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Is Bill Clinton Hurting or Helping Hillary?; Interview With Colin Powell; Will Conservatives Support McCain?

Aired February 8, 2008 - 18:00   ET


GENERAL PETER SCHOOMAKER, U.S. ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: We're terribly upset by the loss of these soldiers.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, of course, it should be pointed out the circumstances that led Heath Ledger to prescription drugs are indeed very different than those facing U.S. troops. Still, there is a lot of the concern here in the Pentagon -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Barbara, thank you.

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

Happening now: John McCain says he isn't counting Mike Huckabee out and neither is a leading Christian conservative. This hour, McCain's challenge from the right.

Plus, which Democrat could beat John McCain? The answer could influence the outcome of the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama marathon.

Will Colin Powell weighing his options in 2008. Will the former secretary of state vote for a Republican or will he vote for a Democrat? My exclusive interview coming up and the best political team on television.

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

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

One day after he was booed by some conservatives, John McCain's problem with the right wing of the Republican Party is in his face once again. An influential Christian conservative leader is rejecting McCain and endorsing Mike Huckabee.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's covering the McCain campaign for us. He's being careful to insist, McCain, that he hasn't clinched this nomination yet.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. He even told people that he feels Mike Huckabee is a viable candidate, but that didn't stop him from taking questions about being a potential nominee.


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.


SNOW: And McCain picked up on a theme that Romney hit on yesterday, drawing a distinction with Democratic candidates Senators Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton, saying that it would be a mistake for the U.S. to withdraw troops out of Iraq before gaining victory -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Mary -- Mary Snow in Norfolk, Virginia, for us.

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

CNN's Jessica Yellin is joining us now from Seattle.

It's looking like a relatively friendly place for Barack Obama. That would be Washington State and the whole nature of the caucuses there.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. In fact, Barack Obama filled this arena, which usually plays host to the Seattle Sonics; 18,000 people packed in here to hear him speak just a short time ago. Obama was projecting enormous confidence that he will win the caucuses here tomorrow. He says that the caucus format sort of favors his supporters and the kind of enthusiasm they bring to his campaign.


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...

NARRATOR: 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.

GOV. CHRISTINE GREGOIRE (D), WASHINGTON: And I have come here today to announce my endorsement of the next president of the United States, Barack Obama!

YELLIN: 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.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think part of the reason we do well in caucus states is that we have enormous enthusiasm among our supporters. They're not casual voters. They're people who are paying attention. They are more likely to come out to a caucus.

YELLIN: But still, she's fighting for every supporter as she and Senator Obama try to rack up as many delegates as possible.


YELLIN: And, Wolf, to be sure, Senator Clinton's aides are doing what they do before many of these caucuses and primaries. They are downplaying expectations. You can bet she is fighting hard and expecting to get a good number of the 100, the almost 160 delegates that are at stake in the caucuses and primaries that will be held nationwide tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Jessica Yellin. In fact, 78 delegates are at stake for the Democrats in that -- Washington State caucuses. Democrats also have a contests tomorrow in Nebraska and Louisiana and in Maine -- Maine -- on Sunday as well. All told, 182 Democratic delegates are up for grabs this weekend.

Republicans hold contests tomorrow in Washington State, Louisiana, Kansas, Guam, and the Virgin Islands. And they wrap up four days of caucuses in the Northern Mariana Islands as well. A total of 92 GOP delegates are at stake.

Remember, we're going to have live coverage of all of this tomorrow night. Our coverage from the CNN Election Center begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. 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 turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching this story for us.

Clearly, the Republican developments are affecting what's happening on the Democratic side, Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. With John McCain now the likely Republican nominee, the Democrats are debating which of them would beat John McCain.


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

H. CLINTON: 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.

OBAMA: 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.


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

BLITZER: Bill, thank you. Bill Schneider, excellent analysis.

Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Here's some not as excellent analysis as Mr. Schneider's, but this is kind of interesting. The American people are pretty much fed up with President Bush and with Congress, according to a new poll, AP/Ipsos poll showing 30 percent of those surveyed think President Bush doing a good job. This is worse than his previous overall low mark of 31 percent in this same poll last November.

Congress, even more pathetic, 22 percent job approval. This ties their poorest rating in the same survey from October. Congress usually gets lower ratings than the president. It's an institution that people love to hate, and with good reason. What stands out is, even though the president is a Republican and the Congress is run by the Democrats, the public stand either one.

Both of these marks for Mr. Bush and the Congress have declined by 4 percentage points in just the last month alone. One of the main factors driving the public's dissatisfaction is the economy. A lot of Americans are worried about a recession. The irony in all of this, of course, is that we will probably elect either a Democrat or a Republican president in November. And many of the incumbent Republicans and Democrats in Congress will be reelected as well.

There are countries in the world that have overthrown their governments when they are disliked by as many people as ours is. But history suggests we will simply hold our noses in November, elect another version of our dysfunctional, broken government. Sad.

Here's the question: Is there anything President Bush and Congress can do between now and November to improve their image in the eyes of the American people?

Go to, where you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf. BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. Thanks very much.

Straight ahead, Colin Powell says: What party loyalty?


COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm a Republican. But I'm keeping my options open at the moment.


BLITZER: Would he actually vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? You're going to hear his response in my exclusive interview. That's coming up.

Also, rarely do you hear Bill Clinton like this. He talks about his attacks on Barack Obama, what some at least consider to be his attacks. He admits, though, making one mistake. You're going to find out what the former president is admitting now.

And what's the best way to avoid a possible recession? What does one poll say many of you think? Here's a hint. It's not getting extra money from the government.

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


BLITZER: It wasn't all that long ago that Colin Powell considered, even -- and then eventually rejected a presidential bid for himself. Now, like many Americans, the former secretary of state, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is deciding who he will vote for this year. I asked General Powell about the race for the White House in an exclusive interview today.


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 have 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 will 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 will 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.


BLITZER: And you can see the entire exclusive interview with General Powell. That's on "LATE EDITION" -- "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk. It airs Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern. We speak extensively about what's happening in Iraq and elsewhere.

The disturbing scene of death and despair, a raging inferno in a retirement home. More than 200 firefighters beat back the blaze. There are casualties. We're going to tell you what happened and where.

And he fell six stories without anything to slow or stop his fall. This dog's landing is being called a miracle. Wait until you hear what his name is -- that and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Bill Clinton says he's learned his lesson.


WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whenever I defend her, I, A, risk being misquoted, and, B, risk being the story. I don't want to be the story.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Will that change the way the way the former president campaigns for his wife in the immediate days ahead? We will hear from the former president and from the best political team on television.

And the Christian conservative leader James Dobson not very happy with John McCain. But will it matter to McCain in the long term?

Later: Twins help answer a provocative question. Are political views ingrained -- ingrained -- in our DNA?

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


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

Happening now: He says he's learned a lesson. That would be the former President Bill Clinton talking the mistake he made campaigning for his wife. Will we be seeing a new man on this campaign trail?

Also, a top evangelical leader throws his weight behind Mike Huckabee, takes a swipe over at John McCain. What impact, though, will it have on the Republican race?

And President Bush tries to rally conservative Republicans, warning, the stakes are simply too high to let the White House fall out of Republican hands. Can he sell the party's right wing, though, on John McCain? All of this, plus the best political team on television.

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

Former President Bill Clinton is now admitting he made some mistakes with what many perceived as attacks on Barack Obama. But he says he's learned his lesson and now he's talking about his role in his wife's administration.

CNN's Fredricka Whitfield joining us once again. She is watching this story.

What exactly, Fred, is the former president saying?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he's saying that he became a distraction last month by being so outspoken in his wife's defense. And he says he's learned a lesson.


