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Interview With Mike Huckabee; Interview With Colin Powell

Aired February 10, 2008 - 11:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11 a.m. here in New York, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."
It was quite a night for Barack Obama. He had a clean sweep of victories in Louisiana, Nebraska and Washington State. Our latest CNN estimate of the all-important delegate count right now is this. Hillary Clinton, 1,108, Barack Obama 1,049.

Those are the delegates pledged as well as the super delegates. 2,025 are need to win the nomination. On the Republican side, John McCain maintains his considerable advantage with 714 delegates to Mike Huckabee's 217 and Ron Paul's 16. Mitt Romney, who dropped out of the race this past week, has 286 delegates. Those again are pledged and superdelegates.

On the Republican side, 1,191 delegates are needed for the Republican nomination. McCain may be the clear Republican presidential front-runner, but Huckabee is still giving him a run for his money. The former Arkansas governor racked up two big victories yesterday, in Kansas and Louisiana, and came very close to beating McCain in Washington State. I spoke with Huckabee last night, shortly after his win in Kansas, and asked him how he felt.


HUCKABEE: There's a big smile on my face for a reason. We are pretty proud and grateful for the people of Kansas. We had a big day today. I don't think anybody was predicting us to win, and certainly not by the margin, and we were stunned by the margin ourselves.

BLITZER: Sixty percent for Mike Huckabee, 24 percent for John McCain. Why do you think you crushed him in this reddest of red states?

HUCKABEE: You know, we were both there. We both had a shot at it. He had both United States senators out there endorsing him and speaking for him yesterday. It looked like it would be a pretty tough environment for us.

But I'll tell you what's happening. People don't want to be told who their president is going to be. And in the Republican Party, people want to make a choice. They don't want somebody else making that decision for them. And they're tired of hearing somebody say, oh, well, he's the presumptive nominee. Why doesn't everybody just clear the field? And what we're seeing is, there's an energy in our campaign, frankly, Wolf, that we haven't seen in months. We've raised more money online in a day than we would normally raise in a month. We have seen extraordinary traffic to, the likes of which we're not used to.

We've also had an enormous amount of volunteers show up at things. We were in Maryland today at a rally. We had three times the number of people we thought we could possibly get at noon at the University of Maryland. So, there's something going on out there, and it's called an election.

BLITZER: All right, well, will this win in Kansas change your strategy at all in the coming days and weeks?

HUCKABEE: Well, not really. I mean, our strategy has been let's go head to head wherever we can, because we've always felt that once the field narrowed and people had a clear choice, that we would be in a real position to start winning greater number of delegates.

When the votes of many of the conservatives were split all over the place, it obviously made it a bit more difficult. But when the race is focused, and you only have a couple of candidates and people are starting to really look at where we stand and differences, you know, not maybe hostile differences, but differences, I think what you're going to continue to see is that this is a real race despite what people may have thought about it middle of last week.

BLITZER: Does it bother you that in Kansas at least, you humiliated John McCain and might embarrass him in other states down the road? Is that a problem going into this contest against the Democrats, that the frontrunner, the Republican front-runner, could be embarrassed by you?

HUCKABEE: Well, no, I mean, I could argue that he embarrassed me in Florida or that he embarrassed me in California. I mean, that's what an election is about. It gives people a choice and an option. Elections are about contests.

You know, I had a reporter ask me today, should I just step aside for the good of the party? I said, I'll tell you what's good for the party is competition. We are always the party that said that competition is the key to excellence.

And that's true in the private business market. If you have competition, then you create excellence. If you have the lack of competition, then you end up with mediocrity. The idea we're going to be a better party without any type of election process is utter nonsense and about the most non-Republican idea I've ever heard.

BLITZER: What is the biggest issue that separates you from John McCain?

HUCKABEE: I think the key issues are is I support the human life amendment, that I don't support human embryonic stem cell research, that I didn't agree with the McCain-Feingold campaign finance act, and immigration. We have differences of opinion on how we ought to handle that. Those are the fundamental differences. And I think there are other, maybe, nuances. But you know, one of the things that I find interesting, the two most civil campaigns of the Republican primary are the ones still on their feet. And I do think that that says something about both the senator's campaign and ours.

It looks like Republicans really are responding to a more message-driven and positive campaign. I think that's good for our party. I'd like to say I think it's good for America.

BLITZER: I know you've said you didn't major in math when you were in college, you majored in miracles, which is an excellent line, by the way. You need 1,191 delegates at the Republican convention in St. Paul to be the Republican presidential nominee.

Now, a lot of experts in math have done the math. They say there's no way you're going to get that, but there is theoretically a way you could prevent John McCain from getting 1,191 delegates, and if on the first round he doesn't have that, it would go to the second round.

Then all bets are off, because the pledged delegates could vote for whoever they wanted. Is that your strategy, to try to prevent him from getting 1,191 delegates going up to the convention in St. Paul?

HUCKABEE: Wolf, we're not smart enough to think that far down the road. We're trying to get through Kansas and Washington, Louisiana, and then Virginia and Maryland and the District of Columbia next Tuesday, and we'll start from there.

Our strategy has always been, let's say in this game, let's keep gas in the tank and air in the tires until somebody gets 1,191. And we're still there. And, you know, we're not going to pretend that we know exactly how it's going to play out.

I think everybody that's predicted how it will play out, one thing about it they're consistent in, they've all been wrong. Nobody would have predicted where this race could be today even a month ago, certainly not five, six months ago.

So, when people are telling me what the math is and how it's going to work out, I'm saying, OK, you've been 100 percent wrong so far. Why on earth are we going to believe that you've suddenly got it all figured out.

BLITZER: March 4th is important context in Texas, which is a big state. A lot of Republican delegates at stake there. The Republican governor, Rick Perry, urged you to drop out of the contest now. How does that make you feel when you hear the governor of Texas say to you, a former governor of Arkansas, not very far away, you know what? It's over for you, Governor Huckabee, get out of this contest.

HUCKABEE: It just makes me more motivated to go win. You know, the fact is, he first endorsed Rudy Giuliani. Rudy's out of the race. Then he jumped on John McCain's team. Why would I really want to follow the advice of somebody who's supporting two other candidates instead of me?

So, here's what I would say. I have a lot of strong support in Texas. I'll take Chuck Norris any day. Chuck's a Texan. I'll take his support and his wife, Gena's, and we're going to win Texas. We've got great, great organization building there, and that's going to be a big state.

And I don't know if you saw it, but the other night on "The Colbert Report," I took the state of Texas on an air hockey table. That was a prediction of things to come.

BLITZER: And you're saying Chuck Norris can take down Rick Perry. Is that what you're saying?

HUCKABEE: (LAUGHTER) I would think even Rick Perry might acknowledge that. But the point is I'm not going to sit around and let people who don't support me dictate the direction of my campaign. Why would I do that? That'd be insane.

Here's what I will tell you, Wolf. Not one supporter of mine, not one endorser of mine has come to me publicly or privately and said, you know, Mike, I really think it's time for you to get out. You know what they've done? They've gone to our Web site, and they have lit it up with contributions.

Our people are going crazy. They're coming to our rallies. They're fired up, and they're saying, "don't get out." That's the message I'm getting from the people who support me. And so, I'm going to listen to those folks.

HUCKABEE: They're the ones who got me this far. And until they tell me it's over, we're in this thing.

BLITZER: Governor Huckabee, congratulations, once again. Thanks very much for joining us.

HUCKABEE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And coming up, what does Nancy Pelosi think about the very tight race between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama? My exclusive interview with the speaker of the House -- that's coming up next.


BLITZER: The $167 billion economic stimulus package that President Bush is expected to sign this week marked one of those rare instances where the Republican White House and the Democratically controlled Congress are, right now, on the same page. But the two sides remain very far apart on other key issues, including what to do about the economy, as well as the war in Iraq.

I spoke about that, and a lot more, with the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, in an exclusive interview in her Capitol Hill office.


BLITZER: Madam Speaker, thanks very much for coming in.

PELOSI: My pleasure. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the economy, which is priority number one in all of the recent exit polls, the regular polls for Democrats and Republicans.

Seventeen thousand jobs were lost last month, the administration announced, the first time in 52 months of actual job loss. President Bush said this.


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Inflation's low, productivity is high, but there are certainly some troubling signs. There's serious signs that the economy is weakening and that we've got to do something about it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Here's the question. Is the country already in recession?

