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Clinton's Final Push on Both Coasts; Parties Trade Places; Interview With Barack Obama

Aired February 4, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, new shifts in the Democratic presidential race on this, the eve of Super Tuesday. We're looking at Hillary Clinton defending her turf and getting emotional.
And Barack Obama leaves a new door slightly open on Iraq. My one-on-one interview with Senator Barack Obama, that's coming up this hour.

Also, the Republican Super Tuesday slug-fest. Mitt Romney takes fresh shots at John McCain, claiming he's no conservative. But is that enough to help Romney grab delegates and slow McCain's momentum?

And a new federal budget that breaks records. Does it also break the bank? We're going to tell if you President Bush's numbers compute.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center.


Right now the presidential candidates are putting their game faces on the Super Bowl of the primary season. At least so far.

I spoke moments ago with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. He's campaigning near the New York Giants home field out in New Jersey. We're going to have that interview with you -- for you coming up with Senator Obama.

Heading into the contest tomorrow in more than 20 states, Senator Obama is refusing to lock himself into a hard and fast timetable for withdrawing from Iraq. We're going to explain what's going on. Stand by for my one-on-one interview with Senator Obama.

But first, we want to focus right now on Hillary Clinton. She's campaigning on her home turf right here in the Northeast. At stops in Connecticut and Massachusetts, the New York Democrat is reaching out to middle class voters and talking about the top concern. In this election, that would be the economy.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Most Americans are in between people. You know? The middle class is under tremendous pressure. And it is everything.

The cost of everything is going up. And even if you make what used to be considered good wages, they don't cover the increase in cost in everything from energy to health care.


BLITZER: Meanwhile, Bill Clinton is campaigning for his wife out in California, where polls suggest she and Barack Obama now are locked in an extremely tight race. The former president though sounded upbeat about the contest and avoided any harsh remarks about Senator Clinton's rivals.


WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The choice we have today is to pick the best president. It's been a wonderful election, even from the very beginning, when all these candidates were in the Democrat primary. I loved it because I didn't have to be against anybody, I liked them all.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

The Clintons are defending Super Tuesday battlegrounds, Candy, that they thought would be relatively easy. But it's not necessarily looking that way right now. Give us a little sense of the outlook for tomorrow.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the way they look at it is that Illinois, his home state, and New York, her home state, will cancel each other out. They believe in the swing states -- Missouri being one of them -- and other states where they look fairly even in the polls, that they will take some and Obama will take some. They say they believed all along this will go on. At least since South Carolina they have believed that.

So what they -- what they say going in is the nation, economically and on a war footing, is at a point where eventually people are going to say, look, they really like Obama, they like his message. But in the end, they want a firm commander in chief. And they believe that will swing people back to Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: There was a moment there she got somewhat emotional today. What was that all about?

CROWLEY: Well, I think we have it. So we should probably play it. She was at her alma mater, Yale Law School, and was introduced by a long-time friend.


H. CLINTON: I said I would not tear up.


H. CLINTON: And already we're not exactly on that path.


CROWLEY: So, emotional, but not quite a New Hampshire moment, when, you know, her voice broke. I mean, she obviously was there among friends. Again, this has been a long road. Perhaps not one that the Clinton campaign thought would take this long.


CROWLEY: So, not one of those New Hampshire moments.

BLITZER: But she's showing a little emotion, which is, of course, her right.

Thanks, Candy, very much.

Many campaign watchers once thought the White House nominees would be decided by Super Tuesday. Now what happens tomorrow is simply anyone's guess.

We have a new snapshot though of where the race is right now. It potentially could offer some clues -- clues. Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching this for us.

As we head into the days -- the big today tomorrow, Bill -- what is this snapshot showing us?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the snapshot says the parties, Democrats and Republicans, have switched places.


SCHNEIDER (voice over): Just a few months ago the Democrats had a clear national front-runner, and the Republican race was a muddle. Now the Republicans have a clear national front-runner. John McCain is 15 points ahead of Mitt Romney in CNN's latest national poll conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation.

The Democratic race has become more muddled. Barack Obama has the momentum. He's edged ahead of Hillary Clinton in this CNN national poll, but just barely. Statistically, it's a dead heat. Among white Democrats outside the South, Obama is nearly even with Clinton.

