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Sen. Casey Endorses Barack Obama; Clinton Dismisses Calls to Quit; Bush Aide Resigns

Aired March 28, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a new call for Hillary Clinton to simply drop out of the race. Growing fears of the fallout as this Democratic contest drags on and on. This hour Clinton feels the heat, even as Barack Obama scores yet another key endorsement.
John McCain advertises his war hero history. He's launching his fall campaign with a brand new commercial and a get to know me tour.

And a defining moment in Iraq. That's what President Bush is calling the current deadly new power struggle. Is he backing off from his upbeat view of the war?

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

An urgent message today from some top Democrats. They want to get their party's nasty primary battle over with sooner rather than later. One senate colleague of Hillary Clinton is going so far as to urge her to simply get out of the race.

CNN's Jessica Yellin is in Pennsylvania with the CNN Election Express. She's watching the story for us.

All right, so what's Senator Clinton's response to the new pressure that is building against her?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Senator Clinton says, look, she's been counted out before, and she thinks it's not too late for a comeback.


YELLIN (voice-over): In case you had any doubt --

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D-NY) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are some people who are saying, you know, we really ought to end this primary. We just ought to shut it down.

YELLIN: She's not going anywhere. As the other Clinton puts it --

WILLIAM JEEFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think any of these people ought to be asked to resign. Let's just saddle up and have an argument. What's the matter with that?

YELLIN: A growing number of party elites insist plenty. DNC chair Howard Dean says a fight to the convention could demoralize the party.

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: We have two great candidates. We need to focus on the issues here. We need the supporters to stop taking positions that are unreasonable. We need to stay on the positive road talking about our strengths and the Republican weaknesses.

YELLIN: Other superdelegates go farther. Senator Chris Dodd tells the "National Journal's" Linda Douglas the campaign should end in May, saying he believes it's a foregone conclusion that Barack Obama will be the nominee. Senator Patrick Leahy is telling NPR, "There is no way Senator Clinton is going to win enough delegates to get the nomination. She ought to withdraw, and she ought to be backing Senator Obama."

What do both men have in common? They've endorsed Barack Obama. The Clinton folks insist all this talk of ending the primary is being driven by Obama's backers.

Senator Clinton is using the issue to raise money. In a letter sent to supporters this morning she writes: "Those anxious to force us to the sidelines aren't doing it because they think we're going to lose. They know we are in a position to win."


YELLIN: And, Wolf, the Clinton camp points to the state I'm in, Pennsylvania, and the excitement here for her campaign is evidence that she needs to keep on going. That's their view.

But a growing number of superdelegates is saying that what needs to happen is currently uncommitted superdelegates should get together and after this primary season plays out just a little bit further, align behind one candidate, effectively forcing the other one out of the race. Senator Clinton hoping that one is not her -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thank you, Jessica. We'll be back with you.

Barack Obama got an important new endorsement today in the critically important state of Pennsylvania. Senator Bob Casey's support could help Obama make end roads among white working class voters known as Casey Democrats. Hillary Clinton now holds a substantial lead in the April 22 primary, according to the polls.


SEN. BOB CASEY, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: I'm here today for one purpose. And it's to endorse Barack Obama to be the next president of the United States.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It would have been easy for Bob just to stay out of it. To stay neutral, and I think everybody would have accepted that. You know, he's got a couple of colleagues in the race. And so when he called me and said, you know, I just think this is the right thing to do.


It meant more to me -- it meant as much to me as any endorsement that I've received on this campaign trail.


BLITZER: Coming up, we're going to take a closer look at some of the past tensions between Bob Casey's family and the Clintons and whether that may have influenced his endorsements. A lot more on this part of the story coming up.

Let's get to Iraq right now and what President Bush is calling a defining moment in the country's history. Deadly fighting between Iraqi forces and Shiite militias rages on today in Basra, Baghdad and Nasiriya. U.S. pilots conducted their first air strikes on Basra to help try to put down the offensive.

All this to marking a sharp escalation in the fight to cripple militias loyal to the radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. In Baghdad today insurgent fire hit the office of the Iraqi vice president. He wasn't there at the time, but two of his guards were killed.

Let's turn to CNN's White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's watching this story for us.

Ed, the president saying today this is a critical situation in Iraq. It could be one of those moments, make or break. What is the latest?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The president for the second straight day trying to assert that a lot of this fighting is positive in the long run because it shows the Iraqi prime minister stepping up, cracking down on militias. But even the president himself is acknowledging the situation right now is precarious at best.


