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THE SITUATION ROOM
How Much do Endorsements Count; Potomac Primary Results; Larry Elder Discusses His Book, "Stupid Black Men"
Aired February 12, 2008 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Will this crossover vote make a difference?
And just minutes away, the first exit polls of today's primaries -- voters sharing what's on their minds as they cast their ballots. The big issues driving today's big turnout. Bill Schneider standing by with those exit polls, which we're about to share with you.
I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The first polls close in just under two hours from now. Those polls will close in Virginia. Turnout is heavy there, and in neighboring Maryland, as well as in Washington, D.C. These Potomac primaries, as they're being called, bring the candidates close enough to the White House to easily imagine that it's within their grasp, or they can imagine it's also slipping away. While the gap on the Republican side is very significant -- John McCain is ahead by literally hundreds of delegates -- the Democrats are in a virtual dead heat and every delegate right now is crucial.
Hillary Clinton holds a paper thin lead of 1,157 delegates to 1,145 for Barack Obama. That's going into today's contests. But Hillary Clinton, who has watched Barack Obama sweep a series of contests in recent days, is now looking ahead.
Let's go to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. She's joining us now from Texas, where Hillary Clinton is going to be on this important day around the nation's capital.
What's going on -- Suzanne?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is really a very similar pattern that we've seen. When she lost South Carolina, she did not stick around for the results. Rather, she went to Tennessee to campaign. So it is really no surprise she's on her way to Texas. Now, advisers say that she can afford to lose the Potomac primaries, but not by a wide margin. If that happens, then there is real trouble.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Anticipating another bad night at the polls, Senator Hillary Clinton is saying good-bye to the Potomac primaries. She's already in Texas, with her eye on the big prize. SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As we now move into this two person race, with the big states up ahead -- Ohio and Michigan, obviously -- I mean Ohio and Texas -- we're going to see a real focus on the differences between us.
MALVEAUX: One hundred ninety-three delegates up for grabs here, where she's counting on the Latino community to deliver. Latinos could make up anywhere from a quarter to a half of the Democratic voters in Texas. Hispanics help put Mrs. Clinton over the top in primaries in California and New York. While both Clintons have strong support here, the senator's biggest challenge will be to blunt Barack Obama's momentum.
JAMES CARVILLE, CLINTON SUPPORTER: Senator Clinton has to win Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania. If she wins those three, she's probably the nominee. If she loses one of those three, then Senator Obama is going to probably be the nominee. That's a fact.
MALVEAUX: Campaigning in this state of 23 million people is expensive.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
H. CLINTON: What I try to do every day is figure out how to help somebody.
MALVEAUX: There are more than two dozen TV markets in Texas where Obama and Clinton have dueling ads competing for voters' attention. All eyes will be on their next face-to-face debate in Austin next week, for a high stakes Texas-sized showdown.
MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, as you know, that debate is hosted by CNN and Univision a week from this Thursday. Now advisers are saying that, of course, this is a fight for the delegates. But what this also is, is really a fight over the perception -- the momentum here. And she faces a very big challenge when it comes to that.
She has to convince the nearly 800 super-delegates, those party officials that can vote either way at the convention, as well as people who might possibly endorse her in the weeks ahead, that she is still on the winning team, that she is still electable, despite the fact that she might have a series of losses -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Suzanne. Thank you. She's on the scene for us in Texas.
John McCain is the clear Republican frontrunner. When it comes to delegates, Mike Huckabee is way, way behind. But Huckabee keeps on winning some of those states and says this race is not over. Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow.
She's covering the race for us -- how are the Huckabee people, Mary, feeling about tonight? MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, they haven't made any flat out predictions. And Mike Huckabee said that he won't predict. But what could be telling, they came back here home, to Little Rock, Arkansas. There's no victory party planned tonight, a very subdued evening.
Mike Huckabee is expected to watch the results with friends and supporters and then talk to reporters once those results are in. But as he becomes more defiant by the day that he is going to stay in this race and hopes to do well, his campaign saying what they're really looking for tonight is the results in Virginia. This is a state where Mike Huckabee has been campaigning the past couple of days.
They want to see broad support, but they also say they would like to see -- be reassured by religious conservatives, since Mike Huckabee has been courting those voters in the past couple of days in the southern parts of Virginia. But still, he is about 500 delegates behind Senator John McCain. But Mike Huckabee says that until somebody gets 1,191 delegates, he presses to fight on.
BLITZER: Mary, what about from here? Where does the Huckabee campaign -- where does Governor Huckabee go from here?
SNOW: You know he has plans to leave here tomorrow and head out to Wisconsin. Now, they believe that they will have strong support out in Wisconsin. And looking ahead, they are betting on Texas. They believe that they have a lot of grassroots support in Texas and they were going to spend some time there. They are saying that they're taking whatever scheduling opportunities they can.
