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New Challenges for McCain; Obama's Washington Jackpot; President Bush Visits Tornado Disaster Zone

Aired February 8, 2008 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, John McCain gets a new slap from the religious right. Republicans are bearing their divisions over the likely presidential nominee. Is President Bush doing enough to try to bring the party together?
Also, Colin Powell's White House choice. Will he vote Republican or Democrat this fall? Stand by for my exclusive interview with the former secretary of state.

And Hillary Clinton may be sleepless in Seattle. We'll tell you why Washington State could be a winning playing field for Barack Obama tomorrow.

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

John McCain is walking a tightrope today. He's trying to ease into his role as the likely Republican nominee without making conservatives any angrier at him. A key endorsement for rival Mike Huckabee isn't necessarily making McCain's balancing act any easier.

Let's go out to Virginia. CNN's Mary Snow is watching this story unfold.

McCain is trying to sound like he doesn't necessarily have it in the bag, although a lot of the experts think he does.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Wolf. John McCain was campaigning here in Virginia earlier today, saying he has a long road to go, and he's calling Mike Huckabee a viable candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice over): Senator John McCain took his campaign to Virginia one day after Mitt Romney dropped out of the Republican race, putting the Arizona senator one step closer to becoming the GOP nominee. And he got questions about his new status, including one about what he would look for in a running mate. But McCain cautioned...

SEN. JOHN McCain (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't want to in any way discount the candidacy of Governor Huckabee. He's in this race, and for me to dismiss him I think would be inappropriate and unrealistic.

SNOW: The reality is the math makes it daunting for Mike Huckabee to garner enough delegates to catch up to McCain. Questions continually come up about whether his real aim is to become McCain's running mate. Huckabee told a crowd in Kansas he still believes in the impossible.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The fact is a lot of folks have said, well, "Why don't you quit?" Well, let me tell you something. Let me explain why I'm not going to quit. Because, first of all, I still believe that we can win.

SNOW: Huckabee is trying to make the case he's the conservatives' choice, calling in an endorsement from James Dobson, leader of the conservative group Focus on the Family, significant. The nod is seen as a snub to McCain who is trying to make nice with conservatives, angered by his stance on a number of issues, including his support of a comprehensive immigration bill which they say amounts to amnesty.

McCain's theme? Unity.

MCCAIN: The best way of succeeding is with a united party, and we will have great difficulties if we don't.

SNOW: As part of that unity, McCain says he spoke to Mitt Romney, saying he looks forward to meeting with his one-time rival.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And while McCain says that Mike Huckabee can't be discounted, he also took some questions about a potential running mate, saying that he would -- the person needs to have shared values and philosophy. And he also said that President Clinton and Al Gore really broke the theory that a candidate and a running mate would have to come form the same area -- or they can't come from the same area, said that they can. And while he's answering these questions, of course, he says they're all hypothetical -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Mary Snow in Norfolk, Virginia, watching this story for us.

Thanks, Mary, very much.

The Democrats' wrestling match for delegates is playing out in Washington State today. Barack Obama picked up the endorsement of the governor there, one day before the state holds its presidential caucuses.

Let's go out to Seattle. Jessica Yellin is on the scene for us.

Washington State looks like it's a friendly place for Barack Obama, at least based on what we see behind you.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Wolf, I'm in arena that's usually home to the Seattle SuperSonics. The mayor of Seattle says today 21,000 people turned out to see Barack Obama here today.

Even Senator Clinton's top advisers say the demographics of the state and the style of caucuses benefits Barack Obama when folks go to caucus tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice over): They're crisscrossing Washington State. Clinton in Tacoma...

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I need all of you to redouble your efforts to go to the caucuses tomorrow. To be there, to stand up for what we need in a president.

YELLIN: ... Obama in Seattle.

They're on the airwaves...

ANNOUNCER: Now she's the only candidate for president.

YELLIN: ... and in the trenches, with the ongoing endorsement war. The senators are for her. The governor came out for him.

Even Hillary Clinton's top advisers say they expect Senator Obama to win tomorrow's caucuses. That's because he does best with upscale, well-educated voters. And he's hit the jackpot here, home of the upscale, well-educated technology guru. The state is whiter and richer than the national average, and the Hispanic population is smaller here than around the nation.

