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Obama: We Can't Ignore Race; Fed Cuts Key Interest Rate; Florida Rejects Do-Over

Aired March 18, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Barack Obama confronts the controversy surrounding his former pastor. And he offers a sweeping vision of America's hopes and fears about race. Will his speech change the dynamic of the Democratic presidential contest?
Another big move by the Federal Reserve to try to prop up the economy. We're going to tell you what the new interest rate cut may mean for you and for markets in crisis.

And a monumental United States Supreme Court case. The justices review Washington, D.C.'s handgun bill, and they make history. This is the first time the U.S. Supreme Court is trying to define the constitutional right to bear arms.

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

Barack Obama says race is an issue America cannot afford to ignore right now. And neither can he. The Democrat went to new lengths today to explain his relationship with his controversial former pastor and to condemn his racially-charged remarks. But Obama's speech was about more than just that.

Let's begin our coverage this hour with our Suzanne Malveaux. She was there in Philadelphia when Obama delivered that speech.

Suzanne, he painted a broad picture of America today, beyond going -- going beyond the words of his former pastor.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He certainly did, Wolf. And aides recognized that today was a critical day, a critical moment. This was a time obviously to address the concerns of voters, white and black, regarding race relations. And they realized that today might not necessarily be the end of the discussion. In fact, they begin that it is just the beginning.


MALVEAUX (voice over): Barack Obama...

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm a son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas.

MALVEAUX: America's racial history and it's divisions are now front and center of Obama's campaign thanks to the controversial remarks made by his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who, among other things, criticized the U.S. government and suggested America was to blame to for the September 11th attacks.

Standing in front of eight American flags in the city where the Constitution was born, Obama again repudiated the reverend's remarks.

OBAMA: ... views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation, and that rightly offend white and black alike.

MALVEAUX: But Obama also tried to explain his nearly 20-year relationship with his religious leader.

OBAMA: He has been like family to me. He strengthens my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms.

MALVEAUX: Obama used his own life experience to explain his struggle.

OBAMA: I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother, a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe. These people are part of me. And they are part of America, this country that I love.

MALVEAUX: Obama addressed the history of America's racism -- black anger, white resentment, and its occasional expression in the black church. He called for Americans not to ignore the sensitive subject.

OBAMA: The anger is real. It is powerful. And to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

MALVEAUX: Obama promoted a doctrine of self-help and reiterated his call for Americans to have faith in change.

OBAMA: The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static. What we know, what we have seen is that America can change.


MALVEAUX: And you hear Barack Obama coming full circle. That obviously being the centerpiece of his campaign. Wolf, he certainly hopes to be able to address issues like the economy, health care, those types of things. But they also recognize that race is going to be a controversial, sensitive, and important issue in this campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thanks very much.

Hillary Clinton is applauding Obama for addressing the complicated issues of race, also in Pennsylvania today. She commented on her rival's big speech even before she had actually heard it or read it. Here's what she said.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Issues of race and gender in America have been complicated throughout our history. And they are complicate in this primary campaign. There have been detours and pitfalls along the way. But we should remember that this is an historic moment for the Democratic Party and for our country.


BLITZER: Senator Clinton says Americans can and should celebrate that Democrats will choose either the first African-American or the first woman for a presidential nominee.

We're going to have a full report on Senator Clinton's day. That's coming up ahead.

We're also going to have a lot more on Barack Obama's speech today. If you didn't hear it, you're going to have a chance to hear a major portion of that speech. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now a new move to bolster the economy is getting a thumbs up on Wall Street. Only moments ago the Dow Jones Industrials closed up over 400 points after the Federal Reserve slashed a key interest rate by three-quarters of a point. In Florida today, President Bush is promising that the government will take further action if needed to provide more economic relief.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And so I understand the short-term difficulty, but I want people to understand that in the long term we're going to be just fine.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior business correspondent, Ali Velshi. He's watching all of this.

