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Will a Win Help Clinton Stop Obama's Momentum; Three States Hold Presidential Contests

Aired February 19, 2008 - 20:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world to the CNN Election Center.
I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting.

We're watching important races unfolding. In less than one hour from now, the polls will be closing in Washington state, where Democrats and Republicans are voting -- excuse me -- in Wisconsin. They will be voting in Wisconsin in less than one hour, Democrats and Republicans. We're watching this race closely.

In fact, let's show you what we're going to be watching over the course of the next several hours. Three important contests going on. first of all, on the Democratic side, as I said in Wisconsin, the polls will be closing in less than one hour. In Wisconsin, right now, some 74 delegates are at stake in this contest today, a total of 92 delegates when you add the superdelegates in this contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

There's also a Democratic primary under way in Hawaii. Twenty- nine delegates at stake in Hawaii, 19 of those will be selected today in the caucuses, a total of 29 delegates coming from Hawaii.

In Washington state, for the Democrats, this is largely a beauty contest. They already had their contest a week or so ago and Barack Obama won. So, those delegates already -- already have been selected in Washington State and Barack Obama won that contest.

On the Republican side tonight, there are two important contests, the most important presumably being in Wisconsin. A total of 37 delegates are at stake there in Wisconsin. Right now, Huckabee, McCain, Ron Paul are the three candidates who are still remaining, but let's not neglect Washington state for the Republicans as well.

A total of 40 delegates are there, but 19 of them will be selected in these caucuses tonight, 19 delegates in Washington State. That's how they do it in the Republican contest. Thirty-seven delegates, as I said, total in Wisconsin at stake today.

We have extensive coverage coming up over the next several hours here in the CNN Election Center.

Bill Schneider is standing by. He's got the exit polls. He's going to be sharing those throughout the course of the night. Our John King is watching the maps very, very closely at the map board. He's going to take us inside all these respective contests to see what's going on. It will be very, very intense as the night goes on. Certainly, Anderson Cooper is here with the best political team on television.

Anderson, we have got two rows of analysts who are standing by to digest everything that is happening.

We have reporters also covering every step of the way. We have Candy Crowley. She's at the Obama rally. That's standing by in Houston, Texas, right now. Jessica Yellin is at the Clinton rally in Youngstown, Ohio. Suzanne Malveaux got the tough assignment in Honolulu, Hawaii, tonight. she's following what's happening out in Hawaii. Dana Bash is following John McCain in Columbus, Ohio. And Mary Snow is in Little Rock, Arkansas, watching the Huckabee campaign unfold.

Let's go, first, to Candy Crowley who is watching the Obama rally, what's happening tonight.

I want to throw a little clip to you of what Barack Obama said in the course of this day, and we will talk. Candy, stand by for this.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Everywhere I go people are standing up and they are saying, we are ready for something new. We are ready for something different. We want to turn the page. We want to write a new chapter in American history. That's what the American people are telling me.


BLITZER: All right, expectations very high for Barack Obama tonight, Candy. Give our viewers a sense of what has happened on this day for him.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's been campaigning, came to Texas. This after all is one of the next big ones in two weeks, Texas, Ohio and some Northeastern states. So they already are moving this forward. I have to tell you that an Obama strategist told me today that Wisconsin is the no-excuses primary for Hillary Clinton.

They say, listen, every time we have won a state somewhere, she has had some reason why we won it, that there was a heavy African- American population, that it was a caucus and she doesn't do well in caucuses. They point out that, in Wisconsin, there are a lot of Democratic primary voters that basically fit her profile, that is a white and working class, making under $50,000 a year. So, they think tonight will say something not just in who wins the state, but in who wins inside those demographics -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Candy, at some point tonight when Barack Obama delivers his speech, it will be where you are right now, is that right?

CROWLEY: Yes, absolutely. Here in Houston, he's been again campaigning through Texas today, very sort of populist speeches talking today about predatory credit companies, so this is now as he gets into Ohio and as he gets into Texas, this is aimed directly at Hillary Clinton's voters, which are sort of a large part of the demographic in both Ohio and Texas. So they are hitting these states hard with very sort of working-class home and hearth issues, trying to take away some of her voting baser -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley is already in Houston, Texas.

Jessica Yellin is following the Clinton campaign in Youngstown, Ohio, both of those contests two weeks from today, Texas and Ohio.

This is an important day for Hillary Clinton, Jessica. Give us the sense of how significant potentially this could be for her campaign.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So important for Senator Clinton to try and stop Barack Obama's momentum, to try to deprive him of yet another victory or at least make a strong showing. Wisconsin for her is an important measure of her performance in these industrial states, not just Ohio, but also -- sorry -- I'm sorry -- not just Wisconsin, but Ohio, which is do or die for her, and then Pennsylvania.

Tonight, it will be important to look has she's lost support or kept support among those key demographics for her, low-income voters, non-college women and then seniors. For Senator Clinton it is not essential that she win, but she needs to do very well to show that her campaign still has vigor, still has energy and she can fight to go on and win in Ohio and Texas, which she herself has said is essential.

BLITZER: Listen to what she said today, Jessica, because I want to talk about this. Listen to this.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have been through the Republican attack machine. You know I can take a punch and I come back. And let's not kid ourselves, this is going to be another brutal election. They are not going to give up the White House without a fight.


BLITZER: The implication, Jessica, being she can take a punch but maybe Barack Obama can't once that so-called attack machine gets going. Is that what -- the message she's trying to send?

