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Clinton and Obama Battle in Texas

Aired February 21, 2008 - 22:00   ET


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am absolutely honored.


CLINTON: And, you know, whatever happens, we're going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we will be able to say the same thing about the American people, and that's what this election should be about.



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Clinton toward the end of tonight's debate.

If you're just joining us now, at the top of the hour, over the next hour of our special coverage of the debate in Austin, we are going to be talking obviously with our political analysts all about what happened tonight, what they saw happen tonight, what you all saw happen tonight.

We are going to get a dial-testing, minute-by-minute analysis, second-by-second, really , analysis from undecided voters in Texas, how they responded to what the candidates had to say.

We're also going to be playing you significant chunks from the debate, the most important exchanges, the important moments that occurred on that stage in Austin tonight. So, if you missed the debate or missed parts of it, we're going to give you the full recap over this next hour.

Right now, let's check in right with the people who were asking the questions at tonight's debate, the moderators, CNN's Campbell Brown and CNN's chief national correspondent, John King.

(r)MDNM¯Campbell, how do you think the candidates did tonight?


Anderson, I was really struck by sort of how different from the conventional wisdom I thought the debate was tonight. I mean, there were a lot of people who were saying, Hillary Clinton is down right now, she needs to go on the attack. And I think there was some anticipation that it might be more intense between the two of them in terms of their arguments.

You know, they were intense on substantive issues, for the most part, I felt, certainly on health care, highlighting their differences when we talked about Cuba and their policies on diplomacy and meeting with leaders.

But -- but, with the exception of a little bit when they got into the issues of words and the substance of what Barack Obama says in his speeches, beyond that, they -- they didn't really go negative. She didn't, and neither did he.

And I think it's -- it doesn't really work for either of them when they do. And it certainly didn't in this environment. I mean, I can tell you we're sitting in the debate hall now. They have stayed for a while and are treated virtually like rock stars by the crowd here, signing autographs, with everybody waiting for them.

And you saw that standing ovation at the end, and the crowd did not respond well when they did make sort of snide remarks toward one another on any of the issues.

And it's very interesting to me to watch the way, you know, the Democratic Party has sort of coalesced around both of them, saying that they're both strong candidates. And, going back to the last debate, I think the people in this room would like to see them together on a ticket.


BROWN: And to have that moment toward the end where they shook hands and talked about how much they respected one another, again, just goes to the fact that that is what this audience is responding to.


John, Senator Clinton's message has been about more -- solutions are more important than speeches, actions more important than words. Both candidates responded to that.

Let's play some of that for our viewers.


CLINTON: I do offer solutions. That's what I believe in and what I have done. And it's what I offer to voters because it's part of my life, over the last 35 years, working to get kids health care, working to expand legal services for the poor, working to register voters, working to make a difference. Because I think that this country has given me so much.

And there are differences between our records and our accomplishments. I have to confess, I was somewhat amused, the other night, when, on one of the TV shows, one of Senator Obama's supporters was asked to name one accomplishment of Senator Obama, and he couldn't. So I know that there are comparisons and contrasts to be drawn between us. And it's important that voters get that information. So, yes, I do think that words are important and words matter, but actions speak louder than words. And I offer...


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Clinton of late has said: Let's get real. The implication is that the people who've been voting for me or involved in my campaign are somehow delusional.


And that, you know, the 20 million people who've been paying attention to 19 debates and the editorial boards all across the country at newspapers who have given me endorsements, including every major newspaper here in the state of Texas.


OBAMA: You know, the thinking is that somehow, they're being duped, and eventually they're going to see the reality of things.

Well, I think they perceive reality of what's going on in Washington very clearly. What they see is that if we don't bring the country together, stop the endless bickering, actually focus on solutions and reduce the special interests that have dominated Washington, then we will not get anything done.


COOPER: John, clearly, Barack Obama deciding to try to rise above any kind of bickering between the two, especially in front of this crowd.


He believes he has the high ground in the race right now. The last 11 victories have gone to Barack Obama. And, as Bill Clinton has put it, if Hillary Clinton doesn't win Texas, he sees no way that his wife would be the nominee of the Democratic.

No question, Senator Obama came in trying to be as positive as possible. And even though Senator Clinton did take some pokes at Senator Obama in the answer just before his last remarks there, they were much more about: My ideas are better.

In her speeches of late, she has essentially said, he has words. He has no ideas, essentially saying, there's nothing there. Many have said, she's almost calling him a fraud, a man who gives a good speech, but doesn't have anything to back it out.

She was much more gentle here. And let me take you behind the curtain for just a minute. One of the advantages of being here is, I was backstage just before the debate. And it became very clear to me that she was not going to come out with a flamethrower, as many thought she might have to do, given her position in the race right now.

