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Clinton on the Attack, Playing the Gender Card; Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Gets Warm Reception in Iraq

Aired March 3, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, on the eve of the major primaries, the stakes couldn't be any higher for Hillary Clinton. Can she pull an ace from her sleeve? Will she play the gender card? Why the women's vote may be so important.

His opponent has long complained that he's received a free ride from the news media. But now that Barack Obama is the frontrunner, he's starting to feel some heat.

And Iran's president boasting about his landmark trip to Baghdad, saying American leaders have to make stealth visits. Did the U.S. fight to secure Iraq for one of its main foes? I'll ask the former number two commander in Iraq.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're on the eve of what may be the biggest day yet in the battle for the White House -- make or break contests that could decide both nominations.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is pulling out all the stops and taking a sharp poke at her rival.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House. I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience that he will bring to the White House. And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002.


BLITZER: Tough words from Hillary Clinton. Four states and their delegates are up for grabs -- Rhode Island, Vermont, and the two big ones -- Ohio and Texas. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is live in Dallas.

Suzanne, does Clinton have an opportunity now to put Obama, to a certain degree, on the defensive?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they certainly are trying to do that. There was a conference call that we had with their campaign top staff. It lasted about an hour and 20 minutes this afternoon.

And essentially what they are trying to convince folks -- they're answering all their questions and they're saying, look, Obama is on the definitive, when it comes to trade policy, when it comes to his relationship with Rezko, a financier in Chicago. But they also say, too, that this is an opportunity not to count her out, that they believe they can win Ohio and Texas and blunt Barack Obama's momentum.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning, sir.

CLINTON: How are you?



MALVEAUX (voice-over): On the eve of what her own campaign considers make or break Tuesday, Senator Clinton is attacking Obama from all sides.

CLINTON: 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.

MALVEAUX: She began at 4:30 in the morning -- the speech scheduled during an early shift change at a Jeep assembly plant to underscore theme she's in it for the working folks.

CLINTON: And Ohio is key to winning the presidency.

MALVEAUX: Having campaigned in all 88 counties in Ohio, Clinton tried to sound optimistic about her chances of breaking Obama's streak of 11 straight victories.

CLINTON: Obviously, this is a very close race. We're still within the margin of error both in, you know, popular vote and delegate count. And I feel very good about what's going to happen tomorrow.

MALVEAUX: Not taking Tuesday for granted, she launched yet another TV ad, reminding Ohio voters of the stakes.


CLINTON: The wealthy and the well-connected have had a president. It's time the middle class had a president who will stand up for you.



SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm running to be commander-in-chief on a record of standing up for wounded warriors.


MALVEAUX: Taking a stand in San Antonio, Texas, Senator Barack Obama pledged to fight for military families -- a key voting bloc in a state where 193 delegates are up for grabs. Obama also dismissed a new Clinton ad airing in Texas, accusing him of failing to address the threat of al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

OBAMA: Trust me, I'm from Chicago.


MALVEAUX: And New Mexico's governor, Bill Richardson, has said before that whoever believes he has the pledged delegates more presidential delegates after tomorrow -- should remain in this contest, the other person should drop out. Well, Clinton aides say they respect Richardson's opinion, but they have no intention of doing that, that they believe that this race will continue beyond tomorrow. And they do say they believe that she still has a very good shot of becoming the nominee -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne. Suzanne Malveaux reporting.

It may not necessarily be an ace up her sleeve, but Hillary Clinton is hoping a last minute pitch to female voters can give her an edge in Ohio.

Carol Costello is on the campaign trail -- Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for Hillary Clinton to win here in Ohio on Tuesday, many analysts say she really has to energize women. Women have to turn out to vote and they must vote for her. Of course, the big question is will they?


COSTELLO (voice-over): When the chips are down, you play your best card. For Clinton, it's the gender card. She's banking on it to win Ohio.

CLINTON: I am thrilled to be running to be the first woman president, which I think would be a sea change.

COSTELLO: Women's groups across the state held rallies like this one in Akron called Ohio Women Make History.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can choose the next president of the United States.

COSTELLO: The rally featured supporters who've already proved women can be successful, powerful politicians, who spoke to core voters clearly miffed by the sexism they see in this campaign.

DEE-DEE MYERS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's sad that we don't all realize that she's not being treated fairly. It says a whole lot about we've reached a glass ceiling for women. It says more about us than it says about her.

