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Three-Alarm Fire Hits Las Vegas Casino; Election Updates

Aired January 25, 2008 - 16:00   ET


SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: See you next week after I recover. Bye Kyra.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Have a great weekend Susan.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Now's the time to turn it over and we gladly do that to Mr. Wolf Blitzer in the SITUATION ROOM. Take it away Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, SITUATION ROOM: Thanks very much guys. Happening now, fear and fire on the Las Vegas strip. We're following the fallout from that three-alarm blaze that shot through the top of a popular hotel casino.

Also this hour, Hillary Clinton says she has to defend herself when attacked on the eve of the South Carolina primary. Is she getting tough or is she showing her softer side? I'll speak about that and a lot more with House Majority Whip, James Clyburn, talk about the showdown in his home state tomorrow.

Plus, the leader versus the manager. That's the choice John McCain is giving Florida Republicans. Will it help him against Mitt Romney or will it backfire? I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

But up first more on the developing story out of Las Vegas. Gamblers and guests at the Monte Carlo casino heard the startling cry, fire! Get out! Then they scrambled as the flames shot through the roof. Let's turn to Carol Costello. She's joining us now with an update on what is going on. What do we know? The pictures were oh so dramatic over the past what, two hours or so.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're not kidding. It's still a little scary atop the Monte Carlo hotel and casino. As you said, flames were shooting through the roof just about two hours ago. Right now the top of that building is just charred. But as you said, guests and gamblers were sent running from that hotel. Luckily it appears the damage was contained to the facade on the upper floors of the casino. This was a very difficult fire to fight because firefighters had to hang out of the windows at times to get water on the flames, housekeepers going from room to room getting guests out. One guest said it took 10 minutes to walk down the stairs to get out of the hotel.

Keep in mind, this hotel is huge. It's got 3002 guest rooms and 211 suites. Earlier we said saw a bride running from the bottom of that hotel to escape the flames and as that stuff was burning on top, it was falling onto the street and that of course was scaring people, too. But as I said, the fire appears to be contained and is out. As to how the fire started Wolf, we understand they were welders on the roof at the time, but we don't know if that's what caused the fire.

BLITZER: And at least initially, no reports of any serious injuries or anything along those lines. Is that right, Carol?

COSTELLO: No serious injuries at all. We understand one elderly person was treated but her injuries or his injuries appear to be minor.

BLITZER: And let's hope it stays like that as well. Thanks Carol very much. Carol will update us when we get more information. Let's go to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton. She's been monitoring the many I-reports that we've been getting here at CNN. Abbi, what are you seeing?

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, people leaving hotel rooms, offices, looking up on the strip and seeing images like this of the Monte Carlo burning. This is just from 300 feet away but the black smoke rose so high that these images are seen for miles around. We're still getting those I-reports in. You can send them We're going to be bringing you reports from people on the scene who were affected by the flames later on in the show.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much. Images of the Monte Carlo fire certainly invoked memories of a disaster on the Vegas strip from two decades ago. A massive blaze broke out at the MGM Grand on November 21, 1980. Some of you might remember; 84 people were killed. Almost 700 people were injured during that fire. It was the second deadliest hotel fire in U.S. history. As I said, we're going to stay on top of this story, update you with more information coming out of Las Vegas. As soon as we know more, we'll share with it you as well. Let's move on to some other important news that we're following as well.

Just hours before South Carolina Democrats go to the polls, Hillary Clinton is trying to be adaptable. She's making some last- minute tweaks in her appeal to voters, much as she did before her victory in New Hampshire. Bu she faces a very different challenge from Barack Obama in their first southern battleground. Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is covering the Clinton campaign for us. What was the message, Candy, from Senator Clinton today down in South Carolina?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know where every politician goes in the hours before the polls open; they go back to basics.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And we have some immediate problems.

CROWLEY: They think she wins if voters are convinced she understands their lives. CLINTON: The failed approaches of President Bush are now coming home to roost. We've got to begin by recognizing people are hurting. This is not an abstraction. This is not a conversation for some kind of talk show.

CROWLEY: Hillary Clinton is all business now, moving her focus from Barack Obama to George Bush, ticking through her agenda in the final hours for the battle for Carolina. More money for veteran's health care, lower interest rates on student loans, universal health care insurance, an end to the war.

CLINTON: That's a big difference between us and the Republicans. You hear them talk. They say they're happy to leave troops in Iraq for 100 years. That's not going to happen because we're going to elect a Democratic president.