YELLIN: Look, that's part of her message, that she's had the experience and she's been through it. The problem is, voters see that, they agree, and it doesn't seem to be so far to be what they're making their decision on. They're looking for the competent, electable change candidate.

And she has to show that she can be that to voters. And today we will see if she's able to turn around Barack Obama's success in convincing voters that really he is the change candidate because that's what matters more than anything else to these Democratic voters in this primary season -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And where you are, she will be delivering her speech later tonight. Is that right?

YELLIN: That's correct. And we're told there will be new remarks and a more formal setting. She has actually a teleprompter out tonight, which she doesn't usually have. A new speech we will hear from Senator Clinton in a few hours.

BLITZER: No doubt carefully crafted speeches from both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. We will carry those speeches here at the CNN Election Center.

Jessica, stand by. You got a long night ahead of you.

I want to go to John King because he's watching the state of Wisconsin, about as closely as anyone could watch this state.

You're looking for what, John, as we go into this important night? Less than an hour from now, the polls will be closed.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as Candy and Jessica just outlined, big stakes in terms of the momentum in the Democratic race. Look at the national map first, 20 states for Barack Obama -- that is the darker blue -- 11 for Senator Clinton in the lighter blue, 13 if you count Michigan and Florida but, of course, their delegates don't count. So the big battleground tonight is here in Wisconsin.

And let's look at what's key for the two candidates. For Barack Obama, remember Milwaukee and remember Madison, a large college community here in Madison. That is where Barack Obama has been doing well throughout the campaign. He needs big numbers there.

To the degree Wisconsin has an African-American population -- it's about seven percent statewide -- it is centered right here in the Milwaukee area, Wolf. He needs to run up some big numbers in the Milwaukee area, in the Madison area. Most of the Democratic vote will be down south here.

For Senator Clinton she needs to get him in the industrial areas, the lower -- blue-collar Democrats, if you will. Look for Green Bay. Look Oshkosh. Look particularly out here for Senator Clinton in the western part of the state. It is a key battleground state. She needs to run up big numbers out here because the population is smaller, Wolf, so she needs to win these smaller, more rural counties and these smaller manufacturing cities by big margins to offset what is expected to be a good night for Obama down here in the Madison area and the Milwaukee area.

Fascinating to watch to see if he continues what we saw in Maryland and Virginia, slowly reaching into her votes, if you will, among white men and some of the other demographic groups. If he can continue that tonight, it bodes well going into Ohio and Texas. And of course the flip side is true as well. She wants to stop Obama and reach into some of his base of support.

BLITZER: And throughout this night, our viewers can go to and watch the results come in county by county throughout this important state of Wisconsin.

And it was snowy and cold, but people in Wisconsin are used to that. They know what they're doing. They certainly can go out and vote and they have been doing that, and we will see if they have been doing it in record numbers as this night goes forward.

Let's go over to Anderson Cooper because he's got some the best analysts in the business watching all of this unfold.

Hi, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thanks very much.

Sitting here with CNN political analyst Gloria Borger.

Gloria, how important is Wisconsin tonight for Hillary Clinton?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's very important for her. This state is the gateway to Texas and Ohio. Texas and Ohio may hold the key to this presidential contest on the Democratic side. She's had eight straight losses in a row. She's got to try and regain some of that momentum. So for her tonight, a victory, very important, a large victory, of course, better, better than a small one.

And for Barack Obama, he needs to prove that he can win and win again and win again in a state like Wisconsin, because he can prove that he's electable. And so this is also quite crucial to him. But if she does well tonight, she's going to try and be the comeback kid just like she was in New Hampshire.

COOPER: The Obama folks, Jeff Toobin, our senior analyst, are saying that this is a no-excuses primary for Hillary Clinton.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: I think that's right, because the demographics, poor, union, a lot of Catholics, have all gone well for Hillary Clinton so far. If she doesn't do well here, it shows that her support is slipping away.

And, you know, I don't buy anything -- people are talking about moral victories, exceeding expectations. That's all a bunch of nonsense. There's going to be one loser and one winner tonight, and that's all that matters.

BORGER: Big winner, a little winner?


TOOBIN: Just a winner.

COOPER: Just a winner.

TOOBIN: Just a winner. That's all that matters. COOPER: Big night for Obama.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think it is a big night for him because as Gloria said he has to establish that he can win in terms of her turf, and that is low- to middle-income voters, those blue-collar voters.

How well does he do among white women? The key for her is, which is one of the things that she's done, she came out a little bit more negative in Wisconsin than she has done throughout this campaign. The question is if she doesn't win and that's where the large numbers come in. If it's large numbers, it says a lot.

If she doesn't win or if she does win, it says what does that strategy mean moving forward to Texas and Ohio? Will she be able to come out with those sort of hard-hitting commercials? Because if she doesn't win, that means that, wait a minute, you know what, you change your message, you change your strategy, that still didn't work. So, what now?

COOPER: Let's go back to our deep bench here. We will start over with...




COOPER: Let's start with...


COOPER: ... Paul Begala...

BEGALA: ... best political team in television.

COOPER: ... Democratic strategist, also Hillary Clinton supporter. As a supporter of Hillary Clinton, how concerned are you for her tonight in terms of being able to stop Barack Obama's momentum?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think Jeffrey made the obvious point. That's the kind of thing they teach at Harvard law. There's two people.


