Return to Transcripts main page


Reverend Wright's Defiant Defense; Voters: Show Your ID; How Will Obama Withstand Wright's Comments?

Aired April 28, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Barack Obama's former pastor speaks for himself, accusing his critics of launching a broader attack on the black church.
This hour we're examining the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's message and the implications for the Obama campaign. I'll speak about that and more with a leading Obama supporter, the New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson.

John McCain is seizing on new comments by the Reverend Wright. The Republican promised to keep his White House campaign on the high road. Is he now veering away from that?

We're watching this part of the story as well.

Plus, the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the most important voting rights case since the 2000 election. At stake, whether voters have to show photo ID before casting a ballot.

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

Barack Obama's former pastor today delivered a no apologies defense of his fiery and rationally-charged sermon. And he did it in front of the Washington news media that he blames in large part for the harsh criticism he's endured now for weeks. It's the latest in a series of public appearances by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright over the past few days, and it's adding fresh fuel to a controversy Obama has tried and failed so far to completely put behind him.

We're going to hear the Reverend Wright's remarks at length here in THE SITUATION ROOM. But first let's zero in on some of his most provocative views, specifically what he's saying right now.

Brian Todd is joining us with this part of the story.

All right. Give us some of the theories that the Reverend Wright is now putting forward, Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some of his ideas are based on books and papers that he's read. Some of this material has some serious support among researchers and historians. But some of it is very controversial.


TODD (voice-over): Reverend Jeremiah Wright has his theories, and he's sticking to them. Take this assertion from a few years ago.

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, SEN. BARACK OBAMA'S FMR. PASTOR: The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. Governments lie.

TODD: Now, under the glare that's gotten Barack Obama into such a deep political dilemma, Reverend Wright is asked, do you really believe that?

WRIGHT: Have you read Horowitz' book, "Emerging Viruses: AIDS & Ebola"?

TODD: In the 1996 book "Emerging Viruses," Dr. Leonard Horowitz wrote that HIV was introduced to gay men in New York and blacks in central Africa by a U.S. government-sponsored Hepatitis B vaccine, a program of genocide, Horowitz claims, designed to reduce the world's population. The author is grateful for Reverend Wright's acknowledgment.

LEONARD HOROWITZ, "EMERGING VIRUSES": He's simply doing a godly service and a public service by pointing out the truth that has been heavily suppressed by government officials, as well as, unfortunately, the mainstream media.

TODD: Horowitz claims the Centers for Disease Control came up with one of the strains of the vaccine and then helped cover the scheme up. Contacted by CNN, a CDC official points to government- sponsored research that identifies a subspecies of chimpanzees in western Africa as the original source of HIV. This is a widely-held theory among medical researchers.

But Reverend Wright cites another book that has more historical support.

WRIGHT: Have you read "Medical Apartheid"? Experiments based on what has happened to Africans in this country. I believe our government is capable of doing anything.


TODD: Now, with that, he is referring to the Tuskegee experiment that was begun in the 1930s, whereby black men who had syphilis were not told that they had it. This was a study done to examine the spread of syphilis. They were not told they had it, a cure was withheld from them. That's been widely documented from history, and the U.S. government -- in fact, President Bill Clinton, apologized for that program in 1997 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What's his theory about black children and white children learning differently?

TODD: Well, he does support this theory on how they have different ways of learning and thinking. This is a conclusion from one researcher, that kids with European origins have a left brain cog from which they learn by observing objects, and that African-American children are right-brain-oriented, learning creatively and intuitively from observing people.

Now, we've talked about that with some experts -- one psychiatrist, a child psychiatrist, and one education expert. They say that theory is really not very widely held.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Brian Todd reporting for us on some of the latest comments from the Reverend Wright.

Let's get some background now on the Reverend Wright.

He was born and raised in a rationally mixed neighborhood of Philadelphia called Germantown. He graduated from one of the best high schools in the area, which at the time was mostly white.

Wright left the Virginia Union University after about three years to join the U.S. Marine Corps and then the Navy. He went on to earn Bachelors and Masters degrees at Howard University here in Washington, D.C.

Later, he entered the seminary and earned advanced degrees in theology. When Wright became pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in 1972, it had under 100 members. Now it has roughly 10,000 members.

Let's get to a major U.S. Supreme Court ruling right now that could throw a new curveball into the November election. The U.S. Supreme Court upholding Indiana's strict law requiring voters to show a picture ID before they can cast their ballots.

Let's bring in our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena.

