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THE SITUATION ROOM

Battleground State Ohio is Fast Approaching; McCain Hopes to Grow Lead; Huckabee Urges Race Shake-Up

Aired February 19, 2008 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the voters have their say in major presidential contests. The polls are now open. The votes are coming in. And the candidates anxiously await results. What happens today could turn this race on its head and impact what happens two weeks from today. We're looking ahead to one of the biggest battlegrounds that's coming up in two weeks. That would be Ohio.
And he's long antagonized the United States. Now Fidel Castro resigns as Cuba's president. So what does it mean for U.S./Cuban relations? What are the presidential candidates saying about all of this?

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In this historic presidential race every state matters, every delegate could make a huge difference. And today people in three states are voting in primaries and caucuses. All together, 94 delegates are up for grabs for the Democrats, 56 on the Republican side.

The biggest race, Wisconsin, where Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are battling for 74 delegates, the Republicans for 37. Washington State is worth 19 delegates on the GOP side. Democrats awarded their delegates earlier this month in a caucus, so there are no delegates available, even though hundreds of thousands of Democrats are voting today in that state. And then there's Hawaii, holding Democratic caucuses today with 20 delegates available there.

The candidates will be closely watching all these states, although none will actually be in those states. They're off campaigning ahead of the two other big contest two weeks from now. But what happens today could change their strategies.

CNN's Jessica Yellin is joining us now from Youngstown, Ohio, which has a contest in two weeks.

All right, this is a big day for both Barack Obama, Jessica, and Hillary Clinton.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It really is, Wolf. Today there is intense enthusiasm among Wisconsin's Democrats, who are suddenly finding themselves unexpectedly in the spotlight during this primary season. As you say, there are just 74 delegates at stake in Wisconsin. It might not seem like much, but you realize how significant it is when you focus on the fact that Clinton and Obama are separated by just 49 delegates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice over): In the lead-up to the Wisconsin primary voters saw Clinton and Obama part two, the angry sequel. Clinton unveiled her first negative adds, both campaigns sent out nasty mailings, and there was that back-and-forth over words.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is a difference between speeches and solutions, between rhetoric and results.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She says, well, speeches don't put food on the table. Well, you know what? NAFTA didn't put food on the table.

YELLIN: Here, the contest took a populist turn as the candidates appealed to voters suffering economic hard times. The state's demographics hold advantages for each candidate. In Clinton's favor, 55 percent of the state's Democratic voters have no college degree. Half make less than $50,000 a year. And there are a few African- Americans but plenty of Catholic voters.

There's a bright side for Obama, too. Twenty-seven percent of Wisconsin's voters are Independents, a key constituency for Obama, and both Independents and Republicans can vote in today's primary. The state also has a history of electing iconoclasts. Both campaigns have set expectations low, while dedicating significant resources to the state. And if Clinton were to do well here, her campaign could pronounce it the start of a comeback.

STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: But even if she doesn't win, if she shows pretty well, if it's a close race, she's probably going to get a little bump out of this. There will be a renewed sense that this campaign really has some stuff left, some energy left.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: But if Clinton does not do well, Wolf, if she loses by a significant margin, then it would be hard for her to build up that momentum she says she needs to win big in Ohio and Texas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A huge contest coming up in two weeks as well. Jessica, thank you.

John McCain hopes to move closer to locking up the Republican presidential nomination, but he's not taking any chances. He's also in Ohio right now.

Our Dana Bash is watching the story. She's joining us from Columbus. Dana, how much is John McCain actually campaigning now that he seems to have this nomination pretty much locked up?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he was in Wisconsin last night and this morning, to answer that question, Wolf. And he was really pleading with his supporters at campaign events not to take it for granted, and pleading with them to go out and vote, because John McCain understands, his campaign understands full well, that Mike Huckabee has been campaigning very, very hard in the state of Wisconsin. And they know that they simply cannot afford an embarrassing finish in tonight's primaries.

And so here in Ohio, which is where John McCain is right now, he just had a press conference. And he repeated his mantra that he knows he still has a lot of work to do among conservatives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our base was dispirited by the spending and corruption. And I was one of those that led in the Abramoff investigation which caused some of those people to be put behind bars. And so we have a lot of work to do with our base. We have to unite it, and we have to energize it. And I'm working as hard as I possibly can to unite and energize it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, McCain is here in Ohio because his campaign is hoping that in this state, which holds its primary on March 4th, that that day in this state, along with Texas, that that will give John McCain the actual number of delegates, if he wins both, to put him over the top to really truly, officially get the nomination -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How is he doing in the fundraising front right now? What's the strategy?

