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Decision Day in Iowa; In Their Own Words: Candidates Appeal to Voters
Aired January 3, 2008 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, decision day in Iowa. What happens, only a few hours from now, could shape the rest of the presidential campaign. This hour, the spotlight shifts to the voters and the important choices they're about to make.
Tonight, presidential campaigns could be made or they could be broken. We're following the candidates on this day of reckoning, and their strategies for trying to turn out the vote. And we'll talk to two of them, Republican Fred Thompson and Democrat Bill Richardson.
Plus, your guide to the caucuses, what to look for tonight and how Iowa may influence the next big contest in New Hampshire. That's next Tuesday.
The road to the White House begins right now.
I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.
On this day in the state of Iowa, Americans are taking the first step in choosing our next president. Voters are preparing to gather in living rooms like this one, as well as in schools, libraries, firehouses, where they'll reveal their choices to be the Republican and the Democratic presidential nominees.
Tonight, when the results are tallied and posted in Des Moines, the race for the White House could be a whole new ball game. No one, no one knows what will happen in the next few hours, but the outcome could hinge in part on first-time voters, especially for the Democratic field.
Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Jessica Yellin. She's out there watching all of this unfold.
A huge push to bring in these first-time caucus-goers later tonight, Jessica.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The biggest push ever, in fact. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are counting on a history-making turnout of first-time caucus- goers to give them a victory tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) YELLIN (voice over): With Iowa up for grabs, Democrats were on a mad dash to shake hands and woo supporters. One group of Iowa's is getting extra-special attention -- first-time caucus-goers.
DAVID YEPSEN, "DES MOINES REGISTER": The effort to get out first-time caucus-goers is unprecedented. It's different from what we've ever seen before. There are more people and more effort and more money being spent.
YELLIN: It seems to be working. First-timers say they're driven to participate for different reasons.
MARK SIGN, PLANS TO CAUCUS FOR FIRST TIME: We've lost our standing in the world, our country is on a downhill slope, I think. And I thought it was time to get out and do something about it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My feelings about the war in Iraq, of being a mother, you know, worrying about college and the future for my children, the economy as a middle-class family, you know, the price of oil and gas.
YELLIN: According to a recent "Des Moines Register" poll, 72 percent of Barack Obama's support is coming from first-time caucus- goers, largely college students and Independents, groups that are historically difficult to turn out. The same poll shows 58 percent of Hillary Clinton's supporters are first-timers. She's targeting older women.
One hurdle, caucusing can seem intimidating. This first-timer did his research on the Internet.
NATHANIEL JONES, PLANS TO CAUCUS FOR FIRS TIME: I know that there's a process of several alignments where you go through and voice your support for a candidate, see if you can get a critical mass of the people there to support them too.
YELLIN (on camera): What are the chances you don't show up?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm pretty sure I'm going, yeah. Yes, I'm going to go.
YELLIN (voice over): If the first-timers don't turn out, that's expected to help John Edwards. He needs them the least. Wolf
YELLIN: And Wolf, here's one complicating factor. Unlike a regular election, when you can show up any time of day, for the Democratic caucus you have to show up between 6:30 and 7:00 Central Time tonight, so if the car breaks down or your child gets sick, there's no coming late, which is one of the reasons these campaigns are deploying people to drive folks, to walk them to the caucuses, to make sure they get every caucus-goer possible -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They shut those doors 7:00 p.m. Central, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. And nobody gets into those rooms after that. What about the weather? We've heard so much in recent days about it being cold, it's snowy. It looks sort of clear behind you right now. What's the forecast for the next few hours?
YELLIN: The forecast is for cold temperatures but clear. No snow, no blizzard, which is very good news for those campaigns counting on those first-time caucus-goers. It minimizes the chances first-timers will decide to stay home -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Only a few hours from now.
All right. Thanks very much.
Jessica Yellin reporting.
When many of those caucus-goers show up tonight, they'll be questioned in our entrance polls. You probably heard a lot over these years of exit polls, but these are entrance polls.
It's essentially the same drill, but the caucuses -- for the caucuses, we survey voters on the way in rather than on the way out. We ask them about themselves, the issues they care about, and their presidential choices.
Let's bring in our expert on all of this, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.
What are we going to be looking for in this entrance polling over the next few hours?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: We're going to be looking for not just who wins, but how they did it and why.
SCHNEIDER (voice over): Show up to caucus on this cold January night? Like older women? They're strongly for Hillary Clinton, and union members, a key group for both Clinton and John Edwards.
Young voters and Independents don't usually show up in large numbers. Both Barack Obama and Clinton are counting on a heavy turnout of new voters.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because all you folks who said you've never been to caucus before are deciding to get involved for the first time, we might just pull this thing off.
