Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell; New York Governor Under Investigation Over Alleged Link to Prostitution Ring

Aired March 10, 2008 - 20:00   ET


It takes a real bombshell to get our attention away from presidential politics, but, boy, do we have one tonight.

New York's Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer, known as a reformer, a corruption fighter, well, he's under investigation for allegedly meeting with a prostitute in a Washington hotel. Will it cost Spitzer his job?

That question overshadows the important, but admittedly nonsexual political news that is also front and center tonight.

Barack Obama lashed out at the Clinton team's repeated attempts to cast him as Hillary's would-be, could-be running mate. So, why is he so fired up?

Mississippi polls open up in less than 12 hours. But Clinton supporters are already looking ahead to Pennsylvania. Their top guy there, Governor Ed Rendell, will join me tonight.

But everything is getting drowned out by the prostitution allegations against New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.

Let's start with his only public statement so far. Take a listen.


GOV. ELIOT SPITZER (D), NEW YORK: Over the past nine years, eight years as attorney general, and one as governor, I have tried to uphold a vision of progressive politics that would rebuild New York and create opportunity for all. We sought to bring real change to New York, and that will continue.

Today, I want to briefly address a private matter. I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and that violates my, or any, sense of right and wrong. I apologize first and most importantly to my family. I apologize to the public, whom I promised better.

I do not believe that politics in the long run is about individuals. It is about ideas, the public good, and doing what is best for the state of New York.

But I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself. I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family.

I will not be taking questions. Thank you very much. I will report back to you in short order. Thank you very much.


BROWN: CNN's Jason Carroll is on the Spitzer story.

And, Jason, Governor Spitzer didn't tell us much. From what you have been looking into, what exactly are these allegations, and who was involved?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, let's point out, Campbell, that Governor Spitzer has not been charged with anything, but according to this affidavit and according to a source with knowledge of the investigation, Spitzer is client number nine in this affidavit that we have been holding here and reading through all day long.

It's a case, Campbell, involving a prostitution ring operating out of Washington, D.C., under the name of Emperors Club VIP. It's based on wire communications, bank records. They say they have a lot of evidence here. According to the affidavit, client number nine arranged for a prostitute named Kristen to travel from New York City to Washington, D.C.

Client number nine offered to pay for everything, the hotel, the train tickets, the minibar. According to the source with knowledge of the investigation, the two stayed right there at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Also, the description of the young woman named Kristen in this affidavit, she is described as being American, petite, very pretty brunette, 5'5'' tall, 105 pounds. Client number nine had asked, what does Kristen look like? And, again, there was the description, once again, American, petite, Very pretty brunette, 5'5'' tall, 105 pounds.

A very embarrassing day for the governor -- Campbell.

BROWN: So, Jason, after all the back and forth sort of setting up of the hotel arrangements, is there actual evidence that this meeting took place?

CARROLL: Well, according to the affidavit -- and we will have to see if there's any more evidence that comes forward at this point, but, according to the affidavit, Kristen, the young woman in question here, allegedly called her contact with this organization that she had been working with, saying that, Campbell, that the encounter went very well, that she liked client number nine.

Her contact, named Lewis (ph), asked her, you know, how things went. And she said, once again, according to the affidavit, "He would ask you to do things that, like, you may not think were safe." Again, that was the question that was asked of her. And her response was, "I have a way with dealing with that. I would be like listen, dude, you really want the sex" -- and, obviously, the insinuation there is, if you want what you came here for, you had better behave -- Campbell.

BROWN: All right. A little TMI there, Jason. But thank you. We appreciate it.

So, let's get serious now. Can Governor Spitzer survive the scandal?

Well, joining me is Ben Smith. He is the senior political writer for "Politico." He's a former political columnist for "The New York Daily News." And he covered politics for "The New York Sun" and "The New York Observer." And we have got screenwriter and NPR contributor John Ridley with us as well, and Jonah Goldberg, who is in Washington. He's the author of "Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meeting" -- or "Meaning."

Did I get that right?



BROWN: OK, close enough. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.

All right. Let me start with you, Ben. Welcome. Good to have you here.

But let me just get your general reaction. Did anybody see this coming?

BEN SMITH, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, "POLITICO": No. there are politicians like Jim McGreevey actually in New Jersey, where this was in the air. Everybody in the statehouse kind of knew it. His aides were beating it back.

BROWN: There was always gossip, right?


SMITH: Nothing here. It was really right out of a blue sky.

BROWN: So, do you think that he's going to be able to survive this?