BASH: It's really interesting, Wolf. John McCain's schedule is as much, if not more, about following the money as following votes. He has had 10 fundraising events in 10 days. In fact, check out the wall to look at the map to see where John McCain has been going.

Just since last Tuesday, he has had fundraising events in Virginia, D.C., Wisconsin, Texas, here in Ohio. In fact, that's what John McCain is doing as we speak. He's raising money here in Columbus.

This week he's going on to Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana. And the goal, according to McCain advisers, is to raise tens of millions of dollars between now and September. That's when the Republicans have their convention.

In doing that, he still officially is raising primary money. That means that money is unlimited. So he can use the money since he thinks he will effectively have the nomination locked up. He can use that money to build a campaign structure and a campaign message against the Democrats in November -- Wolf. BLITZER: Dana, thank you for that.

And by the way, to our viewers, if you're in Hawaii right now, or Wisconsin or Washington State, you can also be part of the best political team. We want your I-Reports.

Send us your videos, send us your pictures. Tell us of your experiences. We'll try to feature some of them in our election coverage. That's coming up tonight. We'll be on the air for hours and hours.

Just go to CNN.com/ireport.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's joining us right now with "The Cafferty File."

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the Wisconsin primary -- Hillary Clinton, she has her eyes on Texas, Ohio, March 4th. This thing in Wisconsin today, this could be crucial for her. A win there reinvigorates her campaign. Maybe she grabs back some of the momentum that has been all Barack Obama's up to this point. A loss there for Hillary raises serious questions about whether she has anything left.

Wisconsin's made up a lot of voters who you would think would support Hillary Clinton. It's been described as practically tailor- made to resuscitate Clinton's campaign. For example, nine in 10 of Wisconsin's Democratic voters in 2004 were white. Clinton has had about an 11-point advantage over Obama among whites so far.

Working class people in Wisconsin make up a larger proportion of the state's population than they do in the rest of the country. And the state's voters tend to be a little bit older than the national Democratic average. Another statistic that tends to favor Hillary. One Democratic pollster even says Wisconsin is a place where Clinton should do better than everybody expects her to do. But there are some wildcards out there as well.

Turnout could be larger than it was in 2004, and that would throw off some of these estimates. Wisconsin is an open primary. It means Republicans, Independents are free to vote in the Democratic primary if they wish. And with McCain, all but a cinch for the GOP nomination, that could happen. And if it happens, from what we've seen so far, that would tend to favor Barack Obama.

So here's the question: Is the Wisconsin primary make-or-break in terms of Hillary Clinton's race for the White House?

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

BLITZER: Jack, you know we've been doing extensive exit polling in Wisconsin throughout the day. And coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're going to be sharing some of those numbers with our viewers. I know you're anxious for those exit polls.

CAFFERTY: I am. I look forward to it. BLITZER: It's always interesting to hear what's on the minds of people who actually show up and vote, as opposed to others who pretend.

CAFFERTY: Absolutely. There you go.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Mike Huckabee sends a message to conservatives: shake up this race by helping him defeat John McCain in Wisconsin. What chances does his campaign think it has? I'll ask Huckabee campaign chairman Ed Rollins. He's standing by.

T minus about a day and counting. The Navy readies to shoot down a satellite to stop it from crashing down to Earth. Are you anywhere near the area where pieces could rain down?

And one presidential candidates says there won't be movement toward reform in Cuba "until Fidel Castro is dead." So how are all the presidential candidates reacting to the news that Castro is resigning as president?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: For those who think John McCain will become the Republican presidential nominee, Mike Huckabee essentially says, not so fast. Huckabee is urging conservatives and other Republicans to help him defeat McCain in today's Wisconsin primary.

Joining us now is Ed Rollins. He's Mike Huckabee's campaign chairman. He's joining us from Little Rock, Arkansas.

Ed, thanks for coming in.

ED ROLLINS, HUCKABEE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: My pleasure. How are you doing?

BLITZER: How are you going to do in Wisconsin tonight?

ROLLINS: I think we'll do really well. We've been there quite a few days the last two weeks. And we've had tremendous crowds and a lot of enthusiasm, considering there's eight feet of snow and it's freezing cold. The key thing is who turns out today. And I think our voters are more dedicated.

BLITZER: So you think you might win?

ROLLINS: You know, I don't want to predict a win, but I think we certainly will be above 40 percent. And I think that's a good place for us

BLITZER: So what does that say about McCain if 40 percent of Republicans who show up in this primary in Wisconsin are going to go for Mike Huckabee? ROLLINS: I think that John obviously is viewed as the inevitable nominee by many people, but I don't think he's quite closed the sale yet. I think there's a lot of people, as was shown last week in Virginia, where almost 50 percent of the voters in Virginia, his home state, didn't vote for him, that he's still got a lot of work to do. And I think by us competing against him, he's got to go out and campaign hard and try and convert some of those voters, just as we still have to compete for those voters.

