Return to Transcripts main page


McCain, Romney Locked in Close Race in Florida; Can Giuliani Pull Off a Surprise Win?

Aired January 29, 2008 - 17:00   ET


BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.
And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, it's winner take all in Florida, where feuding frontrunners John McCain and Mitt Romney appear -- appear to be in a very close race in the Republican primary.

It may be do or die for the man who gambled his political future on Florida, but Rudy Giuliani is still betting he can pull it off.

And the right-wing, the conservative base of the Republican Party views John McCain's recent success -- at least some of them do -- with dismay.

Why does one radio talk show host call Senator McCain the anti- conservative?

I'll ask that radio talk show host, the author, Hugh Hewitt.

And President Bush says addiction is hard to overcome and makes it clear he's speaking from personal experience. Some very frank comments about his days as a drinker.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center.


It's going down to the wire for Republicans in Florida. Less than three hours from now, the last ballots will be cast and we can start bringing you the results. But just minutes from now, we'll bring you the first exit poll numbers, giving us a good sense of just what issues are driving the voters in Florida on this day.

Meantime, it's been a hotly contested battle between Republican frontrunners in Florida, John McCain and Mitt Romney. And McCain did some venting about that today.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Romney has attacked literally all of us. Mayor Giuliani and I haven't attacked each other. Governor Huckabee and I haven't attacked each other. Fred Thompson and I didn't attack each other. Ron Paul and I haven't attacked each other. It's only been Governor Romney who decides to attack opponents when he thinks that they are moving up in (INAUDIBLE). I mean that's just the way he campaigns. It's just a matter of record.


BLITZER: It may be make or break day for the man who was the frontrunner for a while. That would be Rudy Giuliani. But he's still betting his gamble on Florida will pay off.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are concentrated on today and today alone. We're not going to deal with any hypothetical questions. It would be counter productive to do that.

We're going to win. We are going to win today. That's our...

QUESTION: Mayor...

GIULIANI: That's our answer. We're going to win today. That's our objective and we're headed to California tomorrow to continue to campaign.


BLITZER: Mitt Romney has only one rival, though, on his mind on this Florida primary day -- John McCain, who has been attacking Romney for changing positions on key issues.

Listen to how Romney is now firing back.


MCCAIN: That's just the way he campaigns so we have to respond. And that was just (INAUDIBLE)...


BLITZER: All right, that was not Romney. That was John McCain. We apologize for that.

Let's go straight to CNN's Mary Snow.

She's in St. Petersburg, Florida right now -- there's been a lot of sniping back and forth, Mary, between Romney and McCain.

What's the latest?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, Mitt Romney has been trying to make the point he did again today, that -- he took a jab at Senator McCain saying, look, the country needs a president who is familiar with the economy. And he's trying to make the case that he's that candidate.

All this fighting, who will it hurt? It doesn't hurt anybody. To the extent that it takes the focus away from economic issues, that could hurt Mitt Romney, because the economy has really been seen as his strong point here in Florida. But inside the Romney camp, they say that this could hurt John McCain because they believe that some of the comments that he's made in recent days, particularly about the troop withdrawal over the weekend, they believe that that will come back to haunt him.

But I just asked one of the chairs of the Florida campaign here how he's feeling a couple of hours before the polls close. And he said anxious. This is expected to be a nail biter to the end -- everybody predicting a close race and not predicting a victor.

But I talked to one of the advisers to Mitt Romney. He says going forward he's looking forward to what he's calling a two man race between Mitt Romney and John McCain, saying he believes that Mitt Romney will do better on a smaller stage going forward.

But certainly he is pressing ahead and heading to California after today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The contest today.

Mary is on the scene for us in St. Petersburg.

All right, we have that clip of Mitt Romney speaking out earlier in the day.

I want to play it right now.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Anybody who doesn't learn from their life experience should be fired. They would be too stubborn to possibly consider for a position of leadership.

For instance, in the past, I was in favor of getting rid of the Department of Education. And that's the way most conservatives feel. But I frankly concluded that it makes sense to have a Department of Education. And there are other issues, as well, that are not terribly helpful to me. One is my health care plan. I know a lot of conservatives don't like it, but I think it's the ultimate conservative answer and I'm happy to campaign on that.

I think it's too bad that Senator McCain is obviously so desperate in this last moment, he's campaigned for so long to be president, that he -- he levels these kind of personal attacks. It's been an interesting week, as he's gone after me personally on one thing after the other. And, of course, Senator John McCain, you know, he was against the Bush tax cuts. Now he's for making them permanent. He was for McCain-Kennedy, now he's for a new program for immigration. He's changed his view on issue after issue.


