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Will Florida and Michigan Hold Revote?; McCain's Running Mate?

Aired March 6, 2008 - 20:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks for joining us.
The presidential campaign is rushing full speed ahead into unchartered territory. As the clock ticks down to Saturday's Wyoming caucuses, Tuesday's Mississippi primary and April's showdown Pennsylvania, two big states are suddenly back on everyone's radar. Front and center tonight, will Florida and Michigan get to redo their Democratic primaries? And will those votes count?

And who is John McCain thinking about for a running mate?

And can that record-shattering $55 million Barack Obama raised last month buy back his momentum? If not, Hillary Clinton can help him. She's already back on the attack. Just check out these zingers.


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

When there's a crisis, when that phone rings, whether it's 3:00 p.m. or 3:00 a.m., in the White House, there is no time for speeches and on-the-job training.

I think it's imperative that each of us be able to demonstrate we can cross the commander in chief threshold. And I believe that I have done that. Certainly, Senator McCain has done that. And you will have to ask Senator Obama with respect to his candidacy.


MALVEAUX: So, how will Senator Obama answer that? He and his advisers are spending the day strategizing behind closed doors. But the other candidates and then some are out on the road.

And that means there is certainly no rest for the best political team on television. Our correspondents are watching everything.

But let's start with our own Jessica Yellin, who is watching Bill Clinton at a rally in Laramie, Wyoming.

And, Jessica, obviously, nobody gets a break here, but we don't usually see big campaigning going on in this state. Why Bill Clinton here? I anticipate we're going to see a lot of Clintons in the days to come. JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You are absolutely right, Suzanne. Bill Clinton here now, doing three stops in Wyoming. And Senator Clinton coming here tomorrow. So is Barack Obama. This state has not had this much attention in memory, the state Democratic Party is saying.

They are sort of overwhelmed by the amount of focus they are getting right now, very pleased, but startled that so many candidates are coming here for the caucus, which is this Saturday, 18 delegates at stake -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Jessica, obviously, they go on to Mississippi, as well as Pennsylvania. Give us a sense. I know Barack Obama's campaign, as well as Senator Clinton, they are behind closed doors. They are trying to kind of recalibrate here what happened on that Super Tuesday II.

Are we going to expect to hear from the Obama camp a much more aggressive stand when it comes to the attacks, and what do we expect from the Clinton camp?

YELLIN: Well, Suzanne, we have already seen both sides get much more aggressive, even today. Obama appeared on "World News Tonight" this evening, and he said -- and I'm quoting -- that, "I think we made some mistakes, which is inevitable during the course of a long campaign."

One of the ways they plan to correct these mistakes, I'm told, is by hitting back more forcefully when they are attacked by Senator Clinton or when their differences are sharpened, as they like to say this campaign season. But also both campaigns are doing quite a bit of backbiting.

Today, Barack Obama released an ad in Mississippi in which he essentially accused Senator Clinton of treating or talking about Mississippians as if they are second-class citizen. Somebody in his ad made that assertion. Senator Clinton's campaign, as you heard in those quotes just now, is asserting that Barack Obama is not ready to be commander in chief and a series of much more pointed criticisms like those we saw in the days leading up to the most recent primary.

Senator Clinton today released figure that she had raised an astounding amount of money online. It's almost $5 million. No sooner did she announce that then Barack Obama's campaign announced they raised $55 million in February.

So, there is a real back and forth today. I would have to say the sharpest was when Howard Wolfson, Senator Clinton's communications director, accused the Obama campaign of acting like Ken Starr, a real boogeyman for the Democratic Party, because they were demanding tax returns from Senator Clinton -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: That's one way to put it, the boogeyman there.

And real quickly, Jessica, if you would, I know that we heard from Senator Clinton again suggesting that perhaps Michigan and Florida could play a role in all of this. They are really pushing that now.

YELLIN: Absolutely. They want those delegates counted. The big question is in what format. Now, Senator Clinton said she would agree to whatever the Democratic Party allows.

Both sides have said that. The big question is, who will pay for it? How will it happen? The logistics are hard. And we have heard just tonight that in Michigan, they were almost ready with a deal to have a caucus.

It's fallen apart, because it's just too expensive. So, both states are going to figure out how to fund this if it's going to happen -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Jessica Yellin -- thanks so much, Jessica. Appreciate it.

And tonight, Democrats are buzzing about the possibility of do- over primaries in Michigan and Florida, as Jessica has mentioned. Both states were stripped of all their convention delegates as punishment for deciding to hold the presidential primaries early in January.

Well, now the governors of both of those states are calling for their delegates to be seated at this summer's convention. Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean is putting it on both states to either come up with a new plan for selecting delegates, which could mean new primaries or caucuses, or to submit appeals to the convention's credentials committee.