BLITZER: Listen to what Mike Huckabee said about the possibility of this going all the way to the convention. I want to play this little clip for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think about the possibility of a brokered convention in St. Paul?

ROLLINS: It would be great fun. You know, at the end of the day, I assume it wouldn't be just us. I assume if it gets to be brokered, Romney and some others might want to reenter. But I think at the end of this day this thing is not over. It's 1,191 is the rules. Whoever gets that many delegates is going to be the nominee. But that's still a ways to go.

BLITZER: What does that mean, that Romney may want to reenter? Explain that to me.

ROLLINS: Well, I think the bottom line, if you end up in a brokered convention, it's just not just necessarily one on one. I think others may want to play. Just as you're hearing Al Gore being mentioned now as a possibility if Barack and Hillary are tied up. You know, I think the key thing here is just for us to keep moving forward, try to do well in Ohio and Texas. And I think obviously today to do well in Wisconsin.

BLITZER: The elder statesmen of the Republican Party, the president's father, George Herbert Walker Bush, effectively urged Mike Huckabee yesterday to see the handwriting on the wall -- I guess that would be his words. Listen to this little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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. And that certainly was true of me.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right. That was sort of a little suggestion to Mike Huckabee, maybe it's time to hang it up.

ROLLINS: Well, I remember very well -- obviously, being much older than most of these people that are doing these campaigns -- I remember it well in 1980. It was May 20th when George Bush dropped out of the race.

And it was Jim Baker who dropped him out. He was still ready to go on to California, but Jim Baker waved the white flag and said it's time to quit, who was his campaign chairman. I certainly am not going to wave the white flag for Mike Huckabee. We'll keep going as long as we can.

BLITZER: What about the fundraising? Between now and two weeks from today, Texas and Ohio. I know your goal is to raise $1.5 million. Right now you've raised about $472,000 based on what we see on your Web site. How is that coming along, fundraising for Huckabee?

ROLLINS: Money is still coming in. We had a tremendous month in January, in the first part of February. You know, we're not raising money like McCain is, but we're raising money certainly enough to keep us moving the forward, to let us have TV in Texas.

We're shooting a new commercial to put on the air in Texas, and I think obviously it gave us enough money to run campaign ads in Wisconsin. You know, our campaign has never been about ads. Our campaign has been about a candidates with a great message. And obviously using all the free media that you've given him, and others, he's been able to drive that message very effectively.

BLITZER: When you say free media, I just want to make sure our viewers know what you're talking about. When he appears on a show, that, in effect, is free media. Is that what you're saying?

ROLLINS: That's what I mean, as opposed to basically paid television or commercials, or what have you.

BLITZER: Commercial advertising.

ROLLINS: Right.

BLITZER: And what do you say to those, I guess you could call them the Republican establishment, now that's rallying around John McCain, who are saying, you know what? Mike Huckabee is embarrassing the presumptive, the likely presidential nominee by -- in a state like Wisconsin, if he gets 40 percent of the vote, that would be embarrassing to John McCain right now. What do you say to your fellow Republicans who are accusing you of doing that?

ROLLINS: Well, first of all, if 40 percent or more still want to vote for another candidate, the sale is not closed. You know, Ohio, Texas, Wisconsin, haven't called off their election. They still want to have an opportunity to go out and make their choices known.

And I think to a certain extent, that's a positive thing. Not a negative thing. The more people who participate in the process, primary, vote for us or vote for McCain, the better it is, I think, for the process.

BLITZER: Who would have a better chance of beating the Democrats in November, whether it's Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? Would it be John McCain or Mike Huckabee?

ROLLINS: I think Mike is a younger, more dynamic candidate. I think he's got the executive experience having been a governor. He's proven that he can get Democrats and Independents winning in Arkansas. It's about an 85 percent Democrat state. He won here four times.

I think he can reach across the barriers to other voters. I think it would be a great, great campaign, with two very articulate people. And I think at the end of the day, it would be the next generation, as opposed to the last generation.

BLITZER: McCain would be 72 if he were the next president. He's going to be turning 72 this year. Is he too old?

ROLLINS: Well, since I'm still 65 and I'm still running around a campaign trail, I'm not going to say anybody is too old. But I think the bottom line is that many people are looking for new ideas.

I don't think there's a third Bush term. I think whoever runs, whether it's McCain or us, or whoever, has to have new ideas, a new agenda. And certainly Mike Huckabee is the guy that's put that new agenda forward in this campaign.

