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Romney Endorses McCain; Pressure to Pass Intelligence Legislation in the House At Least 17 Shot in Illinois College Attack

Aired February 14, 2008 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: breaking news we're following, the bullets, the terror on another college campus. A gunman opens fire at an Illinois university, as many as 18 students reportedly shot. We're bringing you the details as they come in to THE SITUATION ROOM.
Plus, Mitt Romney hops on John McCain's bandwagon. He's giving his former rival his formal endorsement. The best political team on television is standing by to take a look at the Republicans closing ranks.

And House Republicans show their anger at the Democrats with their feet. But will their walkout get them anywhere? We are going to tell you what's driving the drama right here in Washington. That's coming up.

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

A new victory for Hillary Clinton. She's been declared the winner of New Mexico's February 5th Democratic caucuses. The announcement coming just a short while ago after a marathon vote count of provisional ballots. Clinton's victory in the popular vote in New Mexico now means she picks up one New Mexico delegate that hadn't been allocated yet. She -- Clinton wins up to 14 New Mexico delegates; 12 of them go to Obama. It was an extremely close contest in New Mexico. We are going to have a report on the Democratic race. That's coming up as well.

But New Mexico, New Mexico going for Hillary Clinton. You saw the announcement live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In the Republican race today, a new show of unity behind the likely nominee, John McCain. Former candidate Mitt Romney endorsing McCain, offering him his delegates and urging the party to move forward. Let's bring in CNN's Dana Bash. She has been watching the story for us.

Update us on what happened, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, sources close to Mitt Romney have been telling us since he dropped out last week that this is likely to happen today.

But, you know, with McCain here in New England on a campaign trip and with a little last-minute behind-the-scenes prodding from an old McCain adviser, Mitt Romney decided this morning that he was going to formally throw his weight behind his old rival.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): It may be an awkward alliance but what a valentine for John McCain.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am honored today to give my full support to Senator McCain's candidacy for the presidency of the United States. I'm officially endorsing his candidacy.

BASH: After a bruising primary battle, Mitt Romney now found qualities he says will make John McCain a good president.

ROMNEY: This is a man who tied his political fortunes to the fortunes of our country at a time of war. Such courage is not always rewarded in politics. But it was this time.

BASH: McCain standing with Romney in his headquarters where just last week they were devising strategy against him expressed thanks.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We all know it was a hard campaign. Primaries are tough. And we know it's a hard campaign. And now we move forward. Now we move forward together for the good of our party and the nation, and I'm honored -- I am very honored to have Governor Romney and the members of his team at my side.

BASH: For McCain, Romney's endorsement is his best shot yet at bringing the party behind him. After all, it was Romney who stoked conservative distrust of McCain with lines like this.

MCCAIN: If you want that kind of a liberal Democratic course as president, then you can vote for him.

BASH: Privately, Romney advisers acknowledge this kumbaya moment is as much about Romney's political viability as McCain's.

ROMNEY: This individual should be the next president of the United States, not Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

BASH: Romney looking towards another potential run in the future is hoping being a team player now will be remembered by a party that traditionally rewards that.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can't afford a coronation.

BASH: It's also a message to Mike Huckabee, who's trying to prove his GOP chops by staying in as an alternative for GOP voters dissatisfied with McCain.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, Romney said today that he's releasing the delegates he won to McCain. It doesn't necessarily mean that they're all going to get behind him.

But, regardless, Wolf, you remember back in 2000. McCain has been there before. He lost to George Bush and he had to come behind him just like Romney did today. So, he is very grateful for that. He told reporters on his bus leaving Romney headquarters that he intends to give Romney a big role moving forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much -- Dana watching the story.

And I spoke with the Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee only moments after Romney's endorsement of McCain. He says he didn't really expect he would get Romney's support. So, listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE: I did not go out and actively seek it, because I felt like that was his decision to make, and I would respect it.

When I talked to him after he withdrew, I certainly indicated that I would be happy to have his support. But, as far as trying to go and put the muscle on him, I didn't think that that was realistic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Huckabee says he has no plans right now to follow Romney's lead and drop out of the race.

We're following a story rife with angry words and actions also right here in Washington. It involves a mark of contempt, a bold walkout, and a president essentially telling the Congress don't waste his time. Lawmakers are fighting over a bill to help eavesdrop on suspected terrorists. The president says, while politicians play politics, those suspected terrorists are plotting attacks. CNN's Brianna Keilar is joining us from Capitol Hill. She's watching the story for us.