SMITH: It's really hard. And it depends a lot on the federal prosecutors. It sounds like, from the case that he described, that there may be a federal Mann Act violation involving transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes.

And if the federal prosecutors decides to indict him, you can't serve as governor of New York if you're convicted of a felony.

BROWN: And, John, what did you think?



RIDLEY: This guy is the sheriff. This is Eliot Spitzer, "Eliot Ness" Spitzer. This was the guy who came to clean up corruption.

Look, I think we're all used to politicians with the intern or whomever. I'm not saying it's good, but there's a difference between immoral and illegal. And this guy crossed a line, even if it is a misdemeanor or what have you. Also, there's a possibility. Was the mafia involved with this? Was there money-laundering? Some of these girls are international. Is it white slavery?

It could be any of these things. How does anybody survive that?


SMITH: And Eliot in particular has no friends in New York politics. And that won't help.

BROWN: Yes. Well, he's had a rough year, which I want to get into in a second.

But, Jonah, let me go to you.

Are voters in general, are people sort of used to sex in politics? Or is this just too outrageous?

GOLDBERG: Well, they should be used to it, because this sort of thing has been going on since caveman times. But they shouldn't be surprised, but that doesn't mean he should keep his job either.

I think Ben has it right, that Spitzer has no friends, in part because he's such an aggressive guy who practiced a kind of blackmail approach to prosecutions himself, who was sanctimonious, who was self- righteous, who himself went after other prostitution rings. And in this culture, alas, the sin may be forgivable, but hypocrisy isn't.


BROWN: That was what I was going to ask everybody. Kind of comment on that, because, in politics, that's what infuriates people more than anything, the fact that this guy was Mr. Crime Fighter. He was talking about ethics and morality and making that his sort of reason for being. And more than anything else, that seems to be what people are so infuriated about.

RIDLEY: Well, it's what you make your bank on. If that's what you make your bank on, being the crime fighter, if you make your bank being on the family values or sanctity of marriage, and then that falls apart, that's the issue right there.

It's not -- again, bad enough that he cheated on his wife and he did this to his family. But, yes, we're all used to that. And I think after Clinton we don't really care. But it's what kind of person was he going into office?

SMITH: Yes, Jonah is right. A senator from Louisiana survived this, survived a prostitution scandal.

BROWN: David Vitter.


SMITH: In New York, morals may be a bit looser here.


BROWN: But they're not that loose.

SMITH: But Spitzer is a particular character who has always been -- it's even not about the laws, but what's right and what's wrong. He's gone after people incredibly hard. So, I think people will cut him remarkably little slack.

BROWN: Hillary Clinton, he had endorsed her. And she did comment on this late today. And I want to play a little bit of it quickly.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't have any comment on that. But I obviously am sending, you know, my best wishes and thoughts to the governor and to his family.

Let's wait and see what comes out over the next days, but right now I don't have any comment. And I think it's appropriate just to wish his family well. And we will wait and see how things develop.


BROWN: Jonah, he is the governor of her state? Is this problematic?

GOLDBERG: Well, it's also problematic because I'm pretty sure that Spitzer is her superdelegate. And he may not be around to cast a vote for her.

BROWN: OK. Good point.

GOLDBERG: I think it's very hard to see how the endorsement hurts Hillary in any sort of rational way. But if this thing drags on, gets more sordid, and requires her to constantly respond to a sex scandal along these lines, it can't help her.

BROWN: Quickly.

SMITH: That was not a ringing vote of confidence from her or from anybody in New York politics, saying, stay with it, Eliot. We're behind you.

BROWN: Right. All right.

Thanks to everybody. Appreciate it. We're going to talk a lot more about this story coming up. But we do need to get to presidential politics. Barack Obama is warning people not to be -- quote -- "hoodwinked" by something the Clintons are saying. We're going to tell you more about that in a minute.

We will also be talking with Governor Ed Rendell about Hillary Clinton's Pennsylvania strategy.

And we couldn't have picked a more perfect night to have one of "Saturday Night Live"'s political writer in the ELECTION CENTER.


BROWN: Back to presidential politics now, and the Democratic contest couldn't be much tighter. Heading into tomorrow's voting in Mississippi, Barack Obama has a slim lead on Hillary Clinton, just 115 delegates, including those superdelegates, Obama with 1,153, according to CNN's count, to Clinton's 1,438.

And with the race still so close, there's plenty of talk about a so-called dream team, some of it coming from the Clinton camp itself. Bill Clinton opened up that can over the weekend, suggesting a Clinton/Obama ticket, one more time, Clinton/Obama, not Obama/Clinton.

