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Priest Punished for Speech; Another Superdelegate Switches Sides; Obama Closing in on Nomination

Aired June 3, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, we're only minutes away from the first exit polls on this, the last day of the Democratic primaries. Barack Obama is very close to clinching. Hillary Clinton is not yet conceding. But she may be revising dreams of that so-called dream ticket.

He still has a larger than life image, but Bill Clinton may have overshadowed his wife's presidential effort. What has this campaign done to his own legacy?

And John McCain will steal some of the spotlight later tonight with a prime time speech raising questions about Barack Obama's readiness for the White House.

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

But we begin this hour with breaking news -- new word from Hillary Clinton to her supporters.

Let's go straight to CNN's Jessica Yellin. She's watching all of this unfold from St. Paul, Minnesota.

What do we know, Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Senator Clinton's campaign has sent an e-mail to the surrogates. Those are the people who sometimes speak on her behalf. It seems an attempt to clarify some of the commuters we've been reporting on, comments she made to New York legislators saying she'd be open to considering a V.P. offer.

Well, today, the e-mail says: "Today on a conference call with New York legislators, Senator Clinton was asked about this and she repeated what she has said before -- she would do whatever she could to ensure that Democrats take the White House back and defeat John McCain."

The bottom line here is the Clinton camp is making it clear that this is nothing new, that, in their view, she has not reached out and offered to Barack Obama or suggested to him that she wants to be his V.P. She's reiterated what she has said in the past.

A lot of wiggle room here, a lot of confusion today -- Wolf. BLITZER: And how is the Obama campaign reacting to all of this, Jessica?

YELLIN: The Obama campaign is saying what they have been saying before, which is that they are open to considering, that Senator Clinton would be on anyone's short list and it's premature to consider anyone for the vice presidential slot.

I'll tell you, I've spoken to one -- more than one adviser to the Obama campaign -- who says it is very tricky terrain they're in right now. Certainly, he wouldn't want to offer a vice presidential slot to Senator Clinton and have her turn it down. Certainly, he would want to know what exact -- what her true wishes are. And there's a lot of discussion that has to take place before anything of this nature would even be discussed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thanks very much.

And there's more breaking news we're following involving a priest who gave a speech mocking Hillary Clinton at Barack Obama's former church.

Our political analyst, Roland Martin, is here. He's watching this story for us.

All right, update our viewers on the news that's just coming in.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, Cardinal George in Chicago has asked Father Michael Pfleger to actually step back from his duties as pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church there on the South sigh side of Chicago. Father Pfleger disagrees with the action. Father George noted that in a letter that he released. In fact, he released it to the press before he even sent it to Father Pfleger notifying him of this.

And so he will stepping away from those duties, will not be able do anything as a priest effective immediately. Well, that's even do first communion mass, you name it.

BLITZER: So he's issued this statement.

I want to play that little clip of Father Pfleger that caused this whole commotion...


BLITZER: ...and set in motion the final decision that Barack Obama made over the weekend to leave his long-term church in Chicago.



FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER, FAITH COMMUNITY OF SAINT SABINA: And then out of nowhere came him -- Barack Obama. And she said oh, damn where did you come from? (APPLAUSE)

PFLEGER: I'm white. I'm entitled. There's a black man stealing my show.


BLITZER: And the statement, Roland, it's a pretty specific statement there of Francis Cardinal George, the archbishop of Chicago.

Let me read a couple of sentences for our viewers: "To put recent events in some perspective, I have asked Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina's Parish, to step back from his obligations there and take leave for a couple of weeks from his pastoral duties effective today. Father Pfleger does not believe this to be the right step at this time. While respecting his disagreement, I have nevertheless ask him to use this opportunity to reflect on his recent statements and actions in the light of the church's regulations of all Catholic priests. I hope that this period will also be a time away from the public spotlight and for rest and attention to family concerns."

And then he goes on.

MARTIN: For the folks who -- I mean, who don't know, I mean Father Pfleger is extremely involved in a number of issues in Chicago. For instance, there have been significant killings there of young -- of students, Chicago public school students. He led an effort to begin to raise money in terms -- for $5,000 for (INAUDIBLE) of every kid who was killed in Chicago involved in fighting guns, as well. So he is not someone who is unaccustomed to the public spotlight.

The sermon you just played, the context of that, the United Church of Christ, they had a series of sermons all across the country in their pulpits focusing on the issue of race. That particular sermon dealt with the issue of what he defined as "white entitlement." And so we played some of that last night on Campbell Brown's show.

But when you talk about how racism is so prevalent in America, that's one of the issues there.

The issue, though, is will the members of this church withhold their funds and leave?