None of that bodes well for senator Clinton. But still, she's fighting for every supporter as she and Senator Obama try to rack up as many delegates as possible.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That starts with the next generation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: And, Wolf, Senator Clinton certainly expects to win a good share of the 158 delegates that are at stake in various contests tomorrow.

One thing I should point out, while this audience is certainly packed to the rafters for Barack Obama, many of the people here are young kids. Great for democracy, but they can't all vote. So it's not certain that this enthusiasm necessarily translates into votes for Barack Obama -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Has done incredibly well in the caucuses so far.

Thank you very much for that.

Jessica Yellin.

Seventy-eight delegates at stake for the Democrats in the Washington State caucuses. Democrats also have contests tomorrow in Nebraska and Louisiana, and in Maine on Sunday. All told, 182 Democratic delegates are up for grabs this weekend. The Republicans hold contests tomorrow in Washington State, Louisiana, Kansas, Guam, and the Virginia Islands. And they wrap up four days of caucuses in the Northern Mariana Islands. A total of 92 GOP delegates are at stake.

We're going to have extensive live coverage tomorrow night from the CNN Election Center. I'll be anchoring our coverage, coverage beginning tomorrow night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Jessica Yellin and Mary Snow are both part of the Emmy Award- winning best political team on television. And remember, for the late pest political news at any time, you can check out our Political Ticker at CNNPolitics.com. That's also where you can read my daily blog. I wrote one today on Bill Clinton.

Now to the painful job for any president, comforting victims of natural disaster. President Bush went to the South today to try to assure tornado survivors they'll get the help they need.

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

How did the president's trip go, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I just got back from Tennessee. I can tell you, the numbers, of course, of more than 50 dead do not tell the story.

When you see it up close, the utter devastation, peoples' homes destroyed, also lives, of course, destroyed, you can see the pain on people's faces. The president got an up-close look at that.

He did see a little bit of a sign of hope when he first landed though. He was greeted on the tarmac in Nashville by Dave Harman (ph). You'll remember he was the firefighter who found the despondent baby. A lot of people thought it was just a doll. It turned out to be a boy who Harman (ph) helped revive.

He -- the president congratulated that firefighter. But then once we got up on the Marine helicopters, when you looked out the left side windows, you could see just the utter devastation and chaos below. Power lines everywhere, homes twisted apart like pretzels.

Outside the right side windows of the Marine helicopters, though, the president could see that homes were absolutely perfect. It showed the absolute randomness of this, that some were destroyed, others were not. And the message from the president -- it obviously was burned politically by Hurricane Katrina and the slow government response -- it was very simple -- the government is here to help.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're sorry you're going through this. You know, life sometimes is -- you know, is unfair. And you don't get to play the hand that you wanted to play. But the question is, when you get dealt the hand, how do you play it? And I've come away with this impression of the folks of Macon County. One, they're down to earth, good, hard-working people. They have a respect for the almighty. And this community is going to be as strong as ever. That's what I think.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, one man on the ground told us that, in fact, three children survived by hiding in a closet in one of these homes. Another man was rolled up in a carpet, and that served as sort of a shield for him to survive.

The man who was standing next to the president was fighting back tears as he said to Mr. Bush, "Without my friends I don't know what I would do." You can tell, you can see the pain. People relying on friends and neighbors to try and help rebuild -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And our hearts go out to all those suffering people there.

Thanks very much.

Ed Henry at the White House.

Let's check in with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, John McCain is about to make history, but not in a way that he would perhaps like. Assuming McCain is the Republican nominee -- and that's a pretty safe bet at this point -- it will be the first time in 30 years that Republicans have nominated a candidate who lost the conservative vote and who lost the evangelical vote in the primaries.

McCain knows this. He's reaching out to the conservative base, as we saw in that speech he made yesterday.

The criticism has been loud because, in the past, McCain has infuriated conservatives with his work on things like campaign finance reform, climate change, immigration, and his opposition to President Bush's tax cuts. Although now he's for them.

Now, President Bush has entered this debate as well. He's urging the conservative wing of the party, without naming McCain, to back the party's nominee. The president told the Conservative Political Action Conference, "Soon we will have a nominee who will carry the conservative banner into this election and beyond."

Now, one way McCain could reach out to religious conservatives is by picking Huckabee as a running mate, although economic conservatives don't like Huckabee's liberal policies when he was governor of Arkansas.

