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Is the Democratic Infighting Hurting the Party?; Clintons say They Won't Quit; McCain Warns of Premature Withdrawal in Iraq

Aired March 26, 2008 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Barack Obama says he is not afraid of anybody. The Democrat once again confronting the flap over his former pastor. This hour, both Obama and Hillary Clinton have their dukes up and their game faces on.

Is there any sign that she might consider calling it quits? Here is the answer: no.

Is the Democrats' slugfest, though, starting to catch up with them? There's some startling new evidence that's raising some red flags about their hopes of reclaiming the White House. We will update you on this as well.

And right now John McCain is fighting his own war, trying to prove he would be different, a different commander in chief from President Bush? But is he trying a clear enough line?

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

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

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are sending a clear message today. They are both ready to fight for the Democratic presidential nomination as hard and as long as it take. Bill Clinton also stressing today that this battle is far from over and that his wife won't be waving a white flag any time soon.


WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have already had four people come up to me and say, tell her not to quit. And I want to tell you something. My family is not big on quitting. You have probably noticed that.



BLITZER: There is some striking new evidence, though, today that the Democrats' bitter, rough-and-tumble could hurt the party's chances of victory in November. we will get to that story in a moment. First, though, Barack Obama rested and ready to take on all comers.

Here's CNN's Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Barack Obama made it very clear he's not going to let this controversy over his former pastor knock him off his game. It was a town hall setting. He was asked about what his faith meant to him, what Jesus Christ meant to him. And he answered, he responded talking about the golden rule and compassion for the poor, but also defending his association, his relationship to his former pastor and his church.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): A warning to senator Hillary Clinton.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will take on anybody. If I have got the American people behind me, then I fear no man, and I fear no woman.

MALVEAUX: Far from shying away from Clinton's criticism of Obama's controversial pastor, Obama offered this:

OBAMA: I hope people don't get distracted by that. We cannot solve the problems of America if every time somebody somewhere says something stupid, that everybody gets up in arms.

MALVEAUX: Before a largely African-American audience, who occasionally offered Obama an amen, the senator tried to put his black congregation in Chicago into a larger, more inviting context.

OBAMA: Everybody is welcome to come to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street. It is a wonderful, welcoming church. The United Church of Christ, by the way, is a 99 percent white denomination.

MALVEAUX: Obama needs white voters to support him in the contests ahead, most immediately in Pennsylvania, where polls show Clinton has an edge. Obama saved his most pointed criticism for the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, who he mocked as just another version of President Bush, neglecting those who are struggling economically.

OBAMA: George Bush called this the ownership society, but what he really meant was, you're on your own society. If you lose your job, you're on your own. If you got lured in by deceptive mortgage practices, you're on your own. And John McCain apparently wants to continue this.


MALVEAUX: Obama went on to criticize McCain, saying that earlier McCain admitted he didn't know much about the economy and Obama said he proved it yesterday in his speech on the housing crisis. Obviously, this is an issue that they believe resonates with the voters, issue number one, the economy. Another issue that's resonating, however, is this whole controversy over Barack Obama's former pastor. Obviously, the campaign feels that it needs to be continue to address this, while at the same time urging this not to become a distraction -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne, thank you -- Suzanne Malveaux reporting.

New ammunition today for Hillary Clinton supporters to argue she would be a stronger opponent against John McCain than Barack Obama.

Let's go right to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He is watching this story for us.

Bill, could the Obama/Clinton battle create some serious problems for the Democrats come the fall?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, we are seeing some warning signs for those Democrats, and not just because of the split in the party.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The division in the Democratic Party is becoming increasingly bitter. The most recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows the percentage of Barack Obama supporters who say they would be dissatisfied or upset if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination. It's gone from 26 percent in January, just after Clinton won the New Hampshire primary, to 41 percent now.

What if Obama wins? A majority of Clinton supporters now say they would be dissatisfied or upset.

HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: That is the only thing that could make John McCain president, if the Democrats get divided.

SCHNEIDER: Could it? According to the Gallup Poll, about one in five Obama supporters say they will vote for McCain if Clinton is the Democratic nominee. And if Obama is the nominee, more than one in four Clinton supporters say they would vote for McCain.

How high is that? You have to go all the way back to the Reagan years to find that many Democrats willing to vote for a Republican. But the bitterness of the Democratic division is not the only reason so many Democrats are considering voting for McCain.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can't torture or treat inhumanely suspected terrorists we have captured.


MCCAIN: I believe we should close Guantanamo. SCHNEIDER: A lot of Democrats like McCain. Last month, Democrats were split over McCain. Forty-four percent said they like him.

