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Richardson Backs Obama; Passport File Snooping of Presidential Candidates; Interview With Governor Bill Richardson

Aired March 21, 2008 - 16:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And happening now, Barack Obama beats Hillary Clinton in a battle for a coveted endorsement. Her former rival, Bill Richardson, jumps on the Obama bandwagon.
I'll ask the New Mexico governor what he brings to the Obama campaign and why he didn't choose Clinton.

Also this hour, who's been peeking at the presidential candidates' passport files? This hour, security breaches revealed and the secretary of state says she's sorry.

Plus, John McCain's world. After my travels with the Republican nominee in waiting, I'll tell you what he's been trying to prove overseas and to the voters back here at home.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In the battle for superdelegate support, Bill Richardson's endorsement is considered a big get. Now the New Mexico governor and former presidential candidate has cast his lot with Barack Obama, saying he'd be a historic president. Richardson's endorsement comes despite a history of close ties to both Hillary and Bill Clinton.

My interview with Governor Richardson just ahead. First, though, to CNN's Jessica Yellin. She's been following this story from the campaign trail in Indiana.

And Jessica, this could not have been an easy decision for Governor Richardson.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So not easy, John, that one Clinton campaign staffer said not so long ago that Richardson's like Hamlet. He's been so torn going back and fort over who to endorse, but he's finally made his decision.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): He's a former Clinton confidante, the nation's only Hispanic governor. And his is one of the most sought- after endorsements of all. Now this superdelegate is on Obama's team.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Your candidacy -- and this is an expression of your candidacy -- is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our nation, and you are a once-in-a-lifetime leader. (APPLAUSE)

YELLIN: He says Senator Obama's speech on race did it.

RICHARDSON: Senator Obama has started a discussion in this country that is long overdue and rejects the politics of pitting race against race. Senator Obama showed us once again what kind of leader he is.

YELLIN: Some say the Clintons helped make Bill Richardson's career and they've wooed him aggressively. The former president flying to New Mexico this year for the Super Bowl.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do not get between Bill Clinton and Bill Richardson and the TV set when the Super Bowl is on. So...

YELLIN: But the governor says he developed a soft spot for Barack Obama during all those debates, and clearly a rapport.

RICHARDSON: He didn't mention me, but that's OK.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Did that hurt your feelings, too?

RICHARDSON: Well, a little bit.

YELLIN: The endorsement comes after a run of bad news for Barack Obama, including damaging stories about his pastor, an indicted former donor, missteps on NAFTA, and losses in Texas and Ohio. This could turn the tide. Now the Obama campaign can only hope it clears the way for other uncommitted superdelegates to follow Richardson's lead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: And, John, the Clinton campaign has released a statement saying that she respects Barack -- that Senator Clinton respects Bill Richardson, but it's the voters, not the endorsers, who will decide this election. And Bill Richardson, in his press conference, said that his phone call to Senator Clinton informing her he'd be endorsing someone less was not the easiest conversation he had ever had -- John.

KING: Not the easiest conversation.

Jessica, quickly, there are others out there, some big names -- Gore, Leader Reid, Speaker Pelosi. Any indication that Governor Richardson jumping on the bandwagon will break the dam, if you will?

YELLIN: Absolutely not. I've checked with a number of aides to all the top superdelegates who are uncommitted, and they say they don't see this leading to any kind of stampede to endorse Barack Obama at this time -- John.

KING: Jessica Yellin on the trail for us.

Jessica, thank you very much. And my conversation with Governor Richardson coming up a little bit later in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Now though to a new flap involving Obama, Clinton and John McCain.

The State Department confirms today that all three presidential contenders' passport files have been viewed improperly. Barack Obama is calling for Congress to investigate.

Let's bring in our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee.

Zain, let's start with this one -- who did the snooping, and what do we know about anything? What were they looking for?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, there were three apologies from the State Department today from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The first was to Senator Barack Obama after revelations that three different contractors in three different locations sneaked into his passport files and took a look.

Secretary Rice apologized.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I've talked to the senator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you say you were sorry?

RICE: I told him that I was sorry and I told him that I myself would be very disturbed if I learned that somebody had looked into my passport file. And therefore, I will stay on top of it and get to the bottom of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERJEE: John, then we got word that a trainee, a State Department employee, had looked into Senator Hillary Clinton's passport file last summer. A little later in the day, too, John McCain also not spared. We learned that the same person that sneaked into Senator Obama's file also took a look into Senator John McCain's file.

That particular person is apparently still employed. The State Department isn't giving details on the names of the three people that have been going through these files. But there is an investigation under way.