CROWLEY: Leaving voters with positive impressions is campaign 101. Even Bill Clinton let up.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: I love this primary because it looks like we're going to vote an African-American man or a woman and they're not losing any votes because of their race or gender. They're picking up some because of it. That's to be expected.

CROWLEY: Friday morning in the state where blacks make up about half the Democratic primary vote, she went to a historically black campus with two major league African-American politicians from New York making her case.

H. CLINTON: And I am particularly pleased to have two of my friends come down to witness for me.

CROWLEY: In fact, since late last year, before Obama won Iowa and Clinton New Hampshire, Obama's support among whites in South Carolina has been cut by about half, while Clinton's black support has dropped considerably.


CROWLEY: Even though they haven't started voting yet here in South Carolina, these campaigns are already beginning to look ahead. As you know, Wolf, Florida has not been a battleground for Democrats. They all vowed they wouldn't go there because Florida has been deprived of its delegates after breaking party rules about when they could hold their primary. Today Hillary Clinton, who in the polls leads in Florida, said when she goes to the convention she's going to ask her delegates to go ahead and seat Florida delegates as well as Michigan delegates. The Obama campaign said Hillary Clinton is looking at a loss here in South Carolina and she's trying to make Florida look more important. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. Every one of those delegates shaping up to be critical at the Democratic convention later in Denver at the end of the summer.

Still ahead we're going to have a full report on Barack Obama's closing arguments in South Carolina on this the primary eve. Also we're going to be taking a much closer look at John Edwards' 11th hour effort in the state where he was born and where the future of his campaign could be at stake. Much more coming up on that.

In Florida right now, John McCain is fighting to seal his status as the Republican front runner with a new message contrasting his experience with one of his rivals. Our Dana Bash is covering the McCain campaign down in Florida. She's watching this story for us. What is McCain targeting right now with this new pitch, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think it's more of a who than a what Wolf and the who is his chief rival here, Mitt Romney, who by the way just blasted McCain for suggesting his experience in the Senate Commerce Committee gives him more leadership ability to deal with the economy than Mitt Romney's time in the private sector. The intense back and forth between these two men today is evidence not only that the economy is obviously a huge issue, but also that Florida's 57 delegates and its Tuesday primary is a potential game changer in the Republican race.


BASH (voice-over): For John McCain an urgent rush to make a new clear distinction between his candidacy.

JOHN McCAIN (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know how to lead and inspire.

BASH: And Mitt Romney's CEO Mr. Fix It mantra.

MITT ROMEY (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The only way to get America on track economically is to have a president who actually understands how the economy works.

BASH: Leader versus manager.

McCAIN: You can hire managers all the time, people who do the mechanics. Governor Romney is touting his qualities and his experience and resume as a manager. I am telling the American people and they know it, that I am a leader.

BASH: But McCain is openly battling lingering questions about his standing with conservatives.

McCAIN: Well, I am confident that I can get the majority of our conservative base.

BASH: An issue so raw, so critical he came back to questions about open hostility from former Majority Leader Tom Delay and other prominent conservatives.

McCAIN: Governor Frank Keating, Tim Palenti (ph) Tom Colburn, the list goes on and on of very strong conservatives that are supporting my candidacy.

BASH: But Romney does appear to be gaining among conservatives and trying to capitalize with this ad.

TV AD: He's a full spectrum conservative, a supporter of free market economics and limited government, moral causes such as the right to life.

BASH: He's trying to take a shot at what he thinks is your biggest weakness.

McCAIN: He has changed positions on literally every major issue.

BASH: Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee took a shot of cafe Cubano, mining for votes in little Havana.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you get a foot on dry soil, you should be able to come here.

BASH: Rudy Giuliani courted Florida's potent Cuban vote too.

RUDY GIULIANI (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The best thing to do is to keep the pressure on the Castro regime.

BASH: Even shook some maracas. But one of the most prominent Cuban Americans here in Florida is Senator Mel Martinez and he is actually going to endorse Senator John McCain here in Miami in just a couple of hours. It's a bit of a surprise considering the fact that Senator Martinez just yesterday Wolf told CNN that he intends to stay neutral in this Republican primary. But a source close to Martinez says that he decided after last night's debate that he was going to endorse Senator McCain. We also know that Senator McCain has been intensely and his camp has been intensely lobbying Senator Martinez to get that endorsement. But it's an open question how much of an impact it's going to have at this point in the Republican race here in Florida.