At first, they stood several feet, probably 15 feet, apart from each other, not acknowledging each other. And then she walked up to him and said, "Hey, Barack." And he turned to her very warmly, put his arm around her, and said: "Hey, Hillary. How are you?"

And then they were talking not about the issues, but about how tall their Secret Service agents are, and making jokes about how some had apparently taken advantage of their time here in Texas to buy new cowboy boots.

It was a very pleasant, very friendly conversation. And we were introduced moments after that. And I walked out thinking, she's going to come out here and try to take the high road, whether it's for valedictory reasons, whether he thinks it's over, or whether she thinks, tactically, that is the best way to go.

Given that they're both so highly regarded by Democrats, it's hard to be negative, especially in a casual debate setting like this. It was clear from the very beginning that she was going to highlight the differences in a much more polite way here than she does out on the campaign trail solo.

COOPER: Some analysis from our panel now. Lisa Caputo, formerly Hillary Clinton's press secretary, joins us, Democratic analyst Jamal Simmons, president of New Future Communications, a supporter of Barack Obama, and Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez, who probably doesn't like either of these folks too much, author of "Los Republicanos: Why Hispanics and Republicans Need Each Other."


COOPER: Lisa, first of all, how do you think Hillary Clinton did tonight?


COOPER: Did she do what she needed to do?

CAPUTO: You know, I think she -- she -- actually, when she closed the debate, I think she actually did do what she needed to do, which is to show a little leg, to show the human side of Hillary Clinton.

COOPER: Show a little leg?

CAPUTO: Show a little leg.



CAPUTO: To show the human side of her, to show kind of what makes her tick, to open up, to show the emotion.


COOPER: Something we saw in New Hampshire.


COOPER: She said she had found her voice...


COOPER: ... but something we haven't seen since then.


And I think that she absolutely did that tonight. I also think, you know, she was effective on the health care debate that she had with Obama. And on the Cuba issue, I think that she managed to draw a distinction between herself and Obama. I mean, Obama seemed to backtrack on an original position he had in 2003, which was that he was in favor of normalizing relations with Cuba.

He seemed to kind of flip a little bit in this go-round. She tried to go on the offensive by talking about how she's about specifics and solutions, and he's about words. She had that line, "Actions speak louder than words."

But I think her best moment of the night was clearly at the end of the debate.

COOPER: Jamal Simmons, your candidate, how did he do?

SIMMONS: Oh, I thought -- I thought it was a pretty good night for Barack Obama, because Hillary Clinton didn't really score any points on him.

I think she tried to get a little cute with the Xerox line. It didn't work. The audience booed. But she made up for it in the end. So, it was sort of a makeup point when she made her last -- when she made her last comments. And everyone felt very good without her. I think, without that last comment, we would be talking about a very different kind of debate.

And what Hillary Clinton really needed to do tonight was to score some solid points on Barack Obama, move the needle a little bit. And that just didn't happen. They clinched their way through it. And it was a wash.

COOPER: Leslie, obviously, immigration is a key issue, not just for the nation, but especially in the state of Texas. I want to play some of what both candidates had to say on the topic.


CLINTON: I would consider that, except in egregious situations where it would be appropriate to take the actions you're referring to.

But when we see what's been happening, with literally babies being left with no one to take care of them, children coming home from school, no responsible adult left, that is not the America that I know.


CLINTON: That is against American values. And it is...


CLINTON: And it...

OBAMA: It is absolutely critical that we tone down the rhetoric when it comes to the immigration debate, because there has been an undertone that has been ugly.

Oftentimes, it has been directed at the Hispanic community. We have seen hate crimes skyrocket in the wake of the immigration debate as it has been conducted in Washington, and that is unacceptable.

We are a nation of laws and we are a nation of immigrants, and we can reconcile those two things. So we need comprehensive reform...



COOPER: Not a lot of light between these two on this issue. It will be interesting in the general election to see how this plays out in a debate against John McCain.


I thought it was a little bit more nuanced in terms of rhetoric coming from Barack Obama, when he is talking about, we need to tone down the rhetoric. That's something you hear on the right sometimes about -- among conservatives and -- and moderates, who are saying, tone down the rhetoric on the immigration debate.

He is particularly talking and using that language in Texas, because Texas is really split on that. It's more an emotional issue with respect to immigration. Immigration is not top of mind for these voters. But it's interesting. They both talked about moving away from building a fence, something they originally supported in the past.

And Hillary Clinton failed to talk about, it was her husband's failed policies with respect to the old INS, Immigration and Naturalization Service, that didn't help prevent the porous border that you see today, the fact that you could have a continuation of a problem that started actually before -- in fairness, before the Clinton administration, but was certainly, you know, exposed for what it truly is, as a porous border.

