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Kerry Chooses Obama; Bush Prediction: Peace Treaty in One Year; McCain Hopes to Break Curse

Aired January 10, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a new backer for Barack Obama, and a slap in the face for Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. Will the endorsement of the Democrats' last presidential nominee, John Kerry, actually make a difference, though?
I'll talk about that and a lot more with the latest Democrat to drop out of the race, Bill Richardson.

Also this hour, John McCain tries to change his luck in South Carolina. Will the state that crushed his 2000 presidential bid give him a win next week?

And President Bush making a bold prediction about peace in the Middle East. Can he deliver a treaty between the Israelis and the Palestinians before he leaves office?

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

John Kerry told a crowd of Barack Obama supporters he's endorsing his Senate colleague because Obama can unite America. But Kerry's announcement today drives home some old divisions within the Democratic Party. And that includes the former presidential candidate's own tense relationship with his ex-running mate.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is in South Carolina right now. She's watching the story for us.

What's the significance of this endorsement today, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was quite significant.

John Kerry met Barack Obama when he was running for the Senate of Illinois back in 2004. He then invited him to speak before the Democratic National Convention. It really catapulted him into national prominence. Aides say that these two have been keeping in touch ever since. Barack Obama asked him for that critical endorsement, and today he got it.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Barack Obama can be, will be, and should be the next president of the United States.

(APPLAUSE) MALVEAUX (voice over): OK, so maybe he's so 2004. But the nod from the last Democratic presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry, is big. With at least three million e-mail addresses at his disposal to Democratic supporters, what's a little gray hair next to the guy with the fresh face?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We invest in you. You invest in America.

MALVEAUX: Kerry's dis to his former running mate, John Edwards, who's also running for the Democratic nomination, didn't come as a complete surprise. Edwards had publicly criticized Kerry after their campaign loss for not fighting back hard enough against the Republican attacks. Without mentioning Edwards by name, Kerry tried to soften the blow.

KERRY: There are other candidates in this race with whom I have worked, but I believe that more than anyone else, Barack Obama can help our country turn the page and get America moving by uniting and ending the division that we have faced.


MALVEAUX: Edwards' campaign responded graciously, saying, "Our country and our party are stronger because of John's service, and I respect his decision."


MALVEAUX: And Wolf, obviously there's a political calculation here. Already, some Republicans have seized on this as an opportunity to knock down Barack Obama if he becomes the nominee.

The RNC putting out an e-mail comparing John Kerry and Barack Obama as what they are saying "liberal soul mates". I spoke with aides in Obama's camp and they said, look, you know, it is one thing to attract those young, first-time voters, but it's equally important to make sure that they are linked with the Democratic traditional establishment. That is all about raising money and is about those e- mails I mentioned, too, those contacts, because what they're anticipating is that this is going to be a contest that goes beyond February 5th -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux is in Charleston, South Carolina. It's a state critical for the Democrats and the Republicans right now.

South Carolina is the backdrop also for our next big Democratic presidential debate. CNN and the Congressional Black Caucus are sponsoring the forum on Monday, January 21st, five days before South Carolina's Democratic primary.

Suzanne Malveaux, Joe Johns, and I, along with the best political team on television, will all be there for the debate. Our coverage that night begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Another Senate colleague is endorsing Obama today. That would be Democrat Tim Johnson of South Dakota. Johnson says he likes Obama because he bridges the differences between the parties.

Lots more coming up on politics and the presidential campaigns momentarily, but there's other important news unfolding right now, especially in the Middle East.

President Bush has a new effort to try to jump-start the peace process. After talks with Palestinian leaders today on the West Bank, the president flatly predicting a peace treaty will be signed by the time he leaves office.

Our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is traveling with the president. He's out there in Jerusalem right now.

This is a significant statement, a bold prediction, by the president, Ed. Give us the sense of what happened today.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that's right. The significance is that the president is now pushing harder for Mideast peace than he ever has before. But the question still remains, can he deliver on it?


HENRY (voice over): After two days of intense meetings with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, President Bush, for the first time, declared he believes a Mideast peace deal will be signed before he leaves office.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A peace agreement should happen and can happen by the end of this year. I know each leader shares that important goal, and I am committed to doing all I can to achieve it.

HENRY: Mr. Bush may return to the region several times this year, a significant personal commitment from a president who had not been as hands-on. And there's a new forcefulness. The president using the loaded term "occupation".

BUSH: There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967. The agreement must establish that Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people.