The way officials from both states are sounding, things could get really ugly, really fast.


GOV. JENNIFER GRANHOLM (D), MICHIGAN: I can assure you that Michigan and Florida are going to be at the convention. Our preference is not to have to storm the bastille.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: You just simply cannot stiff-arm two major states.


MALVEAUX: And John Zarrella joining us in Miami tonight.

John, you have been following all of this. Thank you very much. First of all, how did we get in this mess in the first place?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Well, we got into this mess because about 18 months ago, the Democratic National Committee set out its rules and they said, look, there's going to be Iowa and New Hampshire and Nevada and South Carolina. And they are going to be allowed to go in January. No other state can move up into January.

Well, Michigan went ahead and Florida, as we know. Both went ahead and violated the party rules, and the party said, if you violate these rules, you will be punished. Maybe they didn't believe the party at the time. But now everybody is kind of in a pickle. But that's how we got there.

MALVEAUX: Now, did the state's parties have any choice in the matter? Once they ended up making that decision and then they were punished, did they have to move forward here? Or was there some sort of recourse? Could they have changed direction in the midst of all of this?

ZARRELLA: Well, here's what's interesting. In Michigan, you have a Democratic legislature and a Democratic governor, and they went ahead and agreed to this and pushed this through.

In Michigan, they had been talking about trying to move up so they were more relevant for a long time. Florida, the same thing. They wanted to be more relevant, fourth largest state. The Florida difference is that, in Florida, it was a Republican state legislature and a Republican governor. And the Republican state legislature got a bill going. And that bill was to allow for a paper trail on voting machines.

Now, they attached to that bill this provision to move up the election into January. Well, the Democrats in the state legislature, the minority said they absolutely could not vote against any bill that would attach a paper trail, given what happened in 2000. So, they tried to get it amended, so that they would remove the portion that moved up the voting day.

And the Republican-controlled legislature vetoed that, and the bill passed. Now, we talked with the state senate minority leader today, who is absolutely furious at the Democratic National Committee.


STEVEN GELLER (D), FLORIDA STATE SENATOR: We are being punished for something that was -- that passed as a priority of the Republican speaker, the Republican senate president, passed by a Republican legislature, and signed by a Republican governor, over the objections of the Democrats in both chambers.

And I cannot understand what they're doing. And, by the way, if they wanted to punish anybody, and I can't figure out why they would, then they should punish the legislature. Why are they punishing the 1.7 million Florida Democrats that voted in November?


MALVEAUX: So, John, what do they do now? What are the state's options? I know Dean, Governor Dean, heard mentioned that there were a few, Howard Dean.

ZARRELLA: Yes, there are a few. And one of the things that they can do is, they can try to appeal, that's Michigan and Florida, to the credentials committee. And the credentials committee decides disputes over delegates. Now, there are 186 members of this credentials committee. They are chosen by state delegates, the presidential campaigns and by the DNC leadership. But the problem with that is that this credentials committee is not seated or chosen until the end of June, which, by then, if the credentials committee turns down the petitions by the states, and says, no, we're not going to seat you, it's already going to be too late to do anything about coming up with another primary or caucus before the actual Democratic Convention.

The other option, of course, is, hold a caucus now or a second primary. The problem is, as we know, nobody wants to pay for it. In Florida, they are saying $20 million to do another primary -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Oh, it's big bucks. OK. Thanks, John. I know it's confusing. Thanks for keeping up with all the details there.

Now, let's look at Michigan, which is in the same boat as Florida. Michigan State Senator Tupac Hunter is joining us from Lansing. And he's the Obama campaign statewide co-chairman.

Thank you so much for joining us here. I want to start off simply by asking here, who do you think should pay for this do-over, if there is one?

TUPAC HUNTER (D), MICHIGAN STATE SENATOR: Well, first of all, good evening.

And I'm not sure that we're headed toward a do-over, be it another caucus or another primary. I'm not sure that we're there. As I understand it, both campaigns are currently in conversations and negotiations with the national party, as well as the state party.

So, today, I cannot give you a definitive answer in terms of which direction we're going to go in. But what I do know is, Senator Barack Obama is the front candidate. He is the leader in this race. He has more states, more popular votes, as well as more pledged delegates.

So, I'm not sure -- I know Tuesday was a good result for Senator Clinton, but the race hasn't changed, as far as I'm concerned. And no, matter what happens as we move forward, I think he goes into the convention in the lead.

MALVEAUX: But what do you think is fair? Who do you think should pay? Should it be the state party? Should it be the candidates, who have a lot of money? They have been raising a lot here. Obviously, the stakes are very high for both of them.