COSTELLO: Although women remain Clinton's most ardent supporters, the gender gap between Clinton and Obama has narrowed. Some analysts feel Clinton inadvertently let her support slip away because she ran a campaign based on experience and authority instead of on her attributes as a woman in charge.

MYERS: While she was doing that -- and I think she did it quite successfully -- Senator Obama came along and rode the change message to -- obviously, which has become a movement now.

OBAMA: It's nice to see you.

COSTELLO: And, ironically, Obama played on traditionally feminine attributes -- compromise, unity, change. And they resonated for him. Now, with rallies like this one, Clinton supporters are loudly playing up Clinton's feminism side.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I know she is the one that can handle the various issues that are out in the world and the fact that we, as Americans, will finally elect a woman, I think, will resonate all across the world.


COSTELLO: But, of course, the battle for women is on. Michelle Obama was also campaigning to gain the support of working women, as was Caroline Kennedy on Barack Obama's behalf. As for who wins, we'll find out tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much.

On the Republican side, John McCain says he's guardedly confident he can gain enough delegates tomorrow to put away Mike Huckabee, wrap up the nomination and start looking ahead toward November. He says it doesn't matter who he would face then.


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 Clinton or Senator Obama and me because they're liberal Democrats and I'm a conservative Republican.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is joining us once again with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: There's a poll out, Wolf, that raises serious questions about whether Republicans really like Mike Huckabee or whether they really don't like John McCain all that much. It's a "USA Today"/Gallup Poll. Forty-nine percent of Republicans surveyed in this thing think that Mike Huckabee should stay in the race for the Republican nomination. This can't be very comforting for John McCain, who is the presumed nominee. Almost half of Republicans don't want Huckabee to go. Only 46 percent say that Huckabee ought to drop out.

If McCain's popularity in his own party was what it should be, that number would be much higher. An even larger margin of conservative Republicans, 54 to 42 percent, think Mike Huckabee ought to stay in the race. This has to be tough on John McCain's ego, not to mention his possible chances of winning the White House.

Ahead of the Texas primary tomorrow, "The Dallas Morning News" reran an editorial endorsing Mike Huckabee, even though the newspaper admits that Huckabee has no chance of winning. The Dallas paper says a vote for Huckabee would be a "good investment in the Republican Party's future," adding, "he's been on the right side of the campaign finance reform and environmental issues."

As for McCain, the editorial board says that "his age and colicky temperament gave us pause, particularly when contrasted with Mr. Huckabee's sunny side up brand of conservatism."

So here's the question: What message does it send to John McCain when nearly half of Republicans want Mike Huckabee to stay in the race?

Go to You can post a comment there on my blog.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. Thanks very much.

Iran's president makes himself at home in Baghdad and takes a swipe at the United States. Did U.S. troops fight to make Iraq safe for one of America's foes? I'll speak with a top U.S. military commander, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno.

Also, now that Barack Obama is the frontrunner, are reporters taking off the kid gloves?

And a tale of two states -- Ohio and Texas voters holding very different views when it comes to free trade. Why that may be crucial to tomorrow's primary results.

Lots more coming up, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: In news around the world, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wrapped up his landmark visit to Iraq today with some sharp jabs at the United States. He noted that he was able to travel openly, compared to what he called the "stealth visits" by American leaders. And referring to the U.S.-led forces in Iraq, Ahmadinejad said -- and I'm quoting now -- "no one likes them," adding that "they should leave."

Let's talk about this. Let's talk about what's going on in Iraq right now. Joining us, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, who's just wrapped up a 15 months' tour of duty in Iraq as the number two U.S. military commander on the scene.

General Odierno, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to the United States.

LT. GEN. RAYMOND ODIERNO, U.S. ARMY: Thank you, Wolf. Appreciate it.

BLITZER: Well, what do you think about this Ahmadinejad -- sworn enemy of the United States -- receiving this very warm reception, red carpet reception -- hugs and kisses by President Talabani, by Nuri al- Maliki, the prime minister? Is this what the United States went to war for?

ODIERNO: Well, I would just say it's important for Iraq to maintain good relations with its neighbors. And Iran is a neighbor. It is somebody that they will continue to deal with for the year. So I do think it's important for them to have relationships with the leaders within Iran.

BLITZER: Is Iran playing a productive role, though, in Iraq? Because we've heard for a long time that Iranian weapons and forces were fuelling, at least in part, the insurgency. Has that ended?

