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Barack Obama Under Fire; Four States Prepare to Vote

Aired March 3, 2008 - 20:00   ET


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks for joining us tonight.
We are watching the candidates and the clock. Just under 10 hours from now, the first poll open for the March 4 primary, first in Vermont, then Ohio, Rhode Island and Texas. The voters will begin writing the next chapter in this amazing election year. And this one could be a doozy.

Three questions are front and center right now. Will NAFTA help Hillary Clinton stop Barack Obama in Ohio? An Obama fund-raiser goes on trial. Could the timing of that be any worse? And what's with Florida's Republican governor asking for a new Democratic primary? The members of the best political team on television are standing by to bring you the very latest from the campaign trail.

Here in New York, the CNN Election Center is up and running.

Senior political analyst Bill Schneider has the dramatic primary eve polls. Chief national correspondent John King has an essential guide to what we all need to watch for tomorrow.

So, let's start with Hillary Clinton's 11th-hour attack on Barack Obama. Clinton seized on a news story that first surfaced in Canada, saying one of Obama's top economic advisers told a Canadian official that Obama's call for renegotiating the NAFTA treaty should be taken as campaign rhetoric, not a serious policy plan.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It raises questions about Senator Obama coming to Ohio and giving speeches against NAFTA, and having his chief economic adviser tell the Canadian government that it was just political rhetoric.

You know, I don't think people should come to Ohio and tell the people of Ohio one thing and then have your campaign tell a foreign government something else behind closed doors.


BROWN: Senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is watching this developing story from Ohio where Senator Clinton started the day.

And, Candy, Senator Clinton very much on the attack today. Is this about throwing everything at Senator Obama to see what sticks?


There are any number of issues out there that frankly the Clinton campaign has been pushing for some time. But now Barack Obama has really reached critical mass. When this memo showed up -- and I have to tell you that the Canadian Embassy and the Obama campaign say, wait a second. There was this meeting, although they had denied it before. There was this meeting, but it did not, in fact, the official from the Obama campaign did not, in fact, say that his support for NAFTA was political and not policy oriented.

The Canadian Embassy backs that up and said in no way did they mean to suggest that or did the consulate mean to suggest that. But we are in Ohio where NAFTA is a four-letter word, Campbell. It really can hurt. You have got, what, that 9, 10 percent of voters that are undecided. Here, where they have lost so many jobs, and they blame NAFTA, this is something -- one of the things that could stick.

BROWN: Candy, I know this is the big question. And I just want to get your sense being out there. If Hillary does not win in Ohio and in Texas, there's been enormous debate, will she stay in, will she stay out? What's your sense?

CROWLEY: Well, she says she's just getting started. But my sense is that her husband really set the marker here. Bill Clinton was down in Texas at one point and said if she does not win in Texas and Ohio she will not be the nominee.

Now, he said publicly basically what Clintonites have said privately both in the campaign and those who support her outside the campaign, that it will not be sustainable mathematically for her to lose Texas and Ohio. Now, the math still may come out when we are at the end of the night tomorrow that she is still behind in pledged delegates. But the key will be if she can break his momentum. He's had 11 victories in a row. If she can beat him in Texas and Ohio, it really stop that story, narrative in its track, and it really resets the campaign.

BROWN: All right, Candy Crowley for us from Ohio tonight -- Candy, thanks.

And despite the NAFTA controversy, Senator Obama is trying to stay on message and score a knockout tomorrow.

Our Jessica Yellin is in San Antonio, where Obama held a town hall with veterans just a short time ago.

And let's talk first about the NAFTA story. To what extent was he able to stay on message today because of it?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Campbell, in his appearances before voters, he isn't bringing up this NAFTA debate, but it certainly has come up.

It's been on two of the three evening newscasts, certainly all over our programming, one of the top stories on a major newspaper in Ohio. So, it's an issue that is resonating out there. The question is clearly as Candy made so clear inside Ohio it could alienate voters. Outside Ohio, where NAFTA is not as anathema to as many voters, the real issue is that Barack Obama sold has himself as the candidate of transparency, the guy who won't give you into the White House and give you the same old Washington-speak. He will say what he means and mean what he says.

Well, when a story comes out saying that one of his staffers is contradicting his public message, the Obama campaign, instead of coming out immediately and refuting it and laying all the facts out sort of let this story linger out there last week and finally today had to admit that a meeting did happen, but it was mischaracterized.

They only admitted it after a memo surfaced. So to the extent that this issue is an problem here in Texas and elsewhere, I really think it has to do with this question of, is Barack Obama just another politician who parses like everyone else?

Now, I have to say Obama himself addressed this and clarified it, so he could have put this issue to bed late today.

BROWN: All right. And, Jessica, though, give us your assessment in terms of how it may translate at the polls with his supporters, just the negativity, if anything else, in general.

YELLIN: Well, there's this. There's also a Clinton ad that is out just now saying that Barack Obama is essentially too busy to be commander in chief because he didn't do his job on a Senate committee overseeing NATO.