In terms of money, an aide told me the other day that they have about a million dollars cash on hand and that they had been raising money in the past several days online. And that is keeping their hopes and momentum going.
BLITZER: Mary Snow is in Little Rock watching this unfold with the Huckabee team over there. Mary, thanks very much.
And to our viewers, please be sure to stay tuned to CNN throughout the night for complete coverage of these Potomac primaries. I'll be joined by the best political team on television as the results come in from those contests in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Special coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. You're going to want to stay with us throughout the night.
You can track the results of tonight's primaries, by the way, online. Simply go to CNNPolitics.com. You can watch what's happening minute by minute, county by county, state by state. You'll also get analysis from the best political team on television. The premier political Web site -- CNNPolitics.com.
Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File."
It didn't take long for CNNPolitics.com to become the premier political Web site.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Isn't that where your blog is?
BLITZER: It is.
CAFFERTY: Well, that's why it happened.
BLITZER: You're there, as well.
CAFFERTY: That's why it happened just like that.
CAFFERTY: Wolf, man on there. Done.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- they both want the same thing from their former rival, John Edwards. They want his endorsement. Clinton made a secret visit to Edwards' North Carolina home last week to ask for his support. Obama is planning to meet with Edwards some time in the not too distant future.
Edwards has a strong following among working class white voters. And that could be an edge for either candidate should Edwards decide to endorse either Clinton or Obama. It could give them an edge in the upcoming states, like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.
But Edwards isn't the only big name Democrat who hasn't yet picked sides in this race. How about Al Gore? Sources close to the former vice president say, don't expect him to endorse either Clinton or Obama during the primary season. They say he's on good terms with both candidates, talks to them both regularly. But there's another reason. If it becomes necessary down the road, Al Gore would be in a position, as an elder statesman of the Democratic Party, to work out some kind of a negotiated settlement between Clinton and Obama, if it becomes necessary.
As for two other top Democrats, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, and House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, sources say neither has plans to endorse anyone. It's very much an open question, as you know, about how much these endorsements matter. Given the support of both senators, John Kerry and Edward Kennedy and other members of the Kennedy family, Barack Obama still managed to lose Massachusetts to Hillary Clinton.
So here's the question: Whose endorsement would make a difference, in your mind, in the Democratic presidential race?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my new blog.
BLITZER: Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean four years ago didn't exactly work out the way he wanted it to.
CAFFERTY: No. And then Al's run for the White House didn't work out, either.
BLITZER: Yes. That was four years before that.
BLITZER: OK. Jack, thanks very much.
CAFFERTY: Maybe you don't want Al Gore's endorsement.
CAFFERTY: Stay away, Al.
BLITZER: I'm just asking a question.
CAFFERTY: No, no, I just...
BLITZER: Thank you.
CAFFERTY: All right.
BLITZER: You say he's an elder statesman. He's only 59-years- old, by the way.
CAFFERTY: Well, no, but I mean in the party.
BLITZER: In the hierarchy.
CAFFERTY: He's one of the senior guys. I mean you're a young man, but you're like way up there here at CNN.
CAFFERTY: You're among, we know you're up there...
BLITZER: We're both elder statesmen.
CAFFERTY: Oh, yes. But I'm old.
BLITZER: Coming up, why voters are voting today -- the first exit polls only minutes away. Bill Schneider is going through the numbers right now. He's standing by to give us some clues to what's behind the balloting in the Potomac primaries.
And I'll speak live with a radio talk show host who thinks African-Americans are better off voting Republican. We'll also hear about the Republicans who are quietly coming out for Barack Obama. Guess what? He even has an Eisenhower already in his corner.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: He says Democrats want blacks to focus only in on one issue -- that would be race -- and that Republicans have better ideas to actually advance black Americans. Larry Elder, a radio talk show host, he's the author of a new and controversial book entitled, "Stupid Black Men: How To Play the Race Card and Lose." Larry is here.
LARRY ELDER, AUTHOR, "STUPID BLACK MEN": You said it, Wolf.
ELDER: You said it.
BLITZER: I said what?
ELDER: You said stupid black men. Thank you for...
BLITZER: "Stupid Black Men" is the title of this book.
ELDER: That's right. Right.
BLITZER: And that's a controversial title, "How To Play the Race Card and Lose." You've got to explain how you came up with this title, because the title alone is generating a lot of commotion out there.
ELDER: Which proves my point. My point behind the book, Wolf, is that white racism is no longer a major problem in America anymore. And the fact that people recoil by the title shows you that they are reluctant to be perceived as racist.
You know, we have a country now where Barack Obama is on the brink of possibly becoming the next president of the United States. He's winning primaries in places like Iowa, Idaho, seeing a strong second in New Hampshire. White racism is no longer a major problem in America anymore.
BLITZER: But there's still plenty of racism out there. You know, there's all these incidents you see of racial hatred. It's still a problem.
