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Teen Survives for 15 Days; Missing Americans; State of the Union Speech; Democrats Focus; Poll Numbers; Deficits Tracking Stimulus

Aired January 27, 2010 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, we are learning more about what's in the president's State of the Union address and what liberal Democrats will get out of it. Stand by. We are counting down to the big speech just two hours from now. The best political team on television is here.

The stimulus package helped bring hope to a community hammered by layoffs, but didn't really bring jobs. All this week CNN is bringing -- breaking down how billions of your dollars are being spent. We have new information.

And we're also forging -- following another remarkable rescue in Haiti right now. We've just learned about a teenage girl pulled from the rubble. Is it possible that she was trapped and survived for a full 15 days?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: All right, we're following this new development, breaking news in Haiti. A teenage girl has been pulled from the rubble. Let's go straight to CNN's Gary Tuchman. He's in Port-au- Prince. Gary, are you on the scene? What do we know about this?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm on the scene right now and it appears we have a remarkable story of survival. (INAUDIBLE) they're telling us they do believe the 16-year-old girl who they just pulled out of the rubble of her house was in the rubble for half a month, 15 days. She's been brought to the hospital right now.

She's going to be choppered to a French ship off the coast for treatment. She is not seriously injured. She was entombed inside her bathroom. A French doctor we just talked to said that she had access to water in the bathroom and (INAUDIBLE) for some reason (INAUDIBLE). According to the doctor, some people in the neighborhood said they heard sounds today. They went to the French hospital here and said they heard sounds. A French civil rescue team then came to the scene on this block that has been totally demolished.

They heard the sounds, too. They got in contact with the girl, she had a weak voice. They went to a hole that they say in the rubble and they say she was about 10 meters or 30 feet away in the bathroom. They (INAUDIBLE) 45 minutes drilling a bigger hole and were able to pull her out. They say that there is no way that she could have crawled in there on her own and this house has been demolished since the initial day of the earthquake. So this girl does not seem to be in serious condition, but she is dehydrated. She is very weak. She has low blood pressure but it appears she will survived and it appears she has been in the rubble for 15 days and has survived -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a story. We're going to get back to you, Gary. (INAUDIBLE) get more information, a remarkable story indeed, 15 days. If in fact she survived 15 days in the rubble that would be amazing indeed. We're going to get much more information, 15 years old.

Let's stay in Port-au-Prince right now. CNN's Anderson Cooper is also working these stories for us. Anderson, it's shocking how many people now -- they believe, what, 150,000 people at least died, maybe 200,000, a million are homeless, but let's focus in on the American citizens right now. How many American citizens are now estimated either missing or dead?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well the U.S. Embassy estimates there are 4,500 to 5,000 Americans missing right now in Port-au-Prince and throughout Haiti. They do not have an actual number because they don't have people who had registered with the Embassy when they were here. They basically kind of extrapolated that number based on how many they found and how many have actually been evacuate so far.

And for them, Wolf, I mean a story like that gives a lot of people hope, but rescuers don't want to give people false hope. That right now most of these operations have become recovery operations. Up at the Montana Hotel, they are proceeding very slowly, just starting to bring in heavy equipment to try to bring out those who may still be trapped inside. They think there may be as many as 60 people trapped inside, as many as 17 Americans.

But a lot of American citizens are likely just going to disappear. We talked to one man, Haitian man, whose American wife, her body was dumped into a pickup -- into a dump truck by Haitian -- by the Haitian government, and brought out most likely to mass graves where we discovered people are still just being dumped, not even buried at this point. It's sort of a haphazard effort being made to bury some.

But we found literally dozens of bodies just laying out on the ground, among the more grizzly scenes we have ever seen. The Haitian government won't comment on it. They are not returning our phone calls. In fact now they're just hanging up on us. But it's not clear why they are not at least taking a few extra minutes to at least put some dirt on their own citizens and potentially American citizens and the citizens of people, other citizens from around the world who may have died in the quake -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect we're going to hear from the president of the United States tonight on Haiti as well among other things. Anderson we're going to be checking back with you. Thanks very much.