Meanwhile, despite the complaints about McCain from many conservatives, maybe this is a sign of things to come. Earlier this week in "The Cafferty File," right here on this program, we told you about some Republican senators who were worried about a McCain presidency because of his temperament.

At that time, just a couple of days ago, the senator, Thad Cochran, said this: "The thought of McCain being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He's erratic. He's hot-headed. He loses his temper. And he worries me."

That's a quote.

Guess who Cochran is supporting now that Mitt Romney is out of the race? That's right, John McCain. Another mealy-mouthed politician who was against McCain before he was for him.

How do these people look at themselves in the mirror in the morning?

Here's the question. Will conservatives rally around John McCain?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, where you can post a comment on my blog.

Wolf, they have no shame. They say one thing one day, and a day later they come out and say exactly the opposite, do it with a straight face, and go on as if nothing is different in life.

BLITZER: Well, they can change their minds, I guess. Right?

CAFFERTY: I don't know. That's for brighter guys than me to worry about.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

Jack will be back shortly.

He's the former secretary of state and a swing voter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: I have voted for nominees of both parties in the course of my adult life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So which way will General Colin Powell vote in this presidential election? My exclusive interview, that's coming up.

Plus, will John McCain's likely lock on the Republican nomination influence who wins the Democratic race?

We'll take a closer look at who as the momentum against McCain.

And Bill Clinton says he's learned his lesson. You're going to find out what that lesson is. That, and a lot more, coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, as well as Barack Obama. There you see some live pictures. He's speaking out in Seattle right now. We'll share with you what he has to say and a lot more when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Senator Barack Obama speaking to his supporters out in Seattle, Washington, right now. There's a Washington State Democratic caucus tomorrow.

Let's listen in briefly.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: We cannot wait. And so when I decided to run, I said to myself, the size of these challenges have outstripped the capacity of a broken and divided politics to self (ph). And I was convinced that the American people were hungry, were desperate for a different kind of politics, a politics -- a politics that wasn't based on tearing each other down, but was based on lifting the country up.

(APPLAUSE)

A politics that wasn't based on ideology. It was based on practicality and common sense. A politics not based on PR and spin, but based on common sense and honesty and truthfulness, being straight with the American people.

That's what I believed folks were hungry for right now.

(APPLAUSE)

Mainly, Seattle, I was betting on you. I was betting...

(APPLAUSE)

I was betting on the American people, because some of you know I now live in Chicago, but I'm not originally from Chicago. I moved there after college when I was 24 or 25 years old to work as an organizer. There are a group of churches there, and we worked together to help people who had been laid off of steel plants, communities that had been devastated.

And it was the best education I ever had, those three and a half years working on the streets of Chicago, helping to set of job training programs and bring economic development to the communities, because it taught me ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they're given a chance.

(APPLAUSE)

And so I have always believed that change happens not from the top down, it happens from the bottom up. (APPLAUSE)

I am convinced that the American people are a decent and generous people, willing to work hard and to sacrifice on behalf of future generations. And I believed in my gut that if we could just join together across racial divisions, across gender divisions, young, old, rich, poor, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native-American, gay, straight, if we could bring everybody together, all those voices...

(APPLAUSE)

If we could get those voices to challenge the special interests in Washington, to challenge the toxic politics that has become our custom, but also to challenge ourselves to be better -- better citizens, better parents, better neighbors -- then there was no problem we could not solve. There was no destiny we could not fulfill.

That was the bet that I was making one year ago. And I am here to report after crisscrossing the country for 12 months, after a whole lot of chicken dinners and a whole lot of town hall meetings, and a whole lot of frequent flier miles, I am here to report that my bet has paid off, and my faith in the American people has been vindicated, because everywhere I go people tell me they are ready to change America.

(APPLAUSE)

I mean, we've been seeing -- this crowd is extraordinary, as big as any crowd we've gotten anywhere in the country.

(APPLAUSE)

But everywhere we go it's not just the crowds. I mean, we've been seeing people listen to the debates and reading position papers.

People are intensely engaged in this contest. People are really paying attention to what's going on right now. I mean, in Iowa, on the day of the caucus, I had been telling reporters, you know, I think young people are going to come out like never before.

(APPLAUSE)

And the reporters were all skeptical. Oh, you know, that's not going to happen. Come on.

