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Obama Faces Criticism from All Sides; Tensions Between Blacks and Hispanics Show in Texas as Primary Nears; Admiral Mullen Anxious About Early Troop Withdrawal in Iraq

Aired February 28, 2008 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, out in front and under fire -- Barack Obama taking some growing heat from not only his Democratic rival, but the Republican frontrunner and now even President Bush. We're going to show you how Obama is handling all of this.

Also, the cold hard numbers that have Republicans breaking a sweat. Their voter turnout pales -- pales in comparison to the Democrats. What can they do to get out the GOP vote?

And they're the swing voters who may determine who gets the Democratic nomination. So which way are white men leaning?

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

It was the single biggest day of voting so far, but Super Tuesday has nothing on this coming Tuesday -- when voters in four states will get their chance to make their voices heard in the race for the White House. Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont all holding primaries March 4th, next Tuesday. But it's the contests in delegate-rich Texas and Ohio that could make or break Hillary Clinton's campaign, which now calls them now both must-wins.

She and Barack Obama are crisscrossing those states, fighting down to the wire in what could be their last contest. And with the Obama campaign the perceived frontrunner right now on the Democratic side, he's coming under a lot of fire from all sides. And we're covering all the angles. Suzanne Malveaux is on the trail in Houston.

But let's go to Jessica Yellin. She's in Texas right now.

Jessica, how is Senator Obama handling this latest assault?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Barack Obama is simply playing it cool. He says he's focused on next Tuesday -- winning Texas and Ohio and then thinking about what might happen when there's a Democratic nominee.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): While he's courting votes near the president's Texas ranch...

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

YELLIN: ... a chorus of detractors are fighting to keep him out of the White House. The presumptive Republican nominee on Iraq.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Obama said well, we shouldn't have gone in the first place and if we hadn't gone in the first place, we wouldn't be facing this problem. Well, that's -- that's history. That's the past. That's talking about what happened before.

YELLIN: The other Democratic contender on his record in the Senate.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My opponent said he never held a substantive meeting because he was off running for president. So I don't think he should be touting that as experience.

YELLIN: And the current White House occupant on his offer to meet with tyrants.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It can send chilling signals and message to our allies. It can send confusion about our foreign policy. It discourages reformers inside their own country.

YELLIN: So far, Barack Obama is playing it cool.

OBAMA: I'll give Bush credit. I have enormous respect for Senator Clinton. I revere John McCain's service to this country. He's a genuine American hero.

YELLIN: He's distancing himself from the fight.

OBAMA: It's just that John McCain seems to be talking about me a lot.

YELLIN: And he hits back only on the issues that he wants to highlight.

OBAMA: For the president to say that he doesn't think we're in a recession is consistent with his general altitude toward ordinary workers all across America over the last seven-and-a-half years.

YELLIN: No doubt there will be more incoming fire, with Republican opposition already calling him a hypocrite on special interests, challenging his position on public financing, reminding reporters of an IRS investigation into his church.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Now, Wolf, one change lately, we hear far less harsh attacks on Senator Clinton. Barack Obama, instead, is adding more and more lines attacking John McCain -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica. Thanks very much. I also want to apologize to our viewers. At the beginning of that tape, it was out of sync. But we're going to fix that the next time it runs.

Thanks very much, Jessica.

We're following what could be a significant new development in Texas, where the Clinton and Obama camps are caught up in a new controversy over some racially charged remarks.

Let's go to Suzanne Malveaux. She's watching the story in Houston.

What's it all about -- Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it really about these very two important groups -- Hispanic voters as well as African-American voters. If you talk to pollsters and analysts, they take a look at these groups and they say it's going to make a huge difference.

Back in 2004, about 37 percent of the Democratic voters in the primary were Hispanic, about 20 percent African-American. We're seeing a shift, as the Hispanic population goes down and the African-American community goes up. But there was an activist -- a Hispanic activist who had some comments today that really reflected some uncomfortable realities and some perceptions about these groups and the tension between them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: In Texas, where black and Hispanic voters are critical to a big win, a dust-off. A prominent Hispanic supporter of Senator Hillary Clinton hurls a loaded charge -- that Obama's problem with Hispanics -- his race.

ADELFA CAJELLO, CLINTON SUPPORTER: Obama simply has the problem that he happens to be black.

MALVEAUX: The 84-year-old Latina activist, Mrs. Adelfa Cajello, says the divisions between blacks and Latinos runs deep in Dallas.