And Obama responded earlier today that he's simply not interested in number two. Listen.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With all do respect, I have won twice as many states as Senator Clinton.


OBAMA: I have won more of the popular vote than Senator Clinton.


OBAMA: I have more delegates than Senator Clinton.


OBAMA: So, I don't know how somebody who's in second place...


OBAMA: ... is offering the vice presidency to the person who's in first place.


OBAMA: I want everybody to be absolutely clear. I'm not running for vice president. I'm running for president of the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BROWN: OK, so clearly not his dream team.

Well, senior political correspondent Candy Crowley joins us now from an Obama rally in Jackson, Mississippi.

And, Candy, today, Obama really pushed back against this talk about Hillary Clinton's V.P.


And it's the first time we have really seen him give any number of reasons, also suggesting that the Clinton campaign is pushing this out there to sort of give the impression to voters that they can have both. He said, listen, you can't have both. You have to make a choice here.

Inside the Obama campaign, they think this is an attempt by the Clintons to kind of diminish Obama, saying, oh, he can be number two, and also to woo those voters who are very attracted to the Obama campaign, but may have some questions about his resume -- Campbell.

BROWN: Let's listen to what Hillary Clinton had to say about this, Candy, today on the trail.


CLINTON: You know, this thing has really been given a life of its own. A lot of Democrats like us both and have been very hopeful that they wouldn't have to make a choice. But, obviously, Democrats have to make a choice. And I'm looking forward to getting the nomination, and it's premature to talk about whoever might be on whose ticket.


BROWN: So, Candy, all a political tactic to try to woo voters who are wavering at this point.

CROWLEY: Yes, absolutely.

And I think you can see -- what happened today was really interesting because one of the points that Obama brought up was, wait a second. She is saying that I'm not ready to become president, but she wants me to be number two on her ticket.

So, it began to kind of spin a little bit toward Obama, saying, you can't have both here.

I think the two of them now, at least by day's end, we see both of them saying let's stop talking about this and move on, because everybody has got to make a choice. So, they ended up in the same place today at any rate.

BROWN: And, Candy, he's in Mississippi today, Obama is. And there's been some talk that he needs to not just on this issue be more generally be a little more aggressive in terms of the fight and be a little more forceful with his message. Are you seeing that, that nuance?

CROWLEY: Well, not yet, I have to tell you.

We have heard pretty standard stump here since Ohio and Texas, which is when the thought came out, listen, he has to push back pretty hard when we had that red phone ad suggesting that he didn't have the resume to answer the crisis phone in the White House. Haven't seen it yet.

But the problem, Campbell, is that he really is very much in a box, because every time he kind of steps out and gets more aggressive toward Hillary Clinton, the Clinton campaign comes out and says, well, what happened to the politics of hope?

So, he's walking this very fine line between trying to really push back hard on a number of issues and yet not seeming like just any old politician. So, he has got to find that balance, Campbell.

BROWN: OK, Candy Crowley for us tonight with the Obama campaign -- Candy, thanks.

And up ahead, we're going to have more on the Spitzer prostitute scandal. And we're going to talk with a "Saturday Night Live" writer about the role the show is actually playing in this year's election.


BROWN: Barack Obama lashed out today on all this talk that he would be a great vice president for Hillary Clinton. He says he sees no reason to be anyone's number since right now he's winning.

One of the leading proponents of the so-called dream ticket is Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Hillary Clinton supporter.

And he joined us a short time ago from a Clinton rally in Scranton.


BROWN: And, Governor Rendell, welcome. Thanks for joining us.


BROWN: Well, let me ask you about what appears to be the new Clinton campaign message. It's Obama for vice president.

But, at the same time, we're hearing the Clinton campaign saying, frankly, that he's not passed the commander in chief test. So, which is it? You either think he's ready or you don't.

RENDELL: Well, I think you have got to take all of these campaign ads and campaign statements in context.

I think the real message of the Clinton campaign is that Senator Obama is not at the same level as Senator Clinton when it comes to the experience to be commander in chief. Look, her service on the Senate Armed Services Committee for the last six-and-a-half, seven years has been remarkable. She's built bridges in the Senate. And she knows so much about defense and what the military needs, what it doesn't need.

She also has contact with foreign leaders.


BROWN: Right.


BROWN: I don't want to interrupt you, but that's not what the Clinton campaign is saying, is that she's more ready. They said very bluntly on a conference call today -- quote -- that Obama had "not passed the commander in chief test." And she's gone even further and said that she believes Senator John McCain is more ready than Senator Obama.

Do you think she went too far in saying that about Senator McCain?

