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West Virginia Primary: Clinton Counting on Big Win; Rescue Mission Continues in China as Thousands Remained Trapped; Pro-McCain Pastor States Regrets

Aired May 13, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the first exit polls only minutes away in West Virginia, where Hillary Clinton is looking for a big win. It may not raise her odds of gaining the nomination, but it may raise new concerns in the Barack Obama camp. Obama may have to patch up some holes in his Democrat support. But he's already looking ahead with a speech next hour in an important November swing state.

We're going to go there live.

And a desperate rescue effort in China, where troops are now mobilized to pull people from the rubble of a massive earthquake. At least 12,000 people are dead, thousands more still trapped.

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

Voting ends in two-and-a-half hours, but the first exit polls are just minutes away in West Virginia, where Hillary Clinton is planning a victory celebration. Her solid support among blue collar, white voters should bring her a solid win.

But is it too little too late?

Twenty-eight delegates are at stake today. Even if Senator Clinton wins big, the delegate math will still favor Senator Obama as this primary season winds down.

After West Virginia, there are five more Democratic contests and 189 pledged delegates up for grabs.

CNN's Sean Callebs is joining us now from West Virginia.

The turnout, we understand, is, what, record numbers of people showing up today -- Sean?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Healthy numbers of people.

We talked to the state -- they're not saying it's exactly record numbers, but they're saying it's good. We're here in front of Chamberlain Elementary School in Kanawha City. A steady stream of voters have been going in and out. And Hillary Clinton is poised for what could be a significant victory for her here in the State of West Virginia. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CALLEBS (voice-over): Senator Clinton may have been in Washington, but had West Virginia on her mind.

And her chances for her expected boost there?


CALLEBS: In contrast, a casual Senator Obama was relaxed and had all but conceded West Virginia to Clinton.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm just trying to get a workout right now.

CALLEBS: Later on the floor, he paid his respects to West Virginia's elder statesman, Senator Robert Byrd. Then Obama headed for Missouri, expected to be a key battleground state in the fall general election. But today, West Virginia remains Hillary Clinton's focus.

CLINTON: Now, there were some folks who didn't want us to keep going until we got to West Virginia. They wanted to say West Virginia doesn't matter. I don't think they understand West Virginia or politics.

OBAMA: We've got Kentucky coming up, Montana, South Dakota. And so there are some stops that we made a decision to make. In Oregon -- I've been in Oregon more than they have.

CALLEBS: Obama clearly looking beyond West Virginia -- a state where the demographics favor Hillary Clinton and at the same time, could expose what some Democrats consider Obama's weakness -- the ability to win working class and older voters.

(on-camera): Is West Virginia the kind of state that won't vote for an African-American?

Do you find that to be the case?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope not. I'd be ashamed of them if they were.


CALLEBS: Now, Hillary Clinton will be here in Charleston this evening, poised for what she expects will be a victory celebration. Barack Obama won't be. He's focusing on what will be key swing states in the upcoming general election.

One interesting note, although Barack Obama didn't campaign here much, Wolf, he did outspend Hillary Clinton by a margin of about 2-1.

BLITZER: He's been outspending her a lot in several of these states for the simple reason he's got a lot more money available.

All right, Sean, thanks very much.

Barack Obama already looking ahead. He's got a town hall appearance in the next hour with workers in a crucial November swing state.

We're going to take you there live to hear what he's saying on this important day. Much more coming up on the West Virginia primary and the race for the White House.

But there are also new developments underway right now in China's Sichuan Province reeling from the magnitude 7.9 earthquake that devastated the area yesterday.

Take a look at this video that's just been released, showing how the disaster unfolded at the region's main airport. You can see the panic and the damage the quake caused there. Thousands of Chinese troops are pouring into the quake zone, where they're facing a daunting, daunting task.

The death toll now has topped 12,000 people, with more than 26,000 reported injured. Thousands remain missing, many buried under collapsed buildings. And one local official reports more than three million homes have been destroyed. Among the collapsed buildings, a school with hundreds of students inside.

CNN's Carol Costello is monitoring this story for us. She's joining us now.

Carol, what's the -- what's the latest on this dramatic effort that's now underway?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, it's heartbreaking. Rescue workers are digging. They're looking for survivors. It is perhaps especially sad at that middle school, where hundreds of children could be buried in the rubble. The pictures -- well, they'll tear your heart out.


COSTELLO (voice-over): One after another, young victims are brought out of a rubble at a middle school in China. Anguished loved ones wait outside, while rescuers tackle the rooms. The news is often devastating, according to eyewitness Jamil Anderlini of "The Financial Times".

