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Democratic Debate Preview; Campaign News; McCain's New Endorsement; Iraq Plan; Tracking Campaign Cash

Aired January 31, 2008 - 17:00   ET


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, it's going to be a giant.

I want you to look at this crowd that's gathered here at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. Take a look at these pictures, Jack.

We've got people coming from all over. They support, some of them, Obama; some of them Hillary Clinton. But we're getting a big crowd and it looks like it's going to get bigger and bigger and bigger as the clock winds down.

All right, Jack.

Thanks very much for that.

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

Happening now, an unprecedented showdown -- a woman an African- American alone on the stage for a presidential debate. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama face-off just three hours from now in the Democratic debate, right here on CNN.

A pause, as it's called, in the pullback. After the current troop drawdown ends in July, the U.S. military commander in Iraq wants to wait and let the dust settle.

When will the homecomings start up again?

And is America keeping its economy going by borrowing money from China then printing more money to simply try to pay off the debt?

Republican candidates sounding an alarm.

Are they right?

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles -- the site of tonight's debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.


Just three hours from now, the spotlight will be turned right here on the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, to try to capture a moment in history. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will take the stage for the Democratic debate -- a woman and an African-American. They're battling for the presidential nomination. We'll have all the drama right here on CNN. It all starts -- the debate, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 Pacific.

Let's get some analysis now on what we can expect.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, she's out here.

The candidates, they've got specific objectives. They've been working hard, honing their skills for these past several days. They know this debate tonight could be pivotal, only five days before Super Tuesday.


And there are a couple of things that the candidates need to do. First, we've always heard about Senator Obama providing hope and inspiration. Well, Wolf, tonight he to do a lot more than that. He really has to show that he has the stuff -- he's got a sense in grasping the issues here.

This is one of the things -- you talk to Congresswoman Maxine Waters and she says the people in her district, they are not just looking for hope, they wake up with hope. She says they're looking for action.

So he needs to focus on specific proposals and action ideas. He also needs to reach out to the Latino community. Obviously, that is a weakness of his and that is something that he needs to say tonight that will convince him his vote -- their vote is critical.

Senator Clinton, on the other hand, she really has to come and express her own voice. She says she found it in New Hampshire. It seems like it was overshadowed by her husband in South Carolina. She needs to bring that back and focus on the issues.

BLITZER: What about the things they need to avoid doing?

I know they've been practicing that, as well.

MALVEAUX: Well, Senator Obama as, you know, he really kind of got in this tit for tat with Senator Hillary Clinton. He needs to stay away from that. He needs to appear that he is above the fray and he needs to take on President Bush, because the one line that really resonates with voters, gets the greatest applause, is when he takes on President Bush over the Iraq War. That's what he needs to do tonight.

Senator Clinton also has to show that she really doesn't have to play the hardball politics with him. She can step back a little bit. She does not want to get into that kind of bath kind of brutish type of brawl that we saw the last time. She needs to appear as if she is fighting Bush, not necessarily Obama.

BLITZER: All right, we'll be watching.

Suzanne, thanks very much.

Good advice all around. If you want to see how the voters are reacting to tonight's debate while they're still on the stage, this is what you can do. You can check out to get real time reaction from the California voters.

And on the top issues of the political -- of course, one of them is Iraq. The U.S. troop buildup in Iraq, the so-called surge, is supposed to be drawdown by July. The defense secretary, Robert Gates, has voiced the hope that the withdrawal can continue beyond that point. But right now, military commanders on the ground are saying not so fast.

Let's go to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first hint that U.S. commanders in Iraq want a pause before making additional troop cuts was dropped by top commander, General David Petraeus, in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.


GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: We will, though, need to have some time to let things settle a bit, if you will, after we complete with the withdrawal of what will be over one quarter of our combat power.

MCINTYRE: General Petraeus' prudence reflects the concern of his commanders that the surge was only partly responsible for the security improvements in Iraq and that other factors, including the Sunni awakening and Muqtada al-Sadr's cease-fire, are subject to change with little warning.

The plan is to go from 20 combat bring brigades to 15 by July -- a reduction of 22,000 troops. And then, in the words of one senior military official, let the dust settle.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who last year publicly expressed the hope -- just the hope -- that troop levels could drop to 100,000 by year's end, was tight-lipped when questioned by reporters at the Pentagon about General Petraeus' thinking.