Kelli, this could have an enormous impact, probably more in November than next week, in Indiana. But give our viewers the background, the enormity of what the U.S. Supreme Court has decided today.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, now that the Supreme Court has upheld Indiana's law, it basically gives a green light to other states to pass similar legislation, which of course would be just in time for the November election.


ARENA (voice-over): Remember this? Protests, hanging chads, charges of voter intimidation. The 2000 presidential race raised questions about election integrity. And Democrats say today's Supreme Court ruling may raise even more.

DONNA BRAZILE, DIRECTOR, DNC VOTING RIGHTS INST.: The voter ID scam is a suppression tactic used by many people to undermine the right to vote in this country.

ARENA: In upholding Indiana's strict voter ID law, the toughest in the nation, the high court cleared the way for other states to follow suit. Voting rights advocates say the impact will be felt most heavily among the poor, the elderly, minorities, people who tend to vote Democratic.

MELISSA MADILL, INDIANA VOTING RIGHTS ADVOCATE: It's actually infuriating. It's infuriating that people who really need to impact the system the most are being denied the right to do so.

ARENA: The hurdles are real for people like Karen Vaughn, a quadriplegic who doesn't have a driver's license or a passport. She had to pay more than $100 to get documentation to prove who she was.

KAREN VAUGHN, VOTING RIGHTS PLAINTIFF: They just don't care. We're unimportant.

ARENA: Indiana isn't the only state to require ID. More than 20 states ask voters to present identification, including most of the key battleground states. Election officials say the laws are necessary to prevent fraud.

TODD ROKITA, INDIANA SECRETARY OF STATE: It's so easy for someone to claim that I'm -- that they're somebody else and steal an election that way.

ARENA: But there's little hard evidence to back that up. The ACLU and People for the American Way say there's evidence instead to suggest that disadvantaged voters will have a hard time. In past elections in Ohio and Florida, some voters reportedly complained that poll workers tried to turn them away even with proper ID.


ARENA: Now, state election officials say that they're working very hard to make sure everyone knows what the rules are, what kind of ID is accepted so everyone will be ready in November. But some experts say the Democrats are just going to have to work a lot harder to make sure that their members are well informed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Kelli, for that. A major decision.

And today's 6-3 high court ruling reflects a splintered U.S. Supreme Court. Justice John Paul Stevens, the chief dissenter in Bush versus Gore, in that ruling back in 2000, wrote the majority opinion this time. He was appointed by Gerald Ford.

The five other justices supporting the majority opinion include some of its most conservative members. All were nominated by Republican presidents.

The three justices who dissented, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. All dissented in the Bush versus Gore court decision as well.

Souter was nominated by the first President Bush. Ginsburg and Breyer were nominated by Bill Clinton.

Enormous ramifications potentially by this Supreme Court decision today. Much more on this story coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now let's check in with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, Lincoln and Douglas made it famous, a debate with no moderator. But it doesn't look like it's going to happen between Obama and Clinton.

Over a week -- just a little over a week to go now before the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, the two candidates running virtually neck and neck in Indiana, Clinton wants to debate Obama in both states as a means of picking up votes in a race that he currently leads overall when you combine Indiana and North Carolina. She says she'll debate him any time, any place, adding that it could even be done on the back of a flatbed truck.

I was thinking earlier he might prefer to run over her at this point with a flatbed truck.

Anyway, she's called over the course of the weekend for this less restrictive form of debate which got its name from a series of debates that took place in 1858 during the Senate race between Abraham Lincoln and the Democrat, Stephen Douglas. Clinton says voters in Indiana would love to see that kind of debate, that it would be "good for the Democratic Party, good for our democracy, and it would be great for Indiana."

Barack Obama says probably not, saying there'll be no more debates between now and May 6. There have been 21 debates. Obama says he'd rather spend the time talking to as many people as possible on the ground, taking questions from voters, blah, blah, blah.

It's really not the reason. He's ahead. And the front-runner traditionally would rather sit on the lead than take the chance of doing something stupid in another debate.

Obama's campaign has said repeatedly most debates have offered little new information. He criticized the line of questioning in that last one in Philadelphia, saying it was more about "gotcha" games and stirring up controversy than about the issues.

So here's the question: Do you think Barack Obama should have accepted Hillary Clinton's invitation to a Lincoln/Douglas style debate with no moderator?

You can go to, post a comment there on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty will be back shortly.

