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Michigan Do-Over Dead?; McCain Campaign Suspends Staffer Over Obama Video; NAFTA Contentious Issue Among Dems

Aired March 20, 2008 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And happening now, Democrats trade blame now that a primary do-over in Michigan appears to be dead. Did Barack Obama prevent Hillary Clinton from getting the revote she wanted?
Also this hour, the road ahead. Can Clinton possibly find a route to victory? We are going to explore her options and her obstacles.

And John McCain tries to be Mr. Diplomacy. He's reining in his straight talk down in London, but his campaign isn't holding back about a staffer's insult of Obama.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, along with the best political team on television. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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

As the Michigan primary revote was falling apart today, Hillary Clinton asked what Barack Obama is afraid of. She's blaming her opponent for striking a serious blow to her presidential campaign. And now many Democrats are asking what happens next and whether Clinton can possibly win the nomination without a do-over.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is following all of this from the campaign trail. She's out in West Virginia covering the politicians, Barack Obama, specifically, today.

Candy, what happens today and what does it mean?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what happened today is that, in Michigan, as it has been in Florida, they cannot find a solution.

The Senate, the state Senate in Michigan, walked away from a plan to have a redo primary there. As you alluded to, Wolf, this is not good news for Hillary Clinton.


CROWLEY (voice-over): The campaign action this day is the inaction in Michigan, where a plan to hold a primary do-over was left for dead. Michigan now looks like Florida, which also stalemated in its efforts to put on a second primary. It's a double-barreled blow in camp Clinton, and she has raised the stakes. SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not see how two of our largest and most significant states can be disenfranchised and left out of the process of picking our nominee without raising serious questions about the legitimacy of that nominee.

CROWLEY: Just prior to the Michigan meltdown, the Obama camp was touting a press release by supporter and Senator Chris Dodd suggesting that the best idea would be "an arrangement where the delegates are apportioned fairly between Senators Obama and Clinton."

Her best-case scenario is seating Michigan delegates in accordance with the first primary results. But he wasn't on the ballot then, so she has focused on the redo, and she blames him for its death spiral.

CLINTON: I do not understand what Senator Obama is afraid of.

CROWLEY: A revote would advantage her, but he says the argument is about fairness, in part because it bars people who may have voted Republican in the first primary because they knew a Democratic contest wouldn't count.

No revote means she loses her best chance to overtake his leads in pledged delegates and the popular vote. But she says it's about disenfranchisement.

He says, baloney.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As soon as she got into trouble politically and it looked like she would have no prospects of winning the nomination without having them count, suddenly, she's extraordinarily concerned with the voters there.

CROWLEY: Michigan is likely to end up with no input at all.

GOV. JENNIFER GRANHOLM (D), MICHIGAN: I would like to see us resolve this. I think the fairest way to resolve it is by having a vote. I think it would bring a huge amount of excitement to Michigan. Our issues would be raised on a national level.

CROWLEY: And the Democratic National Committee may end up with one huge fight at this summer's convention in Denver.


CROWLEY: But, Wolf, as you know well, the Democratic committee does not want to have that fight for all the country to see in Denver this August.

There are some things they can do between now and then. Both Florida and Michigan can take their appeal to seat their delegates to a Democratic rules and credentials committee. And there is still a possibility, although a very, very slim one, that Michigan and Florida could come up with their own solution -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Candy, thanks.

Candy's in Beckley, West Virginia.

This potential for a no deal in Michigan makes contests in the remaining states all the more critical. But, for one of the Democrats, the road to the White House will feel much more like walking uphill.

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

What's the road ahead in this Democratic race, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, to answer that question, we need a road map.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Right now Barack Obama leads Hillary Clinton in both pledged delegates and popular votes. Can Clinton overtake Obama's lead in pledged delegates? She would need to win about two-thirds of the pledged delegates in the remaining contests to do that. That will be tough.

Can she overtake Obama's lead in popular votes? In the primaries and caucuses to date, Obama has gotten about 700,000 more popular votes than Clinton.

We estimate that about six million more people are likely to vote. To overcome Obama's lead, Clinton would have to get 56 percent of those votes. How tough will that be?

In the 28 primaries in February and March, when the Democratic contest became a two-candidate race, Clinton has averaged 46 percent. She's gotten 56 percent or more in only four states, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and her current and former home states, New York and Arkansas.