HENRY: That would be a major concession from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is being nudged, too.

BUSH: On the Israeli side, that includes ending settlement expansion and removing unauthorized outposts. On the Palestinian side, that includes confronting terrorists and dismantling terrorist infrastructure.

HENRY: But he's pointedly leaving those thorny details up to the two parties.

BUSH: Now is the time to make difficult choices. HENRY: The president chose to step up his efforts on the same day as his first-ever tour of the Palestinian territories, including Jesus' birthplace of Bethlehem.

BUSH: It's been a moving moment for me and the delegation to be here.

HENRY: Under extreme tight security, Mr. Bush also met Abbas at the presidential compound in Ramallah, ironically speaking beneath a portrait of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.


HENRY: Now, it was Mr. Bush's disgust for Arafat that kept him from getting more actively involved in the peace process early on, but now, obviously, Arafat is gone, and the president has an incentive to get more aggressive. He noted today he's on a timetable. He only has 12 more months in office -- Wolf.

BLITZER: If he succeeds and brings peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, that would be a huge item for his legacy, it would have enormous ramifications for the region as a whole.

Ed Henry in Jerusalem for us.

Thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty has got "The Cafferty File" in New York.

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, it was one of the biggest misses by the polls ever. They all saw Hillary losing to Barack Obama, and they were all wrong.

As late as 9:00, the night of the New Hampshire primary, people inside the Clinton campaign were still saying they expected Hillary to lose. So what happened?

Some possible explanations from the pollsters themselves suggest that record turnouts produced a different electorate than expected, especially on the Democratic side. There's the idea that while the polls accurately showed Obama's support among Independents, they did not reflect the large Democratic turnout helping Clinton. Others point to the fact that almost 20 percent of voters made up their minds on primary day, and most of the polling, of course, had stopped before then.

There are those who suggest race could have played a role. The head of the Pew Research Center says poorer, less-educated New Hampshire voters may not have wanted to admit to pollsters that they would vote for Obama, a black candidate.

And, of course, there were the last-minute events on the campaign trail itself, including Clinton's emotional moment at the diner on Monday. Regardless of why it happened, though, the polling industry, as well as the news media, which rely heavily on polls, were all left looking pretty stupid. And it raises the issue of how heavily anyone should rely on polls to begin with.

And one more comment. Primaries are notoriously difficult to poll, because especially in an open state like New Hampshire, where 40 percent of the electorate or more are Independents, you don't know how many are going to turn out, and those Independents can vote either way, and you don't know how a lot of them are going to vote until the last minute.

So here's our question. After the New Hampshire primary, will you be less likely to trust or believe the polls?

Go to You can post a comment on my new blog.

And then after you do that, you can go visit Wolf's blog.

You still have that thing up?

BLITZER: I do -- I mentioned you and I mentioned your book in my item today, Jack. You may want to read it, and you may want to comment as well. You can comment if you want.

CAFFERTY: I can write a little thing, right?

BLITZER: Yes, you can write a little comment. You know, "Thanks, Wolf, for the plug."

CAFFERTY: I'll send you a little something in the mail.

BLITZER: All right --

Jack Cafferty, thank you.

Jack Cafferty.

John McCain is trying to break his South Carolina curse. Up next, we're going to tell you what's different for the Republican this time around and what a win in South Carolina would mean for him.

Plus, Michael Bloomberg says he's not running for president, but his actions may be telling a different story. Is there room for an Independent in the race?

Bill Schneider is standing by with that.

And Bill Richardson decides there's no room left for him on the road to the White House. I'll ask the Democrat about his decision to drop out and why his experience apparently didn't get him anywhere.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Republican presidential candidate John McCain hopes his newfound reversal of fortune will help him in the South. He's stumping in South Carolina today, ahead of that state's Republican primary January 19th.

CNN's Dana Bash is in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, watching all of this unfold.

This is a state that a lot of our viewers will remember, Dana, with a little painful history for John McCain.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It sure is, Wolf. McCain insists that he's not taking a trip down memory lane, but it's pretty hard for him to escape the fact that this is where it all effectively ended for him in the year 2000.

Now, he insists that there are a lot of changes that benefit him, particularly the fact that he's a respected senator and a military veteran now campaigning in a post-9/11 world.


BASH (voice over): One year to the day President Bush adopted John McCain's call for an Iraq troop surge, a chance to say I told you so.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The strategy is succeeding, my friends. They are safer neighborhoods. We are seeing the Iraqi military taking over more and more of the responsibilities.