JAMIL ANDERLINI, "FINANCIAL TIMES": There were screaming parents. And as the bodies would come out, the parents were trying to identify whether it was their child or not. And once they -- the parents realized it was their child, you know, obviously, they collapsed in grief. It was a it was very, very shocking thing to watch.

COSTELLO: Others still wait, hoping -- desperate for good news. The Juyuan Middle School (ph) in China's Sichuan Province is dozens of miles from the epicenter of Monday's powerful quake. Still, it collapsed, with as many as 900 students inside. One boy's body is found inside with his small hand still clutching a pen. Each grim discovery is marked by a startling sound used to ward off evil spirits.

ANDERLINI: And the fireworks were actually the sign that they found another child. And every 10 minutes or so, the fireworks would be let off and then the soldiers would carry out a body.

COSTELLO: Still, the rescue effort is not without miracles. One survivor is carefully handed out on a stretcher by rescuers. As families head into a second night's vigil in a miserable rain, prayers for survivors and prayers for the departed.


COSTELLO: And, Wolf, as of this morning, 60 bodies have been recovered. But so far, that girl who was rescued is the only known survivor.

BLITZER: Carol, what a story.

Thanks very much.

We're also watching the I-Reports coming in. We're getting some powerful, powerful images showing the aftermath of this earthquake.

Abbi Tatton is watching this story for us -- Abbi, what do we know?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's night No. 2 now. And the pictures we've been getting in are of people who are too scared to return home. These pictures here from Jia Lei, who sent an entire set of people -- family after family trying to find anywhere that they can call home for the night.

Take a look at some of these that we've been getting in here from this photojournalism student. He said that people are scared of the aftershocks, don't want to return home and those that did return home -- take a look at this man here -- an old man let out of his house at 4:00 a.m. after there was another aftershock.

Moving on to the hard-hit Sichuan Province here, this, Sichuan University. The field there turned into a tent city. Ben Gisler (ph) reports that these people are looking for any open space away from tall buildings. They don't want to be near the tall buildings. Ben himself was on the 17th floor when the earthquake struck. He said it felt like the whole building was moving around. More of these photos at -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story, Abbi.

Thank you.

All right, we're just getting in the first exit poll numbers from West Virginia.

Bill Schneider has been going through them for us. What are on the minds of voters today -- Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No great mystery here. We asked the voters in West Virginia, what was the most important issue to you in making up your mind -- the economy, the war in Iraq or health care?

No contest. The economy clearly predominated. Nearly two-thirds of the voters of West Virginia -- 64 percent -- said the economy was the number one issue. Iraq was far behind, with just 19 percent. And health care just below that at 14 percent.

The rule in politics is when the economy is bad, the economy is the issue.

How bad was the economy?

Well, we asked them, how has the recession affected you?

Forty-five percent of the Democrats in West Virginia said that -- just about half -- said it's affecting me and my family a great deal. And almost as many said they've been somewhat affected by the recession. Only 11 percent said they had not been affected much or not at all. So clearly, Wolf, the economy is not good and the economy is the issue.

BLITZER: As we've been saying, it's issue number one. I know you're going through more numbers. We'll share those with our viewers as soon as they come in.

Thanks very much, Bill.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Americans are a gloomy bunch these days, according to the new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll. Eighty-two percent of us think the country is headed into the wrong direction. That's the highest percentage of people who feel that way in more than 15 years.

President Bush's job approval rating -- another all time record low. It's been below 50 percent for 38 consecutive months, more than three years. People overwhelmingly say they trust Democrats over the Republicans 53 to 32 percent to do a better job with the many problems facing the United States.

All of which paints a pretty grim picture for John McCain. He's a Republican, President Bush's buddy. So far, McCain has found a way to escape some of the anger facing the Republicans. In a hypothetical match-up with Barack Obama, McCain remains competitive, trailing 51 to 44 percent. But you can bet that Barack Obama and the Democrats will do everything they can to exploit the discontent that's felt by many Americans.

In fact, Obama runs more than 20 points ahead of McCain among those 82 percent in the poll who think the country's going in the wrong direction. And 70 percent of those who disapprove of President Bush say they will back Obama over McCain. Obama also holds double digit leads over McCain on issues like health care, gasoline prices and the economy, while McCain has a 21-point lead in handling terrorism. Surprisingly, the two run almost even on the Iraq War and on immigration.

So here's the question: Considering 82 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, 66 percent disapprove of President Bush, what are the chances John McCain wins in November?

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

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.

Thanks very much.

A little more than two-and-a-half hours until the first votes are actually counted. We're going to have more, though, of the brand new exit poll numbers coming into THE SITUATION ROOM -- how people voted and why. That's coming up.

