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THE SITUATION ROOM
Clinton: Obama Camp Hopes to Fool Voters; Obama Ties to Alleged Schemer; Interview With Obama Supporter David Wilhelm
Aired March 3, 2008 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, an eleventh hour accusation. Hillary Clinton essentially accusing Barack Obama's campaign of trying to fool voters to win votes. It involves a secret memo, a private meeting with a foreign government and jobs for Americans.
Also, John McCain could soon move from presumed nominee to actual nominee. But Mike Huckabee says there is a way to stop McCain in his tracks.
And if it's 3:00 a.m. and an emergency phone is ringing in the White House, what really happens when the president picks up that phone?
I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Hours from now the presidential race as we know it could dramatically change. Tomorrow voters head to the polls for Primary Day. The states: Vermont, Rhode Island, Texas, and Ohio. The stakes: 370 delegates for the Democrats, 256 for the Republicans.
And the popular take -- Hillary Clinton must do well to stop Barack Obama's momentum. And if John McCain does well, he could actually become the Republican nominee.
CNN is watching all of it. Ali Velshi, Jessica Yellin, Dana Bash, Suzanne Malveaux, and Mary Snow, they're in Texas right now, where all the candidates are visiting. Susan Roesgen, Candy Crowley and Carol Costello, they're watching things in the other big state, Ohio.
Let's begin this hour with our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's in Columbus, Ohio.
And Clinton, Candy, is making a scathing attack on Barack Obama over the past several hours. Update our viewers on what's going on.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. You know, the Clinton campaign has been complaining for weeks now that Barack Obama never got the scrutiny that she has gotten. They can't complain anymore.
CROWLEY (voice over): The last thing you want in the 24 hours before an election is a story you have to explain. It is where Barack Obama finds himself now.
A memo written by a Canadian official obtained by "The Associated Press" says top Obama economic adviser Austin Goolsbee met with Canadian officials at the Chicago Consulate and told them Obama's criticism of the free trade deal between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada "should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans."
In Ohio, where NAFTA is a four letter word blamed for the loss of thousands of jobs, this is a "yikes" moment for Obama. The Clinton campaign seized it.
Obama officials say Goolsbee was acting as a university professor, not as a representative of the campaign, and that Obama has been consistent in his criticism of NAFTA. But this is not just about NAFTA. It's about the core of a campaign that promises a different kind of politics, no Washington speak.
The story first surfaced more than a week ago on Canadian TV. It was shot down then across the board by the Canadian Embassy and the candidate.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Canadian government put out a statement indicating that this was just not true. So I don't know...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's your take?
OBAMA: ... who the source is -- it wasn't true.
CROWLEY: The meeting did take place. Top Obama officials say the candidate was not denying the meeting, but the gist of the story that his opposition to NAFTA is political. Still, several officials asked repeatedly over the last few days if a meeting took place, certainly implied it had not.
CROWLEY: A couple of things, Wolf, to kind of wrap this up. Goolsbee, the Obama aide, has said that he did not say the sort of thing that was characterized by that Canadian official.
And Barack Obama held a news conference this afternoon in which he said, "Listen, when I made that statement that none of this took place. I didn't know the meeting had taken place. That was not information that was given to me."
Obviously, he says the Canadian Consulate reached out to Goolsbee and asked him to come over, but of course the Obama campaign and Obama himself continue to insist that they have the same position on NAFTA in public as they have in private -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Pretty embarrassing stuff.
Want to apologize to our viewers. We had a technical problem with that Hillary Clinton sound bite in your piece. We're going to get that re-queued, Candy, and fix it and bring it to our viewers.
Thanks very much for that.
Meanwhile, there's a trial in Chicago that could also prove embarrassing to Barack Obama. It concerns his ties to a man accused of some high-level corruption.
Let's go to Brian Todd. He's watching the story for us.
Tony Rezko's trial beginning today. A lot of our viewers not necessarily familiar with that name, but it's a very, very sensitive subject for the Obama campaign, Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf. And a very big trial in Chicago beginning today with jury selection. This is a trial that, while it doesn't implicate Obama in any way, it certainly doesn't help his campaign.