ODIERNO: Well, no. I still think we have to continue to put pressure on the Iranian government to ensure that the funding, the equipping and the training of Iranian surrogates operating within Iraq, who still conduct attacks against both Iraqis and coalition forces.

They are trying to destabilize, in some ways, the government of Iraq for the long-term. And I suggest that we just have to continue to pressure them. And, hopefully, behind closed doors, the Iraqi government did that today.

BLITZER: From the U.S. military perspective, is there any concern that you would see as this warm reception for Ahmadinejad in Iraq?

ODIERNO: Well, again, I would just say I think -- I think it's long-term relationships. They have to start establishing -- reestablishing their relationships with all of the Middle Eastern countries.

And so I think as their neighbor, it's important that they do that, again. But they should pressure them to ensure that they stop funding, training and sending arms into Iraq, which does, in fact, have a destabilizing factor in Iraq.

BLITZER: Has that gotten better or gotten worse, the Iranian involvement in the insurgency?

ODIERNO: Well, yes, it's unclear. It's unclear. I mean, to me, there's -- we still have signs where they have been funding. They're still training. We are still finding Iranian-made mortars, rockets, explosively formed projectiles within Iraq.

So, to me, they still are contributing to some of the instability. So it is, in fact, important that we continue to pressure them to play a productive role in Iraq, not a non-productive one.

BLITZER: This visit was announced weeks in advance. It was a high profile visit. And then he sort of flaunted it today, walking around the streets of Baghdad, in and out of the Green Zone, the most secure part of the Iraqi capital.

When an American leader, including an American president comes, we're not even supposed to report it until he's there on the ground. Sometimes they're wheels up on the way back before we can report it. What exactly is going on right now?

ODIERNO: Well, I would just say, again, you know, one of the threats in Baghdad now -- we know that a majority of the threats over the last six months inside of Baghdad have come from Shia Iraq -- Shia extremist groups, those who tend to be funded and armed by Iran. So I would argue that maybe that's why he felt somewhat safe walking through Baghdad.

So I would just say when we go into Iraq, you know, with our leaders, we're extra cautious and we'll continue to be extra cautious. To me, it doesn't mean much at all in terms of relationships or anything else.

BLITZER: What about troop withdrawals? We hear now that it's going to go down to about 140,000 U.S. troops by the summer. But then there will be a so-called pause for a while to reassess what's going on.

The high was, what, 160,000, maybe even 170,000 U.S. troops, at the height of the surge. How long is that pause going to last?

ODIERNO: Well, I mean, I don't know. It will depend on the assessments that are done. There are major adjustments going. You know, if you asked 12 months ago, Wolf, to do an assessment of what it would be like today, very few people would have made the prediction of what's happening in Iraq today.

So what I think is important, we have to constantly make assessments. And with those assessments, we will then make decisions on troop withdrawals. General Petraeus has a plan in place. He will make those assessments and then he will provide a report to the secretary of defense, the chairman and the president on what he decides. It's a continual assessment that's necessary, in my mind.

BLITZER: And what would happen if there were just a steady drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq, without any pause -- just to continue to bring those brigades home, brigade after brigade after brigade?

ODIERNO: You know, it depends on the conditions. If the conditions warrant it, then I think it's the right move. If the conditions are not quite ready yet -- and what do I mean by conditions? It's the Iraqi security force capacity. It's how local and central governance is working. It's how economic progress continues to grow. What we want to do is to continue on the glide path that we're on now -- one of continued security, improving security, one that the Iraqis are taking more control of. And as long as we can maintain those lines, then we'll make the appropriate assessment and recommendations forward.

BLITZER: General Odierno, first of all, let me thank you for your service over the past 15 months -- indeed, over the many, many years you've served in the U.S. military. And let me end this interview by saying what I said at the beginning, welcome back to the United States. Good luck on your next assignment.

ODIERNO: Thank you very much, Wolf. I appreciate it.

BLITZER: Critics say the news media gave him a free ride. But now Barack Obama is now coming under harsher scrutiny. We're going to show you what's changing and why.

And find out why domestic eco-terrorists are suspected in a fire near Seattle. We'll tell you what investigators found.

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


BLITZER: Carol Costello is on assignment in Ohio.

Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Betty, what's going on?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, a domestic terror investigation is underway into the fires that we're about to show you. Three multimillion dollar homes near Seattle just went up in flames before dawn this morning. Explosive devices were found inside, along with a spray painted sign allegedly bearing the initials of a radical environmental group, Earth Liberation Front. Now, the homes were models for a builder's show and they were not occupied at the time.

