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Hillary Clinton Gaining Ground on Barack Obama?; 10,000 Killed in Cyclone; John McCain's Appeal to Latinos

Aired May 5, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much guys.
Happening now, Barack Obama says he's desperately seeking votes. On this, the primary eve, new evidence that Hillary Clinton has gained some ground in both Indiana and North Carolina. We're following the Democrats' final push in these critical battlegrounds.

Also this hour, red-hot issues for the Democrats right now, new sparring over ways to try to lower soaring gas prices and the threat from Iran. We're going to hear from Senators Clinton and Obama at length.

And John McCain's Cinco de Mayo appeal. The Republican is launching a new pitch to Latino voters. But the divisive debate over immigration could get in his way.

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

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are predicting their primary battle will extend yet another month, well beyond tomorrow's votes in Indiana and North Carolina. But this round of primaries will be a telling test of where their marathon race stands right now.

Seventy-two Democratic delegates are at stake in Indiana, 115 in North Carolina. Obama goes into tomorrow's contests with a lead in delegates won to date. But Clinton goes in seeing a possible opening against him.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is joining us from Raleigh, North Carolina.

Candy, what are we hearing from the candidates?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's interesting, Wolf, because we went through Ohio, and, after that, Pennsylvania, talking a lot about NAFTA. Here, this entire race, really for the past couple of weeks, has been framed about one issue: gas tax, all day, all the time.


CROWLEY (voice-over): Shuttling between North Carolina and Indiana, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton used the prism of a gas tax dispute to define themselves and each other.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CLINTON CAMPAIGN AD) NARRATOR: Hillary's the one who gets it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hillary Clinton is the candidate that's going to fight for working people.


CROWLEY: In dueling ads, the two argued whether to temporarily lift the federal gas tax, an issue which may have particular resonance with the large swathe of working-class voters expected at the polls tomorrow.


NARRATOR: Clinton aides admit it won't do much for you, but would help her politically. So, here's the choice: Clinton gimmicks that help big oil or Barack Obama, a real energy plan.


CROWLEY: The price of gas is same song, different verse in a long battle in which differences are few and matters of character loom large. Fueled by strong and steady support from blue-collar workers, Clinton has positioned herself as the working-class champ, tacitly and sometimes openly framing him as out of touch with ordinary people.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's listen to what people are telling us. I don't think folks in Washington listen enough, because, if we listened, we would hear this incredible cry: Please, just attention to what's going on in our lives.

CROWLEY: The son of a single mother who once went on the food stamp program, Obama finds it ironic he's been painted at an elitist. Though most economists agree with him, arguing against a gas tax holiday is tricky politically. He's tried to use it to bolster his suggestions that she's just another pander bear politician, and he will tell the truth, politics aside.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the majority of people do find me trustworthy, more than they do the other candidate. And we can't solve problems if people don't think that their leaders are telling them the truth.

CROWLEY: It is, by both counts, a critical election eve, but only so critical. North Carolina and Indiana may change the race. They are unlikely to end it.


CROWLEY: For Clinton, two wins would be a catapult. For Barack Obama, two losses would be close to a catastrophe -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley, watching this for us, thank you.

Over the past week, Hillary Clinton has chipped away at Barack Obama's lead in North Carolina. In our poll of polls averaging the latest surveys, Obama had a 12-point lead back on April 27. The lead is down to eight points in North Carolina today.

That comes after Obama hit a campaign rough patch and Clinton enjoyed a bounce from her win in Pennsylvania. In Indiana, our poll of polls showed Obama with a four-point lead over Clinton just after the Pennsylvania primary. The race soon tightened to a dead heat. But, today, Clinton is ahead by four percentage points.

Senator Clinton has predicted tomorrow's primaries could be a game-changer in her contest with Senator Obama.

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

Do these polls point to a possible game-changer, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, not quite, but tomorrow's primaries could keep the game going.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): It's late in the game. The clock is running out. Hillary Clinton is still running behind Barack Obama in both popular votes and pledged delegates. What does she need in Indiana and North Carolina?

CLINTON: This primary election on Tuesday is a game-changer. This is going to make a huge difference in what happens going forward.

SCHNEIDER: A game-changer would be if Clinton won both North Carolina and Indiana by double-digit margins. That would signal to the superdelegates that she is gaining momentum and that Democratic voters are having serious doubts about Barack Obama.