The next state to vote is Pennsylvania, where our poll of polls shows Clinton leading Obama by 13 points. If you just look at decided voters, Clinton gets just over 56 percent. West Virginia and Kentucky are heavily rural states with a lot of lower-income voters, also good for Clinton. Indiana looks like more of a battleground. Many Indiana voters are in the Chicago media market.

North Carolina, with its large African-American population and a lot of upscale voters, is Obama's most promising state. Obama also ought to do well in Oregon, which has a lot of affluent Democrats. Obama has generally done well in Western states where the traditional Democratic base is small, like Montana and South Dakota.

The outlook is for Clinton and Obama to split the remaining states. Can Clinton get 56 percent of the vote? That's a tall order.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SCHNEIDER: If Michigan and Florida were somehow to redo their primaries, then Clinton would need to carry 53 percent of the remaining voters. But even that wouldn't be easy. She's gotten 53 percent or more in only eight of the 28 primaries since Super Tuesday. Of course, the ultimate decision rests with the superdelegates. But they're likely to pay a lot of attention to who's ahead in the popular vote and who is ahead in pledged delegates -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thank you.

Let's get to John McCain's overseas tour that continues in London today. The all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee made a point of limiting the straight talk he usually takes a lot of pride in.

Dana Bash is watching the story for us.

All right, Dana, did we see a more diplomatic John McCain today?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That definitely seemed to be the goal, Wolf.

You know that Great Britain didn't contribute troops to the military surge that John McCain obviously touts as a big success and that he's so closely associated with. But you didn't hear McCain mention that or anything else, anything other than careful diplospeak on the world stage.


BASH (voice-over): Day five of John McCain's overseas trip took him to 10 Downing Street, a meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and evidence the presumptive Republican nominee is trying to show he can bite his tongue for the sake of diplomacy.

McCain, an ardent supporter of keeping troops in Iraq, has publicly balked at Brown's plan to cut some British forces from Basra. But, here, he wouldn't go there.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I fully appreciate that British public opinion has been frustrated by, sometimes, our lack of progress. All I can do is express my gratitude to the British government and people.

BASH: McCain emphasized his support for a global agreement on climate change, a difference with the current president on an issue that contributed to his unpopularity here.

MCCAIN: I believe it's a compelling issue for the world's environment. And I am committed to it.

BASH: McCain insists he's traveling as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, not a presidential candidate, yet offered a transatlantic response to Democrat Barack Obama's dig at him for mistakenly suggesting Iran, a Shiite government is helping al Qaeda, mostly Sunni. OBAMA: We heard Senator McCain confuse Sunni and Shia, Iran and al Qaeda. Maybe that is why he voted to go to war with a country that had no al Qaeda ties.

MCCAIN: Just as Senator Obama said he was looking forward to meeting the president of Canada. We all misspeak from time to time. And it's very clear that I have a lot of experience in Iraq.

BASH: And other evidence presidential politics is part of this government-funded trip, McCain attended a fund-raiser for his campaign for $1,000 a plate, $2,300 for a photo-op. American citizens only were invited to lunch at London's historic Spencer House.


BASH: And you can see a copy of that invitation to the fund- raiser that did happen this afternoon in London behind me on the wall there, Wolf.

Now, the McCain campaign, they insist that that invitation didn't go out until they got approval from the Senate Ethics Committee. But what the Ethics Committee said is that they had to reimburse the government, you and me, taxpayers, for the expenses of this fund- raiser.

They say that that was about $3,000. That includes the town car to take Senator McCain to that event. It also includes the cost of his hotel room in London tonight and the commercial flight back to the United States. That will happen this weekend.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much -- Dana Bash watching the story.

Let's go to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.


The guy's traveling around the world, says he's doing it as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he's holding political fund-raisers in foreign -- I mean, this is a joke. It's a joke.

Despite Barack Obama's well-received speech on race earlier this week, there are signs that comments by his longtime pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, that were played over and over again on the cable news networks, may in fact have hurt Obama.

A CBS News poll shows that among those voters who had heard about Wright's statements, 30 percent say they have a less favorable view of Obama. Two percent say the view is more favorable. Sixty-five percent say no change.

When it comes to Republican voters, 47 percent say they have a more negative view. And, as for independents, a key voting bloc, 36 percent say they have a more negative view. The survey shows Obama's unfavorable ratings are up at 30 percent, compared to 23 percent last month.