HENRY (voice-over): As new violence ripped through Baghdad and Basra, President Bush declared this is yet another critical juncture in the Iraq war.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There have been other defining moments up to now but this is a defining moment as well. This is a test and a moment for the Iraqi government.

HENRY: Mr. Bush walked a fine line, continuing to insist major progress has been made. Even as U.S. state didn't employees in Baghdad are being told to wear helmets and stay in reinforced structures. This week two Americans were killed in the fortified green zone there.

BUSH: The answer is going to be violence. And that's sad. But this situation needed to be dealt with. And it's now being dealt with. I have said in my remarks there has been substantial progress and there has been. But it's still a dangerous fragile situation in Iraq.

HENRY: That dance was even more delicate as Mr. Bush met with the new prime minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, who is pulling the rest of his nation's troops out of Iraq. Mr. Bush tried to put the best face on the shrinking coalition, noting the U.S. is withdrawing five of its brigades by the end of July.

BUSH: Troops are coming out because we're successful. And so I would view the Australian decision as return on success. Returning home on success.

HENRY: But even with the scheduled withdrawals the U.S. will still have about 15 brigades in Iraq. Approximately 140,000 troops. Slightly higher than pre-surge levels. After a reporter asked about future troop cuts, Mr. Bush acknowledged the latest round of violence has left the picture more muddled.

BUSH: His real question was had the conditions changed such that you believe your commander is going to make a different recommendation than he might have two days ago, and I can't answer that question.


HENRY: That commander of course is General David Petraeus, whose next progress report to congress is going to be in early April, even before some of this new violence. All the signs here at the White House were pointing to some sort of a halt in major troop cuts later this year. After this violence, that's even more likely that there's going to be a pause, Wolf.

BLITZER: If this fighting were to continue or even escalate, forget about further reductions in the number of troops coming back home, is that a fair assessment?

HENRY: Highly unlikely there will be more major troop cuts by this president before he leaves office unless there's some dramatic, dramatic change, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry is at the White House, thank you for that.

Let's check in with Jack, he's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It's going real well over there, isn't it?

BLITZER: Not going well today.

CAFFERTY: Unbelievable.

The Democrats are sweating it out over how voters perceive race and gender in this election. Maybe it's time the Republicans look at how Americans feel about electing a 71-year-old man. Well we'll do that for you, right now. If John McCain wins he would be the oldest person ever to serve his first-term as president.

A new survey out suggests that the public might have some doubts about voting for someone of McCain's age for president, more so than they would for an African-American or a woman. NBC News "Wall Street Journal" poll shows 72 percent of the people surveyed say voters are ready to elect a qualified black candidate, 72 percent -- 18 percent say they're not. Seventy-one percent say they're ready to elect a woman, 20 percent say they're not. But only 61 percent say the voters are ready to vote for a person over 70 while 29 percent say they're not.

Not exactly encouraging numbers for John McCain and the Republicans.

Besides his age, McCain has had his share of health issues. He survived five and a half years as a POW in Vietnam, where he was very badly mistreated. He's also been treated for melanoma, a potentially deadly form of skin cancer, four times in the last 15 years. But the Arizona senator is active. He keeps up a tough schedule on the campaign trail. The reporters covering him say he's the toughest candidate of any to keep up with.

Doctors say there's no reason McCain wouldn't be able to serve as president, although they do point out that certain health risks, things like heart disease and cancer, can become bigger factors for people once they get into their 70s. McCain's campaign plans to release details of his medical history next month.

So here's our question: When it comes to electability, is John McCain's age a bigger factor than the Democratic candidates' race or gender?

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

BLITZER: That poll was really amazing, Jack. That more people potentially could be concerned about someone's age as opposed to their race or gender. It sort of goes against the grain of what the conventional wisdom was.

CAFFERTY: The other thing that's interesting is, the scientists will tell you we're all living longer in this country than we ever used to. I read a thing yesterday, if you and I pass 65, I already have, the chances are we're going to live to an average age of 78.

If he is elected and serves two terms, he would be 80-years-old when he got out of office. But we're living longer, healthier lives than we ever used to. Yet there's that concern that lingers in some people's minds.

BLITZER: Let's not forget John McCain is very perky, robust, 95- year-old mother who is out on the campaign trail as well. That speaks well for his genes.

CAFFERTY: That does. She's the one who said the conservative Republicans will wind up having to hold their nose and vote for her son, which is maybe the best line of this entire political year.

BLITZER: Love that woman. All right, thanks very much, Jack, for that. Hillary Clinton is insisting she's in the primary race for the long haul. But is there any scenario that would force her to call it quits? Clinton supporter James Carville is hinting that there is. My interview with Carville, that's coming up next.