Cutting rates the sixth time in six months. The Fed is taking decisive action, Ali, but I've got to tell you, some people are concerned about inflation, and that could erode a lot of people's savings if the inflation rate goes up.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're absolutely right. In fact, in our own polling, CNN and Opinion Research Corporation, we know that the economy is issue number one for people, and we know that within the economy, when you break it down, inflation is the single biggest concern of Americans right now. Part of that is gas prices. Part of that is food prices. Now, by the Fed cutting interest rates, you can see there on the board next to me 420 points. That is a remarkable day. In fact, we're just waiting for the numbers to settle in right now, but that's probably the best day we've had all year by the time it settles in.

However, reducing interest rates does have a tendency to push the U.S. dollar down. We've seen record lows on the dollar.

We import so much stuff, Wolf, that when the dollar is worth less, it stokes inflation. So, the effect of giving people a bit of a break on their interest rates may have the unintended consequence of making the average person pay more for their milk and cheese and eggs and gas, and things like that.

BLITZER: There are millions of Americans out there who are having hard times making their mortgage payments because of these adjustable rates that they got themselves into. How, if at all, will this cut in interest rates help them?

VELSHI: Well, the Fed cut three-quarters of a percentage point, and that brings the prime rate down by three-quarters of a percentage point as well. So, the prime rate was at 6 percent. It's now 5.25 percent.

If you have an adjustable rate mortgage or any adjustable consumer loan that is tied to the prime rate, you got a discount today. However, if you have a fixed mortgage, or you're looking to refinance into a fixed mortgage, we started to see those rates go up, because as the Fed has been cutting these rates -- these are short- term interest rates. Long-term interest rates have actually started going up a little bit.

So, an average 30-year fixed mortgage now is up as high as 6.3 percent. We're starting to see those mortgages get more expensive. But for people with consumer loans that are adjustable, you got a bit of a break today.

BLITZER: All right, Ali. Thanks very much.

And this important programming note to our viewers. Please be sure to join Ali weekdays all this week at noon Eastern for a daily report on "ISSUE #1." That would be the United States economy and how you and your money can weather the storm. "ISSUE #1," this week, noon Eastern.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, Barack Obama's speech today on race may turn out to have been a blessing in disguise. Perhaps the biggest question surrounding the senator from Illinois was whether he had the stomach for the kind of bare-knuckle campaign he's likely to face at the hands of the Republicans if he's the nominee.

Pastor Jeremiah Wright gave Obama the chance to show us the money. In the face of a withering barrage of taped replays by the media of Wright's comments day and night, 24/7, over and over and over again for the better part of a week, Obama had little choice but to suck it up and face the issue head on. And so he did.

He wrote the speech himself. No speechwriters.

At one point he said that while he absolutely disagrees with some of the things Reverend Wright said, he can't disown his pastor any more than he can disown his white grandmother, a woman he says sacrificed for him and helped to raise him, but who also confessed her fear of black men who walked by her on the street and who occasionally used racial stereotypes.

Obama said, "These people are a part of me, and they are a part of America, this country that I love."

Well, in retrospect, this episode may have given us all a chance to see how Obama responds when the going gets a little rougher than what he's probably used to. The Pastor Wright incident may have been the baptism by fire that Obama needed to seal his credentials to make a run for the White House.

Here's the question: Does Barack Obama's race matter to you? Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that. We'll see you in a few moments.

Barack Obama makes his most pointed case yet for trying to heal America's racial divide.


OBAMA: This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years.


BLITZER: Coming up, extended excerpts from Obama's speech on race in America. Will it help him gain new ground against Hillary Clinton? If you missed the speech earlier today, you're going to want to see this.

Plus, John McCain's Middle East mistake. The Republican's gaffe in the midst of taking a tough line against Iran.

And later, how does McCain stack up against the two Democrats running for the White House? We have brand new poll numbers suggesting maybe a possible November surprise. I guess it depends on your definition of the word "surprise."

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


BLITZER: Barack Obama is telling the nation that racially- charged remarks by his former pastor were divisive and flat-out wrong. But will Obama's sweeping speech today take the political sting out of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's remarks? You can decide for yourself.