TODD (voice over): His timing and poise have delivered him to the brink of the Democratic nomination. But on the eve of the crucial Texas and Ohio primaries, timing is not working so well for Barack Obama.
On the very day of the vote, Obama's long-time friend and former fund-raiser, Tony Rezko, will be in the second day of jury selection. A federal corruption trial that pries open the back rooms of Illinois politics.
Rezko has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, influence-peddling, demanding kickbacks. Obama is not accused of wrongdoing, but is having to answer questions about associations with Rezko.
OBAMA: The trouble that he's in right now is completely unrelated to anything that I have done.
TODD: In an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America," Obama again admits it was a mistake to have entered into a 2005 deal to buy this Chicago-area house the same day Rezko's wife bought the lot next door. Obama paid several hundred thousand dollars less than the asking price. Rezko's wife paid full price.
Six months later, Rezko's wife sold a sliver of the land to Obama. The candidate has always said the deals were above board, but at the time Obama bought that land from Rezko's wife, it had been widely reported that Rezko was at least under suspicion for corruption.
JAY STEWART, BETTER GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION: At that point everybody in Illinois knew Tony Rezko was being looked at by the federal government. It was a poorly-kept secret that he was going to be indicted, and yet, Senator Obama, in that context, still moved ahead with a real estate transaction.
TODD: Obama has said at the time he wasn't very knowledgeable about the issues Rezko was involved with, but should have seen red flags. But at the time he bought the house, Obama was already in the U.S. Senate and Rezko had been a past fundraiser for him. Does it call into question one of Obama's most important campaign claims?
OBAMA: I have shown the judgment to lead.
TODD: Analysts say Obama could get past the question of judgment on this issue, as long as what comes out in Rezko's trial is consistent with what Obama has presented.
JIM VANDEHEI, THE POLITICO: The key is always to make sure you're not saying something that can be disputed in the public records. When you have a trial, if something that comes up that calls into question his version of his relationship with Rezko, that's when it could become problematic.
TODD: So far nothing in the court case has been inconsistent with what Obama has claimed, or tied Obama to Rezko's alleged illegalities. Obama's campaign also says they've given about $167,000 that Rezko raised for them to charity -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd watching this part of the story for us. Thank you.
The Republicans are also vying for votes ahead of Primary Day, but in slightly different ways. One candidate says he's ready to go up against whichever Democrat wins the nomination, while another jokingly says that a vote for his opponent should cost you the air in your tires.
Listen to John McCain when asked who he would prefer running against.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't have any preference. I think the important thing is that there will be stark differences between either Senator Obama and me because they are liberal Democrats. And I'm a conservative Republican.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: John McCain could clinch the nomination tomorrow. Mike Huckabee though is using humor to urge some unusual tactics to stop McCain from winning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, if you're not going to vote for me, or you know someone who says, "I will not vote for Huckabee," do not let them out of their house tomorrow. Let the air out of their tires. Tell them the election has been moved to April. Those are dangerous people. We cannot afford to have them ruining the future of our country. In all seriousness, we need you to go vote. And don't go alone. Get friends and relatives and people you work with and neighbors to go vote with you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Please be sure to watch CNN tomorrow. You don't want to miss a minute of all the excitement. CNN will cover Primary Day during and after the votes.
We'll be here all night tomorrow night if necessary. And we'll be here for an election special. Our coverage starts at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. And we'll go on the air in THE SITUATION ROOM at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, as usual, tomorrow, with Jack Cafferty who's here with "The Cafferty File."
Long day tomorrow, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: There you go. A growing number of voices saying that Hillary Clinton should get out of the race unless she delivers big wins tomorrow in Texas and Ohio. Governor Bill Richardson, who hasn't endorsed anyone yet, says, "I just think that D-Day is Tuesday," adding that, "Whoever has the most delegates after tomorrow should be the nominee."
Some top Democrats who are backing Barack Obama are making the same argument. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts saying that Clinton needs more than narrow victories to stay in this thing. And Senator Dick Durbin says the delegate math makes it tough for Clinton to win the nomination.
He says, "I just hope ultimately she makes an honest appraisal of her chances. I hope that her decision on her future after Tuesday is made in the interest of unity of our party."