He's been there 30 plus years. There's going to be a significant thing to watch out for, how the church membership responds to this. Trust me, they will not be happy because of his long ties to that church.

BLITZER: Is that church predominantly African-American?

MARTIN: Yes, it is.

BLITZER: Predominantly white or...

MARTIN: No. It is a predominantly African-American church on the South Side of Chicago. It's very involved in there. They have senior citizens living in centers, all kind of things there. Again, he's been there 30 plus years. Here's someone who was very close to the King family. He was one of the folks who spoke at Coretta Scott King's funeral.

So I know Cardinal George made the decision, but they may have a significant -- a problem if those members begin to hold back their tithes and offerings, because that's one way to fight back against the church. That's the one thing to watch out for.

BLITZER: Roland, thanks very much for letting us know what's going on.

And just four hours from now or so, the polls will be closing in South Dakota; an hour later in Montana -- the last Democratic primaries. And we're only minutes away from the first exit poll results. They are clearly nearing the finish line.

Barack Obama can almost reach out and touch the tape. Hillary Clinton is not ready to concede, but she may be ready to turn that old dream team talk into reality -- 2,118 delegates are needed for the nomination.

Barack Obama is only 30 away from that magic number. Hillary Clinton is still 201 delegates away. A total of 31 pledged delegates are at stake in tonight's contests. So it really comes down to the superdelegates.

Democratic leaders are pressing the nearly 200 undecided among them to finally decide.

Let's go to CNN's Kathleen Koch. She's up on Capitol Hill.

Kathleen, some urgent consultations with those superdelegates where you are right now. Update our viewers on what's going on.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, let me give you the numbers first. There are some 17 uncommitted superdelegates in the Senate, 50 in the House. But, Wolf, even from some who have already announced who they're committed to, the pressure is building to wrap this up.


KOCH (voice-over): When the polls close in Montana and South Dakota, even Clinton supporter Dianne Feinstein acknowledges it's a "moment of truth." She lobbied today for Hillary Clinton to be vice president.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I think the time has come to end the primary, to put the ticket together, to bring people together and to march forward into the convention.

KOCH: But a few hours later, Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid sent a message to uncommitted superdelegates -- there's no rush.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Senator Clinton needs to be left alone.

And let's get through the primary process. I want everyone, until the elections are over -- and that's sometime this morning Eastern time -- to just stay out of it -- keep their decisions in their pocket until after the primaries are over.

KOCH: Reid, himself uncommitted, said he would serve as an example for the others, aides saying he'll announce his decision this week. Montana Senator Max Baucus tells CNN he'll endorse tonight. Maryland's Senator Ben Cardin, too, plans to make a decision shortly after the polls close. Colorado Senator Ken Salazar, also uncommitted, predicts most will wait until tomorrow.

A few went forward today. House members James Clyburn, John Spratt and Carolyn Cheeks Kirkpatrick all endorsing Barack Obama.


KOCH: So for now the lawmakers who know and like Hillary Clinton, who have worked with her in the past and likely will in the future, seem inclined to give her time and respect the process, let things wrap up in as dignified way as possible -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

Kathleen Koch on Capitol Hill.

Jack is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Guess who Hillary Clinton's new best friend is?

That would be the presumptive nominee, John McCain, singing Hillary's praises to the heavens. McCain to a group of Tennessee voters: "I admire her and respect her. Hillary Clinton has inspired generations of American women to believe they can reach the highest office in this nation. I admire the campaign she's run. She's deserving of a great deal of credit".

Interesting timing.

Now that Clinton's campaign is on its last legs, Clinton has insisted that if she's not the nominee, she's going to work with Barack Obama to unite the party and beat the Republicans in November. But remember all those Clinton supporters who angrily said they'll vote for John McCain who would vote for Hillary in the fall if Hillary is not the nominee?

Apparently, John McCain remembers. And it does seem like he wants to know if they're serious.

There's another sign, too, that McCain might be reaching out to Clinton's female supporters. One of his top advisers, former Hewlett- Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, says she thinks Clinton faced sexism on the campaign trail. Fiorina says she has a lot of sympathy for what Clinton has been through and that "a lot of women recognize she's been treated differently, whether they're Democrats or Republicans."

Some of the exit polls suggest there might be something to all of this. For example, in Kentucky, 42 percent of Clinton voters said they'd back McCain, 32 percent said Obama, 23 percent said they'd stay home, wouldn't vote at all.

It remains to be seen, once the race is over and tempers have cooled, whether these trends will really hold up. After what eight years of what the Bush administration have done to the country, wouldn't you have to think long and hard before voting for someone who's almost exactly like him?

Maybe not.