She needs big victories because it's so late in the game. Only 404 pledged delegates remain to be chosen, 187 of them on Tuesday, the biggest single primary day left. Clinton would need to win 70 percent of the remaining pledged delegates to catch up with Obama. That's very unlikely.

She stands a better chance of catching up in the total popular vote. Right now, she's 611,000 votes behind Obama. Our estimate is that about five million Democrats are likely to vote in the remaining primaries. She would need to get about 56 percent of them to catch up with Obama.

What does it look like in Indiana and North Carolina? Our poll of polls shows Clinton picking up late support in both states. Obama is still ahead in North Carolina, but his margin has narrowed hind to eight points. In Indiana, where the race has been tied for the past two weeks, Clinton had pulled four points ahead.

It looks like it could be a split decision, with modest victories for Obama in North Carolina and Clinton in Indiana.


SCHNEIDER: And that means the game goes on, possibly into overtime. If Clinton can't change the game, at a minimum, she wants to keep it going. For how long? Until the party decides to bring the Florida and Michigan delegates into play, because those reinforcements give her, her last, best hope of winning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see if she can do that. Bill, thank you.

And, as you know, Bill Schneider and Candy Crowley, they are both part of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television.

Please join us for complete coverage of the Indiana and North Carolina primaries. Our coverage tomorrow begins right here in THE SITUATION ROOM at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. We will have the first exit poll results coming in.

Now to the breaking news we're following: utter destruction and death on a scale rarely seen in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. That nation is in desperate need of assistance, after a killer weekend cyclone. The government says more than 10,000 people are dead. As for survivors, many are coping with no electricity, little phone service and no food or water. And aid is pouring in from around the world.

Just a short while ago, Laura Bush held a news conference over at the White House about the situation, something we have rarely seen from the first lady, but underscoring what's going on right now.


LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: The U.S. has offered financial assistance through our embassy.

We will work with the U.N. and other international nongovernmental organizations to provide water, sanitation, food, and shelter. More assistance will be forthcoming. The United States stands prepared to provide an assistance team and much-needed supplies to Burma as soon as the Burmese government accepts our offer.

The government of Burma should accept this team quickly, as well as other offers of international assistance.


BLITZER: The first lady talked about the U.S. offer to Myanmar, $250,000 initially, likely more to follow if the United States is allowed inside Myanmar to assess the need.

We're watching this tragic situation from the cyclone. Also, a cyclone is really a hurricane. We're going to have a lot more on this story coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- devastation going on there.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" for another week. It's going to be a big week in politics, but all these weeks are big weeks, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You're excited. I can tell.




BLITZER: I will be with you tomorrow at the CNN Election Center.

CAFFERTY: Right here in New York.

BLITZER: That's correct.

CAFFERTY: Broadcasting for hours late into the night...

BLITZER: Yes, yes.

CAFFERTY: ... to bring us these crucial contests in Indiana and North Carolina with the best political team on television; am I right?

BLITZER: Who would have -- who would have thought?


CAFFERTY: I -- the question that we're going to ask here has to do with how much these things matter. But we will get to that in a second.

A 16-month fight -- it only seems longer -- between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama continues tomorrow in North Carolina, Indiana. Obama leads Clinton in the polls in North Carolina. The latest average of polls shows Clinton now slightly ahead in Indiana.

If Obama can deliver a pair of wins, it would be a huge psychological boost for his campaign, could bring him a step closer to winning the nomination. If Clinton wins both states, she will still be behind, but she will think she's won the nomination.

The fact is that Obama continues to lead Clinton in everything except superdelegates, where he has now narrowed her lead to just 14. He leads in pledged delegates, the popular vote, the number of states won.

A new poll out suggests Obama has rebounded from some of the damage caused by Jeremiah Wright. "The New York Times"/CBS News poll shows 60 percent of registered voters approve of how Obama handled that situation. And the majority say the news media -- that would be us -- spent too much time covering that story.

Also, Obama's lead over Clinton among Democratic primary voters has now increased to 12 points, up from just -- from eight points just a few days ago. Obama seems to have lost his edge, though, when it comes to the question of electability. In February, 59 percent said Obama was the stronger candidate, compared with 28 percent who said Clinton was. In the newest survey, the two are essentially tied.

So, here's the question: Considering Barack Obama's lead, how important are Indiana and North Carolina?

Go to Post a comment on my blog.