BLITZER: That was Governor Romney actually speaking last night to our own Anderson Cooper here on CNN.

Rudy Giuliani is laying it all on the line in Florida. The former frontrunner has spent most of his time there, most of his resources there.

But guess what?

It may end up with -- he may end up with nothing to show for it.

Let's go to CNN's Dan Lothian.

He's in Orlando following the Giuliani campaign.

He's got a lot riding on what happens today -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He really does. You know, he was the national Republican frontrunner. Now he's the underdog. But today, Giuliani was still talking about winning.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Sounding confident and upbeat, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani shook hands and rallied supporter at his Broward County headquarters.

GIULIANI: Get on the phone, get out the vote and we will win.

LOTHIAN: With so much at stake in Florida, the cornerstone of his presidential campaign, Giuliani got on the phone himself to try and win some last minute votes.


This is Rudy Giuliani.

It is.

I'm calling from headquarters.


GIULIANI: Javier asked me to call. And I would like you -- to see if you would go out and vote for me today.

You will?


LOTHIAN: Still sticking to his themes of national security and tax cuts, as he dashed around Florida, Giuliani also touted the fact that he's been running a positive campaign -- above the fray, as the two GOP frontrunners, Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney, duke it out.

Over breakfast at a diner in Miami Beach, Giuliani made his final pitch and warned reporters not too put too much weight on the polls -- that show him trailing Republican opponents.

GIULIANI: What I have to say about it is a poll in New Hampshire had Barack Obama beating Hillary Clinton and it turned out the other way.

LOTHIAN: And he's defending the strategy that many have questioned of passing up early contest states and placing all his chips on Florida.

GIULIANI: We believe that was the right strategy for us. We believe we're going to win here. And, again, the major message I have today is get out and vote and you'll make that strategy correct.


LOTHIAN: Giuliani was asked several times by reporters today as to whether or not he would drop out of the race if he had a dismal showing here tonight. And all he answered was, "I don't deal in hypothetical situations" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, maybe he'll surprise all the pollsters and all the pundits. We'll see.

LOTHIAN: That's right.

BLITZER: That's what makes life interesting in these elections.

Dan, thanks very much.

Florida Democrats are turning out in the polls in very large numbers today, but their votes won't count for much. The national Democratic Party actually stripped Florida of its 210 convention delegates as a penalty for scheduling its primary so early in the season.

Although the Democratic presidential candidates are not formally campaigning in Florida, polls do indicate that Senator Hillary Clinton is headed for an easy win. She has made a point of fundraising in Florida and is expected to visit supporters in the state tonight once the polls in Florida close.

Let's go back to Jack.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Didn't they agree not to campaign in Florida?

BLITZER: They agreed not to campaign. They didn't agree they couldn't raise money -- they couldn't fundraise. You know, there's a lot of money in Florida -- places like Palm Beach, elsewhere.

CAFFERTY: Let me ask about -- just a rhetorical question.


CAFFERTY: How do you go to Florida to raise money without campaigning?

BLITZER: They do it in private, you know, in somebody's house, in a living room. They don't actually go out to big public events. I guess that there's a technical definition that they've come up with.

CAFFERTY: Yes. And in Michigan, Obama had his name taken off the ballot, but Hillary left her name on the ballot.

BLITZER: That's correct.

CAFFERTY: It's another state where the delegates don't...

BLITZER: They were stripped of their delegates...

CAFFERTY: ...there are no delegates.

BLITZER: ...because they moved it up, too.

CAFFERTY: All right.

He hasn't won anything yet and his showing, in some cases, has been downright dismal. But John Edwards is showing no signs of getting out the race. Maybe he doesn't have anything else to do.

Who knows?

His campaign says Edwards will stay in it until the convention and they're hopeful that he can still win it. One top official put it this way: "There are numerous scenarios that lead us to being nominated."

Right. Like if Obama and Clinton both drop out, for example. But this same official points out it's essentially impossible for one of those two to get a majority of delegates with three candidates in the race. And that's because the Democrats allot all their delegates proportionately. There's no winner take all. And so far, Clinton and Obama have pretty much been splitting the lion's share of the delegates.

Even if he doesn't win -- and he won't -- Edwards could still play a role if the nomination ends up being decided by a brokered convention. That's a long shot, too. Anyway, in such a scenario, Edwards could use his delegates -- potentially hundreds of them -- to promote his own platform, to act as a power broker. One political analyst says: "It's obvious what he has in mind. If you can't be the king, then be the king or queen maker."