BASH: In veteran-rich South Carolina, McCain's war hero status and national security credentials are a huge plus. His support for giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, a problem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have every bit of confidence for you as far as the military is concerned. I would love to hear you speak on immigration.

MCCAIN: I want to look you in the eye and tell you I know what the message is. The message is we must secure our borders. I will secure our borders. I will secure our borders.


BASH: South Carolina is where superstitious McCain is trying to break a curse. Eight years ago, he came in riding momentum of his first New Hampshire win, only to suffer a brutal defeat to George W. Bush, fatally wounding his presidential bid. He blamed dirty tricks, lashed out at evangelical leaders who opposed him.

MCCAIN: ... the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.

BASH: Since, McCain has since tried to mend fences, even with the late Jerry Falwell. Here he insists he is focused on now, not then.

MCCAIN: South Carolinians make up their own minds on the merit of the candidates, not particularly on what happened before.

BASH: This time is different. No Bush juggernaut, and South Carolina is changing. Booming sunbelt growth means a larger pool of moderate non-evangelical Republicans than eight years ago.


BASH: Now, McCain himself brought up what he thinks is a big difference this time around. And that is that unlike in 2000, when the Republican establishment her was behind Bush, it is now, for the most part, Wolf, behind John McCain. But the big question is whether that establishment can fight off the very real grassroots support for his chief rival here, Mike Huckabee. That grassroots support particularly within the evangelical community here in South Carolina -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It looks like a nice day. No overcoats, no hats in South Carolina, unlike Iowa and New Hampshire. I suspect you and your colleagues, Dana, are happy to be there.

BASH: It's pretty nice.

BLITZER: All right.

BASH: Not bad.

BLITZER: It will be a lot easier down in South Carolina, eventually in Florida.

The mortgage crisis and recession fears are weighing very heavily on the minds of a lot of Americans as we kick off this election years. Today, the Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, is pledging to slash interest rates again to try to rescue the weakening economy. As part of our commitment here in THE SITUATION ROOM to tell you where the candidates stand on all the key issues facing all of us, let's turn to our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff. He's watching this.

You've been looking at these presidential candidates, Allan, and where they stand on the mortgage crisis. Update our viewers. What do we know?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SR. CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. The candidates are well aware that this issue really hits home. Literally.

Many voters have having trouble making ends meet. And they recognize their situation is only going to get worse as the election approaches.


CHERNOFF (voice over): Jillian Simmons is a single mother with a big worry.

JILLIAN SIMMONS, HOMEOWNER: This is my home. This is my castle.

CHERNOFF: She's saddled with a mortgage she can barely afford, and her monthly payments are scheduled to jump higher this summer.

SIMMONS: Losing my home, that's my biggest fear.

CHERNOFF: An unscrupulous broker put her into a risky mortgage, and yet another one refinanced her last year into a new loan that only added to her debt burden.

SIMMONS: As you see there, my payments went up.

CHERNOFF: Jillian, a U.S. citizen who emigrated from Trinidad, is a classic victim of predatory lenders who have put tens of thousands of Americans in danger of losing their homes.

(on camera): The mortgage crisis may prove to be a very important issue in the presidential election. Among the states that have the highest foreclosure rates are California, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. Together, they have nearly half the electoral votes needed to elect the next president.

OBAMA: We need more disclosure and accountability in the housing market.

CHERNOFF (voice over): The leading Democratic candidates, Obama, Clinton, and Edwards, all endorse a federal fund to support homeowners who are in over their heads. Obama and Edwards also want to outlaw overly aggressive lending.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need a national predatory lending law that cracks down on so many of the abuses, you know, from front-end fees to excessive interest rates.

CHERNOFF: But it's Hillary Clinton who most interests Jillian.

SIMMONS: I think Hillary can do a terrific job. I think I have enough faith in her to turn things around.

CHERNOFF: Senator Clinton is pledging a foreclosure timeout.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll have a moratorium for 90 days on foreclosures why we try to figure out what we're going to do to keep people in their homes.

CHERNOFF: Republican candidates prefer to see the private sector work out the problem, rather than having government provide aid to borrowers in trouble.


CHERNOFF: An estimated 1.5 million American households will be seeing their mortgages adjust upwards this year. So the issue could very well be a deciding factor for voters like Jillian Simmons, who are trapped under the weight of a very expensive mortgage -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Allan Chernoff, for that report.