You know, given the fact that there are more delegates coming out of North Carolina, Wolf, if he wins by the same margin in North Carolina that, say, she wins in Indiana, he will still have a net gain of pledged delegates, because there are more of them to be awarded out of North Carolina.

BLITZER: I know. But you know what? The way that state is divided, according to its congressional districts out west, apparently, there are more districts that potentially could go to her. So, this is one of those states where, even though he might win by a popular vote, theoretically, at least, according to the experts I have been talking to, she might actually get one additional extra delegate in North Carolina, even if she doesn't lost -- doesn't win the popular vote.

Am I making sense to you at all?

CAFFERTY: Listen. You're the Wolf-man. I'm on your side. Wherever you're going, just count -- just put me down. I'm right there with you.


BLITZER: The Democrats have unique rules.

CAFFERTY: Well, they're stupid.


CAFFERTY: Unique is one word. Stupid is another.

BLITZER: Unique rules that...

CAFFERTY: The Republicans do this very simply and easily.


CAFFERTY: And it's over. This -- this is dumb, the way the Democrats do it.

BLITZER: The Democrats don't necessarily have the most brilliant rules out there, but that's life.

All right, Jack, stand by.

(CROSSTALK) CAFFERTY: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Barack Obama heads into tomorrow's important round of primaries feeling a bit bruised.


OBAMA: We have probably taken as many hits as anybody has in this presidential campaign. Senator Clinton has not. John McCain certainly has not. And, yet, I'm still here and, you know, competitive in both North Carolina and Indiana.


BLITZER: Senator Obama talks about some rough times for his campaign and why he thinks Hillary Clinton is resorting to a gimmick.

The CNN interview with Senator Obama, that's coming up.

Plus, the Latino vote could make or break John McCain's presidential campaign in November. We are going to take a much closer look at what he's doing to try to appeal to Hispanics and why his recent actions may speak louder than his words.

And Senator Clinton's provocative warning -- a scenario that would prompt her to obliterate Iran. We're looking at this new dividing line between the Democrats.

She also spoke with CNN today. You will see that here as well -- right in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The sky-high gas prices at the center of the Democrats' 11th-hour pitch to voters in North Carolina and Indiana.

On this primary eve, our own John Roberts of CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING" spoke at length with Senator Barack Obama about the race.


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, "AMERICAN MORNING": Let's get right to the issues, then. You have criticized Hillary Clinton about this idea of a gas tax holiday, calling it a typical political gimmick.

Here's her response to your criticisms to that.


CLINTON: I think we have been for the last seven years seeing a tremendous amount of government power and elite opinion basically behind policies that haven't worked well for the middle class.


ROBERTS: So that could be read as a not so subtle dig at you, that you're an elitist who doesn't understand the problem that regular folks are going through with these gasoline prices. What do you say?

OBAMA: I think that's nonsense, if that's what she intended because the fact is that for 20, 30 years, we haven't done what's needed to make sure that people are making ends meet. I mean what's absolutely true is that during the Bush administration, there hasn't been much regard for what ordinary people are going through.

But if we're going to deal seriously with gas prices, we're not going to pretend to do something by offering a tax holiday that would at best provide 30 cents a day for three months for a grand total of $28...

ROBERTS: So, what would you do instead in terms...

OBAMA: ... but is more likely -- is more likely -- John, just let me finish -- is more likely to reward oil companies further, because they will just jack up their prices to fill up whatever the gap was that's left by a suspension of the gas tax.

So, what I have said is, I want to provide a middle class tax cut of up to $1,000 per family per year, a much bigger amount of relief that can cover not only rising gas prices, but also rising food prices and at the same time I want to invest in alternative energy and raising fuel efficiency standards on cars, something that I have been calling for for years and that Senator Clinton has opposed in the past. We can't keep on putting off the day of reckoning, five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now.

There's nobody who thinks that a gas tax holiday is going to lower gas prices over the long-term.

ROBERTS: But all of that that you mentioned would take a long time to get through Congress. Is there anything that could be done immediately, if you were president today to try to bring some relief to people at the pump?

OBAMA: What I have said is let's go ahead and pass the second part of my tax stimulus proposal that would put some money immediately in the pockets of people.

Listen, I'm meeting people every day who can't get to a job because they can't fill up the gas tank or they are trying to figure out how to make ends meet now that they have had an extra $100 taken out of their bottom line at the end of the month. So I understand how badly people are hurting. If we're serious about helping them, let's provide them some relief, but let's not pretend that we're doing something by suggesting a gas tax holiday that will not be paid for and frankly it is very unlikely that you would see President George Bush sign the kind of windfall profits tax that Hillary Clinton says she would use to pay for it.