RENDELL: Well, I think, look, in a campaign, being candid is important. And everyone, I think, would agree that Senator McCain has the background of military and things involving national security. So, I think that's candid.


BROWN: Do you think he's more ready than Senator Obama for this job?

RENDELL: No, not for the job of president, because I think part of the role of a president is to bring about policies that will serve the country well.

Senator Obama has the policies, just like Senator Clinton does, that will serve America well, that will give health care to most Americans, that will spark our economy, that will do something for education, alternative and renewable energy, make the tax credit permanent, things that are so important to the fate of the country. So...

BROWN: But do you think it's premature to be making for case for him to be vice president, especially given the fact that he is leading in pledged delegates and also the popular vote?

RENDELL: Well, I think a lot of that is just responding to the wishes of people.

I think Democrats all over, including Obama supporters, say they wish they could team up. The Obama supporters would like to see Obama/Clinton. Clinton supporters would like to see Clinton/Obama. And I think that is what is out there among rank-and-file hardworking Democrats, a desire for, once this is over, for the two of them to get together. So, I think to say, as Senator Clinton has done, that that's a possibility is I think something that's fair and something that most Democrats would respond well to.

BLITZER: Let me also ask you about Governor Spitzer. You have certainly heard the news, his apology today.

As a Democrat, a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton, how embarrassing is that for her and for the Democratic Party right now?

RENDELL: Well, of course, there's a level of embarrassment.

But the biggest embarrassment is for Governor Spitzer and his family. And I really sympathize with them dramatically. That's not to say he didn't do wrong. It appears that he did wrong. But Governor Spitzer is a bright and talented guy. And I want to wait until all the facts come out before rushing to any judgment.

But does it embarrass Democrats? Hey, these things happen all over. You have had a run of Republicans in the Congress that have been embarrassed by a lot of different activities. So, people shouldn't be too quick to point the finger.

BROWN: All right. Governor Ed Rendell for us tonight from a Clinton campaign rally -- governor, thank you.

RENDELL: Thanks, Campbell. See you.


BROWN: And joining me now from Washington is Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. She's backing Senator Obama.

Senator McCaskill, thank you for being with us tonight.


BROWN: I want to ask you about what's going on in Florida and Michigan.

The Clinton campaign has been pushing to try to get a revote in those two states. And an idea that's been pushed be many, including Governor Rendell, who was just on, was to get private donors to pay for that, to do additional primaries, even mail-in ballots in Florida and Michigan. Will you go along with that? Would the Obama campaign go along with it?

MCCASKILL: Well, the Obama campaign is going to do what it's done from day one. The Obama campaign is going to focus on the American people and what they need and try to win as many delegates as possible in as many states as possible and most importantly play by the rules.

And so what we have got to do now is let these two states and our party figure out the best way forward. And whatever they decide, Senator Obama is more than happy to play by those rules. The thing we can't do is change the rules in the middle of the process.

BROWN: But I don't think the Hillary Clinton campaign is talking about changing the rules anymore. What they're talking about is a new primary, or mail-in ballots from those two states paid for by private donors. Is that something that you guys could go along with in an effort to resolve this?

MCCASKILL: Well, I think we have to be a little careful about who is paying for elections. I think we need to be cautious about that.

BROWN: Well, what's your problem with that idea that they floated?

MCCASKILL: Well, I don't think that there's a problem with any ideas that are being floated.

I think what Barack Obama wants to do is wait for the party and these two states to make a decision. And then he will abide by it.


MCCASKILL: I will tell you what's going on here -- really what's going on here is that there is gaming of this. There is trying to get political advantage in one way or the other.

That's why the simple thing is to say, we will do whatever the DNC says. Whenever they say what's going to happen, we will abide by those rules and continue to compete for every single delegate in every single state.

BROWN: I guess my question would be it's sort of a passive approach, given that a lot of voters are not going to be a part of this process. And why not be more engaged and more involved and talk to the Clinton campaign about how to resolve this to ensure that the people in Florida and the people in Michigan, which I'm sure Senator Obama wants to be involved in the process, have their votes counted?

MCCASKILL: Well, there's no question that Barack Obama wants very much for the people of Michigan and Florida to be heard from. And there's no question that by the time all the dust settles, those people will be seated on the delegations -- as delegations on the convention floor. And they will vote.

But the point is now not to be gaming this and playing political games with it. Let the DNC decide the best way forward in consultation with the people of Florida and Michigan. If the campaigns get involved, it's going to be the same old back-and-forth spinning, trying to make one look bad, the other look good.