COOPER: We are going to have a lot more on the issues of health care and other things with -- with our panel just ahead.

Also tonight, we're going to take a closer look at the issues of health care, the candidates trading shots over coverage and affordability.

Also, John McCain's answer to "The New York Times"' front-page story that set something of a firestorm today, allegations of an improper relationship with a lobbyist, but a lot of people, not just Republicans, asking, where's the beef?

We will have that story coming and more of the best moments from tonight's debate.



CLINTON: The wealthy and the well-connected have had a president the last seven years, and I think it's time that the rest of America had a president to work for you every single day.



COOPER: Senator Hillary Clinton a short time ago debating Barack Obama in Austin, Texas.

Let's bring back our political panel, Lisa Caputo, Jamal Simmons, and Leslie Sanchez.

One of the issues that, of course, was talked about a lot was health care. I want to play for our viewers some of what both candidates had to say on it.


CLINTON: But I want to get back to health care, because I didn't get a chance to respond after Senator Obama finished. No, let me finish, Jorge...

JORGE RAMOS, UNIVISION: But I would like to come back...

CLINTON: This is a significant difference. You know, Senator Obama has said it's a philosophical difference. I think it's a substantive difference.

He has a mandate for parents to be sure to ensure their children. I agree with that. I just know that if we don't go and require everyone to have health insurance, the health insurance industry will still game the system. Everyone of us with insurance will pay the hidden tax of approximately $900 a year to make up for the lack of insurance. (APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: And you know, in one of our earlier debates, John Edwards made a great point. It would be as though Social Security were voluntary. Medicare, one of the great accomplishments of President Johnson, was voluntary.


CLINTON: I do not believe that is going to work. So it's not just a philosophical difference. You look at what will work and what will not work. If you do not have a plan that starts out attempting to achieve universal health care, you will be nibbled to death, and we will be back here with more and more people uninsured and rising costs.


BROWN: All right. We appreciate...

OBAMA: Understand that when Senator Clinton says a mandate, it's not a mandate on government to provide health insurance, it's a mandate on individuals to purchase it. And Senator Clinton is right; we have to find out what works.

Now, Massachusetts has a mandate right now. They have exempted 20 percent of the uninsured because they have concluded that that 20 percent can't afford it.

In some cases, there are people who are paying fines and still can't afford it, so now they're worse off than they were. They don't have health insurance and they're paying a fine.


OBAMA: And in order for you to force people to get health insurance, you have got to have a very harsh penalty, and Senator Clinton has said that we won't go after their wages. Now, this is a substantive difference. But understand that both of us seek to get universal health care. I have a substantive difference with Senator Clinton on how to get there.


COOPER: Leslie, do you think this is an issue which most folks who are watching, do they get lost in the weeds on the differences?



SANCHEZ: Completely. There are two points.

One, it seemed like Hillary Clinton was trying to show, I'm the smartest girl in the class. She really has this aura about her, about, no, come back to me. No, come back to me. It's very -- it's brutish is really the only term I can use. And I think she does...

COOPER: We will point out you're a Republican strategist.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Let me point that out, very biased on this side.



COOPER: Uh-huh.

SANCHEZ: She's talking about nationalizing what's 15 percent of our economy and basically making this socialized medicine...


COOPER: But the question is, is this an issues which plays?

SANCHEZ: Oh, I can go on and on about that.Well,

But, no, with respect to how -- I do think it gets lost. I thought Barack Obama did a good job talking about garnishing wages. Those are the types of things that people all of a sudden pay attention to.

And when she talked about, you know, you wouldn't have Social Security or Medicare unless you forced it on people, those are the two largest entitlements our federal government has and the biggest part of budget deficits and difficulties that we have today, and it -- not to mention the insolvency of them, looking forward. So, I don't think those are two good examples to give.


SIMMONS: This is where her being a Republican sort of comes into play...


SIMMONS: ... because most Americans actually like Social Security and Medicare.


COOPER: Jamal, you're an Obama supporter. I want to ask you something right now that the -- the Obama folks are putting out.

They're point out quotes, two quotes from John Edwards which they say are very similar to a quote that Hillary Clinton used tonight, Hillary Clinton saying: "You know, whatever happens, we're going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and friends. I just hope that we will be able to say the same thing about the American people, and that's what this election should be about."

John Edwards, in a prior debate, said: "What's not at stake are -- what's not at stake are any of us. All of us are going to be just fine no matter what happens in this election. But what's at stake is whether America is going to be fine."

It's not word for word.

SIMMONS: It's not word for word, but it certainly is substantively the same.