ROBERTS: Senator, you have also been very critical of Hillary Clinton's statement about Iran and this idea that if it attacks Israel, we would be able to "obliterate" them. Your answer to that same question was far more ambiguous than hers.

Is there any room for ambiguity when it comes to the issue of Israel's survival?

OBAMA: That's not what I said, John. I wasn't ambiguous at all. I said that if Israel was attacked, we would respond forcefully and an attack on Israel, one of our most important allies in the world, would be considered as an attack on the United States.

Using the word obliterate, however, is the kind of language that we have seen George Bush use over the last seven years and it's precisely that kind of provocative language that Senator Clinton criticized others for in the past, suggesting that if you're running for president, you shouldn't be stirring up international incidents. We now have Iran bringing complaints to the United Nations. Particularly when you're doing it right before an election, it's probably not the best way to approach foreign policy.

ROBERTS: If Iran attacked Israel with a nuclear weapon, would you use the United States nuclear arsenal against Iran?

OBAMA: John, I'm not going to speculate. As I said before, Senator Clinton was the first one to suggest we should never talk about the use of nuclear weapons and gave a lot of us a lengthy disposition on that.

Look, here's the bottom line. Israel is our ally and we will protect Israel. More importantly, though, we should be keeping our nuclear arsenal out of the hands of Iran, which is why I have called consistently for a mix of sanctions, but also carrots and direct talks to get Iran to stand down. That's the kind of leadership that we need out of the White House and that's the kind that I intend to provide as president of the United States.

ROBERTS: Senator, you have really been pounded by the Clinton campaign during this primary process, but a lot of people believe that that's nothing compared to what you would face should you become the nominee and have to go up against John McCain in the general election. Some analysts have noted that you have a little bit of a glass chin when it comes to these attacks.

The last month that you have had this primary campaign, many people say has not been your best. What are you going to do if you become the nominee to fend off attacks that will come at you from the Republican side?

OBAMA: John, I think as you have said, we have probably taken as many hits as anybody has in this presidential campaign. Senator Clinton has not. John McCain certainly has not and yet I'm still here and, you know, competitive in both North Carolina and Indiana.


BLITZER: And later, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Senator Clinton defends her push for a gas tax holiday and her tough remarks about -- quote -- "obliterating" Iran if the Iranians were to use nuclear weapons against Israel. We're going to hear from her "AMERICAN MORNING" interview as well. That's coming up later.

And please be sure to watch CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING" every weekday, beginning at 6:00 a.m. Eastern.

The so-called D.C. Madam leaves behind a chilling note. It sheds new light on why she hanged herself.

Plus, John McCain reaching out to Latino voters, amid concerns he may already have driven some of them away.

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



BLITZER: So, what should you be watching for in these two critical contests tomorrow? One day before Indiana and North Carolina's primaries, we're going to show you areas where the candidates hope votes will be coming in from -- John King standing by.

And Hillary Clinton is not backing down. She reiterates, the U.S. would attack and possibly even obliterate Iran if it launched a nuclear weapon against Israel. And that would take place in a Hillary Clinton administration. We will tell you what's going on -- Barack Obama using that to compare Senator Clinton to President Bush.

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


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

Happening now, breaking news out of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. There's death and devastation rarely seen from a natural disaster. At least -- at least 10,000 people are now believed to have died.

And Laura Bush takes on a role that's rare for this first lady. We are going to have more on the situation and Mrs. Bush's speaking out right now for the U.S. government.

In presidential politics, any savings on high gas prices helps. But would suspending the federal gas tax really be worth it to Americans, as Hillary Clinton suggests, or would it wind up costing all of us even more in other ways, as Barack Obama suggests?

And some Republicans are casting Obama in their campaign attack ads. Will this work for the Republicans using them or will it backfire?

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

Tomorrow potentially could be pivotal in the Democratic presidential election. Indiana and North Carolina hold their contests, and who wins will have bragging rights as the Democratic race winds down.

Let's look at some key areas in both states where Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton hope for votes.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is joining us now with more.

Let's take a look at Indiana first. What should we be looking for, John?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is a fascinating state, a much more white state. Let's bring it out and look on the map right here.