Also coming up, the back story behind Barack Obama's new endorsement. Senator Bob Casey's family had an old feud with the Clintons, did that factor into this decision.

And while the Democrats bicker John McCain is launching his own campaign. Is he making the most of a right opportunity? Lots of news happening today, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: More Obama supporters are calling on Hillary Clinton to simply drop out of the Democratic presidential contest. But are these calls premature?

Joining us now the Democratic strategist James Carville, a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton.

James, thanks very much for coming in.

Patrick Leahy, the Democratic senator from Vermont, had some strong words today. Actually the other day but they're just coming out really right now, saying this to Vermont Public Radio. "There is no way that Senator Clinton is going to win enough delegates to get the nomination. She ought to withdraw, and she ought to be backing Senator Obama. Now, obviously that's a decision that only she can make. Frankly I feel that she would have a tremendous career in the senate."

Now, he's a strong supporter of Barack Obama.


BLITZER: What do you think about his recommendation?

JAMES CARVILLE, HILLARY CLINTON SUPPORTER: Well, first of all, if he's trying to help Senator Obama it's kind of a strange way to go about it. Number one, she's not going to get out.

Number two, it could very well hurt Senator Obama in Pennsylvania that he's trying to deny their right to vote in this presidential primary, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense at all. And her supporters and contributors, who many of them are very loyal members of the Democratic Party, are not going to take very kind to this.

So I know Senator Leahy somewhat. I think he's a very bright guy. But if he's trying to help his candidate here, he's not doing a very good job of it. Most people say let the people in Pennsylvania vote, and let some of these states vote, and at some point when this process is over we'll take a look at it and I think we'll be very united in Denver. BLITZER: Because his argument is that this bickering between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is really hurting whoever the Democratic nominee is going to be. He thinks it's going to be Obama. And that it's only helping John McCain.

CARVILLE: Well, first of all, if they would spend more time just trying to win primaries as they did carping and trying to stop Democrats from voting they would be a lot better off. Honestly, as a Democrat, I don't think this is very productive to try to cut this process short. And I don't think Senator Clinton obviously is going to go through Pennsylvania and beyond that.

There's not much doubt about that. But, again, if they were to win Pennsylvania, then there would be a very good argument to be made that the process needed to be terminated. But first go out and win something. This is not helping Senator Obama actually to win Pennsylvania.

BLITZER: Well, if he surprises a lot of people and upsets her in Pennsylvania, would it be over for Hillary Clinton?

CARVILLE: It would be very difficult. I think I said early on, Wolf, on your show that she would have to win Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania. If she were not to win Pennsylvania I would say it would be extremely difficult. And I think that a lot of people in not just the party, but people in her own campaign would say this is something that is not likely to happen. Let's let Pennsylvanians decide that, and not Vermonters.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens in Pennsylvania, speaking of Pennsylvania, one Pennsylvanian, the senator, Bob Casey Jr., today endorsed Barack Obama. How much of a setback is that for Hillary Clinton?

CARVILLE: Well, he's a dear friend of mine. His dad is somebody that I revered. And I think he's an honorable man. I'm disappointed that he did but I understand that he does that and I think he went about it in an honorable way.

I like Senator Casey a lot. He has many supporters of Senator Obama that I have been and remain on very friendly terms. When the general election comes I'm sure we'll be, whoever the nominee is, shoulder to shoulder with him. So I'm disappointed, I wished he would have endorsed Senator Clinton but I think he went about it in an honorable way and I think he is an honorable man.

BLITZER: So you obviously disagree -- differentiate between his endorsement of Barack Obama and Governor Bill Richardson, whom you called a Judas.

CARVILLE: To say the least. I think that Senator Casey is an honorable man.


CARVILLE: Well, if I said somebody is an honorable man and another man is a Judas, I don't think I've minced a lot of words in the process.

BLITZER: He's a sitting Democratic governor. Maybe you can explain your anger because a lot of people out there keep e-mailing me, why is he so disappointed, so angry at Bill Richardson?

CARVILLE: Well, because I think that when you -- first of all, when you make representations to other people who I named last night on Larry King.

BLITZER: To our viewers who weren't watching, tell us what you said.

CARVILLE: I said that he had told other prominent Democratic fundraisers whose names I couldn't mention but whose initials were Alan (INAUDIBLE), Elizabeth Bagley and (INAUDIBLE), that he had assured him that he was going to endorse Senator Clinton. That he made other representations to other very high level people in the Democratic Party.