SCHNEIDER: In 2004, Iowa caucus-goers went for John Kerry because they believed he was the most electable. Will that help Hillary Clinton tonight?
OBAMA: The notion, you know, that a viability or electability argument is being made by somebody who starts off with almost half the country not being willing to vote for them doesn't make much sense.
SCHNEIDER: In the Republican race, religion will be a key factor. Our entrance poll will tell us how much it matters to Republicans whether a candidate shares their religious beliefs.
Republican candidates have been busy attacking each other's records on illegal immigration. Will illegal immigration turn out to be a major issue in the race? And which candidate will it help?
Then there's the Ron Paul factor. He's raised a lot of money. His supporters are passionate. Are there antiwar Republicans out there?
REP. RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to find out a few answers. Maybe the individuals that support me haven't been on the voting polls and they will register and come out.
SCHNEIDER: Could Ron Paul be the big surprise of the night?
SCHNEIDER: What's on voters' minds as they show up to support one candidate or another tonight? That's what our entrance poll is for -- mind reading.
BLITZER: And explain, Bill, why these entrance polls that we're all going to be studying tonight are going to be much more reliable as far as the Republicans are concerned, as opposed to the Democratic process, which is much more complicated?
SCHNEIDER: Well, that's the reason. The Republicans -- simply, the voters just show up at the caucus, cast a Straw Poll ballot, and that will be reflected in our entrance poll, which asks them who they intend to vote for. Very simple.
The Democrats have a whole process whereby people show up to support one candidate, and during the caucus they can regroup. If there are not enough supporters for a particular candidate, they support somebody else. So they can come out, literally exit the caucus, supporting a different candidate than the one they came to support initially.
Our entrance poll, of course, tells us how many people showed up to support each of the Democratic contenders.
BLITZER: And it doesn't reflect if they change their mind later in the evening, which many of them will in fact do.
Bill Schneider and Jessica Yellin, thanks to both of you.
They are both part of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television.
Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can check out our political ticker at cnnpolitics.com.
Let's bring in Jack Cafferty and "The Cafferty File" here at the CNN Election Center. You know, we've been yakking and yakking and yakking about this for months and months and months.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.
BLITZER: It's finally -- it's finally about to happen.
CAFFERTY: You know, the best thing about this is we'll have something new to talk about tomorrow.
BLITZER: Real numbers.
CAFFERTY: Yes. We're getting to the bottom of the barrel on some of this stuff.
For example, money can buy a lot of things when it comes to politics, but the Iowa caucuses might not be one of them. The "L.A. Times," in search of a story, came up with this -- the presidential contenders have poured tens of millions of dollars into the contest in Iowa, but history shows the candidate who spends the most money in Iowa doesn't always win.
We don't know exactly how much each candidate has spent in Iowa this year, but we do know this, both Mike Huckabee and John Edwards are threatening to win this thing tonight, despite being overwhelmingly outspent by their opponents. For example, Republican Mitt Romney spent $52 million running for president through September of last year. A lot of that money was spent in Iowa. During that same period of time, Mike Huckabee went to the hip for a paltry $1.7 million.
On the Democratic side, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton reportedly each spent about $20 million in Iowa, and that compares to just $4 million spent by John Edwards.
Four years ago, Howard Dean outspent both John Kerry and John Edwards before Iowa, and of course we all know what happened to Dean, don't we?
In 1988, Pat Robertson outspent several other Republicans in the running, but he didn't win Iowa.
So the question is this: What does it say about the Iowa caucuses that candidates who spend the most money don't necessarily win there?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment there on my new blog.
BLITZER: It sort of means money doesn't always talk, right?
CAFFERTY: No. But in politics you'd think it does.
CAFFERTY: And particularly in the national election when it gets going. They say you need $100 million to run for president, you've got to pour money into television, do all this stuff, and without it you don't have a chance. But Iowa, it's not quite the same deal.
BLITZER: I think you're right. All right.
Jack, thanks very much.
This is the place for complete results and analysis of the caucuses tonight. And remember, it all begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. We're going to stay right here throughout the night.
Just ahead, though, the two Republican front-runners in Iowa are taking very different paths on this, the final hours before the caucuses. Mike Huckabee goes populist. Mitt Romney goes corporate.
We'll have live reports from the campaign trail in Iowa.
Plus, we'll hear from some of the candidates themselves explaining how they would bring change to the White House and how they're different from the other guys.
And later, when Iowans leave the caucus room tonight, who will come out a winner? Bill Bennett and Donna Brazile, they're standing by live to give us their predictions right here in our "Strategy Session."