BEGALA: There's a winner and a loser. And I am -- I'm just teasing Jeffrey, but he's right. The problem here -- I was amused listening to Candy's report that the Obama campaign is concerned that the Hillary Clinton campaign says this. The job of a campaign is not to talk about the campaign. It's not to talk about its strategy. It's to talk to voters about their lives. And I think both these campaigns -- let's see. The candidates have been pretty good about trying to get it outwardly focused. Let's see the campaigns tonight actually talk about voters and their lives, rather than -- if Hillary Clinton loses, her life is still great. If Barack Obama loses, his life is great. It's the people out there that they need to keep in mind.

COOPER: We hear, though, from the Clinton camp that there's going to be a new speech by Hillary Clinton. Any sense of is there a new message?


BEGALA: We will have to wait and see. You know, I do think that...

COOPER: Haven't you picked up the phone and talked to her?

BEGALA: I have.


BEGALA: Obviously, I have friends in that campaign. I have friends in the Obama campaign. And I have certainly think -- I have said this on the air -- that she needs to toughen up. I think Roland is wrong. If -- that she's attacked in Wisconsin. The attack she waged in Wisconsin is that Barack Obama did not agree to a 19th debate.

Well, that's an idiotic attack, with all respect to my friends in the Clinton campaign. He had 18 debates; 19 is going to be the magic one? No. He's vulnerable I think on these middle class populist economic issues. Remember, John Edwards attacked Barack Obama because Obama voted against limiting credit card interest rates at 30 percent.

He voted to let credit cards charge whatever they want. Hillary could quote John Edwards, who now is of course a saint to Obama and Clinton, because they're trying to get his endorsement. Those kind of attacks actually affect people's lives, what they pay for interest rate on their credit card.

COOPER: Jamal Simmons, Obama supporter.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes. The problem with the credit card example that Paul is using here is that he voted against it, he says, because he thought 30 percent was too high. He wanted that to be a lower percentage.

I think these campaigns are started to figure out that this is about the voters. Barack Obama has an economic message he's been talking about. He's been sort of detailing it a little bit. He had an event last week where he said, this isn't going to be the rough and tumble, the loud rah-rah speech we usually do. This is going to be a little bit more serious.

And I think, with Hillary Clinton, if she doesn't pull this off, you could start to feel this sand slipping through her fingers. It's just slipping away from her. And I think superdelegates, all the other people that we have all been talking about are going to start to say, you know what, I think this thing is started to go one direction.

So, let's see what happens tonight. If she can pull this out, it will be a magnificent victory. If she doesn't, I think it's going to be a stunning defeat.

COOPER: CNN contributor Carl Bernstein?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This is big casino and if she can't pull it out, it means that the balloon is losing its air. But the most important aspect of this in Wisconsin is she played the gender card, and if that fails, there's very little left for her. In South Carolina, they played the race card and it got an awful lot of people in the Democratic Party upset.

Now there's been a message that's gone out to women especially. You vote for Hillary Clinton. We're really up against misogynists part of the time. And it had a nasty edge to it. And I think that that's an underlying thing we haven't looked at. And the other thing is there is a sleeper issue here that is playing big both in Wisconsin and starting to in Texas and that is her refusal to release her tax returns. People are talking about it in the party and I think it's hurting her.

COOPER: Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's interesting because if you go back to Iowa -- hard to think it wasn't that long ago -- but part of the strategy with Hillary Clinton's team was to take for the high road and look for the long haul. She was looking for Super Tuesday.

She was not going to start those attacks. She started so much -- a bit in New Hampshire, and it proved somewhat effective. And a lot of people thought they had so much Democratic establishment infrastructure that they would never have to go past that.

When the air started leaving the balloon and Barack Obama started gaining momentum, there was really nowhere for Hillary Clinton to turn. And I agree with this race-baiting politics and some of those other things that's turned off independents, and she's putting a lot at stake in Texas, especially with Hispanic voters, and I don't think that's going to come to fruition for her.

BEGALA: Would somebody name me something she said that was race- baiting?

SANCHEZ: Well...



BEGALA: Hillary has never said anything like that.


COOPER: Let Amy answer.

HOLMES: Sir, let me answer your question.

After Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska and Washington State, Hillary Clinton was quoted as saying: Well, I understand that those African- American voters in Louisiana were taking great pride in voting for a fellow African-American, where, in fact, in Louisiana was where Obama had his narrowest victory. He actually did better in states with a higher white percentage.

But looking at Wisconsin, what I think is interesting here is that she has to meet a test that she set up for herself when a few weeks back she was saying, well, Obama wins those red states that aren't important in the general that we don't win. I'm the candidate who can win purple states. Well, Wisconsin is supposed to be a good test of that. So, tonight, we are going to find out where the rubber hits the road.

COOPER: Paul, I want to give you a chance to respond.

BEGALA: Yes. Saying that African-Americans vote for Barack in part out of pride, this remarkable man and his accomplishments, is hardly race-baiting. In fact, Jamal was the first person to say this, but when Barack wasn't doing very well, he was saying to me privately, if he starts to win -- Hillary was winning the African-American vote starting out, right? And I remember Jamal saying, if he starts to win, you will see, he will sweep with the African-American vote.


BEGALA: Jamal was right. And that's not race-baiting to say it. That's just analyzing the politics.


SIMMONS: Here's the problem, Paul.

The problem is that there are all these little droppings that were laid out all over the place from her comment about that, for Bill Clinton saying that him winning South Carolina was just like Jesse Jackson winning in '84.


BEGALA: That was after South Carolina.

SIMMONS: After South Carolina.