How did Obama catch up to Clinton in the polls? He's made big gains with men, where he now leads Clinton by 17 points. There is no national primary, but a national poll does show who has got momentum, McCain and Obama. Could the same force be propelling them both? Obama is running as the candidate of change. McCain has been doing well among the roughly one-third of Republicans who are dissatisfied with the Bush administration. They want change, too.


BLITZER: All right. Clearly, we're having some technical problems with Bill Schneider's piece. We'll try to fix that and get back to it. Bottom line, this is a snapshot of where the candidates stand right now nationally. Tomorrow is almost -- almost, for the first time -- a national primary. So these numbers do have some significance.

We'll get back to Bill Schneider later.

The top issue, by the way, for both Republicans and Democrats right now is the economy. But among Republicans, Romney is rated better than McCain for handling the economy. Among the Democrats, Clinton is rated better than Obama on the economy.

What's giving Obama and McCain some momentum though is not the economy, necessarily, but perhaps some other issues as well.

All right. Here's what you get, by the way, when you average out a new poll with four other recent surveys.

In the Democratic race, Hillary Clinton leads Barack Obama 45 percent to 43 percent, and John McCain leads the Republican field with 45 percent support, 21 points ahead of his nearest rival, Mitt Romney.

Bill Schneider and Candy Crowley are part of the Emmy Award- winning best political team on television, as all of you know. The team, by the way, will be joining me right here tomorrow for all the Super Tuesday results and analysis.

You can follow this important political event all day and into the night right here on CNN tomorrow. Don't forget to go to Get some more information there, as well as Jack Cafferty. Including my little blog that I write there.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You can't have too much information about this.

BLITZER: You know, people are hungry for this information.

CAFFERTY: Well, it's getting close. This is a great story.


CAFFERTY: Especially on the Democratic side.

John McCain now is looking more like he may in fact be the Republican nominee after tomorrow's Super Tuesday contest. But it's worth noting that one of the defining factors of this Republican primary race up to this point has been the inability of any of the Republicans to unite their party.

Maybe they won't have to. Maybe a Democrat can do it for them.

In fact, a lot of people believe that Hillary Clinton could become the unifying force for the Republicans. Supporters of Barack Obama, along with top Republicans, say that although many voters passionately support Mrs. Clinton, there are just as many who don't like her. As a Reuters piece points out, there are a lot of reasons why some people think this is the case, including leftover resentment for her husband Bill, the former president, her policies on issues like gun control and mandatory universal health care, and a personality that some people see as too aggressive and insincere. Clinton's campaign dismisses all these concerns, saying she has a proven track record of winning, and emphasizes are effort to reach across the aisle to get results.

Nevertheless, the idea of Clinton as a polarizing figure is a particular concern for Democrats in states that have rural conservative voters, places like Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and other places in the Midwest and South. As one Missouri politician puts it, Clinton is "a lighting rod who would bring people out to vote against her."

So here's the question. Which candidate has the greater chance of uniting the Republican Party, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton?

Go to and post a comment on my blog there.

BLITZER: A very popular blog it is.

CAFFERTY: Indeed. Huge.

BLITZER: Thank you. It's huge.

Jack Cafferty, thanks very much.

Barack Obama says he'd be willing to talk to some of America's toughest adversaries, but is he ready to actually make a trip to Iran or to Cuba? My interview with Senator Obama, that's coming up next.

Also, Mitt Romney plays to the right, hoping to turn the tables on John McCain on Super Tuesday. We're going to check out the Republicans' final push before tomorrow's mega voting day.

And later, we're reading between the lines of the president's new budget and checking to see if his numbers add up.

We're at the CNN Election Center, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Just a matter of hours before Super Tuesday voting begins in earnest, and Democrats deciding between two history-making candidates.


BLITZER: And joining us now from New Jersey, the Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama.

Senator Obama, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: I'm excellent. Thank you very much.

I know you're very busy. Let's get right to some of the issues that potentially could separate you from Hillary Clinton right now. I'm trying to hone in on these issues so that voters out there have a better understanding where you stand, as opposed to where she stands.

Let's start with Iraq.

You want all U.S. combat forces out of Iraq within 16 months. She says she would start withdrawing combat forces within 60 days but she is not willing to give an end date, a timeline when that withdrawal would be complete.

Are you sure you want to tie your hands to that 16-month date if you're president of the United States? You don't know what's going to happen over the next 16 months.