We're going to play for you right now an extended excerpt of Obama's remarks in Pennsylvania.


OBAMA: I went into the spectrum. We've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action, that it's based solely on the desire of wild and wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap.

On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation, and that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned in unequivocal terms the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy and in some cases pain. For some, nagging questions remain -- did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course.

Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in the church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely. Just as I am sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests or rabbis with which you strongly disagree.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's efforts to speak out against perceived injustice.

Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country, a view that sees white racism as endemic and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America. A view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong, but divisive. Divisive at a time when we need unity, racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems -- two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis, and potentially devastating climate change. Problems that are neither black or white, or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideas, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church?

I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television sets and YouTube, if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there's no doubt that I would react in much the same way. But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man.

The man I met more than 20 years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another, to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a United States Marine and who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country. And who over 30 years has led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on earth by housing the homeless, administering to the needy, providing daycare services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety -- the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing and clapping and screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear.

The church contains in fill the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and, yes, the bitterness and biases that make up the black experience in America. And this helps explain perhaps my relationship with Reverend Wright.

As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthens my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradiction, the good and the bad, of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother, a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me, and they are part of America, this country that I love.

Now, some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. And I suppose the politically safe thing to do would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork.

We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro in the aftermath of her recent statements as harboring some deep-seated bias. But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America -- to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in the country that we've never really worked through. A part of our union that we have not yet made perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care or education or the need to find good jobs for every American.

And contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naive as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidate.


Particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own. But I have asserted a firm conviction, a conviction routed in my faith in God and my faith in the American people that, working together, we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds. And that, in fact, we have no choice. We have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.


BLITZER: Barack Obama speaking earlier today in Philadelphia.

In Florida, meanwhile, the idea of a revote for Democrats is out. So what idea might be in to try to get the state's delegates seated at this summer's Democratic convention?

And with Detroit's mayor dogged by a sex scandal, the city council sends Kwame Kilpatrick a stark message: Please resign. Will the mayor stay or will the mayor go?

Lots of news happening right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, some people fear a recession or even worse. How concerned are you that none of the people who want to fix the nation's economy as the next president of the United States have actually run a huge economy?

And with all the government's aggressive acts to try to help the nation's economy, could they ultimately wind up hurting you?

After Eliot Spitzer got caught up in a sex scandal, New York's new governor outs his own extramarital affairs. David Paterson says -- and I'm quoting now -- he didn't want to be blackmailed and confesses several affairs. And even his wife admits being unfaithful.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Many Democrats are waiting with bated breath to try to find out if Michigan will do what Florida won't do; namely, have a primary revote. A proposal in Michigan reportedly is being held up by a key sticking point, a rule that would ban anyone that voted in the January 15 Democratic primary from casting a ballot in the revote.

Meantime, Florida Democrats are trying to figure out where they go from here, a day after state party officials nixed a revote in the so-called Sunshine State.

CNN's John Zarrella is our man in Miami. He's joining us now with more.

John, 24 hours later, what does it look like down there?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, it's interesting. With any hope now of a revote dead, many Democrats have moved very swiftly, very quickly, and they are trying to find a way to make that vote from January 29, that January 29 primary, they want that to count.


ZARRELLA (voice over): Does this look familiar?

CROWD: Count our votes! Count our votes!

ZARRELLA: A bit reminiscent of Florida 2000? This time, it's Democrat on Democrat.

Hillary Clinton -'s supporters made it perfectly clear. No re- vote was ever necessary, they say. It would have cost too much and been impossible to validate voters' signatures. The results of Florida's January 29 primary, they insist, must count.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The will of the people was there. And the numbers are very clear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need to put the $25 million into the school system and make sure our kids have paper, as opposed to doing another vote.

ZARRELLA: Their opinion is not surprising. Clinton beat Barack Obama by 17 points in the primary, largely a beauty contest. None of the candidates campaigned in the state, which the Obama side says hurt him greatly.