How many Republicans like Hillary Clinton? Nineteen percent. Nearly 80 percent of Republicans dislike her.

Obama claims he can appeal to Republicans. Can he? More than Clinton. Thirty-five percent of Republicans say they like Obama. But that's still not as many as the number of Democrats who like McCain.


SCHNEIDER: With an unpopular Republican president presiding over an unpopular war and a bad economy, this election should be a lost cause for Republicans. But McCain is running neck and neck with both Democrats. He shouldn't be, but he is -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thank you.

John McCain, by the way, is playing what he considers to be his trump card over the Democrats. That would be national security. He gave his first big speech on the subject since clinching the GOP nomination and he tried to put his world view into the context of his own life and of the Bush presidency.

Let's go out to California. Dana Bash is watching this story for us.

He got personal in -- in dealing with this speech, sort of reintroducing his biography, to a certain degree, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He did, Wolf. He talked about three generations of military service, including his own. It's a biography he's going to tell us a lot more about next week.

But today's speech was really about McCain trying to lay out what his foreign policy would look like. And he really tried to draw sharp contrasts not just with his Democratic opponents, but with the current Republican president.


BASH (voice-over): John McCain's emphatic support for keeping troops in Iraq defines his candidacy but defies public opinion. Here, he tried to explain.

MCCAIN: I hold my position because I hate war, and I know very well and very personally how grievous its wages are. But I know, too, that we must sometimes pay those wages to avoid paying even higher ones later on.

BASH: In his first major foreign policy address as presumptive Republican nominee, McCain used his son of veterans background and experience as a Vietnam POW as a contrast to Democrats he calls naive.

MCCAIN: I believe a reckless and premature withdrawal would be a terrible defeat for our security interests and our values.

BASH: He called staying in Iraq a moral responsibility, sounding a lot like George W. Bush. But this speech was mainly an attempt to highlight a McCain world view quite different from the president's.

MCCAIN: Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want, whenever we want.

BASH: Insisting he will abandon the president's perceived go-it- alone mentality.

MCCAIN: When we believe international action is necessary, whether military, economic or diplomatic, we will try to persuade our friends that we are right. But we, in return, must be willing to be persuaded by them.

BASH: Suggesting an end to so-called cowboy diplomacy.

MCCAIN: We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our Democratic allies.

BASH: An attempt to show his commitment to restoring America's tarnished reputation, McCain repackaged a list of other differences with the president -- a treaty on climate change, nuclear disarmament, closing Guantanamo Bay.


BASH: McCain also broke with the president by reiterating his tough stance on Russia, saying that country should not be allowed into the G8 alliance.

All in all, though, Wolf, anyone listening for some new McCain proposals when it comes to foreign policy really didn't hear any in this speech, but what it did is provided a benchmark by which any McCain presidency can and would be judged on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Dana, for that. Dana is watching the story.

Let's get back to Jack. He has got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Forest Lake Area High School in Minnesota was all set to have some veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan come in and talk to the students.

It was an event billed as an academic classroom discussion around military service. Teach the kids about military service in the context of their history classes. But, suddenly, the veterans were told, thanks, but no thanks.

Forest Lake Area High School principal Steve Massey said there were concerns the event was becoming political, instead of educational. And that made it inappropriate for a public school. Translation: Massey got some heat from some parents who complained, he buckled, and canceled the appearance by the veterans. "The Star Tribune" newspaper reports that some parents had threatened to stage a protest if the visit to the school by the soldiers went forward. The visit was sponsored by Vets For Freedom. It's a nonpartisan group whose mission is to educate the public about the importance of achieving success in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The head of that organization, who graduated from Forest Lake Area High School and served in Iraq, called it -- quote -- "extremely unfortunate that a school would bow to political pressure and not bring in a veterans organization."

One education expert suggests what happened in Minnesota might just be the tip of the iceberg in this long political year we are in. He recommends that schools still tackle the tough subjects, but invite opposing groups to speak out on each issue.

So, here is the question: Should the military be allowed to tell its story in the public schools?

Go to Post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See you in a few moments with the best political team on television, Jack. Thank you.

The stalemate in the Democratic presidential race is giving leaders of the party some big-time stress.


GOV. PHIL BREDESEN (D), TENNESSEE: We have got to find some way to get out of this mess that we're in.


BLITZER: Coming up: The governor of Tennessee tells us about his solution to that mess. But would it create new headaches for the Democrats?

Plus, we are tracking Barack Obama's donations to charity. Is there anything in his tax returns that is raising eyebrows?

And did U.S. lawmakers visit Iraq on Saddam Hussein's dollar? It's a developing story we are following this hour.

