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Interview With Arizona Senator John McCain; Interview With Florida Governor Charlie Crist

Aired January 24, 2008 - 20:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks for joining CNN ELECTION CENTER, where the best political team on television brings you more from the candidates, so you can make smart decisions on your Election Day.
I'm here at Vickery's restaurant in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, just across the harbor from downtown Charleston, where an Obama rally is set to start soon. The excitement certainly is building here in South Carolina, now just two days away from the Democratic primary, the field now thinner by one, after this late announcement today from Congressman Dennis Kucinich.


REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will be announcing that I am transitioning out of the presidential campaign.


ROBERTS: The Republicans, meanwhile, are still duking it out in Florida five days before the primary there. The economy now the number one issue in the nation, and John McCain says the new economic stimulus plan does not go far enough. Hear his plans to keep us out of recession in my one-on-one interview with him.

Meanwhile, Soledad O'Brien has got more election news. She's in the ELECTION CENTER headquarters in New York.

Hi, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, John, good evening to you.

Good evening, everybody.

Florida is a crucial contest for the Republicans. We are very excited tonight to have Florida's governor, Charlie Crist. He will be joining us live.

And, also, imagine this, a million voters who want to vote who could affect the outcome of the election, but who may not be allowed to vote. We're going to have dramatic results from a CNN investigation.

Also, we will talk to economic advisers for each of the top three Democrats. We will find out how they feel about the new economic stimulus plan and those tax rebate checks. First, though, we go right back to John.

ROBERTS: Soledad, thanks.

Senator Barack Obama has been spending a lot of time and energy deflecting attacks from the Clinton campaign.

Our Suzanne Malveaux was traveling with the senator today and she joins me now.

His message today was, Hillary Clinton will say anything, but she will change nothing. He's essentially saying to voters out there, you are going to hear a lot from her. You're going to hear a lot from her about me. Don't believe it, because I am the one agent of change here in this campaign.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's really interesting, John, because what we hear him saying -- and it's kind of a new line here -- he's borrowing something from the movie on "Malcolm X," when he says -- he warns the crowd, don't be bamboozled, hoodwinked, led astray.

And what he's saying here is that Hillary Clinton is really part of a campaign of dirty tricks. This is an issue that's becoming prominent, and it's an issue of character. That's why you hear him today, when he actually said, I promise you one thing. As president, I'm the one who is going to be straight with you. I'm going to be honest with you.

ROBERTS: These attacks on character, these accusations that we had from the Nevada caucuses of voting irregularities and improprieties, this sounds like something we would expect to hear in a race between a Democrat and a Republican, not between two Democrats.

MALVEAUX: Well, here is the thing, and here is the trick. It's a very fine balancing act here, because, obviously, his campaign realizes -- and he actually says it publicly -- oh, you guys didn't said I was tough enough, that I was strong enough to do this.

So, he has to hit back and hit back hard. That's what the campaign is doing. At the same time, he still has to appear kind of sunny and bright. One of the things that he did, and it was notable, is that he said, OK, you know, this is good practice for me for when the Republicans come after me, because he does not want to appear to be whining or complaining.

That is something that some of the Clinton supporters, the surrogates, are saying, would work in their advantage. And that's what they are trying to push him to do.

ROBERTS: Certainly, when we get into the general election, those attacks are going to increase in volume and increase in nastiness as well.

But there are many Democrats who are saying to both sides, hey, let's cool it, and particularly putting fingers at the Clinton campaign. We had Congressman Jim Clyburn earlier this week saying, he's got to chill a little bit, talking about Bill Clinton.


Robert Reich, former labor secretary in the Clinton administration, said today -- quote -- "Bill Clinton's ill-tempered and ill-founded attacks on Barack Obama are doing no credit to the former president, his legacy, or his wife's campaign. It's demeaning for a former president to say things that are patently untrue."

Now, you think, from listening to that, that Robert Reich would be backing Barack Obama. But he's neutral so far.

MALVEAUX: No, he's not endorsing any -- and he's not an adviser to the campaign.

But the Clinton folks, I talked with them, insiders. There is a real split over what Bill Clinton's role should be. A lot of people believe that he is the only person who can get away with some of things he said.

So, they believe that even if it is perhaps not tasteful for some people, that it's working, that his numbers are actually getting higher in big states, New York, California, as well as Pennsylvania. But there are others who believe this is going to backfire.

ROBERTS: Is Obama falling into a trap being laid by the Clintons? That Bill Clinton is essentially the linebacker who is trying to protect the quarterback here. So, he's tying up Barack Obama and, meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is avoiding the hits from the Obama campaign?