So, he's battering back a number of new attacks from Senator Clinton. And he really does find himself sort of on the defensive today, when usually he's the guy riding into the election defining the messages he wants. It's a very different position for Barack Obama. But I will remind you, as they say, the election is tight as a tick here in Texas. And I wouldn't presume to guess which way it's going to go.

BROWN: All right, Jessica Yellin, who is with the Obama campaign, Jessica, thanks.

And John McCain, can he seal the Republican nomination tomorrow? Well, by CNN's estimate, he has 1,047 delegates, just 144 short of the magic number to lock up the nomination; 256 delegates are at same stake for the Republicans tomorrow. The Democrats have 370 delegates at stake tomorrow, but both Senators Clinton and Obama have a long way to go.

And as we look at live pictures of Senator Clinton at a town hall meeting in Austin, Texas, she is trailing just over 100 delegates behind Obama. But either one needs something in the neighborhood of 600 more delegates to win the nomination.

As the candidates head down to the wire, the primary eve polls point to tight finishes tomorrow.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, has the very latest numbers.

Bill, we are hours away now. Tension is building. How close is the race?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: How close is it? I was in Rhode Island for the weekend. It is so close they are fighting over eensy-weensy Rhode Island. And the voters in Rhode Island are very excited.

Let's take a look at our poll of polls in Texas. How close is it? This is five polls in Texas. And we averaged them. In the latest polls, Obama is leading just two points over Hillary Clinton with 8 percent still undecided. How about Ohio? In Ohio our poll of polls shows Clinton ahead there by five points, 48 to 43, with 9 percent still undecided. So, it looks like she may have a slight lead in Ohio, but still very, very close.

BROWN: And, Bill, you look at actually what happened in Texas and Ohio in the 2004 election also. What did you learn?

SCHNEIDER: Very different states. Ohio has a much bigger partisan Democratic base than Texas. It has more seniors. It has more union members, twice as many union members among Democratic voters, more blue-collar voters.

And these are Hillary Clinton constituencies. Texas has more minorities. It has more Latinos and more African-Americans. But they're split. What is interesting is, they're about the same size, African-Americans and Latinos, in the Texas party. But Hillary Clinton is only getting about 12 percent of the African-American vote.

Barack Obama is doing not too badly with Latinos. He's getting about a third of their vote.

BROWN: OK. And is there anything suggesting the Democrats will not have a candidate after tomorrow? A little confusion here.

SCHNEIDER: Well, ever hear of the Texas two-step? Well, that's what they're doing in Texas tomorrow. They get to vote twice. You vote once in the primary. And then tomorrow night, you're supposed to, if you vote in the primary, you go to a caucus. And what do they do? They pick more delegates.

So, if it is this close, as the polls suggest, it is possible that one candidate could get more primary votes and the other candidate could get more delegates because the other candidate's people show up at the caucus. Then you're going to have a wonderful fight over who actually won Texas, the guy or woman who gets more primary votes, or the person who gets more delegates.

And then you go to Ohio. If it's this close, Ohio has had a lot of problems with their voting machines. So, a very close result in Ohio could produce a disputed result, in which case you could have lawsuits over who wins Ohio.

(CROSSTALK) BROWN: And quickly on the Republicans, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans, John McCain is doing in our poll of polls 57 percent in Texas., 58 percent in Ohio. Those races are not close. And that should be enough to make it very likely that he will be able to clinch the Republican nomination.

So, you could have him clinching the Republican nomination and the Democrats keep on fighting. And I can tell you, there's some good research to suggest that whichever party is more divided in the primaries has a lot of trouble winning in November.

BROWN: Yes. Republicans would probably like to see this going.

SCHNEIDER: They would.

BROWN: Bill Schneider, appreciate it very much.


One of the year's biggest surprises is that both party's nominations are still in play. And that needs we need to keep our eyes on some important trends in tomorrow's key states.

And chief national correspondent John King is here with what we need to watch -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Campbell, there's a lot to watch.

And Bill doesn't leave you terribly inspired about what is going to happen out there with his worries about Ohio. But let's first look where we start on the Democratic side. Here's the delegate race. And Senator Obama starts out with a bit of a lead over Senator Clinton, but a modest lead right now.

There are many Democrats who say, if he can build on that lead tomorrow night, that there will be enormous pressure on Senator Clinton to get out of the race.

So, let's go to our election map. How does she stop his momentum? Well, most assume that Vermont will be an Obama state. He's well ahead in the polls there. It's the upscale Democratic place. So, look for Obama to start the night in Vermont winning.

Bill just mentioned this competitive contest in Rhode Island. I spent a lot of time early in my career in Rhode Island. If you're Hillary Clinton, this is what you're looking right here, just north of Providence, up to Pawtucket, blue-collar, gritty Democrats. She needs to run up big numbers there if she's going to carry the state. It will also be an indication of whether her message is carrying over to the contest that as you were just discussing of course matter more.