And then that night of the caucus you saw college students and high school students streaming in and saying to me, Barack, we are so proud, so excited to participate for the first time in our lives. And we saw record turnout from young people all across Iowa.

(APPLAUSE)

We saw Independents coming out that nobody expected. We saw Republicans. I know this because when I shake hands sometimes in the rallies, afterwards they whisper to me. They say, "Barack, I'm a Republican, but I support you."

And I say, "Thank you."

(APPLAUSE)

So there's a level of interest and excitement that we have not seen in a generation. Now, I would like to take all the credit for that, but I have to say, it's not just me. The fact is, people know that they will be selecting the next president in November, and that whatever else happens when they go into that voting booth, the name George W. Bush will not be on the ballot, and that has people really excited.

BLITZER: All right. Barack Obama speaking to his supporters out in Seattle, Washington. We'll continue to watch his speech and update you as necessary.

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, rarely do you hear Bill Clinton talking like this. He's standing firm on what he says are the facts in his Barack Obama's attacks, but the former president admitting making one mistake. And he says he's learned a valuable lesson.

Details coming up.

Also, John McCain has problems with conservatives. We all know that. But Hillary Clinton has some problems with some on the liberal left. Guess what filmmaker Michael Moore is saying about her?

And the FBI takes a major step to help fight terrorism, but might it intrude on your personal privacy?

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

Colin Powell once himself considered and rejected a presidential bid. Now, like many Americans , the former secretary of state is deciding who he'll vote for this year. I asked General Powell about the race for the White House in an exclusive interview earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Who is your candidate for president of the United States?

COLIN POWELL, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: I am watching this race with the greatest of interest, and I know all of the leading candidates. Now, I don't know Mr. Huckabee as well as I know Senator McCain and Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, but I am watching this. And I will ultimately vote for the person I believe brings to the American people the kind of vision the American people want to see for the next four years. A vision that reaches out to the rest of the world, that starts to restore confidence in America, that starts to restore favorable ratings to America.

Frankly, we've lost a lot in recent years. I am going to be looking for the candidate that seems to me to be leading a party that is fully in sync with the candidate, and a party that will also reflect America's goodness and America's vision.

And I will be looking for the candidate that I think will be the most competent candidate. The one who can deal with problems and bring the government together with the Congress to solve these problems.

And so I know them all. I am a Republican, but I am keeping my options open at the moment. And I am in touch with the candidates. And anybody who wants to talk to me about an issue, I'll do so. But sooner or later, as any other American, I will make my choice.

BLITZER: Are you leaving open the possibility -- and you said you were a Republican -- that you might not vote for the Republican nominee this time around?

POWELL: I said -- I have voted for members of both parties in the course of my adult life. And as I said early, I will vote for the candidate I think can do the best job for America, whether that candidate is a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent.

BLITZER: Because you said really nice things about Barack Obama in that interview you did last month with Tavis Smiley.

POWELL: I think that Mr. Obama has done an incredible job in coming to where he is now on the Democratic side of this campaign. And I think he's been an exciting person on the political stage.

He has energized a lot of people in America. He has energized a lot of people around the world. And so I think he is worth listening to and seeing what he stands for.

There are some positions he has that I wouldn't support, but that's the case with every candidate out there. And I think every American has an obligation right now at this moment in our history to look at all the candidates and to make a judgment not simply on the basis of ideology, or simply on the basis of political affiliation, but on the basis of, who is the best person for all of America and which party and what does that party look like? And how does that candidate relate to that party and the different wings of the party? And which party and which candidate is best able to take America in a positive direction over the next four years?

BLITZER: But I just want to be clear. You're not ready to endorse John McCain right now?

POWELL: I am not in the endorsement business right now. I am an American citizen that is examining all of the candidates, listening carefully. And now that we have sort of cleared out the primary underbrush, if I may say that without being disrespectful to any of the candidates who have left, we now have a real campaign before us. And we'll see how the Democrats sort this out. It looks like John McCain is going to be the Republican candidate. And I will watch and measure them well.

BLITZER: Well...

POWELL: It's not just the candidates. I want to see what the party is thinking. I want to see what the debates look like. I want to see what kind of appointments might be made in a government or on a Supreme Court. I want to look at a whole range of issues before I decide who I am going to vote for.