This state much more suited to Hillary Clinton. I want to show you two congressional districts to focus on as we watch the results tomorrow.

The first one runs roughly right about here. This is the first congressional district of Indiana. It is the most Democratic district in the state.

It has the city of Gary, which is overwhelmingly African- American. Lake County right here is a large African-American population, also a significant Latino population.

This is the most Democratic area of the state, critical to Barack Obama because of the demographics and because, look, the city of Chicago is right here. They get Chicago television in this part of Indiana. They are very familiar with Barack Obama.

He needs to do well up here in the northwest part of the state if he is going to pull off an upset. The polls very close, but they favor Senator Clinton right now.

For Senator Clinton let's look down here. This is a longer congressional district that runs roughly down just like that, all the way down here to the southwest corner, where you have the city of Evansville.

This is a white working class district, a very small African- American population, maybe five percent. This is where Brad Ellsworth, one of the conservative Democrats elected in 2006 was elected -- white, rural, working class voters critical to Senator Clinton. So if you just watch the western part of Indiana, you have a key testing ground for Obama, a key testing ground for Senator Clinton.

One more place in Indiana, South Bend. Remember in Pennsylvania the advantage she had with Catholics? This is the university of Notre Dame's base, Catholic voters in this congressional district. Something else we will watch, Wolf, as the counts and the votes come in, in Indiana.

BLITZER: And the other big contest tomorrow, North Carolina. Give us a sense of what we should be looking for there, John.

KING: Let's move on over here and we'll pull out the state of North Carolina. Again, a fascinating state if you go through the demographics of what we have seen in the race so far. Senator Clinton has done incredibly well with white working class and white rural voters. Well, over here is the district won in 2006 by Heath Shuler, the former football player who played for the Washington Redskins briefly.

He has not endorsed. He did attend mass -- church with Senator Clinton over the weekend. This is a white, working class, blue-dog Democrat area which she needs to do very well if she is going to offset Barack Obama's support.

His advantage in this state, it's 20 percent, a little more than 20 percent African-American. He has done very well in the South in the states with a large African-American population.

One place to watch for him, a very interesting congressional district. This is the 12th congressional district, and it runs like a snake.

It's Melvin Watt's district. It has been gerrymandered, it has been the subject of many court tests over the years. Of the African- American population in North Carolina, there's a great deal of it centered right here in this district. But guess what? It also has about a 40 percent white population.

So you have about 40 percent white, a little more than that in the African-American population. This congressional district here in the state, if there is a racial divide, Wolf, in the North Carolina vote, this is one of the places we're likely to see it in a snake-like congressional district right in the middle to western part of the state.

BLITZER: All right, John. Stand by, because you're going to be back in the next hour with more on what we should be looking for.

John, thank you.

One group the presidential candidates hope to do well with down the road would be the Latinos. They're one of the fastest-growing groups in the country, and their support could be pivotal come the general election in November. So which -- all that partly explains why John McCain is out courting that group on this day.

Dana Bash is in Charlotte, North Carolina, watching this story for us.

He certainly would like to do well with the Hispanic vote, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He sure would, Wolf. You know, he frequently boasts on the campaign trail about getting 70 percent of the Latino vote in his last Senate election. His presidential campaign hopes to reproduce at least some of that, especially in key swing states where the Latino vote is incredibly high and incredibly important.

So today he used this day, Cinco de Mayo, to take a step towards reaching out.


BASH (voice-over): John McCain's Spanish TV ad can now be found here on his new Spanish language campaign Web site launched for Cinco de Mayo.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Everything about our Hispanic voters is tailor made to the Republican message. I'm confident that I will do very well.

BASH: Republican strategists say he has to do very well with Latinos to win in November.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: If John McCain can earn closer to 40 percent of the Hispanic vote, then he's on his way to residing in the White House. The Hispanic vote is that critical for Republicans.

BASH: That's what helped George W. Bush win re-election, a whopping 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. But that was before a divisive political debate erupted over illegal immigration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are becoming a bilingual nation, and that is not good.

BASH: McCain admits that could drive Hispanics to vote Democrat.

MCCAIN: I think the tenor of the debate has harmed our image amongst Hispanics.

BASH: McCain supported a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants but backed off after conservative outrage almost killed his GOP primary bid.

MCCAIN: I know what the message is. The message is, we must secure our borders.

BASH: Now that he's effectively clinched the nomination, a softer tone is back.