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


BLITZER: Many Democrats are becoming increasingly concerned that the bitter presidential primary fight could actually damage their nominee's chances in November.

As of right now, by CNN's count, Barack Obama holds an overall lead of almost 140 delegates over Hillary Clinton. But neither candidate is expected to reach the total of 2,024 delegates needed to clinch the nomination without the help of those superdelegates. And that could cause the fight to drag on to the Democratic Convention in Denver at the end of August.

The Democratic governor of Tennessee, Phil Bredesen, thinks he may have a solution.


BLITZER: Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

BREDESEN: My pleasure. Thank you.

BLITZER: You're trying to avoid a big battle in Denver at the end of the summer. Tell our viewers what your proposal is.

BREDESEN: Since the -- if this comes down to the superdelegates, which I don't think anyone really wants -- it would be great if it were resolved in the primaries or between the candidates , but, if it comes down to that, we need to move it up. We need to take care of it in June. What I proposed was, let's get the superdelegates together some way or another, a very small meeting.

BLITZER: Just the superdelegates, not all of the delegates?

BREDESEN: No, no, just the superdelegates, the ones that have to make this decision. They will have the information -- I'm one of them -- that it takes to make a decision after the last primary is over. And let's see if we can't bring some closure to this thing, and not waste the summer beating up each other. Let's be organizing a campaign and running for president.


BLITZER: Now, your -- your proposal is getting some warmth out there. A lot of people like it, a lot of the Democrats.

So, what you're saying is, take those 800 or so superdelegates, those who have said they support one or the other -- or the other candidates, those like you who are still undecided, get them some place in for, what, a two-day mini convention; is that what you're talking about?

BREDESEN: Yes, not with all the hoopla and the sideshows of a convention, more of a business meeting. Get them together. Give the candidates a chance to come and make a pitch to them, and then get people on record.

That obviously isn't the legal determination. That's got to wait for the convention. But I think it would have a huge moral force, if one of the delegates got comfortably over the number they needed. And we can get on with -- with running for president.

BLITZER: And would this be open to the -- for the American public to see, or would this be some sort of backroom, closed-door deal?

BREDESEN: No, I think it's very important to be open. I would just imagine that it would be open, that the -- where the -- each superdelegate stood would be a matter of public record for that.

One of the real concerns I have got is that, if everyone is working on the superdelegates over the summer, I think Americans get very suspicious about what deals are being cut, what's going on in those -- in those back rooms. Let's let the sunlight in. Let's do it early. Let's get a nominee and get on with it.

BLITZER: Have you discussed this with the Clinton and Obama campaigns?

BREDESEN: Yes. I certainly gave them a heads-up when I did the piece in "The New York Times" putting the idea on the table. And there have been some conversations since then.

One of them, I guess Senator Obama has come out moderately warmly, said something nice about it at the end of the week. And, certainly, in the conversation I had with Senator Clinton, she wasn't trashing it at all. She's saying she had to think about it, but asked a number of, I thought, intelligent questions about how it might work.

So, I wouldn't expect them to weigh in on it within a day or two, but I hope that they're thinking about it, because we have got to find some way to get out of this mess that we're in.

BLITZER: So, just to be precise, you spoke with both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama personally?

BREDESEN: No, I spoke with Senator Clinton personally. And Senator Obama and I traded calls a couple times, but then we talked to one of his chief staff people and made sure they had all the information. He and I have not talked personally about it.

BLITZER: Where would you like this two-day meeting to take place?

BREDESEN: I think this has to take place in some neutral city, obviously not New York or Chicago, for obvious reasons, some city easy to get to, maybe a Saint Louis or a Dallas or an Atlanta or someplace like that.

BLITZER: What about Memphis, Tennessee, or Nashville?

BREDESEN: No, Memphis and Nashville are fine, too.

BLITZER: In your state.

BREDESEN: But I'm not trying to be too parochial about this. I think the important thing is that it happen. And -- and it's got to happen under the umbrella of the DNC. No one else has the moral authority to call this together.

BLITZER: What does the chairman, chairman Howard Dean, what does he say about it?

BREDESEN: Well, when I spoke to him about it on Wednesday morning, I won't say he was real warm about the idea. And, you know, he's not been incredibly supportive.

But I would just say, you know, if you agree something's got to be done, what's your plan? If there's a better plan, believe me, I'm all for it. I just want to put a bookend on this thing in the middle of June, so that we don't have a disastrous summer for the party.

BLITZER: And, so, basically, what you're -- you're scared of is, if this goes on to a brokered convention, as they say, at the end of August, this would merely help John McCain going ahead in November?

