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President Bush Prepares For Final State of the Union Address; Interview With Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney; Florida's Primary: McCain and Romney Neck and Neck; Ted Kennedy Endorses Barack Obama

Aired January 28, 2008 - 16:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Barack Obama endorsed by members of a revered Democratic political clan. Three Kennedys liken him to an inspirational JFK-like figure. And one Kennedy seemed to liken Hillary Clinton to the politics of separation and distortion.
Also, John McCain says Mitt Romney is a flip-flopper, while Romney says McCain is being dishonest about something and should apologize. Mitt Romney will be here.

And President Bush readies to deliver his last State of the Union. And he's set to push for a big proposal regarding your money.

I'm John King at the CNN Election Center. Wolf will be here shortly. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's an image the Obama campaign is celebrating and the Clintons surely did not want to see, members of a powerful Democratic dynasty embracing Barack Obama. Amid a rousing ovation, the brother and daughter of John F. Kennedy said Obama can inspire Americans to their highest ideals, much like the late president did. And the candidate himself returned the praise.


SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I'm proud to stand with him here today and offer my help, offer my voice, offer my energy, my commitment, to make Barack Obama the next president of the United States.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ted Kennedy stands apart from the prevailing wisdom in Washington that has reduced politics to a game of tactics and transactions, in which no principle is beyond sacrifice. His public life is a testimony to what can be achieved when you focus on lifting the country up.


KING: Senator Edward Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy called Obama a fighter and an agent for change.

CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger joins me now.

Gloria, so, what does it mean, Teddy Kennedy in the Obama fold?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think it's really, really important for Barack Obama. Not only is Ted Kennedy the seal of approval in the Democratic Party, in the Democratic Party establishment, but also he's -- his support is strategically important. Ted Kennedy can go anywhere. He can go into the Latino community in California, which he will do, and campaign for Barack Obama.

He can go into poor communities, take away votes from John Edwards. He really has the ultimate credibility in the Democratic Party. This is a man who was friendly with the Clintons. This is somebody who is not a sworn enemy of the Clintons.

I was just told earlier today that he finally got so upset at this racial polarization, when he called the president, I was told, and spoke with Bill Clinton about it, he was angrier after he finished the phone call than he was when he first called the president. And, so, this was sort of a cry from Ted Kennedy saying, we have got to get beyond this, and I can't be with the Clintons.

KING: So, Ted Kennedy is angry. I was told by an old friend in Massachusetts the other day that he now believes Senator Clinton cannot win, and that is the one of the reasons he decided to endorse here. We're going into Super Tuesday, as you noted, labor unions, Latino voters.

BORGER: Right.

KING: But Hillary Clinton still has a huge structural advantage within that very party establishment you just mentioned.

BORGER: She does.

KING: Will this crack the dam?

BORGER: I think it will certainly help. I think the Clinton campaign right now has to get back on track. And there's a debate going on in the Clinton campaign. What do you do with the elephant sitting in the middle of the table? What do you say to Bill Clinton? Bill Clinton believes that he really helped his wife in Nevada and that he helped her in New Hampshire. But he clearly did not help in South Carolina.

So, the campaign is saying do we put him back in a box? Or do we let him continue to campaign? Because she now has to take charge of her campaign and say, I'm the candidate running for president. He is not. It worked with her before. She may have to do it again.

KING: She needs him. She just needs him a different track.

BORGER: A little quieter.

KING: A little -- Gloria Borger, thank you very much.

(LAUGHTER) KING: The Kennedys endorsed Obama at American University in Washington. It's the same place President John Kennedy urged Americans toward change more than 40 years ago.


JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But we shall also do our part to build a world of peace, where the weak are safe and the strong are just. We are not helpless before that task or hopeless of its success. Confident and unafraid, we must labor on, not towards a strategy of annihilation, but towards a strategy of peace.


KING: Today, when Senator Kennedy compared Obama to his late brother, he said they both embody the ideal that America's best days are ahead.

Obama's chief rivals in the Democratic race continue, though, to make their case. Hillary Clinton is spending time in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Speaking to crowds of supporters, Senator Clinton criticized President Bush as losing touch with everyday Americans. John Edwards is spending time in Tennessee and Missouri. And even he is invoking the famous president's name to criticize the current president.


JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some of you will remember the famous John Kennedy inauguration speech. Ask not what your country can do for you. Well, it is time for the president to ask Americans to be willing to sacrifice for their country, because we are in this together. We are going to have to conserve in our homes, in our workplaces, in the kind of vehicles we drive. You can't just spend and innovate your way out of this problem.


KING: Coming up, we will have much more on how the Clinton campaign is responding to the Kennedy endorsement of Obama.