HUNTER: Well, again, that's under negotiation. If the DNC insists on a new caucus or a new primary, well, I think that they should have a lot to do with making sure that that's paid for and that the logistics are handled there. There are some serious financial and logistical considerations that we have to deal with here. And I don't think it's as easy as people make it sound. MALVEAUX: Well, you were one of the people who voted to push up the process. Do you regret it now, the position that they're in? Because, if there is no such do-over, there may be a chance, a risk, here that Michigan ultimately doesn't count, and that you don't serve the voters?

HUNTER: Well, hindsight is 20/20. I think that our goal in terms of moving up our primary so that we could be more relevant in the conversation, in the debate was certainly a laudable goal. The DNC responded. We have our bed. We're lying in it. Now we have to move forward and figure out what it is we're going to do to resolve this situation.

MALVEAUX: Do you think it was a mistake?

HUNTER: Well, I'm not going to say it was a mistake, because I think that our goal was a laudable one. We wanted to be more -- look, the issues in Ohio mirrors the issues in Michigan. But it played out in Ohio, and it hasn't played out in Michigan yet.

So, I'm jealous that Ohio got that opportunity, and that's exactly what we were looking for. But here we are. And what I'm saying to you tonight is that the conversations are being had. I hope that and expect that the negotiations are occurring in good faith and that we will pull through this and we will be a unified party.

MALVEAUX: Are you pushing for a caucus or a primary? I know that Barack Obama does better, tends to do better in a caucus when people come out during a specific amount of time, and he really rallies those voters.

What do you think should be done in your state?

HUNTER: First of all, I think Barack Obama would do well in a caucus or a primary. But what I'm saying tonight is, from a timing perspective, a financial perspective, as well as a logistical perspective, I am not sure the options of a new primary or a caucus are feasible at this point. So, I think that the campaigns, along with the state party and the DNC, we have to figure out a way that's fair and equitable for both campaigns, as we move forward, to resolve this issue.

MALVEAUX: All right, Michigan State Senator Tupac Hunter, thank you so much for joining us this evening.

HUNTER: No, thank you for having me.

MALVEAUX: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: While Florida and Michigan are big headaches, they are only part of an even bigger problem facing the Democratic Party. It doesn't have a nominee, and there's no end in sight for the Clinton/Obama slug fest. So, we ask you, what do you think?

Go to and tell us, yes or no, will the Democrats' extended fight for the presidential nomination help or hurt their party?


MALVEAUX: Welcome back.

An increasingly bitter battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, plus, the Michigan-Florida delegate fiasco combine for some potentially ugly months ahead. for the Democratic Party.

Well, joining me now, Mark Halperin, "TIME" magazine editor at large and senior political analyst. "TIME"'s new issue features an interview with Hillary Clinton. Also with me, John Avlon, former chief speechwriter for Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani. He is the author of "Independent Nation: How the Vital Center is Changing American Politics." And Dan Gerstein, a Democratic strategist who supports Barack Obama and has given money to his campaign.

This is going to be a very interesting next couple of weeks or so.

I want to start off by simply showing you some of the things that we have seen just in the last 24 hours, both of the sides getting increasingly negative with their ads. We heard from Senator Clinton's camp today, saying that perhaps this back and forth was going to get even more heated.

Let's take a listen to something that Senator Obama's campaign put out, a radio ad today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Hillary Clinton is campaigning here in Mississippi, she likes to say how important we are. But just a few months ago when she was campaigning in Iowa, she told them she was shocked Iowa could be ranked with Mississippi on anything. And her campaign even called voters in states like Mississippi "second-class."

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of people putting us down, tired of politicians trying to divide our nation, instead of lifting it up. Barack Obama is change we can believe in.


MALVEAUX: Mark, does this help or hurt either candidate?

MARK HALPERIN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, "TIME": Well, look, this is a competitive nomination fight. Up until now, this has been a pretty civil nomination fight as the standards of the past go, very competitive, very few negative ads on radio or television, but some by both sides.

And now, I think, we're on the tipping point. We could degenerate into the kind of very negative, very intense, very personal fight we have seen in some nomination fights past. It could go either way. There was a debate in South Carolina -- I think you were involved in it -- that got very negative, very personal, and both campaigns pulled back right after that. They said that's too personal, too negative.

They may do it again. But my sense is, they are going to tip the other way. And it is going to get negative and personal.

MALVEAUX: And what was interesting about that debate, too, was at least the energy in the room, people were totally engaged after that. So, in some ways, the fighting seemed to at least motivate some voters.

I want to ask you, though, as well, we heard from Senator Clinton, one of campaign aides essentially accusing Barack Obama of behaving like Ken Starr, going after -- like he was the independent counsel in the whole Monica Lewinsky fiasco.

Is there a danger that they are going to use kind of hyperbole in these examples and no one is going to be paying any attention and they're not going to take it seriously?

