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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Vermont Goes to Obama; Clinton Wins Rhode Island; Texas and Ohio Remain Close for the Democratic Presidential Candidates; President Bush Expected to Endorse McCain

Aired March 4, 2008 - 20:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, look where we are.
Senator Obama has pulled ahead. He's a little bit ahead of Senator Clinton. The finish line is way out here. So, let's just have a hypothetical discussion. Let's assume that Senator Clinton has a big night tonight and she wins -- let me tap on Senator Clinton up here -- and she wins Rhode Island, and she wins Ohio, and she wins Texas.

I just did that. Under that scenario, she wins those states 55 to 45. So, the delegates under the Democratic rules are done proportionately. Well, look what has happened. Under that scenario, she wins three states tonight after she wins Vermont, and she is still behind in the delegate count.

So, then, what do you from there? Well, you shrink the map and you see all the places that have yet to vote in the Democratic map. I'm going to give them all to Senator Clinton. There's no reason to believe that will happen. Barack Obama is heavily favored in Mississippi, for that matter, but let's...

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Wyoming coming up Saturday, Mississippi next Tuesday, April 22, Pennsylvania and on and on.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: But let's just, for the hypothetical, give them all to Clinton. I have to tap her up her. This is not the order they will vote. I don't know why she doesn't want to vote. Let's touch down here. Here we go. And let's just give them up. Senator Clinton wins them all. No reason to believe this will happen.

BLITZER: And she wins them by what percentage?

KING: This is 55, 45. Actually, that's the higher vote. That, I just gave them to her under 65-35. And she doesn't win the nomination, even if she wins them all, all the way out.

So, we can come back. Default is where we started. Let's go back and let's just say never mind. How about Barack Obama? And let's give them to him by big margins. And again there's no reason to believe he would win by such a big margin. But we give them all to Senator Obama. Get Rhode Island. It's a little hard to get in there sometimes. Stretch it out. Hit Rhode Island. Close it back down. Senator Obama runs the board and guess what, Wolf? He's close, but not over the top. That's when the superdelegates for either one of them.

But assume they start trading. If she wins tonight and they trade, they're going to get to somewhere out here, where somebody is sitting out here, but not at the finish line, which, for the superdelegates, would come into play.

And we could crunch these numbers under any different scenario. Maybe later in the night, we will take a chance going based on what we know in the polls so far. But the math for the Democrats gets incredibly complicated.

BLITZER: And it's unlikely that either of those two extraordinary circumstances would develop, that one candidate that would run the board from now until all of the contests are over in June, Puerto Rico being the last one.

But it's fascinating that neither, even if they did, would reach that magic number of 2,025 needed to guarantee the Democratic presidential nomination.

KING: Which is why tonight for Senator Clinton, more than it is about math, it's about stopping Obama's momentum and trying to stop and change the psychology of the Democratic race, saying, he won 11 in a row. She wants to win Ohio and win Texas, add in Rhode Island, so that she can say after 11 in a row -- or when you count Vermont, that's 12 in a row for Barack Obama.

What Senator Clinton would like to say at the end of the night is that enough Democrats especially in big states like Texas and Ohio said not yet. We're not ready to call this one over. On the verge of essentially giving it to Barack Obama, they at least hit the pause button. She needs that momentum changer tonight.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to stay on top of this.

And I want to just alert our viewers as well as they're home, and they want to be John King. You know what? You can be John King.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: And this is what you can do. Go to CNNPolitics.com. And you can look at all of these states county by county. Make all of these projections. CNNPolitics.com, good place to get some additional information. And you too can pretend you know what you're doing, just like John King.

He actually does know what he's doing. Go ahead and go to CNNPolitics.com.

Let's take a closer look at some numbers that are coming in so far in Ohio, where we have projected that John McCain is the winner, with less than one percent of the vote now in, 66 percent for McCain, 23 percent for Huckabee, Ron Paul, five percent.

But remember, this is still very, very early in the process. You take a look at the real numbers that are coming in, you can see just a small number, 2,226 for McCain, 770 for Huckabee, Ron Paul 177.

But we have projected McCain the winner in Ohio. On the Democratic side, it's much more competitive right now, less than one percent in, but 56 percent so far for Hillary Clinton, 42 percent for Obama. We haven't been able to project a winner in Ohio, 2,029 votes so far for Hillary Clinton, 1,526 for Obama.

Remember, though, this is less than one percent. These numbers are going to change as this night goes on.

Want to welcome Campbell Brown. She's joining us now with the best political team on television.

This is exciting, Campbell. We love this kind of stuff.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: It is, Wolf. We live for this kind of stuff. And I am with the best political team. I have got Gloria Borger, Jeff Toobin, and Donna Brazile.

And we all know what the scenarios are. We have been talking about them nonstop. Bill Clinton said that his wife had to win Texas and Ohio to keep going. The campaign has backtracked since and said really she only has to win one.

But what happens that keeps this race going tomorrow? What happens to end this race tomorrow, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think if Hillary Clinton wins one of those two states, her campaign is going to say, this is not about the arithmetic anymore. This is about something else.

They're going to pivot. They may stop saying it's all about superdelegates, superdelegates, superdelegates. They're going to do a pivot and say, no, the people need to decide. This is going to be about those big states that she can win, that Democrats need to win if they're going to win the general election, and this race goes on.