A lot of drama up there on Capitol Hill today, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's right. And just after President Bush threatened to postpone his Africa trip to see through passage of this intelligence legislation, House Republicans piled more pressure on House Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Let's just get up and leave.

KEILAR (voice-over): House Republicans walked off the floor and out of the Capitol, protesting Democrats for not taking up a critical terrorist surveillance bill set to expire Saturday. Instead, House Democrats were focused on a vote that would hold former White House Counsel, Harriet Miers, and White House Chief of Staff, Josh Bolten, in contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate in the investigation of the fired U.S. attorneys. BOEHNER: We have space on the calendar today for a politically charged fishing expedition, but no space for a bill that would protect the American people from terrorists who want to kill us.

KEILAR: Republicans and President Bush insist letting the intelligence law expire puts Americans in danger. Democrats say that's not true, that, even if the law lapses, spy agencies can continue to monitor suspected terrorists.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: President Bush tells the American people that he has nothing to offer but fear. And I'm afraid that his fear-mongering with this bill is not constructive.

KEILAR: The major sticking point in the debate is retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that helped the Bush administration eavesdrop on suspected terrorists after 9/11. Republicans want that immunity and most Democrats do not.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: After today's political brinkmanship, still no sign that this intelligence law will be renewed before it expires this weekend -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna, watching this story for us, thank you.

We're also following the breaking news out of Illinois. More than a dozen people reportedly shot in a lecture hall on the campus of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. That's just west of Chicago, about 60 miles. The gunman is reportedly dead. Listen to how one student described the horror.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My friend was actually in the class. She ran back on to my floor, because she lives on my floor. And she said that the guy actually stood up (INAUDIBLE) class with a shotgun, like out of a movie, and started shooting people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stood up. He was...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stood up in the middle of the class, like he was already there. So, some people say that he came from like the right door. But she said that he stood up in the middle of class with a shotgun and started shooting people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's go straight to CNN's Susan Roesgen. She's joining us on the phone.

What are you learning? What's the latest information we're getting about this very disturbing incident, Susan?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we're learning is that it seems to be growing in severity here. We have been listening also as we make our way to the scene to student witnesses who were in that main lecture hall on campus.

According to students, the campus hall was full, about 200 people, when this gunman believed to be a young white man between 18 and 20 years of age, dressed all in black, went to the center of the auditorium, perhaps even up on stage where a teacher was giving a lecture, and began firing, not a word spoken, just began firing a shotgun.

The latest report from the hospital is that they are treating now 17 injuries, three of them critical, all gunshot wounds, no fatalities at the hospital. But CNN has confirmed that the gunman is dead. We don't know yet whether he took his own life or whether the police officers killed him. We don't have a motive at this point.

And, again, we don't know whether it was a student or an outsider. But for some reason this person got up in the middle of a crowded lecture hall in the middle of a lecture and started blasting away with a shotgun. Again, 17 injuries, three critical, that's the latest right now. But, Wolf, every few minutes, this does seem to be a scene that's growing.

BLITZER: We will check back with you, Susie (ph). Thanks very much. Susan Roesgen is on the way to the scene right now.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty. He has got "The Cafferty File." I hate these stories, these shooting incidents on college campuses, or anyplace else, for that matter.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, very sad.

The Democratic Party is already under pressure from the Clinton campaign to seat the delegates from Florida and Michigan. Last summer, the party stripped both states of all of their delegates because they broke the rules by moving up the dates of their primaries. At the time, all the major candidates agreed to boycott the two states.

Fast forward six months, eight consecutive losses later for Hillary Clinton, and now her campaign wants the votes in Florida and Michigan to count toward delegates that would help her gain on Barack Obama, who is suddenly in the lead.

Obama's campaign says this is a blatant attempt by Clinton to ignore the ground rules set last summer, adding that there's not a lot of appetite for this kind of stuff in the country these days or at the DNC.

Clinton didn't say a word last August when the party punished Florida. When it came to Michigan, Clinton chose to leave her name on the ballot while Obama and most of the rest of the candidates all removed theirs.

She said at the time -- here's a quote -- "It's clear this election they're having is not going to count for anything."

But once Clinton won in Michigan, she suddenly changed her tune. And now she's saying, "The people of Michigan and Florida have just as much of a right to have their voices heard as anyone else." That's a quote. I wonder what she would be saying if Obama had won those two states.

Some Democratic activists are also worried the party is alienating voters in some of the country's biggest battleground states, even though it was announced well in advance what the penalty was for moving the primaries up. Some civil rights leaders say it amounts to disenfranchising voters in Florida and Michigan.