Now, it's important to point out this poll was taken before Obama gave his speech on race relations on Tuesday. There's another sign that the pastor's comments may have hurt Obama's candidacy. A new Gallup tracking poll out today shows Hillary Clinton ahead, 48 percent to 43 percent, in the race for the nomination.

This is the second consecutive day that the tracking poll has shown Clinton with a statistically significant lead. It hasn't happened in more than a month.

So, here's the question: Has the reverend Jeremiah Wright episode changed your opinion about Barack Obama?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ought to be curious to hear what our viewers think. Jack, thank you.

Hillary Clinton says she has the experience. A supporter says she's also tough.


REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: She has the tenacity, I think, to be able to get this war over with.


BLITZER: The anti-war are Congressman John Murtha, he's backing Hillary Clinton, but why, when some people think Barack Obama is more of an anti-war candidate? I will ask Murtha.

Barack Obama's campaign says Hillary Clinton owes you an apology and says more than 11,000 pages of her time as the first lady expose her for supporting something she's now criticizing.

And the rough economy appears to be an equal opportunity offender. The Fed chief Ben Bernanke's help millions of homeowners, but could the economy be causing him problems as a homeowner himself?

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


BLITZER: When war hero and Congressman John Murtha turned against the war in Iraq, he helped galvanize Democrats opposition to the mission. Now, after five years of war, Murtha is staking his hopes for a new course on Hillary Clinton.


BLITZER: Congressman Murtha is joining us now from his home state of Pennsylvania.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.

MURTHA: Nice to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Barack Obama was against the authorization of the war from day one going back to 2002. He's been strongly opposed to the war. Why did you decide that Hillary Clinton would be a better president than Barack Obama, given the fact that she did authorize the war back in 2002?

MURTHA: Well, she voted the same way I did, Wolf. And I remember sitting there waiting on the floor. And I didn't speak at all about the war in this particular instance. In '91, I did, and I led the fight to go to war. But, this time, I felt the president ought to have the option. And I think Hillary Clinton made the same mistake.

But, listening to her speech the other day -- and I've known her for a long time -- and her being in the White House for so long, and even though she may not have been openly involved in these policy issues, she certainly knows the pressure. She knows -- she has learned that you can't do it partisan. You can't do as much as you would like to do. And she has the tenacity, I think, to be able to get this war over with.

Her speech was very thoughtful. She not only talked about getting the troops out. She talked about getting the troops -- getting past Iraq and making sure our troops are ready for any eventuality down the road. And that's what I've been saying for a long time. So, I agree with the speech she made. And I think she would be able to bring people together more than any other candidate. I would hope --


MURTHA: It's going to be a very difficult road.

BLITZER: What does Senator Obama lack, from your perspective?

MURTHA: Well, I -- I will tell you what I think he lacks. And this is a very narrow difference. I think he lacks that experience. I've seen presidents get older, every single one of them. There's seven presidents I've served with. And every one of them have gotten older. They made mistakes. They learn from those mistakes.

I think being in the White House is something that you can't measure. And I think that experience that she had being there with the president and being through these very difficult decisions gives her an edge. And she realizes she can't do all the things she would like to do. But she also realizes that she has to be practical about it.

And she -- one of the things she's convinced, she finally became convinced of, we have to get the troops out. This is crippling the economy. It's crippling the United States, this war in Iraq. I've talked to supervisors. They don't have money for sewage and water. I'm talking to people that fill up their gas tank, cost $24 more, Wolf, today than it did when this war started. If you take a line, you measure that line, it goes straight up, the cost of gasoline, the cost of oil, compared to the war.

BLITZER: Let me play for you this little clip of what Senator McCain, who has had a lot of experience on national security and military matters, what he said the other day about Hillary Clinton.


MCCAIN: She told General Petraeus last year when he testified that you would have to suspend disbelief in order to believe that the surge is working. Well, the surge is working.


BLITZER: All right, you want to respond to McCain's criticism of Clinton?

MURTHA: Yes. Yes. Let me just say this. I measure it factually. For instance, oil production is still about the same as pre-war level. Electricity production is below pre-war level. As a matter of fact, there are seven or eight hours of electricity in Baghdad -- 50 percent unemployment.

