're a genius. But at this moment, it doesn't look like the strategy is so brilliant because he has to get that kind of momentum from the early states. However, if this remains very close on the Republican side in Iowa and in New Hampshire, and Giuliani is still in it and it's a tight race going into those Super Tuesday states, that strategy may prove correct.

Wolf, it's so close now on both sides we honestly can't say what's going to happen. And maybe Giuliani's strategy would prove to be correct.

BLITZER: We should know fairly soon. It's going to be a sprint between January 3rd, which is Thursday, and February 5th, which is Super Tuesday, a lot of activity is going to be going on.

John King, Gloria Borger and Candy Crowley -- three of the best in the business.

Thanks very much.

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

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 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'll do is then you will get up out of your seat and you'll go walk to the corner or a space by the wall designated for the candidate of your choice. OK, ready, go.

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

(voice-over): After the first round, anyone who's standing for a candidate --well, activity in this case --that doesn't meet the threshold of 15 percent of the room is out of luck.

(on camera): It 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, three feet. You can twirl around.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I like that one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do, too.

TOOBIN (voice-over): 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. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Don't just go to the caucus, bring your friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TOOBIN: And even highlight it on the stump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you hit that floor and work it and try to get them. And it's like a fun game. It's like Monopoly (INAUDIBLE). 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...

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or...

TOOBIN (on camera): Because the rules are so complicated, organization is key. You need to get your supporters to the caucus locations by 7:00 sharp or they can't vote. And this is Iowa in the wintertime. Sometimes the weather is a factor.

(voice-over): By comparison, the Republican caucuses are pretty simple, though the campaigns -- here, Fred Thompson's -- are also training their supporters. It's a secret ballot and there's no viability threshold. Every vote counts.

The complicated rules make for one sure thing -- that the results here are very hard to predict.

(on camera): So after all this, who wins?

Well, that's not simple, either. The party keeps the popular vote totals at the caucuses a secret. They only announce the percentage of delegates each candidate will receive at the state party convention later in 2008. And there's more, of course. The caucus rules are 72 pages long.

Jeffrey Toobin, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: As a result, the Democratic presidential candidates are covering all their bases by laying out the Iowa caucus process step by step online to try to attract as many caucus goers as possible.

Let's get some specific details from our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi, how are the candidates doing all of this online?

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, their Web sites are now hubs for caucus training. Look at this how to guide from the Barack Obama campaign -- walking supporters through so they know exactly what to expect when they arrive at the caucus center, at the precinct, how to form into the groups. And they're even taking a stab at explaining the complex caucus math. Other Democratic candidates are trying this, as well, online. John Edwards has this comic book style video, trying to make these instructions approachable. And from the Hillary Clinton campaign, this video here laying out that while other things may be difficult, they're saying that caucusing is easy.

From the Republican candidates online, you won't find such elaborate instructions. Their caucus process is far more simple. But for the Democrats trying to get their caucus supporters up to speed, especially important for the first time caucus goers. And a "Des Moines Register" poll that's just out found that 60 percent of likely Democratic caucus goers would be attending on Thursday for the first time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much.

Abbi Tatton reporting.

The secret file Benazir Bhutto was planning to give to two U.S. lawmakers before she was assassinated -- CNN has now obtained a copy. We're going to have details of the very serious allegations it contains against Pakistan's government.

Our Zain Verjee is standing by live in Islamabad.

Plus, covering the hot story in a frigid state -- we're going to show you what reporters do to try to stay warm in Iowa.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just days after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, stunning new claims in a secret file say Pakistani authorities conspired to try to rig those elections. That file was held by Benazir Bhutto and was meant for U.S. lawmakers.

Our Zain Verjee is in Islamabad.

She has as exclusive report she's been working on -- update our viewers, Zain, on what you're learning.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just a few hours ago, we got our hands exclusively on this crucial dossier. It could make an already tense situation in this country worse.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): Hours before she was assassinated, Benazir Bhutto was on the verge of an expose, according to top officials in her party. They say the former prime minister planned to hand over this report to U.S. Senator Arlen Specter and Congressman Patrick Kennedy, and claimed that it was proof Pakistan's Election Commission and its spy agency are plotting to rig the elections. CNN has obtained a copy of that dossier and spoke with Senator Latif Khosa, who helped put it together.

SENATOR LATIF KHOSA: They have been creating and combining certain factors to join up against the Pakistan Peoples Party.