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The presidential contenders have been talking to Iowans for months and months and months over coffee and pancakes, at state fairs, at campaign rallies, but the final pitches and the final hours could sway those critical undecided voters.
Let's listen to what some of the candidates had to say today about the race, the issues, and their rivals.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The American people are just hungry and ready for change. We've been saying it throughout this campaign.
They want Republicans, Democrats, Independents to come together to solve problems, and I believe that they're seeing in how I have conducted myself and what's taking place in our campaign the possibility of breaking some of the gridlock and actually doing something about health care, actually doing something about energy policy, and bringing this war in Iraq to a close. So we feel good about our prospects tonight.
I would bring my Joint Chiefs of Staff into a meeting to give them a new mission, and that is, how do we phase down our involvement in Iraq in a way that's responsible and careful, but sends a message to the Iraqis that it's time for them to start taking responsibility on the ground for a political accommodation? I would also then immediately convene a bipartisan group to start moving my health care agenda forward. (END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've actually gone through every one of those positions, made a list of people for consideration. Haven't made a final decision on any of them.
I can tell you the kind of people that I would consider. I'm looking for experienced, competent independent-minded people who will challenge and test me. I do not want to be surrounded by "yes" people. I want people to say, "You're wrong about this, Mr. President. You have not considered this." Because I think when you surround yourself with "yes" people, good decisions don't come out.
What's different from me and Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, is they have spent massively in Iowa. They have massive campaign organizations.
They've outspent me, you know, 5 or 6 to 1. And the fact that we're in a dead heat now I think actually says something about my message of ending corporate greed and strengthening the middle class and fighting for the middle class.
People are responding to it, and they also know, by the way, when they hear me speak that it's not philosophical or intellectual or political. This is something that comes from in here. It's something I've for 54 years believed and I believe it today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And if your salaries aren't going up to meet it, that's a problem. And it's one of the reasons that I've been talking about energy independence for a long time, and in a way that a lot of people haven't.
I said, let's go talk about this 20 and 30-year oil-free economy. Let's say within 10 years we're going to find domestically produced alternative energy sources that will make it so that we can tell the Saudis and all these guys in the Middle East who are producing the oil to upon which we're enslaved, we don't need is anymore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is a big difference. An isolationist is -- really wants to withdraw on the borders, and they don't want to trade with people and travel and talk to people. And they want to isolate themselves. They're sort of mercantilistic and they think they can make everything.
See, this whole notion that we have to be absolutely energy independent is sort of an old-fashioned notion. Japan is never going to be energy independent. You know, they import oil because they don't have anything.
So, in the modern age of economic understanding, is you don't need to withdraw yourself. So, the founders advice and the market advice is that you travel, you engage yourself, you go through diplomacy, but you especially trade with people.
For instance, we've done ourselves a great deal of harm by not -- not talking and trading with Cuba. I mean, the Canadians trade with Cuba, but American citizens don't even have the right to go to Cuba.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here are the pillars that create fiscal soundness that leads to your being able to make decisions and having more discretion to make decisions and grow -- low taxes, moderate regulations, and restraint on government spending. If you can do those three things -- and they're not easy to do, as we can see, right? But if we get to those three things, then you can grow.
We have to be able to say that government has to discipline itself. And I know how to do that. I did that as mayor of New York City. I can do it as president of the United States. That is, restrain spending, reduce taxes, reduce the income tax, reduce the corporate tax, get rid of the death tax, the inheritance tax, and index the alternative minimum tax to inflation and then, as part of a reform of taxation, get rid of the whole thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're getting more clips coming in of the other candidates. About to hear from Hillary Clinton. We'll share that with you as well.
But in the meantime, let's bring in one of our correspondents who's heard a lot of these stump speeches and who knows a great deal about this presidential campaign inside and out. That would be our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's covering the Democratic candidates in Iowa.
Barack Obama's campaign prides itself, Candy, on a lot of excellent organization, resources. What would a stumble though in Iowa mean for Barack Obama?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we'd have to first define "stumble". If there were a sort of bunched-up race -- that is, Edwards, Clinton, Obama come within a couple of percentage points of each other, the Obama campaign thinks, you know -- as one said, you just move the circus to New Hampshire and keep going. So the fact of the matter is that they see a difference between, say, a distant second or a distant third, as opposed to bunched up at the top.
Having said that, obviously what everybody wants here is a win, and that goes to the Obama campaign. They have poured more money into the state than any of the other candidates on the Democratic side. So what they are looking for obviously is a win. And it is so dependent on whether he can bring in those new caucus-goers.