QUESTION: What do you think of that idea and the underlying logic of it?

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: First of all, we have not had the opportunity to discuss it.

MCINTYRE: Gates has always been clear that any further troop cuts beyond the five brigades already scheduled to come home would be based on the situation in Iraq and what commanders like General Petraeus think is still needed. And, in fact, not all the 30,000 surge troops are coming out. More than 7,000 support troops are still needed -- meaning there will actually be more U.S. troops in Iraq after the surge ends than before it began. (END VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE: The pause in troop withdrawals reflects the judgment of U.S. commanders that the gains of the past few months are tenuous at best, that what peace there is in Iraq could be shattered if, for instance, the Sunnis who have turned against Al Qaeda were to once again turn against the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre, thanks very much.

The U.S. military reports one soldier was killed today when a roadside exploded near his vehicle. That brings the U.S. death toll in Iraq to 3,942.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, we've got some very troubling statistics when it comes to our troops. The numbers of suicides in the U.S. Army jumped by as much as 20 percent last year, with officials saying that as many as 121 of our soldiers committed suicide. In fact, 25 percent of the suicides happened in Iraq. And it's expected the number of suicides by active duty troops may, in fact, reach an all time high when the numbers from last year are finalized.

This report shows a significant increase, as well, in the number of attempted suicides and self-injuries injuries. They were 2,100 of these last year -- more than six times as many as the 350 attempts in 2002 -- the year before the war in Iraq began.

The Army says the main indicators for suicides are failed personal relationships, legal and financial problems and job stress. They found the number of days the troops are deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan contributes to job stress.

No kidding.

It's probably no quince coincidence then the Pentagon last year extended the tours of duty from 12 months to 15 months. And some troops have been sent back into combat zones over there several times.

Troop surveys in Iraq have shown that 20 percent of Army soldiers have signs of Post-Traumatic Stress, including flashbacks, and 35 percent of the soldiers are getting some kind of mental health treatment within a year after coming home. It's another tragic side effect of this war.

So the question is this for this hour -- what should the Army do about a sharp rise in the suicide rate among its soldiers?

Go to, where you can post a comment on my blog.

That's a heavy price they're paying for what they're doing over there. BLITZER: It's a very sad story, indeed.

All right, Jack.

Thanks very much.

Coming up, jumping aboard the McCain bandwagon.


GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: He's a great American hero and an extraordinary leader. This is why I am endorsing him to be our next president of the United States.


BLITZER: The California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, puts a muscle in the McCain campaign.

Can he deliver California's delegates?

Also, former President Bill Clinton shows he still knows how to work a crowd. You're going to hear how he makes short work of a heckler's 9/11 conspiracy theory.

And Republican candidates worry that the U.S. is simply borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars from China to support a spending spree. We'll get a Fact Check.

We're live here at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, site of tonight's Democratic debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.



BLITZER: We're here at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles. We're getting ready for the historic debate tonight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. A lot of supporters from both camps already gathered here on the streets outside of the Kodak Theater.

There's a Republican race underway, as well, and the John McCain bandwagon is starting to pick up some steam. Just a day after Rudy Giuliani announced he's backing McCain, the California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has jumped aboard, as well.


SCHWARZENEGGER: He's a crusader. He has a great vision in protecting the environment and also protecting, simultaneously, the economy. He has incredible credentials on national security. And, of course, he is a fantastic, outstanding public servant. He's a great American hero and an extraordinary leader. This is why I am endorsing him to be our next president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right, let's go to chief national correspondent, John King.

He's here at the Kodak Theater with us.

How important is this endorsement -- the Schwarzenegger endorsement for John McCain?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Both in a small scale -- what it means in California -- and a large scale -- what it means nationally because of the governor's star power and celebrity power, it means a great deal to John McCain. And I was down with Governor Romney in the Los Angeles suburbs just a few hours ago. And he conceded the point, Wolf. He said it's an endorsement that he would have liked to have had.

Governor Schwarzenegger, even though he started off with rocky relations with his own party here in California, has a 70 something per cent approval rating among California Republicans. That should help John McCain, just like the Charlie Crist endorsement helped down in a lot of.

And across the country, Governor Schwarzenegger says his message is, look, I get Democratic votes. I get Independent votes. John McCain can do that, too. So it has a Republican primary implication and also potentially a general election implication, if John McCain can be the nominee.