There is an option still open for both states. That is to organize party-run elections that would count toward delegates. No announcement either of them intends to do that yet, though.

Here's the question: What should the Democratic Party do about the Michigan and Florida delegates?

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

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack. And you will be coming back with the best political team on television. So, what's happening in one state echoes what's happening across the nation. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Iowans that are struggling to stay in the middle class care about what these candidates are saying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, what do the candidates need to say in Ohio and where you live to win votes? I will ask Ohio's Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown. He's standing by live.

Also, it's your money. Guess how some of the presidential candidates are spending it? There's a new report on taxpayer money spent on lawmakers' pet projects. You're going to want to see this.

And, in Lebanon, rival rallies -- on one side, thousands remembering a slain former prime minister, the other, thousands mourning a top terrorist, in the middle, 10,000 police trying to keep the peace.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We will speak to Senator Sherrod Brown in just a moment.

But I want to go back to that horrible incident outside of Chicago at Northern Illinois University, a shooting incident inside a classroom. More than a dozen students have been injured in this incident, the shooter dead. We don't know the circumstances involving the death of the shooter. Kevin McEnery is joining us on the phone. He's a student at the university.

You were in that lecture hall, Kevin, at the time oft shooting?

KEVIN MCENERY, WITNESSED CAMPUS SHOOTING: Yes, I was. I saw it all happen.

BLITZER: Tell us what happened.

MCENERY: I was sitting in the third row. And there's a door where the teachers come in on the auditorium stage. And the door kicked open. There was probably five minutes left in class. And he just started open firing with a shotgun. So, I got on the ground and I crawled towards the wall and I started scaling up to get out.

And I looked up again and then he was cocking his pistol. And that's he went down the aisles and started shooting people. And I just stayed down there the entire time until the alarms went off and the fire stopped. And I looked up again and he was gone.

BLITZER: And he was just out of the room. Did you recognize this individual? Was he a student there?

MCENERY: I know he wasn't in the class. I hadn't seen him before. But he looked like a younger guy. So, it was quite possible that he could be a student. But I wasn't really sure.

BLITZER: Did he say anything? Did he have any grievance that he expressed, or did he just start shooting?

MCENERY: No, he just -- yes, he just kicked the door open and just started shooting. He didn't say anything. All I really heard was just people screaming and yelling to get out. So, I don't know if he had an agenda or anything, but he just started open firing. There was probably I want to say close to 30 shots fired collectively.

BLITZER: And you say he was dressed -- maybe you're not saying it. But how was he dressed? Because there's been a report that he was simply dressed in all black.

MCENERY: Yes, he was wearing a black shirt and then like dark pants and a black cap. And that's all I really remember him wearing. I didn't really get to see his face or anything. So, I know his face was showing. He wasn't wearing like a mask or anything. So --

BLITZER: And was this a shotgun he had?

MCENERY: Yes, he shot with a shotgun initially. And then he turned to a pistol.

BLITZER: So, he had a couple of weapons there at least.

MCENERY: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, well, Kevin, good luck to you. Good luck to all your fellow students, everybody on this campus at Northern Illinois.

We will update viewers when we get more information. Fortunately, the incident is now over.

Let's get back to the race for the White House. One big state is experiencing problems you may be seeing where you live right now as well. Ohio's economy is struggling with high unemployment and it ranks sixth in the nation in home foreclosures.

So, the people of Ohio, much like voters everywhere, want to know what the candidates would do about that. Let's talk about it with one of the U.S. senators from Ohio, Democrat Sherrod Brown. He's joining from us Capitol Hill right now.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Senator, you haven't endorsed either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Why?

BROWN: I have not because I -- there are millions of voters still to speak in Ohio and Texas -- well, Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, Rhode Island, all over.

And this is an exciting election and the first time in my life I have seen this kind of enthusiasm in voter turnout. And let the voters speak. I think that there will -- by June, there will be -- there will likely be a presumptive nominee, and we move forward.

BLITZER: So, are you going to listen to the people of Ohio, because you're a superdelegate going to the convention, or will you listen to the Democrats nationwide who have voted in terms of if you have to make that decision at a brokered convention?

BROWN: Well, the decision will be based on a lot of things. It will be based on the Ohio vote. It will be based on what happens beyond Ohio in the next couple months. But it's mostly, Wolf, going to be based on which candidate in this race has the big idea that speaks to the middle class, that talks about trade and manufacturing and jobs and turning this economy around.