Barack Obama is making a new push to win over white working class voters. Is the Reverend Wright controversy getting in his way? I'll talk about that and more with a leading Obama supporter, the New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson. He's standing by live. Also, we're going to take you inside Obama's new effort to try to fine-tune his campaign message and consider whether he has a real problem with blue-collar America.

And John McCain has promised to keep his campaign on the high road, but is he breaking that vow by taking Obama and the Reverend Wright to task now?

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



BLITZER: She was a John Edwards supporter. Now an uncommitted superdelegate who's trying a very unique strategy to help her make up her mind. She's asking people online to convince her to vote for either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is watching this story for us.

All right. So what are some of the responses, Abbi, that she's been getting?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, they range from a 1,500 word essay on why Hillary, to poems and YouTube videos inspired by Barack Obama. Fourteen hundred comments this month in response to this post on from uncommitted superdelegate Debra Kozikowski. An online challenge to convince her should she go for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

Now, if this vote were to be won by sheer volume, then Barack Obama would have it looking at all the posts online. But there's actually a real range of input from the people that have been weighing in -- from a 24-year-old active duty service member for Hillary Clinton, to old ladies for Barack Obama.

Looking through some of them, there's also people really appreciating this opportunity to weigh in online. But there are a couple of people who are saying, this is not a game. This is serious business. Why are you doing this?

Well, Kozikowski told me today, "My vote is not first prize in a best essay contest." But she says it gets nasty out there online, and she wanted to give people an opportunity to have a conversation about who they're supporting.

She says this has been eye-opening. She's still uncommitted, though. She says she's going to wait until all the states have weigh in before she says a word -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

John McCain's words are now being used against him directly. Democrats are using what he said about being in Iraq for 100 years in a brand-new ad. But is the ad accurate and fair?

And your health of course a top concern. So how would the presidential candidates help you maintain it? You're going to find exactly where they stand on health care.

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


BLITZER: Likely something Barack Obama's campaign wishes didn't necessarily have to deal with right now. That would be the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's defiant defense of his past comments and the decision to go very public with that right now.

So how might his new words affect Obama's campaign? Let's discuss this and more in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, us our CNN political analyst, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist John Feehery.

Thanks, guys, very much for joining us.

What does Barack Obama need to do now to make this problem go away? Because I suspect that those white voters out there who are concerned about Jeremiah Wright, this whole publicity tour that he's on right now, is merely fueling some of those concerns.

BRAZILE: Those white voters have heard from Reverend Wright. They probably heard again this morning from Reverend Wright. And I'm sure that many of them are still displeased at Reverend Wright.

Many of them have already voted. And of course those in the upcoming states must now determine whether or not it's about Reverend Wright or Barack Obama. If you want to know the past, listen to Reverend Wright. But if you believe in the future, listen to Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Shouldn't he be doing anything else, Barack Obama? He gave that big speech, as all of us remember, in Philadelphia, but is there anything else he needs to do in the immediate days leading up to Indiana and North Carolina?

BRAZILE: Wolf, I don't think so, because Reverend Wright is a distraction to Barack Obama getting out his message. Reverend Wright said he's a pastor, Obama's a politician. What I heard today, Reverend Wright sounded like a politician, like he wanted to inject himself into this political fray.

He should not. He should allow Barack Obama to get his message out every day.

BLITZER: What do you think he needs to do, if anything?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: A very bad politician. You know, any time you're a Democrat and you're mocking the Kennedys, that's really, really bad politics. I think that the Obama campaign should buy a very expensive first-class ticket for Reverend Wright and get him out of the country.

BLITZER: Well, that's not happening.

FEEHERY: That's not happening. You know, I think -- I don't know if he gives another speech or not, but I think this is really, really bad news for the Obama campaign. I think it's going to really hurt him in Indiana.

BRAZILE: I don't think it's bad news for the Obama campaign. As much as Reverend Wright tried today to explain the black church and one tradition in the black church, unfortunately once again we were distracted by other comments that Reverend Wright made. I think it's important that Barack Obama stays on message and continues to...


BLITZER: Do you believe, Donna, there's any truth whatsoever in this notion that some of put out there that the Reverend Wright, knowingly, or maybe subconsciously, really wants to hurt Barack Obama right now to validate his long-term stance on the problems that African-Americans have in this country, and they can't necessarily get ahead as a result of the built-in racism that exists? Do you buy that at all?

BRAZILE: No, I don't buy it. I buy that Barack Obama, like Hillary Clinton, they represent the future, the future of America, the future of the Democratic Party. They have worked to reconcile people, not to tear them apart. And I don't believe that Reverend Wright buys into this notion that he's out there to hurt Barack Obama or hurt the Democratic Party.