The acting inspector-general is consulting with the Department of Justice on this. The big question here everyone is asking is, was any of this politically motivated? The State Department is saying it could be, it's not dismissing it, but it's treating this case as people that were just curious.

KING: Curious. Zain, we'll let the investigation go forward. And the State Department investigation might, in the end, not be the only investigation as you hear the calls in Congress and elsewhere.

But let's put the names aside for a second. Let's say you're looking at my passport file or your passport file. What's in it?

VERJEE: Well, we asked that today, all day. And what we're being told here at the State Department is that everyone's file is a little bit different.

But the bottom line is, they're telling us that you've got basic bio information in there. You've got copies of passport applications, maybe a birth certificates, it could be citizenship certificates, emergency contact, that sort of stuff. But, also, if there is more sensitive stuff in the files, a person trying to access it has to have the right authorization. So there's another layer of security there, we're told, but we don't know all the facts yet about these specific files.

KING: We'll keep looking.

Zain Verjee at the State Department.

Zain, thanks so much.

And this kind of passport flap has happened before to Bill Clinton during his first run for president. It was back in 1992, and the State Department confirmed that pages had been ripped from Clinton's passport file from the late 1960s and '70s. Clinton blamed the administration of his opponent, President George H. W. Bush, even though no evidence was found to prove the White House was behind the breach.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You've got this great leader who wants us to trust him who has three highly-paid, highly-placed employees of the nonpolitical State Department who admit that they violated all their procedures in doing a special hit job looking into my passport files. Hell, I could have told them where I live if they just asked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He liked those words, "hit job," though, Clinton did.

Time now for "The Cafferty File."

And Jack, I don't have your passport file, but you have a question.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I do have a question, actually. I have a lot of questions.

This could be the beginning of the end for Hillary Clinton, this Bill Richardson thing. His endorsement of Barack Obama today is huge.

Richardson, of course, served under President Clinton as ambassador to the U.N., secretary of the Energy Department. He's also a friend of the Clintons, watched the Super Bowl with the president last month. So it couldn't be easy, obviously, for Hillary Clinton, when Richardson, whom both candidates had been lobbying hard for an endorsement, came out today and called Barack Obama a once-in-a- lifetime leader.

Richardson said the speech Obama gave on race appealed to the best in us. The New Mexico governor and former presidential candidate's endorsement carries a lot of weight.

He's the only Hispanic governor in the country. That presumably could help Obama in the Latino community. He's also a superdelegate. And this is probably the key.

Richardson will potentially give cover to a lot of the remaining undecided superdelegates by breaking for Barack Obama. Still, roughly half of those 800 party insiders have made no commitment.

Today Richardson suggested that it's "time for Democrats to stop fighting amongst ourselves and prepare for the tough fight we'll face against John McCain in the fall." A veiled call to Hillary to hang it up? Perhaps.

Clinton shrugged off the endorsement, saying both she and Obama have many endorsers and it's the voters who will ultimately decide the election. But when it comes right down to it, there are endorsements, and then there are endorsements.

Yesterday, Dick Morris, former political adviser to President Clinton, said the race is over, Obama has won. Today, Bill Richardson, who likewise has ties to the Clintons, announces he's endorsing Barack Obama.

Here's the question. How significant is Bill Richardson's endorsement of Barack Obama?

Go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog.

What's in your passport file, John? You go everywhere.

KING: A lot of stamps and a lot of pictures of my battle with the scale. You might say some chubby John King photos probably in that passport file.

CAFFERTY: Did you used to have weight issues, John?

KING: I still have them, Jack. Still have them every day.

CAFFERTY: No you don't. Looking good.

KING: We'll be back with Jack in a little bit.

Thanks, Jack.

Now, Bill Richardson says Hillary Clinton is a distinguished leader. So why didn't he endorse the wife of his former boss and why does he resent the Clintons now? Just ahead, I'll ask the New Mexico governor about his endorsement decision and how it might affect the Democratic race.

Plus, has Barack Obama put the Pastor Wright controversy behind him? We have new poll numbers on the political fallout.

And later, John McCain, globe trotter. The Republican's overseas tests of his diplomatic skills.

State right here. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Barack Obama says he couldn't be more honored to have the support of another former presidential opponent as he and Hillary Clinton duke it out for superdelegates and the nomination.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Governor Bill Richardson joins us now from Portland, Oregon, after his big endorsement today.