President Obama, meanwhile, has a tall order when he walks into the House Chamber in just a couple of hours, less now. He needs to convince anxious Americans he is leading them in the right direction. Some of his fellow Democrats, they need convincing as well. We have a lot of new information about what the president will say, how it may play with the American public, with members of Congress.

Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is watching all of this. But let's go to our White House correspondent Dan Lothian first. Dan, has the White House released any excerpts from the address yet?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, in fact as we speak the excerpts just coming in here on my Blackberry and I'll read some of those excerpts to you.

The president will say tonight that quote, "We face big and difficult challenges and what the American people hope, what they deserve is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans to work through our differences to overcome the numbing weight of our politics. For a while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds and different stories and different beliefs. The anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared, a job that pays the bill, a chance to get ahead, most of all, the ability to give their children a better life."

Wolf, aides say the president will also talk about health care. He'll talk about boosting education funding. But of course the primary focus will be job creation. Laying out things like tax breaks for small businesses so they can increase their hiring, but clearly here is the reality. Americans are very frustrated. They're angry that unemployment remains very high at 10 percent.

That the economic recovery has taken a long time, so the president really wants to talk especially to those middle class Americans, telling them how he will make their life better. And aides say that the president will also admit mistakes, will talk about bipartisanship, the importance of that. But overall they want to have a very positive tone -- that this is an administration that's been working very hard and has been able to bring the economy back from a brink of great depression -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're also told the president will flatly urge the Congress to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the law that has been in existence now for, what, almost 15, 18 years. He will ask the Congress to repeal it so that gay individuals can serve openly in the United States military. Dan Lothian, stand by. Let's go to Capitol Hill right now. Dana Bash is watching the story -- Dana, set the scene for us among Democrats. They control both Houses.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. The best way to set the scene for you is to take you back just a week and a half ago. Just a week and a half ago, Wolf, Democratic leaders were at the White House until 1:00 a.m. with the president trying to get a compromise down on health care with the hopes of actually having the president sign a health care bill before the State of the Union address. Well that's actually ancient history now, as you know. And Democrats are still really in a state of shock here and that is the kind of sense that the president is going to likely feel when he gets here. And the idea that the Democrats lost to Massachusetts it is having ramifications not just in trying to salvage health care but also in the issue that the president is going to focus most on tonight the Democrats want him to and that is jobs.

Wolf, today I'm told that Senate Democrats are likely to scrap an idea of a big package to push through on jobs. Why -- because they don't have that 60th vote needed in the Senate to block a Republican filibuster. So they're probably going to have to do smaller bills and smaller things that might appeal to Republicans like tax credits for small businesses, at least start there in order to try to get some of these things done.

BLITZER: Priority number one for the president will be a new jobs bill up on the Hill. That's what we were told. All right, Dana, stand by. Let's bring in our senior political analyst Gloria Borger and David Gergen and our chief national correspondent John king.

John, the news about the president asking Congress to repeal "don't ask, don't tell", it's not as simple as the president just signing an executive order. He needs both Houses to approve this.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He does. And it's part of the State of the Union message. There is a both a singular focus, which if you have to pick one, it would be jobs and the economy. And then there is the list of the president's priorities and he will talk about education, innovation and society. He will talk about health care reform. It won't be at the top of the list.

And then he will talk about "don't ask, don't tell" and immigration reform -- two issues that he knows pretty well probably will not get through the Congress in this midterm election year because they are such emotional, such divisive issues. Now some will say is he appealing to his base? Is he listing these things because he knows the Democratic left says what are we going to get out of the second year of the Obama administration or will he make a push? That's the key question. Does he attach a timeline? Does he say vote for this now and does he continually push for it or is it just one of the things on his list when he ticks through tonight's speech.

BLITZER: What about the prospects of getting any real bipartisan cooperation this year an election year (INAUDIBLE)?

DAVID GERGEN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: On some issues, I think he might...

BLITZER: Like what, like what?

GERGEN: Well there is a possibility if he does it right, if he lays a foundation right, there are some Republicans might be willing to go along with "don't ask, don't tell" repeal. There is a growing feeling in the military among the generals that the time has come to look at this. I'm a little surprised he is doing it tonight because I thought he would keep the focus on the jobs -- on jobs, but I think that there is a sense that he has to deliver for his constituency. He hasn't had much to deliver so far, but you know he promises it tonight and doesn't deliver by the end of the year, it's going to be one more argument on the part of the progressives -- wait a minute. We thought you were in charge.