And by staying in the game, Edwards can also influence the race in different states. For example, he could divide the white vote with Hillary Clinton, like he did in South Carolina, which helped Barack Obama. Or Edwards could attract some of the voters seeking change, which could hurt Barack Obama.

So here's the question -- if the Democrats wind up with a brokered convention, what role will John Edwards play? Go to or you can post a comment on my blog. Or go to Wolf's blog and read about his staff -- a fine bunch of folks, at that, and he pays some tribute to them today in a very nice article.

BLITZER: on the Political Ticker.

CAFFERTY: Sucking up to the staff.

BLITZER: I need them.

CAFFERTY: No, I understand.

BLITZER: I need all the help I can get.


BLITZER: It's a lonely business here at the top.


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack.


BLITZER: Is there a kinder, gentler Bill Clinton out on the campaign trail?


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No matter who you elect president, they are responsible for whether positive changes are made in other people's lives. And this is really what this election is about.


BLITZER: Has Hillary Clinton changed her strategy by reigning in her husband?

We'll take you out on the campaign trail to see if the former president is changing his tune.

Plus, we're just getting the first exit poll results in Florida. Bill Schneider is going through them. We're going to have a glance at what's driving the voters.

And John McCain -- he's been the Republican frontrunner -- at least a little bit the frontrunner, arguably, at least. But he's also facing enemies from within his own party. We're going to speak with radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt and ask him how far the conservative base of the Republican Party is willing to go to keep John McCain out of the White House.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: As we noted, Democrats will get no delegates in Florida because the party is punishing the state for moving up its primary. So the candidates are moving on and looking ahead to Super Tuesday. That's one week from today.

But in Kansas right now, Barack Obama seemed to be looking ahead to November.

Listen to this.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This election is our chance, our moment to restore the simple dream of those who came before us for another generation of Americans -- but only if we can come together like previous generations did and close that divide between a people and its leaders in Washington. Because in the end, the choice in this election is not between regions or religions or genders. It's not between rich versus poor. It's not young versus old. It's not black versus white. It's about the future versus the past.


BLITZER: Bill Clinton kicked up a lot of controversy in South Carolina with some sharp comments about Senator Barack Obama. Critics say he may have only hurt his wife Hillary Clinton in the process. But the former president is out back on the campaign trail today, this time in New Jersey, which is a Super Tuesday state.

Jim Acosta is there, as well.

Are we seeing a kinder, gentler Bill Clinton today -- Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, we are. This was not the Bill Clinton who was on the attack in South Carolina. He was back -- just not with a vengeance.


ACOSTA (voice-over): The offensive was all charm. There were no jabs at Barack Obama in front of this community college crowd in the Super Tuesday state of New Jersey.

B. CLINTON: We have to send a different message to the world. And she is uniquely qualified to do it. And the message goes like this -- we're back.

ACOSTA: Instead, Bill Clinton stuck to the bread and butter domestic issues that defined much of his presidency -- and now his wife's campaign for the Oval Office -- health care, the economy and the deficit.

B. CLINTON: Is there anything Hillary Clinton is more conservative on than President Bush?

And I have to answer honestly that there is one thing -- the budget. She liked it when were paying down the debt.

ACOSTA: The former president steered clear of the radioactive rhetoric generated by the South Carolina primary.

B. CLINTON: 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.

ACOSTA: The fallout, some Democrats maintain, may have swung a plum endorsement to a rival at a critical time.

SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I know that he's ready to be president on day one.

ACOSTA: The only talk of endorsements today came from New Jersey's governor, Jon Corzine, who is squarely in Clinton's camp -- a camp that Corzine believes has made some adjustments.

(on camera): Do you think that perhaps the Clinton campaign maybe learned a few lessons?

GOV. JON CORZINE (D), NEW JERSEY: We all learn day in and day out. You know, you try things. You get a sense for what is the best use of the resources you have and you apply them to those needs. I think that probably has happened.


ACOSTA: As for those expectations that the former president would dial back his role on the campaign, consider his schedule, which takes him to four battleground states -- four big Super Tuesday states over the next few days. And that includes Barack Obama's home state of Illinois -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thanks very much.

Jim Acosta watching the former president for us.

And this note -- don't miss the last debates before Super Tuesday. You can watch as the Republican and Democratic candidates face-off in California. Anderson Cooper hosts the debate tomorrow night at the Reagan Library out in California. And please join me Thursday night, when the Democrats face-off at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles.