BLITZER: Ed Rollins is Mike Huckabee's campaign chairman. Ed, thanks for coming in.

ROLLINS: My pleasure. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Get out of the away. The U.S. Navy is warning ships and planes to avoid a large area as it gets ready to shoot down a broken satellite, to shoot it out of the sky.

And from the icy areas of Wisconsin to the sun-filled areas of Hawaii, three more states are weighing in on the White House candidates.

Coming up, what to watch for as the results start coming in tonight.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Dealing with Cuba. Fidel Castro frustrated 10 U.S. presidents, so how will the next one handle a regime without him? The White House hopefuls are speaking out today.

Could today's election contests in three states help seal the deal for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? Wisconsin potentially could hold the answer.

And a brewing political storm over superdelegates in Michigan and Florida. Will their votes end up counting after all? We're going to be taking a close look in today's "Strategy Session."

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, Fidel Castro quits. Cuba is quiet.

Our crew in Havana reporting virtually no reaction on the streets after Castro's letter of resignation showed up on the online version of Cuba's state-run newspaper. We're going to Havana shortly.

Disturbing news in a just-released survey of U.S. military commanders. The current and former officers say Iraq has stretched the U.S. armed forces so thin the U.S. could not fight another large- scale war.

Plus, the inside scoop on the trends you need to be watching as tonight's primary results come in.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"The end of a dark era in Cuba's history," that's how Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama describes ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro's stunning announcement today that he's stepping down. Obama's White House rivals are also weighing in on the resignation of one of the most controversial figures of our time.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's watching this story for us.

So, Brian, how are the candidates reacting to this blockbuster news that we got today that Fidel Castro, 81 years old, is stepping down?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, most of them don't feel much will change with Raul Castro now formally in charge, and most of them don't favor a major change in policy, with one exception.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): He unseated himself before any American president could, but the next American president could face similar challenges with Fidel Castro's brother, Raul. And Barack Obama is the one White House hopeful who says he'll immediately take a new tact with the old communist regime.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When I'm president, I'll grant Cuban-Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittance to the island.

TODD: Right now a Cuban in the U.S. can only visit immediate relatives on the island once every three years. Obama also says he would open direct talks, unprompted, to send a message that relations could be normalized, sanctions could be reduced, if the Cuban regime moves toward Democratic freedom.

Hillary Clinton supports the tough sanctions now in place, and signals the Cuban have to move on reform before she would talk.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The people of the United States would meet a new government to talk about what needs to happen if that new government takes some action that demonstrates they're willing to change.

PETER KORNBLUH, NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Hillary Clinton has calculated that she does not want to make the mistake of losing Florida like Al Gore did to just a handful of Cuban-American votes. When she's president would she follow in the steps of her husband, who did try to start to open trade and exchanges with Cuba? I think she will.

TODD: As governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee felt the sanctions on Cuba hurt his state's rice industry. Now he wants to keep the sanctions in place.

John McCain's stance? Tough sanctions, no carrots for Cuba until the regime takes clear steps toward democracy. A position consistent with the GOP's traditional hard line, but also informed, an aide says, by John McCain's experience as a POW.

MCCAIN: There's a person that I want you to help me find when Cuba is free. And that's that Cuban that came to the prison camps of North Vietnam and tortured and killed my friends. We will get him and bring him to justice, too.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: That was at an event sponsored by the Latin American Builders Association in Miami last month. Now, analysts say, with Florida holding such a crucial position in the race, few candidates want to risk the presidency on a drastic change in Cuba policy. One analyst says the older generation of Cuban exiles there, traditionally aligned with the GOP, still has a lot of influence and money -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you -- Brian Todd reporting.

President Bush got the news of Fidel Castro's resignation while on a somber visit to Rwanda. He says he hopes this will usher in a new era of democracy in Cuba, after five decades of iron rule.

Our White House correspondent Ed Henry is traveling with the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president clearly was not expecting that news out of Cuba, but he has to be elated. He's been calling for the demise of Fidel Castro for a long time.

(voice-over): During an emotional visit to Rwanda, President Bush was greeted with the unexpected news that Cuban dictator Fidel Castro was stepping down. So, he moved quickly to declare that after nearly 50 years it's finally time for democracy to take root.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Eventually, this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections -- and I mean free and I mean fair, not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as being true democracy.

HENRY: The president said while some will be tempted to accept a handoff from Fidel to his brother Raul in the name of stability, the focus should be on what this means for the Cuban people.

BUSH: They're the ones who have been denied their right to live in a free society. So I view this as a period of transition; that -- and it should be the beginning of the democratic transition for the people in Cuba.