And, you know, the reality is, I think the American people don't really care about this kind of a fight. This is something that goes on in CNN's studios...


COOPER: And on the debate -- and on the debate stage tonight, I should point out.


SIMMONS: And on the debate stage. But it's not really about people's health care. And it's not about their economy and the -- the problems that they're facing.

But the reality is, Hillary Clinton started that food fight. And, so, I think the Obama people are trying to get back in it, and say, you know what? The reality is, most politicians do say things that sound like what other people say.

I mean, I worked for Bob Graham. And he went around for an entire year saying, one America. John Edwards became a candidate in 2007 and change two Americas to one America. But nobody cried foul. It's what politicians do.

So, we have got to -- I think both candidates wanted to get back on the issues of substance. And, for most of the debate, they did do that.

COOPER: Lisa, I just want to ask you, you worked for Hillary Clinton in the past. In New Hampshire, she said she found her voice. We saw a personal side to her. Tonight, at the end of the debate, we saw a personal side to her.

Why not in between? What -- what happens to -- to not allow that to come forward? Because everyone seems to say, that's what she should be doing more.

CAPUTO: Well, I think, you know, she has these great moments. And I think, you know, she had a -- she had a -- a really terrific moment at the end of the debate tonight. And that's why you see the Obama campaign working to try and defuse it now.

I think, you know, it's a hard thing to be out on the trail and to kind of just let your guard down. And, every once in a while, she just kind of lets -- lets her guard down. And that's when those of us who know her well see, you know, the true Hillary Clinton come through.

And I think you -- you saw that tonight. She cares deeply about this election. It's very personal for her. I think you saw it in -- in New Hampshire. She was so...


COOPER: Do you think we're going to see more of that in the week ahead?

CAPUTO: You know, who knows, Anderson. I think, you know, it's -- it's -- it's such a grueling pace they're keeping that -- and I think a lot has to do with fatigue as well.


CAPUTO: You just, you know, kind of have a moment.

COOPER: It's -- it is tough out there.

Appreciate your comments. Thanks very much.

We're going to have more from our panel ahead.

Just ahead, we will also rate the debate minute by minute. Dial- testing, it records voters' real-time reactions. We will tell you the results in just a moment. It is always fascinating to see.

Plus, John McCain's battle with "The New York Times" over allegations he had an improper relationship with a lobbyist, could there actually be a silver lining for McCain in all of this?

When this special edition of 360 continues -- we will be right back.



OBAMA: Something that we can do immediately that I think is very important is to pass the DREAM Act, which allows children who through no fault of their own are here but have essentially grown up as Americans, allow them the opportunity for higher education. I do not want two classes of citizens in this country.



COOPER: Senator Obama speaking there about a piece of proposed federal legislation called the DREAM Act. It would allow illegal immigrants who are high school students to remain in America and gain legal status if they attend college or join the military -- immigration, of course, a key issue with Texas voters, as most American voters as well.

Some of those voters still undecided ahead of the state's March 4 primary.

Now, we had some undecided voters in Dallas do dial-testing of the debate to get their real-time reactions to different moments.

Get details now from 360's Erica Hill.


ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Here's what worked: bashing George W. Bush.

CLINTON: That the era of unilateralism, preemption and arrogance of the Bush administration is over and we're going to...


OBAMA: We have to end the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy...


OBAMA: ... and to provide tax breaks to middle-class Americans and working Americans who need them.

CLINTON: The wealthy and the well-connected have had a president the last seven years, and I think it's time that the rest of America had a president to work for you every single day.


HILL: And here's what didn't: attacking your opponent, as Senator Clinton did, on the question of whether Barack Obama plagiarized a line in his stump speech.

CLINTON: If your candidacy is going to be about words, then they should be your own words. That's, I think, a very simple proposition.


CLINTON: And, you know, lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in. It's change you can Xerox. And I just don't think...

OBAMA: Come on. That's not what happened there.

CLINTON: No -- but, you know, but, Barack, it is, because, you know, if you look...


HILL: If the burden truly was on Hillary Clinton tonight to connect with voters, she pulled it off with our voters at the end.

CLINTON: I was called by my faith and by my upbringing to do what I could to give others the same opportunities and blessings that I took for granted.

That's what gets me up in the morning. That's what motivates me in this campaign.



HILL: And what's really interesting, Anderson, is especially that last bit there from Senator Clinton. You saw the spike in the reaction from our voters.

Going in, some of the women had said they were torn, because they felt an allegiance to Senator Clinton as a woman, but they just hadn't felt a lot of excitement from her. Well, one woman afterwards, one of our undecided testers, said, you know what? When I heard her talk about humbleness and public service, I found that extraordinary, and that got me excited.