Here's the question: How likely is it that Hillary Clinton's supporters will actually vote for John McCain in November?

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

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much for that.

Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

His wife's historic campaign and his controversial role in it are drawing to a close.


WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But it has been one of the greatest honors of my life to be able to go around and campaign for her for president.


BLITZER: But Bill Clinton isn't only wistful, he's also angry. We're going to show you the outburst that a spokesman now says the former president regrets.

Also, the first exit polls are just coming in from today's two primaries. We're standing by to show you some brand new numbers.

What's on the mind of the voters today?

And Hillary Clinton now saying that she's open to being Barack Obama's vice presidential running mate.

But if not, then what's next for her?

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


BLITZER: And this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. The first of today's primary exit polls giving us a good sense of what voters are actually thinking on this day as they cast their ballots. Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill, what are we learning?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the question we're going to try to answer is how divided are the Democrats?

In South Dakota, we asked the Democratic voters today, should Barack Obama pick Hillary Clinton as his running mate if he wins the domination nomination.

The answer is yes, 55-41. The majority say they would like to unite the party or ask Hillary Clinton to be on the ticket.

However, let's see what happened when we look at the Obama supporters in South Dakota. (ph)

How do they feel about it?

And their answer is, by about the same margin, no. Fifty-six percent say they would not like to see Hillary Clinton on the ticket. But a considerable number, 40 percent, do say yes.

So there are indications that there's still a division in the party, but perhaps it's beginning to be healed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. I know you're getting a lot more numbers coming in, a lot more questions.

Stand by, Bill. We're going to be checking with you momentarily.

But let's go live to South Dakota right now. Our own Jim Acosta is on the scene watching what's going on. All right, set the stage. This is an important day, a pivotal day in this contest.

It's the last of all of these contests -- Jim.


And suffice today for -- suffice it to say, primary day here in South Dakota and in Montana has been overshadowed by all of this talk of a concession -- a possible concession from Hillary Clinton tonight. Her campaign is saying no, that is not going to happen.

But earlier today, my producer and I were on the phone with the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Charlie Rangel. He says he has reason to believe that Hillary Clinton is willing and open to that V.P. slot. It's another indication as to where this campaign is headed.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Barack Obama laid low in Chicago for most of this primary day, leaving it to his surrogates to announce the finish line is in sight. ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I think there's a pretty good chance that by the time Barack Obama walks out on that stage tonight, he'll walk out as the Democratic nominee for president of United States.

ACOSTA: Then came an item from the "Associated Press," which reported earlier in the day that Hillary Clinton would acknowledge tonight that Obama has enough delegates for the nomination, drawing this heated response from her campaign chairman.

TERRY MCAULIFFE, CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: They are 100 percent reporting incorrectly. And I don't know who the officials are, but anyone can be an official in this world. I can unequivocally say, as chairman of this campaign, that until someone has the numbers, this nomination this fight continues on.

ACOSTA: But that's not how Terry McAuliffe explained it to "The Washington Post": "Yes, I think if Senator Obama gets the number, I think Hillary Clinton will congratulate him and call him the nominee."

There aren't enough delegates up for are grabs in South Dakota and Montana to put Obama over the top -- not without the help of superdelegates, like influential Congressman Jim Clyburn, who broke his silence.

REP. JOHN CLYBURN (D-SC), HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP: I decided to cast my ballot and -- at the convention for Barack Obama. I came to that decision because I do believe that he has elevated this campaign.

ACOSTA: In South Dakota, the Clinton/Obama showdown has drawn attention to an economy that seems a little saddle sore, especially in tourist towns like Keystone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People aren't willing or wanting to travel as much. We still get a lot of traffic, but it's not quite the same.


ACOSTA: And typically on primary days, Wolf, the candidates are standing by in the states where the votes are actually being tallied. Not so today. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- she is in New York and Barack Obama is in Minnesota. And it is going to be political theater of the highest order tonight. And the whole nation will be watching, obviously.

The polls close in about five hours from now, Wolf. The sun sets on this primary season in Montana at 10:00 Eastern.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta with a majestic sight behind him.

Thanks very much for that.

We're also getting word right now of a major superdelegate who has just switched sides. We're going to tell you what's going on. That's coming up. Also, an unprecedented custody case racks up a huge tab for Texas. We're going to show you just how much it's costing the state to remove hundreds of children from that polygamist sect.

And you're going to find out what's next for Hillary Clinton as the Democratic contest draws to a close.

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


BLITZER: Now we're just getting word that another major superdelegate is about to switch sides. Carol Costello is watching this story.

What do we know -- Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Congresswoman Maxine Waters has now endorsed Barack Obama. She had previously supported Hillary Clinton. I want to read the reasons why to you right now.