MALVEAUX: Well, sure. Well, sure. Absolutely. Because what's happening is that they hope that they can force him to, essentially, just answer all the charges, focus on Bill Clinton, don't focus on Hillary Clinton, and that's what he's getting tied up doing here.

They are trying to turn it to their advantage however and make him the guy who is like the strong one, that, OK, I'm learning. This is -- I'm doing this as a learning experience to take on the Republicans, and this is the same kind of thing we have seen in the past from the Clintons, kind of the dirty tricks campaign that he's alleging.

ROBERTS: All right.

Well, let's find out a little bit more.

Suzanne, thanks very much.


ROBERTS: About what the Clinton campaign is up to. In the wake of those sharp words, the Clintons seemed to change their strategy a little bit and soften the tone. The former president explained his demeanor while Senator Clinton refocused her attacks on Washington.




B. CLINTON: Yes. It's interesting. I think she was -- you know, that's probably good advice for me, too. I was -- I -- this is a lot harder for me than campaigning for myself ever was, you know?

When I was running, I didn't give a rip what anybody said about me. It's weird, you know? But, if you love somebody, you think they would be good -- it's harder.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need a president who will run the government and manage the economy. The American people don't hire a president to talk about our problems, but to solve them, to set a vision for the future, and then to roll up our sleeves and get about fulfilling it. It's time we had a president who believes that leading an economic comeback is a full-time, hands- on job.


ROBERTS: Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is following the Clinton campaign. And she joins us now from Columbia, South Carolina.

So, we're seeing that shift in tone here, Candy, the last two days, going toward the positive. Bill Clinton saying, hey, forgive me, but I just got caught up because I'm so close to Hillary, really want her to win.

Is this is a strategy to focus on her and her message, as opposed to those attacks that they have been engaging in over the last week?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I actually think it's a strategy that you see a lot when you're in the final days of the campaign.

For instance, the Clinton campaign had a radio ad up that was an attack ad on Obama linking him to Republican policies, that sort of thing. They took it down after 24 hours, for a couple of reasons. First of all, they think they got a pretty good hit out of it, and second of all, because they want the last message to South Carolina voters to be a positive one. Here is what she's about.

Think they that when the issue turned to the economy, as it clearly has, that she has the most detailed plans, that she's seen as the one most capable of being only to carry out those plans, so, they want to plant that in these final two days. So, that's part of the reason that they are doing it at this point.

And the other part is, you can leave it to your surrogates. It doesn't have to be Bill Clinton. It doesn't have to be Hillary Clinton. You saw, she got a little jab in there. She also said, look, I'm a workhorse, not a show horse. So, there's sort of light jabbing.

But they certainly have backed off with the principals, that is Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. The surrogates are still going at it.

ROBERTS: Candy, you and I were talking about this the other day in Myrtle Beach. And it's interesting that former Clinton adviser Dick Morris had an article about this where he said that this issue of race that's being brought up in the campaign is not about African- American voters; it's about white voters.

And he suggested that, if they can suggest to white voters that African-Americans will work en masse for Barack Obama, that may turn white voters toward Hillary Clinton. What are your thoughts on that?

CROWLEY: Well, my thoughts on is that the Clinton campaign is really offended by it. But it is one of the theories that is out there, that what the Clintons tried to do in that week where there was a large discussion about race was to draw Barack Obama into a discussion about race.

As you know, he's sort of run a campaign that's sort of tried to transcend race, he said, tried to transcend problems with partisanship. So, the idea, this notion, anyway, was, look, they are trying to draw him into a discussion about race, because, when it is, he loses. So, it's certainly out there. It's a strong feeling among Obama supporters, I can tell you that.

I even heard some real trepidation with Clinton supporters who worried about it, worried what it looked like, if not agreeing with the general premise.

ROBERTS: All right, Candy Crowley for us tonight in Columbia, South Carolina -- Candy, thanks very much.

And we want to mention, Senator John Edwards held events in Greenwood and Seneca, South Carolina, today.

Now let's go back to Soledad. She's in the Election Center in New York -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, John, thank you.

Many people are saying that it is do or die time for some of those Republican candidates in Florida. Rudy Giuliani for one is hoping that he can turn it around by Monday's debate. Meanwhile, John McCain is bragging about his bipartisan connections. Mike Huckabee had the economy on his mind before he did his morning run. Here is what he said.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think, for all the talk that they gave, interestingly enough, when I was talking about this back in Dearborn, and the only Republican on the stage who even said the economy was in trouble, I was laughed at, jeered, basically hooted out of the room.