Governor, thanks for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A big event for the Obama campaign today. They are highlighting this as proof that he is gaining Democrats of stature on his team. But you, yourself, were on this program just a couple of weeks ago with Wolf Blitzer, and you were asked about the possibility who you might endorse, and this is what you said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARDSON: Quite frankly, I don't feel, Wolf, that endorsements by politicians help each other.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You also went on to say, "I don't consider myself that important."

So, why should anyone look at this endorsement and say this matters?

RICHARDSON: Well, I still believe that one politician endorsing another doesn't make that much difference. But Senator Obama had been talking to me pretty extensively since I got out of the race. So did Senator Clinton, who I deeply admire. And it reached the point when I felt that the campaign has gotten too negative.

Instead of unifying as a party, we're kind of tearing each other apart. We have to be ready in November for a very strong Republican candidate. So I felt stepping in, taking a stand for Senator Obama, who I believe can bring us together, was the right step to do. And that's what I'm doing, John.

KING: Do you believe Senator Clinton cannot bring the party together?

RICHARDSON: Well, I believe that she has every right to continue. She's running a very good campaign. But I think that Senator Obama has something special, something that can bring internationally America's prestige back, that can deal with the race issue as he did so eloquently last week, that can deal with the domestic issues in a bipartisan way. And there's something special about the guy that I found out during the campaign.

He's a good, decent man with an enormous ability to inspire. I just saw thousands of people here in Oregon just hanging on to his every word, but with hope in their eyes, with excitement. I've never seen that before. There's something special about this guy, and I want to be a part of it.

KING: Well, you say something special about this guy. You know, you were a cabinet member, you were an ambassador in the Bill Clinton administration. Bill Clinton flew out to spend Super Bowl Sunday with Bill Richardson, and you say it was just two old friends getting together. I see -- we've got a photo of you up on the couch watching the ball game.

Look, the Clinton campaign said today, this is no big deal, this endorsement doesn't matter. Mark Penn said that on a conference call. But the former president of the United States came out to see you, they clearly wanted this endorsement. Bill Clinton put you in a cabinet position, gave you international profile, not just a high national profile.

Why not Senator Clinton? What is it about her that made you say no?

RICHARDSON: Well, I owe a lot to Senator Clinton and to President Clinton, to the Clinton family. But I served well. I paid it back in service to the country.

President Clinton is a good friend. And we have been good friends.

It was very difficult for me to make this decision. It was a painful conversation for me that I had with Senator Clinton last night. But, you know, I believe that my personal feelings, I did run against Senator Clinton and others for president. I feel that you've got to get beyond those personal issues and do what you think is best for the country.

But it was painful, John. It wasn't easy. I do believe she can be...

KING: I don't want to interrupt, but you say it was painful and it wasn't easy. I've spoken to some others who have had that same conversation, and they say at the end it's not all that pleasant.

Take us inside a bit of that conversation.

RICHARDSON: Well, let's say it was a difficult conversation. But, you know, I resent the fact that the Clinton people are now saying that my endorsement is too late because I only can help with Texans -- with Texas and Hispanics, implying that that's my only value.

You know, that's typical of some of his advisers that kind of turned me off. And I see a positive thrust by Senator Obama and his people and want to bring the country together.

But I have enormous respect for the Clintons. If she's the nominee, I'll fight very hard for her. But this was a personal decision that I felt had to go beyond personal feelings and loyalties and what's good for the country.

KING: As you know, back when you were in the race, one of your early ads was a humorous ad, but it was meant to deliver a powerful statement. It was the resume ad. You were sitting across the table, essentially saying, I'm a governor, I've been an ambassador, I've been a cabinet secretary, I've been in the Congress, I've been around the world dealing with these hotspots and hostage negotiations and the like.

You billed yourself as the most experienced candidate in the race. Today you're endorsing a man that many would say is the least experienced candidate in this race.

How can you make up that gap, if you will?

RICHARDSON: Well, clearly, I believe that Senator Obama is the best person to bring this country together and to restore our strength internationally. He has great judgment.

He does have a solid legislative experience in the U.S. Senate. He does have exceptional judgment. I mean, his decision on Iraq, the fact that he saw this as a real abyss, makes a lot of sense.

But I've gotten to know the guy -- his values, his intelligence at debates, his humanity. And I just believe that there's something special about the guy to bring the country together that the country needs now.

Clearly, my message of experience wasn't working. I tried to say that I'd bring change with my experience, but the public, the American people, want change, and they want something new and different that somebody -- that can inspire them. And they're seeing this in Senator Obama. And I'm seeing it, too, and so this is why I endorsed him.