She said: "Senator Clinton has run a superb campaign and has proven to be a hard worker, while gaining the support of many key constituencies that will be essential for Democratic success in November."

She also says: "Today, I salute Hillary Clinton for her strength and perseverance and I embrace Barack Obama for his courage and consistency. It is my hope that Democrats can bring our nation to a close and come together to win the White House in November."

So another superdelegate throws her support behind Barack Obama -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. The -- I guess we're going to see a little bit more of that in the next few hours.


BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Carol.

Is this Bill Clinton's last presidential race?

He played a big role in his wife's campaign, as we all know -- some would argue too big of a role.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us right now. He's looking at this story.

Did Bill Clinton hurt his wife? Did he hurt himself in the process of this lengthy campaign -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, no easy answers to those questions. You know, several times during this primary season, Bill Clinton has become the story. Now, as his wife's campaign nears its end, hard questions are, indeed, being asked about whether Mr. Clinton should have had such prominence.


TODD (voice-over): On one hand, he's sentimental about what he says could be the end of his final campaign.

W. CLINTON: It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to be able to go around and campaign for her for president.

TODD: On the other hand, Bill Clinton shows a temperament some observers say they've never seen before this campaign. He reacted to a magazine article describing him as angry ex-president with -- well, anger.

W. CLINTON: He's sleazy. He's a really dishonest reporter. And he's a real slimy guy.

QUESTION: Yes. It's all over cable news.

W. CLINTON: Totally slimly. He just blow it off (ph).

QUESTION: But he's married to Dee-Dee Myers.

W. CLINTON: Yes, but he -- that's all right. He's still a scumbag.

TODD: His spokesman later said Mr. Clinton wished he hadn't used that language. A perhaps fitting punctuation to what analysts say has been a huge story in this campaign -- Bill Clinton's insertion of himself into this drama, sometimes overshadowing his wife's improved campaign skills. In South Carolina, it cost her.

W. CLINTON: Jesse Jackson won in South Carolina twice, in '84 and '88. And he ran a good campaign. And Senator Obama's run a good campaign.

TODD: Some believe that minimized Barack Obama's stature as the most viable African-American presidential candidate in the nation's history. Bill Clinton later said he was misinterpreted, but the damage lingered.

Here's what a key Democratic superdelegate said about his own decision to support Obama.

CLYBURN: And I think a lot of it had to do with what happened in South Carolina.

TODD: Defenders say Bill Clinton's so-called retail campaigning -- those day to day stops where he was a powerful draw -- have helped.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, SUPPORTS HILLARY CLINTON: Somebody was pointing out, in all of the places that he went in North Carolina and Iowa, she actually did a lot better.

TODD: But what has this campaign done to Bill Clinton's own legacy? ROGER SIMON, THE POLITICO: Because of some of own statements he made, because of how they were interpreted, especially about race, because of the rough and tumble about the campaign -- of the campaign, he has really been shrunken as a figure. He is diminished.


TODD: But Roger Simon believes that Bill Clinton can build that legacy right back. And he believes Clinton will likely spend the next few years doing just that. Other analysts we spoke to say it's way too soon to say this tarnishes his legacy. But they say this campaign is a narrative that will have to be written into Bill Clinton's final story -- and some of that narrative won't be positive -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

Brian Todd reporting for us on this part of the story.

We're also getting in right now some new exit poll information from these two remaining primaries in Montana and South Dakota.

What about the Democratic voters today, Clinton voters, specifically? Will they vote for Barack Obama in November? We're checking that.

How energized will they be?

Bill Schneider is going through the exit poll numbers right not. We'll share them with you momentarily.

And how vulnerable is Barack Obama now that he's on the verge of capturing the Democratic nomination?

I'll speak about that and more with Bill Bennett and James Carville. They're standing by live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The exit poll numbers are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- voters sharing what's on their minds as they cast their ballots in these final two primaries.

Let's go back to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

What are we learning -- Bill?

SCHNEIDER: We're learning that the division in the Democratic Party may not be as deep as a lot of Democrats have been worrying about.

Take a look at Clinton voters in South Dakota.

How will they vote in November if Obama clinches the nomination?

Sixty-one percent of them say they'll vote for Barack Obama. That is higher than we've seen in some recent states. In some, a majority have said they won't vote for Barack Obama.

But in South Dakota today, those voters are saying -- 61 percent -- they will vote for Barack Obama. Just 16 percent say they would vote for McCain. Another 17 percent wouldn't vote.

Now, are Democrats upset at the primary season and its long length, from January to now, has divided the Democratic Party or has it energized party?