Another man has said -- you spoke about the DREAM Act and immigration right before we tossed to this piece -- another man said, I'm so happy that Senator Obama mentioned that, because the DREAM Act is something that really hits home with me.

So, at the end of the night, we asked our undecided Democratic voters, if they were voting today, who would they vote for? Anderson, they were split down the middle.

COOPER: Man, just as the race seems to be.


COOPER: Our polling tonight shows the same thing, statistical dead heat in the state of Texas. Always remarkable to see the dial- testing.

Erica, thanks.

Let's get some perspective now on the reactions of the undecided voters and what happens next in the race, up until March 4.

Joining us again, CNN senior analyst Gloria Borger, Jeffrey Toobin,David Gergen, also CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist and superdelegate Donna Brazile.


COOPER: Gloria Borger, where does this race go from tonight?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think, as you heard in the dial group, still -- still right down the middle. Texas, Ohio, I think you're going to hear both of them talk about their more populist messages, trying to get those John Edwards voters, each of them hoping maybe each for an endorsement from John Edwards.

But I came away tonight thinking, Anderson, we have heard all the themes we're going to hear between these two candidates, because if there was ever a moment to bring out a new thing, some -- some new quiver in your arsenal, you would have done it tonight. And we didn't hear that from Hillary Clinton.

COOPER: So -- so, the race is not going to change much in terms of the -- the wording, the rhetoric we have heard, the issues?

BORGER: No. I think -- I think it is what it is right now. And I think she sharpened it at points tonight. Then she backed off a little bit. And I think Barack Obama has been very consistent.

COOPER: If that is true, Jeff Toobin, it does not bode well for Senator Clinton, because time seems to be on Barack Obama's side.


I mean, Barack Obama has won 11 contests in a row. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.


TOOBIN: I mean, it is -- his campaign is going fabulously. He's -- he's raising a million dollars a day. He's soaring in the polls. He's going to do precisely what he's been doing. It's been very successful.

Hillary Clinton obviously is in a much more difficult place. You know, there was a very interesting conference call yesterday for reporters with the senior management of the Clinton team, Mark Penn and Harold Ickes. And there was nothing new.

The reporters all kept asking, well, what's different? And they were saying, well, she's going to say she's ready on day one to be commander in chief.

Well, she said that already. And you saw tonight there were no new arguments. So, maybe she has recognized that this is how she's going to sink or swim, and she's going to lose with dignity, perhaps.

BORGER: you know, the only new argument -- and it really wasn't an argument -- was the closing, was the closing argument.

And I couldn't help but think tonight, you know, this -- this is a -- a candidate whose campaign has been so closely managed and fine- tuned, that, when you finally hear something you -- you think is a real voice, you're sort of surprised, and you say, gee, who is that woman? And maybe that's what been wrong with this...

TOOBIN: But then it turns out to be almost word from word from John Edwards.

BORGER: Well, never mind.



COOPER: David Gergen, what -- what about that? I mean, if -- will the message, in your opinion, stay the same, as Gloria thinks?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: If it does, I think she's going to lose. And I think she has to change it. There were two openings. There were two things that she could go back on the trail with out of tonight. One was the fighter theme, not the experience them, that: I'm a fighter. I will go out there and fight for you everywhere.

But we have also seen now twice, in very important moments, that, when she connects emotionally, it works. It works very well with women. It gets a lot of women to feel, you know, sympathetic toward her and want to rally behind her and support her. If there's a way she can find to open up on the trail, which she did at that last moment tonight, and be more personal and more connected, then she may be able to turn this around. If she just goes back and recycles the same themes, he's going to beat her.

COOPER: Donna Brazile, let me ask you a question that I asked Lisa Caputo earlier. You're a veteran of many campaigns. Everyone seems to say, well, she's at her best when she connects in that personal way. Then why haven't we seen that much since New Hampshire? Clearly, it's -- either it's not possible or it's not something she believes in or just -- by the way campaigns work, not something that's viable.

BRAZILE: I think when we have an opportunity to reflect upon this political season, we will look back at those moments when Senator Clinton could have inspired, could have given people a reason to believe in the kind of change that she's seeking.

I think she needs a message firewall to give her an opportunity to make people be for her, to -- to, as David said, to get people a reason to believe that she will fight for them. Yes, she's been tested. She's vetted. She scores well on all of the points. But people want to feel that she can connect with them and that she will fight for them and that she will lift them up, as Barack Obama said.

And look, Barack Obama tonight was exceptional. He was presidential, he was poised, he was calm. He had the poetry, but he also had the prose. He put the substance ahead of, you know, perhaps some of the rhetorical flourishes that he's capable of giving. He was good. So you can't deny him that. But she needs to build that message firewall now.