Let's let the DNC decide and then abide by those rules.

BROWN: Let me ask you about the messaging out on the stump. You have got Senator Obama now, who seems to have sort of lost control of the message. Today, he's out there defending himself -- or responding, rather, to comments that Senator Clinton and the Clinton campaign is pushing about him becoming or how he would make a good vice president.

How does he get away from that sort of being on the defensive, and regain control of the agenda?

MCCASKILL: Well, first of all, I think he's in control of the agenda.

He's won the most votes. He just had a big victory in Wyoming. We're looking forward to Mississippi tomorrow. I know the Clinton campaign has said she's unbeatable in Pennsylvania. And she may be, but he's going to compete there for every single vote, for every single delegate. And that's what he's going to keep doing.

Now, what the media wants to cover is the controversy and the fight. But he's still talking about the same message. Do you want the same politics? Do you want the same gamesmanship? Or do you want to come together and get something done for the American people? That's still his message.

It's just, right now, everyone is more interested in the fur flying than they are in the message.

BROWN: All right, Senator Claire McCaskill, appreciate your time tonight.

MCCASKILL: Thank you.

BROWN: And we are going to turn our attention back to the prostitution scandal involving New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. And then later, just how much is "Saturday Night Live" driving the presidential campaign. And how do they keep coming up with all this good stuff. We have got an insider's look coming up.


BROWN: Today's top political story, it is a doozy. A source tells CNN federal investigators have linked New York Governor Eliot Spitzer to a high rolling prostitution ring. Well, Governor Spitzer apologized today, but he won't say what for. A source with knowledge of the probe says wiretaps connected Spitzer to a Washington visit with a call girl who was paid $4,300 the night before Valentine's Day.

Eliot Spitzer joins a long list of politicians caught in compromising positions. Do you remember Gary Hart and Donna Rice who posed for pictures aboard the ironically named boat "Monkey Business"? Bill Clinton denied having sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky. The ensuing impeachment fight led to the resignation of Speaker of the House Robert Livingston, who quit after also admitting he cheated on his wife. And in 2004, New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey came out as a gay American and quit after revealing an affair with a male aide. Florida Congressman Mark Foley was cruising toward an easy re-election in 2006 until his computer messages to male Congressional pages became public, and he quit, too.

Senator Larry Craig of Idaho didn't quit but isn't seeking re- election after his arrest last year in the men's room at the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport. And the phone number of Senator David Vitter of Louisiana turned up in the records of alleged D.C. Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey. Vitter apologized for what he called a very serious sin in his past, but is keeping his Senate seat.

So now Eliot Spitzer's political survival remains an open question, and we want to put it to our panel who is back with us now. From Washington, we've got Jonah Goldberg. John Ridley, also joining us once again. And now, CNN's senior political analyst Gloria Borger is with us as well.

And Gloria, let me start with you, and just having gone through the timeline, I guess, let me ask you the question I asked Jonah earlier. Do you think voters in a way have become more immune to this kind of stuff? Is it survivable in a way that it might not have been in the past?

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Campbell, looking at that wall, I was thinking as big as that wall is, it's probably not big enough. They have gotten used to it. But I think what we saw in the 1990s was a distinction that politicians started to make, starting with Bill Clinton, which is your personal peccadilloes versus the question of public corruption.

And I think in this particular case, it will be very difficult for someone like Eliot Spitzer, who defined his political career in terms of fighting public corruption to make the case that he should remain in office given the fact that if he did what we think he did, it's illegal. And I think that that is where people could draw the line.

BROWN: And Jonah, what do you think? Why do some politicians survive these things and some don't?

JONAH GOLDBERG, AUTHOR, "LIBERAL FASCISM": Well, I think it varies. I think the problem with the culture that this is what it boils down to. But part of it is the hypocrisy factor and part of it is the brazenness factor. Everyone thought when Bill Clinton's Monica Lewinsky thing first came out that he was going to resign, and they should resign. And he just decided to brazen it out. It may be that's what Spitzer is doing, or maybe that he's just trying to set himself up to have some leverage for a plea deal. I don't know. But at some point, people want to just turn the channel and they get tired of things. And if you're willing just to hang in there long enough, people get bored and move on to the next thing.

BROWN: John, can people move on to the next thing from this?

JOHN RIDLEY, SCREENWRITER: I don't know. I think the difference with Bill Clinton and with a lot of these individuals is likeability. You know, we didn't like what bill Clinton did, but we liked him as a president. Times were good. We could forgive that.

Eliot Spitzer, he's not really a national figure. I don't think his likeability in New York people appreciate what he did.