BLITZER: And this is really a historic moment because a woman, an African-American, one of them are -- is going to be the Democratic presidential nominee and might be the next president of the United States.

POWELL: It's a historic moment and it's pretty exciting. A woman, a black man who started out his life in Indonesia, has a father from Africa, Mrs. Clinton with great experience, and John McCain, a great American hero who served this country so brilliantly over the years both in war and in peace.

And, so, if this is the way it shapes up when we finally sort it all out, the American people will be given a couple of good candidates to look at, good candidates who mean the best for America. And the American people will have to make a judgment on their political philosophy, and on what kind of party they represent and what kind of leadership they will bring to America for the next four years.

BLITZER: General Powell, thanks very much.

POWELL: My pleasure, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And you can watch the entire exclusive interview with General Powell on "LATE EDITION." We talk about Iraq. We talking about what is happening elsewhere around the world. Is there a civil war still in Iraq right now? That interview, the entire interview, will air this Sunday on "LATE EDITION," 11:00 a.m. -- "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

President Bush reveals his thoughts on the presidential race. You're going to find what he said and noticeably didn't say about the Republican candidates. What is the president's intended message?

And millions of you will soon be getting extra money from the federal government. But what will you do with it? And what happens if no one actually goes out and spends all those checks?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush has a message about money for you. He will sign the economic stimulus package next week, now that it's cleared the House and the Senate. The president calls it a timely plan that would help the troubled economy. It will give rebate checks to 130 million Americans. But will people actually go out and spend that extra money?

Let's go to our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff. He's watching this in New York.

You're talking with a lot of taxpayers, Allan. What are they saying?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they now have a promise from Congress that the check will soon be in the mail. But it seems, even with that promise, many Americans are not in a spending mood.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Wilhemenia Avant already knows what she will do with her rebate check.

WILHEMENIA AVANT, SHOPPER: Paying off debts that we have accumulated.

CHERNOFF: And Elaine Sonowski also has plans for the money.

ELAINE SONOWSKI, SHOPPER: I'm going to put it right in the bank and save it.

CHERNOFF (on camera): Not spend?

SONOWSKI: I'm not going to spend it, no way on earth.

CHERNOFF: That's not exactly what congressional leaders have in mind for the rebates they have just approved. Congress and the president hope Americans will spend to help the economy.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: The beauty of this package is that it is simple, it is clean, it is neat, and it will get the money back out into the American company as quickly as possible.

CHERNOFF: It may not happen. Many consumers, already maxed out on their credit cards and concerned about a possible recession, are pulling back. Nearly half of those surveyed in a new poll said they planned to use the rebate to pay off debt. About a quarter say they would save the money, while only the remaining quarter say they would spend it.

MIKE NIEMIRA, INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL OF SHOPPING CENTERS: They are psychologically worried about the economy. And, in an environment like that, you don't go out and spend.

CHERNOFF: Spending, especially on plastic, has been America's pastime. Credit card debt at the end of last year was nearly $1 trillion, a record. Add personal loans, student loans, and auto loans, and America's debt burden is a whopping $2.5 trillion. If the majority of Americans do use the rebate to pay off some of that debt or save the money, the economic stimulus package may not do very much to give the economy a boost. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF: Already in the past two months, Americans have been cutting back on their spending. It seems, as time gets tough, Americans are getting practical -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Allan, thank you.

And, while we look ahead to these coming checks, we're also looking back at what happened the last time the federal government sent out rebate checks. That was back in 2001, as the United States was mired in a recession; $38 billion was sent to taxpayers, typically, $300 for individuals, $600 for couples.

Studies show people actually saved some of the money initially, but spent most of the money within six months. The money was spent on clothing. Health care was another big guy. And Americans also bought food. Some experts say the 2001 checks helped speed the end of that recession.

With John McCain the Republican front-runner, his potential Democratic rivals are taking aim at him. But how might Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton match up against Senator McCain?

Also, Bill Clinton, he is learning what from what he calls a mistake. It concerns his recent attacks on Senator Barack Obama. Are we about to see a new role for Bill Clinton in this campaign?

That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: While Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama keep duking it out for delegates, they can't help but look over their shoulders at John McCain.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching this story.

How is the Republican race affecting the Democratic contest, now that Mitt Romney is out of the contest?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, with John McCain the likely Republican nominee, the Democrats are debating who would do better against McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): John McCain is the latest issue in the Democratic race.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And, for Democrats, who would be our best candidate to stand on the stage with Senator McCain?