BLITZER: Now, he had been saying for a long time, Schwarzenegger, he wasn't going to endorse anyone. He was going to wait and see what happened.

Why did he change his mind?

KING: In large part, because Rudy Giuliani got out of the race. I actually sat down with the governor back during the California wildfires a couple of months ago talk about that crisis at the time. But then we were chatting about politics after. And he said he would probably not endorse because he was torn between two close friends -- Rudy and John McCain. When Giuliani got out of the race, he said it was a very easy choice to go to John McCain.

BLITZER: And what about this notion that Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican; Giuliani, a moderate Republican, especially on the social issues; that there may be a mixed blessing for John McCain right now, who is trying to bring in and unify that conservative base, who seem to have some reservations about him?

KING: And there's no question about that. And Dana Bash actually asked Senator McCain that question earlier today. And he said look, I'm honored to have both of these men at my side. I believe I can unify the party and I will unify the party. It's one of the reasons the McCain campaign is putting out more conservative endorsements from others across the country.

But it is one of the big challenges. And Governor Romney talked about that earlier today, saying he still believes when Republicans start to focus more and more, they will realize that John McCain is not conservative enough. And he listed a number of policy positions.

But inside the Romney campaign, they concede there is a great deal of momentum right now and that stopping McCain is going to get very difficult.

Some are saying to do it, Governor Romney is going to have to spend more money, get modest victories on Super Tuesday and then make a calculated decision about is this 1976, Ronald Reagan versus Gerald Ford -- stay in, win some later primaries and try to change the race much further down the road.

But very tough decisions for Governor Romney if he does not surprise people and do better than the polls now indicate he will do on Super Tuesday.

BLITZER: John, thanks very much.


BLITZER: John King reporting for us.

China was certainly a hot topic at last night's Republican debate, with several of the candidates sounding the alarm about the U.S. financial dependence on China.

Let's go to our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff.

He's joining us now -- Allan, is there a cause for concern?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is no immediate danger. But the fact is, we owe the Chinese nearly $400 billion.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Spending is out of control and I'm tired of borrowing money from China.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): What John McCain and the other presidential candidates are talking about is China funding our deficit spending.

RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can't keep borrowing from China and you can't keep printing the money. We have to cut some spending.

CHERNOFF: As Washington spends more than it can afford, it has to sell bonds. And the Chinese have become big buyers. China now owns $387 billion of the bonds, notes and bills that the U.S. Treasury sells to finance the government. That's 8.5 percent of the total.

ROBERT HORMATS, VICE CHAIRMAN, GOLDMAN SACHS: Largely because we want to consume a lot. We don't save very much. We have to get the money from somewhere.

CHERNOFF: Is there a danger?

If the Chinese were to stop buying so much of our debt, Treasury would have to offer higher interest rates to attract money. That would mean more expensive mortgages and car leases for Americans. But it's in China's interest to support our spending. We buy so many of its products, that we run a massive trade deficit with China that runs billions and billions of dollars every month. And if the Congress and the president reach a final deal on tax rebates, Mike Huckabee warns Americans will give another boost to China -- by buying its products.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My point is whose economy are we stimulating when we do that?


CHERNOFF: China is the new Japan. Two decades ago, the U.S. was worried about dependence upon Japan. Now it's China. And whoever is elected president will have to deal with that fear -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Allan, thanks very much.

An important subject for all of us.

The stage is set here in Los Angeles for a historic debate. We're going to get insight from Democratic strategist James Carville. He's a Hillary Clinton supporter. And Jamal Simmons. He's backing Barack Obama. They're coming up live.

We're going to show you, also, how some surprising new developments in Detroit's city sex scandal are unfolding right now.

Remember, we're live at the Kodak Theater here in Los Angeles. It's the site of tonight's Democratic debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.



BLITZER: Lots of people here outside the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles. There are Obama supporters, Hillary Clinton supporters. They're all excited. They're pumped. We're only two hours and 39 minutes away from the start of this historic debate tonight between these two remaining Democratic presidential candidates. Much more of our coverage of that coming up.

But let's check in with Carol.

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


A federal judge says the Army Corps of Engineers deserves the blame for the levee failure that flooded New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. But he also says it cannot be sued. He dismissed a class action lawsuit against the Corps, citing a 1928 law shielding the federal government from liability when flood control projects fail.