ELDER: But the --
BLITZER: It may not as bad as it was 30 or 40 years ago, but it's still a problem.
ELDER: Wolf, they are incidents, as you pointed out. They are not -- they are not frequent anymore, thank God. We now have a country where if you go to college, go to high school, don't make bad moral mistakes, keep your nose clean, you can make it in America. If you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere.
But many Democrats don't want black people to think that for their own exploitative reasons. Why? They want that 95 percent monolithic black vote, without which they cannot win at the presidential election.
BLITZER: Tell us why you think black Americans would actually be better off with Republicans.
ELDER: The Democrats want blacks to focus on white racism. Why? Because if you go point by point by point and look at some of the Republican ideas, they will disproportionately benefit black people. I'll give you one ...
ELDER: ... vouchers.
BLITZER: Let's talk about tax cuts for the rich.
ELDER: Tax cuts -- as my dad used to say -- my dad is a -- was a janitor. He worked two jobs as a janitor. I've never gotten a job from a poor person. Tax cuts benefit everybody. It's not poor people directly. They benefit their bosses, who have more money to hire them and buy plants and buy equipment and buy resources. So tax cuts benefit America, not just rich people.
But Democrats don't want you to focus on things like vouchers. And in California, we had a referendum a few years ago. It failed. But it passed, Wolf, interestly, among inner city parents. They wanted their kids to have the right to go to the schools that they wanted them to go to. That's a Republican idea.
BLITZER: Why do Republicans have so much trouble attracting African-American support?
ELDER: Because of the history -- perceived history of the Republican party. The Democratic party has a pretty skanky background, Wolf. After the Civil War, you had all these Democrats that were there voting against civil rights legislation. Republicans, as a percentage of the party, more of them voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than did Democrats.
Al Gore's dad voted against it. Democrats founded the Klan. I'm not saying the party, but those who founded the Klan were, in fact, Democrats. And one of their goals was to stop the spread of Republicanism.
BLITZER: How worried are you -- and you're obviously sympathetic to the Republicans -- that if Barack Obama gets the Democratic presidential nomination, that there could be elements of racism that come up from the other side?
ELDER: I'm sure there are people who won't vote for him because he's black. I'm sure there are people who are voting for him because he's black.
BLITZER: No, but I'm talking about the Willie Horton kind of commercials, the ads that could be used against -- potentially against Barack Obama.
ELDER: I think if Republicans -- and they won't -- were to go that low, there would be such a backlash that it would backfire. It would be counterproductive. Nobody wants that. There aren't going to be people running those kinds of ads -- not establishment types. Maybe some wing nuts might be doing it. But by and large, Wolf, this country has evolved. This is not your grandfather's America.
BLITZER: How about McCain and Huckabee, this battle that's going on right now? Give us your sense of who's better, not only -- forget about African-Americans or white Americans -- but for the country right now?
ELDER: Well, if Republicans want to win, they ought to take a look at John McCain. I don't get people like Rush Limbaugh -- and I have a lot of respect for him -- and others who are saying I would just as soon sit it out or vote for a Democrat than vote for John McCain. McCain is right on the war, as far as most of us are concerned.
He's right on tax cuts, as far as most of us are concerned. He certainly will appoint conservative justices on the Supreme Court. So if you care about those issues, I don't know how you can be an American -- forget about a Republican -- but an American and say I want the country to be less safe.
BLITZER: And so if it comes to John McCain versus Barack Obama, who do you vote for?
ELDER: Well, I'm a Republican. I don't want my taxes raised.
BLITZER: But there are some Republicans who say they'll vote for Barack Obama.
ELDER: Well, I pity them. But if you are sincere that the war has kept us safer, how can you want a commander-in-chief who would want us to be less safe?
BLITZER: But how significant is it for a black man like yourself that another black man, Barack Obama, is going to be the -- potentially -- the Democratic presidential nominee?
ELDER: Well, it confirms my point that white racism is no longer a problem in America. But, Wolf, I'm free. I'm a free man. I can be free to say I don't want taxes raised. I can be free to say Hillary- Care would be bad for America. I'm free to say the war in Iraq, however you believe it started, we should conclude it to a respectable end or otherwise it will hurt America.
I am free, as an American, to think that way. And I applaud Barack Obama. He's not playing the race card the way Jesse Jackson has and the way Al Sharpton has. I like the way he's run his campaign. But, at the end of the day, he is the most liberal senator on the Hill and he's not going to get my vote.
BLITZER: Do you think Republicans will cross over and vote for him...
ELDER: No --
BLITZER: ... because, as there were once Reagan Democrats, they're already talking -- and we're going to have a report on this later -- Obama Republicans.
ELDER: Well, Wolf, I'll see you in November. But at the end of the day, Americans don't want to lose wars. Americans don't want their taxes raised. Americans don't want the government to take over the rest of health care that they don't already have. Americans will not stand for that.