CAJELLO: When the blacks were -- had the numbers, they never did anything to support us. They always talked -- they used our numbers to fulfill their goals and their objectives, but they never really supported us. And there's a lot of hurt feelings about that. And I don't think we're going to get over it any time soon.

MALVEAUX: Before being fully briefed about Cajello's comments, Senator Clinton was asked if she rejected or denounced the leader's support.

CLINTON: People have every reason to express their opinions. I just don't agree with that.

MALVEAUX: But later, after Clinton's campaign verified the details, they issued a statement saying after confirming that they were accurately portrayed, Senator Clinton, of course, denounces and rejects them.

OBAMA: And I would reject and denounce...

MALVEAUX: Those words -- denounces and rejects -- were used by Senator Barack Obama in Tuesday night's debate when he tried to distant himself from past anti-Semitic comments made by the leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, who has since endorsed Obama.

But this controversy underscores the sensitive nature of Texas politics.

PROF. CHRISTINE LEVEAUX-HALEY, UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON: In Texas, Latinos and African-Americans are the two warring once -- you know, minority groups.

MALVEAUX: With warring political candidates. Analysts say Hispanics lining up for Clinton, African-Americans for Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pretty much saying that African-American and Hispanic voters will be about even.

MALVEAUX: But while there may be some tension between the groups, Professor Christine Leveaux-Haley says it's being exaggerated to get Hispanic voters to the polls.

LEVEAUX-HALEY: There might be some need to kind of mobilize the Latino vote or galvanize the Latinos around some type of issue. And that just might be this divide between Latinos and African-American voters.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, you talk to voters and you talk to those same political analysts and they do reject this outright. But they say these are generalities here, that there are some cases, local and statewide, where there are -- there is some frustration, some tension. The Obama camp certainly rejects this notion that he would be any less receptive to the needs of the Hispanic community.

And there are many examples of politicians here in Texas who really cross over that divide. You just think of the former Dallas mayor, Ron Kirk, when he was running back in 2002 for the Senate seat. He lost the seat, but he did beat the Hispanic candidate in the primary, with an overwhelming support from the Latino community. So they say that there are perceptions, but there are also misperceptions about that tension -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne. Thank you.

And when it comes to Hispanics, polls indicate Senator Clinton with a strong advantage over Senator Obama. Our CNN exit poll shows Clinton carried 63 of the Latino vote back on Super Tuesday, compared to Obama's 35 percent. And our CNN/Opinion Research poll shows Texas trending the same way, with likely Latino voters naming Clinton their choice for nominee roughly two to one.

For the latest political news any time, check out our Political Ticker at CNNPolitics.com. The ticker is the number one political news blog on the Web. That's also where you can read my latest blog post. I just posted one a little while ago.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: What's happening to the American dream? Among other things, a lot of Americans are worried that they're not going to have enough money for their retirement years. A new Gallup Poll shows 47 percent of those surveyed are concerned now about outliving their money after they retire. That number jumps to 53 percent when it comes to people between the ages of 30 and 64.

It's no secret that a lot of Americans are feeling a financial squeeze in today's uncertain economy. For many, this means they've decided to delay their retirement. The poll found 45 percent say they fear they'll have to retire at a later age than they originally planned.

It's a big concern, especially among younger people. And there's also, of course, the uncertainty about the future of Social Security. Rising costs of everything from food to energy, health care, college tuition have a lot of people worried that they're not going to be able to pay their bills.

Forty-four percent worry they won't be able to afford college tuition for their children or another family member. Twenty-six percent have doubts about being able to pay off college debts. Thirty- three percent are concerned they won't be able to pay medical or health care costs in the next year. And when it comes to people's biggest asset, their home, 43 percent are afraid their home will lose value in the next year.

It didn't used to be this way. And yet President Bush insisted today that we're not headed for a recession. I hope he's right.

Here's the question: How concerned are you that you'll have enough money when you retire?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much -- Jack.

The candidates are courting Latino voters, young and old. But it could be white male swing voters that could decide the Democratic race. We're going to show you why.

Also, Israel's stake in the race for the White House, issues involving Iraq and Iran directly affecting Israel and its security. We're going to talk about it with the former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He might be the next prime minister of Israel, as well.