HENRY: It became a day for Mr. Bush to push his freedom agenda from Cuba to Kosovo, breaking with Russian President Vladimir Putin to say the U.S. is recognizing Kosovo as an independent nation.

BUSH: Kosovo committed itself to the higher standards of democracy, including freedom and tolerance and justice for citizens of all ethnic backgrounds.

HENRY: And that theme continued in Rwanda, where the president said he was deeply moved at a memorial honoring the more than one million Rwandans slaughtered in the 1994 genocide.

BUSH: It can't help but shake your emotions to your very foundation.

HENRY: Trying to blunt criticism the U.S. is not doing enough right now to stop what Mr. Bush himself has called genocide in Sudan, the president pledged $100 million to beef up the U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur.

BUSH: We will help through sanctions. We will help through pressure. And we will help provide money.

HENRY (on camera): When the president talks about an eventual transition to democracy, White House officials say he was referring to the fact that this is the initial period immediately after the announcement from Fidel Castro. They still do not have a clear handle on the political situation in Havana, so they do not know how quickly there could be a transition to democracy. But they say Mr. Bush will spend his final year in office pushing for that transition to happen as quickly as possible -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Ed Henry reporting from Kigali, Rwanda -- he's traveling with the president. Thank you, Ed. Fidel Castro's resignation letter first appeared online on the Web site of Cuba's state-run newspaper.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

What else has been posted on this site, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, so much interest in this resignation letter, in this story today, that this site has been at times immobilized.

This is the Web site of the state-run newspaper "Granma." It's in English and in Spanish. And for a year-and-a-half now, this paper has been reporting the party line on Fidel Castro's health, from the announcement in August of 2006 that he had to have surgery, that he was ceding provisional power to his brother, Raul, whilst telling the people in Cuba imperialism will never be able to crush Cuba.

And then soon after that, we saw optimistic reports from the newspaper that he was doing just fine, many photos posted, not just of Fidel, who is here seen in bed, this from the summer of 2006 post- surgery, but also of his brother and Venezuelan leader there Hugo Chavez as well, at some points in here, improbably seen to sit and eat pudding together as Fidel Castro was recovering.

There was another posted -- posted picture at the same time showing him with a copy of the newspaper, as if to say, hey, this is a current newspaper. I'm still with you.

But since then the posts have been fewer and further between. The resignation letter linked to blogs and Web sites all over the world. From the Cuban-American blogs that we have looked out today, the sentiment seems to be muted, the idea there being what they think comes next might be more of the same -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

In an historic election already, Hawaii is hoping to make history of its own. Coming up, the unusual challenges the Democratic Party has to deal with in the 50th state. We're live in Honolulu. That's coming up.

And one Democrat says the Wisconsin result tonight will be an important sign in the Democratic race. But what will it mean if Hillary Clinton wins or loses there? That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."

And what are voters like you thinking on this Election Day? What is most important? We're getting an early look at the exit polls.

That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Hawaii is basking in its moment in the sun right now. Many Hawaiians simply can't recall the last time the state has received this much attention from presidential candidates.

Our Suzanne Malveaux is in Honolulu right now watching it.

The campaigns, the Clinton and Obama campaigns, Suzanne, they have sent representatives there. This is a significant contest for them later tonight.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. There is a lot of excitement about the caucus tonight. It is still early. It's about seven hours away or so, but already party officials are saying that, from Super Tuesday on, they have seen a 25 percent increase in those who have registered online. They expect to break all kinds of records this evening. It is that open caucus process which allows Democrats, Republicans, and independents all to weigh in and simply vote.

They have to fill out what is called a simple form, a "Wikiwiki" form they say it's called here. And then they will go ahead and try to caucus and convince each other who the candidate should be. We are told, however, that the one challenge is going to be the logistics and the big crowds.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Hawaii Democrats are eager to make history.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We live in a state that's in the middle of the ocean. And we're known for having the spirit of aloha, which is compassion toward others.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I haven't made up my mind yet.

MALVEAUX: The executive director of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, Florence Kong Kee, expects island voters to break all records, with perhaps more than 10,000 heading to caucus sites, double or even triple the 2004 turnout.

FLORENCE KONG KEE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HAWAII DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Hawaii matters this time around. You know, Hawaii matters. Normally, we have our caucus in March. And I think that's one important factor with why you see Hawaii's people, you know, coming to be involved.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, everybody.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MALVEAUX: The involvement, no doubt, comes for the fact that Barack Obama is a native son, born and raised in Honolulu, and has tremendous support here.