And here's the thing that's so frustrating. They haven't been able to convince the allies, the so-called coalition of the willing, to stay in Iraq. As a matter of fact, we have lost 37,000 troops, these allied troops. And, so, we have had to increase.

Every time we turn around, we've got to come up with more money. We have got to convince the allies. We have to do more diplomacy. And I think Hillary Clinton can do that.

BLITZER: But, Congressman, in terms of the reduction in violence, General Petraeus, the U.S. military commander, and others say there has been since the surge started almost a year ago a reduction in violence.

I will play this excerpt of what General Petraeus said. Listen.


GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCES IN IRAQ: We're in a good bit better place in terms of security, and even in terms of political progress by the Iraqis, than we were, say, a year ago. Iraq was on the brink of a civil war.


BLITZER: Does he have a point?

MURTHA: Well, he may have a point, but today he even said there's not enough progress being made in reconciliation. This is something that you can't measure by what they say daily.

I said to him when I was there at Thanksgiving, I said, General, you got to realize the burden this is putting on the American public. The cost of this war is killing us.


BLITZER: John Murtha speaking with me.

Meanwhile, John McCain's campaign says it's not putting up with it. The campaign punishes a staffer for circulating a provocative video that questions Barack Obama's patriotism.

And someone is now under arrest over the New York City crane accident that killed seven people. We will update you.

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



BLITZER: Barack Obama says he knows what he's up against in his political fight with Hillary Clinton.


OBAMA: She's a tenacious campaigner. I don't think either her or her husband like to lose.


BLITZER: Clinton may not like to lose, but can she still win the nomination? The best political team on television is standing by.

Obama says he's found some new fuel for his charge that Clinton has flip-flopped on the NAFTA trade deal.

And here's one way to get your campaign noticed. Coming up, meet Mr. Pro-Life. Yes, that's his legal name right now. Mr. Pro-Life.

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


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

Happening now: Hillary Clinton backers offered to bankroll it, but Michigan's do-over appears to be dead. Now the campaigns are accusing each other of leaving voters without a voice.

A free trade free-for-all, round two -- Democrats engage in name- calling over the NAFTA deal. Do newly released White House records show where Hillary Clinton really stood on the issue?

And real estate records show that even Washington's movers and shakers may be feeling the economic pinch -- all of this coming up, plus the best political team on television.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. More name-calling between the Obama and Clinton campaigns. This time, it's over free trade, the NAFTA deal, and Hillary Clinton's role as the first lady.

Let's go straight to CNN's Jessica Yellin. She's watching this story for us.

Jessica, what's the latest?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, not so long ago, Barack Obama was caught up in a firestorm after one of his advisers spoke out of turn on NAFTA. Now it's Senator Clinton's turn to be in hot water on the issue, maybe.


YELLIN (voice-over): This was Hillary Clinton lashing out at Barack Obama for suggesting she once championed NAFTA.

CLINTON: Shame on you, Barack Obama.

YELLIN: Now the Obama campaign is calling her a hypocrite, saying new evidence shows she was a vocal backer of the trade deal.

Their smoking gun? Just-released White House schedules showing that, as first lady, Clinton attended NAFTA strategy meetings before it passed Congress.

Top Obama strategist David Axelrod insists, "She owes an apology to the people of this country" and questions how she would "treat the truth" as president.

Clinton maintains, the schedules prove nothing.

CLINTON: I have spoken consistently against NAFTA and the way it's been implemented.

YELLIN: And she's hitting back, resurrecting the controversy that erupted when an Obama adviser discussed NAFTA with a Canadian official.

CLINTON: I have been consistent, unlike Senator Obama, who has not been. He tells the people of Ohio one thing, and his economic advisers tell the government of Canada something else.

YELLIN: It's hardly news that Clinton publicly promoted NAFTA as first lady.


CLINTON: Oh, I think that everybody is in favor of free and fair trade. And I think that NAFTA is proving its worth.


YELLIN: A former Clinton White House official who ran one of those NAFTA meetings Clinton attended says, privately, she objected to the bill.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ADVISER: I must tell you, Hillary Clinton was extremely unenthusiastic about NAFTA. She know and I think that's putting it mildly. I'm not sure if she objected to all the provisions of it. She just didn't see why her husband and why that White House had to go do that fight.