And where are they? They are right out here in Ohio. The NAFTA debate Candy was talking about, Campbell, this is where we will see that. Up here in the northern swipe across Ohio, Youngstown, Akron, Toledo, Cleveland. This is where the NAFTA debate is richest, if you will, and more raw, if you look at all of the polling.

The counterprogramming for that, of course, Senator Obama looking to run up his African-American support in the Cleveland area. And one of the interesting things when you talk about Democrats and Republicans in the state, they say that Obama is working very hard down here. This is the Republican southwest corner of Ohio, not a Democratic stronghold. But they say Obama is working incredibly hard down here.

Why? Because he expects Senator Clinton to do well up here. He expects Senator Clinton to do well down here, which is the governor's home base, Ted Strickland, and he is for her. So, if there's a surprise going on later in the night, we will watch places that are not full of Democratic votes. If it's very close, Hamilton County, which is where Cincinnati is, could come into play.

BROWN: And, Mohammed talk a little bit about voter turnout. It's a huge issue. Where is it likely to matter most?

KING: That's what we will want to see early on, because if Obama is going to be competitive here -- remember she was ahead by so much just a couple of weeks ago. So, we need to watch right here.

This, Cuyahoga County, it's almost 13 percent of the population, 12 percent of the population. It's a huge place for the Democrats. It's also where most of the African-American votes will come into play. So we will look here early on to see if turnout is high and if Obama is running up significant margins in the city of Cleveland.

If you want to see if Senator Clinton is something well, remember where she has spent so much time, Campbell, down here. Senator Clinton has spent a lot of time here, poorer rural areas. Not as many people live in these communities. But she's been down here along the river. You see Belmont County, only 0.6 percent of the population, only 0.1 percent of the population. But she's spent time in these counties along the rivers, along the border with West Virginia, economically depressed areas trying to get out every single vote. In a close contest, these aren't the biggest places in the state, but they will matter if it's close.

BROWN: Let's quickly talk about Texas. Because if early voter turnout is an issue, then we're likely to have a record-breaking day there. What are you looking for in Texas?


KING: In Texas, we look for the Latino vote. And again first let's start. Obama needs to run up African-American numbers in Dallas and in Houston. But, Campbell, this is the fight in Texas. It's the fight for the Latino vote. It's the fight all across here.

You are seeing Senator Clinton spend all her time, a lot of time, I mean, right down in this area. One place I will watch tomorrow night, it's a very tiny county. It is Starr County. It's only 0.3 percent of the population in the state. The highest per capita Latino population in the country; 98 percent of the people in this county are Latinos. Watch early on to see how that vote is breaking down.

BROWN: All right, John King, who will be back here tomorrow night, we should add.

KING: Sure will.

BROWN: See you then.

And one of the Clinton's campaign's criticisms of Barack Obama is that while he's won primaries and caucuses in plenty of small states, Senator Clinton keeps winning big states, like New York and California and the Clintons hope Ohio and Texas.

Obama was asked about that argument today. He said he doesn't buy it.


OBAMA: I don't know what qualifies as a big state. I thought Illinois was a pretty big state. I thought Missouri was a big state. I thought Washington was a big state. Colorado I thought qualifies as a big state. Washington State looks pretty big to me. So, you know, we have won two-thirds of the states.


BROWN: And let's bring in tonight's panel now.

CNN contributor Roland Martin is with us, along with CNN senior political NATO Gloria Borger and "TIME" magazine managing editor Rick Stengel. We should mention this week's issue of "TIME" explores how much experience really matters in the presidency.

And, Rick, we have been talking about experience. Or they have been talking about experience a lot on the campaign trail. Let me get you all to sort of handicap what you think might happen tomorrow, because that's what we love doing more than anything else.

The possible -- your most likely scenario, I guess, and how you think the individual campaigns will spend tomorrow?

Roland, why don't you start?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think clearly in terms of the Obama campaign, they really want to knock out -- if this was a boxing match, you want to knock her out. For her, she wants to survive. And that is, she wants to win Ohio, wants to win Texas, wants to clearly win Rhode Island, to be able to have the momentum.

BROWN: So, what happens?

MARTIN: I think, based upon the numbers now, looking at, of course, I think that she will win probably Ohio, but they will be competing there.

Texas is so tight, but yes -- but in Harris and Dallas County, going to have huge numbers. Get out the vote is going to be critical there. And so I spent four days there. It's crazy down there.

And I also came up to award this for you, the little Texas flag.


BROWN: Thanks.

MARTIN: Had to show that. Had to show some pride in Texas.

BROWN: It's great.

MARTIN: I think that is what going to happen there. They are going to have huge turnout. It's going to be crazy there.

BROWN: But how do they spin it? If they split the two states, if she loses both, how does she stay in?




BROWN: Are they spinning you already?


BORGER: We're getting the pre-spin today. And they keep changing the goal posts here, obviously. At one point Bill Clinton came out and said she had to win both. Now the campaign is not saying that anymore. The campaign is saying that Obama has to win all four, that Obama has to sweep.


