Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Massachusetts Senator John Kerry; Can John McCain Secure Republican Nomination?; Have Recent Attacks Slowed Obama's Momentum?; What Direction Will Clinton Campaign Take After Tonight

Aired March 4, 2008 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the decision day that could really decide this presidential race. From the Northeast to the Midwest to the Southwest, the twists and turns of a long primary battle could grind to a halt or they could drag on. We're watching.

John McCain and Barack Obama hoping to elbow out their challengers, but Hillary Clinton is determined not to be pushed aside. And Mike Huckabee is urging what many people say is politically impossible.

And as important as your vote is, imagine it not counting for anything. An official in one state hopes all the votes will count, but says there are no guarantees -- all that coming up, plus the best political team on television.

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

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

In the next few hours, the presidential race could turn on its head. It's primary day. And, right now, we're counting down to poll closings. The stakes are very high, 370 delegates for the Democrats, 256 for the Republicans. That's all coming from Rhode Island, Vermont, and the two biggest prizes of the day, Ohio and Texas.

CNN has reporters in all of those states, as well as in Washington, D.C.

For Ohio, let's check it out right now. Our CNN poll of polls over the past few days shows the Democrat Hillary Clinton ahead by seven points. In Texas, look at this. She leads right now in that so-called poll of polls by one percent. She had been behind until recently.

And there's a much different story as all of you know on the Republican side. Our poll average shows John McCain ahead of Mike Huckabee by 30 or more points in both Texas and Ohio.

When the day is done, Hillary Clinton could cap her recent string of losses or suffer even more of them.

Let's go straight to CNN's Jessica Yellin. She's in San Antonio.

And, Jessica, Obama hopes to hold a victory party where you are tonight. Give us a little flavor of how this day has unfolded.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I will tell you, Wolf, the Obama campaign insists there's almost nothing Senator Clinton can do to close the delegate gap now. But Senator Clinton is fighting hard to turn around the momentum, and hoping for big wins in Texas and Ohio tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice over): Senator Hillary Clinton, leaving no one out in her quest for support, insists she's optimistic.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Never underestimate the intelligence of the voter.

YELLIN: As they might say in Texas, right now Clinton has no quit in her.

CLINTON: I feel really good about today. We have a great campaign going on across Texas. The voters of Texas are really focused on the two most important issues, national security and the economy.

YELLIN: Nor do her supporters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I say Hillary you say Texas.

Hillary!

AUDIENCE: Texas!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hillary!

AUDIENCE: Texas!

YELLIN: But Barack Obama is equally optimistic.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have closed the gab. Senator Clinton had a big lead. Now it's in a dead heat.

YELLIN: And if he scores sweeping wins today, he could drive Clinton out of the race and steam toward the nomination.

OBAMA: We have the chance to show America that this is not just a flash in the pan.

YELLIN: Both campaigns are playing the expectations game. Clinton's aides insisting if Obama loses Ohio or Texas, that means voters are having, in one aide's words, buyers remorse, and Clinton is squarely in the contest. They say she has won a diverse set of states, including most of the nation's biggest, which, they insist, a Democrat would have to carry in a general election.

But Obama's aides counter, with his streak of wins and his hefty delegate lead, Clinton must win Ohio and Texas by at least 10 points just to stay in the race.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Now, Wolf, the result of today's primaries could also determine which candidate key superdelegates decide to back in the days to come.

I have got to say, with record high turnout predicted in both Texas and Ohio, it could be a very late night of results tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will wait and watch and see how they unfold. Thanks, Jessica, for that.

John McCain could soon go from presumptive nominee to actual nominee. Mike Huckabee is still holding on, but the numbers could be in McCain's favor in a major way tonight.

Let's go to Dana Bash. She's in Dallas. She's watching this.

The McCain people have to be extremely confident, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All you have to do, Wolf, is to be standing where I am in this ballroom to know how confident they are. First of all, there are balloons in the ceiling already ready to drop. There's a confetti machine right next to me, but not just that. Check this out. You can see behind me, there's a sign. It's covered. But what it says under that sign -- we have video of it -- we can put it on the wall -- 1,191.

They are getting ready when John McCain comes out here to reveal 1,191. They are already confident, clearly confident that he is going to get that magic number of delegates in order to mathematically put him over the top and make him the Republican nominee and effectively the new head of the Republican Party.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice over): Guardedly confident is John McCain's mantra. Too confident is a political danger zone.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm asking you to vote. I'm asking you to get your friends out to vote. And let's show them that we can move on to a victory in November with me carrying the banner of the proud Reagan, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt great Republican Party to victory in November.

BASH: McCain is 71-years-old, will be 72 on Election Day. If he wins, the oldest man ever to be president. Whether his Democratic opponent is 46-year-old Barack Obama or not, McCain is focused more and more on turning age into an asset. MCCAIN: I have spent my entire life addressing national security issues, and I know how to handle them. I don't need any on-the-job training. And I am prepared to leave.

BASH: An echo from Mrs. McCain.

CINDY MCCAIN, WIFE OF JOHN MCCAIN: I truly believe that he is the one man that can step in the White House and not need any on-the- job training.