BREDESEN: Well, I think there's no question about it. I mean, if we come out of a convention with a nominee, but with a badly divided party, an emotionally exhausted party, one that has not -- one basically that has been arguing why whoever the nominee is shouldn't be the nominee for the last eight weeks or 10 weeks, I just think that's a terrible platform on which to run for president. It just makes the hill a lot steeper and rockier than it needs to be.

BLITZER: The comment, the sort of intriguing comment that the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, made to that Las Vegas newspaper, where he said -- he was asked, do you think the Democratic race can be resolved before the convention, and he said, "Easy."

"How is that?"

"It will be done."

"It just will?"


And then he goes on. He later denied that he had any specific plan, but it sounds like he might be referring to your plan of this sort two-day meeting. Have you had any discussions with him and Nancy Pelosi about this?

BREDESEN: No, I have -- I have not. And, certainly, I have not spoken to him since I guess a week ago -- a week ago today.

I hope he has a plan. And, again, I don't care if it's mine or someone else's. But I really think the DNC has got an obligation to step in here. This is a circumstance we didn't expect. And we have got to take this thing off autopilot and fly it to a safe landing. And I have put one idea forward. If he has a better one, I'm all for it.


BLITZER: The Tennessee governor, Phil Bredesen, speaking with me earlier.

Bill Clinton says his family is not big on quitting. But should his wife keep on fighting? The best political team on television standing by to tackle that one.

Federal prosecutors say Saddam Hussein's intelligence service secretly paid for a visit to Baghdad by three United States congressmen in the run-up to the war. We're going to have new details.

And we are also getting these live pictures -- check it out -- of the Golden Gate Bridge, major traffic tie-ups. What is going on?

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


BLITZER: We're getting some new information into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Months before the U.S.-led invasion, Saddam Hussein's intelligence services secretly put up the money for a trip to Iraq by U.S. lawmakers, that according to some prosecutors.

Our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena, is looking into this story.

What are you picking up, Kelli?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's all laid out in an indictment. Federal prosecutors do say that Saddam Hussein's intelligence agency secretly paid to send three U.S. lawmakers to Iraq during the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion. An indictment in Detroit accuses a man by the name of Muthanna Al-Hanooti -- he's an Iraqi-born U.S. citizen -- of arranging for those three lawmakers to travel to Iraq in October of 2002.

Now, this indictment suggests that Al-Hanooti believed that these lawmakers may have been sympathetic to lifting sanctions, economic sanctions, against Iraq. Prosecutors say that Iraqi intelligence officials paid for the trip through a middleman. And, in exchange, Al-Hanooti allegedly received two million barrels of Iraqi oil.

Now, there is no indication, Wolf, that these three lawmakers knew that this trip was being unwritten by Saddam. They are not named in this indictment. Al-Hanooti, you should know, is a former official with an Islamic charity in Michigan. He faces charges of spying for Saddam Hussein's government. As you know, he has been indicted, but released on bail, Wolf.

BLITZER: We are going to follow this story and see what's going on. Thanks very much, Kelli, for that.


BLITZER: Barack Obama is warning his supporters to keep their eyes on the prize. The best political team on television standing by to talk about the Democrats' distractions and whether their ugly fight will cost them.

Plus, who will it be, Obama or Clinton? We are looking at the delegate math and whether it has to add up to a Clinton exit, despite her own vow to fight on. And John McCain was in his comfort zone today, talking about foreign policy. But did he give voters anything they didn't know before?

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


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

Happening now, The Clintons promise a fight to the finish. Hillary Clinton vows to go the distance and her husband says his family is not big on quitting.

But what does a prolonged battle between Clinton and Barack Obama mean for the Democrats' chances in November? We will talk about that and more and with the best political team on television.

New revelations of snooping over at the State Department. Find out who else's passport files have been breached. We are getting new information right now.

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

Whatever you may think about Hillary Clinton, the Democrat is showing persistence out there on the campaign trail. And she's working that into her message more and more as this primary race drags on and on.

And many are questioning, though, whether she can actually win.

CNN's Jessica Yellin is following the Democratic race -- Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, today, the Clintons seemed to be on a P.R. blitz to make it clear that, no matter what the pundits in Washington say, Senator Clinton has no intention of getting out of this race.


YELLIN (voice over): While Barack Obama was chilling in the Virgin Islands...


YELLIN: ... Hillary Clinton was in the ring fighting on.

CLINTON: I know there are some in Washington and there are some in the media who want this race to be over. Well, I disagree. I think everyone deserves to be heard.

