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THE SITUATION ROOM

Obama Photo Firestorm; Interview With Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano; McCain Iraq's Fear

Aired February 25, 2008 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama find something new to fight about, but does an old photo on the Internet amount to fear-mongering, as the Obama camp claims? The best political team on television is standing by.
Plus, John McCain's Iraq warning -- he briefly suggests the war might cost him the White House. Is this straight talk tripping him up?

And they're all senators, not CEOs or governors or mayors. But do Americans really care that they lack executive experience?

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

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Whatever happens eight days from now in Texas and Ohio, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are managing to get under each other's skins -- some harsh words unleashed today by the two campaigns fueled in part by a controversial photo of Barack Obama.

Let's go to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's in Ohio. She's watching this right now.

The knives seem to be out there, Candy. What is going on?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf.

It doesn't matter what it is, trade agreements, old photographs, health reform, all of it. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have found a lot to argue about over the past couple of days.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Democrat to Democrat, it the unkindest cut of all, a comparison to George W. Bush.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have seen the tragic result of having a president who had neither the experience nor the wisdom to manage our foreign policy and safeguard our national security. We can't let that happen again.

CROWLEY: After declining last Thursday to say Barack Obama doesn't have enough experience to be president, Hillary Clinton went after him Monday in a foreign policy speech doing just that.

CLINTON: The American people don't have to guess whether I understand the issues or whether I would need a foreign policy instruction manual to guide me through a crisis.

CROWLEY: As Clinton questioned Obama's credentials, his campaign accused hers of shameful and offensive fear-mongering by circulating this, a picture of Obama in African garb while visiting Kenya in 2006. It appeared on The Drudge Report. There is no evidence it is being circulated at all and the Clinton campaign says it knows nothing about it.

The fractious Monday followed a rough-and-tumble weekend, as the two sparred over an Obama leaflet accusing Clinton of saying the North American Free Trade Agreement was a boon to the economy.

CLINTON: Shame on you, Barack Obama. It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public. That's what I expect from you. Meet me in Ohio. Let's have a debate.

CROWLEY: NAFTA is estimated to have cost Ohio 50,000 jobs. The Obama campaign admits the word boon is not hers, but say she made frequent favorable comments about NAFTA, including this one in 1996.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1996)

CLINTON: Oh, I think that everybody is in favor of free and fair trade, and I think that NAFTA is proving its worth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Obama has been hitting Clinton for days on the subject and mentions the trade agreement at most stops.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our trade agreements don't have strong labor standards, strong environmental standards, so that U.S. workers aren't being undermined. NAFTA didn't have those things, and that's why I opposed NAFTA.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Late in the day, the Clinton campaign put out a list of quotes from Obama saying, they say, that he has also said favorable things about NAFTA. Bottom line, Wolf, don't expect any letup on any of this between now and March 4, when those Ohio and Texas primaries come up -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, set the scene for us where you are right now in Dayton at that rally. Give us a little flavor. What's going on?

CROWLEY: Wright State University, they are once again almost packing an arena here. This is a rally, one of many that he's having today, actually. He's had a roundtable discussing health care and a number of things like that.

He's sort of been mixing in issue sort of roundtable kind of events, as well as the rallies. But he tends to sort of cap off the night with rallies. And that's what he's going to do here at Wright State.

BLITZER: These next eight days are going to be intense for a lot of people.

All right, Candy, thanks very much.

Just ahead, by the way, we're going to check the Democrats' facts on NAFTA, whether the free trade agreement really cost jobs in the key battleground state of Ohio -- Brian Todd checking those facts right now.

The likely Republican nominee, John McCain, is drawing a new line in the sand today over Iraq. He offered a blunt prediction about how the war could impact his prospects for winning the general election.

Dana Bash, she is covering McCain. She is in Ohio as well.

There was some straight talk, very straight talk from John McCain today. Then, he seemed to backtrack a little bit. What happened?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He realized the straight talk was too straight, Wolf, what John McCain told reporters on his bus earlier today. That is that if the U.S. strategy in Iraq does not succeed militarily, he said in terms of his political future: "Then, I lose. I lose."

But he immediately backtracked and said that he wanted to retract that "I lose" statement prediction. But I just asked him here at the Colonial Eatery, where John McCain just left gathering with voters in Parma, Ohio. I asked him about that statement on his bus. And he said, look, clearly, my fortunes are tied to what's happening in Iraq. He understands that, and that sentiment was abundantly clear earlier today with voters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Campaigning in Rocky River, Ohio, John McCain got his one standing ovation from this line.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will never surrender and they will. And I want to assure you of that.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CROWLEY: But as defiant as the likely Republican nominee is about staying in Iraq, new evidence that McCain realizes the political battle against Democrats, who want troops home now, will not be easy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will there be some benchmarks as far as progress in Iraq?