YELLIN: But the Obama campaign insists whatever her private opinions, Clinton is not being truthful about the role she played making NAFTA law -- a political he said/she said.


YELLIN: And, Wolf, I spoke with another former Clinton administration official who, like David Gergen, says Senator Clinton, as first lady, did raise concerns about NAFTA, mainly because she was concerned it would distract from promoting healthcare reform, which was her primary focus at that time.

But, Wolf, you can be sure that any perceived inconsistencies on NAFTA will be exploited in upcoming primaries in Pennsylvania and right here in Indiana -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jessica.

The do-over, by the way, in Michigan our top story. It, for all intents and purposes, now appears to be dead. So where does that leave all of those who actually voted in the state's early primary?

Let's discuss it with the best political team on television. Joining us, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, Jack Cafferty and our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's out on the campaign trail in West Virginia.

Deal or no deal, Jack, it looks like the deal from Michigan, the deal for Florida, a formal primary makeover, that's not going to happen.

CAFFERTY: No. And that was the ruling made by the Democratic National Committee back a long time ago. I did a little snooping around and I found this from a call-in radio show called "The Exchange," which was on New Hampshire Public Radio in October of 2007.

Hillary Clinton, "It's clear this election, Michigan, is not going to count for anything."

The point being that when she was the frontrunner and the consensus nominee, she was fine with not bothering to count or seat the delegates from Florida and Michigan. Now that she's behind and that road to the nomination is becoming increasingly difficult for her, it's suddenly Obama's fault that the votes in Michigan -- where he wasn't even on the ballot -- aren't being counted. It's ludicrous.

BLITZER: What's going on behind-the-scenes right now, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, there is no doubt that a revote would have benefited Hillary Clinton, which is why she's fighting for it, not only in the fact that she could use those extra delegates, but, also, she wants to be able to say, at some point, that perhaps she can get ahead of Obama in the popular vote. So this is a real -- you know, this is a real setback for her campaign.

I mean there aren't a lot of options left. Of course, she could decide to litigate this matter with the DNC. A lot of people think that's not likely to happen. But this now does go back to the Democratic National Committee, to the Rules Committee, where she's got a lot of representatives on that committee. And they may try and come up with some kind of a formula, I'm told, that could make both sides happy, although that is going to be really, really tough -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And one of those representatives is Harold Ickes, one of her top strategists...

BORGER: Yes, absolutely.

BLITZER: ...Candy, and he's a tough guy, as all of us know.

CROWLEY: Well, absolutely. And -- but the other thing is there are a lot of Obama supporters on that committee. You're not going to see the Democratic National Committee make a decision on these if, in fact, the case is appealed -- Michigan's case, Florida's case.

You're not going to see the Democratic National Committee siding with either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. I mean, as Gloria said, listen, they need to find something that pleases both sides. I mean that is a very, very tough deal here...

BORGER: Right.

CROWLEY: ...because, obviously, they both have different -- they both have different political aims here. His is oh, fine, let's just divide up these delegates. And hers is no, let's have another primary. I mean more and more, they have run out of time.

And I have to tell you, though, she blames Barack Obama. And, in fact, he did not like this deal in Michigan. But the fact of the matter is there are some who think she made a strategic mistake when she went to Michigan and said we have to have a re-do here and at the same time 10 of her supporters said, listen, we'll raise $12 million and then give it to the State of Michigan to do this. It made it look like a Clinton primary and it made them a little hinky in the Illinois Senate...

BORGER: Right.

CROWLEY: ... I'm sorry, in the Michigan Senate.

BLITZER: Jack, the excellent political writer for "The New York Times," Adam Nagourney, an old friend of mine, he writes in "The New York Times" today, he says Hillary Clinton has got to do three things to get this nomination. She has to defeat Senator Obama soundly in Pennsylvania on April 22, she has to lead in the popular vote in June, and she has to hope that Barack Obama stumbles. In -- on the first part, the latest CNN poll of polls in Pennsylvania has her ahead 52 percent to Obama's 39 percent, nine percent unsure.

Can she do it?

CAFFERTY: Well, yes, she can win Pennsylvania. Can she do the other two things? Probably not.

Obama has about a 700,000 vote lead in the popular vote. It's a pretty good bet he's going to win North Carolina. It's a pretty good bet he's going to win Oregon.