BLITZER: Mel Martinez, the former Commerce secretary in the Bush administration. All right Dana, thanks very much for that. Let's check in with Jack. He's got the Cafferty file in New York. Jack, a busy day.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In many ways it's been a very strange campaign up to this point, but it could get a lot stranger. Consider this. What if we go through the Florida primary and super Tuesday and the race between Hillary and Barack remains as tight as it's been? For the primaries Democrats have the same rules in every state. Delegates awarded in proportion to the number of votes you get. There is no winner take all. So if Clinton/Obama continue to split the vote in many states it's possible we could get to late spring or even early summer and neither one of them would have enough delegates to secure the nomination and that's assuming they get that far without destroying each other with their increasingly nasty bickering.

There just might be an opening for somebody else to step in and unify the party, oh, you know, like say maybe Al Gore. Gore insists he won't run despite a movement called that's calling on him to transcend politics as usual and bring real hope to our country and to the world. As recently as last month, the former vice president said he has no plans to be a candidate, but he's a politician, so he added this, I see no reason to rule it out entirely. Also, it's worth noting Gore has not backed either Clinton or Obama so far and a recent report indicated an endorsement from Gore is looking less likely. Here's the reason. Advisors suggest the Nobel prize has catapulted Gore to a new national and international standing that could be tarnished if he dirties his hands taking sides in the primary battle. So here's the question. If the Democrats have trouble picking between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, should Al Gore consider entering the race? Go to where you can post a comment on my blog. Wolf?

BLITZER: Looking forward to hearing what our viewers think. Jack, thanks very much. We told you about one big new endorsement for John McCain. But there's another one he doesn't seem to want the talk about. We're going to tell you why. Plus the immigration war within the Republican party isn't what it used to be, at least not in Florida.

But coming up next, he's the highest-ranking African-American in the United States Congress and he's been watching the Clinton/Obama feud play out in his home state of South Carolina. I'll ask Congressman James Clyburn if he has a prediction about tomorrow's primary and what's ahead. I think you're going to be surprised by what he says. There's going to be some news there. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: South Carolina's primary tomorrow is the first significant test of the Democratic candidates African-American support. It may also test the fallout from the heated racially charged bickering that's been going on between the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama camps. Joining us now from South Carolina is the majority whip, Democratic Congressman James Clyburn. He's the highest ranking African-American in the United States Congress. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D) SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, thank you so much for having me.

BLITZER: We're all excited, obviously, getting ready for tomorrow's Democratic primary in your home state of South Carolina. What do you think is going to happen?

CLYBURN: Well, Wolf, I think tomorrow we'll have a record turnout. I know that today is a little bit chilly. I just saw the forecast. It's going to be much warmer tomorrow. We know that the forecast is rain for tomorrow. I'm looking for a record turnout of Democratic voters.

BLITZER: Is that going to be good for Hillary Clinton, for Barack Obama, for John Edwards, a huge turnout. CLYBURN: You know, it's kind of interesting. There's a bubbling up of all of that. I've seen all kinds of reports of African-American women who are very engaged in this process, many of them for Hillary Clinton, some for Obama, of course. Then South Carolinians are very proud of John Edwards. And African-Americans are very proud of Barack Obama. So I think those three things converging at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning will result in a big, big turnout by 7:00 p.m. tomorrow evening.

BLITZER: There have been huge Democratic turnouts in virtually all of the contests so far. It underscores the enthusiasm that's clearly prevalent right now as these candidates compete for votes. So we spoke the last time just before the Democratic debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. You urged the candidates, in your word, to chill, especially the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton. You got a lot of mileage out of that. But they came out swinging, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, at that debate, accusations of supporting a slum lord, being on the corporate board of Wal-Mart. I don't think they necessarily listened to your advice. How did you react to that?

CLYBURN: Well, I was talking really to the surrogates, the ex- president included. I expected a lively debate. In fact, we asked you al, and you all accommodated us very well making sure that questions got asked that would make for a lively debate to let the passion show. That's what helps to generate voters. They had competing visions about what to do about our economy, what to do about health care. All of that is good. That's far beyond the bickering that took place earlier. And I'm glad to say that from what I've gathered in the last couple of days that has subsided significantly.

BLITZER: So is this what the bickering as you call it, is that what the South Carolina voters want to see with these three presidential candidates?

CLYBURN: Well, I don't call it bickering that which they were doing during the debate. They were passionately stating their various visions for which direction the country ought to go on health care and go with the economy and other things. That, to me, is good. That's not bickering. The bickering is all this stuff about what happened 45 years ago and who may or may not have gotten -- should get the most credit for it.

BLITZER: You're still neutral, right? You're not endorsing one candidate over another. Is that right?

CLYBURN: No, sir. I plan to get up early tomorrow morning and vote for a Democrat.