Now they are all realizing that what I was seeing was exactly what was going on. And the reason they didn't see it when I saw it was that they were only talking to a handful of people at the top. They weren't talking to all of America. And I think people want a president who understands all of America, not just a segment of it.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The last chance is some time on Monday to turn it around, right? You have up until Tuesday, Monday or Tuesday.

The debate is important. But the whole campaign is the thing that turns it around, and getting your record out, getting out your message that I believe I would be the candidate that would be the best to deal with the problems that people in Florida feel are the most important.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Americans want us to start acting, not only for ourselves, but for future generations of Americans. I will reach my hand across the aisle to the Democrats and we will fix Social Security. But you ask the Democrats to reach their hand across the aisle to me, my friends.


O'BRIEN: Dana Bash is covering the Republican campaigns for us tonight. She joins us from lovely Boca Raton in Florida.

Hey, Dana. Good evening to you.


O'BRIEN: Let's begin with Mr. McCain, Senator McCain, and also Mitt Romney. Right now, they are considered to be the front-runners. What are they doing now in these final days to really underscore their differences?

BASH: Well, it's interesting. For John McCain, he got one early prize. He got the cover of "TIME" magazine today, Soledad, and that even though he refuses to use the F-word, front-runner, to describe himself.

But, no, what he started to do today, despite that, is to try to portray an air of inevitability. He said Hillary Clinton's name at least four times in going after her on the war, saying she waved the white flag of surrender on the war.

But you talk to their campaign, Senator McCain's campaign, they are making it pretty clear that they are still concerned about the fact that he has to prove here he can win among Republicans. And he had one challenging moment or an illustration of his challenge today when a voter said, what do you think about the fact that you are called a moderate?

Moderate is a dirty word in a Republican primary. So, that is certainly a bad thing for him. Then Mitt Romney, it plays right into what he is trying to do, which is not just portray himself as an outside Washington guy, but somebody who is the whole package when it comes to being a conservative on fiscal issues and social issues, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: In the clip we showed, Dana, just before we came to you, you saw Rudy Giuliani sort of say, well, the last minute really is Monday.

And that's true. But he is certainly a guy who is truly running out of time. When you look at where he was in the polls, polling 50 percent, now way down from there, among Hispanics, polling 70 percent, now half of that. How is he spinning how bad it's gotten, frankly?

BASH: It's not easy for him to do that.

For the first time today, he kind of was candid about it, and he said that he didn't realize how viable the other candidates were going to be at this point in the race. It's pretty hard for him to explain. It's stunning how much he's plummeted in the race, especially given the fact, Soledad, our political research today, they -- researchers, they crunched the numbers.

He's spent $30 million on this race so far, $30 million. He's run -- won no contests. He's zero for 6. So, this is just one of the reasons why it's so crucial for him to win the state of Florida.

And, remember, he's been here for weeks and weeks with absolutely nobody running against him, no negative ads against him. So, it's even harder for him to explain why, as he's been here longer, he has been doing actually worse with the voters here. It's pretty remarkable.

O'BRIEN: Yes. And time is running out. Dana Bash for us in Boca -- thanks, Dana. Appreciate it.

So, what are Florida voters concerned about? According to a recent "Miami Herald"/"St. Petersburg Times"/Bay News 9 poll, 13 percent of register voters say that the country is on the right track, just 13 percent; 66 percent say, uh-uh, country's on the wrong track. The economy trounces all other issues. In fact, 38 percent say it is the most important issue, followed by the Iraq war at 19 percent, and illegal immigration at 13 percent.

So, with those issues in mind, maybe there is nobody who is better equipped to predict just who is going to win on Tuesday than Florida's governor, Charlie Crist.

Governor, thank you for joining us. Nice to see you, sir, as always.

Let's start with that, can we?

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (R), FLORIDA: Thank you, Soledad. It's great to be with you.

(CROSSTALK) O'BRIEN: Well, thank you. I appreciate that.

Who is going to win?

CRIST: I don't know. We will find out on Tuesday.

It's a close race. It's very competitive. These are great candidates. And they're working very hard. And I think they are really paying attention to the people of Florida. And that's great from my perspective. The Sunshine State should be at the forefront, and now we are by moving up our primary.

O'BRIEN: We have seen the debate of late turn from national security, even the Iraq war, to the economy, the economy, the economy.

What specifically do people in Florida want to hear from these candidates?