And I don't think the way that he went about this was the way that you should do something like this. I vehemently disagree. And every other person who has endorsed Senator Obama, I have said they are dear friends of mine. Senator Daschle, Senator Durbin, Congresswoman Delores husband Stan Greenberg and I have done any number of projects together around the world, just lovely people.

I think the world of them, as I do Senator Casey. I think that Governor Richardson did not act in an honorable way and I singled him out for that.

BLITZER: What about what Howard Dean suggested today? That this has to be wrapped up no later than July 1. I'm going to play a little clip of what he said on "AMERICAN MORNING" earlier today on CNN.

Listen to this.


DEAN: I think the delegates are eventually going to be seated in Florida and Michigan. As soon as we get an agreement between the candidates as to how to do that.


BLITZER: Do you agree with him on that? I don't know how they're going to do it.

CARVILLE: I don't either. July 1, I've not been the biggest supporter of Governor Dean in the past, but that's a much more reasonable approach. And I think that's for the party chair to take than what Senator Leahy said.

I think that's very -- I think that what he said is a very reasonable thing and very appropriate for a party chair to say. I think July 1, hopefully I would as a Democrat, I think the Democratic primary voters as we -- when we finish this process will give us a pretty clear signal of a direction. And then we'll move on from there. But I don't have a problem at all with what Governor Dean said.

BLITZER: All right James, James Carville, thanks very much.

CARVILLE: Thank you.

BLITZER: And after taping that interview we asked Governor Bill Richardson to respond to that very serious charge that James Carville just made that Governor Richardson simply lied about his intentions to major Democratic fundraisers and the response we got from Governor Richardson's communications director was a simple terse statement,"That is absolutely not true."

Democrats talking about the L word. Barack Obama says he's the candidate to unite Democrats and Republicans. But a look at his voting record could suggest otherwise. Just how liberal is he?

And an aide to President Bush has now resigned. We're going to tell you why. The surprising details coming up, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Carol Costello is on assignment in Pennsylvania. She'll be coming up later.

Zain Verjee is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Zain what's going on?


An aide to President Bush has resigned. The White House says Felipe Sixtos stepped down because of the alleged misuse of grant money from the U.S. agency for international development. A presidential spokesman says that he came forward on March the 20th to tell his superiors about the alleged wrongdoing.

It involved improprieties involving the use of grant money and his former employer, the center for a free Cuba. The matter's now in the hands of the Justice Department.

On the international front, the head of a U.N. inquiry says a criminal network is behind the 2005 car bomb that killed the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. Investigators linked the network to the killings of other political figures in Lebanon. They declined to name any suspects at this stage in the investigation.

North Korea is raising tensions in the region by firing a series of short-range missiles into the sea. The firings come as South Korea gets tougher with Kim Jong-Il's regime, saying it wants to see much more progress on denuclearization. The White House says North Korea should not be test firing missiles, while talks on ending its nuclear weapons programs are stalled -- Wolf. BLITZER: Thanks very much Zain.

Zain is going to be back with more news shortly.

Barack Obama has another senator on his side. Was Bob Casey's endorsement influenced though by his family's uncomfortable history with the Clintons?

And questions about whether Barack Obama is too liberal to win the general election. We'll investigate the criticism and his record.

Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, as the Pennsylvania primary campaign heats up, some long-time Republican voters say they're crossing over, defecting to the Democrats. Their reasons in their own words coming up.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hails Barack Obama's speech on race as important for America. The top-ranking African-American in President Bush's cabinet says she watched the senator make his speech last week and agreed with him on many points.

And putting an end to pork barrel spending. We're going to tell you about some of the unusual pet projects that could disappear. All that coming up.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania breaking ranks with many other top Pennsylvania Democrats today by endorsing Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Heading into the critical April 22 primary, some are wondering whether Casey's choice was influenced by ghosts from the past.

Let's go to our senior political analyst Bill Schneider, he's over at the CNN Election Express watching the story in Philadelphia for us.

So what's the story behind the story, based on everything we're learning Bill about this endorsement by Bob Casey?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, this is a story of some old resentments and new opportunities.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Hillary Clinton has the support of most leading Pennsylvania Democrats, Governor Ed Rendell, the mayors of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. So, it was a big surprise when the state's Democratic senator, Bob Casey Jr., did this...

CASEY: I'm hear today for one purpose. And it's to endorse Barack Obama to be the next president of the United States.


SCHNEIDER: Casey gets strong support from older Catholic blue- collar Democrats, precisely the kinds of voter who have been going for Hillary Clinton this year.