A deadly shooting inside a Wendy's restaurant and police say it was a random act of violence. It happened in West Palm Beach, Florida. Witnesses say they saw a man in a business suit come out from the bathroom and then began firing. At least four people were shot, one fatally, before the gunman shot and killed himself. Three of the victims in critical condition.

And a stunning allegation in a new BBC radio documentary. Listen to this. It claims the Hells Angels were going to assassinate the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger in 1969, allegedly because of a dispute over concert security. The report says a group of would-be killers were approaching Jagger's Long Island home by boat, but were thwarted by stormy seas that tossed them overboard. And talk about a rough landing, you've got to check this. A plane being buffeted by powerful winds as it was trying to land in Hamburg, Germany. Look at this video closely. The pilot can't even keep the Airbus A320 straight. And when it finally does touch down -- look at it, right there -- the wing scrapes the runway. This landing was aborted, but a second attempt was successful. Goodness. They were able at least to make it safely to the ground -- Wolf.

And that is the good news out of that story.

BLITZER: That's amazing. That is amazing video. Those people are very, very fortunate, indeed, Betty. Thank you.

Barack Obama's spotlight getting a little hotter. He's getting more scrutiny from the news media. But is it because he's leading the Democratic race or has the coverage been unbalanced to begin with?

Also, another Florida primary -- we're going to show you why there's talk of that and possibly a court case, as Democrats wrestle with what to do with the state's delegates.

Plus, oil prices on the move -- a change you're certain to see at the pump. We're going to show you what's happening and why.

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


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

Happening now, the price of oil soaring to another record high -- selling at one point today at $103.95 a barrel. The declining dollar helped to fuel that spike, hitting a record low against the euro.

Also, oil prices are combining with recession fears to drive down auto sales. They're plunging, with U.S. automakers reporting slumps as much as 13 percent last month. Ford and G.M. say that's forcing them to cut production.

And growing military tension along Colombia's borders -- Ecuador and Venezuela are deploying thousands of troops after Colombian forces killed a rebel leader inside Ecuador. The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, says he'll respond militarily if Colombia violates his country's border.

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

Barack Obama is coming under sharper scrutiny from the news media after more than a year of what some say was essentially a free ride.

Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" and "The Washington Post" explains why and now -- Howard.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES": Wolf, Hillary Clinton's campaign has stepped up the volume in complaining that the media aren't being tough enough on Barack Obama. But there are signs that may be starting to change.


KURTZ (voice-over): The notion that Obama is getting a free ride is now enshrined in pop culture, thanks to "Saturday Night Live".

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Clinton, you often allude to Senator Obama's eloquence. And let's be honest, he is really, really eloquent. Amazingly eloquent. Quite astonishingly eloquent. Really.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I get it, Tim. He's eloquent.

KURTZ: And even some journalists agree.

MARK HALPERIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: And I know plenty of smart people in politics who are neutral in this race, plenty of smart people in journalism who would tell you that the coverage hasn't been fair.

KURTZ: But the media's tone is gradually changing now that Obama is the Democratic frontrunner. Stories that drew limited attention the first time around, such as the Illinois senator's relationship with indicted fundraiser Tony Rezko, who went on trial Monday, are making a comeback.

So is the so-called patriotism issue. No flag pin on his lapel? No hand on his heart that one time? Opponents call it unpatriotic. And Obama's eight year record as a state senator in Illinois is also drawing more scrutiny.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obama voted not for or against, but present on 129 bills, including a bill to ban sex shops and strip clubs near schools, churches and day care centers.

KURTZ: Obama's campaign says that on the sex shop issue, he didn't want to add to the workload of local authorities. But in the eyes of an Illinois Republican...

DAN CRONIN (R), ILLINOIS STATE SENATOR: Well, whatever it is, he didn't want to stick his neck out. He didn't want to risk alienating some group.

KURTZ: The issue of Louis Farrakhan's support is also drawing attention, despite Obama's criticism of Farrakhan's anti-Semitic statements.

TIM RUSSERT, MSNBC ANCHOR: What do you do assure Jewish Americans that, whether it's Farrakhan's support or the activities of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, your pastor, you are consistent with issues regarding Israel?

KURTZ: Some Democratic commentators say Obama is smooth at deflecting negative stories and his team has avoided testy dealings with journalists that have marked Clinton's campaign. MYERS: He's not definitive. His campaign has great relationships with reporters. And while that shouldn't matter, I can't tell you how many reporters have said to me, oh, they're so accommodating.


KURTZ: But after a year of largely upbeat coverage, the real test may lie ahead. Obama is getting just a taste of the sort of media inquisition that a candidate must survive to win the White House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Howie, thanks very much.

Let's get some more now on the Democratic race and tomorrow's crucial contest in Ohio and Texas. For that we're joined from Dallas by the city's former mayor, Ron Kirk. He's supporting Barack Obama. Joining us from Cleveland, Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones. She's backing Hillary Clinton. Thanks to both of you for coming in.

Congresswoman, let me start with you. Do you believe the media have been fair to both of the Democratic candidates over these many weeks and months?

REP. STEPHANIE TUBBS JONES (D), OHIO: Oh, clearly the media has given Senator Barack Obama somewhat of a smooth ride in the process. Only in the last two or three days are we beginning to see them make inquiry into some of the issues that we believe are important to this particular election.

Hi, Ron, by the way. But I want to say ...

RON KIRK, FORMER DALLAS MAYOR: Hello, Congresswoman.

BLITZER: Let me let Ron Kirk respond to that because you were shaking your head as she was saying the media essentially gave Barack Obama free run.

KIRK: Well, this is such inside baseball. Listen, the average American does not care about how the press thinks they're treating one campaign or the other. Barack Obama has come to the place where he is, which I believe is on the eve of capturing the Democratic nomination because he struck a cord with the American people.

JONES: Hold your breath.

KIRK: I love you, Congresswoman. You're a great friend. But the reality is people care more about believing and knowing that we're never going to get a health care bill. We're never going to have a more responsible trade policy if we don't change the climate in Washington.

BLITZER: All right.

KIRK: And this whole get you sound byte mentality that we're engaging in now is more of the same. The voters are tired of it. JONES: Ron, come on now. The people in Ohio are waking up. The polls are going our way. They know that Hillary Clinton is the kind of fighter that we need.

It's a fighter in the sense that we will not start a fight. But once we're engaged we're not going to give up on issues important to the American people.

90,000 homes in Ohio are under foreclosure. 200,000 jobs have been lost since George Bush took office. College costs up much higher in Ohio than any other place in the state and the people of Ohio say we want someone to step up to the plate, fight on behalf of us on issues that are important and not the kind of fighting that you all want to say that she's a divider. She is not a divider. She just has proved in the senate that she can work for folks.

I'm going to stop and let you talk for a minute.

KIRK: As you know, Congresswoman, my in-law is there. You represent my mother-in-law. I've got good news for the people of Ohio as we do here in Texas. We do have someone who knows not only how to fight, but knows how to fight smarter, but also knows the practical reality of the last 12 years of fighting in Congress and I understand the passion of Senator Clinton and yourself but the reality is we've had one heck of a fight but not a lot has gotten done. We don't have a health care ...

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a moment, Mayor. Let me interrupt for a moment because one of the criticisms being leveled against Barack Obama, whom you support, is that he is down the line Democrat, a liberal. He's never really reached out and worked with the other party. David Ignatius, the columnist from the "Washington Post," wrote a piece on Sunday. Among other things he said this, "The record is mixed but it's fair to say that Obama has not shown much willingness to take risks or make enemies to try to store a working center in Washington."

That's what you say you want, but at least in Ignatius' research, he shows Obama has refused basically to alienate the core Democratic constituency.

KIRK: Well, I think David Ignatius needs to go talk to other members of the senate that looked at the work that Senator Obama did on the ethics bill. You go back and look at his track record in Illinois. I know everyone believes my congress is tougher than the other, my state. But to provide the leadership that he did to reform the ethics standards in Illinois was unprecedented and to provide the leadership that he did to reform their death penalty was unprecedented. He couldn't have done that had he not been able to reach across the aisle, work with Democrats and Republicans and independents.

And look, there's no guarantees anything is going to happen in this election. But the reality is the American public believes the system is broken in Washington. Because we do care more about fighting. JONES: Come on, Ron.

BLITZER: Hold on, Congresswoman. You're a superdelegate. There's enormous pressure, especially on African-American superdelegates to turn those who support Hillary Clinton to join John Lewis and support Barack Obama. How much pressure, Congresswoman, are you feeling right now?

JONES: Can I just say this? What about the 136 present votes of Barack Obama in the Illinois legislature on issues that are important to a whole bunch of people, and he stood present. Didn't even say was he for or against. That's not taking a stand.