Let's go to Carol Costello.

She's monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the House of Representatives has approved a $146 billion economic stimulus plan with little debate and a rare display of bipartisanship. The vote was 385-35. The bill would give taxpayers rebates of up to $1,200, but it faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where lawmakers want to add on provisions covering seniors and the unemployed, among others.

The Associated Press has just reported that a Venezuelan hostage crisis is now over. Four gunmen who held dozens of people inside a bank for more than a day fled earlier in an ambulance, still holding five captives who volunteered to leave with the gunmen. It was part of a deal with police to end the bank standoff. Now a state official is quoted as saying the ambulance was intercepted, the gunmen surrendered and all of the hostages are safe.

Middle-aged blues -- they're universal, according to a new joint U.S.-British study of some two million people around the world. It finds the probability of depression peaks for men and women in their middle 40s, ending in their 50s. The good news is that by their 70s, most people are as happy and mentally healthy as those in their 20s.

Just have to wait until you're 70 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thank you very much for that.

We're going to get back to Carol momentarily.

Exit poll results from Florida coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. You're going to find out what the voters think about all of this -- what's on their minds.

Plus, he's the Republican presidential candidate that some conservative commentators love to hate.

What's their beef with John McCain?

I'll ask Hugh Hewitt, the radio talk show host. My interview with him -- that's coming up.

Plus, details of some revealing new numbers showing the real effect of housing and the credit crisis.

Stay with us.



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

Happening now, the number of homeowners in the United States is on the decline thanks to the troubled housing market and the credit crunch. The Census Bureau says owners accounted for 67.8 percent of occupied homes in the fourth quarter of 2007. That's down more than a point from the year before.

Also, President Bush has signed an executive order eliminating so-called earmarks -- those last minute special interest add-ons to spending bills. Mr. Bush says those add-ons won't be funded unless they were debated openly by the Congress. And large sections of China are paralyzed by some of the worst winter weather to hit the country in 50 years. Take a look at the these I-Reporters. They're coming in. The weather is blamed for some two dozen deaths and comes as tens of millions of people try to get home for the Chinese new year.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


We'll get back to the presidential contest -- the huge vote today in Florida.

But first, some other important news we're following right now around the world.

The violence in Kenya is turning deadly.

CNN's Nic Robertson is on the scene for us right now.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Hungry, tired, angry, afraid -- Kenya's newly displaced want help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The pressure is growing. We don't have toilet facilities here. There is no water. There's no food.

ROBERTSON: Thousands were in a vacant lot behind Naivasha police station. No one knows how many. They began arriving Sunday -- fleeing a brutal wave of killings. Earlier, aide officials told us they are struggling. Already a quarter million are displaced.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now there's been new waves, people who have either had their neighborhoods attacks or, in fear of attacks, have moved in to camp.

ROBERTSON: It was after that interview we decided to take a look for ourselves -- drive the hour-and-a-half northwest to Naivasha.

(on camera): We have just received a phone call telling us that there are military helicopters flying over the town where we're going. And we're told they're firing -- firing rubber bullets into the crowd below.

(voice-over): As we arrive, soldiers lift a badly wounded man from the roadside. We can feel the tension. Suddenly, women and children see us and run our way. A hotel owner -- she tells us they've only just fled their houses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We didn't get back until 10:00 -- 10:00 a.m..

ROBERTSON (on camera): Three hours ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the helicopters, they are coming, throwing these new -- these things.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): She is ethnic Kikuyu and says ethnic Luos started this day's violence. Kikuyu effectively dominate Naivasha, so despite being afraid, they are relatively safe and walk on.

At the police station, it is different. We learn most are Luo and are too afraid to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For lack of a better word, I can just say this is just ethnic, ethnic cleansing, because particular communities are being targeted. They're being told to leave this town.

ROBERTSON: While we are there, the first food delivery arrives. But the aide workers who bring it tell me they already know it's not enough. Almost predictably, squabbles break out over who gets what.

(on camera): But even as this food is being handed out, if you look over there, you can see black smoke rising up from another part of the town. And some people here have told us that's their possessions being burned.

(voice-over): Nothing yet is stopping the violence.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Naivasha, Kenya.


BLITZER: What a horrible story. We'll stay on top of the tragedy that's unfolding in Kenya right now.

He could be the clear Republican frontrunner coming out of today's Florida primary -- then again, maybe not.

So why is John McCain such a nightmare for some -- some conservatives?


HUGH HEWITT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, AUTHOR: Now, the anti- conservative is John McCain. He's a phenomenally weak sort of second coming of Bob Dole without the charisma or the affection.