Look, if he gets third, it is not good news. Whoever places third in the Democratic race among Edwards, Clinton and Obama, unless there's a surprise from the lower tier, whoever places third is going to be in some trouble.
BLITZER: Briefly, Candy, I know that Edwards, four years ago he surprised a lot of people. He came in second, right behind John Kerry. Is this make or break tonight for him in Iowa?
CROWLEY: Well, let me tell you what his campaign says, and that is no. They are already putting out press releases saying here's what we're going to do in New Hampshire, here's what we're going to do in South Carolina. A distant third for John Edwards would be troublesome.
BLITZER: Candy Crowley staying with us throughout the night.
Thank you, Candy.
By the way, if you caucus in Iowa tonight, we want to know what it's like. Bring your camera, send us your photos, your videos from inside. We'll air some of the best I-Reports during our special coverage. Details at cnnpolitics.com.
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BLITZER: Happening now, Pakistan's president says he's not satisfied with the investigation into the assassination of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, but he says it's "... below my dignity" to respond to rumors that he was involved.
Our Zain Verjee speaking with the leader of the opposition in the next hour. That's coming up.
Chaos in Kenya. The country's attorney general calls for a recount and independent investigation into the country's election. The government says at least 300 people have already died in this post-election violence.
We'll have a full report from Nairobi.
And the politics of personality. How much will the likability factor impact tonight's results in Iowa?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Inside Republican caucus rooms across Iowa tonight, it's likely to come down to two candidates, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. They've been going at one another tooth and nail in recent weeks, and now voters will finally choose between these two very, very different candidates.
CNN's Mary Snow is covering the Romney campaign in Iowa, but let's go to Dana Bash. She's covering the Huckabee campaign. She's watching this.
It's a critical battleground tonight for Mike Huckabee, Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No question, Wolf. It's really testing time for the surprise candidate in the Republican field.
You remember for months there was no clear choice for conservatives, and then Mike Huckabee appeared. But now the question is whether he has staying power.
BASH (voice-over): One last time, Mike Huckabee preaches his rare breed of Republican populism.
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People get elected and think they're the ruling class and that we're the serving class, and we're to serve them.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HUCKABEE: And it's got to be the other way around. That has to change.
BASH: The former pastor, former Arkansas governor is hoping his unusual, part-God, part-pocketbook, "I'm one of you" message carries the day.
HUCKABEE: Because people would rather elect a president who reminds them of the guy they work with, not the guy that laid them off.
HUCKABEE: I think they get it.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BASH: Huckabee is trying rally voters to an insurgent cause, evoking this, back of the back to top contender in a matter of months. But a barrage of ads hitting Huckabee's record on taxes, immigration, and spending have hurt, and misstatements on national security left questions about his readiness.
HUCKABEE: I was a big Huckabee supporter until the Pakistan incident. And I got a bit worried about the foreign policy.
BASH: In the end, Huckabee knows he was a surprise candidate for dissatisfied evangelicals looking for a social conservative to trust.
Here, one last appeal:
HUCKABEE: But it comes from one's soul and one's gut. You know something? I didn't get into being pro-life because of politics. I became a political person because I am pro-life.
BASH: Now, no matter what happens here, Huckabee says he's going to on -- going on to the next contest states of New Hampshire and South Carolina and beyond.
But you know, Wolf, New Hampshire is not exactly fertile territory for somebody like Huckabee, who is really priding himself on his socially conservative credentials. And also you also know, Wolf, that usually for an insurgent candidate to actually do well, they have to actually win, at least win one of the early contest states, so a lot at stake for Mike Huckabee tonight -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dana Bash in Iowa for us -- thank you, Dana.
And you can see now we have a countdown clock. We're showing you, what, three hours and 28 minutes or so before the doors close in those caucus rooms Iowa. We're watching all of this very closely.
Let's go to Mitt Romney's campaign now, his final pitch in Iowa. And the stakes for him are huge as well.
Mary Snow is joining us from Des Moines.
What's Romney's message today, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Romney is really stressing that this race is extremely tight. He's relying on people who have caucused before, and turnout can make all the difference.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Mitt Romney.
SNOW (voice-over): Mitt Romney turned to the corporate world to make his final pitch in Iowa. He visited two firms, asking employees to caucus tonight, telling them the Republican race is razor-thin.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I need your help.
SNOW: Romney told the crowd tensions were high and made light of the sparring match he's had with chief rival Mike Huckabee.
ROMNEY: I saw just yesterday the chairman of Governor Huckabee's campaign said that he would like to knock my teeth out. And my only comment on that is, don't touch the hair.
BASH: Romney played up his 25 years in business, declaring, "Politics is not my profession." He's been trying to convey the image of the Washington outsider who will use the private sector, not government, to reform health care and break the dependence on foreign oil.