And as Bill Schneider reported on this program a couple of hours ago, in order for her to overtake Barack Obama in the popular vote, she would have to get 56 percent of all of the votes cast in all of the rest of the primaries, right through Puerto Rico. And it's very doubtful that that's going to happen.

BORGER: You know --

CAFFERTY: So the point of the article was that it's becoming a very narrow road for her to get to the nomination and it's looking less and less like she's going to be able to do it.

BORGER: -- You know, Wolf, there are a couple of other things I think she needs to do. She needs to continue to talk about what she says is her electability. And part of doing that is now saying you have not vetted Barack Obama enough.

She's not talking directly about the Reverend Wright, but what she is saying is, gee, the more you know about him, you might wonder that he might have trouble in a general election campaign and that I'm vetted, as she likes to say, and I would be able to withstand what the Republicans are going to throw at me. And, of course this is an argument that she makes to the all-important and all the more important super-delegates.


CROWLEY: But, Wolf, even though electability, obviously, is what Democrats at their core want -- someone that's going to get into the White House -- and I can tell you that if Barack Obama finishes out the primary and caucus season with more in the popular vote, more pledged delegates, having won more states, I don't know that electability -- in fact, I can almost promise you that electability on its own is not going to make the super-delegates move to Hillary Clinton. She's got to have one of those things.

BORGER: She's got to win those big states. She's got to win the states that Jack was talking about before -- Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina.

CAFFERTY: Well, and when it comes to electability, let's remember that Hillary Clinton has the highest negative ratings of any candidate in the race. BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. We're going to continue this conversation and move on to another important subject -- the economy.

Even the Fed, Chairman Ben Bernanke, is feeling some of that pain. Real estate records show the impact of the economic pinch on Washington's moves and shakers. We'll discuss that and a lot more. The best political team on television is standing by.

And a John McCain campaign staffer is sent packing, at least temporarily, for sending out a YouTube video attacking Barack Obama. We'll explain right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Even the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, and other Washington power brokers are feeling some of the economic pinch. Real estate records show that housing prices are sliding here in Washington, just like in most other parts of the country.

Let's discuss with the best political team on television. Jack, shows that his $839,000 house he bought on Capitol Hill four years ago went up to $1.1 million.

But guess what? It's back down to about $840,000 right now.

CAFFERTY: Well, somebody --

BLITZER: And the real estate market in Washington, I've got to tell you, is a lot better than it is in Florida or California or Vegas or a lot of other places around the country.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Pass me a hankie, will you, so I can shed some tears for some Washington guy whose million dollar house is only worth $850,000. He's not going to be homeless. There are a million people in this country losing their homes to foreclosure because of the subprime mortgage mess. Those are the people that I feel sorry for.

If every clown inside the beltway was homeless tomorrow, I'm not sure I could work up a whole lot of sympathy. I just really -- that's not where my focus is.

BLITZER: Much more serious on this point -- Jack makes an excellent point, Candy.

Look at this. The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll -- and you're at a rally where Barack Obama is speaking right now -- economic conditions, we asked, have they made you cut back on spending, we asked the American people. Seventy-five percent are cutting back on leisure activities, 59 percent on clothing. Forty-six percent are cutting back on heat and electricity, 31 percent on TV/telephone/Internet. Thirty percent cutting back on food and medicine.

The country is hurting, Candy, right now. And you're out on the campaign trail. You're seeing it on a day to day basis. CROWLEY: Absolutely. And you can hear it here in this town hall meeting. In fact, I have to tell you, you could hear it in town hall meetings a year ago. The American people the American people felt this a lot earlier than it showed up in the polls, because went to town hall meeting after town hall meeting and people said what about my healthcare, I'm having to decide between medicine and food.

I think what's happened here is that the problem has trickled up, if you will. I think your story about the Fed chairman, obviously, is one of those reasons. I think everybody now -- it has moved not just from working class Americans, but it has moved up. And so you see those phenomenal numbers, which tell us what, of course, we have known for a little while...

BLITZER: All right, so here's the bottom line...

CROWLEY: ...which is that voters think that the economy is number one.

BLITZER: Here's the bottom line question to Gloria.

How is it going to play out on the campaign trail?

BORGER: Well, look, I think any time you have a bad economy, the administration that is in the White House gets blamed for it. And I think that despite all the circular firing that's going on right now in the Democratic Party, this is why the hurdle for John McCain is so high, because people don't want a third term of an administration that has given them this kind of economy. And for better or worse, you blame the people who are in power.