BROWN: But, guys, here's my problem. I'm in love with John King's delegate counter. I think so many of us are.

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: I'm in love with John King.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: But the math doesn't lie.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's TMI.

(LAUGHTER) BROWN: How do you get beyond that, the numbers?

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Because the superdelegates have a role to play under any circumstances. Even if Barack Obama runs the table, the superdelegates have to be involved.

So, I think if, for example, Hillary Clinton goes on a roll now and wins state after state after state, those superdelegates are going to start moving towards her. So, I don't think you can simply say it's mathematically impossible for Hillary Clinton, because the politics will trump the arithmetic.

BROWN: Well, let's hear from a superdelegate, an undecided superdelegate.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Whose cell phone has been ringing off the hook.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: So, Donna, what are superdelegates looking for tonight? What are they watching for?

BRAZILE: It's still electability. I think, at the end of the day, the uncommitted superdelegates would like to help unite the party, to bring the party together. Look, this has been a very historical election season. Voters are excited about our two candidates.

At the end of the day, superdelegates will look at the math, like John King, and say, OK, perhaps a few here, a few there, that could help put Senator Obama or Senator Clinton over the top. At the end of the day, it's about electability. It's about making sure that we have the best candidate for the fall.

BROWN: And there's a lot of posturing going on behind the scenes right now between the two campaigns over the issue of superdelegates, right?

BRAZILE: Well, last night, I heard from at least 10 of my friends. They are uncommitted. But, tomorrow, they may commit to one of the candidates. Look, there's a lot of pressure right now to commit, to come out and support one of the candidates to give them an edge going into the next round of contests.

BORGER: Well, what we're reporting today is -- and a lot of us are hearing the same thing -- is that the Obama campaign was trying to get a big group together of superdelegates that would announce with great fanfare tomorrow they either they had defected from Hillary Clinton's camp or that they had decided to join Barack Obama's camp. The Clinton campaign got a little bit wind of that and is trying to freeze these superdelegates in place, because, after all, superdelegates are politicians, Campbell. They are not kamikaze pilots. They want to be careful. They want to go with the winner. And so, this whole superdelegate thing may just freeze for right now.

BRAZILE: They have a war room right now being set up in both campaigns. And the war room is not being staffed by junior staffers. It's being by Bill Clinton on Senator Clinton's side and by Tom Daschle on Senator Obama's staff. So, they're really anxious to get these uncommitted superdelegates to come out, as well as try to twist some of the committed superdelegates to flip.

BROWN: But there are people within the party who think that if it goes to that, if it gets to that point, that it could be damaging for the Democratic Party in general. It's giving McCain all of this time to sort of regroup himself.

Is there a scenario where some party elder, an Al Gore type, Nancy Pelosi, I don't know who, may step in and say, let's negotiate this; let's resolve it in another way?

TOOBIN: I do think we should keep the time issue in perspective. Historically, the New Hampshire primary is in March and the nomination is decided in the California primary in June.

This is still a long time before the November election. So, the idea that -- you know, Democrats are in their customary paranoia and hysteria, but, in fact, they have plenty of time to resolve this. And if it goes until Pennsylvania, April 22, it is not a terrible tragedy.

BORGER: I think there's a little reason for hysteria and paranoia, though, because if this continues --

TOOBIN: Well, Democrats usually lose, so they're right to be pessimistic.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: There's a lot of euphoria on the Democratic side.

BORGER: OK, euphoria, I forgot that. But what we know, I think, is that, if this is inconclusive, a jump ball tonight, whatever you want to call it, that this goes to Pennsylvania, and we will be spending a lot of time in Scranton, and Altoona and Erie.

BROWN: Don't act so depressed about going to Scranton, Gloria.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: I know, really.

BORGER: I'm not. I'm not.

BROWN: OK. We have got to go to Wolf. He's got some numbers coming in -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Campbell, thank you.

The first numbers are coming in from Texas. A lot of the polls have actually closed in Texas. The entire state won't close until the top of the hour, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 8:00 p.m. Central.

Less than one percent of the vote, though, in Texas is now in. We don't know where this vote is coming from, but Obama so far leading with 58 percent to Hillary Clinton's 41 percent. But it's a very small number, less than one percent, Obama with 38,100, 27,449 for Hillary Clinton.

But I want to caution to everybody this is very early in the process. On the Republican side, McCain so far, less than one percent of the vote in, with 53 percent, Huckabee's 37 percent, Ron Paul, himself a congressman from Texas, five percent, 24,066 for McCain, 16,784 for Huckabee, 2,237 for Ron Paul.

You can study this and look at this a lot more closely if you want and see the numbers coming in, in real time at CNNPolitics.com, get running commentary from Bill Schneider there as well. We are going to getting live feeds coming in.

We're still going to be hearing from these candidates throughout the course of this night. Lots more coming up.

We will take a quick break. Much more of our coverage coming up from the CNN Election Center. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to the CNN Election Center. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting.

There are two critical races tonight we're watching on the Democratic side, Texas and Ohio. In Ohio, we're getting some numbers coming in right now. It's a competitive race. The polls have closed, with the exception of a few polls in Sandusky because of some ballot problems that they had there.