Those tax rebates designed to stimulate the U.S. economy haven't even cleared Congress yet, but they've already got identity thieves revved up. The Internal Revenue Service is warning about scams trying to trick you into revealing financial and personal data. The IRS says if you get a call or an e-mail claiming you need to provide personal information to get your rebate, it is pure and simple fraud. Hang up.

A travel nightmare is ending for some Chinese. A limited number of trains are running again. Some of the worst winter weather in 50 years shut down China's transportation system. Tens of millions of people are trying to get home for next week's Chinese New Year. Some have been stranded for days.

And take a look at this. It is huge -- a police motorcade. It's a police motorcade that stretches the length of a football field. It's not for a world leader. It's to escort Britney Spears to the UCLA Medical Center overnight. The "L.A. Times" says Spears is being held for a mental evaluation. One law enforcement official tells CNN Spears was going to "get help." Spears recently lost custody of her children and her behavior has become increasingly erratic.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much.

Even by Hollywood's tough standards, tonight's Clinton-Obama debate is the hottest ticket in this town.


MICHAEL LEVINE, HOLLYWOOD PUBLICIST: You've got to have a lot of juice. Even somebody with a great deal of political clout and experience and a great Rolodex is going to have a hard time getting into this thing.


BLITZER: We're going to show you the surprising lengths some people are going in an effort to try to get a seat at this theater right behind me and witness history in the making.

Also, you're going to find out what the candidates have to do to make their mark in tonight's crucial contest.

And a mayor caught up in scandal is apologizing -- but for what -- Detroit's mayor, that is. We'll tell you what's going on.

We're live at the Kodak Theater here in L.A. -- site of tonight's Democratic debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.



BLITZER: This is the Kodak Theater. Tonight, they will be on the stage -- Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I'll be moderating the debate. It starts in two hours and 33 minutes. This is a first -- maybe the only time these two Democratic presidential candidates will meet one-on-one.

We're at the Kodak Theater. We're getting ready for this historic debate.

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

Happening now, the National Guard is unprepared for a catastrophic attack on the United States. That according to an independent report commissioned by the Congress. It says the number of combat-ready unions is down, citing a lack of training and equipment, which is placing the nation at risk.

Also, no delays reported so far as new rules take effect along the U.S.-Canadian border. People aged 19 and over entering the United States now have to show proof of citizenship instead of simply declaring their citizenship.

And slow going on the Internet for millions of users from Egypt to Dubai to India. A huge swaft of the region from the Middle East through South Asia experiencing Web outages and slowdowns. A Egyptian communication official says it's because two undersea cables were cut, possibly by a ship's anchor.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles -- the site of tonight's historic Clinton/Obama debate.


Entertainment may be king out here in Hollywood, but the demand for tickets in tonight's Democratic presidential debate is tremendous -- with some people going to great lengths to try to secure a seat in the Kodak Theater.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is here.

He's in Los Angeles for us.

All right, so how high is the demand for these limited number of seats?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: People are willing to pay hundreds of dollars to get a chance to get in there. Obviously, there's a lot of interest. You look at the crowd here. People are going the crazy. Millions will be watching. But people really want to be inside the Kodak tonight to see it for themselves.


ROWLANDS (voice-over): It's the hottest ticket in Hollywood -- people desperate for a chance to witness Clinton versus Obama on stage.

VANESSA HERMAN, WANTS TICKETS TO DEBATE: Well, for me, this is really a historical event.

LARRY BUTLER, WANTS TICKETS TO DEBATE: This is an event that will be once in a lifetime and should not be missed.

ROWLANDS: Vanessa Herman and Larry Butler are so eager to get into the debate, they posted want ads on the Internet.

HERMAN: My posting on Craigslist was for a total of $600 for two tickets. So $300 a ticket. But I'd be willing to pay more.

ROWLANDS: Larry says he'd pay more than $1,000 for a pair of tickets.

BUTLER: You know, in retrospect, how much would one pay for a ticket to see, you know, Douglass and Lincoln debate slavery or Kennedy and Nixon, the great debates of the 1960s?

ROWLANDS: CNN's senior vice president, David Bohrman, who started planning this event more a year ago, says the stage has definitely been set for one of these two candidates to possibly make history.