BLITZER: I think he's trying -- what he's trying to do is help himself, first and foremost, to try to defend some of those controversial comments, those little clips that all of us saw numerous times.

FEEHERY: Last week I was on the show and I said it would be a good idea if he would go out and try to redefine himself. Well, he didn't redefine himself. He kind of defined himself all over again with the conspiracy theories on AIDS and the Kennedy comments, all these things. I think he took a bunch of really expensive gasoline and poured it on a fire, and I think it's going to be hurtful.

BLITZER: Some have suggested, Donna, that the U.S. Supreme Court decision today saying it's constitutional for states to require photo ID in order to let voters go out there and vote is the most important U.S. Supreme Court decision since Gore versus Bush in 2000.

What do you think?

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, it was Bush v. Gore the last I checked, because it was...

BLITZER: Right. OK. I stand corrected.

BRAZILE: I had to say that. Well, Wolf, all the problems we have with election administration in this country with provisional ballots, with people been disenfranchised, the Supreme Court created a problem that doesn't exist. We don't have problems of voter fraud in this country, people impersonating others.

Yes, this will harm Democratic efforts to get out minorities and poor people and senior citizens and students. And the party will have to do a pretty big job to educate people to show up with an ID.

I have to say it again, my sister in Florida had to show three forms of ID to vote in 2000. Not one -- not her driver's license, not her voter registration, but she had to have a utility bill. What form of ID, and will the government provide that ID to voters?

BLITZER: The political ramifications, as Donna points out, could be very significant in November.

FEEHERY: I think it actually has to do with fairness and making sure that people who are voting are supposed to be voting. And fraud is a problem, it's been a problem.

BRAZILE: Where? Where? Come on.

FEEHERY: Well, Chicago. It's been a problem for a long time.


FEEHERY: And let's make sure there is no fraud.

I think -- you know, I had to use my driver's license to get into this building. I don't think it's that high of a hurdle to use a driver's license to get -- to be able to vote.

BRAZILE: But what form of ID, John? That's the problem, because fraud has not been a problem. I've been on the battlefield for 30 years and fraud has not been a problem. We've had less than 10 times. I have a greater possibility of being hit by lightning than seeing election fraud.

FEEHERY: Well, I think there has been fraud. There's been a consistent fraud, and this really cuts down on the fraud. And you know, it just shows that you show a driver's license and you vote. I don't think it's a big deal.

BRAZILE: The Supreme Court even couldn't find fraud. But they said it's easy to get an ID, so why not require it? It's just a small problem for people. It's a huge problem if you don't have $16.50 to buy a driver's license.

BLITZER: The 6-3 decision today though says it's constitutional..

BRAZILE: Well...

BLITZER: So it may be a problem, but it's going forward. BRAZILE: That's why this election matters. The Supreme Court does matter.

BLITZER: Of course the Supreme Court matters on a lot of issues.

Guys, thanks very much. And thank you.

And Donna Brazile, to viewers who don't remember, you had a major role in that Al Gore campaign back in 2000. That's why you remembered the name of that case better than I did.

BRAZILE: Absolutely. And I just don't want to be hit by a bolt of lightning. Nor do I believe that election fraud should be allowed in this country. I just want to say that to John.

BLITZER: Thanks, guys.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

BLITZER: John McCain tries to stick to the issues, but it appears he couldn't resist commenting on the Barack Obama/Jeremiah Wright issue.

We're going to hear what McCain is now saying.

And Barack Obama has recently gone bowling, downed a few drinks, even milked cows, and yet he still appears to be having a problem connecting with some blue collar voters. What does he need to do now?

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


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

Happening now, gas politics and fuming over gas prices. The presidential candidates say they'd help you save money. But who has the best plan? We're investigating.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prepares for a Middle East trip. But might Jimmy Carter's meeting with Hamas complicate her mission?

You're going to find out what the former president says Hamas is ready to do now.

And a CNN exclusive from inside Iraq. We're going to go and take a very close look inside what's called the only place in the world where U.S. and other forces directly interact with thousands of hardened al Qaeda members. You're going to want to see what's being done to break their anti-U.S. hatred. Our Nic Robertson has an exclusive report.

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

Try as he might, Barack Obama has struggled to connect with a group he'll need if he becomes the Democratic presidential nominee. That would be white collar -- white blue-collar voters, that is. So, what might he do, what should he do, in terms of his strategy?