CHELSEA CLINTON, DAUGHTER OF BILL AND HILLARY CLINTON: Thank you very much.

MALVEAUX: But the three-day campaign blitz by Senator Hillary Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, also is motivating Hawaiians.

KONG KEE: There's been a surge in the Clinton campaign. That's why I'm saying to you that we may even triple our numbers, because what I have seen in the last several, two, three days, is that hundreds of people have been coming out to visit with Chelsea, but also to, you know, pledge their support to Hillary.

MALVEAUX: The fear of snow in Iowa motivated the Clinton camp to provide snow shovels to help get voters to the caucuses. Icy rain actually extended polling hours in Maryland's primary.

(on camera): One of the challenges of the Hawaii caucuses certainly is not the weather, but rather how to get all the results in the same place, as votes are cast and spread across seven different islands.

(voice-over): Communications from some of the islands will be tough.

KONG KEE: We have some remote areas on the neighbor islands where the cell phones don't work. So, you have got to go home.

(LAUGHTER)

KONG KEE: And then they have to pick up their phone. And for some of them on the -- in the rural areas, right, from where the location site is, you know, it could be a 20-minute to half-an-hour drive.

MALVEAUX: So, party officials say expect some delays in getting caucus results as Hawaii slowly makes history.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, unlike the caucus process in Iowa, this is going to be closed to cameras, so you're not really going to get a sense of that kind of negotiations that you saw before. Something else that makes Hawaii kind of different, you hear a lot about the populations of black and white, Latino, and how that will impact who gets the most support, well, that really is isn't broken down here like that.

It is Asian Pacific Islanders who make about 40 percent of the population, followed by whites, African-American, Latino, really very small populations. So, it will be interesting to see how all of that divvies up and is divided among these two candidates -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Suzanne Malveaux clearly getting into the spirit of Hawaii as well. Thank you very much, Suzanne, for that.

Michigan and Florida moved up their Democratic primaries, as all of you know, and they're already paying a huge price for that. In today's "Strategy Session": the battle over whether key superdelegates from those two states will actually be heard.

Plus, it's not a deal-breaker, but tonight's primary in Wisconsin could make a big difference for Hillary Clinton's race for the White House, not only in terms of delegates, but in terms of momentum.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: So, what happens today could impact what happens two weeks from today as well.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us now.

What are we looking for in today's primaries and caucuses? You have a good viewer's guide.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: OK. We're looking for clues, clues about where the Democratic race is going and whether the Republican race is ready to shut down.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Wisconsin, gateway to Ohio, ever hear that? No, probably not. But, given the primary calendar, that's the role Wisconsin is playing this year. Ohio, with 141 delegates, is a must-win state for Hillary Clinton. The Ohio primary is two week weeks away. Today, Wisconsin, with 74 delegates, is voting.

Wisconsin is a Midwestern industrial state with a large population of blue-collar workers, Catholics, and union members, sort of like Ohio. If Hillary Clinton wins Wisconsin, that's a good sign for Ohio. It means her populist message is working.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have got to take a very hard look at all trade agreements, which is why I have got legislation to have evaluations of trade agreements.

SCHNEIDER: Barack Obama isn't letting that go unchallenged.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I didn't just start criticizing unfair deals like NAFTA because I started running for president.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I do it because I see what happens to communities when factories close down and the jobs move overseas.

SCHNEIDER: Right now, Obama has momentum. He needs to win Wisconsin, a state with the strong progressive tradition, to sustain his momentum. It's like a shark has to keep swimming or die. If you lose a major state, your momentum could die.

Momentum is making Obama competitive right now in Texas, another state that Clinton needs to win in two weeks. It's hard to imagine two states more unalike than Texas and Wisconsin. One is beef. The other is cheese. Obama is going for a cheeseburger, use the momentum from a big win in Wisconsin to propel him to victory in Texas.

OBAMA: We are going to end this war.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: In the Republican race, former President Bush called conservative criticism of John McCain, "absurd." Now, one test of that will be how Mike Huckabee does today in Wisconsin. If he carries conservatives and comes anywhere close to beating McCain, conservative opposition to McCain won't look absurd. It will look serious -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much, an excellent viewer's guide. And I know you're going through exit poll numbers. You're going to be sharing the early numbers with us. That's coming up as well.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

BLITZER: Bill, thank you.

Certainly, every state matters right now, but is the outcome of today's campaign contests in Wisconsin and Hawaii perhaps more important than ever for Hillary Clinton?

Joining us now in our "Strategy Session," our CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and conservative commentator Terry Jeffrey. He's editor in chief of the Cybercast News Service.