OBAMA: Of course you don't know, and I will always reserve the right to make adjustments in strategy as we go alone. But what I know is this -- if you do not send a strong signal to the Iraqi government, the Kurds, the Shia and the Sunni, that we are not going to have a permanent occupation there and permanent bases, if we are not sending a signal to them that we are not going to be involved in a perpetual, you know, process of sending more and more troops and resources into Iraq, they will not stand up and take responsibility.

So this is a difference between myself and Senator Clinton. I think that you've got to at least set a timetable for withdrawal.

I think there is another difference and that is that Senator Clinton has suggested that the interest of blunting Iran's influence in Iraq is a justification for maintaining a larger force structure inside of Iraq. I think that is a mistake, I think that is mission creep. I think that what we have to do is focus on direct talks with Iran as well as other powers in the region like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, initiate the kind of diplomatic meeting of the minds that's going to be required to stabilize the country.

But understand, Wolf, George Bush's budget just shows that our costs in Iraq have gone up, have doubled in the last three years. So although obviously the most important issue has to do with the lives lost and the young men and women who have been severely injured in the war, this is also economically unsustainable and not making us more safe and one of the questions that we brought up in the debate on Tuesday is who's going to be in a better position to argue for a new direction on Iraq, myself or Senator Clinton?

When I'm going after John McCain, I think I'm going to be in a much better position to do so.

BLITZER: I'm going to get to that but I just want to leave it open - nail this down. If the 16 month deadline that you've imposed, if you see that there is a need for some flexibility, you are open to that, is that right? OBAMA: Wolf, my job will be to keep the American people safe as commander-in-chief and I will make decisions on the basis of what's required to keep them safe.

But I believe right now and I think a lot of people, not just here in the United States, but around the world, agree that we cannot simply maintain the sort of open-ended approach that people like John McCain have advocated.

BLITZER: And explain what your position is, exactly, on meeting with adversaries directly without preconditions, whether Ahmadinejad or Hugo Chavez or Kim Jong-il, because there has been some confusion.

Would you meet unconditionally with these -- with these other leaders?

OBAMA: There has been no confusion. I have been absolutely clear on this. I will meet not just with our friends but with our enemies. I will meet without preconditions.

That does not mean I will meet without preparation. It is very important before any meeting to make sure that there is a list of agenda items that we are going to be talking about. But the difference is with me, for example, meeting with Iran. I would not expect that they would give in on critical issues like nuclear weapons before the meeting. The objective of the meeting would be to ensure that they stand down and that we've offer them carrots and sticks.

The Bush's administration's approach has been to say, unless they agree with everything we say ahead of time, we won't meet. That is a doomed policy.

The National Intelligence Estimate, our 16 top intelligence organizations, have themselves indicated that the Iranian leadership responds to both carrots and sticks and that we should be engaging in direct talks. That's the kind of leadership I want to show as president of the United States.

BLITZER: Would that also include possibly visiting those countries? Going to Tehran, or Havana and meeting with those leaders?

OBAMA: I don't want to sort of lay out the details of a trip. The point is we would initiate direct talks with them, and I believe that our president is also the person who has to make significant breakthroughs.

That's been true in the past, when Nixon went to China, when Reagan met with Gorbachev. That has always been our approach.

This is not something unique. What's been unique is the span of time with the Bush-Cheney approach where you don't talk to your adversaries. That is not a sign of strength, that's a sign of weakness. I want to reverse it as president of the United States.

BLITZER: John McCain says he has been in the U.S. Congress, the House and the Senate, for 26 years. You've been in the Senate, you will have been in the Senate for four years, eight years in the state legislature in Illinois.

He says when it comes to national security, he is so much better prepared than you are. What do you say to John McCain?

OBAMA: Well, look, I honor John McCain's half a century of service to this country and I think that it's something that we have to all honor. Because he's been a war hero and I think he's done good work in the Senate. But the fact of the matter is that John McCain is not the person who is going to lead this country in a new direction.

He is wrong on foreign policy. He is wrong on economics.

He essentially wants to perpetuate the same failed economic strategies of George Bush by providing tax cuts to the wealthy, as opposed to working families who need relief. He wants to continue the failed foreign policy of leaving our troops in Iraq, potentially for another decade, another two decades, another four decades, or five.