BLITZER: The radio talk show host, Hugh Hewitt. He's not holding back at all when it comes to John McCain.

So who does he support?

Also, Hillary Clinton leading with Latino voters right now. But Barack Obama could challenge that with one specific issue and we'll tell you what it is.

Plus, President Bush speaking bluntly on a topic he rarely discusses -- his battle years ago with alcohol. You're going to find out what he's saying. Stay with us.



BLITZER: This just coming in here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the exit poll information from Florida gives us a good sense of what matters most to the voters, what the issues are that are driving them as they cast their ballots. Let's go to our senior political analyst Bill Schneider once again. He's joining us.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We have four candidates in the republican primary hotly competing in that Florida primary. They seem to come in pairs. Take a look at the percentage of each candidate's supporters in Florida who describe themselves as conservatives. Romney voters and Huckabee voters were clearly conservative. Three quarters of Romney voters and more than two- thirds of Huckabee voters describe themselves as conservatives, but look at Giuliani and McCain voters, just 50 percent describe themselves as conservatives. You have a pair of staunch conservatives and a pair of not quite as staunch conservatives in the primary.

How about the abortion issue, as an illustration? Take a look at this. Again, pairs. Huckabee voters, 81 percent believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Romney voters, 61 percent believe it should be illegal. McCain and Giuliani voters, not so much; 41 percent of McCain voters, 31 percent of Giuliani voters think abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances. Again, Huckabee and Romney on the conservative side; McCain and Giuliani competing for the more moderate vote.

Finally, what were the top issues in today's republican primary? In Florida, well really one issue dominated the agenda. That was the economy. Almost half the republican voters said the economy was the issue, dwarfing terrorism, illegal immigration in the state where there are a lot of immigrants and there are a lot of Hispanic voters and only 13 percent say the war in Iraq is an important issue. So among republicans as well as democrats, it's all about the economy, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill. Thanks very much. Bill is going to continue to go through the exit polls and bring us more information. What is on the mind of the voters, the republican voters specifically, out in Florida today? The economy, as he just said, it's the top issue for the republicans as Mitt Romney and John McCain wage an increasingly bitter battle for the republican presidential nomination.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's joining us now with more on what McCain and Romney are saying. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's some real verbal combat between them, Wolf, especially in recent. Most of it deals with their past records on the economy. So we did a reality check on that and on how they would move forward.


TODD: Which one can get this rattled economy rolling? As on other issues, you first have to get past the insults. Mitt Romney's favorite, John McCain doesn't understand how the economy works and doesn't have Romney's real world experience.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Being on the Commerce Committee in the senate. That's what gives you the expertise that you need to know about how the economy works.

TODD: McCain's counter, Mitt Romney is a tax raiser.

JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As a liberal governor of the state of Massachusetts, he raised taxes by $730 million as a governor. The state of Massachusetts is now saddled with a quarter billion dollar debt over his government mandated health care system.

TODD: The truth could be in the interpretation. Romney's camp says he never raised taxes in Massachusetts, did raise state fees to close a budget deficit, but not by nearly as much as McCain claims. Romney's aides also say that state health care system didn't cause a debt; it was an expense already budgeted for.

On McCain's so-called lack of experience, his term on the Senate Commerce Committee dealing with wide trade issues spans more than 20 years. He voted against President Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, saying they didn't curb government spending enough and "So many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle- class Americans."

Analysts say both candidates now heavily favor tax cuts for individuals and businesses. Both are small government loving free traders. Their starkest economic difference?

JOHN FORTIER, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: I think Mitt Romney is more clearly on the tax cutting front than is John McCain. He is somebody who would support tax cuts leading first and mention spending cuts in a second sentence. If you look at John McCain I think you find the opposite. John McCain's career has been built on opposing pork barrel spending and earmarks and fiscal discipline. He has been for some tax cuts, although not all.


TODD: So what resonates more with republican voters? Analysts say as much as republicans have favored tax cuts traditionally, recent polls show a number of them have growing concern about spending. Support for Romney and McCain may be equally split depending on voters priorities on the issues. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian Todd, for that.

Some conservatives in the Republican Party have long been very uneasy about John McCain. Radio talk show hosts have made him a favorite target in particular. One of them has called McCain the anti-conservative. That would be Hugh Hewitt. He is also the author of a book about Mitt Romney entitled, "A Mormon in the White House?" Hugh Hewitt is joining us now from Irvine, California. Hugh, thanks for coming in.