YELLIN: Never say die. It's in the Clinton DNA...

W. CLINTON: I want to tell you something. My family's not big on quitting. You have probably noticed that. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

YELLIN: ... though the odds aren't in the Clintons' favor.

As the math stands today, Senator Clinton would have to win two- thirds of the delegates in all upcoming states to overtake Obama. Even if she got 60 percent of the vote in every district in every remaining primary, it would not be enough to pull ahead.

Still, Democratic insiders are wondering how she might pull it off.

JIM VANDEHEI, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, POLITICO: Nobody can write off a Clinton. I mean, this is a family who's just known and renowned for their ability to make these political comebacks.

YELLIN: And Clinton must see a way. She says she's in the fight through the June primaries.

H. CLINTON: I think that what we have to wait and see is what happens in the next three months. And there's been a lot of talk about what if, what if, what if. Let's wait until we get some facts.

YELLIN: In an interview with "Time" magazine's The Page, she makes it clear if she's handed a victory by the superdelegates, not the voters, that's just fine with her.

H. CLINTON: You know, it's the same thing for Senator Obama. Neither of us will reach the number of delegates needed. Every delegate, with very few exceptions, is free to make up his or her mind, however they choose.


YELLIN: I spoke with one top Clinton supporter who laid out this path to victory for her. He said Senator Clinton has won three of the last four contests. She's poised to win Pennsylvania by a large margin.

He said that if the Obama campaign should collapse, the superdelegates could still flock to Senator Clinton. They could insist that Florida and Michigan's delegates are seated and hand her a victory.

It's a lot of big ifs, but this said encouraging her to get out of the race at this point would be political malpractice -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, thank you.

Let's talk about Clinton's fight and more. Joining us now Mark Halperin from our sister publication, "Time" magazine. He's in New York, along with Jack Cafferty.

And also joining us, our own Dana Bash. She's out in L.A.

Mark, I'm going to start with you, because you spoke with Hillary Clinton yesterday. We just heard that little clip in Jessica's piece. I'm going to play another little clip of what she said to you.

Listen to this.


H. CLINTON: You know, I remind a lot of people that my husband didn't formally wrap up the nomination until June. And when he did, he was behind both President Bush and Ross Perot.


BLITZER: All right. In that interview, what did you come away with, Mark, do you think? She's obviously in this until the bitter end no matter what.

MARK HALPERIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Wolf, all I can say, she's still in it to win it. She doesn't have any indication -- she didn't give me any indication that she plans to get out of the race. She raised the Reverend Wright issue when I asked her about it and said she thought voters were still trying to decide what to think about that.

I think the path to her nomination is not, as the piece suggested, overtaking Obama in the elected delegates. That's not going to happen. The path to nomination, as she sees it, is she wins some upcoming contests, the superdelegates decide to vote for the person they think would be the strongest against McCain. And she's hoping that through her work and some luck, she comes across as the most electable.

She also said in the interview she thought superdelegates wanted someone who would have coattails, who would be a strong nominee to help people down ballot (ph). Now, you can debate which candidate that is, but, again, she's hoping that they see her as the stronger candidate to run with.

BLITZER: What do you think, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Well, I -- you know, there's an old expression, when you're dead lie down. By the metric that is generally considered the measurement by which we determine the winner in this thing, she is behind far enough that she can't catch him. That's in the pledged delegates. And if she thinks at all beyond the end of these primaries and the fact that she is, in all likelihood, going to still be behind in pledged delegates and then somehow thinks about wresting the nomination away from him, I wonder if it occurs to her at all what that might do to this country.

BLITZER: You know, because that's fair question, Dana. And as you think about the answer, I'm going to put up on the screen a bizarre picture on the cover of "The New Republic" -- the new issue.

Take a look at this. "We Have To Choose One: How Obama Versus Clinton is Killing the Democrats." And this is supposedly a morphed picture of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

What do you think about this, this whole battle that she -- she has an uphill struggle, but the damage, potentially, it's doing to whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee?

BASH: It's really incredible, Wolf. You know, despite the cheery disposition that Mark so colorfully described in his interesting interview with Hillary Clinton on The Page today, you know, what is fascinating to me -- I think the most fascinating, particularly from my perch in covering Republicans, and now covering John McCain, is that Gallup poll that came out today.

This was really striking. Bill Schneider did a story on this today, that now it shows just how divided the Democrats are, so much so that supporters of Hillary Clinton now say that if she doesn't win, about a third of them would vote for John McCain and about 19 percent of Obama's supporters say that they would do the same.

I mean think about that. These Democrats are saying that they are so angry at the other Democratic candidate that they would actually vote for the Republican instead.