That is not what the American people are looking for. They're looking for a fundamentally different approach, particularly on the economy right now.

People need help. They're worried about losing their homes, they're worried about losing their jobs. They can't send their kids to college. They can't pay for gas at the pump. They're having trouble affording milk in the grocery store.

And the notion that we will just continue with the same Bush policies that got us into this mess in the first place I think is something that the American people simply will not buy. That's what John McCain is offering.

BLITZER: Senator Obama, thanks very much for joining us.

OBAMA: Thank you, Wolf. Take care.


BLITZER: And still ahead, we're going to have more of this interview with Senator Obama. I'm going to ask him if he thinks he might be vulnerable to Republican attacks if he wins the Democratic nomination. A little bit more of the interview, that's still to come.

Also, rebels in Chad renew their assault on the oil-rich African nation. We're watching this dramatic story.

And we'll also hear from a special guest aboard the CNN Election Express, sounding out voters before Super Duper Tuesday.

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



BLITZER: Happening now, all eyes are on who will win California's gold mine of presidential delegates. But why might more voters mean more problems in counting the votes?

We're watching this story.

Also, if you're a Democrat in a Super Tuesday state, your vote is important. But when you actually pick your candidate's name, do you know exactly what you'll be voting for? You may be surprised when you find out.

And Republicans against Republican candidate John McCain. Find out why some conservative radio talk show hosts say McCain would be bad for their party. And how is Senator McCain responding right now?

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

The Republican race appears to be getting somewhat nastier by the hour as we count down to Super Tuesday. Mitt Romney is comparing John McCain to Hillary Clinton, and Romney says conservatives are telling him -- and I'm quoting now -- "We don't want Senator McCain. We want a conservative."

Mary Snow is covering the Romney campaign. She's joining us now from Atlanta, Georgia, a Super Tuesday state tomorrow.

He's really trying to rally conservatives, Romney, right now, Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. And he's really counting on listeners of radio talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, who's been very critical of Senator John McCain. He's campaigning with Senator -- former Senator Rick Santorum, a staunch conservative. And he's vowing a Super Tuesday surprise.


SNOW (voice-over): With the clock ticking, Mitt Romney is racing across the country, starting the day in Tennessee and moving West. The odds are against him in national polls, and he concedes he's the underdog to rival Senator John McCain. But he's hoping to boost his chances by resting his hope one support from conservatives.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to hand the liberals in our party a little surprise on -- on Tuesday evening.


SNOW: Romney is counting on California. His camp is encouraged by state polls, and rearranged his schedule to squeeze in one more trip to California on the eve of Super Tuesday. But he kept one eye on his home state, where his chief rival campaigned.

ROMNEY: Senator McCain, I think, this morning is in Massachusetts, which is -- which is just fine with me. I have got a lot of friends there. And they will...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) ROMNEY: I guess he spent a whole day there. I have been spending my time in, you know, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, and right here in Georgia, where I can get delegates!


SNOW: Delegates are what Romney is zeroing in on, as he tries to stop McCain's momentum. He's been taking aim at McCain on tax cuts, immigration, energy policy, trying to paint McCain as being on par with Democrats. He's hoping conservative radio talk show hosts and columnists critical of McCain will tap into enough anger to help him in the end.

And while he's touted this as a two-man race, in the South, he's vying for conservative support, along with Mike Huckabee, who calls it ludicrous that Romney is discounting him.


SNOW: And Mike Huckabee has also suggested it's voter suppression for suggesting that a vote for him is a vote against Mitt Romney.

Romney was asked about that. He's says, that's not voter suppression. It's the nature of politics. And he says one of the rules in politics is no whining -- Wolf.

BLITZER: No whining, as opposed to no winning.

All right, thanks very much, Mary Snow, for that.

Meanwhile, another Republican candidate says, don't count him out. As we just heard, Mike Huckabee saying he has no current plans to leave the race, this after Mitt Romney suggested Huckabee's presence could be costing Romney some conservative votes. Huckabee campaigned in Tennessee today. And he used boxing references to explain.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I'm proud of my record in the Senate as a strong conservative, and I know that people will examine Governor Romney's, including his position on setting timetables to withdraw from Iraq.


BLITZER: That was not Mike Huckabee.