DAVID BOHRMAN, CNN VICE PRESIDENT: If either one becomes president, enormous history is made -- the first woman president, the first African-American president, the first major party nominee, at the very least. Fighting that out on this stage right here tonight will be history.

ROWLANDS: The Kodak, of course, is home to the Academy Awards. And if you look at the name tags on the seats in the audience, there doesn't seem to be a lot of difference. Some A-List Hollywood stars are going to be here to watch the drama unfold on stage tonight. In fact, a lot of heavy hitters in Hollywood were unable to get in.

LEVINE: This is not a tough ticket -- this is the toughest ticket.

ROWLANDS: Veteran Hollywood publicist, Michael Levine, says even people with connections are having a hard time getting seats.

LEVINE: You've got to have a lot of juice. Even somebody with a great deal of political clout and experience and a great Rolodex is going to have a hard time getting into this thing.


ROWLANDS: In all, there are 2,500 -- give or take -- seats available for tonight's debate. All of them are free of charge. It's invited guests only. So people that really want to get in sorely are going to be out of luck -- Wolf.

But we're going to have it broadcast out here live so people can watch it here. And, of course, millions will be watching at home.

BLITZER: That's a lot of history. You know that this Kodak Theater, the Oscars are here. I wonder who will win the Oscar tonight. ROWLANDS: Everybody is waiting to see and those same people who go to the Oscars will be here tonight, some pretty big names will be there tonight.

BLITZER: I know there's a lot of celebrities going to be here. All right. Ted, thanks very much for that report.

Showbiz aside, tonight's debate will be making history, making a showdown between a woman and an African-American each hoping to become their party's presidential nominee.

Joining us now is two democratic strategists. James Carville is a Hillary Clinton supporter. Jamal Simmons backs Barack Obama. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

James, what are the stakes tonight for both of these candidates?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it should have been in a coliseum. It could be quite a fight. The stakes are tremendous. People are going to be watching this. This is the first post-John Edwards debate. It's Super Tuesday coming up. This is the biggest primary debate I've ever seen anywhere. This is enormous. Just listen to the reports. There's a sense of excitement out there in California that I've never seen in presidential politics.

BLITZER: I've got to tell you it's very exciting. Jamal, what do you think?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's not just about what happens tonight. Not just about what happens during the nomination fight. These are the mistakes of the Democratic Party. Which of the nominees can not only win the election, it's not just about Hillary versus Barack, it's can the party ride one of these to victory so we can have a broad based coalition to govern from and not one where the nominee may be successful but other people running are losing because that nominee is the top of the ticket.

BLITZER: James, let's switch tables for a second. You're one of the best political strategists out there. Pretend you were giving advice not to the person that you support, that would be Hillary Clinton, but to Barack Obama. What does he need to do tonight?

CARVILLE: Well, I mean, I'd say look he posted incredible fundraising number. He's got a lot of prestigious endorsements. He needs to try to stay in message as much as he can and not be sort of distracted. But he's making an argument that he can circumvent the process to get things done for the country, and I think he's got to try to stick with that argument as much as he can. I mean it's brought him success in the campaign. It's a very tight rice race. He really has to avoid making any substance mistakes. I think that could hurt him more than anything else. I'm sure that he's keyed up for this. He's got very talented people that are advising him. You know, as he said, he's accustomed to the rough and tumble politics of Chicago. I'm sure he'll be ready for everything. I think it will be a great debate. I'm looking forward to it. I think both of these candidates will have a good night. Obviously I think Hillary is really ready too.

BLITZER: All right. Jamal, same question to you. I'll put you on the other side. I know you like Barack Obama. What advice would you have for Hillary Clinton? What does she need to do tonight?

SIMMONS: Well, I think she's had a rough month because of all the negativity that took place in South Carolina. So she really has to show that she's going to be a unifying figure for the party. She's got some issue basis to go after. Senator Obama, I think he'll come back. They have to keep this all above the belt. The more they talk with each other about the future of the country, the more they talk about what their plans are to do with the country and how to bring the party together and bring the country together to accomplish the big goals we have, the better off our party will be and the country will be.

BLITZER: We're looking inside the Kodak Theater right now. These are live pictures we are seeing. This is where the debate will be taking place.

What do you think, James, looking ahead? One of these candidates will be the democratic presidential nominee. But why do you think Hillary Clinton is more electable in November as opposed to Barack Obama, irrespective of who the republican is?