BASH: While McCain looks past today's primaries, Mike Huckabee visited a polling station, urging Texans not to count him out. But despite his optimistic talk, a dose of reality.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have got to sit down tomorrow. And tomorrow is going to be a day of sort of looking at the landscape, seeing what's ahead.

BASH: As for McCain, he spent the day trying not to rock the vote, repeating his standard stump speech. But at this last rally before he hopes to clinch the nomination, that joke about his campaign tanking last summer was all the more poignant.

J. MCCAIN: There were times obviously when my political campaign was not viewed as the most viable in America, as you probably know. In fact, I was reminded of the words of Chairman Mao, who once said it's always darkest before it's totally black. But...

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And the McCain campaign has already spent the past several weeks mapping out its strategy against the Democrats for the fall.

But advisers say when he officially becomes the nominee, it will make it a lot easier, because McCain will then have access to the Republican National Committee and its GOP database that's years in the making. They say, Wolf, that will help him with fund-raising and also state-by-state targeting for the general election -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thank you.

Texas has a voting system unlike any other state. It holds primaries and caucuses. Voters go to the polls and cast a ballot. And if they vote Democratic, they return to the polling place if they want later in the night to take part in the caucuses.

Here's why both parts are so important. Texas has 228 Democratic delegates; 126 of those delegates are decided in the initial primary round; 67 of the delegates are decided in the subsequent caucuses. The rest of those delegates are the so-called superdelegates, the elected party leaders, among others.

Nasty weather and nasty accusations in Ohio today. Election officials there are testing a new voting system to put an end to ballot problems that have plagued the state for years, but there are hints of other problems.

Let's go to CNN's Jim Acosta. He's joining from us Shaker Heights -- that's outside of Cleveland -- with more on this story.

The Clinton campaign already complaining about what's going on, making some accusations against the Obama campaign. Tell our viewers what's going on, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Ohio's secretary of state's office says a letter was sent to the Obama campaign reminding supporters about protocol at polling places, but election officials in this state say some of the complaints coming out of the Clinton campaign "a bit dramatized."

The big concern in Ohio tonight is making sure all of the votes are counted.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Some voting experts worry that ballots in Ohio are being cast without a safety net.

DOUG CHAPIN, ELECTIONLINE.ORG: Ohio's experience today, especially Cuyahoga County's experience today, is the closest thing to an election administration high-wire act as you're going to see.

ACOSTA: Despite the fact that Ohio is expected to shatter its presidential primary record for turnout at the polls, state election officials made a near last-minute change in the way people vote, away from controversial touch-screen machines and back to paper ballots.

(on camera): It's going to work this time?

CHRIS NANCE, OHIO ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: It's certainly our hope and expectation that it will work as best it possibly can.

ACOSTA: That's not a guarantee, though.

NANCE: Well, elections are not a perfect -- necessarily a perfect exercise.

ACOSTA (voice-over): It's a risky move that comes as issues like the economy and Iraq could tip the balance in the fight for the Democratic nomination. Four years ago, punch-card ballot confusion led to long lines in Ohio's heavily Democratic Cuyahoga County. Some voters gave up and walked away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm standing in these lines and I'm just totally frustrated. I'm late for work.

ACOSTA: In response, Ohio went out and bought expensive touch- screen machines at a cost of more than $20 million in the Cleveland area alone, but that system crashed during a local election last November. So, just weeks before the primary, the state switched again to a new version of paper ballots.

If you're counting, that's three different voting methods in four years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody should have a voice, especially if they make the effort to come out and make a choice.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, this state's most populous county, Cuyahoga County, will be counting all of its ballots in one location tonight. And we should note, the polls close in about 90 minutes from now at 7:30 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Seven thirty p.m. Eastern.

All right, Jim, thank you.

Let's bring back Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, John McCain could seal the deal today when it comes to the Republican nomination. But that doesn't seem to be slowing his rival, Mike Huckabee.

The former Arkansas governor staked his future on this race in Texas. Despite polls that show McCain leading in all four states voting today, Huckabee has been spending a lot of time, a lot of money campaigning in Texas. He insists, "Texans are a stubbornly independent people. You don't tell them what they're going to do."

I suspect he might be right. Huckabee has often questioned whether McCain can energize the base of the party. And yesterday he warned that that would be one of McCain's toughest tasks if he becomes the Republican nominee, as he's expected to by tomorrow morning.

Although he remains hopeful about his chances in Texas, Huckabee did say that tomorrow will be a day to sit down, see where he goes from here. Meanwhile, McCain is acting like he's already the nominee, says he respects the right of Huckabee to stay in the race as long as he wants to, but McCain now is spending his time going after his Democratic rivals and focusing on things like foreign policy.

So, here's the question: By staying in the race, is Mike Huckabee part of the problem or the solution for Republicans?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment there on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks for that.

Two potential embarrassments for Barack Obama, but will they have any impact on the candidate or on the race? Coming up, my live interview with a man who's been through it all, Obama supporter, the former Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry.

Plus, a sneak attack by the U.S. military, the target, a most- wanted terrorist being hunted by the FBI. you're going to find out what happened. Plus, the early exit poll results are now coming into the CNN Election Center. We are going to go through those numbers. Bill Schneider is getting new details. He's going to be joining us in a few minutes.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Earlier here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we heard from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. She's supporting Hillary Clinton.

Let's get a supporter now of Barack Obama. Joining us from Capitol Hill, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Glad to be with you. Happy to be here.

BLITZER: Here's what Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Clinton campaign, said earlier today here on CNN. I want to play this little clip for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERRY MCAULIFFE, CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: Senator Obama is having to deal with whether his officials talked to the Canadian officials about NAFTA and what he said, and the Rezko trial, and issues about relationships.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you make of these latest accusations, the charges that are being hurled against the man you want to be the next president of the United States?

KERRY: Well, I think -- I really think it's sort of desperate. And I think it displays, frankly, a lack of adequate respect for the process. I mean, if you want to raise issues, there are lots of issues that can be raised about fund-raising during the Clinton years.

I don't want to go there. That's not where this campaign ought to be fought. And that's not where Barack Obama thinks it ought to be fought, which is one of the reasons why so many are supporting his candidacy, because they want a change from that kind of politics.

The fact is that Barack Obama is attracting unbelievable support across the country, even tonight. The real measurement tonight, Wolf, is not whether or not Hillary Clinton can win Ohio or Texas. It's whether she wins by a large enough margin to win the nomination. And she has to win by a very big number for the math to work over the course of the next week.

BLITZER: But, as they say, Senator, a win is a win. You want to be on the winning side, even if it's only by a small number, as opposed to be on the losing side.

KERRY: Well, the fact is that Barack Obama is on the winning side. He's won 24 or 25 states to her 11. And, you know, I don't know what's going to happen tonight. I just know that this is -- as the Clinton campaign has always said, it's about delegates.

And, so, you have to have the delegates to win the nomination at the convention. And Barack Obama is leading in the delegates. And I believe he will be leading at the end of tonight.

BLITZER: Here is the point, though, that the Hillary Clinton campaign makes, that she's won the biggest states, New York and California. If she wins, let's say, in Ohio, maybe in Texas -- Ohio, nobody has been elected president -- as you well know, nobody's been elected president without winning Ohio, what, for 100 years or so.

And she will make the point that the states that a Democratic nominee really needs are the states she won. What do you say to counter that argument?

KERRY: I will tell you the truth and I will tell you what's real in terms of the politics. And that is that record numbers of Democrats are coming out to vote. And those record numbers of Democrats are, in the general election, going to vote for a Democrat. They're going to want the Democratic nominee to be the president.

So, they may be dividing very closely over Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton today. They will come home in November to the Democratic nominee. And what's exciting about this is, you know, the reason Barack Obama's candidacy is showing in "The New York Times" poll and other polls that he has a better chance of beating John McCain is because the big states may be where you have a lot of those Democrats now registering by a narrow margin, incidentally, a victory for Hillary in one state or another, but he has a much broader group of states across the country, which is what you need in order to change the politics and the map of the presidential election itself.

So, Barack Obama in November has a better chance of building the new coalition that can not only win an election, but govern the country differently. And that's why it's powerful.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong, but you always have been a supporter of free trade for the United States. And now this whole NAFTA issue has come up and the accusation, not only against Barack Obama, but Hillary Clinton as well, is that they're sort of becoming protectionist and moving away from what has been a pillar of U.S. trade policy, free trade, over these years.

KERRY: Sure.

BLITZER: How concerned are you, if you are, that Barack Obama, the man you're supporting, is moving away from that kind of free trade policy? KERRY: I'm not concerned about it at all. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are expressing a point of view which is exactly what I expressed in the course of my race for the presidency in 2004. And about six years ago or so, I began in the Finance Committee of the Senate to talk about how we need to change our trade relationships, even though I have voted for those trade treaties.

The problem with NAFTA is that the side agreements were never enforced. And, so, many of us have been fighting for some period of time to argue that you have got to have a better labor relationship, you have got to have enforceable environmental standards, and you need to have a smart, fair trade policy, managed trade, not trade that's so open-ended, it has no accountability.

So, I'm proud that, actually, this year, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are expressing the new reality of the trade relationship globally. Workers in other parts of the world are not benefiting either. And, so, we have to change that relationship, and that's what they're talking about. They're not talking about not trading, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right.

KERRY: They will trade. And they will trade intelligently and in a way that works for the American worker and for our economy.

BLITZER: Senator Kerry, thanks for joining us.

KERRY: Great to be with you.

BLITZER: Exit poll results are coming in right now into THE SITUATION ROOM. We're about to share some more of these numbers with you. You're going to find out who has the upper hand with some of these key swing voters.

Plus, Winston Churchill, the British spy agency MI5 and an astrologer? It sounds ridiculous, but that's what England used to fight the Nazis. We're going to have more on these now declassified documents that are just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We have been talking to voters all day as they emerge from the polling stations. We're getting new results from the exit polls. Bill Schneider going through those numbers. Momentarily, he will be joining us. You're going to want to see this.

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: We're getting more results from our exit polls. They're coming into the CNN Election Center right now. And they're showing us just who voted and who's backing which candidates. Bill Schneider is standing by to share those numbers with us.

Plus, dozens of states, thousands of delegates, but this race is redefining what it means to win. We're talking about that with the best political team on television.

And is it what some are calling a perfect storm, a nightmare for the Democrats? We will take a closer look at just how an extended race could end up hurting the party. Will it?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, new exit poll data coming into THE SITUATION ROOM with just about 30 minutes to go before the first polls close. We're going to show you what we're learning from the actual voters about today's crucial contests.

Also, what if there is no clear front-runner after today, and the Democratic race drags on and on? Could it hurt the party, while giving Republicans an advantage?

Plus, the next question confronting Democrats: If Hillary Clinton gets the nomination, can she win in the general election?

All of this, plus the best political team on television.

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

The candidates have been battling for every vote and every delegate. Now the excitement is building. In only about a half-hour, the first polls will close, and we will start getting actual results.

Meantime, we're getting new exit poll information, which gives us a good sense of what's on the minds of the voters as they actually cast their ballots.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching all of this for us.

You're crunching the numbers, Bill. What are you learning?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we saw an age split among Democrats. We have seen a split by ethnic group between black and Latino voters in Texas.

Here's a split that is very important in Ohio; class. Take voters without a college degree the voters who did not finish college. In Ohio, they are voting very heavily for Hillary Clinton -- 56-43 over Barack Obama. These are the famous blue collar voters, an important constituency in urban industrial Ohio.

Compare them with those who did go to college, those who finished college, college graduates among Ohio Democrats. They voted by about the same margin, 56-42, for Barack Obama. That class split we're seeing in primary after primary.

Here is an important issue in Texas. In Texas, Hillary Clinton ran an ad that's become known as "The 3:00 A.M. Ad" -- about who's more qualified to answer the telephone if it rings with an international crisis at 3:00 in the morning.

So we asked Texas Democrats, "Who do you think is most qualified to be commander-in-chief?" And the answer they gave us was Hillary Clinton, 55; Barack Obama, 39. The ad, it looks like, might have worked -- except for one thing. We also asked Texas Democrats, "Which candidate attacked his or her competitor unfairly?"

And the answer, again, Hillary Clinton, 52-36. So maybe the ad convinced voters in Texas she's more qualified, but they also think the ad -- or her campaign -- was unfair.

And, finally, here's something interesting from Vermont, also voting today. We asked Vermont Democrats, "What do you think the superdelegates should do? Should they base the way they vote at the convention on the results of the primaries -- whoever wins the primaries? Or should they vote for whoever they think can win in November?"

No question -- two-thirds -- 66 percent of the Vermont Democrats said the superdelegates should vote the will of the people. And, you know, what? The same thing Democrats said in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island. Around 60 percent of all the Democrats in all the states said the superdelegates should vote the will of the people, not their own priority or preference -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider looking at these numbers. He's going to continue to go through all these exit poll numbers over the next hours.

Let's talk about this and a lot more with our senior analyst Jeff Toobin, Jack Cafferty and our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. They're all part of the best political team on television.

You know, the definition of a win tonight is an interesting subject to talk about, Jack, because, you know, normally a win is somebody who gets the most votes, but not necessarily tonight.

CAFFERTY: It means what the meaning of the word is, is.

BLITZER: The meaning of the word win is.

CAFFERTY: Well, the meaning of the word win is who gets the most delegates. The nomination is determined by the number of delegates. Whichever candidate has the most delegates at the end of tonight will be in front and favored for the nomination going wherever this thing goes after tonight. I mean it's not about the popular vote.

In Texas, especially the way the districts are set up, African- American districts -- some of them -- will have more delegates. Some Latino and Hispanic districts will have fewer delegates based on voter turnout in the last election.

So it's entirely possible that one candidate could win the popular vote and still come in behind in the number of delegates. The rules for the party are it's the delegates that matter.

BLITZER: And in Texas, especially, they this Texas two-step, as they call it, the primary, which allocates about two-thirds of the delegates, and then the caucuses which take place afterwards, which delegates about a third of them.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I think the question is, is it just about the arithmetic,, as Jack says, , and as the Obama campaign says, or is this about a win is a win is a win?

And if Hillary Clinton were to do well this evening, her campaign is saying well, she's proven that she's won in these big states that Democrats need to win in order to win in November and that that would prevent all those superdelegates from peeling away into the Obama camp and that, in fact, this race would continue on to Pennsylvania and beyond.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: But the good news for Obama is that he's essentially got three bites at the apple in two states here. He can win the Ohio primary -- a straight vote.

He can win the Texas primary or he can win the Texas caucus. And claim victory under any of those scenarios. And that, I think, might very well lock up the delegates. As Jack says, make the lead insurmountable.

BLITZER: He spoke earlier today and he's already setting the stage for this contest continuing after tonight.

Listen to this -- Jack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It is very, very tight. You know, I mean we started at 20 points behind in Texas and Ohio. We've closed the gap, but, you know, whether it's going to be enough to actually win is going to depend on what turnout looks like in both states. We know that there's not going to be a huge shift in delegates one way or the other, just given the map. Which means that, you know, either way, we'll go on to Mississippi and Wyoming next week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Wyoming is on Saturday. Mississippi...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... Mississippi -- and the Mississippi primary is the Democratic Party -- is next Tuesday, a week from today. So he's already assuming this is going on.

CAFFERTY: Who do you suppose will win in Mississippi?

BLITZER: We'll see. CAFFERTY: Yes, we'll see, is right. You know, it's nice you can be very gracious.

BORGER: But who's going to win in Pennsylvania?

TOOBIN: Well, but I think...

BORGER: You know?

TOOBIN: ... there was actually some significance to what he was saying there.

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: Is --

CAFFERTY: Wake me when it's over.

TOOBIN: What he's saying is I'm not going to be the one to try to push Hillary Clinton out of the race. I'm going to let other people do that. I'm going to let the superdelegates let -- her fellow senators say, you know, the time has come to fold up your tent.

As far as he's concerned, the contest continues. But don't think that people in the Obama campaign aren't thinking that other people will just --

BLITZER: That's one way of reading what he says, Gloria. Another way of reading it is he's lowering expectations for himself tonight, assuming maybe Hillary Clinton will do very well in Ohio and Texas.

BORGER: Well, he's probably doing both. And I think that would -- I think that would be wise. I think that superdelegates, keep in mind, are politicians.

They're not going to commit political suicide by jumping over to a candidate they're not really sure about. And so if this is a standoff tonight -- and depending on how everyone defines what a standoff is -- then I think you can sort of expect that some superdelegates who might have peeled away are just going to hold back and wait.

CAFFERTY: You know, it's in the interests of the news media to make this a horse race, to create some suspense. The fact of the matter is unless she wins the next 15 states by double digits, she cannot catch him in pledged delegates. That's the bottom line.

BLITZER: Except...

CAFFERTY: It can't be done.

BLITZER: ... Except you're forgetting about two things -- the superdelegates.

CAFFERTY: No, I said pledged delegates.

BLITZER: Right. I know.

CAFFERTY: I didn't say superdelegates.

BLITZER: But there's still the issue of -- the rules of the game are...

CAFFERTY: I understand that.

BLITZER: ... that superdelegates are still at play. And, certainly, still at play...

CAFFERTY: What are --

BLITZER: ... potentially, in Michigan and Florida.

CAFFERTY: What did Howard Dean...

BLITZER: That's a huge wild card.

CAFFERTY: ... say earlier on this program?

BLITZER: He doesn't want it to go to the convention.

CAFFERTY: That's right. And he said the superdelegates would be ill-advised to fly in the face of whatever the popular vote suggests that they do.

TOOBIN: But if, if, according to your hypothetical, she now goes on this huge winning streak and wins 15 states in a row --

CAFFERTY: By double digits.

TOOBIN: Well, even less --

CAFFERTY: No, no.

TOOBIN: But let's --

CAFFERTY: It has to be by double digits.

TOOBIN: To get ahead in the pledged delegates.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

TOOBIN: But the superdelegates might rally to her if, in fact, she keeps winning primary after primary.

CAFFERTY: (INAUDIBLE).

TOOBIN: Now, it's tough to assume that, since she hasn't won one in months but I mean that's just a possibility.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Then we could have another Chicago 1968.

BLITZER: It's only been a month since Super Tuesday.

TOOBIN: Only a month. I'm sorry.

BLITZER: One month.

TOOBIN: It seems longer.

BLITZER: All right guys, stand by.

What's the result of a drawn out Democratic campaign? Would it help the Republicans by giving them ammunition that could really hurt the Democratic Party? These are some of the questions we're going to continue to discuss.

And Jack Cafferty is also asking this question: By staying in the race, is Mike Huckabee part of the problem or part of the solution for Republicans?

Jack and your e-mail. "The Cafferty File" and lots more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's really bad weather in parts of Ohio right now that could affect voter turnout. Chad Myers is watching what's going on.

Chad, how bad is it?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, it's been an ice storm all day long across Findlay and the places out in northwestern Ohio. But now it's into Cleveland. Cleveland, you were good all day. If you wanted to vote during the day, it was no problem.

Now, Cleveland is an absolute skating rink. It is an ice storm there. All of these red dots, the speeds on the roadways through Cleveland -- five miles per hour or less. If you thought you were going to vote after work, you might not get there in time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, we'll see the impact of that. Chad, thanks very much.

Let's get back to the best political team on television.

And, Jack, we were talking about what would be so bad for the Democrats if this were to go on to the convention in Denver at the end of the summer. Howard Dean says it would be very bad. It would give the Republicans a terrific advantage. Do you agree with that?

CAFFERTY: I would -- yes. I mean, what's the up side, if somebody is mathematically removed from the possibility of winning the nomination, to just carry on this protracted battle that consumes money and resources and takes time away from plotting a strategy to battle the Republicans?

The Democrats can win in November if the kinds of turnouts they're getting in all of these primaries are any indication of their kind of support in November. But if they just simply wear everybody slick with one of these telethons without a disease that goes on and on and on, people are going to begin to lose interest at some point.

BLITZER: What do you think, Gloria?

BORGER: Not to mention that John McCain will have months to organize his campaign, to plot strategy, while two candidates continue to go at each other, giving John McCain all of the lines that he can use in the general election against one or the other of them, and actually try and unite the Republican Party and get his conservative base together. It's a great opportunity for McCain.

TOOBIN: I'd like to dissent a little bit from that. I agree that if it goes all the way to the convention, it's bad for the Democrats. But another month, going on to Pennsylvania, is not that big a deal. I mean it is only April. It will be only April. That is still months and months until the election. There is no great need for the Democrats to tie this up this week.

BLITZER: All right.

TOOBIN: And they are raising enormous amounts of money, great turnouts. I don't think that really is that terrible a thing.

BLITZER: If McCain does wrap it up tonight, mathematically, he gets to the magic number and pushes Mike Huckabee away, we heard Dana Bash say earlier he, in effect, becomes the new leader of the Republican Party. He's the Republican nominee.

Does he push George W. Bush out as the leader of the Republican Party and McCain all of a sudden, is the leader? Have you been thinking about that, Jack?

CAFFERTY: I really hadn't, no.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: To be very honest with you. I'm not sure --

BLITZER: But a lot of Republicans are going to wake up and say John McCain is the new leader of their party.

CAFFERTY: Well --

BORGER: Oh --

(CROSSTALK)

CAFFERTY: If you buy the idea that President Bush is able to raise money for the Republican effort in November, then maybe he doesn't get too pushy with pushing anybody out of the way. He's going to need all the money he can get.

On the other hand, President Bush is increasingly a lame duck when it comes to the national debates and all the attention is focused on these elections. So I'm not sure he's going to have to do a lot of anything. I'm not sure anybody's paying that much attention to Bush anyway at this point.

BORGER: The interesting thing about McCain is he's likely to become the Republican nominee, perhaps even tonight, in pledged delegates. Here's a fellow who often disagrees with the base of his own party.

He couldn't get a majority of conservatives to vote for him in most primaries across the country. And as his mother once predicted, Republicans are going to have to hold their noses and unite behind him. But they might have an easier time if Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama continue to battle it out.

BLITZER: What do you think, Jeff?

TOOBIN: Well, it is certainly good for McCain to wrap up the nomination. That's a good thing. But, you know, it was interesting, I saw a speech he gave today and he says, you know, I'm rallying the party of Reagan, the party of Lincoln. And it was very clear who was omitted from that list -- the current president, who happens to be a Republican, as well.

And I think Bush is going to be an albatross for McCain no matter what. He can't pretend that there isn't a Republican in the White House right now. And that's true whoever the Democratic nominee is.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, stand by, because you're not going anywhere. Gloria is not going anywhere.

I want Jack to do "The Cafferty File" right now -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Right this very minute?

BLITZER: This moment.

CAFFERTY: You don't want to go back to Cleveland for a weather update?

BLITZER: No.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: We will, later.

CAFFERTY: By staying in the race, the question this hour is, is Mike Huckabee part of the problem or part of the solution for the Republicans?

Daisy writes: "Huckabee should be able to stay in as long as he wants to. He can't hurt an already demolished Republican Party. He won't win, but at least there's a pleasant buffer to the same old, same old fear mongering, out of touch, elitist Republican Party. They're so out of touch with the middle class and the reality of what's going on in Iraq and in America, I don't think anything can stop the Democrats from a landslide in November -- except maybe the Democrats."

Steve in New Jersey writes: "Huckabee overall is going to help the GOP. He's gaining a lot of popularity as a person and a comedian, more so than as a candidate. When he eventually throws his weight behind McCain, all that popularity will go with him."

Doris in California: "Huckabee is hurting McCain, trying to take votes away from him. He should be a gentleman like Romney and support McCain. Huckabee will forever be known as the man that wouldn't go away. I hope he isn't planning on running again."

Lynn writes: "Neither. At this point, he's just another politician spending money that's been taken out of someone else's pocket on a meaningless cause. He may not be from Washington, but he's already got the spending habits down pat."

Tonya in Rocky Mountain, North Carolina: "It ain't over until it's over. Besides, the only way I'd vote for McCain is if he was running to be president of the AARP."

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Alex writes: "Mike Huckabee is a joke. His staying in the race just as effective as a solar-powered flashlight."

I have no idea what that means.

"Huckabee can do whatever he wants, but it's clear his campaign shows no sign of any real consequence to the Republican Party or anyone else, for that matter."

Jerry in Roselle, Illinois writes: "As long as Mike Huckabee can pronounce the word nuclear, he's my guy."

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: We've got some creative writers out there, Jack. Thanks very much.

What to watch for in Ohio -- we're following key regions of that state. It's a must-win for any presidential hopeful.

John King -- he's standing by. We're going to go to the CNN multi-touch board to show you what's happening.

And we're only minutes away from the first poll closing in Vermont. Ohio comes a half an hour later. We're going to have all the numbers for you right here for you in real time.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Ohio no doubt a key, key state tonight. We're watching it very, very closely. But no one -- no one is watching it right now more closely than our own chief national correspondent, John King.

He's taking a close look at all these states. But Ohio right now, it's a must-win for Hillary Clinton.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a must-win. Take it from her husband, the former president, Bill Clinton. He says she needs to win Ohio and Texas. We'll get the results, starting in Ohio first.

So, obviously, it's critical for Senator Clinton. We talked about this a bit earlier. But NAFTA -- trade -- has been a big debate between the Democrats above the green line here, the areas where, if you look at all the polling and talk to the experts out in the State of Ohio, they say that is where the argument resonates most, the industrial towns of Toledo, Akron, Youngstown, south of Cleveland.

BLITZER: They've lost tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs since NAFTA took effect.

KING: And they blame foreign trade. There are many who say this is a changing economy, an evolving economy, it's not NAFTA's fault.

But if you ask the people in those places, they view that -- now, remember, Bill Clinton is incredibly popular among the Democratic base, except for it was Bill Clinton who pushed NAFTA through. Which is one of the reasons it is such a sensitive debating point between Obama and Senator Clinton. And as we watched the results come in --

BLITZER: And our viewers remember, it wasn't just Bill Clinton. It was Al Gore, as well, who played a critical role in debating Ross Perot in '93 --

KING: Absolutely. And alienated from Bill Clinton and from the Democratic Party, at the time, many of the industrial unions. You know, Senator Clinton has a lot of the white collar unions. Senator Obama increasingly getting the service employees, the health care workers -- white collar. But the industrial unions do blame NAFTA and they are in decline across this area right here.

Wolf, another thing to watch early on, when the results start to come in in Ohio, Senator Obama needs to run up the numbers here in Cleveland, a significant African-American base. The big difference we will see tonight, when we move from Ohio on to Texas, not many Latino -- Hispanic voters -- here in the State of Ohio. Of course, they are hugely important down in the State of Texas.

But Obama needs to run up the numbers in Cleveland. He needs to run up the numbers in Columbus. And I spent a lot of time last week out in Cincinnati. They were doing what even the Clinton campaign conceded was a very aggressive job organizing down here. This is a Republican area of the state come November...

BLITZER: So is it fair to say it's a Republican area down here, a Democratic area up in Cleveland and Akron and Youngstown, and sort of in the middle part of the state? Is that an accurate description of Ohio? KING: Let's go back and look at the 2004 election. The red is how the Republicans went. George Bush won this state 51-49. He won it by a narrow amount. We can go all the way back to 2000. Look, it changed hardly at all. That's Gore/Bush, 50-46.

The blue areas are the Democratic areas. Obviously, Cleveland, Toledo, Akron, Youngstown, right around in Columbus. But, again, that's 2000. Now we fast forward to 2004. It barely changes at all. So it's a pretty steady state. This is the most reliably Republican part of the state.

This is more rural. Not a lot of people out here. The Democratic votes come from the populated areas here, which is why, of course -- remember in the other states, in the close races, sometimes this has come down to who turns out their vote.

So, for Senator Obama -- Senator Clinton led early. He needs to turn out the votes here. And I'll switch colors just to make a point. She needs to turn out the votes there. And this could be -- Youngstown, they've both competed in. Toledo, they both competed in. They could be areas to watch, especially if the results are coming in slow...

BLITZER: And we just heard --

KING: ... to see how they fight it out there.

BLITZER: I want to get to Texas now. But we just heard Chad Myers say in the Cleveland area, the weather is getting really nasty right now.

KING: Right.

BLITZER: We'll see how that affects turnout.

Let's go to Texas. That's the other critical contest tonight.

KING: We'll go down here. Let's bring out Texas. And, again, an incredibly diverse state. It takes up much of the map anyway.

Anyway, Wolf, I want to stretch it out a little bit just to show some of the key areas. The most liberal city in the state is the capital. Barack Obama is expected to do well there. He needs to run up the numbers. It's not a highly populated city, but he needs to run up the numbers there. Barack Obama also needs to get the African-American vote out in Dallas.

You know, "The Washington Post" today mentioned what it called the Katrina effect. Remember, a great many people left New Orleans, Louisiana, relocated to the Houston area.

What we don't know is how many of them registered to vote. Are they now registered Democrats in Houston? So we'll watch African- American turnout in this area, as well.

And for Senator Clinton, I'm going to draw a line down here from Corpus Christi, just south of San Antonio, all the way over to the border. I'd have to shrink the state back down and take it to see where we go.

This is the competition for the Latino vote right across here. There has been some indications that we might see an age differential within the Latino vote -- Senator Clinton getting the older Latino voters, Barack Obama especially students and the like, going after the younger vote.