BLITZER: Vote for a Democrat, but you're not going to tell us which one.

CLYBURN: No, sir. I don't think so. I've resisted so far even telling my wife or children how I'm going to vote. I think I'm going to do that and none of them will ever know. BLITZER: One final question before I let you go, congressman. Some Democrats see it potentially as a dream ticket, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the same ticket unclear who would be the presidential nominee, who would be the vice presidential nominee. Would that be good for the Democratic party going in? Is that realistic at all to think that despite the bitter words, the two of them could emerge when the dust settles on the same ticket?

CLYBURN: That could happen, Wolf. But when it comes to putting a ticket together, I think politics ought to be the order of the day, not the emotions that may be caught up in this campaign. We need to put all of that aside after these primaries are over, maybe during the convention because I do believe that this primary will not settle our nominee. I think our nominee will be settled at our convention. At that time I would hope that everybody will sit down and look at the map. Look at what we need to do for the electoral college and be sure that we put together a ticket that will deliver us victory in the electoral college. We've had victory in the public emotional vote before, but that doesn't give you the presidency. We need to have a good electoral map put together and put everything else aside.

BLITZER: You're saying there could be a brokered convention in Denver at the end of the summer. That would be dramatic, congressman.

CLYBURN: It would be. But it also will allow everybody to stay on the field. As I've said before, I think all three of these candidates are going to leave South Carolina with a ticket. Maybe all of them won't all have first-class tickets, but all of them will have tickets. That will make it good for us going into these other primaries. I don't think that we ought to really allow the front loading to prevail. These people who front loaded this thing ought to know that they should settle down and let this process work and I think that if we can get through so-called super Tuesday without anything definitive, we can then sit down and put together the kind of primary schedule for the next four years that we need to have.

BLITZER: He's the majority whip, the number three person in the House of Representatives. James Clyburn, thanks as usual for coming in again. Good luck tomorrow in South Carolina.

CLYBURN: Thank you so much for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: As voters head to the polls tomorrow morning in South Carolina's Democratic primary, remember this. Stay with CNN throughout the day and the night for complete coverage. I'll be anchoring our coverage starting in the 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour. The polls closing at 7:00 p.m. in South Carolina.

We're also keeping a close eye on that big hotel casino fire that rocked Las Vegas just a little while ago. Just ahead we'll check back on the situation in Vegas.

Also John Edwards tries to use the Clinton/Obama sparring match to his advantage in these the final hours before South Carolina Democrats vote. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming into the SITUATION ROOM right now. Carol, what's going on?

COSTELLO: Well Wolf, crimson flames and black smoke cloud blue skies over the Vegas strip. We have the latest on that three alarm fire that ravished the roof and top four floors of the Monte Carlo hotel and casino. Officials still trying to figure out what started it. All the guests had to be evacuated. Fire crews now have that blaze under control, we're happy to say. The Monte Carlo is 32 stories high and has more than 3,000 rooms, the most expensive being on the top floors. They are no reports of injuries.

The attorney general has an answer for Congress that would be no. Michael Mukasey says he has no plans to appoint a special prosecutor to look into why the CIA destroyed those video tapes showing terror interrogations. The lawmakers are urging an independent investigation. Mukasey declined to say if he's seen anything to suggest that destroying the tapes violated court orders. There is an ongoing criminal investigation into this matter though.

Pakistan wants to make it clear any so-called military activity in that country should be done by Pakistani armed forces. That's according to a statement from Pakistan's military. It comes amid a U.S. offer to send troops to Pakistan to help fight forces of al Qaeda. Pakistan says it's open to expanding its cooperation with the United States in some areas, but it will do the fighting, thank you. Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Carol, for that. We'll check back with you in a few moments. Barack Obama, he's getting criticism now from another corner. John Edwards taking some direct aim at him even as Edwards insists he's the grown up in this campaign. He's criticizing Obama now, using words like selfish. You're going to want to hear what else is going on.

And you would think a presidential candidate would brag about a big endorsement from a major newspaper, arguably the most important newspaper in the United States. But it appears John McCain is not. We'll tell you why. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: You're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, messages the mayor of Detroit never wanted you to see. They are racy exchanges with a female employee who is not Kwami (ph) Kilpatrick's wife. The scandal could cost the mayor his job and possibly, possibly prison time. We're watching the story. We'll share the details with you.

Also, what no one wants, more people losing their homes, a wave of consumer and corporate defaults and plans to help the battered economy failing. What if the recession comes and hits harder than anyone expected? Frank Sesno watching the story.