But Senator Dianne Feinstein says Clinton should ignore the pressure to quit the race, that she has every right to stay in it if that's what she chooses to do "very well tomorrow" and then move on to Pennsylvania and other upcoming contests. Adding, 'I'm just getting warmed up."
So it looks like her campaign is not only expecting to do well, they're trying to raise expectations for Obama. They're saying today that if Obama loses any of the four contests tomorrow -- Texas, Ohio, Vermont, Rhode Island -- that would mean the Democrats are having second thoughts about him.
Here's the question: If Hillary Clinton doesn't win both Texas and Ohio tomorrow, should she quit the race? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment there on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I know a lot of people will be doing that, Jack. Thanks very much. Barack Obama's campaign is facing tough questions, as we've just heard, about what it's saying in private versus what it's saying in public. And about Obama's ties to a man accused of fraud and corruption.
I'll be speaking live with a top Obama supporter about all of this and more. That's coming up next.
Also, crisis hotline. Some presidential candidates say they think they know what might happen if an emergency call comes to the White House at 3:00 a.m. But what really does happen?
And how will John McCain ultimately handle the endorsement from a prominent pastor in Texas who's linked Adolf Hitler to the Catholic Church and who said some many other controversial words about the Catholic Church?
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Senator Hillary Clinton earlier today lobbing a major allegation against senator Obama. She's accusing the Obama campaign of double speak in an effort to win votes, especially in Ohio.
Here to talk about that is one of Barack Obama's top supporters, David Wilhelm. He's joining us from Columbus, Ohio.
David, thanks very much for coming in.
DAVID WILHELM, BARACK OBAMA SUPPORTER: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: What do you make of this embarrassment, this memo that has now been released from the Canadian Consulate in Chicago to the Canadian government in Ottawa, saying they did meet with a top economic adviser to Obama who basically said to them, don't pay attention to what Barack Obama tells the voters in Ohio on NAFTA, he really doesn't mean it, it's only politics? This is potentially a significant embarrassment to your candidate.
WILHELM: Well, I don't think so. I would pay attention to what Barack Obama has to say on this issue. And he has been very, very consistent. Of course there will be global trade. That will continue. And of course there will be trade agreements as we move forward in a Barack Obama presidency.
But the question in it is, are we going to have a race to the top, or a race to the bottom? Are we going to create jobs that last, jobs that pay, or are we going to create low-paying jobs? Is trade going to work for the workers of Ohio?
And the only way that's going to happen is if we have trade agreements that have strong environmental and labor provisions. And Barack Obama has been absolutely consistent on that. And, you know, we've had a big discussion about consistency here. It's Senator Clinton's position in which she has kind of bounced back and forth that I think raises questions.
BLITZER: All right.
Well, let me -- David, let me read to you from the memo from the Canadian Consulate, from the official who was there who wrote about this meeting between Austin Goolsbee, a top Obama adviser on the economy, who wrote this based on that meeting -- "He" -- referring to Obama adviser Goolsbee -- "He cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about more political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans."
That sounds like a pretty damning indictment, that Obama's speaking out of both sides of his mouth.
WILHELM: Well, it's not Senator Obama speaking. It's the characterization of a staffer at the consulate of a conversation that he had with somebody other than Barack Obama. Barack Obama -- and a statement that now has been rejected and denied by the Canadian Embassy.
So I don't -- you know, I think this is much ado about nothing. This is gamesmanship at the eleventh hour, maybe the eleventh hour and 30th minute. Barack Obama has been consistent. The labor organization Change to Win is satisfied with Senator Obama's position.
He has been consistent, and I think where maybe some of this confusion comes in is that there's going to be continued global trade in the international economy. That's a fact. And there's going to be continued trade agreements. But are we going to have trade agreements with the necessary strength when it comes to labor and environmental provisions? And Barack Obama will ensure that that occurs.
BLITZER: And you know, here's bad timing also for Barack Obama. The eve of this important contest tomorrow, Tony Rezko, who had worked with him, had been an associate of his in Chicago politics for many years, his trial starting today amid all these reports that are out there that Barack Obama supposedly got a sweetheart deal in buying his house in Chicago thanks to this accused -- this accused criminal, Tony Rezko.
I want you to respond to all of these allegations which are in a lot of newspapers right now.