We asked them. And here's what they told us in South Carolina -- or, rather, South Dakota. South Carolina was a while ago. In South Dakota, the Democrats say that they believe it's energized the Democratic Party, 55 percent. Just 39 percent believe it's divided the party.

So, Wolf, it looks like Democrats, at least in South Dakota, think this has been a pretty good process.

BLITZER: All right. Good. I know you're crunching more numbers. We'll get back to you momentarily.

Bill, thank you.

If she doesn't end up with either spot on the Democratic ticket, Hillary Clinton seems to have plenty of options. Let's go back to Carol Costello.

She's been looking into this part of the story for us -- Carol

COSTELLO: Yes. A lot of people have a lot to say about this. It's a question that a lot of people will never have to answer. What do you do after you've run for president of the United States and lost? That would be hard. But Hillary Clinton has plenty of options.


COSTELLO: Rumors are running rampant about Hillary Clinton's plan B. Some are pretty out there driven by supporters like Harriet Christian. Her pro-woman, pro-Hillary rant has become a YouTube sensation.

HARRIET CHRISTIAN, CLINTON SUPPORTER: I'm no second-class citizen.

COSTELLO: Some angry voters wonder if Clinton ought to dump the Democrats and run as an Independent. After all, she got more 17 million votes in the primary. Analysts say not a snowball's chance in Hades.

JEANNE CUMMINGS, POLITICO.COM: If she runs as an Independent, then she's become the Ralph Nader of the 2008 campaign. And look at where Ralph Nader is today.

COSTELLO: There is also word that New York Democrats would love for Clinton to run for governor in 2001 but insiders say a primary fight would pit her against incumbent David Paterson, an African- American man. Been there and done that.

Others say Clinton ought to aim for Harry Reid's powerful position as senator majority leader. To do that, Clinton would have to pass the guys next in line, the feisty Senator Charles Schumer, then Senator Dick Durbin. Oh, yes, Harry Reid would have to resign.

What about a Supreme Court appointment? Clinton insiders tell me she's into that one. Court watchers say not so fast. Clinton would be in her early 60s if the offer came. And President Obama would likely do what other presidents have done, name a younger justice like John Roberts so his legacy can last a long time.

Another rumor, President Obama would carve out a place for Clinton in his cabinet. He seems to be dropping hints.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How President Lincoln basically pulled in all the people who have been running against him into his cabinet because whatever, you know, personal feelings there were, the issue was, how can we get this country through this time of crisis.

COSTELLO: So maybe Clinton as health and human services secretary? Some analysts say this would enable her to push her health reform plan.


COSTELLO: But analysts say the best option for Clinton is to return to the U.S. Senate. Like Ted Kennedy, she can establish a powerful influential voice especially now. This campaign has enabled her to come out of her husband's shadow. It's clear she can stand on her own, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. That certainly is clear indeed.

All right, Carol. Thank you.

Barack Obama is close to clinching the Democratic nomination, but he may find some new hurdles on the campaign trail as he focuses in on John McCain. Let's discuss this and more with two CNN contributors. James Carville is a Democratic strategist and Hillary Clinton supporter. Bill Bennett hosts the conservative national radio talk show Morning in America. He likes John McCain.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Let me get your quick reaction, James Carville to what we just heard from Carol Costello. If she doesn't get the Democratic presidential domination and she's not on the ticket, what do you think she's going to do?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think she has a pretty bright future. As Carol pointed out, she may want to stay on the Senate. She may want to do any number of things. We'll just have to wait and see. I don't think that's weighing very heavily on her mind right now. I think she knows she has a lot of options in her future. I think right now, she wants to get through the night, wake up tomorrow morning and see where to go from there.

BLITZER: Bill Bennett, how vulnerable is Barack Obama going forward now against John McCain?

BILL BENNETT, NATIONAL TALK RADIO HOST: There's some vulnerability. Can I just say I agree with Carol, too, very much that, I always agree with Carol that she's found her own voice and can stand on her own feet now. And Bill Clinton is kind of receding. She's finishing very strong. I kind of like the independent run, I think that would be a great idea.

BLITZER: I don't think that's going to happen. Forget about it.

BENNETT: I don't think so either. There's some vulnerabilities, Wolf. I mean he is National Journal says he's the most left wing member of the Senate. But he's a left wing member of the Senate who doesn't have Michael Dukakis' executive experience, George McGovern's military experience or John Kerry's Senate experience. So we shall see. I think his positions put him to the left. John McCain is center right. It's going to be an interesting election.

BLITZER: Is he a stronger candidate, James, now than he was a year ago?