But right now, with less than one percent of vote actually coming in, in Ohio -- and we have not been able to project a winner on the Democratic side -- Hillary Clinton, with 56 percent, to Barack Obama's 42 percent, 2,029 votes for Hillary Clinton so far in Ohio to 1,526. This is a tiny, tiny number, a tiny percentage, less than one percent, so far.

In Texas, all the polls don't close in Texas until 9:00 p.m., but some of the polls closed at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Right now, less than one percent of the vote in, Obama with 60 percent to Hillary Clinton's 39 percent, 157,091 votes for Obama, 103,610 for Hillary Clinton. You see the numbers are coming in from Texas.

We also expect within the next half-hour or so some of the early voting that was done in Texas, perhaps a million people voted on the Democratic side, to start getting those numbers in as well. So, pretty soon, we're going to see some serious numbers coming in from Texas. We will get a better sense of what's going on in that state as well.

We have got reporters covering all of this. Candy Crowley is over at Clinton headquarters right now in Columbus, Ohio. Jessica Yellin is at Obama headquarters in San Antonio, Texas.

Candy, Hillary Clinton, where is she right now? Because there was some talk earlier she would be in Columbus, she might come to New York. What's the latest information we're getting on Hillary Clinton's whereabouts?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: She's here in Columbus. She has done some satellite interviews.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CROWLEY: They also have a big screen of CNN up. So, that explains what's going on behind me.

She had some satellite interviews today. She's expected to speak here in this room tonight, approximately 9:00. But she will head home after that, we're told, headed -- and home being Washington, D.C. So, she's watching the returns come in, as are her supporters, who go crazy every time we say she's leading in Ohio -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, she's going to be speaking where you are fairly soon, presumably even before we get some of the final results in Texas and Ohio; is that what I'm hearing you say?

CROWLEY: Well, I think, as far as I know, she will come out -- and you know the schedules are a tiny bit flexible in both these campaigns -- that she will come out when they have a pretty good sense of what's going on, so whenever that time is, but no sooner than 9:00 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And what are you hearing? Because I know you're talking to the Clinton people, Candy, all the time. What are they saying? What is their mood? How confident are they about Ohio, where you are, as well as Texas?

CROWLEY: They're very confident. Terry McAuliffe, who, as you know, is the chairman of the campaign, is wandering around here high as a kite, in the spirit sense, saying that he does believe, in fact, that they will win both Ohio, Texas, as well as Rhode Island.

Obviously, McAuliffe, who is a fund-raiser in chief, very happy about this, because, obviously, not only would a loss tonight in one of these two big states hurt her and raise some questions; it also makes it very hard to raise money.

So, they're very excited here. Governor Strickland of Ohio, who is a big supporter of Hillary Clinton's, is around here confidently predicting that she will in fact take Ohio.

Texas, they don't seem quite as sure of. But they nonetheless believe that they will come away with a win. They think it will bigger here in Ohio -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we will watch that. Candy, stand by. We're going to be coming back to you.

I want to check in with Jessica Yellin right now. She's over at Obama headquarters in San Antonio, where, at some point tonight, we expect him to be addressing his supporters as well.

Is that right, Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Barack Obama's already here in San Antonio. We're told he's going to be watching the results from his hotel room. He did what he likes to do on primary day, is he went and played some hoops today and worked out, also greeted voters.

I will tell you, I heard you asked Candy what the mood is among the Clinton folks. I will tell you, the Obama folks right now are taking out the calculators and looking at the numbers. And that to them is what matters most. You have heard it said tonight already, but for them this is all about the delegate math.

They point out that even the Clintons, the Clinton campaign said that this is a delegate race and unless Senator Clinton can come out of Texas and Ohio tied with delegates, it almost is -- her wins don't really matter. They are convinced that she cannot make up the delegate gap. And so that is what they say we have to judge tonight's results on.

Another issue is these -- the negative ads lately. Barack Obama himself made the point that he thinks Senator Clinton has gone rather negative in the last week. And it would be interesting to note in exit polls to see, of those who decided in the last three days, who just made up their mind, how many of them went to Senator Clinton? That's when she released that red phone ad.

And it will tell you a lot about the tone of this race going forward. If she got those voters, probably expect to see a lot more negative ads in the future -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Although we did hear Senator Obama earlier in the day -- and I you heard him as well, Jessica -- say he's assuming this is going to continue no matter what happens tonight, going into the Wyoming Democratic caucuses this Saturday, and then the Mississippi Democratic primary a week from today, next Tuesday, and then he said probably go on to Pennsylvania, which is a huge state with a lot of delegates at stake, April 22.

So, he's assuming, and correct me if I am wrong, that this is going to continue.

YELLIN: That's right. They're assuming that this will continue and that Senator Clinton will wage a fierce fight. But they're looking for is a significant awareness in the Democratic Party to come a realization that this cannot be won by Senator Clinton, that Barack Obama has enough of a lead that eventually the superdelegates and the leaders of the Democratic Party will have to pressure Senator Clinton to get out of the race.

And their point is, unless she has a huge margin of victory in both Texas and Ohio tonight and in future states, she really will have to get out of the race -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see what happens. This has been an unpredictable race so far. Lots can still happen. Jessica, thanks very much.

