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Interview With Governors Richardson, Easley; Interview With Senator Graham

Aired May 4, 2008 - 11:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: This is LATE EDITION, the last word in Sunday talk.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: We are going to show that again. We are a good and great nation.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: You and I together are going to change this country and change the world.


BLITZER: Down to the wire in North Carolina and Indiana. Will Tuesday's primary decide the Democratic presidential nomination? We'll talk with Obama supporter Governor Bill Richardson and Clinton supporter Governor Mike Easley.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: What I'm talking about is giving Americans choices.


BLITZER: John McCain tackles the economy and health care on the campaign trail. But are they winning issues for the Republican nominee? The view from McCain supporter Senator Lindsey Graham.

From record gas prices to the housing prices. Which Democratic candidate has the best plan for the struggling U.S. economy? Supporters of the Clinton and Obama campaigns weigh in.


OBAMA: I'm outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Barack Obama's former pastor throws a bombshell into the presidential race. Three views on the explosive mix of race, religion and politics.

Plus, insight and a dramatic week in the campaign from three of the best political team on television. And 10 years of LATE EDITION. We'll look back at my interview with former President Bill Clinton. The first hour of LATE EDITION begins right now.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is LATE EDITION with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: It's 11 a.m. here in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 6 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for LATE EDITION.

We'll talk with two top supporters of the Clinton and Obama campaigns in just a moment. But first, the two Democratic presidential candidates spent time today trying to make their respective cases before a nationwide television audience. Jessica Yellin is joining us now from the CNN Election Express in Indianapolis. She is watching what is going on with the latest. Jessica?

YELLIN: Good morning, Wolf. The candidates are campaigning furiously here in Indiana. On the campaign trail, they're speaking to small groups of people. But this morning, as you say, they spoke to a national audience. Hillary Clinton appearing with George Stephanopoulos on "This Week," Barack Obama in a one-on-one with Tim Russert and one of the big issues that came up was the question of Iran. How should the U.S. approach any sort of hostile action by Iran?

We've heard this issue on the campaign trail come up before. Today both candidates traded increasingly sharp barbs on the issue. First here is Tim Russert with Barack Obama. He asked Obama to respond to one of Clinton's assertions that she would respond aggressively to an attack by Iran on Israel, threatening to possibly obliterate them. Here's what Obama had to say about that.


OBAMA: It's not the language that we need right now. And I think it's language that's reflective of George Bush. The irony, is of course, Senator Clinton during the course of this campaign has at times said we shouldn't speculate about Iran. You know, we have to be cautious when we're running for president. She scolded me on a couple of occasions about this issue. And, yet, a few days before an election she is willing to use that language.


YELLIN: Now that came across the airwaves just as George Stephanopoulos was still interviewing Senator Clinton and Stephanopoulos turned around and asked Senator Clinton to respond to Barack Obama's criticism of her. Here was her response to Obama.


CLINTON: I think we have to be very clear about what we would do. I don't think it is time to equivocate about what we would do. They have to know that they would face massive retaliation. That is the only way to rein them in.


CLINTON: No, why would I have any regrets?


YELLIN: Now Wolf, you see this is one of the rare policy differences we hear between these two candidates. The other big disagreement that really erupted this week is over that question of should there be a gas tax holiday? That is a big issue we hear on the stump from both of the candidates from here. They're in Indianapolis where I am. They're going to be heading north. Senator Obama will be with his family for a large gathering with voters, where he'll talk more about the economy. Senator Clinton is also heading north for several campaign stops.

Expect the question of the economy, even more than these foreign policy issues, to dominate discussion as they lead down towards the final hours before this vote on Tuesday. As you know, CNN's latest poll shows the race here in Indiana still a dead heat. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right Jessica, thanks. We're going to be checking back with you soon. Thanks very much.

And joining us now with their take on where the Democratic contest stands right now, the New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. He is a strong supporter of Barack Obama. And North Carolina's Governor Mike Easley, he's a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton. His state is holding its critical primary on Tuesday. To both of you governors, thanks very much for joining us.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Governor Richardson, I'll start with you. And I want you to be specific. If Hillary Clinton says she is very firm in letting the Iranians know if they drop the nuclear bomb on Israel, they would be obliterated in her words. What is wrong with that kind of blunt language to the leadership in Iran?

RICHARDSON: Well, of course, the United States would have to respond to Israel's attack. They're our foremost ally in the region. But Senator Obama is right. His foreign policy is going to be one of diplomacy, of negotiation, of getting our allies to pressure Iran, of going to the United Nations Security Council.

I just don't think you have to saber rattle. This is President Bush talking about what he's going to do in Iraq and Iran with North Korea. That hasn't worked. You know, I remember Yitzhak Rabin, what he said is you don't make peace with your friends. You make peace with your enemies. And it's important that we be very firm with Iran, that they cannot have nuclear weapons. They cannot attack Israel.

But it's how you get there and what has incited a very bad relationship is Iran today is this saber-rattling of the Bush administration that we have the secret military plans to attack them, that we're hostile, that we're negative.

I think what we need is a comprehensive Middle East policy of diplomacy and negotiation, building international support for our goals, getting U.N. Security Council support for sanctions on Iran. That's what our policy should be. And that's what Senator Obama is affirming today.

BLITZER: Governor Easley, do you want to weigh in on this sensitive subject?

EASLEY: Yes, well I agree with what Bill says. I think he's exactly right. Diplomacy is the way you start and the way you try to keep it and try not to have to get past that. And she said, Hillary has on many occasions, that she wants to use diplomacy. The military action is the last resort. She doesn't want to get into another war.

But at the same time, you have to be clear with Iranian government. You have to be -- you have to make sure they know if they don't see the light, they're going to feel the heat. We got to protect Israel. If we don't have Israel in the Middle East for the United States, we're in a whole lot of trouble.

And I think to mince words right now is a big mistake. I think what we need to be doing is telling them very clearly, you keep your hands off Israel or you're going to be dealing with the United States. And it's time somebody speaks to them very clearly.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on, talk about what is going to happen in North Carolina and Indiana in two days from now on Tuesday. Our latest poll of polls, the average of the major polls that are coming in today show this -- North Carolina Governor Easley, Obama 50 percent, Clinton 42 percent, 8 percent still unsure. That is a narrowing of where it was only a couple weeks ago. We had a significant -- a much more significant lead.

In Indiana right now, our poll of polls shows it's neck and neck 47 percent for Clinton, 47 percent for Obama, 6 percent unsure. What do you hear in your home state of North Carolina? Is it possible Governor Easley she could upset Barack Obama on Tuesday?

EASLEY: Well, you know, depends on how you define upset. Those numbers are very encouraging when you look at just a couple weeks ago she was down 34 points here in North Carolina. And she got here and they moved it to 25. And she's been getting around.

Here's what I think is possible, Wolf and I don't know how to give it to you in numbers. What is happens right now is the economy weakens. People are getting more and more concerned about their jobs. We lost a lot of jobs here in 2001 and 2002 due to the Bush policy failing to enact special safeguards.

They know Senator Clinton has a best record on the economy. They know she can turn the economy around immediately. She can create jobs. She's been there, done that, can do it again. They're ready for somebody who can get in the White House and do it very quickly. They know it should have been done yesterday or last year or the year before. That's the -- that's what I think is moving things here is the economic uncertainty and the confidence they have in Hillary Clinton to get this done.

BLITZER: Governor Richardson, she won in Ohio a few weeks ago, more recently in Pennsylvania. If she wins in Indiana, especially attracts those white blue collar voters and if she were to stun a lot of people by actually winning in North Carolina, what would that say to you about your man, Barack Obama, and his race for the White House?

RICHARDSON: Well, Senator Obama has continued to move forward. He's won Guam, it's now 31 states to 15 in caucuses. And I know Governor Easley is very popular in his state. I'm sure that's what's bringing more votes to Senator Clinton.

RICHARDSON: But I believe that in North Carolina that Senator Obama will prevail. It's very tight in Indiana. I was recently in Kentucky across the river, where it's obviously a very highly contested race. But look at the reality, Wolf. Senator Obama needs 270 more delegates to secure the nomination. He's won 31 states. He's ahead in the popular vote. There are nine primaries to go.

BLITZER: But Governor Richardson, excuse me for interrupting. He keeps losing the critical battleground states that any Democrat would desperately need, for example, Pennsylvania and Ohio. And she says that she has a stronger Electoral College advantage which is what obviously plays the significant -- the most significant role come November.

RICHARDSON: But what you want is somebody like Senator Obama that can attract Independents, Republicans that, can win states like Colorado and Kansas and the southwest. You know, if you take Indiana and North Carolina, those two states combined are the same number of delegates as Pennsylvania.

And I believe that we have a good shot at both of those. And if you move on to the nine remaining primaries, I believe that Senator Obama is going to continue this trend of winning a significant number of additional super delegates. Just out here in New Mexico, Brian Colon who was uncommitted from New Mexico's state Democratic chairman has announced support for Senator Obama. That is continuing with super delegates across the country.