Also, the nation is divided between the two Democratic candidates.

So why do polls show Clinton so far ahead in West Virginia?

The governor of that state is standing by live. We'll speak with him.

And later, a controversial pastor and McCain supporter is now saying he's sorry. He's expressing regret. Democrats, though, say it's not enough.

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


BLITZER: More exit poll numbers coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Bill Schneider is going through them.

What are we picking up -- Bill?

SCHNEIDER: Well, we asked the voters in West Virginia, the Democrats, what they thought of the idea that Hillary Clinton brought up -- and John McCain -- of suspending the federal gas tax for the summer.

What did her supporters say when they thought of this idea?

Good idea they told us. Seventy-two percent thought it was a good idea. Just 24 percent said it was a bad idea.

How about the Obama voters? He was the one candidate who opposed the suspension of the gas tax and a majority of his voters said it was a bad idea -- it is a bad idea, 54 percent. But look at that, 43 percent of Obama voters said, you know, we think it's a pretty good idea, too. So it appears to be an idea that cuts across the candidates -- the idea of suspending the gas tax for the summer, because they are looking for some relief from those high gas prices -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of people would like some relief.

All right, thanks very much, Bill, for that.

Joining us now, the governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin. He's a Democratic superdelegate. He has not endorsed any candidate yet.

Governor, thanks very much for joining us on this day.

GOV. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Why haven't you endorsed Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton?

MANCHIN: Well, there's three reasons. But, first of all, it's a great day -- an exciting day to be a Democrat in West Virginia. It's been 48 years since we've had this type of a play in the national -- the national media, if you will. And West Virginia is excited about this. And I wanted to make sure they were unencumbered. And, also, I'm running for myself as a Democrat in the primary. I'm also chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, Wolf.

There's 26 of us -- or 28 Democrat governors. Twenty-two have already announced who they support and there's six of us still uncommitted. And there's a time we'll all have to come together. And I just -- I want everybody to enjoy it. It's an exciting time.

BLITZER: If she carries your state tonight, as all the polls suggest she will, in a rather decisive way, would that encourage you, as a superdelegate, to cast your ballot for her?

MANCHIN: Well, I definitely wanted to wait until my state voted. But I'd like to also wait. I'd like to wait until June the 3rd, until all the states have voted. It's only three or four more weeks. And that's going to come very quickly. And then, at that time, we should all sit down and we'll work this out.

BLITZER: The rest of the country -- at least large portions of it, governor -- are pretty much split when it comes to Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama. But it's very different in your state, in West Virginia, where she, by all accounts, is going to win in a landslide.

How do you explain that?

MANCHIN: Well, Wolf, first of all, President Clinton, for eight years, was well loved in West Virginia. He spent time here. They know him. They're comfortable. Hillary has spent a lot time here. They've worked it very hard. So it's a comfort level, I would say.

Also, Barack is new. But he's come here. He has 11 different setups around the state -- different headquarters. And he's working hard, building his base and building a foundation. So I think it's a comfort.

You know, West Virginians, I've said, these people, hardworking people, the best the country, have a Ph.D. In life. They can read and they want to make sure they touch you, see you, look at you and talk to you.

BLITZER: Bill Clinton carried West Virginia twice. That helped him become president of the United States. But Al Gore lost West Virginia. Had he carried it, he would have been president.

John Kerry lost West Virginia.

If Barack Obama loses decisively tonight in West Virginia, how worried are you -- if he becomes the Democratic nominee -- that he'll have a lot of trouble against John McCain in West Virginia?

MANCHIN: Well, I've spoke to Barack about this and we've talked about it. And I told him if he is our nominee, I'm going to do everything I can. This nation needs to change and we need change at the top as a Democrat. And also for the sake of this state and the sake of the world, really.

So we're going to do all we can. We're going to have to come and do a lot of work. People have to get to know Barack. And I think once they do, they're going to like him. Right now, they're in love with Hillary. They like her, they know her and they feel comfortable with her.

BLITZER: Did you -- are you disappointed that he really didn't spend more time in West Virginia getting to know the people there?

MANCHIN: Well, I know that these are demanding times and I know the campaigns. He's had a good ground force here, so he's built a good base. Sure, we always want to see the candidate. As I've said before, it's so exciting. It's the first time in 48 years that West Virginia, with our late primary, has had any play whatsoever. So I'm sure the other four states are looking as forward as we have, whether it be our good friends in Kentucky, Oregon or out in Montana and South Dakota. And on June the 3rd and when that's done and they had their exciting day, then we'll move from there.

BLITZER: Governor Joe Manchin of West Virginia, thanks for coming in.

MANCHIN: Thank you, Wolf.