Now, in the wake of Monday's state Democratic Party decision that there would be no mail-in revote in Florida, the focus has shifted backward.

KAREN THURMAN, FLORIDA DEM. PARTY CHAIRWOMAN: The Democratic Party does listen to its people. And the people made the decision that they felt like that the January 29, which was a state-run primary, was a primary that they wanted counted. ZARRELLA: But how? How could those results be made equitable to both Obama and Clinton? Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Clinton supporter, insists with a revote off the table, the primary must be part of the solution.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: The delegation must be seated, at least in part, based on votes that were cast.

ZARRELLA: The Democratic National Committee says it is working behind the scenes toward a solution. It will be no small task. It may have been easier to pull off a revote than to get the Obama and Clinton campaigns to compromise.


ZARRELLA: Now, it's pretty clear, Wolf, that there are high- level negotiations and talks going on all over Florida, certainly in Washington, to try and figure out a solution. One thing is clear: the Democratic Party of Florida, by nixing the revote, has, in essence, taken itself out of the equation. They will no longer be part -- and they have admitted that -- of any decision-making process in what's going to happen with the Florida vote -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a mess.

All right, John, thanks very much -- our man in Miami, John Zarrella.

While Democrats figure all that out, John McCain is free to travel the world right now. In fact, the man likely to become the Republican presidential nomination (sic) is in the Middle East. He's continuing his tour. It's a fact-finding mission. He serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is joining us. He's following McCain around.

You're in Jerusalem right now. Tell us the latest. What's going on with McCain and his colleagues?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, an odd scene today outside of one of Israel's most solemn sites, the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, a round of applause for Senator McCain as he arrived, some American tourists on hand here cheering him here in Israel. One even shouting, "Mac is back," words her often hears back home on the campaign trail back home.

But, as the senator takes these early steps on the world stage, some fans, also a bit of controversy.


KING (voice-over): In Jordan, a sit-down with a faithful U.S. ally, King Abdullah, and, after touring an archaeological site, tough words for a potential foe. SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We continued to be very concerned about the Iranian influence in Iraq and in the region. Just in the last few days, a cache of weapons was uncovered which had many, I believe 56, of these copper explosive devices, which are the most lethal, which are killing young American service members.

KING: Hardly the first time John McCain has aimed tough words in Tehran's direction. But these raised eyebrows.

MCCAIN: We continue to be concerned about Iranian -- taking al Qaeda into Iran, training them, and sending them back. We continue to be concerned about Iranian influence and assistance to Hezbollah, as well as Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons.

KING: The problem? The Pentagon says there are examples of Iranian weapons ending up in the hands of al Qaeda in Iraq. And there is little doubt Iran provides training and assistance to Shia militants in Iraq.

But al Qaeda is a Sunni group. And U.S. officials say there is no evidence of Iran training Sunni militant on its territory, a fact McCain himself corrected a few moments later, after some prodding from Joseph Lieberman.

MCCAIN: I'm sorry. The Iranians training extremists, not al Qaeda, not al Qaeda. I'm sorry.

KING: Still, Democrats were quick to say the candidate who often boasts of his foreign policy experience can't get the facts straight. An occasional gaffe in a grueling campaign year is not uncommon. But the stakes are much higher now. This is Senator McCain's first overseas trip since becoming the presumptive nominee. And his every word is being watched closely for signs of how a President McCain might change U.S. foreign policy.

After Jordan, Israel. "Never again," a teary-eyed McCain wrote in the guest book at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.


KING: And already on this trip, two hints from Senator McCain how he might be at least a bit different than the Bush administration when it comes to foreign policy in this region.

Senator McCain says he could work better and more closely with European allies on the sanctions aimed at curtailing Iran's nuclear program. And, Wolf, Senator McCain also says that he would be more hands-on in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, although he says he does not see a breakthrough in the near future, to say the least -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John, thanks very much -- John King reporting for -- from Jerusalem.