BLITZER: All right. Governor Easley, what do you say to that?

EASLEY: Well, we're not going to win White House by winning Guam. We know that. And it's not by popularity that is doing anything. I can tell you, I probably hurt her more than I help her, Bill, but I appreciate you offering that.

The thing that is helping Hillary Clinton right now is Hillary Clinton and her policies about creating jobs, about getting the economy turned around. This is what this country needs. This is what people want right now. She's reaching out. And she's really connecting with people who are -- those we might call Reagan Democrats. I don't know what you call them down here. The ones we are going to have to have to win the White House back in November. I think her policies and experience and resiliency, her toughness in this campaign has been good for her. Everybody sees that she's got a back of steel and a heart of gold and all of that that goes together.

But at the same time, all this talk about who's inspirational, who can bring out young voters and bring out this and that group is not a significant to me as who can be the best president, make real changes right away. And that's what I think she can do to create the job and get us respected around the world again.

BLITZER: All right, governors, stand by. We have a lot more to discuss including the fallout this week from the Reverend Jeremiah Wright matter. Will Tuesday's primaries in Indiana and North Carolina help determine the Democratic nominee?

Also, don't forget to join the best political team on television for complete coverage of the Indiana and North Carolina primaries Tuesday night. I'll be anchoring our coverage starting at 7 p.m. Eastern. You're watching LATE EDITION, the last word in Sunday talk.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. Coming up in our next hour, we'll get three perspectives on the Reverend Jeremiah Wright controversy and the role of race and religion in this presidential contest.

But right now we're continuing our conversation with the New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. He is supporting Barack Obama. And North Carolina's Governor Mike Easley. He is supporting Hillary Clinton.

Governor Easley, Barack Obama was on "Meet the Press" earlier today and he sort of summarized the relationship he once had, once had with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, his controversial pastor this way. Take a listen.


OBAMA: I never sought his counsel when it came to politics. Some of the reporting that implies that somehow he is my spiritual adviser or mentor, as he himself said, overstated things. He was my pastor.


BLITZER: All right, he has distanced himself as you know, sharply rebuking Reverend Wright for comments at the National Press Club here in Washington on Monday.

Is this issue from your perspective as a Clinton supporter over with or is there more that the voters should ponder?

EASLEY: It's not going to be an issue in North Carolina in the primary. We don't take that race state. We know the Republicans down here, maybe you don't know that Republicans are running ads on that already and trying to -- some are trying to tie it to our Democrats running for governor to replace me. But it will be an issue in the fall if he's the nominee. But it's not going to be in this primary. And Senator Clinton has not tried to make any political gain out of it. I admire her character for that.

The most important thing, I think, is that Senator Obama finally did what he had to do. He has two competing interests here. He's got a spiritual adviser and friend for 20 years on one hand. On the other hand, he's got a man who said some things that he just cannot condone, needed to denounce.

Those are the kind of tough decisions you have to make in politics and in executive positions. I think he made the right one this week. But it's not going to -- it's not going to be an issue.

The only thing I want people to understand is that the African- American churches in North Carolina, this is not emblematic of that. They are -- they're welcoming, they're open, they're uplifting. It's based on scripture. It's about forgiving God, a good god and I don't want people across the country to get the wrong idea about the African-American churches.

BLITZER: Governor Richardson, "The Washington Post" on Wednesday had an editorial saying he should have seen this coming, Barack Obama, your candidate. "It seems to us that the whole sorry episode raises legitimate questions about his judgment," the Post said in its editorial. "Given the long and close relationship between Mr. Obama and the Reverend Wright, voters will ask, how could Mr. Obama have been surprised by the Reverend Wright's views? How could he not have seen this coming?"

They make point that those controversial things he said on Monday at the Press Club, he's been saying those things for a lot longer, for much longer. What does this say about Obama's judgment?

RICHARDSON: Well, what it says about Senator Obama's judgment when he was first confronted about the Reverend Wright issue, he gave what I considered to be a critically important speech on race, on stereotypes and how as a nation we come together.

And, you know, the reality, Wolf, is that Senator Obama totally separated himself from this man who obviously sees financial gain and fame from the controversy. And I don't recall this man being on the ballot. Now there's no question, this probably should have been dealt with before. There's no question about that.

But in terms of judgment, I think Senator Obama is saying this is -- this is not me. And what I want to address is how can we help create jobs in this country?

RICHARDSON: How can we create the middle class?

He has a $1,000 middle-class tax cut. He's got a responsible position on gas taxes. He has a responsible position on bringing jobs to this country and, most importantly, bringing this country together after these episodes of divisive race tactics by somebody like Reverend Wright.

BLITZER: Governor Easley, you suggested to me, the other day, it's possible, in your mind, that this contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama won't just end right after June 3, when the last primaries take place, but could go all the way to the convention floor at the end of August in Denver. Explain how that would unfold.

EASLEY: Well, it looks to me like nobody's going to get the delegates they need.

BLITZER: Two thousand twenty-five?

EASLEY: Right -- from the primaries themselves. And whether the super delegates commit, we don't know. I just said -- when I was talking to you the other day, I just said, if it goes all the way to Denver, I don't think it would be bad for the party. I don't think it would be bad for the country.

I think it would be good for people to get involved again and have to stand up and be counted and be part of America one more time.

I mean, this is a time when as many people as we can get involved ought to get involved. And we can make them stand up and say what they want America to do and who they want to lead it.

And then Bill Richardson and I might be able to broker a deal down there, and we'll get him back on the ticket.

BLITZER: Well, let me see if Bill Richardson -- we only have a few seconds left, Governor -- if you can broker a deal that will not alienate, disenfranchise millions of Democrats and other voters in Michigan and Florida, between now and the end of August, because, as you know, they are very upset that their votes, for whatever reason, will not be counted in selecting the Democratic nominee.

EASLEY: I think that's a problem.

BLITZER: Well, let me let Governor Richardson respond.

EASLEY: Oh, go ahead. Sorry.

RICHARDSON: Well, look, my hope is that, after Indiana and North Carolina, after June 3, the nine remaining primaries, that we have a nominee.

Because you started your broadcast by Senator McCain talking about jobs and the economy and health care, traditionally Democratic issues, campaigning in Democratic states.

If we continue until the convention, divided without a nominee, heading toward a real skirmish in Denver, that's going to be bad for the party.

I think we've already attracted those new voters. Senator Obama's done that. I think what we need, now, is to come to closure. And hopefully, the super-delegates and the remaining primaries -- Senator Obama has 270 delegates more to go. He's won 31 states. He's ahead in the popular vote

BLITZER: All right.

RICHARDSON: And in the big states, Wolf, I mean, if we can't win those big states that you mentioned, then we're not going to win the nomination; we're not going to win the election.

And so I think what Senator Obama brings is independent voters, Republican voters, states, in the past, that we have not won as Democrats, like the Southwest. And that's why I believe it's important that, as soon as we can, that we unite behind one nominee. And I think that should be Senator Obama.

BLITZER: Governor Richardson, Governor Easley, thanks to both of you for joining us.

EASLEY: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: The nomination is out of his reach, so why is Ron Paul still in this presidential race?

My conversation with the Republican presidential candidate, when "Late Edition" continues.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." John McCain has the Republican nomination all wrapped up, but he still has a challenger from within the GOP ranks. That would be Congressman Ron Paul of Texas. He remains in the race right now.

I spoke with him earlier in "The Situation Room."


BLITZER: Why haven't you officially dropped out of this race yet? REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS: Well, I guess, the race is still on. You know, I made a statement, a few months ago, that I would stay in the race as long as there's enthusiasm, supporters are wanting to do things.

And our numbers are growing and there's money in the bank. And instead of us fading way with less and less, we seem to get more and more enthusiasm for what we've been doing.

BLITZER: The other Republican challengers have now endorsed John McCain, basically almost all of them. You're not ready to do that yet, are you?

PAUL: No, not quite. Because I think our platform is a little bit different. And that would really confuse the supporters, because they know we have a precise program and we have to defend that program.

BLITZER: But don't you want to see a Republican in the White House? PAUL: Well, that's secondary to wanting the Constitution defended and wanting the country to go in the right direction, bringing peace around the world, having sound money and balanced budgets, all the things that Republicans, you know, traditionally, have stood for. That's more important than just having a Republican. We have to know what we believe in.

BLITZER: What's your biggest problem with senator McCain?

PAUL: I would say it was the issue that motivated me, probably a year and a half ago, to get involved. And that has to do with our foreign policy and the war in the Middle East. Because I see it's so damaging to us around the world, as well as something we can't afford. And now we're facing a financial crisis.

But I can't get that many allies in Washington. I mean, they are continuing to spend on war and welfare like there's no economy problem. I mean, any time a problem pops up, the Congress just appropriates more money and the Fed prints more money. And nobody seems to want to slow up.