CRIST: Well, they want to hear about the economy. They want to hear about getting their taxes cut. We have a big property tax cut initiative on the ballot on Tuesday as well. And that's a big focus in the Sunshine State. The people want more of their money back.

And all these candidates are talking about that now. So that makes my heart sing. It really does. And I know it does the people of Florida. They also want to talk about things like a national catastrophic plan, about having insurance coverage that's appropriate, that rates are fair.

They also want to talk about our environment, making sure that we keep Florida clean, that we protect our Everglades. These are the kinds of things that people in Florida care deeply about.

O'BRIEN: Back in 2006, and I'm not telling you something you don't already know, Rudy Giuliani stepped up and endorsed you, also McCain, also Romney. Are you going to return the favor to any of those gentlemen? Will you endorse Rudy Giuliani?

CRIST: Well, I haven't decided yet is the honest answer. It's something that I think about. I have got to make a decision about who I vote for on Tuesday.

O'BRIEN: I was going to say. Time is running out for you.

CRIST: I'm focused on this property tax cut.


CRIST: Time is running out. But I got about five days. It takes one second to make a good decision.


O'BRIEN: All right. All right. I buy that.

You were quoted talking about Rudy Giuliani. You said, the strategy is, you have got to win and sort of inferring that he hasn't won anything, and that's been a problem for him.

Do you think, strategically, frankly, Rudy Giuliani made a huge mistake in how he ran his campaign?

CRIST: Well, far be it for me to judge. I can't imagine the pressure all of these candidates are under running nationwide. That's challenging. I know what it's like to run statewide in a state the size of Florida with 19 million people. But its not my place to judge what they're doing.

These are smart people. They are working hard. They put their heart and their soul into it. I'm not going to Monday-morning quarterback any of them.

O'BRIEN: That's kind of a non-answer answer, but I will take it. Why not stick someone like McCain...

CRIST: It's a respectful answer, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, I buy that. I buy that.

McCain endorsed you at a crucial time at the primary for you back in 2006. Why not? You only have got a couple of days left. Why not sit sort of down, think about it, in spite all of the other issues you talked about going on in your state, and pick someone to back?

CRIST: Well, I do think about it.

But it's also important what I do after this election on Tuesday. I think it's important for the people to weigh in. They certainly will do that by Tuesday. Some of them are early voting already. That's a great advantage that Floridians have in the process that we have set up here.

I think it's important for all of us to stay focused on what's significant to the people of the Sunshine State. And the bounce I think that will come out of that once the biggest stake that's had a chance to weigh in makes that decision on Tuesday, that will have a profound impact, I believe, both on the Republican and the Democratic side going into Super Tuesday, February 5.

That's why moving up the Florida primary, so early, the earliest it's ever been in the history of our state, was exactly the right thing to do.

O'BRIEN: You going to go as a V.P. candidate if you are asked, sir? Your name is mentioned a lot.

CRIST: No. I'm really focused on cutting our property taxes in Florida. I do get asked that a lot. And it's very flattering.

But the most important thing to me is to make sure that I do what's right for the people of Florida, that I work hard for them as their governor each and every day. They have honored me in ways that I never would have imagined possible in my life. And I want to return the trust and the respect that they have been so kind to give to me. O'BRIEN: That sounds like you have said that answer a few times, too.

Governor Charlie Crist, nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us tonight. We appreciate it.

Florida in fact is the home to the million people who might want to vote this year, but will not be allowed to. We're going to tell you why, straight ahead tonight -- John.

ROBERTS: Looking forward to that, Soledad.

Meantime, I spoke with Republican John McCain today about a whole range of issues, including the economic stimulus package. It's something that you don't want to miss.

Stay with us.


ROBERTS: And there's a picture for you tonight. We're here in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. We're on Shrimp Boat Lane at Vickery's seafood rescue. And our thanks to them for the hosting us tonight. The shrimp boat is behind there. They will be going out early tomorrow morning to do some work.

John McCain riding a surge in Florida. He is on top of the national polls; he's also ahead among Republican voters in Florida, and, get this, in New York State, which is rival Giuliani's home turf. The Arizona senator is even on this week's cover of "TIME" magazine. All in all, it seems like a good week for John McCain.

I spoke with the senator earlier today on "AMERICAN MORNING."


ROBERTS: What would you do to stop the United States from sliding into a recession if were you president?

MCCAIN: Well, I would certainly stop the out of control spending, which causes us to borrow money from China. But this package, seems to me, the product of what you get when both sides sit down and negotiate. We're going to put some more money back into people's pockets. That's fine. But I really think that we have got to make the tax cuts permanent. We have to get rid of this Alternate Minimum Tax, which could attack 25 million American families. We need to cut the corporate income tax. We pay the highest corporate taxes of any country in the world, besides Japan.