W. CLINTON: I think, Whenever I defend her, I, A, risk being misquoted, and, B, risk being the story. I don't want to be the story.

WHITFIELD (voice-over): The former president pledges to take a lower profile in speaking out on behalf of Hillary Clinton's campaign.

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.

But a lot of the things that were said were factually inaccurate. I did not ever criticize Senator Obama personally in South Carolina. I never criticized him personally.

WHITFIELD: Bill Clinton drew criticism in New Hampshire after saying Senator Barack Obama had exaggerated his opposition to the Iraq war.

W. CLINTON: This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I have ever seen.

WHITFIELD: He also told South Carolina audiences Senator Obama cited Ronald Reagan as a president who achieved change.

H. CLINTON: I did not mention his name.

OBAMA: Your husband did.

H. CLINTON: Well, I'm here, he's not. And I'm...

OBAMA: OK. Well, I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes.

WHITFIELD: Some analysts believe that spat contributed to Clinton's defeat in South Carolina.

KEITH BOYKIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I also think it's a good idea that Clinton is pulling back because when you're running for president, you need to stand on your own. And Hillary Clinton has to show she is her own person. Having this looming figure of Bill Clinton out there is not the way -- the best way for her to do that.

WHITFIELD: Bill Clinton also reiterated that he would not take a lead role in a Hillary Clinton administration.

W. CLINTON: I will not be in the cabinet. I will not on the staff full-time. I will not in any way interfere with the work of a strong vice president, a strong secretary of state, a strong secretary of the treasury. I will do what we've always done for each other. I will let her bounce ideas off of me. I'll tell her what I think. You know, we'll talk through things.


WHITFIELD: Clinton said he is not surprised that the Democratic race is so close. He told his wife a year ago the primaries will be harder to win than the general election.

Asked about John McCain, who Mrs. Clinton might face in November, he said he's a very good man. Clinton likes McCain's focus on global warming, but not his support for the Iraq War -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred, thanks very much. Let's talk about this and more. Joining us, our CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's here in Washington. And joining us from New York, Jack Cafferty, and our senior analyst Jeff Toobin. They all part of the best political team on television.

What do you think about these comments, Jack, by the former president?

CAFFERTY: What happened to his hair?


CAFFERTY: His hair is suddenly snow white. And in the clip where he was talking about Obama's campaign position on the war being a fairy tale, it was salt and pepper gray. And that was only two or three weeks ago. I guess he's done something to his hair.

BLITZER: It might have been the lighting. You know, sometimes it's the lighting.

CAFFERTY: Yes, yes, yes. Anyway, calling the position that Barack Obama took a fairy tale and making those Jesse Jackson comments that he made in South Carolina had nothing to do with defending his wife. Barack Obama hadn't attacked his wife. Nobody had attacked his wife. Bill Clinton did all of that all by himself.

And don't kid yourself -- he's got a dog in this fight. His legacy is very much on the line with his wife's run for the White House. And if she doesn't make it, that means -- it reflects poorly on him, to a degree, too. So he's trying to find the right tone and the right position so he can make sure she wins for him as much as for her.

BLITZER: Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it's hard to know where to start on this. First of all...


BORGER: First of all, he says I shouldn't talk to the media because I might be misquoted, right? So it's the media's fault. Everything he said that you saw in Fredricka's piece is on videotape, OK?

It's not that he was misquoted. And the notion that he said he doesn't want to be the story, of course he wants to be the story. He can't help but want to be the story. You know, as Jack pointed out, this is about his legacy. And the notion that he is not going to be an important part of Hillary Clinton's administration in any way, shape or form is ridiculous.


BORGER: Of course he will.

TOOBIN: Well, but I think he has changed his role since South Carolina.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes.

TOOBIN: He has not courted controversy since then. But he has campaigned a great deal. So I think he has already taken his advice...

BORGER: Oh, yes, absolutely.

TOOBIN: ... and it's probably good. And I think it is good advice.