Because, clearly, Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have already begun to distinguish themselves in a middle-class message, and, in the end, will contrast that with John McCain, who is really sort of running for George Bush's third term, the same kind of laissez-faire tax cuts for the wealthy kind of economic policy that's really betrayed my state. And this is a big part of the reason for our state's economic problems.

BLITZER: Well, right now, do you see a big difference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on these bread-and-butter issues that are of such concern?

BROWN: I don't see a big difference, but I see -- I hear them both moving in the right direction, talking about trade, a different trade policy, different tax policies, how important American manufacturing is, alternative energy, how infrastructure, how we're going to begin really a 180-degree different kind of economic policy that to rebuild manufacturing in my state.

We have lost 200,000 jobs, 200 homes a day in Ohio are foreclosed on. And Secretary Paulson spoke to us today in committee and didn't really offer anything sharply different from what the Bush Republicans and Senator McCain have offered the last several years.

BLITZER: Is there anything specifically you would -- before the March 4th contest in Ohio, the primary there, is there anything specifically you want to hear from both of these candidates?

BROWN: I want to hear them talk about -- you know, really about one big idea about a very different economy, but a very different way of rebuilding manufacturing, a very different trade policy.

President Bush has three more trade agreements he's trying to ram through the Senate and the House. And I think they will be dead on arrival. But -- and I know both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama oppose them and Senator McCain supports them. And we have begun to see those differences. The better the candidates speak to the middle class, the more likely they are to win and the better they will be able to govern, most importantly, come January.

BLITZER: Senator Brown, thanks very much for coming in.

BROWN: One last point.

BLITZER: Yes. Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: I want to wish Connie a happy Valentine's Day, because I'm here and she's in Cleveland. And it's kind of a cheap way to do it, but thank you, Wolf, for letting me do that.

BLITZER: Let's hope she's watching.

BROWN: Thanks.

BLITZER: Thank you, Senator. Thanks very much.

He's racked up another big endorsement and he's much closer to becoming a presidential nominee. So, what should John McCain focus on right now as Democrats try to settle their race? That question for the best political team on television, it's coming up.

And imagine answering probing reporter questions for five hours. That's what the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, did. You are going to want to hear what he had to say about his time in office and his future. We will give that you in a lot less than five hours.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton is trying to drive home her differences with Barack Obama.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a big difference between us, speeches vs. solutions, talk vs. action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Up next, how Senator Clinton hopes to win over voters in Ohio and elsewhere and help her campaign rebound from a string of losses. Plus, new questions about whether Obama can deliver on his campaign promises. He may have the poetry, but does he have the policy as well?

And is Mitt Romney's endorsement all good news for John McCain, or could there be a downside? The best political team on television standing by -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: Hillary Clinton making an all-out push for Ohio, what could be a make-or-break primary for her now less than three weeks away. We will show you how she's tailoring her message right now, sounding like John Edwards a little bit in the process.

Also, Barack Obama facing increasing scrutiny as he racks up more delegates and his campaign gains more momentum. How will he do as the spotlight, though, gets hotter?

Plus, John McCain appears to have a lock on the Republican nomination. So, what should his priorities be right now? All of this, plus the best political team on television.

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

Hillary Clinton is welcoming her just-announced victory in the New Mexico caucuses after nine days of vote-counting there. It was incredibly close, but she can't afford to spend too much time looking back. Senator Clinton is busy focusing in on the critical March 4th battleground states of Ohio and Texas. Let's go to Jessica Yellin. She's in Columbus, Ohio, watching all of this unfold.

Specifically to Ohio voters, what's her message, Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Senator Clinton is starting to sound a lot likes John Edwards, identifying with hard-hit working folks. She knows she needs to win them here and win them big.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): Auto plant workers in east Ohio heard Hillary Clinton seemingly channel John Edwards.

CLINTON: We need a fighter and a champion in the White House again for the American people.

YELLIN: Unveiling a tough new line on special interests.

CLINTON: President Bush has blown the bank on tax breaks for his friends and no-bid contracts for his cronies, borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars from China to pay for it.

YELLIN: Then turned her attention to Barack Obama.

CLINTON: There's a big difference between us: speeches versus solutions, talk versus action. My opponent doesn't have much experience creating jobs.

YELLIN: Senator Clinton is appealing to hard-hit Ohio voters desperate for an economic turnaround. They're drawn to her plans on the economy, the mortgage crisis and health care reform.

She has the support of the state's popular governor. Her husband won here twice. And polls taken before Obama's recent winning streak show her with a healthy lead. But the Obama campaign is just now turning its sights to this state.