Financial fears are driving the 2008 presidential race. Exit polls show the economy was the top issue for both the Republicans and Democrats voting in the New Hampshire primary. Eighty percent of New Hampshire Republicans and 97 percent of the Democrats said they're worried about the economy.

In Iowa, entrance polls found the economy was the top issue for the Democrats, tied with the war in Iraq. It ranked second among Iowa Republicans, right behind illegal immigration.

If you think you've experienced terrifying turbulence, there's a good chance it can't compare to what some Air Canada passengers went through. If you fly you're going to want to hear about this.

And later, I'm going to ask Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul about some shocking comments published under his name years ago. What was going on?

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



BLITZER: A presidential candidate suggests he see sees the writing on the wall. Bill Richardson dropping out of the race. With experienced politicians leaving, how much does experience really matter in this race?

And could the race grow by one more candidate? We're learning what New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is doing regarding a possible -- repeat, possible -- run.

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


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

Happening now, what could be a serious consequence of a serious accident. After the horrifying midair breakup of an F-15 jet fighter, the Air Force could now do something bold and permanent.

We're on top of the story. We're bringing you details shortly.

Also, we all know if you don't pay your phone bill, the telephone company could shut off your service. But cutting off service to the FBI? That happened. And some lines spying on suspected criminals simply went dead.

A full report on this amazing story coming up.

And the Democratic leader of the United States Senate on the Democratic senators running for president. I'll get Harry Reid's reaction to John Kerry's decision to endorse Barack Obama, and I'll ask him to tell us something we don't know about Obama and Hillary Clinton.

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

The presidential race sees another casualty. Just a short while ago, Democrat Bill Richardson ended his bid. He couldn't grab a top spot in the first two contests, placing fourth in Iowa and New Hampshire. Richardson and two other Democrats who had dropped out had some of the longest resumes of all the candidates.

CNN's Dan Lothian is joining us now from Columbia, South Carolina. He's watching this story for us.

You're looking into this issue, Dan, of how much experience really matters.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, the presidential hopefuls do spend millions of dollars to get their resumes out there in front of the American people, but as we found out, experience doesn't always matter.


GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How are you, sir? I'm Bill Richardson.

LOTHIAN (voice over): If experience were the only qualification, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson would be a shoo-in for president. But the former congressman, ambassador and cabinet member couldn't get any traction.

RICHARDSON: It is with great pride, understanding and acceptance that I am ending my campaign for president of the United States.

LOTHIAN: In his final debate, Richardson seemed frustrated by the notion that experience was a liability.

RICHARDSON: Look, what we need is change. There's no question. But, you know, whatever happened to experience? Is experience kind of a leper?

LOTHIAN: After all, two other veteran politicians, long-time senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, had already dropped out. They all have the kind of experience that some say still matters.

DENNIS BUTT, RESIDENT OF SOUTH CAROLINA: I want somebody that knows what they're doing.

CHARLES BIERBAUER, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA: We want people who understand what's going on, but those aren't always the people that excite us.

LOTHIAN: Charles Bierbauer, at the University of South Carolina, says many voters are looking for much more. BIERBAUER: They want people who they are comfortable with, they are confident with, and they know have good advice coming to them.

LOTHIAN: Jason Ertter says, frustration with Washington has given experience a bad name.

JASON ERTTER, RESIDENT OF SOUTH CAROLINA: So, they don't want somebody who has been there for decades or, you know, 20, 25 years. They want somebody that is new.

LOTHIAN: Senator Barack Obama got attention with his message of change. And that theme is now being echoed by Senator Hillary Clinton, who had built her campaign on experience.

BIERBAUER: Change, change, change, you hear it from every candidate now, even those who might normally be touting their experience.

LOTHIAN: Voters say the message and issues are critical, but that's not all.

ILSY VENTURA, RESIDENT OF SOUTH CAROLINA: I think it's the whole package. You can have lots of experience, but, if you don't have the personality, then, you know, it's not going to get voters. It's not going to get people on your side.


LOTHIAN: There does seem, at least here in South Carolina, to be a generational gap here, young people not putting as much on experience, older people here, though, really wanting their candidates to have the experience to understand a whole lot about the issues that impact them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian, in South Carolina, thanks very much.

Fresh from his announcement he will withdraw from the race, Bill Richardson is joining us now from Albuquerque. New Mexico.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

RICHARDSON: Nice to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: So what do you make of this -- this development, experience? Because, arguably, you had more experience than almost anyone running for president; yet, it didn't seem to help.