KING: If you look at the polling right now, Governor Richardson, it's clear the American people want the troops out of Iraq, they want the war over. Yet, when you them the question, who is best able to handle Iraq? John McCain beats Obama and Clinton by a significant margin, which leads most to believe the American people, even though they disagree with McCain on the war, have decided he has the better experience, the better judgment to be commander in chief.

Do you have any worry that Senator Obama, if he is the nominee, that the "He needs on-the-job training, I don't" argument would work? RICHARDSON: Well, what you need in a commander in chief first is values. And Senator Obama has that.

Secondly, you need good judgment. And he has that.

Third, you need to surround yourself with good people and have contingency plans on what you're going to do if there's a crisis affecting Americans' national security.

On all those fronts, he scores extremely well. And perhaps the most important one, he can inspire and bring the country together internationally at a time of crisis to tackle our global challenges.

We don't have that. So I see him as a very viable commander in chief who has excellent judgment and would surround himself with some very good people.

KING: Any discussions that one of those good people might be Bill Richardson if Barack Obama wins the nomination?

RICHARDSON: No. You know, John, I love being governor of New Mexico and growing my beard, and, you know, riding my horse. So I'm going to work very hard for him to get him elected.

KING: Next time we do the interview it will be on a horse.

Governor, thanks so much for joining us today.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: When it comes to endorsements by Democratic governors, Clinton has a razor-thin lead over Obama. She's been endorsed by governors in 10 of the 50 states. Obama has been endorsed by nine Democratic governors. And with the fight for superdelegates so intense right now, the remaining nine Democratic governors still haven't sided with either Clinton or Obama.

Amid record home foreclosures and other problems in the mortgage industry, why would two senators want the nation's housing chief to resign?

We'll tell you.

And much of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's economic messages take aim at some of the nation's wealthiest people. So why are some of those same wealthy people on Wall Street sending so much money to the Democrats?

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are battling to win. But might this long fight hurt the Democrats' chances for taking back the White House?

Also, it's among some people's worst fears. What if oil prices reach $200 a barrel or more? How drastically would that affect the price of the food we eat, the price of gas, and the price to travel on planes and trains?

And a man in Cuba talks to CNN about his brush with John McCain during one of the senator's most difficult moments.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Amid the presidential race, another race we're following concerns the bulls and bears of Wall Street. Which presidential candidates are they donating the most money to? It appears Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are getting the lion's share, but some wonder if that might make them too cozy with the financial services sector should either of them become president.

CNN's Brian Todd joins me now.

Brian, you've been looking into this. What are you fighting?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it's interesting that among the Democrats, the consistent message is look to them for relief. But the two remaining Democratic candidates both may have some questions to answer about credibility and just how beholden they might be to those responsible for the home mortgage crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both say they'll take the lead in solving the home foreclosure crisis, and they have tough words for the financial giants who underwrote it.

OBAMA: Some will say it's anathema to come to Wall Street and call for shared sacrifice.

CLINTON: Wall Street helped create the foreclosure crisis, and Wall Street needs to help us solve it.

TODD: But while they were talking tough, new information shows Wall Street was underwriting them. The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that tracks campaign donations, says during the year ending in late January, Senator Clinton got nearly $6.3 million from donors in the securities and investment industry. Most of it from individuals who worked for the big firms. Senator Obama got just over $6 million. Both dwarf Senator John McCain's take of over $2.5 million.

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: The concern is that these candidates will be less willing to call for the necessary regulation of financial markets because of their reliance, their heavy reliance, on Wall Street for campaign cash.

TODD: Both campaigns counter that vigorously. An Obama aide says, his record of calling for Wall Street accountability in the foreclosure crisis is clear and it won't change in the White House.

A Clinton spokesman says it would look much worse if she had taken the money from Wall Street and not been as tough as she has with a far-reaching, aggressive plan for reform. The spokesman points out, many of these contributions are natural byproducts of her representation of New York in the Senate.

But analysts say, this does signal that the days of the Republicans being the party of Wall Street are long since over.

JIM VANDEHEI, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE POLITICO": Most of the establishment of the Democratic Party is now very cozy with Wall Street and very aware of their concerns here in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, the Clinton campaign reflects this double-edged sword more than any other, possibly.

A top economic adviser to Mrs. Clinton is Robert Rubin, a Wall Street titan who is still a top official at Citigroup. But a Clinton spokesman points out it's Rubin, who as treasury secretary, oversaw one of the greatest economic expansions in U.S. history; if anybody can figure out how to deal with the Wall Street bailouts, it's Robert Rubin -- John.

KING: Robert Rubin back with us.