BLITZER: Up next on "Late Edition," John McCain's mission for the November election. We'll talk about his game plan for beating either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton with one of his closest supporters and good friends, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He's standing by live.

"Late Edition" continues after this.


BLITZER: While Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama continue to duke it out, the presumptive Republican nominee John McCain spent the week on the campaign trail trying to address voters' concerns about the struggling U.S. economy. Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Joining us now from South Carolina is one of Senator McCain's earliest and strongest supporters, Senator Lindsey Graham. Senator Graham, thanks very much for coming in.

GRAHAM: Thank you, good morning.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about Barack Obama's strategies, increasingly referring to the Republican nominee, John McCain. Listen to what he said on the campaign trail this week.


OBAMA: As much as I admire John McCain's service to our country, and I do, he is a genuine American hero, the fact is that John McCain is running for George Bush's third term.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right. He is trying to link, as other Democrats, Senator McCain to George W. Bush, who's not very popular right now. Where would Senator McCain change U.S. policy from what the Bush administration is doing right now?

GRAHAM: I think there are a couple areas that would be different. One global climate change. John has been talking about global climate change for many years now. I think he would help lead the world to a solution there.

On the domestic front, I don't think you'll have a stronger advocate for limited government than Senator McCain. And when it comes to foreign policy, I think John can put together the alliances that we need, strengthen some alliances that have been frayed a bit that will help us confront places like Iran. John is his own guy. Good luck making him George Bush.

BLITZER: Well let's talk about those issues you raise. On global climate change specifically, what would he do differently than President Bush who is now himself talking increasingly about climate change? What would he be doing differently if he were president? GRAHAM: Support a cap and trade solution to the problem, openly embrace cap and trade like the Europeans have. Push for a larger nuclear component. We'll never have a solution to global climate change or become energy independent until we have a more robust nuclear power program like the French, like the French have. But, you know, lead this nation to a cap and trade solution, get China and India onboard and try to have a global solution of this where America leads.

BLITZER: On tax policy, originally McCain opposed the Bush tax cuts back in 2001, 2003. Now he says they should be made permanent. Do you see any differences between where you stands on tax policy as opposed to the Bush administration?

GRAHAM: The difference in 2001 is that John wanted a tax cut, a very healthy tax cut but he wanted spending limitations. I think Republicans paid a heavy price, Wolf, over the last several years by spending too much. So he would like to make the tax cuts permanent. Now is not the time to raise taxes. Now is the time to limit spending, something Republicans have done a very poor job of. I think that will be a major effort of a McCain administration to control spending on his watch.

BLITZER: In our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll that came out this week, right track, wrong track, President Bush's job approval numbers. As far as his disapproval numbers, it was a record 71 percent of the American public, Democrats, Republicans, Independents say they disapprove of President Bush's job performance. That is even a higher number than Richard Nixon had at the height of Watergate when he was on the verge of being impeached. Are you surprised that so many Americans disapprove of President Bush's record over these past eight years?

GRAHAM: It's frustrating times. You have fuel prices going up, food prices are going up. You've got a war in Iraq that was mismanaged for four years. So it's a very frustrating time in which we live. I'm confident of this, that Senator McCain is doing well because of what he's done over his life, over the policies he's pursued, over his efforts to create bipartisan solutions to hard problems and his commander-in-chief credentials I think trump everybody running for president now.

And he understood the problems in Iraq better than anyone and calls for a change in strategy. And that changes pay dividends. So I understand the frustration people have. It's tough being president. I think I know why Senator McCain is doing much better than the Republican brand name because of the way he's lived his life and politics and his personal desire to lead this country and he really is an American hero.

BLITZER: The Democratic National Committee is already running ads going after Senator McCain and suggesting he's simply out of touch with the American people. I'll play a little clip of their latest ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCAIN: I think you could argue that Americans overall are better off because we have had a pretty good prosperous time. With low unemployment, low inflation, a lot of good things have happened. A lot of jobs have been created. I think we're better off overall.


BLITZER: All right. This comes at a time when the economy as, you know, is not in good shape. But he said those words back in January at one of the debates over the past few months of January 76,000 jobs were lost. In February, 83,000. In March, 81,000 jobs were lost. In April, 20,000 jobs were lost.

Economists think you really need to create, not lose, but create 100,000 jobs a month to keep up with population increase and to have a robust economy. Does this suggest that McCain is out of touch with the woes, the problems out there?

GRAHAM: I think that will be the centerpiece of the debate for who should be president. Who is in touch with how to make America stronger? Do you raise taxes during this economic downturn? That's a huge difference between Senator McCain, Clinton and Obama. They're going to repeal the tax cuts that have really helped generate economic activity.

I think that would be the worst thing you could possibly do. If you want to be energy independent, you need to embrace nuclear power in a very strong way. So I'm very comfortable when the economic debate occurs in the fall between which direction to take our economy that John McCain's emphasis on lower taxes and controlled spending compared to our opponents will make a lot of sense to the American people.

BLITZER: Here's what Senator Clinton said the other day trying to differentiate her proposal for a gas tax holiday between Memorial Day and Labor Day here in the United States to Senator McCain's gas tax holiday. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Senator McCain says he wants a gas tax holiday but he won't pay for it. I don't think that's responsible. His plan would slash the funds and the jobs that would go into repairing and keeping up our roads, our bridges and our other highway interests.


BLITZER: If you eliminate that federal gas tax even for three months, it's billions and billions of dollars that would go into the highway trust fund to pay for bridges and highways to rebuild and strengthen the infrastructure of the nation.

She says she would pay for that by having a windfall profit tax on Exxon Mobil and other big oil companies who are having record oil profits right now. Apparently Senator McCain says it would just -- he would pay for it by increasing the deficit. Is that your understanding?

GRAHAM: What Senator McCain has proposed is a gas tax holiday from Memorial Day to Labor Day, an 18.4 cents reduction and taking the federal gas tax off and paying from it from the General Treasury. The $600 checks are hitting as I speak now. The stimulus package that Congress passed by 90 votes puts money back into the hands of consumers. John's proposal is along those same lines. That stimulus package was not offset. So I think the idea of relieving gas taxes during a high demand summer season makes a lot of sense and 90 percent of the gas and oil reserves and in the world are not controlled by American companies but by foreign governments and their subsidiaries.

BLITZER: I want to be clear -- he opposes additional tax cuts -- a tax -- additional windfall profit taxes for Exxon Mobil.

GRAHAM: Yes. Yes, he does. He wants to go ahead and relieve the gas tax during the summer like we did with the stimulus package, put money back into the economy and I think that makes perfect sense. It's not a silver bullet to our problems but it will help average, every day people out there.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, thanks for coming in.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton wants a temporary rollback of the gas tax to help ease the pain at the pump. Barack Obama is calling her plan a political stunt. We'll talk about it with supporters of both campaigns, talk about the candidates' plans for the troubled economy when LATE EDITION continues.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Here on Late Edition, we're concentrating on the issues in this important political season. Last week, we interviewed top policy advisers to the two Democratic presidential candidates. This week, as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama head into Tuesday's primaries, they're both zeroing in on the No. 1 issue for American voters right now, that would be the U.S. economy.

So appropriately, we turn right now to key economic advisers to both campaigns.

Joining us from Berkeley, California, is the former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich. He is supporting Barack Obama right now. And here in Washington, Gene Sperling. He was a top economic adviser in the Clinton White House. He's now a top economic adviser to Hillary Clinton. Thanks to both of you for coming in.

Here's what the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, Gene Sperling, said about Hillary Clinton and John McCain's plan, for that matter, for the gas tax holiday. "It's the dumbest thing I've heard in an awful long time from an economic point of view."

As you know, Gene, a lot of economists out there think it is not going to achieve its desired results, and it is largely political pandering.

SPERLING: I think the problem with a lot of the criticism is that they have not recognized that this is a balance between two competing long-term agendas. Senator Clinton has a very bold long- term agenda on moving us towards a low-carbon, pro-jobs future. That includes, as you know, a capital trade proposal, fuel efficiency, commitment for 5 million jobs, and a windfall profits tax. These are all things that are part of the long-term agenda.

But she also has an agenda about empowering people to deal with the middle-class squeeze, which includes a bold $1,000 savings incentives for savings in your IRAs and 401(k)s, a $3,500...

BLITZER: What about the gas tax?

SPERLING: I'm getting to that. $3,500 credit for college loans, and, as you heard Elizabeth Edwards say recently, the best plan for actually reducing health care costs.

BLITZER: But what about the gas tax?

SPERLING: Well, the point is that you have to try to find a balance. And the way her balance is working is she's saying we're going to take the savings from the windfall profit tax and from closing energy loopholes, and use them for energy efficiency and creating these 5 million green energy jobs.