RICHARDSON: And, by the way, I wasn't even in Washington. I was a governor in a state. And we have elected seven out of the last eight presidents have been governors.

You know, Wolf, the electorate wanted something fresh, exciting, change, you know, because they're so frustrated with the dysfunctional relationship between the president and Congress. So, everybody that had a little speckle of respectable experience was kind of viewed warily. Now, you know, I'm not complaining. What I believe I brought to this race is, I moved the Democratic candidates to say that we must end the war. I moved them to have the strongest clean energy positions. I moved them to reform educational policy by getting rid of No Child Left Behind, but especially the war.

I mean, that's my gratification. But the reality is, I didn't do well in the early states, and I needed that boost to keep my fund- raising going, so I would go into the West, where I'm strongest.

BLITZER: Well...

RICHARDSON: But, you know, I don't want to hang around without having a realistic chance.

BLITZER: That's fair enough.

And, arguably, you were ahead of the pack, ahead of the curve, on these issues. But why didn't that resonate, for example, your very strong stance, just get out of Iraq, get all the troops out of Iraq as quickly as possible; don't hold off combat forces for any significant period of time? It didn't really make much of a difference, did it?

RICHARDSON: Well, it did.

It shaped the debate. But you are right. I was outspent 10-1 by the two major candidates, and even by Senator Edwards. So, I couldn't compete on the airwaves, where you do get significant traction.

And then, secondly, the national media, I think, felt that this was all the time a three-person race. Now they're saying a two-person race. I'm not complaining about that, because I felt that I shaped the debate. I worked very hard.

You know, we did raise $22 million. We have got 68,000 donors. I feel that I did all I could. And, so, I leave satisfied that I shaped the process. But, if there's one message for the future for any presidential race, we need public financing of races, so that everybody is on an even keel, because when you're outgunned 10-1, as I was, you know, it makes a difference...


RICHARDSON: ... because it makes a difference in hiring staff and being on the airwaves and being able to get your message out.

BLITZER: What you're saying is, money still talks, obviously, in politics.

Let me -- let's look ahead a little bit, Governor. You served as the secretary of energy during the Clinton administration, U.N. ambassador during the Clinton administration. I take it, it didn't take very long for your former boss, Bill Clinton, to call you and discuss what's next. Is that right?

RICHARDSON: Well, yes, he called me quite a bit in the last couple of days. We talked. I talked to Senator Clinton. So did Senator Obama and Edwards called. I even had a nice call from Mike Huckabee, who is an old pal of mine.

Yes, obviously. But I have decided, Wolf, I'm not going to endorse anyone for now. I'm going to let the primaries take their shape. I'm going to concentrate on my international missions, on being a good governor in New Mexico, riding my horse, spending time with my family, with Barbara, my wife.

You know, I'm not devastated.


RICHARDSON: I actually feel I -- I'm proud. I did all I could.

BLITZER: Well, what did the former president actually say to you? Did he appeal to you to endorse his wife?


You know, we're old friends. We didn't discuss that. And I don't want to get into private conversations, but we reminisced. We talked about Iowa. We talked about New Hampshire. We talked about the days when we worked together on foreign policy and energy.

It was a reconnecting, because, you know, the reality is, when you compete with each other, there's a little tension. And there have been some reports that my campaign had helped support Senator Obama's in Iowa, which was totally untrue. And the call was kind of to clear the air. And we did that. I had a very gracious call from -- message Senator Obama and Edwards, and -- as I said. Senator Kennedy called me.

BLITZER: They all want your support, and I don't blame them.

You know, you're Latino. You got a Hispanic heritage. There are a lot of Latino votes out there. What do you think? Where is this community, among Democrats, likely to wind up in the primary process?

RICHARDSON: Well, right now, I would say that Senator Clinton has the edge.

But Senator Obama has been able, I believe, to marshal quite a bit of support from all minorities. I noticed that everywhere, especially younger minorities. I think it's going to be split pretty event. I wouldn't discount Senator Edwards either, just in the whole contest.

You know, this guy has amazing resilience. There were times when it looked like he was down, but the guy keeps coming back. So, I think this is going to be a third-person -- a three-person race, with obviously the two at the top.

And, here in the West, I just hope that the West really turns out in the caucus in Nevada, in other states, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, California, February 5. You know, the West, for too often, has been ignored. It's kind of been a last-minute thought.