PELOSI: That's a term I do not want to use. Throughout all of this, as we happily received the president's admission that -- I won't say "happily" because it's not a happy occasion, but, at last, he admitted that there was a need for a stimulus package.

He realized something that homemakers across America have known for months, that they're having trouble -- families are having trouble making ends meet, living paycheck to paycheck. The price of groceries, gasoline, health care, housing -- you name it -- has gone up, while their purchasing power has not.

So, whether it's technically a recession or not, in these homes in America, people are struggling and it feels like a recession. We need to do something about it.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton, Senator Clinton said this, the other day, in terms of her efforts to try to deal with the mortgage crisis, the housing crisis, out there, which is significant.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: I want a moratorium on foreclosures, for 90 days, so we can try to work out keeping people in their homes, instead of having them lose their homes. And I want to freeze interest rates for five years.


BLITZER: Is that something you want to take up, her proposal, in the House of Representatives?

PELOSI: Well, we have passed about five or six pieces of legislation to address this subprime crisis. We are led by, in the House, on our side, by Chairman Barney Frank of the Financial Services Committee. He's working with the administration on what we need to accomplish.

And many of these bills have now been sent over to the Senate. We have set our course on this, under Barney's leadership.

BLITZER: Are her ideas good?

PELOSI: They may be. We, again, have a course of action that we are on, and that is something -- they certainly are worthy of consideration.

BLITZER: But you have no immediate legislation that's going to put a moratorium...


BLITZER: ... on interest rates or a 90 days foreclosure?

PELOSI: No, no.

BLITZER: OK -- a moratorium on that.

Let's talk about what's called pork barrel spending.

PELOSI: I'm sure that, if she introduces them in the Senate and they comes over, they will get the full consideration.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about what's called pork barrel spending, the earmarks, as they're called here.

The president said this in his State of the Union address.


BUSH: If you send me an appropriations bill that does not cut the number and cost of earmarks in half, I'll send it back to you with my veto. And tomorrow, I will issue an executive order that directs federal agencies to ignore any future earmark that is not voted on by Congress.

If these items are truly worth funding, Congress should debate them in the open and hold a public vote.


BLITZER: Are you on board with the president?

PELOSI: The president -- bless his heart -- is a bit disingenuous in what he is saying. Because a large number of the earmarks are presidential earmarks. And what he is trying to do is affect the balance of power.

Congress has a right, the power of the purse. And I'm not a big fan of earmarks, but they do have value, if done with transparency. It may be news to the president, but when the Democrats took control of the Congress, we had -- we instituted transparency. We've cut the earmarks in half and went back to the transparency. Every person who has an earmark has to identify himself with it, affirm that he has not -- doesn't have a financial benefit to him personally, or her personally.

But this president is making that statement, in the State of the Union, a president who's signed more legislation, with more earmarks, than any president in the history of our country, didn't say "boo" until his last...

BLITZER: Does he have the authority, do you believe, to do what he's threatening to do?

PELOSI: Well, he may -- the president, in other words, to direct his -- well, he may have the authority to do it, but, again, it's like his signing statements. We pass a law here and then the president -- for example, on the DOD, the Department of Defense bill, we sent a bill to the president that says no permanent bases in Iraq -- strong bipartisan support for that. The president writes, in his signing statement, that he won't necessarily enforce that.

BLITZER: So what I hear you saying is you're willing to work on reducing the earmarks, making them more transparent...

PELOSI: We did. We have.

BLITZER: ... but, at the same time, you want him to stop what you call his earmarks.

PELOSI: Well, it's question -- his earmarks should be subjected to all that scrutiny as well.

But again, a little late in the game, after seven years -- six years of Republican control of the Congress, where the number of earmarks has ballooned -- just exploded -- I'm trying to find a word that would match what has happened here -- without even saying a word, when the Republicans were in power -- so when we came in, we said this, had to stop. We have to cut them in half right away ...

BLITZER: Why not just eliminate them all?

PELOSI: Well, I'm not averse to that, myself, personally. But when a president says to the Congress, I will decide every penny of spending, that's just not right. That's just not right.

BLITZER: So let's talk about Iraq, which is another issue high on the agenda of the American public.

PELOSI: Right.

BLITZER: The president says, quote, "The surge is working. I know some don't want to admit that and I understand, but the terrorists understand the surge is working."

Is the surge working? PELOSI: The president is wrong in several respects. First of all, the military aspect of the surge is working. And God bless our troops. They've performed excellently. And any time they engage in battle, we want them to succeed. The president knows that. He shouldn't say we don't want admit that that military aspect of the surge is working.

PELOSI: But the purpose of the surge was to create a secure time for the government of Iraq to make the political change to bring reconciliation to Iraq. They have not done that.

BLITZER: But they've taken some steps...


BLITZER: ... on the Baathists being allowed to come back...

PELOSI: ... baby steps, very late -- to the point that the generals in Iraq -- and I think we had this conversation before -- have said the biggest obstacle to reconciliation in Iraq is not the Iranian militias or the Sunni militias or the Al Qaida terrorists. It is the government of Iraq. Because they have not acted.

BLITZER: I spoke with General David Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq. And he pointed to all the statistics showing that casualties are down; stability is coming to the Al Anbar province, elsewhere.

And the increased troops that they sent over for the surge -- they'll be back out by July or so. But he then said this.


GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCES, IRAQ: We will, though, need to have some time to let things settle a bit, if you will, after we complete the withdrawal. We think it would be prudent to do some period of assessment, then, to make decisions.


BLITZER: He's basically suggesting there should be a pause, this summer, to assess where it stands, so that all of the gains will not have been lost, squandered. Are you open to that?

PELOSI: We will be entering the sixth year of this war in about another month, March 19. It will be five years that we've been in this war, over a year and a half longer than we were in World War II.

We all know the history, the mistakes, the bad judgment, and the rest. I believe that stability will come to the region and that stability can only begin when we begin the redeployment of our troops out of Iraq. That's what the generals tell us, the retired generals.

Certainly, we have to leave a few people there to protect our embassy, for force protection, to fight the terrorists and that.

BLITZER: Are you not worried, though, that all the gains that have been achieved over the past year might be lost?

PELOSI: There haven't been gains, Wolf. The gains have not produced the desired effect, which is the reconciliation of Iraq. This is a failure. This is a failure.

The troops have succeeded, God bless them. We owe them the greatest debt of gratitude for their sacrifice, their patriotism, and for their courage, and to their families, as well.

But they deserve better than a policy of a war without end, a war that could be 20 years or longer. And Secretary Gates just testified, in the last 24 hours, to Congress, that this next year in Iraq and Afghanistan is going to cost $170 billion.

Afghanistan is not settled because the president took his eye off the ball and took the full attention that should have been in Afghanistan, and shifted some of that to Iraq, a war without end, without a plan, without a reason to go in, without a plan to win, without a strategy to leave.

This is a disaster, and we cannot perpetuate it. We have to make decisions. And the loss of life will be nearly 4,000 of our troops, an average of 800 a year, tens of thousands injured, some of them permanently, blind, amputations, and the rest.

The cost in dollars -- nothing compares to the cost to our people, of course, but the cost in dollars, a $ 1 trillion dollar war; the cost in reputation in the world -- look at the way the world looks at America -- and, mostly importantly, which Admiral Mullen's testimony, yesterday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said what all the former generals, the retired generals have told him us, that this war is a cost to our readiness to meet threats to our security, wherever they may occur.

That's the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That's not a retired general.


BLITZER: And just head, would Nancy Pelosi like to see a so- called "dream ticket" of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?

We'll get back to presidential politics, the House speaker talking about the presidential race, in part two of my interview. That's coming up next.

We'll also hear from the House of Representatives' top Republican, the minority leader John Boehner. Stay with us. You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York. Coming up in our next hour, my exclusive interview with the former secretary of state, Colin Powell. He offers his assessment on the war in Iraq and the U.S. presidential race. That's coming up in our next hour.

But, right now, part two of my exclusive interview of the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.


BLITZER: There are a lot of Democrats who look at you, the leadership in the House and the Senate -- Democrats took over more than a year ago, now -- and say, why haven't you been able to stop this war?

PELOSI: Well, we haven't been able to because we don't have a two-thirds majority to override the president's veto.

We haven't been able to because we don't have 60 votes in the Senate to allow our legislation to go forward.

