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Interview With New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson; Interview With Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee

Aired February 18, 2008 - 20:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks to our viewers for joining us.
In just a few hours, the polls open for the Wisconsin primary. There are also contests tomorrow in Washington State and, for Democrats, in Hawaii. Then comes Thursday Democratic debate right here on CNN with upcoming primaries in Texas and Ohio.

This President's Day is no holiday for our would-be presidents or for the best political team on television. In this hour, I will be speaking with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and with former Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson.

There's plenty to cover. So, let's get started right now.

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are stumping in Wisconsin tonight, although Obama started his day in Ohio, which votes on March 4. They aren't just attacking the Bush administration. They're going after each other. And the barbs are getting sharper.

Listen to this.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In this campaign, your choice is how we once again have a president who will listen to you, who will solve problems for you, who will make you proud of our country here at home and around the world, and that is what I'm offering. You know, there's a difference between speeches and solutions, between talk and action. You know, I was raised to believe that actions speak louder than words.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have really been enjoying this argument. It says, well, Obama can talk good. He is inspiring. But -- but he doesn't have enough specifics.

They are trying to feed you with a cynicism that says you should just go back to sitting on the couch and complaining about how bad politics is, instead of coming out to rallies like this one and getting involved to bring about change in America.


BLITZER: All right, Jessica Yellin is in Wisconsin covering the race for us tonight. Jessica, have you sensed a little change in tone specifically on Senator Clinton's part since she effectively became, shall we say, the underdog?


Senator Clinton has adopted a far more confrontational tone since she became, as you say, the underdog and entered this race in Wisconsin. This is the state in which she unveiled her first attack ads, in which she has sent out a very harsh mailer against Barack Obama. And today we heard her go after -- or her campaign more accurately -- go after Obama for -- quote, unquote -- borrowing language from Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts in a speech that he gave over the weekend.

Senator Clinton is downplaying her expectations here. Her campaign says they will be happy to do very well, but in fact they are fighting hard to win in, in Wisconsin. The truth is this is a state that should favor Senator Clinton because there are so many blue- collar workers who have lost manufacturing jobs, and the demographics tend to lean in her favor.

She has been emphasizing economic themes and health care reform, issues that play well to these voters, but Barack Obama has been pushing back hard. He is really going after those independents and Republicans who can, in fact, vote in tomorrow's election, and also some of the young voters.

The bottom line, Wolf, this is a dead heat in Wisconsin. And it may not seem like much of a pie here, only 74 delegates at stake. But when you consider that only 49 delegates separate the two candidates, you realize how significant this race is -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What should we read into the fact that I'm told that Senator Clinton is not going to be in Wisconsin tomorrow when the Democrats there are voting? What, if anything, should we read into that?

YELLIN: Her campaign is playing a little bit coy about this, but my analysis is we should read absolutely nothing into it, that she is powering on to Ohio and Texas. In a sense what they're trying to do is even further get us to lower our expectations for her performance here in Wisconsin tomorrow, so that, if she does do well, if she even makes it a close race, they can argue this is the start of a surprising Clinton comeback and hope that that momentum carries her to even larger victories in Ohio and Texas -- all very strategic decisions by the campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, thank you.

Depending on whose poll you believe, either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama could be giving a victory speech in Wisconsin or someplace else for that matter tomorrow night. There are also some interesting new polls coming out of Texas, which votes on March 4.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's looking at all these numbers for us.

Let's start with Wisconsin, which all of the sudden, Bill, has become a very tight race, if you believe the latest polls.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. There's a poll in Wisconsin that shows Clinton slightly ahead within the margin of error. There's a poll that shows Obama slightly ahead within the margin of error. Bottom line, Wisconsin does look exactly the way Jessica described it, very, very close.

You know, we have seen in previous primaries Obama often wins red states, states that in the past have been Republican like Idaho and South Carolina. Hillary Clinton does better in blue states, traditional Democratic states like New York and California. Well, Wisconsin is a light blue state. It voted for Gore in 2000 and for Kerry in 2004, but by very narrow margins.

I think she sees an opening there, but remember, independents can vote in the Democratic primary, and that's where Barack Obama sees he has a real chance.

BLITZER: Let's jump forward to Texas, Bill. We have a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll in Texas. A few weeks ago Hillary Clinton had a wide advantage over Barack Obama, but guess what? That advantage is slipping and slipping and slipping away, based on these latest numbers.