Something is happening at Delta Airlines. Could it affect your next trip? We are going to tell you what the company just put out. And they're potentially political surprises. You're going to want to see what our new poll says about all three presidential candidates and who might benefit or be harmed by the rough economy.

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


BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what should be the next steps in Iraq? President Bush is surely to ask that question when he attends a special session with the Joint Chiefs of staff. CNN has learned the special meeting is scheduled for one week from tomorrow. The president will seek recommendations about the war and possibly more troop reductions.

High gas prices and a battered economy create another side effect. Because of both, Delta Airlines is offering severance packages to about 30,000 employees, more than half of its work force. The goal is to cut 2,000 jobs, but Delta says it will allow more to leave.

Detroit's mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, effectively thumbs his nose at the city council that wants him to just go away. Kilpatrick's office says he's staying, despite the council's nonbinding resolution of no confidence in him.

It stems from a sex scandal that has ensnared the mayor and his former chief of staff. They reportedly exchanged steamy text messages. And there's an investigation into whether they lied under oath during a separate trial about having a sexual affair -- back to you.

BLITZER: See you in a few moments, Carol. Thank you.

The right to bear arms was written into the United States Constitution centuries ago. But, now, for the first time, the U.S. Supreme Court about to define what exactly that famous phrase in the Second Amendment really means.

Also coming up: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama vs. John McCain on issue one, the economy. Voters rate the candidates, and their responses may surprise you.

And the reaction is coming in to Barack Obama's big speech today on race. Did he put the controversy over his former pastor behind him? Donna Brazile and Terry Jeffrey, they're standing by live -- right here for our "Strategy Session."


BLITZER: The Democrats are still in the thick of their primary battle. John McCain, though, already preparing to take one of them on in the fall. So, how do voters think the Democrats would stack up against McCain on some of the most important issues?

Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's got a brand-new that the numbers are just coming out.

Bill, any surprises there?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, indeed, Wolf. There's a November surprise.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): 2008 ought to be a golden opportunity for Democrats: an unpopular Republican president, an unpopular war, and an economy that three-quarters of Americans believe is already in recession. What's the buzz word in this campaign? Change.

OBAMA: What we know, what we have seen is that America can change.

CLINTON: So, there are big differences. You know, I have been doing this work a long time. And I have been making change for people, as a change-maker.

SCHNEIDER: Here's the big surprise. Asked to choose between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain, the race is very close, Clinton 49, McCain 47. Statistically, that's a tie. What happens if you ask people to choose between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain? Same thing, Obama 47, McCain 46, another tie.

Why aren't Democrats winning by a landslide? Here's a clue. Roughly the same number of voters say Clinton, Obama, and McCain would do a good job handling the economy, about two-thirds in each case. That suggests voters do not link McCain to the Bush administration's economic record.

Here's an even bigger surprise. Sixty-five percent of voters believe McCain would do a good job handling the war in Iraq, more than either Clinton or Obama. Why? Probably because of McCain's experience with the military and national security.

Are voters even aware of McCain's views? Apparently. Most voters know they don't agree with McCain on the issues. They do agree with Clinton and Obama. McCain's support is not issue-based. He is doing well because of personal qualities, which is how he won the Republican nomination.


SCHNEIDER: So, what can Democrats do? Well, they can highlight their issue difference with McCain, and they can try to make the case that a McCain victory would amount to a third term for George W. Bush. Now, that's what campaigns are for. This one hasn't really started yet, because the Democrats are so busy fighting each other -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much for that.

Coming up in our "Strategy Session": Obama and his former minister.


OBAMA: He contains within him the contradictions -- the good and the bad -- of the community that he has served diligently for so many years. I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.


BLITZER: But did Barack Obama do enough to put Wright's racially-charged remarks in their proper context? And is the Reverend Wright's message of empowerment one conservatives -- conservatives -- should believe in? Donna Brazile and Terry Jeffrey, they're here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We will be right back.