BASH: When a voter asked about Iraqi progress, McCain used the opportunity to clarify a controversial remark he made in early January. MCCAIN: By the way, that reminds me of this 100-year thing. My friends, the war will be over soon, the war, for all intents and purposes, although the insurgency will go on for years and years and years. But it will be handled by the Iraqis, not by us.

BASH: Last month, McCain said this when asked how many years the U.S. will be in Iraq.

MCCAIN: Maybe 100.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN: We have been in South Korea -- we have been in Japan for 60 years. We have been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That would be fine with me, as long as Americans -- as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed.

BASH: Democrats pounced and regularly use the 100-years line to warn voters a McCain presidency would be a third Bush term.

OBAMA: He says we can stay in Iraq for 100 years. That's the politics of yesterday.

CLINTON: Continue the war in Iraq for 100 years. I will start bringing our troops home within 60 days.

BASH: McCain denied those attacks are resonating with voters, but:

MCCAIN: As they hear it repeated by the Democrats, they don't talk about their predictions about -- that the surge would absolutely fail.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, again, Wolf, John McCain just said he understands that his fortunes are tied to what happens in Iraq, that there's a reason he understands that, and that is because any time you ask John McCain why he came back from the political dead over the summer, he says it's because the surge was doing better, and he knows he is so tied to the military strategy, the surge, in Iraq right now.

But you know, Wolf, there is a big difference between campaigning among Republican primary voters, who are staunchly pro-war, at least many of them, and the situation he's in right now, which is going into the general election, where he's trying to appeal to a more broad electorate, many war-weary voters -- Wolf.

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

Let's go back to Jack. He has got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: There's a point at which that straight talk can become dumb talk. I mean, 100 years in Iraq? How much does it is cost this country to be there for five years? Something approaching $800 or $900 billion. And the Iraqi parliament, in case you're interested, went on vacation for five weeks.

Ready on day one, that's the question posed by a front-page story in "USA Today." The story looks behind the political slogan and makes a startling discovery. Well, maybe it's not so startling. None, none of the three main candidates for the White House is very long on the kind of experience that they're touting as being necessary to run the country.

You see, these three have never really run anything that amounted to very much. They haven't run a business. They haven't run a large corporation. They haven't been governor of a state, so they didn't run a state. They haven't been mayor, so they didn't run a city, no governors or mayors here, nothing.

They are professional politicians, whose managerial experience amounts too overseeing their campaigns and Managing their offices in the Senate, although, truth be told, they probably have somebody else who actually does both of those things.

In fact, these three candidates have less executive experience than any president in nearly 50 years. The irony here, of course, is, the candidates who had the most executive experience, Republican Mitt Romney, Democrat Bill Richardson, gone. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, he is still in the race, but in name only. He's not going to be around much longer.

Experts say voters have not focused on the readiness issue yet, but eventually they will. Maybe that's because so far the campaign has been all about change. And as hungry as voters are for change, there's probably still something to be said for experience.

Some former presidents had to deal with some pretty heady stuff right after they got elected, JFK, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Harry Truman's decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan.

So, here's the question. When it comes to being president, how much does experience really matter?

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

I mean, these guys haven't run a bodega.

BLITZER: Well, that's...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: We will talk about it later...

(CROSSTALK)

CAFFERTY: You want to debate that? They haven't run a bodega. (LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: We're going to talk about it in a little while. Jack, thanks very much.

Jack's going to be back with the best political team on television.

A big Obama backer says her candidate has what it takes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JANET NAPOLITANO (D), ARIZONA: A new voice can be associated with pragmatism and getting things done. Just because it's new doesn't mean it can't be effective.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But would Obama be ready to go on day one? The Arizona governor, Janet Napolitano, she supports Obama. She is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, John Edwards is back, speaking out with a big new campaign on the war in Iraq -- how the war affects your money.

And big changes are afoot in America's religious landscape, why the majority faith may be about to lose its lead.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Spotlight right now on Texas, only eight days before the critical Texas primary.

Our brand-new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows the Democrats are in a very tight race in Texas, with Obama now holding a very slight edge over Hillary Clinton. Our survey gave Clinton a narrow advantage last week. The margin of error clearly in effect right now.

The Arizona governor, Janet Napolitano, is working to try to help Obama win in Texas and elsewhere, even though her endorsement did not help him in her own state.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's get some scrutiny from the Arizona governor, Janet Napolitano. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Governor, thanks for coming in.

NAPOLITANO: Thank you.

BLITZER: By the way, is that a problem for you that you endorsed Obama before the primary in Arizona? The people , the Democrats who voted, endorsed -- basically supported Hillary Clinton. Is that going to force to you change your vote as a superdelegate?

NAPOLITANO: No, for a number of reasons. I endorsed shortly before our primary. And even in that two-week period, we picked up 11, 12 points. And he clearly was closing the gap. And the independents can't vote obviously in the Arizona primary. But our superdelegates will be divided between Clinton and Obama.

BLITZER: So, you're staying with Barack Obama?

NAPOLITANO: I am.

BLITZER: All right.

Here's what is Hillary Clinton said about him earlier today. I will play this little clip.

NAPOLITANO: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: The American people don't have to guess whether I understand the issues or whether I would need a foreign policy instruction manual to guide me through a crisis or whether I would have to rely on advisers to introduce me to global affairs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, the implication is that he's not ready on day one to be the commander in chief.

NAPOLITANO: Well, I was listening. And it sounds familiar. And I wonder if the same thing was said about Bill Clinton in 1992.

BLITZER: Well, I covered that campaign. There were similar statements made.

NAPOLITANO: Exactly. But one of the things you want and I think the American people are looking for is a new vision, a new face. They don't just want the same old, same old out of Washington.

Why? They're not happy with what's come out of Washington, D.C. They're not happy with the gridlock. They're not happy with the progress our country is making. They're actually looking for something new.

SANCHEZ: So, you think he's totally ready on day one, even though he's got a limited amount of foreign policy experience, to go in there and take charge?

NAPOLITANO: He is ready. And not only that. This campaign has been a test. These candidates have been out in front of the public for a year now, debating, arguing, campaigning, persuading voters. And he has shown time and time again that he has a vision for the country, where we ought to go, and he unites people behind it.

BLITZER: Have you seen that photo circulating on the Web now with Obama dressed in sort of Kenyan Muslim garb that's been circulating? The Clinton campaign is not saying whether or not -- there it is behind you, if you want to take a look. You see it right there.

What do you think of this development, sort of I guess the implication being to reinforce this notion that he is, at least on his father's side, there's some Muslim ancestry there?

NAPOLITANO: Oh, I think it's irrelevant to the issues of the campaign. And I know there was some back and forth today. The Clinton campaign says they had nothing to do with it. I take them at their word.

We need to move on. The people of the United States, people out in Arizona aren't interested in a photo. What they're interested in is a president who will lead, who will help them deal with the economy, with health care, with foreign policy, and, by the way, with a new vision for the war in Iraq.

BLITZER: We spoke the last time when you were here. Arizona is a border state. On the issue of driver's licenses with Barack Obama, I know you disagree, because you just told us the last time. But when you heard what he was saying on illegal immigration in the last debate with Hillary Clinton, was there anything else that caused you to be concerned, because he takes a very shall we say liberal stance on how to deal with comprehensive immigration reform?

NAPOLITANO: Oh, I wouldn't say it's a liberal stance. I would say it's a stance not uncommon with Hillary and not uncommon with John McCain. It means comprehensive immigration reform. It means enforcing our immigration law, enforcing at the border, but also in the interior of our country, particularly against employers who continue to hire illegal labor, and really looking at the labor aspects of this. So, we're very consistent on that part.

BLITZER: So, you're comfortable with what you heard at that the last debate?

NAPOLITANO: I am.

BLITZER: On the issue of illegal immigration?

NAPOLITANO: I am. Immigration is not a driver's license issue. It's a labor issue. It's a crime issue. That's where we ought to focus.

BLITZER: Here's another clip of what Hillary Clinton said over the weekend, referring to a mailer that had been sent out from presumably the Barack Obama campaign on her position on NAFTA. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Shame on you, Barack Obama. It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public. That's what I expect from you. Meet me in Ohio. Let's have a debate about your tactics and your behavior in this campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: She says he was distorting, that mailer, her stance on trade.

NAPOLITANO: Well, A, I think the mailer was not a distortion of her stance on trade.

But, B, just the word, the language used and whatever, it really is the expression of a frustrated candidate trying to pierce through. And what Barack Obama has done so well and will do well is he just offers people a new change, a new voice.

And I will tell you, there's a hunger for that around this country. And a new voice can be associated with pragmatism and getting things done. Just because it's new doesn't mean it can't be effective.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Janet Napolitano speaking with me a little while ago.

Tomorrow, by the way, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we will be leading -- we will be speaking with a leading Hillary Clinton supporter about foreign policy and other hot topics on the campaign trail.

The former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, she will be with us live tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The politics of jobs and free trade. Clinton and Obama have lots of bad things to say about the pact now. But what about NAFTA? Are they telling it like it is?

And animal rights activists are outraged. One country now says it's OK to kill elephants. You're going to find out who and why and a lot more -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Eight days before the critical Ohio primary, the North American Free Trade Agreement is getting some red-hot scrutiny in the Democratic presidential race. The reason comes down to two words, jobs and votes. But should the candidates' claims about NAFTA be believed?

We have asked our Brian Todd to take a closer look, to do a fact check, and what these candidates are saying now, as opposed to what they said then.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A little bit of discrepancy there, Wolf. All of this just underscores how high the stakes are next week, in Ohio, both Democrats hitting hard on the economy and who's really going to look after voters who are concerned about the job market. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): They both know the Democratic nomination could ride on Ohio, and both are trying to hit home on jobs and trade in a state where many voters have a popular boogeyman for the steady loss of manufacturing jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: NAFTA has devastated this country here.

TODD: Now Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are sparring very pointedly, very publicly over who hates the North American Free Trade Agreement more and who hated it first.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She was saying great things about NAFTA until she started running for president.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have a record of criticizing NAFTA.

TODD: Was she fort it before she was against it? One biographer says Hillary Clinton had reservations about job loss and the environment when her husband was pushing NAFTA as president, but says she embraced it once it turned into a political victory.

In recent years, Mrs. Clinton has spoken out against the agreement. Obama's positions are also disputed. A libertarian free trade group disagrees with his position that more than a million Americans jobs have been lost because of NAFTA and says the job loss in Ohio was not NAFTA's doing.

DANIEL GRISWOLD, CATO INSTITUTE: Just U.S. transitioning from a heavy industry economy to a sophisticated information and services economy, and Ohio and Michigan have just been behind the curve.

TODD: Both candidates want to toughen NAFTA's labor and environmental standards. What's their biggest difference on NAFTA going forward? We asked the liberal advocacy group Public Citizen.

LORI WALLACH, GLOBAL TRADE WATCH: Senator Clinton has announced she wants a time-out to review existing trade agreements. On the other hand, Senator Barack Obama has said he will go back and look at the foreign investors protection. They're at the core of NAFTA and CAFTA and the related agreements that are actually the key promoter of offshoring that creates downward pressure on wages.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, despite their desire to review and maybe even renegotiate NAFTA, both Clinton and Obama favor a free trade agreement with Peru that is now in place, one that has some similarities to NAFTA. They say that is because that deal includes binding, enforceable labor and environmental standards that NAFTA doesn't have -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much -- Brian Todd doing a fact check for us. Hillary Clinton wouldn't say it on the debate stage, but she's saying it now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: The American people don't have to guess whether I understand the issues or whether I would need a foreign policy instruction manual to guide me through a crisis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Coming up: Is Clinton's attack on Obama's foreign policy experience actually working?

Plus, John Edwards launches a new campaign against the war in Iraq. Could that help or hurt the Democrats still running for president? The best political team on television standing by.

And there could be a Romney on the ballot again -- the story coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: It's the picture that has the Democratic race in an uproar. It shows Barack Obama in traditional Muslim tribal clothing. Is the Clinton campaign behind it? Will it hurt Obama?

Also, John Edwards stakes out a new role for himself, the former candidate now teaming up with anti-war activists to highlight the huge financial costs of the conflict.

And John McCain slamming both Clinton and Obama on Iraq. You're going to find out why he says, flatly, they were wrong -- all of this, plus the best political team on television.

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

Ready or not, here they come. None of the leading contenders for the White House has any experience running a state, a city or a big business. So, do these three senators have what it takes to run a nation?

CNN's Jim Acosta is standing by. He's watching the story for us.

So, how much does this issue of experience, based on what we're seeing in all these ballots, actually matter, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Barack Obama actually questioned whether he was ready to run for president back in 2004. Now he's fighting a two-front ballot on the issue of experience, with John McCain and Hillary Clinton taking shots at Obama's resume.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (voice-over): Flash back to 2004. Barack Obama had just won a landslide victory to become Illinois's next U.S. senator. At the time, he ruled out running on a national ticket in 2008, suggesting back then he lacked experience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, why have you ruled that out, running nationally?

OBAMA: You know, I am a believer in knowing what you're doing when you apply for a job. And I think that, if I were to seriously consider running on a national ticket, I would essentially have to start now, before having served a day in the Senate. Now, there are some people who might be comfortable doing that. But I'm not one of those people.

ACOSTA: While Obama says, some of his colleagues in the Senate eventually persuaded him to change his mind, that hasn't changed the subject of experience in the 2008 campaign, whether it's Hillary Clinton comparing Obama to President Bush, as she did today.

CLINTON: You've seen the tragic result of having a president who had neither the experience nor the wisdom to manage our foreign policy and safeguard our national security. We can't let that happen again.

ACOSTA: Or John McCain belittling Obama's offer to meet Cuban leader, Raul Castro.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's naive to think that you can sit down and have unconditional talks with a person who is part of a government that has been a state sponsor of terrorism.

CLINTON: What we need is someone ready on day one.

ACOSTA: Both Clinton and McCain have run on variations of the theme "ready on day one." Obama says he would be right on day one, noting Clinton and McCain's support for the war in Iraq. In fact, not one of the three leading contenders has executive experience -- a trait shared by every president since John Kennedy. Another way to measure the candidates is how they run their campaigns.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: It's true that a campaign is maybe a billion dollar operation from beginning to end. If you run that operation well, it does suggest that you have some executive skills. To make the counter argument, every president who has been elected has been successful at running a campaign.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ACOSTA: To make up for his shortcomings as an executive, Kennedy surrounded himself with the best and the brightest people, he called them, in his cabinet. All three senators in this race have top executives from the worlds of politics and business advising their campaigns -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thank you. "Shameful fear mongering" -- that's what the Obama campaign is calling the release of a picture of Senator Obama dressed in Somali tribal clothing. And it's blaming the Clinton campaign. The Clinton campaign denying involvement.

Let's talk about that and more, the issue of experience.

Our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here in Washington

Jack Cafferty is in New York.

Roland Martin, our contributor, is in Chicago.

They are all part of the best political team on television.

Jack, let me start with you. On the issue of experience, I thought Jim Acosta had a very good piece there. But the voters, at least on this question, are not necessarily saying that's the most important issue they're worried about.

CAFFERTY: Well, the Washington experience of John McCain and Hillary Clinton are very much what shows up in all of the public opinion polls as the country being, for the most part, opposed to. Talk to 75 percent of the people on the street, they're sick of Washington politics. And Hillary Clinton and John McCain exemplify Washington politics.

The reason that Obama is doing well is he's saying we -- we -- not I, as Mrs. Clinton is prone to say -- we can change things in this country if we work together. And it's resonating with people.

So the experience of a bunch of old timers who have been hanging around those dusty halls in Washington, sucking up to the lobbyists and the special interests, I'm not sure that's going to get anybody very far.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: I'm not interested in it. And apparently neither are the voters.

BLITZER: What do you think, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I want to know how Jack really feels. That's what I want to know.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: I just told you.

BORGER: I think that the Clinton campaign thought that the experience argument was clearly going to have more salience than it has. But what you have is somebody saying I'm ready to be commander- in-chief, I've got the experience. But she's also running against hope, as Jack points out. It's kind of a tough place to be, to say don't pay attention to those speeches, don't pay attention to the big crowds, don't pay attention to these ideas about hope, because I've got the experience.

And, by the way, the voters may not believe she has the experience.

BLITZER: He was candid back there in 2004 in that little clip we saw, Roland, when he said you know what, I really don't have the experience and that's why I'm not going to be running for president. But he changed his mind.

You live in Chicago. You've covered him all these years.

What eventually convinced him that, well, maybe he does have the experience?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, keep in mind, when he made the statement, he hadn't even been sworn into the United States Senate yet. And so I think the fact that he has been in the Senate now for three years -- I mean really was sworn in January of 2005, '05, '06 and '07. And so that experience, coupled with being a state senator, but also recognizing what Senator Ted Kennedy said, it's a matter of the time. And so you never know that you're going to get this time.

But also keep in mind, Wolf, in 1992, we were all told that America will never elect a president who did not serve in the military. Bill Clinton obliterated that. And so you haven't heard anybody say anything about Clinton or Obama not serving in the military.

The reality is America has moved and has changed in terms of how it perceives a president...

BLITZER: All right...

MARTIN: ...so this whole notion that you have to have this kind of -- this -- all this experience, I don't think really flies with the voters.

BLITZER: What do you make of this photo circulating on the Internet now, Jack, of Barack Obama dressed in this traditional Somali outfit when he visited Kenya back in 2006?

CAFFERTY: It smacks of desperation and gutter politics of the lowest form. On the other hand, it's -- there's nothing particularly harmful. That's the costume that people in that part of Africa wear.

My question is why did it take until 5:00 this afternoon for the Clinton campaign to finally say they didn't have anything to do with it?

That thing was up on Drudge when I turned on my computer at home at 6:00 this morning.

BLITZER: And Drudge was saying, Gloria, they got it from a Clinton...

MARTIN: And, you know, Wolf...

BLITZER: Hold on. Let me let Gloria and then you -- very quickly -- Drudge was saying he got it from a Clinton staffer.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: That was what Drudge was saying.