Brian, put it into context for us. Out of the overall contributions to both of these candidates, who have raised tens of millions of dollars, what's the significance of the Wall Street money?

TODD: It can be very misleading. By category, it's the third -- the financial sector represents kind of the -- according to the Center For Responsive Politics, the third leading contributor to all the candidates.

Fifty-five percent of that, they say, goes to the Democrats. But if you look at it among each individual candidate, and the money they have raised over the past year overall, this is a drop in the bucket by most accounts. It doesn't represent very much.

KING: It's still worth watching. Brian Todd -- thank you very much, Brian.

A quick update of the presidential candidates' campaign finances -- according to their new reports to the Federal Election Commission, the Obama campaign had almost $39 million in cash on hand at the end of February. The Clinton campaign had more than $33 million. The McCain campaign had almost $8 million on cash on hand, a much smaller figure. Of course, Senator McCain has the GOP nomination clinched, while the Democrats still are in the midst of their long and costly primary battle.

John McCain is wrapping up his trip to the Middle East and Europe, a possible rehearsal for the role of commander in chief. I had been traveling with the all-but-certain Republican nominee during his new -- new tryout on the world stage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): Last stop, Paris, a meeting with the president, and a final effort to make all this about his day job.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wish every senator would take the same trip that we have taken.

KING: But only one senator is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee for the Republicans. And, without a doubt, the unspoken goal of John McCain's week on the world stage was to back up a favorite campaign theme.

MCCAIN: I have spent my entire life addressing national security issues. And I know how to handle them. I don't know any on-the-job training. And I am prepared to lead.

KING: Prepared as well, he says, to do some repair work.

In much of Europe, George W. Bush is viewed as a go-it-alone cowboy, Guantanamo Bay as a moral outrage. And, from day one, Europeans felt ignored by Mr. Bush on climate change. McCain promises, he would not be more of the same.

MCCAIN: I will join with them to try to address climate change. We won't torture any prisoner that Americans hold in our custody. I think I can -- can improve those relations and have us work together in a more cooperative -- cooperative fashion.

KING: As Mr. Bush knows, it's often not what you say, but how you say it that can ruffle feathers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's an old poster out West, as I recall, that said wanted: dead or alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So, while Senator McCain is known to wish the British would keep more troops in Iraq a bit longer, outside of 10 Downing Street, the picture of diplomacy.

MCCAIN: I believe that that decision is made by the British government and people.

KING: No apologies, though, for a musical parody that many around the world took as a true sign of his thinking. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, APRIL 8, 2007)

MCCAIN: Bomb Iran? Bomb, bomb, bomb -- anyway...

When veterans are together, veterans joke. And I was with veterans and we were joking. And, if somebody can't understand that, my answer is, please get a life.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Senator McCain headed from Paris back to London. He has a personal day, sightseeing in London. He will be back on the campaign trail here in the United States next week.

Barack Obama's big speech on race in America still being digested by many voters. Are they willing to forgive and forget about the racially charged remarks by Obama's former pastor? We will have new poll numbers just ahead.

And Bill Richardson chooses Obama over Clinton. Will the decision pave the way for other superdelegates? That's in our "Strategy Session."

From former Vice President Al Gore to one-time presidential candidate John Edwards, some big Democratic names are still holding their endorsements close to the vest. Why? All that here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Depending on how you look at it, it could simply be a major boon to Barack Obama or a major blow to Hillary Clinton.

New York Governor Bill Richardson, a man who ran against both of them, now backs Obama.

Here for today's "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and Republican strategist Rich Galen.

Gentlemen, let's start with the news of the day.

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: We got the memo on the ties.

KING: Got the memo on the ties.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

KING: I feel out of step here. That's all right.

So, Richardson endorses Obama. A, is it by itself significant? And will it open the floodgates for the other superdelegates out there? PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think it is significant, John.

There are endorsements, and then there are endorsements. There's timing, and then there's timing. You have somebody who has had a tough week out there, and you get the support of Bill Richardson, and not just his support, but the extraordinary things that he said about Obama today.

It's -- I think it's big. And I think the -- there are a lot of folks waiting, and I think a lot of them will wait until Pennsylvania. But this -- this will help Obama, no question.

KING: Does a voter out there in Pennsylvania or anywhere else take a cue from a Bill Richardson?

GALEN: It has a more strategic affect.

First of all, he looked like he was the lounge act at a Vegas joint. I mean, what is he looking -- look at the way he looks.

FENN: You didn't like that beard? Come on.

(LAUGHTER)

GALEN: And these white pants.