COOPER: We'll have more from our panel coming up just ahead. Who made the most convincing case for being best prepared to be the next president? What senators Clinton and Obama said and how it went over.

Plus, government policies gone amuck. A ferret attacking a CNN microphone. It thinks it's a prairie dog. We'll tell you why you should care, in a CNN special report, "Broken Government: Scorched Earth." That starts at the 11 p.m. Eastern hour. Good lord! We'll be right back.


COOPER: We are slicing and dicing all angles of the Democratic debate tonight from Texas. In case you missed anything, we're showing you the meaningful exchanges between senators Clinton and Obama, not just 15-second sound bites, trying to give long exchanges so you can really get a sense of the debate and the issues involved.

Here's how Senator Clinton addressed the question "Are you suggesting that Senator Obama is not prepared to be commander in chief?"


CLINTON: For more than 15 years, I've been honored to represent our country in more than 80 countries. To negotiate on matters such as opening borders for refugees during the war in Kosovo. To stand up for women's rights, of human rights around the world.

I've served on the Senate -- I've served on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And I have worked as one of the leaders in the Congress on behalf of homeland security and the very difficult challenges we face.

You know, just this week it's a good example. We had elections in Pakistan. We had change in government in Cuba, or at least the leadership. We've had the elections that, you know, should have happened that haven't happened and just changed the leader the way they do in Cuba. We've had Kosovo declaring independence, and we have had our embassy set on fire in Serbia.

So we have serious problems that pose a real question about presidential leadership. And also some great opportunities. You know, we now have opportunities, perhaps, with Cuba. I hope with President Musharraf for him to do the right thing.

So when you think about everything that is going to happen, what we can predict and what we cannot predict, I believe that I am prepared and ready on day one to be commander in chief, to be the president, to turn our economy around and to begin making a lot of these very difficult decisions that we will inherit from George Bush. And that is what I am putting forth to the voters.

OBAMA: I wouldn't be running if I didn't think I was prepared to be commander in chief. And my -- my No. 1 job as president will be to keep the American people safe. And I will do whatever is required to accomplish that. And I will not hesitate to act against those that would do America harm.

Now, that involves maintaining the strongest military on earth, which means that we are training our troops properly and equipping them properly and putting them on proper rotations. And there are an awful lot of families here in Texas who have been burdened under two and three and four tours because of the poor planning of the current commander in chief. And that will end when I'm president.

But it also means using our military wisely. And on what I believe was the single most important foreign policy decision of this generation, whether or not to go to war in Iraq, I believe I showed the judgment of a commander in chief. And I think that Senator Clinton was wrong in her judgments on that. On the issues that have come up that a commander in chief is going to have to make decisions on, I have shown the judgment to lead. That is the leadership that I want to show when I'm president of the United States.

CLINTON: All right. Here's...


COOPER: David Gergen, as you listen to that, it was interesting. The question was to Hillary Clinton about why is Barack Obama not, in her opinion, ready to be commander in chief. An opportunity -- could have been an opportunity for her to say something negative about him. She chose not to. She just chose to speak about her own experience. Was that the right move?

GERGEN: No. I thought her answer didn't go anywhere. It was a litany of events in the world, but it didn't have a point to it that really worked. Whereas to go back and echo what Donna Brazile has been saying, Barack Obama is dramatically better as a debater than he was a few months ago.

COOPER: Thirteen debates will do it.

GERGEN: Absolutely. But you know...

COOPER: I feel like I'm a better debater at this point.

GERGEN: Well, Anderson, you're still learning here.

But the other thing about Barack tonight, you know, he looked back -- he looked past Hillary Clinton on a couple of occasions and got at McCain. And he had one of the best lines of the night when he said, you know, John -- on the economy, he said John McCain says he doesn't know much about economics, and he's sure proving it by embracing George W. Bush's economic policies.

It was a very effective response and, I think, suggested to the voters that, you know, this fellow is not only good against Hillary Clinton. He's going to be very tough against John McCain, too, who's going to be a formidable opponent. If they become rivals, it's going to be really interesting.

COOPER: And Donna, it's fascinating that in every poll voters view Clinton as the candidate with more experience, but that really has not translated into wins.

BRAZILE: Again, I think she -- she must give voters a bigger rationale for voters to be for her. She scores well on all of -- on all of the points. Everyone knows that she is smart, that she's gifted, she's talented. But there's something missing. It's like an ingredient you need to make a -- make a good gumbo that will just spice it up. And it's lacking. And that's why often she comes across flat, Anderson.

