Return to Transcripts main page


Clinton Seeks Bounce Back from Pennsylvania Win; North Carolina Ad: Obama 'Too Extreme'; Race Nastiness Taking a Toll

Aired April 23, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Hillary Clinton sets her sights on Indiana with a new win under her belt and more cash in her pocket. We're going to tell you what Clinton's getting out of her Pennsylvania victory besides the bragging rights.
Also this hour, Barack Obama's road ahead. Will the problems he had in Pennsylvania haunt him in Indiana? We're going to hear from Obama himself, a brand-new interview.

Plus, a new Republican attack add portrays Obama as "too extreme for North Carolina." Now John McCain is telling the state GOP, don't go there.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Hillary Clinton says the tide is turning after her win in Pennsylvania, but the Democratic presidential race is no closer to being decided. Clinton defeated Barack Obama in yesterday's primary 55 percent to 45 percent. But right now CNN estimates that Clinton still -- still trails Barack Obama in the all important critical delegate race.

Clinton defeated Obama, as we said, 55-45. In that delegate race, she is behind by 133 delegates. So Clinton is focusing in on another gauge of her political strength. She now has narrowed the gap with Obama in total votes won this primary season.

Let's begin our coverage with our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's back in Washington from Pennsylvania, where she worked really hard covering what was going on.

There you are, Candy. Let me turn around this way.

All right. On this day after, a lot of maneuvering going on, a lot of spinning. Some of us actually getting dizzy from the spinning coming from both of these camps. What's going on?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Clinton is getting some mileage out of this. She bounced out of Pennsylvania. But what she's getting most is cold, hard cash.


CROWLEY (voice over): If it's the day after Pennsylvania, this must be... SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just love Indiana.

CROWLEY: As her campaign touts the possibility of a $10 million haul in the past 24 hours, Hillary Clinton moved into Indiana, trying to keep her mojo working and the superdelegates interested.

CLINTON: I'm very proud that as of today, I have received more votes by the people who have voted than anybody else.

This is only true if you count the not sanctioned by the Democratic Party Michigan primary when Barack Obama was not on the ballot. Getting closer or surpassing Obama in the popular vote will buttress Clinton's superdelegate argument that she's the most electable, that he isn't tough enough to be president or take on John McCain.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I've always believed that if you're tough, you don't have to talk about it. And I've got a 20-year track record of fighting on behalf of working families.

CROWLEY: Without Michigan, Obama still leads slightly in the popular vote. And he is ahead enough in pledged delegates that the math indicates she probably won't catch him, which is his superdelegate strategy.

OBAMA: The way we're going to close the deal is by winning. And right now we're winning.

And, you know, what we'll do is keep on campaigning in Indiana and North Carolina and Oregon and these other states. And at the conclusion of all these contests, people will go back and take a look and say, who's won?

CROWLEY: As Obama took his case to Indiana, where the polls indicate a close race, his campaign looked toward the other May 6th contest and tried to drum up a little mojo of their own, rolling out the endorsements of 49 North Carolinians, all former backers of John Edwards.


CROWLEY: Both the Clinton and Obama campaign rolled out a superdelegate of their own, and what both of them know at this point, Wolf, is that after the next nine contests, it will still be up to those superdelegates -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Any indication, Candy, based on what you're hearing that in the aftermath of what happened in Pennsylvania, now in Ohio, what, six weeks ago, the Clinton people are trying to convince some of those earlier decided superdelegates in favor of Obama maybe have some second thoughts?

CROWLEY: Not that I can find. I did talk to some superdelegates today, some who have decided, some who haven't. And I don't see any wavering, but I see a lot of close watching.

I mean, obviously Clinton coming out of Pennsylvania has buttressed her argument that he can't win white working class voters. He of course is fighting back very hard, saying, yes, I did win them in Wisconsin, I did win them in Virginia.

So obviously it's an argument that the superdelegates are watching. It's not something that has convinced them quite yet.

BLITZER: Candy, thanks very much.

She'll be back on the road very soon.

While the Democrats face a close fight in Indiana, polls suggest Barack Obama has North Carolina's May 6th primary largely in the bag. We'll see. That's what the polls show right now, but those polls can change.

Now Republicans in that state are targeting Obama directly. They're trying to portray him as an extremist in an attempt to bring some local Democrats down.

Let's go to Brian Todd. He's following this story for us.

Brian, there's a new ad that's out. John McCain is actually calling this Republican ad offensive. What's going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He does call it offensive, Wolf, says it doesn't live up to the high standards the Republicans should hold themselves to in this campaign. But the truth is that ad in North Carolina does mirror a few others.