(LAUGHTER)

GALEN: But, anyway, here's what -- but remember what he said in that interview that you just did, which was great. It was, he's getting cranky about the way he's treated by the Clinton people, downplaying him, kind of casting him aside. It doesn't mean anything. We don't care.

This is very dangerous. So, what they -- what -- it may not -- it may not sway a singer voter tomorrow or the next day. But they -- to the -- to the point that it really does have an affect on the way the campaigns operate, I think it's very important.

KING: Well, let's talk about that point, because there are some Democrats who say, OK, well, Obama has this almost insurmountable lead. She should get out of the race.

But it's almost insurmountable. It's not insurmountable.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: They don't stop the Indy 500 at 485 miles because I'm 20 lengths ahead. They finish the race.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: Yes. Some cars do break down and go off. I mean, that's the question. No, I think, look, you're into hand-to-hand combat now. Every -- every delegate counts. Every superdelegate really counts. And now that it looks like both Florida and Michigan are probably off the table for a revote, you know, it's even more important, I think, for superdelegates to say where they're going. And this helps -- this helps...

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: I'm not so sure they're going to do it, though.

I mean, one of the things we know about people -- well, we have all covered the Hill, been on the Hill -- that if somebody has a vote on a -- that their vote is crucial, they hold out for as long as possible and see -- to see who gives them the best deal.

And I think that, for a lot of superdelegates, they're just going to wait and see who comes with the nicest bunch of flowers.

KING: Let's move off the superdelegate, some would say an inside baseball story, but an important story, to one of the big issues that will be before the voters in November, and that is the Iraq war.

Your good friend Karl Rove writes this in "The Wall Street Journal" today in an op-ed piece: "Democrats appear to have an ideological investment in things going badly in Iraq. They seem upset and prickly when asked to comment on the progress America is making. They would be better off arguing success allows America to accelerate the return of our troops, rather than appear to deny the progress those troops are making."

Is that a smart and a factual argument from Karl Rove? I was just in Baghdad with John McCain.

FENN: Right.

KING: Who knows whether this lasts. But, in terms of being on the street -- I was there two St. Patrick's Days in a row. That -- question my judgment.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

KING: But it is safer. Now, political reconciliation, long term, will it all stick together? Who knows.

But, when you ask a Democrat about it, they say, no, the surge has failed.

FENN: Well, you know, I think the problem with the strategy that this president has adopted, John, is that there's no exit plan. There's no way to get out.

If you look at the American people now, they will tolerate another year. about 40 percent of them actually want us out within a year. You start adding that up, this isn't three years, four years. It certainly isn't 100 years. So, if the sense is, coming towards this election, that there is no exit plan, that one candidate is just let it go for 100 years, and the others are talking about pulling back, they're going to go.

The other crucial point on this in the election is, independents are almost the same as Democrats in their distrust of this administration and the way the war is going.

GALEN: But here's the -- the advantage that McCain has is that he has been outspoken in favor of more troops earlier on. So, he can legitimately say he did not follow the Bush rules. But he wanted more earlier. I was in Iraq from 2003, 2004. I saw you guys walking around there without your armor. I was very jealous. I wish I had been able to...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I hid a little longer, Rich. It was a slimming effect.

(LAUGHTER)

FENN: You know, the other thing about this I think that's interesting is now we're getting into the economic impact of this war. Barack Obama was talking about it just yesterday, saying, listen, it's costing the average American family $100 a year.

GALEN: Yes, that's not going to do it...

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: That's not going to do it...

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: Well...

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: But you start thinking, how much is this going to cost down the road, and, if I'm hurting, I don't want to be paying...

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: Let me just finish this, John.

I don't think that's what people are looking at. This is an emotional issue for most people. And when they hear Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid appearing to, as Rove said, root against American success, that's where it comes from.

KING: So, let me ask you this, Peter, and to you first, because, if I'm a Democrat, I'm troubled by this finding, then.

You just made a passionate case. Independents want this war over. Democrats want this war over, a passionate case for that. People are tired about this. It's costing them too much money. It's hurting them at a time the economy is hurting them. All of that, whether you agree or not, it's a good, passionate argument to make.

And, yet, we ask voters now, who do you trust to handle Iraq? They disagree with John McCain's position. A clear majority of Americans disagree with his position. But, by a wide margin, he beats Clinton and Obama. If I'm a Democrat, I'm thinking, whoa. They think he's a better commander in chief, and they're willing to say that, even though they disagree with him on this issue.

FENN: Well, and I think this is going to be debated out in the campaign.

It's going to be clearly with the economy the most important thing that voters hear in September and October. But my sense of this, John, is that voters are really concerned about what's happening on the ground, not just some areas are stable, but whether there's political progress there.