And now we're players. So, I'm happy with that. But I didn't want to go into the West, like Nevada, without resources, because I needed to do well. And I needed those resources. And we didn't have them.

BLITZER: Well, I want to thank you for joining us. During your presidential campaign, you were a frequent visitor here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You were always kind enough to join us, rarely turning us down. We thoroughly enjoyed your presence here.

We know you will continue to join us down the road. We're going to miss you, though, at these upcoming Democratic presidential debates, because you tended to try to keep these candidates above the fray, sort of.

RICHARDSON: I did. We have got to stay positive, or we're going to lose. We shouldn't attack each other.

I hope Clinton, Obama and Edwards stay positive. That's my main message.

BLITZER: All right. Governor, thanks very much.

Some Democrats and Republicans are asking if Michael Bloomberg will be the next Ross Perot. Up next: The New York mayor may be more serious about a possible independent presidential bid than he's letting on.

Plus, is Mitt Romney changing his tune to play in Michigan? The Republican struggling, and that's coming up in our "Strategy Session." We will discuss what is going on.

And, in our next hour, Republican Congressman Ron Paul, he's facing some tough questions about some racially charged remarks made in his name many years ago. We're going to speak live with the Republican presidential candidate and ask him about all of this.

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


BLITZER: Guess what? The presidential race could still grow by one more person. A source tells CNN the New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has launched a research effort to assess whether or not he should run.

Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching this for us.

Is there room for a Michael Bloomberg in this presidential contest?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it depends on how much room the Democratic and Republican candidates take up. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Oh, Mayor Bloomberg. Your lips say no, no, no.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: We even have two people from New York who are candidates for president of the United States. I'm not sure the state needs a third.

SCHNEIDER: But your actions say, maybe.

There was the New York mayor last week at a bipartisan forum called to explore new political options.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We might have to have some shock therapy through an independent candidacy.

SCHNEIDER: Now Bloomberg is starting an expensive research effort to assess whether there's a market for an independent candidate this year. Is there?

Americans are certainly fed up with Washington and with politics as usual, just as they were in 1992, when Ross Perot ran.


ROSS PEROT (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you want to fix the engine, you got to lift up the hood, get under there, and go to work.


SCHNEIDER: Bloomberg, who has been a Democrat and a Republican and is now an independent, has a similar message.

BLOOMBERG: What we want to do is find ways to get the partisanship out of politics, to get the special interests out.

SCHNEIDER: Bloomberg, like Perot, is rich enough to finance his own campaign. Perot got nearly 20 percent of the vote in 1992, but he didn't carry a single state.

Do Bloomberg's prospects look any better? It depends on who the Democratic and Republican candidates are. Will the parties nominate candidates who have broad enough appeal to unite the country or will they nominate divisive candidates with highly partisan support?

Partisan and divisive nominees would leave a lot of room in the center for a Bloomberg candidacy. He has to wait and see who the nominees are.

GARY HART, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: We could know by February 5 who the two nominees are. That's the time then to ask your question.

SCHNEIDER: But will that leave enough time? Sure. Perot didn't indicate his interest in running until February 20, 1992 on "LARRY KING LIVE." (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Mayor Bloomberg is from the most Democratic part of the country, the Northeast. And his views are much closer to the Democratic Party than to the Republican Party. So, there's a good chance Bloomberg would split the Democratic vote and help elect a Republican -- just what the Democrats need, a Ralph Nader with money -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see what happens. Thanks very much, Bill Schneider.

In Iowa and New Hampshire, we saw some record-breaking voter turnout. With primary season only just beginning, there's an online push to get even more voters registered.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's watching all of this online.

Who is involved in all of this, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, for some of there states that are coming up, we're in the last few days where people can actually register to vote and be involved in that process.

And these -- there are an array of groups online targeting those people who have not yet done so, trying to get them involved with easy tools. The most recent is, the liberal group with a huge e-mail base. They have got a new site, the VotePoke, which lets you put your information in and find out if you're even registered in the first place. And, if you're not, it's going to take you to Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan site, where you can actually register.

MoveOn of course is liberal, but anyone can use this site and direct their friends to find out if they're registered as well.

Then there's the national committees, who have got tools online, like the Republican National Committee's map to find out what's going on in your state, and then organizations who are targeting different groups, Latino voters, women voters, specifically unmarried women in this instance.