SIMMONS: But it's a posture. It's a tone that is taking place.

(CROSSTALK) SIMMONS: My point here is, Barack Obama's win of South Carolina was much more like John Edwards' win of South Carolina maybe at that point in 2004, than it was like Jesse Jackson in 1984.

BEGALA: It was. It was an impressive win.

SIMMONS: So by Bill Clinton making these sort of allusions to Jesse Jackson, her talking about Louisiana just because African- American voters took pride, it's an effort to marginalize the Obama campaign as an African-American campaign, when clearly he is doing well among people at every income group and every racial group.


COOPER: We're going to leave it there. We will continue this discussion. We have four hours, believe me. Take some notes. We're going to have plenty of time.


COOPER: We're going to take a short break.

Our political coverage continues, of course, online. is the Web site. You can check in and see the results come in as we see them come in.

Also coming up tonight, how does Hillary Rodham Clinton try to retake the lead in the delegates? Can she do it at this point? We will take a look at the numbers.

We will also take a look at the role Mike Huckabee plans on playing. Can he be, is he going to be a spoiler for John McCain? We will take a look at that. And we will have exit poll results from Wisconsin coming up.

Stay tuned.


BLITZER: Just a little bit more than 37 minutes to go before the polls close in Wisconsin. We're watching this contest very closely on the Democratic and the Republican side.

On the Republican side, it's still a race. It's still a race between John McCain and Mike Huckabee. Ron Paul is still in this contest as well, but we're watching it to see how Mike Huckabee wipes up doing in Wisconsin tonight.

Earlier, we spoke with his campaign chairman, Ed Rollins. He said Huckabee might not necessarily win, but he could get 30 percent or 40 percent of the vote.

Let's check in on McCain at a McCain rally that is happening right now out in Columbus, Ohio. McCain already, Dana Bash, looking ahead two weeks to today to what's going to happen in Ohio and Texas.

Here's a little clip of what McCain said earlier today.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They were wrong when they said the surge wouldn't work. It's working. They were wrong when they said the political process wouldn't work. It's working. And we are succeeding. I will be glad -- I will be glad to campaign on that issue across this state and across America.


BLITZER: Now, the senator clearly believes Iraq now at least is a winning issue for him. But set the stage for us.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He does, in fact, Wolf. It's interesting. That was a response to a question right here in this room where I'm standing from a local reporter here in Ohio, saying, Senator, you're campaigning on the issue of Iraq, but Iraq is not popular here in Ohio. Ohio being a very crucial swing state in any general election.

And that is part of the reason why John McCain is here. He is looking forward. He is looking forward, first of all, to the March 4th primary date and that's -- one of those primaries is Ohio. And the McCain campaign, what they're hoping is that is the day because of Ohio and also Texas on that day that he actually gets the requisite number of delegates to officially become the nominee of the Republican Party.

But he also has been test driving big time his campaign message and his themes that he's going to try to use against the Democrats in the fall. And we're told, Wolf, that tonight -- remember last week, John McCain talked a lot -- had some thinly veiled jabs at Barack Obama and about his rhetoric, talking about the platitudes that he speaks in.

We're told that he's going to do a lot more of that in this speech right here tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we will be waiting for that speech. Once he starts speaking, we will go there live as well. Dana, thanks very much.

In the meantime, let's go to Little Rock, Arkansas, right now. Mary Snow is covering the Huckabee campaign.

Give us a sense of what's happening. I want to, first of all, play this little clip, Mary, of what he's saying about the possibility of this contest on the Republican side going all the way to their convention at the end of the summer in St. Paul.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We see the last stand only when somebody has 1,191 delegates. Other than that, we make it to Minneapolis-St. Paul, to the convention. It could be a brokered convention.


BLITZER: All right, what are they saying behind the scenes over there, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, they really remain defiant that he is going to go to at least March 4th, despite the fact that he is more than 600 delegates behind Senator John McCain.

You know, he spent five days in Wisconsin campaigning hard. Tonight, what they're saying is if there isn't a victory they would at least like to have a strong showing. This really is a reminder to Senator McCain that there is problems with conservatives. And Mike Huckabee keeps striking that theme.

He believes he can do well in Texas because he once lived there but, you know, when you talk to his supporters even, he does have a following, and they talk about the fact that he would literally need a miracle in order to really have any shot at all of becoming the nominee. But he keeps soldiering on. And, you know, just to give you a sense of what it's like here in Little Rock, he does not have a rally, unlike all the other candidates. He is simply going to have a press conference later with reporters after the results.

BLITZER: We will cover that as well. We're watching all of this unfold step by step. Mary Snow in Little Rock, Arkansas, thanks very much.

Let's go over to John King once again and take a look at Wisconsin on the Republican side. Earlier we took a look at how the state breaks down on the Democratic side. It's interesting on the Republican side as well.

KING: It sure is, Wolf. And it will be a key test of Governor Huckabee's support among conservative and whether McCain is making advances in consolidating the party.

Last time we started with a national map of the Democratic race. This is a county-by-county map across the country of the Republican race so far. I wanted to bring it up to just show you before we look at Wisconsin. You can see John McCain is the traditional red. He has done well here. This darker red is Mitt Romney, no longer with us in the race, but Romney did well in these areas just bordering Wisconsin.

So let's put out to the state and take a peek at what we need to see in Wisconsin tonight and let's switch over to our Republican primary. This, Wolf, is the big swathe of Republicans. Just come just west of Milwaukee and go up pretty much like that is where you find most of the Republican votes in the state in a general election.