WILHELM: Well, Senator Obama has never -- while he's admitted that he had a relationship with Tony Rezko, he's never in any way, any way at all, been -- his name been brought in the trial which Tony Rezko is now undergoing. He has nothing to do with that in any way. So I think that is a very, very important distinction to make.
Political figures always come across figures that in some way or the other turn out to create embarrassment. That was certainly the case with Senator Clinton when it came to Norman Hsu. She gave back his money. Barack Obama has given back any money that was raised by Tony Rezko.
That is just an unfortunate fact of life when it comes to the activities and the people that are part of the political process. The question is, how do you handle it when you know what the facts are? And when Senator Obama knew the facts, he returned the money. He has nothing to do, underscore "nothing to do," with the trial that Tony Rezko is now undergoing.
BLITZER: David Wilhelm, we've got to leave it right there. Thanks very much for joining us.
WILHELM: OK. Thank you.
BLITZER: All right. David will be back.
And later in THE SITUATION ROOM we're going to be speaking with a top Clinton supporter, the governor oaf Ohio, Ted Strickland. He's standing by to join us live. We'll get a different perspective, I'm sure.
Fourteen hours to go until the doors open at the first polling places in the next big primary event. One of the tightest races tomorrow will be in Texas, where Clinton used to have a 20-point lead. Not anymore, though. Where the race stands right now, that's coming up.
Also, multimillion-dollar mansions go up in flames. Now the FBI says it might -- repeat, might -- be the work of domestic terrorists. You're going to find out why, what's going on.
Stick around. Lots of news happening today right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Happening now, after months of anticipation, all eyes are on Texas and Ohio for tomorrow's campaign contests. But will a five-letter word, NAFTA, trip up Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? We're going to take a closer look at why voters are divided.
The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is taking a sharp jab at U.S. forces in Iraq. And he's saying -- and I'm quoting now -- "No one likes them." But is he putting lethal force behind his words?
I'll be speaking about that and a lot more with Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno. He was until the last couple of weeks the number two U.S. military commander in Iraq. And will women voters save Hillary Clinton's presidential hopes? We're going to tell you why the gender card could be a make-or-break difference in Ohio.
I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
New poll numbers are in from the must-win states of Ohio and Texas. And, so, who has the edge, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, in the latest poll of polls, as we call them, the average of the major polls in those states?
Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching all of this unfold.
Bill, where do the Texas and Ohio races stand right now?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: One party close, the other party, not so close.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): It's primary eve. Do you know where these races stand? Texas Democrats, five polls taken within the last week, average them, and you get our poll of polls, Barack Obama 47, Hillary Clinton 45, just two points apart, with eight percent of Democratic voters still undecided. So, there are four times as many undecided voters as the margin of difference between the candidates. Looks like this race is going down to the wire.
Averages can be misleading. You may have heard about a man who drowned crossing a creek that was three feet deep on the average. So, we looked at each of the five Democratic polls. Two somehow an exact tie. Three show Obama ahead by one to three points, all within the margin of error for each poll. Bottom line in Texas, neck and neck.
Ohio Democrats, six new polls. The poll of polls, Clinton ahead by five, with nine percent unsure. Clinton leads in five of the six polls by between four and nine points. One Ohio poll shows Obama ahead by two, all single-digit leads, all but one within the margin of error. Bottom line in Ohio, Clinton may be slightly ahead.
The key groups for Clinton, Latino voters in Texas, white women in Ohio. They're both going about two-thirds for Clinton. The key groups for Obama, African-Americans and young voters in both states. What's left to do? Get them out of bed and get them to the polls.
SCHNEIDER: And on the Republican side, not so close. Our poll of polls has John McCain leading Mike Huckabee by 27 points in Texas and more than 30 points in Ohio. Now, McCain needs 158 delegates to clinch the Republican nomination -- 256 are at stake tomorrow. So, the big question is whether Huckabee can get enough votes to keep McCain from going over the top. BLITZER: Bill, thanks very much -- Bill Schneider looking at the numbers. You're going to be a busy guy tomorrow, as will all of us.
As Congressman John Lewis switches his support from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama, an African-American advocacy group online is trying to get other members of the Congressional Black Caucus who support Clinton to also make the switch.
Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's watching this.