SCHNEIDER: The latest numbers do show Texas a close race, Clinton just two points ahead of Obama, easily within the margin of error. This is a race between Hillary Clinton, who with her husband has quite a history in Texas. She's visited many times. She has a good relationship with the Latino vote in Texas, which has in previous primaries been strongly for Hillary Clinton.

On the other hand, Barack Obama has that momentum going for him, and that's what has tightened up this race in Texas, so that right now Texas two weeks from now is still too close to call.

BLITZER: You're also looking at some trends in these latest numbers that we're getting in our brand-new poll. What are we seeing?

SCHNEIDER: We're seeing a real pattern here. We see in state after state -- and this is true in Texas -- for Clinton women, for Obama, men. Latinos tend to vote for Hillary Clinton, African- Americans for Obama. Whites, by the way, in Texas are about evenly divided, which is a big gain for Barack Obama. Older voters, 50 and older vote, for Clinton. Those voters under 50 vote for Obama.

Non-educated-college voters, Clinton voters, college-educated for Obama. And where there's an open primary, as there is in both Wisconsin tomorrow and Texas in two weeks, partisan Democrats favor Clinton. Independent voters favor Obama. We see this pattern coming in state after state.

BLITZER: Bill, stand by. We are going to be getting back to you in a moment. We're here in the CNN Election Center tomorrow night, by the way, beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern to bring you all the results, all the drama coming in from tomorrow's contest. That's just an important programming note for you.

Let's get a closer look now and listen to the most inflammatory controversy out on the campaign trail today. That would be the Clinton campaign's accusations of plagiarism against Barack Obama.

We're going to play part of an play part of an Obama speech from Saturday. He's responding to criticism that he's all talk and no substance. Then we will play part of a 2006 speech by Democrat Deval Patrick during his successful campaign for governor of Massachusetts.

Listen to this.


OBAMA: I was on the stump, and he had suggested that we used these lines. I thought they were good lines. I'm sure I should have. Didn't this time.

I have a dream, just words. We hold these truths to be self- evident that all men are created equal, just words. We have nothing to fear but fear itself, just words.

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, just words. Just words. We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Just words.

Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country. Just words.



BLITZER: Joining us now here in the CNN Election Center, John Avlon. He's a former chief speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani. He's also the author of the book "Independent Nation: How the Vital Center is Changing American Politics." He hasn't endorsed any of the current candidates for president.

Also with us, our senior analyst Jeff Toobin. And joining us from Washington is "TIME" magazine senior political correspondent Karen Tumulty. She's a contributor to "Swampland" blog.

Thank to you all for coming in.

Let me ask the speechwriter first. Is that a coincidence? What do you make of this?

JOHN AVLON, AUTHOR, "INDEPENDENT NATION": I think it's a crime without a victim. Deval Patrick is not upset about it. They're friends. They exchange ideas. And this kind of thing happens in American oratory all the time. JFK's ask not what you can do from your country was borrowed from his high school's headmaster. Parts of Martin Luther King's I have a dream speech were taken from an African-American preacher at the 1952 Republican Convention. This kind of exchange of ideas, the evolution of ideas, happens all the time in American oratory. I think they're making too much of this.

BLITZER: Here's what Howard Wolfson, the communications director for the Clinton campaign, says.

He says: "In many respects he" -- referring to Barack Obama -- "is asking the public to judge him on the strength of his rhetoric. When we learn he has taken an important section of his speech from another elected official, it raises very fundamental questions about his campaign."

What do you think?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: I think it's a little embarrassing. But I think it's really -- mostly, it's just nothing.

You know, T.S. Eliot said, good poets borrow. Great poets steal.

There are certain phrases that recur in political advocacy. John didn't feel like Rudy was stealing his words. Deval Patrick doesn't feel like Obama is stealing his words. So, so what? Who cares?

BLITZER: Well, Karen, what would have been the big deal, though, if Barack Obama would have cited "my good friend Deval Patrick, let me quote to you from what he said back in 2006, just to be precise"?

What would have been the big deal?

KAREN TUMULTY, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": I think that in the future you will see that.

You know what this reminds me of? This reminds of something that happened to Howard Dean in the 2004 campaign, where he started describing himself as being from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. This was always like his surest applause line in any speech he was giving.

