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Clinton and Obama Prepare For California Debate; Schwarzenegger Endorses McCain

Aired January 31, 2008 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And happening now: countdown to something never seen in this presidential race, something never seen in all of American politics. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are set to debate one-on-one for the first time. Eventually, one of them will claim a special place in American history.
John McCain eyes a big political prize and he's showing off a wall of support that includes a popular Republican governor.

And California readies up for its closeup. What happens here could affect how you vote, all that, plus the best political team on television.

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


We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

In this presidential race right now, we're witnessing history in the making. This year will be the first time the Democratic Party nominates a woman or an African-American for president. Just a little bit less than two hours from now, the two people vying for that honor will debate for the first time by themselves.

I'm here at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles to moderate that debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It will be a substantive discussion of the issues, but certainly could get testy at times.

Let's bring in CNN's Jessica Yellin. She's covering the story for us.

All right, Jessica, set the scene for us, less than two hours away.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Less than two hours away. Both candidates have been prepping assiduously. The stakes, Wolf, could not be higher. Both Senators Clinton and Obama are doing everything they can to woo John Edwards supporters and do whatever it takes to break through to Super Tuesday voters and deliver them the nomination.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) YELLIN (voice over): It's one-on-one now, and it's clear Senator Obama is primed for a fight.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are those who will tell us that our party should nominate someone who is more practiced in the art of power. And when I'm the nominee, the Republican won't be able to make this election about the past because you will already have chosen the future.

YELLIN: So far, Senator Clinton is not taking the bait, saying of Obama's swipes, That certainly sounds audacious, but not hopeful. I would certainly hope we could get back to talking about the issues. It's a play on the title of Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope.

Both candidates are going all out with ads up in Super Tuesday states, courting key constituencies, including the prized Latino vote.

Lately, President Clinton has been unusually quiet, while his wife has been put in the awkward position of answering questions about her husband's news-making comments, prompting this on ABC's "Nightline."


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This campaign is me. It's about what kind of president I will be, what I will do as president.

YELLIN: She was also asked whether she could control her husband in a possible Hillary Clinton White House.

CLINTON: Oh, of course. You know, there's only one president at a time.


YELLIN: Now, someone inside the Obama camp says it is very different propping the candidate for a one-on-one debate. And the dynamic is all different now, Wolf, because John Edwards is out. He called himself the adult wing of the Democratic Party. So, I guess with him gone, you will have to represent the adults.

BLITZER: Well, I will do the best I can. Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.

If you want to see how the voters are reacting to tonight's debate while they're still on the stage, here's what you can do. Check out to get real-time reaction from California voters.

Much more on the debate coming up, but there's another contest under way on the Republican side. John McCain follows up one big endorsement with another one. A day after Rudy Giuliani threw his support for McCain, California's governor does the same thing. All three of them stood together today up on a stage. Arnold Schwarzenegger says McCain can bring people together. Let's bring in CNN's Dana Bash. She's here in Los Angeles watching all of this.

Dana, throughout the cycle, Governor Schwarzenegger said he would not necessarily endorse a candidate. So, here's the question. Why the change of heart?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he joked today, Wolf, that it's all Rudy's fault. He said, because he's very close with both Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, he didn't want to choose between them in the race for president. But because Rudy Giuliani got of the race this week and backed McCain, Schwarzenegger said he could do the same.


BASH (voice over): Getting an endorsement from the governor of the biggest Super Tuesday state is one thing. When that governor is Arnold Schwarzenegger, it's another.

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

BASH: Schwarzenegger's sky-high approval rating, 75 percent among California Republicans, is sure to help McCain in the GOP primary. But the governor said his support for McCain is about Democrats.

SCHWARZENEGGER: There are people out there that talk about reaching across the aisle, but he has shown the action over and over again. Is this the size of the panels?

BASH: The setting, a company that makes solar panels, reflects their bond over fighting greenhouse gases, but it's controversial among some Republicans. And although McCain's famous new supporters, Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani, have wide appeal, their moderate views on social issues don't sit well with some GOP voters.

(on camera): Is there a downside to this image that you have, given the appeal that you're trying to make to conservatives?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I could never, ever, ever be anything but honored by the presence of these two great American heroes. I'm prepared to lead our party in the nation. And I am prepared and I'm succeeding in uniting it.