It is, in my view, a major disappointment. It is -- we must end this war. It's clear it's not going to happen unless we have a new president who is committed to ending the war, to bring stability to the region, to make America safer, and to do so in a way that enables us to regain our rightful place -- leadership role in the world.

BLITZER: So what you're saying, now, to those Democrats who are frustrated and angry, is, you have to wait until there's a Democrat in the White House...


BLITZER: ... that the Democratic majority in the House and the Senate, right now, given the problems you just mentioned, can't do it?

PELOSI: Well, I'm always hopeful that we can do it. And we will continue to bring these negotiations up. But the fact is that 60 votes in the Senate guards the gate, guards the president's desk, so he doesn't have to have another veto.

But let me say this, what we have done. What we have done is change the debate on the war in Iraq.

The first thing I said, when I was -- the night right after the election -- was, we must change the civilian leadership at the Pentagon; that is, get rid of Donald Rumsfeld. And that happened.

We have changed, by oversight in the Congress, the documentation of what is happening there.

The Republican Congress was a rubber stamp for the president. And not only did they agree with everything he said; they also would never look into what was happening there. We have the full documentation for our case. So we will continue to have these kinds of resolutions. I don't know why the members of Congress, the Republican members of Congress, have a tin ear, in terms of what their constituents are telling them. And certainly the president does. I have said he has his head in the sand. But we have changed the debate on it, and we will continue to do so. And we hope that -- of course, I'm counting on a Democratic president of the United States, where we can wind down this war in a way that is responsible, that is honorable, and is safe.

BLITZER: Let's talk about this extraordinary moment in the Democratic Party right now. There is either going to be a woman who will be your presidential nominee or an African-American.

PELOSI: Yes, it's an exciting...

BLITZER: Who do you want?

PELOSI: Well, as chair -- I'm the chair of the Democratic National Convention, which will be in August in Denver, Colorado.

PELOSI: And as such, I am neutral in the race because I have to bring everyone together and make decisions, rulings, et cetera that affect what goes on at that convention. I'm just so proud. I was proud of all of our candidates.

Now we're down to two. I feel certain that one of them will be the next president of the United States. Both of them are extraordinary -- loaded with talent, extraordinarily blessed with many gifts that will serve our country well and bring us together.

BLITZER: Are you, though, torn without telling us who you support, between the first woman being president of the United States or the first African American being president of the United States?

PELOSI: No, I'm torn between two extraordinary leaders in our country as to who will -- and the people will speak. They will make the decision. That's the beauty of a democracy.

BLITZER: A lot of Democrats would like that so-called dream ticket to emerge, Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton. Would you?

PELOSI: Do you think that that's possible?

BLITZER: It's possible.

PELOSI: Well, do you think it is likely?

BLITZER: I don't know if -- I mean, I don't know if it's likely, but it's certainly possible that if one of them gets the nomination, seeing the enthusiasm out there, that person might ask the challenger, the loser to join the ticket and unify, unite the Democratic Party.

PELOSI: Let's agree that there will be no losers in any of this.

BLITZER: Well, someone's going to win, and someone's going to come in second.

PELOSI: Well, there will be a winner and there will be somebody who comes in second. I would not like to have to make that decision.

BLITZER: But would you be excited by it?

PELOSI: I told you I think we have two great leaders. I would like to leave the discretion to the nominee of the party to make a choice he or she wishes to make in that regard. And I know that it will be a good decision, whatever it is. And whoever it is, we're all going to get behind.

Now, my focus is on re-electing a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. So my political focus is more there, and we must have a Democratic president. And electing Democrats to the House and to the Senate will help elect a Democratic president. But as speaker of the House, my responsibility is to maintain a Democratic majority.

BLITZER: And would the dream ticket help that?

PELOSI: Again, the decision as to who is the running mate of the nominee of the party is the decision of the nominee of the party. And if someone would ask my advice in that capacity, however great you are, Wolf, in that capacity as nominee, I might have a suggestion.

But right now, let the democracy continue and see how this plays out. There are a lot of people who would be very enthusiastic about it. I'll agree with you on that.

BLITZER: Well, I tell you, there were when I had that debate at the Kodak Theater. And I even raised that possibility. There were a lot of excited Democrats out there in the audience. We'll leave it right there. I'm not going to discuss it any more. Madame Speaker, thanks for joining us.

PELOSI: Thank you very much.


BLITZER: And up next, with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in a neck-and-neck race right now, who's the best Democrat that could win in November? We'll talk with top advisers to the Clinton and Obama campaigns next. That's coming up on "Late Edition."


BLITZER: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are in a virtual tie right now in the Democratic presidential race. And as a result, there's growing speculation it might not be settled until the Democratic convention in August in Denver.

Joining us now, two guests. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a state where Hillary Clinton won on Super Tuesday this past week. He's a top adviser to her campaign. And Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, a state that Barack Obama carried on Tuesday. She's a key supporter of his campaign.

Senators, welcome to "Late Edition." Thanks to both of you for coming in. Senator Menendez, I'll start with you. Barack Obama, he had a clean sweep last night in three very different states, three very different parts of the country. What happened?

MENENDEZ: Well, he had a good night last night. And we congratulate him. We had a good super day on Super Tuesday, just five days ago, where Hillary showed her national reach from California to New York and Massachusetts to the south, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, out in the west, and so -- and we've raised $10 million since Super Tuesday.

So, this is going to be, I think everybody understands, Wolf, a race that's going to take us throughout the nation. And we're looking forward to future dates.

BLITZER: He could potentially have a clean sweep on Tuesday as well, of the so-called Potomac primaries, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

MENENDEZ: You know, projections are always difficult ones. They said that she was going to be knocked out in New Hampshire. She had a great win. Said when the culinary workers backed Senator Obama in Nevada, she was going to lose. Had a great win.

We're looking forward to the races ahead. We're looking forward to Texas and Ohio and moving on, and to succeed at the convention.

BLITZER: Senator McCaskill, listen to Senator Clinton, because on the key issue of national security, she says she has a decisive advantage over your candidate, Barack Obama.


CLINTON: If we're going to win an election against John McCain, who apparently is going to be their nominee, we have to have a candidate who can go toe to toe with Senator McCain on national security and national defense and homeland security.


BLITZER: When it comes to experience, the polls show that Democrats have more confidence in her as opposed to Senator Obama. What do you say about that potential matchup between Hillary Clinton and John McCain as opposed to Barack Obama and John McCain on the issue of national security?

MCCASKILL: You know, in heavily Democratic states like Bob's, I think he would agree that either one of these nominees are going to do very well in November. In Missouri, it's a different story.

There are two things that decide who becomes president in this country. One is the independent voter, and one is voter turnout or enthusiasm. And that's the one-two bunch for Obama. If you look what happened in Missouri on Tuesday, we have an open primary and no registration. So independent voters in Missouri could have voted for John McCain, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

And by an overwhelming margin, they chose to vote for Barack Obama. And the enthusiasm that you see around this country, we have been wringing our hands for decades saying, how do we get the kids? How do we get the young people?

And I think it would be a tremendous mistake for our party to quash that enthusiasm by -- first of all, it would be a terrible thing to deliver the nomination by party insiders, because I think that would send a terrible signal to this incredible enthusiasm that's building in this country for the kind of leader Barack is.

BLITZER: All right. Well, let's talk about the last point that Senator McCaskill just made. I'm going to put some numbers, Senator Menendez, up on the screen in terms of the delegate count that we estimate here at CNN right now. We estimate that Hillary Clinton has 1,108 delegates, Barack Obama has 1,049 delegates. Remember, 2,025 are needed to get the nomination.

But those include the pledged delegates as well as the so-called superdelegates, the party leaders like you, members of the Senate, members of the House, governors, high officials in the DNC, in the Democratic National Committee.

BLITZER: If you just take a look at the pledged delegates out there -- those are the people who have been elected, in effect, to go forward -- you see that, on those pledge delegates, Barack Obama is now ahead 918-885.

Are you worried that the party bosses could make this decision, as opposed to those who were actually elected by rank-and-file Democrats?

MENENDEZ: Well, Wolf, first of all, this party elects its delegates in many different ways. It goes from caucuses, where small numbers of people vote, compared to the population. It goes to primaries, where millions of people vote. It goes to primaries where only Democrats can vote. It goes to primaries where Democrats and independents can vote.

So, at the end of the day -- and it includes party leadership. You call them bosses. I call them leadership. These are individuals, like Claire, like myself, who ultimately get elected statewide.