Now let's talk about superdelegates for a moment. I am a superdelegate for Hillary Clinton and proud to be that superdelegate. I'm going to be with her until she says Stephanie, I'm no longer in this fight. You're free to do something else.

In politics, all you have is your word. There's integrity and there's loyalty. I have high integrity and I'm loyal. And they are people being pressured. All do respect to John Lewis. I say shame to the people who put that pressure on a man who has got beat in the head. Who laid down on the ground and almost died for our civil rights that they would put on that pressure.

BLITZER: Let me let the former mayor respond to that issue. Why did he vote present on all those role calls instead of taking a stance, as you heard, on some very sensitive issues including the child predators?

KIRK: Well listen, as you know in any legislative career, any legislator is going to make a number of judgments, over not hundreds but thousands of bills. I've got to trust that Senator Obama exercised his judgment to make a wise decision for the people he represented at that time. Anyone that wants to know his record, I invite you to go to his website, You can see a full recitation of all of his legislative achievements.

The reality is this election is about our country going forward. We stand at a unique moment in time. I think Americans of all political persuasions realize that we cannot continue along the status quo. We have to change the culture in Washington in order to address the problems that Congresswoman Tubbs mentioned. I sincerely believe and obviously millions of Americans now believe the best person to do that is Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Well, Stephanie Tubbs Jones doesn't believe that but I'm sure she likes Barack Obama as you like Hillary Clinton but we'll see what happens tomorrow in Texas and Ohio.

I want to thank both of you for coming in.

JONES: Great to see you, Ron.

KIRK: Good to see you. BLITZER: And I think it's also fair to say both of these candidates are fortunate to have both of you in their respective corners. Appreciate it very much.

KIRK: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: If you're a political news junkie, by the way, is the place for you. You can check out our new interactive delegate counter game where you can play real-time what-if scenarios with delegates and superdelegates. You can see how tomorrow's primaries could affect the race. That and a lot more, That's also where you can read my daily blog post as well. Go ahead and read it if you want.

What to do about Florida's Democratic delegates. There's talk of going to court, even holding another primary. We're going to show you the different scenarios and how they could decide the Democratic nominee.

Plus, the Obama campaign; forced to put out a potentially damaging flare up on the eve of four crucial primaries. You're going to find out why it could hurt him in Ohio specifically.

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


BLITZER: Primary voters will turn out tomorrow knowing they may have a chance to affect the outcome of very tight Democratic contests. Florida Democrats may have felt that way once. But they were punished for holding an early primary and lost their delegates. Now a serious challenge may be in the works.

Let's go to our man in Miami, John Zarrella. He is watching the story for us.

Potentially, John, a nasty battle is brewing out there.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Wolf. With every day that passes the Democratic Party does not have a nominee, it's looking more and more as if the party could be facing a 2000 style election mess. But this time it would be Democrats versus Democrats in a fight over delegates and votes that weren't supposed to count at all.


ZARRELLA: Democrats voted in huge numbers but weren't happy.


ZARRELLA: State Democratic Party officials are miffed too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 1.75 million voters turned out. And they expect their votes to be counted.

ZARRELLA: Even the Republican governor, Charlie Crist, thinks it's flat-out wrong and supports a primary re-do.

BLITZER: Are you and the governor ready to let the Democrats have another primary, if necessary, to seat those Democratic delegates at the convention in Denver?

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (R), FLORIDA: That would be fine with me.

ZARRELLA: When Florida moved the presidential primary to the end of January, a violation of party rules, the National Democratic Party took away the state's 210 delegates. Michigan lost its delegates, too. And the candidates did not campaign in either state.

Now the party's punishment has led to a delegate dilemma. Perhaps not so much in Michigan where only Hillary Clinton was on the ballot but in Florida, of course, where all the candidates' names appeared, state party officials insist the votes have to count.

MARK BUBRISKI, FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: It was a level playing field. Was it the best playing field? Of course not. We would have loved to have the candidates campaign here.

ZARRELLA: Senator Obama supporters say that's exactly the point. He lost to Senator Clinton by 17 percentage points. But Obama superdelegate Allan Katz insists the result would have been different had Obama actually played on the field.

ALLAN KATZ, OBAMA SUPERDELEGATE: It's clear when he goes into a state and campaigns, the margin shrinks dramatically.

ZARRELLA: With Obama ahead, his campaign does not want the delegates counted. Clinton, on the other hand, recently told Texas Monthly ...