So McCain has to start talking about his economic platform pretty quickly in order to get on an even keel with the Democrats, because this issue set is a Democratic issue set...

BLITZER: And the big challenge...

BORGER:, the economy --

BLITZER: The big challenge for McCain will be to disassociate himself from a lot of the Bush economic policies and show that he would be a very different economic president.

Guys, we've got to leave it right there. Thanks very much.

We'll see Jack in a few moments with "The Cafferty File."

Barack Obama hopes the matter is behind him. But has the issue over his former pastor's racially charged remarks changed your mind about the senator? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail coming up.

And two of the final three presidential candidates share their picks for the final four. We'll tell what you they are, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Lou is getting ready for his show. That begins right at the top of the hour. He's standing by with a little preview.

What's coming up -- Lou?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Well, Wolf, we've got a lot to talk about tonight.

At 7:00 Eastern here on CNN, much more on Michigan's refuse to hold a new primary for Democratic voters -- what appears to be a major setback for Senator Clinton and disenfranchisement for the State of Michigan.

Also, a setback for Senator Obama in the opinion polls and new controversy on race and politics on his campaign trail.

And we'll be joined tonight by the author of a provocative new book on Obama. Shelby Steele among my guests. Steele says Obama is manipulating white voters.

And the Bush administration keeps talking about job growth, but the only thing growing in this economy are government jobs. We'll have that report and a victory for common sense, a defeat for ethnocentric special interests -- a Philadelphia cheese steak shop owner winning his fight to use English only signs. And the proud owner of the shop is Joe Vento. He'll be among my guests here tonight.

Join us for all of that and more, all the day's news, at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.

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

A staffer for John McCain's presidential campaign was suspended today for sending out a YouTube video questioning Barack Obama's patriotism.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's got the details.

What did the video, Abbi, show?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's this video -- "Is Obama Wright?" It splices together the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's controversial comments with Obama sound bites.

It was traced by to Lee Habeeb, a director at a conservative radio network, who tells CNN he made it at home this weekend with a friend, saying, "We're in a world where we're allowed to criticize public figures."

But forwarding the video has led to one campaign casualty. John McCain staffer Soren Dayton was about -- one of about 50,000 people that viewed it. He then sent it out through the Web site Twitter, that allows to you send short updates to friends. That got Dayton suspended today from the McCain campaign. A spokeswoman said: "We have been very clear on the type of campaign we intend to run and this staffer acted in violation of our policy." -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks for that.

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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Has the Reverend Jeremiah Wright episode changed your opinion about Barack Obama?

We got a ton of mail on this.

Len wrote from Washington: "Yes. I will vote for Senator Obama. What his preacher says is of little matter to me. We all have friends and family members who have positions or have made statements with which we may strongly disagree. The important issue is we don't adopt those positions. I believe that to be the case here. I don't find fault with Senator Obama for statements made by Pastor Wright."

Michael in Maryland writes: "No. My opinion of Senator Obama has not changed. My opinion of the narrow-minded gas bags in the press took a steep nosedive, though. We spent a week discussing 10 seconds of a sermon. We didn't discuss five years of a war. We didn't discuss the healthcare crisis in America. We didn't discuss the collapse of a major bank. The media is clearly a rotten institution in dire need of reform."

Carl in Wisconsin: "Why was Obama so quick to accept the resignation of one of his foreign policy advisers because of a remark about Hillary being a monster and yet he stuck with Pastor Wright? Could this be the first of many double standards we're about to see?"

Natalie writes: "It's made me even more convinced that he's the right person for the job of president. My father used racial slurs for every person who didn't look exactly like he thought a white middle class American should look. Should I have left home? Disowned him? The religious right is again proving they are neither religious nor right."

Tracy writes: "I always viewed Obama as a candidate without substance, experience or depth to be commander-in-chief. His rhetoric didn't inspire me. His long association, not episode, with Wright only confirmed what I suspected to be true -- Obama's words mean nothing."

And Jay in Edgewater, Florida writes: "No, not in the least. Senator Obama has explained his views on the race issue so that anybody would be able to know where he stands. If we were all judged by what our friends and acquaintances did or said, I don't think anyone would be elected to any office -- except in New York."