BLITZER: But you're saying it would be appropriate if you -- that the super delegates had the final say in this...


MENENDEZ: Well, I certainly believe that we're going to get to a convention where, it is my belief, that Senator Clinton will have the delegates necessary to win.

At the end of the day, these elected officials, who are elected statewide, not just by Democrats, by the way, but by Democrats, Republicans, and independents, are elected to make their judgment, every day in the Senate, in the House, on the critical issues of the day.

They're also, in this context elected to make critical issues as to who they believe has the strength, ability to, from day one, be able to be the next president of the United States and win.

And I understand Claire's points about enthusiasm, but let me just say, there are two groups of swing voters that gave George Bush his reelection victory that are going to be necessary in this election.

That is women, particularly women who cared about security -- John McCain's going to be talking a lot about security -- and Latinos, who gave 40 percent of their vote, in the last election, to George Bush, an unprecedented number for a Republican candidate.

This is the foundation of Hillary Clinton's support.

BLITZER: All right. Do you want to respond to that, Senator McCaskill?

MCCASKILL: Well, we certainly saw, in Missouri, that the women, in fact, voted for Barack Obama. This state was carried for Barack Obama by women, narrowly.

But once again, the independent voters -- these are people that have all kinds of different descriptions. They're old; they're young; they're Latina; they're African-American -- all those independent voters.

And if you look at the polling, McCain versus Obama and McCain versus Clinton, it comes through loud and clear. Barack Obama is the strongest candidate with the independent voter.

And we have an obligation to nominate our strongest candidate with the independent voter, because the Republicans and Democrats are going to vote for their nominee. We will unite. We think both these candidates are terrific. And I will be proud to campaign for either one of them, as all Democrats will, but we've got to make sure we have those independent voters.

BLITZER: Speaking of polling, Senator McCaskill, in our latest CNN opinion research corporation poll, we asked this question among registered Democrats.

Who would do a better job handling the economy? Senator Clinton won, 52 percent to 44 percent over Senator Obama.

Who would do a better job handling health care? Senator Clinton won, 56 percent, to Senator Obama, 41 percent.

She's got a decisive advantage, in this poll, on two critical issues coming up in this election.

MCCASKILL: Well, I think people are getting to know Barack Obama's policy issues.

You know, they differ on health care. He does not think that we should take people's paychecks if they can't afford health care. He doesn't want to garnish anybody's wages. He believes we have to bring the costs down for health care, and... (CROSSTALK)

MCCASKILL: But that's the only way you can enforce it, Bob. And she's said that, that, in fact, that would be how they would have to enforce this mandate she wants to do. It's another reason...

BLITZER: Let Senator Menendez respond to that, the suggestion that she, in order to get universal health care, would actually force people and garnish their wages to pay for health care. MENENDEZ: That's simply not true. What Hillary is going to do -- and the only candidate in this race, on the Democratic side, that guarantees universal health care -- that means every American goes to sleep at night with health insurance, not just some Americans -- is Hillary.

And she does it by giving a series of tax credits and benefits to individuals, so that we can ensure that, in fact, they can afford to have health insurance.

And she also opens up what Claire and I have, as members of the United States Senate, to every American in the country who wants to pursue that type of plan.

So this is much different. And by the way, independents include women, Latinos, and other groups.

So the bottom line is, is this universe of how we win in November, the points you just raised in your poll, Wolf, go to the very heart of change, yes, but change with the experience necessary to make it happen.

BLITZER: All right.

MENENDEZ: Otherwise it's change that's aspirational.

BLITZER: We're out of time, Senator McCaskill, but I'll give you the last word. Go ahead.

MCCASKILL: Well, the way you make change happen is by bringing people together, by getting away from the partisan food fight. That's what's so appealing about Barack Obama. He doesn't want to make the Republicans an enemy. He wants to find that common ground.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it right there.

Senator McCaskill, Senator Menendez, thanks to both of you for coming in.

MENENDEZ: Great to be with you.

BLITZER: So is John McCain considered a conservative candidate by the Republicans in the Congress?

Stay tuned for my conversation with the top Republican in the House of Representatives, the minority leader, John Boehner. He's standing by to join us, live, right here on "Late Edition." (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Now that Congress has passed the economic stimulus package, members are turning their attention to President Bush's new budget, which he unveiled this last week. But what role will election-year politics play in what the Congress can get done this year?

Joining us now from Washington is the top Republican in the House of Representatives, the minority leader, John Boehner of Ohio. Mr. Leader, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to "Late Edition."

BOEHNER: Wolf, it's good to be with you.

BLITZER: We'll get to the issues in a moment. Let's talk politics for a moment right now. Listen to what Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham, two conservative, very popular radio talk show hosts, say about the Republican front-runner, John McCain.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK-SHOW HOST: McCain will kill conservatism as a, you know, a dominant force in the Republican Party.



LAURA INGRAHAM, HOST, "THE LAURA INGRAHAM SHOW": McCain has so radicalized key conservatives that some have vowed to turn themselves into suicide voters next November by pulling the lever for Hillary Clinton.


BLITZER: Do you agree with them, Mr. Leader?

BOEHNER: Wolf, I do not agree. John McCain is a solid conservative. It's not that I've agreed with him on every position he's taken over the years. But when you look at his record on fiscal responsibility, when you look at his record on getting rid of wasteful Washington spending, look at his record on a strong national defense and leading forward in the fight on terrorism, he's a solid conservative.

But clearly, he has some work to do to consolidate conservatives around the country, and he's doing that.

BLITZER: What do you think of Mike Huckabee?

BOEHNER: I think Mike Huckabee has brought a lot to this campaign. You know, competition makes everybody better. And I think Mike Huckabee's involvement in this race, along with the other candidates, have really made all of our candidates better, and we'll see what happens here over the coming weeks. BLITZER: He lost yesterday to Mike Huckabee in Louisiana, he lost in Kansas, he barely won in Washington State. He had 26 percent to Huckabee's 24 percent. Ron Paul came in third with 21 percent. Romney, who's dropped out 16 percent, uncommitted 13 percent. That's not an impressive number for the front-runner, for the Republican front-runner. Why do you believe he has such a problem, John McCain, with the conservative base out there?

BOEHNER: Well, as I said, there have been positions that he's taken over the years that have angered some conservatives. But when you begin to step back and look at John McCain's record, look at Huckabee's record, look at the Republican candidates that are running for president, as compared with all of the Democrat candidates, and you see a very distinct picture.

Republicans are for a smaller and less costly government here in Washington. They want to hold down taxes. And if you compare that with the Democrats, they want to raise taxes, they want to increase the size of government here in Washington. And that's going to be a very big debate as we get into the fall.

BLITZER: Well, Barack Obama says you're going to lose that debate based on the record, almost eight years now, seven years of the Bush administration. Listen to what the Democratic presidential candidate says about the Republicans' record on fiscal responsibility.


OBAMA: I don't think the Republicans are going to be in a real strong position to argue fiscal responsibility when they've added $4 or $5 trillion worth of national debt.


You know, I am happy to have that argument.


BLITZER: The national debt when President Bush took office was $5.5 trillion. It's now around $9 trillion. It's gone up obviously dramatically. What are you going to say in response to that point that Senator Obama makes?

BOEHNER: Wolf, do you forget that 9/11/2001 occurred that caused us to have to increase our spending in military, had to take on the terrorists, and at the same time the brakes went on the economy, slowing down income to the federal government. This race about the presidency is about the future. It's not about the past. And if you look at John McCain or, for that matter, Huckabee's report on fiscal responsibility, it's rock solid.

And as we look ahead in this campaign, I feel very good about the Republican chances of painting a picture of a smaller, less costly government here in Washington, lower taxes, trusting the American people with their money, and having a strong national defense and taking on the terrorists, who are a continuing threat to our country. BLITZER: I interviewed Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, this week. We just aired that interview. And she says when it comes to national security, specifically the war in Iraq, this administration has nothing to show for it. I'll play this little clip for you.


PELOSI: There haven't been gains, Wolf. The gains have not produced the desired effect, which is the reconciliation of Iraq. This is a failure. This is a failure.


BLITZER: She says there have been military gains, thanks to General Petraeus and his surge, but it hasn't translated into the political reconciliation that the Iraqi government should be coming forward with. You want to respond to her?

BOEHNER: Wolf, Democrats continue to be in denial about the success that we're having in Iraq. There is much more security on the ground. We're seeing democracy bubbling up from the ground up, and the Iraqi parliament is actually now being able to take some steps in the right direction.