But, when it came time for questions, the first one turned to the way he's run his campaign.
ALEXIS WARDEN, IOWA VOTER: I notice that you are one of, if not the only, right now that has a specific ad targeting a competitor. I was wondering, if you win the nomination, are we going to be looking forward to more of that in the general election?
ROMNEY: Absolutely. You can -- you can -- you can bet that what we're going to talk about is differences on issues.
BASH: Romney defends his ads that target rivals. He calls them contrast ads. Opponents call them desperate attacks.
Romney's family joined him on the trail for the final day in Iowa, but he's already focused on New Hampshire, launching a new ad there taking aim at Senator John McCain, his chief rival in that state.
SNOW: And, Wolf, one thing we will be watching for tonight is the turnout. If there's a heavy turnout among Republican caucus- goers, that could be problematic for Mitt Romney, because that would indicate that first-time caucus-goers are turning out. And those are the people that Mike Huckabee has been targeting -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Turnout important on both sides.
All right, Mary, thank you.
And, just like in the general election, where the outcome can hinge on the so-called swing states, there are critical counties in Iowa that everyone will be watching tonight.
Joining us now to help us better understand this, with some new technology that we're using, our Jeff Toobin, our senior analyst.
All right, explain some of these counties, what's going on.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: OK.
Let's talk a little bit about the state of Iowa. Iowa is an extremely evenly divided state between Democrat and Republicans. Here is the map of the 2004 election, where George Bush beat John Kerry 50- 49.
And you see that eastern Iowa, along the Mississippi River, tends to be the Democratic part of the state, Des Moines in the center. And the west, along the Missouri River, is very much the conservative part. And that's pretty much how the candidates have been aiming their efforts during the -- during this campaign.
And what we saw in 2004 in the Democratic caucuses was, these were the results. Remember, John Kerry won with 38 percent. And Edwards came in second with 32. The dark blue is John Edwards. So, one thing we are going to be keeping an eye on is, these counties where Edwards won four years ago, will he win again?
Very important county here is Linn County, where Cedar Rapids is. That's all the Democratic candidates. It's the second most populous county, after Polk County, which is where Des Moines is. That's a county where all three major candidates have had -- focused a lot of their efforts.
And here's just a peculiar quirk. A little county just south of Des Moines called Warren County, it has been the ultimate bellwether county in Iowa. Since 1980, Warren County has picked the winner in both the Democratic and the Republican caucuses. So, we're certainly going to want to keep an eye on that.
BLITZER: Fascinating material. We are going to be experts on all these counties in Iowa before the night is done.
TOOBIN: I hope so.
BLITZER: Jeff Toobin, thanks very much.
And, as our viewers know, Jeff and Mary Snow and Dana Bash, they are all part of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television.
Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com.
There's no rest for the presidential candidates. Next week's New Hampshire primaries is breathing down everyone's necks. But tonight's results in Iowa could make tomorrow and the next few days drastically different in the Granite State.
Our John King is just back from New Hampshire. He's standing by to check out some very interesting possibilities.
And there's also a possibility tonight's results could produce a surprise spoiler. We will consider who that could be in our "Strategy Session." The State Department is now trying to calm a deadly crisis sparked by a controversial and suspect election. You need to see this story. It has international implications -- lots of news coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: With the Iowa caucuses tonight, and the New Hampshire primary just around the corner, there's a lot at stake for all the candidates over the next week.
Our chief national correspondent, John King, has just been in New Hampshire. He's looking at all these results.
The impact, for example, of Iowa on New Hampshire, it could be significant.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It could be, Wolf.
You have heard the candidates talk about it in varying ways. Some say there are three tickets out of Iowa, win, place or show. Back in the old days, this President Bush's father talk about bit mo' and little mo'.
Whatever you want to call it, the goal is a bounce heading on to New Hampshire.
KING (voice-over): New Hampshire cherishes its maverick streak, its independent spirit, but that doesn't mean the results in Iowa won't have an impact.
For starters, there could be fewer candidates as early as this weekend. Former Senator Fred Thompson, for one, is described by informed Republican sources as likely to make a quick exit unless he places a strong third to better in Iowa.
FRED THOMPSON, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some people have the wind at their back, and some don't. And you have to analyze the results and go from there. But I'm not playing into any pessimistic scenario.
KING: Tom Rath's New Hampshire political stories go back four decades. This time around, his goal is trying to make Romney make GOP history with back-to-back Iowa and New Hampshire victories.
THOMAS RATH, ROMNEY SENIOR CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Ronald Reagan didn't do it. Neither of the Bushes did it. Bob Dole didn't do it. In a contested situation, no Republican has ever won both.