HUGH HEWITT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Good to be here, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: I want to point out we spoke to the McCain supporter, the Governor Charlie Crist in the last hour. So we're going to speak to somebody who not necessarily a huge fan of John McCain right now. That would be you. What kind of problems do you have with John McCain?

HEWITT: I think most of the talk show hosts all point to the same things, Wolf. We don't like McCain at all. We do not like the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill. We don't care for the McCain- Lieberman global warming carbon tax.

BLITZER: He was on campaign finance reform.

HEWITT: We didn't like the gang of 14 especially which undid the republican administration attempt to end judicial filibusters. We prefer to drill and explore right now. John McCain is opposed to that. Then you have the treatment and interrogation of terrorists, the big collision between Bill Frist and John McCain that occurred in August/September of 2006. So for a long period of time everyone knows his amazing service. We just don't like his ideas, and we just don't care for his legislative record which we don't view as conservative at all.

BLITZER: Your conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh said this on Monday. He said "I think that conservatives, just some of them won't vote. I don't think the McCain people understand just how deep the resentment for Senator McCain has been and is, based on his time in the U.S. Senate." Are you going that far as well?

HEWITT: Absolutely not. In fact, I told someone today if John McCain is the republican nominee it's not about taking your ball and going home, it's about working for the next 275 days to get him elected because he understands the war. We'll have to put up with a lot of bad laws, but the country will be well-defended. I think there's a choice right now. I like Romney. I like Rudy Giuliani. I think I can get a lot more of the entire conservative package.

I noted when Bill Schneider was talking, Wolf, about the issues that matter the most today in Florida. The economy is number one. I think that John McCain told the "Boston Globe" he doesn't really understand the economy. I think that's going to resonate today and it's going to resonate next week at Super Tuesday and beyond. Republicans do care about the economy. They care a lot about de- regulation and cutting taxes. I didn't even mention that John McCain voted twice against the Bush tax cuts and used rhetoric that was sort of the class war fare rhetoric. I'm not going to abandon the republican party if its nominee isn't my first choice but I sure hope it is my first choice.

BLITZER: He says, McCain, that Mitt Romney, his arch rival right now in Florida, is nothing but a liberal. Here's a clip of what he said on Monday.


MCCAIN: You know, one thing I think we should really give Governor Romney credit for, he is consistent. He is consistently taken both sides of any major issue. He has consistently flip-flopped on every issue.


BLITZER: You agree with him on that?

HEWITT: Of course not, Wolf. I think George Will wrote a column today which blasted John McCain as St. John and taking the Clintonian approach to politics. I think the negative campaigning over the last 72 hours by John McCain was a bit of desperation on his part. It's going to hurt him this week and the week beyond because you know if you recall, the big story when Romney used the contrast ad in Iowa against Mike Huckabee and won in New Hampshire against John McCain both on immigration that he got all the negative press for going negative. John McCain set the bar very low in the last 72 hours, especially these robo calls, especially unwarranted attack on Romney for a secret timetable for defeat in Iraq. Republicans are high information voters. They have been watching this stuff. I think they're reacting very negatively today in Florida to the negative campaigning by John McCain. I suspect that will continue through next Tuesday.

BLITZER: So you have a serious problem with John McCain. Not with Mitt Romney. I take it not with Huckabee either.

HEWITT: Well, my preference is Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney because I care a lot about the war. I think Mike Huckabee has a bigger learning curve on that one. But, yeah, Mike Huckabee is very sound on judges. He's pro-life. He's pro-traditional marriage. I think he can bring a lot of people around. But I think after tonight it's a two-person race. Don't you agree with that, Wolf? It's going to be a McCain/Romney race.

BLITZER: We'll see what the polls - we'll see what the actual voters in Florida say. Then we have a week from today. We have Super Tuesday, including where you are in California. Let me pick your brain. What do you think is going to happen on the republican side in California next Tuesday?

HEWITT: It's fascinating. I'll be up at the Reagan Library with CNN tomorrow night watching the debate broadcasting from there. I think you have a very scattered electorate. Clearly Mitt Romney is ahead in Orange County. John McCain has a tremendous amount in northern California among the liberal republicans. It's by congressional district. It's going to be late in the night next week before we get a result out of California, Wolf.

BLITZER: I think it will be late in the night tonight as well until we get a result out of Florida. If Giuliani comes in a distant third tonight, should he stay in the race, or should he just take his bags and come back here to New York City?