We need to give people a write-off on their investment and equipment in one year. We need to do a lot of things that would make sure that taxes stay low and spending stays low as well. And I think that's a very important part it, John.

ROBERTS: On this issue of making the Bush tax cuts permanent. You originally opposed them, now you want to make them permanent. What led to your conversion?

MCCAIN: Well, it was no conversion. There was no restrain on spending. Unfortunately in 2001, we get spending went completely out of control. We got the bridge to nowhere and we laid a debt on next generation of Americans. It's terrible but we got to make them permanent now because the American family, if we didn't, would experience the impact of a tax increase at the worst possible time. We can't do that, John.

ROBERTS: Right. A new CNN poll, senator, finds you to be the strongest Republican to run against a Democratic opponent. you have got terrific national security credentials but some people wonder if you have got the same sort of credentials and what it takes to win with the economy now emerging as the number one issue.

Harold Meyerson in yesterday's Washington Post in an op-ed wrote, quote, "As the economy continues to deflate, the prospects for a McCain presidency are deflating as well." What do you say to that?

MCCAIN: I have had long experience with the economy. That's why I have the support of people like Jack Kemp and Phil Gramm and noted economist. The majority of economist according to Wall Street Journal, think that I'm best capable, in all due respect to whoever wrote that. But look, it's still national security as well.

And I noticed in the Democrat debates that Senator Clinton wants to declare surrender in Iraq. That she wants to wave the white flag. That after this surge has succeeded and after all the sacrifice and we're succeeding, she wants to declare surrender and come home. We do that, my friend and al Qaeda will declare victory and as General Petraeus said, this Iraq, it's a central battleground and the struggle against radical Islamic extremism. I look forward to that debate.

ROBERTS: Some conservatives are still skeptical of you, if not, outright hostile.

Rush Limbaugh said the other day, if either McCain or Huckabee get the nomination, it will destroy the Republican Party. Can you win those people over? Do you need to? And can you be the unifying candidate as long as you have got people like Rush Limbaugh with his huge megaphone out there dissing you?

MCCAIN: Well, John, the reason why we got the majority of more Republican votes than anybody else in New Hampshire and South Carolina, from all parts of the spectrum, including Upstate South Carolina's because the number one issue with most conservatives is the threat of radical Islamic extremism.

There's others who care very much about the state of our planet and climate change. There's others who care very much about the existence of the state of Israel, but majority of strong conservatives are very concerned about this struggle we're in against radical Islamic extremism and many of them believe I'm by far the best qualified.

ROBERTS: On immigration, after what happened last year, you said you came to the realization that you have got to secure the border first before you do anything. Let's project ahead. So we have got a McCain presidency. You're in the White House. You have secured the border.

MCCAIN: Yes. I like that. I like that, John.

ROBERTS: Now what do you do, senator, about all of the undocumented aliens who are in the country and where would you go on this idea of a guest worker program, after the border is secure?

MCCAIN: Well, a biometric tamper-proof documents that anybody who hires someone without those documents is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. That means a whole lot of people will go home when they can't; when they find out they can't find jobs.

Two million people have committed crimes in this country and we have to round them up and deport them immediately. Then we reward no one for illegal behavior. In other words, people who waited legally, and are here legally, have to be at the head of the line, but we have to look at in a broad, compassionate and humane approach. I'm not going to send, call a soldier in Iraq and tell him I'm deporting his mother.

ROBERTS: But would you still put these undocumented aliens on a path to citizenship? The ones who remain in the country?

MCCAIN: It depends. It depends on what they're behavior has been. How long they have been here. They must pay fine. They must go to the back of the line. They have to take tests. They have to do -- some may have to go back to the country they came from immediately.

ROBERTS: Senator, it's great to talk to you. Congratulations on your wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina, and good luck next Tuesday there in Florida.


ROBERTS: Senator John McCain speaking to us from Florida, where, again, in many polls, he is the front-runner now.

Think of this. A million people who may want to vote in November, they might not be allowed to.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wonder whether it's incompetence or whether something more sinister is going on.


ROBERTS: Voters like her are wondering what's really going on.

Also, it's issue number-one in this election, the economy. And I'll be grilling top advisers for the top Democrats about their economic proposals.

Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Here's the disturbing fact tonight about the presidential election. This year, more than a million people who might want to vote probably won't be allowed to. This is all about government red tape, a delay in processing U.S. citizenship applications. And CNN's Abbie Boudreau reports nowhere is the issue more important than in the state of Florida.