SCHNEIDER: Two polls this month asked registered voters nationwide how they would vote if the choice were between Republican John McCain and Democrat Hillary Clinton. The CNN poll conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation shows Clinton three points ahead of McCain, within the poll's margin of error.

The "TIME" magazine poll shows a dead heat between Clinton and McCain. Barack Obama believes he can do better.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have got appeal that goes beyond our party.

SCHNEIDER: Let's see. Obama leads McCain by eight points in the CNN poll, outside the margin of error. He leads McCain by seven in the "TIME" poll.

Why does Obama look stronger than Clinton?

OBAMA: I think there's no doubt that she has higher negatives than any of the remaining Democratic candidates. That's just a fact. And there are some who will not vote for her.

SCHNEIDER: That was three weeks ago. Now only two Democratic candidates remain. Forty-four percent of the public say they don't like Senator Clinton. That's higher than the 36 percent who don't like McCain and the 31 percent who don't like Obama.

The big reason why Obama does better against McCain than Clinton does, men. Among men, McCain has an 18-point lead over Clinton. Against Obama, McCain's lead among men nearly disappears. Women, on the other hand, vote for either Clinton or Obama by similar margins.

Some Democrats may be worried about how Obama will fare with white voters. Let's see. Whites give McCain a 15-point lead over Clinton. Obama actually fares better than Clinton with white voters. McCain still leads, but by a smaller margin.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Obama argues that he can reach across party lines. And he does do a little better than Clinton with independents and Republicans, at least in these polls. But the big difference is that Clinton does not draw very well with men. Obama does -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thank you very much.

So, with John McCain the likely Republican nominee, how are Democrats and Republicans online reacting?

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

What are they saying, Abbi, online?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, from the Democratic National Committee, the message is: We can't wait for Hillary or Barack to be the nominee. We have to act now.

That's an e-mail that's gone out to more than three million people from the Democratic Party to their members. And their Web site, as you can see, has turned into McCain central, asking for people to get involved, to contribute -- the message: Help us fight back, Republicans fractured and divided.

For the conservative grassroots online, McCain is no front- runner, as you can see from some of these posts. Some of these conservative bloggers gathered in Washington this week for the Conservative Political Action Conference, where John McCain spoke yesterday. Reactions to that speech have been mixed, as you can see here from this post from one of the bloggers there, some of them positive, from Captain's Quarters, saying this was McCain reaching out to conservatives, and most of the people at CPAC understand that.

From Michelle Malkin, a blogger with a widely linked post today, her message to conservatives is to get fired up. This is a message specifically to the conservatives that are dispirited with John McCain. What she's saying is, there's plenty going on in this election year for you to get involved with, local races, congressional races. But what she is saying is, if you don't like John McCain, whatever you do, don't stay home. Don't vote Democrat -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Abbi.

In our "Strategy Session": The former President Bill Clinton defining what his role in the campaign should be.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think I can promote Hillary, but not defend her, because I was president. I have to let her defend herself or have someone else defend her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But can he pull it off? Or, if the opportunity presents itself, will he jump back into the fray?

And message received or message ignored? President Bush reminds his fellow conservatives the stakes are too high to stay home on Election Day.

Donna Brazile and Rich Galen, they're standing by live -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's never happened before in American politics: the wife of a former president running for president herself. So, how should Bill Clinton defend his wife without seeming like he's attacking her opponent?

Let's get to our "Strategy Session." Joining us, our political analyst the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist Rich Galen. He spoke to our affiliate out in Portland, Maine. There's a caucus in Maine this weekend. And he said this. Listen to the former president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

W. CLINTON: The mistake that I made is to think that I was a spouse like any other spouse, who could defend his candidate. I think I can promote Hillary, but not defend her, because I was president. I have to let her defend herself or have someone else defend her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He can support her, but he can't go out and defend her, in other words, criticize Barack Obama, because, obviously, we know what happened before South Carolina.

What do you think?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think he knows the difference between promoting and defending Hillary Clinton and crossing the line. Look, I have a lot of respect for Bill Clinton. He promoted her very well last night in Maine.

I had a friend who attended that rally and e-mailed me during the event and said that Bill Clinton is talking about Hillary Clinton's health care plan, her plan to strengthen the economy. That's what people want to know. They don't want to know what is her plan, what is she going to do. They don't want to hear Bill Clinton attacking Barack Obama or anyone else.

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He can't stop himself, any more than you and I can stop teasing each other in the makeup room. Here's another thing he said: "I did not ever criticize Senator Obama personally in South Carolina."

True, he was in New York at the time. This is so Clintonian. He's going to be in the news right all the way to Denver. He's never going to get out of this thing.

BLITZER: In effect, has the Obama campaign, as a result of this commotion, sidelined or marginalized Bill Clinton, to a certain degree?

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: Look, he may not be sidelined, Wolf. But he's on message. He's talking about Hillary Clinton. He's talking about her plans for the future. He's making her the candidate now of hope and inspiration. So, there's nothing wrong with Bill Clinton being out there talking about Hillary Clinton.

GALEN: Yes, but let me just say,. H.R. Haldeman used to have a very famous stamp. It said, "T.L. Squared," too little, too late.

BRAZILE: Well, I still believe there are a lot of voters out there who would like to hear what Bill Clinton thinks.

BLITZER: He's still an incredibly popular former president.

BRAZILE: Especially with Democrats.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Not only with Democrats. A lot of other Americans like him as well. So, we will see how he -- how he goes out there and campaigns in the immediate period ahead.

GALEN: It will be great...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The current president spoke out at the Conservative Political Action Conference this morning. And, among other things, he said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have had good debates, and, soon, we will have a nominee, who will carry a conservative banner into this election and beyond. Listen, the stakes in November are high.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You know, he spoke extensively.

And I know, Rich, you were paying attention. Some are saying, you know, it's not so much what he said, but what he didn't say that might have been significant.

GALEN: Well, if you're saying that he didn't mention John McCain by name, John McCain is the lead -- the leading person. But other people are still in the race. And I think a sitting president has an obligation to let...

BLITZER: Well, would it have been appropriate to go before a partisan body like this and...

GALEN: No.

BLITZER: ... and at least say, you know, some nice things?

GALEN: Well, sure. But then you have to say nice things -- he could have said that and said nice things about Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul and whoever else may still be kind of floating around the edges.

But that wasn't his purpose there. His purpose was to remind them that this is a big party that has -- in the olden days, when we were a teeny-tiny party, everybody agreed. As you become closer and closer to the majority party, the edges move apart.

And he reminded these people that they were -- that they are the conservatives. We will have a conservative nominee. And, whomever that is -- obviously, John McCain -- that they have to get in behind him. And I think he's right.

BRAZILE: What he said is, right behind me, we are converting John McCain right now to being the conservative candidate we want him to be.

Look, I think the president endorsed him in every which way but name only. He basically said, look at my record. He talked about his tax cuts. He, of course, talked about his judicial appointments.

If you read John McCain's speech, because I didn't see it yesterday, it's the same speech. So, they're on message.

And what John McCain has to worry about now is, will he run as a third Bush term? If he runs as a third Bush term, he will lose.

GALEN: Oh, that's a new talking point I hadn't heard before.

But John McCain has the advantage of having between now, early February, and early November to solidify the Republican Party behind him. He will have President Bush. He will have Fred Thompson. He will have Mike Huckabee. He will have Mitt Romney. He will have every serious, big conservative on his team moving forward.

BRAZILE: But what John McCain will it be? Will it be the John McCain that backed comprehensive immigration reform, the John McCain that opposed George Bush tax cuts?

And, by the way, I don't have talking points yet.

GALEN: Yes, you do.

(LAUGHTER)

GALEN: And it's -- but he...

BRAZILE: I haven't read them.

GALEN: Well...

(LAUGHTER)

GALEN: Doesn't mean you don't have them.

BRAZILE: Yes.

GALEN: But the reality is that the worst of all possible worlds for the Democrats is happening, unfolding. This is why we had Howard Dean yesterday trying to come up with some solution -- a united Republican -- potentially united Republican Party all the way in February, a potentially divided Democratic Party all the way to August.

BRAZILE: You have a Republican Party that is trying to rebuild the house that Reagan built. And you have got a tent that is so small, can't nobody crawl in it.

GALEN: Yes, except you have got Bill Clinton's shadow over the whole thing.