JOHN AVLON, AUTHOR, "INDEPENDENT NATION": That's definitely deeper into silly season. Look, the gloves are off. And this is going to get ugly fast. And I think, you know, Obama tried to stay above the fray over the last several days, before Ohio and Texas.

And it obviously didn't work. While the Clinton campaign was throwing the kitchen sink at him, he was trying to be restrained and it didn't pay off. So, he's going to play offense. He's going to punch back.

But there's a bit of a catch-22 Obama's in because the more he punches back, there's a danger that he helps Hillary play the victim card. And that's always one of her strongest suits. Her campaign knows that. So, that's a tough catch-22 for Obama.

MALVEAUX: Dan, we're going to bring you back in, but I want to first go to one of our guests here -- want you to stay right there -- one of the participants from last night's meeting, an important meeting when it comes to Florida and Michigan, and if whether or not they will have primaries or caucuses.

Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a Hillary Clinton supporter. She's in Fort Lauderdale tonight.

Thank you so much for joining us, Congresswoman. Want to start off by asking you, what came out of that meeting yesterday? Are you any closer to any kind of decisions about what you are going to do in Florida?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Well, a couple of things came out of the meeting. The Democratic members of Congress from Michigan and Florida feel very strongly that we need to make sure that we continue to fight to ensure that Florida and Michigan's delegations are seated at the Democratic National Convention.

And the bottom line is that the nominee for the Democratic Party for president of the United States should be chosen by voters in all 50 states. We have full consensus on that. And we also talked about the variety of possibilities that as we could help pull together and try to reach some kind of compromise.

We have Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton supporters among my colleagues in Michigan and Florida, and we're committed to trying to find a solution to this.

MALVEAUX: Well, let's listen to what the DNC chairman, Howard Dean, said to our own John Roberts earlier in the day about some of the options, and actually quite frankly some of the consequences that Florida voters will be dealt with. Let's take a listen.


HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The fact of the matter is, you cannot violate the rules of a process, and then expect to get forgiven for it.

We have got to play by the rules. If you don't do that, then the half of the people in the Democratic Party whose candidate doesn't win this nomination are going to go away believing they have been cheated.

I have got to run a process where everybody believes this is an honest result. And the only way to do that is to stick to the rules that were agreed to by everybody at the beginning.


MALVEAUX: Doesn't he have a point here?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You know, we have some pretty raw nerves here, eight years after the presidential election of 2000 in Florida. The recount, we still feel the sting from it. We had 1.75 million Democratic voters go to the polls on January 29. And Florida voters feel strongly that our votes should count, and that our delegation should be seated at the convention.

And the reason we had that meeting last night, Suzanne, is so that we can bring the leaders of the Democratic Party, elected and party leaders, together to try to come up with a solution. Instead of continuing to stamp feet and insist that rules were broken, we need to make sure that we elect a president of the United States, a Democratic president of the United States, so we can move this country in a new direction and focus on the issues that matter to people; like expanding access to health care and improving the quality of education and getting us out of this war in Iraq. And all of this talk about the rules and that kind of thing is counterproductive to that ultimate goal.

MALVEAUX: But, Congresswoman, why weren't these discussions happening six months ago? Why the timing of all of this?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: They have been.

MALVEAUX: Because it looks suspicious when people say, OK, well, you are a Clinton supporter. You look at somebody else who is a supporter with Barack Obama. Nobody wants to be disenfranchised. But wasn't this something that could have been worked out before? Answer those who look at this and say, well, perhaps this is politically motivated.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Suzanne, I have been watching your coverage of this the entire election cycle. And you know, especially, that we, as Florida members of Congress, have been fighting to ensure that we have a delegation seated at the convention since the Florida legislature was debating whether or not to move our primary.

The Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee threatened Florida and Michigan that they would not seat our delegations back when this was being debated in the legislature over a year ago. But what people have to keep in mind is that is the Republican-led legislature in Florida that changed the date of this primary, and then the Democratic National Committee that penalized Florida for an action that was led by Republicans.

We have been fighting every single day for months to make sure that our delegations are seated. This is before many of us even got involved in the presidential election. So, there's nothing -- in terms of our motivation for wanting to get our delegation seated, there is no partisan, in terms of a candidate, motivation behind it. We have been fighting the whole way, both Obama and Clinton supporters, from Florida.

MALVEAUX: We will have to leave it there.

Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz, thank you so much for joining us.


MALVEAUX: And I want to ask you, does it ring true here? Obviously, both sides are really ratcheting up this debate here over whether or not those delegates get seated. And are people looking at the timing of this and thinking that it is perhaps suspect.

DAN GERSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It is suspect to a certain extent. But I think we have to realize it is also a consequence of how close this race is, is that people are now looking to Florida and Michigan as overtime, that we're going to finish a sense in a tie, and Florida and Michigan could actually help tip the balance one way or the other.