ABBIE BOUDREAU, INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Florida, the state where the 2000 presidential election hung in the balance. The state where thousands of potential new voters could swing the election in 2000, but where many won't be given the right to vote before November.

BOUDREAU (on camera): Can you ask him just how important voting would be to him?

TRANSLATOR FOR UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For them, it's for us, very important.

BOUDREAU: The application for citizenship is a process that normally takes around seven months. Now, because of a huge increase in applications, more than a million last year from around the country, it's taking up to 18 months. Serena Perez moved to the U.S. from Ecuador more than 10 years ago after marrying an American citizen.

BOUDREAU (on camera): This is in your home country?


BOUDREAU (voice-over): She applied for citizenship in May of last year, thinking that would give her plenty of time to become a citizen and be granted the right to vote. But now, she probably won't get that chance.

PEREZ: What is the reason for this backlog when there's so many people in an election year that are really willing to participate?

BOUDREAU: Immigrant rights groups estimate as many as 200,000 legal residents in Florida alone are in the same situation. Immigrant advocate Jose Lagos is furious at the slowdown.

JOSE LAGOS, IMMIGRANT ADVOCATE: They're saying that they're doing everything they can, but I think they can do more than what they're doing.

In the years before 1978 --

BOUDREAU: At a congressional hearing last week, the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services said it's hiring 1,500 more employees to handle the delays.

BOUDREAU (on camera): So, how will the backlog affect the election right here in Florida? It depends who you ask.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): Historically, Florida immigrants, many of them Cubans, tended to vote Republican. But as more apply for citizenship from other countries, experts say that vote is now up for grabs. Mitch Ceasar, a Democratic Party chairman in South Florida, says there are suspicions about the delay.

MITCH CEASAR, S. FL. DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHRMN.: Conspiracy (ph) fears may say this is grinding to a very slow movement or halt, specifically to disenfranchise these new legal citizens from finishing their process in becoming voters.

BOUDREAU: A view dismissed by Jose Riesco, a Republican Party official in Miami-Dade County.

JOSE RIESCO, MIAMI-DADE GOP VICE-CHMN.: We don't have voter suppression here. No, it's ludicrous to state that. Again, it's an election year and that is political rhetoric.

BOUDREAU: Even so, Serena Perez thinks her vote could make a difference.

PEREZ: I'm going to feel that I am missing an opportunity to change the way the government is running this country. And I really feel that I want to be able to be part of that change.

BOUDREAU (on camera): Even though the government is hiring more people to process applications, officials say there's very little chance the problem will be fixed in time for the November election. Abbie Boudreau, CNN, Miami.


O'BRIEN: And if you thought the nominations would be settled on Super Tuesday, you could be wrong. We'll tell you why in tonight's edition of "Raw Politics."

Also, we'll check in and ask the top advisers for the major Democratic candidates how they plan to fix the economy. Right now, take a look at the details of two of the Dems' plans. Much more right after this short break.


ROBERTS: Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress have agreed on an economic stimulus package. If approved, it would mean as many as 116 million American families would get tax rebate checks from $300 for individuals to as much as $1200 for a couple, and an extra $300 for child. All of this to try to head off a recession here in the United States.

Yesterday, we asked the economic advisers of top Republican candidates about their economic proposals. Tonight, it's the Democrats turn. Joining us from the Edwards campaign is Leo Hindery, from the Clinton camp, Gary Gensler, and the University of Chicago Economics professor, Austan Goolsbee, is here for the Obama campaign. Leo Hindery, I want you to start us off here. And this is a bit of a hypothetical exercise because you're not in power in the White House yet, but it's interesting to note how you would act if you were? So I want to give each one of you 30 seconds here. Tell me how you would stop the United States from sliding into recession. Leo, go ahead.

LEO HINDERY, SR. ECONOMIC ADV., EDWARDS CAMPAIGN: You know, John, it's not enough that we just look at these rebates. What wasn't mentioned in your lead is that they won't come until June at the best, and they're likely to go simply to pay down the massive amounts of consumer indebtedness that has accumulated.

What needs to happen is genuine stimulus, and John Edwards has suggested that in addition to the rebates, we need to pay a lot more attention to extending unemployment insurance, to giving some assistance to the states, and sort of giving a soft transition, John, here, to jobs-based stimulus. It's only the latter, this job-based stimulus, that's really going to turn this thing around.