TODD (voice over): Meet Barack Obama, the Republican's new media star.

NARRATOR: A vote for Don Cazayoux a vote for Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Obama and Pelosi voted to raise income taxes. So did Don Cazayoux.

TODD: Cazayoux, a Democrat running for Congress in Louisiana, has not endorsed Obama or any other candidate. But an official with the National Republican Congressional Committee, which put out this ad, say they believe it's fair to compare Cazayoux's record on taxes with Obama, who they characterize as far out of the mainstream.

Obama is becoming more of a fixture in these Republican ads, and GOP strategists say his primary success means he'll be a springboard for more attacks on Democratic candidates lower down on the ballot. They also say Obama's recent rating as the most liberal U.S. senator adds fuel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of the rock star qualities have paved over some of those considerations. But over the next few months, it's going to become clear that he's way too extreme, an extreme liberal, to be elected president in the United States.

TODD: Obama campaign officials wouldn't go beyond saying Americans are tired of divisive politics. But the Republican National Committee and John McCain are going one step further.

They've asked the North Carolina GOP to stop running this ad just unveiled using Obama's association with Pastor Jeremiah Wright to attack two Democratic candidates for governor.


NARRATOR: Now Beth Perdue and Richard Moore endorsed Barack Obama. They should know better.

TODD: In a letter to North Carolina's GOP chairwoman, McCain calls the ad offensive.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: It's win-win for McCain. McCain looks like a saint in denouncing the negative advertising, but he also ensures now that the media, the news media, will run that ad repeatedly for free. So the message of the ad will get out.


TODD: A McCain campaign official calls that absolutely absurd, says any suggestion that he benefits from this situation is wrong. The official says the ads are a distraction from the real differences in this campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, will the North Carolina GOP actually refrain from running that ad now that John McCain and others have spoken out against it?

TODD: When he came out against that, Wolf, I spoke with officials at the North Carolina GOP. That was just a short time ago. They said they're going to go ahead with their plan to start running it next Monday. They say they respect Senator McCain and the RNC, but they think it's legitimate to question Barack Obama's judgment, and they think this ad does that very fairly.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you.

Let's bring in Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, that's fair. Unbelievable.

Barack Obama missed another chance last night to knock Hillary Clinton out of the race. He beat her in Iowa, she came back, won New Hampshire.

He reeled off 11 wins in a row. She came back, won Ohio and Texas. He had another clear shot at her last night and he missed, which raises a question that gets a little more serious with each passing primary. Why can't he put her away despite outspending Clinton more than two to one in Pennsylvania and waging a more aggressive campaign in the closing days?

Obama came up short again with many of the voters who form the traditional base of the Democratic Party. Clinton absolutely crushed him.

Among white blue collar voters, 69 to 30 percent. She also won older voters, women and whites. And there are a lot of those in Pennsylvania.

The last six weeks have tested Obama in a way he hadn't been tested before -- the comments from the pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, which he had to address; his own bitter remarks; and a debate performance that wasn't his finest and raised other questions like his ties to William Ayers, the former Weather Underground member. Obama will get another shot at Clinton in two weeks. Perhaps his best chance to end the race if he can win both North Carolina and Indiana.

Now, it's worth noting that he continues to lead where it matters. He has more delegates, more states won, more popular votes, and he's narrowed the superdelegate gap to a couple of dozen now.

But she's succeeded in dragging him on to her playground. Obama got more aggressive and more negative in the closing days in Pennsylvania, and that might have been a mistake. He got where he is on a message of hope and the promise of a new kind of politics.

So here's the question. Why can't Barack Obama close the deal?

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

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack. See you in a few moments.

As the Democrats move forward, will Barack Obama go on the offense? Obama is now speaking out about that in a new radio interview with our CNN contributor, Roland Martin. Roland's standing by to join us. He'll have clips and insight from their conversation.

Plus, a new damage estimate for the Democrats. Is the party more split than ever after Pennsylvania? We have new evidence from the exit polls.

And all eyes on Indiana. Can Clinton parlay her win last night into a victory on May 6th? We'll map out how she might do that and more, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Right now Hillary Clinton's campaign is assessing how to repeat what happened in Pennsylvania. And Barack Obama's campaign is trying to figure out how to avoid similar results. Might Obama's strategy involve him doing something he says he doesn't want to do?

Our CNN contributor Roland Martin asked Obama about that earlier today during an extensive radio interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: "The Washington Post" had a story today talking about there's a debate going on in your campaign about you growing more negative as we go to North Carolina and Indiana. Is that the case or not or are you going to stay focused on the positive message, one that is about hope and change as you compete against Senator Clinton?