And pictures of a nightmare on the Vegas Strip. You're going to see what happened in that fire seen through the eyes of eyewitnesses.

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

The three-alarm fire that hit the roof and top floors of the Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino, that fire is now contained. But I- Reports of the smoke and the flames are still pouring into CNN right now.

Let's go back to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what are we seeing?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, they're still coming in. We have just talked to these I-Reporters who are walking out of their hotel rooms, out of their office buildings, and seeing pictures like this.

This one is from someone who didn't want their name used, but told us that the scene was quite calm out there. And you could see that the facade was burning, rather than the inside of the building. Next door, at the New York New York, Chris Gagen works. And he shot this video just in the last couple of hours.

He said, that as the fire was burning, it smelled like burning fabric. He could see glass falling from the windows. And there was debris. You can just make it out in this video here, debris falling onto the ground. But, despite, that it was a calm scene. And Chris says that the security personnel around there were doing a good job of getting people into different locations.

The intensity of these flames you can see for miles around here. This is Henderson, Nevada. This is from an apartment building 10 miles away. This from Adam Shafer, who is a student at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, who said that he had a clear view of it. The smoke is burning out now, though, Wolf, the situation under control. These pictures all coming in at

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much for that.

Let's turn to presidential politics once again.

We're only hours away from South Carolina's Democratic primary. John Edwards is taking some jabs at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Edwards says they're being petty -- quote -- "petty."

CNN's Jessica Yellin is joining us from Columbia right now, watching the story for us.

All right, John Edwards is making some final arguments in these,the final hours before the voting actually begins. What's the latest?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The latest, Wolf, is that John Edwards, as you know, grew up right here in South Carolina. He won the state in 2004, and he's looking for a very strong finish tomorrow. He's adding a new message to his closing argument, that voters should realize he's the only Democrat not tearing the others apart, though he does have some criticism.


YELLIN (voice-over): In South Carolina, John Edwards is everywhere.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was very excited about coming to South Carolina, the state that I was born.

YELLIN: He's in voters' home, by day with Tyra.


EDWARDS: We have got a -- got a big weekend in front of us.


EDWARDS: So, we will -- I got my fingers crossed.


YELLIN: By night with Dave.



No, no, no.





YELLIN: And all across the state, insisting he will do more to fight special interests, and now criticizing his opponents' campaigns.

EDWARDS: Senator Clinton and Senator Obama this week have brought their New York and Chicago politics to South Carolina.

I was very proud to represent the grownup wing of the Democratic Party on Monday night.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Your contributor, Rezko, in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago.



YELLIN: He's out with a new ad touting his self-proclaimed grownup performance at Monday's debate.


EDWARDS: This kind of squabbling, how many children is this going to get health care? How many people are going to get an education from this?



YELLIN: And telling CNN the other Democrats have taken on a negative tone.

EDWARDS: A lot of the attacks have been nasty. Some of the attacks have been divisive.

YELLIN: He's also taking aim at Barack Obama, who just weeks ago criticized John Edwards when a special interest group ran an ad on his behalf.

OBAMA: The individual who is running the group used to be John Edwards' campaign manager.

YELLIN: Now a similar special interest group is running an ad for Obama. And Edwards sees hypocrisy.

EDWARDS: If he means what he says, he ought to be denouncing this.

YELLIN (on camera): Are you surprised he hasn't?

EDWARDS: I am very surprised, because if you really believe something, then you stand behind it. If you're doing it for political reasons and only for selfish political reasons, then you do one thing one day and another thing another day.


YELLIN: Wolf, Senator Edwards is also criticizing Hillary Clinton for leaving this state earlier in the week, saying, if she leaves you before the primary, why should you expect her to be there for South Carolina if she's president? -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The Edwards camp is also responding to some controversial comments that were made to "The Wall Street Journal" today. What happened?

YELLIN: That's right. Senior Edwards adviser Joe Trippi is knocking down a report in "The Wall Street Journal" that John Edwards is just looking to accumulate enough delegates that, in the event of a very, very tight race, he could go into the Democratic Convention and throw his delegates to one candidate or another join thereby decide who becomes the Democratic nominee.

They say that's not the case; that is a worst-case scenario. Joe Trippi instead tells me instead they're trying to accrue enough delegates to get to the point that, even if Edwards does not win many or any states, if he comes in even second often enough, that he could still become the Democratic nominee if the contest is very, very tight.

Unusual year in politics, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we just heard Congressman Clyburn say here in THE SITUATION ROOM he thinks this is going all to way to the Democratic Convention in Denver; it will be a brokered convention. He sees three tickets on the way to that convention -- Jim Clyburn speaking with us just a little while ago.