At the end of the day, Barack Obama is a liberal. He wants a bigger government. He wants taxes raised. And he wants to retreat in Iraq. And I think Americans won't take that.
BLITZER: His book is entitled "Stupid Black Men: How To Play the Race Card and Lose." Larry Elder, thanks for coming in.
ELDER: Thank you, Wolf. Appreciate it.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
ELDER: All right. You've got it.
BLITZER: The first exit polls from the Potomac primaries are just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
Bill Schneider is going through the numbers right now. We're going to share those numbers with you and show you what they mean for the candidates tonight. Plus, find out how your vote could be trumped by the so-called super-delegates.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Just in, the first exit polls from the Potomac primaries. They give us a good sense of what's going on in the minds of voters as they're casting their ballots today. Let's bring in senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's crunching the numbers.
Bill, what are we learning right now from these first exit polls?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, we've seen some big differences among Republicans in Virginia. Let's take a look at Huckabee voters and McCain voters. You know, talk radio has been a very active player in this campaign. It has been very critical of McCain.
So we asked the voters -- the Republican voters -- how often do you listen to talk radio? Huckabee voters said -- 42 percent of them said they often listen to talk radio. In the case of McCain voters, just 23 percent. So there is a big difference. The Huckabee voters are talk radio listeners.
And second of all, born-again and evangelical voters -- they're a big constituency in Virginia, as they are in many Southern states. Sixty-four percent -- almost two thirds of the Huckabee voters are born-again or evangelical Christians. Only one third of McCain voters. Very, very sharp differences between the two candidates.
Now, if we switch to the Democrats and ask about the issues, we discover something very, very different. Let's look at the top issues to Clinton voters in Virginia. The economy, by far, number one. Half of them named that as the top issue. Iraq is number two. Health care is number three.
Now let's compare the Obama voters in Virginia. The economy number one, Iraq number two, health care number three. What does that suggest? That there may be differences between Clinton voters and Obama voters, but those differences are not, repeat not, defined by the issues -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Bill Schneider with these first exit poll numbers. He's going to be having a lot more as this long, long night continues.
And, by the way, you can track the results of tonight's primaries online with us. Simply go to CNNPolitics.com. That's the place to be to watch what's happening minute by minute, county by county, state by state -- analysis from the best political team on television, as well. Remember, CNNPolitics.com. That's the place to go.
Republicans for Obama -- is he attracting GOP defectors or is it just a fantasy? You're going to find out what people are saying, what he's saying and why political observers disagree on this issue.
Also, growing talk of so-called super-delegates deciding the Democratic presidential contest. We're going to show you who they are and why their votes might actually trump yours.
Plus, a budget deficit explosion -- we'll show you how the startling new numbers could affect all of us.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the U.S. budget deficit is booming. The Treasury Department says it reached almost $88 billion in the first four months of this fiscal year. That's twice as much as the same period a year ago. The Bush administration is projecting an overall deficit of $410 billion for 2008. That's supposed to be going down. Guess what? It's going up. We'll talk about it with Lou Dobbs.
Also, General Motors is reporting the largest loss ever by an American automaker -- $39 billion in 2007. The company also announced a new round of buyouts for 74,000 hourly workers.
And the Bush administration is throwing a lifeline to Americans at risk of losing their homes. It's reached a deal with six of the country's largest lenders to put foreclosures on hold for 30 days for qualified homeowners, while they try to work out more affordable payments.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says he's the candidate who can unite the country and he claims it's already happening with a growing number of Republicans now backing his campaign. Let's turn to CNN's Carol Costello.
She's watching this story for us -- Carol, what's this all about?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's all about the Obamacans. That is a word coined by Barack Obama himself. He uses it to describe those Republicans switching over to his side -- the Democratic side.
COSTELLO (voice-over): Barack Obama says he's found a new type of supporter -- one that dare not speak its name.
OBAMA: I have seen them in the rallies. I'm shaking hands and suddenly -- and somebody will whisper to me, hey Barack, I'm a Republican ...
OBAMA: ... but I support you. And I say thank you. Why are we whispering?
COSTELLO: They are the Obamacans. Some are out in the open and offering testimonials to the Democratic Senator on his Web site.
MONICA GREEN (R), OBAMA SUPPORTER: I was so impressed on how he could disagree with almost every point that President Bush made without being negative.
COSTELLO: In a typical political race, this kind of talk would seem absurd. Barack Obama is a liberal Democrat endorsed by the McDaddy of all liberals, Senator Edward Kennedy. Yet even some Republicans with clout like Obama. South Carolina's Republican governor, while not endorsing Obama, urged voters to consider a potentially history-making quality that we should reflect on.
Susan Eisenhower, Dwight D. Eisenhower's granddaughter, has endorsed Obama. And she's dedicated her life to the Republican Party. That Obama is a liberal Democrat is almost beside the point.