OBAMA: Yes, whoever "The Washington Post" was quoting isn't part of my campaign because we have not had any discussions about going negative the way that that story referred to. You know, we have been consistent in this campaign in talking about the issues and trying to have a different kind of politics and so you might as well "The Washington Post" needs to take that source out of their Rolodex. That's not somebody who was representative of any conversations we've had.

In fact, I've been adamant to say that, you know, we can't run that kind of campaign. It's contrary to our message. And I think it would actually erode support for me, in addition to not solving the problem that the American people need solved.


BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss this with Roland Martin himself.

Did you get the sense speaking to him that he's going to live up to that commitment not to go negative, or will he let that go to his subordinates, his surrogates? Are they going to go negative?

MARTIN: No, I think he understands that because, look, it didn't work. Normally in the last couple of months, the last 72 hours, she's done a very effective job. Remember Texas and Ohio, the 3:00 a.m. ad? His campaign was rapid fire response in the last 72 hours.

The ads were coming fast and furious. It didn't work. It doesn't work for him.

You can't build as the foundation of your campaign one that is positive and then all of a sudden revert to what people call old politics, which goes against what you say you're all about. And so I think he has to go back to the basics. What got me to the lead? What got me here? That was not negative, it was positive.

BLITZER: All right. Here's another clip. Here's another excerpt from the interview. I'll play it.


OBAMA: There's no doubt that Senator Clinton had some good support built in, in Pennsylvania. We were starting off 20 to 25 points behind. We were able to close that gap. Made terrific progress, were able to lay the groundwork for a vigorous campaign in Pennsylvania in the fall when, you know, should I be the nominee, I'll have the support of people like Governor Rendell, who obviously worked very hard on behalf of his candidate. So, you know, overall, we feel good about the work that we did. And now we're in Indiana and North Carolina. But I think it's very important for people to recognize that if you look at all the states that have -- where we've run, you know, we've won most of the vote when it is under 60 among blue collar voters.

And the problem is, you know, that we still have to do a better job of making sure that we're talking to our seniors. And, you know, it's not surprising that Senator Clinton's argument about experience...


BLITZER: Why doesn't he do better with older voters who vote, as you know, Roland, in much larger percentages than younger voters?

MARTIN: You know what? I think it speaks to the core audience.

I just simply think if you look at the two candidates, his core audience, African-Americans, young voters, more educated. Her core voters, white females, blue collar workers, older voters. You have two strong candidates.

There's this assumption that, well, why isn't he putting it away? Well, you can also say the same thing about her. And that's what you have here.

Both of them are playing to their strengths. And it's difficult for Senator Clinton to go in and try to pull young and black voters. It's difficult for him to go and try to pull blue collar older voters, because both have those constituencies locked up.

BLITZER: At least right now.

All right. You also asked him if he's finish debating Hillary Clinton right now. And here's what he said.


OBAMA: Roland, the -- you know, I know you want a scoop. But, you know, we'll -- we'll take each request as they come.

Obviously, we've had 21 debates at this point. I think the people have a pretty good sense of where Senator Clinton and I stand and, you know, what we're talking about during the course of these debates.

At this point what's most important to me is making sure I'm talking directly to people, doing as many town halls as possible, letting them ask questions of me directly, me hearing from them and finding out what they think and what they care about. And with only two weeks and two big states to cover, you know, it's not clear that another debate is going to be the best use of our time.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Did you get the sense, though, that's his bottom line, or do you think that there's some wiggle room there, he might be open to -- because we've invited him and Hillary Clinton to another debate in Indiana. She's accepted, he hasn't accepted yet.

MARTIN: There is some wiggle room there. And I think the most important thing is that Indiana's going to be a different kind of state.

It is so close, they're pretty much even. I think he should take the debate.

You don't want the last debate to leave an after taste. It was not a strong debate. And so if they're able to work out the various agreements, determine, well, you know, are you going to be sitting, standing, issues, how it's going to be coordinated, questions from the audience, I think they should take it, because, again, if you look at the Los Angeles debate, look at the debate at the University of Texas, he got good marks coming out of those because it was more conversational versus adversarial.

If there's a conversational debate, they should jump at it. But I don't think you should leave the opportunity sitting out there. Sure, it's 20 and 21, but you have a chance to be able to further define your issues. That's what's most important.

BLITZER: All right. Good point.

MARTIN: All right.

If you're all watching, take the debate.


BLITZER: Thank you, Roland.

Look who's talking. Many of you are. Now that there's a winner in the Pennsylvania primary, many people are flocking to talk radio to celebrate, to complain, or just to vent. We'll tell you what's going on.