All right, Jessica, thanks very much.

Meanwhile, "The New York Times" says Hillary Clinton is the best choice for the Democrats in this race and that John McCain is the best choice for the Republicans. Today, the newspaper's editorial page formally endorsed the two for this primary season.

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

Bill, two endorsements, two -- I guess the way they're reacting, these two candidates, very differently.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, actually, they're ambivalent, I would imagine, in both cases.


SCHNEIDER: "The New York Times" editorial page is the voice of the liberal establishment. On Friday, "The Times" endorsed Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Good news for them? Money not.

The newspaper used its endorsement to take a swipe at President Bush. "Senator John McCain of Arizona is the only Republican who promises to end the George Bush style of governing from and on behalf of a small, angry fringe."

McCain's response was guarded.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I appreciate anyone's endorsement. Because I receive the endorsement of anyone does not mean that I necessarily share their views.

SCHNEIDER: McCain needs to win votes for Republicans and conservatives. "The Times" has never been beloved in that constituency, as this 2006 interview on FOX News suggests.


REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: And "The New York Times" is putting its own arrogant, elitist, left-wing agenda before the interests of the American people.


SCHNEIDER: One of McCain's rivals was proud of not getting "The Times"' blessing.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I probably never did anything "The New York Times" suggested I do in eight years as mayor of New York City. And, if I did, I wouldn't be considered a conservative Republican.

SCHNEIDER: But "The Times" is Rudy Giuliani's hometown paper. "The Times" endorsed him for reelection as mayor in 1997.

"That man is not running for president," "The Times" says now. "The Times" anti-endorsement could hurt Giuliani in New York. Imagine if Giuliani loses his own state. "The Times" did say nice things about Barack Obama, but concluded, "Mrs. Clinton is more qualified right now to be president."

But Obama is running an anti-establishment campaign, and getting the endorsement of "The New York Times" could make Senator Clinton look even more like the insiders' favorite.


SCHNEIDER: Now, many years ago, a candidate for mayor of New York failed to carry her own precinct. Asked to comment, a rival candidate said -- quote -- "Her neighbors know her." That's why the endorsement or non-endorsement of your hometown newspaper can be important. They know you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Bill Schneider, for that. We will talk a little bit about this coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's one issue of major concern to all of us. It's also something voters say will help them decide who to support for president.

Also, can math help keep John Edwards in the presidential race and keep Hillary Clinton from claiming something she really wants? We will talk about that in our "Strategy Session."

And they're an active voting bloc. That would be senior citizens. They vote in huge percentages, especially in Florida. So, how much might they affect the outcome in that state?

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


BLITZER: It's not necessarily the top concern for voters this election year, but, in our latest poll, almost a third of Americans say immigration, especially illegal immigration, will be extremely important to their vote for president, especially an issue among the Republicans. Let's go to our chief national correspondent, John King. He's in Florida, ahead of Tuesday's GOP presidential primary there -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, illegal immigration has been a Republican debating point for months, often a mine field for Senator John McCain. But it's a little bit different here.


KING (voice-over): Seventy-five percent of the country's oranges come from Florida, which makes the state an agricultural powerhouse and a major stage in the illegal immigration debate.

DON BROWN (R), FLORIDA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Some of these businesses depend upon migrant farm workers and such. But we have got to solve the problem.

KING: Representative Don Brown says Washington has failed and that states like Florida must act to punish employers and require police to verify the legal status of anyone taken into custody.

BROWN: Because what we're talking about is the preservation of the rule of law, the sovereignty of our nation and our state.

KING: Brown is a conservative Republican and no fan of presidential contender McCain.

(on camera): Was the McCain-Kennedy bill amnesty?

BROWN: I think it was. Of course, semantics plays a big part of this. Different people call things by different names. But, yes, it provided what I believe to be too much amnesty, if you will.

KING (voice-over): Senator McCain not long ago pushed legislation providing a path to citizenship for millions who entered the United States illegally. Now he talks of lessons learned.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to tell you right now, as president of the United States, we will secure our borders first.


MCCAIN: I will secure the borders first. We will secure the borders first. And I know that's a national security issue. And I know it's what you want.

KING: Brown says many conservatives remain skeptical.

BROWN: It's difficult to overcome the impression that was left by his association with Ted Kennedy and that bill.

KING: But the tone of the immigration debate is different here. There are an estimated 850,000 illegal immigrants in the state, vital to the farm and tourist industries, and in many cases, welcome in thriving Latino communities.