And then the sight Declare Yourself going after young people, getting them to register online, big factor in Iowa -- Declare Yourself saying today that they have seen a sharp uptick in registrations in the last couple of weeks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

In our "Strategy Session" that is upcoming: John Kerry is on Barack Obama's team.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: And I'm here in South Carolina because this is the right time to share with you to make sure that we know that I have the confidence and that Barack Obama can be, will be, and should be the next president of the United States.



BLITZER: But if Barack Obama is a voice for change, why is he counting on a Washington insider for support? We will assess this part of the story.

And Mitt Romney tweaking his message -- he's pushing his record of change. Will it work, or is it too little too late?

Peter Fenn and Terry Jeffrey, they are standing right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: John Kerry says, if Barack Obama becomes president, he would transform the United States.

Kerry's endorsement of Obama and what it means starts off our "Strategy Session" right now.

Joining us, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and conservative commentator Terry Jeffrey. He's editor in chief of the Cybercast News Service.

Guys, thanks for coming in.

How big of a deal is this for Barack Obama?

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I guess we will just have to rip our Kerry/Edwards bumper stickers off our car now, foreign policy

I don't think it's that big a deal, to be honest with you. I think it is a big deal for Edwards, though. This was a -- he was chosen as vice president. He was the one that was going to move into that Oval Office if anything happened to Kerry if he was elected.

And now to reject John Edwards is huge for Edwards.

BLITZER: And he does it in his native home state of South Carolina.


FENN: Right.

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE: Yes. I mean, Edwards has to win somewhere. And, theoretically, it would have been South Carolina. It's looking tougher and tougher for him every moment.

But, Wolf, I tell you, I saw little clips from Kerry's speech. And I went on the CNN Web site because I wanted to see more of it. And you have it up there. John Kerry didn't say a single thing in that speech. He said change, change, healing, healing, change, change, didn't mention a single issue. And I think that may be a developing problem with Barack Obama's campaign.

What does he stand for, aside from these ephemeral, romantic feelings?

BLITZER: In general, how important -- you have been around these campaigns for a long...

FENN: Yes.

BLITZER: How important are these endorsements?

FENN: Not very important, Wolf.

I mean, when we think back to four years ago, a month before the Iowa caucuses, and Al Gore goes out and endorses Howard Dean, big help. You know, the only thing I would say to this is that 20 percent of the delegates to both the Republicans and Democratic Conventions are elected officeholders. So, you would like to bring in some of those officeholders to support your candidate.

But I will tell you, is this going to give him a bounce? is this going to help him? I don't think...


JEFFREY: If you have a guy in the state, an elected politician who has got his own political organization and help get out the vote, that could -- that could help you out.

FENN: Right.

BLITZER: That could be a practical benefit.


FENN: But, South Carolina, it probably won't help much in South Carolina.

BLITZER: All right.

Let's talk about the Republicans right now. Michigan, Mitt Romney right now, he seems to be tweaking his message a little bit, talking a lot more -- he's always has been talking a little bit about change, but now it's becoming a really prominent theme.

JEFFREY: He likes that word, too. It must be polling very well.

But I will tell you, it's do or die for Mitt Romney in Michigan. This is a state he grew up in. His dad was the governor there. He's going to be campaigning hard there the next -- through Tuesday. He may benefit from a mistake the Huckabee campaign may be about to make.

Huckabee, actually, this afternoon, is scheduled to speak to the Detroit Economic Club on Friday afternoon, do an event Friday and then Saturday. Then he has no more events scheduled in Michigan. That's a state where Huckabee's economic populism could play, as well as his social conservatism.

BLITZER: But, if he has decide, Huckabee, between Michigan and South Carolina, potentially, he could do a lot better in South Carolina -- correct me if I'm wrong -- than in Michigan.


JEFFREY: But here's the thing. The biggest event for Huckabee going into South Carolina is the results Tuesday night in Michigan.

FENN: Right.

I agree with Terry. I think he has to do well. Huckabee has to do well. Obviously, Romney has got to win it. But Huckabee, there is an evangelical vote there that's strong.

You worked for him. Pat Buchanan, when he ran, got 36 percent of the vote in -- in Michigan, if I'm not mistaken.


JEFFREY: Right. Here -- well, here's another factor. Democrats can vote in the Republican primary Tuesday night.


BLITZER: And so what's going to be the impact of that?

JEFFREY: Well, potentially -- Macomb County was famously the home of the Reagan Democrats. That's a suburban county just north of Detroit, heavily Catholic, working-class football, who would come out and vote for a Huckabee, based on his economic message and his social conservatism.

Right now, Romney ought to be going after those voters. And I think he will in the next few days.