SUSAN EISENHOWER, PRESIDENT EISENHOWER'S GRANDDAUGHTER: I think we should be less concerned about that than we are the capacity to bring people from both sides of the aisle together.
COSTELLO: And she says Obama has the same qualities as her grandfather -- he's charismatic and likable and optimistic about America.
EISENHOWER: Both men never stopped thinking about the future. My grandfather was always concerned about whether or not we would have the institutions in place to make this the kind of country we wanted our children and grandchildren to inherit.
COSTELLO: The question for Obama, despite his whispered assertions, is that there really is a growing list of Obamacans. LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Obama is drawing a lot of independents. That's a legitimate claim. But to suggest that an enormous number of Republicans are changing party registration and coming to his banner really just isn't true.
COSTELLO: According to CNN exit polling, only three percent of those who voted for a Democrat on Super Tuesday identified themselves as Republicans. That's a very tiny number. But Obama did get the majority of them.
COSTELLO: He did. Eisenhower told me her grandfather had a Democratic movement that helped sweep him into office. And while she hopes Obama experiences the same with Obamacans, support from Republicans in any substantial numbers just aren't there yet -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Carol, thanks very much; fascinating material.
Let's talk a little bit about this subject and more with two Democratic strategists. Paul Begala is a Clinton supporter. Jamal Simmons is here. He's backing Barack Obama.
We all remember there were so-called Reagan Democrats. Now there's talk of Obama Republicans coming in to vote for him this time around. Susan Eisenhower, you just heard about that. What do you think about this?
PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: If he can build that, that will be an impressive thing. That was the key to Reagan, as you said. The key to Bill Clinton was his ability to reach across that partisan divide and he called them soccer moms but they were republican, mostly women, mostly in the suburbs, who all came over and voted for him. That's how he built a durable electoral base. If Barack can do that, it's awfully early now, but if he can do that, that's very good news.
BLITZER: Do you think he can do that, Jamal?
JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Sure. I think he can bring over some republicans. I think the bigger target is going to be all those independents who are not in line with the republican party who seem to right now feel very positively toward him. Some people say once the republicans get started on the negative attacks they'll define him and scare them away. Well, at least he's got independents he can give.
BLITZER: Can Hillary Clinton do that if she becomes the democratic presidential nominee bring in those republicans that might to go to Barack Obama for so called inspirational reasons or whatever?
BEGALA: Yes, if history is a guide. Hillary went to New York, where she never lived, got elected to the senate here where we're sitting, and the second time she ran she carried 58 out of 61 counties. She had a better opponent than Barack Obama had.
BLITZER: Can you even remember who she was running against the last time she ran?
BEGALA: No. I couldn't care less.
BLITZER: I rest my case.
BEGALA: But she carried 58 counties out of 61. Counties that went 60 percent for George W. Bush, a few years later went for Hillary Clinton. That tells you a lot of republicans voted for her. Sure, she had a lame opponent because she was so strong with Republicans.
BLITZER: She had Alan Keyes which he was coming in from Maryland.
SIMMONS: ... putting down Alan Keyes.
BLITZER: I'm not putting him down. He's never really lived in Illinois. That was the Republican senatorial candidate.
SIMMONS: You have to remember though there was a point earlier just after the other Republicans got out that they were going after people like Mike Ditka and other people in Illinois who they wanted to get in the race. But Barack had built up such a following in the state that he actually scared Republicans out of the race. You have to give him a little bit of credit.
BEGALA: You have to give him a lot of credit.
BLITZER: Here's something that's possible. And really I've heard about it from several of my friends. Democrats who say they're going to vote for McCain because they can trust him on national security, and he'll prevent another 9/11. He'll win the war in Iraq. I hear that from life-long democrats.
BEGALA: Like Joe Lieberman. Go Joe, go! I don't want him anymore. Let him be with John McCain.
BLITZER: How worried could Democrats be that some of the Democrats may go for John McCain?
BEGALA: Not very much. I do respect Joe Lieberman actually and I like him. I have a huge affection for him. I don't at all support what he is doing to our country on national security, where he's made us weaker with this war in Iraq. I certainly I don't approve of what he's doing to the party. But I don't think that's the worry right now. When you have President Bush trading at an all-time low with the Republican party trading at an all time low, the folks are jumping ship to my party not the other way around.
BLITZER: What do you think?
SIMMONS: I think that Paul is absolutely right on this. And if John McCain wants a campaign about the war in Iraq, bring it on, in the words of George Bush. You know let him come because I think most Americans think there's too much war. Most Americans think it's time for us to go the opposite direction and start figuring out how we get the troops home and other priorities, and how do we deal with al Qaeda and not just focus on Iraq.
BLITZER: You're one of the best political strategists out there. I say that honestly because you are. Let's talk about tonight. What should we be looking for? Give us a viewer's guide from your perspective, not only as a strategist, but someone who's clearly sympathetic to Hillary Clinton.