BLITZER: It's arguably the biggest speech he's given since he's run for president, Barack Obama tackling the very thorny issues of race and the racially charged comments from his spiritual adviser head on.

Let's talk about that in our "Strategy Session." Joining us, our CNN political analyst, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and conservative commentator, the editor in chief of the Cybercast News Service.

You had a good discussion yesterday before the speech. We wanted both of you to come back and discuss what we heard today. What did you think?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought Senator Obama gave a very courageous speech. Look, Wolf, he had to walk a very thin line and once again repudiate and then distancing himself from the remarks of his pastor, his former pastor. But, at the same time, he had to put race in its historical contest, using the Constitution as perhaps the best metaphor.

I -- I thought he did a great job in putting both of those issues on the table. As a Christian, he believes in redemption. So, he did not disavow the man. He disavowed the sins. And I think now Obama can move on and talk about Iraq and the economy.


TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE: Wolf, I -- I think Senator Obama had an opportunity, had he hit a grand slam, to basically end the race for the Democratic nomination and propel himself with tremendous momentum towards the White House. I think he did the opposite. He went into this speech with a credibility problem. And I think there's at least two things in the speech that may increase that credibility problem. The first was, he says, although he remembers his white grandmother, who he dragged into the speech, making racially questionable remarks, he doesn't remember Reverend Wright ever personally making a remark to him of that nature.

I think a lot of people are going to find that hard to believe. Secondly, while he specifically condemned Jeremiah Wright comments, he spent much of the speech trying to rationalize and justify why Reverend Wright made those comments. And I think, quite frankly, they were not justifiable.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BRAZILE: It's amazing we live in a country where the son of biracial parents is the one giving a race speech, and not the people who have perpetuated racism and feeds off its very divide.

I would hope that, as we look forward, he gave an olive branch, not just to his political opponents, but also a challenge to the country to look at him in the context of who he is, where he's been, and perhaps where he wants to take the country, not just in his association with one person, but his entire life story.

JEFFREY: Let me explain the opportunity I think Barack Obama missed. Yesterday, we talked about the Reverend Martin Luther King. After this speech by Barack Obama, I went back and I looked at the Reverend Martin Luther King's letter from the Birmingham jail, which I think is one of the most outstanding political statements by any American in the 20th century.

What he did in that letter, Martin Luther King, was to appeal not only to the founding principles of the United States, but show how those moral principles, that a just law must comport with the natural law and the law of God, was something that everybody knew in their hearts.

That is not the kind of speech Barack Obama had made today. He tried to justify Jeremiah Wright. Had he made a Martin Luther King- type speech, I think he would be on his way to the --


BLITZER: But he, himself, is not a minister, unlike Martin Luther King. This was not a religious speech he was giving.

JEFFREY: No, but we are going through a basic question about what justifies the laws in the United States, what is the fundamental basis of justice in our country.

I believe that what Martin Luther King said in the letter from the Birmingham jail is, in fact, a moral principle that all -- most Americans -- all Americans know are right. Most Americans will expressively agree with it. BRAZILE: Oh, Dr. King challenged this country in so many profound ways, in ways that made conservatives and liberals uncomfortable, because he talked about the silence of those who witnessed injustice and -- and stood by and did nothing.

But this is not about King, which we will talk about on April 3, April 4. We would love to come back and talk to you on those two days. This is really about Barack Obama and his quest for the presidency and whether or not he can turn that corner.

His campaign has been in a detour. Can he turn that corner? Can he now talk to voters in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Indiana about the problems facing the country? They're not black problems, white problems, Hispanic.



BRAZILE: They're American problems.

BLITZER: And he did make this point. And I say it to you because I know you're a conservative, Terry. He pointed out that African-American men, in particular, have to take greater personal responsibility for their actions.

And listen to how he -- how he characterized that.


OBAMA: Ironically, this quintessentially American -- and, yes, conservative -- notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright's sermons.