CARVILLE: Yes, it's been pointed out numerous times that these ratings are based on like attendance or anything, I don't want to get into an argument there, just a dissent on that point. I think he's shown himself to be a pretty tough guy. This is a hard campaign he's gone through. He's energized people like no one could ever believe. He's shown himself to have a lot of depth. He's one of the most literate people to ever run for president. His book is near poetry. I think he's a talented guy.

Senator McCain is a very accomplished man. But I know in Barack Obama, the Democrats, the likely Democratic nominee, I think he can present a good face for the party here. I think he's a man that's accomplished a great deal. I think it's a learning experience. And I think he can show he can grow as his process goes on and I think he will continue to grow.

BLITZER: What about the Obama/Clinton ticket, Bill Bennett, what do you think? How formidable would that be?

BENNETT: How I should I advise this? How should I play this? It would be formidable. If Hillary Clinton joining Barack Obama was then echoed by the rest of the party and you had this tremendous unification, then all of this question about defections from either side would disappear, and it would be very strong but I don't know. For the Clintons to sleep downstairs after sleeping upstairs, I don't think they'd be happy. And for Barack Obama sleeping upstairs while the Clintons downstairs, that might make him a little nervous.

BLITZER: What do you think, James Carville?

CARVILLE: Well I mean I think what she wants to do is that if she works the ticket, she's going to do everything she can to bring the party together. There are a lot of her supporters. This is not going to be some easy task. The easiest thing is going to be Senator Clinton because she'll obviously be very supportive of whoever the ticket is but she's going to have to coax a lot of people out of caves here. People have been fighting this thing pretty hard. I think it's going to take a little while for this thing to go down right.

BLITZER: Take a look at the bottom of our screen. Both of you, I don't know if you can see it over there. Shortly, it's coming up. You'll see that number of the delegates. The total number that's coming up in a second. There it is, 2,097. Look at the bottom of the screen for Barack Obama. That number in the last few minutes has changed from 2,092 to 2,093, 2,094. Now it's 2,097. The magic number he needs to clinch the nomination 2,118.

James, he's only 21 delegates away by our estimate right now of having that number. You know, we haven't even allocated the delegates in Montana or South Dakota yet.

CARVILLE: Remember, I don't know it must have been three or four weeks ago down at Fuhrman University in South Carolina, I said that I thought he'd be the likely nominee. It's more likely today than it was when I was in South Carolina. But there's a long way from getting to that number to getting to the kind of party that we want to have when we come out of Denver. There's a lot of work to be done here.

I think it's going to take a little while to bring this thing around. I think it will happen. But a lot of people are just going to have to calm down. It's not a switch. A presidential campaign of this nature is not a switch. You just don't turn it on and off. It's going to take some effort and some dexterity here.

BLITZER: What do you think, Bill?

BENNETT: It will take time. There are substantive issues. James and I are going to have lots of opportunities to argue here. It's not just him not appearing for votes. He is to the left. He is obviously considerably to the left of Hillary Clinton, as she pointed out, she called his views on foreign policy naive and irresponsible so there's a lot of healing or coming out of caves, as James said, that will have to take place.

There's a sense not just with these charges of racism and sexism, most of which I don't think hold much water, but there is a sense among a lot of Democrats have questioned have we nominated the right person. I think she finishes very strong. As I said, I think this is the person we would prefer not to run against, Hillary Clinton. Right now, given the choice, we would prefer to run against Obama. Yes, he's strong, and he's got considerable skills. But I think his record is very vulnerable.

BLITZER: And you may have the choice of running against both of them.


BLITZER: Bill Bennett, that's a possibility. CARVILLE: Just one question, John McCain has hardly united the Republican Party either. I think Senator Clinton is going to work day and night to help unite the Democratic Party.

BLITZER: All right guys. Thanks very much.

Let me just point out once again only 21 delegates that he needs from getting that 2,118 numbers. Watch at the bottom of your screen, you're going to see that number change. Over the last five minutes it's changed several times right now. He's at 2,098. Right now it's just gone up to 2,098. So only 20. He right now only needs 20 delegates to go before our estimate of where this contest stands route now. 2,098 right now.

If he does clinch the nomination, within the next few hours, Barack Obama won't have a lot of time catch his breath.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America's progress in Iraq is the direct result of the new strategy that Senator Obama vehemently opposed.


BLITZER: John McCain is ready and waiting. And he's planning to steal some of the prime time spotlight tonight. We'll tell you what's going on.

And our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is standing by with more exit poll results from today's final two primaries.

Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: And that number is changing dramatically at the bottom of your screen. Right now, remember, Barack Obama needs 2,118 delegates to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination. It's now up to 2,102. Only 16 delegates by our estimate away only within the last few moments. That number has increased dramatically. Several of those superdelegates who had earlier supported Hillary Clinton are now switching. Several of those superdelegates have been undeclared are now endorsing Barack Obama.