Well, Donna, what's the answer to that question? How important are these contests for Hillary Clinton tonight?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's a very important test, not just for Senator Clinton, but also Senator Obama, who is hoping to extend his winning streak. Look, this state, Wisconsin, is tailor-made for a Clinton message, her strong economic message, her message that connects with a lot of blue-collar Democrats who are worried about the economy, worried about jobs.

I think this is a great state for her tonight to -- to try to make a comeback. They -- the campaign decided, I think, at the last minute, to compete in Wisconsin. That was an important decision, because a loss tonight in Wisconsin and a loss in Hawaii would have put her on a defense going into those crucial states in two weeks, Texas and Ohio.

BLITZER: I never understood, Terry -- maybe you did -- why the Clinton campaign was even thinking of not aggressively campaigning in a state like Wisconsin, which potentially is tailor-made for her.

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE: Well, it would have been a huge mistake, Wolf. I don't think it is make or break for Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin tonight.

I think March 4th, which she herself basically has said is make or break, is what will ultimately determine whether or not she has a chance of winning the Democratic nomination. It is more important, however, for Hillary Clinton to win today than Barack Obama. I believe that's the case because she's on a losing streak. All the momentum is with Obama. There's a little bit of a sense that there's some desperation in the Clinton campaign, particularly as exemplified by the aggressive behavior of former President Clinton at a couple of rallies the other day.

And I think all of Obama's campaign has been -- every single time, in every single state, it's a place where Hillary Clinton was originally ahead, and he was able to come from behind and win. And she's got to break that momentum somewhere, because, if she doesn't break it here, it obviously increases his chance of still winning Texas.

BLITZER: He was aggressive, Donna, because was being heckled, and sometimes at the expense of his wife. Obviously, he's ardently supporting her. Let's talk a little...

BRAZILE: I thought he was -- I thought he was restrained.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Yes.

BRAZILE: I mean, that was a restrained Bill Clinton, given the fact that he was heckled. Look, I think this state is very important for Senator Clinton because of all of the things that Terry just said. And she's decided to compete. But it's important, because, four years ago, this state also gave John Edwards and Howard Dean their walking papers. So, Wisconsin, the birthplace of the primary system, really knows how to choose candidates.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about these superdelegates.

And, Terry, I will start with you.

All of us certainly knew that the pledged delegates, those who were elected in Michigan and Florida, would not be allowed to have a say at the Democratic Convention in Denver at the end of the summer. But it just dawned on me -- and I checked into this -- that the unpledged, the so-called superdelegates from those two states -- there are 28 in Michigan, 22 in Florida -- including the governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, the senator, Carl Levin, congressmen, John Conyers, John Dingell, in Florida, the senator Bill Nelson, Congressman Alcee Hastings, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Robert Wexler, none of them -- and a lot of -- they're going to have no say in this selection process either.

What, if anything, is going to be done to rectify that, or should anything be done to rectify that?

JEFFREY: Well, I don't know, Wolf. But I think so far they are in fact justly being punished. I think the worst thing in any kind of contest, whether it's sports or politics, is to change the rules in the middle of the game or let someone break the rules and get away with it. And the fact of the matter is that the Democratic Party set up their nominating process. Everybody knew what the rules were. And then Michigan and Florida tried to break the rules.

And, quite frankly, I think Hillary Clinton tried to game those rules more than Senator Barack Obama did. And I think it's one of the perceptions that has hurt her campaign. So, I think -- I think, if they're going to rectify it, they better make sure that they do it according to the rules of the Democratic Party as they existed before this campaign started.

BLITZER: All right. What do you think, Donna?

BRAZILE: Well, Terry is absolutely right. We have to protect the integrity of the process. After all, we voted for those rules, even officials in Florida and Michigan, before they decided to go in defiance of the DNC.

Look, I think, at the end of the day, there will be some accommodation of the officials, as well as the delegates, or the delegates, as we don't even know who they may be, because there's no process yet. But, you know, as a Democrat, I think, at the end of the day, we will find some accommodation. What it -- I don't know what it will look like.

BLITZER: What, like a -- redo the contests, have caucuses in Michigan and Florida? That -- the Democratic Party could organize that. You don't need the state. You don't need taxpayer dollars to do that.

BRAZILE: Well, we will have to see once all of the states that complied with the rules, and after they have completed their contests, once the credentials committee, which is seats 86 days before the convention. Look, I'm not trying to get technical. I have a seat at the table. I would like to see everyone with a seat at the table. I think it's important that we follow the rules.

And, Wolf, just for clarification, four years ago, the District of Columbia City Council voted to defy the rules. And I voted to strip all of the delegates and superdelegates here in D.C., which meant I would not have gone to the convention.