BORGER: Right, but it's calculated and it's not because he's going to be misquoted.

TOOBIN: Well, of course, it's calculated.

BORGER: It's calculated because that role as the hatchet man vice president running mate didn't work for Hillary Clinton and he knows it.

CAFFERTY: Well, and, you know, the idea that if Hillary' is elected president, she wouldn't avail herself of the advice of her husband, who was president for two terms, is ludicrous.

CAFFERTY: She should be...

BORGER: And she should.

CAFFERTY: She should be impeached if she didn't ask his advice.

BORGER: Right. Exactly.

CAFFERTY: He knows the job. He's been there. He's done that. He's changed his position and he's changed his hair. I'm looking forward tomorrow.


BORGER: I don't get the hair thing.

BLITZER: I think it's the lighting.

All right, Jeff, you saw that excerpt of the interview I did with General Colin Powell. We're going to run the whole thing Sunday on "LATE EDITION". He's refusing to say -- he's a Republican -- who he's going to vote for. He's not endorsing yet John McCain and he's leaving open the possibility he could vote for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. It's a fascinating development, given how popular he is out there, how much respect he has out there, a lot of -- among a lot of Americans.

TOOBIN: A very interesting and significant interview, I think, because, you know, we've talked a lot about McCain's problem on the right with conservatives who are not convinced he's one of them. But there also is a group of moderate to liberal Republicans, the old Rockefeller Republicans, who are completely alienated from the Republican Party generally, who think the party has gone too far to the right. And Powell comes out of that tradition.

It will be interesting to see if McCain can bring those folks around, too, because he's got challenges on both sides of his party -- not just on the conservative side -- and that interview shows the challenge on the left.

BLITZER: It also showed, Gloria, his admiration for Barack Obama specifically.


BLITZER: I think he admires him great deal. And some of the portions that you haven't seen yet -- you'll see it on Sunday -- there's almost an element of, you know, he could have been in that position as an African-American...

BORGER: Well...

BLITZER: ... running for president -- he had a chance in '96 to do what Barack Obama is trying to do right now.

BORGER: Yes, I was just going to say that, Wolf, because I think back to '96, when everyone wanted Colin Powell to get in the race. And when he, in the end, decided that he didn't want to. And he's looking at Barack Obama and saying, you know, you did it. I have a lot of respect for you. I chose not to do it for my own reasons, but I've got to respect you for doing what you've done.

And I think it's hard for Colin Powell not to respect and like what Barack Obama has done. I mean I don't know where he's going to come down in the presidential election, but it was interesting to hear him today.

CAFFERTY: One quick point about that interview. Sometimes you learn more by what's not said than by what is. He made a point of saying I'm a Republican. He did not say I like John McCain, I will support John McCain, John McCain is my guy. Read between the lines.

BLITZER: Yes. And I specifically pressed him on that.


BLITZER: I said you're leaving open the possibility you could vote for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And he decided, yes, I want to leave that possibility open.


BLITZER: That's -- that's General Colin Powell.

BORGER: Well...

TOOBIN: And remember, the great stain on his career...

BORGER: Right. TOOBIN: ... is that speech before the United Nations where he carried water for the Bush administration and was embarrassed because his speech turned out to be full of stuff that wasn't true. That war is championed by John McCain above all. So that can't contribute to a great deal of affection for the new standard bearer of this party.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. Well, let me just remind our viewers, the whole interview is going to air Sunday on "LATE EDITION".

A major Evangelical endorsement. It's for Mike Huckabee. Focus on the Family's James Dobson now backing the former Arkansas governor. But does his backing carry enough clout to make any difference? We'll talk about that with our panelists.

Also, President Bush warning conservatives of high stakes. Can he convince them to overcome their concerns about John McCain?

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



STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST: It looks like, as much as I don't want to admit it, that Senator John McCain will be the nominee for president of the Republican Party. Bob's your uncle. It is written in stone.