This has been a very difficult challenge for our government, and frankly a very difficult challenge for the Iraqi people. They've never known anything like democracy. But we're making real progress there.

I think General Petraeus will be here in early April to tell us about the gains that we have made. But our troops have been coming home. I expect our troops will continue to come home as we train up the Iraqi forces to better take care of the Iraqi government themselves.

But there's no question that if you look at the success of getting rid of Al Qaida in Iraq, I mean, it has been a giant success.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it right there, Mr. Leader. Thanks very much for coming in.

BOEHNER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And there's much more ahead on "Late Edition," including my exclusive interview with former secretary of state Colin Powell. You're going to want to hear what he has to say about the war in Iraq, whether he's backing a presidential candidate. More "Late Edition" right at the top of the hour.


BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.


POWELL: There's a lot of stress on our troops. BLITZER: In a one-on-one, exclusive interview, former secretary of state Colin Powell weighs in on the war in Iraq, tensions with Iran, and what he thinks of the presidential candidates.

The Democrats battle on.

CLINTON: If I'm your nominee, you'll never have to worry that I'll be knocked out of the ring.

OBAMA: Today the voters from the West Coast to the Gulf Coast, to the heart of America, stood up to say, yes, we can.

BLITZER (voice over): John McCain tries to keep the Republican coalition intact.

MCCAIN: I have, in many ways important to all of us, maintained the record of a conservative.

BLITZER: Insight on a wild week in politics with three of the best political team on television. "Late Edition's" second hour begins right now.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in New York, this is "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: And welcome back to the second hour of "Late Edition". Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the first Gulf War, secretary of state during the war in Iraq, Colin Powell has an unmatched depth of experience in both war and politics.

So we spoke of both during our exclusive interview.

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.

POWELL: It's a great pleasure to be here, Wolf.

BLITZER: I never know whether to call you Mr. Secretary or General Powell. POWELL: General is more appropriate.

BLITZER: General Powell. Let me call you General Powell.

Let's talk about the war in Iraq, which is obviously still ongoing right now.

There were, at the height of the so-called surge, about 160,000, almost 170,000 troops. By July, at least 20,000 will have been withdrawn, but then General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces is saying, it might be a good time to pause.

Listen to what he told me when I interviewed him here on "Late Edition."


PETRAEUS: We will, though, need to have some time to let things settle a bit, if you will, after we complete the withdrawal. We think it would be prudent to do some period of assessment, then, to make decisions.


BLITZER: All right. So we're talking about 140,000 troops will remain, at least for the time being. Is it a good idea to take that pause, or just continue with the withdrawal?

POWELL: Well, you know, this is a judgment that has to be made by General Petraeus, by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Joint Chiefs and the Central Command commander.

There's a lot of stress on our troops. We have a large number of troops deployed, and you know they're going back at a fairly fast clip.

So I think what General Petraeus said is wise. Let's take a pause and see. He didn't say, let's just keep it at this level of 140,000. And I read some other accounts that say that they have to take an assessment as to whether 140,000 is the right number, or go lower.

This is still months away before your reach that time when you make a judgment as to whether you have to keep it and pause at that level or you pause, just for a brief period, and then continue the drawdown.

The big issue here, is at what rate can the Iraqis be responsible for assuming their own security?

How are their forces coming? How are their police forces coming?

Remember, the purpose of the surge and the continued presence of U.S. troops was to create an environment in which the Iraqis can surge. And that really is the thing we have to measure. How well are they surging? BLITZER: Because the political fallout could be different than the military fallout.

POWELL: Exactly. The military surge, which I think has gone exceptionally well -- the troops and General Petraeus are deserving of great credit. They have stabilized things, in a number of parts of the country.

But that war is not over, and they would not say it's over. You still see things happening in Mosul. Al Qaida has been banged up, but it hasn't yet been defeated. And we have seen how some of these things can grow back.

And so I think great progress has been made in the military aspect, security aspects. But we haven't seen the same kind of progress in the political surge, which was the whole reason for the surge in the first place.

BLITZER: Because you offered a rather gloomy assessment, back in June, when you were on "Meet the Press."

You said this. "It is a civil war. The current strategy to deal with it, called the surge, the military surge, our part of the surge under General Petraeus -- the only thing it can do is put a heavier lid on this boiling pot of civil war stew."

POWELL: I always have thought, at least for the last couple of years, that it was a civil war. And I think General Petraeus did just that. He not only put a lid on the pot and kept it from boiling over but, through some other progress that he has made and other tactics that he has adopted, he's lowered the fire a little bit. There's no question about that. But ultimately ...

BLITZER: Yes, but is it still basically a civil war?

POWELL: Ultimately ,I think it is still civil war. But it's not necessary to debate that definition.

Ultimately, what's going to solve it, whether you call it a civil war or not, is whether or not the Iraqi leadership, under President Maliki and his cabinet, can find areas of reconciliation between the Sunnis and the Shias.

To some extent, the quiet that has been achieved is because they're, sort of, separating themselves from each other. The communities are going into a Sunni side and a Shia side.

And so can this central government really reconcile the different points of view that...

BLITZER: Well, do you have confidence in the prime minister?

POWELL: I do. I have confidence in the prime minister. I know his heart is in the right place, but does he have the capability and the ability to bring this all about? There's been a little progress. There's been progress on the de- Baathification law. There's some progress, but not yet final progress, on the oil legislation and some other legislation.

So we have to keep pushing the political process as hard as we're pushing the surge, the military surge.

BLITZER: You mentioned earlier the stress on the U.S. military. General George Casey, the Army chief of staff -- he said this last month.

He said, "The surge has sucked all of the flexibility out of the system and we need to find a way of getting back into balance."

And the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen -- he went a little bit further and said this.


ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: The well is deep, but it is not infinite. We must get Army deployments down to 12 months as soon as possible. People are tired.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Right now, Army deployments are 15 months in Iraq. And he says people are tired. How much longer can the U.S. military sustain a 130,000 or 140,000 troop level in Iraq?

POWELL: I leave it to the admiral and General Casey, the chief of staff of the Army to answer that question.

But my own judgment, looking in from the outside, is that it can't be kept up indefinitely at the size of 140,000. We have not increased the size of the Army in any significant way over the last five or six years. The National Guard has not increased its size.

So it is the same force structure that is going back and forth to Iraq and Afghanistan. And after a while, these soldiers, many of them who are married, have to start making choices. They want to serve. They've done a great job. We should be so proud of them.

But when they're in their third deployment and, maybe, looking toward a fourth deployment, those are the kind of stresses that General Casey, the head of the Army, and Admiral Fallon, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are talking about. We have to look...

BLITZER: Well, given the current force structure, they can't go on much longer at that level.

POWELL: It can't go on at that level much longer. But can it go on much longer at a lower level? That's the thing that...

BLITZER: When you say a lower level -- 100,000, 80,000?

POWELL: Fifty thousand, 80 thousand -- but that's a military judgment. It's not a political judgment.

You have to listen to your chairman and your commanders in the field to make the best judgment as to what size we can go down to and sustain it for an extended period of time.

And I don't think 140,000 is something that can be sustained for year after year after year, with the force structure and recruitment process that we have now.

BLITZER: Senator John McCain said this, earlier last month, and it's caused somewhat of a commotion out there. Listen to this.


MCCAIN: It may be 100. We've been in Japan for 60 years. We've been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That would be fine with me, as long as Americans...


MCCAIN: ... as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. Then it's fine with me.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: He says, maybe, 100 years U.S. troops would stay in Iraq.

POWELL: Well, we haven't been in either Korea or Germany or anywhere else...

BLITZER: They've been there 60 years.

POWELL: They've been there 60 years, but it was part of an alliance, and it was a peaceful presence.

Now, you notice, in the very last part of his statement, he said, assuming nobody is getting killed. So he was talking, not about the current situation, where we have an active war going on and everybody is on a short term deployment. He was talking about a more sustained deployment such as we had in Germany, for all those years, or in Japan, where we were essentially a forward presence for deterrence in security, not in active combat.

So I think you have to listen very carefully to what the senator said. He knows what he's talking about when he talks about military matters.

BLITZER: What about Hillary Clinton?

She's a member of the Armed Services Committee. She said this at our presidential debate that I moderated at the end of January. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CLINTON: I will begin to withdraw troops in 60 days. I believe that it will take me one to two brigades a month, depending on how many troops we have there, and that nearly all of them should be out within a year.