TERRY MADONNA, POLLSTER: The profile of Hillary Clinton's voters, she's been winning seniors, winning Catholics, winning working-class voters, winning conservative Democrats.

SCHNEIDER: There's a history of bad blood between the Caseys and the Clintons. Casey's father, Governor Bob Casey Sr., was refused a speaking roll at the 1992 Democratic Convention that nominated Bill Clinton. Some believed it was because he was anti-abortion. But several other anti-abortion Democrats did speak at the convention.

Convention organizers said it was because Casey had not endorsed Bill Clinton. Like his father, Senator Casey is Catholic and anti- abortion. Catholics have gone for Hillary Clinton in 18 out of 24 primaries surveyed so far. Casey's endorsement could help Obama cut into Clinton's support in a strongly Catholic state.

CASEY: One of those gifts that the lord blessed him with was the gift of intellect and integrity...


CASEY: ... the gift of quiet strength and resolute faith.

SCHNEIDER: Obama even alluded to Casey's father.

OBAMA: All public service is a trust given in faith and accepted in honor. And those words are worth remembering today, because I can think of few families who have lived up to that idea more than the Caseys of Pennsylvania.


SCHNEIDER: Casey and Rendell ran against each other in the 2002 Democratic primary for governor. And some see some lingering bad blood between the state's two leading Democrats. You know what they say, Wolf. All politics is local -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thank you -- Bill Schneider with the CNN Election Express.

Hillary Clinton says it's not unusual to have a Democratic primary race still undecided this late in the season.


H. CLINTON: We forget that my husband did not win the nomination until June, that longer primaries have been, frankly, the norm until relatively recently.


BLITZER: Technically, Senator Clinton is certainly right. Her husband didn't officially clinch the Democratic nomination until June 2, 1992.

But Bill Clinton had been widely viewed as the probable nominee since mid-March of that year, when his most viable competitor, Paul Tsongas, dropped out of the race. And back then, there were many more contests late in the primary season. In 1992, about half of the contests were held before mid-March and about half were held after that. This year, 45 contests were actually held by mid-March and just 10 contests after that.

If Barack Obama wins his party's presidential nomination, some Democrats fear Republicans will try to label him as a simply old- fashioned liberal.

CNN's Randi Kaye looked into Obama's record and where the L-word applies.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Barack Obama has big plans if he's elected president -- end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, increase the Social Security taxes paid by the wealthy, and enact a national health plan. Sound like a liberal platform to you?

It does to Peter Wehner of the Ethics in Public Policy Center, which deals with religious and moral aspects of politics.

PETER WEHNER, SENIOR FELLOW, ETHICS AND PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: On every major issue he is an orthodox liberal.

KAYE: Obama's record was examined by "The National Journal," and it found Obama to have the most liberal voting record in the Senate last year. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, ranked 16th. They only differed on ten votes.

But Obama is promising to unify the country and bridge the gap between Democrats and Republicans. Can he do that after being ranked the nation's most liberal senator?

WEHNER: His rhetoric would lead you to believe that he will do it, but his record wouldn't.

KAYE: Wehner says Obama comes across as fair-minded, but his record is clear. Obama is for higher taxes and bigger government spending on health care. He's against free trade and NAFTA. He supports abortion rights and driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.

In response, the Obama campaign told me, "The tendency of Washington to apply a misleading label to every person and idea is just one of the many things we need to change about how things operate inside the Beltway."

OBAMA: There is nothing liberal about wanting to reduce the influence of money in politics. That is common sense. There is nothing liberal about wanting to make sure that our troops are treated properly when they come home. There's nothing liberal about wanting to make sure that everybody has health care.

WEHNER: He's trying to run away from that label, and his making speeches saying those labels don't mean anything is an indication to me that he's aware of the potency of the charge.

KAYE: So is Republican John McCain. He's already calling Obama a standard order left-winger, and today released this statement about Obama's speech on the economy: No amount of rhetoric can hide Senator Obama's clear record of embracing the liberal tax and spend.

(on-camera): Wehner says the charge may not stick if Obama can take a page from the presidential campaign of the other Clinton, Bill Clinton. In 1992, Bill Clinton inoculated himself against the term liberal and ran as a new Democrat. He adopted some conservative policies like welfare reform. If Obama can do the same thing, he may not be as vulnerable as critics are counting on.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: News ads and a catchy slogan. As the Democrats fight to the bitter end, John McCain now launching his first general election ad. We're going to have a preview for you.

And what if Barack Obama pulls off a come-from-behind win in Pennsylvania? Could he wrap up the nomination then and there?