KING: And Rath's message if Romney arrives here early Friday fresh from second or worse in Iowa?
RATH: There's still a lot of holes in this golf course. We start turning it around today. This is not the time you get panicky. And you need New Hampshire ready to accept whatever the result is in Iowa.
KING: Romney has the most to gain and to lose in any assessment of how Iowa will impact the Republican race in New Hampshire.
ANDREW SMITH, NEW HAMPSHIRE POLLSTER: If Romney loses in Iowa, he has got a very, very different challenge in New Hampshire. He will probably lose 10 to 15 points in New Hampshire right away.
KING: Just a few months ago, the former Massachusetts governor had strong leads in both states, and pollster Andrew Smith says being expected to win can be a heavy burden.
SMITH: The goal of any sort of nominating process is to get a candidate who can win in the November general election. And you demonstrate that you're a winner by winning. And, if you lose, you're a loser.
KING: Exhibit A in the sense of urgency already in the state of New Hampshire, Wolf, even before Iowa votes, the Romney campaign went up with a new attack ad today against Senator John McCain on the issue of taxes and immigration.
The state wonders what will happen this time. In the past, people have come out of Iowa with a huge bounce. There's been time to take care of it in New Hampshire. Five days this time, five days between Iowa and New Hampshire, with a weekend in the middle -- so, this is uncharted territory for us.
They will -- the candidates will all be in New Hampshire pretty much sunup tomorrow morning. And, next Tuesday, we will be here again to find out who moves on.
BLITZER: Some of them are not going to waste any time. They're going to fly out even -- even tonight to New Hampshire. They're not even going to spend the night in Iowa. Is that right?
KING: That's right. And McCain will be there by the time we're counting the results here. Romney and Huckabee will fly overnight, many of the Democrats flying overnight as well.
The big question we will know, probably by this time tomorrow, one or two, one Democrat, one Republican, maybe a few more, will either be out or just on the threshold of getting out.
BLITZER: John King with us, he's not going anywhere either.
Thanks, John, very much.
We will get the verdict from Iowa voters tonight, but, before they have their say, there's still some time for some last-minute predictions. Our Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett, they are standing by live ready to place their bets on win, place or show.
Also in our "Strategy Session," we will take a closer look at the roster of candidates looking for a potential spoiler out there, someone ready to shake things up in Iowa and beyond.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We have had months and months and months of pregame talk, but now the main event is about to get under way.
In just a matter of a few hours, we're going to start to see the first results coming in from the Iowa caucuses.
Joining us now in our "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and conservative talk show host Bill Bennett. They're both CNN contributors.
All right, make some predictions.
Bill, I will start with you.
Win, place and show on the Republican side first tonight?
BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think Huckabee has enough to win this. It's -- this could be his high watermark. But I think it's Huckabee. I think it's Romney. And I think interesting third is John McCain.
BLITZER: John McCain.
BENNETT: And that suggests the kind of spoiler thing. Yes, interesting. He's rising.
BLITZER: Because he's barely made his presence felt in Iowa.
BENNETT: But he flew in last night. Did you notice this? He flew in from New Hampshire, because someone told him things were going on. He seems to be moving. People love the straight talk. They're not sure about Romney's switches. And, you know, Huckabee seems a little Arkansas.
BLITZER: All right. Before we get to the Democrats, give me your Republican predictions.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that Romney is going to squeak by, because he has a terrific organization. He's been on the ground for months. It's layered. He knows how to get his people out. He has the resources to win. So, I predict it's Romney, then Huckabee, and possibly McCain.
BLITZER: McCain, not Fred Thompson?
BRAZILE: Fred Thompson's campaign has lacked the energy from day one. I don't -- I don't see Fred Thompson getting his people out tonight?
BLITZER: We're going to be speaking with him in the next hour, Fred Thompson. What do you think? Has he got a shot at third in Iowa?
BENNETT: He just hasn't made a footprint. You know, he just hasn't made a big impression.
The campaigning has been solid. It's been steady. But he hasn't seemed to impress people that he really, really wants it. Romney has. And, I mean, I do think it's going to be close. He's got a great organization. But Huckabee has turned it on lately, and he's -- he's charmed a lot of people.
BLITZER: And the weather is decent out there tonight.
BLITZER: All right, on the Democratic side, what do you think?
BRAZILE: Too close to call, Wolf.
Look, if I was on the ground, I could probably predict it. But the Obama campaign believes that they will bring out their voters. They have first-time voters. They have a lot of young people who are excited. Independents may come out for them.