BROWN: Right. RIDLEY: But he's not that kind of celebrity. He's not the guy that you feel badly about. And, by the way, he's got other issues on the plate. He's got this trooper gate thing that he may have misused some of the state troopers. He may have also misused some of his own funds for election. So this may be the tip of the iceberg that sinks Eliot Spitzer.

BROWN: I'm going to quickly -- we're almost out of time here, but I do -- I'm going to make a hard right and turn gears and talk a little bit about Obama and Hillary Clinton, the vice president thing that we've been talking about in addition to this story.

Gloria, let me start with you. Give me you reaction generally. He's been on his heels a little bit with regard to this. He came out swinging today. Did it help? Did it hurt?

BORGER: Yes, I think it helped him. I'm sort of surprise that he hadn't done it sooner. You know, this is sort of a marriage proposal that Hillary Clinton has made. Two for the price of one. We heard that before from Bill and Hillary Clinton? Clearly, she's trying to appeal to these undecided voters, Campbell, who like Barack Obama and who like her. And she also wants to put out there this notion she can be at the top of the ticket and he could be the number two, and couldn't we just live with that in the Democratic Party?

So I think he had to put an end to that. I think he tried to do that today. It was a little bit more forceful. It started on Sunday with Tom Daschle, a big Barack Obama supporter, who came out there and said, look, Obama is leading. Why should we be talking about her in the number one job, instead of him?

BROWN: OK. We're going to continue this conversation. We just have to take a quick break. The panel is not going anywhere. Later on, "Saturday Night Live" is in the thick of this campaign, and we got an insider with the best clips coming up.



DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Dana Bash in St. Louis where John McCain is kicking off a week-long fund-raising blitz. But before coming here, the 71-year-old presumptive Republican nominee took a step back home in Phoenix that he hopes will try to allay voters concerns about his age and perhaps about his health. He announced that he had just come from the doctor and also the dentist. And perhaps, most importantly, for the man who had such a public bout with potentially fatal skin cancer, he said a couple of weeks ago he had a trip to the dermatologist.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Yes, everything is fine. In fact, I got the full cancer check a couple of weeks ago with my dermatologist. No, no. I just went to a regular routine that I go to my doctor all the time. I go see -- like most Americans, I go see my doctor fairly frequently. BASH: The senator was very vague there about the kinds of tests he got that makes him so confident about the state of his health. But he did say he will release his full medical records on April 15th. Now, Senator McCain released his records back in the year 2000. The first time he ran it was about 1,500 pages worth of documents back then, but that was before the senator was diagnosed with skin cancer.


BROWN: John McCain has the luxury of time now that he has locked up the Republican nomination, and he is spending the week trying to raise big money. But it is still a death match between the Democrats, between Obama and the Clinton campaigns.

And our panel is back with us. This time we got Gloria Borger in Washington along with Jonah Goldberg, and John Ridley here with me in New York. And let's go back to our previous discussion.

John, I'll start with you. The Clinton campaign, their surrogates pushing this idea and pushing it hard of the Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama ticket. What is it about? What are the tactics behind it?

RIDLEY: Well, I think the tactics are she does need to try to reassure her constituency that she is still in the race, and also to people who are potential swing voters that she would include somebody like Barack Obama if she were to be the president. The thing that's interesting to me though, if you remember the Democratic debate at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, this same thing was brought up and the applause was deafening. Now, a couple of months later, it's an insult to possibly have a ticket with the two of them.

I mean, my issue is that you have these two front-runners who have spent the weekend and the day with another nontroversy. If you're an independent voter, if you're a moderate voter, you're like enough. Start talking about the issues. I'm going to vote for the other guy.

BROWN: Right.

It's a lot of bickering. Jonah?

GOLDBERG: Yes, I think you guys -- I think it's kind of amazing at how above board you think all this is. I find this amazingly cynical, brilliantly devious on the part of Hillary Clinton. What she's trying to do by saying that Obama can be her running mate, which is outrageous when you figure that Obama is actually in front, is she is trying to demean the man. She is trying to make him seem like the junior partner...


GOLDBERG: ... the less-qualified guy to sort of guild him in a way in the minds of voters and give voters a way that they can vote for both of them guilt free. It is an incredible chutzpah to be doing what Hillary is doing, and I can't believe that Obama didn't show a little more outrage than he did.