BLITZER: You know Gloria, the Republicans, they will have an opportunity to respond to the president's State of the Union address tonight as well.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, they are going to respond. They are going to do it a little differently. The governor of Virginia, McConnell (ph), Bob McConnell (ph), is going to go to the State Capitol, speak before almost 300 supporters one would presume in the State Capitol because you know it's kind of -- it's the toughest act in town to follow a president after the State of the Union speech, so in a room just looking into a camera after the president has left the Congress, so they're trying to at least put him in a room with other human beings so he doesn't look so isolated...

BLITZER: Like Bobby Jindal looked last year.

BORGER: Well, Bobby Jindal last year was not a great thing. You know Bill Clinton did this once apparently, I was looking back in 1985 with voters in Arkansas, Democrats, and was in a room full of people. It seemed to work pretty well for Bill Clinton...

BLITZER: I think Christine Todd-Whitman (ph) when she was governor of New Jersey...

BORGER: Yes, she did, yes...

BLITZER: She went to Trenton.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: She did it once as well. All right guys, stand by. We're going to have a lot more analysis coming up. And also new information we're just getting in. We now have some extensive excerpts from what the president is going to say tonight. The White House is releasing them now. We can share them with you. We'll share more excerpts of what the president has to say about health care and a lot more right after this.


BLITZER: Let's bring in Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: State of the Union, they are full of pomp and circumstance, lots of applause, a huge amount of media attention. But history proves that State of the Union speeches at the end of the day really don't matter all that much because generally speaking presidents come out before a joint session of Congress and they say the State of the Union is strong even if it's not. And they say a bunch of other stuff that isn't necessarily true as well. For example, 1934, FDR said "now that we are definitely in the process of recovery", that is quote, the problem was the economy was nowhere near recovery. Richard Nixon, 1974, State of the Union speech, he promised the country no recession was coming. He pledged he would never resign the presidency and described the U.S. as the winner in the war in Vietnam.

Within months Nixon quit, the country was in a recession, and Vietnam is still communist to this day. In 1996, Bill Clinton swore the era of big government is over. It turns out it wasn't and in fact in Clinton's next address to Congress the very next year, he talked about how much stronger the U.S. could be if it let the government get more involved in several areas of our lives.

Of course President Obama's speech tonight will get a lot of media coverage, but polling suggests that historically a president's support is usually unaffected by the State of the Union. A Gallup poll shows that among recent presidents only Bill Clinton seemed to get a bump in public opinion from his annual State of the Union speeches.

So here is the question: How much do State of the Union speeches really matter? Go to and post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Good question, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Glad you liked it.

BLITZER: I'm glad you did a little history like that, too.

CAFFERTY: That's what we do...

BLITZER: It gives it perspective...

CAFFERTY: We do a lot of work. We're in the office very early working on this stuff...


BLITZER: You and you team.

CAFFERTY: Yes, my team, the minions (ph).

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. So what is in the minds of Americans right now as we count down to the State of the Union speech? Let's check in with our special correspondent Soledad O'Brien. She has some brand new poll numbers. Soledad, what's going on?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: One of the really interesting questions I got (ph) from the poll was we asked this question. Are things going badly? And when you take a look at the numbers, you can see 67 percent say right now, yes, things are going badly. If there is any silver lining there for the president, back in February of 2009, that number was 79 percent. But still this number, that's a bad number.

Sixty-seven percent think things are going badly, but then this is the kind of the weird part. When you ask people the question, well how are things going for you personally. Take a look at that -- 76 percent say personally things are going well. That is a complete contradiction of the answer to the last question.

So what explains this contradiction could be that people feel the tone is bad, that there is sort of this lack of -- a sense of improvement that people are spinning their own situation, maybe things aren't as great as they're saying they are. Maybe it's relatively speaking. Well it's well because I still have my job and my neighbor does not have his job or maybe it's that the president's messaging really just isn't working, if indeed people personally feel fine, but there is a sense of gloom and doom, then obviously what the president has been selling people aren't buying.

I think it underscores this feeling of uncertainty of where we are, where we are going, which is what the president is going to have to really lay out tonight. And as you say, it makes the stakes I think even higher for the president's speech tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots at stake for the president tonight, lots at stake in this year. And we'll get a full analysis coming up. Soledad, don't go away because I know you're crunching more numbers together with our team. We will continue our coverage. We're, what, almost 40 minute away from the start of our prime time coverage leading up to the speech.


BLITZER: ... team on television as we get ready to hear the president's State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. Gloria is still here, David Gergen, John King. Donna Brazile is joining us from Washington. Donna, let me read an excerpt from what the president is going to say tonight about Washington. This notion that he believes Washington right now is broken.

To do that, he says to get more responsibility he says we have to recognize that we face more that a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust; deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap, we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists, to do our work openly and to give our people the government they deserve.

Donna, a year after he became president of the United States, he is now acknowledging pretty much that this whole effort to change Washington in his first year has failed.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, that's because change really begins with the American people. They are demanding that the Congress works together. They are hoping that Congress will put aside their partisan differences and look at the bigger picture. Look at how we can create good jobs so that we can restore the middle class and help those who are now feeling the pain still of this recession.

I think the president is smart to continue to reach out to Republicans. It's tough but it's important to try to get bipartisan support for some of the bold initiatives that he still clearly have on the table. This is an opportunity for the president to also tell a story, to rekindle the fire of change so that those who supported him in 2008 will believe that he can deliver the change that he promised.

BLITZER: And he is also getting tough in his speech tonight on lobbyists, (INAUDIBLE) group, if you will. John King, he says this, "it's time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my administration or Congress. And it's time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office" -- now given the Supreme Court decision last week that may not be all that easy.

KING: Good luck with that part. The broader effort, to Donna's point, it's part of an effort by the president not only to reconnect with his supporters, but to reconnect even with those who didn't vote for him or who were skeptical when they did vote for him. That he would be different, that he would change Washington because the one thing you get Wolf, I have visited all 50 states in the last year.

The most liberal person you meet, the most conservative person you meet agree on this point, Washington looks just the same if not worst. And so the president is in an environment where nothing is getting done in Washington. He's in charge now. He's not a candidate leading (ph) a movement. He is the president of the United States with huge Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress. And people look around, there is 10 percent unemployment. Their neighbor maybe has been foreclosed on. The value of their own house has dropped 50, 60 or $100,000. Their schools have cut back. Their state government has cut back. Their local government has cut back and they look at Washington spending all this money and they essentially say what planet are you on? And he's the president of the United States...

BLITZER: Hold on, guys, because we have a lot more to discuss. Members of the best political team on television, they're now walking in. We've got a lot more coming up. I want to check in though with Lisa Sylvester right now. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what else is going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well the Census Bureau is reporting that new home sales plunged to a nine-month low in December. According to a report released today, the seasonally adjusted annual rate fell more than seven percent from November. But the median sales price for new homes in December was about $221,000 and that is up slightly from November. Analysts say many buyers are turning to the existing home market for bargains.

And treasury -- rather in the Belgium city of Lese (ph), emergency workers are digging through rubble after a five-story apartment building collapsed. Officials say at least seven people are dead, 21 were injured. Officials believe it was caused by an explosion due to a gas leak. And New York Governor David Paterson says the 150-year-old tradition of horse-drawn carriage rides should be banned unless treatment of the horses improves. Animal rights groups say the animals are overworked and that their stables are too small and too cold in the winter. A spokesman for the Governor acknowledges that the horses are an important tourist attraction but says quote, "we must be certain to treat horses and all animals ethically" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Lisa, we're going to check back with you later -- Lisa Sylvester with some other important news. But we're counting down to the president's State of the Union address. He is supposed to be introduced before a joint session of the House and Senate just after 9:00 p.m. Eastern, a little bit more than an hour and a half from now. We'll go up to Capitol Hill and the White House -- much more of our coverage after this.


BLITZER: Let's get some more on the breaking news we are following this hour from Haiti. Late word of a teenager being pulled from the rubble of a college campus today 15 days, yes, 15 days after the earthquake. It appears she was trapped in her home all that time in a bathroom. She has been rushed to a French-run field hospital for treatment. We are told she is not -- repeat -- not seriously hurt. We're staying on this story. Let's go back to CNN's Karl Penhaul in Port-au-Prince. Karl, you've been following the story of a man rescued yesterday as well, but tell us what we know about this young girl.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right and we have CNN teams on the ground right now trying to check out the full details because at this stage, Wolf, it is really crucial to find out what exactly has been going on because of the long -- such a long time these people have allegedly been trapped under ruins beyond really any other earthquake that has been documented. People are now stretching the bounds of endurance and survivability. But what we know from the teams on the ground, the person has now been hospitalized, a 16-year- old girl. We understand that she is going to be flown off to a French hospital ship for treatment and certainly what the French doctors believe is that her state of health of hydration -- and hydration (INAUDIBLE) is consistent with having been trapped for a long, long time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We are going stay on top of this story with you, Karl. Stand by. We'll get back to you. We want to get some more information. That's an amazing story. A 15-year-old girl survives 15 days in the rubble. We're watching this. We'll go back there. Anderson Cooper is on the scene for us as well.

Only CNN could and would do this. The network assigned hundreds of journalists to track down what happened to the stimulus money. At the hub of it all, our stimulus desk is checking the facts. Where are all those taxpayer dollars going? Let's go to our chief business correspondent Ali Velshi. He's taking a closer look. You got a lot of help over there, Ali. What do we know?


ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Every time we get a new project that we are able to review, we add it to the tally of the number of dollars under review by CNN. About three billion -- $3.5 billion, in fact we are just updating it right now, just a little better than $3.5 billion in projects. I'm looking at one right now.

This is our stimulus desk, by the way, over here on my right. This is the crew of people who are digging into these stories, looking through the projects, phoning people and finding out if the money was deployed and whether jobs were created as a result. We are looking at one, a research grand for $400,000. One of our producers caught this because she sort of said that this was using stimulus money to measure the effect of stimulus.

And that's kind of what it is. It's two researchers that are getting money to study how the flood of academic grant money from stimulus impacts staffing at universities, how it particularly impacts skilled and highly educated workers in the science and engineering labor market. It also tracked H1B visas issued and graduate student enrollment as a result of stimulus.

So the bottom line is they are actually using stimulus money to track stimulus, although one of the researchers did tell -- I think it was Kerry, you spoke to -- you spoke to them -- did say that it's more complex and potentially helpful than using stimulus money to measure the stimulus quip (ph), although that is how we got into this whole thing. So the idea is that somebody is doing what we're doing at probably a higher and more academic level. At the moment the money, it looks like it's directed toward two researchers to study the effect of stimulus on employment of highly skilled science and engineering workers.

BLITZER: All right, the entire team. Much more coming up throughout the week.

We are only about 90 minutes away from the president of the United States being introduced to the joint session of Congress. We are excerpts of what the president will say tonight. You might be surprised by one paragraph I was just reading.


BLITZER: As we count down to the president's state of the union speech, we take stock of the economic pain felt by so many Americans. Many middle class and low income Americans in one city are struggling with job and home loss and are still hopeful things will turn around. Our Mary Snow has this amazing story. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if there is a city that symbolizes the need for stimulus money, Wilmington, Ohio, is it. Yes, it's unemployment rate is 15 percent after its biggest employer left last year. They received government help. As found we out, it only goes so far.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SNOW: The scene at this kitchen table is not something Andrew Michael every thought would happen. He finds himself not only lining up for free meals, the 34-year-old Air Force Vet also lives at this homeless shelter, a move that came after losing his job last year.

Did you ever think you would wind up in a home like this?

ANDREW MICHAEL, LOST HOME: Not at all. I always thought that that was a -- this was a place that I could have a job and keep that job. Always thought that I would have a home to live in.

SNOW: Michael lived with his father, but his father lost his job at the Wilmington Ohio's airpark along with more 8,000 others. DHL stopped operations here last year bringing shipping to a halt. Nearby businesses started to topple and continue to fall. In all, 10,000 people in this area lost their jobs. The head of the county's homeless shelter tells us she's seen the effects and is having a hard time meeting the demand. Denies Stryker-Grant is getting stimulus money through a grant, but not much, $200,000 spread out over three years to help keep people in their homes, but jobs, the only thing that would really help remain elusive.