HUCKABEE: Wait just a minute, Stephen. Wait just a minute. Wait a second. Wait.


HUCKABEE: What is this John McCain?


COLBERT: Please sit down.





COLBERT: Yes. I'll give it up.


COLBERT: Thank you so much for stopping by. I mean...

HUCKABEE: Well, I have to defend myself. I mean you're already giving the election away. It's not over yet.

COLBERT: Well, that's what all of the pundits are saying. They're saying that now it's just John McCain. You're still in this race?

HUCKABEE: Yes. Hello.


BLITZER: We're back with the best political team on television.

Jack, what do you think? Mike Huckabee -- he's going on the Stephen Colbert show, he must still be in the race.

CAFFERTY: I think that was not Stephen Colbert's funniest moment on television. But that said, I like Mike Huckabee. You know, he's a very likable guy. That being said, John McCain is going to be the first Republican in three decades to get the nomination for president without winning the conservative vote and without winning the Evangelical vote.

Now, whether he can win the White House without that, remains another question, because they tend to pout and stay home and they get mad and they take their toys and they won't play anymore. But the conservatives and the evangelicals, they're going to support Huckabee. But Huckabee is not going to be the nominee.

BLITZER: Gloria, why -- is there any way that Huckabee can be the nominee -- let me rephrase the question. Why is he still in the race?

BORGER: Well, I think at this point, it's kind of a matter of pride. I'm told what he wants to do is get more delegates than Mitt Romney. And when he gets some more delegates than Mitt Romney has right now -- and, you know, in some states coming up, he could do that -- then he'll graciously bow out. But I think he wants to wait to make sure that he gets a great speech at the convention, too, and that he has a little bit of leverage with John McCain if he wants.

BLITZER: Because a lot of people, Jeff, think if he really hated John McCain, as some conservatives do, that would explain why he's still in the race. But he's been very civil, very politeful. He's been very respectful of John McCain throughout this whole ordeal.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. You know, maybe I'm turning into a cranky old man -- a job that I know is already taken at CNN...


CAFFERTY: Very funny, Jeff.

TOOBIN: ... but I thought -- I thought Huckabee looked ridiculous on...


TOOBIN: ... with Colbert there. I mean is he running for president or what? I mean it just seems like the whole thing has turned into kind of a joke. And he's not getting the nomination. And, you know, they don't give out silver medals in this contest. There's only one...

BORGER: Well, Romney would tell you that.


TOOBIN: There's only one nominee and it's going to be John McCain. And Mike Huckabee has like turned into a not so good talk show guest.

BLITZER: Jack, listen to President Bush today. He was over at the Conservative Political Action Conference here in Washington and he made this point.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've had good debates and soon we'll have a nominee who will carry a conservative banner into this election and beyond. Listen, the stakes in November are high. This is an important election. Prosperity and peace are in the balance. So with confidence in our vision and faith in our values, let us go forward fight for victory and keep the White House in 2008.


BLITZER: All right, Jack.

CAFFERTY: This is too easy. I mean, yes. And the troops will be treated as liberators with rose petals in their path. And there was weapons of mass destruction. And we'll plant the seed of democracy in the Middle East and it'll flower and grow in all of the countries and everybody will live happily ever after.

One of the reasons that the Republicans are having such an uphill struggle is that gentleman that was just on the screen. The latest A.P./Ipsos Poll, poll he has a 30 percent approval rating. He was speaking to a conservative audience. You know, that's what they have to do. He is -- he is irrelevant in this debate.

BLITZER: Do you think McCain, Gloria, will use him during the course of the general campaign?

BORGER: Yes, I think in some states. I think he'll use him in Texas, for example. But, look, McCain and George Bush do not have a long and wonderful relationship. However, in this last election, when George Bush was running for reelection, McCain embraced him -- literally. He has supported him on the war and he was for the surge before Bush was for the surge. And so, in that sense, you can expect that this president will really embrace a McCain candidacy.