BORGER: I think the real question in talking to Democrats today, sort of a wide variety of them on both sides, they're saying, look, if she wins Ohio and he wins Texas, then what is she going to do? Because she's going to make the point, the theoretical point, really, that, gee, I can win in those big red states that Barack Obama was talking about.

And he's going to say, wait a minute. I won some big states. And he's going to say what about the practical reality of the fact that you can't catch up in delegates? And, so, you're going to have this war about delegates vs. states. And then, of course, what happens to Michigan and Florida?

BROWN: Do you think she will be that reluctant to get out, that it will be down to superdelegates and lawyers?

RICHARD STENGEL, MANAGING EDITOR, "TIME": Oh, yes. She will be very reluctant to get out.

Look, I don't want to weasel out of making a prediction. BORGER: I did.

STENGEL: But we have been so wrong.


MARTIN: Yes. Right. You did a very good job of that, Gloria.

STENGEL: We have been so wrong every step of the way, the media has been.

And so it's hard to even forecast what's going to happen. But she will, of course, be very reluctant to get out. She has a tremendous amount invested in here. She genuinely believes she would be the better president. And so she thinks, why should I get out when there still are dynamics that can keep me in the race

Now, this argument about big states vs. delegates, remember, it's an electoral system is what she's going to say. In an electoral system, it's a winner take all. If you win the big states, you get those delegates, you win the presidency. She's going to say that's why the rationale favors me.

BROWN: But let me switch gears, because I want to talk about some of the headaches they have both been having over the last couple of days.

First, Obama on this NAFTA issue. Basically a Canadian government official says one Obama adviser said to him don't worry about what he's out there saying about NAFTA. It's all politics. He doesn't really mean it.

How much of a problem is this, Gloria?

BORGER: Well, I think what they're trying to do and to some effect I think is to knock him off his mantle, to say as Jessica Yellin was saying earlier, he's not who he says he is. He's not better than the rest of us. Take another look at Barack Obama.

And when you look at those undecided voters, a lot of those are Edwards voters. A lot of those are people who were for John Edwards and maybe haven't made up their minds yet, particularly in a state like Ohio where there's a lot of economic distress. So, these things can matter when you have got races that are this close.

MARTIN: It's also the kitchen sink philosophy. And that is you want your opponent to have to be defending their positions in the final 48 hours vs. advancing their position. And so, they have been throwing that out. They have been talking about the whole 3:00 a.m. phone call, so a barrage of things that forced him to respond to.

STENGEL: There was one very curious phenomenon that we have observed in every state this way, that people who make up their mind on that last day tend to go for Hillary Clinton.

So, what she's trying to do is push those undecideds in her camp. She wants those people to question Barack Obama. She wants them to feel buyer's remorse and say I have liked him, but I'm not so sure he really would be commander in chief.

On Election Day, those voters have been breaking for Hillary Clinton.

BROWN: But how do you explain what's going on in her campaign right now? You already have her various political advisers, her top political strategist, even, fighting it out in the newspapers, where he's saying I have no direct authority in the campaign.


STENGEL: ... campaign that is scared. What happens is that people attack each other the day before. You saw the Harold Ickes concern about who really is leading the campaign or not. What it means is they're trying to get -- they're like rats getting off the ship before it sinks. But it may not sink. That's the thing.


BORGER: Then they will go back on.

STENGEL: Exactly.


STENGEL: The beauty of all of this is that voters are the ones that decide. And we have no idea what they're really going to do tomorrow.

MARTIN: It's blame game. It's blame game.

BROWN: It is.

MARTIN: That's all it is. That is, I don't want to get the blame for a losing strategy.

That's all they're doing right now.

BORGER: Can I just say one thing?

BROWN: Quickly, 10 seconds.

BORGER: Mark Penn controls the message. The message drives the strategy in every campaign. So, you're all in the boat together, whether you win or you lose.


MARTIN: That was...


BROWN: Yes. Yes. Exactly.

Thanks to Gloria. Roland and Rick are going to stick around.

We will have more to talk about just in a few minutes.

And, tonight, we are also taking the pulse of key voting groups in all four of tomorrow's primary states, first up, Ohio factory whose jobs are disappearing in the next few weeks. Who is going to get their votes?

Our Lou Dobbs is also listening to the voters. And he is here to tell us what's on the minds of callers to his brand-new radio show.



WARREN BUFFETT, CHAIRMAN & CEO, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY: I would put either one of them in charge of a business. I don't think I would give them my specific job, which is strictly allocation of capital. I have got a little different job. But if they're looking -- one of them will probably be looking for a job.



BROWN: That was multibillionaire and business guru Warren Buffett this morning on whether he thinks Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton could run a business.

He also said that he believes the U.S. economy is now in a recession. A community in Ohio knows exactly what Buffett is talking about. Middlefield is feeling the economic pinch and facing a painful loss next month.