It is worth noting this could be a key battleground come November, went very narrowly for Al Gore, very narrowly for John Kerry. But this is where the votes are. And if we look at this through the prism of earlier contests, John McCain needs to do his best down here, where you have more people, obviously, the suburbs of Milwaukee, around college campuses, been big for Barack Obama, also bigger for Mike Huckabee, although the University of Wisconsin known much more as a liberal campus than a conservative campus.

And then you get up into here. This is where we will test. This is where, in previous states, Governor Huckabee has done well with more rural conservatives. This will be a key test of whether John McCain is beginning to sell his message to those conservatives or whether they are coming out even if they know he is likely to be the party's nominee, coming out to support Governor Huckabee or to cast a protest vote because they're not yet satisfied with John McCain. So, we will look at the swathe right up here.

And before you go, Wolf, I just want to show you why I think that area is very important for us to watch. This is the state of Wisconsin. In the general election, John Kerry won by 11,000 votes, a very narrow victory over George W. Bush. And you can see from the dark red those are the Republican counties. Those will be most critical as we watch the votes come in on the Republican side tonight.

BLITZER: It was very close. I remember Wisconsin very, very well.

All right, you're going to be showing us all these details as this night goes on. We have got a long night ahead of us. John, thanks very much.

Let's go back to Anderson Cooper.

But I want to remind viewers, Anderson, they can go to If they have a laptop, watch us, go there. At the same time, you can see all the results coming in county by county and get a whole lot of additional useful information as you watch this political event unfold tonight -- Anderson.

COOPER: And when we say we have a long night, we say that with enthusiasm and excitement, not a sense of ennui and dread at all.



MARTIN: We have all taken naps.

COOPER: We have all taken our disco naps. We're all ready to go.

Gloria Borger...

BORGER: This is the greatest story I have ever covered, Anderson.


COOPER: It is. It's remarkable. And it just gets better and better.

What is Mike Huckabee doing?

BORGER: You know, that's a really good question. At the beginning, I thought that he was staying in it to make a point that he could maybe get some more delegates, have a bigger speech at the convention than Mitt Romney, and would embrace John McCain. I think he's still going to end up embracing John McCain in the end.

I think he's made his points already, that evangelical voters don't love John McCain, that he's not conservative enough for some Republicans, but at a certain point it becomes about Mike Huckabee and Mike Huckabee's career and what happens next to Mike Huckabee. I think we have reached that point. This is not about the Republican Party anymore.

COOPER: But if you're Mike Huckabee, why not stay in it?



COOPER: Whatever your post-election life is afterwards, it builds your profile.


BORGER: Well, that's the point. But it's not about the Republican Party anymore. It's about him.

TOOBIN: Especially when you're drawing 30, 40 percent of the vote. This is not Ron Paul, drawing five percent of the vote, which is totally irrelevant -- 30 percent or 40 percent of the vote is a significant chunk, illustrating the problems in the Republican Party, the divisions, that many conservatives feel dissatisfied with McCain as the nominee.

And Huckabee is exploiting that. McCain is in an especially awkward position now, because we know that this -- the result is a foregone conclusion. So, it's hard to motivate your supporters to get to the polls when the result is clear, but the Huckabee people are happy to go to the polls.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, think about it. The guy doesn't have a job. I mean, if McCain had lost, he goes back to the Senate. If Romney lost, he goes back to Bain Capital. See, look what Huckabee is doing. He doesn't have a job.



MARTIN: No, no, no.

Well, personally, he's giving speeches but the reality is he's also building a base here. OK.

BORGER: Yes. MARTIN: Think beyond this campaign. If you look at the evangelicals who he's targeting, you could talk about where James Dobson is, where Pat Robertson is, where perhaps the late Jerry Falwell and his group, Mike Huckabee has the potential to frankly establish the 21st century version of that whole evangelical movement. And so, by continuing to run, he is building the database of supporters to move forward.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: John King, what John McCain has been able to do lately is really test out themes that he is going to be using against either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He has begun to do that. That comment Wolf just played about Iraq is one of them. He has said the Democrats will raise your taxes, I will not. But he also in the past week, Anderson, did learn a lesson from the relatively strong showing Governor Huckabee had in Virginia, especially out in those rural conservative areas. And we saw John McCain out campaigning for Republican votes including a get out the vote rally earlier today in Wisconsin saying, I can't take this for granted. He even said that himself. I can't take this for granted. I need you to vote for me now even as we start to think about the fall.

And to the question you were just having, is Governor Huckabee hurting or helping himself? He has made the calculation that if John McCain loses, the next Republican primary in 2012 will be a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party, and he wants to come into that race as the Christian cultural conservative of the party.


BORGER: Right.

KING: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BORGER: And he -- you know, Mitt Romney left this race thinking that that was going to be his mantel, that he was the conservative Republican and he spoke to the conservative convention, got a great response. You know, Huckabee is saying to him, not so fast, Mitt Romney. I'm the true conservative. You just got here lately.

TOOBIN: As for this election, he's forcing John McCain to spend money in Wisconsin, in Texas, money that John McCain would very much like to spend attacking Democrats, and this is a real problem for McCain.