MCCAIN: But they are God's children. They're God's children. And they have none of the protections of our laws. And many of them are being exploited every day.

BASH: Democrats say he caved to political pressure and will push Hispanics to punish him for it. Republicans say fighting that will be a huge challenge.

SANCHEZ: It's part of the reality of being a Republican. Many Latinos falsely believe that this is not an inclusive party, and I think John McCain has to battle that like every other candidate before him.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BASH: One of the many things McCain advisers say they're learning from the lengthy Democratic race is what they say is Barack Obama's weakness with Latino voters, one they say that they hope to exploit if he's the Democratic nominee. But GOP experts, Wolf, they say that the only way the McCain campaign can really seize on that is if they recognize changes in the Latino community, like the fact that it's increasingly business-oriented and powered by women -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana. Thank you.

Dana Bash reporting.

Hillary Clinton isn't backing down from her very tough warning to Iran. Up next, we'll compare the Democrat's responses to a possible nuclear attack on Israel. And we'll see why the issue is giving both of these candidates potentially a new opportunity.

And an eye-popping suggestion for John McCain's vice presidential list. A young reformer gets a big mention in our "Strategy Session."

And later, the disaster is horrific, the need for relief massive. We're going to have a full report on the cyclone devastation in Myanmar that's left at least 10,000 people dead.

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


BLITZER: The threat from Iranian leaders and their nuclear program is making a big impact on the presidential race right here in the United States. At issue right now, Hillary Clinton's remarks about a scenario that would lead the United States to "obliterate" Iran.

Let's go to our Suzanne Malveaux. She's covering the Democrats in Indiana right now.

This comment that she made has caused a huge uproar out there. What's going on, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Indiana and North Carolina voters have been looking for distinctions between these two candidates. So far, they focus on domestic, economic issues, but this is really a foreign policy issue where they have some differences, and the candidates are exploiting it.


MCCAIN: Bomb Iran -- you know, bomb, bomb, bomb -- anyway...

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Republican presumptive nominee John McCain got into hot water when he joked about bombing Iran. But Sunday, Senator Hillary Clinton declared under her administration, the U.S. would not only attack Iran if it launched a nuclear weapon against Israel, but the U.S. could obliterate the country, an assertion she refused to back down from just hours away from Tuesday's key primaries.

CLINTON: It would be massive retaliation, John. Massive retaliation.

ROBERTS: Does that mean -- does that mean nuclear response?

CLINTON: Well, I think that it speaks for itself.

MALVEAUX: Presented with the same scenario, Senator Barack Obama was more measured.

OBAMA: If Israel was attacked, we would respond forcefully. And an attack on Israel, one of our most important allies in the world, would be considered as an attack on the United States.

MALVEAUX: While both candidates expressed doubts that Iran would attack Israel, the specter of war with the Islamic state has grabbed the spotlight, giving Clinton and Obama the opportunity to draw distinctions in their foreign policy.


NARRATOR: It's 3:00 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House, and it's ringing. Something's happening in the world.


MALVEAUX: Hillary Clinton's 3:00 a.m. phone call ads highlighting her as the stronger commander in chief under crisis worked well in leading up to Texas and Pennsylvania primaries. Those ads aren't running in Indiana or North Carolina, but the debate over Iran is helping Clinton remind voters of her national security credentials and toughness.

CLINTON: We need to make it very clear, like we did during the Cold War, where thousands of missiles were pointed at us and we pointed at the Soviet Union, that there is a price to be paid.

MALVEAUX: Highlighting the differences with Clinton and putting the hypothetical scenario aside, Obama said he'd be willing to talk with Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and would also tone down the rhetoric.

OBAMA: Using the word "obliterate," however, is the kind of language that we've seen George Bush use over the last seven years. And it's precisely that kind of provocative language that Senator Clinton criticized others for in the past.


MALVEAUX: And Wolf, there actually is already a memorandum of agreement between the United States and Israel which allows the United States to come to its defense if it comes under a missile attack or weapons of mass destruction, but it's not legally binding, it is not a treaty. So it gives the commander in chief some flexibility, whoever that commander in chief may be -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thanks very much.

Suzanne Malveaux reporting from Indiana.

The first lady, Laura Bush, steps into an unusual role for herself today, briefing the news media on that devastating cyclone in Myanmar.


L. BUSH: Burma's state-run media failed to issue a timely warning to citizens in the storm's path. The response to the cyclone is just the most recent example of the junta's failure to meet its people's basic needs.