And sure enough people found out that this was a line that Paul Wellstone, the late Paul Wellstone, senator from Minnesota, had used. And from then on out, Howard Dean would start attributing this line.

But I think these guys are right. These politicians are constantly borrowing from each other, and they hire speechwriters. I don't think that anybody thinks that any of this rhetoric is entirely original. And it's not quite the same as the kind of trouble that Joe Biden got into in 1988 when he essentially borrowed Neil Kinnock's life story.


BLITZER: The former Brit who was running for prime minister of Britain. That was -- basically, though, it short-circuited Joe Biden's political career, at least back then, as he was seeking the presidency.

Barack Obama got this statement from Deval Patrick today: "Senator Obama and I are longtime friends and allies. We often share ideas about politics, policy and language."

And here's a little clip -- I will play it for you -- of what Obama said about this ordeal earlier today.


OBAMA: I was on the stump. And, you know, he had suggested that we use these lines. I thought they were good lines. I'm sure I should have. Didn't this time. I really don't think this is too big of a deal.


BLITZER: So, I guess the -- it would become a big deal if they go back, and I'm sure the so-called opposition research in the campaigns, in the Hillary Clinton campaign, is now searching all of these speeches to see if this was an isolated incident or if there are more examples of this.

And I expect the opposition research, John, in the Obama campaign is looking for the same kind of -- quote -- "plagiarism" or whatever you want to call it in the Clinton -- in Senator Clinton's speeches. If they find more, then it could become a big deal.

AVLON: Well, you're absolutely right. They're all looking. And they're all going to find something because there is this free exchange of ideas.

But this is the Clinton campaign I think a little bit desperate, spinning as fast as they can, trying to see what will stick. And they're doing their jobs in that regard, but I think this is much ado about nothing.

TOOBIN: And, in fact, Howard Wolfson said today, Clinton spokesman, that he couldn't that he couldn't guarantee that Clinton's rhetoric was all precisely her own. So, again, it's pretty silly, although it is kind of embarrassing.


BLITZER: It's kind of embarrassing.

You want to button this up for us, Karen? Because we're going to come back and talk about the Republican side shortly, but go ahead and button up your final thought.

TUMULTY: Well, I just think that this is all about a larger point that the Clinton campaign is trying to make about Barack Obama, which is that essentially there's nothing to this guy. There's no real substance. And so as far as they can push the needle in making that point, I think this day has been a good one for them.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by, because we have a lot more to talk about.

Jeff, thank you very much for joining us.

Karen and John are going to stick around for a little bit longer. We have much more to cover tonight.

Obama and Clinton will face off by the way right here on CNN on Thursday night. Our Campbell Brown will anchor a CNN/Univision/Texas Democratic Party debate down in Texas. It starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Thursday. You're going to want to see this one-on-one debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Convention delegates have turned into hot potatoes for the Democrats. I'll be asking New Mexico's Governor Bill Richardson if the candidates are going too far in lining up the support of the superdelegates, as they're called. And he's a superdelegate himself.

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee also in the CNN Election Center tonight. I'll ask him how long he can keep ongoing.

Plus, the man who once said read my lips endorsing the candidate who is saying no new taxes.

Stick around. We will be right back.


DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Dana Bash covering the McCain campaign at an airport in Houston, Texas, where if you ask the McCain campaign, they say they got a big boost by scoring the endorsement of the only living former Republican president today.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No one is better prepared to lead our nation at these trying times than Senator John McCain.

BASH: That picture of John McCain standing shoulder to shoulder with George Herbert Walker Bush may help convince the Republican establishment that the maverick McCain is legitimate. But it also underscores a big tug of war inside the McCain campaign.

And that is, on the one hand, they want to use big events like this to show the Republican race is over, but at the same time McCain advisers say they worry that supporters may not be motivated to vote while there is still energy for Mike Huckabee and also voters who want to have a protest vote, an anybody but John McCain vote.





BUSH: Read my lips, no new taxes.



MCCAIN: No new taxes.


BLITZER: Senator John McCain now echoing the words of the first President Bush when it comes to taxes, but that no new taxes pledge may just -- may be as hard to keep now as it was for the 41st president who has just endorsed John McCain today.

Let's take a closer look at where the candidates stand right now on this dicey issue of taxes, how they differ.