BORGER: Right. And I don't, you know, honestly, I don't know who Drudge's sources are. The Clinton campaign says it didn't leak it. I mean this is, as Obama said at the last -- at the CNN debate, you know, you can get into the silly season here a little bit about these ridiculous photographs. I mean there are so many pictures of every elected official posing in diplomatic garb when they travel abroad, it's meaningless.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Roland, go ahead.

MARTIN: Wolf, it's Machiavellian. That is, you leak it and all of a sudden the story is out there. We've all been discussing it all day long. It's been on all the networks. But Maggie Williams, her initial statement, she did not distancing herself from the e-mail. Then around 5:00 they say oh, I had nothing to do with it, when the effect has already taken hold -- and that is we all discussed it.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

MARTIN: So, from a Machiavellian standpoint, they got exactly what they wanted.

BLITZER: Guys, stand by because we've got a lot more to talk about, including John McCain. He's slamming his Democratic rivals on the war in Iraq. You're going to find out why he says they were quote -- they were wrong.

Plus, John Edwards announcing his new role that he's carving out for himself now that he's out of the presidential race.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I think that clearly my fortunes have a lot to do with what's happened in Iraq and I'm proud of that because Senator Clinton and Senator Obama said that we could not succeed militarily. And we have. They said we could not succeed politically. We have. I think that the American people will recognize that and we will continue to succeed in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: John McCain, speaking earlier in the day, just a little while ago, Jack Cafferty, making it clear that he believes his fortunes are going to go up or down, at least in part -- maybe in large part -- on what's happening on the ground in Iraq.

CAFFERTY: Well, I might take issue with the fact that the military succeeded and politically we've succeeded. I'm not sure that thing's tied up with a big red ribbon around it. I think he's right. I think a lot of his political fortunes rest on Iraq.

This all goes back to that question of experience that we started this conversation with. The experienced John McCain says he doesn't care if the United States is in Iraq for 100 years. And the experienced Hillary Clinton voted for the war. I rest my case.

BLITZER: Gloria?

BORGER: You know, the great thing about John McCain as you cover him is he's not only a presidential candidate, he's his own political pundit. And he will tell you, quite honestly, that his political fortunes have been tied to the surge. He did sink everything into that surge. If the surge had failed, then he probably would not be the nominee right now.

And I think that he -- he was very honest in talking about it. Obviously, this doesn't help him with those Independent voters, who are against the war, that he needs to attract in the general election.

But this is kind of quintessential John McCain, with his staff having to say to him, you know what, you can't be quite that honest.

BLITZER: Roland, if the situation in Iraq improves dramatically between now and November, I think you'll agree that's certainly going to help John McCain.

MARTIN: Well, I think it's going to help John McCain. But whenever we say improves, Wolf, the question is are the Iraqis taking over the security of their own nation?

Is the parliament, like they are right now -- after they passed a couple of measures -- taking the five week vacation?

That's what it boils down to.

So the question is, if American troops come out, then will the country falter?

What Americans are concerned about is how long are our troops going to stay over there, when they're going to be coming home. The National Guards in the various states are saying when are our troops also coming home.

That's the real question, though, how you define improve.

BORGER: And you... BLITZER: And John Edwards is joining forces with other anti-war groups, Jack, to make the point that this war in Iraq is costing billions of dollars and fuelling, in effect, what he says is a recession and making the economic situation in this country a lot worse.

CAFFERTY: Isn't that what the Congress is supposed to be doing, overseeing the billions and billions that have been poured into that hole in Iraq?

Wasn't that the reason they got elected in 2006, because they were going to ride herd on this war and bring it to an end?

It's nice that John Edwards or Roland or Gloria or me or somebody cares about what's going on. The Democrats in Congress don't seem to much give a damn.

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: Well, you know, I think -- I think the Democrats in Congress, as you know, Jack, they've tried.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes, right.

BORGER: They don't have a filibuster-proof majority...

CAFFERTY: Give me a break.

BORGER: Well, OK. OK. They've tried. They've disappeared a lot of their base constituencies and that could be a problem for them come the general election, because what they want to do is not only get a Democratic president, but they want to the increase their majorities in the House and Senate so they can actually get something done.

CAFFERTY: They have given George Bush...

MARTIN: Yes, but, you know, Wolf, it's also...

CAFFERTY: ...every funding bill that he's asked for, no questions asked, when all the speaker of the House would have had to do, Gloria, is refuse to bring that bill to the floor for a vote. There would have been no funding for this war. She didn't have the guts to do it.

MARTIN: But you...

BORGER: Well, but there is a political downside, as you well know, because nobody wants to cut off fund for the troops, Jack.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Roland.