Let's discuss this and more with New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson. He was a Democratic presidential candidate. Now he's a Democratic superdelegate, just back from an important mission to South America as well.

We will talk about that in a few moments, Governor. But let me talk about politics first, right now.

He's struggling to win those white working-class voters, didn't do very well necessarily in Ohio weeks ago, more recently, in Pennsylvania.

What's the problem here? Why is -- why is he failing to get those voters in the numbers he really needs if he's going to win a presidential election in November?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Well, the problem was that there was a problem with several things he said relating to why voters were -- were not happy.

But the reality of it is that Barack Obama has a message of change, of opportunity. He's focusing more on the economy, on bread- and-butter issues, on the housing crisis, on economic growth issues, on creating jobs.

You know, here is a candidate of enormous change, a candidate that really is connecting and being able to bring people together. I think that's a slight aberration that has been corrected with his new emphasis on job and restoring the economy and international trade.

Wolf, I think he's on his way to doing well in Indiana and North Carolina and the remaining nine primaries before June 3. And he's getting more superdelegates. My senator from New Mexico, Jeff Bingaman, just endorsed him today. That's another superdelegate.


BLITZER: So, the argument that Hillary Clinton supporters make, the Democrats, by all accounts, they need Ohio desperately if they're going to win in November against John McCain, they need Pennsylvania, and she does better in those two states than he does. How do the superdelegates, who want to make sure they have the most electable president, how do they deal with that apparent reality?

RICHARDSON: Well, the reality also is that, since Ohio, Senator Obama, at least in Pennsylvania, has improved his standing with white middle-class voters, with voters over 60. He's narrowed the gap with Senator Clinton.

But his emphasis on improving the economy, on working families, on bringing people together, I believe, in key states like North Carolina and Indiana and Kentucky and West Virginia, that are working- class states, that that gap with those voters that Senator Clinton has an advantage are going to narrow. And superdelegates are going to see who can win, who can be the strongest candidate against Senator McCain.

And I believe that's Senator Obama with his emphasis on change, on bringing people together, a fresh voice internationally, somebody that is able, in my judgment, to bring -- at least -- I just got back from Latin America, from Venezuela, where he has enormous support, where people really want to see a change in American foreign policy.

BLITZER: Senator -- Governor...

RICHARDSON: And they see Obama as that agent of change.

BLITZER: Governor, sorry for interrupting, but -- but this whole Jeremiah Wright decision now to come out over these past few days and now go forward and defend himself -- which he certainly has every right to do -- how much of a problem, though, is that for Barack Obama? Because what Jeremiah Wright is saying certainly gets a lot of white working-class voters, as you well know, pretty nervous.

RICHARDSON: Well, the reality is that Barack Obama's running for president. Jeremiah Wright is not running for president.

I think Senator Obama dealt with that issue. I don't believe that Reverend Wright deserves the coverage that he seems to be getting and the controversy that he's generating. Obama faced the problem. He said, we have a problem with race in this country. But he renounced what Reverend Wright had been saying, and rightly so.

Obama is an agent of bringing people together, of unity. And I don't believe that Reverend Wright is on the ballot anywhere. So, you know, we should just push him aside and focus on the differences between the two candidates.

BLITZER: Did the U.S. Supreme Court make the right decision today saying it was, in fact, constitutional for states to require photo I.D. for voters to go and cast their ballots?

RICHARDSON: Well, I'm not familiar with the decision. But it strikes me that if it's a way to typecast and stereotype people, I don't believe that necessarily should be the right decision. Now, if they have strong national security reasons for doing it, which I'm unaware of, then it was the right decision.

So, I have reservations about that. I don't think we need to be intrusive when it comes to voters. I mean, there are minority voters, Hispanic, Native Americans that may not look like the typical American.

And, so, my concern is that, again, we're stereotyping. We're typecasting. But it is clear that at least it's important that we have a verifiable, nonintrusive system, so people can vote and we know that they're legitimate voters, that they're not here illegally.

BLITZER: You met with Hugo Chavez over the weekend. You're trying to get some Americans who have been held by rebels in Colombia free. Did you make headway? What did you think of this guy, who clearly doesn't like the Bush administration, the president of the United States, very much?

RICHARDSON: Well, the Bush administration helped me with this mission. But I'm going just as somebody that is trying to help the families of the three Americans that have been kidnapped.

And I believe I made progress with Chavez. I was honest with him. I did give him -- he's a baseball fan -- or a baseball player. I gave him a baseball signed by Mickey Mantle that I think helped a little bit.