Joining us, our CNN personal finance editor, Gerri Willis.

Gerri, it's -- at least the first President Bush when he said, read my lips, no new taxes, found it difficult to live up to that commitment, that pledge. He couldn't. He broke the pledge. And a lot of people say it hurt him when he was seeking reelection. How difficult will it be for John McCain now to keep the pledge? We heard him say the words yesterday no new taxes, although he didn't say read my lips.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Well, he's got some of the same problems that the first George Bush did. A, the economy turned out to be weak for that George Bush. And it's turning out weak for this next president.

There's a building budget deficit going on here. We have to pay for the cost of the war, which is not inconsequential. So, you have got to think at the end of the day it's not going to be easy for this new president to keep any kinds of tax pledges.

BLITZER: When he voted against the Bush tax cuts in 2001, 2003, among other things, John McCain said that they were skewed too heavily for the rich, not enough for the middle class. Now he says he's going to seek to keep those tax cuts, make them permanent when they expire in 2010.

I guess the question is this. What about that? How much does that affect the middle class if you keep these tax cuts beyond 2010 for the wealthy, those making more than $250,000 a year, let's say?

WILLIS: Well, look, the economy is probably headed towards recession right now. We know the pain in the middle class right now. Foreclosures at an all-time high, credit card delinquencies rising, auto delinquencies at an all-time high, lots of problems with consumer confidence right now. So, folks are facing real problems with their wallet right now. And I'm sure the tax pledge would be welcome. But certainly people are worried about the economy. And of course that translates into keeping jobs.

BLITZER: There's a real difference between John McCain on the one side when it comes to what he's saying now on taxes and tax cuts as opposed to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who say the tax breaks for the wealthy, over $250,000 a year, they should lapse and they should go back to the rate that existed during the Clinton administration.

Walk us through that a little bit.

WILLIS: Yes, let's ticktock through some of the candidate proposals here, starting with Hillary Clinton, who does not want to extend these Bush tax cuts through 2010, as you just said. She has got some interesting proposals that would give all Americans access to 401(k) savings plans with $1,000 in matching tax cuts. So, you see, her plan, you know, the tax cuts are extremely targeted.

Now let's look at Obama for just a second, if we could. He also opposes extending the Bush tax cuts. And, you know, he's talking a lot about extending child tax credits across the board, very interesting there.

Now, when you get to the Republicans, though, their main program on taxes is extending the Bush tax cuts, as you can see with Senator John McCain. He says he will not raise taxes. Of course that's the big promise there.

And Huckabee probably has the most interesting and out-of-the-box thinking of all of them, his FairTax proposal, which would essentially repeal the income tax, which is really out of the box, very different, and talked about a lot certainly in my circles in personal finance because it would mean such a big change for people out there.

BLITZER: And have basically a national sales tax to replace the income tax.

We're going to talk to the former governor in second.

Gerri, thanks very much for that -- Gerri Willis joining us.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

BLITZER: John McCain may be getting the headlines, but he doesn't necessarily have the nomination, at least not yet, certainly not official. Mike Huckabee has less than one-quarter as many delegates as John McCain.

But, despite hints from people as powerful as the former President Bush, Huckabee is not ready to quit.

Joining us tonight, in fact right now, the presidential candidate who says he majored in miracles, instead of math. That would be Mike Huckabee.

Governor, thanks for coming in.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Wolf. Great to be back with you.

BLITZER: Let's talk. Give us a 30-second explanation. We're talking about taxes. And your proposal basically is to do away with the IRS. But give us the 30-second summary.

HUCKABEE: Well, the FairTax does, it doesn't penalize productivity.

If you penalize something, you get less of it. If you reward it, you get more of it. We need more work, more productivity, so you don't penalize it. You get rid of the income tax, the tax on capital gains, dividend, savings, the tax on inheritance, corporate and personal, get rid of payroll tax. You go to a consumption tax, which, that way, it's fair to everybody.

You untax the poor through the prebate. It is a very different approach. And I hear these people from Washington. They all have their little tinkering ways, but it still ends up they end up controlling the tax code.

Under the FairTax, every American pays when they buy something at the retail level, but it transforms the economy, because it actually encourages people from the top to the bottom to go out and work and earn. And it doesn't penalize them for doing so.

BLITZER: When John McCain says, no new taxes, you believe him?