Hillary's campaign, they are relying a lot on older women, the blue hair brigade. I think this is going to be a very close race. If we get down to the final hour, I give the advantage Obama, because he has the energy and he has the enthusiasm going into the final hours of the campaign.
BLITZER: How do you see the Democrats?
BENNETT: I will keep her language, but I will predict Obama. I think the young people -- the young person's idealism beats the blue- haired realism. There's a lot of idealism in this campaign.
Joe Johns of CNN said, Barack Obama -- he said, it reminds me of morning in America. And there is that very positive, idealistic approach. It's turned on a lot of people. I think he's got enough. I predicted it two months ago. I'm staying with it.
BLITZER: And do both of you assume that Edwards would simply come in third?
BENNETT: Yes, I think he will.
BRAZILE: He can come in second. Look, he has a solid organization. His people know the caucus process. I'm sure that they will lead a lot of the conversation. He has deep pockets of strength. And, when you look at those rural communities, John Edwards has been there from day one.
BLITZER: I think it's unlikely there's a spoiler out there on the Republican side, with...
BENNETT: Democrat. BLITZER: On the Republican side...
BLITZER: ... with the sole exception of Ron Paul, who's raised more money in the last three months than any of the Republican candidates, who has got an army of passionate followers out there.
Is Ron Paul a spoiler tonight among the Republicans?
BENNETT: Could be. He could get into double -- double numbers.
But can I go back to this? It would not surprise me to see Hillary Clinton in third, because, again, Edwards has a lot of passionate people behind him. So, we will see. But, yes, Ron Paul could. He has raised a lot of money. There's support for him. And we don't know how deep it is.
BLITZER: What about on the Democratic side? Is there a spoiler out there, a Bill Richardson, a Chris Dodd, a Joe Biden, somebody else who could...
BRAZILE: You know...
BLITZER: ... who could shape this final outcome?
BRAZILE: You know, in the Democratic Party, we have what we call realignment. After the first ballot, you're not -- you don't reach viability of 15 percent, you can realign with another candidate or walk -- walk home.
I think Joe Biden has the capacity to come in a strong fourth tonight. If the first three, if they are within 1,000 points -- I mean 1,000 votes of each other, Joe Biden could be the spoiler tonight.
BLITZER: You think he will do better than Bill Richardson?
BRAZILE: Well, it -- that's a tossup.
Richardson has a lot of charisma, but Joe Biden is drawing crowds and people like him. And Hillary Clinton has strong institutional support. We shouldn't write her off.
BENNETT: Oh, no write-off, but I think the issues have kind of led in the direction of Biden. And Biden has said so: "I have the experience to address these issues."
The world has exploded.
BLITZER: Bill and Donna are going to be with us throughout the night. And it could be a long night. We will watch it every step of the way.
Guys, thank very much for joining us.
BENNETT: Thank you.
BLITZER: It's all the excitement and anxiety of an Election Day packed into just a few short hours. But there's something new going on in tonight's Iowa caucuses. You are going to want to see how the Web is being used to effect the turnout.
Fred Thompson entered the presidential race with very high hopes. I'm about to ask him what happens to his campaign after tonight.
And today's news about oil prices will affect everyone at the pump. We have the numbers. You need to see them.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: On our Political Ticker, Democratic presidential candidates are using the Web in a last-minute effort to try to get people to the precincts for tonight's Iowa caucuses.
Let's bring in our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton.
Abbi, how are the candidates doing this?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, first of all, I have to show you this. Remember this.
This was from a year ago now, a full years ago, the Web casts that the candidates, the presidential candidates on the Democratic side, were using to get into this race. Well, since then, they have been online fund-raising. They have been doing rapid response online.
But now it's all about Iowa, turning their Web sites into these caucus centers, trying to get their supporters out to the precincts today. On the Hillary Clinton side, on their Web site, they have been recruiting these people to come to Iowa with their vehicles. They have got 5,000 of these vehicles lined up to get the people to the precincts.
And if it's child care that might be standing in your way, Hillary Clinton is one of the candidates whose campaign has lined up that in seven different cities in Iowa.
But, you know, for these Democrats, it's not just getting their supporters there. It's explaining what they have to do when they get there. It's a complex process, especially for the first-time caucus- goers.
Now, at the Barack Obama Web site, for the last few weeks, they have been walking people through step by step, "This is what is going to happen when you get there; this is what happens next," trying to make sure that their supporters won't get poached by another campaign.
Barack Obama targeting those first-time caucus-goers, not so much there for John Edwards, but his Web site still not leaving anything to chance. They have got this hot line for any answers, for transportation. And look at that. They have got the ticker counting down as well. We have about two hours, 34 minutes until the Democratic precincts kick off.