But this is -- it's all across Texas that the Latino vote will matter. But this is the heaviest area of the population down here, Wolf. Some of these cities -- Corpus Christi, Laredo -- have a decent population. El Paso a decent sized city. But a lot of this in here is rural areas.

Again, if it is very close and we're going into the night -- and remember, there will be two contests in Texas tonight. The first one we will look at is the primary, as the votes come in in the primary. These small rural counties, in a close race, could matter. Not a lot of people, but in a close contest, they could matter.

The results tend to come in a little more slowly. And we might as well say this once -- we're going to say it a lot tonight -- the primary will be what we get first in Texas. Then later in the night, they have caucuses -- a two-step system down in Texas. It's a bit confusing, but we'll follow it all night long.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the delegate contest right now, as we see it, what's going on. Because, as you say, in Texas, a third of the delegates will be decided on the Democratic side, based on the subsequent caucuses, two-thirds decided by the actual popular vote in the primary. But let's see where we stand right now.

KING: We stand pretty close. Obama has pulled ahead. He's out here. The finish line is way out here. Senator Clinton is behind Obama. And, remember, our math here includes the superdelegates. Senator Obama has a decent lead when you go just among the pledged delegates.

But let's for the sake of argument, Wolf -- I'm going to open the map a little bit. Most people believe Senator Obama is favored to win the State of Vermont. So let's give him the State of Vermont.

Now, watch these lines. Here's where we start the night. If we give Senator Obama the State of Vermont, he pulls ahead a little bit.

Senator Clinton led in early polls in Rhode Island. We don't know if they'll hold up. But let's just, again, for the sake of argument, give Senator Clinton Rhode Island.

So, essentially, they move -- they both move out a little bit, but it doesn't fundamentally change the map, which is why Ohio and Texas are so critically important. If you look at this state, if we gave it to Senator Clinton in this math, giving it to her by 55-45, she starts to catch up. And if she can win Texas -- this is why her husband was saying Texas and Ohio are so important. I'm hypothetically giving Ohio and Texas to Senator Clinton and look what happens. At the end of the night, that's a -- again, that's a 55-45 math right there.

Obama would still be ahead in delegates, but Senator Clinton would be inching up. So she could at least then make the claim, I've stopped his momentum, I'm getting closer.

As you heard Senator Obama -- you had him in -- the clip from him in the program earlier today -- he says well, she can't make up the math or it's very hard to make up the math. She'll worry about the math later, Wolf. Tonight is about momentum.

BLITZER: Political momentum is critical for her, given the losses she's suffered since Super Tuesday, which was only a month or so ago.

KING: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Hard to believe.

KING: And they're big states. If she can win them, it gives her a little psychological edge.

BLITZER: All right, John. Stand by. I know you're going to be working this map.

Our viewers can obviously go to CNNPolitics.com. And they can do, in effect, what John is doing -- go into the states, go into the counties, get real time results of what's going on.

We're only about three minutes away now from the first poll closings in Vermont. We're watching that state very closely right now.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's watching all of this unfold.

I don't think we can overemphasize how important these four contests, Candy, are tonight. And the polls are about to start closing.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I was talking to someone from the Clinton campaign and said these are the most critical primaries since the last critical primaries. But, obviously, this is the name of the game and the center of the political universe tonight.

I can tell you that the Clinton campaign is feeling pretty good. This is as high as I have seen them in the past 11 contests, which you know Barack Obama took.

So they feel pretty good here. We've talked to a lot of senior officials inside the Clinton campaign. They believe that they will have that psychological boost coming out of this evening that John was talking about. They also believe -- at least some of them -- and they believe in the Obama camp -- that he may well still be ahead in pledged delegates at the end of this evening. So you're going to see that fight again -- well, I won the states; yes, well, I have more pledged delegates. So everybody is going to have a little something to interpret tomorrow morning. But it is a huge and must-win here tonight in Ohio and in Texas for Hillary Clinton -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, as you see it, we're only about a minute-and-a- half away from the polls actually closing in Vermont and then a half an hour later in Ohio.

As you see this night go on, is there one specific thing -- obviously, beyond who's going to win and who's going to lose -- that you're paying especially close attention to?

CROWLEY: You know, it has to be in those exit polls what happens to the working class vote. Barack Obama has been able in recent contests to cut into what essentially has been her base -- those making $50,000 and under, particularly the white working class vote. That's where the race is going to be decided here in Ohio.

So I think those numbers, as we're watching the exit polls, particularly in the areas that John talked about up in Youngstown and around in there, those are going to be very, very key to whether Barack Obama can make headway and perhaps even carry out Ohio -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And there's no doubt that we're going to be watching this every step of the way. Candy, thanks very much.

We're now less than a minute away from the polls closing in Vermont. Vermont will be the first state that we'll be able to take a close look at.

A half an hour later, 7:30 p.m. Eastern, the polls will close in Ohio. Lately, there's been some bad weather. But right now, we're still being told the polls will close in Ohio at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

And then we'll wait until 9:00 p.m. Eastern for the poll closings in both Rhode Island and Texas. And remember, Texas has that sort of two-step process -- the primary to be followed by the caucuses.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxantshop.com