HUCKABEE: I'm going to take him at his word. I think that's good.

I signed the no tax pledge a year ago. He said he didn't want to sign it. And I can respect that. But for some of us saying no new taxes at the federal level is something we have been saying a long time. I still think the FairTax proposal that I'm proposing is a much better alternative than Hillary, Obama, or McCain, because it really does transform the economy. It brings jobs back, brings working capital back.

We have lost $12 trillion of working capital from the United States that's moved away from the U.S. to protect it from what we have now, the worst tax system on the face of the earth.

BLITZER: He got the endorsement today of the first President Bush down in Texas, which has its own primary on March 4. And in the process, President Bush seemed to suggest it's time for you to go. Listen to this.


BUSH: Admitting to my own defeat in 1980, even after it was apparent to the rest of our team, was very tough for me. It was a hard thing to do when you have been working hard yourself. After so much time and exhaustive effort by so many friends, it can take a while for any candidate to read the handwriting on the wall.


BLITZER: All right. What do you think? What do you think of what he was suggesting, reading the handwriting on the wall?

HUCKABEE: Well, I have been reading the handwriting from all my supporters, not the people who are supporting McCain. Of course they're going to tell me to get out.

But here's what the people are writing on my wall, stay in, because, if I leave, nobody is going to be talking about the Human Life Amendment. Nobody is going to be promoting the FairTax. Nobody is going to be talking about why we shouldn't be using human cells for embryonic stem cell research. Nobody is going to be out there talking about the importance of fixing the border, actually dealing with illegal immigration in a way that has a specific plan.

And those are issues that Republicans are very passionate about. And why should we have millions and millions of Republican voters simply just be told don't worry about even going to vote; the early states have already decided just who you're going to have as a nominee?

I think the people of Texas and Wisconsin and Mississippi, the people of Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and other states, I think they're just as important as the people in New Hampshire, and Iowa, Florida, and South Carolina. They ought to get to vote, too.

BLITZER: And those are states that -- where they still have primaries and caucuses coming up.

The latest poll numbers in Wisconsin -- and you have been spending quite a bit of time there -- show you in the American Research Group poll slightly behind, McCain 46, Huckabee 42. There's a four-point sampling error. An earlier poll, Research 2000, McCain 48, Huckabee 32.

How does it look to you? You're on the ground there in Wisconsin.

HUCKABEE: Well, I think we're going to have a good day tomorrow. I'm not going to jump out and predict something, because it all depends on if our voters really go out and vote.

But we have had enthusiastic crowds. And, once again, Wolf, despite all the high-profile endorsements that the senator has had -- and, certainly, I would love to have had them myself -- I'm being endorsed by truck drivers, and schoolteachers, and homeschool moms and dads, and just people out there who -- they're not big names. They're not going to garner a press conference or a press attention, but their vote counts just the same. And they want somebody to be out there advocating for all these Republicans who have been asked to knock on doors, make phone calls, be the foot soldiers of the Republican Party. And now they're being told, just step aside. Let's have a coronation, not a campaign, not an election.

And they're saying, no, wait just a minute. We want our voices heard, too.

And that's why I think that it's a lot easier for some folks to not understand, but I'm telling you, Wolf, there's a real desire out there to at least give people a voice and a vote.

BLITZER: Here's what Bob Novak wrote over the weekend, the syndicated columnist: "McCain personally likes Huckabee, but McCain's close advisers reject a place on the ticket for Huckabee, who is unacceptable to economic conservatives."

What do you think about the possibility of your being on the ticket as the vice presidential running mate?

HUCKABEE: Well, I think so many people, including, apparently, a lot of insiders from the McCain camp, say that's not even a possibility. That's not what I'm shooting for anyway.

But what I do want to make sure is that the Republican Party does not forget that it has to be a party about the next generation, not just the next election. We need to be thinking about the long-term future, capturing younger voters, making sure that we are addressing the issues that drove many people into the Republican Party, the old Reagan Democrats, union members and others, who came to us because they thought that we were going to be the champions of the small- business owner, champions of people who love the -- their opportunity to exercise their Second Amendment rights.

And, if -- if I leave, then nobody is out there with the kind of advocacy for many of these people. And I think it's going to be not helpful but hurtful to the Republican cause for us simply to just turn the whole situation into a love fest and not have any debate, any dialogue, and not have a lot of Republicans, even with the option of voting.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Governor Huckabee, thanks for coming in. Good luck.