And Jim Acosta is there tonight to check the voters' pulse just hours before the polls open in a key round of primaries -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, one of the top issues in this state, if not the top issue, is the economy. So, we paid a visit to the factory, the Johnson Rubber plant here in Middlefield, Ohio, which is closing its doors next month after being in business for over 110 years; 500 workers will be out of a job.

And company officials say this factory is a casualty of skyrocketing health care costs, rising energy prices, and cheap labor used by competitors overseas. Many of the workers here told us they would like to see the major candidates come to this plant to feel their pain.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like to appeal to Senator Obama, Senator Clinton, and Senator McCain to come out and look at us right now. Come out to the plant. Take a look.

ACOSTA: Gene (ph), do you know who you're supporting tomorrow? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not right now. I haven't made a choice yet. I'm still up in the air. So, I don't know who I'm going to vote for. I'm still -- probably come down to the last minute, who I vote for.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How about you, Mary (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I don't have a decision. I just don't feel that any of them really speak to me. Well, for one thing, I'm here a lot. So, I haven't got to listen to the debates and everything. But I just -- I'm that lost voter, I think.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Northeast Ohio is a tough place to work. It's a tough place to be out of a job right now. And that's where a lot of us are going to be here at the end of April, if not before.


BROWN: And, Jim, this isn't just happening in Middlefield either. It's all across Ohio, right?

ACOSTA: That's exactly right. It's not just the Johnson Rubber Company. According to one manufacturing trade group we talked to, this state has suffered a historic loss of manufacturing jobs over the last seven years.

BROWN: And where do these workers go from here?

ACOSTA: Well, where they go from here is essentially -- it's one of the jobs of last resort. It's going to be the retail industry in this area more than likely, perhaps the hotel and travel industry, which is going to pay a fraction of what they had here at the factory, which is why these folks will be voting heavily on the issues of NAFTA and trade with China, which is why that manufacturing trade association we talked to earlier today said keep in mind this state has lost 236,000 jobs over the last seven years. That's most this industry has lost in this state since the Great Depression -- Campbell.

BROWN: All right, Jim Acosta for us tonight in Middlefield, Ohio -- Jim, thanks.

And coming up, our own Lou Dobbs has a brand-new radio show. Mike Huckabee took time out from his campaigning in Texas to be one of Lou's first guests. And Lou will be here in a minute to tell us about their conversation.


BROWN: Senator John McCain is far, far ahead of Mike Huckabee in the delegate count for the Republican nomination. In fact, McCain may be less than 24 hours away from clinching the nomination. Here's what the Arizona senator had to say about that today.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Obviously, we are guardedly confident that we can get a sufficient number of delegates with victories in Vermont, Rhode Island, Ohio and Texas tomorrow, and move onto the general campaign. But I still respect Governor Huckabee's right to remain in this race for as long as he feels necessary to do so.


BROWN: John McCain and Mike Huckabee were also on the mind of CNN's Lou Dobbs today, which you would know if you had tuned in to today's premier of his three-hour radio talk show, "The Lou Dobbs Show."

Congratulations to Lou who is with us now.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Good to be with you, Campbell.

BROWN: So you interviewed Mike Huckabee today?

DOBBS: I did.

BROWN: Both on your radio show and on your television show.

DOBBS: On TV, just to make sure I got all the questions asked and answered.

BROWN: Why does he say he's staying in it?

DOBBS: He's staying in it I think, in part, because he really does believe, I'm convinced now, that it's important to put those conservative principles forward and to draw the contrast, and to try to get Senator McCain to ascribe to at least to margin those principles.

BROWN: Now, I think there was a Gallup poll a few days ago...


BROWN: ... that said about 49 percent of the country thinks he should continue to stay in. I mean, 49 percent of Republicans, rather...

DOBBS: Right.

BROWN: ... think he should stay in the race. He's tapped into something clearly. What is it?

DOBBS: I think, first of all, it's the dissatisfaction of the level of this national dialogue which is dressed up as a presidential primary campaign. The candidates, as you well know, Campbell, in the Democratic and Republican parties are not discussing the issues. They're running from the issues whether it is Senator Obama, Senator Clinton, Mike Huckabee or Senator McCain. The last thing they want to do is be pinned down with specificity on free trade, public education, the crisis, and the urgent need to deal with it. The last thing they want to do is deal in substance with the sign of U.S. relationship, the Russian situation, which is changing, which will alter, I think, greatly our relationship not only with Russia, but with all of Europe. BROWN: But you're seeing an engagement whether it's among Democrats or Republicans...

DOBBS: Sure.

BROWN: ... from the public in a way we haven't seen in years. What's that about? If they're so frustrated with the political process and the system as it is, why are people so engaged this time around?

DOBBS: Well, I wouldn't argue that perhaps they're not any more engaged than they've been in years previous. So, for example, if you go back to 1980 or go back to 1992, these were extraordinary and defining elections. I'm not certain this will be. It maybe in a negative sense in the level of the quality of these candidates is highly suspect to this very day, in my mind. And I think that that resonates with the American people. They distrust this government.