I want to check in with Juan Carlos Lopez of CNN Espanol. He's in Austin watching this contest right now.

If in fact she ekes out a win in Texas in this primary, Juan Carlos, manages to win in the primary in Texas, I assume she is going to be grateful to the Latino vote in Texas, which is a huge percentage of the vote there, which, at least according to the exit poll projections, she's doing very, very well among the Hispanics.

JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ, CNN EN ESPANOL CORRESPONDENT: As well as she did, Wolf, in Nevada and California, where Hispanics voted in very high numbers for her. And if that repeats in Texas, it could very well help her win the state if she does.

Now, I have seen people all over the country. I ask them, who are you going to for, Latinos? And they tell me -- it's usually Hillary. That's the name I hear the most. Something that surprised me here in Austin, I went to different polling places today.

And people were talking about Hillary Clinton and her experience. But they were also talking about Barack Obama and about getting to know him in the last weeks with the onslaught of advertisement from his campaign.

So, it's going to be interesting to see. And remember that even though she's very strong in southern Texas, let's see what happens in Dallas and Houston, with a lot of delegates and a very high Hispanic population also.

BLITZER: I spoke earlier in the week with Silvestre Reyes, the congressman from Texas. And he flatly predicted, not only would she do very well among the Latinos, but she would win in Texas as well.

All right, Juan Carlos, thanks very much.

Let's take a quick look, while we have it right now, the Texas primaries, because have one percent of the precincts that have now reported their numbers in Texas. With one percent now in, Obama leading with 58 percent to Hillary Clinton's 41 percent.

Then if we zoom in and take a look at the actual numbers in Texas, you see how high this turnout is, 437,610 or so for Obama, 305,000 or so for Hillary Clinton, one percent of the precincts in. We don't know where that is.

We're going to continue to watch. And we're going to get more numbers for you. Also, we're going to take a look at the caucuses. This is a two-step process in Texas. The primary -- the primary will be followed by the caucuses. They will distribute the delegates as a result, two-thirds from the primary, one-third from the caucuses. We're going to go to those caucuses in Texas right after this.

You're watching our coverage right here at the CNN Election Center.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to the CNN Election Center.

Want update you on these two races that are critical tonight. There are four primaries altogether, but Texas and Ohio clearly very, very important for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

In Texas right now, one percent of the precincts have reported. Barack Obama's ahead with 58 percent to 41 percent for Hillary Clinton.

The polls are still open in part of state, parts of the state. They have closed elsewhere -- 440,000 or so, so far, with one point of the precincts in, for Obama, 311,000 for Hillary Clinton. This is still very, very early in Texas.

In Ohio, the polls, with the exception of Sandusky, Ohio, have closed in the state. Right now, less than one percent of the precincts have reported, Hillary Clinton with 62 percent in Ohio to 36 percent for Barack Obama. But look at these numbers. They're very, very small, 7,064 for Clinton, 4,051 for Barack Obama. Those are the numbers so far in Ohio.

It's a two-step process in Texas right now, the primary, which will distribute two-thirds of the delegates in the state of Texas. Now they're beginning caucuses that will distribute one-third of the delegates, the caucuses for the party faithful.

I want to go to two of those caucuses right now and get a sense of what is going on.

Suzanne Malveaux is in Austin at one of those Democratic caucuses. Ted Rowlands is in Dallas at another one of the caucuses.

Tell us what's going on, Suzanne, where you are, first.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's really quite a fascinating and quirky process. And what is happening here are big delays. And that is because so many people are engaged and involved in this process.

The primary polling, which was supposed to close, we have got about 200 people who are snaking around this elementary school in line to still vote in the primary process. That's not going to shut down until all of those folks have actually cast their ballot. Once they do that, that's when they can enter here. And this is caucus process.

And this is the big meeting, essentially, that happens afterwards, where they're all going to line up and they're going to either say they're undecided or they're for Barack Obama or for Senator Hillary Clinton. That process does not start until everybody gets a chance to vote in the primary.

So, what you have now is hundreds and hundreds of people who are essentially waiting for the first process to begin and -- to end. This has been fascinating from the very beginning. We have seen voters try to explain to each other, try to answer questions about how all of this is going to shake out.

Already, you have got record turnout. The last time this happened here, there were about -- in this precinct, Precinct 342, there were about 30 people who participated. They have printed up about 300 sign-in forms. Already, we're seeing perhaps as many as 500. So, they're not even sure they have enough forms to fill out here.

But the idea is that people are going to get in different groups and say which candidate they would like to vote for, which candidate they support. And then people will try to jockey back and forth and convince each other to change their minds. Not likely going to happen with this group, because, so far, Wolf, you talk to these voters, they're adamant about who they're supporting, whether it's Clinton, whether it's Obama.

There are some people who have decided they perhaps could be convinced either way. But, clearly, this is a very engaged group. It's going to be a really long night. And people seem to be excited about this quirky two-step, Texas two-step, process tonight. So, we will see how it goes, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we will see if Barack Obama continues to do really well in the caucuses. He's got a pretty good record in almost all of the caucuses so far compared to Hillary Clinton. We will see if that holds up in Texas night.