BORGER: I just -- I just think that it's -- often tonight it was as if she was just reciting a resume. That Hillary Clinton, in answering the commander in chief question, said, "Well, I've been on the armed services committee, and I've been to this place, and I've been to that place. And I've spoken about human rights."

And I think that's what Donna and David are talking about. There -- there needs to be one other moment where she connects and tells voters, "This is really why I'm better than the other guy."

And by the way, it was very interesting watching their body language tonight. I don't know if all of you agree with me, but she had a hard time looking at Barack Obama half the time. He would look directly at her when she was speaking, and she would not do the same to him.

COOPER: It's interesting, Jeffrey. This is really the first debate, I think, that Barack Obama has come into it as the frontrunner. And I don't know if that means anything or that made any kind of difference. But he certainly seemed different tonight.

TOOBIN: He seemed more presidential. I remember thinking of the YouTube debate you moderated. Afterwards I said it was like Gladys Knight and the Pips. I mean, she was dominant in that debate. I mean, she seemed presidential. It's so different now.

I mean, he is -- is looking beyond this, as David said, looking beyond Hillary Clinton at this point, thinking about John McCain. And just so much more comfortable in this setting.

And, you know, time is running out. Here we are talking about Hillary Clinton has to change her message this way or that way. She's been running for president for more than a year. She's the most famous woman in America. You know, there are certain things she should have settled on by now, and it's just not working.

COOPER: And in terms of the race, David Gergen, we talked about the importance, obviously, of Texas and Ohio already. What happens after that? I mean, can we play this out a little bit? If Barack Obama -- you know, if Hillary Clinton does not win, does she then -- I mean, does she say she's not running any more? Does she take it to the convention? What is your sense?

GERGEN: My sense is if he beats her in any state, and his best shot looks like Texas right now, but he's closing in Ohio, too. There's a "Washington Post"/ABC poll out tonight that has them even in Texas and her lead down to seven in Ohio.

If he pulls out either one, I think she may withdraw rather than going on to Pennsylvania. It would be very expensive to go into Pennsylvania and her money will probably dry up. And I think her husband signaled that tonight.

TOOBIN: Bill Clinton said, in effect, that much today, that you know, she's gone if she doesn't win both of these.

BORGER: Right. And the super delegates will peel away from her. They'll start going to her and say you need to withdraw. COOPER: I want to thank Donna Brazile, David Gergen, Gloria Borger and Jeffrey Toobin, as well. Much more on the debate ahead.

Also tonight, an epic battle waging in America's west, your tax dollars caught up in it. So are these little guys. We'll explain in tonight's "Broken Government: Scorched Earth" report, coming up in about 15 minutes, our next hour.

Also, the big fight over "The New York Times" story about John McCain. We'll talk about that. That's ahead.



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do know this that there was some interest with former aides, that this whole story is based on anonymous sources. I don't think that that's really something that is -- I'm very disappointed in that.


COOPER: Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, woke up to a presidential candidate's worst nightmare today, front- page allegations by "The New York Times" that included the words "improper relationship" and "lobbyist." The report, which broke on the paper's Web site last night, which we talked about on the program, has forced the McCain campaign into major damage control mode today.

Here's CNN's Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With his wife by his side, a subdued John McCain issued an unequivocal denial.

J. MCCAIN: I'm very disappointed in "The New York Times" piece. It's not true.

BASH: That emphatic "not true" was meant for every suggestion and allegation in this lengthy article: first, that he had a romantic relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you describe your relationship with Vicki Iseman?

J. MCCAIN: We were friends. I've seen her on occasions, particularly at receptions and fundraisers and appearances before the committee.

BASH: On that, an assist from Mrs. McCain.

CINDY MCCAIN, JOHN MCCAIN'S WIFE: My children and I not only trust my husband, but know that he would never do anything not only to disappoint our family, but disappoint the people of America.

BASH: Then the charge that McCain used his powerful position on the Senate Commerce Committee to help Iseman's corporate clients.

J. MCCAIN: At no time have I ever done anything that would betray the public trust nor make a decision which in any way would not be in the public interest and would favor anyone or any organization.

BASH: The story points to these letters McCain wrote to the Federal Communications Commission nearly ten years ago, suggesting he tried to influence a decision on behalf of Iseman's client, Paxson Communications.

At the time that rankled the FCC chairman, who wrote McCain he was concerned, calling his actions, quote, "highly unusual." McCain says he did nothing wrong.

J. MCCAIN: In the letter, I said, "I am not telling you how to make a decision. I'm just telling you that they should move forward and make a decision on this issue." And I believe that was appropriate.

BASH: The "Times" also says eight years ago during McCain's first presidential run, his advisers were so concerned about his relationship with Iseman, they confronted both and tried to block her access. Again, flat denial.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nobody on your campaign thought it was a problem (ph)?