HEWITT: I had the mayor on yesterday, Wolf. I took the opportunity to urge him to stay in because a brokered convention is a reality here. He should go to Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and campaign for a few hundred delegates and make sure that his very purposeful stance on international security and terrorism is well communicated to the Republican Party. I think he had a bad strategy for the first month. This is 2008. Anything can change and will.

BLITZER: I think that's fair enough. Hugh Hewitt, thanks for coming in.

HEWITT: Wolf, my pleasure. Thank you.

BLITZER: See you out in Los Angeles, California. I'm heading out there myself. We have a democratic presidential debate Thursday night, a republican debate tomorrow night. Thank you, Hugh.

Hillary Clinton has many of them. Barack Obama wants more of them. That would be Latino voters. We're going to show the one issue where he could gain some critical ground.

Plus, President Bush makes a rare and candid reference to his own battle with addiction a long time ago. You'll find out what he's saying.

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


BLITZER: Latino voters could make the difference for democratic presidential candidates on Super Tuesday. Hillary Clinton has the advantage right now, but Barack Obama could gain some important ground on one controversial issue.

Let's go to Carol Costello. She's watching the story for us. What's going on, carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The controversial issue is really controversial. That would be the driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. Obama's stand on the issue could certainly catch much- needed attention in the Hispanic community. The only problem, it could hurt him, too.


COSTELLO: Talk about your hot button issues, driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. It literally drives some off the deep end, like Lou Dobbs.

LOU DOBBS, LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: You have illegal aliens in the country demanding the rights, privileges of citizenship. It is the most, to me, arrogant thing they could possibly do.

COSTELLO: Most Americans agree. According to a CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll in October, a whopping 76 percent do not think undocumented immigrants ought to have driver's licenses. Senator Barack Obama, though, is not among them. In a November CNN debate, Wolf pushed for an answer about whether or not he supports driver's licenses in the situation.

BLITZER: Senator Obama, yes or no?


COSTELLO: Asked later if he waffled on the idea, he bristled.

OBAMA: I had just answered the question two weeks ago. I had assumed I was already on record in saying this was something I support if we continue to make progress on comprehensive reform.

COSTELLO: It's a controversial stand that may cost him politically later, but could help him right now with Hispanics.

ANGELO FALCONE, PRES. NATL. INST. FOR LATINO POLICY: He could say I'm standing here on principle supporting this thing, even though it could hurt me with other voters. That's a powerful message, only if he can get it out to Latino voters.

COSTELLO: It could help chip away at Hillary Clinton's lead among Hispanic voters. An October Pew Research nationwide poll of Hispanic voters showed Clinton leading by a whopping 59 percent by 15 percent for Obama. But don't think she's not vulnerable. The very issue that may hurt Obama in the long run could hurt Clinton in the short term. Voters remember waffling.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just want to add I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize why Governor Spitzer is trying to do it. And we have failed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no. You said you thought it made sense to do it.

CLINTON: No, I didn't.

COSTELLO: Senator Clinton now says we need immigration reform. Some in the Latino community say if Obama can communicate that to Hispanic voters he'll win more support.

JANET MURGUIA, PRES. NATIONAL COUNCIL OF LA RAZA: There's no question the Hispanic community still doesn't know Senator Barack Obama. His agenda and the platform of issues and the positions he's taken would be a great appeal to the Hispanic community.

COSTELLO: But again, by spotlighting an issue that minority groups like and the majority doesn't, it may help get Obama what he needs to win the nomination, but it may wound him deeply in the general election.


COSTELLO: Now Obama is also promising to deal with immigration in his first term. And he'll reach out to Hispanics with his own personal story. His father, as you know, was Kenyan. His mother American. But it will be a tough road. Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton especially is beloved in the Hispanic community. Hillary Clinton has been working at wrapping up pretty much every major endorsement to keep her commanding lead among Latinos. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Carol Costello reporting for us.

About 50,000 Latinos in the United States turn 18 each month. One group online is working hard to make sure to young Latinos are registered to vote.

Let's go back to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's here. Abbi, how are they doing this?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Their goal is to identify where these young Latinos communicate and go after them there. What does that mean? It means online. This is They have a special attention now running up to the Super Tuesday. Especially here in January. They're doing it in some creative ways. They have text message campaigns to young Latinos and this new video which they've just posted online. A tongue in cheek look at photo registration. They know also they have to take this off line as well. They're working with Latino DJs in various states. They're taking the message to concerts as well. Even though this has been going on for a little while, the push is right now in January. The executive director of the group saying that through these inexpensive and viral methods they've registered almost 6,000 young Latinos to vote in this election. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks for that, Abbi Tatton.