I think there's actually some compelling logic to that. But there's no way that they can get away. There's just no way the DNC will allow those delegates be seated based on the results of what happened in Florida and Michigan.

I think their only hope -- and think that's what you're starting to see, is a coalescing around a "do-over," where you have either a primary or caucus vote in Michigan and in Florida. I think you are going to see more and more pressure for that, especially if Hillary Clinton wins in Pennsylvania. MALVEAUX: Mark, there was an article today that was in "The Washington Post," and a lot of people, the names and the bitterness, it all sounded very familiar. You and I have been on those conference calls, I know, where people are just angry inside of the Clinton campaign. They are angry with the media. They have been angry with the way things have played out.

And we see this article where they talk about a lot of division within that camp. What do they need to do now to unify and to move forward here, so that she gets the best bang out of her buck the next six weeks?

HALPERIN: Well, Senator Clinton's aides in that article and the ones you and I talk to all agree, which -- she's been stronger than her campaign. But you have got to put that back at the doorstep of the candidate.

And one of the things that I think Senator Obama can say -- maybe it's not the greatest point with the public, but it is true -- is, if she says she's such a great manager, she would be a great president, she has not run a great campaign. She's not hired a staff that is harmonious, primarily driven off of her chief strategist, Mark Penn.

And I think people who are into the inside baseball would love that story for all of the foul language and all of the division. But it does generally -- it is generally true that the person who wins has run a good campaign, and that, if you do run an organized campaign, you will probably be a good president. Obama, of the three, McCain, Clinton, and Obama, has been the best manager of his staff by far.

MALVEAUX: All right. I want to thank all three of you for joining us this evening. We have got to let it lay there.

Everybody, stay with me. We have a lot more to talk about.

Compared to the Democrats, John McCain has a much more pleasant problem. He needs a running mate, and he's getting, well, plenty of advice. We're listening, too.


MALVEAUX: Welcome back to CNN ELECTION CENTER. John McCain has his work cut out for him. The presumptive Republican nominee needs to consolidate the conservative Republican base. He must also select a running mate. And today, McCain also commented about the danger that his presidential run is being eclipsed by the still unresolved Democratic nomination battle.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I'm no longer in a competitive race, and there will understandably be more attention to Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. But at the same time, it does give me an opportunity to go around and shore up our base of support, unite our party.


MALVEAUX: Dana Bash is following the McCain campaign, and she's joining us from Atlanta tonight. Dana, thanks for joining us. I guess I want to start off. You see the slugfest between the Democrats here. What is McCain going to do to keep his name and his message out there until November?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's really interesting. I thought it was fascinating that Senator McCain, first of all, admitted that it is kind of a mixed blessing, that he does have time to unite the party and to really get his message in order. But it's going to be hard to break in. They do understand that, Suzanne, inside the McCain campaign.

And to answer that question, what they're going to do is they plan, first of all, to send Senator McCain abroad. He is going to go on the world stage. He's going to meet with some of United States' biggest allies in Europe. He's also going to go to the Middle East. He talks all the time about the fact that he understands national security better than anybody else. That's going to be about imagery.

Then when he comes back, they're going to send him on a tour to tout his biography, to talk about the fact that he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. They say people understand that, but they really want to try to fill in the details and really show him as somebody who is an inspirational figure. But also, he's going to have to really back up everything that he's talking about with policy speeches. So he's going to be doing that as well. Talking about national security, about the environment, about the economy.

Especially on the economy, that is something that he really understands, something he's got to get a good handle on. He's going to have to roll out an economic plan, and they do plan to do that as well. So they really understand that they have to use this time wisely. And they intend to try, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Hopefully, Dana, you'll be able to go on that overseas trip, Europe and the Middle East and everywhere else. But I want to show you a poll here that might be of some concern to John McCain. A recent poll showing that 52 percent of people now say they're Democrats, compared to 45 percent of people in December. Thirty-five percent say they're Republicans. That was 37 percent back in December. How much of a challenge does he have to make sure that he can keep the White House and the Republican Party?

BASH: Oh, a huge challenge. I mean, you know, you've been out covering the Democrats. You see the enthusiasm, Suzanne, on the Democratic side. It is really different on the Republican side. And Republicans see the turnout on the Democratic side, and they're quite worried about it. And those polls do reflect John McCain's challenge.

And, you know, it's interesting. It was just about a week or so ago that some national polls showed McCain ahead and he was touting that on the campaign trail. But look, this is another example of why he's got to get himself in the news, and he's got to really try to define himself and more importantly from his perspective, to try to define the Democrats, as they try to slug it out, and really try to get a handle on what the best way is to combat whomever he is going to be confronting. You know, there is a kind of an idea that he's going to be benefited by the Democrats slugging it out, but there is some downside to not really knowing who your opponent is, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And real quick, Dana, I know that he's talking about, you know, perhaps looking for a running mate, but not quite yet. Can we read anything into the fact that he was with the governor of Florida today, Charlie Crist?