BEGALA: If you look at it walking into it today, all the polls said that Barack was going to win very big. I think it's useful to pull back the lens a little bit and say you know just a few months ago he was losing very big here. You have to give him enormous credit for taking on the best brand, maybe tied with the Kennedys, the best brand in my party and winning. This is not the end of it.
It's the middle of the game. Who knows. I haven't looked at the exit polls that Bill Schneider was talking about yet so I'm not like hiding secrets from viewers, but it looks like it will be a very good day and night nor for Senator Obama. I certainly heard it. I went to vote in Virginia today and I had two different women tell me you should go vote for Barack which is by the way not a good way to persuade people to vote.
BLITZER: What are you going to be looking for?
SIMMONS: I want to see what the margins are like. I also want to see - I live in a pretty integrated neighborhood in Washington, D.C. I went to go vote today, and they were a lot of Latinos voting. I want to know how they voted. There actually were in Hillary Clinton people outside of my polling place, which was interesting. There was a couple of Barack Obama still passing out fliers. It makes me think they pulled back so much in Washington, D.C. that the margin there could be pretty large. I want to see what these margins look like and see what the population choices were.
BEGALA: And those Kaine Democrats, Tim Kaine a very popular governor of Virginia, because the governor with votes in places like northern Virginia.
BLITZER: Northern Virginia which is very different than southern Virginia.
BEGALA: Yes, very. But it's not like Arlington which is the classic suburban county in Virginia. How does Barack Obama do with those kind of middle class white folks? In Maine, he scored a very impressive victory. He got 59 percent of the vote in Maine. A lot of white working class voters. Those are the John Edwards voters. Hillary Clinton has had a big advantage with those voters since Edwards got out of the race. If Maine is an indicator, then Barack is catching up. I want to see places like that and see how Obama is doing with those voters.
BLITZER: What do you think?
SIMMONS: I think the same thing because some of this is going to tell us -- it looks like Obama's numbers are starting to come up a little bit among working class whites, starting to come up among Latinos. Different places you're getting different numbers. Arizona and Colorado he did very well with Hispanics. All of this will give us clues about what may happen in Texas, what may happen in Ohio if he's found a formula that's working with people that he wasn't doing very well with a few weeks ago.
BLITZER: If somebody would have said only a few weeks ago, you know what, Hillary Clinton is in trouble in Maryland. Hillary Clinton is in trouble in Virginia. We would have thought they were crazy.
BEGALA: Right. But, see, this is what is great about politics. It's what annoys me sometimes about some of the people comment on this. I don't mean Jamal and me are the best political team. I mean the people who say, they always think tomorrow will be just like today, only more so. A couple of months ago Hillary is ahead by 20.
Everyone presumes she'll remain at 20. Or John McCain was dead two, three months ago. They presumed he would remain politically dead. But they're tied today. It doesn't mean they'll remain tied. Barack could still very much lose the race. Hillary could still win and visa versa.
BLITZER: If she wins decisively on March 4th in Texas and Ohio, she's in pretty good shape at that point, don't you think?
SIMMONS: Well, we have to see what decisively means. There's numbers that we have to see where they come in terms of what the spread between the two of them. Does Barack Obama still stay ahead in terms of delegates? My dad's a little league coach in Detroit and what he says is that's how they play the game on Tuesdays. You have to see how it works out.
BLITZER: Do you think it will go onto the end of April in Pennsylvania?
SIMMONS: It absolutely could go on until Pennsylvania. I think that's probably the date that most people are looking at as when we'll actually know. If Barack Obama stills one of these states out of Ohio or Texas and Hillary Clinton has to win in order to stay in the game, I'm not sure there's a lot of rationale left.
BLITZER: Even if the delegate count is close? In other words, she could lose in let's say Ohio or Texas. But the delegate count remains close. What happens?
BEGALA: Vice versa also. That's the reality of the Democratic system. I prefer the Republican system, which builds in momentum with winner take all victories. They knew the results. They could continue to split and split delegates. I think the more likely outcome is this begins to break one way or the other. Maybe Hillary's experience, her mastery of policy, her having real solutions to real problems, that could win the day as the recession depends, or Barack's inspiration and momentum.
BLITZER: We'll see. You guys are going to be here every step of the way with us. Thanks very much, Paul and Jamal. Please be sure to stay tuned to CNN for complete coverage of these Potomac primaries. I'll be joined by the best political team on television as all the results come in from the contests in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. Special coverage begins 7:00 p.m. Eastern. That's when the polls in Virginia close. They close an hour later in Washington, D.C. and Maryland.
Democratic delegates are lining up behind their candidates. Will these so-called super delegates make it, though, all irrelevant? We're going toe show you how they could turn the democratic race upside down.
We're only an hour or so away from the first results in the Potomac primary. You're going to see that here. All that coming up and a lot more in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: There's growing talk of the Democratic race being decided by the party's so-called super delegates. If the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama stays as tight as it is right now, the votes of those super-delegates may wind up trumping your vote.