Appreciate it.

BLITZER: And we're only minutes away from more exit poll numbers coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Bill Schneider and his team, they're going through them right now. We're that to share you more of these exit polls in just a few moments.

Also, we'll have the latest on those Florida wildfires. You're going to find out what's happening on the fire lines right now.

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


BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming in to THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what's going on?

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, around the world, at least 60 people are dead in a series of explosions in Northwest India. The government there calling it a terror attack, although no one is claiming responsibility. There were seven blasts within about 12 minutes in the City of Jaipur. An eighth bomb was diffused. One hundred fifty people were injured.

A U.S. admiral delivering aid to Myanmar says the country's military rules are showing "less than very serious concerns for cyclone victims." Admiral Timothy Keating tells CNN the junta members he's met with say they're getting back to normal. Only three U.S. planes carrying about 70,000 pounds of supplies have been allowed into the country.

Crews are making progress against those Florida wildfires, with the majority of them now surrounded. But flare-ups continue. And if the winds pick up again, well, the situation could worsen quickly. Seventeen thousand acres have been burned and about 100 homes suffered some degree of damage. Arson is suspected in some of the fires and a $10,000 reward is now being offered.

And they're accused of plotting the 9/11 terror attacks. Now, they could be facing the death penalty. A military judge has approved charges against five Guantanamo detainees, including alleged terrorist mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Charges were rejected against a sixth man suspected of planning to be a 20th hijacker. He remains in custody as an enemy combatant.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much.

Carol Costello reporting.

Hillary Clinton at a crossroads -- there are growing calls for her to cede the Democratic race to Barack Obama. You're going to find out why her most loyal supporters say absolutely no.

And we'll talk about that and more with our political contributors James Carville and Bill Bennett. They're both standing by live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, President Bush leaving on his second visit in just four months to the Middle East, hoping to prod along peace efforts between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He'll also be meeting with leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

The House is expected to vote soon on temporarily halting additions to the Strategic Oil Reserve in an effort to ease gas prices. The move opposed by the president. The Senate approved a similar measure 97-1.

And the defense secretary, Robert Gates, says the country has to focus in on the war we're in. And we're winning it, he says. He says Iraq must take precedence over worrying about potential future conflicts.

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

More exit poll numbers coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Let's head over to Bill Schneider right away for the latest numbers.

What are we learning about these voters, Bill, in West Virginia?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Wolf, the gender gap, which was a feature early on, seemed to disappear in the last few weeks. The gender gap is certainly back in this race between a man and a woman.

Take a look at the Clinton voters in West Virginia. What this shows, 55 percent of her supporters are women, 45 percent men.

How about the Obama voters?

Just about the reverse. Fifty-seven percent of Obama supporters were men, 43 percent women.

So it looks like the gender gap, long a feature of politics between Democrats and Republicans, has now entered the Democratic primaries between a man and a woman -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thank you.

I know you're crunching more numbers and we'll share those with our viewers as they come in.

Hillary Clinton may have reached a crossroads on this campaign trail, but should that mean the end of the line?

CNN's Brian Todd has been watching this story for us -- Brian, some Democrats are worried about where all of this is heading.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're growing more nervous, Wolf, and their concern may relate directly to how long Mrs. Clinton stays in this race. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Pressing on amid increased concern about a fractured party -- while Hillary Clinton vows to fight the remaining primaries, a new "USA Today"/Gallup Poll shows 55 percent of Democrats surveyed say both she and Barack Obama should stay in the race. But 35 percent now believe Senator Clinton should pull out -- a jump of 12 percentage points in a week.

MARK HALPERIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Given the overwhelming press coverage which is suggesting that Hillary Clinton should end the race, it's amazing to me that that many Democrats think she should keep going and not at all a surprise that more Democrats don't think she should end her bid.

TODD: Analysts say the longer Senator Clinton stays in, the more nervous Democrats are getting about party unity heading toward the August convention. Now, former Democratic nominee George McGovern takes a stab at unifying. Just last week, McGovern said Mrs. Clinton, who worked for his presidential campaign in 1972, should pull out and he endorsed Obama.

Now, McGovern writes an op-ed in "The New York Times" saying the two Democrats should make joint appearances at the five remaining primary sites after West Virginia, should agree not to criticize each other and simply lay out their agendas.

McGovern warns of a situation like the one he faced in 1972. When he says the candidates he defeated in the California primary led by Hubert Humphrey tried to get some of his delegates assigned proportionally instead of letting the winner take all.

McGovern tells us he had to spend a huge amount of energy before that convention just trying to hold on to his delegates.