Meanwhile, author Toni Morrison is also endorsing Barack Obama. You may remember, she's the author who once referred to Bill Clinton as "the nation's first black president."

And a rising star in the Democratic party, reportedly, also will back Obama. The Kansas governor, Kathleen Sebelius, will do that this week, according to "The Atlantic"'s Web site, citing Democratic sources. It sites a Sebelius spokesman -- spokeswoman, excuse me, as saying the governor first wants to deliver the Democratic response to the president's State of the Union address, that of course later tonight.

And that address will be President Bush's last State of the Union. It could also be one of the few times he will capture such widespread attention, as his presidency winds down and the presidential race heats up.

One thing we have learned the president will announce, plans for the United States to host the next summit with the U.S., Mexico, and Canada in New Orleans. That's to highlight the city's efforts to rebound after Hurricane Katrina. The president is also expected to discuss the improving war and worsening economic conditions.

CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry joins me now.

Ed, you just spoke with the president's chief of staff moments ago. What is in the stimulus package?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it's interesting. The president's top aide, Josh Bolten, just told me that the president will have a tough warning for Democrats tonight, saying that they cannot delay or derail, in his words, this $150 billion economic stimulus package that was unveiled last week to great fanfare.

As you know, the economy, we're being told, will be a major focus tonight, the president trying to reassure Americans at a time when it looks like the economy might be sliding into recession. He's going to try and say, look, Democrats, you can work with me on other matters coming out of this deal last week. Let's try to make the 2001 tax cuts permanent.

But, today, there are signs that that bipartisan deal could be starting to fall apart, Senate Democrats adding some new provisions, such as unemployment compensation, to the stimulus package. Josh Bolten said very clearly a few moments ago to CNN that Democrats cannot delay this deal.


JOSH BOLTEN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: When you have got a good bipartisan compromise on the table to move on it rapidly and not try to make it perfect from their perspective, because some people are going to think it's imperfect in ways that other people aren't.

And if there are -- if, as we expect, there are too many broad disagreements, they just won't be able to come together on a package. There's a good bipartisan package on the table. Congress ought to move on one as soon as possible.


HENRY: Now, Josh Bolten also insisted that the president is not distracted at all by the presidential campaign that is going on out there, that he will tackle some tough subjects tonight, such as cutting earmarks, those pet projects that often become wasteful spending.

Specifically, Mr. Bush, we're told, will announce that, in his final year, he will veto any spending bill that does not succeed in cutting earmarks in half from last year's bills. Also, the president, on Tuesday, will issue an executive order directing agencies to ignore any future earmarks that did not go through the proper channels.

Some conservatives, though, putting out that this will do nothing to cut the more than 11,000 earmarks from last year. And Democrats also pointing out that roughly half of the earmarks that are in these bills are coming from Republicans on the Hill. So, they're going to have to get serious about spending as well -- John.

KING: Ed Henry for us at the White House, always a dramatic day. Ed, thank you so much.

And stay tuned to CNN for this important presidential address before, during and after. Join Wolf Blitzer and the entire CNN team for a special preview at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Then, at 9:00, we will bring you the State of the Union. Just after, we will be back with post-speech reaction and analysis. Again, all of that starts right here at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

Time now for "The Cafferty File." Jack joins us.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Where -- where is Wolf Blitzer?

KING: You know, you ask me that when I'm in Washington sometimes. A legitimate question this time. Wolf will be here momentarily. He stayed in Washington. He's one of the privileged who get to go to lunch with the president on the State of the Union day. The president outlines his ideas to some of the more distinguished anchors. And our Wolf Blitzer is one of those more distinguished anchors.

CAFFERTY: So, he blew us off to have lunch at the White House; is that kind of the translation here?

KING: Sure.


CAFFERTY: Big snub coming from one of the nation's most well- known Democratic families to the other. And you better believe that Senator Ted Kennedy's endorsement of Barack Obama hit Hillary and Bill Clinton pretty hard. The Clintons had tried to keep Kennedy neutral in the race, but it seems that it was what Kennedy saw as former President Clinton's racially divisive comments that tipped him over to Obama.

So Kennedy has gone all in for Barack Obama, called him a man with extraordinary gifts of leadership and character. Ted Kennedy plans to campaign aggressively for Obama, both out West and in the Northeast, ahead of Super Tuesday. Kennedy will help Obama shore up support among unions and Hispanics. Getting the backing of one of the party's most senior members will also serve to blunt the criticism that Obama doesn't have enough experience.

And it's not just Ted Kennedy. Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the late President John Kennedy, is supporting Obama, too, saying he, "offers that same sense of hope and inspiration that her father did." Ted Kennedy's son, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, also supporting Obama. The symbolism in all of this is breathtaking. Caroline Kennedy said, "I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But, for the first time, I believe I have found a man who could be that president, not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans." Powerful stuff.

Senator Kennedy also compared Obama to JFK, saying that, like his brother, Obama is a candidate who sees the world is changing and represents a new generation of leadership.

So, here's the question, what will support from the late President John F. Kennedy's brother and daughter mean to Barack Obama's campaign? You can go to Post a comment there on my blog.

KING: Can't wait to here them. Mr. Blitzer will probably be here by then, but I will be listening.

This is a fascinating one. I was talking to some old friends in Massachusetts, the few who still talk to me.



KING: And they were saying that Senator Kennedy has reached the conclusion, as much as he likes and respects Senator Clinton, he now thinks she can't win. That's an interesting calculation. We will see if he sells that argument to other Democrats.

CAFFERTY: Well, you know, from the beginning, that word electability has been recurring on both sides of the primary election campaign. And that same debate is happening in the Republican Party now. Some suggest that's why McCain is as suddenly popular as he is. They see him as being able perhaps to win.

KING: Fascinating jobs we have this year.

CAFFERTY: Isn't it?

KING: Jack, see you in a little bit.

This is probably something you won't hear from President Bush tonight.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The State of the Union is good, but somewhat unstable and somewhat fragile right now.


KING: Mitt Romney gives us his take on the state of the union and of his race for the White House.

Some Democrats think Hillary Clinton's biggest asset is turning into her biggest liability. We will look at the Bill Clinton factor. And just over a week before Super Tuesday, a new poll points to some big changes out in California. You have to see this.

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


KING: His would-be successors will be watching to see what President Bush says tonight about the state of the union. But they have their own very strong views on what kind of shape the country is in.

Recently, Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, spoke to our Wolf Blitzer.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And joining us now, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He is joining us from Miami.

Governor, the state of the union, we are focusing in on it right now. Let's talk about some specific economic issues. First, the weakening dollar. What would you do about that if you were president?

ROMNEY: Well, it is not a candidate for a quick fix. It is really something that requires a long-term solution. It really speaks to the world's view about America's competitiveness.

And what is going to have to happen is first we are going to have to deal with our massive entitlement and federal government overspending so that people recognize that we are going to bring our balance sheet in order.

Number two, we are going to have to make sure that we are playing on a level playing field around the world. Right now we are not with regards to Chinese that manipulate their currency and don't honor our intellectual property rights. Number three, we as a nation are going to have to take out embedded taxes from our products, so we can be more competitive around the world.

Number four, we have got to get our tax rates down. Our taxes are high relative to those of other industrialized nations. These are the kinds of fundamental changes that are going to have to be made for us to have the kind of -- if you will, strengthen our -- in our balance sheet as a nation, that people around the world will value the dollar and think that our future is brighter than our past.

BLITZER: What would you do about the housing crisis right, making sure that people who have their homes are -- can actually stay in their homes?

ROMNEY: Well, one piece, the Federal Reserve did, which is get interest rates down. Number two, we are going to have to stand behind people who can make the early payments, the original payments that they had agreed to, allow them to stay in their home. And that is by loosening the restrictions of the Federal Housing Administration, so they can guarantee more loans, larger loans, loans for people who weren't able to put down as large of a down payment, but where people, nonetheless, are able to make the original obligation payment schedule so that we can keep those folks in their homes. We just don't want to have more foreclosed homes being taken away from people.

BLITZER: How worried are you, Governor, about the trade imbalance with China?

ROMNEY: You know, it is not a matter of worry, but it is a matter that needs correction. And we just cannot continue to go in the direction we have been going where we allow them to peg their currency artificially low, making their products far less expensive than they otherwise would be, and, number two, have them taking a major part of what we sell to the world, which is intellectual property, and then counterfeiting it and selling it around the world for us without us getting a benefit. That simply can't go on.

And, so, we are going to have to get a lot tougher with them at the bargaining table to make sure that the trade on a level playing field. We like fair trade and free trade, but they are going to have to abide by the rules. And, if they don't do so, well, obviously, it results in the extraordinary current account deficit that you are seeing.

BLITZER: Are there any economic policies that President Bush pushed forward over the past seven years that you would seek to undo?

ROMNEY: Well, one that I would seek to adjust is the Medicare Part D. I strongly believe that Medicare Part D should include a prescription program for seniors, but it is very complicated program. It added a multi-trillion-dollar obligation to the nation's balance sheet. And we got no reform of Medicare as part of the deal.

And there really needs to be a more fundamental reform of the Medicare program, make it simpler for seniors to understand, honor our promises to seniors, but whittle back the extraordinary entitlement obligation and liability which confronts the country.

We are going to have to make adjustments there, because adding to entitlement obligations and liabilities is something which is one of the reasons why people who look at the dollar are concerned about our long-term future.

BLITZER: And, finally, Governor, what is the state of the union today, as you see it?

ROMNEY: Well, the state of the union is good, but somewhat unstable, and somewhat fragile right now, particularly as you look at our economy. Right now, we could go past the tipping point and fall into a recession. That hurts a lot of people. This is not just about stock portfolios or even 401(k)s.

It means people are worried about their retirement income. It means people worried about their job. At the low economic end, it is really, really tough. And, so, fighting a recession from happening is a very important thing. That is why the president's stimulus plan is a good step forward. I would do more in that regard. That is why the Federal Reserve has taken appropriate action.

But we are at a point where we need a president, and we have got one. And I'm glad he is taking action and not leaving this for a later day.

BLITZER: Governor Romney, thanks very much for joining us.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you.


KING: A hostage standoff comes to a surprising, even shocking conclusion. You won't believe what happened to the hostage-takers at a change in Pakistan.

Plus, pictures of an arrest in Illinois and why they couldn't come at a worse time for the Barack Obama campaign.


KING: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm John King at the CNN Election Center. As we told you at the top of the show, our Wolf Blitzer was making his way here from Washington, where he had the privilege of having lunch with the president of the United States today on the day of his final State of the Union address. I yield the floor.

BLITZER: Delicious seared salmon, for those who are interested. I blogged about it. It's up on A lot more coming up on the luncheon with the president and the vice president, a lovely day in Washington. Just got back.

KING: Making me hungry.


BLITZER: Thanks very much for filling in.

KING: I'm going to go get a snack.


BLITZER: If you want the full menu, go to


BLITZER: Tonight, George W. Bush follows in the footsteps of both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, but with a difference. Unlike his predecessors, President Bush's poll numbers aren't looking up for the last State of the Union message that he will be delivering. I will ask the White House counselor, Ed Gillespie, if the president can regain his popularity. And the GOP race is getting so nasty, John McCain and Mitt Romney are calling each other a name that Republicans usually reserve for only Democrats.

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


BLITZER: Happening now, the Clintons' two-for-the-price-of-one campaign. We're taking a closer look at why some Democrats think the former president is now hurting, instead of helping, his wife's run for the White House. That's coming up.

Rudy Giuliani looks for political sunshine in Florida. Tomorrow's primary could either be the dawn of a new day or the end of his hoped-for run for the White House.

And some of the Republican Party's most reliable voters have a new message. Find out why Florida's Cuban-Americans are telling the GOP, don't -- repeat -- don't take us for granted.

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

President Bush is getting ready to address the American public on issues of major concern to all Americans with his last State of the Union address. The State of the Union address comes as his approval numbers remain mired in the low 30s, the job approval numbers, that is.

Let's get to Ed Gillespie. He's counselor to the president. He's joining us from the White House lawn right now.

Ed, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Let's talk about some news that the president is expected to make involving what they call earmarks, or the pork-barrel spending, which he is going to take new executive action on to eliminate as of what, tomorrow?

GILLESPIE: As of tomorrow, he will sign an executive order, Wolf, that says that, in the future, departments and agencies are to ignore any earmarks that were not specifically passed by the United States Congress or signed by the president, these so-called airdrop earmarks, ones that are put into committee conference reports that never get voted on, on the floor of the House or the Senate. And that will be a new law of the land that would stop those kinds of pork- barrel projects from getting funded.

BLITZER: Now, you have your own lawyers, who determined that that would be constitutional. I assume the other branch, the legislative branch, of the U.S. government would raise objections to the president taking this kind of unilateral action on what the Congress decides. GILLESPIE: Well, the Supreme Court has weighed in, though, Wolf.

And, so, the third branch of government has rendered a view on so-called airdrop earmarks. These are referenced in conference report language. And, so, they have actually never been voted on by the Congress, and, therefore, don't have the weight of statute.

Now, when it comes to statutory earmarks, which they could put in -- and the president does not have the line-item veto, as -- as you and most of your viewers know -- what he has said is that, if they don't reduce statutory earmarks by 50 percent, then he would veto the entire bill.

So, we're taking steps on both the statutory front and on this committee report front, which is even more egregious because there's no transparency. The voters can't hold members of Congress responsible because they don't ever actually vote up or down on these things.

BLITZER: What percentage -- Ed, what percentage of the pork barrel spending or the so-called earmarks would be eliminated by this executive action the president is planning on implementing tomorrow?

GILLESPIE: Well, most of the earmarks over the past few years, Wolf, have been in the form of these conference reports -- being written in the conference reports.

BLITZER: Which he would eliminate?

GILLESPIE: Yes, he would -- he would direct the government to disregard them. That's not to say that the spending wouldn't take place. They just wouldn't have to spend it on that -- what the earmark dictates that it be spent on.

BLITZER: And does he have the Republican -- forget about the Democratic leadership. Does he have the Republican leadership in the House and Senate on board with this executive order he's going to sign?

GILLESPIE: He does. We talked to the leaders in Congress on both sides -- informed them on both sides of the aisle, and they know that this is -- look, they have, on both sides of the aisle, members of Congress, in campaigns and in other venues, have talked about the need to reduce earmarks. And the president, in the last State of the Union Address, urged Congress to reduce earmarks by half.

He did not threaten to veto legislation that didn't do so. And he didn't say that if they didn't so that he would issue this executive order. So he's taking this step now because they failed to do so on their own in the course of the past session of Congress.

BLITZER: One final question. Is he open to any changes on the economic stimulus plan he's worked out with the leadership in the House? Because as you know, there are objections being raised in the Senate. GILLESPIE: Wolf, we have a bill here that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has scheduled, that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel is going to mark up, that Republican Leader Boehner has agreed to and the Treasury secretary has agreed to. We understand the desire of others to load this bill up, but it would be a mistake.

We shouldn't delay this. The longer it's delayed, the less impact it's likely to have in our economy. We need to move it quickly. It's a rare -- it's a rare instance of bipartisan agreement.

I know there are things that others want to add, and we can debate those at a separate time. We set aside things that we wanted in the bill to debate at a separate time.

The key here is to move this bipartisan agreement quickly so it can have a positive impact in our economy and not delay it and not derail it. So, that's the message that we are sending. And you'll hear the president make that message tonight.

BLITZER: Ed Gillespie is the counselor to the president.

Ed, thanks very much for coming in.

GILLESPIE: Thank you, Wolf, for letting me be on.

BLITZER: And our special coverage of the president's State of the Union Address to the nation begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Florida's Republican primary is tomorrow. And if the polls are right, we're in for a long, suspenseful night of vote counting. Look at our polls of polls, as we call it, which combines recent surveys from several organizations. John McCain and Mitt Romney are only one point apart, and far ahead of the rest of the pack. Dana Bash is in Florida. She's watching the story for us.

It sounds as if it's going to be a fight, Dana, between McCain and Romney. And it looks like it's getting pretty nasty.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It does. And you just showed why with that poll. It could not be closer, Wolf, between McCain and Romney. And both of their campaigns know that tomorrow's primary could finally give one of them momentum towards the nomination. And that is why literally it is getting more pointed and personal by the hour here.


BASH (voice over): Dawn had barely broken as Mitt Romney used the dirtiest word in the Republican lexicon to describe John McCain -- liberal.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you want that kind of a liberal Democratic course as president, then you can vote for him.

BASH: Two can play at that GOP game, and they did.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As the liberal governor of the state of Massachusetts, he raised taxes by $730 million.

BASH: Romney's closer is a two-fer (ph) -- hit McCain as a creature of the Washington he called broken and highlight McCain legislation that's infuriated conservatives -- immigration, campaign finance reform, climate change.

ROMNEY: Those three pieces of legislation, those aren't conservative. Those aren't Republican.

BASH: McCain was quick to point out that as Massachusetts governor, Romney embraced the same policy positions he now calls unacceptable.

MCCAIN: He's consistently taken both sides of any major issue. He has consistently flip-flopped on every issue.

BASH: There, with not by accident echoes of GOP attacks on Democrat John Kerry four years ago.

Beyond all that, Romney and McCain are competing in Florida's crucial Republican primary as very different candidates on very different core GOP issues. Romney on the economy, as the multimillionaire businessman who says he knows how to fix it and Senator McCain doesn't get it.

ROMNEY: And I frankly can't imagine how you can have a president of the United States who doesn't understand how the economy works.

BASH: McCain is playing the war hero, digging away at Romney lack of national security experience...

MCCAIN: And I didn't manage for profit. I led for patriotism.

BASH: ... calling security, the war, the transcendent issue.

MCCAIN: But the point is that our nation's security is our foremost obligation to our people.


BASH: And the debate is not just raging through what they call the free media -- that's us, Wolf. It's also raging through the paid advertising on TV and in radio.

Mitt Romney at this point has spent $30 million here in Florida this year. That's five times as much as McCain. But, Wolf, John McCain is now running less expensive radio ads, directly hitting Mitt Romney on his economic record, saying that it's distorted.

BLITZER: Dana Bash in Florida, getting ready for a big election tomorrow.

Dana, thanks very much.

Florida Democrats, by the way, can go to the polls tomorrow as well, but their votes won't count for the all-important delegates. The National Democratic Party stripped Florida of its 210 convention delegates as a penalty for scheduling its primary in January, as opposed to waiting until Super Tuesday, February 5th.

Although the Democratic presidential candidates are not campaigning in Florida, polls do indicate that Senator Clinton is headed for an easy win. She's made of a point of fundraising in Florida, will be in the state tomorrow night. But once again, the votes there won't count as far as the delegate is concerned.

The Florida primary, that's what we're talking about, tomorrow for the Democrats.

Of all the states that vote next week, California has the biggest prize of convention delegates, which makes a new poll there especially interesting.

Don't go anywhere until you see what numbers are coming in right now.

Bill Clinton has been seen as Senator Hillary Clinton's biggest campaign asset, but things apparently are changing. It's the focus of our "Strategy Session" today.

And we're also looking at the economy and food prices. How will the price of what you buy affect your vote?

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


BLITZER: Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign pulled into the Super Tuesday state of Massachusetts state today. She found an enthusiastic welcome, even though it didn't include the United States senator Ted Kennedy. As we've been reporting, he's endorsing Senator Barack Obama.

Let's go to CNN's Jim Acosta. He's in Springfield, Massachusetts, watching this story for us.

Jim, what's the reaction from the Clinton campaign to the Kennedys' decision -- not only Ted Kennedy, but Caroline Kennedy and some other Kennedys as well?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very interesting to watch, Wolf.

While Hillary Clinton was in Massachusetts today, this state's most powerful senator was down in Washington endorsing Barack Obama. And even for a politician who's built up a suit of armor over the years, that's got to hurt.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (voice over): There were no Kennedys at Hillary Clinton's side in Massachusetts. Only a shadow. At the very moment the state's iconic senator, Ted Kennedy, and former first daughter, Caroline Kennedy, were sharing the stage with Barack Obama, Clinton stood alone, taking aim at Washington's other big event of the day.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tonight will be the last time George Bush ever gives a State of the Union speech!

ACOSTA: Off stage, her campaign is working feverishly to stress that even though Clinton lost what may be described as the Kennedy primary, she has already picked up a couple of delegates -- former Maryland lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR., ATTORNEY, NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: I respect Teddy's and my cousin Caroline's judgment about the issue, but I think that it's my opinion that Hillary will make the best candidate and most effective president.

ACOSTA: Democrats have privately grumbled for days that the Clinton campaign's pointed attacks against Obama before the South Carolina primary backfired, angering the party's leaders. Ted Kennedy foremost among them.

Former President Clinton's remark that seemed to equate Obama's campaign with Jesse Jackson's candidacy generated the most heat.

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jesse Jackson won in South Carolina twice in '84 and '88. And he ran a good campaign, and Senator Obama has run a good campaign here. He's run a good campaign everywhere.

ACOSTA: What's unclear now is how team Clinton may alter its tactics. Instead of giving him hell, will they just give him more Hill? And while they're at it, maybe a little less Bill?

The candidate rejects the notion she needs to turn down the temperature.

H. CLINTON: I've never been in a campaign that didn't get somewhat heated.

ACOSTA: But now she knows there will be no smooth sailing to the nomination, unlike that serene boat ride with the Kennedys so many years ago.


ACOSTA: And the Clinton campaign notes it has picked up the endorsement of Florida Senator Bill Nelson. But in terms of impact, liberals in the party know he's no Ted Kennedy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting for us.

Jim, thanks very much.

Almost half the states in the country hold their primaries or caucuses a week from tomorrow. Polls in these Super Tuesday states show the race for the Democratic nomination still very much up for grabs.

Senator Barack Obama leads in his home state of Illinois. Senator Hillary Clinton though is ahead in the delegate-rich states of New York, New Jersey, and California.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's got a closer look, specifically at California, which is the super prize on Super Tuesday.

What do we know as far as California is concerned, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, in California it's changing -- fast.


SCHNEIDER (voice over): California is all set to play a political role the state hasn't played in years -- king maker. Two weeks ago, the Republican race was up in the air in California. Now, two candidates have made significant gains.

John McCain's support has nearly doubled, giving him a solid lead in the Golden State. And Mitt Romney has picked up 19 points, putting him in second place. McCain has a big lead among moderate Republicans.

ALLAN HOFFENBLUM, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: He's doing very well with those Republicans, for example, who had no trouble voting for Arnold Schwarzenegger. And you know, Schwarzenegger has always been able to get a majority of the Republican votes.

SCHNEIDER: That's important because only registered Republicans can vote in California's Republican primary. The state party bars registered Independents from its primary.

MCCAIN: I'm confident that I can get the majority of our conservative base. And the fact that we've got a lot of Independent votes would also, I hope, motivate some of our conservatives to believe that I'm the best qualified to win the general election.

SCHNEIDER: Right now McCain and Romney are running neck and neck among conservatives in California. The system for winning delegates in California might actually help Romney.

HOFFENBLUM: Whichever candidate gets a plurality, a plurality in each of the 53 congressional districts, gets three delegates. It makes no difference if it's Nancy Pelosi's congressional district that has 30,000 Republicans or you have an Orange County congressional district that has 300,000.

SCHNEIDER: It's 53 separate Republican primaries with a prize of three delegates each. Romney may be the only Republican with the resources to run a campaign in all of them.


SCHNEIDER: Among California Republicans, Romney is rated slightly ahead of McCain on handling the economy. McCain has a solid lead on national security. Now, here's the surprise. Among Republicans in California, which is a border state, McCain is rated better than Romney and all the other Republicans on illegal immigration -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. All right. Thanks very much.

Bill Schneider reporting.

This important programming note for our viewers. You're going to want to watch the candidates battle in California in our upcoming debates this week. They face off just before Super Tuesday. The Republicans go head to head on January 30th. That's Wednesday night. The Democrats the next day, Thursday night.

Anderson Cooper moderates the Republican debate. I'll moderate the Democratic debate Thursday night at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. Both of these debates air 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

In our "Strategy Session," Obama and Kennedy on the same stage.


SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Barack Obama is the one person running for president who can bring us that change. Barack Obama is the one person running for president who can be that change.


BLITZER: So what does Ted Kennedy's endorsement mean to the Democratic race for the White House?

And as McCain and Romney trade barbs in Florida, how will Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee fare in tomorrow's primary? Jamal Simmons and John Feehery, they're standing by, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM for our "Strategy Session."

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: It's a huge endorsement, Barack Obama's presidential bid, from what many regard as icons of the Democratic Party. Members of the Kennedy clan say Obama is an inspirational figure and a change. They're also comparing him to John F. Kennedy.

Let's get to our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons and Republican strategist John Feehery. Here's a little bit of what Ted Kennedy said today, Jamal. Listen to this.


KENNEDY: When so many others were silent or simply went along from the beginning, he opposed the war in Iraq.


And let no one deny that truth.


BLITZER: All right. That was a nice little swipe at, I guess, both Bill and Hillary Clinton, given the fact that Hillary Clinton voted to authorize the war in Iraq.

What do you think of this? What does it mean, the fact that the Kennedys are now supporting Barack Obama?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it's obviously a very big day for the Obama campaign. I mean, getting Ted Kennedy is one of the biggest gets you can have in Democratic politics.

I think the last one left is Al Gore. And we'll see whether or not he actually chooses to get involved in the primary.

But this is a big deal. And he'll help Senator Obama in California and some of the western states with Hispanics, with labor unions, with people in Massachusetts, where I am, where Obama now has a governor and both senators on his side, and where Senator Clinton is today. And she's popular here. She's up 20 points by some polls.

So he's going to -- Obama has got some work to do up here.

BLITZER: What do you think, John?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I have this image of Ted Kennedy and Bill Clinton mud wrestling for the soul of the Democratic Party. And I can't -- it's a nightmare I can't get rid of.

The fact of the matter is that Jack Kennedy is no Barack Obama. Jack Kennedy ran as a centrist. He ran to the right of Richard Nixon with the missile -- he was in favor of a capital gains tax cut.

You know, I don't want to lecture the Kennedys obviously on Jack Kennedy, but the fact of the matter is, is that Barack Obama is running a different campaign. He's much more liberal than Jack Kennedy.

And you know -- but Jamal is right. This is a huge, huge endorsement for Barack Obama. And I think it's...

BLITZER: For the Democratic base.

FEEHERY: No doubt about it.

BLITZER: So, Jamal, is Bill Clinton now a help or - is he helping or hurting his wife?

SIMMONS: What I like about John's comments is it must mean that people are taking Obama seriously, because now they're attacking him instead of complimenting him.

But I think what's going on with former President Clinton right now, I think you're hearing some rumblings from inside the Clinton campaign that -- I don't know what the euphemism is -- they're going to chill Bill Clinton out or put the big dog back on the porch. But I think it's time for Senator Clinton to stand on her own two feet.

What I like about that is this is a good moment for her to say to the party, I'm the one running. I can bring this party together. And if you stick with me, I can carry this fight to the fall. The last thing that we need as Democrats is to spend this fall's election talking about Bill Clinton, and not talking about George Bush and the failed war in Iraq, and all the problems with Katrina and the economy and everything else that's going wrong in the country.

BLITZER: And John, a quick question on the Republican side for you.

Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, after tomorrow will they still be relevant in this campaign?

FEEHERY: Well, that's a good question. And we don't know how many votes that Rudy Giuliani has already gotten with the early voting. And until we know that and until we know what happens tomorrow, we don't know if Giuliani's going to be relevant, or Mike Huckabee.

The fact of the matter is that Giuliani has got to do a lot better than the polls show. And if he doesn't do a lot better, then it's going to be hard to be relevant.

BLITZER: John Feehery, Jamal Simmons.

Guys, thanks for coming in.

The Democratic candidates are eying Super Tuesday. There's no way they'll be able to campaign in all the states involved, so they're trying other strategies, including via the Internet. We're watching that.

Also, what does one man who wants to succeed President Bush want to hear in tonight's State of the Union? I'll ask Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

And death amid a disputed election in Kenya. There are now accounts of people being burned alive and killed in other very disturbing ways. We'll have the latest.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: On our Political Ticker today, with most early races already over, Democratic presidential candidates are focusing in on the February 5th Super Tuesday contest, where more than 20 states are at stake.

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

Abbi, how are the candidates gearing up online?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, these campaigns have been building up, shoring up their online supporters now for a year. And right now, with all these states in play next week, they're really putting them to the test, putting them to work.

From the Hillary Clinton campaign, this is the list of all their online headquarters for these particular states coming in next week. Their Internet director saying the whole focus of their Internet program is now on February 5th. And one of the focal points of that is this online calling tool.

This is what hundreds of thousands of people have been using to make calls in the last few days. This generates an actual script for them so they can be at home at their computer, with their phone, calling people in the February 5th primary states.

These online phone banks are being used across the board by the Barack Obama campaign as well. But something particular for that campaign is a social networking tool that this campaign set up last year.

It's called It lets people set up their own groups. And right now this is a hive of activity.

I just spoke to Justin Wilkins (ph), who's in Chattanooga, who's been setting up a de facto campaign headquarters for the grassroots in Chattanooga at a pizza restaurant advertising all that online, getting people to get out the vote there. He says this tool has been critical -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much.

Let's go to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" here in New York.


CAFFERTY: Yes. We usually start at 4:00.

BLITZER: You know, I was having lunch with the president.

CAFFERTY: THE SITUATION ROOM starts at 4:00 each day.

BLITZER: I had to fly in on the shuttle.

CAFFERTY: Fly in on the shuttle.

BLITZER: Sometimes there's, you know, delays at LaGuardia. CAFFERTY: You had lunch with the president?


CAFFERTY: Was that -- have you ever dined with the president before?

BLITZER: Yes, I have.

CAFFERTY: You have.

BLITZER: You can read about it on my blog at

CAFFERTY: Very busy. I have no time.

BLITZER: Including the menu.

CAFFERTY: The question is, what will support from the late president John Kennedy's brother and daughter mean to Barack Obama's campaign?

Helen writes from West Virginia, "Ted Kennedy's endorsement of Barack Obama 'because he is tired of the politics of personal destruction that has been waged for the past 40 years blew my mind. Ted Kennedy is one of those nasty politicians who has participated in those nasty political attacks for 40 years. Now he acts like he's brought us the savior who will save us all from this nastiness. Does anybody see the hypocrisy in this?"

Fern writes in Massachusetts, "Kennedy's endorsement is huge. Many people my age voted for and have great memories of John Kennedy's presidency. Ted Kennedy evoked the memories of a president who dared to dream and inspire a nation to action. I was in tears as he symbolically passed the torch that belonged to John Kennedy and the Kennedy clan to Barack Obama."

"No more 'Slick Bill' or 'Tricky Hill' to dominate the Democratic Party. The man with ethics, honesty and the ability to bring a nation together now carries the torch, hopefully all the way to the White House."

Tony writes from Los Angeles, "It will be a significant step both symbolically (a passing of the generational torch by the Kennedy family -- two of the most mythic figures of 20th Century Democratic politics) and from the progressive/liberal base of the Democratic Party. This will be bigger than the Oprah endorsement, especially since the Kennedys were friendly with the Clintons. This is powerful."

Eric writes from Naugatuck, Connecticut, "An endorsement from Ted Kennedy for Barack Obama will probably mean there won't be much change. Not as much as preached. How can there be change when there's suddenly another favor owed? If Barack Obama truly believed in change, he would accept any endorsement from such a Washington insider."

Annie writes, "If things going as they have been, all Obama has to do is sit back and watch Bill Clinton get him elected."

And Larry writes from Santa Barbara, California, "In a word, everything."

Big stuff -- 4:00. Try to be on time.

BLITZER: Next time. Thanks. See you in a few moments.

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

Happening now, John McCain and Mitt Romney slugging it out on the eve of a critical primary. Florida's frontrunners are in a bitter war of words over the war in Iraq.