But for just three months, for just three months, as you noted, she would say you can put this into the highway trust fund, so the families who are dealing with the middle-class squeeze now, in terms of higher food prices, $3.70 gas, lower home prices, could have a little relief over three months. And I think a lot of the criticism has been as if this was her long-term agenda, which it is not.

BLITZER: All right. So on this specific issue, she's more aligned with McCain than she is with Obama. Here, Robert Reich, is what Senator Clinton says about her proposal.


CLINTON: Senator Obama says we shouldn't do it and it's a gimmick, and Senator McCain says we should do it but we shouldn't pay for it. I sometimes feel like the Goldilocks of this campaign. You know, not too much, not too little, just right. And I think we should have a gas tax holiday and pay for it.


BLITZER: It may not save individuals a lot of money, but it will save truckers a lot of money, billions of dollars, she suggests, which in turn would lower food costs and have other ripple effects on the economy. What is wrong with her thinking, Secretary Reich?

REICH: ... three months.

BLITZER: Secretary Reich, we didn't hear the beginning of your answer. We had a problem with your microphone. Start again.

REICH: OK. The problem with a gas tax is that if you take 18 cents off of the gallon of gas, it increases driving, and the oil companies will simply raise their prices to match the increase in demand.

Most economists looking at this have seen that it's a complete wash, and, therefore, a political gimmick, as well as economic nonsense.

But look, let me just say, in fairness to Hillary Clinton, you know, there's not a world of difference between Clinton and Obama on most other economic issues. There are light years between Clinton and Obama on, you know, light years between Clinton and Obama on the one hand and John McCain on the other hand, in terms of McCain's economics. We ought to be talking about how foolish the rest of McCain's economics is. Now, the gas tax, is, you know, granted, it's stupid and it's dumb and I don't know why Hillary Clinton kind of proposed it. But there is a lot other things to talk about.

BLITZER: All right. Before we move on to some other stuff, we're going to continue this, because this is a hot-button issue right now. It affects a lot of people potentially. Says a lot about these two Democratic presidential candidates, where they stand on the economy.

Gene Sperling, let me come back to you and play this clip of what Barack Obama said at the University of Indiana on Wednesday.


OBAMA: It's a gimmick! It's the kind of thing that's done before every election, when gas prices go up so the politicians in Washington can pretend they're doing something instead of actually taking seriously the need for an energy policy in this country.


BLITZER: Is there any serious economist out there who thinks this is a wise policy? Because as you heard Robert Reich just say, there is -- the notion out there, if you eliminate this gas tax, the demand will go up, and then the price will simply go back up right away.

SPERLING: Listen, it's like I said before, she's got a long-term agenda for a low-carbon energy future with a strong cap and trade proposal.

BLITZER: But let's go back to this. What is the economic rationale for eliminating these gas taxes over three months?

SPERLING: The economic rationale is simply that we have very rarely ever been in a time like this, where you almost have a bit of a mini-stagflation going on. You have got an economy that is almost in recession. You have people paying twice as much for eggs as they used to. They're paying twice as much for gas prices as they used to. And when you have a campaign and an agenda that focuses on the middle class squeeze, as Senator Clinton does, and when you're focusing on that in terms of lowering health care prices, in terms of lowering the cost of sending your kids to college, making it easier to save, just to simply say that for this three months we could just put some of that money into the highway trust fund, not cost any jobs, as Senator McCain would. It is just a little bit of relief for the people that are struggling and the truckers that are struggling day by day right now.

BLITZER: I should point out that this is really a political discussion, a moot discussion, because it doesn't look like it's going anywhere on Capitol Hill, and certainly doesn't look like President Bush -- he hasn't made up his mind, he says, on it -- but doesn't look like it's going to get really passed legislation is going to pass any time soon. Here's what the Wall Street Journal economic -- Wall Street Journal editorial page said about this issue this week, Secretary Reich. "Mr. Obama is right to oppose the gas tax gimmick, but his idea is even worse. Mr. Obama supports most of those "no drilling" rules, but that hasn't stopped him from denouncing high gas prices on the campaign trail. He is running TV ads in North Carolina that show him walking through a gas station and declaring that he'll slap a tax on the $40 billion in "excess profits" of Exxon Mobil."

Their argument, and the Bush White House argument is if you really want to reduce the price of gasoline right now and help American consumers out there, you've got to increase supply. And that means you have to increase drilling. You have to increase refinement. You have got to open up the Alaskan oil reserves, preserves out there, the refuge. Why not do that in order to increase supply and reduce dependence on imported oil?

REICH: Wolf, for a very simple reason -- that even if you tried to have oil wells all over Alaska, all over America, that oil goes into a world oil supply, and that world oil supply is dominated by OPEC, by the Middle East. There is a lot of turmoil in the Middle East, a lot of it created by our Iraqi policy.

And what Obama says is, look, you've got to get out of Iraq. You've got to calm the turmoil in the Middle East.

REICH: You've got to have a windfall profits tax on oil companies and invest in alternatives to oil so that we are not so dependent on oil. You've got to make sure that we have a major technological innovation in new green technologies. That's the only way we're going to solve any of this. And it makes enormous sense.

BLITZER: Robert Reich and Gene Sperling, thanks very much. We'll continue this discussion down the road.

REICH: Thanks.

BLITZER: And up next, a look back at 10 years of the last word in Sunday talk. Today we'll bring you my conversation with then President Bill Clinton shortly before the end of his term. LATE EDITION continues right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. 2008 marks my 10th year as the host of LATE EDITION. Every Sunday, we're taking a look back at some of my interviews with politicians, world leaders and other news makers. Back in 1999, I spoke with then President Bill Clinton during a trip he made to Cologne, Germany. I asked him about life beyond the presidency and the possibility of his wife representing New York in the United States Senate.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, if this is what she wants to do, if she decides to do this, I will be enthusiastically supportive because I think she would be truly magnificent. I think she'd be great for the people of New York and good for the people of America.

And all the years I've been in public life, of all the people I've ever known, she is as -- has been the most consistently seriously dedicated to the kinds of public issues that I think are important today, to the welfare of children, the strength of families, future of education, quality of health care.

I mean this is something you -- that if the people of New York chose her, they would have somebody with 30 years of unbroken, consistent, committed dedication who knows a lot and is great at working with people. So if that's what she wants, I'm strong for her.

BLITZER: So you're ready to move from -- B. CLINTON: I'm ready to do whatever she wants. I will be -- whatever the facts are about her running for the Senate, I'll be dividing my time between New York and home because I have a library to build, I've got a private policy center to set up. And it's a real gift I want to give my native state and I want it to be something wonderful and good. And I have spent quite a lot of time on it already. BLITZER: You have always been someone who has looked ahead. When you look ahead to your personal life after you leave the White House, what do you see?

B. CLINTON: Well, it depends in part on what Hillary does. You know, I'll be going to -- I hope I'll be going to meetings in the Senate spouse's club if she decides to run. But I want to -- I want to continue to be active in areas that I care a great deal about.

And I think that through my library and through the public policy center and perhaps through some other activities, I can continue to work on some of the issues of world peace and reconciliation of people across these racial and religious lines that I devoted so much of my life. I can continue to work at home on issues I care a great deal about including involving young people in public service, whether it's young people in America or young Americans who are interested in running for public office.

I have given a lot of thought to it. But I'll find something useful to do. I want to work hard. I'm too early to quit work and I'm not good enough to go on the senior golf tour. So I expect I'll have to just keep on doing what I'm doing.

BLITZER: What I'm hearing more the Jimmy Carter model as opposed to a Gerald Ford model.

B. CLINTON: That may just be a function of age and circumstance. I think President Carter has been the most effective former president in my lifetime and one of the three or four most important former presidents in his public service and the quality of his work in the entire history of the United States.

So what I would do wouldn't be exactly what he has done. I think the model of what he's done and how he's done it is a good model for every former president who gets out who still has good health and a few years left.

BLITZER: OK Mr. President, I'm told we're all out of time. I want to thank you very much for joining us for this special LATE EDITION here in Cologne.

B. CLINTON: This is your last trip with me so I want to thank you for six and a half good years.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

B. CLINTON: Good luck.

BLITZER: It's been an honor to cover you.

B. CLINTON: Thank you.


BLITZER: That was Bill Clinton speaking back with me in 1999. If you'd like to see more of that interview, you can go to our Web site at

There is a lot more ahead, including the impact of the Jeremiah Wright controversy. We'll assess the fallout with three guests. LATE EDITION continues at the top of the hour.


BLITZER: This is LATE EDITION, the last word in Sunday talk.


OBAMA: Reverend Wright does not speak for me, he does not speak for our campaign.


BLITZER: Barack Obama's former pastor deals a set back to the Democratic presidential frontrunner.

BLITZER: We'll assess the fallout and impact on the Clinton- Obama race with CNN contributors Donna Brazile and Roland Martin, and Congressman Charlie Rangel.