BLITZER: Jack, thank you. Let's get to our political ticker right now. March madness is alive and well in this presidential race. CNN caught Barack Obama filling out his NCAA tournament picks on his campaign plane. Check out Obama's final four. We're going to give them to you right now -- North Carolina, he says, Kansas, Pittsburgh and UCLA.

Is it just a coincidence that North Carolina and Pennsylvania have upcoming primaries?

Obama, by the way, is leaning toward North Carolina to win it all. That means he does see eye to eye, at least on this subject, with John McCain. The Republican revealed his tournament picks on his Web site today. McCain is betting on North Carolina to win the championship. He has UNC, Kansas, Memphis and Connecticut in his final four.

And with all due respect to the candidates, they may have it wrong. Here's my final four. I studied this pretty hard earlier in the day, spent about four minutes looking at all those teams, and this is my assessment -- Tennessee, Georgetown, Memphis and Duke. My big winner, by the way, Tennessee.

For the record, we're told Hillary Clinton is deferring on this important issue to her chief basketball consultant. That would be Bill Clinton.

So what's in a name? A surprise for voters when they head to the polls to pick a successor for Senator Larry Craig.

Jeanne Moos standing by. She'll fill us in on two little words.



BLITZER: Here's a look at some of this hour's Hot Shots.

In Taiwan, a man wears a campaign sicker on his forehead. Elections are Saturday there.

A Palestinian boy celebrates the Prophet Muhammad's birthday in Ramallah.

In the Philippines, a man reenacts the last days of Jesus. Today is Holy Thursday in the Christian religion.

And in India, children celebrate the Festival of Color.

Some of this hour's Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

His name could have voters doing a double take. A contender for Idaho Senator Larry Craig's seat has gotten the go ahead to show up on the ballot under a Moost Unusual name.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Say hello to Mr. Pro-Life, because that's how he says hello.


MOOS (on-camera): Mr. Life?


MOOS (voice-over): Actually, Pro-Life is all one name. The former Marvin Richardson made it his legal name. And now the State of Idaho says he can use it on the ballot when he runs for the U.S. Senate.

PRO-LIFE: It seems like only a nut would do something like that. But I'm not a nutty kind of a person at all.

MOOS: This organic strawberry farmer chose to legally change his name to Pro-Life because he says saving the unborn is...

PRO-LIFE: My mission in life.

MOOS: To make the story even stranger, Pro-Life is running for the Senate seat that Larry Craig is leaving.

SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R), IDAHO: I am not gay.

MOOS: Guess those four words would be too long for the ballot, though Pro-Life is not gay. That's his wife.

Bloggers are taking liberties with the name change, posting comments like: "I guess wide stance was already taken."

Taking on odd ball names is nothing new. There's a guy who calls himself "Vermin Supreme," always running for office up in New Hampshire. And then there's this guy, who changed his middle name from Anthony to "Low Tax."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In "The State of Tennessee v. Byron "Low Tax" Looper."

MOOS: But he ended up in prison for murder, trying to win election with a Smith & Wesson by shooting his political opponent, telling one of his buddies...

SGT. JOE BOND, FORMER FRIEND OF LOOPER: I killed that dude then I busted a cap in his head.

MOOS: "Low Tax" Looper really stooped low.

And remember Grandpa Munster?

AL LEWIS, ACTOR: Igor, please, not now.

MOOS: Al Lewis once ran for governor of New York. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your platform?

LEWIS: Solid oak.

MOOS: He tried using "Grandpa" on the ballot, but no go.

(on-camera): Of course, some people are just born with a name that coincidentally rings a bell.

(voice-over): Meet Dot Comm.



MOOS: Her real name, Dorothy Comm. But friends prefer Dot.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Happy birthday Dot Comm...

MOSS: From Dot Comm to Pro-Life, it's on his driver's license, his Social Security card.

PRO-LIFE: Hey, if people want to laugh about my name, it's fine. Just so they don't kill their baby.

MOOS: Pro-Life is out to make a point, though he expects to get only five percentage points of the vote.

PRO-LIFE: Well, God bless you.

MOOS (on-camera): OK. Bye-bye, Mr. Pro-Life.

PRO-LIFE: OK, bye.

MOOS (voice-over): And when it comes to that final good-bye, one e-mailer joked: "Can't wait to see that tombstone."

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: That's it for us today.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.