JOE HALLETT, "COLUMBUS DISPATCH": This steamroller that Obama has going, you know, this momentum he has, it just almost appears unstoppable.

YELLIN: And now Obama is trying to peel away low income voters -- in this mailing accusing is Clinton of promoting NAFTA, which many here believe sent job overseas. Clinton insists Obama is distorting her record. And with time and delegates running short, it's an argument she cannot afford to lose.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: And, Wolf, while Senator Clinton is working here in Ohio, she has sent her husband and daughter to work on the states that vote next week. Bill Clinton is going to be in Wisconsin. He has been campaigning there already. And her daughter Chelsea is en route to Hawaii. They're looking to pick up as many delegates as they can, even in Barack Obama's home state. They say they are not going to take any delegates for granted -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chelsea won the coin toss. She gets the better weather in Hawaii. All right, thanks very much.

Those contests in Wisconsin and Hawaii next Tuesday. This spotlight on Barack Obama is heating up. His increasingly strong shot at the White House is raising some questions about his ability to deliver on his promises.

Let's talk about that and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's here in Washington. Our own Jack Cafferty. He's in New York. And our senior political analyst, David Gergen. He's at Stanford University in Palo Alto. They're all part of the best political team on television.

We're going to show our viewers, Jack, a new cover of "The Economist" magazine. It says you know what, he really hasn't faced the heat -- the heat that he could expect to face if he is the Democratic presidential nominee, specifically from the Republicans -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes, well neither has she. I mean when you get right down to it, she hasn't had anymore heat, if you want to call it that, on the issues and on campaigning for the White House than he has. She's faced some heat for some other reasons. And her husband faced a lot of heat while he was spending eight years as the president of the United States.

I don't know what heat she's faced. And, you know, the purpose of these campaigns is to let people find out where these folks stand on the issues and make up their minds. But on many of the issues, the positions of Clinton and Obama are very, very similar.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Exactly. You know, with all due respect to the economists, this race on the Democratic side is really about the issues only at the margins, Wolf, because, as Jack just said, there are some marginal differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on health care and how they would fine tune the economy or how they would fight a recession.

But what this election is about is the larger picture -- somebody who can walk across the aisle and walk -- and work with the other side of the aisle, somebody who's not polarizing. So it's more about bigger things than smaller things.

BLITZER: Is that what you think, as well, David?

DAVID GERGEN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Not exactly on either count. On facing the heat, I think she has faced more heat than Barack Obama has in national campaign politics. She went through two presidential elections -- very hard-hitting -- in which she was right by the president's side and had to -- had to both defend him and stand in a lot of -- under a lot of attacks. And she faced the heat in the White House over the health care reform, which she lost. So I think she has had more experience. I think that's a legitimate claim.

Barack Obama is holding out a very different kind of promise. And that is he can mobilize the voters of the country to overcome the polarization in Washington, that he can not only play the inside game -- he's learning more that -- in Washington itself, but that he will be much more effective at mobilizing voters.

But I think it's a fair question to ask now, can he deliver? And he does deserve the scrutiny. I think many people think he will come out well in that will scrutiny. But he certainly deserves that kind of scrutiny as we go forward.

BORGER: Well, I think any -- any candidate at this level deserves that kind of scrutiny.

GERGEN: Right. BORGER: And I think if he were to get the nomination, obviously, you know this, David, we in the press like to get someone to the top of the mound and then we start sort of...

GERGEN: Sure.

BORGER: ... taking another look at him and knocking him down a peg or two. And I'm sure -- I'm sure Barack Obama will go through that. But if he beats Hillary Clinton and this question of is he tough enough, well, he's beaten Hillary Clinton. That's pretty -- being pretty tough...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: ... you know, if he wins, you know?

GERGEN: Yes. Here's the other thing, Wolf. I do think one thing that's now become apparent is that the question or the argument that the Hillary Clinton campaign was if you want charisma, vote Obama, but if you want competence, vote for Hillary Clinton.

And now what we've seen in the weeks of campaigning, we've seen actually he's organized a much better campaign than she has. He's been a better executive at organizing a grassroots campaign and a grassroots movement than she has. So I think he's sort of just demolished that argument. And increasingly it appears that, in terms of politics -- maybe not legislation, but in terms of politics, he has charisma and he's pretty darned competent.

BLITZER: And, Jack, the economy clearly is the dominant issue, at least right now. We heard the Treasury secretary today, the head of the Federal Reserve, say this country is not necessarily moving toward a recession. But if the economy stays sort of like it is right now between now and November, that's got to be a huge issue for the Democrats to exploit.