My point there is, I got Chavez to agree to help us try to secure some of those hostages, because he's the only one that has had success in the past. He got six hostages out. We're talking about three Americans. We're talking about one French woman, Ingrid Betancourt, about 400 Colombians.

So, you know, when you have these conflicts, you forget there's humanitarian cases of Americans in deteriorating health that are there and were captured innocently. But, for five years, they have been kept away from their families. They have endured great hardship. And I was stepping up to try to get these hostages out.

BLITZER: Did the...

RICHARDSON: I -- I made some headway there.

BLITZER: Governor, did the White House and the State Department authorize your mission?

RICHARDSON: Well, I went there as an agent of the families. But the State Department helped me. I met with the two ambassadors. They gave me logistical support. They have made public statements saying the mission -- they concurred with the mission.

But, so, yes, they did. They have -- they have been helpful. And, you know, those that say that the State Department doesn't care about these hostages are wrong. They do.

But I am able, not as an agent of the government, not as an agent of any organization, but as somebody representing the families who asked me to get involved. And, as you know, in the past, I have had some success in North Korea, in Sudan, in Cuba, in Iraq, in getting hostages and American servicemen out.

I think we have made some headway, and I'm cautiously optimistic we can get them out.

BLITZER: I hope you can, not the first mission of this kind that you undertook. I'm sure it won't be the last. Thanks for doing it.

Governor, thanks for coming on. Appreciate it.

Let's go to Chad Myers. There seems to be some severe weather going on in Virginia, not very far away from where we are, here in Washington, D.C.

Chad, what's going on?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, we had tornadoes on the ground in Colonial Heights, which is really Petersburg, damage there already.

And now another tornado warning, with a tornado on the ground in the town of Driver, already on the ground in Suffolk making damage. And now it's really into Portsmouth, making its way across the Hampton Roads area.

And, Wolf, this is a pretty significant storm. This tornado has been on the ground a long time and has made quite a bit of damage already. And now it's moving into a very populated area. So, I want you to get the warning out to all your viewers there, the Hampton Roads area under the gun with a tornado warning, tornado damage reported with the storm already, and the tornado still on the ground at this hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Keep us up to speed, Chad. Thanks very much on that.

John McCain says his campaign is all about respect. But is he straying from his promise by jumping into the flap over Barack Obama's former pastor? We're going to look at new questions about McCain's strategy.

Also, as we just discussed, Barack Obama hopes to win over more blue-collar white voters. Bill Schneider standing to take a closer look at how he hopes to do that.

And many of you want someone, anyone to do something about high gas prices. So, what are the presidential candidates promising? And who would likely save you more money?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: John McCain veered today into territory he once suggested was off limits. The Republican nominee in waiting seized on the latest remarks by Barack Obama's former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Our Dana Bash traveled with McCain to Florida. She's watching this story for us.

Is he shifting gears on the whole Wright controversy, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes. There really is a tactical shift from the McCain campaign, Wolf, one that really shows how potent an issue they think this Wright controversy is for -- for Barack Obama.

McCain advisers I talk to say they won't run any ads using Jeremiah Wright against Obama, but they are no longer going to tell others not to.


BASH (voice-over): A hospital tour, as John McCain discussed one of the starkest policy differences with Democrats, health care.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The solution, my friends, isn't a one-size-fits-all big-government takeover of health care.

BASH: McCain tried to stick to issues and script a day after straying from his self-described high standard of campaigning, volunteering controversial quotes purportedly from Jeremiah Wright reported on a blog.

MCCAIN: One of them comparing the United States Marine Corps with Roman legionnaires who were responsible for the death of our savior.

BASH: With a segue to Barack Obama's so-called bitter comments about rural voters.

MCCAIN: I can understand why that Americans, when viewing these kinds of comments, are angry and upset, just like they viewed Senator Obama's statements about why people turn to their faith and their values.

BASH: McCain insists Obama himself green-lighted that by saying Sunday, Reverend Wright is a legitimate political issue. Still, it's a risky move for someone who repeatedly says this.

MCCAIN: I have pledged to conduct a respectful campaign. And I have urged, time after time, various entities within the Republican Party to also do that.

BASH: But McCain aides tell CNN they have now made a tactical decision not to, in the words of one adviser, do Obama's work for him by condemning his condemners, a strategy shift made after McCain denounced this North Carolina GOP ad...


NARRATOR: For 20 years, Barack Obama sat in his pew.