BASH: Well, you know, the governor of Florida was somebody who basically was instrumental in getting him where he is today, because he endorsed Senator McCain before the Florida primary at a critical, critical time, helped him win that primary. And that gave him the momentum to get where he is right now. They are somebody -- there are people who are close. Governor Crist is no question somebody who is talked about all the time as a potential VP. He wouldn't say a word about it today, as you can imagine, when he was in Florida before he came here to Atlanta.

But there is something interesting. His campaign, according to Senator McCain, has enlisted the help of somebody who is a veteran of Republican circles. His name is A.D. Coldahause (ph). He was Ronald Reagan's counsel. He is going to help the McCain campaign begin to vet, or at least put out a process, a process in place to vet whomever his running mate is going to be.


BASH: So he might not be speaking about the specific person, but we know that he is thinking about just how he is going to pick that person and understands the importance of making sure that person is properly vetted, Suzanne.

MARCIANO: OK, great. Dana Bash, thank you so much, Dana.

MALVEAUX: John McCain's search for a running mate and his current financial struggles on that and more. Let's hear again from our panel. Welcome back, Mark Halperin, John Avlon and Dan Gerstein.

First, I want to start off here, the president endorsed John McCain, and there was an ad that I want to play for you that came out from a liberal democratic group that basically put the two together. President Bush and John McCain. Let's take a quick listen.


ANNOUNCER: Where does John McCain stand on the issues? A trillion dollars in Iraq over the next 10 years. McSame as Bush. A millionaire who's for tax cuts for millionaires. McSame as Bush.

Oil companies. They get tax breaks while we pay at the pump. McSame as Bush. Absolutely no plan for universal health care. McSame as Bush. We need a new direction, not the McSame old thing.

Campaign to Defend America is responsible for the content of this advertising.


MALVEAUX: It's kind of catchy, I guess. You do remember it. You go away, and you think McSame.

John, tell me, how does McCain do this? How does he align himself with President Bush and what has succeeded, whether it's, you know, the so-called surge, or, if it's, you know, any type of policy that he wants to take credit for, and raise money with the president, and at the same time distance himself from somebody who is very unpopular, and is steward of a very unpopular war?

JOHN AVLON, FMR. GIULIANI CHIEF SPEECHWRITER: I think by being honest, and I think the lines are pretty clear. I think he supports the president on national security and Iraq. He tied his fortunes to the surge, and that's worked out very well. But where he's been different than the president, one of the reasons why so many folks on the far right don't like John McCain is he has been a constant critic of the excesses in Tom Daley's Congress, the wasteful spending and other things. So there's real opportunity for John McCain to build strongly on those independent and centrist credentials, to bring in fiscal conservative principles again, and to take a stick to the excesses that made the Republican Party so unpopular in 2006.

MALVEAUX: And, Dan, does he need to pick a running mate? In order to reach out to the conservative base, the evangelicals, does he need to pick a running mate that they like, the radio talk show hosts like? What does he need to look for when he's out there in the field?

DAN GERSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: He's going to have to be under a lot of pressure to do that. But I think that's sort of crystallizes the enormity of John McCain's challenge. He does have to hold on to the base, but this race is going to be decided by swing voters -- by independents and moderates on both sides. And for John McCain to win with them, given the unpopularity of this war, particularly among independents and George Bush's unpopularity, he is going to have to first neutralize the economy as an issue, because that's the Democrats trump card. And secondly, then discredit whoever the Democratic nominee is on national security.

To do all three of those things is a giant challenge. And I just don't think he's going to be able to do it. And then you factor in the age question. If you think about this, this is a discrimination derby, because whoever wins the nomination on the Democratic side, you are going to have a first. But with John McCain, an ABC/"Washington Post" poll came out today that showed that more than a quarter of voters are hesitant to vote for him because of his age. Now, I don't think he is going to get attacked over that, but that is going to be an unspoken factor throughout this campaign.

MALVEAUX: And, Mark, how does he deal with the fact that he's obviously putting his national security credentials on the line. Today, we saw a shooting at an Israeli school, a bombing in Baghdad. Do these events, even, you know, tragic as they are crisis situations, do they help him moving forward? Is that the kind of thing that he actually needs?

MARK HALPERIN, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, TIME: As a matter of raw politics, I think they do. In our lifetime, almost every election that's been won by the Republicans, national security credibility has played a huge role. If John McCain has a chance here, I think he does need to do all the things Dan says. He needs to learn to talk about it as Dan has said -- health care, the economy, jobs. He's got to learn to talk about those better than he ever has. But in the end if he wins this election, it will be because he's done what George Bush did in 2004, which is largely make the election about national security.