BORGER: Well, Campbell, it's also a little bit dangerous. I was talking to a lot of Democrats today who said to me, look, it's one thing when Hillary Clinton says I'm better prepared to be commander in chief. That's an argument you can have. But it's another thing when Hillary Clinton says that Barack Obama is not qualified to be commander in chief. That makes Democrats angry. It makes Democrats nervous, because Barack Obama could well be the Democratic presidential nominee, and John McCain can take this, turn it around, and throw it back at them in a general election campaign. Remember she said McCain is qualified. I'm qualified, and Barack Obama, he's got a speech.

BROWN: All right. Let me ask you also. This is the other big, big issue right now with the Democrats is what to do with Florida and Michigan. And you got the Clinton campaign pushing for a revote. We heard from Senator McCaskill the Obama campaign sort of sitting back a little bit and saying we're going to let the DNC figure this whole thing out. Does it even matter? I mean, a revote isn't going to push either one unless they have dramatic margins over the top. Are they?

RIDLEY: No. I don't think it's going to matter. I think it's probably going to end up some kind of a split. It's not going to make a big difference. I think the bigger difference is right now for the Democrats going forward. Look, you've got a Democratic Congress that's approval rating is below the president. The Democrats tried to change their election calendar. That was a disaster.

You have the two front-runners who are snipping at each other about who should be at the top of the ticket. For the Republicans, all they have to do is say, look, these folks are talking about change. Put in the words of Pete Townshend, look at the new boss, same as the old boss. I mean, that's the real problem going forward is that they've got to get on message. They got to do it now.

BROWN: All right. You get the last word. Sorry, guys. We're out of time. But thanks to everybody. To Gloria, to Jonah, to John, good to have you all here. Appreciate it.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is coming up at the top of the hour. John King is sitting in tonight. John, who you got with you tonight?

JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A great treat for me to sit in for Larry tonight, Campbell, and you're having a great show. We're going to have much more on the Eliot Spitzer scandal as you've been discussing. The crime buster under investigation for being a prostitute who may be part of an organized ring. A lot of questions swirling, and we'll have some of the answers with an excellent panel here.

Plus, then the Mississippi primary. We'll talk about that, too. All of that on "LARRY KING LIVE" at the top of the hour, Campbell.

BROWN: All right. Thanks, John.

So when you think powerful political institutions, DNC or RNC may come to mind. But what about SNL? We're going to talk to a "Saturday Night Live" insider about the show's incredible political muscle these days.


BROWN: Now, for political pop where politics and pop culture meet. Hillary Clinton's 3:00 a.m. phone call ad is now part of the campaign lexicon. And it has provided great material for the writers at "Saturday Night Live." Take a look.


ANNOUNCER: It's 3:00 a.m. Across our country, kids are sound asleep. But somewhere in the nation's Capitol, a phone is ringing. Your vote will decide who answers that call.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello? Senator Clinton, I have President Obama on the line.

CLINTON: I'll take it.

ACTOR PLAYING OBAMA: Hillary, I'm sorry to call this late again, but I need your help.

ACTRESS PLAYING CLINTON: Mr. President, what can I do?

ACTOR PLAYING OBAMA: The CIA just confirmed that Iran has completed a nuclear device. It looks like the Russians, the North Koreans, Hugo Chavez have been helping them.

ACTRESS PLAYING CLINTON: I was afraid of that. When did this start?

ACTOR PLAYING OBAMA: Apparently, the day I was sworn in.


BROWN: The writer of the sketch is joining us tonight. Jim Downey has been with the show for 27 seasons. He wrote the Al Gore lock box sketch. You remember that in 2000, he coined the word "strategery," and a cartoon in the "Houston Chronicle." He credits his recent "Saturday Night Live" work with jolting the Clinton campaign back to life. So Jim, good to have you here. It's a real treat.


BROWN: So what was your inspiration for the 3:00 a.m. sketch? Tell me what brought it on.

DOWNEY: Well, I'd wanted to do something -- actually, I wanted to do something with our photographer, Mary Ellen Matthews (ph), in the spirit of the Cuban missile crisis...


DOWNEY: ... pictures from '62.


DOWNEY: And I just thought it would be more preposterous to have still photos for that 3:00 a.m. attack ad parody that everyone knew we had to do.

BROWN: Yes. And well, how did you know it? I mean, you were getting -- you're obviously, are you a news junky? I mean, you're watching this stuff?

DOWNEY: I do. I do watch the news. I don't watch much commentary on the news. I'm not always up on what's -- say Howard Kurtz is doing.


DOWNEY: But I watch you and everybody else, you know.

BROWN: I want to show our viewers another clip and get you to comment on it. Take a look.