BLITZER: All right, we have only heard tiny little snippets, excerpts, those sound bites, from the sermons. But he makes the point that the Reverend Wright, if you listen carefully to what he's been saying over the years, had, in his words, conservative -- a conservative agenda as well.

JEFFREY: Well, you know, I haven't heard every speech Jeremiah Wright has given. But to the degree -- and I take Senator Obama's word for this -- that he tried to teach people that they need to be dependent on themselves, not on the government, that hard work pays off in America, that's a good message. I think it's a message conservatives clearly agree with. I hope liberals would agree with it, too.

BRAZILE: I think liberals agree with it. But most of the messages your hear black churches are very conservative, why is the disconnect. Why is it that the conservative movement, which inspires so much of what you hear in the black church, can't reach those black voters?

BLITZER: Did he end the controversy, or will it go on?

BRAZILE: Well, some will like to, you know, stir up division as long as this country will, you know, exist, which is forever. But I think what he did today was inspire those who want to bring about change.

You heard what Senator Clinton said. Those who want to bring about change, those who want to bring the people together, he inspired them to continue to work for that peace.

BLITZER: On that note, we will leave it.

Donna, thanks very much.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Terry, thanks to you as well.


BLITZER: We have talked a lot about the female vote and the youth vote. But who will the beer-and-wine drinkers raise their glasses to? You're going to surprised to hear this.

And all three candidates, who say they will fix the nation's economy, have never run a major economy. How might that affect how you vote come November?

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


BLITZER: On our political ticker today, drink in this. Our brand-new CNN poll suggest voters' favorite alcoholic beverages may offer some clues about their political preferences.

Among registered voters nationwide, beer drinkers appear more likely to vote for Republican John McCain. The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows, wine drinkers tend to favor the Democratic candidate, whether that's Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

Issues of gender and class play into the poll's findings. Men tend to drink more beer. Women tend to prefer wine, and do -- as do higher-income Americans and college -- college graduates.

Remember, for the latest political news, information like this you want any time, you can check out That's where you can read my daily blog post as well,

Jack Cafferty is joining us with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Is it possible we're getting too much information on this --


BLITZER: Possibly. Yes, it is. That's a -- that's -- the correct answer is yes. It's possible.

CAFFERTY: Just a thought. Crossed my mind.

The question this hour is: Does Barack Obama's race matter to you?

A lot of mail.

Len in Washington writes: "No, Jack, his race doesn't matter to me a bit. I'm a 60-year-old white guy who thinks that, this morning, I may have heard the best comments by anyone in my adult lifetime about this topic. Regardless of what may happen with his candidacy, Mr. Obama brought eloquence and vision to millions of Americans today, things that have been sorely missing from our leaders for decades."

Jo Ann writes from Iowa: "Obama's race does not matter to me. I was a precinct captain for Obama in Iowa. I am white. Race was not an issue in the Iowa caucuses. Obama doesn't want race to be an issue now. But the media keeps talking about it and how it affects the nomination and who supports which candidate -- over and over, endlessly. The media needs to stop dividing us."

Clinton in Memphis, Tennessee: "Yes, it does matter, and to say it doesn't would be ignoring the facts. I have heard it out of people's mouths. They say, 'I am not voting for a black guy.'"

Ruby writes: "Obama's race does not matter to me, but who he associates with does matter. We Democrats cannot criticize Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson for their incendiary remarks and then give Obama a pass. He was a member of the church for 20 years. And this is surely not the first time he has heard Wright preach hate against a whole group of people. Just as I would not support someone who belonged to a neo-Nazi group, I cannot support someone who listens and obviously silently agrees with Reverend Wright's sermons."

Mike in Wisconsin: "No, Obama's race doesn't matter at all, except for his race to the White House. Obama's speech this morning was brilliant and addressed the very serious issue of the continuing race problem in this country. He appeared presidential and in control. Shortly after his speech, I watched Hillary's press conference. How dare she act like the already-elected president? Her arrogance is beyond belief."

And Coady in Winter Springs, Florida, writes this: "Jack, the fact that you have to ask the question proves that it does" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.