MARTIN: But you know what, Wolf?

Also, from John McCain's standpoint, he does want the focus to be on the surge because that has proven to be very popular. So I think what -- if you're an Obama or a Clinton, if you get the nomination, what you want to do is shift it back to domestically in terms of the spending going over there, how it's impacting the economy here.

And so I think that's what you're going to see, the pendulum going back and forth, where he wants to focus on that because he's strong on military. Then the whole question on the economy, it's a different story.

So it's a smart move on his part, what he's trying to do right now.

BLITZER: Whoever gets the Democratic nomination, whether it's Obama, Jack, or Clinton, how worried should they do -- should they be -- feel about Ralph Nader now becoming a presidential candidate again?

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Somebody needs to get a big fly swatter and swat Ralph Nader.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: I mean he's 0 for 5. I think this is the way he's doing his retirement. He runs for president every four years, raises a few dollars that he can, you know, go to Miami with or whatever.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: I mean that's a joke and it's a distraction and nobody cares and he's not going to be elected. Just go away.

BLITZER: All right, guys, we'll leave it on that note.

BORGER: I agree.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is going to be coming back...

BORGER: I agree.

BLITZER: With The Cafferty File...

MARTIN: Jack Cafferty for president.

BLITZER: ...so stand by.

(LAUGHTER)

Roland Martin, Gloria Borger, we'll see you guys tomorrow.

MARTIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on -- Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm still thinking of Jack Cafferty for president. Whoa, that would be something.

In the news tonight, from the Protestant to Catholic, Baptist to Pentecostal, or from one faith to practice not at all -- those are the kinds of things many Americans are doing, according to a new study. It's from the Pew Forum On Religion & Public Life. The survey says nearly half of Americans are switching their faiths or simply dropping out of them.

Regarding the U.S. troop buildup plan in Iraq, the Pentagon believes there will be more troops in Iraq after it's done in July than there were before the buildup plan. Pentagon officials project there will be 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq come July. Before the buildup plan, there were 132,000 U.S. troops. Officials say they always expected some support troops would have to stay.

Since 1995, one could not legally kill elephants in South Africa. Now that will change. South Africa will allow the killing of elephants to help control their growing population. You can imagine that animal rights activists are outraged over this decision. But a South African official says the killing of elephants will only be allowed as a last option and under strict conditions.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Carol.

Carol Costello reporting.

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up in about 14 minutes or so, at the top of the hour.

What are you working on -- Lou?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you.

Democratic presidential candidates calling for change, of course. But there is absolutely no changing in what either of them are calling dirty politics on the campaign trail. We'll have complete coverage.

Also, Senators Clinton and Obama competing to blast so-called free trade.

Is that simply empty rhetoric or is it perhaps even a suggestion of change?

We'll find out.

And outrage after at least one presidential candidate and pro- amnesty groups say government raids on employers of illegal aliens are inhumane. Oh, yes, we're talking about a lot of change. We'll have that report.

And the fight to save our public school system -- the City of Chicago planning radical action. Public school districts across the nation are watching. I'll be joined by the president of the Chicago Teachers Union tonight.

Please join us for all of that and a great deal more, coming up at 7:00 Eastern.

All the day's news and much more straight ahead -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: See you in a few moments, Lou.

Thanks very much.

When it comes to being president of the United States, how much does experience really matter?

That's Jack's question this hour. He's going through your e-mail.

Also, you're going to find out why you may be seeing yet another Romney campaign -- and it could be soon.

But guess what?

It won't be Mitt.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our Political Radar this Monday, the Democratic National Committee today formally asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate Republican John McCain. DNC Chairman Howard Dean accusing McCain of trying to skirt campaign finance laws by opting out of public financing for his primary campaign. McCain now has decided to try to bypass the system so he can avoid spending limits between now and the GOP convention in September.

McCain's campaign says the Republican is allowed to withdraw from the public financing system without FEC approval, citing Howard Dean's own decision to opt out of the system back in 2004. But the DNC notes Dean did get FEC approval to do that.

One of Mitt Romney's sons says he's considering a run for Congress. Josh Romney tells a Utah newspaper he's been approached to run for the seat now held by Democrat Jim Matheson. The younger Romney says he got good experience campaigning for his dad's failed presidential bid.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com. The Ticker is now the number one political news blog on the Web. That's also where you can read my latest blog post. I wrote one today on Ralph Nader -- how much airtime should we give him?

Go there. I'm anxious to hear from you.

Anxious to hear from Jack Cafferty right now in The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Whatever we've given him today is already too much.

The question this hour is when it comes to being president, how much does experience really matter?