HUCKABEE: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you just heard, Mike Huckabee certainly isn't going away. Still, there are some questions about whether John McCain can put him away any time soon. Will he get to that magic number of delegates?

Our political panel coming back to consider the latest CNN polls on the Republican race.

And later, he's gone from presidential candidate to superdelegate, a job that could be super controversial. Stay here with us. My live interview with the New Mexico Governor, Bill Richardson. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Economic troubles have pushed the economy to the top of the agenda for most of the American voters. Issues like health care, the stumbling housing market and the soaring cost of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to make any pledge on taxes very difficult to keep.

Let's get some analysis from former chief speech writer for Rudy Giuliani, John Avlon, our senior political analyst Bill Schneider, and in Washington, senior political correspondent for "Time" magazine, Karen Tumulty.

Karen, let me start with you. How difficult is it going to be for John McCain to keep that no new taxes pledge?

KAREN TUMULTY, SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, certainly if the economy continues to go downhill, it's going to be very difficult. And also, if he attempts to do anything, for instance, the Democratic candidates are talking a lot about big new health care plans, it's really going to tie his hands in terms of anything aggressive on the domestic front.

BLITZER: What do you think, John?

JOHN AVLON, FMR. GIULIANI SPEECHWRITER: I think raising taxes isn't going to help the American economy either. What's interesting here is that, I think, fiscal conservatism and fiscal responsibility have been delinked somewhere over the last 10 years. And McCain has always been someone who wanted to hand a lower deficit off the next generation and putting that ahead of supply-side tax cuts. This is an attempt to reach out to fiscal conservatives, and I think we'll see if it works.

BLITZER: We'll see how they respond, the fiscal conservatives as opposed to the national social conservatives or the social conservatives. There's a whole trifecta of conservatives out there.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I do think it was unfortunate that he made that pledge yesterday and then he's blessed by the first President Bush today. Thereby, reminding the whole world that he made the same pledge as the first President Bush who made it, and was unable to keep or didn't keep it. I think that was an unfortunate.


BLITZER: Timing is not necessarily perfect.

Karen, what do you make of Mike Huckabee's commitment to staying in this contest despite what seemingly are impossible odds against him? TUMULTY: Well, I think that Mike Huckabee is a relatively young man. He thinks that he has a future ahead of him, and he talks about these issues. He's absolutely right. If he gets out of the race, a lot of these issues that are very near and dear to social conservatives are just not going to be talked about.

BLITZER: What do you think, John? What's motivating Mike Huckabee right now?

AVLON: I think he's trying to speak up for people he feels don't have a voice right now in the process or the party. But I think John McCain is plenty conservative. You know, I think, John McCain -- what angers a lot of the self- appointed, sort of sentinels of the Republican Party about John McCain is that he's insufficiently ideological. He's too independent, but he's perfectly conservative especially on national security issues. But having his biography will go along as well. So, I think, especially with the new numbers and taxes being at stake, where independents can vote, you're going to see strong McCain showing.

BLITZER: In Texas, we got a new poll. I know you've been studying it, Bill. It shows that McCain right now at 55 percent. Huckabee at 32 percent. We earlier showed some of the poll numbers in Wisconsin. One of which showed it pretty close in Wisconsin. If he does -- even if he loses but he does well, it could embarrass John McCain going into the next phase of this campaign.

SCHNEIDER: It certainly could, particularly because Wisconsin is anything but a southern state. And Mike Huckabee has always done well in southern states, he's been something of a regional candidate. Northern states have voted for Mitt Romney, the conservatives in those state. He's now out of the race. If Huckabee can pick up some of Romney's votes, then he could begin to credibly call himself the voice of the conservative movement, who if John McCain gets the nomination, if he's elected, he will be the man to say I speak for conservatives, if he's critical of McCain or if he praises McCain.

BLITZER: Is there any serious talk, Karen, of a third party candidate emerging because of the disgruntlement, the anger, if you will, among some conservatives out there toward John McCain, whether it's from the radio talk show hosts or others? Is there any serious talk of a third-party conservative challenging the two big parties?