BASH: ... but still got hammered by Democrats for not doing more to kill it.

MCCAIN: I am not going to be a referee. I have made my position very clear on this issue, and that I do not believe that Senator Obama shares Reverend Wright's extremist statements or views.


BASH: But that statement from McCain is quite telling. He is careful to say that he doesn't think Obama shares his former pastor or his current pastor's controversial views, but, at the same time, by saying that he's not going to be a -- quote -- "referee," he's now giving a go-ahead to his allies, who more and more in Republican circles truly believe that the Jeremiah Wright issue is the one major issue that they can use against Barack Obama, because it is becoming such a liability for him, if, of course, he is the Democratic opponent for John McCain -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, as you know, the senator, Senator McCain, made some controversial remarks about U.S. troops potentially being in Iraq for 100 years. The DNC, the Democratic National Committee, has not got -- out with a new ad going after him on this statement. I'm going to play a little clip for you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years.

MCCAIN: Maybe 100. That would be fine with me.


BLITZER: All right. Here's what he originally said. I'm going to play the exact words of what he said about 100 years in Iraq. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years.

MCCAIN: Maybe 100.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that -- is that...


MCCAIN: How long -- we have been in -- we have been in South Korea -- we have been in Japan for 60 years. We have been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That would be fine with me, as long as Americans...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, that's your policy?

MCCAIN: ... as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. Then it's fine with me. I hope it would be fine with you, if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where al Qaeda is training, recruiting, and equipping, and motivating people every single day.


BLITZER: All right, so, is this a serious problem for the McCain camp right now, Dana? BASH: Well, I can tell you, Wolf, that that last part, the actual quote, or sound bite from John McCain that you played, that is the reason why the Republican National Committee has launched a major attack against the Democratic National Committee, saying, it's absolutely misleading, it's not fair, because the ad that they have up doesn't have the context, saying that what John McCain said isn't that he wants combat troops there for 100 year. He was suggesting that there should be a presence in what he hopes would be a stable Iraq.

Having said that, look, this is politics. And there are many people inside the McCain campaign, Wolf, who worked in 2004 for George Bush who heard that -- those words from John Kerry -- I was for it, before I was against it. That may not have been fair against John Kerry, but it was something they seized on, because it fed into a narrative that was negative against John Kerry. And it worked.

They understand, in the McCain campaign, McCain himself understands that this is classic politics, because that kind of quote, that he wants to stay there for 100 years, that fits perfectly, for the Democrats, into their narrative that John McCain is absolutely wrong when it comes to the war in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, thank you.

Let's take a closer look right now at the other issue John McCain is talking about today, health care. The Republican proposes more of a free market approach to reform than his Democratic rivals. He opposes federally mandated universal coverage, supports expanding health savings account and health care tax dividends for low-income Americans.


MCCAIN: The solution, my friends, isn't a one-size-fits-all big- government takeover of health care. It resides where every important social advance has always resided, with the American people themselves.


BLITZER: Barack Obama would mandate health care coverage for children, but not necessarily for all adults. He would create a new national health care program for the uninsured and require private insurance plans to meet certain standards.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have been talking about health care for decades now, through Democratic and Republican administrations. And, yet, year after year after year, nothing ever changes.


BLITZER: Hillary Clinton wants to mandate health insurance coverage for all Americans. She would create a new public insurance plan modeled after Medicare and let individuals choose from among several private plans.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to move toward universal health care, because, if we don't, we're going to bankrupt our health care system, and we're not going to have the kind of health care that any of us deserve to have.


BLITZER: We're going to continue to watch this story on all the substantive issues, where these candidates stand.

Barack Obama is bowling, drinking beer, even milking cows, apparently trying to send a message to blue-collar voters: He's just like you.

So, why aren't more of them lining up behind him?

And we have been looking at reaction to the Jeremiah Wright affair in the political world, but what about the African-Americans? What about African-Americans? What are they saying about the controversial reverend? Our Carol Costello is getting some of their reaction -- much more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Barack Obama's heading into next week's Indiana primary wondering if he will have a similar problem getting blue-collar support, as he did in Pennsylvania and earlier in Ohio.

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

Does he really have a problem with white blue-collar voters, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, he appears to. But what's not clear is why.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Barack Obama has a problem with white blue-collar voters. In Pennsylvania, whites without a college degree voted for Hillary Clinton by better than two to one. In the Democratic primaries so far this year, those voters have gone for Clinton in 25 states. They have gone for Obama in only three.