GEORGE MCGOVERN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We went in to that convention, with no time to devote to picking a running mate and having them properly vetted. We had no time to plan for an orderly convention, and we paid a heavy price for that. I don't want that to happen this year.


TODD: We ran McGovern's new idea past the Clinton and Obama campaigns. A Clinton aide called it interesting and said they would consider it. Obama's team said there have been no talks about joint appearances, says that Obama plans to campaign on his own in South Dakota this Friday as he'd planned -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thank you. Thank you very much, Brian.

Is the handwriting on the wall, though, for Hillary Clinton? Let's discuss this and more. Joining us from Hartford, Connecticut, Democratic strategist, James Carville. He's a Clinton supporter.

And from Washington, our CNN political contributor Bill Bennett. He's the conservative host of "Morning in America," a national radio talk show host. I assume a John McCain supporter, but correct me if I'm wrong.

I don't know if I'm hearing Bill Bennett, but let me start off with James Carville, but he was nodding in agreement.

James, you made a little news I take it down in South Carolina suggesting that it's all but over. What exactly did you say and what did you mean?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think what I said is that it was Senator Obama was the likely nominee, which I think everybody in a non-lobotomized world agrees with. I mean it would be kind of ridiculous not to say that. I certainly said he was the certain nominee. I can't imagine how anybody would find that revelation shocking, but that is what I said in South Carolina.

BLITZER: Do you still see a scenario in which she can be the nominee?

CARVILLE: Probably any -- you know, sure you can you know let's see what happens tonight. My sense is that she's very entitled to, her supporters want her to, I'd like to see it. I think she'll carry this through the end of the primary thing and we'll see where the popular vote is. You don't know. Anything can happen in politics. I think she's a hard fighter.

You know, these give-up Democrats, they always want to quit on everything. I think she ought to see this through. I have no doubt that when this process is over the party's going to be unified. I have no doubt we're going to Denver unified. I've said 1,000 times that if Senator Obama is the nominee, that myself and everybody I know would be 1,000 percent behind him.

But I think Senator Clinton is entitled to stay in the race as long as she wants to. I think her supporters like me want to see her do as well as she possibly can and other people. I don't why it makes news to say Obama is the likely nominee. Of course, he is. The chances for him to be the nominee are greater than Senator Clinton right now.

BLITZER: I don't know. We may be having some audio problems with Bill Bennett but if we're, I'd love for you to weigh in.

What is your assessment, Bill?


BLITZER: Now I hear you fine.


Well my assessment is that, frame this picture, Bill and James agree. There's no ignominy with her going on and going forward. No ignominy losing a very close fight. She's wracked up a ton of delegates. She's wracked up a ton of votes. She's going to win tonight, probably very big. As James said, anything can happen.

Look, there's one thing, I hate to admit it but it keeps the two of them sharp. It keeps their edge. It keeps John McCain basically out of the news because of all the excitement is on the Democrats' side.

And, again, you know, I was reminded, I was reading old newspaper clips, Wolf, 1980, "Washington Post" writing about Ted Kennedy, saying he was just going to labor on. He was just going to keep going even though it looked like President Carter was inevitable. There was no shame and now embarrassment in that and she continues to get her message out and makes her point. And there are an awful lot of people who support her who don't want her to go and there are people who want to vote for her that haven't had a chance yet.

BLITZER: There's no doubt, James, correct me if you think I'm wrong, he is a much better campaigner, a much better politician, a much better contender today than he was, what, 16 months ago when this whole thing started given the intensity of this battle.

CARVILLE: I think so. And I think she's much better. I think if she was good early in the campaign, she was today, I might be saying that she is the likely nominee. And I -- one of the things that Secretary Bennett said I completely agree with, her supporters and I am one of them, but a lot of supporters, they don't want her, this kind of quit-it is (ph) of the Democratic Party, that's part of the problem. I'm a big believer that you see things through and I'm a big believer that we're going to be unified.

But I'm a great admirer. I think that she's showing the people a side of her that people that knew her always knew and the people that didn't are getting ready on see it. That is that she's a real fighter and she's won a lot of votes. There's not going to be any shame if she doesn't win this. I guess Washington is just a lot of people in the news media and a lot of people around the Capitol are just flapping their jaws.

BLITZER: I think James makes a good point, Bill. You know the pundits, a lot of the pundits have basically said it's all over. But, you know, you go to a state outside the beltway like West Virginia --


BLITZER: -- where a lot of rank-and-file, working-class people, they're saying it's not over and they're voting presumably overwhelmingly for her today. They're not paying attention to a lot of the pundits.

BENNETT: Yes, it's actually the way democracy works supposedly is that people get to vote, and they decide the, not the pundit, as powerful as the pundit think they are.

I'd go a little -- a little further even than James, Wolf. I think she's at her best right now. I think she has really found her voice, very strong. And notice, one of the things that's happened as a result, Bill Clinton is far in the background. Remember we were all talking about the two Clintons and the co-presidency, again. And he's whispering in her ear. He's nowhere to be seen. She's coming on very strong.

I would say I think actually Obama is not as strong as he was two months ago. He was knocked off stride. He's a terrific politician and he's a great political athlete. But I don't think he's as strong as he was two months ago. I think she is stronger. And the is one of the reasons a lot of us would rather run against Barack Obama right now than Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: What do you think, James?

CARVILLE: I think -- I think it would be fair to Senator Obama, I think he -- the point is are well made. He has gotten better as this has come on. He's become -- I think we have two really extraordinary candidates. These Democrats are fired up. They're out there voting and I think the -- this is quite a moment for the Democratic Party is that we have a very close race. At first woman to, you know, go this far, the first African-Americans, I think Democrats have a lot to be proud of.

I don't think -- I think quitting is not the way that Democrats ought to go about this. I think we're going to see this thing through, and I think it will -- that will make us stronger.

BLITZER: James, is he doing the right thing, Obama, going on already to Missouri tomorrow, Michigan, he's going to Florida. He's already leapfrogging looking towards November as opposed to trying to wrap it up right now.

CARVILLE: You know, I can understand that. But by the same token West Virginia is a state that we used to win consistently. You're right; it was an unfavorable state for him. If I was him, I would have considered making an appearance and saying, you know, regardless I'm going to come back and we're going to talk to you in September and in October here in the general election. But I guess at a point that he's under pressure from his supporters to go on and to give the appearances that he has the certain nominee, I described him, I think, quite accurately as the likely nominee.

BLITZER: What do you think, Bill?

BENNETT: Well, you know, I think it's fine. Look, the guy does need to engage, start to think about that general election. He is still as the world goes, as records go, a relatively inexperienced political candidate. So, they want him to start cutting his teeth, thinking of this as a national campaign against a Republican. One understands him as the likely candidate, it makes some sense. But happily, you know, punditry doesn't decide this, the voters do and things can still happen.

CARVILLE: Yes, yes.

BLITZER: Two of the best pundits out there. Thanks very much, guys, for coming in.

CARVILLE: Thank you, appreciate it.

BENNETT: Thank you.

BLITZER: A pro-McCain pastor expresses regret. Pastor John Hagee makes his comments to the Catholic Church for his inflammatory remarks. Will that take the heat off of John McCain?

And the spotlight as we've been saying on West Virginia right now, why Hillary Clinton says it highlights the trouble Barack Obama might have in a national election. John King is standing by as the CNN multi-touch wall to explain.

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


BLITZER: Hillary Clinton and her supporters argue that West Virginia's a good example of why Barack Obama may have trouble winning in November. Let's go back to our chief national correspondent, John King. He's here, at what we like to call the magic map.

All right, show us what's going on in West Virginia right now.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a state, Wolf, based on everything else we've seen in the Democratic primaries. The dark blue is Obama. The light blue is Clinton. Based on all of the demographics, this is a state that Senator Clinton should win and big. Why? It's among the oldest state in the country. It is among the most whitest states in the country, only a 3 percent African- American population.

Watch this area here tonight. This is key to Senator Clinton's argument that she is a stronger Democratic nominee heading into the fall.

Now, these are the five largest cities, Morgantown, Charleston, Huntington and Parkersburg and Wheeling. These towns along the Ohio River are where most of the people in West Virginia live.

Let's go back in time a little bit. This is 2004. George W. Bush wins the state of West Virginia 56 percent to 43 percent. And he wins largely by winning along the counties right here. It turns it into a red state.

Let's go back in time to 1996. Look at how Bill Clinton did. The blue is the Democrats. Bill Clinton won most of these communities, not all, but most of these communities. In Hillary Clinton's case to Democrats, especially superdelegates, is I'm stronger. I can win the white, working-class voters along here and she will make the case it's not just in West Virginia.

A big win tonight is not an aberration. She will argue that look over here in Ohio this is back when Bill Clinton won the state in 1997, back in 1996, she'll say look at 2000, it was a Republican state for George Bush, and in 2004, a Republican state for George W. Bush, but in the Democratic primaries this year, Senator Clinton will say look, I can win especially out in these rural areas in small town America where the Republicans run up the big numbers.

The delegate math so much of the math is stacked against Senator Clinton. Her last hope is to convince the superdelegates think about November. She will try to turn a big win in West Virginia tonight into that argument.

Senator Obama says I understand West Virginia is yours. But you see him already tonight and in the coming days going to other states, not West Virginia, Missouri, and Michigan, to try to address what is certainly a big weakness with white, working-class voters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John, thanks.

Don't go away. We're coming back to you.

The evangelical Pastor John Hagee who backs John McCain is expressing regret today for Catholics for a number of inflammatory comments. Hagee has referred to the Roman Catholic Church, and I'm quoting now, as the great whore. And he's suggested that catholic anti-Semitism shaped Adolph Hitler's views of Jews. Those remarks have caused McCain to feel some heat in recent months.

Let's go live to CNN's Dana Bash. She's covering the McCain campaign for us.

All right, lots of controversy out there. What's the latest? What's the reaction from the McCain campaign to all of Pastor Hagee's latest comments?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think I should begin to answer that by reading some of Pastor Hagee's letter to the president of the catholic league, William Donohue, and I'll start by reading a couple of quotes. "In my zeal to oppose anti- Semitism and bigotry in all its ugly forms, I have often emphasized the darkest chapters in the history of Catholic and Protestant relations with the Jews."

Another quote from the letter that Pastor Hagee wrote, "Out of a desire to advance a greater unity among Catholics and evangelicals in promoting the common good, I want to express my deepest regret for any comments that the Catholics have found hurtful."

That was Pastor Hagee's letter of apology to again the president of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue.

I spoke to Mr. Donohue earlier today who said that he had sought out Pastor Hagee for quite some time for a private meeting and that he refused until Pastor Hagee wrote this kind of public apology. Mr. Donohue said he was very happy. He said he got what he wanted. In fact, the two will meet on Thursday.


BILL DONOHUE, PRES. CATHOLIC LEAGUE: As far as I am concerned, this letter is dramatic. It does, in fact, put the issue to rest for me. And now I am prepared to meet with him. BASH: So you do accept his apology?

DONOHUE: Yes, I absolutely accept his apology. And I think it's -- it took a lot of courage to write what he did.


BASH: Now, politically, obviously the main reason why we're talking about this story is that this has been a huge headache for John McCain ever since his campaign sought out and got Pastor Hagee's endorsement in their effort to reach out to evangelicals.

You remember, though, some of his controversial comments, Pastor Hagee's comments, Wolf, weren't just about Catholics, they were also about, for example, New Orleans, saying that that city suffered god's punishment for some of its sins. There are still an awful lot of controversial comments still out there from Pastor Hagee, Wolf

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Dana.

A quick reaction from the McCain campaign, what are they saying about these latest comments?

BASH: We just asked Senator McCain about it a short while ago. And he basically said it was a sense of reconciliation. He made a relation to his reconciliation with the anti-war movement after Vietnam. Even the Vietnamese.

Listen to what he said.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've said many times I accepted his endorsement. I didn't endorse everything that he said. The point is that the fact that he has made an apology, I think, is very helpful. Whenever someone apologizes for something they did wrong, then I think that that's a laudable thing to do.


BASH: Now, remember, Wolf, Senator McCain has condemned some of those controversial comments that Pastor Hagee made, but he has not rejected his endorsement. And it certainly didn't change that today.

One interesting, quick, point he was asked whether or not his campaign had anything to do with this brokering this kind of meeting, reconciliation, with Pastor Hagee and the Catholic League and he said, I certainly wasn't. I certainly wasn't.

And some of his senior aides say that they didn't personally know about anything. So the McCain campaign is fair to say is leaving the door open a little bit to any kind of potential involvement from his campaign and this reconciliation toed with Pastor Hagee and the Catholic League -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Dana, thank you very much. Dana is watching this story for us.

So would Hillary Clinton supporters vote for Barack Obama if he were the nominee? We asked voters in West Virginia that question. Those results are coming up. The latest exit poll numbers.

And we're only minutes away from a speech by Barack Obama in a crucial November swing state. We're going to go there live. You're going to hear it right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's get another update on the West Virginia exit polls that are now coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll go back to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

What do you have, Bill?

SCHNEIDER: Well, some sobering news for the Democratic Party. These are all West Virginia Democrats voting in this primary. We asked them how would they vote in November.

First of all, how would the Obama voters choose if the November election were between Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

And the answer is -- a majority, but only a bare majority, would vote for Hillary Clinton. Those are the orange group over on the right. About half of the Obama voters say they either would vote for John McCain, who would get one-third of these votes, and, remember they're all Democrats, and another 14 percent said they wouldn't vote or would vote 4 percent for someone else. So a bare majority say they would vote for Hillary Clinton.

How about the Hillary Clinton voters? Would they vote for Obama for president?

And this is the sobering news. Just 36 percent, just over one- third, of Obama supporters, Clinton supporters, in West Virginia, say that they would vote for Barack Obama in a race against John McCain. In fact, it's just about a tie. Obama, 36 percent. McCain, 35 percent. And 29 percent say they wouldn't vote or would vote for someone else.

So, it looks like if Obama becomes the nominee, he's going to have quite a struggle with John McCain to carry West Virginia for the Democrats -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's a very, very sobering number. We're going to be discussing more on that.

Bill, thank you.

In our Political Ticker there's another vote happening right now that may be a sign of things to come. It's a special election in Mississippi that's attracting a lot of national attention.

Mary Snow is following this story for us.

Mary, why is this race so important?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a very tight race and it's putting Democrats to the test to see if they can continue a winning streak. It's also testing Republicans to see if they will hold on to a congress seat they've had for 14 years.


SNOW: Mississippi's hotly contested special election race between Democrat Travis Childers and Republican Greg Davis is being watched for what it may say about November's presidential election. Underscoring the high stakes, Vice President Dick Cheney campaigned for Republican Davis Monday, in district one, a district that voted overwhelmingly for George Bush in 2004. Political observers say it's a sign of how nervous Republicans are about a Democratic upset.

MARY WISEMAN, MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY: The Republicans would like to stop them in their tracks right here and the Democrats are feeling renewed vigor in having a real chance to take this seat.

SNOW: A Democrat win would mark the third Republican congressional seat lost to a Democrat this year in a special election. The first was in March in Illinois to fill a seat vacated by former house speaker Dennis Hastert.

Last week, a Democrat won the Louisiana district that had been Republican since 1970. Former house speaker Newt Gingrich calls that one a "sharp wake-up call for Republicans."

One tactic the Republicans are using in Mississippi, trying to paint the Democratic candidate as a liberal, tied to house speaker Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Travis Childers endorsed by liberal Barack Obama. Obama says Childers will put progress before politics. But when Obama's pastor cursed America, blaming us for 9/11, Childers said nothing.

SNOW: Childers, a Democrat who opposes abortion rights has touted support from conservative Democrats.

TRAVIS CHILDERS, (D) CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE : I'm Travis Childers. This campaign has been one for the book. My family has heard the lies and attacks linking me to politicians I don't know and have never even met.

SNOW: The Republican tactics say some political observers hasn't worked.

STU ROTHENBERG, THE ROTHENBERG REPORT: There's little evidence that the Republicans have been able to nationalize these elections around either Barack Obama or house speaker Nancy Pelosi.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SNOW: Both parties have chipped in to try and influence the outcome in this runoff race. Republicans spent more than $1 million with an additional $500,000 from an outside conservative group. Democrats spent nearly $2 million.

BLITZER: A lot of people are watching this race. We'll watch it as well.

Mary, thank you.

Senator Clinton and Senator Obama ran into each other today on the Senate floor. You're about to see what happened. That's coming up.

Also, we're waiting for Barack Obama's speech in Missouri. It's about to begin.

Stay with us. You'll see it live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack Cafferty -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Considering that 82 percent of Americans think the country's on the wrong track, 66 percent disapprove of President Bush, what are the chances John McCain wins in November?

Roxanne in Minnesota says: "It all depends what he says between now and November. If he sounds just like Bush, his chances are nil to none. If he distances himself from Bush, continues to talk about global warming, other things that really matter, and does not say things like, we'll be in Iraq for 100 years, his chances might be much better."

B. writes from Truckee, California: "Let's hope it does a lot of damage to McCain. But when we go to the polls in November, no matter who the Democratic choice is, we have to turn out all the Republican senators and house members. Otherwise, we have the same old partisan gridlock we have now."

Deb writes from Bow, New Hampshire: "The election should have been a slam dunk for the Democrats. But the fact of Bush's approval rating and 80 percent of the country thinks we're on the wrong track, it's the Democrat's own fault it won't be. The divisiveness of the campaign has seen to that. It could go either way."

Bruce in St. Paul, Minnesota: "Since the real campaign has not started yet, McCain is still seen as a maverick war hero. When the time comes for him to be accountable for his opinions and proposed solutions, he will be in big trouble. He will not be able to repudiate and denounce the party that nominated him. If he tries to go against the grain like he's now doing on global warning, he'll be on the same side as his opponent. It's tricky business." And finally Kristi in Indiana writes: "Let's hope none. McCain is turning out to be like every other Republican politician running for office. He talks a good game, but you can never figure out where he actually stands on anything. If he's talking to Hollywood types, he tells them that he didn't even vote for Bush in 2000. If he's with the right wing, he embraces Bush like a long lost brother. Will the real John McCain please stand up?"

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

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.