CAFFERTY: Well, it's going to be a huge issue, particularly in states like Ohio, where things like recessions tend to take a bigger bite than they do in some other locations. Paulson and Bernanke are both counting on interest rate cuts and these rebate checks to lessen the effects of the downturn in the economy. The big question is whether they will, how steep the recession is, if, in fact, we're in one, or if it comes, is going to be, and how long-lasting it will be.

With things sort of quieting down a bit in Iraq and suddenly the economy beginning to show signs of weakness here in the United States, the economy has jumped to the top of the list of issues that matter. And I think the candidate who can pitch a message that resonates to people concerned about losing their homes, about jobs, about being able to make their house payments when these subprime mortgages adjust upward, they're going to attract some attention.

BLITZER: And there are real differences between McCain and either Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama when it comes to dealing with the economy -- Gloria. BORGER: Yes. That, I was just going to say that, Wolf. That on the Democratic side, not so much. But when you finally get down into a general election race, you're going to see John McCain talking about cutting the budget, cutting pork, cutting taxes. And you're going to see the Democratic nominee talk -- not talk about those things.

And the question will be, you'll ask the Republican candidate, where do you want to cut and what would you like to cut from the budget. And then, you know, you ask the Democrats what do you want to spend more on? How is that going to fix the problem?

CAFFERTY: Yes, but let's take a look at...

BORGER: That'll be the debate.

CAFFERTY: Let's take a look at the economic policies of the Republican administration that's been in charge of all of our fiscal policies for the last seven years. They talk about cutting the budget. They haven't cut any budget. We're $9 trillion in debt. And the tax cuts that they want to make permanent are only adding to those debts. So for John McCain to start campaigning about, you know, I'm going to cut taxes...

BLITZER: All right...

CAFFERTY: ... I'm going to cut expenses -- the fact of the matter is nobody cuts expenses. Nobody cuts the budget. The budget gets bigger every year. It doesn't matter who's in charge.

BLITZER: Very quickly, David, the economy -- that's going to be the big issue?

GERGEN: I think it will be. And I have to tell you, I think that Barack Obama got a jump this week -- yesterday, with his speech about his economic plan, which was clearly aimed at working people. And it's a one-two punch because it's expected tomorrow, as you know, Wolf, that the service workers union may endorse him. That would be a big endorsement. And having back to back coming in -- heading into Ohio is a very smart move on his part.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. We've got more to talk about.

Months of bitter rivalry are swept aside. Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney endorsing John McCain. We're going to show you what it means for the GOP frontrunner.

And with the nomination all but locked up, what should McCain's priorities be right now? We'll discuss that and a lot more, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: John McCain's got momentum, delegates and a fresh new endorsement on his side. But what should he do next as he waits for the Democrats to settle their fight? That's straight ahead, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: John McCain picked up the endorsement today of the man who was just a bitter rival only a few weeks ago -- Mitt Romney. Let's get back to the best political team on television.

Jack Cafferty, how important is this for McCain right now, to get the support -- the formal support of Mitt Romney?

CAFFERTY: This is what Republicans do. You know, they're much better behaved than the Democrats. When it's time to admit defeat and get in line behind the party leader, they do that. And this is helpful to McCain. He puts him within a handful of delegates of having the nomination.

And it sort of -- it makes the Huckabee effort look a little paler, now that Romney said McCain is our guy. Romney handles himself with a certain amount of class and he's done it all the way through. And I was kind of impressed with the way he handled this.

BLITZER: Gloria, what do you think?

BORGER: I was -- I loved seeing that picture of the two of them there being best of buddies, because, as you know, during this campaign, they did not like each other at all personally. And the distrust between them was palpable on the campaign trail. And I agree with Jack, Romney has done the right thing.

I think the question we have to ask is what's Huckabee's end game here? What is he playing for? Is he playing for more delegates than Mitt Romney? Does he want to be the standard bearer for conservatives and evangelicals going into the next election, taking that away from Mitt Romney, saying, look, Romney turned right around and endorsed John McCain? I mean it's sort of hard to figure out Huckabee's game at this point.

BLITZER: David?

GERGEN: I agree with that. I think Mitt Romney did do the right thing today. I think it would have been righter -- if I might use that word -- if he had done it when -- the day he pulled out, at the CPAC convention. I think that would have been more dramatic and I think it would have helped John McCain more.

But, you know, better late than never. And this will give him a place on the -- at the Republican National Convention -- a major speaking role. And I think he can help John McCain in the general.

BLITZER: But, David, we're showing...

CAFFERTY: He's a young guy, too.