BLITZER: It's amazing how much they -- they're coming to rely on the Web for so much of this, an interesting political phenomenon.
Abbi, thanks very much.
BLITZER: Also on our Political Ticker, we're only a few hours away from the call to order for the Iowa caucuses.
Tom Foreman is over at the Merrill Middle School in Des Moines, where they're getting ready to host both Democratic and Republican get-togethers later tonight -- Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for all the talk we have been hearing about caucuses, here at Merrill Middle School is where it's actually going to happen for at least four of them.
There will be three Democratic caucuses here. And the Republican will be caucusing right here in the school theater. Now, this is going to be, because of Republican rules, a very civilized, very simple procedure. They will come in. They will vote for who they like. And that's basically it. They move on and talk about their platform issues, things like that.
But down here is one of the rooms where the Democrats are going to meet. And this a whole different ball of wax. There will be hundreds and hundreds of Democrats here for this meeting. And in places like the school library, what they will do is spread out through the room. They're going to go to various tables and sit down, and, at some point, the leader of this precinct will step up and say, I need you to show me where your support is.
And, so, the followers of Hillary Clinton may sit here, and the Obama supporters may sit here, and John Edwards supporters may be over here, and Bill Richardson is over there, and so and so on.
Then the leader is going to look at all these people and say, who doesn't have enough support to be viable? Who doesn't have at least 15 percent of the people in the room? Then he's going to say to those people, your candidate is not viable. We will give you no delegates if you stick with that candidate.
So, what will happen then is a lot of horse-trading. The bigger groups, as a practical matter, will descend upon the smaller groups, and say, look, your candidate is an awful lot like ours on foreign policy, maybe a lot like ours on immigration, maybe a lot like ours on trade. And then they will say, you ought to be with us. The thing is, all of this will be happening at the same time. So, you may get pressure from this table and this table and this table and this table all at once. And you have to decide whether or not you're going to go with another candidate or remain undecided, and then broker your votes later on. And that's part of the game, too.
If you're in one of the smaller groups, you would like to broker your votes out. You want to have some kind of influence, some kind of say, some kind of respect from the bigger groups, if they're going to get your vote.
It sounds very chaotic, but the truth is, this is a system whereby people will actually discuss the issues in front of them and the candidates and where they stand, and publicly say, this is what I believe.
That's what the caucuses are really all about. And, in rooms like this one and the theater over there, is likely where the next president of the United States will begin his or her journey to the White House -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks very much.
Let's bring in Jack again for "The Cafferty File."
You know, and it's all done openly, no secret ballots. Your neighbors, your friends, they're going to know if you're with the Republicans, if you're with the Democrats, and who -- who you support, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney. It's all done open.
So, you're going to have to take the grief, if you will, by -- by stepping forward and participating.
CAFFERTY: Can't fix it, either, can you?
BLITZER: They're there. They're all...
CAFFERTY: It's not like a machine. You can't tinker with it.
BLITZER: Old-fashioned politics.
CAFFERTY: Yes, well, something about that that is attractive.
The question this hour is: What does it say about the Iowa caucuses that candidates who spend the most money don't necessarily win there? Jim writes from McDonough, Georgia: "Iowa is the one of the best examples of 'retail politics'. Money can be trumped by candidate access. The people in Iowa get to see and touch the candidates over a fairly long period of time. It allows them to kick the tires and make an intelligent choice. Thank goodness that the big money machine that is now politics at least gets derailed once in a while in a place like Iowa."
Del writes from Austin, Texas: "Since money doesn't seem to make a difference in Iowa, something we all abhor in elections, I think we should just let them nominate our party's candidates and be done with it. It appears they take the time and make the effort to become informed, something the rest of us don't."
Michael writes: "It means Iowans are reasonable people whose thoughts and opinions can't be bought. They care about the issues, not about how much money a candidate can throw into essentially meaningless television ads that talk more about the other guy than what that candidate actually stands for."
Dustin in Wake Forest, North Carolina: "It says that Iowa voters are smart and committed to learning about the candidates. They get together with their neighbors" -- just what Wolf was talking about -- "collectively, publicly decide who they will recommend to the rest of the nation. It's a great democratic model in line with the founders' vision."
Les from Clive, Iowa, writes -- I have been to Clive, Iowa -- "It means we decide as caucus-goers, not the money spent or the polls conducted."
And Ted writes: "It proves beyond a reasonable doubt that politicians are under the impression that voters are dumb and they can buy their votes, just as their votes are bought by big-money contributors. Hillary doesn't get it. Neither does Romney. John Edwards gets it. So does Ron Paul" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. Good letters.
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