They're never going to be great friends. Romney and Bush probably would have had a lot more fun together. But I think he'll embrace him and he'll run with him. He will, in certain states.

TOOBIN: Wolf, I think the Democratic nominee, whoever it is, is going to kick in the gas money for Air Force One and...

CAFFERTY: That's right.

TOOBIN: ... send that plane to all 50 states...

CAFFERTY: Bring it on.

TOOBIN: ... to remind people that John McCain and George W. Bush agree on virtually everything now.


TOOBIN: And I think...

BORGER: Listen -- well, I think the president is a great fundraiser, though, Jeff.

TOOBIN: Well, that's...

BORGER: You know, he'll raise a lot of money for him.

TOOBIN: Well, but that's -- those are events that take place in private.


TOOBIN: And I think any sort of public appearances are going to be very problematic for McCain. And if -- you say Texas, if John McCain needs to campaign at all to win Texas, he's got much bigger problems than fundraising.

CAFFERTY: Good point.

BORGER: But, you know, this president is very popular with Evangelical Christians. If John McCain...


BORGER: Well, it's -- but it's true.

CAFFERTY: Come on.

BORGER: I mean they're -- they're going to select where they use this president, but they will use him.

BLITZER: Guys...

CAFFERTY: Well, yes, but they -- the evangelicals hate nominee at this point. They don't like John McCain.

BORGER: Well, that's where Bush could be helpful.

CAFFERTY: So it's a dead end -- no, it's not going to be helpful. It's not. I mean what -- do you think they're going to put a guy in the White House for four years that they don't agree with on the issues because George Bush says I like this guy? Come on.

BLITZER: We'll leave it on that thought. BORGER: We'll see.

BLITZER: Jack, stand by. We've got "The Cafferty File" coming up.

Jeff Toobin, Gloria Borger -- they're going to be joining us tomorrow night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Our special coverage of the elections this weekend from the CNN Election Center. Our viewers are going to want to see that.

Stop using my music -- that's what the singer, John Mellencamp's message has been to one leading presidential contender whose political views are out of tune with Mellencamp's. You're going to find out who the candidate is.

And is there anything President Bush and the Congress can do before November to improve their image in the eyes of the American people?

Jack Cafferty and your e-mail. All that and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Checking our Political Ticker this Friday, a closely watched U.S. Supreme Court case highlights the key role gun rights could take in this election year. Bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate are coming down on the side of gun owners. They've signed on to a legal brief supporting Washington, D.C. residents who are challenging a city ordinance that prevents them from owning a handgun. The court will hear the arguments on March 18th.

The singer John Mellencamp says his political views are not in tune with John McCain's and he wants him to stop playing songs at his campaign events. Mellencamp is a liberal who had endorsed John Edwards. The McCain camp apparently got the message. It says it plans to stop playing "Our Country" and other Mellencamp tunes at McCain rallies.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out our Web site. The ticker is number one now for political news -- the political news blog on the Web. That's also where you can read my latest blog post. Almost every day -- I try to write it every day.

Jack Cafferty has got his blog, as well.

He's got "The Cafferty File" right now.

CAFFERTY: And it's good what you write every day. You know, it's no secret John Mellencamp is a liberal. Who in the McCain campaign decides to pilfer one of his songs and use it at their rally?

BLITZER: It's a good song. It's a great song.

CAFFERTY: Oh, it's a great song. No problem. One of my best -- one of my favorites.


CAFFERTY: Mellencamp is a good kid, too. The question is: Is there anything President Bush and Congress can do before November to improve their image in the eyes of the American people?

The lowest ratings ever in the A.P./Ipsos Poll for both the president and the Congress.

Patricia in California: "The smartest thing Bush and most of Congress could do to improve their image with the American people is resign. It would also provide some evidence that they have some understanding of how best to serve their country -- at least to the best of their ability."