CARTER: It's obvious that he doesn't know the policy of Hamas.

BLITZER: Former president Jimmy Carter weighs in on his recent visit with the militant group Hamas and the battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

CLINTON: You know, this primary election on Tuesday is a game- changer.

BLITZER: A preview of the big contests in North Carolina and Indiana with three of the best political team on television.

"Late Edition's" second hour begins right now.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: We'll get to our discussion with Congressman Rangel, Roland Martin, and Donna Brazile in just a moment. But first, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were both on television today, before spending the day making their closing arguments to voters in Indiana and North Carolina, which hold their primaries in two days on Tuesday.

Jessica Yellin's with the CNN Election Express in Indianapolis, and joins us now, live.

Jessica, give our viewers in the United States and around the world a sense of what these closing arguments by these two Democratic presidential candidates include.

YELLIN: Well, Wolf, both candidates have been aggressively campaigning, furiously, throughout the state, focusing mainly on economic issues. But this morning, they made competing appearances on the morning shows and took some tough questions.

Barack Obama has said he wanted to turn the page on the Reverend Wright controversy, but did not flinch when Tim Russert asked him why he didn't denounce Reverend Wright sooner. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: When he came out, at the press conference, to the National Press Club, not only did he amplify some of those comments and defend them vigorously, but he added to it. He put gasoline on the fire.


YELLIN: Now, when Senator Clinton was asked what she thought of the Reverend Wright controversy, she did not take the bait. Instead, she focused on a different issue, her difference with Barack Obama overall. Here's her comment.


CLINTON: I just have a fundamental disagreement about how you get change in America. I wish that we could all just get together and decide we're going to make change. I wish that were the case.

But maybe I know enough about human nature and about our political system to understand you really have to take these interests on. They do not go gently into the night.


YELLIN: Now, neither candidate would predict the outcome of Tuesday's primaries, but our polls show the state I'm in, Indiana, is a dead heat between the two candidates. And in North Carolina, the other state that votes on Tuesday, Barack Obama holds a lead, but it is a narrowing lead.

Both candidates, as I said, are going to continue campaigning furiously, focusing broadly on the economy and especially on this disagreement they have over whether there is a gas tax holiday. So look for that issue to come up big on the stump for the next two and a half days.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.

Beginning with the controversial comments of Barack Obama's former pastor, the explosive issue of race and religion was certainly front and center for much of this political week.

To discuss all these issues, I'm joined now by three guests. In our New York bureau, Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel. He supports his fellow New Yorker, Hillary Clinton.

And joining us in Dallas, the radio talk show host and CNN contributor Roland Martin.

And with me here in Washington, Donna Brazile. She's a Democratic strategist and a CNN contributor.

Thanks to all of you for coming in. And, Charlie Rangel, I'll start with you, and I'll play this sound bite from what Barack Obama said on this sensitive issue of the Reverend Wright, earlier today on "Meet the Press." (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: What really changed was a sense that he was going to double down on the statements that he had made before. And, to me, that indicated to me that he was not -- that he did not share my fundamental belief and my fundamental values, in terms of bringing the country together.


BLITZER: Now, the criticism of Barack Obama is that what Jeremiah Wright said at the National Press Club, Congressman Rangel, was no different than what he's been saying for some time, and he should have known that these controversial remarks would be made.

Is this explanation that Senator Obama is making good enough for you?

RANGEL: It's disgraceful that he has to make any explanation for anything. The intrusion of the media and Republicans into the sacred relationship that worshipers have with their spiritual leaders, I think, is going to come back to haunt us.

To think that we have to go into the lives and the beliefs of rabbis and priests and ministers and imams is absolutely ridiculous.

We've got a war on. We've got an economy that's splintered. I think the media should be more responsible and start dealing with those issues. I don't think many people care what Reverend Wright thinks, and I don't see how -- why any candidate should have to explain...

BLITZER: But, Congressman, even Senator Obama, last Sunday, said this was a legitimate issue, given the nature of -- he wants to be president of the United States. If there's a right-wing politician -- let's say a Republican politician that has an extraordinarily close relationship with a pastor who is making outrageous statements, has been a member of that church for 20 years, wouldn't that be fair game?

RANGEL: Of course not. Of course he's a candidate, and he doesn't want to take all of you on. And I'm probably over the hill. But the truth is that you guys know that his beliefs have nothing to do with someone that went to the church.

And if we've got to get into the Jerry Falwells and to the Robertsons and to the number of people that have what appears to other religions to be bizarre beliefs, we'll never get to the issues that America is concerned about.

I know that every American is more concerned with who is going to be a better presidential candidate and a better president, more than they are on anything that happened in the church that Senator Obama went to.

BLITZER: Let me let Donna Brazile weigh in.

And Congressman Rangel, speaking not as a supporter of Barack Obama -- he supports Hillary Clinton. What do you think?

BRAZILE: I think Congressman Rangel is absolutely correct. There are many people out there that believe that the media has just gone overboard. Reverend Wright, Reverend Wright all the time, 24/7.

They want to hear about the candidates' views. They want to hear about what they will do on the economy. And they think that Reverend Wright has been used as an ax to destroy or diminish Senator Obama and to divide people unnecessarily, in this country, at a time when we are at war and we're trying to get our economy back on track.

BLITZER: All right, Roland, let me let you weigh in, as well.

MARTIN: Well, absolutely, Wolf. Here's the fundamental issue, when I look at polling data and I see voters, whether they are white, blue-collar, whether they're African-American, Hispanic, Asian, what have you, and people say that oh, that what Reverend Wright had to say, that's going to really factor into what I am going to do in the voting booth, I'm trying to figure that out.

Because the reality is Reverend Wright; Senator Clinton making a comment about snipers in Bosnia; Senator John McCain flubbing -- mixing up people in Iraq, that's not going to save anybody's house. That's not going to sit here and send their kids to college. It's going to do none of that.

And so it amazes me when people make those decisions. And to me, those are ridiculous things to vote on. I think you have to make a decision in the voting booth on who is going to improve my life. And what a pastor and what somebody flubs a line or talks about what happened, you know, 10 years ago, 15 years in Bosnia, has nothing to do with any of that. That's the silly stuff that is not substantive.

BLITZER: Here's a little clip -- I'm going to play it -- of what the Reverend Wright said on Monday, here in Washington, at the National Press Club.


REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT, BARACK OBAMA'S FMR. PASTOR: As I said to Barack Obama on November the 5th and on January 21st, I'll still be a pastor.

As I said, this is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright. It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. It is an attack on the black church, launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition.


BLITZER: Let me let you, Congressman Rangel, weigh in on that specific charge he makes: This has been an attack on the black church, the criticism that he's facing. Does he have a point?

RANGEL: I'll tell you one thing, any politician would know the last thing in the world you want to do is diss a black pastor. (LAUGHTER)

So you can ask me all the questions you want. But he would probably think that an attack on him is probably an attack on religion as we know it. But I'm staying out of that one.

BLITZER: Donna Brazile, what do you think?

BRAZILE: Well -- and I'm Catholic, so you know I'm going to stay out of it, as well.


But the truth is, Wolf, I think, in many ways, Senator Obama did not handle the controversy correctly the first time. And, clearly, you know, others have picked up on his discomfort -- and separating himself from his pastor -- not his faith, not the congregation, not the good work of Trinity United Church of Christ.

I think, at this point, especially among people who are regular church-goers, they want to have a more useful conversation about race in this country.

They don't want to use race as a wedge, as we saw down in Louisiana, which backfired in the congressional race in the sixth congressional district, where the Democrat pulled it off despite a heavy play on Obama's pastor.

I think it's time that we all look at ways to reconcile, to heal, and to forgive one another, and not to use someone's words to hurt another person.

BLITZER: Roland, you live in Chicago and you have the added advantage of knowing Reverend Wright, knowing Barack Obama for a long time. I'm going to play this other clip of what Reverend Wright said about his relationship with Obama and then we'll get your perspective.


WRIGHT: As I said to Barack Obama, my member, I'm a pastor, he's a member. I'm not a spiritual mentor. I'm his pastor and I said to Barack Obama, last year, if you get elected, November 5th, I'm coming after you because you'll be representing a government whose policy's grind under people.


BLITZER: Tell us, give us some perspective, what is he talking about?

MARTIN: Well I think what he's saying is that a pastor is there to be a prophetic person. When you look at the Bible when David slept with Bathsheba and sent Uriah to the front line, it was the prophet Nathan who went to David and said, you sinned, you did wrong. When King Sol, when he committed wrong, it was the Prophet Samuel who went to them, as well.

Pastors in our country are supposed to speak truth to power regardless of who is sitting in the White House. Part of the problem is when you have pastors who want to more conciliatory when they're speaking to political leaders.