MARTIN: Especially what he's done in Texas. He's build a lot of infrastructure in terms of small to mid size churches. He's been going to John Hagee's Church in San Antonio. He's been dealing with the Graham's Church in Plano. Huge, huge, Church of Preston (ph) Baptist church. The bottom line is he's cultivating this whole group, so absolutely he's thinking forward. And so, if it causes McCain to spend more money for him, so be it, because if he loses, guess what he's done. He's built an infrastructure. He's thinking ahead. You can't blame the guy. COOPER: We've got a lot more. The poll is closing in Wisconsin in about 25 or so minutes. We'll, of course, bring you results. And as soon as the polls close, we'll also be able to tell you about the exit polls, what we are learning, what we are hearing from Republican voters and Democratic voters in the state of Wisconsin. Those exit polls, that is coming up. And our coverage also continues online. Any time day or time, log in. We'll be right back.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Seventy-four delegates at stake in Wisconsin where the polls will be closing in some 23 minutes from now. We're watching this very, very closely for the Democrats. That race is significant between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Also significant as we've been saying to see how John McCain and Mike Huckabee fare in the state of Wisconsin. Twenty-three minute until the polls close.

Throughout this day, we've been asking voters in Wisconsin what's on their minds? These are our exit polls, and Bill Schneider has been going through the numbers, trying to find out so that all of us can have a better understanding of what's going on in this state. And what are we learning, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you want to see a generational split? I will show you a generational split. Take a look at Democrats in Wisconsin who are under 30 years old; 73 percent for Obama, 20 percent for Clinton. Yikes, that is a blowout. Now, compare that with Democrats who are 65 and older, seniors who are voting in the Democratic primary today in Wisconsin; 60 percent for Clinton, 39 percent for Obama. A little closer, but Clinton clearly dominates the senior category.

Now, you want to see a split over the qualities that Democrats are looking for in a candidate? I will show you a split over the qualities they're looking for. Look at Democrats who say they are looking for the candidate who is most experienced; 95 percent of them are voting for Hillary Clinton. Only five percent are voting for Barack Obama. Experience is not his claim.

Now, look at Democrats who say they are looking for a candidate who can bring about change. Change, change, that's Obama's theme. And, look, more than three-quarters of them are voting for Obama. Only 20 percent are voting for Hillary Clinton. And finally, you want to see a split among conservatives in the Republican primary? Take a look at this. Among conservatives in Wisconsin today, the vote was -- if I can find -- there it is, conservatives, Huckabee, 45 percent, McCain, 45 percent.

You know, we've been raising the question throughout, can McCain finally break through and win conservatives now that Mitt Romney is out of the race and Huckabee is his only challenger? And the answer here, 45/45, conservatives are thinking about it. Maybe?

BLITZER: All right. I know you got a lot more numbers to go through, and you're going to be sharing those with us as this night continues, Bill. Thank you very much for that. Bill Schneider looking at the exit polls.

Abbi Tatton is taking a closer look at how the situation is unfolding online, and we got a ton of useful information that we can get online, Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is going to give you the state of the race right now, but this is all going to be changing on in just a few minutes as the live results from Wisconsin start trickling in on the Web site. You can watch it right here. Let's go to the delegate count, which we have broken down on the ELECTION CENTER Web site.

McCain with a clear lead over Mike Huckabee. For Barack Obama, a slight lead there over Hillary Clinton, but we've got this broken down even further as well, for the Democrats, into superdelegates as well as pledged delegates. You're going to be able to go state by state here to see which of the superdelegates have already committed support for which of those candidates.

We're going to be focusing in, as I said, on Wisconsin as those results are coming in. But the candidates and our cameras online are looking ahead, looking ahead to March 4th to those important contests in Ohio and Texas.

We've got live streams of the candidates' events going on. We're looking in right now at the Barack Obama rally which you can be watching along as you watch us break down the numbers as they come in tonight. We've also got rallies coming up from John McCain, from Hillary Clinton, all live at -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Not only, we're going to be watching that very closely, but also here we're standing by. We'll hear from all the candidates at some point tonight. They've got addresses that are coming up. Twenty 20 minutes or so from now, the polls will be closing in Wisconsin.

On the Democratic side, we're going to take a closer look and see what's going to be happening in terms of how they're selecting their nominee. That's coming up. Take a closer look at that.

On the Republican side, we're going to take a look at the Mike Huckabee factor. What's going on there? How much of a problem is he for John McCain? What's going on on the Republican side, the Democratic side? Much more of our coverage coming up from here at the CNN ELECTION CENTER. The Wisconsin polls closing in some 19 minutes. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to the CNN ELECTION CENTER. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting. It's only about 16 minutes or so to go until the polls close in the state of Wisconsin where there are Republican and Democratic primaries unfolding right now. We'll go there right at the top of the hour and see what's going on.

Let's take a look at the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, where it stands right now. Hillary Clinton has 1,212 total delegates. Those are that are pledged and the nonpledged, they're superdelegates, 978 versus 234 superdelegates. But look at this, Barack Obama maintaining his lead in total delegates, 1,263. He's actually won more delegates than Hillary Clinton, 1,102. He has 161 superdelegates. Remember, those superdelegates, they could change their minds without any significant problems. They're not obligated to do what the people in their state are voting and doing.

It's a significant issue because a lot of these politicians, these superdelegates -- governors, congressmen, senators -- they all have their preferences but at the same time they're politicians. They want to do what the people in their states are basically doing. It's not an easy decision that they have to make.