MALVEAUX: All right, got to leave it there. Thanks, guys for joining us this evening.


MALVEAUX: Appreciate it. Mark Halperin, John Avlon and Dan Gerstein, thanks again.

And you think you've got pressure. Well, my next guest knows pressure. Not only is he the Democratic African-American mayor of Philadelphia, he is backing Hillary Clinton in a city that is considered Obama country. So we'll ask him what that feels like.

And don't forget our "Quick Vote" question. Yes or no? Will the Democrats' extended fight for the presidential nomination help or hurt their party? Vote at


MALVEAUX: The Pennsylvania primary is April 22nd. Philadelphia's African-American mayor already feels the glare of the political spotlight. Mayor Michael Nutter, who is not a superdelegate, endorsed Hillary Clinton last December. Now, that endorsement is coming under fire from some. Thanks for joining us, Mayor. Appreciate your time here this evening.


MALVEAUX: Obviously, you supported Senator Clinton from the very beginning.


MALVEAUX: Are there people who are turning to you now, and saying, perhaps you should switch sides?

NUTTER: Suzanne, thank you. No. People in Philadelphia and in the region know me very well. They know that when I make a commitment, I keep my word. Senator Clinton is the best candidate to lead our party, to win in November. I thought that a long time ago. I think it today, and I'm looking forward to working aggressively and strongly on her behalf.

MALVEAUX: Is there anybody outside of Philadelphia, outside of Pennsylvania, who perhaps are saying, you should turn and give Obama another look?

NUTTER: No, they're not. And, you know, it's an interesting question. I know many in the news media feel compelled to ask it. You know, in the United States, you get to support whomever you want, whoever you think is the best candidate. African-Americans are not required to support another African-American or any other kind of candidate. And I'm sure none of the white elected officials who have supported Senator Obama, no one is asking those elected officials, are they feeling any particular pressure.

This is a real election. They're not running for high school class president. They're running for president of the United States. And I'm going to support the candidate that I think is best for Philadelphia, best for Pennsylvania, best for this country, and to win in November. The primaries and caucuses are all very interesting. What we're trying to do here is to win in November. I don't think there's any question that Senator Hillary Clinton matches up best to beat John McCain in November, and that should be our goal.

MALVEAUX: The question is coming up, in part, because people like, say Congressman John Lewis, from Georgia, his own constituency, they voted overwhelming for Barack Obama, and he initially had supported Senator Clinton. So there was a feeling that there was some pressure to represent his constituency. Your city, about 40 percent African-American, do you get a sense that you're in line with your own constituency with the voters of that city, of your own city?

NUTTER: You know, I have no idea what was going on in Atlanta or in Georgia. I respect Representative Lewis, but you know, he has to do what he feels he needs to do. We have a great city here, a diverse city. And I was elected to represent the best interest of all Philadelphians to make sure that I supported the candidate that I think can best deliver for Philadelphians. On the issues of health care and public safety and support for education, the real issues that really matter to people, and that's what we should be talking about in this race. And I think there's an incredible opportunity here to get those issues out, under the issues that Senator Clinton cares about, which is why I endorsed her in the first place.

And right here in Philadelphia, with the six weeks leading up to the election, there should be a debate about the real issues that affect real people. Pennsylvania is much like a microcosm of the entire United States of America. There should be a debate between the two candidates right here in Philadelphia to talk about the real issues that matter to people.

MALVEAUX: And, Mayor, I want to ask you, this is the headline. You've obviously seen it from "The Philadelphia Inquirer" today. It asks, "Ready for an absolute zoo?" What are you expecting for it when this all is said and done? Obviously, a lot of people are going to be paying attention and participating.

NUTTER: Well, they should. I mean, that's the wonderful opportunity that we have here. Six weeks leading up to this primary, many thought that Pennsylvania would not play virtually any role in this election. And so, now, the candidates get to be real candidates, to talk about the issues that matter to people.

And so, there'll be a lot of press and a lot of activity. I hope they spend a lot of money when they're here in Philadelphia. But more importantly, it will generate interest, get more people actively involved and engaged. This state is tailor-made for Senator Clinton when you look at the states that she has won,...


NUTTER: ... the big states that really matter in the November general election. That's why it's going to be exciting.

MALVEAUX: All right. Well, Mayor, thank you so much for joining us this evening. Michael Nutter, mayor of Philadelphia, thanks again.

NUTTER: Suzanne, thank you.

MALVEAUX: And in Tom Foreman's "Raw Politics" tonight, President Bush pays tribute to a veteran who is now one of a kind. Don't go away.