You know, their job is to say, are you living up to the ideals of helping the people, helping the poor, helping those who are in need. So what he's saying is you might be the president, but as a prophetic leader, as a pastor, and this goes to Reverend Wright, goes for any white pastor, Hispanic, Asian, male, female, their role and responsibility is to serve the principal of God and not some principality.

That's what he is saying. And so if you're going to be in that position, then you're going to be held accountable to the needs of the people and that, Wolf, is the role and responsibility of religious leaders to challenge political leaders.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by -- Congressman Rangel, go ahead. RANGEL: It's so painful at a time when the country is in such bad shape that we are on a national television program talking about the Bible and what people thought they should be teaching. We got so many non-Christians, so many other people and the media has won this one and the advertisers have because people are tuned in not to find out what Bathsheba had done, but really to find out what Hillary Clinton and what Obama can do to make this country come back. So, this is the sadness of the whole thing.

BLITZER: Well, we're going to move on and talk about some of the issues and what's going to happen on Tuesday in Indiana and North Carolina. I want all three of you to stand by. A lot more to talk about it.

Also coming up later, my conversation with former President Jimmy Carter on his controversial meetings with Hamas. LATE EDITION continues right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Once again, we're joined by Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York and our CNN political contributors Donna Brazile and Roland Martin.

I'm going to read to you from a letter that seven former DNC, Democratic National Committee chairmen wrote on Friday in support of Hillary Clinton. And Congressman Rangel, listen to this carefully. "Hillary has run one of the most formidable campaigns in the history of our party. Her base of support includes women, Hispanics, seniors, Catholics, middle and low-income Americans and rural, suburban and urban voters. That's a formidable coalition tailor-made for victory in a November general election."

Now what was missing from that list that they put up? Congressman?

RANGEL: What was missing?

BLITZER: What was missing was clearly African-Americans. It was not mentioned in that list. He's getting, what, 85, 90, 92 percent of African-American votes in some of these primaries and you're one of the African-American leaders supporting Hillary Clinton. What's going on?

RANGEL: Well, one thing is I worked with Hillary Clinton for over 20 years. I worked with her when she was first lady in education and health issues and, certainly was a part of her dynamic victory in the state of New York where Republicans, Democrats, real people.

So I know her, I worked for her and there's no question in my mind that her experience would lead this nation out of war and out of this recession we're in. And I have the highest respect for Senator Obama. I just don't know him, don't know what he has done. There's a lot said that he's against the war. But unless you've had the obligation and the emotional obligation to vote for or against the war, what you do in state legislature, I don't really think attaches to the importance as to whether you are for or against the war and had the opportunity to vote for it.

So, there is a pride and should be a pride in terms of seeing Kennedy if you're Irish or a Jewish candidate. If you're Jewish and certainly in an African-American candidate. That's why I was so completely surprised when the question was raised as to whether or not Bill Clinton, when he was attacked by Jim Clyburn who certainly doesn't speak for all African-Americans and he's supposed to not be involved in being neutral in this race, when Bill Clinton raised the fact that Jackson also had won in South Carolina.

Heck, we're not color blind. Jim Clyburn is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. I am one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus. Senator Obama is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. And so, the Clintons have already proven and I don't think they have to wear it on their sleeve that more African-Americans prospered in terms of jobs, education opportunity, moving forward. So I don't think, really, they have to put a banner.

BLITZER: Let me let Donna weigh in on this specific point. He was referring to the comparison when Jesse Jackson won the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary and when Bill Clinton said that and a lot of people came down on him as if he was belittling the significance of the Barack Obama win.

BRAZILE: Well first of all, I want to say that I spent my entire life trying to recruit, organize and to get people of all stripes. The Democratic Party is a big party. It's a party made up of just about every American who clearly believes in freedom and prosperity and security. Obama has won 31 states and territories, Clinton 15. At this point in the contest with 187 delegates at stake on Tuesday, Senator Obama needs about 277, 279 give or take one or two super delegates. And Senator Clinton will need to win about 75 percent of the remaining super delegates as well as pledged delegates. The truth is, it's about the math, not just the color of one's coalition or who's involved. It's about who's winning the most delegates.

BLITZER: Those super delegates still can change their minds, Roland, and that's the significance that we've seen some people change their minds only in recent days but go ahead, Roland, and weigh in.

MARTIN: I want to answer the initial question you asked. First of all, the letter, of course, you noted, they did leave out African- Americans. And let's not play around with this. The Democrats cannot win nationally. Cannot, underline it, circle it, put it in bold face without African-American votes in the area of 88 to 90 percent.

MARTIN: That's simply a reality.

Here's what you have -- you have two great candidates. For Clinton, her focus in terms of who she is locking and loading on are white women, are rural voters, and also a strong vote among Catholics. For Obama, African-Americans, young voters, and more educated Democrats. That's why they're so even. She has a core constituency and so does he.

So, this whole notion that one is better than the other because of these set demographics makes no sense.

The key on Tuesday, Wolf, is this here -- 72 and 115. Indiana, 72 delegates; North Carolina, 115. I certainly think Clinton will likely win Indiana. I think Obama will win North Carolina. And it still, as Donna said, comes down to the math. Who can convince those superdelegates? And so, one core constituency does not outweigh the other.

BLITZER: And we're going to be watching this because, assuming that that assessment from Roland is accurate, that one wins Indiana, the other wins North Carolina a week from Tuesday, we'll be watching what happens in West Virginia. And then it will presumably move on -- Kentucky, Oregon, a lot more contests between now and June 3rd.

Let me thank all three of our guests for coming in. Thanks very much, Charlie Rangel, Donna Brazile and Roland Martin.

In just a few moments, I'll be joined by three of the best political team on television and we'll continue to assess what's going on, looking ahead to Tuesday's crucial primaries.

But straight ahead, the former president, Jimmy Carter, gives us his take on the Democratic political race and his very controversial meetings with Palestinian leaders from Hamas. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Former President Jimmy Carter has just returned from a controversial trip to the Middle East. We discussed that and the Democratic race for president when we spoke earlier this week.


BLITZER: Let's talk about foreign policy. A very sensitive issue. Your recent trip to the Middle East, your decision to meet with Hamas, a group the U.S. government brands a terrorist organization. President Bush was asked about it at his news conference, and here's what he said. Listen to this.


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Foreign policy and peace is undermined by Hamas in the Middle East. They're the ones who are undermining peace. They are the ones whose foreign policy objective is the destruction of Israel. They're the ones who are, you know, trying to create enough violence to stop the advance of the two-party state solution. They're a significant problem to world peace or Middle Eastern peace. And that's the reason I'm not talking to them.


BLITZER: He was specifically asked about your decision to talk to them. You want to respond to what you just heard?

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He is completely mistaken. It's obvious that he doesn't know the policy of Hamas. And I think that, since I met with him, I can very well say that -- and I've talked to Hamas a number of times, in fact...

BLITZER: Well, he says they're committed to the destruction of Israel.

CARTER: Well, I asked him about this, and that was one of the major requests or suggestions that I made to Hamas. I made five or six of them. They brought all of their leadership together from Gaza and also from within Damascus, and they spent all night Saturday and all Sunday considering the proposals that I made to them, and they gave me a response to all my proposals Sunday night by telephone.

One of the things I asked them to do was to agree to accept any peace contract between Israel and the Palestinians with Mahmoud Abbas being the representative of the Palestinians, provided it was approved by the Palestinians in a referendum. Even if Hamas agreed with the terms...

BLITZER: Did they say they would accept Israel living alongside Palestine?

CARTER: Absolutely. They said they would accept it.

BLITZER: A Jewish state of Israel?

CARTER: Absolutely. BLITZER: Because they haven't made that statement public. I mean, that may have been -- the criticism is they may have said that to you, but they're not telling their own people that. It's one thing to say to a former president, yes, we'll do that, but it's another thing to say they are ready for what is called the two-state solution, Israel and Palestine living alongside each other.

CARTER: Well, you seem to be able to speak far more than I do. I just met with them.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, I'm just saying what they are saying publicly.

CARTER: I know what they told me. And since then, there have been spokespersons for Hamas who have disputed what I just said.

BLITZER: That's what I mean.

CARTER: But they are not the leaders. I met with the top leaders of Hamas, the president and all of the leaders in the Politburo. They gave me their commitment. And they have reconfirmed that commitment since they authorized me to make it publicly, which I did in Israel.

I also asked them to agree to a cease-fire in Gaza alone, because they had always insisted they would only have a cease-fire in Gaza and the West Bank combined, which Israel objected to doing. So, they came back the day after I left Israel, and they said we will accept a cease-fire, a mutual cease-fire just on Gaza alone. And Israel rejected that proposal. So, there is no cease-fire and the conflict goes on.

BLITZER: All right.

You know something about a divided Democratic Party, and there's enormous fear right now that the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama could result in a divided Democratic Party. You remember -- take a look at the pictures behind you over there -- that was the convention back in 1980. Ted Kennedy was your challenger. You got obviously the nomination, but you went on to defeat. Was it the result of a divided Democratic Party at that time? Because you had fought a bitter battle against your nomination.