POWELL: Well, I have no idea on what basis she is making these statements. Is this based on some military advice she has received from her staff, or -- you know, I don't know what's magic about 60 days and what's magic about one or two brigades a month.

The question is, what situation do you want to leave Iraq in?

What we need to do is to stop throwing numbers out like this, but take a look at the situation on the ground, listen to General Petraeus, listen to the other senior members of the military, work with the Iraqis.

What has to happen is that, over the next year or two, in my judgment the Iraqis have to assume greater and greater responsibility for their own security, for the building up of their armed forces and for a political system in which those armed forces work and for reconciliation.

POWELL: Because it is clear that the American armed forces are not structured to stay in Iraq at that level indefinitely. More importantly, it seems to me that the feeling in the United States that we are doing a great job, but sooner or later the baton has to be passed to the Iraqis.

BLITZER: She has a bunch of retired generals, including Wesley Clark, the former NATO supreme allied commander, advising her.

POWELL: Well, I don't know if that's General Clark's advice or not. It was just a political statement that she made at a debate and said that within 60 days she would start doing something without any conditioning on what was going on at the time she became president or whether it was a sensible thing to do at that time or not.

BLITZER: Barack Obama goes one step further and he says within 16 months of his taking office, all U.S. combat forces would be out. Here's what he said at that debate.


OBAMA: But I do think it is important for us to set a date. And the reason I think it is important is because, if we are going to send a signal to the Iraqis that we are serious and prompt the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds to actually come together and negotiate, they have to have clarity about how serious we are.


POWELL: Well, it's good that he feels strongly enough about the issue that he says what he is going to do, what he is planning to do. But I have found in my many years of service, to set arbitrary dates that don't coincide with the situation on the ground or what actually is happening tends not to be a useful strategy.

BLITZER: But would it serve the purpose of putting pressure on the government in Baghdad?

POWELL: It certainly would, but I think there are other ways that other precedents (ph) could serve -- could put pressure on the government in Baghdad. I think we're trying to do it now. I think every time that Secretary Gates or Secretary Rice goes over there, they make the point to Mr. Maliki and the others that you've got to get on with it. The American people in any polling that's been done say, you know, we're starting to feel that this is time to bring our troops home. We don't want to cut and run, but it's time to start thinking about bringing them home. And the safest way to bring them home and achieve some objective in Iraq is to put the pressure on the Iraqis.

At some point after all these years and the years ahead, they have got to be able to provide for their own security. We cannot leave 120, 130, 140,000 American troops over there to serve as essentially police forces standing guard in all of the streets and communities of Iraq so that they don't attack one another.

And sooner or later, the Iraqis have to be able to deal with Al Qaida and to deal with insurgents, either of the Sunni flavor or the Shia variety. BLITZER: But if you don't give them sort of a deadline or some parameters...

POWELL: Arbitrary deadlines that are snatched out of the air and are based on some lunar calculation is not the way to run a military or a strategic operation of this type. You have got to look at the situation.

I think Mr. Obama also said that he would call in his military advisers and ask them how this can be done. And the military advisers can tell him either how they would be done or tell Mrs. Clinton or Senator McCain how it would be done, or what the risks are. And you have to know what those risks are before you make a decision of this sort of arbitrary nature.


BLITZER: When we come back, Colin Powell breaks with President Bush on diplomacy with Iran. And we'll also get his analysis of the Republican and Democratic contenders for the White House. I'll ask him who his candidate is. You might be surprised to hear what he has to say.

"Late Edition" from New York City continues right after this.


BLITZER: High-level direct talks with Iran over its nuclear enrichment program, that's been something the Bush administration has long resisted. In the second part of my exclusive interview, I asked former Secretary of State Colin Powell how he felt about Senator Barack Obama's very different approach toward Iran.


BLITZER: What do you think of Senator Obama's statements suggesting that he would enter into a direct dialogue with the leaders not only of North Korea but Iran and even Cuba. Face to face talks. You're a former secretary of state. Here is what he said about the possibility of talking with the leaders of Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: And the National Intelligence Estimate, the last report suggested that if we are meeting with them, talking to them and offering them both carrots and sticks, they are more likely to change their behavior, and we can do so in a way that does not ultimately cost billions of dollars, thousands of lives and hurt our reputation around the world.


POWELL: I think we should be talking to the leaders of states that we have significant disagreements with.

BLITZER: Including state sponsors of terrorism?

POWELL: I was talking to Syria during the time that I was secretary of state. I visited Damascus on a fairly regular basis. They were always tough conversations.

Sometimes I came away with no progress. Sometimes I got things done. Sometimes I did things that helped Israel.

But you have to talk to folks that you may not necessarily like, and you can't put down impossible preconditions for conversation. You can't say, give me what I want before I will talk to you. That doesn't work. It won't work with Syria. It won't work with Iran.

So yes, I would be talking -- you know, we have an embassy that's open in Damascus, Syria. So I'd send the ambassador back and begin a dialogue.

BLITZER: What about Iran?

POWELL: I would talk to Iran. We were starting to have quiet conversations with Iran at a low level. Mr. Obama did not say he would talk. He said we.

And we were talking to Iran in a very low level, multilateral conversations, and were -- they had some value to them. And so, I would begin the conversations with the Iranians.

We're talking to them in Baghdad every few months about security matters, and if we can do that in Baghdad with our ambassador and their representatives, I don't see why we can't speak to them in other fora.

And it doesn't mean on a single issue. Just start talking to them about the full range of issues that have kept us in this situation which each other since 1979. It's time to move on.

America is a strong, powerful nation. We are politically powerful, economically powerful, militarily powerful. And it seems to me that with all of this power and all of this influence in the world, we should be willing to talk to nations that are basically weaker than we are. And we should not be afraid to be seen talking to them.

BLITZER: Who's your candidate for president of United States? POWELL: 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 that 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.

POWELL: Frankly, we've lost a lot in recent years. I'm 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'm 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 are a Republican, that you might not vote for the Republican nominee this time around?

POWELL: I have voted for members of both parties in the course of my adult life. And as I said earlier, 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 a 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: Yeah, 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'm an American citizen that is examining all of the candidates, listening carefully. And now that we've 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. Looks like John McCain is going to be the Republican candidate, and I will watch and measure them well.

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, you know, 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'm going to vote for. BLITZER: And this is really a historic moment because a woman, an African American, one of them 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: When we return, we'll have live reports from the best political team on television. They're out on the campaign trail, watching what's happening right now. And then, our political panel will be back to discuss what to expect in the battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And where does John McCain go from here?

"Late Edition" continues right after this.


BLITZER: Still to come, our political panel. But up next for the presidential candidates is the so-called Potomac primary, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, on Tuesday. Our Suzanne Malveaux is on the Virginia side of the Potomac, where she's following the Democratic race. Set the scene for us, Suzanne. SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Senator Clinton is doing what she really has no other alternative to do, and that is simply move forward and try to forget about what happened last night. Her campaign downplaying, saying it was expected, that sweep of Barack Obama.

But they are also trying to use this to their advantage, trying to raise more money, trying to change the subject, saying that she raised some $10 million since Super Tuesday...

BLITZER: Suzanne, I'm going to interrupt you, Suzanne. I'm going to interrupt you because we're having a little trouble with your audio. It seems to be not working 100 percent. Stand by for a moment. I'm going to come back to you in a moment. We'll tweak that audio and be able to hear it.

Let's go to Mary Snow, though. She's watching the Republicans. They have a big contest coming up as well. Mary, set the scene for us on the Republican contest, looking forward to Tuesday.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, one day after Mike Huckabee said that he was majoring in a miracle in terms of catching up with John McCain, he came here to Lynchburg. And this is the mega-church that the late Rev. Jerry Falwell built.

He addressed the crowds here, really a very short talk. Mentioned his strong opposition to abortion and gay marriage and got a very warm reception. Officials at the church say they estimate there are probably about 6 or 7,000 people here today.

And it is symbolic because John McCain had a split with Jerry Falwell back in 2000 when he called him and other evangelical leaders agents of intolerance. Senator McCain did make amends with Jerry Falwell before Rev. Falwell died.

But some here today, of the churchgoers I spoke with, say they really haven't forgiven him for that. And they feel that Mike Huckabee is a better choice. But again, the math is daunting. Mike Huckabee keeps being asked about his stay in this race.