CARVILLE: You know first of all, I think any democrat is going to be electable and generally people who make the case for electability are trying to defer the argument away from competence and ability to solve problems. I think if Senator Clinton is able to demonstrate that she knows what the country's problems are, recognizes the magnitudes of them, and demonstrates the competence to deal with them, then she'll be electable but that's the kind of an issue that I always noticed people always talk about electability when they don't want to confront what the real sort of problems are. Whatever the democrats are going to decide, they're going to decide that. I think that ultimately all indications are we'll have a pretty good November no matter who the nominee is.

BLITZER: What do you think, Jamal?

SIMMONS: I think Senator Obama has a great economic plan. He's got a good health care plan. He's going to make health care more affordable for everyone in the country. So I think he really wants to sell that around the country. At the same time, though, we talk about electability, I think we have to remember what life was like in the 1990s. Those like James and I who worked for the Clintons, we all did pretty well in the 90s. Other people in the party had a tougher time. We lost the congress in 1994. We lost the governor's mansion for the first time since 1971. We lost the majority of state legislatures and democrats have now built back up. We now have a majority of governors, the majority of state legislators. I think that's going to be important, which candidate is going to help the democrats run the country; win their own elections, so that we can really take the country forward.

BLITZER: James, what is going to happen on Tuesday? CARVILLE: Well, I don't know but just to make a note, as I recall in a '90s morning, James and Jamal did pretty well. The United States of America did pretty well. We're not in the '90s anymore. Voters have surprised us time and time again at every juncture in this. I'm not going to sit out here and predict anything. I think the debate tonight is going to be very determinative. I think CNN is really going to do a great job. I'm really delighted that my network is bringing in this historic event. I think a lot of what happens Tuesday depends on happens Thursday night. This is the biggest primary debate I've seen in presidential politics ever. I think this is going to be one for the ages.

BLITZER: I think you're right. Let me give you the final word, Jamal. Go ahead.

SIMMONS: I think this is going to be a good debate. I think Senator Obama will explain why he has the best vision to take us forward. He's on the air in 20 out of 22 states. He's really bringing people together in terms of volunteers and raising the number of people to vote for him. He's going to do a good job for himself and the party and then for the country when he gets to the White House, do a good job for the country.

BLITZER: All right. Jamal Simmons, James Carville, two excellent strategists; two different people they support. We'll watch together with you. We're getting excited out here getting ready for this debate. Thanks, guys, for coming in.

CARVILLE: All right. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: They could sway the primary vote here in California. I'm referring to the state's very politically active college students. What's on their minds just ahead of Super Tuesday, only five days away? We're about to tell you.

Plus, my interview with the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa. Could he lock up the Latino vote for Hillary Clinton?

We're live here at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, the site of tonight's historic debate featuring Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Their supporters are out unmasked. You're looking at live pictures inside the historic Kodak Theater. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: We're back here live at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles where democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, they're set to debate one on one for the first time in just over two hours from now. History will be made inside the Kodak Theater. Take a look at this sequence of the work it took to set the stage for tonight's historic face-off. That debate set to begin at 8:00 p.m. eastern, 5:00 pacific. Look at this. They had an enormous amount of work getting the set ready, getting everything ready at the Kodak Theater. It's covered a lot of events over the years. This is one of the most exciting. We're getting ready. We're pumped. Everyone is.

California has a significant population of young voters. Many of them will be watching the debate tonight. What issues are important to them? Richard Quest sat down with students at US Berkeley to find out. You traveled all the way from London, Richard, to find out what students at Berkeley are thinking. What did they say?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is the economy. It is the economy. It is the economy. As one person said to me, all they care about is can I get a job after I finally graduate? But what the rest of the world wants to know about particularly on this democratic side is a woman or an African-American? History will be made one way or another. And I wanted to know from that younger generation are they stuck in the old days or are they foraging forward? And Berkeley was the place to find out.


QUEST: The students of US Berkeley, a university known for his radicalism 40 years ago, now my barometer for what's on the minds on these students. In hall room 213, Professor Bines is teaching about the American presidency. So much for history. Move over, professor. I need to do me own research. The main worry for these students is basic economics. And we're not talking about the college course. We're talking about the U.S. economy.

What is your big issue in the election?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to get a job, so for me it would be the economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the issue is, between me and my parents, the economy. The bottom line is can we survive five years for now? I graduate. Can I find a job?