How are they doing this, Abbi?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, Color of Change is really trying to ratchet up the pressure online, getting 25,000 signatures to this online petition. The message, to tell the Congressional Black Caucus superdelegates to uphold the will of the voters, voters who are going for Barack Obama.
Now, by CNN's count, there are eight of these members who are supporting Hillary Clinton with their superdelegates vote whose districts went for Barack Obama. But a Color of Change spokesman also points to states where the vote hasn't even happened yet, in Ohio, where Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones is supporting Senator Clinton, has campaigned for her.
Tubbs Jones has said: "I'm a woman of my word. And I'm not going to leave her."
Color of change is a group that was set up after Hurricane Katrina to mobilize African-Americans. The majority of their supporters, 400,000 supporters, support Barack Obama, though the group says they haven't endorsed anyone. The group is also saying that this isn't about Clinton or Obama. This is about the voters.
The Clinton campaign leads in the superdelegates. They have set up this Web site a couple of weeks ago, the Delegate Hub. The message, that the superdelegates should vote their best judgment -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.
Republican Senator John McCain is hoping to score a knockout blow against his persistent rival, Mike Huckabee, in Texas tomorrow. We have been reporting this. But Huckabee is telling his supporters he expects to actually win the state. The polls don't show that. Let's see if he's right.
Mary Snow is in Houston right now. She's watching this story for us.
Is Huckabee reaching out to some particular groups in Texas right now, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, Christian conservatives. He believes that they will help him make a strong showing here in Texas. But, you know, others are starting to look beyond at other options for the future that may -- that Huckabee may hold.
HUCKABEE: We need to show the world it ain't over until Texas says it's over.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SNOW (voice-over): Huckabee making could be his last stand in Texas. Sunday's "Dallas Morning News" gave him a late boost, urging readers to support Huckabee, even though it's mathematically impossible for him to clinch the Republican nomination from Senator John McCain.
It calls a vote for Huckabee a good investment for the Republican Party's future. On the eve of Tuesday's primary, he reached out to young voters.
HUCKABEE: The other advice is, be leaders. Don't let someone tell you that you ought to vote a certain way because you're trying to follow a trend.
SNOW: Huckabee tells CNN that, if Republicans don't reach out to younger voters and capture other issues beyond opposition to abortion and gay marriage, such as the environment and fighting poverty, the GOP will face serious consequences.
HUCKABEE: We're going to be an extinct party in another few years. And that's why we have got to continue keeping this message going.
SNOW: Some suggest Huckabee, the Southern Baptist minister, could keep his message going as a new leader among evangelical conservatives. They point to the fact that, with the passing of the Reverend Jerry Falwell and with Pat Robertson endorsing Rudy Giuliani, who did not garner much conservative evangelical support, there's a need, they say, for a new face.
REX NELSON, FORMER HUCKABEE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I think a lot of the old-line leadership is out of touch. They're -- they're desperately in search of a new-line leader. And that person could well be Mike Huckabee.
SNOW: Evangelicals gave Mike Huckabee a meteoric rise in Iowa, where he won the first Republican presidential contest, as did Senator Barack Obama for the Democrats. Huckabee tried to prove his base went beyond evangelicals, but watched his early lead slip away. Here in Texas, once again, he's heavily courting evangelicals to have enough of a turnout to keep him in the race.
SNOW: You know, when you ask Mike Huckabee what the future holds, he says he won't look beyond Tuesday, because he feels that he can win here in Texas, and on the campaign trail today, still taking -- still taking a few jabs at Senator John McCain. Yesterday, Senator McCain held a barbecue for members of the media, Mike Huckabee saying that that time would have been better spent debating him. And Senator McCain again today, on Mike Huckabee, saying he respects his right to stay in this race for as long as he feels it's necessary to do so -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary Snow in Houston for us -- thanks, Mary, very much.
It's 3:00 -- if it's 3:00 a.m. in the White House and the crisis phone rings, who actually answers it, and what happens? You have heard some of the candidates talk about it. You have heard the ads. You're going to find out how a White House crisis might really unfold.
Also, might Hillary Clinton stop a string of primary losses, or will she see it continue? Our John King is standing by live to talk about how high the stakes really are for her tomorrow.