WHIT AYRES, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: This is a particularly complex issue in Florida, because you have so many Cuban-Americans, so many Latino Americans who are rock-ribbed Republicans, who have not been real happy with the tenor of the discussion in the Republican primaries about illegal immigration.


KING: Some Republican strategists go as far as saying that, unlike, say, Iowa or South Carolina, McCain's immigration views are a net plus here. But there are more conservative states just ahead on the primary calendar. So, McCain tries to strike a careful balance, mixing his calls for compassion with constant reminders of his new promise to put border security first -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John King reporting for us, thanks very much, in Florida.

A few moments ago, I said that Mel Martinez, the Republican senator from Florida who served in the Bush administration, served as commerce secretary. I meant to say he was the housing secretary -- Mel Martinez today endorsing John McCain down in Florida.

This programming note: You're going to want to watch the candidates battle in California in our upcoming debates next week. They face off just before Super Tuesday. The Republicans go head to head on January 30 at the Reagan Library out in California. The next day, the Democrats meet at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. I will be monitoring that debate.

Both of these debates air 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN, next Wednesday and Thursday night.

John Edwards says he's the underdog in the Democratic race.


EDWARDS: When undecided voters watch the debates and actually hear what I have to say, they almost universally move in my direction.


BLITZER: He says he's going to make it all the way to the convention. We're talking about the Edwards role in this race. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."

Plus, "The New York Times" tears into Rudy Giuliani. You're going to find out what the newspaper says about the Republican candidate. And we will talk about it with our "Strategy Session."

That's coming up next here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: "The New York Times" is blasting Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani. And the paper says it can, because it's seen the effects of Giuliani's governing up close.

Let's talk about that and more in our "Strategy Session." Joining us now, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and conservative commentator Terry Jeffrey. He's the editor in chief of Cybercast News Service.

Before we get to that, though, Hillary Clinton just spoke out. And her campaign has been speaking out all day, saying, you know what? There was a Democratic primary in Michigan. There will be a Democratic primary in Florida. And, even though the DNC said those delegates will not be seated because they had moved up inappropriately, they're scheduled before Super Tuesday. She's now saying, you know what? Those delegates should be seated at the Democratic Convention.

Listen to this.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have asked my delegates consistent with their conscience and their beliefs, to vote to seat the delegates from Michigan and Florida. I am not violating the DNC pledge that I agreed to, but I think it's important that we send a message to the people of Florida and Michigan that Democrats care about their lives and their futures. And I will certainly do everything I can to be a good president for them.


BLITZER: All right. Explain what's going on.


PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think it's pretty clear, Wolf.

I think a lot of people didn't think delegates were really going to count in this election. And now that things look very complicated, all these campaigns are looking at every single delegate. And I think Hillary's folks are saying, hey, wait a minute. These are two big states. There's a lot of delegates at stake here. Let's get them seated. And we will get the bulk of them.

She wants those delegates from Michigan...

FENN: She wants those delegates.

BLITZER: ... she won, even though it didn't count, and Florida, which, presumably, she's atop, at least according to the polls.

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE: You know, this is a classic Clintonian statement. She's not violating her pledge.

Wolf, I note that she did not say this before the Iowa caucus. She did not say it before the New Hampshire primary, when she might have angered voters and Democratic leaders in those states. She's saying it after she's the only Democrat on the ballot in Michigan.

That's as disingenuous as any Clintonian comment you're ever going to hear.

FENN: And not -- not that she's going to get all the delegates, but I think, she figures, well, listen, if this is -- if these are all going to count, and we better do it now and start getting this process going.

Now, they will anger the DNC, because what that means is, it's free-flowing campaign for next time. Anybody can do whatever the heck they want.

BLITZER: Terry, you heard Bill Schneider's report, "The New York Times" endorsing John McCain for the Republican presidential nomination, and, in the process, ripping Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York: "The real Mr. Giuliani, who many New Yorkers came to know and mistrust, is a narrow, obsessively secretive, vindictive man, who saw no need to limit police power. Racial polarization was as much a legacy of his tenure as the rebirth of Times Square. Mr. Giuliani's arrogance and bad judgment are breathtaking."

That's from "The New York Times." What do you think?

JEFFREY: Well, listen, I'm not a big fan of Rudy Giuliani. But anybody who visited New York Rudy was mayor, then saw it after he was mayor, knows that this guy did an excellent job of cleaning up New York City.

"The New York Times" is the flagship newspaper of the blue state liberal elite. It is a good enemy to have for a Republican and a bad friend. That endorsement truly does hurt John McCain, Wolf.

And here's the reason.


BLITZER: He's not bragging about it.



JEFFREY: No, no, he's not. And here's the reason.

Essentially, what "The New York Times" is saying by endorsing John McCain, is, they're saying, he is not a threat to us and our values.

And that's the way every conservative in this country reads it. They're saying, we're OK with this the guy getting elected president.

BLITZER: All right.

FENN: Yes, well, first of all, they did endorse Giuliani in his last mayor's race, "The New York Times" did. But this was such a blistering anti-Giuliani piece. Plus, I think what you have got there is, this will help -- this will help McCain in other states. I really think it will, Terry. I think it will be very helpful for him to have that sense that he could win a general election.

BLITZER: It would -- it will help him presumably in New York State, but maybe not. We will see.

FENN: Well, and New Jersey.


JEFFREY: I would say, it's not going to help McCain for the same reason Giuliani can't get the Republican nomination. The people who vote in Republican primaries are conservatives.

BLITZER: All right. We have got to leave it there, guys.

Thanks very much, Terry Jeffrey, Peter Fenn, for coming in.

The last Democratic presidential nominee is now blasting the last Democratic president. You are going to just want to hear what John Kerry is saying about Bill Clinton's role in this current campaign.

Plus, a major claim regarding Iraq before the war. Was Saddam Hussein actually bluffing all the time about having weapons of mass destruction? You're going to hear what one man says.

That's coming up -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check our Political Ticker right now.

Senator John Kerry is taking aim at Bill Clinton, saying the former president does not have a license to abuse the -- abuse the truth. The Democrats' 2004 presidential nominee is supporting Barack Obama. He tells "The National Journal" that Bill Clinton is getting frantic and his criticism of Obama has been, in his words, over the top.

Chelsea Clinton is making an unusual fund-raising appeal on behalf of her mom. The former first daughter has sent an e-mail to Democrats asking for a campaign donation by midnight Saturday to be eligible for a prize. One lucky donor will be chosen to sit next to Chelsea at CNN's Democratic presidential debate at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles next Thursday.

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

Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Second prize is, you have to sit with her twice. (LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: She's really nice, I got to tell you.


BLITZER: I saw her the other day in Myrtle Beach. She's 27 years old.


CAFFERTY: She's grown up to be a lovely young woman.

CAFFERTY: Fine. How come show she told a fourth-grader who asked to talk to her, "I don't do press interviews"?

BLITZER: Well, that was -- might have been a mistake.

CAFFERTY: Well, yes, maybe.


CAFFERTY: The question is this: If the Democrats have trouble picking between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, should Al Gore consider entering the race? They could be deadlocked, you know, after Super Tuesday.

Jim writes: "There is more than room for Al Gore, regardless of what Hillary and Barack do, as long as he doesn't bring whining Joe along" -- that would Lieberman -- "and the courts keep out of the results. Al and John Edwards would be an attractive ticket and would bring many young voters into the Democratic column on Election Day."

Anthony writes, "Al Gore: yesterday's man, too late for America's tomorrow."

Jenny in New York, "I'm an Obama supporter, but I would much rather see him beaten by Al Gore than Clinton."

Beverly writes: "Oh my God. Can you imagine the Clintons double- teaming Gore? Gore entering the race sounds like a scheme only Karl Rove and his henchmen could come up with. The Democrats wouldn't survive the carnage or be a viable party for 25 years."

Ben writes: "I like Al Gore, voted for him in that ill-fated election that could have nipped this fiasco in the bud. But at this late stage in the game, I am afraid that his entry into the ring would only fracture the party worse than it already is."

Scott in Indiana: "Gore will never run because he would be forced to openly debate global warming, or climate change or whatever the current buzzword is, and we would have both sides challenging each other's facts."

John in Connecticut: "Why not? If the election is close again, the Supreme Court would side with the Nobel Prize winner, wouldn't they?"

And April writes: "No, no and no. I can't handle any more Al Gore. He needs to pack his things and get his inconvenient ass out of the spotlight."



BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.


BLITZER: See you in a few moments.

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

Happening now: Flames top the Las Vegas skyline, as a towering hotel and casino turns into an inferno. Guests and gamblers are evacuated. We're going to have the very latest on the fight to contain the fire.

Saddam Hussein himself said his weapons of mass destruction were little more than a mirage -- that word now coming from his FBI interrogator, who spent several months with the ex-dictator. We're going to tell you what other secrets Saddam Hussein may have revealed.

And the tale of the text messages -- Detroit's mayor caught up right now in a very embarrassing scandal, with allegations of an affair and -- and -- possible perjury.

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