BASH (voice over): Meanwhile, rival Mitt Romney sat around a kitchen table in suburban Los Angeles talking economy. Outside, he admitted Schwarzenegger's endorsement will help McCain.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Schwarzenegger obviously is a big figure in California. And I would love to have had his support.

BASH: And he stepped up criticism of McCain for asserting again at Wednesday night's debate that Romney had supported a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq.

ROMNEY: Something reminiscent of the Nixon era. And I don't think I want to see our party go back to that kind of campaigning.


BASH: Now, Romney had a major meeting with his campaign aides this morning, and he personally approved spending millions of dollars here in Super Tuesday states of California and other select states on TV ads.

And, Wolf, we saw the very first TV ad he's going to put up here in California. And despite the tough words he had for John McCain, he's talking about his own experience, going after his rival's experience. But it's not about John McCain. There is a twist. It's about Hillary Clinton -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much.

The host state for our debates is California and is a huge player next week for Super Tuesday.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching it for us.

You know California well. Could this state -- could it all boil down to California?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, California is all set to play a role it has not played in a long time: the big decider.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): How long has it been since California was the big decider in presidential nominations?

PHIL MATIER, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": The last time it made a difference, no -- the last time -- God, I can't remember. I'm serious. I can't remember the last time.

SCHNEIDER: For Republicans, it was way back in 1964, when Barry Goldwater beat Nelson Rockefeller, for Democrats, 1972, when George McGovern beat Hubert Humphrey, long time ago.

This time, we have got two close races and one state with 14 percent of the delegates needed to win the Republican nomination.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a big state, a lot of delegates. I have got to be fighting in California.

SCHNEIDER: And 18 percent of the delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: California will have the most delegates and the biggest primary on February 5.

SCHNEIDER: California could be the big decider in both races. Mitt Romney is trying to rally California's sizable conservative base. This is Ronald Reagan's state, after all. But look who John McCain just got.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: Now, talking about a great future, this is the very reason why I am endorsing Senator McCain to be the next president of the United States.

SCHNEIDER: Hillary Clinton has got strengths here.

MATIER: Early-on momentum, good operation, plus, a pretty -- looks like a pretty sizable lock on the Latino and women vote.

SCHNEIDER: But Barack Obama is next new thing in a state where Hollywood and Silicon Valley is always after the next new thing. And talk about stars, Bill Clinton for his wife and Ted Kennedy for Obama are as big as they come.

MATIER: California is one of the biggest states in the union, and I'm still not sure if it's big enough to handle both the size of those guy' egos and their personality.

SCHNEIDER: Bill and Ted's excellent adventure, the political remake.


SCHNEIDER: Two pairs of heavyweight contenders battling for titles in the heavyweight state. That's heavy, man.


BLITZER: It will be heavy. All right, thanks very much, Bill Schneider, for that, a man who knows California.

It's clearly a mix of Hollywood and old-fashioned political hoopla. Take a look at this. These are some live pictures of the Kodak Theatre here in Los Angeles. Inside, everything is getting ready for the historic face-off.

It's the hottest ticket in town, seats reserved for some of Hollywood's biggest stars. They will be inside for this debate. Outside, huge crowds are gathered in support of these two candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Once again, the debate will be live right here on CNN. It's one hour and 49 minutes from now.

Jack Cafferty watching all of this with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Great stuff. Are you nervous?


(LAUGHTER) CAFFERTY: You're going to be terrific.

You know, we have got -- in a way, we have John Edwards to thank for this. Until he dropped out of the race, it was like, oh, yeah, another Democratic debate. Been there, done that. We saw one -- then he -- when he dropped out, suddenly, you know, this is it, the clash of the titans. This is great stuff.

Listen to them.

BLITZER: And it is nerve-racking. But you know what? I'm going to try to do my best.

CAFFERTY: You're going to be terrific. Are you kidding me?

Don't think about the fact that 20, 30 million people will be watching. Put that out of your mind.


BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes, you're welcome.

When Rudy Giuliani decides to look around for reasons why his presidential campaign went nowhere, he might not have to look any farther than the pillow right next to his head.

Here's the lead line in a "New York Daily News" articled today called "How Judi Killed Off Rudy Giuliani" -- tough stuff.

Quote: "She brought enough political baggage to fill a Louis Vuitton trunk." Ouch.