Let's go to Brian Todd. He's watching this story for us. Brian, how likely is this scenario?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, two prominent political analysts we spoke to say it's getting more likely this will happen, and tonight's results may not change that.
TODD: Exhausting themselves, pushing for Potomac primary supremacy. But some analysts believe this race will be so close heading down the stretch that it could be decided by a group of people many hadn't heard of until recently.
MARK HALPERIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think more likely than not at this point it will come down to the super-delegates. It's going to be very difficult again under the way the delegates are apportioned for either of them to break away.
TODD: Who in the world are super-delegates? When Democratic voters go to the polls, they'll select standard delegates committed to either Senator Clinton or Barack Obama. Super-delegates are different, an elite and influential group, often with more name recognition. Allowed to vote just because of who they are.
CHRISTOPHER ARTERTON, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Public office holders, senators, members of Congress.
TODD: And former members, as well as former presidents, vice presidents. Bill Clinton is a super-delegate. So is Tom Daschle but the former Senate Majority Leader also now is courting super-delegates as a co-chairman of Obama's campaign. TOM DASCHLE, OBAMA CAMPAIGN CO-CHAIRMAN: What you have to do is one-on-one talk to these people. Call them frequently. Have the candidate call them. Do as much as possible to try to influence their judgment.
TODD: Unlike standard delegates selected in a primary who in most states have to be committed to a candidate based on that primary's vote, super-delegates can change their minds at any time. Holding 20 percent of the total delegate count, what would the super- delegates do if it comes down to a brokered convention?
STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: You have to figure that right at the end they're going to make a decision in part based on electability, based on the candidate they think can unite the party and beat the Republican.
TODD: But some top Democrats believe there's just as good a chance it won't come to that.
JAMES CARVILLE, CLINTON SUPPORTER: The truth is Senator Clinton has to win Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. If she wins those three, she's probably the nominee. If she loses one of the three, then Senator Obama will probably be the nominee.
TODD: Super-delegate can also be party activists. Now how do Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama stand on super-delegates? Well, in an interview on Monday Obama said it would be problematic if the popular vote was overturned by party insiders. Mrs. Clinton said that super delegates are supposed to exercise independent judgment. "That's the way the system works," she said. Maybe not so coincidentally going into tonight, Hillary Clinton leads Obama in CNN's count of super delegates although Obama has a slight lead in pledge delegates won from primaries and caucuses. Wolf?
BLITZER: And those super-delegates can change their minds whenever they want. Brian Todd, thanks very much.
BLITZER: We're getting more exit poll results coming in right now into THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's go to Bill Schneider once again. He's crunching the numbers for us.
What are we seeing, Bill?
SCHNEIDER: We're seeing some interesting differences on the Republican primary between McCain voters and Huckabee voters. We asked McCain voters what are the top qualities you are looking for in a candidate, and notice that the answers were highly personal, when they answered that question. They said the top quality was a candidate who says what he believes. And right behind that, a candidate with a lot of experience. Shares my values was much lower on a scale of importance for the Maryland McCain voters. Let's compare that with Huckabee voters in Maryland; a very different list of qualities. Overwhelmingly they said they were looking for a candidate who shares my values. These are your core values voters in the Republican party. Now, we asked them, these are Republican voters still in Maryland, which Republican candidate do you think would do a better job managing the nation's economy. That's the number one issue. Well, McCain has a slight edge here, 41. Huckabee, 21. McCain has never presented himself as someone strong on economic issues, but he outpaces Huckabee as a candidate who can manage the economy.
What's McCain's strong suit, we asked the Republican voters. Who could make the best commander in chief? Sixty-two percent said McCain. Only 18 percent said Huckabee. Romney of course is no longer in the race. It's pretty clear where McCain's strength lies, his personal qualities and his standing as a potential commander in chief. But the economy could be a problem for him. And, of course, values voters don't seem to be going for John McCain at all -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much. Bill is going to continue to crunch the numbers for us. More exit poll information coming up soon.
Just a little bit more than an hour from now, the polls will close in Virginia. We'll start bringing you the first results from today's crucial Potomac primaries.
And with some big names still sitting on the fence, Jack Cafferty is asking, whose endorsement would make a difference in the democratic presidential contest?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack Cafferty. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM with "The Cafferty File."
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Whose endorsement would make a difference in the democratic presidential race?
Edwards hasn't endorsed anybody yet. Both Hillary and Barack would like very much to get his support. Al Gore not expected to endorse anyone. Here's some of what you wrote.
Mark says, "The one endorsement which would make a big difference would be Colin Powell. That would indicate which candidate has the best prospect of gaining republican votes."
Scott writes, "Personally, I think a John Edwards endorsement will make the biggest difference. Al Gore is yesterday's news to most voters."