And family feud. It's Democrat vs. Democrat in two states that could be key in the election. Will bitterness over a political punishment hurt the eventual Democratic nominee?
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're following the competing ads from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It started with a commercial from the Clinton campaign that talks about emergency calls coming to the White House. The Obama campaign says it was designed to scare people into voting for Hillary Clinton. But what really happens when the phone rings at 3:00 a.m. in the White House?
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's looking into the story.
And, Barbara, what are you discovering?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, of course, in a crisis, it is the president that makes that final decision about how to proceed. But right before that decision is made, who does the president talk to; what does the president want to know?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CLINTON CAMPAIGN AD)
NARRATOR: It's 3:00 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House and it's ringing. Something's happening in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR (voice-over): Not to be outdone by the Clinton campaign, Barack Obama fired back. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)
NARRATOR: When that call gets answered, shouldn't the president be the one, the only one, who had judgment and courage to oppose the Iraq war from the start?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: Both candidates claiming they're the right choice to be answering that White House phone.
Former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin has seen it happen firsthand.
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Almost always, it was the White House chief of staff or the national security adviser who would be responsible for waking up the president.
STARR (on camera): If the phone rings in the middle of the night at the White House, it's probably already been ringing here first at the National Military Command Center deep inside the Pentagon. This is the place where word of a crisis often comes first.
(voice-over): In a crisis, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the CIA director most likely are already awake preparing options for the president. Many of the recent crises have involved al Qaeda, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, the bombing of the U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998.
STARR: Now, Wolf, of course, in the country's biggest crisis recently, the 9/11 attacks, those happened in the morning, not in the middle of the night. But, nonetheless in a crisis, no president is alone.
They immediately turn to their advisers. They look for options. They often ask, of course, where are the aircraft carriers? Where are the military troops? Can I take military action?
And the job of advisers at this point is to tell the president what can be done, what the risks are. What we learned in the 9/11 attacks, though, one of the biggest job for a president is to make sure everyone is talking and all of those dots are being connected -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much. Good report.
Let's take a closer look now and see how Hillary Clinton might be able to regain some of her momentum tomorrow. Our chief national correspondent, John King, is watching this very closely.
Explain what could happen potentially in her favor.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the way to regain her momentum, Wolf, plain and simple, is to stop his. Barack Obama is 11-0. And, remember, he's favored up here in Vermont, which will be one of the earlier state to come in tomorrow night. Barack Obama is favored there.
So, Hillary Clinton has to stop him. She has to stop him starting in Rhode Island, small Rhode Island down here. It's a state that should be built for her, Providence and Pawtucket, blue-collar Democratic community. She's done very well in those in the past. So, that's another -- one state that is key for her.
But, look, we all know the true math tomorrow is going to be Ohio and Texas. And they have been arguing over NAFTA. They have been arguing over the economy and jobs. This is where, Wolf, we will see the NAFTA debate play out right in here, Youngstown, Akron, Cleveland. These are the former manufacturing centers of Ohio. There are others, of course, Toledo over there.
But this is where, if you look at all the polling data, talk to Democrats in the state, this is where the impact of her argument over NAFTA and their back and forth over NAFTA will play out right here. For Barack Obama, you're looking to run up some African-American votes in Cleveland. Both of them are fighting down here in Columbus area.
Ted Strickland is the governor of Ohio. He is from down here in southeast Ohio. He's working -- they're smaller, rural communities, but he's working them very hard in a turnout game. Remember, in New Hampshire, the last time we had a very close election, she won by turning out the votes where she needed them. That's a big thing there.
And I spoke to some Democrats -- Republicans -- excuse me -- out in the state today. And they say, even though this is a Republican area of the state, that Barack Obama is working the Cincinnati area and the suburbs around there very hard, trying to find every Democrat he can, expecting that Senator Clinton will do better in some of these areas.
Let's blank down now and pull out to the next big contest, a blue-collar, lunch-bucket Democrat contest here. We're having a big fight here, obviously, for the Latino vote. They are some African- Americans, Obama's base, in the Houston area, up in the Dallas area.