And, obviously, as you can imagine, the McCain campaign -- they're doing handstands about that right now. And it really does, perhaps, at least settle one question about whether or not this long fight with the Democrats -- among Democrats -- are going to hurt them or whether it could be a little bit of a bad thing for John McCain. That poll really was absolutely stunning.

BLITZER: Well, how worried, Mark, should the Democrats be about that?

HALPERIN: I don't think that worried. I think Senator McCain should not be underestimated. We saw it today with his foreign policy speech. And throughout his career, he has shown great appeal to Independent voters. He now has a lot of running room and the White House will give him as much as he needs to appeal to those Independents. The Democrat, though, is still going to be favored.

I think the critical moment -- there'll be a lot of hand- wringing, because not only is Hillary Clinton out to destroy Obama's early path to the nomination, but the Obama campaign has been aggressive in their rhetoric, as well.

The critical will come, I think, in June or the convention. There will be a loser in this battle. And when the loser is determined, if that person -- be it a man or a woman -- steps forward and says I lost but I want my supporters to unite behind that other person, I think the party will be fine and will have a good chance to beat McCain.

BLITZER: What do you think of the Tennessee governor, Jack, his proposal to have a mini convention two days, if you will, those superdelegates, in early June, meeting and deciding who the nominee is going to be so at least they get that out of the way before Denver, at end of the summer.

CAFFERTY: Well, it's probably not a bad idea. If they televise it live and it's completely open and transparent to the American public it's, you know, it's a decision that's going to have to be made by these 800 superdelegates. And you could make the argument that sooner is probably better than later.

But the key -- the key is that it's done in the open, live on television, no tape delay, no the committee is meeting she'll be out in a minute, he'll be out -- it's got to be wide open and the public has got to be convinced that they're getting dealt cards off the top of the deck or it won't work.

BLITZER: I suspect there would be huge ratings, too.

Dana, what do you think? Dana?

BASH: Yes, no, it's interesting that Jack brought that up in terms of the transparency, because I just got off the phone with a couple of people on Capitol Hill -- Democrats on Capitol Hill. Obviously, that's where a lot of these superdelegates reside. And there doesn't seem to be a lot of interest in this whole idea of the superdelegate primary, particularly because of that reason. These are politicians and they're concerned about the perception that this would be some kind of back room deal that goes against the rules and regulations that are already in place, however flawed they may or may not be.

And one other interesting point about this idea. I heard you asked the Tennessee governor whether or not, for example, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, would be for this. I just got off the phone with his top adviser, who said, you know, that he actually would not be for it. So that just shows you the kind of sentiment that there is -- or isn't, really -- for this idea -- on Capitol Hill, at least.


CAFFERTY: Well, Democrats are really hoping for Chicago 1968 all over again.


HALPERIN: Wolf, there is only two ways --

CAFFERTY: You know, put it all off until August, go to Denver and go crazy.

HALPERIN: There's only two ways to do this superdelegate convention. One is in THE SITUATION ROOM and the other is an MTV reality show.


CAFFERTY: There you go.

HALPERIN: If they don't do one of those two, it's going to fail.

BLITZER: I don't know --

CAFFERTY: Voting with the superdelegates.

BLITZER: I don't know if they could get 800 people in THE SITUATION ROOM, but we could get some locations.

All right guys, stand by, stand by. We'll continue this conversation.

John McCain -- he's laying out his foreign policy, with Iraq right at the center. You're going to find out what he's saying and what it means for his campaign. The best political team on television standing by.

Barack Obama's favorite charities -- you're going to find out how much he gave and who he gave the money to.

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



MCCAIN: It would be an unconscionable act of betrayal, a stain on our character as great nation, if were to walk away from the Iraqi people and consign them to the horrendous violence, ethnic cleansing and possibly genocide that would follow a reckless, irresponsible and premature withdrawal.


BLITZER: Some very strong words from the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, clearly going after his Democratic presidential rivals.

Let's continue with the best political team on television -- Mark Halperin, Jack Cafferty, Dana Bash.

Jack, I'll start with you. How formidable a challenger will John McCain be?

CAFFERTY: Well, I don't know, but that little sound bite we just played about Iraq -- the missing ingredient in what he's saying there is that the tribes in Iraq, whose differences go back hundreds of years, have had five years now since the invasion to arrive at some sort of political reconciliation. They have not.

The differences will be there tomorrow or next week or next month or 10 years from now or 100 years from now. And when we leave, they're going to have to figure it out on their own.