Plus, details of Prince Harry's secret tour of duty on the front lines in Afghanistan.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: With Iraq and Iran major issues in this campaign, Israelis, understandably, especially interested in what happens here in the United States, given the very strong relationship between the U.S. and Israel.

Joins us now in New York to talk about that and more, the former Israeli prime minister -- and maybe a future prime minister, as well -- Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr. Prime Minister, thanks very much for coming in.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: What do you make of this debate that's going on, whether there should be direct high level -- at the highest level -- talks, a dialogue between an American president and Ahmadinejad, the of Iran? Would that be good or bad if there was a discussion began at this highest level?

NETANYAHU: Wolf, I've been around the block many times and so have you. And I'm not going to be dragged into a hot electoral issue in the American election campaign.

BLITZER: I don't want you to get involved in American politics. But just from Israel's point of view, the existential question, given the threat from Iran that you see, would it be good to talk to Ahmadinejad or to continue to boycott him, if you will?

NETANYAHU: Here's what I would say should be our common policy. And by that I mean not merely Israel and the United States, but of every democracy and every country that favors world peace. It is that Iran must not get nuclear weapons.

If it does get nuclear weapons and Ahmadinejad thinks he can get away with it, this would mean that we would have the first non- deterrable nuclear power. All other powers that have nuclear weapons or could have nuclear weapons since Hiroshima have been loath to use it. They've been -- always considered the consequences of using nuclear weapons first.

This is not true of Ahmadinejad, who openly says that he intends to wipe Israel off the map and talks about reestablishing a fantasy Caliphate. So I would say that the crucial question is what is the goal? The goal must be to prevent this Ayatollah regime in Iran from acquiring the weapons of mass destruction.

BLITZER: Well, here's the question, Mr. Prime Minister; would it better to talk to them about it or to just continue to isolate, the sanctions, put the pressure on them? Would a dialogue, in effect, help you, help Israel, by trying to secure the goal that you want, which is a non-nuclear Iran?

NETANYAHU: I think you're going to need very strong sanctions and you cannot remove the military option from the table. How you do that specifically with diplomacy is something I don't care to address now simply because it's a very hot topic in your electoral campaign. And I'm a seasoned enough politician not to get in other people's politics. Believe me, I have enough in Israel.

BLITZER: I know that the Israelis don't like it when Americans get involved in Israeli domestic policy, either.

I saw a poll push published in "Haaretz," the Israeli newspaper, this week which asked this question -- and it was surprising to me the results among the Israeli population. "Should Israeli -- should the Israeli government hold talks with Hamas?"

Sixty-four percent said yes, 28 percent said no. That was sort of eye-popping to me. I wonder what you think about that.

NETANYAHU: I've seen diametrically opposed polls. And, in any case, polls are not -- I don't think we have anything to talk with Hamas, because they not only said that they want to destroy us, but they also lobbed rocketed into our cities.

As we speak, for the last 48 hours, we've had some 50 rockets launched not merely to Stirott (ph), nearby Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, but also into the City of Ashkelon. And entire populations are terrorized. So when you have something as bleak as that, as uncompromising, as dangerous as this Hamas, I think the first thing to do is to get them to stop the rocketing...

BLITZER: But is it possible --

NETANYAHU: ... and we have to do that.

BLITZER: -- Is it possible that you could convince them in a discussion, if you started a direct dialogue with the Hamas leadership in Gaza, that maybe they would stop launching those rockets into Southern Israel?

NETANYAHU: Well, I think other things will persuade them, like the power of deterrence or the cost of --

BLITZER: But that hasn't happened yet, though.

NETANYAHU: Because I think we've not excited a sufficient cost from the Hamas terrorist organization. I think we have been fighting essentially a war of attrition. They do something, we do something and so on. And the nature of deterrence, of course, is that you change the rules.

In any case, if the government -- the current Israeli government does that and takes a very strong stance to stop this terrorizing of our civilians, they can be sure that they'll enjoy my support, the support of the opposition, the support of the Israeli people at large. And I would say we should enjoy the support of the international community.

I know -- I'm trying to think of how people would respond if, say, New York City, where I'm sitting at right now, would be hit by 50 lockets over the last 48 hours. I mean people would scream bloody murder and they'd want the American government -- any government, Democrat or Republican, to take very firm action. That's the sentiment in Israel today and I would support the government in very vigorous action.

BLITZER: What are the implications, Mr. Prime Minister, of a U.S. withdrawal of forces from Iraq, as some here are calling for, for Israel?