President Bush says addiction is very hard to overcome. He makes it clear he's speaking from personal experience. The president makes some very frank comments about his days many years ago as a drinker.

And Florida's Governor, Charlie Crist, gives a late boost to John McCain. I'll ask him why he made the endorsement.

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


BLITZER: President Bush today spoke bluntly about his one time battle with alcohol calling his experience, I'm quoting now, an addiction. Picking up where he left off in his State of the Union address, the president made another pitch for programs focused on faith. Listen to this.


PRES. GEORGE BUSH, UNITED STATES: Addiction is hard to overcome. As you might remember, I drank too much at one time in my life. I understand faith-based programs. I understand that sometimes you can find the inspiration from a higher power to solve an addiction problem.


BLITZER: The president spoke during a visit to a Baltimore center which helps former prisoners.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty. He's got the Cafferty file. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this hour's question, if the democrats wind up with a brokered convention, and they might, what role would John Edwards then play?

Michael writes, "If the democrats wind up with a brokered convention, Edwards will use his delegates to secure him the vice presidential slot by backing whomever will name him VP. Remember, Edwards has been campaigning for president for 10 years and will happily take the VP slot for any presidential candidate with the hopes of then becoming president in eight years."

Jeanette in Hartwell, Georgia writes, "If we're lucky, John Edwards will be the nominee. He is the best choice to lead America, and if the media (yes, this includes you, Jack) wasn't part of big business and threatened by John, he would have gotten better treatment from all you talking heads." I've been nice to John.

Michael writes, "His political career will be over. Democrats and voters will be so irritated with his shady politics and complete waste of their time that he will lose the little support that he does have. He is obviously trying to nose his way into the White House either as president or vice president. The man obviously has no chance and his obstruction of the voice of the people will destroy his popularity."

Michael says, "It is clear that Edwards wants to be a King-Maker, not a Queen-Maker, throwing his support behind Obama. In exchange, John Edwards will be the VP. Except this time, unlike 2004, the Democratic Party lead by Barack Obama will win it."

And Paul writes, "He should be vying for Attorney General. Could you imagine having an attack dog like him running the Justice Department? Republicans would we their pants at the thought of a trial lawyer with subpoena power." Wolf?

BLITZER: See you in a few moments.

CAFFERTY: I'll be here.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Lou Dobbs, he's looking at those first exit polls from the Florida primary. Lou is standing by. He'll be talking to me in just a moment.

Plus, my interview with the Florida governor, Charlie Crist. I'll ask him why he's decided to back John McCain.


BLITZER: Let's bring in Lou Dobbs. He's getting ready for his show that begins in an hour. Were you surprised that Bill Schneider reported the top issues of concern to republican voters in Florida today in our exit polls, 47 percent said the economy, 19 percent said terrorism, 17 percent said illegal immigration.

DOBBS: I'm not surprised. That's what is top at mind for most Americans, whether democrat or republican. I think it's interesting as well that the economy has emerged as such a dominant position.

BLITZER: Is the economy that bad to justify that concern?

DOBBS: Absolutely. The economy being bad is one way to look at it. The fact is the American people, working men and women who are supporting a family understand there is a great deal of uncertainly here. And there's this great disconnect with their leadership. And that only compounds that anxiety.

BLITZER: It feels the uncertainly. Then people hold back. They don't spend the way they should if they're worried about their next paychecks.

DOBBS: One of the poll question could easily be, Wolf, in my opinion, do you trust your elected officials to represent your interest? My guess you would see a huge response in the negative.

BLITZER: Historically, they like their own congressman. They hate the congress but their own individual lawmaker they like.

DOBBS: I think that's a function of idiotic polling if you want to know the truth. I think the real issue here is one of trust between a federal government that has been dysfunctional for some years now and an electorate that is feeling disenfranchised. In Florida, they're definitely feeling disenfranchised today.

BLITZER: The democrats because they've been stripped of their authority to help choose delegates that will go to the convention. Who's at fault for that?

DOBBS: I think straightforwardly the partisan parties. You've got the democratic republican parties that are acting as if they are some sort of government agency. I say a pox on both their houses. It's one of the reasons this government is not working is because these idiotic partisan politics are being practiced by people who really should have a license. But they're simply unqualified. When you look who's leading the Democratic Party action the Republican Party, this is a sad, sad joke. They're not the solution. They're the problem.

BLITZER: Lou, thanks very much.

DOBBS: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: See you in one hour. "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" coming up in an hour.