The other option is to sit there, as John McCain suggests, for the next 100 years and watch the army get wiped out a little bit of the time and the country go broke. I mean it's just -- it's a strategy that doesn't make any sense based on the history of the area.

BLITZER: He's not backing, Dana, at all away from his Iraq strategy, despite whatever the political consequences will be. He's gone, you know, completely in this direction of maintaining this military level in Iraq. BASH: Absolutely. There's no question about it. He is even more determined, frankly, to stay with the strategy that really pretty much bears his name -- which is the current military surge -- than he ever was before. But he obviously understands the political reality. And his aides certainly do, which is why you heard today that for him not to just say that, but also try to explain why he believes that and kind of where he's coming from, a lot more about his biography.

You heard him say because of his experience -- obviously, his personal experiences as a prisoner of war in Vietnam for five-and-a- half years, but also because of his grandfather and his father's service, he understands war. He said a couple of times "I hate and I detest war."

So, the point he was trying to make is yes, you know, it's not -- it's not great, it's terrible. But the alternative, from his perspective, which is coming out of Iraq, is even worse. Whether or not that's going to fly is a big question mark.

But, you know, the McCain campaign, they are certainly heartened by these recent polls that show even Americans who really disagree with him on the war and they want troops to come home, they still think that perhaps he is the best guy to at least lead the way as commander-in-chief, which is kind of an odd thing. But that's what some polls show.

BLITZER: And, you know, Mark, in that same speech, while he stood firmly with the Bush administration's strategy in Iraq, he moved away from the president.

He says shut down the Guantanamo base -- the military facility there, the prisoner detention center. Stop the torture, he says. Also, he makes it clear that he has a very different attitude toward global warming -- negotiate a new Kyoto treaty. So he's not completely aligned with the Bush administration.

HALPERIN: Wolf, I'm going to give a little homework to viewers of THE SITUATION ROOM. Go on and read the full text of the speech. Don't read the parts about Iraq, where, as has been said, he agrees with President Bush's policy, in the main.

Almost any other line in that speech -- on global warming, on dealing with Europe, on dealing with Latin America, on dealing with America's role in the world -- every line in that speech, practically, could have been given by Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. They have remarkably similar world views, remarkably similar agendas, outside the important area of Iraq. And that means that McCain is going to be able to distance himself on foreign policy, even as he is supporting the unpopular war.

BLITZER: We'll leave it at that. We'll do the homework.

Mark, thanks for coming in.

Dana, thank you to you.

Jack is not leaving because he's got "The Cafferty File" coming up in a few minutes.

Lou Dobbs is getting ready for his show, that begins right at the top of the hour.

What are you working on -- Lou?


Senator Obama back on the campaign trail today after a couple of days off, ridiculing Senator McCain and going after Senator Clinton. Obama says he fears no woman.

And the Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson -- he's decided maybe that free market, free enterprise stuff at any cost may have been just a little overdone. He's now calling for regulation of Wall Street -- a sign of just how serious our economic crisis is.

And the State Department, overwhelmed with problems in its passport and visa programs.

Our national securities is at risk from that department's decision to, you guessed it, outsource those very important functions. It makes you wonder just what the State Department does these days.

And police in one city want to go door-to-door searching people's homes for illegal guns. There's a little constitutional issue involved here. What happened to the Fourth Amendment?

We'll have that report, all of the day's news. Please join us at 7:00 p.m. Eastern for that and much, much more -- Wolf, back to you.

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

DOBBS: You got it.

BLITZER: Our question for you this hour, should the military be allowed to tell its story in public schools?

Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail.

And that college student who appeared to upset Chelsea Clinton now explaining why he asked her about the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

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


BLITZER: On our political ticker, a closer look at Barack Obama's tax returns.

In 2006, the senator's family had a total income of almost a million dollars. They gave about six percent of that -- more than $60,000 -- to charity. More than a third of their total charitable contributions went to the Trinity United Church of Christ. That's where the Reverend Jeremiah Wright was pastor until recently. A fourth of the Obamas' charitable donations went to the international relief organization, CARE. Twenty-two percent went to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and about eight percent went to the Chicago Dance Theater, where Michelle Obama is a board member.

We're going to be examining Hillary Clinton's tax returns and John McCain's tax returns -- how much money they gave to charity, which charities they gave that money to. That's coming up as soon as they release their tax returns.

The college student who appeared to upset Chelsea Clinton with a question on the Monica Lewinsky scandal now says he was merely giving her an opportunity to show how strong her mother is. The student told CBS he's actually a Clinton supporter and meant no harm when he asked Chelsea Clinton yesterday if the scandal had damaged Hillary Clinton's reputation.