CARTER: That was part of it. I think it was a lot my fault, because I was not able as president to create a unified party.

Kennedy began to challenge me for the nomination as a Democrat, even though I was an incumbent president, about a year after I was in the White House. And for three years, he ran against me. And I defeated him 2-1. And in that same picture, when I tried to shake hands with Kennedy, he refused to shake my hand.

BLITZER: We just saw it. Yes.

CARTER: And then his supporters, a lot of them, did not support me in the general election. BLITZER: Would you have been reelected, do you think?

CARTER: I can't say that I did, because we had the hostage crisis and some other things. BLITZER: All right, so let's learn the lessons of that and flash forward now. A bitter battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Somebody's going to get the nomination. Somebody and their supporters are going to be deeply disappointed. How do you unify your party?

CARTER: There is no doubt in my mind at all that after a nominee is chosen, the other candidate will support that nominee enthusiastically, and overwhelmingly the supporters of that losing nominee will support...

BLITZER: Well, what if Hillary Clinton gets the nomination because of the superdelegates, not because of the pledged delegates? Don't you think that Obama supporters, whether young people, African- Americans, will see that as stealing the nomination, in effect?

CARTER: I think a lot of those people that you just mentioned, who have not ordinarily been deeply involved in the political campaign, might very well refrain from going to the polls. I don't think they're going to go out and vote for John McCain.

CARTER: But I think they might very well not be enthusiastic if that should happen. But I can't imagine the, a candidate, I won't say which one, getting a majority of the delegates and then having the super delegates go the other way.

BLITZER: Because it looks almost certainly as irrespective of what happens in the remaining nine contests that Barack Obama will emerge with the most pledged delegates. The super delegates, though, will be the decisive factor.

CARTER: That's true. But the Democratic primary and the Republican primary both is set up to deal with delegates, not popular votes, not the number of states you carry and that sort of thing. It's just delegates only. And so it would be very, I think uncomfortable to see the super delegates go contrary to the way that Democratic voters.

BLITZER: But they're entitled to them. If they think their one candidate is more electable or would be a better president, they created that rule precisely go against the pledge delegates, if necessary.

CARTER: It was created after the 1980 experience.

BLITZER: After your experience so you know about the history about why they came up with these super delegates.

CARTER: I certainly remember very well.

BLITZER: So they're entitled to do it. What, in your opinion, would be more important as a super delegate. Who has the most pledged or elected delegates or who has more of a popular vote in all of these 50 plus contests.

CARTER: The pledge delegates, because that's a whole rule. There's no rule at all that says the popular vote gets the nomination. The rules of a Democratic Party and a Republican Party only refer to the delegates.

BLITZER: Some will argue having heard what you just said, that's code for Barack Obama.

CARTER: Not necessarily, he hasn't gotten the majority of democrats.

BLITZER: But he's almost certainly going to get the most pledged.

CARTER: I don't know, they have nine more states to go.

BLITZER: So you're not ready to endorse anyone, in other words.

CARTER: You're right.


BLITZER: Up next on LATE EDITION, three of the best political team on television. They're here with me for our free-willing discussion of the Democratic presidential race as the contest continues down to the wire heading towards Tuesday's primaries.

And I'll be at the CNN Election Center with the entire team to bring you the results as they come out of North Carolina and Indiana. Our coverage Tuesday begins at 7 p.m. Eastern. It's election coverage that you simply can't get anywhere else. LATE EDITION continues right after this.


BLITZER: This has been a wild week in politics, I guess we can say that every week. There are only two days left before the polls open in North Carolina and Indiana. So, let's get right to our political panel. Joining us, John King is our chief national correspondent. Bill Schneider is our senior political analyst and Dana Bash, normally covers Capitol Hill for us most of the time, not necessarily in recent months. She has been covering the campaign.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. John, let me start with you and I'll play a little clip of what Hillary Clinton said looking ahead this week to Indiana.


CLINTON: This primary election on Tuesday is a game changer. This is going to make a huge difference in what happens going forward. The entire country, probably even a lot of the world, is looking to see what North Carolina decides.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Indiana, North Carolina, on Tuesday game changer, is it that dramatic?

KING: If she wins North Carolina, it is, without a doubt. If she can win both of these contests, the Democratic Party will have a big, whoa, what are we going to do now?

Because as your last panel was discussing, the math fav is Barack Obama. It is almost impossible to see Hillary Clinton changing the delegate math. But if she starts winning in places she's not supposed to win like North Carolina at the end, that would be a reflection the Democratic voters are having pause. That her message whether it's to white working class voters or if she can win North Carolina, that would mean to a broader audience, saying this is not the guy you want to send into the general election.

There is a concern in the Democratic Party most believe, even Clinton supporters that Obama is going to win, but they're worried he's limping at the end.

BLITZER: Here's the numbers with the delegate math. We'll talk about it. Right now if you add up the pledged and the super delegates, our estimate Barack Obama has 1,736 to Hillary Clinton's 1,599. And, Bill, if you take a look at the poll of polls in Indiana and North Carolina, our average numbers among likely Democratic voters Clinton and Obama both at 47 percent in Indiana. It doesn't get much closer than that, 6 percent unsure.

In North Carolina, today's poll of polls 50 percent for Obama and 42 percent for Clinton, 8 percent unsure. That eight-point spread, it's a lot better for her than it was only a few weeks ago when it was about 20 points in North Carolina. What's going on?

SCHNEIDER: Well, look, she appears to be picking up support slowly. There's some jitter among Democrats with Barack Obama. If John was correct, if she wins both of those, it would be such a shock, it would throw the Democratic Party into crisis because look at that delegate count.

She would look like she's on the roll, she's got a huge amount of momentum. There's a lot of skepticism and problems with Barack Obama, but the Democrats are going to say, how do you take it away from a guy, a candidate who's got more pledge delegates?

That would have to be a very dramatic reason discrediting him. So far it has not been the Jeremiah Wright controversy and has not been the bitterness controversy. It has to be bigger than that before they can actually take it away from candidate who is not only winning the pledge delegates, but who has the support of the party's base.

BLITZER: The argument, her campaign will make it the rules are the rules, the pledge delegates, the super delegates, it's what the delegate count boils down to when all is said and done. And those super delegates were originally created in the '80s precisely for this kind of scenario to overrule the pledge delegates if they think this is a candidate who's more electable come November. BASH: That's right, that's why as much as North Carolina and Indiana matter, whether or not there will be a game changer with regard to how Hillary Clinton does, what it will do if that happens is throw the Democratic Party, as Bill was just pointing out into even more chaos.

I was just talking to Donna Brazile about this in the hallway, even if she does win, she will not get as many delegates and she will not be able to Barack Obama with regard to the delegates. So what this is going to mean is even more serious, serious heartburn for the Democratic Party for these Democratic super delegates. And even more pressure on them, as you said, to perhaps go the way of their particular districts, if they are members of Congress or go the way that their particular areas in the country have voted and what is that going to mean? That could mean even more of a question mark.

BLITZER: We've been struggling a lot of us have been trying to find differences on substantive economic issues, important differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. We found one in the past couple weeks and I'm going to play a couple clips so we could talk about it because it seems to be having an impact in the debate right now.


CLINTON: I would immediately lower gas prices by temporarily suspending the gas tax for consumers and businesses.

OBAMA: Well, let me tell you something. This isn't an idea designed to get you through the summer, it's an idea designed to get them through an election.


BLITZER: All right, the economy issue, number one right now. They have a disagreement on gas taxes.

KING: You know what, Wolf? If they were sitting at this table, all three candidates -- remember John McCain proposed this gas tax holiday first.

KING: If all three were here, they would tell you, of course it's short term; of course it won't do anything about the big fundamental problem.

But what McCain and, now, Clinton, are fighting over is to give people a break. Pull up at a gas station -- I've been there in Pennsylvania and some of these other primary states, pumping gas into the crew vehicle, when you're there, as you travel around. Everybody gets out and they speak non-family friendly words while they're filling up their tank.

What they're trying to say is, I'll give you 30 bucks. But it's just part of a bigger argument. It's -- I'm on your side; I understand you; I know this hurts. And that is where Obama does have a problem right now. On the policy issue, everybody concedes he's right. But in terms of the gut feeling, in picking a president, who's going to help me out; who's going to help me?

And what McCain says is maybe you can buy two pizzas; maybe you can buy school supplies; I'll help you out, a little bit, for now, and then we'll deal with the big issue.

SCHNEIDER: It is a symbolic issue, but it's a very important one.

BLITZER: When you say "symbolic," because it's not going anywhere in Congress.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

BLITZER: They're not going to pass this legislation. President Bush is not going to sign anything into law. So this is really a moot debate.

SCHNEIDER: Well, it's moot except for the political symbolism, which is very dramatic.