Obama is aware of the problem.

OBAMA: People said, well, you know, maybe it hasn't -- you know, he hasn't proven that he can win, you know, the white blue-collar vote.

SCHNEIDER: What's their problem with Obama? Is it race or is it class? STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Some of it is race. Some of it is his life experience and his style. And, undoubtedly, some of it is his ideology.

SCHNEIDER: His style?

ROTHENBERG: He talks at 35,000 feet. He's much more of a professor giving a lecture than he is a candidate who is trying to connect with real people.

SCHNEIDER: Why do white working-class voters prefer Hillary Clinton?

ROTHENBERG: Hillary's got this tough fighter image. And she does pepper her comments more in terms of the little people, more specifics, more about issues.

CLINTON: My campaign is about jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs.

SCHNEIDER: How much of Obama's problem is race? In Pennsylvania, white non-college Democrats who said race was an important factor in their vote went for Clinton over Obama by four to one.

But how many white non-college Democrats said race was important? Only one in five. Eighty percent of them said race was not important. They voted for Clinton, too, by better than 2-1, suggesting that Obama's problem with those white voters is only partly racial. A lot of it is cultural.


SCHNEIDER: Obama is an African-American candidate who's being criticized for having elitist cultural values. And, notably, it's the elitist problem that looks more serious -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill, thank you for that -- Bill Schneider.

John McCain effectively has the Republican nomination all locked up. But is Ron Paul still running to be president himself? The Texas congressman is making new comments about delegate support. You're going to want to hear what he's saying now.

And Jimmy Carter is back from the Middle East, but Condoleezza Rice is getting ready to go to the Middle East. But might his meeting with Hamas complicate her mission? Our Zain Verjee reports. And I will be speaking with the former President Jimmy Carter. He will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow.

We will be right back.


BLITZER: Let's check our political ticker right now. Republican Ron Paul says he won't allow himself to be shut out of the presidential race by the Republican Party. Paul has never officially dropped out. And he has won 21 delegates, according to CNN's estimate.

A large group of Paul's supporters managed to bring the Nevada Republican Convention to a standstill over the weekend after the party tried to exclude the Texas congressman from delegate allocations.

On CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING," Paul was asked if he would consider urging his supporters to support John McCain.


REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, not unless he changes his tune, like, bring the troops home. But, you know, he's the greatest proponent of the war.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, "AMERICAN MORNING": But how can you -- how can you...

PAUL: Maybe you're a good Republican if you stand up for Republican principles. I would argue that leadership in the last 10 years have drifted from Republican principles.


BLITZER: Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out That's where I write my daily blog posts as well. Just posted one before the show.

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

CAFFERTY: You know, I liked Ron Paul. I was rooting for him back when there was still a question about who the nominee might be. Now he's annoying. It's over.

BLITZER: He raised a lot of money.

CAFFERTY: He did raise a lot of money.


CAFFERTY: I -- does he still have that? I mean, does he get to keep all that money? How does that work?

BLITZER: Yes, he gets to keep it and spend it for politics.

CAFFERTY: It's a great life, if you don't weaken.

The question this hour is: Should Barack Obama have accepted Hillary Clinton's invitation to a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate with no moderator?

Mac in Nova Scotia writes: "Why should he accept another debate? She is running behind, trying to get more free airtime, and trying to call the shots for both campaigns. That is pretty elitist for somebody who is in second place."

Andy in Virginia: "Of course he should accept the offer to debate. He would have a chance to answer all the questions that revolve around him and his candidacy. With Clinton, we all know what we are getting. Obama is still a major question mark. There is too much unknown about him. I can't get comfortable with Obama and the countless issues that keep coming to the surface. You want my vote? Explain yourself."

Jan in Tennessee writes: "No, there have been enough debates already. Hillary just wants to catch Obama in some type of gaffe, so she will have something new to complain about on the campaign trail. What I'm looking forward to is when Obama debates McCain."

Elena writes: "Uh, yes he should have. But he didn't because he's frightened after his last pitiful debate performance. The first time the media asked tough questions, he couldn't answer, and he was a deer in the headlights. He said, let's get back to the issues. That's funny, because he's never on the issues. His speeches are rarely about issues. All he does is repeat hope, change, and old- school politics."

Debbie writes in New Jersey: "Why should he Jack? History shows only the loser wants the debate. Obama is ahead in popular votes, delegates, number of states, and likability. Why should he waste his time with Hillary? She's the desperate one."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at, and look for yours there among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack.