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Democrats Go After Big Oil; Influential Congressman Flips From Clinton to Obama; McCain Attacks Obama on Iraq and al Qaeda

Aired February 27, 2008 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, To our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Hillary Clinton absorbs a powerful blow. Congressman John Lewis now is in Barack Obama's corner. The best political team on television has a lot to say about this dramatic defection.

Plus, a conservative tells John McCain -- and I'm quoting now -- "I'm done with you." We are going to take a closer look at the possible fallout from a radio talk show host's declaration of war.

And just in time for the election year, Democrats in Congress revisit a favorite villain, big oil.

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

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

Congressman John Lewis says yanking his support for Hillary Clinton is the toughest decision he has ever made, a direct quote. Now Barack Obama says he's deeply honored to have the support of the civil rights icon and superdelegate. There is not much the Clinton camp could say or do, except to stay focused on the March 4th battleground states of Texas and Ohio. That's next Tuesday.

Let's go to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, when you are trailing in a race, any politician will tell there are really two battles going on, the battle with reality and the battle with perceptions.


CROWLEY (voice-over): In a political, psychological and personal blow to Hillary Clinton, Congressman John Lewis, civil rights hero, close friend of the Clintons, early supporter of her campaign, is jumping ship.

Lewis told a Georgia television station, WSB, that he will support Barack Obama. A Clinton spokesman says she respects Congressman Lewis and his decision.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Continuing our focus on jobs, which is the key here.

CROWLEY: The news came as Hillary Clinton tried to steady her campaign in the most critical days of her president bid. Her strategists say the game plan is to focus voters on the stakes.

CLINTON: What I feel is happening is that people are turning toward the big questions that they should have to answer in this campaign. Who can be the best commander in chief we want in the White House answering the phone at 3:00 a.m.? Who will be the best steward of the economy?

CROWLEY: As she battles in the primary arena, Barack Obama once again finds himself in the middle of a premature general campaign. John McCain, his nomination bid predicated on foreign policy expertise, jumped all over Obama's statement at last night's debate that he would return U.S. troops to Iraq if al Qaeda resurges and Iraq is in chaos.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have some news. Al Qaeda is in Iraq. Al Qaeda is called al Qaeda in Iraq.

CROWLEY: The man who makes opposition to the war a cornerstone of his campaign is only too happy to have this argument.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have some news for John McCain. And that is that there was no such thing as al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq.


CROWLEY: It is the preview after story that's not yet written. Clinton strategists have a point. There is every reason to believe that she could win both Ohio and Texas. And the polls bear that out. But they are two very big states. This is one very critical race. And there is very little time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Candy -- Candy Crowley reporting from Ohio.

Republican John McCain is dealing with a defection of his own, a conservative radio talk show host criticizing McCain, saying he is done with the likely nominee and he plans to fight him tooth and nail.

Let's go to our chief national correspondent, John King. He is watching this story for us.

This spat is clearly not helping John McCain's efforts to unite the Republican Party.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely right, Wolf. The radio talk show host's name is Bill Cunningham. Yesterday, when McCain was here, local Republican leaders said he was critical, Bill Cunningham was, to their efforts to big Republican turnout come November. Today, because of this controversy, they are trying to say he's just a controversial talk show host. They will work without him.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The reason why I had to repudiate that was because it was a campaign event.

KING (voice over): It is war now. And words are Bill Cunningham's weapon of choice.

BILL CUNNINGHAM, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: And I'm saying to John McCain, I'm done with you. I may not vote for Hillary, but I'm sure as hell not going to vote for Juan Pablo McCain, who wants to give amnesty to millions of illegals.

KING: The conservative radio host says it will be this way from now until November...

CUNNINGHAM: John McCain is finding it impossible to connect with conservatives because of what he did to me yesterday.

KING: ... unless Senator McCain apologizes for condemning Cunningham and a whole lot more.

CUNNINGHAM: He would have to apologize for McCain/Feingold, apologize for McCain/Kennedy, apologize for McCain/Lieberman, apologize for shutting down Gitmo, apologize for opposing the Bush tax cuts, say he's sorry, he made a mistake, and then I might consider it. But this guy's got a big problem among conservatives like me.

KING: Campaigning in Texas, the senator was in no mood to apologize, saying Cunningham is free to say whatever he wants on the radio but not at an official McCain campaign event.

MCCAIN: Americans want a respectful campaign. And they will get it from me.

KING: War with conservative talk radio is anything but helpful. And Rush Limbaugh quickly took Cunningham's side, mocking McCain's apology.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I'm sorry. It's uncalled for. It's uncalled for in American politics. It's not going to happen. I take full responsibility, although he did it. I didn't even know he was going to be here.

KING: The best McCain can do is try to turn the dust-up to his advantage.

MCCAIN: I will always do what I believe is right no matter what the political consequences are, whether it be on the war in Iraq or things like happened yesterday. That's the only way I know how to conduct my life.

KING: At issue is Cunningham's warm-up act at McCain's Tuesday Cincinnati rally.

CUNNINGHAM: Because now we have a hack Chicago-style Daley politician... And maybe start covering Barack Hussein Obama the same way...

All's going to be right with the world when the great prophet from Chicago takes the stand.

KING: Cunningham is a local legend, invited by local Republicans who know he's a magnet for controversy.

MAGGIE NAFZIGER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HAMILTON COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY: You're playing with a little bit of fire, but at the same time, I don't think anyone expected the comments.


KING: So, I asked local Republicans, Wolf, who could pick up the phone, call Bill Cunningham and ask him to calm down and get off John McCain's case? They said no one. They said Bill Cunningham will continue this as long as he wants to.

And Bill Cunningham told us today 250 days to the election, and every day he is on the air, he's going to take after John McCain -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John, thanks very much. John is going to be standing by. He's joining us with the best political team on television. That's coming up.

The House of Representatives has approved $18 billion in new taxes on the country's largest oil companies. Senate Democratic leaders say they now want to put the bill on a fast track. It is the latest sign of a growing politicization of oil prices as they soar to record highs.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's watching the story for us.

Brian, tell us about the politics of oil right now.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, your best example of partisanship is in that House you just cited. It was mostly along party lines, Democrats overwhelmingly in favor of imposing more taxes on big oil, Republicans squarely against it. This debate is something millions of American voters are paying close attention to since it hits so many of them right in the wallet.


TODD (voice-over): Oil spiking at more than $100 a barrel, gas prices ticking up, too. Word of on the street, gas could hit $4 a gallon by the spring or summer. A popular villain, big oil companies reaping record profits. Deep in a political season, what better way for politicians to look good back home than to be seen as trying to do something about it?

Now Democrats in the House want to roll back billions of dollars in tax breaks for big oil. REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER: They don't need any incentive to look for new product. The incentive is the free market system, which is buying their product for the highest prices they have ever sold it.

TODD: Democrats want to use the revenue from the oil companies' higher taxes to pay for tax incentives to find alternative energy, solar, wind, biodiesel. Republicans say that may hit taxpayers, too.

REP. MIKE CONAWAY (R), TEXAS: If you look at wind, you look at solar, you look at any of the things that they are trying to promote, those all cost more to generate electricity than the current way we do it with coal and natural gas and -- and nuclear.

TODD: Republicans also argue, if big oil companies are taxed more, they won't be able to turn as much as their profit toward looking for oil in harder-to-reach places. Then they won't be able to meet higher demand worldwide, and American motorists will feel the pinch for that, too.

Either way, it's a story that gets a lot of attention in car- crazy America. And politicians know full well consumer frustration could easily migrate from the pumps to the polls.

RICHARD RUBIN, "CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY": Democrats see this as an opportunity to -- to paint Republicans as the party of big oil. Republicans now have the ability to turn that a bit on their heads, and say, well, wait a minute, since Democrats have taken control of Congress, you have not done anything either to reverse the increases in oil and gasoline prices.


TODD: Analysts say politicians on both sides are now trying to position themselves for a big debate on gas prices in the fall, closer to the general election. But, by then, who knows where gas price are going to be. We could be in a recession by then. There may be a bigger economic debates for the candidates, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Brian Todd, reporting.

Let's check back with Jack. He has got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Time to take a look little inventory of where things stand in this Democratic race for the White House.

The campaign is now 13 months old. There have been 20 debates, 40 primaries and caucuses. But Texas and Ohio along with Vermont and Rhode Island could seal the deal next week in terms of making it impractical for Hillary Clinton to go on. On the other hand, if Clinton should pull a rabbit out of the hat, manage to win those states with about 65 percent of the votes, then all bets are off and she is right back in it.

And with Pennsylvania and the superdelegates still in front, she might be able to pull this thing off after all. It is not likely, but she has got a shot. When it comes down to it, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are very similar in their views on a lot of the issues. They have minor differences on health care plans, ideas how to restart the economy.

Their major sticking point is on the war in Iraq. Obama opposed the war from the beginning, while Clinton voted to authorize it. During night's debate, Obama landed one of the best punches of the night when referring to Hillary's vote to authorize the war.

He said, "Once we had driven the bus into the ditch, there were only so many ways we could get out. The question is, who is making the decision initially to drive the bus into the ditch? -- unquote.

So, here is the question this hour: What would it take to change your mind about Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack. See you in a few moments with the best political team.

A Hillary Clinton supporter thinks there is something you should know about Barack Obama.


GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: And why didn't that story have legs? Why didn't CNN, why didn't MSNBC, why didn't other newspapers report it?


BLITZER: The Pennsylvania governor, Ed Rendell, what is he getting at? He's here to explain.

Also, some things Barack Obama's pastor previously has said are now causing a bit of a stir. It concerns American Jews and it's forcing a response from the presidential candidate.

And for damages in the 1989 oil spill, should Exxon have to pay billions of dollars? The U.S. Supreme Court could soon weigh in.

Lots of news happening -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: If the Democratic presidential race keeps going beyond the big showdown in Ohio and Texas on Tuesday, the next mega- battleground will be Pennsylvania -- 158 Democratic delegates will be at stake on April 22. And Hillary Clinton has a critical ally there, the governor.


BLITZER: And joining us now from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell.

Governor, thanks for coming in.

RENDELL: My pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: How disappointed are you that Congressman John Lewis, a pioneer, a veteran of the civil rights movement, has now changed his mind and has gone from supporting Hillary Clinton, whom you support, to Barack Obama?

RENDELL: Well, disappointed because John Lewis is a great, great pathfinding American, but, you know, I'm not a believer in endorsements. Even when I made my endorsement, I said people make up their own mind who they're going to vote for, for president of the United States. There's no question about that.

Even someone as popular as Maxine Waters in her district, and she endorsed Hillary Clinton and gave a great endorsement, she didn't carry the day with very many voters. And you know, I think at the presidential level, people sort of shake off endorsements and make up their own mind. The best example was all of the Kennedys -- practically all of the Kennedys -- John Kerry, and Deval Patrick in Massachusetts for Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton wins the state by 10 points.

BLITZER: So the endorsements may or may not be important.

RENDELL: Mine included.

BLITZER: Let's talk about NAFTA for a moment, which was a big issue in the debate last night between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Has NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, been good for Pennsylvania or bad for Pennsylvania?

RENDELL: It depends what section of the state. It's had a positive effect in some sections, but no question, it has hurt a lot of Pennsylvania manufacturing. And manufacturing has always been an important component of our economy. So it would get a mixed report card in this state.

BLITZER: So, on balance, would you want Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, if they were president, to opt out, give six months' notice and say it's over to Canada and Mexico and move on?

RENDELL: No. I would like to use the old phrase to amend it, not end it. I think if we put certain things into the NAFTA agreement, it could work successfully for all of Pennsylvania and for all of Ohio.

And by the way, the suggestion that Hillary Clinton is a newcomer to being opposed to some of the effects of NAFTA is pure baloney. I testified two and a half years ago, Wolf, at a hearing that Senator Clinton had, along with the governor of Michigan and the governor of Wisconsin, about the ill effects of NAFTA and the ill effects of unfair trade on manufacturing in this country. She's been concerned about it for a long time and has pretty concrete plans to go after it. BLITZER: You were quoted in "The Washington Post" as saying this on Monday. You said: "The media does not like the Clintons for whatever reason. Maybe some of it's the Clintons' fault, but the media does not like the Clintons."

Has she gotten a bum rap, unfair treatment, compared to Barack Obama, over the past several months?

RENDELL: Wolf, there's absolutely no question about that. I don't know if you saw "Saturday Night Live." It's become a national joke. In fact, one of your -- I think -- no, it was MSNBC's reporter who was covering Obama. He said, in referring to one of the senator's speeches, he said, you know, hearing this speech, it's hard not to get involved and be partisan. And then I think Brian Williams congratulated him on having the guts to say that.

Well, I don't know what journalism class he went to, but I have always been told that it's important for journalists, for reporters, to give the news straight and not to be influenced and not to be partisan. I don't think the senator has had a fair shake from the get-go, and I think Senator Obama, who's a terrific guy, who if he's the nominee, I will support with every ounce of energy I have, but he's basically been given a free ride.

Do you remember "The Times" story about a month ago about Senator Obama being pro-nuclear energy, and not only that, but changing a position in response to a big power company who later went on to become among his biggest contributors? Well, how many of the young Obama supporters out there at these rallies do you believe, Wolf, know that he's pro-nuclear?

BLITZER: Probably not a whole lot.

RENDELL: I would say probably not one.

BLITZER: All right. Well...

RENDELL: And why didn't that story have legs? Why didn't CNN, why didn't MSNBC, why didn't other newspapers report it?

BLITZER: Well, we did report it. But you know, we can't report the same stories every single day.

RENDELL: Oh, a teensy...

BLITZER: But let me talk about Pennsylvania for a moment, because we don't have a lot of time.

In the latest Quinnipiac poll, it shows that Hillary Clinton's lead in your state -- and you have your primary scheduled for April 22nd -- has gone from on February 14 from a 52 to 36 point advantage. It's now tightened up a bit, 49-43.

If in fact it does -- this contest continues April 22nd in Pennsylvania, how solid do you think support for Hillary Clinton among Democrats is? RENDELL: Well, I think this is a great state for Hillary Clinton. It's the second oldest state in the union, as you know. And Hillary does well with older voters. It's a state that's had in some areas a rough economic period, even though the state overall is doing well.

The Clintons are very well liked in southeast Pennsylvania and have spent an inordinate amount of time there, both Hillary and the president. So I think she starts with some natural advantages.

If she gets to Pennsylvania -- and assume that means winning in Texas and Ohio -- I believe you will see a reversal of that trend, and I believe you will see her lead grow. And I think if it's competitive in Pennsylvania, she will win a solid victory -- six-to-ten-point victory.

BLITZER: All right. Well, she's lucky to have you as the governor in her corner...

RENDELL: We will see. We will see.

BLITZER: ... if it goes to April 22nd. Governor Rendell, thanks for coming in.

RENDELL: Thanks, Wolf.


BLITZER: And it is not just baseball. The commissioners of every major sports league facing a congressional subcommittee today, and lawmakers had some strong words. You are going to find out what happened.

And the House minority leader reportedly tells fellow Republicans something we won't exactly repeat. It's colorful language, some would say harsh. Why is John Boehner venting such venom at members of his own party?

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



BLITZER: Barack Obama once again coming under the microscope, this time because of his pastor and mentor. Just ahead, what is driving the criticism of Obama's longtime friend?

Plus, it was a tough call, very tough call, for this superdelegate. But how much do voters really care that Congressman John Lewis bailed on Hillary Clinton and now is backing Barack Obama? The best political team on television standing by.

And Congress talking about limiting those often annoying phone calls that candidates' campaigns send out.

Stay with us. We will tell us what's going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, Barack Obama is moving to deflect controversy over his pastor's ties to the Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan. Does it make a difference to his supporters? Will it impact his campaign?

And the growing battle between Barack Obama and John McCain over the war in Iraq, is it a preview of the Republican strategy for the general election?

Plus, the House minority leader blasting his fellow Republicans over fund-raising. We are going to have details of the challenge he and other top Republicans are making to their colleagues -- all of this, plus the best political team on television.

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

We are following the story about Barack Obama and some questions about his level of support for Israel. It's partly because of some controversial comments Obama's pastor made. Obama is not all that happy, not happy at all with those remarks.

Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow. She is looking into the story, getting a closer look at the pastor who is at the center of this controversy -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, Senator Obama says he got the title of his book "The Audacity of Hope" from a sermon given by his pastor. But he has also distanced himself from other things the Reverend Jeremiah Wright has said. And he was questioned about it late last -- at last night's debate.


SNOW: Once again, Senator Barack Obama is facing questions about his church pastor and mentor, Jeremiah Wright, of the Trinity United Church of Christ. The questions started at the launch of his presidential campaign when he disinvited Reverend Wright to speak.

Why the questions? For one, the church's magazine gave an award to Louis Farrakhan last year, saying he epitomized greatness. Wright also told "The New York Times" last March he traveled to Libya in 1984 with Farrakhan, and that when Obama's opponents find out: "..a lot of his Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in hell." Sunday, Farrakhan had words of support for Obama. Unsolicited, said Obama and he denounced them.

As for what he does to reassure Jewish Americans, who widely view Farrakhan as anti-Semitic...

OBAMA: I have some of the strongest support from the Jewish community in my hometown of Chicago and in this presidential campaign. And the reason is, is because I have been a stalwart friend of Israel's.

SNOW: While Obama has no ties to Farrakhan, he's found himself explaining his relationship with Wright. On Sunday, he told Jewish leaders that Wright is "like an old uncle who sometimes says things I don't agree with," but that he's never heard anything to suggest anti- Semitism.

Wright recently retired and Obama says because of that, he wants to be sensitive to his mentor. At his last sermon, Wright made a passing reference to Obama.

REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: Instead of a statistic destined for the poor house, you just may end up a statesman destined for the...

AUDIENCE: White House.

WRIGHT: Yes, we can.

SNOW: A "Chicago Tribune" religion writer says Wright's church has been criticized by some for its motto -- unashamedly black, unapologetically Christian.

MARGARET RAMIREZ, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE" RELIGION WRITER: Some have seen those -- the combination of those two things as a separatist, racist against white people church. But he doesn't see it that way and the congregants at the church don't see it that way.


SNOW: And we did reach out to the offices of both Reverend Wright and Minister Farrakhan, but both declined requests for comment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary. Thank you.

Let's get some more on this controversy over Obama's pastor, Louis Farrakhan and other issues.

For that, we're joined by our chief national correspondent, John King. He's in Cincinnati. CNN's Jack Cafferty -- he's obviously in New York, as he always is. Our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. They're all part of the best political team on television.

When the Louis Farrakhan question came up at the debate last night, Jack, how do you think Barack Obama did? How did he handle it?

CAFFERTY: I thought it was one of his smoother moments. He rejected the support that Farrakhan has expressed for Barack Obama. He said I reject it. Hillary Clinton says that's not enough -- rejection is not the same thing as denouncing.

He said, well, OK, if that makes you happy, I reject and denounce Louis Farrakhan's support, which got a big laugh at her expense and kind of showed me, at least, that he's a pretty cool guy under what could have been an uncomfortable moment. He was pretty smooth. BLITZER: What did you think, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I agree with Jack. I thought it was kind of interesting, on a purely political level, that Hillary Clinton was looking for an opportunity to get at Barack Obama, saying, you know, you didn't go far enough. And that was clearly words to the American Jewish community, he's not going far enough in denouncing Louis Farrakhan.

And he said, OK. Fine. Whatever you say -- reject, denounce. I'll do with both -- and just -- and just decided to move on. I do think, however, that you're going to see this issue come up over and over again in this campaign, particularly because, if Obama is the nominee, because -- because John McCain is a strong supporter of Israel.

BLITZER: Well, you know, this is a great opportunity for Barack Obama, John, to reassure Israel's supporters, the American Jewish community, others, about his support for Israel, his denunciation of Louis Farrakhan.

Because of these Internet articles -- these rumors that have been circulating out there, this was really a great moment for him to try to rebut that. And I thought he did a pretty good job at it.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely right, it is a moment for that, Wolf. And this competition is playing out even in the State of Ohio. A small but influential Jewish community around the City of Cleveland that both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have been campaigning and courting quite heavily in that community, hoping for support next Tuesday.

Some thought his answer, at first, was a little halting, in that many of his aides say he doesn't like to have public fights with people. And as much as rejects Louis Farrakhan, he sees no need to be having a debate about that in public.

But Jack and Gloria are right, once Senator Clinton challenged him, he said fine -- renounce, reject, choose your word, I completely reject it. It will be an issue that carries forward, in part because Louis Farrakhan's home base is Chicago, Barack Obama's home base.

BLITZER: And, Jack, let me read to you what Congressman John Lewis, the civil rights leader, the activist and icon said today in announcing he's switching his endorsement from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama.

He said this: "I think the candidacy of Senator Obama represents the beginning of a new movement in American political history that began in the hearts and minds of the people of this nation and I want to be on the side of the people, on the side of the spirit of history."

He's got a longstanding relationship with the Clintons, but he decided to switch. It's a severe blow to Hillary Clinton. It's a great bonanza, I should say, for Barack Obama. What do you think? CAFFERTY: Well, I think he also wants to be on the side of the people in his district, who voted three to one for Barack Obama. You know, these guys are nothing if not pragmatic. And if you want to keep being a congressman, then you go, along with a three to one majority in your district and support the candidate that the people in your district do.

That said, he is an influential black leader in this country. And it has to be a big blow to Hillary Clinton, because he originally had endorsed her. He was a friend of theirs -- probably still is. But, you know, you can't -- it's a tsunami in a district like his and there's nothing he can do about it. He's got to change.

BLITZER: What do you think, Gloria?

BORGER: You know, he's also an important and influential superdelegate. And, obviously, African-Americans, very important. His constituency is very much for Barack Obama, as Jack just said.

But I think we have to wait and see after March 4th the results of what happened in Texas and Ohio and see whether we see more of these superdelegates who have already pledged to one candidate start moving to another because these are political people who have their own survival in mind, as John Lewis does. Clearly, this was emotional for him, but it's also about his own political survival and we'll have to see what other superdelegates do.

BLITZER: And that trickle of switching among the super- delegates, John, that could escalate based -- depending on what happens Tuesday.

KING: Wolf, the super-delegates will be a question to the very end. But this is a public display of what we are hearing more and more about privately, that if Senator Clinton thinks she can get to the edge of the convention and be behind Barack Obama by, say, 150 or so -- or even more -- in the pledged delegates, assigned from the primaries and caucuses, and somehow expect there's going to be this wave of support from these super-delegates, forget about it.

More and more of them are voting -- are saying they will go along with what happened in their own districts, but also saying they simply will not do something undemocratic at the convention. More and more of the superdelegates, whether they're in the Clinton camp or the Obama camp, are saying publicly and privately, whoever is ahead in the pledged delegates heading into the convention, as long as it's not a question of two or three or 10 or 20 delegates, if someone has a clear lead, they will be the nominee.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. We have more to discuss.

Coming up, Republicans -- they get a tongue-lashing from one of their own. That would be the House minority leader, John Boehner. You'll find out why he's giving them a stern warning about the general election.

Plus, we have details of how this Clinton ad is upsetting the sons of Ann Richards.

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



MCCAIN: I have news for Senator Obama. Al Qaeda is in Iraq. And that's why we're fighting in Iraq and that's why we're succeeding in Iraq.



OBAMA: I have some news for John McCain. And that is that there was no such thing as al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq.


BLITZER: John McCain and Barack Obama slam each other's Iraq policies, trading pointed barbs, as you just saw, out on the campaign trail today. Let's get back to the best political team on television.

Who got the upper hand in that little exchange, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Well, Barack Obama could have gone a little farther. He could have said there weren't 4,000 dead U.S. soldiers in Iraq, there weren't 25,000 catastrophically wounded U.S. soldiers in Iraq, there weren't $700 billion of our money in Iraq and there weren't four million Iraqi refugees in Iraq until George Bush invaded Iraq, with John McCain's support. So I thought, you know, he kind of let McCain off the hook.

BLITZER: It's certainly going to be part of the general election, that little debate we saw there. It's going to escalate, Gloria, if, in fact, these are the two final nominees.

BORGER: Yes. And even if it's Hillary Clinton, Wolf, it's going to be the same debate. As we saw in the 2006 mid-term election, that was an awful lot about people feeling that the war in Iraq had been a mistake or was prosecuted badly. And I think you're going to see the same debate in the 2008 election because the difference between whoever the Democratic nominee is and John McCain could not be clearer.

John McCain has staked his entire political career not only in support of the war, but in support of the surge in Iraq. And he's going to make that a key component of his campaign. And he's going to say that the Democrats want to surrender, trying to kind of nudge them a lot on their weakness, which has always been, historically, on the issue of national security. We'll have to see if it works.

BLITZER: But in fairness to John McCain, John, as you know, he not only has been an architect of the surge, promoting that, but he was one of the early critics of the way the Bush administration and Donald Rumsfeld, specifically, prosecuted the war.

He was outspoken early on -- not enough troops, weren't doing it right, wasting a lot of time and energy. So he's got a -- he's got a record there.

KING: And that will be his message, Wolf, in the general election, that I stood up to Donald Rumsfeld, I stood up to George W. Bush no matter what you think of this war. Now we need to finish the job. We broke it, we need to fix it. Essentially, the Pottery Barn rule, as General Colin Powell likes to call it.

So McCain will make that message. And nationally, Obama wins the argument, if you will, because six in 10 Americans still say the war is a mistake and they want out. But forget about any national numbers. This will come down, Wolf, if it is a competitive presidential election, it will come down to places like Southwestern Ohio, like Florida, perhaps West Virginia or Iowa, among Independent voters, most of whom supported George W. Bush, who went into Iraq; most of whom have now soured on the war.

John McCain's biggest challenge is to get them back by saying no matter what you think about the beginning of the war or how it was managed at the beginning, we are succeeding now and we need to finish the job. That will be the defining message on national security from John McCain. And he'll either win or lose based on whether he can sell it.

BORGER: And the question is going to be, if you are going to cut troops back in Iraq, what is the best way to do it? And how can you do it without endangering the troops that are now there? And McCain is going to hone in on that point, saying we don't want to put our troops in harm's way and we have a job to do.

BLITZER: John Boehner today, Jack, quoted in "The Politico" as saying if the Republicans don't start raising money -- major money for Republican Congressional candidates, forget about it, basically. He says they've got to get up off their you know what and start raising some serious money.

CAFFERTY: Yes. He said they have to get up off their dead asses and start raising money, is the phrase that he used. You're too much of a gentlemen to use that on television, but that's the quote. And, you know, whether or not it's going to arouse the colleagues in the Republican Party, we'll have to wait and see.

They are so far behind when it comes to the amount of money available to try to defend these seats in the Senate and House of Representatives -- I think it's something like $35 million or $36 million in the bank for the Democrats to like $4.5 million or $5 million in the bank for the Republicans. So he's probably got a point. You can't run these campaigns without money. And right now the Republicans don't have a lot.

BORGER: And what you see in this...

BLITZER: Quickly, Gloria. BORGER: ... campaign is this energized Democratic base that's showing up at all these primaries. The Republican turnout has been about half what the Democratic turnout is. And that's reflected in the amount of money they're willing to give to their candidates.

BLITZER: But don't forget, a lot of time between now and November.

BORGER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Lots can happen. Lots probably will. All right, guys, thanks very much. John King, Gloria Borger.

Jack is standing by for "The Cafferty File."

Lou Dobbs is getting ready for his show. That begins at the top of the hour. He's standing by with a preview.

What's coming up -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Well, Wolf, you would think that with all money corporate America spends putting these two political parties in their pocket that they'd both have plenty of money.

Wolf, tonight, at 7:00 Eastern, we'll have much more on this presidential campaign. New controversy over Senator Obama's policy on Afghanistan and his failure to hold oversight hearings for more than a year. And we'll be looking at his ties to a radical preacher. Is there anything there?

And rising outrage at the big speech from some open borders and amnesty advocates. Why in the world are Senators Obama and Clinton not denouncing a congressman accused -- who accused federal agents of using "Gestapo-like tactics" against illegal aliens? Surely they're outraged. We are. We'll have a special report.

And Mexican drug cartel violence worsening and spreading deeper into this country. Our borders remain wide open, our government refusing to stop the violence. We'll have that story.

And Congressmen passed legislation to impose new taxes on our biggest oil companies, while giving a tax break to Hugo Chavez.

We'll have all of that, all the day's news and more at the top of the hour here on CNN.

Please join us -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: We'll see you in a few minutes, Lou. Thanks very much.

Many of you are getting them -- that would be those annoying automated phone calls. We're going to have details of an effort to stop your phone from ringing off the hook by various political campaigns.

And what would it take to change your mind about Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, for that matter? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail.

Stay with us. Lots more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On our political radar this hour, there's a new move in Congress to limit those robo-calls, as they're called -- those often annoying automated campaign phone messages. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California is pushing a bill that would ban robo-calls between 9:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.. She also wants to add political robo- calls to the federal do not list call -- do not call list. Critics charge that would be a violation of free speech.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out The Political Ticker, by the way, is the number one political news blog on the Web right now. That's also where you can read my latest blog post. I posted one earlier,

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

CAFFERTY: This has been a bit of a red letter day for The Cafferty File. We have received more than 11,000 e-mails this afternoon. I thank you for your interest in what it is we do here.

The question this hour is: What would it take to change your mind about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?

Gerry writes from Florida: "I've changed my mind about Hillary. I thought that she could withstand pressure, but the evidence is showing that she cannot and I can't see her in the White House."

Tom in Maine writes: "I'd have to find out what all the polls -- that all the polls are wrong about Senator Clinton being the only Democrat that the Republicans can beat. I'd have to find out the media got it wrong when they reported Clinton believed George Bush not only on Iraq, but then also about Iran. She may not be the most gullible person in the world, but from Avon, Maine, where I am, she doesn't look like any Svengali."

Doug writes: "Jack, the only thing that could make me change my mind and support Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton would be if Obama gained about 10 more years experience between now and November. In most company's job searches, if two candidates are applying for the same job and have similar views and ideas, the candidate with the most experience should get hired."

Chuck in Amana, Iowa, how of the Amana Colonies, where they make the Amana appliances: "Outside of him committing a convenience store holdup, I can't imagine why I wouldn't vote for Obama. Hillary's performance at the debate last night reminded me of a stern schoolmarm. I think the dream ticket would be Obama and Chris Dodd, with Joe Biden as secretary of state."