This is 80 percent, 85 percent military, 20 percent, 15 percent -- I mean -- excuse me -- 80 percent political, 15 percent, 20 percent military in terms of a solution. And they want to see political solutions happening. And if there's nothing happening, their frustration is I think going to go against McCain come November.

GALEN: To close the loop on how we started this discussion, though, the one advantage that the Clinton folks think that they have is that she's more electable. And how many more 3:00 in the morning ads are we going to see, in essence a scorched earth campaign, by Hillary Clinton?

KING: We have got about half-a-minute left. I want to ask you both quickly, this passport flap. All three candidates' passports have been breached. They say it's a contractor, people who are being curious. The investigation may take us somewhere far different than where we are today.

But just amusing or is there something there?

FENN: You know, my guess, to be honest, there probably is not a lot there.

But I don't understand it. I mean, in 1992, we went through this with Bill Clinton. I'm going to be checking my passport here pretty soon. What are they doing in there?

GALEN: Well, they can look at mine. It's pretty thick...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

GALEN: But the fact is that it was the internal -- the internal controls that caught the guys. It wasn't them kind of sharing it around and showing it around.

FENN: If they did share it around, there would be trouble.

GALEN: Yes, exactly.

FENN: There would be trouble.

KING: All right, we will keep watching this one.

Rich Galen, Peter Fenn, thanks for joining us today in the "Strategy Session."

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Now, Barack Obama has condemned his former pastor's racially charged remarks. Was that, an Obama speech on race, enough to make the controversy go away? Bill Schneider standing by with new poll numbers.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: It's been three days since Barack Obama gave a major speech on race. In that speech and numerous questions, he's explained his ties to his longtime pastor, Jeremiah Wright, but also distanced himself from some of the reverend's most controversial comments.

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider is taking politics to the people aboard our CNN Election Express. He's in Philadelphia today.

Bill, it looks like beautiful, but breezy day there. How has all this affected Obama's political standing?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we have some evidence now that it has affecting Obama's standing. Voters appear to have gone back and forth.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: It just came to me...

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): When tapes of the inflammatory statements may by Barack Obama's pastor came out last weekend, there appears to have been some negative impact on Obama. A poll of Pennsylvania Democratic voters showed Obama's favorable ratings dropping from February to last weekend.

I don't think there's any doubt that the Jeremiah Wright controversy played a role in the 10-point drop in his favorable ratings.

SCHNEIDER: Nationally, Obama's lead over Hillary Clinton narrowed in the CBS News and "USA Today"/Gallup polls. Among Pennsylvania Democratic primary voters, Clinton's lead over Obama more than doubled, to seven points in February, to 16 points as of last weekend. Obama's association with Reverend Wright appeared to be hurting him as of last weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it probably hurt him by association. But I don't think that reflects his views, necessarily.

SCHNEIDER: Then, on Tuesday, Obama gave a speech on race relations. Did his speech reverse the damage? The Gallup tracking poll, with interviews done every day, shows that the speech may have helped Obama some.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I personally was like more Hillary, but, after hearing that speech, was like, wow, you know, this guy really is on to something.

SCHNEIDER: Look at the trend lines showing support for Obama and Clinton among Democrats nationally over the last week. Clinton started moving ahead of Obama last weekend, when the Wright story broke.

By Tuesday, she had a statistically significant seven-point lead. Then Obama spoke about his relationship with Wright and his view of race relations. Clinton's lead began to narrow to five points, and, as of Friday, two points. Friday's results, statistically a tie, represent the first poll in which all interviews were done after Obama's speech.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Tracking polls are not always as reliable as traditional polls. Now, this Gallup tracking poll suggests that Obama's speech may have helped him. But we should wait for additional sources of data from other places to come out before we reach a firm conclusion -- John.

KING: We will keep watching.

Bill Schneider with the Election Express in Philadelphia -- Bill, thanks very much.

Now, clips of the Reverend Wright's controversial sermons and the video of Obama's major speech on race are racking up millions -- millions -- of views online.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what are we looking at?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, John, you have seen them. There are dozens of these clips of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's controversial comments online, some of them 10,000 views on YouTube, some more like half-a-million.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT: Not God bless America. God damn America. That's in the Bible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: And there are plenty more versions where that came from, leading Barack Obama to acknowledge earlier this week that people were troubled.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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 is no doubt that I would react in much the same way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: That was Obama's Tuesday speech on race. And now that's the video online that is hard to miss. It's got 2.5 million views on YouTube, thousands of comments as well.