Jim writes: "Cheney and Rumsfeld had a lot of experience. It's the quality and attitude of the president and that of the people who surround him that count. Obama has both the quality and attitude that's needed to be the next president."

Penny writes: "Experience is crucial. Would you go to an inexperienced doctor, dentist or lawyer? Would you let your child on the"...

Yes, OK.

"So why in the world will we even consider letting someone as inexperienced as Obama be in charge of our children's future?"

Daniel in Chicago: "Experience is certainly helpful, but it's meaningless if your principles are not consistent."

Nicki in Detroit: "A candidate's experience gives us a chance to check out our candidates. We've just spent seven years with a young president who has misused and abused power. Maybe if we had required more experience, we wouldn't be regretting that choice now."

Gina in Wisconsin: "I think good judgment, diplomacy and the ability to speak to people and bring them together trumps any type of experience that McCain or Hillary can boast. After all, most of their experience is from taking handouts from lobbyists."

That's cruel.

Michael writes: "I don't know about experience. All I know is I want a president who's brilliant and wise and surrounds himself with brilliant and wise people with experience who are allowed to disagree."

Oh, we'll try again tomorrow -- Wolf.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: You did a good job today. I was happy.

CAFFERTY: OK.

BLITZER: Yes.

Jack Cafferty, he'll be back tomorrow with The Cafferty File -- a very popular part of our program.

Jack, thank you.

From sweet talk to sarcasm... (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: And, you know -- you know, lifting whole passages from...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama go from hugging one moment to snarling the next. CNN's Jeanne Moos thinks they may have a love/hate relationship. Jeanne Moos and her Moost Unusual piece -- that's coming up when we continue right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the Hot Shots coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press -- pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Cuba, a man who repairs lighters waits for customers in a Havana street.

In Turkey, Turkish Army commandos stand in heavy snow.

In India, Kashmiri children fly kites at sunset along a lake. And in Germany, Flocke, the polar bear, chews on a zookeeper's boot in her enclosure.

Some of this hour's Hot Shots -- pictures often worth a thousand words.

They make goo-goo eyes then they roll their eyes. They go from sweet talk to bitter sarcasm.

Jeanne Moos finds the relationship between the Democratic rivals to be Moost Unusual.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anyone who's ever been in a love/rate relationship could relate to this.

CLINTON: I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am absolutely honored.

Shame on you, Barack Obama. MOOS: It's a shame for all those pundits.

Who needs them for analysis?

Just put on Alicia Keys. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY J RECORDS)

ALICIA KEYS (SINGING): "I Keep On Falling In And Out Of With You."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: You'd fall out of love, too, if he said this about you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY ABC NEWS/FACEBOOK/WMUR)

OBAMA: You're likable enough, Hillary, no doubt.

CLINTON: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: A few debates later, he's whispering sweet nothings and she's laughing girlishly.

(on camera): And then -- bam.

CLINTON: Enough with the speeches and the big rallies.

(VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: And then using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove's playbook.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY J RECORDS)

ALICIA KEYS (SINGING): Sometimes I feel good, sometimes I feel good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: You were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Wal- Mart.

CLINTON: We're having a wonderful time.

OBAMA: Yes, absolutely.

MOOS: And while we're on the topic of love...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE," COURTESY NBC)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I myself have been clinically diagnosed as an Obama-maniac.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: The media got bitten by "Saturday Night Live" for being smitten with Obama. The show parodied the latest CNN debate, with Obama getting hard-hitting questions like...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE," COURTESY NBC)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you comfortable?

Is there anything we can get for you?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: And when it came to questions from the audience...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE," COURTESY NBC)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tonight's questioner is "Obama Girl".

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Obama...

(SINGING): I can't wait until we're out on a date. Maybe (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: That's the real "Obama Girl" making a cameo. The real Hillary actually asked donors to watch the episode of "Saturday Night Live" so they could see the press lampooned for being hot on Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE," COURTESY NBC)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Aboard her campaign plane, Hillary asked reporters what her character wore in the parody. This after being shown a Hillary pantsuit schedule the crews had posted as a joke -- electric blue on Mondays, sunshine yellow on Sundays. And yellow was what she wore as she mocked her opponent's emphasis on hope...

CLINTON: The sky will open, celestial choirs will be singing.

MOOS: He may touch her arm, he may help her with her chair, but all that talk of...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A dream ticket. A dream ticket.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Seems like a dream we're waking up from.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY J RECORDS)

ALICIA KEYS (SINGING): Sometimes I love you, sometimes you make me blue.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: You've, by the way, helped make our politics pod cast one of the most popular on iTunes. To get the best political team to go, subscribe at CNNPolitics.com or iTunes.

Thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.

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