FEMALE ANNOUNCER: Today, he is one of our nation's truly visionary leaders. And soon, knock on wood, the first black president of the United States. Senator Barack Obama.

ACTOR PLAYING TIM RUSSERT: Who is this man? What's his name?


ACTOR PLAYING TIM RUSSERT: Dmitri Medvedev. Senator Obama, same question?


ACTOR PLAYING TIM RUSSERT: Correct. Senator Clinton, Nigeria's foreign affair's minister. Can you name him?


ACTOR PLAYING TIM RUSSERT: Ojo Maduekwe. Senator Obama, same question.



BROWN: OK. So let me first say that I was -- it was a milestone in my life being mocked by you. I was deeply, deeply honored. But both of those clips were about bias in the media. You're basically saying that we go much easier on Obama than we do on Senator Clinton. Do you think that's true?

DOWNEY: Well, first of all, I want you to say I don't want you to feel singled out that you were inserted in the wrong place at the wrong time.

BROWN: OK. All right, all right, all right.

DOWNEY: It could have been easily, you know, someone from FOX --


BROWN: I love that you're apologizing to me. But do you think generally that the media --

DOWNEY: But I do think there were two things in play that the -- there's a sort of delight that a lot of news people take in tormenting Hillary Clinton. And I know the feeling. I've enjoyed it in the past myself, but I did feel like for some people there's a -- they just love watching her squirm. And with Obama, there was more -- and I love Obama, but there was more of a -- the coverage was so like a 15- year-old girl at like an N'Sync concert 10 years ago.


DOWNEY: You know, sort of it was almost like homoerotic. It was so gushy. And I just thought that the people would -- that that would resonate, and I think it did.

BROWN: Well, it's doing more than just resonating with people. Let's listen to this, which is how your work is playing out on the political arena?


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Anybody saw "Saturday Night Live", you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow.


BROWN: What do you think when it becomes part of the process like that...

DOWNEY: Well, I --

BROWN: ... that your work is in the middle of a debate?

DOWNEY: I think it's good for the show. So I'm flattered, and it helps me keep my job, I think. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the idea that people think it has influence just because this election I have all my friends. Everyone I know is much more concerned about and involved in this election. Eight years ago with Bush/Gore, there is a similar phenomenon a little bit with those debate pieces.


DOWNEY: Now, people -- I'm getting calls from people accusing me of like, are you trying to help Hillary? Or thank God for helping Hillary, or I'm not sure I don't know what to make of that.

BROWN: Do you support one of the candidates?

DOWNEY: I actually -- I don't to the extent. Probably of the three, I like Obama the best. But I've been accused of previously (ph) working for Hillary and also in a more of a bank shot way for McCain, by tying Obama and Hillary up. But --

BROWN: Does it influence your writing?

DOWNEY: No, no. Never.


DOWNEY: I mean, it would be a terrible way. It's hard enough to get laughs without also having to factor in, you know, it's like all those other levels.

BROWN: Are you going to miss -- I have to ask this because he was mocked so much in his eight years. Are you going to miss George W. Bush as president, giving you that kind of material?

DOWNEY: In truth, I sort of -- I'm anxious for something new.


DOWNEY: Totally new. Because the problem with the general take on Bush, the sort of the mumbling, vaguely southern --

BROWN: It's done.

DOWNEY: Strategically, which I came up with, I sort of was after that I wanted to do no more malapropisms. You know?


Which do you think is funnier? Who would be of the three candidates, McCain, Obama, Clinton, who do you think would be a funnier president for your purposes?

DOWNEY: I'd have to say Hillary would probably be the most fun because she's very intelligent. So you never have to worry that you were just beating up on someone for not being that bright. Obama might be too cool to leave us any corner to peel up.


DOWNEY: And I just think Hillary would be the best for my purposes. So I suppose I'm for Hillary, yes.

BROWN: I'm looking for that reason and that reason alone. Excited to have new material.

DOWNEY: I just wanted to say my one vote doesn't make the difference.

BROWN: Well, it's great to meet you. Good to have you here.

DOWNEY: Oh, thank you.

BROWN: You've been providing a lot of enjoyment for all of us and a lot of material.

DOWNEY: My pleasure.

BROWN: Good to have you here.

And coming up at the top of the hour, "LARRY KING LIVE" has much more on today's huge political shocker that we've been talking about, the Governor Spitzer prostitution scandal.


BROWN: Stay with CNN for day-long coverage of tomorrow's Mississippi primary. Wolf Blitzer and the best political team in television will be here in the CNN ELECTION CENTER starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time to bring you the results as the votes come in. That's all for tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.