BLITZER: Huckabee has got a good strategist, Ed Rollins. You would think he understands all this stuff.


FENN: I think it's a resource question, Wolf. And they don't have still a lot of money.

Also, the McCain factor -- I'm sure they're polling like crazy there right now to find out where McCain is, because what they want to do is, if they can come in second in Michigan, my guess is they will be happy campers.

But Romney is -- this is the big kahuna for Romney. But he did his well-up number. They asked him about his dad. And he started to well up. Everybody is welling up these days. BLITZER: Yes.

FENN: We're not.

BLITZER: It's fashionable.


FENN: I mean, it's fashionable.

But -- so, I think this is tricky for folks.

BLITZER: Well, we know there are a lot of evangelicals, Christians, conservatives, in South Carolina who will vote in the Republican primary. But what about in Michigan?

JEFFREY: Well, in Michigan, there's -- actually, it's more conservative Catholics. But I think they would come out for Huckabee, because the way he was positioned -- and he was polling there even well before Iowa -- his economic vision and his social vision, I think, would work very well with precisely the voters that came out and voted for Pat Buchanan there, gave him 36 percent of the vote back in 1996, when Pat had no chance of winning the Republican nomination by the time...


BLITZER: All right. We have got to go.

But, in Michigan, you see it as a three-man race right now, McCain, Romney, Huckabee?

JEFFREY: And Romney has got a shot to come back.

BLITZER: All right. We will see. We will watch it very closely, guys.

Thanks very much, Peter Fenn, Terry Jeffrey.

They're in the money in 2008. We're going to investigate a new cash surge for some presidential candidates. And I will be speaking live with Republican Congressman Ron Paul. He's a presidential candidate. We will talk about some racially charged remarks that were written under his name years ago. Will this flap mean anything for the underdog presidential bid? We're going to speaking with Congressman Paul about that.

Also coming up, what does the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, know about the leading Democratic presidential candidates that we don't? Harry Reid will be joining us from Nevada. That's coming up live.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: On our Political Ticker: Several presidential candidates are boasting a surge in fund-raising in these early days of 2008.

Barack Obama's campaign says it raked in more than $8 million in the first eight days of this year. Hillary Clinton reportedly has raised $3 million this month. Mitt Romney's campaign estimates raising $5 million yesterday alone during a one-day call-a-thon to donors.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out

Right now, we can all check out Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf: After the New Hampshire primary, will be you be less likely to trust or believe the polls, which, at least on the Democratic side, blew it big time on election night?

Steve in New York writes: "I never believed the polls to begin with. They take too small of a sample size with such a small margin of error. To be honest, I have no idea how one poll is consistent with the next. I think these polls are a fabricated sham."

Jeff in Overland Park, Kansas -- I used to live in Overland Park --"Right up until the end in New Hampshire, I checked the polls on an almost hourly basis. I have not listened to, looked at or looked for a political poll since. Does that answer your question?"

Chris in Thousand Oaks, California: "I believe it comes down to what voters will admit to. I believe Hillary is a guilty pleasure for some people and they just didn't want to admit to voting for her. As much as people say they want change, change is scary. The fact that Hillary wont change anything is comforting to some people who are unhappy with the current situation, but don't want to risk it getting worse."

Jonathan says: "I don't see any reason why not to trust the polls:. They were accurate for the Republicans, and the Iowans responded and admitted they were voting for a black candidate in Iowa. I think the answer might be that there was something wrong with the machines used in New Hampshire."

George says: "I don't think we should look at polls the same way again. I believe what happened in New Hampshire shows that people are closeted. When you go to the caucuses in Iowa" -- this is a good point -- "your neighbors and friends get to see who you are voting for." It's all done out in the open. Everybody is in one room. "In New Hampshire, you are behind the curtain. I think many more people like Hillary Clinton than let on, especially men."

Jonathan writes: "Forget the polls. I don't even trust the vote."

Peter in Nova Scotia: "Jack, you know what little dogs do to polls."

And Vic writes: "I think they hired Hans Blix to do the polling, and he couldn't find the Hillary supporters."

Clever stuff, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very clever, our viewers, indeed.

Thanks, Jack, very much.

And, to our viewers, You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Ron Paul may be a popular new phenomenon on the presidential campaign, but some old racist rants published under his name a long time ago are now surfacing. Who is responsible? What does Ron Paul have to say about all of this? He is standing by live. We're going to be speaking with him and getting his explanation.