He believes that he can pull off a surprise here in Virginia, appealing to that evangelical base, running commercials in the state saying that he is the authentic conservative. And this of course comes after a win yesterday in Kansas and Louisiana. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Mary. Thanks very much. Let's go back to Suzanne. She's watching the Democrats, a fiercely fought battle right now between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I interrupted you, Suzanne, but go ahead.

MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, I was saying that Senator Clinton's really doing the only thing that she can do, and that is to move ahead. Her campaign is really downplaying the sweep of Barack Obama yesterday taking those contests, those states, saying that they had expected it.

But they're also trying to change the subject here. They're saying that they are raising lots and lots of money, trying to use that to their advantage.

MALVEAUX: They say some $10 million was raised since Super Tuesday, 100,000 new donors, they are talking about. And they're also trying to focus on the future.

You're not only talking about those three -- the Potomac area, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, but they're also looking ahead at the March 4th contest. They believe they will be a lot stronger there, so they're talking about the economy. They're talking about the housing crisis. And they're also trying to set her up as the candidate who is more electable, looking at the general election, comparing and contrasting her record, which they believe is more substantial than Barack Obama's, against Senator John McCain.

Now, the contest that they're really counting on, as you know, Texas, a high Latino population, as well as looking ahead to Ohio, larger pockets of white voters, rural voters, blue collar -- they believe they're going to be strong in those states.

But clearly, Wolf, they're fast-forward speeding ahead to those competitions because they believe that Barack Obama may have an advantage. The only place that they believe will be competitive is here in Virginia. They think it's going to be a really hard fight. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne, thanks very much. Suzanne Malveaux, watching these Democratic candidates.

Coming up next on "Late Edition," will Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama be able to break the deadlock before the convention this summer?

Our political panel will tackle that question and a lot more when we come back.


BLITZER: It was quite a week in politics. And last night's results were no less surprising. Let's get right to it with three of CNN's senior analysts, Jeff Toobin, who also writes for the New Yorker Magazine, by the way, in his spare time; Gloria Borger, who's U.S. News and World Report columnist must-reading for anyone who follows politics; and Fareed Zakaria, the editor-in-chief of Newsweek International, three of the best in the business.

Guys, thanks very much.

Gloria, let me start with you. It was a clean sweep for Barack Obama, last night, in three very different parts of the country, three very different states. What's going on here?

BORGER: He's winning. He's out-organizing Hillary Clinton. He's trying to show the breadth of his campaign. The Clinton people, of course, you know, now this is a spin game, trying to say "I'm the underdog," "I'm the underdog."

The Clinton people put out a release, last night, saying well, he was expected to win these states, so it's not as if it's a big win. But as Jeff Toobin pointed out last night, a win is a win is a win.

BLITZER: And she might lose in the next three contests, on Tuesday, as well, Virginia, Maryland and D.C., if you believe some of these polls that are coming out right now.

TOOBIN: Those are three very important contests -- plus Maine. Later today, we should find out how the Maine caucuses go.

You know, this has been an election without much momentum. The winning has gone back and forth. But if, in fact, Obama wins seven in a row, or, next week, Hawaii, which he's clearly going to win, as the native son, and Wisconsin, that will put tremendous pressure on Hillary Clinton to win in Ohio and Texas on March 4th because, you know, those are the last two big contests, except for Pennsylvania in April, that there are to win.

So the pressure is on her to start some winning primaries.

BLITZER: And Ohio and Texas are huge states, critically important not only in this contest for the Democratic nomination but looking forward as well.

ZAKARIA: It would be ironic if Ohio ended up deciding the Democratic primary.


And they're big states in which, frankly, she has had an advantage so far. Obama has had an advantage in small states where you can organize very sincere and dedicated groups of activists.

But the other thing that's worth noting, Wolf, is the way -- the kind of campaign Obama is running. The insurgent Democrat, if you think of it that way, you know, whether it's Bill Bradley or Gary Hart or Howard Dean, has always run a campaign that is decidedly to the left of the front-runner.

Obama is running a campaign that is, sort of, above it all. It is almost a Reaganesque, incumbent campaign that doesn't fall into that trap of being placed in a situation where you seem too far left to win the general election.

So he's running a campaign that is simultaneously an insurgent campaign against Clinton but also a campaign that wears well in the general election.

BLITZER: And if you look at the so-called delegates, whether the pledged delegates who are actually elected in these primaries and caucuses, as opposed to the super delegates, the party elders, if you will, members of Congress, governors, high officials in the DNC, among the pledged delegates, Obama, right now, is ahead by our CNN estimate, 918 to 885. You need 2,025 to be the Democratic presidential nominee.

Donna Brazile, who herself is a super delegate -- she told me earlier in the week that, if it comes down to the super delegates deciding this, as opposed to the actual pledged delegates, she's going to -- she's not going to be happy. Listen to what she said.


DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think, if 795 of my colleagues decide this election, I will quit the Democratic Party. I feel very strongly about this.


BLITZER: "I will quit the Democratic Party."

BORGER: Well, it just -- it serves the purpose of sending the outcome of this election back into a smoke-filled room, which is precisely what no Democrat wants and what was not intended.

And, you know, it depends on how you interpret what super delegates should do. If you're Hillary Clinton, you say super delegates should be independent voters, OK?

And if you're Barack Obama, you're saying super delegates should follow what your states have done. So it's going to be a real battle.

TOOBIN: But, you know, it depends. Does he really mean that?

Because, by that logic, it would mean that Ted Kennedy and John Kerry and Deval Patrick, his three big supporters in Massachusetts, would have to vote for Hillary Clinton...

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: ... because she won the Massachusetts primary. I think it's very hard to have a consistent principle for what these delegates should do.

BORGER: They'll take whatever they can get...


TOOBIN: ... super delegates should do. I mean, I think Donna's comment illustrates that it would be a disaster for the party if it somehow came down to horse trading among super delegates. I don't know how it would come out. It would be very ugly.

BLITZER: And Howard Dean, Fareed, the chairman of the Democratic Party -- he says it's simply unacceptable to have to wait until the convention. Listen to what he said this week.


DNC CHAIRMAN HOWARD DEAN: I think we will have a nominee sometime in the middle of March or April. But if we don't, then we will have to -- we're going to have to make some kind of -- get the candidates to get together and make some kind of an arrangement. Because I don't think we can afford to have a brokered convention. That would not be good news for either party.


ZAKARIA: I think he actually is on to something, which is it's not really about the legalities here, Wolf, and who ends up being in the right and who can get which super delegates.

After a while, at some point, there will be a break-out. Somebody will have gotten enough momentum, as Jeff was suggesting. Somebody will be doing so well in the national polls that the other person will seem the spoiler. And that person will, in my opinion, fold, at that point.

BORGER: But the question is, when does that happen?

TOOBIN: Yes, we all thought it would happen by Super Tuesday.

BORGER: We all thought it would -- and if you... ZAKARIA: It will be delayed, but it's still going to happen. They're not going to go to the convention and have a 1968-type convention.

BORGER: No, they can't. But the question is, do they do a redo in Michigan and Florida, OK? Because the delegates in those votes didn't count. The Democratic National Committee said if you guys move up your primaries, your delegates are not going to count.

I mean, the irony is that if Michigan and Florida had waited to weigh in in their normal course of events on a Super Tuesday, they would have actually had a lot more impact. But maybe there will be a redo, so you don't have to...

TOOBIN: Maybe they will have impact. Maybe they'll have to schedule sort of emergency caucuses in those two states. That's certainly a possibility.

BLITZER: Well, Hillary Clinton does not do well in caucuses. She's lost almost every one of the caucuses. Barack Obama does exceedingly well in caucuses. And if there is a redo, the Hillary Clinton people, I assume will say, have a primary but don't have a caucus.

BORGER: Right, because she has said sometimes caucus voters are disenfranchised because her voters, who tend to come from lower income levels, don't get to go to caucuses because they occur during the times when they work.

BLITZER: What scares, you know, the leadership of the Democratic Party is that Republicans coalesce around John McCain, he has the field to himself, he can try to unite his party -- we're going to get to that in a second -- while the Democrats are still engaged in a bitter battle for weeks, maybe even months to come.

ZAKARIA: I think for all of those reasons, Texas and Ohio will end up being very important. Look, if Obama wins both, it's over. If Hillary wins both, it begins to look very tough for Obama. So, the circumstance in which this continues is if one wins each -- each wins one.