KING: Wolf, they want to avoid a giant political controversy at the end of this that hurts the party and potentially hurts them. Take the governor of Wisconsin, for example, Governor Doyle is an Obama supporter but he says at the end, if Hillary Clinton has more pledged delegates, meaning the ones you win by winning primaries and caucuses, that he would switch and vote for her. So increasingly, the superdelegates of the Democratic Party are saying they would make their decision based on democracy, who has the most pledged delegates at the end.

And it's worth noting because at the moment he comes into the night with about 124 more pledged delegates. Forgive me the --

BLITZER: That's Barack Obama.

KING: Barack Obama does. The nuns will be mad at my handwriting there. How does Senator Clinton overtake him? The only way to overtake him is to start beating him, Wolf. Until let's just say Senator Clinton wins -- starts winning tonight. If she starts winning tonight and, let's again, let's come out here and show that Senator Obama is a little bit ahead of her right now. Let's say she starts winning tonight.

This is on the scenario where Senator Clinton starts winning 55/45. You have Wisconsin. Now, Barack Obama is favored in Wisconsin and Hawaii. But let's for the hypothetical give it to Senator Clinton. You see she's catching up there then we move ahead. We got the states coming up down the road. We have Rhode Island. We have Vermont, and we would have Ohio and we would have Texas, and now you see what's happening. But even though, he's winning 45 percent of the delegates. So even if she is winning, they are staying roughly even.

And then you move on. You would head down the road. You would have Indiana and Pennsylvania, those two states there. You have west -- and you see -- see what's happening as you play the states out. Now, I'm not taking them in the order in which they will vote. But as you go through these states -- let's say Senator Clinton runs the board from here on out, Wolf.

BLITZER: Fifty-five to 45.

KING: Fifty-five to 45. She pulls ahead, but she's still short of the number to win, and Obama is close enough. But if she can do that plus her superdelegate lead, there's no question she would have the momentum. But, again, you can easily do a flip side in which you come back. This is roughly where we are to start the night. Now, let's clear all that so it doesn't confuse people. You could have the same scenario under which you say Senator Obama starts running the board. Starts doing it --

BLITZER: Fifty-five to 45.

KING: This is 55-45. We can show you later tonight as we go on, the different scenarios if he starts winning by bigger margins and you just keep running. This is giving them to Senator Obama, and you see him starting to pull ahead.

Well, suppose they trade them off. And, again, I'm just picking states randomly and punching them. Then we'll go back and we'll give Obama a couple. And you just do that randomly, and look what you get. You get out here, if they split the states, you get out here where they're both short.

BLITZER: Those are pledged delegates.

KING: Those are pledged delegates. The math we're doing right here does not change the superdelegates as we just randomly assigned the states. So if they split the states, they end up roughly like this. If one of them wins 55-45, one of them gets a gain, and I can show you later tonight with bigger margins as we go. Most believe Obama wins. They'll be nine in a row if he wins Wisconsin tonight. Ten in a row if he wins, then the psychology of the race comes down to Ohio and Texas.

BLITZER: And that would be huge on March 4th, too.

KING: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Two weeks exactly from today, but they're already gearing up in those important states. All right, John, thanks very much.

Remember, That's where you can watch the results. They're about to start coming in from Wisconsin in a few minutes. county by county. You'll see what's happening even as we speak to you right here. Let's go back to Anderson Cooper and our analysts -- Anderson.

COOPER: Wolf, thanks very much. We've been watching what you and John have been talking about. Paul Begala, Democratic strategist and Clinton supporter.


COOPER: Even if Hillary Clinton wins all the states or Barack Obama wins all the states from here on out, they're still very, very close in the delegates. Does it all boil down to superdelegates? And if so, how does it get resolved? BEGALA: I hope not and I think not that it won't boil down to superdelegates. First off, I don't think you should have them at all. I think it's an abomination to its democracy to empower a few people because they're elected elites and other poobahs to have more power than millions and millions of Democrats. But I don't think it will come to that.

First off, I think King's map was really interesting, but most of the time he was running it 55-45. Barack's not only won eight in a row, he won every one by more than 55-45, more like 60-40. So that starts to stretch it out more. And I think the superdelegates are going to be super ratifiers. Either Barack's momentum is going to continue. Maybe, he'll carry the two states today and then Hillary has got to make a last stand in Ohio and Texas.

She's got the great debate, not to plug the debate Thursday night. She ought to have a great debate. Some game changer. She can change the game tonight if she wins in Wisconsin and Hawaii, where I put unlikely, because Obama grew up there. Then she's got the debate, maybe she can change the dynamic. And then Ohio and Texas, not or, and, she's got to win them both and no spin in that. So I think this thing -- you know, she can regain the momentum and she can start winning 60-40, but that's what she's going to have to do. And right now, he's winning 60-40, not just narrow wins.

COOPER: Jamal Simmons, Obama supporter, Democratic strategist, do you agree with Paul's tonight?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's amazing. We actually do agree on this.


SIMMONS: I think what's happening here is Senator Obama actually is having a very good run of states. If he wins again tonight, that momentum is going to increase. We've got polls out now that's showing Texas, you know, evening up for the two of them. He's been making inroads with working class whites, with people up and down the income ladder. If all of that continues, it goes toward a very bad scenario for Senator Clinton.

On the other hand, you know, we've counted them out before. We've all had predictions before. We've all been wrong before. So if Hillary Clinton is able to pull something out over the next couple of weeks, we may see that momentum shift back, and I think the superdelegates then go with whoever has that kind of last momentum in the end.

COOPER: I want to bring CNN contributor, Donna Brazile, also a long experience in Democratic campaigns and herself a superdelegate. What kind of pressure are the superdelegates under, Donna, as they watch these returns come in?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think my colleagues and myself included, we're under a lot of pressure. Of course, we want to help make the most responsible decision at the end of the day. There are still well over 440 superdelegates who are uncommitted, neutral. They support both candidates like I do. I believe this is a very historic campaign, and we wish them both well.

But, you know, we're not just party insiders and party regulars. Many of my colleagues have sent me e-mails saying, please, give a shout out to those of us who are activists, who've been working at the grassroots level, who've been out there building this party from scratch, registering people to vote, getting them out on cold wintry days, so superdelegates understand their role. They understand how responsible this decision will become in the weeks ahead.

But for right now, these two candidates, I think, they're in a very fierce battle. They're very competitive, evenly matched. And I hope that after tonight's results, we'll have a little bit more indication of which one will have a little more -- which one will have momentum going into the big states on March 4th.

COOPER: And the clock is ticking down to when we get the results in Wisconsin. We're going to have that in just a matter of moments. The debate which Paul mentioned is Thursday night in Austin, Texas. It's going to be quite a night for all you political fans and political junkies out there, which right now, just about the entire country. We're going to bring that to you live on Thursday night. Let's go back to Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Anderson. 8:00 p.m. Eastern, by the way, for that debate Thursday night in Austin, Texas, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And, by the way, we're standing by. We're going to be hearing from both of these Democratic presidential candidates as this night continues.

They've got rallies going on. We'll go there live once they start speaking. We'll also hear from John McCain and Mike Huckabee as well. We'll take a quick break. The polls are about to close in the state of Wisconsin. We'll see what we can do at the top of hour.

Once those polls close, we'll show you, we will tell you what we know. We'll also tell you some little bit more about Mike Huckabee. What's going on? Can he be a spoiler? As far as John McCain is concerned is that even theoretically possible. Lots more of our coverage from the CNN ELECTION CENTER.

Coming up, remember, seven minutes until the polls close.


COOPER: And just about four minutes until polls close in Wisconsin. We will have -- as soon as we can, we'll have results for you. We're sitting here with members of our team, best political team in television.

John King, what are you looking for tonight as those polls close? What are the most important things in terms of the demographics of who's voting for whom?

KING: If you look, southern Wisconsin is where most of the Democrat vote will be in the Madison area, in the Milwaukee area. We should get a pretty quick glimpse. It's a pretty quick state to report votes. We should know pretty early on if Senator Clinton has somehow found a way to stop Obama's momentum so you look for that there.

On the Republican side, you simply look for the add up the Huckabee vote, which what you might call a protest vote, which would go to Mike Huckabee to see if Wisconsin is a state that wants to send John McCain a message on the Republican side.

COOPER: It does not determine anything really tonight. I mean, does not make or break for anybody.

BORGER: It's not make or break, but it would really give either candidate a huge boost if they won. Hillary Clinton needs to do something to break his string of victories. And if he can win and win in Wisconsin big, then it's the gateway for him to Texas and Ohio...

COOPER: Right.

BORGER: ... and he can use that momentum to build on it. One thing, Anderson, I want to look at tonight is the severely underrepresented group in America, and that is white men and how white men --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really not enough focus on white men.

BORGER: All right. Sorry about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, right, right.

BORGER: Sorry about that. But I think --

I simply think we need to start focusing on white men in this country again. And I -- it will be very interesting to see whether he can make the same inroads with both voters --


COOPER: There's a lot of radio show hosts, by the way, who seem to have made an entire career out of arguing just this point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they're mostly white men.


BORGER: OK. There is a serious point. There is a serious point which is whether Obama can make inroads with those voters the same way he did in the state of Maryland in the primaries the other week.

TOOBIN: We talk about a streak too. I mean, this is -- could be 10 states tonight. That's a long streak. That's 20 percent of the country.


TOOBIN: So 20 percent of the states actually. So, I mean, I think the fact that he is winning so many states, it's just, you know, it's hard to stop.

COOPER: This allegation of what the Clinton campaign called plagiarism or some have called plagiarism. Others called borrowed rhetoric. Has it stuck? Has it had an impact? Do we know?

MARTIN: No. I mean, who's really buying it? I mean, you know, I was amazed. I even talked to a couple people in the Clinton campaign. They said, look, come on, this is even not getting us excited on the inside. I mean, they spent a lot of time the day before --

COOPER: I get a lot of e-mails from viewers who are outraged by this, who say this is important.

MARTIN: Well, look, I talked about it in the radio show. I got a blog as well. The folks are saying, you know what? I'm probably more concerned about whether or not I'm going to keep my house as opposed to actually what he said.

COOPER: Well, there's no doubt it is politics and -- but I mean is it sticking, John?

KING: It is. We've been asking all along will this newcomer to the national stage make rookie mistakes in his first run for national office. It's her first run for national office too, but she's been around her husband's campaign. So she has, "the one place where she does have more experience if we are going to have an experience argument, is around presidential politics than he does." This is the first time they have made what you could characterize as a mistake, perhaps a rookie mistake made by an inexperienced candidate.

The one thing it will do, Anderson, I don't think that lifting words once or twice is going to derail his candidacy. It is going to get him more scrutiny, and the Clinton campaign has all along said, look more closely at what he says. Look more closely at his record.

TOOBIN: They will be googling his speeches very carefully.

COOPER: We got 44 seconds. Let's go back to Wolf Blitzer before polls close.

BLITZER: Anderson, thanks very much.