TUMULTY: You know, you heard a lot more of that talk like nine months ago. But what you see right now with the exception of a few conservative talk radio hosts is, as we saw with former President Bush today, actually the Republican leadership is closing ranks behind John McCain. We saw it last week with the House leadership, with the president today. And I tell you, my e-mail box is six, seven, eight times a day, yet another conservative endorsement Republican endorsement of John McCain.

BLITZER: Join the club. We're all getting those e-mails every single -- every few minutes, if you will. All right, guys. Thanks very much, John Avlon, Karen, Tumulty and Bill Schneider. Appreciate it. This summer's Democratic convention may be anything but dull, especially if there's a fight over letting delegates from Florida and Michigan vote. And then there's the problem of those superdelegates. We'll be speaking about that live.

The New Mexico Governor, Bill Richardson, he's standing by. I'll ask him if he and his fellow superdelegates should follow the voters wishes or vote to nominate whichever candidate they want. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: The tight race for the Democratic presidential nomination is putting superdelegates in a tight spot. Do they support the candidate of their choice, as they have a right to do, or do they endorse the candidate who won the most votes in their area?

Let's go to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Joining us now, the superdelegate, the former Democratic presidential candidate, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico. Why haven't you, Governor, endorsed one of these Democratic presidential candidates yet?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Well, I think we have two excellent candidates. Hopefully I will make an endorsement, but you know, the reality is politicians endorsing each other, I don't think it makes a lot of difference. I got out of the presidential race. I've been dealing with my legislature. I've been growing my beard. You know, I don't have to be pressured into doing anything these days.

BLITZER: A sure sign --


RICHARDSON: But I suspect I will --

BLITZER: A sure sign, Governor, that you're not running for president anymore when you grow a beard. Is that what you're saying?

RICHARDSON: Well, yes. This is my period of decompression.

BLITZER: All right. So you're saying you will -- you're about to endorse somebody. You're thinking about endorsing either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Make the news. Go ahead.

RICHARDSON: Well, no. I'm going to decide very shortly, but the reality is I think there are too many superdelegates. They're over 800. That's the latest count that I saw.

BLITZER: It's almost 800. Yes.

RICHARDSON: Who elected these people?

BLITZER: But you're a superdelegate. You were elected by the people of New Mexico.

RICHARDSON: Well, that's right. But that doesn't mean that you appoint every big fund-raiser. You appoint every governor, every member of Congress, every leader that contributes money. I just think this should be decided by voters. And in my view, there are too many superdelegates. They have too much influence.

I would cut down the number, but I think superdelegates should vote according to who they represent. If somebody is appointed as a superdelegate because they're Hispanic or a governor, they should pay attention to what their voters and their constituencies are saying.

BLITZER: Well, the Democratic caucuses in your state of New Mexico decided that Hillary Clinton got the most votes. So does that mean you have to go with the Democrats of New Mexico because she won the caucuses there?

RICHARDSON: Well, she won by one percent. You know, it was a very contested race.


BLITZER: You know what they say. A win is a win.

RICHARDSON: Oh, I know that. But I'm going to decide in the next few days. I just think superdelegates have too much influence. It should be voters and states. It should be delegates according to the proportion of the vote or the candidate. It shouldn't be, you know, fat cats, big contributors, politicians deciding this. Let the people, let the Democratic voters decide. That's my view.

BLITZER: I spoke earlier in the day with the Wisconsin governor, Jim Doyle, a Democrat. You know him. He's endorsed Barack Obama. But I asked him if the pledged delegates around the country were in a majority to go for Hillary Clinton -- forget about the superdelegates -- would you be forced to change your view? Listen to this exchange I had with Governor Doyle.


BLITZER: If Hillary Clinton were to get the majority of the pledged delegates. Forget about the superdelegates right now. You would then decide to flip from Obama to Hillary Clinton?

GOVERNOR JIM DOYLE (D), WISCONSIN: I really think so. I mean, I just think it would be a terrible thing for the Democratic Party to go against the pledged delegates. So as a practical matter, I think that's the way it's going to have to work out.


BLITZER: You agree with Governor Doyle?

RICHARDSON: Well, yes, I do agree. But I don't believe that having so much interest in a convention, a contested convention is such a bad thing. If it's done in an orderly process, if there's a mediator, maybe somebody like Al Gore, and it's very close. Just think -- all those people that have been comatose watching the Democratic conventions would suddenly listen. It'd be enormously interesting to the country.