Plus, Pennsylvania's Democratic governor trying to explain some controversial comments on race and Barack Obama's White House bid -- lots more news coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: While the Democratic race drags on, John McCain is taking full advantage. He's putting out a new ad campaign that introduces himself to voters on his terms.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's watching this story for us.

Mary, there's more to this than just an ad, isn't there?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. You know, the ad, for itself, is airing in New Mexico, which is a swing state. Democrats won it in 2000. Republicans took it in 2004.

But this ad is just part of a much broader effort by McCain to define himself, and not have Democrats do it.


SNOW (voice-over): John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, now wants you to meet John McCain, the person, including his days as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your rank?

LIEUTENANT COMMANDER JOHN MCCAIN, U.S. NAVY: Lieutenant commander in the Navy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And your officer number.

MCCAIN: Six-two-four-seven-eight-seven.

NARRATOR: John McCain, the American president Americans have been waiting for.


SNOW: Seven months before November, the McCain campaign has rolled out its first general election ad. It outlines McCain's experience and has a subtle message of taking aim at his Democratic rivals.


NARRATOR: And what must we believe about that president? What does he think? Where has he been?


SNOW: The ad coincides with the Service to America tour McCain will take next week. He will visit places that are significant to him, such as the Naval Academy, that highlight his military service.

Why does the well-known veteran lawmaker need to introduce himself? The campaign says it cannot presume everyone knows his background.

But political observers say, the fighting between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the Democratic side presents an opportunity.

CHARLES MAHTESIAN, "THE POLITICO": There's a fantastic window for him here, a window in which he will be able to define himself in a way that he wouldn't be if the Democratic nominee had already been selected.

SNOW: But, as McCain plays to his strength of national security, his Democratic rivals are targeting what they perceive to be his weakness, the economy. After he addressed fixing the housing crisis this week, they took aim.

OBAMA: He wants to continue George Bush's economic policies.

CLINTON: It sounds remarkably like Herbert Hoover. And I don't think that's a good economic policy. SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": I think his opponents are going to say, he's not talking about the economy. He doesn't have a message for you on the economy. He doesn't have solutions for issues like the home mortgage crisis or -- or rising gas prices.


SNOW: Now, McCain has fired back at Obama and Clinton, saying they're proposing that we ease the housing crisis with multibillion- dollar plans that aren't needed and will hurt taxpayers. His camp says McCain does plan to focus heavily on the economy in April -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you.

Other war heroes who have run for president have played up their military backgrounds, with some mixed success.

Let's go back to 1960 first. John F. Kennedy advertises World War II heroics when the PT-109 patrol boat he skippered was rammed by a Japanese warship. It helped him win the White House and countered questions about his health.

In 1988, George Herbert Walker Bush played up his biography as a World War II pilot whose plane was shot down. It helped him win the White House and counter critics who labeled him a wimp.

In 2004, John Kerry advertised his service as a decorated Vietnam War veteran. But he lost the White House after his heroics were famously challenged by some of his former comrades aboard a Navy swift boat.

In our "Strategy Session," even Barack Obama agrees it's been a long campaign.


OBAMA: There's some people who have felt like, God, when is this thing going do be over? It's like -- it's like a good movie that lasted about half-an-hour too long.


BLITZER: But could he wrap up the nomination with a come-from- behind win in Pennsylvania?

And, from the DNC chairman Howard Dean to the Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, many -- many Democrats are getting a little antsy about the tussle between Obama and Clinton -- all that and more coming up.

Donna Brazile and Terry Jeffrey, they're standing by for our "Strategy Session" -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey's endorsement today gives Barack Obama's campaign a major boost.

With growing pressure on Hillary Clinton to drop out of the Democratic race, a lot is certainly riding on the outcome in Pennsylvania April 22.

Let's discuss this and more in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our CNN political analyst the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and the Republican strategist Rich Galen.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: If Obama upsets Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania, is it over?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. But Senator Clinton is heavily favored to win in Pennsylvania. She's been organizing in that state much longer. Ed Rendell is very powerful, former mayor of Philadelphia, of course the governor. So, I would consider it to be the upset of the year.


BLITZER: It would be a huge upset. But there are a lot of new people registering in Pennsylvania. It's a huge, record registration, including a lot of Republicans who are stepping in, some of whom are suggesting, you know what, I sort of like Barack Obama.

What do you think? Would it be such a huge upset?

GALEN: Oh, yes, I think -- oh, there's no question about it. Oh, I mean, we are now, what, three-and-a-half weeks out. So, it's a long way to go.

BLITZER: He's spending a lot of time there.