But, largely, Wolf, this is a fight for the Latino vote across a huge swathe of southern Texas across here. And I want to show you one little county that we will look at a lot tomorrow night. There aren't many people here. There aren't many people here in Starr County, Texas, only 0.3 percent of the state population, 98 percent of the people who live in this county, are Hispanic. So, this is the highest per capita Hispanic county in the United States of America, not much of a population, but, as we watch these counties come in tomorrow night, that's one of the places we will look at.
Clinton in the early contest was dominating in the Latino vote. The question is, will the Hispanic vote in Texas be like the Hispanic vote in California? If it is, look for Senator Clinton to try to run up the numbers here in Texas. But, if Senator Obama has made his inroads, it's down in here where we will find them, hotly contested, calling into both of these states today, e-mailing with people in the states.
They say simply they do not know, that this race is too close to call. Both campaigns have flown people in from everywhere, Wolf, to work the phones, knock on the doors, try to turn out the vote.
BLITZER: This is make or break, potentially, for these candidates.
All right, John, we're going to be really busy, especially you with these maps. We're going to learn a lot about these counties in Texas and Ohio in the course of the hours and hours we will be watching this tomorrow. Thanks.
KING: We will go across it all.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
KING: In our "Strategy Session," a controversial endorsement has John McCain answering more questions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I'm sure that I may disagree with some of the things that Pastor Hagee has said in the past. But that doesn't mean that I endorse him.
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BLITZER: Will a minister's anti-Catholic remarks come back to bite John McCain in the general election?
And Barack Obama says his judgment sets him apart from his opponents, but does his relationship with Tony Rezko call that into question? Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett, they're standing by for our "Strategy Session" -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Could Republican White House hopeful John McCain alienate a huge chunk of voters with his endorsement by a controversial televangelist, Pastor John Hagee?
Let's talk about that and more in our "Strategy Session." Joining us, our CNN political analyst Donna Brazile and our CNN contributor Bill Bennett.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Let me start with you, Bill, because I know you have been watching this story very closely. John Hagee, among other things, he has -- he has written controversial things about the Catholic Church, including this: "Most readers will be shocked by the clear record of history linking Adolf Hitler and the Roman Catholic Church in a conspiracy to exterminate the Jews."
What do you -- I mean, you're a Catholic. BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm a Catholic.
BLITZER: What do you -- what do you make of this?
BENNETT: Well, I don't make much of it. I don't go along with it.
BLITZER: I mean, what do you make of McCain's refusal right now to do to Hagee what Barack Obama did to the Reverend Farrakhan, repudiating and rejecting him? Because Farrakhan, among other things, called Judaism a gutter religion.
BENNETT: Well, Hagee certainly a mixed record. And Hagee has recanted some of the things he has said. What John McCain said today was to use the old Reagan line, Wolf, which is that an endorsement of me is not my endorsement of that person. That person is endorsing my views.
We will see what more comes to light. John McCain may indeed have more to say about this. You look at -- remember, this Hagee thing came up with the Huckabee situation earlier. And you got a few very unfortunate statements by Hagee, but you have some backtracking on it. And my guess is, the campaign made a decision, overall, this was worth it.
But let's see what else comes out in the record. I don't -- I don't think John McCain will have any hesitation condemning him, if that is what is merited.
BLITZER: Donna, John Hagee, the pastor, did issue a statement to David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network today, among other things, saying: "I have always had great love for Catholic people and great respect for the Catholic Church. My wife comes from a Catholic family, and millions of my viewers are Catholics."
Is he just basically misunderstood?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think so. He's written in some books his deep resentment of the Catholic Church. He has called it an apostate church. He's called it a great whore. He's called it a cult. I'm Catholic also. I find his remarks very offensive.
Look, if we're going to ask the Democratic candidates to renounce and reject statements from -- from others, we should call upon Senator McCain, who quickly denounced and rejected the statements last week from Mr. Cunningham, the -- the radio talk show out of Cincinnati.
I find it all a distraction, but, if we're going to hold one set of candidates to this standard, we should hold all candidates the standards to distract -- to distance themselves from these controversial figures.
BENNETT: I don't think there's any question that John McCain needs to strongly condemn and renounce those comments and those statements. (CROSSTALK)
BLITZER: The -- the statements from Pastor Hagee?
BENNETT: Yes, the ones...
BLITZER: And you say that as someone who likes John McCain, gave him some money, in fact, for his campaign.