BLITZER: Donna Brazile and John Feehery, they're here to discuss this unique news conference in our "Strategy Session," among other subjects.

Also, Barack Obama picks up another celebrity endorsement. We'll tell you who that is right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Laura Bush takes on a role that's rare for this first lady, taking the podium and speaking about the estimated 10,000 people dead in Myanmar from that cyclone.

Listen to this.


L. BUSH: The United States stands prepared to provide an assistance team and much-needed supplies to Burma as soon as the Burmese government accepts our offer. The government of Burma should accept this team quickly, as well as other offers of international assistance.


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

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

I've got to tell you, I was watching this news conference. I see Laura Bush come out and give a very detailed explanation of what the U.S. is trying to do in the aftermath of this cyclone, this devastation. And I said, why isn't Condoleezza Rice doing this, why isn't Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser?

It seemed unusual for this first lady to be taking that kind of role. What do you think? DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, Secretary Rice is in the Middle East. She had a meeting this morning in Israel. I saw that earlier.

But really believe that Laura Bush has taken this role because she feels passionately about the situation there. She has spent years trying to bring international attention to the situation and human rights abuse in Myanmar, as well as the humanitarian crisis in that country.

This is a wonderful thing that she's doing. She's not only putting an international spotlight on this issue -- 10,000 people dead -- but she's also trying to force that military government there to allow other international...


BLITZER: I commend her. I think it is wonderful that she's taking a very high-profile role in this.

BRAZILE: I agree.

BLITZER: But it does seem a little unusual for this first lady. I don't know if you agree, John.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Donna's exactly right. I think she did a wonderful job. I think she did it exactly for the right reasons.

So it's kind of like a velvet glove on top of an iron fist kind of sending the right message that we need to help these people, we need to do it quickly, and we need some cooperation from the Burmese government. She's very close to Aung San Suu Kyi. She feels very passionately about this issue, as Donna said. I think it's exactly the right message.

BLITZER: There are some in the media who will say look at Laura Bush, she's already taking a very high visible role. Are we setting the stage for another first lady running for the Senate, maybe running for the White House down the road?

What do you think?

FEEHERY: I don't think she's going to be running for the White House anytime soon, or the Senate. I think she shows that she's very passionate about certain issues, and when she is she's a very effective communicator and very effective -- she's got the highest popularity ratings of anybody in the White House. I think that says a lot about her.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BRAZILE: And she's traveled around the world, and this has been one of her passions. And I remember back in 2006, when she brought international attention when she reached out to United States senators, female United States senators. So I applaud what the first lady is doing, and I hope those of us who can afford to send money to the Red Cross and other entities will help as well.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the vice presidential guessing game right now.

Bill Kristol writing in "The New York Times" today -- says, "In separate conversations last week, no fewer than four McCain staffers and advisers mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick the 36- year-old Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal. They're tempted by the idea of picking someone so young, with real accomplishments, and a strong reformist streak."

I spoke with him a few months ago in Louisiana. He suggested to me he really was flattered but not -- not interested. Didn't think this was going to happen.

What do you think?

FEEHERY: It's a possibility. I mean, Donna's very close to him. He's a very, very smart guy, very effective, very young, but very, very effective and very much of a reformer.

It would be kind of an out-of-the-box choice. You know, I think there's a lot of people making a lot of thoughts that this might be a trial balloon. The fact is he's actually a real smart governor. I think he's got some time to kind of get some seasoning under his belt, but you never know.

BLITZER: He's very popular in Louisiana. He's out campaigning now with John McCain. But a couple months ago when I was down there at the NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans, he wasn't ready to commit even then.

BRAZILE: Well, I think Governor Jindal has signed up to do a very important job in Louisiana. And speaking of cyclones, he signed up to help with the recovery effort. He is doing a fantastic job on ethics reform. Of course trying to make inroads into fixing our public schools down in the state.

So, I think right now the governor is going to keep his focus on Louisiana, but he would be a great choice to help balance that Republican ticket.

BLITZER: And Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive over at HP, Hewlett-Packard, she's out campaigning with him as well. She was here in THE SITUATION ROOM last week, a woman.

What do you think?