J. MCCAIN: No, no.

BASH: The one-time source to go on the record is McCain's former top political adviser, John Weaver. He confirms to CNN he was worried and did confront Iseman but insists it wasn't about a romantic relationship, rather that Iseman was spreading word, quote, "around town" that McCain helped her lobbying clients, something Weaver said would undermine McCain's reformer campaign.

"My concern wasn't about anything John had done; it was about her comments. It was about access she claimed to have had," Weaver told CNN.

McCain insists he knew nothing about that.

J. MCCAIN: I've never discussed it with John Weaver. And so as far as I know, there was no necessity for it. But that's -- that's a judgment that he made.


COOPER: Dana, how much will this story hurt McCain, as the campaign suggests, and how much might it actually help him?

BASH: You know, it's ironic. It definitely is helping John McCain with a segment of the population inside the Republican Party he's needed very badly, and that is conservatives.

Let me actually tell you this way. Rush Limbaugh, the talk radio host, it's pretty well known now that he has been trying to derail John McCain's candidacy. Listen to what he said today on his radio show.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: You're surprised that Page Six-type gossip is on the front page of "The New York Times"? Where have you been? How in the world can anybody be surprised?


BASH: If you didn't catch that, that was Rush Limbaugh praising John McCain and really siding with him and going after "The New York Times."

You talk about damage control, Anderson. You and I talked last night about the fact that, from the get-go, the McCain campaign was going after "The New York Times." A by-product of that, they hope, was to have kind of a relationship and a common enemy with conservatives that they're trying to court, and that common enemy, the biggest enemy of conservatives, is "The New York Times."

And at least so far, it seems to have worked for them. In fact, McCain's campaign manager sent a fundraising letter, calling on people, fundraisers and donors, to join with them to hit the liberal media, specifically "The New York Times."

COOPER: Interesting. Dana Bash, thanks.

Straight ahead, is the government censoring researchers who don't support White House environmental policy? It's one of the questions answered in a CNN special investigation, "Broken Government: Scorched Earth." That's in about ten minutes from now. We'll have a preview next.



OBAMA: I think there are also opportunities in our economy around creating a green economy. We send a billion dollars to foreign countries every day because of our addiction to foreign oil. And for us to move rapidly to cap greenhouse gases, generate billions of dollars that we can reinvest in solar, and wind and biodiesel, that can put people back to work.

CLINTON: We need to end George Bush's war on science.

We've got to get back to being the innovation nation. Think of everything that goes on at this great university to create the new economy.


COOPER: Senator Obama and Senator Clinton in tonight's Democratic debate, weighing in on the U.S. going green. Senator Clinton talked about scientific innovation.

Here at CNN, we're investigating some outright failures in environmental policies in this country. Tonight, CNN's chief technology and environment correspondent, Miles O'Brien, will be doing that in a special in the next hour.

Interesting night to have this debate. They were both rated on environmental issues today.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the League of Conservation Voters, Anderson, which tracks environmental issues, gave nearly identical marks to senators Clinton and Obama today, 86 and 87 percent, respectively.

So when it comes to the environment, they're pretty much a wash. What's kind of interesting is you look to the presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. He actually does better than most Republicans, because he has been in the forefront in pushing for a cap in trade programs on global climate change.

COOPER: ... have been very critical of.

O'BRIEN: And it's part of the reason Rush Limbaugh has been railing against him.

COOPER: Right.

O'BRIEN: Is that very position.

COOPER: This "Broken Government" special that you're doing this next hour, what have we learned?

O'BRIEN: You know, Senator Clinton was talking about the fact that there's all these allegations about scientists who have been, in essence, muzzled during the Bush administration years. We found quite a bit of evidence of that.

And we also found a lot of evidence of some real confusion when it comes to the endangered species laws. And specifically, we found the story of an endangered ferret in the badlands of South Dakota and how it has run up against prairie dogs and ranchers.

And what we found is, one government agency is trying to preserve the ferret and the prairie dogs, which live together. There you see those cute little ferrets, a heavily endangered species, stealing our microphone cover.

Another government agency answering to ranchers out there who hate prairie dogs is getting ready to poison prairies dogs out there, thus hurting this recovery of this endangered species.

COOPER: One doesn't know what the other's doing.

O'BRIEN: And we're all paying for it, either way.

COOPER: It's a "Broken Government" special, Miles O'Brien. It starts in about four minutes from now. We'll have more on 360 ahead. We'll be right back.


COOPER: We'll have more on the impact of tonight's debate in Austin tomorrow morning on "American Morning." And as always here on 360 tomorrow night.

Up next, Miles O'Brien with "Broken Government: Scorched Earth."