Keep watching the bottom of your screen. That number is going up. Only 16 delegates needed in order to clinch the nomination. We're watching the story closely for you.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, will what's being called a major speech in suburban New Orleans later tonight making his case for why he should be the next president of the United States.

Let's go to CNN's Joe Johns. He's watching the story for us.

What do we expect to hear, Joe, from Senator McCain?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Senator McCain has first a private fund-raiser this evening in New Orleans and then it's on here to Kenner, Louisiana for that big speech. In that speech, he is expected to once again contrast himself with Barack Obama and he's also expected to make the case which Obama aides are already scoffing at that he, McCain, is the agent of change in the race for the White House.


JOHNS: McCain is expected to assert that his record in the Senate shows how independent he is, while portraying his likely opponent's voting record as consistently liberal.

MCCAIN: I would have been and will be an agent for change. And I can assure you I will continue this fight against wasteful pork barrel and unnecessary spending.

JOHNS: McCain's case starts with foreign policy and Obama's willingness to meet face to face with adversaries like Iran which McCain says he would never do.

MCCAIN: It's hard to see what such a summit with President Ahmadinejad would actually gain except an earful of anti-Semantic rants and a worldwide audience for a man who denies one holocaust and talks before frenzied crowds about starting another.

JOHNS: It builds with Iraq where he wants Americans to give war a chance.

MCCAIN: America's progress in Iraq is a direct result of the new strategy that Senator Obama vehemently opposed.

JOHNS: But his argument is hardly a slam dunk. With new allegations questioning the Bush administration's drive to war, like those in former White House spokesman Scott McClellan's new book, McCain is having to convince voters that while he alone can end the war with honor, he might not have started it in the first place.

MCCAIN: My first priority is the security of this nation which is what it should be. But my second priority, my second priority is to make sure that we never send our young Americans into harm's way unless the mission is clear and the cause is justified.


JOHNS: The Obama camp continues to tie McCain to President Bush saying he voted with Bush 95 percent of the time.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Joe, thanks very much.

Joe Johns reporting.

Let's go right to Minnesota. The governor Tim Pawlenty, a major supporter of John McCain is standing by.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

GOV. TIM PAWLENTY (R), MINNESOTA: Happy to do it, Wolf.

BLITZER: What does it say to you that Barack Obama has decided to give his big speech tonight, in St. Paul, Minnesota, the exact location where John McCain will get the Republican presidential nomination in early September at your convention, what does that say to you?

PAWLENTY: Well, I think it's a clever political move. I think it says to the McCain campaign, we're going to get up in your grill a little bit. That's OK. It's fun. It's an opportunity for Minnesota to weigh the candidates. Senator McCain will be here in a few weeks. Whether at that arena or a different arena, it really doesn't matter.

What matters is you have a seasoned, experienced, even handed, mature person who is running in the form of Senator McCain, and we also have a classic liberal, the most liberal senator in the United States Senate, Barack Obama, and people are going to have a pretty clear choice come November and we're going to go beyond the reading the teleprompters in Barack Obama's case and start looking at the actual issue positions that he holds.

BLITZER: He crushed Hillary Clinton in Minnesota in your primary, 66 percent to 32 percent. He obviously was very popular there. Minnesota not that far from Illinois. How worried are you that he could help the Democrats carry your state and in the process carry a lot of other Democrats into office as well?

PAWLENTY: Well, these early polls in the spring don't mean a lot. As you know, they shift around dramatically, after the dog days of summer, people will tune into the race. What you're going to see is you have Senator McCain who is someone who has actual military, national security, foreign affairs experience, somebody like Senator Obama who continues to kind of demonstrate a naivete stay about foreign affairs and national security matters as your segment just demonstrated.

I think that's going to be a concern to voters, when they see Senator Obama's kind of government centric approach to everything, including raising taxes and government further intervention and education and health care and the like. And Senator McCain's position on empowering individuals to do it, helping them but empowering them. It's going to be a clear choice that I think will sell well in the upper Midwest.

BLITZER: The Democrats will make the point that McCain represents a third Bush term. Bush is not very popular in Minnesota right now based on the Republican and Democratic exit polls we did there and a lot of other public opinion polls. Where does Senator McCain differ right now, going forward, from President Bush on the war in Iraq?

PAWLENTY: I think, as you know, Wolf, he had an early -- BLITZER: That was then, but what about going forward?

PAWLENTY: Well, going forward, the strategy that we have going forward is really the McCain strategy. So he was one of the people who envisioned the strategy and called for it to be done sooner and earlier even when President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and others were hesitant to do it at that time. So this, I think, is going to be a reflection of his wisdom and experience. There's a reason why he knew this would be a workable strategy, because he has experience in military national security matters and that's going to serve him well in this debate.

BLITZER: How many times a day are you asked whether you want to be his vice presidential running mate?

PAWLENTY: A few it seems. I'm one of his volunteer national co- chairs. I'm happy to support him, because I think he's going to be a wonderful leader and a great person. He's going to be a great president. I'm focused on being governor, Wolf.

BLITZER: Governor Pawlenty, thanks very much. We'll see you in Minnesota, not too far down the road. Appreciate it.

PAWLENTY: Very good. Thank you.

BLITZER: Take a look at the bottom of your screens right now. You see that number has just changed once again -- 2,106 Barack Obama now has among the super and pledged delegates. He only needs 12 more to get to the magic number of 2,118 to clinch the nomination. Keep watching the bottom of your screen, because that number of the delegates is changing rapidly of Barack Obama right now. Dramatic moments underway.

We're looking ahead to November. Barack Obama will speak tonight from that key battleground state of Minnesota. You just heard what the governor of Minnesota has to say, but what will Barack Obama be saying later tonight?

And Jack Cafferty is asking how likely is it that Hillary Clinton supporters will actually vote for John McCain in November. Your e- mail and Jack Cafferty and a lot more here on THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: And take a look at the bottom of your screen. You can see that Barack Obama is getting closer and closer to getting to that magic number of 2,118 needed to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination. Right now, he's at 2,106. He only needs 12 more delegates. And those delegates have been changing rapidly, coming into his camp in the last several minutes. Keep watching the bottom of your screen. He could reach that number, 2,118 very, very soon.

I want to go back to Bill Schneider.

Bill, how much is age a factor in today's primary voting? You're looking at these exit poll numbers coming in from the two remaining primary states today?

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know Wolf, it's not been a surprise that African-Americans vote for Obama, that women vote for Clinton. But the age difference has been a surprise; we've seen it throughout all the primaries, particularly in South Dakota today.

Take a look at voters under the age of 30, our younger voters. How did they vote? Like in many other states, they voted overwhelmingly 65 percent for Barack Obama, 35 percent for Clinton.

How about seniors? You know what, in South Dakota, the senior vote, those 65 and older was exactly the opposite; 65 percent for Clinton, 35 percent for Obama. That age split, surprisingly large, has been a persistent division in primary after primary, young versus older.

BLITZER: Bill, thanks very much.

So how likely is it that Hillary Clinton supporters will actually vote for John McCain in November? That's Jack's question. Stand by for your email.

Also, new exit poll data coming in at the top of the hour as well. Bill Schneider crunching these numbers. What's on the minds of the voters in Montana and South Dakota?

Plus, Barack Obama closing in on that Democratic nomination. Could the party's superdelegates put him over the top in the coming few hours? Maybe sooner, maybe minutes. The number is changing dramatically. We're going to ask one of his top supporters, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri what's going on.

Stay with us. Lots of news happening on this dramatic day right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: A lot of saber rattling by supporters on both sides.

But the question, now that it looks like Barack Obama is going to be the nominee, is: How likely is it that Hillary Clinton supporters will actually make good on their threats to vote for McCain in November?

Brendan writes: "Although I can understand some of the bitterness coming from Clinton supporters, I can't understand how they could support McCain. It seems that Clinton supporters refusing to back Obama, an essentially identical candidate policy-wise, are substituting sour grapes for the future of this country."

Nora says: "It hurts to say it but yes, I believe many Clinton supporters will back McCain over Obama, chiefly because many Clinton supporters are concerned about Obama's lack of experience. He's only been a politician for three years and his background is in community organization, a background that can be claimed by anyone who's ever had a lemonade stand or put together a fundraising car wash."

Sean writes: "Most of Hillary's supporters are not idiots and won't vote for McCain. Some will, but they are morons and our party is better off without them. The millions of new voters Obama has brought in will more than make up for their childish little tantrum."

Jim says: "He wants to stay in Iraq. She wants to go. He is anti-abortion. She is pro-choice. He wants to continue the Bush economic policy. She wants reform. For all the hubris and saber rattling, her supporters will turn out for Obama in November."

And Peggy writes from Virginia: "Hillary was not treated fairly by the media or the DNC. Obama has not said or done anything that remotely shows me that he would be a good president, except give speeches to thousands of people. He can't talk one on one or in small groups. McCain shows me nothing. I'll stay home. It'll probably be snowing anyway."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to my blog at You can file (ph) away the night time hours there. It's a fascinating place -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right Jack, thank you.