FEEHERY: Definitely another possibility. I think the McCain people are looking, OK, who would be the out-of-the-box choice, who would be someone different than a senator, who would kind of bring different elements to the ticket, who would bring some real businesses experience, what she brings, a real reformists experience, and that he brings? You know, I think that this shows that the field is really wide open for the vice presidential choices. BRAZILE: Well, I'm glad the Republicans are putting women and people of color on their ticket. It's a sign of a new day. Just hopefully they won't go back to what happened two days ago in Louisiana, where they ran ads using Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi's picture, and the Democratic Party was able to beat them in a district hailed by Republicans for 33 years.

BLITZER: That was a big win for the Democrats in Louisiana.

BRAZILE: My family's now voting in that district. I just want to let you know, my family voted for Don Cazayoux.

BLITZER: All right. That's a big win for Donna.

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: OK, guys. Thanks very much.

Barack Obama gets another presidential endorsement. It's from an award-winning and very popular actor. You're going to want to hear who that is and the unique way that actor made the announcement.

Also, would saving money on gas prices wind up costing you in other ways? We're looking at the debate over suspending the federal gas tax -- what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama say and what suspending that tax would really mean, coming up, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On our political ticker, the actor Tom Hanks is declaring his support for Barack Obama's presidential bid. Hanks announced his choice on his MySpace page online. Hank says history will be made no matter who wins in November, but he says he wants Obama to be president of a country that once declared African- Americans to be just three-fifths of a human being.

A new endorsement for Hillary Clinton could help her drive for votes in Indiana's primary tomorrow. It comes from the first woman to earn a poll (ph) position at an Indy race car event. That would be Sarah Fisher. She says she and Clinton share a commitment to achieving goals, leaving roadblocks behind, and refusing to be knocked down.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out That's where you can read my daily blog posts. I filed one just before the show.

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

CAFFERTY: Do you have a page on MySpace?

BLITZER: No, I don't.

CAFFERTY: I don't either.

What did you write your thing about?

BLITZER: I've got enough pages at


BLITZER: You've got "The Cafferty File."

CAFFERTY: What did you write your blog about?

BLITZER: I wrote about how important the loser in this Democratic race is going to be.

CAFFERTY: Really? That sounds interesting.

BLITZER: I think --

CAFFERTY: Let me just read this and I'll go right in and check it out.

BLITZER: Please. Thank you.

CAFFERTY: All right.

The question this hour is: Considering Barack Obama's lead, how important are Indiana and North Carolina.

Columbus writes: "Indiana and North Carolina are very important to Mr. Obama. Winning both these states will show he has rebounded from wounds, some of them self-inflicted, that slowed his progress in the polls. I believe the media have been much harder on Mr. Obama than Ms. Clinton; however, if he wants to demonstrate his battle readiness, he must win some wars."

Arnold in West Virginia: "I think Hillary will probably win Indiana by single digits. Obama will win North Carolina in higher single digits. He'll end the day with a net gain in delegates, which makes her the loser."

Liz in California: "I just love your viewers who keep complimenting you on your impartial reporting."

Me too.

"If you didn't have something negative to say about the Clintons every day, it would be a slow news day for you. Contrary to your belief, there are many Hillary supporters out there who would love to see her beat McCain come November. And based on everything we've seen and heard the last several weeks, she's the only one who can do it."

Mark in Oklahoma City writes: "If Clinton could win both states, she'd become a real contender despite the delegate count. If Obama wins both states, say bye-bye to Hillary."

Liz in San Diego: "Only the media pretends this race is still a contest. Those of us who can do math know that we're just humoring Hillary. The media has become very one-sided trying to keep the contest alive. But I think they're turning off a lot of loyal viewers in the process. Please stop treating us like we're idiots."

And John writes from Indiana: "Jack, Indiana's never been important. Not even to those of us who live here."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to, which is where my blog be at, and you can look for your e-mail there.

We post hundreds of them every day.

I'm going to go read your thing now.

BLITZER: Thanks. And I think Indiana is very important.

All right, Jack. Thank you.

CAFFERTY: I do too.

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

Happening now, push comes to shove in a pair of crucial primary states. On this, the eve of the balloting, there are new signs Hillary Clinton is gaining some strength right now. Can Barack Obama hold his ground tomorrow?

A killer storm claims more than 10,000 lives. Reclusive military rulers make a desperate appeal to the outside world for help, but they also get a tongue-lashing from the first lady, Laura Bush.

And as gas prices skyrocket, the candidates argue over whether tax payers, re-voters (ph) should get a summertime break.

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