He said, look -- she said, I'm going to do something for you and I'm going to do it right now, and he said, yesterday, all the experts, all the editorial writers say this is a bad idea.

These are two very different styles. I remember when her husband was running in 1992. Paul Tsongas was his opponent. Remember what Tsongas used to say about Bill Clinton? He said, "He's a pander bear." "I'm not running to be Santa Claus."

You know what Tsongas discovered? Santa Claus is pretty popular.


BASH: Exactly, and that's why this is so fascinating, this debate over the gas tax holiday, because it really does illustrate the kind of voters that each is trying to go after and really has had success with.

On the one hand, you have Hillary Clinton, who has been going after, successfully going after the so-called lunch-bucket Democrats, more of the blue-collar voters. And you have Barack Obama going after the more traditionally, maybe, from his perspective, maybe some of the more sophisticated, some of the wealthier Democrats.

And that fits -- this whole debate over the gas tax really does illustrate and exemplify the two different approaches, in terms of the Democrats they're going after.

KING: We're going to learn what Barack Obama is made of here. Because all of these controversies, cumulatively -- the Jeremiah Wright, other controversies; now the whose side are you on, on the gas tax, are hurting him. If you look at Democratic polling -- I spoke to Republicans this week who are doing focus groups in rural, white swing-voting areas. They say that people now view Barack Obama -- sometimes they do mention Jeremiah Wright when they play word association at a focus group: You say Barack Obama; what do you say first?

But they're also saying, more and more, they view him as culturally out of touch with them. That has been a huge problem for the Democratic Party -- Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry. So he needs to change the dynamic. He has time if he gets this nomination, but there's a big test for him.

SCHNEIDER: Let me add, that not race. That's culture. That's class.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, guys. We're going to continue this conversation. We're going to have a lot more to talk about, including John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Also coming up, more of what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had to say this morning. That's coming up in our very popular "In Case You Missed It" segment.

In case you did, you'll hear it, right here on "Late Edition."


BLITZER: Now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. ON NBC and ABC, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both talked about what's become a hot issue on the campaign trail, a summertime suspension of gasoline tax.


OBAMA: This gas tax, which was first proposed by John McCain, and then quickly adopted by Senator Clinton, is a classic Washington gimmick.

The average driver would save 30 cents per day, for a grand total of $28. That's assuming that the oil companies don't step in and raise prices by the same amount that the tax has been reduced.



CLINTON: My proposal is very different from Senator McCain. Senator McCain has said, take off the gas tax; don't pay for it; throw us further into deficit and debt. That's not what I have proposed. What I proposed is that the oil companies pay the gas tax, instead of consumers and drivers, this summer.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: On CBS, the House majority whip Jim Clyburn offered his assessment of what it will take to unite the Democrats after a long and divisive primary battle.


REP. JAMES E. CLYBURN, D-S.C.: I think the most important person in this process, going forward, will not be the person who is number one, but the person who is number two. The person who finishes second in this will be very, very important for all of our constituents to come together.

And so I believe that all of us who are involved in this process are going to be responsible for doing what is necessary to bring our party back together. And I think that we will.


BLITZER: And on Fox, the Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean said the long primary fight does have a silver lining.


DNC CHAIRMAN HOWARD DEAN: There are some good things going on. Yes, it's tough on the party. That's why I think that the unpledged delegates need to say who they're for by the end of June, so we'll know who our nominee is by the end of June.

But there is also enormous merit to everybody in America getting a shot to vote for these candidates in the primaries. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows, here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

When we come back, we'll turn to the presumptive GOP candidate, John McCain, and more. "Late Edition" continues, right after this.


BLITZER: Hillary Clinton speaking right now in Fort Wayne, Indiana -- she's campaigning. Tuesday, the primaries in Indiana and North Carolina.

Right now we're back talking about all things political with John King, Dana Bash and Bill Schneider.

Dana, let me start with you and read to you from a quote, Charlie Black, he's a top adviser to John McCain saying this. "This time we are working to get a larger share than normal of Independents and conservative Democrats, mainly because our own base is narrower than four years ago."

What's going on on the McCain front right now?

BASH: This has been their strategy since the moment he clinched the nomination back in March or effectively clinched the nomination. They understand that first of all the base is narrower. John McCain says this all the time because they're so distraught about their own party, about their own brand as the McCain campaign likes to say.

And because of the kind of candidate they have in John McCain. He is somebody who actually can reach out to Independents. He's proven it in the past at least in the state of New Hampshire. And they think he can reach out to some conservative Democrats.

But I will tell you one thing that they have found so appealing, one of the many things they have found so appealing in the fights among the Democrats is that with each of these contests, Wolf, they have data. They have data that they can follow just to see how they can run against, they assume, will be Barack Obama. And even more with each day they see that they can run the kind of campaign, frankly, that Hillary Clinton is running try to appeal to those rural blue collar voters who sought very much this past week from John McCain.

BLITZER: You know, in the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation polls, hypothetical match ups registered voters come November right now the snapshot, Obama beats McCain 49-45 percent. Clinton beats McCain 49-44 percent, sampling error 3.5 percent.

But it's a lot closer than a lot of people say it should be give on the disapproval number right now, record disapproval number for President Bush. SCHNEIDER: Yes, and Americans are very much in a bad mood -- 70 percent say things are going badly and that is worse than 1992 when Bill Clinton got elected. That's worse than 1980 when Jimmy Carter was thrown out.

It's very bad and the Republican Party ought to be demolished. What's keeping McCain alive? Two things. One, he's not the incumbent. The incumbent president can't run, the vice president is not running.

And, number two, people vote for McCain when they do it's a personal vote, that's how he won the Republican primaries. That's how he expects to be competitive in November because people are voting for him, not his issues, not his party.

BLITZER: It may be the same party as George W. Bush and I'll put the number up on the screen, the president's job performance disapproval number, 71 percent. That's a higher disapproval than Richard Nixon had at the height of Watergate back in the '70s.

Can McCain effectively run away from Bush and not be a third term for Bush as the Democrats try to suggest?

KING: That is the enormously delicate challenge he faces because you can't over-annoy the Republican base and yet with the president 70 percent of people disapprove of him, equal numbers disapprove of the war, equal numbers think the country is on the wrong track and John McCain is going to be the Republican running for president.

The fundamentals of this race are so stacked against him. So what does he do? Three days a week, he takes issue with George W. Bush. Remember me? I'm the guy who stood up to run, I'm the guy who said the war strategy was wrong. I want this gas tax holiday, the White House, I don't care. I want it, I want to be on your side.

And yet, he'll be in North Carolina tomorrow doing something very different, appealing to the base of the Republican Party. So it is the most delicate balance that you can expect any candidate to pull off. The fact that he is still so close -- and remember, presidents are elected state by state. So if a Republican is within three or four points nationally, given California and New York tend to go Democrat, big heavy, that means he is in play, if you go state by state.

BLITZER: If you look in Pennsylvania and Ohio those battleground states, whether Missouri, Michigan or Florida, it shows that the races in those states could be competitive.

KING: He's incredibly competitive in places like that. But again, if you're going to win Missouri, you've got to get the Bible belt down low, but then you have to win in the suburbs.

BLITZER: What is he going to do in North Carolina tomorrow?

BASH: You know, it's interesting. It's explained to you how we have been reaching out to Independents and Democrats, but he also does have to massage and reach out to the base every so often -- really hasn't done it very much.

BLITZER: The conservative base of the Republican Party.

BASH: The conservative base of the Republican Party who fundamentally, if you look at the votes, McCain campaign says despite the narrative that he doesn't have a good relationship with him, they have started to come back to him. But what he is going to do to try to ensure that is he's going to North Carolina, ironically, the day of the Democratic primary and he's going to give a speech on the kind of judges that he would appoint.

This is such a core issue for the conservative base. They want to hear this from John McCain. They want to hear that he is going to appoint the kind of judges in the mold of Scalia and in the mold of John Roberts. The kind of things that he really doesn't talk about at all on the stump. But he's going to talk about it, and he's going to talk about it for a reason because as much as he is reaching out to those Democrats and Independents, he still needs those Republicans to get out and vote for him.

BLITZER: Dana will be heading back to North Carolina sooner rather than later. All right Dana, thanks very much. John, thanks to you. Bill Schneider, appreciate it.

If you'd like a recap of today's program, you can get highlights on our LATE EDITION podcast, simply go to

Coming up at the top of the hour for our North American viewers, "THIS WEEK IN POLITICS" with the host Tom Foreman. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And that's your LATE EDITION for this Sunday, May 4th.

Please be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. Remember, I'm also in "THE SITUATION ROOM" Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. Eastern.

And don't forget, I'll be in the CNN Election Center Tuesday night for the results of the North Carolina and Indiana primaries. Our coverage begins 7 p.m. eastern. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "THIS WEEK IN POLITICS" starts right now.