This federal government has been dysfunctional. Dysfunctional in terms of foreign policy, in terms of domestic policy and Congress. The Democratic leadership has a lower rating than the president himself. So the leading Republican. So to say that there is great engagement here or hope, however you want to frame it, is very difficult for me to buy.

BROWN: All right. Lou Dobbs tonight with us. Always good to hear your views. Congratulations again on the new radio show.

DOBBS: Campbell, great to be with you. And good luck with your new show.

BROWN: Thank you.

DOBBS: Right here on CNN.

BROWN: Thank you. Nice little promo there. Appreciate that.

All right. It is three hours every afternoon Monday through Friday. We should mention that radio show. And you can go to

DOBBS: You should mention it every night.

BROWN: ... to find out where to listen in your area.

And moving on, in one respect, Barack Obama is the victim of an event that couldn't come at a worse time. One of Obama's fund raisers is going on trial. The list of charges sounds bad, but we're going to look at any possible political fallout coming up.


BROWN: A political corruption trial casts a shadow over Senator Barack Obama's campaign today. Jury selection began in Chicago in the case of Tony Rezko, the businessman who was a long-time donor and supporter of many politicians in Illinois including Obama. Campaigning in Texas today, Senator Obama again told reporters that he has cut all ties with Rezko, and that he's given all of Rezko's campaign contributions to charity.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tony Rezko was a friend and supporter of mine for many years. He was a well-known businessman in the community. As you're aware of, he supported not just me but many Democrats and Republicans. He is now in trouble and is on trial for federal corruption charges. Those charges are completely unrelated to me.


BROWN: But the trial's timing is not great for Obama's campaign. And joining me now to talk more about this is CNN contributor Roland Martin, our senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin. And with me again, "Time" magazine managing editor, Rick Stengel.

And, Jeff, just give us a bit of a primer on their relationship beyond what he just said and whether you think it's really a problem.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Tony Rezko is a big time Chicago businessman. He made his first fortune in Papa John's pizza franchises. He then became someone who really knew how to deliver contracts for people. And that's what the charges are.

BROWN: Right.

TOOBIN: Is that he has said -- the charge against him is that he said to business people you want to deal with the state. You want to build a hospital. You want to build a road. You got to pay me a kickback. Give me a payment, and then I will grease these goods for you.


BROWN: And his relationship with Obama?

TOOBIN: Obama. In two parts. One is he was simply a contributor and a friend. The part that's really embarrassing for Obama is that, at one point, Rezko's wife owned a strip of land, a very narrow strip of land adjacent to Obama's own home, and Obama bought that from Rezko, Rezko's wife, while Rezko was under investigation. That's the thing Obama said was a bone-headed move and he wished he hadn't done because it suggested a financial tie between them beyond simply a political contributor.

BROWN: Politically problematic.

RICHARD STENGEL, MANAGING EDITOR, "TIME": Well, it is a difficult thing for him, and the trial is not the problem. The land transaction is. Because, look, Obama is saying, look, it's not my experience. It's my judgment. So people will look at this and say, hey, did he exercise such good judgment in making this land deal with a guy, Tony Rezko, who he knew was under investigation at that very time? It's not the sort of question that he wants people to be asking about him right now.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, also, it makes it difficult because the questions continue to come out. So, how you answer all the questions. If I'm in his campaign, you go down and say, look, have we put everything out? Have we answered every question so nothing comes up later? Have we been so out in front? They have to stay out in front of the story and not hope anything extra comes out.

BROWN: Could he be called to testify or is that unlikely?


TOOBIN: Unlikely. But trials are unpredictable. You never know how they're going to unfold. And if his name, if Obama's name is so much is mentioned in that courtroom, even in a relatively benign way, it's bad news for him, especially if it says, given the kind of campaign he's running as a different kind of politician.

MARTIN: And Rezko has been all over the place. I mean, remember the picture came out with him standing next to Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton?

BROWN: Right.

MARTIN: I mean, he's given to Democrats. I mean, he's given to Republicans. And so, if you're John McCain, you're saying is there anybody I know hasn't this guy gave money to so I can know right now?

TOOBIN: And the case concerns Governor Blagojevich...


BROWN: Right.

TOOBIN: ... who's a Democrat and under a great deal of investigation himself.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's just a top official I know.

TOOBIN: Right. But he is not -- I mean in fairness to Obama, Obama is not accused of any wrongdoing in this case.

BROWN: OK. Let me ask you about another headache. This was the front page of the "New York Post" today. Oh, my God. I pray to Jesus every night, I think is what he said. Obama, again, defending his religious heritage. Senator Hillary Clinton was asked about this in an interview with "60 Minutes." I want to play the tape and let you listen.


STEVE KROFT, NBC CORRESPONDENT: You don't believe that Senator Obama is a Muslim? SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course not. I mean, that's -- you know, there is no basis for that. You know, I take him on the basis of what he says. And, you know, there isn't any reason to doubt that.

KROFT: You said you take Senator Obama at his word that he's not a Muslim.



KROFT: You don't believe that he's a Muslim, or implying? Right?

CLINTON: No. No. Why would I? There's no -- no. There is nothing to base that on, as far as I know.


BROWN: What do you think of her reaction? There's been some criticism today that she was parsing a little bit there.

STENGEL: Well, I think that's a little bit unfair.

TOOBIN: That's unfair.

STENGEL: Yes, because she -- he pressed her twice. I mean, she basically said, look, he's a Christian. I don't doubt what he has said and that's it. I mean, we kept pushing her, and she reacted that way. I think we're reading a little too much of this.

TOOBIN: I think she handled that completely fairly. I mean, people identify their own religion. I mean, we don't know what people's religions are. He says he's a Christian. End of story. I mean, I really think there is nothing there.

MARTIN: How about this? Muslims tend to pray five times a day. So have we seen Obama take a break from the campaign trail to go to the corner at the end and pray. I mean, when a person says I am a Christian, I go to church. We know that. And what's also interesting, we don't know who the pastors of the rest of the candidates are. We don't know.

You know, no one asks the question whether, is John McCain is he Jewish? Is he Catholic? Is he Protestant? So it's a ridiculous issue. The guy says I am a Christian. I joined the Church. It's there. We've seen him go to church as he's a member. Get over it.


STENGEL: The larger issue --

BROWN: But why hasn't -- yes, go ahead.

STENGEL: The larger issue, though, is that there is this undertow of commentary and pointing fingers at Barack before the final voting tomorrow. I think this is so much in the air. And what he -- what Barack is implying is basically my opposition the Clinton campaign is seeding doubts in peoples' minds. And we have no idea how these things are getting out there. But they're obviously having an affect on people. They're having an effect on people in Texas.


STENGEL: They're having an effect on people in Ohio. Go ahead, Jeff.

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, just in fairness to sort of the world (ph). We, in the industry, we followed Barack Obama for years. He's new to a lot of people. He has an unfamiliar name. I think it's going to take a while for people to know him.

There's no question that he's a Christian. I mean, that's not an issue. But this is part of the public getting to know him, which they will do if he remains the public figure that he is.


BROWN: With all of the negatives being thrown out in the last 48 hours.


MARTIN: And it's also -- it's also ignorant (ph) of Americans and that we can't figure out somebody could actually have the name Obama and actually not be a Muslim? Yes. There are people out there who are like that. That's what happened as (INAUDIBLE) probably. You don't travel around the rest of the world. You don't get to know folks.


BROWN: Right. OK, guys. Thanks for doing this. Appreciate your time, Roland, Jeff and Rick Stengel.

And we're going to take the polls for the voters going to the polls tomorrow in Vermont and Rhode Island, coming up. And find out who's got an edge with Catholic voters in the most Catholic states in the country. That's right after this.


BROWN: Catholic voters may play a big role in tomorrow's primary battle. On the Republican side, Senator John McCain may have alienated many Catholic voters by not repudiating the anti-Catholic views and the endorsement of influential Texas televangelist, John Hagee.

And what about the Democrats? Well, Catholics have consistently backed Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama for now. Deborah Feyerick has been talking to voters in Providence, Rhode Island, the most Catholic of all states -- Deb. DEBORAH FEYERCIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Campbell, Rhode Island is 60 percent Catholic, largely blue collar, made up of older Ethnic groups -- Italians, Irish, Portuguese. And here in Rhode Island, the issue is not about abortion. It's not about cell stem research. The overriding issue is ending the war in Iraq, even for McCain supporters.


GUY J. CETTIPANE, REGISTERED REPUBLICAN: I think as a Catholic, right to life is a very, very important issue for many of us in the state. Beyond that issue, I really think we're all more concerned today, not only in Rhode Island but across the country on the economic issue. And once again, our involvement with the war and bringing our troops home.


BROWN: And, Deb, let's talk about Democrats now. Catholics have traditionally supported Hillary Clinton, as we mentioned a moment ago. Is that what you found talking to people today?

FEYERICK: Absolutely. Not only that. This is really considered Clinton country. She has the support of the Democratic establishment here, but she's not taking any chances. We were out there with some of her volunteers today. They were putting up big placards, making sure that her name got out there. She's really responding to Obama's increasing popularity.

His volunteers also leaving nothing to chance. We spoke to a number of them as well. They were targeting likely voters. And we spent the afternoon up in Little Italy at a place called Beckie Rocco's (ph), talking to Catholic voters. But they said religion is not really the issue. The issues they are voting for have to do with the day-to-day.


CHRISTOPHER NOCERA, CATHOLIC VOTING FOR OBAMA: My faith is always going to make part of my decision, but the Pope doesn't tell me how to vote either.

MARCIA GRANN O'BRIEN, ED., RHODE ISLAND CATHOLIC: Both Obama and Hillary have serious problems when it comes to issues like stem cell research, abortion.

MARK COULOMBE, CATHLIC VOTING FOR CLINTON: I think she has the experience. I think her being a new (INAUDIBLE). Yes, her husband is going to be a key thing for her.