BLITZER: ... we're showing the viewers that picture of McCain and Romney. Is that, David -- and I'll ask everybody -- a ticket in the making? BORGER: Oh, no.

GERGEN: Oh, I'm not so sure about that. I guess it's possible. But let's go back to Gloria's point.

(LAUGHTER)

GERGEN: John McCain had a real disdain for Mitt Romney earlier.

CAFFERTY: Oh, it was awful.

GERGEN: I'm not sure he's going to want him in the White House.

CAFFERTY: Remember that debate, the last one they had? McCain was downright nasty -- and unnecessarily so. He was way out in front at the time. The other thing about Romney is he's a young man. If he wants to run in 2012, he's doing the right thing here -- be a good soldier, take your whipping and come back and play another day.

BORGER: Well, you know, and that's the question about Huckabee, because I think both Huckabee and Romney -- I think this might have been a lot about Mike Huckabee, that Romney wanted to look bigger and better than Mike Huckabee by endorsing the candidate, trying to bring the party together, while the Democrats are having this brawl, and sort of leave Huckabee out there all alone.

BLITZER: So what should be his top priority, McCain, David, right now?

GERGEN: Well, he needs to put away this sort of pesky threat from Huckabee. And I think he will do that. But I must say, I don't think it's just about uniting the Republican base. I think he needs to do some things that look very presidential.

For example, he really ought to the consider, once he's put away Huckabee, going to Iraq again, making a big tour of that part of the region and coming out with his own report and his own views before General Petraeus comes back here to testify in March. I think John McCain wants to steal the thunder a little bit and get out in front of what he thinks the policy ought to be, where we ought to go, not wait for the administration and show himself to be someone who is on these international issues.

That's his strong card. That's going to be his strength all the way through the campaign. He will have to do it in a secondary way. I think he does need to strengthen himself on economic credentials. I think he needs to spend more time with blue collar people who are hurting. I think he needs to spend more time with middle class families and come up with a much better economic plan.

But I would go -- I'd go to Iraq. I'd go to the Middle East and come back with a very -- a much clearer understanding of where he thinks the country ought to be going in the next four years.

BLITZER: David Gergen has given advice to four presidents -- three Republicans, one Democrat. He knows what he's talking about. CAFFERTY: There you go.

BLITZER: David, thanks very much for that.

GERGEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Gloria thanks to you, as well.

Jack, don't go. We've got "The Cafferty File" coming up.

Spending your tax money on pet projects -- so what kind of record do the leading presidential candidates have when it comes to this kind of controversial spending? We're going to show you.

And what should the Democratic Party do about the Michigan and Florida delegates who may not be allowed to have a vote at the convention?

Jack and the e-mail and "The Cafferty File" right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In today's political ticker, it's your money, so you may wonder how three presidential candidates are spending it. We're talking about those earmarks -- taxpayer money used to fund lawmakers' pet projects, with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain all being U.S. senators, they're able to steer earmark money to their respective states.

According to a new study by the non-partisan Taxpayers for Common Sense, in last year's spending bills, Clinton supported more than $340 million for projects in New York State. That's almost four times as Barack Obama, who supported $91 million in earmarked projects. As for John McCain, the group says he rejected earmarks entirely. McCain has long criticized them as wasteful government spending.

The Democratic and Republican national parties aren't exactly feeling the love right now for one another on this Valentine's Day. They're wasting no time going after the other party's presidential frontrunners online. Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

She's watching the story for us -- Abbi, how exactly are they celebrating this day?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the Republican National Committee is pushing these Valentine's Day cards, going after your choice, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. And not to be outdone, the Democratic Party has this new Web video, with the message, basically, John McCain hearts George Bush.

Valentine's Day gimmicks. But, really, this is the national parties trying to look ahead to November at a time when the voters are still figuring out who their nominee will be. From the Republican Party, that means trying to label Barack Obama as a tax and spend liberal. That's this week. Last week, it was Hillary Clinton in for the same treatment.

And from the Democratic Party, it's John McCain front and center. Chairman Howard Dean sending out a fundraising e-mail this week, basically saying our process is still playing out, but don't let John McCain get a head start -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Abbi.

Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Those Valentines are almost as lame as that guy -- the captain of his bowling team from New Mexico who took nine minutes to announce two numbers in the New Mexico Democratic primary.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: It took them nine days to count the votes and then they put this rube out there that just made my teeth hurt to announce (INAUDIBLE) awful.