Dylan, "Absolutely no endorsement should sway a voter from who they feel would be the best presidential candidate. Endorsements are nice, but we're the working class voters, not the overpaid politicians who think that the sun shines out of their every orifice."
John writes, "Last I checked, our southern liberal friend Jimmy Carter is still alive. What could cause a bigger stir than another presidential endorsement for Hillary or Obama tying the score (considering Mrs. Clinton has Bill)? He is a listed super delegate. He'll have to make a choice in August at the latest anyway."
Irene writes, "I would respect an endorsement for Barack Obama by my father. My father is a lifelong republican, Vietnam vet and outspoken individual. Therefore, if Obama can capture my father's vote, then he really can bring everyone together!"
Robert writes, "Edwards endorsement interesting but not a deciding factor; Gore's endorsement a little more interesting but still not a deciding factor; Pelosi's or Reid's endorsement, irrelevant, uninteresting and a joke. The only endorsement that matters to me is my own endorsement of a candidate. I make up my own mind thank you very much."
And Darla kind of echoes that. She says, "That's easy, Jack. The voters."
BLITZER: Those endorsements are very important.
BLITZER: I say Charlie Krist in Florida was important for McCain. Schwarzenegger was important for McCain in California.
CAFFERTY: Absolutely. And somebody made the point, was it Paul Begala earlier that even though Barack Obama lost Massachusetts, he came out of there with a bunch of delegates. This was a John Kerry interview. So the endorsement that he got from Kennedy up there that may have gotten him delegates he may not have gotten otherwise. We don't know.
BLITZER: Thanks very much. See you in a few more moments.
The booming federal budget deficit, Lou Dobbs standing by to share some thoughts about what's going on. It wasn't supposed to happen.
Plus, what can Hillary Clinton do to stop Barack Obama's momentum. I'll be speaking live with her former White House press secretary, Lisa Caputo.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's bring in Lou Dobbs to talk about what's coming up. Lou, what's coming up is a budget deaf site. These numbers were supposed to cutting the budget deficit. In the first four months of the current fiscal year, more than $400 billion deficit.
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: A little problem. What's interesting is the presidential candidates -- of course, this president has nothing to say further on the subject. But the presidential candidates, democrats and republicans, aren't talking about the deficit or those costs, or those budgets, and the reality is if you look at everything that's been proposed, particularly by Senator Clinton and Obama, that number would be a pin up.
BLITZER: It's $87 billion projecting for the first four months of the fiscal year which started October 1st. But over the course of the year it could be $400 billion. It was supposed to be half of that, if that.
DOBBS: Exactly. And the reality is that little things like a war, little things like an economy that is slowing, all these little minor items that aren't adjusted for by the office of management and budget nor white house. What this government has done and this administration and previous administrations, to be fair, is to keep a game going in front of the American people and the national news media, Wolf. We're more to blame than anyone because it's our job to point out the nonsense that is Washington today.
BLITZER: The point, though, is that when President Bush took office, the national debt, as opposed to the budget deficit, the national debt was $5 trillion. It's now $9 trillion. Ross Perot made a big issue out of this when he was running for president back in '92 and you remember it. I don't know what he's thinking, but this is not the way things were supposed to go, because at the end of the Clinton administration, there was actually a budget surplus.
DOBBS: I was talking to Ross Perot some weeks ago about a number of things. And I can tell you the man's thinking the same as he was back in 1992. This is an absurd way to run a government. It's an absurd way to run a country. These two political parties, the republican and democratic parties are absolutely a dismal. The American people for some reason want to continue voting republican and democrat when these are the people who brought us this fine mess.
BLITZER: You're going to be with us obviously tonight.
DOBBS: I am.
BLITZER: What are you looking for? What is Lou Dobbs looking for the in the Potomac primaries tonight?
DOBBS: The first thing to see if the Obama momentum as its style continues, to see whether or not Hillary Clinton can create something of a firewall of any kind here. It's unlikely as we both know but I would like to see Mike Huckabee re-energize the republican side and make the presumptive nominee, Senator John McCain, sit up and sort of a gasp at a breathtaking performance here. It's going to be difficult for Huckabee.
BLITZER: He is really the underdog if there ever was one.
DOBBS: He is and I love underdogs.
BLITZER: All of America loves an underdog but is it theoretically even possible that he could stop McCain?
DOBBS: Absolutely. It's certainly mathematically possible just as it continues to be mathematically impossible that either Obama or Clinton can prevail before the convention if they win all of the primaries either side.
BLITZER: It's going to be an exciting night and we're going to watch it every single.
DOBBS: Every second.
BLITZER: We live for this kind of stuff. You've been around politics a long time. So have I. It doesn't get a lot more exciting than it is right now, I have to tell you.
DOBBS: Absolutely, Wolf. Look forward to it.
BLITZER: Lou Dobbs, thanks very much Lou's going to be with us throughout the night, as well.
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