NETANYAHU: Well, I think, that the -- there are potentially many implications. And, again, this is an item of debate in the presidential election. Let me tell you something that transcends -- and therefore I don't want to deal with it directly and I'm open when I -- when I dodge your question, I'm telling you that I dodge it.

But here's something that is unrelated to the question of whether you leave early or leave later or leave much later or don't leave at all. It is that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons -- Iran, which is right next to Iraq -- if Iran requires nuclear weapons, then, ultimately, Iran will be able to topple whatever regime is in Iraq, regardless of the American presence. It will have the ability to shift the whole political equation in the Middle East and to our common detriment. It would be a very, very dangerous development.

And I come back to this issue because I think it is the formative one facing our times. Churchill said, in a speech in 1935 in the British parliament, he said democracies tend to sleep. They have the sleep of the indifferent. And they're woken up by the jarring going, he said, of self-preservation. Well, I hope that we wake up in time and before this apocalyptic messianic and violent sect that now controls Iran has the weapons of mass death. And this is the ultimate and most important issue facing our world today.

BLITZER: Benjamin Netanyahu is the former Prime Minister of Israel and, as I said earlier, maybe a future prime minister, as well. Thanks very much for coming in.

NETANYAHU: Thank you.

BLITZER: The primary is still five days away, but voter turnout in Ohio is already breaking records. Could that be bad news for the Republican Party? The impact of the Democratic tidal wave out there.

Plus, a massive explosion rips through a strip mall in Illinois. Businesses are destroyed. People are injured. What exactly happened? We're going to have the latest.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello is on assignment in Ohio. Zain Verjee is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Kenya's political leaders are agreeing to share power. They signed a breakthrough deal today. It gives the opposition leader the prime minister position, which he had been demanding. Kenya's opposition has been saying that it won last year's election and that the government stole it. And the dispute, as you know, Wolf, turned violent, with more than 1,000 killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.

Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was the chief mediator. And he was backed staunchly by the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had also turned up pressure on Kenyan leaders in the past few days.

A Wisconsin man faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to issuing false warnings about terrorist attacks in NFL stadiums. In federal court today, the 22-year-old man admitted to making Internet postings saying that radioactive dirty bombs would be set off during football games in seven locations on the same day in 2006. His lawyer has called the hoax a stupid mistake by a kid that nobody took seriously.

And if you think American politics can get ugly, take a look at this video from Russia. Following a heated television debate, a presidential candidate threatens and then attacks the campaign manager of a rival. Neither of the campaigns involved are given a realistic chance of winning the election, which is scheduled to be held on Sunday.

Have you ever moderated a debate like that, Wolf?

BLITZER: No.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I take it that's not Dmitry Medvedev, who is expected to be the new president, replacing Putin, right? These are some other candidates, Zain?

VERJEE: Right. Right. This isn't the main candidate. He's -- Medvedev is Putin's anointed successor. But these guys don't have a chance of winning, which is maybe why they went for it.

BLITZER: I suspect Medvedev is going to win on Sunday.

All right, Zain, thanks very much. Tough politics over there in Russia.

Barack Obama has the black vote. Many Latinos support Hillary Clinton. But there's one group that's often been ignored. That would be white men. You're going to see why they may really make a difference in the next election. Plus, Ohio has seen its share of voting nightmares -- recounts, computer crashes, not enough machines. Now they're bracing for the biggest day yet. A closer look at what might happen. Carol Costello is on the scene.

Plus, he says he's not running for president, but New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg might still have a major impact on the race for the White House. You're going to find out how.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, oil prices soar. A little more than an hour ago, light sweet crude closed at $102.59 a barrel in New York. That's a new high. Retail gasoline prices also inched closer to new highs.

One person is missing and eight more are hospitalized after an explosion at a shopping plaza in suburban Chicago. Authorities say a gas leak may have caused the blast.

And a new report shows that for the first time, more than one out of every 100 American adults currently in jail or prison. The report shows that more people are behind bars in the United States than in any other country and that incarceration rates are increasing faster than crime rates or the overall population rates.

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

In the past it's been soccer moms, independents. This year it could be white males who decide the race for the White House. At least on the Democratic side.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's watching these numbers, watching this story for us.

Why is this block so important to both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of reasons, Wolf. They're no longer considered the exclusive domain of the Republicans. And right now it's believed that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton really need that white guy vote to win Texas and Ohio.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): She carries women and Latinos. He's got African Americans squarely behind him. So who do observers now point to as a crucial swing vote among the Democrats to determine if we get the first American female or black presidential nominee?

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: The major group that is left over at of all of that is white men. TODD: Since John Edwards left the Democratic race, polls show white male voters are the largest bloc to swing evenly between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. With Obama showing momentum now since he easily won over white men in Virginian and Wisconsin. Analysts say neither Clinton nor Obama may be able to capture Texas or Ohio without them. Another reason it's critical for Democratic candidates to win support from white men now.

DAVID PAUL KUHN, THE POLITICO: In the general election, the most critical swing block because they make up the largest share of independents.

TODD: Analysts are split as to whether Democrats have made a real effort to catch the white guy vote in recent elections. Some believe they've written them because while the ranks of white male voters have been slinking while the numbers of women, blacks and Latinos have gone up and the Democrats feel those groups are more their core voters.

But David Paul Kuhn, author of the book, "The Neglected Voter" says even though white men have voted more Republican in recent presidential elections, the democrats shouldn't assume the GOP has cornered that market.

KUHN: They have opportunities here. Whether it is how unpopular the current president, whether it the still unpopularity of the war in Iraq. These men care very much about the war in Iraq. They care extremely about change.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (on camera): And one other factor that may signal the white guy is changing his vote, CNN polling director Keating Holland says in the 2006 midterm elections Democratic candidates made big gains among white men, and it allowed them to capture the House and Senate -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd. Watching the story for us. Thanks, Brian.

And this story just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs weighing in on the Democrats' plans for Iraq.

Let's go to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre. He's watching the story for us.

What's going on, Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Joint Chiefs chairman Michael Mullen didn't mention any of the Democrats by name but he is clearly worried about their ideas about speeding up the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.

Admiral Mullen said he's worried about the kind of situation, the kind of speed-up that would leave a quote, "chaotic situation in Iraq and overturn the gains." he says that the U.S. has struggled so hard to achieve.

But this is important. He said he believes civilian control of the military is a bedrock principle. And he said, quote, "when the next president comes in I'll get my orders, and will carry them out." Wolf?

BLITZER: Jamie, thanks very much for that.

Let's get some analysis on what's going on right now. Two Democratic strategists are joining us. James Carville is a Hillary Clinton supporter. Jamal Simmons likes Barack Obama.

Guys thanks very much for coming in.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I like him enough.

BLITZER: What do you think about the chairman of the Joint Chiefs weighing in and expressing concerns about Democrats and their plans if in fact they're elected?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: First of all, Admiral Mullen is a patriot, and he said civilian control was going to determine this. We're going to have an election that is pretty much going to determine the direction in Iraq. Whether we have more of the same or whether we have a change in policy there.

Secondly, I'm sure that Admiral Mullen would make his views known to whoever the president might be. If it's a Democrat I'm sure he'll be able to make due. And circumstances on the ground shift all the time. But American patience to have a hundred year occupation Iraq is not there.

BLITZER: There's really no major difference, or correct if me if I'm wrong, Jamal, between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama when it comes it Iraq. Is there?

SIMMONS: A lot of the issues they're 98 percent in the same place looking forward. Either one of them that becomes president, the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is we want to talk to military, get their best advice, talk to outside advisers, come up with the best strategy, and adjust that strategy based on the needs of the ground.

As opposed to George Bush who seemed like he had his own way to do it. Didn't listen to anyone regardless of the facts and just plowed ahead. And so I think Americans will be more comfortable with a Democratic president who is willing to listen and learn and then act.

BLITZER: Looking ahead to Tuesday. Are white male voters the new soccer moms out there?

CARVILLE: I don't know. Do I look like a soccer mom? Look, and David Paul Kuhn is a very bright guy. His book is an important book and it makes the point that in essence they're shifting more than any other group. And so while as a percentage of the electorate they have sort of gone down over the years, they are still back of the envelope calculations slightly under 40 percent of the electorate and they are key players in the Democratic side because they seem to be move back and forth. And Obama did well with them in Wisconsin. We'll see in Texas and Ohio.

BLITZER: You agree?

SIMMONS: Yes, what's comforting is Barack Obama also did well with them in Virginia and then did well again in Wisconsin. So he does have momentum from those states going into Wisconsin, going into Texas and Ohio. So whichever way it goes you would hope that the Democratic nominee can appeal to all groups regardless of race or gender.

BLITZER: He's getting hit now, Obama, by Hillary Clinton which is understandable. They're fighting for the nomination. John McCain, likely the Republican nomination. Now President Bush is weighing in. Is any of this likely to stick against Barack Obama?

SIMMONS: There's always is a risk in that. What's comforting is though that the Obama campaign is taking this seriously. They're hitting back when they get attacked. They're not sitting around waiting for this all to be decided. They're not going to be defined before they have the nomination.

BLITZER: How is Obama doing in handling this three pronged attack?

CARVILLE: As you know, I'm sympathetic to Senator Clinton. I make a point momentum hasn't counted for much. And her people are quite optimistic about Ohio and Texas. But Senator Obama, since McCain and are all talking about al Qaeda and Iraq, Senator Obama is exactly right.

When we invaded Iraq there was no al Qaeda in Iraq. I can't change the facts. I like Hillary better than Senator Obama, but he's absolutely right about that and they're not going to -- whoever the Democratic nominee is, they're not going to get away with the same old talking point that has never proven right yet.

BLITZER: In our Democratic poll of polls likely primary voters in Texas right now. Right now we have in this average among the major polls in Texas. Obama, 48; Clinton, 45. Unsure, seven. You're hearing that the Clinton folks are upbeat about Texas. I know they're upbeat about Ohio. But Texas may be more problematic.

CARVILLE: It might be. But they're doing better. By the way, in they win it will create a better narrative for them. We're going to have to wait until Tuesday. But in my conversations with them I think they think they're doing a tick better. But who I am I to argue with the polls?

BLITZER: If she wins both of those states it goes onto Pennsylvania, right?

SIMMONS: Let's hope not. CARVILLE: Come on.

BLITZER: Good story going. You know, what's wrong with that?

SIMMONS: What is comforting, these numbers are all over the place. You look at the early voter numbers, Senator Clinton seems like she's getting her voters out in some of the rural parts of Texas. Senator Obama is getting his voters out in some of the big cities. It depends on who actually is showing up and which way they break going into the final stretch.

BLITZER: Jamal and James, guys thanks for coming in.

CARVILLE: Appreciate it.

BLITZER: With high voter turnout expected for next week's presidential primaries in Ohio, officials there are moving to try to avoid any ballot problems that marred past elections. So how concerned should voters be that their vote will actually count?

And Britain's Prince Harry says it wasn't until he went to the war zone that he actually felt normal for the first time. We're going to show you what else he has to say about being on the front lines of Afghanistan. You're going to want to see and hear this. Right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's one factor in the race for the White House that's making some in the GOP nervous. Democrats are voting in huge numbers. Millions more than Republicans.

Let's go to our chief national correspondent, John King. He's looking at this story.

John, what do we make of this trend?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Republicans look at it and they view it as simple math. Democratic turnout is way up and Republicans are more than a little worried.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): The Ohio presidential primary is Tuesday, but turnout is already smashing records. Unprecedented early and absentee voting here in Cincinnati and across the state.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Barack Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I voted for Obama.

KING: More than 40,000 ballots requested in southwest Ohio's Hamilton County alone. Four times the number of the past two campaigns. It is in part because of aggressive organizing by the Democratic who knows a come from behind Ohio victory could mean everything. By the numbers, Republicans have a serious case of turnout trouble. Excluding caucuses, more than 22 million Democrats have cast ballots in primaries held to date. Compared to just 14 million Republican votes. And Ohio looks to be no exception in a primary season punctuated by remarkable Democratic intensity and some signs of a shrinking or changing Republican base.

ERIC RADEMACHER, UNIV. OF CINCINNATI SURVEY CENTER: More people telling us they'll be voting in the Democratic primary for example. And when we look at our polls over time we're seeing a little bit of a dip in the number of people who are identifying themselves with the Republican Party.

KING: Rally crowds don't always equal success on Election Day. But here big discrepancies, too. Six hundred or so is good crowd for thus McCain Cincinnati rally. But a day earlier for Obama, the lines stretched across a university campus and in the end 13,000 jammed into a basketball arena.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We really want to get people involved and get them knocking on doors.

KING: Add in a big Democratic fundraising advantage so far and some Republicans are at least a little nervous.

WHIT AYRES, GOP POLLSTER: Every coalition and every party undergoes some transitions overtime. I think the Republican Party is undergoing a transition.

KING: But despite so many early signs of trouble, Republicans do see an upside. Here in Ohio and nationally Senator McCain runs statistically even or better in early election polling.

AYRES: John McCain could very well be the next president of the United States based upon current polling. So that suggests that whatever transition the Republicans are going through, it may very well end up being a successful transition.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now, Republicans say their best answer to that Democratic edge and intensity, Wolf, is superior voter targeting and organizing. And that effort is already under way now, 250 days before the election, using a sophisticated Republican Party data base that for example matches the voting rolls with things like applications for gun licenses so that independents and conservative Democrats will perhaps be convinced in the end to vote for McCain -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, John. Thank you. John is in Cincinnati.

With anticipation building over next Tuesday's primary in Ohio, officials in the state are moving to try to avoid the voting nightmares they've had in other recent elections. But the solutions they're coming up with are generating controversy of their own.

Let's go to Carol Costello. She's in Cleveland covering this story for us.

Are people confident that their votes will actually count on Tuesday in Ohio, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, actually I'm in Columbus. And people all over the state are concerned that their votes may or may not be counted. I talked to the Ohio secretary of state, she describes herself as an election nerd. She knows voting machines inside and out. But with her extensive knowledge, there's still controversy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): Secretary of state Jennifer Brunner is crisscrossing Ohio, assuring voters the there will be no embarrassing problems at the polls on March 4th.

JENNIFER BRUNNER, (D) OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE: We want the nation to say, well, it looks like Ohio has its act together. That's great. We can trust their votes. Let's look at what Texas has done.

COSTELLO: But critics like the ACLU say if history is any indicator, she's fooling herself. Especially in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, where problems with voting have been nightmarish. In 2004 there weren't enough voting machines to handle the volume. Ditto that in 2007, and there was an added problem then. When it came time to count the ballots, the computers crashed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They delivered the wrong memory cards.

COSTELLO: Along the way electronic memory cards were lost in Cuyahoga County. Printouts of touch-screen machines were unreadable. And two election workers were convicted of rigging a presidential recount.

To combat the problem Secretary Brunner fired and replaced election board members and scrapped the county's electronic voting machines in favor of paper ballots. But it's a system county voters have never used before, and that, according to the ACLU, could create the perfect storm.

CARRIE DAVIS, ACLU: If you're making major changes, if you're attempting experiments with changes to how people vote, that's something you do in an off year with lower turnout. You don't monkey around with a major presidential election.

COSTELLO: But Brunner says the new method is simple. Voters pick up a paper ballot with instructions, fill it out, and drop it in a box. Precinct workers will then take the expected 400,000 county ballots to a central location where they'll be counted with an optical scanner.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: But then again, nothing is every sing simple, as they say, in Ohio. The ACLU has a problem with this kind of system, Wolf, because the ballots are counted at a central location, they are not scanned at the individual precincts. Which means that the precinct workers can't catch voter mistakes at the precincts.

And that means voters won't have a chance to correct their mistakes. By the time these ballots are scanned at a central location, the voters will go home and in case you're wondering, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit.

BLITZER: Carol is in Columbus. Thank, Carol, very much. Carol will be on the scene for us over the next several days.

The secret is out. Prince Harry at war. Where he's fighting and what he says about it. That's coming up.

Also, the New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he will not run for president. But he still could play a major role in the election. We'll tell you what's going on.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Some surprise news out of Afghanistan sending shockwaves to Britain and beyond. Our international security correspondent Paula Newton reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PRINCE HARRY, PRINCE OF WHALES: It's the next compound down from that.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The prince holds the lowest officer rank, known as Coronet Wales, as he tasked with the job of being a forward air controller. He has to call in air strikes and air support when necessary, guaranteeing the accuracy of bombing on the ground, guarding against incidents of friendly fire in the air.

PRINCE HARRY: You have jets flying all over the place. You're trying to control them all looking at the screen while trying to show a presence of force with the jets to get the enemy to go to cover. So to keep your guys in one piece and keep safe basically.

NEWTON: But keeping the prince safe is still a problem. He knows he's a marked man. His fellow soldiers call him the bullet magnet. The Taliban has him in its sights. Eager to use a close call against him as a propaganda coup like no other.

Still, if he stays safe, this could be a redeeming mission for the prince. After building a reputation as Dirty Harry, the party prince, he will finally get the experience he's been training for and just maybe the respect he's been craving.