Two great candidates. Change and experience. I don't think it's so bad for it to remain close and it be contested, but it has to be done in an orderly process.

BLITZER: What do you do with the Democrats in Michigan and Florida whose votes are irrelevant, at least right now, according to the Democratic Party rules, because they moved up their primaries into January before Super Tuesday, and as a result were stripped of their delegates?

RICHARDSON: Well, candidates like myself were forced to say we wouldn't campaign or wouldn't be on the ballot in Michigan and Florida. So you can't all of a sudden change the rules and say, OK, we're going to seat Michigan and Florida. What the Democratic National Committee should do is set up potential caucuses between now and the convention in those states. I know it's tough, but you can't change the rules in midstream in my judgment.

BLITZER: Governor Richardson, thanks very much for coming in. As one beard to another beard, nice work.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Governor Bill Richardson, a new look as the governor of New Mexico.

A place that doesn't get much attention on the campaign trail is at the top of tonight's headlines. You're going to see why a Declaration of Independence is a flashpoint for "Raw Politics."

And at the top of the hour, campaign controversies on "LARRY KING LIVE."


BLITZER: Our friend Larry King's got an excellent show coming up right in a few minutes. Larry is standing by with a little bit of a preview.

Hi Larry, tell us what's coming up.

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Also, Wolf, wait until you come out here the next time because we are in our beautiful new studios.

BLITZER: Excellent.

KING: And it's phenomenal. It's the main first floor of our building, and although to the viewer at home it's going to look like the same set, but everything else is fantastic.

And it's also primary and caucus eve, as you know, Wolf. And our political panel, we have a great panel tonight. They're going to mix it up. Will voting tomorrow seal the deal? Or will we prolong this epic presidential process, which seems, Wolf, like it's never going to end.

BLITZER: It will end one of these days, Larry. And you know what? But it's exciting right now, and we'll cover it every step of the way.

KING: We sure will. See you at the top of the hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: Larry King's got a good show coming up. You'll want to stick around for that.

And coming up, conspiracy theorists have a new treasure trove about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but some of it could be a fake.

Tom Foreman standing by in tonight's edition of "Raw Politics."


BLITZER: Politics often looks pretty tough here but in some hot spots around the world, it often looks very much like war. For tonight's edition of "Raw Politics," we turn to our Tom Foreman.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: "Raw Politics" with real teeth. That's how we start this week with some serious issues abroad.

Serbia says it owns Kosovo. But as of this weekend, ethnic Albanians there have proclaimed themselves an independent nation. Serbia feared just that when United Nations troops stepped in nine years ago during the war. Secretary Rice calls it historic, but Russia and China not so thrilled.

President Bush is hurting at home, but they love him in Africa. He was in Tanzania delivering millions of dollars in aid to help fight disease. And a bonus. The Tanzanian president likes basketball. So President Bush gave him a pair of Shaquille O'Neal shoes, size 23.

An old safe in a Texas courthouse has coughed up items linked to the Kennedy assassination, and the conspiracy crowd is aflutter. Along with Jack Ruby's holster and brass knuckles, a transcript of an alleged conversation between Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald, plotting Kennedy's death. Scholars say it is almost certainly fake.

And a President's Day home makeover. Abraham Lincoln spent a quarter of his term in this cottage outside of downtown D.C., and it's now open for visitors following a seven-year $17 million restoration.

But historians say that's a bargain for a one of a kind relic of one of our most important and beloved presidents. That's "Raw Politics."

BLITZER: Tom Foreman reporting. CNN equals politics, and we're going to get a lot more of it at the top of the hour when "LARRY KING LIVE" convenes a powerhouse political panel. You want to stick around for that. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: That's it for all of us here at the CNN "ELECTION CENTER." Please stay with CNN throughout the day tomorrow, and we'll get all the latest on the primaries in Wisconsin, Washington State, Hawaii, the Democratic caucuses there. Tune in tomorrow for the results and analysis from the Wisconsin primary. I'll be right here in the CNN "ELECTION CENTER." Our coverage begins 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

And this important programming note. Our own Campbell Brown will moderate a CNN Univision Texas Democratic party debate in Texas. That's Thursday night. Our coverage starts 8:00 p.m. Eastern for that. Until then. Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. I'll see you tomorrow in "THE SITUATION ROOM" as well. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.