On Google Video, it's the most blogged-about video online this week. And its online outreach, its online impact has been drawing stories in international newspapers. Some of that online reach is because of a concerted effort by supporters to get it out there.

From MoveOn.org, they launched a campaign to try and e-mail this out to reach 400,000 in-boxes. And they reached that goal. And from the Barack Obama campaign, e-mailing that out to the supporters and urging them to share it with people in their inbox, sending the video viral to compete with a story Obama acknowledged had him shaken up -- John.

KING: And, Abbi, I'm totally shocked one of those organizations supporting that also trying to raise money at the same time. What a shock in politics.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Abbi Tatton for us -- Abbi, thanks very much.

Amid disturbing economic news, some positive signs. Many of you think things will soon be better.

And now that Bill Richardson has endorsed who he wants to be president, might other big-name Democrats follow? Might John Edwards, Al Gore, or Joe Biden choose sometime soon?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our at the Associated Press, pictures very likely to be in your newspaper tomorrow.

In Iraq, a boy waits outside a base to greet a relative being released from U.S. detention.

In Afghanistan, a man performs during a festival celebrating the Afghan new year.

In India, children paint their faces for the Spring Festival of Colors.

And, in Indonesia, after fasting for a month, Hindu men spike their tongues as a way to cleanse the soul.

That's this hour's "Hot Shots" -- pictures worth 1,000 words.

On our Political Ticker this Friday: economic gloom, with a ray of hope. Three-quarters of Americans now say economic conditions in the United States are poor. That's the finding of our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. But look at this. Sixty percent say they expect economic conditions to be good a year from now. And 46 percent, say they're confident they will be able to maintain their status of living next year. Thirty-eight percent say they're confident. Only 16 percent say they're not confident about maintaining their standard of living next year.

A federal appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee over the party's decision to strip Florida of its convention delegates. But, in the ruling released today, the court said the lawsuit raises -- quote -- "significant questions" and could be refiled. A Florida Democratic Party activist says he will pursue another legal challenge, charging the party with disenfranchising primary voters.

The future of Florida's delegates remains in limbo, after the state party rejected calls for a primary revote.

And, remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com.

Jack Cafferty joins us now with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, John, is, how significant is Bill Richardson's endorsement of Barack Obama?

Tons of mails, tons.

Alexandra in Toronto writes: "Very significant for two reasons. One, if a personal friend, former staffer of the Clinton administration is not backing Hillary, it shows there are character issues with the Clintons. And, two, it will encourage other superdelegates to rally around their obvious front-runner, so they can start fighting the Republicans."

Jed in Chico, California: "While it's easy to overplay the importance of some of these endorsements, this is likely to be the most important endorsement for either side to date. While I am confident Obama can lead, Richardson was by far the most qualified out of all the candidates on either side. He's the only Democrat with extensive foreign policy, legislative and executive experience that is desired in a commander in chief. If anyone was ready to lead day one with the judgment and experience necessary, it was Richardson. Forget Obama/Clinton. This year's Democratic dream ticket, Obama/Richardson."

Allison writes: "Unbelievable. Clinton wins New Mexico. Richardson gets 1 percent of the vote, and yet he endorses Obama? Not only can he not carry his own state. He goes against the will of the people in New Mexico. As far as I'm concerned, Richardson just sold his soul for special favors that will never come to fruition."

Velle in Halifax writes: "I thought it was very significant Governor Richardson tactfully and subtly challenged Hillary to quit her campaign and pitch in and help the party to defeat McSame and company. I see by Hillary's reply she still considers herself more important than the party, the country and the people."

Kevin in Sacramento: "The endorsement was big, but what I found compelling was Governor Richardson's well-delivered speech, which dealt with issues ranging from race, to readiness, to personal anecdotes. In fact, the speech was so good, only Senator Obama could have hoped to follow it. And, of course, this could not have come at a more important moment for Senator Obama. My hat is off to the amigo from New Mexico."

And John writes: "Jack, Richardson has got to lose the beard. Nobody will take you seriously if you look like Wolfman Jack."

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: John.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Maybe the man has a point.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Thanks, Jack.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Snoopers peer into the private passport files of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain. The State Department is apologizing and investigating. Could political mischief have been the motive?

Barack Obama snares a big endorsement. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson calls him a once-in-a-lifetime leader. Some big-name Democrats, though, are still sitting on the fence. What are they waiting for?

And, as the candidates bicker, the Obama-Clinton rivalry threatens to turn bitter. If the superdelegates decide the nomination, could Democrats feel the pain come November?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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