BENNETT: Absolutely. I like John McCain. I support John McCain for president, one of the few conservative talk show hosts who does. But he has to be clear in denouncing and renouncing and -- What was the Obama word? -- rejecting those comments. But...
BLITZER: So, you want him to do to Hagee...
BLITZER: ... what Obama did Farrakhan?
BENNETT: He at least needs to do that about the comments. Then, if he wants to bring in the rest of the record, remind people of the rest of the record, such as what Hagee said today, other things, fine. But John McCain can't be ambivalent about those comments and those utterances. I agree with Donna.
BLITZER: He said today, Donna, that he doesn't agree with Hagee, obviously, on the -- the whole Catholic Church. But he then went onto say this. Listen to what McCain said.
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MCCAIN: What it means is that he's been a very strong advocate and leader in support of the state of Israel and its freedom and independence. And that's one of the major reasons why I feel -- I'm glad that he endorsed my candidacy.
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BLITZER: All right, so, that's been part of his explanation, Donna.
BRAZILE: Well, you know, Mr. Hagee also said some disparaging things about Hurricane Katrina and why God sent a hurricane specifically to the Gulf Coast, because it was a "sinful city" that held a gay pride parade a week before.
Look, all I'm saying is that we should measure these statements with one yardstick, and not allow certain candidates to embrace perhaps his position on Israel, but then denounce his positions on the Catholic Church and Katrina and any other thing that might come up.
BLITZER: You want to get the final word?
BENNETT: Well, denounce the statements that deserve denunciation. But, understand, the guy's career and his work and his ministry has done a lot of good. There are questions about some of the other people we're talking about where that's not so obvious.
BLITZER: All right, guys, we have got to leave it right there. Thanks very much for coming in.
BLITZER: He was a presidential candidate who has had a political career stretching over four decades. But Dennis Kucinich is now fighting to keep his seat in Congress. You're going to find out what could be tipping the scale potentially against him.
Plus, Barack Obama getting more scrutiny in the news media. Will it intensify as the race progresses?
Lots more going on -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: In our political ticker today, he wanted to be president, but Dennis Kucinich now faces a tough reelection just to keep his congressional seat in Ohio.
His well-financed challenger is saying that Kucinich is "is not a congressman; he's a showman." And he's criticized Kucinich for missing votes while he ran for president. Voters will decide the Democratic nominee in Ohio's primary. That is tomorrow.
Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com. That's where you can read my latest blog post as well. Just posted one a little while ago.
Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File."
CAFFERTY: Thanks, Wolf.
The question this hour: If Hillary Clinton doesn't win both Texas and Ohio tomorrow, should she quit the race?
Wendy writes: "I am a feminist, but this time I believe that Hillary should do as her husband says. If she wants to appear gracious, she will drop out. If she wants to stay in and try to claw her way to the nomination, it will be ugly and it will do damage to any future she may have in the Senate. Sometimes, you just need the judgment to know when it's over."
Michael in Danbury, Connecticut: "She should recognize the only way she can get the nomination is if it's stolen from Obama by the superdelegates. At that point, the party will be split. I will either vote for Obama or for John McCain, never for Clinton."
Vilma in California: "Of course she should stay in. Otherwise, she is surrendering to the string-pullers in the back rooms. This election will depend in good measure on what is going on in the world, domestic economics, world destabilization, wars, et cetera. I am inspired by Obama's words, but nervous about his naivete and non- specifics. It will take courage and straight talk to deal with what will challenge us from outside our shores. So, hang in there, Hillary."
Cheryl in Florida writes: "Hillary doesn't seem to understand, but this is about change for regular Americans. As an independent in Florida, I am prepared to vote against any incumbent running in any election on my ballot. Hillary's and McCain's experience just looks like the same old thing that got us into this mess. I am ready for change, and will vote that way come November."
Lil writes: "The last time I checked, the required number of delegates of 2,000-plus have not been reached by either Obama or Clinton. She should continue her campaign. This is still a live contest, as far as I'm concerned."
And Cee writes: "Yes, she should quit if she loses either Texas or Ohio. She has moved the goal posts so often, she could get a job with an NFL ground crew" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you. We will speak in a few moments.
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