JEFFREY: Wolf...

BRAZILE: We have to -- you have got to follow the rules. You may not like them, but you have to follow the rules.

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY: Wolf, the candidates in the campaigns that already have been eliminated already deserve fair play. These campaigns started out their strategy, decided how they were going to raise money, how they were going to spend it, how they were going to allocate it, what their plan was going to be, what issues they were going to talk about, where their candidate was going to go, dependent on the schedule that was set up.

BLITZER: All right. JEFFREY: It is not fair to change and rig the rules after the game has started to benefit everyone. And I will tell you, people who have been involved in presidential politics know that the schedule of these primaries and the rules are set up by the establishment of the parties in the first place to favor the establishment. So, they shouldn't get a change in the rules once they have set it to their advantage, and then go reset them in the middle of the game to give themselves an advantage again.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: I hope we find an accommodation.

BLITZER: We have got to leave it there.

BRAZILE: I just hope we find an accommodation, Wolf.

BLITZER: We have got a long night ahead of all of us.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Donna Brazile, Terry Jeffrey, thanks to both of you for coming in.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

BLITZER: All eyes certainly will be on Wisconsin, with the most delegates in today's races. Is the Wisconsin primary, though, a make- or-break contest for Hillary Clinton? That's Jack Cafferty's question. He's got your e-mail. That is coming up next.

And Cuban exiles danced in the streets of Miami when Fidel Castro shifted power to his brother Raul more than a year ago, but are they celebrating his resignation now? We're going to Havana.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The former first lady Nancy Reagan has been released from a hospital two days after falling at her Los Angeles home.

A spokeswoman saying the 86-year-old Mrs. Reagan is -- quote -- "very happy to be back in her home, and has already begun resuming her daily activities." The former first lady fell Sunday morning, was taken to the hospital, where doctors determined she did not -- repeat, not -- break a hip, as feared. We wish her a speedy recovery.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com. Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Did you write on your blog today?

BLITZER: I did.

CAFFERTY: What did you write about?

BLITZER: I wrote about these superdelegates from Michigan and Florida who are not necessarily that super anymore, because, like the regular pledged delegates, they have no superpowers left.

CAFFERTY: Well, they have no power at all, right? I mean, none.

BLITZER: None.

CAFFERTY: They're no more eligible to vote...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The governor, Senator Levin...

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: None of these superdelegates in Michigan or Florida will have any say, unless they change the rules in the middle of the game.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Unless they change the rules, they will have no say in determining who the Democratic presidential nominee...

CAFFERTY: That's because those two states were naughty.

BLITZER: They were bad.

CAFFERTY: They were bad.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Is the Wisconsin primary a make-or-break race for Hillary Clinton?

Bob writes: "Wisconsin is only important in that, if she wins big, it should give her some momentum. But what really matters are Texas and Ohio. If she doesn't win both of those by wide margins, then do the same in Pennsylvania, I don't think she'll have a chance, unless, of course, her efforts to change the rules end up working for her."

Deb in Lancaster, Pennsylvania: "Should Hillary Clinton lose in this tailor-made state, it would indicate a solid shift of not only momentum, but, more importantly, of the political thought-process. If she loses another previously considered in-the-bag primary, the message is clear: For the good of the party, Hill, step aside. Being married to the president does not make you qualified."

Aaron in Wisconsin says: "It's make-or-break for Hillary. I will tell you what. I was originally backing Obama, full of hope from his ideas and determination of inspirational size. Then, I find out those speeches he had me hooked on were recycled from other politicians, the ones he claims are the status quo. I vote Hillary."

Penny in Wisconsin: "Even though Wisconsin is the perfect place for Hillary to make a comeback, it all comes too little too late for the voters. We Wisconsin voters can tell that she only cares about us now because it can refuel her campaign. Barack has been paying attention to us all along."

And this from Roger in Dallas, Texas, where they vote in a couple of weeks: "We are watching the Wisconsin primary with great interest, as our chance to vote comes up in two weeks. Tomorrow, Senator Obama will be here in Texas, and the excitement and enthusiasm is unlike any I have ever seen. We all have great respect for Senator Clinton, but I am 61 years old. I haven't been this excited and pumped up about an election in more years than I care to think about. For once, we have a clear choice, and it's not the lesser of two evils."

And Joe in Ohio writes: "I think she could win Wisconsin and lose the nomination or she could lose Wisconsin and win the nomination. Can't we just wait and see? I know it's not as fun as speculating, but this election has taken us on a ride with no road map."

Indeed it has.

BLITZER: A lot of fun speculating, though.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin, we got a lot of mail out of all three states.

BLITZER: All right, good. Stand by.

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