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I signed an agreement not to campaign in Michigan and Florida. The DNC made the determination that they would not seat the delegates but I was not party to that.

ZARRELLA: With Clinton and Obama neck and neck in the delegate count, it's possible Florida delegates could be difference makers and a fight to seat them at the convention would be on.

SUSAN MACMANUS, POLITICAL ANALYST: I absolutely think Florida delegates will not only be seated but they will be counted. Even if this takes a court order and I'm expecting that this may end up in the courts.

ZARRELLA: Many in the party say it won't happen. The nominee will be decided before the convention. The Michigan and Florida delegates would then be welcomed with open arms. Party unity preserved. Well, that's the hope.


ZARRELLA: Now we talked to Florida state Democratic Party officials this afternoon. And they said, listen, they're very excited. They like what Governor Crist says. That's very nice. But who's going to pay for it? If you had some sort of a write in vote, it would cost about $4 million. If you redid an entire primary in the state of Florida, it would cost $18 million and the Democratic Party says look, there just isn't anybody that's going to be able to foot that bill. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, John, thanks very much. John Zarrella reporting. I write about this also on my blog at today.

In a new You Tube video that's a hit online, Jack Nicholson speaks through his films to express his support for Hillary Clinton.

Let's go to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what's in the video?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, Jack Nicholson's characters in "Batman," "The Shining," "A Few Good Men" and they all have a message for voters.


JACK NICHOLSON, ACTOR: Maybe we as officers have a responsibility to this country to see that the men and women charged with its security are trained professionals.


TATTON: The video was put together by Hillary Clinton's Hollywood supporters. Director Rob Reiner and producer Bruce Cohen with an endorsement clip from Jack Nicholson himself at the end. Cohen said the goal was to put it out online before the all important contests tomorrow. It has more than a million views.

But Barack Obama supporters have got an offering of their own. You remember the video from the musician that got millions of views on You Tube. Now there's a sequel. This with many Latino celebrities and just in time for the next round of voting. Wolf?

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much.

One state loses jobs and industry. The other gains. Now on the eve of major primaries in Ohio and Texas, a controversial trade deal lays heavily on the minds of voters.

And Barack Obama's friend and former fund-raiser is in the middle of a corruption trial. It actually started today as the candidate is in the middle of a hotly tested campaign. What timing.

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


BLITZER: Two big primaries tomorrow may decide the Democratic nomination. But on one big issue, voters in Ohio and Texas hold polar opposite views. It's a free for all over free trade.

CNN's Ali Velshi is with the CNN Election Express in Texas.


ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, while NAFTA is a big deal to wage earners across America, it's a particularly big deal in Ohio, which is an industrial and manufacturing state, which has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs since NAFTA was initiated.

Texas, on the other hand, is a big exporter. It's gained because of NAFTA, although not everybody in Texas agrees with it either. This has made campaigning pretty tricky for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.


CLINTON: I'm well aware that different parts of our country have different views about trade.

VELSHI: That's an understatement.

Here in Texas, NAFTA literally changed the landscape. For instance, the border town of Laredo has tripled in size since the treaty was enacted in 1994. Thousands of big rigs cross the border daily and thousands of Mexicans come to Laredo to shop.

Ohio is a different story. It's lost nearly 200,000 jobs just since 2000. Unlike Texas, Ohio has suffered.

And that's why voters in these two states seem to hold diametrically opposed views on free trade especially NAFTA. It means both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have to do a little tap dancing on the issue. They've stayed relatively silent on the deal while in Texas, but they both attacked NAFTA outright in front of Ohio audiences.

CLINTON: I do have a plan, not just to criticize NAFTA, but to change NAFTA and to improve NAFTA so it works for Ohio and America.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES: I believe all countries can prosper from globalization. Not if our trade agreements don't have strong labor standards, strong environmental standards, so U.S. workers aren't being undermined. NAFTA didn't have those things. That's why I oppose NAFTA.

VELSHI: The Texas/Ohio split on free trade bears out nationally. According to a CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll taken last fall, Americans are almost evenly split on the benefits of foreign trade to the overall economy. And that's why both Clinton and Obama continue to advocate keeping the trade benefits of NAFTA while renegotiating things like labor laws and environmental standards to make it better.


VELSHI: Now, Wolf, in case you're wondering, John McCain is an out right NAFTA supporter. He says the economic results of it are indisputable. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ali, thanks very much.

Let's check back with Jack. He's got the Cafferty file here in New York.