The piece goes on to say that Judith was a major reason for the collapse of the Giuliani campaign, one expert suggesting Rudy wanted to head up the family values party, yet she didn't fit that label. And even worse was his estrangement from his kids.

Some of the low notes of Judith's role in all of this included the use of taxpayer-funded New York Police Department detectives as chauffeurs while she was still the mayor's girlfriend, revelations of a secret past marriage, and her interrupting Giuliani's speech to the National Rifle Association with a cutesy cell phone call to say hi.

There was also that Barbara Walters interview where Giuliani said, if elected, he would let his wife sit in on Cabinet meetings. He later retracted that about Judi's potential role. Maybe -- maybe it had something to do with the fact that she was a graduate of a two- year nursing program with no college degree.

Anyway, with the exception of the last few weeks in Florida, she wasn't even on the campaign trail that much. That went against what the campaign had earlier suggested to everyone when it claimed that she would be a big asset and one of our key surrogates.

Didn't turn out that way.

Here's the question: What role did Judith Giuliani play in the collapse of her husband's presidential campaign?

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

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thanks very much. We will speak with you shortly, together with the best political team on television.

We're looking ahead to the big debate tonight. But there's other important news we're following as well, including a top al Qaeda commander killed. One of the U.S. military's most wanted terrorists finally meets his end. How badly does this hurt the terror network? Kelli Arena standing by.

Also, can Barack Obama gain ground by stepping up attacks on Hillary Clinton? The best political team on television will look at whether it pays to be mean.

And our team will also look at why John McCain is going on the attack against Mitt Romney. Is that the right strategy for a front- runner?

We're live here at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. It's the site of tonight's historic debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

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


BLITZER: These are live pictures from inside the Kodak Theatre here in Los Angeles, one hour and 43 minutes to go until the debate begins. History will unfold, an African-American and a woman vying for the Democratic presidential nomination. They will be on the stage in this one-on-one debate. I will be moderating. We're getting ready for that.

There's other news, though, that we're following, much more on the debate coming up in a moment.

First, this: There was really some stunning news today from the war against terrorism. Sources say a top al Qaeda commander wanted for attacks on U.S. forces has been killed in Pakistan.

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena. She's standing by.

Kelli, this was someone in the senior ranks of the terror network. What happened?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, officials say that he was becoming increasingly important to al Qaeda's core command. It was obviously news that jihadists around the world were very interested in. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARENA (voice-over): The news hit jihadi Web sites in waves. Abu Laith al-Libi, an al Qaeda commander, is dead. One site hailing him as a martyr proclaims, "May God accept him."

Intelligence official describe al-Libi as a senior field operative, most recently blamed for orchestrating a suicide bombing outside Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan while Vice President Cheney was visiting.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: From al Qaeda's perspective, the attack was a propaganda victory, but it certainly wasn't a military success.

ARENA: Perhaps more important were al-Libi's efforts to recruit in Libya, where he was born, and where it's estimated at least 20 percent of foreign fighters in Iraq come from.

As leader of the now defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, his connections there ran deep.

BRUCE RIEDEL, FORMER CIA OFFICER: The al Qaeda central leadership, Osama bin Laden and his key lieutenants, see North Africa, what they call the Maghreb, as a great opportunity for their future expansion.

ARENA: It's important to note that knowledgeable sources say al- Libi was killed in north Waziristan in Pakistan. He's the first senior al Qaeda official captured or killed there since 2005.

RIEDEL: The U.S. has been pressing Afghanistan very hard. Our senior intelligence leadership was there in January and pushed Musharraf very hard to do something about this resurgence of al Qaeda. And we may be seeing a result today.


ARENA: Intelligence officials will not publicly comment on any U.S. involvement, Wolf, but the CIA, as you know, has fired missiles against terrorist targets inside Pakistan in the past -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Kelli, thanks very much.

Hillary Clinton has a powerful supporter here in Southern California. Can he help her land the Latino vote? Coming up, I will be speaking with the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa. He supports Clinton.

Also, Internet and phone service cut off on two continents, bringing business to a halt, why it may take a week to repair the damage.

We're live here at the Kodak Theatre here in Los Angeles, site of tonight's debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. You're looking at the stage. They're getting ready, the final touches, the debate, and the supporters outside, Obama supporters, Clinton supporters -- much more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: They're finishing off the final touches of the stage here at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, history about to be made. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will be debating on that stage shortly, one hour 37 minutes from now.