QUEST: Years from now their successors could be learning about this election in this very room. It's almost now almost a certainty that the democrats will nominate a woman or a black to be president.

Is America ready for a woman president? Yes? No? Oh, boy! Come with me. Here we are.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's a different question. I think America may be ready for a woman to be president, but not necessarily Hillary Clinton. It's hard to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm excited to see a black candidate and a female candidate running. I mean people ask if we're ready for that. Well, get ready. It's what's happening.


QUEST: And what is important here is that the rest of the world is watching this. Remember Margaret Thatcher? So the rest of the world has come to terms with many of these issues, and they're fascinated by what we're going to see here tonight at Kodak Theater. BLITZER: And fascinated by Barack Obama as well.

QUEST: Absolutely. Completely because they can't understand necessarily the intrinsic conservatism, even on the democratic front that such issues would be raised.

BLITZER: Our show is seen around the world. A lot of our viewers are telling us, not the only United States but all over, they're becoming American political news junkies.

QUEST: The first question people always ask me is why does the U.S. political process take so long? The next question is, wow, why don't we do elections with such noise and such policies?

BLITZER: That's encouraging when they're getting hooked in Stockholm on what's going on right here. Richard Quest, thanks very much for that.

In 2007, residents of California, by the way, donated more than $50 million toward the presidential candidates. The majority went to the democrats.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's looking at exactly where the money is coming from, literally block by block. Abbi, what are the people donating, for example, here in Los Angeles?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, you can look at this by neighborhood. Look at what each address is giving. Take a look at this. This is new from the Huffington Post. These blue donkeys are democratic contributions. You can see this is democratic country. The red elephants there are donations to republicans. You can even look up on this what the celebrities are giving. Michael Douglas has donated to both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Because all of this information is public, we're now able to map these with new technologies to see who is giving what. California has given more than $30 million to democrats. This cycle, the slight edge has been for Hillary Clinton, who is leading Barack Obama, but all of that data that you can see here on is as of the end of last year, as of the end of December. So since these early primaries have taken place, we don't have that new number. So it's all subject to change. Wolf?

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much for that.

Coming up, Bill Clinton faces a heckler shouting about a 9/11 conspiracy theory.

FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON, UNITED STATES: Now you hear from me. I let you be rude and interrupt me, scream at the top of your lungs.

BLITZER: And that's just for starters. You're going to hear what the former president gave a heckler. He gave hem a lot more than he bargained for. Bill Clinton, that's coming up.

Also, Hillary Clinton has a powerful supporter in southern California, the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa. He'll be joining us live right here at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles. It's the site of tonight's democratic debate featuring Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This is the first time they have debated one on one. It might be the last time as well. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: These are live pictures from inside the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles. They're getting ready for a democratic presidential debate in two hours and 10 minutes. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will be on that stage. I'll be moderating the debate. That's coming up, 8:00 p.m. eastern. A little bit more than two hours from now, history will be made on that floor.

We're going to have a lot more on this debate coming up but there's some other news we're following, including some new developments in that sex scandal engulfing Detroit's mayor. He's now apologizing, but he won't say what he's apologizing for. CNN's Carol Costello has the story.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are those who call it a stroke of political genius. Plenty of alleged cheating politicians invoke god to apologize for bad behavior but Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick went one step farther. He did it in a church.

MAYOR KWAME KILPATRICK, DETROIT: I want to start tonight by saying to the citizens of this great city I'm sorry.

COSTELLO: He's sorry for the sex scandal surrounding his then deputy chief of staff, Christine Beatty. An alleged affair revealed in steamy text messages uncovered by the Detroit free press. One of them read Mayor Kilpatrick, "I'm at a Laker game. The security doesn't believe I'm mayor." Beatty, "And, did you miss me, sexually?" Kilpatrick, "Hell yeah! You couldn't tell. I want some more. Don't sleep!" To make matters more complicated, the mayor also lied under oath about the affair in a whistle blower lawsuit against the city. And the city lost, costing Detroit taxpayers more than $8 million. The mayor is now facing possible perjury charges. Yet there he was with his forgiving wife beside him, in church, apologizing to her on local television.

KILPATRICK: This dynamic, strong, caring woman has been forced to go through this very difficult experience because of me. I truly apologize to you.