The question this hour is: What should the Democratic Party do about the Michigan and Florida delegates? Those delegates -- those elections didn't count, you remember, because those states moved their primaries up. The Democratic committee said, therefore, none of those delegates will be seated. Well, now, the Clinton campaign wants them to count because she won those two states.

Mercedes writes from Miami: "They ought to stay home and watch it on television. They shouldn't be given the right to be there. If all the delegates were taken away from the Democratic Party in Michigan and Florida. They have to learn for the next election. Sorry, Hillary, but fair is fair."

Angelena in Michigan: "I'm from Michigan. I think it's crazy to try to count us now. Once I found out our votes wouldn't count and my candidate wasn't on the ballot, I voted uncommitted, as many did."

Harriet in Florida: "I'm a Florida resident, which, as far as I know, is still part of the United States. I didn't get to vote on whether our primary should be moved up, so why should I be punished?"

Janet in Florida: "I'm a Florida resident. I chose not to vote in the Democratic primary because we were told the votes were not going to count. How many others did the same thing? Therefore, it wasn't a true election. Do it again and have it count."

Joshua in Missouri: "The rules for this game were set last summer. Both candidates agreed to abide by them. So did the DNC. I think at this late hour in the game, it's both unfair and unethical for Democratic Party leaders to allow these votes to count. Allowing the votes to count will erode a substantial amount of the credibility that the candidates and the party have gained through this election." Bob says: "It isn't the fault of the voters in Michigan and Florida. Their votes should be counted and they should not be disenfranchised. Democracy cannot selectively choose who will be represented because a state wants to make its choice earlier."

And Eric writes: "The rules were set, debated on, agreed to and now Hillary wants to change them. It shows she's desperate and reflects poorly on the Democratic Party." -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. See you back here tomorrow. Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

It's one of the most popular videos on the Web. So we knew the spoofs were coming. Jeanne Moos with the best of those. A Moost Unusual report coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Can copycats come up with a seemingly endless number of takeoffs on a popular campaign video? Yes, they can.

CNN's Jeanne Moos has this is Moost Unusual look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a slogan that's hard to say no to.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, we can.

MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF BARACK OBAMA: Yes, we can.

OPRAH WINFREY, TELEVISION SHOW HOST: Yes, we can.

UNIDENTIFIED SUPPORTERS: Yes, we can.

MOOS: And, yes, it did spawn this.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: Yes, we can repair this world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Repair this world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we can.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we can.

MOOS: And that Internet sensation begat this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, you can't.

MOOS: And this.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: No, you can't. No, you can't.

MOOS: The original song was dreamed up by the front man for the Black Eyed Peas and featured a slew of celebrities supporting Obama. It was translated into everything from Arabic to Italian.

MOOS: The original song

ANDY COBB, COMEDIAN: That video made us cry. It made me cry. It still makes me cry. It's an inspirational video.

MOOS: So inspiring that Andy Cobb and six other comedian types did their own anti-John McCain version, riffing on McCain's quote about being in Iraq for 100 years.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: Maybe a hundred.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Say what?

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: Maybe a hundred.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Years?

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: That's fine with me. Maybe a hundred. That's fine with me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A hundred years?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think Americans are concerned if we're there for 100 years or a thousand years or 10,000 years -- 10,000 years -- 10,000 years -- 10,000 years.

MOOS: Twelve thousand and eight, if this keeps up, that's how many versions of the "Yes We Can" video there are going to be.

UNIDENTIFIED SUPPORTERS: We can. Yes...

MOOS (on camera): For would-be imitators, what makes the original video so great is that it's so simple to recreate with just a black background.

(voice-over): The guys making the anti-McCain version kept repeating the chorus as they shot their homemade video.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we move this couch out of the way? Yes, we can.

MOOS: Can I stick my kid in the video?

DAVID POMPEII, COMEDIAN: And I need you to be in it. He goes, all right.

MOOS: Yes, you can. There's his kid. Another satirical group called Billionaires for Bush used a Vice President Cheney look-alike.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, you can't end the war.

MOOS: The original video...

UNIDENTIFIED SUPPORTERS: Yes, we can.

MOOS: ... took a surreal turn in this parody.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: I like turtles. I like turtles.

MOOS: This mockery came from kids who think Obama's talk of hope is hot air.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we can.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Together.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we can.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's no substance.

MOOS: In Campaign '08, yes, we can is destined to eclipse golden oldies like just say no.

OBAMA: Yes, we can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, you can't.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: I like turtles.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we can.

OBMAMA: Yes, we can.

MOOS: ... New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's go to Kitty Pilgrim.

She's sitting in for Lou tonight -- Kitty.

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