We do have the sound bit from Mike Huckabee. Let's listen to it.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENT CANDIDATE: There's no victim card here. It's playing the fight card. You -- you know, you hit me in the jaw and say that I ought to leave the ring, and I'm going to give you the round of your life the next time the bell rings.


BLITZER: Our Dana Bash spent some time with John McCain a little while ago. We're going to get some excerpts from her interview. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

You can hear what all the candidates are saying before and after they win or lose tomorrow. CNN will cover Super Tuesday all day long. I will be joined by the best political team on television during and after the voting. That's tomorrow. You're going to want to stay with CNN for all the coverage.

CNN is bringing politics to the people via our Election Express. Right now, we want to talk a little bit more about what's happening ahead of Super Tuesday. Bob Greene is aboard the CNN Election Express, Bob Greene, the author, the writer, the columnist.

What's -- give us a little sense, Bob, of what people out there in America are telling you right now.

BOB GREENE, COLUMNIST: Well, all weekend, as you know, right before the Super Bowl, most years, this week, that's all people can talk about, football. People come up to you and they say, who do you think is going to win? And you say, last weekend, either the Giants or New England, they say, no, no, who is going to win the election?

It's something this year that I haven't seen in a very long time, which is, people seem to be putting it into their lives. I mean, the nice thing about this -- this Election Express is, you know, candidates talk about national strategies or regional strategies. But we're going around seeing the country block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood.

And, for some reason, this seems to have connected with people in a way that's not like required reading for them, but like an elective. They are as excited -- I'm not talking about one party or the other. The whole process this year, for reasons I haven't quite figured out yet, seems to be connecting with them in a really visceral way.


BLITZER: Is this a gradual trend, or are people just simply much more engaged and energized about this election right now?

GREENE: You know, Wolf, we have been told for so long -- I mean, you see people walking down the streets, on the sidewalk. They're looking into the handheld devices and checking their text messages.

And it seems like people have been in sort of a cocoon to protect themselves against the outside world almost, if you just limit your number of friends who can get to you. People are never where they are -- where they are right now.

And, yet, this year, it's sort of like they're saying, we want to let the outside in. Part of it, I think, has to do with the fact this is the first year, I believe, since 1952, when Eisenhower ran against Adlai Stevenson, that a candidate has not either been a sitting president or vice president or someone who has at least served in the White House. So, unless I'm wrong, for the first time in 54 -- 56 years, the candidates, too, don't know the experience of serving as president or vice president.

And I think the whole thought of approaching something new and trying to figure it out together -- I mean, who knows. If indeed we go back to the old ways after the election, then the cynicism will return. But I just get this feeling that people are willing to put jadedness on hold from now until November to see if things really will be different.

BLITZER: We will soon find out. Bob Greene aboard the CNN Election Express -- Bob, thanks very much.

Hillary Clinton visits a region some people thought she had locked up. But what does that suggest about her campaign? We're talking about that in our "Strategy Session." Also, think you know who will win tomorrow? You're going to find out how you can go to our Web site and post your predictions.

And John McCain certainly hopes to be a big winner tomorrow. He will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM for a one-on-one interview. That's coming up later. He spoke with our Dana Bash.

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


BLITZER: President Bush today unveiled his new budget blueprint, saying it protects America and encourages economic growth. You don't have to read the fine print, though, to know this much about the spending plan. It would cost taxpayers an unprecedented amount of money.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

He is watching this story for us.

You're crunching the numbers, and they're huge, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, all $3.1 trillion of it, a record that the president probably wishes to forget.


HENRY (voice-over): Holding a laptop to highlight the first budget filed electronically to save paper, President Bush declared, the budget will be balanced, four years after he leaves office.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a budget that's balanced -- gets to balance in 2012, and saves taxpayers money.

HENRY: But do the numbers compute? Keeping them honest, we found the claim of a balanced budget is based on several questionable assumptions.

Assumption one, the president budgets $70 million more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, only enough for the rest of this year. The budget director said the White House did not want to tie the hands of the next president by budgeting too far ahead, though admitted more war spending is likely and could balloon the annual deficit.

JIM NUSSLE, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET DIRECTOR: When you add in the final amount, it will change. And it may grow higher. Congress has not even yet completed its job.

HENRY: Assumption two, the president plans major savings by cutting the rate of growth in Medicare by $200 billion, though it's highly unlikely Congress will take on seniors in an election year.

Assumption three, the president projects the economy will continue to grow, though at a lower rate than recent years. That's far from a certainty, even if Congress completes work on the $150 billion stimulus plan.

SCOTT LILLY, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: There's a serious risk that we can have an extended slowdown in the U.S. economy. And that will have very disastrous effects on -- on the deficit.


HENRY: Now, large parts of this budget will probably be ignored by the Democratic Congress. It's probably more useful as a warning post for the next president, whoever that may be.

This budget points out that, without radical change, by 2045, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will take over the entire federal budget, leaving no money for national defense, education or anything else -- a lot of looming problems, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry, thanks very much. Ed Henry is over at the White House.

On the brink of Super Tuesday, Hillary Clinton's allies are looking for Barack Obama's weak spots. In my interview with Senator Obama today, I asked him about potential problems with independent voters.

Listen to this.


BLITZER: A quick question on this memo that the Clinton strategist Mark Penn wrote over the weekend. He is the chief strategist for Hillary Clinton. Among other things, he says you could potentially have a problem with independent voters.

He writes this: "Such voters have very little information about Senator Obama. And once the Republican machine begins to methodically attack him, he will lose independent support." Does Mark Penn have a point?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, look, this was the same argument they made when I was running against Hillary Clinton. Mark Penn was writing memos saying I would never withstand them. And we seem to be doing all right so far. So, unlike Senator Clinton and her strategist, I want to spend time talking about why I should be president, not why somebody else should not be president.

I don't want to look backwards. I want to look forwards. And that is what this campaign is about. Can we seize the future, reform our economy so that it works better for ordinary working people? Can we make sure that we have a foreign policy that both keeps us safe and restores our standing in the world? Can we get past some of the old divisions and ideological battles and partisanship that has so characterized Washington?

And can we reduce the influence of special interests and lobbyists, people who Senator Clinton is very comfortable working with, but I believe are an impediment to change? That's what this election is about and I think that our message is being received all across the country.


BLITZER: Senator Barack Obama speaking with me just a little while ago.

Coming up in our "Strategy Session," Mitt Romney is questioning John McCain's conservative credentials.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do we really want to have as the leader of our party and our nominee a person who voted against the Bush tax cuts?



BLITZER: But is it the message that can still win him the votes he needs in the delegate-rich state of California?

And Hillary Clinton is working the East Coast while her husband campaigns out West. Is this two-pronged tactic a sign of strength or weakness?

Peter Fenn and John Feehery, they're standing by -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Mitt Romney and John McCain are fighting to claim one coveted title: Who is more conservative? Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now.

Joining us, the Democratic strategist Peter Fenn, the Republican strategist John Feehery.

What do you think, John? Who is more conservative, John McCain or Mitt Romney?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it depends on the issue, and it depends on what brand of Mitt Romney there is.

I think the question here is for Mitt Romney, how well does it work in California? And I think it can work, because you look at the California delegation, it is so conservative. And if you look at what the top issue in California, it's immigration for a lot of these California conservatives.

It really can work for him in helping in California. Now, will it help nationwide in New York or New Jersey? I don't know the answer to that question. I don't think it will work there.

BLITZER: From a Democratic perspective, Peter, what do you think?

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I'm laughing all the way here, Wolf.

I mean, here's Mitt Romney talking about who is more conservative, the guy that said he was more liberal than Ted Kennedy on gay rights, the guy who was pro-choice on abortion, the guy who was for immigration and for gun control. I mean, this is not his strongest argument, Wolf.

He should be -- those conservatives, if he's going to get them, he's going to get them anyway. He should be talking about how Washington is broken, how he's the guy with the experience on the economy. He's the businessman. He can -- you know, he can fix this mess.

I hate to give advice to a Republican, but that should be his message in these closing days, I think.

BLITZER: Can Romney still overtake McCain?

John, what do you think?

FEEHERY: I don't think so. I think it's a pretty uphill fight for him. He might actually win California, but I don't think -- I think he's going to split the South with Mike Huckabee. I think, in the Northeast, in the big delegate states, you know, actually, John McCain is going to benefit from the Rudy Giuliani strategy of winner take all.

And I think, in the Northeastern states and Midwest, I think that John McCain is going to win. I think it's really hard for Mitt Romney to get this nomination. BLITZER: You agree, Peter?

FENN: I totally agree, Wolf. I think this winner-take-all is likely to get him 500, 600 delegates after Super Tuesday. It's going to be a train that I think has left the station.

BLITZER: Peter, what do you think about Hillary Clinton? She's now here in her home turf, in the Northeast, at a time when a lot of people thought she would have that wrapped up; she could focus her attention on other, more problematic areas. What do you make about this?

FENN: I will tell you, I think that this is very tight in a lot of states, Wolf. I think that Obama clearly has an advantage in those seven states that are doing caucuses. I think she's got to carry the big states that she had planned on.

California is clearly up for grabs now. But there's going to be a split after this with delegates. It's going to be fairly even. So, the question is, what is the story out of the day? Is it that Hillary has done better, won more states, is it that Obama has won more states? But, in either case, unless one or the other gets annihilated, I think they go on to many more Tuesdays.


FENN: Some of them may be pretty super.


BLITZER: Because, as much of you -- you take a look at the popular vote on the Democratic side, John, it's really the delegates that are critical right now a lot more than just a beauty contest, in terms of the popular vote.

FEEHERY: I think it's a tossup with the delegates.

I think -- people I talk to say that the Clinton -- the Clinton campaigns thinks that they are up by 14 delegates. It's really tight. California is going to be very tight. The fact that Hillary has go back to Northeast is very tight.

You know, the problem with the Clinton campaign is, they just haven't made enough of an issue over Obama's lack of experience. And you see that he's actually been able to turn that argument on its head by calling for change. And it's really, actually, a stunning turnaround. I really think that -- that has Obama has got all the big mo' right now.

FENN: You know, one thing that the Clinton campaign probably should do -- John is right on this -- is, you know, the old slogan, some talk change, others cause it.

She's got to be doing what she did in the debate in Los Angeles that you moderated, talk about the things that she's actually done in the United States Senate, co-sponsoring legislation with folks like Lindsey Graham, the Republicans. She has got it done. She knows how to get it done.

BLITZER: What -- here's the bottom-line question, before I let you guys go.

Peter, first to you. If the Republicans wrap this up, let's say, tomorrow -- let's assume McCain, if the polls are right, he could wrap it up, if he does -- it's obviously not, by any means, a done deal -- and the Democrats, though, have to go on for weeks and weeks and weeks and are battling each other, the conventional wisdom, it's good for the Republicans, bad for the Democrats in the long run.

What do you think?

FENN: I think that could be true, Wolf, because it's pretty hard to have the kind of campaign that you had in that debate last Thursday night, everybody upbeat, everybody happy, everybody saying nice things about one another, when you're having to campaign in Wisconsin, when you're having to campaign in Ohio, when you're having to campaign in Pennsylvania, let alone deal with the superdelegates, the 20 percent.

And, look, think about this. You have got Michigan and Florida, where you have no delegates seated. Those delegates could be crucial in a race that's going to go all the way.

BLITZER: If the DNC works out a deal to get them seated.


FENN: Right.

BLITZER: What do you think, John?

FEEHERY: Well, you know, I think Peter is absolutely right. And just think about this. One of the worst things about Hillary Clinton, people think they don't trust her. Just imagine if she try to angle to sneak in those Florida and Michigan delegates and say, hey, I won, after no one else campaigned there. She tries to sneak them in and this lack of trust just -- if she gets the nomination, people will -- still will not trust her. I think it would be really bad for the Democrats.

BLITZER: Let's wait and see. It's a long way to go before now and Denver, where the Democrats are holding their controversy .

Peter and John, thanks very much for that.

If you think you know who will win tomorrow, tell us. You can find out how to do that. Simply go to our Web site and post your prediction,

Also, Democratic strategists James Carville and Jamal Simmons, they're standing by to tell us what they think is about to happen. What do Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama need to do in their closing hours to clinch victory? Carville and Simmons, they will be here in our next hour with their thoughts. Stick around for that.

And what is John McCain's Super Tuesday strategy? He spoke to our Dana Bash, offered some insights, just a little while ago.

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


BLITZER: Today in our Political Ticker: Which candidates will win the most Super Tuesday states? People are predicting the results online at

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

Abbi, how are people doing this?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is isn't polls or surveys. This is the CNN Political Market, where people are going online and predicting what they think is going to happen tomorrow.

Take a look at how that works in terms for Super Tuesday. For the Democrats, money is on Barack Obama to win the most primaries tomorrow. But this is changing minute by minute. Take a look at this just a few moments ago, and Hillary Clinton had the edge.

What's happening here is that people all around the country, all around the world, are logging on and weighing in with what they think is the most probable result tomorrow and going down the road. There are a variety of questions that they're weighing in on.

How many times will the word "election" be said during the Academy Awards? Which candidate will John Edwards endorse? But, by far, the most popular ones that people are weighing in online right now are about tomorrow and about who is going to be the nominee. All those questions are going to be also answered at tomorrow, as the results come in. That's where we're going to be checking. And that's where you can check to see how those predictions went -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much.

Also on our political ticker this Monday, Dead Heads for Barack Obama. Members of the legendary rock group the Grateful Dead hosting a get-out-the-vote concert for Barack Obama in San Francisco later tonight. It will be the first time members of the group have performed together since 2004. Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out our Political Ticker at

By the way, it's now become the number-one political news blog on the Web. You can also read my daily little column there as well,

Jack Cafferty once again joining us with "The Cafferty File."

We're number one...


CAFFERTY: Grateful Dead, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the Super Bowl yesterday, I mean, it's like...

BLITZER: Life is good, huh?

CAFFERTY: These are old people.



CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Which candidate has the greater chance of uniting the Republican Party? Is it Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton?

Matt writes from Wisconsin: "Clinton by far. I'm an independent with Republican leanings, but I would gladly vote for Obama over the rest of the field. Short of a surprise Ron Paul victory, there's not a chance I'd vote for Hillary. The past looks good compared to the present, but the bitter fighting between parties if there's another Clinton White House would be more of what we already have. It's time for a change."

Jo Ann writes in Iowa: "Definitely Hillary Clinton. The Republicans have a whole staff that has been working for years on the Clinton attack. They have lots of material. I don't want to see it. The Republican base is not excited about McCain, but they will get very excited about Hillary."

Tom writes: "The GOP is champing at the bit to get at Hillary. The swift boat types will make what they did to John Kerry look like a picnic. They will come after her with both barrels. They don't quite know what to make of Obama, which is only one reason he gets my vote."

Jordan in Kentucky writes: "The answer to this question is the obvious one. Hillary Clinton is as divisive as they come."

Is it divisive or divisive, Wolf?

BLITZER: I'm listening.

CAFFERTY: Divisive or divisive?

BLITZER: It's either.

CAFFERTY: OK -- "is as divisive as they come. I manage Barack Obama's campaign at Murray State University in Kentucky, and I hear of more and more Republicans crossing over to support him every day. It's not that Hillary isn't a tried and true Democrat politician. It's that Barack Obama is a movement, and you can't run against a movement. McCain wouldn't stand a chance."

Patricia writes: "Hillary would unite the Republicans, because they hate of all things Clinton and it makes them lose their minds."

Greg in Houston: "Without question, it's Clinton. Even if there were nobody else running, I'd show up to vote against her. And I'm an independent." (LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: And Jenny writes from New York: "Jerry Falwell said that Hillary Clinton would unite the Republicans more than the devil himself. That's the only thing I've ever agreed with him on."

BLITZER: Divisive or divisive? I think...


CAFFERTY: Yes. Somebody wrote me last week. I say divisive. And somebody wrote me last week and said, you don't know how to pronounce the word. It's divisive.

BLITZER: I think, if you go to the dictionary, there's -- both of them are acceptable.

CAFFERTY: I just figured...

BLITZER: Tomato or tomato.

CAFFERTY: I just figured I would ask you.


CAFFERTY: It's easier.

BLITZER: I say sometimes divisive, sometimes divisive.

CAFFERTY: Good. That's good enough for me.

BLITZER: You're not divisive or divisive.

CAFFERTY: No, no, not at all.


CAFFERTY: I'm a team player, company guy, suck-up.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, see you in a few moments.


BLITZER: Thanks very much.

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

Happening right now: Super Tuesday, turf wars. The candidates make a final push for that massive haul of delegates -- why winning tomorrow may still not be enough to win the nomination, though.

He's the candidate they love to hate. John McCain's success is leaving some conservative radio talkers sputtering with rage. Could a strong Super Tuesday leave them speechless?