Welcome back to our SITUATION ROOM.

Who will win the battle for California's Latino vote?

Earlier, we spoke with a key U.S. congressman who backed Barack Obama. But Hillary Clinton has a powerful supporter of her own here in Southern California. That would be the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, who's here with us right now.

Mr. Mayor, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: Is this normal, what's happening in L.A. right now?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, this is L.A. I will tell you, there's a lot of excitement about this campaign on both sides. And it's great to see so much energy, so many young people. This is a race that matters to California.

BLITZER: This is a hot ticket tonight, because history will be made. An African-American wants to be the Democratic nominee. A woman wants to be the nominee.

You decided to go with the woman. Tell us why.

VILLARAIGOSA: I went with the best candidate. And I did because she's got a track record, 35 years of fighting for education. She led the effort for health care reform. She doesn't just have a plan. She's been working on it for more than a generation.

She stood tall on the issue of universal coverage, but also stood for the S-CHIP program. Seven million people, children, have health care as a result.

BLITZER: But you don't think Obama has those same instincts?

VILLARAIGOSA: He may have those same instincts, but not the same track record. And that's what it's about. It's about experience. It's about strength. And it's about the leadership to start on the first day to chart a new beginning for America.

BLITZER: We heard from a congressman here from Los Angeles.

VILLARAIGOSA: A good friend of mine.

BLITZER: Yes. And he said -- he's a Latino himself -- that he is making, Obama, major inroads in the Latino community. Do you sense that out here in L.A.?

VILLARAIGOSA: I don't. I can tell you what I sense is a groundswell of support for Senator Clinton, primarily because they know her. They worked with her. They remember the Clinton years were great years for Latinos, great years for working families.

It was a time when the economy was growing, the deficit was down, wages were up. It was a time we were investing in affordable housing. It was a time when they cut the backlog, if you remember, the citizenship backlog, in the mid-1990s. So, this is a community that knows Hillary Clinton, and that's why they're supporting her.


BLITZER: Congressman Becerra, Xavier Becerra, he said the reason -- one of the reasons on the issues that he likes Barack Obama is because of his stance on immigration, and he feels that he's much more in tune with where he and the Latino community stand out here in California than Hillary Clinton. Do you see a difference?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, as you know, Hillary Clinton was one of the original sponsors for Kennedy-McCain, the immigration reform framework that Mr. Becerra, Mr. Obama, and I all support.

We all agree that we are a great nation founded on the backs of immigrants, that we have got to provide a pathway for citizenship, while, at the same time, strengthening our borders.

BLITZER: What about all these reports that there's some uneasy ties between the Latino community and the African-American community? Do you see that here in Los Angeles?

VILLARAIGOSA: Absolutely not.

I will tell you something. What I know is that this community, four out of five elections, supported Tom Bradley overwhelming for mayor. They supported him in his two bids for the governorship of California.

I know that, in Illinois, Latinos supported overwhelmingly Mayor Washington's effort. And, in New York, they supported overwhelmingly Mayor Dinkins' effort. I had African-American support when I won in 2005. These are communities that have differences of opinion from time to time, but they're communities that work well together as well.

BLITZER: I hope, Mr. Mayor, we gave you a good seat tonight.

VILLARAIGOSA: You gave me a great seat tonight.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in.

VILLARAIGOSA: Good to see you. Thank you.

BLITZER: Nice to be in your community.

VILLARAIGOSA: Thank you. BLITZER: The mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, joining us.


BLITZER: And, to our viewers, You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, we're only about an hour-and-a-half away from the historic Clinton-Obama debate. It comes as Barack Obama launches a new attack on Hillary Clinton's vote to authorize the war in Iraq.

Also, the Obama campaign is reporting a new windfall -- get this -- $32 million raised in January alone.

Plus, John McCain is getting lots of support from moderate Republicans. But where are his conservative backers? Can he win without them?

All this, plus the best political team on television.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're live at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. It's the site of tonight's debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. These are live pictures you're seeing right now.


Barack Obama is stepping up his direct attacks on Hillary Clinton and her vote to authorize the war in Iraq. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton seems to be toning down his recent tough rhetoric.

Joining us now to talk about that and a lot more, our chief national correspondent, John King. He's here in Los Angeles. Jack Cafferty is in New York. Our political analyst Gloria Borger is here as well.

Guys, thanks to all of you for coming in.

Jack, what do you think about this, the latest line of attack from Obama vs. the toning down that we're seeing from the Clintons?

CAFFERTY: Well, Obama's been stepping up his attacks on Hillary in the last two or three weeks, becoming more aggressive in the campaign. The fact that we're not seeing as much of Bill Clinton, I think, might have a lot to do with those awful comments he made about Jesse Jackson after the South Carolina primary.

But you know what?

With 90 minutes to go before this debate, issue smissue and who's doing this. This is show business. This is all -- it's Hollywood. It's the two titans in this campaign. Edwards set the stage by leaving yesterday.

And somewhere tonight somebody will say something, crack a joke, coin a phrase that will become part of the lexicon in this country for generations to come. It'll be like the Reagan stuff and Nixon-Kennedy. It's huge -- the first African-American, the first woman ever to run for president. I've never seen anything like it. I'm an old man and I'm excited. And I don't get excited about much anymore.

BLITZER: And it is exciting, Gloria.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It is exciting. Just look at this crowd here, Wolf. It's like Ali/Frazier. Folks are saying it doesn't get this exciting for the Academy Awards. I mean the crowd has been unbelievable. I think they're expecting a real fight tonight.

I'm not so sure we're going to get that, though, Wolf. I think these folks are going to be on good behavior precisely for the reasons Jack stated, because if there could be a future president on the stage, they have to act that way.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And yet, Barack Obama knows he is going up against the senator who was the president of the Wellesley debate team.


KING: And she has been a proven good debater. You are who you are and she has been a good debater.

And one of the questions for him -- you asked Jack about the tougher attacks.

One of the questions for him even among his own supporters -- is he tough enough?

Is he tough enough to go into the general election?

That has been her calling card all along -- I can take on the Republican machine because they've been after me for 16 years. He needs to prove he's tough enough tonight. He doesn't have to be nasty or mean to do that, but he needs to stand up to her in a debate.

BORGER: I mean I guess the question is tonight, Wolf, who goes on the attack?

Because the first person to attack could get the blame for being the mean and nasty one. Nobody wants to go back in the mud the way they were in that last debate with you...

BLITZER: In Myrtle Beach last (INAUDIBLE).

BORGER: ...where John Edwards was the beneficiary. Absolutely.

BLITZER: You know, Jack, it also comes at a time when Barack Obama has been raising at least an enormous amount of money -- what, $32 million in January alone. This is a significant -- a significant development given the fact that next Tuesday, only a few days away, they need a lot of money for these national ad buys.

CAFFERTY: Well, and you could make the argument that the race goes on beyond next Tuesday. And if that's the case, they're going to needed a lot of money to continue. And he's going to have a lot of money. Thirty-two million dollars a month is enough to run for president of the United States.

Going back to whether or not one of them attacks, the backside of that argument is there's no tomorrow. Super Tuesday is a few days away. If you see an opportunity to land a knockout punch and you don't throw it, you probably go to your grave regretting it. So early on, they'll be feeling each other out. Gloria, said Ali/Frazier. I think that's probably not a minimal comparison. Feeling each other out, the thing will start to take on a life of its own. But watch as the thing moves along. If the opportunity presents itself, you should pardon the expression, it could get ugly out there.

BLITZER: You know, and one of the things, John.

CAFFERTY: I'm sorry. That was terrible.


KING: We'll all buy the book again.

BLITZER: It's -- also, Democrats will be looking to see who's tougher tonight to handle a Republican in November, because as tough as these debates between Democrats are, you know it's going to get a lot uglier once there's a Democratic and a Republican nominee.

KING: Both parties face the same fascinating question -- who will lead us in the post-George W. Bush era of politics? Bill Clinton led the Democrats for eight years. He is gone.

Will it be his wife?

George W. Bush has led the Republicans for eight years. He will be gone.

Who will lead the Republican Party?

They both face these defining generational questions and it's fascinating. And that's why you -- and it's history, too, because it will be either a woman or an African-American on the Democratic side, which is why you see that.

But you mentioned the resources. The Clinton campaign now knows how important a big win on Super Tuesday is, because Barack Obama will have the money to stay in in a long, protracted nomination battle. So she needs -- she's not going to clinch on Super Tuesday, but she needs to run the board pretty good -- to win in all of the places where she is leading today. She needs to win and win convincingly because he has the money to stay in.

BORGER: Well, she needs to attract new donors, because she has lots of big money givers who have already given the maximum amount that they can possibly give. She needs to start attracting new donors after Super Tuesday if she is going to beat Barack Obama in fundraising. And I think this thing could go well beyond Super Tuesday. BLITZER: All right, guys, we're going to take a quick break. But we have a lot more to talk about.

We'll get back with the best political team in just a moment and we'll take a look at what the Republicans are doing right now. It's been a big day for John McCain.

But is it the picture conservative Republicans necessarily want to see?

There you see that picture right there.

We'll have more on that with the best political team coming up.

And remember, we're not very far away from this historic debate tonight here at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles -- Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. We'll watch it all unfold. The Democratic Party has never before nominated a woman, never before nominated an African- American for president.

Our coverage continues right after this.


BLITZER: They're putting the finishing touches on the debate stage tonight here at the Kodak Theatre right now. One hour and 21 minutes to go before it all starts and history will unfold. You'll see it live here on CNN -- the debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

On the Republican side, John McCain is surrounded by moderates -- at least on this day. He's picking up endorsements from Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But what about his conservative support?

How strong is it?

Let's get back to the best political team on television.

What do you think about this?

Schwarzenegger, Giuliani -- they're endorsing McCain -- Jack.

He's -- I guess that's going to be good for him, certainly here in California, the governor is very popular -- only five days before Super Tuesday.

CAFFERTY: Well, and Rudy Giuliani is a popular figure among a lot of people in New York. So I mean it couldn't hurt, as they say.

On the other hand, neither of them, as you point out, are conservatives. And him being elected president may well depend on support from conservatives, who have made it quite clear they're not enthralled with Mr. McCain. Neither was Mitt Romney last night. I watched some of that debate last night. Quite frankly, it wasn't McCain's finest hour. He came across as snarky and conceited and condescending with Mitt Romney when they were talking about Iraq and the troop withdrawal and stuff. And there was almost this air about him like I really don't have to dirty my hands discussing this stuff with you, because I've got it locked up.

I didn't like what I saw in McCain last night at all.

BLITZER: I heard that from a lot of people, Gloria and John.


BLITZER: Gloria, you first -- that they thought that McCain was not a sympathetic, if you will, as Romney was.

BORGER: You know, he didn't have to get that small. John McCain, who is now, by all accounts, the frontrunner, needed to sort of rise above the fray. Instead, he was the guy who was trying to land the punches.

And, you know, in my experience in covering McCain, sometimes you're not sure which guy is going to show up. Sometimes it's the funny, charming John McCain and sometimes it's the mean and nasty John McCain, who's angry. And I think you saw the nasty one who really, really does not like Mitt Romney.

KING: And Mitt Romney compared those tactics to Nixonian. I asked him a question earlier today and he said it's like Richard Nixon, the dirty tricks of John McCain, and I don't think the Republicans want to go back to that.

But to Gloria's point, there's no question -- even some of McCain's own people said he went at it too many times. They are trying to make a strategic point. Knowing their weaknesses among conservatives, they're trying to convince conservatives that at a critical time, Mitt Romney was squishy on the Iraq War -- to drive conservatives away from Mitt Romney.

But in the way he did it, A, Mitt Romney said it's simply not true factually.

BORGER: You know...

KING: But the way he did it left a lot of Republicans saying, you know, that was not -- our nominee does not need to do that.

BORGER: You know, it's really raw with John McCain, because his point was I put my political career on the line with the surge.

And where were you, Mitt Romney?

You wouldn't commit one way or another, because that's who you are. You're politically calculating. I'm about more than politics.

KING: And he is. He's a different kind of Republican.

Remember Bill Clinton in 1992 ran as the different kind of Democrat?

John McCain has this problem with conservatives and yet he views it as a strength standing with Rudy Giuliani, standing with Arnold Schwarzenegger -- both men who have proven how you get Democrat and Independent votes.

And while we're sitting here, you get an announcement from the McCain campaign that Joe Lieberman -- the Democrat turned Independent -- will be campaigning in New York for the primary for John McCain.

So even as he knows he has to do outreach and fix things on his right, he's surrounding himself with liberal to moderate Republicans and asking a Democrat to campaign for him in a Republican primary. It is a bizarre year.

BLITZER: You know, on the Republican side, Jack, it's premature to say McCain has this thing wrapped up. There's still a huge election on Tuesday.

And you know what?

The pundits have been wrong in the past. The polls have been wrong in the past. And we should all just wait and see what happens on the Republican side, despite the fact that so many of the so-called pundits are already saying McCain has it locked up.

CAFFERTY: I'm not suggesting he has it locked up. What I said was he acted like he had it locked up last night.


CAFFERTY: And if he performs that way once or twice more in a public setting, Romney may well be the nominee. It wasn't pretty.

And when you think about the kinds of pressures that the president of the United States is subjected to, it raises questions about temperament and personality and character and patience and all of those things that are necessary. And, as Gloria pointed out, there's a couple of people live inside McCain's suit. One of them is a charming, funny guy with a great personality. And the other one is a nasty, angry guy, who will cut you in half in a heartbeat -- verbally -- if he doesn't like the treatment he's getting. And that was the McCain I saw last night and I didn't care for it.

BLITZER: Yes. A lot of people have made that same point.

All right, Jack, stand by.

You've got The Cafferty File coming up.

John, you're not leaving yet. You've got a lot of work to do tonight, as does Gloria.

The excitement here in L.A. building right now. So is the crowd outside the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles.

Coming up, how people are using the Internet to try to get into this event tonight -- the historic Clinton Obama debate. We're just over an hour away from the start.

Plus, is chivalry dead in politics or will it be resurrected right here?

Once again, we're live at the Kodak Theatre -- the site of tonight's debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: In today's Political Ticker, President Bush's former political guru has what he's calling new rules of politics. Among the rules Karl Rove lays out in the "Wall Street Journal," TV ads don't matter like they used to. Rove says things like voter access to candidates, talk radio and the Internet are far more beneficial for candidates.

If it takes awhile to get your tax rebate check, should you blame the presidential candidates?

According to "The Washington Post," the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, today said debate over the economic stimulus package is on hold -- possibly until after Super Tuesday. Reid is quoted as saying he needs Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain back in Washington to help move the stimulus package forward.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out That's where you can also read our daily blog there, as well.

Tonight's debate is becoming quickly the hottest ticket in town. It has been for several days now. People online are buzzing about the event and even going to great lengths to try to score a seat right here at the Kodak Theatre.

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

What are they saying online -- Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, we can see the scene all around you. But this is what's been going on for the past few days on the Internet.

This is the Web site Craigslist, where people have been offering hundreds of dollars to try and get in the Kodak Theatre tonight. Someone saying I just got my citizenship, this is my first time voting, I really want to be in there.

All 2,500 tickets were invitation only. They have been given out already.

We can also see the crowds behind you, Wolf. But look, here's another image of that. The local L.A. blogs, like Metroblogging L.A. , have been posting pictures of what's going on around the crowds behind you. They've even got one of the back of your head there as you're doing SITUATION ROOM.

It looks like quite a scene -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Abbi.

A countdown to history underway right now. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- they're set to debate in just over an hour. This is the first time they will be one-on-one. We're watching it. You'll see it here.

And what role did Judith Giuliani play in the collapse of her husband's presidential campaign?

Jack Cafferty's question.

He has your e-mail.

We're live at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. It's the site of tonight's debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Look at these live pictures of the crowd gathered outside the Kodak Theatre here in Los Angeles. They'll be able to watch tonight's debate on a huge giant screens that have been set up outside. But only a few -- a lucky few -- will actually get inside. Tickets are nearly impossible to come by. Some people are offering as much as $1,000 for a pair of tickets. Hollywood insiders say they haven't -- that even some heavy hitters with the best connections in town are having a hard time getting seats -- these seats that will be inside.

Jack Cafferty will have the bird's eye view in front of the television set tonight, like millions of other people in the United States -- Jack, and around the world.

CAFFERTY: I plan to be home watching in my pajamas. Think about that when you're in the middle of the debate.

BLITZER: We'll all be watching.

CAFFERTY: All right.

The question this hour is what role did Judith Giuliani play in the collapse of her husband's presidential campaign? Annie writes: "Rudy killed his chances all by himself. It wasn't Judith who used New York City's funds -- it was him. And she wasn't the one who decided to ignore the citizens of six states in favor of only those in Florida, as far as we know. He was on top in the national polls and blew it with a lot of the ignorance and arrogance. It reminds me of how President Bush blew it after 9/11 by invading Iraq. We certainly didn't need another one of those."

John writes: "Judith who? If anything, it was his deciding to take the Fred Thompson path to the nomination. That's sitting back and not showing that he wanted to be there. Also, as people are sick of the race card being played, many are sick of the 9/11 card being played."

John in Iowa writes: "It's a copout to suggest that Judith had much of anything to do with the collapse of Rudy's campaign. Whatever baggage she may have brought into their marriage and life, Rudy had trunks and suitcases full to overflowing of his own issues with his

Mark says: "Was she the one who advised him to skip the early primary states and concentrate on Florida? If not, then blaming her for his campaign's collapse is ridiculous. More than any of his baggage, his risky decision to skip the early states caused his early demise -- not anything his wife may or may not have done."

Jim in South Carolina, the town of Prosperity, South Carolina: "Who held a gun to the philandering mayor's head, made him cheat on his wife? Judith didn't play any role in Giuliani's failure. He did that to himself."

And Floyd writes from Georgia: "Jack, we shouldn't talk bad about the politically deceased."

Wolf, good luck tonight.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack.

We'll have a good time.

We're just a little bit more than an hour away now from this big event here. The -- arguably, one of the biggest events -- if not the biggest event -- of the political season so far.

Here's the big question -- will good manners go by the wayside?

CNN's Jeanne Moos considers the possibilities in a Moost Unusual report, coming up.

Once again, you're looking live. These are pictures from outside the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles -- the site of tonight's debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And these are -- well, you just saw inside, as well.

We'll be right back.

((COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Are chivalry and good manners dead in the world of politics?

They could be after tonight's Democratic debate.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look at what has come before.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Remember, when John Edwards said...

JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Are there three people in this debate, not two?

MOOS: Bye-bye, John. We in the media are ready for the one-on-one rumble.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: High stakes, high tension, high drama.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You cannot underestimate how important this is for both these candidates tonight.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CBS CORRESPONDENT: We tend to over hype stuff. Tonight's debate is a biggie.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most important debate of the campaign.


MOOS: And it's not just media folks who are salivating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've got to watch that. I've got to watch and see who I want. I want to see how they act. I want to see what they say. MOOS: As for what not to say, Barack Obama can learn a lesson from a former Hillary foe. Rick Lazio got too close for comfort when he was running against Hillary for the Senate and shoved a campaign financing pledge at her.


CLINTON: You did it very well.

RICK LAZIO: I'm not asking you to admire it, I'm asking you to sign it.

CLINTON: Well, I would be happy to when you give me the signed letters...

LAZIO: Well, right here. Right here.

CLINTON: When you give me...

LAZIO: Right here. Sign it right now.

CLINTON: Well, we'll shake -- we'll shake on this, Rick.

LAZIO: No, no. I want your signature because I...


MOOS: Back off buddy.

Is chivalry dead in politics?

Over Hillary's dead body. Remember, the likable question a few debates back?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where they seem to like Barack Obama more.

CLINTON: Well, that hurts my feelings. He's very likable. I agree with that. I don't think I'm that bad.

OBAMA: You're likable enough, Hillary.

CLINTON: Thank you so much.

OBAMA: No doubt.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, you're -- you're likable enough, Hillary. It's very patronizing that...

MOOS (on camera): She said he was trying to make a joke.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh. I didn't get it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was trying to make a joke, but it betrayed his feelings for her. I'm a shrink.

MOOS: Oh, really?


MOOS (voice-over): Free analysis thanks to Dr. George Cohen (ph). You can bet Senator Obama will be pumping his rival's hand tonight to make up for turning his back to Hillary, either on purpose or by accident, at the State of the Union. We can't wait to see state of civility between these two.

(on camera): So, folks, plant yourself in front of the TV...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be there tonight for the worldwide event.


MOOS: That wasn't the debate.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Lost," a two hour premiere event tonight.


MOOS: Yes, well one of these two could be lost if he or she loses this debate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: May the best person win.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...


MOOS: ...New York.


BLITZER: And please be sure to join us for the Democratic debate tonight in one hour at the Kodak Theater, right here in Los Angeles. These are live pictures.

Until then, I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Thanks very much for joining us.


Kitty Pilgrim is sitting in for Lou -- Kitty.