PRINCE HARRY: No, I don't miss booze if that's the next question. It's very nice just to be here and be with all the guys and sort of mucking about. During the day I like to sort of be a normal person. For once. I think this is about as normal as I'm ever going to get.

NEWTON: For a boy who had far from a normal childhood this front line role may yet allow him a common experience with other British soldiers and the knowledge that he's risked his life for his country. Paula Newton, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We want to wish him only the best. Hope he's secure and safe out there.

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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: How concerned are you that you'll have enough money when you retire?

Sean writes: "My father has worked for General Motors 42 years. My sister and I are both in college. Each year our college tuition goes up roughly $3,000. My mother had to go out and get two jobs that pay minimum wage on top of my job at the church and my sister's job at the clothing store. We have no money. Our college loans are way above our heads and we can't sell our house because the economy sucks so bad. My dad is 60-years-old. He told me last night he's never going to be able to retire."

Greg writes from New York: "As a 24-year-old fresh out of college and just starting this real world thing, having enough money when I'm retired seems like an issue that's very far off. The thing is, though, with Bush's excessive spending on the war, dipping into federal funds, I'm more worried about things like Social Security not being there for me even though I'm paying for our seniors now. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind doing them the service as long as someone's able to return the favor when I'm old enough."

Beverly in Pennsylvania -- Bethlehem: "I have a magnet on my refrigerator that says financially I'm set for life as long as I die next week. My 65 year old husband continues to work full time, drives an hour and a half to work each way. I work as a registered nurse in a busy hospital. Several years to go before retirement. I continue to work after knee replacement surgery, rotator cuff surgery and carpal tunnel problems. The job risks that cause these problems also provide me with the health care that I couldn't otherwise afford."

What a Catch-22 that is.

Kristin writes: "Sure I am worried about enough money for retirement. The problem is we're already retired and we're hurting."

And Independently in Pennsylvania: "I have a fool proof retirement play. I plan to be elected to the U.S. Senate. It's one of the few places you can remain gainfully employed far beyond your usefulness or competence. The salary, benefits have no relationship to your service to the nation. I am planning to head up a committee that will investigate a shortage of sports-related balls. The press can call it, 'No ballsgate'" -- Wolf. BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

The New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his decision. More on that right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And joining us now, the former defense secretary William Cohen. He is chairman and CEO of the Cohen Group here in Washington.

What do you make of Michael Bloomberg's decision to not run for president? You wrote this article in "The New York Times." You were with him in Oklahoma only a few weeks ago when there was a lot of speculation about an independent emerging, a third-party run.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, I think it reflects the fact that both the Republican presidential candidates, now it appears to be John McCain as the clear winner and the two Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, are both seen by Mayor Bloomberg, apparently, as being closer to the center. I think if they had been seen as polar extremes I think he may have very well decided to run.

As it is now I think both of the parties seem to at least offer candidates who may be willing to come to the center to try to pass legislation and take a leadership role that would bring the parties together, rather than splitting them. So in one sense it's a victory for independents in the country.

Saying he's a top independent individual who see that it will be better for him to stay somewhat on the sidelines. Although he's not completely on the sidelines. He is saying he is going to work for whomever he sees as being the best person to lead this country into the future. So he has a role to play. He might be a vice presidential candidate himself.

BLITZER: What do you think about that? Would it be smart for the Republican nominee or the Democratic nominee to reach out to this former Democrat, former Republican who now calls himself an independent?

COHEN: Well, John McCain in particular has somewhat of a dilemma here. On the one hand, if he doesn't have the support of the conservatives in the party then you're going to see either President Barack Obama or President Hillary Clinton.

If he moves to the right and does go further to satisfy the conservatives he is going to lose a lot in the center where he is now appealing to a great many people. So he has somewhat of a dilemma here in terms of who is going to pick to satisfy the Republicans and also not lose the independents.

For Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton I think it's somewhat of a different situation. Certainly for Barack Obama looking to a Mayor Bloomberg, that would be an interesting combination. I think for Senator Clinton to have Mayor Bloomberg on may be too New Yorkish for too many people.

But, I think he's a viable candidate to be considered primarily by the Democrats. I think that Senator McCain, my friend Senator McCain, has a different kind of a problem.

BLITZER: Secretary Cohen thanks for joining us.

COHEN: A pleasure.

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