TOOBIN: One unusual fact about this election is, the Democratic convention is after Labor Day. It's later than its ever been. If the convention was in July, maybe you could have some resolution. But there are only eight weeks between the convention and the election. There's no way you can keep it that long.

BLITZER: So, I think all of us agree, March 4, Texas and Ohio. And Rhode Island. Let's not forget Rhode Island as well.

ZAKARIA: The new Super Tuesday.

BLITZER: It might not be Super Tuesday, but it will be very significant Tuesday.

BORGER: All I can say is, I never thought I'd have to be good in math to cover politics. And here you are.

BLITZER: Well, you could be good in miracles, too, if you're Mike Huckabee.

Stand by. We're going to talk about that. We're going to have our panel coming back in just a moment. We'll discuss what yesterday's results mean for the Republican race. Is John McCain unbeatable?

Straight ahead, the man all the candidates are running to replace, President George W. Bush. He gave his views on the campaign earlier today. We're going to bring you that in our very popular "in case you missed it" segment. "Late Edition" from New York continues in a moment.


BLITZER: Back to our panel in a moment. But now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. On Fox, President Bush shared his thoughts about the Democrats making him a key issue in the presidential campaign.


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: My attitude is, so long as they're talking about me, we have a better chance of winning because our candidate will -- what's going to matter is not the past but the future when it comes to campaigns. And if the Democrat Party feels like they can win an election by focusing on me, I think they'll be making a huge tactical mistake. But I hope they do that then, because our candidate will be able to talk about the future and what this person intends to do for the country.


BLITZER: On ABC, the Democratic governors of Virginia and Maryland talked up the candidates they're supporting in Tuesday's Potomac primary.


GOV. TIM KAINE, D-VA.: The thing about Senator Obama's wins that are so impressive is just the incredible diversity of the states, southern, northern, red state, blue state, caucuses, primaries, states that are really diverse, states that aren't diverse at all. And yesterday's results showed that. A blue state, a red state and a purple state all overwhelmingly for Senator Obama.


GOV. MARTIN O'MALLEY, D-MD.: This is going to go a long way. We have yet to hear from a number of big states, including Ohio and Texas. I'm firmly committed to Senator Hillary Clinton to be the next president of the United States, and I'm confident at the end of this process, she will prevail. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On CBS, President Bush's former top political adviser, Karl Rove, addressed the opposition of some prominent conservatives to Republican presidential front-runner John McCain.


KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: These people are influential. They're important. Senator McCain has a lot of work to do, but the question is not getting people -- the vast majority of Republicans to unite behind his candidacy. It's getting them energetic and passionate and committed to doing what needs to be done to win in the fall.


BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

Coming up, Mitt Romney drops out, but Huckabee hangs on. And how will John McCain appeal to those disgruntled conservatives? Those topics and more when our panel continues.


BLITZER: We're back with three of the best political team on television. Fareed, let's listen to President Bush earlier on Fox making the case for John McCain even though he didn't formally endorse him or anything, but trying to reassure conservatives that he is, in fact, a conservative.


BUSH: I think that, if John's the nominee, he has got some convincing to do to convince people that he is a solid conservative. And I'd be glad to help him if he's the nominee.


BLITZER: He's having a lot of problems with that conservative base, John McCain, right now.

ZAKARIA: He's having a lot of problems, but it is, I think, a sign of the fragility of modern conservatism.

Conservatives used to be a governing party, a big tent party, in which you understood that not everyone was going to agree with you 100 percent on everything, and heresies were allowed and deviations were allowed. It has become very rigid, narrow and fragile, in my view.

Look, John McCain has an ACA rating -- you know, the way these things are ranked -- I don't remember, 85 percent?

(CROSSTALK) ZAKARIA: It's fairly solidly conservative. He has deviated on four or five major issues -- you know, the Bush tax cuts, global warming, immigration, campaign finance reform.

But in all these cases, I think he has ended up being at a sensible center, where somebody like Reagan was, in any case. Except for the tax cut issue, I think Reagan was with him on all those issues.

But this is now anathema to a conservative movement within the party that has become very energized and very vocal. I don't think it's a good sign for the conservatives. I think McCain benefits because, once he pivots in the general election, all those deviations become advantages in the general election.

BLITZER: And we saw that unfold, yesterday, in Kansas. Huckabee got 60 percent of the vote to McCain's 24 percent; Ron Paul 11 percent.

And it's reflected elsewhere, as well, although, by all accounts, McCain -- if he doesn't get it, we'll all be shocked. BORGER: Right. And I think the numbers show -- and they're easier to count, on the Republican side, because it's winner take all, in most primaries.

ZAKARIA: It's good for your math.


BORGER: Yes, it's really good.


It's really good. But McCain does have a problem -- and going to Fareed's point, there is no daddy in the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan is gone, so who is the establishment conservative daddy?

There isn't anyone. Mitt Romney -- that's what Mitt Romney's trying to do. He's going to be out there, four years from now, and try and become the establishment conservative that everyone will flock to.

So that is really McCain's problem. He is independent. He will make peace with these people. But he will not change his positions. And they know that.

BLITZER: And look at this, Jeff, because I want you to weight in, to. In Louisiana, yesterday, Huckabee narrowly won, 43 percent to McCain's 42 percent. Romney was not even in the race -- 7 percent.

Take a look at Washington state, though. The results came in overnight. McCain could only get 26 percent. He won. Huckabee had 24 percent; Ron Paul, 21 percent; Romney, who was not in the race, 16 percent.

But for the Republican front-runner, in a state like Washington state, to only get a quarter, basically, of the eligible Republican vote, that's not very impressive.

TOOBIN: You know, I thought it was very interesting what Karl Rove said today, which was, you know, you've got to energize the people. It's not enough just to get their votes.

He'll get most of the conservative votes. But the way George Bush won two terms was highly motivating conservatives, especially in states like Ohio.

And even if McCain avoids outright opposition, it's very hard to see how he can motivate those folks who are -- you know, they're smart. They know those issues that Fareed talked about. They're not going to suddenly say they don't matter.

But, you know, I don't know what alternative McCain has. He stands for what he stands.

ZAKARIA: And for McCain, Jeff, I think that the problem is his electoral strategy probably depends on pivoting and reaching out to independents, so he's not going to be doing a whole lot of kissing and making up with the conservatives. He'll do some, but he recognizes his real strategy is probably going to be his crossover appeal.

BORGER: But I think he goes to his right, in terms of a vice president. He's got to try and...

ZAKARIA: Who has ever voted for somebody on the basis of vice president?

BORGER: But if you're trying to make nice to one wing of the party, having a vice president that's to your right might be a little useful.


BORGER: And then, of course, Barack Obama, if he's the nominee, would hope to pick up independent voters that McCain might lose if he pivoted to his right.


BLITZER: But, in fairness to McCain, it's exactly the issues that Fareed mentioned, that upset the conservative base, by and large, that could be attractive in a general election against either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

TOOBIN: Yes, but consider your interview with Colin Powell. Colin Powell is an icon to those people in the middle of the party. And McCain and the Republican Party have a problem with moderates.

This party has become identified with issues like not believing in evolution, like being against abortion rights, like not fighting global warming.

Even though McCain is, you know, to the left on global warming, he still has those problems. And I think he's got problems on both the left and the right.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there, guys. Jeff, Gloria, Fareed, see you next week. Thanks very much.

See you before then, as well.


We've got a lot of coverage, coming up, especially Tuesday night.

You're going to see what's on the cover of the major news magazines here in the United States when we come back. And if you'd like a recap of today's program, you can get highlights on our new and improved "Late Edition" podcast.

Simply go to Coming up for our North American viewers at the top of the hour, you're going to hear what the candidates for president have to say, raw and unfiltered. CNN's "Ballot Bowl" -- it starts, 1 P.M. Eastern. "Late Edition" continues after this.


BLITZER: Let's take a look and see what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines in the United States.

U.S. News and World Report exclaims that "Mack is Back: Can McCain Stage a New Republican Revolution? And Will the Right Relent?"

Newsweek Magazine predicts "There Will Be Blood: Why the Right Hates McCain."

And Time Magazine explores "The Struggle for the Soul of the Democrats."

And that is your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, February 10. Please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday at 11:00 Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

I'm also in "The Situation Room," Monday through Friday from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Don't forget, Tuesday night I'll be anchoring our live coverage of the primary results in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Our special coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York.