ROBERTS: OK. Gary Gensler, you got 30 seconds. Tell me how President Hillary Clinton would stop the United States from sliding into recession.

GARY GENSLER, SR. ECONOMIC ADV., CLINTON CAMPAIGN: Well, John, though hardened that there was an agreement today, particularly to cover the additional 35 million families that President Bush originally wouldn't cover, Senator Clinton feels strongly that we have to face the immediate needs of working families, in housing, where she had proposed $30 billion of help, in energy where she had, because of the skyrocketing energy costs, $$25 billion, and also, to help uninsurance -- unemployment insurance. And she hopes to work with Senator Reid and her colleagues in the Senate to try to push this into the package.

ROBERTS: All right. And Austan Goolsbee, go ahead. Thirty seconds to tell me what President Obama would do to either soften the blow or prevent a recession all together.

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, SR. ECONOMIC ADV., OBAMA CAMPAIGN: OK. Senator Obama's plan has been widely praised my macro economic experts and by the "Washington Post" as the gold standard stimulus plan because it starts from the premise that if you are going to do fiscal stimulus, you've got to get the money out as quickly as possible, and into the hands of the people who will spend it. So this would involve about half tax rebates to working people, a low and middle income working people, and about half spending through one-time Social Security payments, higher unemployment benefits and money to the states to help prevent them slashing infrastructure and help spending.

ROBERTS: So, Austan, so then you think that rebates are part of the key here. As it appears, so does Congress and President Bush. Let me play a little bit, Gary Gensler, what Senator Obama said today regarding his plan versus Hillary Clinton's plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My priorities were to make it immediate and quick. And so, we emphasized tax rebates and a supplement to Social Security. That was an element that Senator Clinton lacked in her proposal. It appears that that principle has been adopted.


ROBERTS: So, Gary...


ROBERTS: ... what he's saying there is that the original $70 billion in Hillary Clinton's plan did not include rebates. She has since added on another $40 billion. Why didn't you have the rebates in there initially?

GENSLER: Well, John, in fact Senator Clinton did have it. In December, she called for -- thinking about stimulus, fast-acting, but it has to hit where Americans most need it. And she did call for 70 and an additional $40 billion, if they got worse, and it did get worse very quickly, as we saw. And so, she called for rebates, but in addition, she truly believes that we have to be where Americans are hurting the most. And she's listening to voters on the campaign trail and hearing their voices and housing is very critical, and we're hoping to work with the Senate and get that in there.


Leo Hindery, we hear so much from people these days about how that onerous cost of oil, food is really squeezing their budget. Retailers over the Christmas season had just a terrible year. What do you say to those people, and what would President Edwards to help those folks out?

HINDERY: You know, I think you need to listen to that President Edwards, John, who has given 42 speeches over the last year, independent speeches on these economic problems that we thought were coming. And you can't focus just on the last four or five days and say that this should come as a surprise to anybody. John has been very forthright about substantial fundamental reform of our tax and trade and health care systems, all of them focused on getting this economy back on a serious track.

And, again, I think we have to be very careful about these rebates. The announcements today that didn't get a lot of press is that they're not likely to come until June. We sit here in January...


HINDERY: ... and we really owe these families a responsibility to give spending stimulus today that dollars, John, that wouldn't have been spent otherwise by people who wouldn't have had the privilege otherwise.

(CROSSTALK) ROBERTS: We got to go gentlemen. Thanks very much.

Yes. Go ahead, quickly.

GOOLSBEE: The thing is, the spending programs will take even longer. So, for example, this is the procedural manual, it's 176 pages long to evaluate whether to spend money on low income heating assistance, whether people qualify.


GOOLSBEE: So that's going to take more than a year to get out the door.

GENSLER: No, Austan, it doesn't need to take that long.

ROBERTS: Gentlemen, gentlemen -- we were out of time. Unfortunately, we can't keep discussing this. We've got a long road yet to go. Leo Hindery, Gary Gensler, Austan Goolsbee, thanks very much for being with us tonight.

GENSLER: Thank you very much.

HINDERY: Thanks, John, very much.

ROBERTS: For months, all of the political pundits have been saying the nominations will be settled by Super Tuesday. But as I just mentioned there, not so fast, because things may be up in the air for months. That's in tonight's edition of "Raw Politics." Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: You remember how just about everybody was saying with the primary starting so early, the nominees would be settled by Super Tuesday. Well, they might be wrong. Completely and utterly wrong. That's just part of tonight's edition of "Raw Politics." Here's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): We've all been saying it comes down to Super Tuesday. On February 5th, we will know the nominees. Well, hang onto your chance (ph).