And it involves a high-tech system and $20 million of your money. You're going to find out why the government says one plan to fight illegal immigration isn't working after all.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Happening now, who's afraid of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? Florida's Republican governor fears one of them is more of a threat than the other. Charlie Crist is here in THE SITUATION ROOM to explain. Is it a dangerous liaison? U.S. intelligence officials will tell Congress that North Korea helped Syria build a nuclear facility. That's what a source is telling CNN. Could this allegation work against efforts to deal with North Korea over its nuclear program?

And the man credited with calming Iraq's violence getting a promotion. We're going to tell you about General David Petraeus's new job and possibly an even tougher assignment.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Hillary Clinton says the tide has turned now that she's won Pennsylvania's primary. But some political experts say it's more like she managed to keep her presidential hopes alive. Many say she had to win in Pennsylvania, but what might her win mean going forward?

Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's joining us now with more on this part of the story.

Is this fight, Bill, between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama actually damaging the Democratic Party's prospects come November?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, we're beginning to see some evidence of damage.


SCHNEIDER (voice over): Demography is destiny. That's the story of the Pennsylvania primary.

Pennsylvania has a lot of seniors, blue collar workers and Catholics, all groups strongly supportive of Hillary Clinton. African-Americans, young voters, high-income voters and Independents remain loyal to Barack Obama. But there weren't as many of them in Pennsylvania.

We seem to be reaching a stage of trench warfare, with each contender trying to rally maximum turnout from his or her core supporters. Maximum turnout? Sounds like good news for Democrats.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's good for the party. See, the one great indicator that it's not too negative is that turnout is up, up, up.

SCHNEIDER: But it's getting nasty. And the ill will is beginning to take a toll on the Democratic Party.

Fewer than half the Obama voters in Pennsylvania said they would be satisfied if Clinton wins the Democratic nomination. Only 37 percent of Clinton voters say they would be satisfied if Obama wins.

BETH FRERKING, POLITICO.COM: The worry that, as Obama and Hillary Clinton continue to go after each other, they're going to end up hurting the party's chances in November.

SCHNEIDER: Could that happen?

Just over two-thirds of Obama voters in Pennsylvania said they will vote for Clinton in November if she's the Democratic nominee. Sixteen percent would vote for Republican John McCain. But if Obama's the nominee, only a little more than half the Clinton voters say they will support him. More than one in four say they would vote for McCain.

When Pennsylvania primary voters were asked who they thought would end up winning the Democratic nomination, they said Obama. But they still voted for Clinton.


SCHNEIDER: The odd thing about this race is that, while more and more Democratic voters believe Obama will be their nominee, there is no evidence yet of an Obama bandwagon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thank you.

Let's take a closer look at what happened in Pennsylvania and look forward to the next contests in Indiana and North Carolina.

John King is here to explain.

First of all, I guess, explain what happened.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a trouncing. If you look, Senator Clinton is the light blue. Obviously, she won by just shy of 10 points statewide. You look at this, you think, why didn't she win by more? Well, she didn't win by more because of Barack Obama's strong performance in one place, Center City, Philadelphia, where he won by 130,000 votes. He won quite convincingly.

Still, the Clinton campaign believes it kept the margin down there where it needed to. And what Senator Clinton did successfully in the state of Pennsylvania is target her voters. Watch this. This is an advertisement she played in the city of Philadelphia. This is the mayor, Michael Nutter. Let's listen for just a second.


MICHAEL NUTTER (D), MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA: As mayor, I know that's what we need from a president. We don't have a minute to waste.


KING: She gets it, the mayor says. That's an ad for Hillary Clinton targeting African-American voters here in Philadelphia.

But let's go up the road a little bit to Scranton, Pennsylvania, blue-collar, working-class. Now let's listen.


NARRATOR: Barack Obama said that people in small towns cling to guns or religion as a way to explain their frustrations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was very insulted by Barack Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just shows how out of touch Barack Obama is.


KING: A direct appeal there not to African-Americans, like in Philadelphia, Wolf, but to blue-collar workers, trying to take advantage of that misstep by Barack Obama.

And let's get rid of these ads and let's look at the results of this. Look what happened in Scranton -- 75...


BLITZER: That's next door, isn't it?

KING: Next door here in...


KING: Over here. I'm sorry -- 74-26 here in Lackawanna County.

Let's come next door, 75-25. We can go across the state, 69-30. In all of these white, blue-collar counties, she not only beat Barack Obama. She trounced him. Look at little places in the corner like this, 75-25. So, she ran up huge margins across the state among Catholic voters, white blue-collar workers. That is the lesson of Pennsylvania. Barack Obama, not only -- he did get his black vote, but he dropped even more among these white working-class voters. It is a problem for the Obama campaign.