VERJEE: The dossier claims 90 percent of the equipment the USA gave the government of Pakistan to fight terrorism is being used to monitor and to keep a check on their political opponents. Senator Khosa accuses the powerful ISI, the intelligence agency, of operating a safe house in the capital, Islamabad, where they would electronically change election results.

KHOSA: ISI has set up a mega computer system in Ojari Camp, Rawalpindi which has the capacity to hack any of the computers in Pakistan. And it is connected with the Election Commission of Pakistan's computers. And, therefore, they will overturn the results.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

VERJEE: Wolf, the report also accuses President Musharraf's government of planning to shoot at polling stations -- even kill people if necessary, drive voters away, stuff ballot boxes and intimidate opposition candidates -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What's the Pakistani government of Pervez Musharraf saying about this, Zain?

VERJEE: Well, they're saying it's ridiculous. We spoke a short while ago To Rashid Qureshi, President Musharraf's spokesman, and he said this is all just a pack of lies. The elections here, whenever they take place, are going to be free, fair and transparent, he said. He also added that there's no way that the computers are actually going to count the election results. He said that those are going to be done by people. He also added there's going to be a lot of security around the polling stations and there are going to be plenty of international observers -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain Verjee doing some excellent reporting for us.

Zain, thanks very much.

And tomorrow, the Pakistani president, President Musharraf, will be addressing the Pakistani people. We'll watch that closely.

Let's check the Political Ticker right now.

An historic year for campaign fundraising here in the United States. Hillary Clinton's campaign says the Democrat raised more than $100 million in 2007. Her rival Barack Obama's campaign indicates it also reached that record-breaking mark. The candidates have until January 31st to file end of the year fundraising reports with the Federal Election Commission.

Dozens of gay and lesbian couples made it official in New Hampshire this New Year's Day. A new state law took effect today, recognizing same sex civil unions. New Hampshire is the fifth state to legalize same-sex partnerships.

The races may be heating up, but Iowa remains ice cold for the candidates -- and the reporters who are covering them.

Jeanne Moos -- she's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On the campaign trail, it's cold, cold, cold.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is an icy land of forlorn elves. Wait -- that's a CNN photojournalist covering a hot story in a state that's...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cold.

MOOS: How cold?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Oh.

MOOS: You'd whistle, too -- even dance trying to stay warm when it's 10 degrees.

MALVEAUX: Up and down up and down. It's all about the dance.

MOOS: Sure, the candidates can wear just their suit jackets to walk to the car.

HUCKABEE: This is the slip on the ice shot that you didn't get again.

MOOS: But the guys getting or not getting those shots are out there for hours.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is a hood. I need that puppy, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My double, double gloves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody loaned me the hat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bird feathers in this jacket.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, you've just got to man up and gut it out.

MOOS: Man up, even if you're not a man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to make this. Don't worry. I've got it.

MOOS: Iowans take pity on unprepared outsiders, bringing journalists hot cocoa. After all, it's cold enough here to freeze a Coke.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's iced up.

BASH: You can pretend like you can smoke.

MOOS: TV reporters have to worry about their appearance. But the ones behind-the-scenes forego vanity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get a lot of girls with that hat?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. They dig it.

MOOS: This CNN producer doesn't have to dig for his Blackberry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got my Blackberry right here, attached to my ear.

BLITZER: Covering the caucuses is like being in a reality series.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Survivor Iowa," absolutely.

MOOS: And to help their equipment survive...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes we use the lights to, you know, to warm up.

MOOS: To thaw out frozen gear.

And while they are out there sniffling, the anchors are either praising them...

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: She makes cold look good.

MOOS: Or rubbing it in.

BLITZER: Candy, is it cold out there?

CROWLEY: A little bit, Wolf. Yes.

BLITZER: All right.

CROWLEY: Warm in there, is it?

MOOS (on camera): Ricky (ph), I can hear the wind whipping. I'll tell you, I'm warm in here.

(voice-over): And the best news a frozen reporter can hear...

MALVEAUX: Ten minutes?

OK. Good. I'll go on the bus.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DW), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And your hands are freezing.

MALVEAUX: Oh... BIDEN: Tell them to warm this bus up.

MOOS: So if you cover the caucuses, put on your polar parka.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There we go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll keep carrying the network on our shoulders, you know?

MOOS: On their feather-filled padded shoulders. Forget the poles, it's a forecast high of only eight degrees that panics a candidate.

(VIDEO OF MIKE HUCKABEE)

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, not in Iowa.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer.

Up next, a broken government special.

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