BLITZER: And he's shown in the past he can come from behind, not necessarily win, but he can come from behind in some of these states.

GALEN: Yes, that's not going to be enough, though, I think, that he's going to have to actually beat her in the popular vote in order to be declared the winner. Coming close in Pennsylvania will allow Mrs. Clinton to say, as she does, that she wins the big states; he wins the small caucus states.

BLITZER: So, that would keep her in.

Here's Bob Casey, the senator from Pennsylvania, endorsing Barack Obama earlier today.


CASEY: I believe in this guy like I have never believed in a candidate in my life, except my father. He campaigned hard for him.

But he's a tremendous candidate. And I think, the more time he has on the ground here in Pennsylvania, the better he will do.


BLITZER: That's a very important endorsement for Barack Obama, Senator Casey a pretty popular guy there.

BRAZILE: And what a great chaperon, someone who knows the highways, the byways, the small towns, the big towns. I think this endorsement will help Obama close the gap in Pennsylvania, but I don't know if it's enough to put him over the top, because Rendell has the machine, along with the new mayor of Philadelphia.

BLITZER: Ed Rendell, the popular governor of Pennsylvania.

What do you think about this Casey endorsement?

GALEN: I think that, amongst the cognizant, people that sort of vote in -- in primaries, they understand the backstory, as you discussed earlier, between the Caseys and the Clintons. And I think that knocks some of the luster. It's not exactly a shock that Casey endorsed Obama, because it -- it would have been, frankly, more of a shock if he would have assiduously endorsed Mrs. Clinton.

BRAZILE: There's another backstory between Casey and Rendell. But that's what politics is about.


BLITZER: A little -- a little history there, too.

BRAZILE: Absolutely.


BLITZER: All right. All right. Let's -- we talked about that. Bill Schneider had a good piece on that.

Senator Leahy of Vermont, he's the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, highly respected. He said this to Vermont Public Radio: "There's no way that Senator Clinton is going to win enough delegates to get the nomination. She ought to withdraw, and she ought to be backing Senator Obama. Now, obviously, that's a decision that only she can make. Frankly, I feel that she would have a tremendous career in the Senate."

Were you surprised to hear him basically urge her to drop out? He's a big Obama supporter.

BRAZILE: No. There -- there are a number of Democrats who are, you know, trying to get this race to come to an end. I don't think it should come to an end. I think it would be premature.

BLITZER: It would disappoint a lot of Democrats in Pennsylvania, and Indiana, and North Carolina, and the state...


GALEN: ... Florida and Michigan...


BLITZER: ... and, you know, who would be left out.

BRAZILE: Well, look, the truth is, is that we have 10 more contests, a few more months. And I think Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, if they conduct themselves, talk about the issues, not get back into this unsavory debate, this will be good for the Democratic Party, although it's painful to watch.

GALEN: Yes, it's -- it's not going to be good for the Democratic Party. I mean, look at the ad that you were just talking about. McCain, as Mary Snow pointed out, this is -- this is the principal principle of politics. Define yourself before your -- your opponent gets to do it for you.

McCain has months and months and months to do nothing but define himself, or, in some minds, redefine himself. He's astride the world stage in Baghdad and Jordan and Israel, while Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are...


BLITZER: Here's something, though, that could hurt...


GALEN: ... Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. I mean, that's -- there's a huge difference.


BRAZILE: And that's the fear that Senator Leahy and others have, that McCain gets this free ride...

GALEN: Oh, absolutely.

BRAZILE: ... while Senator Clinton and Senator Obama go at each other.

GALEN: Sure.

BLITZER: But, as the president himself said today, what's happening in Iraq right now is a defining moment.

And, if this situation, despite the enormous effort of the United States over five years, and the last year with the surge, if it were to collapse now, and the -- this civil war, if you will, would rear its head with a vengeance, Shiite vs. Shiite, that would be bad news politically for John McCain, who has basically gone all in on this war in Iraq. GALEN: And, if it doesn't, it's good news.

BLITZER: If it -- if it -- if they do manage, the government of Nouri al-Maliki, to get the job done, it would be good news.


BLITZER: What would you bet right now?

GALEN: I would bet -- I would bet that it's going to work out. I think this is the last gasp of the -- this al-Mahdi kind of hangers- on, bombing the Green -- when I was there -- I was there for six months -- the Green -- we had the nightly barrages into the Green Zone.

That's what they do when they -- because they know that's where the press corps is. That's how they get attention. And whether it's Basra or the Green Zone, they know that's where the reporters are. But I -- my money is on the Iraqis.