Jon in Minnesota: "There's absolutely nothing they can do to improve their image. What we have to do is get some politicians who work for the people and not for profit. We need to dump the current administration, let the healing begin."

Matt in Florida writes: "Nothing our government does will change people's minds in the short-term. However, if they were to stand up, take action against the credit crisis, out of control debt that our country faces instead of pulling money out of thin air and giving everybody more handouts, my personal opinion of them would improve dramatically."

James in North Carolina: "They can try to put aside their differences and do something that actually benefits the American people instead of arguing back and forth like a bunch of children."

Charlie writes: "Yes, there is. Congress can impeach Bush and Cheney."

Gary says: "They could stop allowing the corrupt contractors in Iraq to continue to gouge the American taxpayer as our own people lose their jobs, their houses, our schools crumble and the value of our dollar plummets."

And Bruce says: "Jack, no, there's nothing they can do to improve their image. Why would anyone vote for an incumbent or any of the clowns that caused our problems for president? It's all about the track record and these idiots only a swine-filled mud pit as their legacy." -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Have a great weekend, Jack.

CAFFERTY: You, too.

BLITZER: See you back here on Monday.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File." Can't figure out who to support for president? You might want to see a doctor. There could -- there could be a connection between how you vote and what's in your genes.

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


BLITZER: Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative? The way you vote may depend less on psychology and more on biology. Let's go to our medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. She's watching this story for us.

Some interesting research going on, Elizabeth, especially for our political news junkies who are watching us right now.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. A lot of us assume our political views are shaped by our parents who we grew up with or our teachers in school or the friends we hang out with. But researchers at several different universities are finding it may be rooted in something much deeper -- our DNA.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's pretty good.


COHEN (voice-over): They look alike, they talk alike, they even vote alike.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I probably am pretty liberal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. You could probably paint us with the same brush.

COHEN: Identical twins John and Charles Robinson say they've pretty much voted for the same candidates in every election since 1984. Are their political views so similar because they grew up together in the same household and went to the same schools?

For years, that's what political scientists assumed -- that our political views are shaped entirely by the world around us. But now they are finding our political views might be rooted in something much deeper -- our DNA.

JAMES FOWLER, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA: Nature, in some cases, is just as important as nurture when it comes to political behavior.

COHEN: So what's the scientific evidence? First, studies on nearly 20,000 twins found that identical twins who share all their genes tend to share political views much more so than fraternal twins who share only half their genes. Another study, done at New York University and UCLA, shows liberals and conservatives process information differently when playing a computer game. And how our brains work is, to some extent, governed by our genes. FOWLER: We are finding surprisingly strong results.

COHEN: And James Fowler, at the University of California San Diego, has found genes may play a role in whether or not you vote. He's just completed research suggesting people who vote tend to have a specific variation of two genes -- a different variation than folks who don't vote.

Not everyone agrees with these findings. Some experts call it soft science. But others say these studies show that, to a great extent, our political beliefs are hard-wired into our brains.


COHEN: Scientists say they're never going to find a Republican gene or a Democrat gene. They say there are probably hundreds of genes that influence our political views -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And this is one of the variations of the nature versus nurture that we've all been hearing about for so long. Why does it matter where our political views, though, come from?

COHEN: I asked one of the political scientists that. And he said, look, sometimes there's a lot of animosity and hostility in American politics and he's hoping that if we all can come to realize that, to some extent, we're born with the views that we have and there's no sense arguing with each other until everyone gets mad. You can sometimes just accept other people's political views for what they are.

BLITZER: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much.

Fascinating material, as I said, for our political news junkies. Two big interviews coming up Sunday on "LATE EDITION". The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi -- my executive one-on-one interview with her. Plus, the former secretary of state, Colin Powell. You'll see the whole interview. "LATE EDITION" airs 11:00 a.m. Eastern Sunday morning.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.


Kitty Pilgrim sitting in for Lou -- Kitty.