Remember, for the latest political news anytime, check out The Ticker is now the number one political news blog on the Web. That's where you can read my latest blog post, as well.

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

CAFFERTY: The question is: Should the military be allowed to tell its story in public schools?

Alan writes from Minnesota: "If the military can honestly and openly tell school-aged kids about what military service would do for them, then by all means. Let them come to the career day presentation. Clueless kids getting out of high school, falling into the nearest college to major in beer are not doing themselves any good. A few years in the military or some other form of social service would help round and mature them prior to making the real world choice of where to start a career."

Michael writes: "Of course, military members should be able to tell their story in schools. It's the best kind of history lesson available on the current conflict. But this group" -- this was in Minnesota, where this group was invited and then disinvited to appear -- "this group is about as non-partisan as Iraq Veterans Against the War -- non-partisan but certainly not non-political. The underlying discussion has a place. The agenda certainly does not. As an Iraq War veteran myself, I'd be first to complain about this visit -- at least without a chance to partake in the discussion myself."

Colin writes: "I'm a veteran of the Iraq War, spoke after my deployment to my wife's high school class in Georgia. The topic focused on the cultural differences between our two countries. But at the end, when the students asked questions, they learned some of the great things the military can offer besides going to war."

A Proud Military Wife in Pennsylvania writes this: "My husband is active duty. We're stationed in a remote U.S. location. My daughter took an Air Force water bottle to class. It was sent home with a note that the water bottle couldn't have any writing on it in class. Our home number had to be changed and unlisted due to the phone calls of hate against us for supporting the war. This is U.S. history."

And Alan says: "No. Young adults can be easily influenced into thinking was is glamorous and exciting. They won't know the truth until long after they've signed up for four years -- then it's too late." -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. See you back here tomorrow.

John McCain's straight talk running into some twists and turns. CNN's Jeanne Moos following the stumbles, as the candidate follows the teleprompter. This is a Moost Unusual story and it's coming up next.


BLITZER: John McCain certainly has a good speech in him, he just has to get it out.

CNN's Jeanne Moos finds all of this Moost Unusual.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even when your claim to fame is...

MCCAIN: Some straight talk.

MOOS: ...talking straight isn't always easy -- not when there's a teleprompter involved.

MCCAIN: Already tight household budgets are getting tighter, with the real borrower, leaders -- lenders -- lenders who initiate loans --

MOOS: When he won in New Hampshire, Senator McCain's speech was panned because he was reading it from papers looking down.

MCCAIN: To keep this beautiful, bountiful, blessed country safe --

MOOS: Safe from mangled sentences. One of your opponents is the silver-tongued Obama.

OBAMA: Fierce urgency of now.

MOOS: It's urgent that John McCain master the art of the teleprompter.

MCCAIN: And 51 million homeowners --

MOOS: His campaign has been trying different formats, using prompters that reflect the script up onto glass panels to the sides of the podium or using a flat screen directly in front of McCain.

MCCAIN: Find themselves unable --

MOOS: Unable to pull it off without blatantly appearing to be reading.

MCCAIN: So stand up with me, my friends.

MOOS: You can almost read it in his eyes.

(on-camera): When you read teleprompters, your life is basically in the hands of the person who is scrolling the copy along. I can look very natural, like I'm talking off the top of my head and then the prompter person does this and I'm dead.

(voice-over): In Dallas, Senator McCain was soldiering through his teleprompter script...

MCCAIN: Then an uncivil brawl...

MOOS: When suddenly his prompter failed. As he paged through his backup script, the crowd helpfully chanted -- chanted until the teleprompter came back up.

Bill Clinton once looked up to see the wrong speech in his prompter as he was about to deliver the State of the Union.


W. CLINTON: I'm not at all sure what speech is in the teleprompter tonight.


MOOS: One of the worst things that can happen to you when you're reading teleprompters is for the person running the prompter to go too slow so you have no choice but to speak like this. I've even had someone run my teleprompter backward while I was on the air live.

(voice-over): So the next time you notice John McCain struggling...

MCCAIN: In this crisis, as in all I may face in the future...

MOOS: At least he hasn't pulled a Ron Burgundy, movie "Anchorman,"

WILL FERRELL, ACTOR, "ANCHORMAN": I'm Ron Burgundy. Damn it, who typed a question mark on the teleprompter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything you put on that prompter, Burgundy will read.

MOOS: McCain reads what they didn't type.

MCCAIN: Thank you very much.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: It's not that easy reading these teleprompters.

By the way, you've helped make our politics podcast one of the most popular on iTunes. To get the best political team to go, you can subscribe at or go to iTunes.

Thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM reading teleprompters.

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