CARLITA KILPATRICK, WIFE OF DETROIT MAYOR: Like all marriages, ours is not perfect. Like all people, we are not perfect. But through our commitment to god and each other, my husband and I will get through this. No question that I love my husband.

COSTELLO: While some might feel this all rings hallow, not so fast.

PROF. JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON SCHOOL OF LAW: The fact is that politicians know the importance of imagery. They know what works. For many of us, the appearance of Mayor Kilpatrick in the church with his spouse doing this classic apology leaves us cold. They are many people out there who love the repentant sinner and will love this staging.

COSTELLO: The only misstep Mayor Kilpatrick may have made was in how he entered that church to apologize. As he got out of a city- owned Escalade, he pushed a camera aside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just punched me! You just hit me!

COSTELLO: But the mayor denied punching anyone. Despite the embarrassment, the spectacle, it is possible Mayor Kilpatrick can survive politically. Louisiana Senator David Vitter has for his admitted past sins.

SEN. DAVID VITTER, LOUISIANA: I believe I received forgiveness from god. I know I did from Wendy. We put fit behind us.

COSTELLO: So did Bill Clinton. So why not Kwame Kilpatrick?

KILPATRICK: God bless you Detroit. I love you. I'll see you at work tomorrow.


COSTELLO: And the mayor did go to work today. His office told me there were many calls supporting him and urging the mayor to stay in office. The biggest challenge for the mayor, though, the possible perjury charges. If they go forward and he is convicted, Wolf, he could wind up in prison.

BLITZER: All right, Carol. Thanks very much for that story updating us on what's going on in Detroit.

Bill Clinton last night made short work of a heckler who was shouting for another investigation of the 9/11 attacks. The former president hasn't lost his touch when it comes to working a crowd. Listen to this.


CLINTON: What are you screaming about? Let him talk.


CLINTON: Are you one of those it was an inside job guys? Well, let me tell you something. The great thing -- first, Hillary agrees we should end the war. But we've heard from you now. Now you hear from me. I let you be rude and interrupt me. Scream at the top of your lungs. 9/11 was not an inside job. It was an Osama bin Laden job with 19 people from Saudi Arabia. They murdered 3,000 Americans and other farmers including over 200 other Muslims and we look like idiots, folks, denying that the people who murdered our fellow citizens did it when they are continuing to murder people all around the world. So we heard from you. You go away. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Bill Clinton was campaigning for his wife in Denver when that incident occurred.

The Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, is standing by. He will be joining us live. We'll talk about the battle for Latino voters out here in California. I'll ask him why he's backing Hillary Clinton and more.

Remember, we're live here at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, the site of tonight's historic debate featuring Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This is the first time they'll debate one on one. You'll see it live here on CNN. Stay by for that.

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


BLITZER: Let's get back to Jack Cafferty. He's got the Jack Cafferty File. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, I'm listening to the audio coming out of that theater you're in during the commercial breaks. Those people get down right loud and almost unruly during the commercials. How do you get them quieted now when you go back ...

BLITZER: They are so excited out here, the Obama supporters, the Clinton supporters. We try to quiet them down a little bit so that you can hear me. But I've got to tell you, even with this little Britney Spears microphone that I'm using, I hope you can hear me.

CAFFERTY: No, you're coming through loud and clear. I've had this growing awareness all afternoon that it's almost impossible to understate the enormity of this thing tonight. I mean this is huge and I can't wait for it to start.


CAFFERTY: On a much sadder note, there's a study out showing that the number of attempted suicides in the army is up six fold, six fold, since 2002, the year before the Iraq war began and last year may be an all time high for army suicides. So we're asking what can the army do about this sharp increase.

Janet in Columbus, Georgia writes, "The most important thing we can do is elect a president who has pledged to end the war and that ain't John McCain."

J.E. writes, "War is hell and will take a toll on even the mightiest hearts and most resolute spirits. We need to provide our service men and women with adequate mental healthcare at home and overseas. Though we live in an age of stop losing, we have to do some things besides pointing out at the battle field what the command back to the front lines. They deserve far more for their already too great sacrifices." Donald in Butte, Montana, "Since only about 30 percent of Americans probably all die hard republicans support continuing the war, send them to Iraq/Afghanistan as replacements. This includes all the senators, congressmen, and Pentagon staff as well. While we're at it, send the secretary of defense to Baghdad.