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour is what message does it send to John McCain when nearly half of the Republicans want Mike Huckabee to stay in the race even though they all acknowledge he has no virtually chance to be the nominee?

Dale writes, "What it says to Senator McCain is that conservative Christian Republicans are not as dumb as he would like to think we are. We know that in spite of his claims to be a conservative Republican, his record proves otherwise. We want Mike Huckabee to stay in the race because he's the one candidate who truly represents us and our values."

Lynn writes, "It ought to tell John McCain the "Stepford Conservatives" are upset that anyone would dare to refuse to fall totally into their mold. Heaven forbid a Republican would dare to work with Democrats with the best interests of America in mind. America is very lucky to have someone like John McCain running for president."

Charles in Michigan writes, "Republicans realize that not only is he weak on the economy but McCain's blind following of the Bush Iraq policy allows the president of Iran to march triumphantly down the streets of Baghdad while Bush sneaks in and out at night. That's a recipe for disaster. Their only hope is to take it to the Republican Convention and get someone else nominated."

James writes, "It means he should get the whip out. In any wolf pack, there is only room for one top dog. It's up to the top dog to take care of his rivals who also want to be top dog. And if the top dog can't do that, he's got a leadership problem."

Corrine writes, "I think the message is even. Even Republicans thinking twice about a 72-year-old as president. Hasn't anyone out there ever called your dad or grandpa at say 3 a.m. with an emergency and spent 5 minutes trying to get him to understand who you are? Come on people. Is that really who you want in the White House?"

And Fred in Houston writes, "Voting for Huckabee is like taking cough syrup. It's to keep us from getting something much worse."


BLITZER: Tough crowd out there, Jack. Thanks very much.

Trade and a tale of two different campaigns. Our own Lou Dobbs is standing by. We're going to talk about Texas and Ohio and what's in store.

Also, we'll have the latest on Barack Obama's remarks on trade and allegations he was sending one message to voters in Ohio and another to U.S. trading partners, specifically Canada.

Plus, Hillary Clinton's controversial campaign ad. The parodies just keep on coming. We're going to show you the latest.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Lou Dobbs is here. It's a brand new day for Lou. He started a major new experience. I guess you could call it that. You're doing radio now in addition. You've had radio a long time. But this is three hours of radio.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Three hours of radio every single day Monday through Friday; United Stations syndicating it. It's great, Lou Dobbs Call your favorite radio station. Tell them you want the broadcast on every afternoon.

BLITZER: You're going to do the radio at 3:00 p.m. eastern every day for three hours, then you come over here and do your show at 7:00 p.m. eastern.

DOBBS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: What did you learn today? A lot of radio talk show hosts they say they learn from the callers. They learn from their audience. They learn from their guests every day. What did you learn today?

DOBBS: Well, what I learned today is that -- what I really -- and I had some wonderful guests. I had Mike Huckabee and Ralph Nader and Don Imus. Wonderful people. And the reality is I enjoy talking with the callers. The people in this country -- this is the thing. The people in this country are so much smarter than they're given credit for by the idiots producing television. No offense to anybody producing television on this network. I'm exempting all of us, of course. But the people who produce the television news who suddenly decide that, you know, as the senior editor of a magazine that people don't understand things. That American people really aren't smart enough to deal with these issues. All of it is nonsense. Not one of us in the country is. It's a fundamental precept of my populous policy.

BLITZER: What do you think looking ahead to a big day in politics? We're going to be on the air for hours and hours and hours tomorrow. What is your sense going into this huge day tomorrow?

DOBBS: Well my sense is this is not going to be finished tomorrow and I believe we're going to see a close race and I have to admit I'm hoping, as much as I'm forecasting, I'm hoping we have a tight race. I want to see a greater debate dialogue in this country. I think we all benefit from it.

BLITZER: It's good on the Democratic side and the Republican side.

DOBBS: Guess who I'm going to have on my radio tomorrow? This is going to impress you. David Borden.

BLITZER: David Borden our Washington Bureau chief.

DOBBS: Washington bureau chief, political guru savant and great guy. So we'll have the exact -- he will give us tomorrow on my radio broadcast exactly what's going to happen in those primaries.

BLITZER: Let me just alert our viewers, a lot of them out there, that Lou Dobbs on the radio every Monday through Friday, 3:00 p.m. eastern all over the country.

DOBBS: Can you join us tomorrow on the radio as well?

BLITZER: I'm going to be working very hard. Have you ever said no to you?

DOBBS: Bless your heart, Wolf,