BRAZILE: We will take Bill Clinton any day in our tent, in our house.

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: It's -- it's -- and, by the way, we don't have a subprime mortgage. We're going all the way.

(LAUGHTER)

GALEN: You have got super-delegates, though.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Here's what we -- here's what we love -- here's what we about Donna Brazile. She doesn't have talking points. She doesn't need talking points.

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: She doesn't read them. She writes them.

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: That is true.

BLITZER: And if you hear what -- if you hear what she says on this program, you know she irritates her party bosses from time to time...

BRAZILE: A lot of my Democrats.

BLITZER: ... as she did this week on her comment on super- delegates. Donna --

BRAZILE: I just told the world I want to spend more time with Wolf.

BLITZER: That's -- see, she has...

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: That's not a talking point.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: That's not a talking point.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Thanks, guys, very much for coming in.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Have a great weekend. But don't leave too far, because, all weekend, we have got special coverage coming up.

BRAZILE: I will be here.

BLITZER: The FBI is sending -- spending some big bucks to upgrade its records, but will it be any help in cracking down on terrorists and other criminals. That's coming up in our next hour.

Plus, the director Michael Moore has one word to sum up his beef with Hillary Clinton. We will tell you what it is.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our Political Ticker this Friday: a new confession by Hillary Clinton. She admits to having a history of fashion disasters. She takes a tongue-in-cheek look at her worst outfit ever in the latest edition of "Us Weekly." Some candidates for the ugliest ensemble include a multi-colored coat she wore during her first Senate campaign that she likens -- she likens -- to a carpet.

Remember, for the latest political news at any moment, you can always go to CNNPolitics.com. And that's where you can read my daily blog as well.

I want to bring in Jack Cafferty, the gold medal winner, joining us right now for "The Cafferty File."

Jack, congratulations, not only to you, but to Sarah Leader (ph), Janelle Rodriguez (ph), for winning a gold medal, a gold medal for your special documentary, "Broken Government," the New York Festivals award.

Congratulations.

CAFFERTY: Thank you. What do we get for that?

BLITZER: You get a gold medal.

CAFFERTY: Really?

BLITZER: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: When were those -- when were those awards handed out?

BLITZER: Just now, February...

CAFFERTY: February 2nd.

BLITZER: February 2nd, yes.

CAFFERTY: What's today?

BLITZER: I don't know, February something.

CAFFERTY: Well, it's February 8th. I'm just curious. I guess the mail is slow.

BLITZER: I just learned about it. They just told me.

(CROSSTALK)

CAFFERTY: Oh, no, no, no. I mean, I just found out about it like 10 minutes ago. Like I say...

BLITZER: I just heard. I just heard.

CAFFERTY: ... the mail must be slow.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Congratulations.

CAFFERTY: Well, thank you. We will hock the gold medal, and I will buy you lunch.

BLITZER: Good.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, will conservatives rally around John McCain?

Jim writes: "They will have to if they hope to keep the White House in the general election. For too long, the extreme conservative wing of the party has ignored the party's moderate center. McCain's brand of conservatism is more representative of the moderate center wing of the party. The moderate center is also where the majority of Americans politically reside. Look at the closeness of the last presidential election as proof. The Republican Party needs to heed these words, united we stand, divided we fall, to either Hillary or Obama."

Nick in Atlanta: "We are witnessing the beginning of a conservative insurgency here, as theocrats like James Dobson rally around Reverend Mike Huckabee. Expect a small, but vocal insurgency to be a thorn in McCain's side for at least a few weeks, and after McCain finally locks down the delegates he needs, a lot of these people won't be there to support him in November."

Sarah writes in Maryland: "Yes, of course they will rally behind John McCain. Have you ever known Republicans not to do what is in the best interest of their party? It will be a guarantee that they will come together if Hillary Clinton is the nominee. She is so hated by the Republicans, that they will become a truly unified force, and will take over the White House once again. The Democrats' only chance at regaining the White House is to elect Barack Obama as their nominee."

Kareem writes from Connecticut: "It appears that, in both parties, the political elites are losing power and influence. That's the true story of these campaigns. Even Ron Paul's support surprised a lot of people."

And L. in Houston writes: "Jack, it's simple: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Of course they will all line up behind McCain, and, by November, the good ole boys will not even remember that they ever had a kind -- a bad word to say about him. Mark my words" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

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