FEYERICK: And, Campbell, the editor of the Catholic newspaper here said she's not convinced it's the Catholic votes that's really going to be the swing vote. She said it's the younger voters who may play a big role. Some 20,000 of them newly registered to vote in tomorrow's primaries -- Campbell.

BROWN: All right, Deb, appreciate it. Deb Feyerick for us from Rhode Island tonight.

And we're also gauging what voters are thinking in Vermont, where anti-Iraq war sentiment is strong. The state, Senate, and several towns have passed resolutions calling for the impeachment of President Bush for invading Iraq. So could the anti-war vote be a deciding factor in tomorrow's Vermont primary?

Dan Lothian is in Burlington tonight with that part of the story -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Campbell. Well, you know, voters here in Vermont are much like voters across the country. They do care about health care. They care about the economy. They care about the environment. But certainly the war in Iraq ways heavily on their minds.

This is a state that is left leaning. There is a large anti-war sentiment here in the state. And, you know, what's interesting, Campbell, is that whenever there's a casualty in Iraq related to Vermont, the governor, other high-level officials will go out to that town. They will talk to the family members. They'll reach out to them. So this is something that's always on the minds of voters here, and certainly will be on their minds as they head to the polls tomorrow.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the most important thing to me is the war.

NOAH POLLOCK, VERMONT VOTER: We really need an administration that has a different perspective on global affairs. Kind of uses cooperation as opposed to unilateralism.

SAM HEMINGWAY, POLITICAL ED., BURLINGTON FREE PRESS: We've had maybe more than our share of casualties in Iraq. It's felt across the state. It's, you know, whether it's north or southern Vermont, you know, it's front-page news. And I think it's felt deeply.


BROWN: All right. And, Dan, talk to us a little bit about turnout. What's expected for tomorrow?

LOTHIAN: Well, really expected that they'll have some record voter turnout here. The Secretary of State's office telling us in part because of the anti-war sentiment here in the state, but also because it's so competitive on the Democratic side. Senator Obama has a very comfortable lead over Senator Clinton here in the state, but there is one potential problem. They're expecting a major ice storm here. That could sort of turn all of this upside down.

BROWN: All right. Dan Lothian for us. Dan, thanks. Appreciate it.


BROWN: And "LARRY KING LIVE" is coming up in just a few minutes. And Larry, who do you have on with you tonight?

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Campbell, you're doing well. You look terrific. Great to have you aboard.

BROWN: Thank you.

KING: Really. You're a great part of the scene here.

BROWN: Thank you.

KING: Tonight, we've got voting with the stars. Josh Groban, Hayden Panettiere, Lance Armstrong and more will be here to motivate you to vote. And with Texas and Ohio a virtual tie, will Obama or Clinton get eliminated tomorrow? We'll cover all of that right at the top of the hour on "LARRY KING LIVE."

BROWN: All right. We'll be watching. Thanks, Larry. We'll see you at 9:00.

Almost 200 delegates are at stake for the Democrats tomorrow in Texas. We are about to take the polls for the key groups that could be the deciding factor, young Latino voters.


BROWN: Young voters and Latino voters could very well be the deciding factor tomorrow in Texas. And Ted Rowlands is following that angle for us. He's joining me from Waco. And, Ted, what are we expecting to see tomorrow?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, turnout wise, Campbell, we are expecting to see record-breaking numbers. Today, the secretary of state said based on the returns from the early voting, they expect to shatter any primary records in the state of Texas. Obviously, everybody knows that the nation's eyes are on them. And voters we've been talking to say one thing all in common that they will be out at the polls tomorrow, and they're expecting a huge turnout.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I'm leaning towards Barack Obama, specifically because he's multi-cultural. He's about unifying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean Obama is inspirational, but Hillary has the substance that I'm looking for.


ROWLANDS: Now, those are two young Latino voters. And a lot of people think that they may make a crucial difference here. Historically young voters have not shown up in the state of Texas. This time around, though, the experts believe that young voters may make a huge difference, especially Latino voters.

Hillary Clinton has a fairly substantial lead among Texas Latinos. Still, mainly the outlying areas. Barack Obama has been able to chip away at that lead in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio. Places like that. The young Latino voters, Campbell, though, are up for grabs.

And for the last four weeks, we've been in the state talking to many of those folks, and I tell you, the issues are different with each person you talk to. It's health care. It is education or it's immigration. It's all across the board. Both these candidates on the Democratic side are doing everything they can to get to them.

BROWN: All right. Ted Rowlands for us from Waco, Texas. Ted, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

And at the top of the hour, Larry King takes the calls of some celebrity voters including Lance Armstrong. It is an hour of fun and politics straight ahead.


BROWN: That's all for tonight. CNN is the place to be for politics, and tomorrow is a huge day. We'll be covering all the primaries all day. And starting at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, the ELECTION CENTER will have all the returns. Join the best political team on TV for everything you need to know about the contest that could settle everything.

Stay with CNN. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.