The big difference between the primary vote and the caucus, primary, it's a secret ballot. In the caucus, everybody's going to know who you support, your neighbors, your friends, your boss, whoever, because it's a very public declaration you have to make of the candidate of your choice.

Suzanne, stand by.

Ted Rowlands is at another caucus in Dallas right now.

I -- I assume it's a similar kind of situation that you're seeing, Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're a little bit ahead of where Suzanne is. The polling shut was down at about 7:15 right now and the caucusing has officially began here in Dallas. They're really calling this a little mini convention, a three-tier system. This is a precinct convention, really where you come and you say, there's no secret ballot here. You stand up for who you're voting for. And we are in a heavy Obama center of Dallas and you can see it here in the caucusing. This line to my right are people standing in line to go in and sign in for the Obama camp. They're going to sign their names, say they're pledging for Obama. At that point they can either stay throughout the process or they can leave and their vote will be counted.

On the other side, this line is where the Hillary Clinton folks are. There's only a handful of people that have gotten up and gone into that line. And they're signing in there.

This is of course going on across the state today tonight well into the night. There will be precincts where it's the opposite undoubtedly. But here it is a heavy Obama area in Dallas.

And the main thing that we want to articulate is the unbelievable lines. This auditorium is full, the line goes all the out through a school hallway, outside. The guy who runs this, he has for the last 20 years, he addressed the crowd at the beginning and he said, "I'm glad to see you. I've been trying to get you here for the last 20 years. Welcome." Really the Democratic process at work here in Texas, but it is going to be a long night.

BLITZER: Some of the primary -- some of the states like the primaries, some of the states like the caucuses. Leave it to Texas to come up with a Solomon like decision. You know what? We'll do both. We'll have a primary and a caucus on the same night.

Ted, we're going to stay on top of this story with you. Thanks very much.

I want our viewers to know, they can go to CNNPolitics.com and get a whole lot of information.

Abbi Tatton is standing by to share with us some new tools that our viewers can use, Abbi. I'm going to walk over and I want you to brief all of us on the amazing, amazing information available at CNNPolitics.com. The political news junkies, they're going to want to go to this site, get some this. Tell them what they can do.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, you've seen those maps that John King has been using here. Well, we've added some of those to the Web site so viewers can watch this. All the information come in online now as we're speaking here.

I'm going to go to Texas now. We know that the process is still playing out. We've just seen those caucuses under way in Texas. But some of the results are already trickling in here.

Less than one percent, I'm actually just going to reload this so we can make sure that we can see all of the latest information coming in here. The light blue, that's for Hillary Clinton. Counties that are going at this very, very early stage for Hillary Clinton.

The darker blue, that's Barack Obama. And we got him with one percent reporting in the lead right now because these are some of the population centers. We're zooming in right there on Travis County, that's where Austin is. Look at some of these population centers here. Harris County, Houston.

Now we're looking also at Ohio. We just started to see very early numbers, even earlier numbers coming in there. This is where we've also got a live stream from the Clinton headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. They're going to be watching these results very carefully, Wolf.

BLITZER: You too and any of our viewers, if they have a laptop, they have a computer, they can be John King if they want. All right, that's useful information to know. Abbi, thanks very much.

Dana Bash is over at McCain headquarters watching all of this unfold in Dallas.

You're getting some information, Dana. What are you picking up?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well a McCain adviser just came over and said they have something fun up their sleeve tomorrow. And the indications that we're getting right now from a couple of Republican sources, one in particular, that has knowledge of this is that there are plans in place, plans in place, that if John McCain goes over the top tonight, gets that 1,191 delegates that President Bush is expected to formally endorse John McCain tomorrow.

Now there are no plans right now for President Bush to travel, to go anywhere. So, the expectation is that John McCain, if this happened, would likely go to the president. Now again we're told that this is something that's very -- plans are in place, that it is not finalized. But this is something that certainly would give the blessing of all blessings to John McCain as the Republican nominee.

We were talking earlier about the Republican National Committee, about that apparatus formally being a part of the McCain campaign or an extension of the McCain campaign as soon as tomorrow. But this is something that would give a whole new meaning to John McCain really officially taking the title.

Now again, we're waiting to see the actual number go up behind me, the 1,191. But again we are told that there are plans in place for President Bush to make clear that he does consider John McCain the Republican nominee, the nominee of the Republican Party and from his perspective, the man he hopes takes his place in the White House.

And also I should add that there is an expectation that perhaps John McCain will do that at the White House. But we're still waiting for finalization on that.

BLITZER: All right, we'll see. First, he has to get that 1,191 mark. They've got that banner as you have been reporting, ready to unfurl. Let's see if that happens. Let's see if he goes to the White House to meet with President Bush.

And they have this unification ceremony that they're clearly gearing up, Campbell Brown. You can talk about that. An exciting moment for John McCain if in fact he goes over the top tonight, given where he was only a few months ago.

BROWN: That's right, it would be a huge milestone. And let's reintroduce some members of our panel and talk to a couple of Republicans about that.

Back here we've got Jamal Simmons, Paul Begala, Alex Castellanos and Bill Bennett. And let me get your take, given this news because it is a big deal if he does pass his mark.

But at the same time, people are still voting for Mike Huckabee. Why -- Bill Bennett?

BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well there are a lot of people that like Mike Huckabee, a lot of Republicans, conservatives that aren't convinced yet about John McCain. But if he goes over the top, then it's a big deal.

He's turned his attention obviously to the general election campaign already. But if you look at polls, you'll see as Alex was just pointing out, should let him make the point, there are a lot of people in Texas and elsewhere saying he's not conservative enough for me, John McCain.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Nobody goes to a football game if it's already over. Right? People go to a game that's going to be played now. We know John McCain is the de facto nominee. We know he's won.

As Dana Bash has reported, maybe endorsed by the president. Yet are you still seeing 30 percent less of the party that is not getting behind the de facto nominee? That's a little bit of a problem.

BROWN: There's a school of thought out there, amongst some strategists who say that instead of McCain doing what he's been doing, which is try to reach out to evangelicals, those who have been supporting Mike Huckabee, that instead John McCain should just be John McCain and target Independents. What do you think?

CASTELLANOS: What John McCain should do is be a good general election candidate and that will unite the party. First of all, what's a maverick? Instead of saying here's the things I've done, here's what I'm going to do to change Washington. I'm going to cut spending, but a for sale sign on every other building. Here's how I'm going to make things different in Washington.

Two, I'm going to cut taxes and grow the economy. The Democrats are going to grow government. Here's some differences. Once John McCain gets a little wind in his sails in the general election, that's going to help him succeed and bring the party together, I think.

BROWN: And Paul, as we go forward, obviously, what's benefiting John McCain or what may benefit him is for the Democrats to continue running against one another. Do you agree?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't, actually. I think this is very good for the Democrats and clearly, voters want this to go on. I suspect Hillary Clinton does.

BROWN: There was a poll that came out that said two to one, Democratic voters did actually want her to continue even if she only won one of the big states tonight.

BEGALA: Right, it's because first off, it's fun to watch. But more importantly, these are high-quality people. They're running a very high-quality campaign. It's not particularly negative. And so I don't think it hurts the Democrats at all.

But tomorrow, if Dana's report is right and she could be wrong because we're one of the best political teams around, George W. Bush can endorse John McCain. Hallelujah, praise Jesus. I would pay to rent the hall. George W. Bush -- Alex was talking about wind in their sails.

He is like the permanent doldrums. There's nothing that I want more to see John McCain and George Walker Bush standing next to each other. Bush/McCain, Bush/McCain, a third term for Bush. Democrats, we're jumping up and down at that prospect.

BROWN: Do you agree, Jamal?

JAMAL SIMMONS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh yes, that's the best thing that we could have. Barack Obama already has been going around calling it the Bush/McCain war in Iraq. So this would be the symbol of the Bush/McCain war.

BROWN: But, it's not just about the war in Iraq. The national security argument works to John McCain's favor, that the red phone, the 3:00 a.m. phone call.

SIMMONS: Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. This is sort of the same reply from Barack Obama is when he answered the last time that call was made, he voted to go to war in Iraq and most Americans think that was a pretty bad idea.

CASTELLANOS: Let's give George Bush a little credit. He's even kept the Democrats safe for the last six years, so it's not an entirely bad thing. At least now we know -

BEGALA: Unless the Democrats joined the army, which most of the people in the army are Democrats.

BROWN: Let me ask you one thing, were you struck that Hillary Clinton did say at one of her news availabilities this week that she thought she was equally prepared to be president. John McCain was prepared to be president. But Barack Obama wasn't. Is that a comment, that if Obama becomes a nominee is really going to damage him? Did she go across the line in saying that?

BEGALA: It's for her to draw the lines. But even as a guy who supports her, I don't like seeing Democrats doing the Republicans job for them. One of the test of an attack in a primary is, can I take this ad, give it to the other side and have them use it with equal or greater credibility? That red phone ad may have been a yes. Now it may save Hillary today in Texas or Ohio.

But I think that's a legitimate concern that the Obama has and the other Democrats have. But the truth is, McCain was going to say it anyway. If McCain squares up against Barack, it's not like McCain wasn't going to run on national security anyway, as opposed to what Hillary said.

But I think that's good point. So that's why I've been pushing these economic arguments, where either way the Democrats are going to be stronger than McCain. I'd rather them run more on the economy.

BROWN: Bill Bennett, the last word.

BENNETT: Yes, well George Bush's endorsement of John McCain will give encouragement to a lot of conservatives and Republicans. There are people who like and admire George Bush. There are people who are grateful to George Bush.

Nobody will confuse John McCain with George Bush. That's the other point. John McCain is an independent guy. To say about John McCain, should he be himself or should he be someone else, they said about him at birth, he had the gift of always being himself. He will be himself willy nilly.

We welcome the debate on national security. We even welcome believe it or not the debate on this war because if you want to get yourself in this position where Obama has put himself, we'll pull the troops out, but if al Qaeda comes back, then we'll go back, we'll debate that.

BROWN: All right, we got to take a quick break. We'll be back with a lot more. We're going to go to Ali Velshi, he's down in Texas talking to voters. We'll have all that coming up, plus a lot more numbers coming in.

Stay with us. We'll be back shortly.

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BLITZER: Welcome back to the CNN Election Center.

We're 15 minutes or so away from all of the polls closing in Texas, as well as Rhode Island. As soon as all the polls there are closed, we'll update you on what we can report, as far as close this contest might be, especially on the Democratic side between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

In fact, let's take a look at the Texas votes right now as they're coming in because some of those polls closed at the 8:00 p.m. Eastern hour in Texas right now, one percent of the precincts have actually reported - 56 percent so far for Barack Obama, 43 percent for Hillary Clinton.

A huge turnout of Democrats in Texas. Take a look at the numbers coming in so far with only one percent of the precincts reporting.

Almost half a million votes so far for Barack Obama, 484,961 to be precise. Hillary Clinton so far with 368,373 votes. But remember, this is very early. Only one percent of the precincts in Texas so far reporting.

On the Republican side, John McCain so far is doing a lot better than Mike Huckabee, 56 percent to 32 percent. Ron Paul, the Texas congressman with five percent. Take a look at the actual numbers though coming in from Texas on the Republican side -- 206,325 for John McCain, 117,000 for Huckabee, 19,000 for Ron Paul.

In Texas on the Democratic side, there is this primary, which 126 delegates will be decided. But there are also these caucuses that are now either taking place or about to begin, 67 delegates will be determined as a result of the separate caucuses in Texas throughout the state.

And we're seeing huge numbers of Democrats show up at these caucuses to express their public opinions, who should be the next president of the United States. The ballots for the primary are, of course, secret. But in the caucuses, everything's open. People have to openly declare who they're supporting, whether it would be Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

And so very fascinating decision that the Democrats made in Texas to have both a primary, two-thirds of the delegates will be determined by the primary as well as a caucus. One-third of the delegates will be determined in the caucuses.

Remember that it's two separate contests. Barack Obama so far has done a lot better in the caucuses than compared to Hillary Clinton. We'll see what unfolds in Texas over the next few hours.

Let's check in with Ali Velshi. He's in Bandera, Texas getting a flavor of what's going on.

Looks like you're at an exciting place to be working tonight, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: This is the place to be in Bandera, Texas. We're northwest of San Antonio. This is the self proclaimed cowboy capital of the world. We've got a band playing called "Almost Patsy Cline." A few hundred people here bringing in their steaks. They're going a lot over there.

I'll tell you about what's going on here. This is a self- described fairly Republican county. There had been a lot of early voting here, about 25 percent increase over the last election. Now in the early voting there were about twice as many Republicans voting as Democrats.

That may be a testament to how Republican it is. That may also be because if you weren't a Republican, you couldn't vote in the local election here. There were no Democratic candidates here even running.

In the early voting, we've not got results from today, the voting was about two blocks away from here. It looks like the early voting went to John McCain, about 60 percent to 26 percent for Mike Huckabee. A lot of people around here felt that Mike Huckabee upholds the conservative values that they're looking for. About six percent of the early voting went to Ron Paul.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has a slight edge which is interesting because that's not what we were hearing on the ground here. We had a lot of conservative Republicans who said they would actually consider voting for Barack Obama because they were interested in change. Amongst Democrats here health care and fuel prices and inflation was the big deal. And amongst Republicans, it was the economy number one and immigration number two.

So, bottom line, we're standing here waiting for the results to come in from Bandera, Texas and from around Texas. We've got a great group of people around here. Everybody's very friendly and they're watching us on TV right now. So this is a tough gig, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ali Velshi having a good time in Bandera, Texas. Give our best regards to all the folks there. Ali, thanks very much.

We're getting word of potentially some irregularities that are being suggested or taking place in Ohio right now. We're going to check in with Jim Acosta and John King. They're watching this very closely.

The polls in Ohio, they were closing. They closed at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. But we're going to take a close look at what's happening in Ohio right after a quick commercial break. Much more of our coverage coming up right here in the CNN Election Center.

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BLITZER: Welcome back to the CNN Election Center.

Want to check -- see what's happening right now in Ohio. There are some reports that there's been some problems with ballots out there. John King is watching this very closely.

But I want to Jim Acosta. He's joining us on the phone right now from Cleveland.

What are you hearing, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on phone): Well Wolf, we just talked with election officials here in Cuyahoga County, that is the most populous county. It is also the home of Cleveland, Ohio.

And election officials here have confirmed that Barack Obama did file a lawsuit earlier this evening to keep some polls open until 9:00 p.m. A federal judge has ruled in favor of that request and ruling to keep open 15 polling stations.

We just heard from the chief election official in this county a few moments ago, and he blamed all of this on weather. There's been a lot of weather coming through Cleveland over the last few hours. Ice, snow, sleet, you name it and it's making for treacherous road conditions at this point.

So, to keep the polls open, they decided to make this emergency decision, you know, basically following this judge's ruling to reopen 15 polling stations and the election official that we talked to here was asked a question, now did some of these polling stations actually close and have to be reopened?

He said, yes. He said there were polling stations that were closed that had to be reopened. But he said this only pertains to one percent of the polling stations in Cuyahoga County, just 15 polling stations.

He claims that is not a significant number of polling stations. But nevertheless, this is going to bring back memories of what happened in 2004. There were long lines at polling stations back then because of problems and confusions with those punch-card ballots. Because of all of those issues they switched to touch-screen machines earlier after that 2004 election. I think that -- and now they're on the optical scan ballots.

Pardon me, I'm hearing some instructions on the air as we're trying to get our live shot up on the air. But and so election officials here in Ohio were hoping that those optical scan ballots would be problem-free. But apparently because of the weather and perhaps because of ballot shortages, a judge did rule tonight to keep 15 polling stations open until 9:00 p.m. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, I know that they were really, really nervous in Ohio that all of the balloting problems would be resolved. Clearly there has been some problems in Ohio as well. Jim, thanks very much.

John King is here. And you're looking closely at this. This is a big chunk of the population of the state right there.

KING: And a critical area for Barack Obama in Cleveland proper, which I just looked at an e-mail from the Obama campaign and they listed the polling sites that were to be reopened or left open, as Jim just mentioned. And they are in the metropolitan Cleveland area, which is critical to Barack Obama because it's where you have a concentration of African-American votes.

Cleveland is not the largest city, the most populous city. Many might think it is, but that is actually Columbus, the state capital in Franklin County.

But this as you can see downtown Cleveland here, just to show by reference point, Jacobs Field where the Cleveland Indians play over here, where the Cleveland Browns play, just so you can see the reference points. But in the metropolitan Cleveland area, we are told where these polling places are. It is a critical area for Barack Obama.

I want to shrink the map down a little bit, Wolf, and come back out to bring you back out here. This is Franklin County, where the Obama campaign also had requested the polls be kept opened later. They did not get their way down here at least not yet. Franklin County is the largest city, 9.5 percent of the state's population. Another center of African-American voting that Barack Obama needs very much. This is one of the critical spots for Obama.

But where Jim just spoke to us from, Cuyahoga County up here in Cleveland is obviously critical as well. It is more of the state's population because of the suburbs. And a fascinating battleground right here within the state of Ohio.

Obama needs to do very well in metropolitan Cleveland here. And Senator Clinton has been struggling to offset those margins by fighting out in the suburban areas. So this is a fascinating place to watch. The polls have been left opened, again we're told those are mostly area in metropolitan Cleveland.

We'll have to watch this as it comes in. Because Wolf, if you go back out to the full map state of Ohio, if you go back out, we're watching the Democratic race.

The state of Ohio, we still have a tiny percentage. Still it doesn't register on this map yet, the vote is so late to come in, so slow to come in so far out of Ohio. You see very little of the vote in so far, just a county here for Clinton and a county here for Obama.

And again the result even in these counties, Wolf, a very small county. We're talking about 2,500 votes between the two of them there in tiny green county. So a long night ahead of us in one of the key battlegrounds tonight, the state of Ohio.

BLITZER: We're less than three minutes away from the polls closing in Texas and Rhode Island. Let's go to Texas quickly. Give us a little sense because that's going to be a huge, huge state with a lot of delegates at state for the Republicans and the Democrats.

KING: If you look at the Republican map very quickly, it's filling in for John McCain. A few pockets for Mike Huckabee so far. Mike Huckabee is the peach color, but it is filling in for John McCain and it looks like we are on a track for Texas to put John McCain over the top tonight.

We'll watch that happen, make sure the votes come in. But there is no reason to think anything other than that, Wolf, looking at the preliminary results so far in Texas. This of course is a much more interesting battle. And again, we're at one percent of the vote in Texas so by no means make any conclusions based on what you're seeing on this map right now.

This is very preliminary. Some of these areas - I was looking at this county earlier. The green means it's tied. So I said what's going on here? Pull that out, it's Glasscock County. Well, guess what? It's one vote to one vote.

So you see some of these things on the map as the results come in earlier and it's not always what it appears looking at the screen. But if you're looking at the map early on, Wolf, this again, very, very early, this is what Senator Clinton needs to keep. She needs to win up in here in these rural areas and she needs to win here which is where she focused on the Latino vote in southern Texas from Corpus Christi all the way over to El Paso.

This is all critical for her. This means nothing. We are so early in the vote. I want to say it over and over again. But she needs to keep this color pattern all across here and for Barack Obama, he needs to do well right in here in Austin and he needs to pad the numbers in Houston and up in the Dallas area. No votes at all coming in those key metropolitan areas yet, whether it's Dallas, Houston or Austin. We simply don't know yet.

BLITZER: And I want to just point out to our viewers, when we see these numbers here, these are all a half million votes for Obama, 427,000 votes for Clinton. One percent of the precincts have completed their voting. But this also includes a lot of the early balloting that has come in. That's why you're getting these very large numbers even though we're only showing that one percent of the precincts have reported.

KING: Exactly right. We have some numbers from early voting. But as you look at the big cities here, Houston, Austin, up here in Dallas, they're still white because we're not getting the results in yet.

BLITZER: All right, John, thanks very much.

We're standing by, we're only 30 seconds or so away from the top of the hour when all of the polls will be closing in Texas. All of the polls will be closing in Rhode Island. They earlier closed in Vermont. All of the polls will actually be closed in Ohio as well, although technically almost all of them were closed in Ohio at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

They had some problems with the weather, some ballots. But the election, the primaries are going to be ending within a few seconds and this night, is going to be historic.

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