BRAZILE: Well, Senator McCain will still have a hard time convincing a war-weary public that we need to stay another 100 years...

GALEN: Well...


BRAZILE: ... without figuring out how to pay for it.

GALEN: That's not what...


BRAZILE: Well, it could be 10 years. It doesn't matter. Ten minutes is probably more than most Americans want us...


BLITZER: There's a lot of Americans who don't even want five years, let alone...


GALEN: ... right now, there -- if every -- if all of the problems confronting the Republican Party were put on the table, you would think that either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama would be leading by 25 points. They're not.

BRAZILE: That was the case about three or four months ago. But, as you know, we're now in a fierce competition.


BLITZER: A lot of Democrats, I think it's fair to say, just based on casual conversations I have had in recent weeks, they are really getting frustrated, really getting angry right now about this bitterness between the Democratic candidates. They want it over with as quickly as possible.

GALEN: Yes. We have to take away their belt and shoelaces to keep them from doing bodily harm --



BLITZER: We will see what happens. Guys, thanks.


BLITZER: Thanks for coming in.

Stand and deliver. The Texas Democratic caucuses were more than three weeks ago, but our Abbi Tatton explains why tomorrow's conventions really matter and what the presidential campaigns are doing about it. This is information you might be interested in knowing.

And, as the voter registration rolls in Pennsylvania swell, many of them were Republicans crossing over to vote in the Democratic primary. Carol Costello has been investigating what's going on. She's standing by in Pennsylvania to explain.

And Condoleezza Rice, the first African-American woman to serve as the secretary of state, she says America has a birth defect. Zain Verjee has the story -- that and a lot more coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: In today's political ticker, Barack Obama won the first step of the Texas caucuses back on March 4, but the contest isn't over yet. Texas Democratic County conventions are this weekend, and the Obama and Clinton campaigns are pushing online to make sure their supporters actually show up.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's watching this story for us.

So, what's going on this weekend in Texas, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, you remember this from March 4, huge turnout of the caucuses. Many people who have never caucused before meant chaos in some Texas caucus precincts.

Well, round two is about to begin. For their support to count, the approximately 80,000 delegates who were selected through this process for either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton must show up tomorrow at county conventions. And locked in battle, the two campaigns are trying everything they can to get them to turn out, this Hillary Clinton e-mail to supporters asking them to make phone calls to those delegates to make sure that they know they have to be there, the Barack Obama Web site generating phone numbers of Texas delegates, posting online instructions and locations for where they have to be.

I spoke to the chairman of the Harris County Democrats, who has posted online instructions. He says, with the sheer amount of people expected, and the stuff they have to get through, some of them could be in for a long day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you. We will watch this story tomorrow.

Stay with CNN, by the way, tonight for a CNN special investigative report, "Busted: Mortgage Meltdown." We report on how buying a dream home actually turned into a nightmare for so many Americans, tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 Pacific, only on CNN.

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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf, is: When it comes to electability, is John McCain's age a bigger factor than the Democratic candidates' race or gender?

Thomas in Michigan writes: "You're darn right it is. McCain is too old for the pressure. His judgments will be negatively affected. He probably won't be able to deal with a crisis call at 3:00 in the afternoon. One's faculties are in decline at that age. That's why most sensible seniors retire."

Angela writes: "Gender and race have no physical bearing on job performance. Age does."

Rick says: "At 71, McCain would not be allowed to be a corporate officer or sit on the board of directors of most Fortune 500 companies. The businesses have it right. I will not be voting for John McCain."

Rob writes: "Age is not an issue. You put any healthy, young working-class Joe like me in the president's seat, we would drop dead of a heart attack before the week was out. It all comes down to how you handle stress. The campaign trail is good testing ground to determine if you can handle the hot seat. And McCain has done well so far."

Brian in Idaho says: "Now you're getting desperate, Jack. Besides, as an old bag of bones yourself, you're biased in asking this question."

Very nice, Brian. Thank you so much. And have a lovely weekend.

Sue writes: "Jack, of course age is a factor. McCain already said he was nine or something like when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Most of the younger generation has given Pearl Harbor a passing glance in class. He can't remember who we're fighting in Iraq unless he has Lieberman behind him to tell him the right answer. I'm a grandmother. I forget a whole lot of things, so the last thing I want is some old guy with his finger on the button who thinks he's ringing for his secretary, instead of dropping the bomb."

Raghu writes: What is John McCain's Social Security number? Answer: three. Question: Who are numbers one and two? Answer: Adam and Eve."


CAFFERTY: This is a tough crowd -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very tough crowd.


BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.