FOREMAN (voice-over): We've got the computers cranking, and it now appears that it is mathematically impossible for anyone to lock up the nomination that day, even though almost half the states will be voting. The races are so close, we may not even get break away leaders, and the campaigns could just grind on. What have we done to deserve this?

On the war front, Democrats are once again hammering on the administration, saying deals are being made with the Iraqis that could force the next president to maintain military bases there for years. As if picking out new curtains for the White House won't be hard enough.

President Bush cannot run for a third term, but a liberal group is still campaigning against him. Americans united for change plans to spend $8.5 million to make sure his job approval rating does not rise before he leaves office.

And the latest "Rambo" movie is hitting theaters, but Sylvester Stallone is on a different mission, endorsing John McCain. Chuck Norris is already in Mike Huckabee's corner, so you know what that means.




FOREMAN (on camera): In a tie, the Republican candidate could actually be chosen by a steel cage handcuff death match. It's true. That's "Raw Politics."


O'BRIEN: And that's Tom Foreman.

It's always hard times in one South Carolina community. It is the poorest county in the state. We're going to take you there to hear from the voters there, coming up in just a moment.


ROBERTS: The Democratic presidential contenders have been making a massive and widespread pitch for voters here in South Carolina. Even in remote places like tiny Allendale. It's part of South Carolina's so-called "Corridor of Shame," an area along Interstate 95 made up of mostly poor, rural counties. CNN's Deborah Feyerick went to Allendale to find out what people there are looking for in their next president.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ask anyone who lives in Allendale, they'll likely tell you there's nothing to do here. No movie theaters, no bowling alleys. Even many of the doctors have left.

DEWAYNE ENNIS, TOWN ADMINISTRATOR: We have a local hospital, but we don't have any specialists at it. Some people have to drive as far as 50 to 60 miles to Augusta to get, you know, medical care.

FEYERICK: Dewayne Ennis is Allendale's administrator. The town was once on a main route for tourists heading to Florida. But after I-95 was finished, they stopped driving through here.

ENNIS: This building used to be a hotel.

FEYERICK (on camera): This building over here?

ENNIS: And this one also was a hotel over here.

FEYERICK: So basically, all of that went away and then Allendale got left with nothing.

ENNIS: With nothing.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Allendale County is the poorest in South Carolina. It has the state's highest unemployment. Most kids here don't finish high school. Two factories recently closed. The economy and education are big issues here.



FEYERICK: Scotty Gray, a Democrat, married and mom to an 8-year- old son, has spent two decades making ice machines at a nearby plant. She says she's hearing things that make her anxious.

GRAY: We don't produce our machines better than what China will. Up there in 10 more years, we might have to go to China. We won't have a job.

FEYERICK: Gray says she's OK financially, even though they live paycheck to paycheck some weeks. But for Paul Bevington and his family --

BARBARA BEVINGTON, ALLENDALE RESIDENT: Collect $2 million. There you go. I'll give you that money.



FEYERICK: The opposite is true. He moved here several years ago with his mom and twin boys, because the crumbling school system was looking for qualified teachers. He takes home about $22,000, but is being crushed by his student loan.

P. BEVINGTON: There is no fund money. There is no slush money. The only reason, I mean, my boys have what they have is because, you know, mom helps out. Otherwise, we would be very, you know, we'd be next thing to a cardboard box.

FEYERICK: Paul, a Republican, and his mom, a Democrat, fear a recession, and the impact it will have on the boys who have two years before college. For Barbara, that means giving back jobs to Americans.

B. BEVINGTON: We're draining our resources, and the people here are doing without.

FEYERICK: Barbara is like most people here. Just looking for a president they think can turn it around and help make things better. Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Allendale, South Carolina.



ROBERTS: Well, breaking news to report to you in this Election Center. "The New York Times" editorial board has endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nominations and Senator John McCain for the GOP nomination. The influential "New York Times" editorial board picking John McCain and Hillary Clinton.

Election Center will return in just a moment. Stay with us.


ROBERTS: Well, thanks for joining us tonight on Election Center, and our thanks to the folks at Vickery Seafood here for hosting us this evening. Tomorrow, on AMERICAN MORNING, we're going to be talking to Mike Huckabee, low on cash and volunteers, and ask whether Florida is a must-win for him. That's tomorrow morning at 6:00 Eastern. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: All right, John. Thanks. Good night to you. Good night to all of you as well. That's all we've got for you tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" begins right now. Suze Orman joins him tonight. She'll be taking calls, too. Have a great evening, everybody.