Gino writes: "An eloquent, empty speech will never change my mind. I'm an intelligent person who believes words are just words. The last debate clearly showed me again Hillary is the only one qualified for the job."

And Carol writes: "I've changed my mind from McCain to Obama. I wouldn't vote for Hillary Clinton if someone offered to payoff my mortgage. She's condescending, divisive, arrogant and just plain annoying. Because of my admiration for Barack Obama, I intend to vote Democratic in the election for the first time in over 45 years of my voting life."

Eleven thousand e-mails, Wolf. That's a lot.

BLITZER: That's a lot of people who are involved in watching this show and paying attention to "The Cafferty File." Good for you, Jack. Thanks very much. You can say you're welcome.

CAFFERTY: Oh, you're welcome.

BLITZER: Thank you. Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

CAFFERTY: You're welcome again.

BLITZER: The presidential candidates always game for any questioning, even if it's a name game they just can't win. Coming up next, the Moost Unusual moment of last tonight's debate -- at least a Jeanne Moos Moost Unusual moment.

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


BLITZER: Hillary Clinton is evoking the late former governor, Ann Richards, in an effort to reach out to Texas women. A new ad on the Web suggesting Richards would support Clinton if she were alive. Richards' daughter Ellen agrees.

She's a Clinton supporter. But her two brothers are angry. They say they did not grant the Clinton camp permission to use the video of their mom. Clinton supporter Cathy Bonner made the video and said it was completely redone based on the sons' objections.

A presidential debate or a game of Jeopardy? Well, it was a little bit of both last night when the moderator asked Hillary Clinton the name of the man likely to succeed Vladimir Putin as Russia's next leader. It's a name with a most unusual pronunciation, which has the politicians, the public and CNN's Jeanne Moos absolutely tongue-tied.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Name that leader.

(on camera): What is the name of the incoming expected leader of Russia?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Medavo or something like that. Beginning with an "M," M-E-D-O -- you know -- you'd better sock Hillary with this. MOOS (voice-over): Hey, we didn't sock her, Tim Russert did. Actually, he didn't address the question to either candidate specifically.

TIM RUSSERT: It was toss-up. She jumped at the chance to answer it.

What can you tell me about the man who is going to be Mr. Putin's successor?

CLINTON: Well, I can tell you that he's a hand-picked successor.

MOOS: But that wasn't the part that got noticed.

RUSSERT: Do you know his name?



CLINTON: ... Medvedev.

RUSSERT: Medvedev.

CLINTON: Medvedev. Whatever.


MOOS: Whatever is this guy, Vladimir Putin's pal, expected to be elected president of Russia Sunday. Hillary's ever so slight stumble...

CLINTON: Mevedeve.

MOOS: ... was echoed by many folks not running for president.






MOOS: Better check the voice of America pronunciation guide.

(on camera): Full disclosure -- I did not know his name. I only knew it began with an "M". I had to Google it and I still can't pronounce it.

(voice-over): Now Hillary's slipup has hit the Web, dubbed by some Hillary's "W" moment -- a reference to the time George W. Bush, then a presidential candidate, was asked who the president of Pakistan was. GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can't name the general.


BUSH: General.

MOOS: From General Musharraf to Iran's president, Ahmadinejad, President Bush has struggled.

BUSH: Until Ahmadinejad came in. Prior to the election of Namaninajad.

MOOS: Now silver-tongued Barack Obama occasionally messes up.

OBAMA: The president of Canada...

MOOS: Only Canada has a prime minister, not a president. Maybe it's lucky for Obama that Tim Russert didn't call on him.

RUSSERT: When I put the question out there, they both looked at me and then Senator Obama looked at her.

MOOS: Let her answer that one. And when it was his turn...

RUSSERT: Senator Obama, do you know anything about him?

OBAMA: Well, the -- I think Senator Clinton speaks accurately about him.

MOOS: Except for that tongue-twisting name that never escaped Obama's lips. Better ask a Russian.


MOOS: (on camera): Mediev...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Medvedev. (INAUDIBLE) means the beer -- beer guy, because Medvedev is a beer there.

MOOS: Beer or bear?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beer there. There.

MOOS (voice-over): If you can't bear trying to pronounce it when someone asks name that leader, try this...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the name that Hillary Clinton said manumanumanu (ph) about last night.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: You've helped make our politics pod cast, by the way, one of the most popular on iTunes. To get the best political team to go, this is what you do. You subscribe at or you go to iTunes. I think you'll like it.

Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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