MALVEAUX: "LARRY KING LIVE" is coming up in just a few minutes. Larry, who will be with you tonight?

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Suzanne, we'll have an exclusive sit-down interview with the parents of a girl who say her autism-like symptoms were caused in part by vaccinations. And you know what? Government health officials agree with them. Plus, John Kerry, Ed Rendell and Mike Huckabee on the 2008 presidential race. Power people, only on "LARRY KING LIVE." See you at the top of the hour, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thanks, Larry. Sounds like a great show.

The backlash against an enormous Pentagon airplane deal and a presidential salute to a man who's the last of his kind. Tom Foreman has all that and more in tonight's edition of "Raw Politics."


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Congress is firing at the military over a new deal that will mean new jobs, but not here.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Under assault, a $35 billion contract to replace air force tanker planes. Some members want to know why a big slice is going to a European company, while the U.S. firm Boeing has been shut out.

Huckabee is out, right? Hold on. Hints from his camp that he might like the vice presidency. McCain? Mcmum (ph).

The hot story on Arab news networks in the Middle East, including Al-Arabiya, the American presidential election. They're now promising full coverage through November. And Frank Buckles, the last American veteran of World War I, honored in D.C. In World War II, he saw Hitler and was captured by the Japanese.

FOREMAN (on camera): He lied about his age to enlist. But now, no fibbing. He is 107. Congratulations.


MALVEAUX: Our Tom Foreman.

Barack Obama may be a relative newcomer to Washington, but he compiled an extensive record as a state senator in Illinois. We've been looking at his voting record and listening to his former colleagues. Stand by for a side of the senator you don't usually see.


MALVEAUX: We are back with the CNN ELECTION CENTER. And a question. Is Senator Barack Obama qualified for the nation's top job? He's been in the U.S. Senate less than one term. But before that, he served eight years in the Illinois State Senate. Dan Lothian has been digging into Obama's career in Springfield.


DAN LOTHIAN,CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New and untested, Barack Obama started early, trying to carve out a reputation as an eager, hardworking Illinois State senator, when he was elected in 1996.


LOTHIAN: Telling powerful Democrat Emil Jones, the man Obama considers his political godfather to throw him into the fire.

EMIL JONES (D), ILLINOIS STATE PRESIDENT: He said, feel free to, you know, give me any tough assignments. You know I like to work hard.

LOTHIAN: That work, say his critics, resulted in one of the most liberal voting records during his eight years, from pushing for abortion rights to raising taxes. But what troubles former Republican colleague Dan Cronin --

LOTHIAN (on camera): Was he right next to you?

LOTHIAN (voice-over): ... who says he respects Obama and his political skills, is that considering the presidential hopeful's campaign of bold change, his past, he says, doesn't quite add up.

SEN. DAN CRONIN (R), ILLINOIS SENATE: There were no bold solutions. There were no creative approaches. There were no efforts to stand up to the establishment. LOTHIAN (on camera): But Barack Obama's supporters say that happened in part, because for the majority of the time he was a state senator, Republicans were in control, making it difficult, they say, for him to pass any bold legislation.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): And what about criticism that as a state senator, he voted present, instead of yes or no, nearly 130 times, essentially a vote without taking a side. It's an oddity of Illinois politics that is now Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton says illustrates a refusal to take responsibility by hitting the easy button on controversial issues. But Obama's mentor, who says the senator cast thousands of votes, disagrees.

JONES: She's totally wrong on that.

LOTHIAN: Chicago political analyst Paul Green says other lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, routinely vote present. A way, he says, to force the majority party to negotiate or to protest parts of a bill.

LOTHIAN (on camera): So it's strategy.

PAUL GREEN, POLITICAL ANALYST: Of course, it's strategy.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): Obama did sponsor more than 800 bills. One resulted in the highly touted ethics reform that bans fund-raisers at the state Capitol in Springfield, and nearly all gifts from lobbyists. Another of his bills now requires police in Illinois to videotape interrogations of criminal suspects. One thing everyone seems to agree on, that Senator Obama appeared comfortable reaching across party lines to get what he wanted. Dan Lothian, CNN, Chicago.


MALVEAUX: And at the top of the hour, a "LARRY KING LIVE" exclusive. Do children vaccinations cause or contribute to autism? Meet the 9-year-old and her family who are challenging the experts.

And next, your answer to the "Quick Vote" question. Will the Democrats' fight for the presidential nomination help or hurt their party?


MALVEAUX: And here's how you answered our "Quick Vote" question. Will the Democrats' extended fight for the presidential nomination help or hurt their party?

Twenty-nine percent of you say help; 71 percent say hurt. Both Democratic candidates are in Wyoming tomorrow. Stay with CNN for complete coverage of the Wyoming caucuses on Saturday.

That's all for tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts now.