BLITZER: And he wound up -- and she wound up with 200,000 net plus in the popular vote.

All right, let's take a look and see what we learned from Pennsylvania and extrapolate and see what the implications might be for Indiana, which is not that far away.

KING: Let's get that out of the way. Let's shrink this over and let's look and let's find Indiana over in.

And, Wolf, we come over to Indiana, and it's a very different state. Indiana, though, is only 8 percent African-American. So, Barack Obama cannot even count on the base he had in Philadelphia. Where he will get the African-American vote is up here in this area. Chicago is right here. These people are familiar with Chicago television, which covers Barack Obama's campaign, a lot of exposure for him here, African-Americans, Indianapolis, college town down here, I.U., those are the sources of where you would expect to see Barack Obama's strength.

Key places to watch, do the white voters in Pennsylvania, does that carry over to Indiana? South Bend right here, very Catholic area. Catholic Congressman Joe Donnelly has not endorsed, a superdelegate.

BLITZER: Notre Dame.

KING: We have talked about -- the University of Notre Dame right there.

A congressman who hasn't endorsed, a conservative Democrat in a largely white district. Down here, remember, Brad Ellsworth was one of the star Democratic candidates in 2006. This is his district down here. It's a swing district, very conservative Democrats. He is pro- gun rights, anti-abortion, said it's a mistake to rush the troops home from Iraq. This congressman is a superdelegate, also hasn't endorsed.

White rural working-class people, white Catholics up in here, key places to watch in the state of Indiana, very important.

BLITZER: And if you take a look at the borders, the states that border Indiana, we might get some lessons as well.

KING: It's very interesting to watch. And I'm going to shrink it a just little bit, so you can see it. And here's what Hillary Clinton hopes.

Hillary Clinton hopes, I won in Pennsylvania, I won in Ohio, I'm going to carry this over right into here. She won in Michigan, but that doesn't count. You see Michigan up here. We're not counting that for this purpose. But she's hoping that this works. And obviously Kentucky and West Virginia are still down here.

What Barack Obama hopes is, you know me. I'm the senator from the neighboring state.

These counties right here suggest in most of the white blue- collar areas, Hillary Clinton would have an edge, but this is a battleground state because they know Barack Obama quite well. They live in his neighborhood.

BLITZER: And, quickly, North Carolina, the lessons from Pennsylvania in North Carolina?

KING: This is -- let's stay with the example you just cited. Let's look at the neighborhood. This is much better territory for Barack Obama. You can see how he did in Virginia, how he did down here in South Carolina, across the South as well.

Eight percent African-American population Indiana -- well, it's 21 percent here in North Carolina. So, it's a much more fertile state for Barack Obama. He's leading in the polls right now. Let's punch the state and pull it out a little bit. You have African-American populations in almost all of these cities. If there's one place I would watch as this plays out, another freshman congressman. Remember Heath Shuler, the former quarterback for the Washington Redskins? He represents a former Republican district out in this part of the state. It is white, working-class, rural voters. Barack Obama has to convince the superdelegates that what happened in Pennsylvania was an aberration, that he can do better with these voters. That is Hillary Clinton's prime argument right now.

The conservative working-class Democrats who become Reagan Democrats when they vote Republican in presidential elections, her argument to the superdelegates is, Barack Obama has a big problem. Even if he's winning big with African-Americans in North Carolina, his test is to show he can reach these people as well.

BLITZER: John, I know you're going to have a lot coming up with these maps coming throughout the course of THE SITUATION ROOM today. Thanks very much.

KING: Thank you.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton's Pennsylvania victory is fueling some political passions.

Up next, we're going to get a sample of the heated discussion on talk radio today and what it says about the Democratic contests two weeks from now -- actually, 13 days from now.

Plus, it's John McCain's dream come true. How much mileage can he get out of the Democrats' unending slugfest? Our "Strategy Session" is coming up as well.

And, later, Florida's Republican governor, he's very popular, Charlie Crist. He's going to weigh in on the Democratic race. He will tell us who he thinks would be a stronger candidate against his man, John McCain.

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


BLITZER: Whether at the office cooler or the dinner table, many of you are talking about the outcome of the Pennsylvania primary, no doubt about that.

And with the battleground now shifting to Indiana and North Carolina, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's race is the talk of talk radio as well.

We asked our Mary Snow to listen in to see what's going on, especially to hear what voters out there are saying on talk radio.

What did you find?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're saying a lot, Wolf. They're calling in. And from the people we heard calling in to talk radio, they say they're not changing their choice, but several are expressing concern over the tone of the race. We tuned into shows in the next states to hold primaries, Indiana and North Carolina, and we sat in on a show here in New York.


BRIAN LEHRER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Lisa in New Rochelle, you're on WNYC.

SNOW (voice-over): It didn't take long for things to heat up on Brian Lehrer's talk show on public radio station WNYC. Callers quickly squared off about the results of Pennsylvania's primary.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's the one thing I have about Hillary, is that I think that she is -- absolutely will do any damn thing she can.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, and what American politician won't?

SNOW: And the bottom line?

LEHRER: Joyce (ph), if Clinton gets the nomination, will you vote for her?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Reluctantly, I will, anything to get a Democrat in.

LEHRER: Lisa, if Obama gets the nomination?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would have to think about that. I have never voted for a Republican in my life. I might abstain.

SNOW: Lehrer says callers in this Democratic city have changed their tune.

LEHRER: What I don't hear from the callers anymore is what I used to hear in January and February, which is, gosh, we're so lucky to have such great nominees this year. I will be happy with any of them -- any of them. Now it's like, oh, they're -- they're being so unfair.

SNOW: In Indiana, the next big battleground state, host Amos Brown broadcast his show from a Hillary Clinton rally in Indianapolis.

AMOS BROWN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: This is something we have never experienced in Indiana. I have been here 34 years.

SNOW: A number of his callers voiced support for Obama, but also expressed concern about the fierce fighting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I happened to say to myself last night, let me see who won in Pennsylvania. You know, you need to slow it down a little bit, because now we need to find out, where are we going? Because we need to start mending.

SNOW: And, in North Carolina, the other big May 6 primary state?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let us know if you think the Democrats can all come together after the dust has settled on the campaign, hold hands, and sing kumbaya in Denver. What do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I agree with Jesse Ventura. We need a "none of the above" slot on our ballot this year.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't see myself voting for any of these candidates they're putting up, Democrat or Republican, for president.



SNOW: A lot of reaction out there.

Others say the ongoing battle between Obama and Clinton won't hurt the Democrats, saying it's a once-in-a-lifetime race, and the dust will settle by November -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thank you. We will see what happens -- Mary Snow reporting.

In our "Strategy Session": Obama vows unity in November, no matter who wins the Democrats' nomination.


OBAMA: There is too much at stake in this election.


OBAMA: They will see the choice between John McCain and the Democratic nominee, and they will say to themselves, this is a clear choice.



BLITZER: But how much work will the winner have left to do to bring the party together?

And, as the Democrats continue to squabble, a key McCain aide says they're for anything that keeps this whole process going. That's in our "Strategy Session" -- coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: While many Democrats just want the campaign battle between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to end, the McCain campaign says, keep it going.. Joining us now in our "Strategy Session," the Democratic strategist and former press secretary for John Edwards' 2004 presidential campaign Jennifer Palmieri, and conservative commentator and editor in the chief of the Cybercast News Service, Terry Jeffrey.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Here's what Mark McKinnon, a senior adviser, Terry, to Senator McCain said, "We're for anything that keeps it going."

Is that good strategy? And do you think it's smart for McCain? He's sort of being neglected, by and large, by the news media right now, as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fight it out. Is that smart, you think?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE: Wolf, I think it's good for the Republicans that Senator Obama is being defined more in the Democratic primary season.

But, you know, I find it a little ironic that people are thinking that this should come to an end so quickly. Earlier on, we were all talking about how truncated this year's primaries were and how all those primaries were stacked up on super-duper Tuesday on February 5.

I think, if some of those primaries had been more spread out more across the calender, Democratic voters would have had a better opportunity to get to know Senator Obama and for him to be defined on the issues before we got to this point. And, if that had happened, maybe Hillary Clinton would be leading now, instead of Barack Obama.

BLITZER: A lot of the pundits, a lot of the experts thought, early on, Jennifer, that it would be the Republicans that would have a long, drawn-out effort; the Democrats would wrap it up relatively quickly. Didn't exactly happen that way.

Do you think this drawn-out effort is really good news for McCain? Some have suggested McCain is the big winner of this fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.


Well, if this is -- if this is as good as it gets for John McCain -- and it may be -- he gets relatively little scrutiny and not a lot of attacks -- it's not going that great. He's still -- he's not beating either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in the national polls. I mean, they're -- most of the polls have both Hillary and Barack beating him.

So, if this is as good as it gets for him, it's not really going that well.

BLITZER: All right.

I'm going to read to you, Terry, a quote from the editorial in today's "New York Times," which really went after Hillary Clinton, and this from the same editorial page that endorsed her before the New York State primary.

"It is past time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknowledge that the negativity, for which she is mostly responsible, does nothing but harm to her, her opponent, her party, and the 2008 election."

But it seems to be working, that negativity. She won in Pennsylvania.

JEFFREY: You know, I don't think they should blame what happened to Barack Obama on Hillary Clinton's negativity. She did go negative.

But the thing is that Barack Obama gave -- gave her something powerful, Wolf, that she could go negative on. And to put it in very concrete terms, in voters, on February 19, in Wisconsin, a swing state, Obama killed Hillary Clinton.

And, if you look at the churchgoing voters, they all went for Obama in Wisconsin, except for Hillary got 53 percent of Catholics who went to church every week. Yesterday, in Pennsylvania, Hillary took the churchgoing vote. She won 76 percent of Catholics who go to church each week.

That is a key swing vote, and she has exposed a real weakness Obama has getting that vote. If he wants to win in November, he's going to have to find a way to appeal to that vote again.

BLITZER: And -- and that point was made by "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page today, Jennifer.

Here's what it said: "Mrs. Clinton revealed cracks in Mr. Obama's candidacy that started to appear in Ohio and are now big enough for Democratic concern. For all of his charisma, the rookie candidate still can't make the sale to the white middle-class voters, whom Democrats much -- must reach to beat John McCain."

Does "The Journal" make a fair point?

PALMIERI: I don't like for the Democrats to take advice from "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page.


PALMIERI: But I think that that might be more on track than "The New York Times"' reaction.

You know, this is -- I don't feel, historically, this has not been as ugly as other Democratic primaries, or certainly the Republican primary in 2000 has been. I mean, if you look at what's been really negative, I think the -- the ad that the North Carolina Republican Party is running in North Carolina now about Reverend Wright, that is -- that's the negative ad. I think that's what we could look forward to in the general election if -- if Obama is the nominee.

But I think that, you know, Hillary is -- you know, she is making her argument. And, you know, people say -- count that as negative. I think she that she's defining herself. And I don't think that, when Obama goes after -- goes after her about taking money from lobbyists or being in Washington too long, that's not an attack. That is -- that is his -- that is him defining her and that is him making the justification for his candidacy.

BLITZER: You and I, all of us, guys, we have seen negative campaigns.


BLITZER: And I got to tell you, Terry, on the scale of one to 10, 10 being our nuclear war between candidates, what we're hearing between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama may be a little nasty, may be a little negative, but you know it could get a whole lot worse, and it will come November, irrespective of who gets the Democratic nomination.

JEFFREY: Well, it could get a lot more brutal, and you will have independent groups weighing in and having their say.

But, Wolf, I will tell you, John King earlier on this program pointed to those two congressional districts in Indiana, Ellsworth's and Donnelly's, where the Democrats ran culturally conservative candidates and beat conservative Republicans in 2006.

What Obama needs to do, if he wants to demonstrate he can get that vote he lost to Hillary in Pennsylvania, is go into Indiana and win those districts big. If he could do that, he could demonstrate to the superdelegates in the Democratic Party he can win that vote. If Hillary beats him big there again, she's demonstrating he may not be able to do it.

BLITZER: What do you think, Jennifer?

PALMIERI: I think that, you know, what the -- I think what the Obama campaign has to do now, you know, is -- they're ahead in delegates. They're ahead in the popular vote, still. And, you know, that's a very strong place to be.

If they get in a position where they have to defend themselves further, they are going to have to explain how he gets to 270 electoral votes. And I think that, you know, because that's going to be Hillary's strongest argument.

She's going to say, if you look at the way Democrats win, I win the states that, traditionally, we have needed to win to get the White House, Ohio and Pennsylvania. And I think what the Obama campaign will say is, that math hasn't worked since 1996, and I bring -- I put different states in play, states like Colorado and Nevada, that we don't normally compete well in. And I will bring -- I will open up other states that we don't normally play in.

BLITZER: Very -- very quickly, Terry, which is a more persuasive argument to those undecided superdelegates? JEFFREY: I think, right now, John McCain has a chance to win Pennsylvania this fall. And I wouldn't have said that two months ago. And that definitely changes the Electoral College math in the Republicans' favor.

BLITZER: But who would be more formidable in Pennsylvania? I assume you think Hillary Clinton?

JEFFREY: Yes, I do. I wouldn't have said that two months ago, Wolf, but I think now Hillary Clinton definitely has greater appeal to the most important swing voters in this national election. Those are those churchgoing Northern voters who are sometimes called Reagan Democrats. If Obama can't win them, he presents a serious problem to the Democratic Party.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

PALMIERI: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jennifer, Terry, thanks for coming -- for coming in.

Two high school seniors are paying a big price for missing school to meet with Barack Obama. They left without permission, and they skipped gym. We're going to tell you what their school is now doing about it.

Plus, the Florida governor, the McCain supporter Charlie Crist, he joins us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's telling us whom he thinks would be a stronger Democratic opponent to McCain in his battleground state of Florida. Would it be Obama or Hillary Clinton? Charlie Crist speaking out on that issue.

And nuclear ties between North Korea and Syria. Could a secret reactor imperil Pyongyang's decision to give up its nuclear program? U.S. lawmakers want to know. They're getting a top-secret briefing.

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


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

In India, a man selling bamboo baskets walks in the sun. The temperature neared 104 in the northern part of the country today. That's hot.

In Australia, a Tibetan supporter rides past the Chinese Embassy during a candlelight vigil. The torch relay runs through the capital tomorrow.

In Afghanistan, a man rides a bike with a child past a destroyed palace. The palace came under fire in the 1992 civil war.

And, in Italy, a pizza-maker performs during an event at the World Pizza Championships -- some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures worth 1,000 words.

On our Political Ticker today, a couple of teenagers paid a price for getting close to Barack Obama. It happened Monday when Obama made an impromptu stop at a diner in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Two high school seniors asked for and got his autograph. They also asked him to sign an excuse slip.

It turns out they got -- they cut gym class to rush over to see Obama. The excuse did not impress school officials. They were slapped with a one-day suspension. They say it was worth it.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out That's where I posted my daily blog post just a little while ago.

Jack Cafferty joining us now with "The Cafferty" -- did you ever skip a class? You never skipped a class in high school.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yeah.


BLITZER: ... to go get the autograph of a presidential candidate?



CAFFERTY: I skipped a lot of classes, and it was never, never to go find some politician to get -- but ask him to sign the excuse slip, that's...


CAFFERTY: ... that's -- yes. Did you ever skip school?


BLITZER: I did. I was with my -- I was a senior or a junior in high school. And I think Carl Vizzy (ph), one of my best friends in Buffalo, we skipped a class to go see Bobby Kennedy.


BLITZER: Yes. He was running -- I think he was running...


CAFFERTY: So, the political junkie stuff runs deep in your veins, doesn't it?

BLITZER: Yes, it was deep. He was obsessed with politics, Carl.


CAFFERTY: Well, and as are you. (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But he was Catholic. And the whole John F. Kennedy thing...


BLITZER: ... it made him crazy. He loved that.


Well, there are people who suggest Barack Obama has that same kind of charismatic, Kennedyesque...


CAFFERTY: ... aura about him.

We shall see.


BLITZER: And that's why these kids skipped class.

CAFFERTY: Well, maybe. Or they're just nerdy kids or didn't -- they lost -- didn't have a fishing pole or didn't know where the ski slopes are.

The question this hour is, why can't Barack Obama close the deal?

"The problem" -- this is Krista in San Diego -- "isn't Barack. He's a fully capable candidate with a huge grassroots backing. The problem is primarily the large number of American people who can't get past the fact that he's half-black. I know that's not what you want to hear. I will be surprised to see if this commentary shows up. But there are millions of people in this country, mostly older white folk, some not so old, that have ingrained bigotry."

F. in Los Angeles: "This is amusing coming from a media folk."


CAFFERTY: "He has already closed the deal. It's just you people in the media that make this race seem closer than it is. I will bet my life savings -- which isn't much, thanks to Bush -- that Hillary Clinton will not win. I will be surprised and impressed if she is reelected a New York senator, let alone president."

Don in New York: "The infatuation is fading a little, people giving Obama a sober second look. What they are seeing is a charismatic man who says wonderful things, and that is something they have seen before."

Tone in South Carolina: "When Hillary was no longer the front- runner, no longer the assumed nominee, the deal was closed. It's like Hillary is jamming her foot in the door to prevent it from being shut in her face. Got to give her credit for putting up the good fight. The question should be, why hasn't Hillary closed the deal? Most American don't trust Hillary. That's the bottom line."

And Steve in Atlanta: "Obama can't close the deal because all of the older women are voting for the Clintons" -- plural. "Every family has a crazy aunt. I just found out that mine thinks Hillary is the best candidate. These women should stay out of politics and go play with their 11 cats."

CAFFERTY: That's Steve in Atlanta. Don't write me.


CAFFERTY: If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog, Look for your letter there, along with hundreds of others.

I have made enough people angry this week. I'm not going to tee off people who have 11 cats.

BLITZER: Good point.


BLITZER: Excellent point.


BLITZER: Jack, thank you.