DENISE STRYKER-GRANT, CLINTON COUNTY HOMELESS SHELTER: The frustration of continuing to refer them to places only to be told we have 500 resumes before you even walked in the door and the frustration of no opportunities.

SNOW: To create opportunities, Wilmington's mayor David Raizk applied for more than $61 million worth of stimulus projects. Of that, roughly $5 million has been awarded so far to a project to create jobs. It's focused on the downtown, and it's set to start this spring.

So how do you see this benefiting from stimulus money?

MAYOR DAVID RAIZK (D), WILMINGTON, OHIO: With the stimulus project, we'll be able improve our gutters and sidewalks.

SNOW: The hope he says is that improvements will attract businesses. In the immediate future, the project is estimated to create about 100 jobs.

RAIZK: They're going to be construction jobs, but it's something. It's something. You know, we -- we want jobs here of any type right now.

SNOW: To get thousands of others back to work, the mayor has set his sights on Wilmington's airpark and is hoping to redevelopment the airpark. $8 million in stimulus money is being used to retrain workers and he's optimistic Washington will come through with more aid if the airparks come back to life. But don't count Mary Houtaling out of that group. She runs a hospice which has been hurt by a drop in charitable donations. She helped put Wilmington in the spot light in 2008 when she asked then Republican presidential candidate John McCain to help save jobs in her town.

MARY HOUTALING, DIR., COMMUNITY CARE HOSPICE: Will you call for Senate hearings?

SNOW: She became a McCain supporter, Wilmington became a campaign issue. Barack Obama even made a stop in 2008 and met with Mayor Raizk, but the jobs still vanished, and these day she has little use for politicians of any stripe. She once viewed Washington as a white knight that could save jobs. How would you describe that white knight right now?

HOUTALING: He's parked his horse, put down his sword.

SNOW: While Wilmington struggles with businesses closing, there are some who refuse to give up. Take Eric and Sandy Wogomon. They opened a consignment store after they both lost their jobs.

ERIC WOGOMON, CONSIGNMENT: We felt there was a need. There is no other thing like that here in Wilmington.

SNOW: That needs says the Wogomons, includes people relying on selling clothes on consignment to get money for food, and there are plenty of stories, like the time a man needed clothes for a job interview and Eric dressed him for $15. When he later saw him on the street, there was good news.

WOGOMON: He says because of you, I got my job.

SNOW: The mayor says it's that kind of spirit that helped him do his job of being an optimist. He shows us cards and checks and random things that have been sent to him.

RAIZK: I try to maintain a close relationship with our state and federal partners to say, look, we need help, and they have responded. But, you know, that doesn't mean that they responded as much as I would like, or anybody would like.


SNOW: Bottom line, in terms of creating jobs, $5.1 million stimulus project in Wilmington is expected to create 100 jobs. The work won't begin until spring. Since our visit, Wilmington did have some good news. DHL is in the process of donating the air park to the community for redevelopment so down the road it can be a source of jobs. It's going to take awhile.

BLITZER: Let's hope it does become a source for jobs. All right. Thanks. Good report.

Let's stay in Ohio right now. CNN's national political correspondent Jessica Yellin is there with a group of average Americans. They are going to watch and listen to the speech with you.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We have 30 people here who are going to give us real time reaction to the state of the union address. They will register their thoughts and reaction as the president speaks on a dial tester. We are bringing that to you. There is an equal number of Democrats and Republicans and independents here. And I'll tell you, I started talking to these folks already. Everyone is interested to hear the president talk about the economy, jobs, jobs, jobs, not a surprise. That's the top topic I hear from them. And after that, the deficit seems to be the most common concern among folks here, even before health care reform. And perhaps the budget, jobs, it's not surprising they are issues here. In Ohio, the unemployment rate, even higher than the national average, 10.9%. We will get more detail what about they want to hear from the president and how they react after the speech. We are bringing it to you.

BLITZER: Appropriately you are in the Ohio, one of the key battle ground states. We are anxious to hear how the viewers respond. Thanks very much, Jessica. We'll get back to you.

We're counting down to the president's speech, only about an hour and 20 minutes or so away. We have more excerpts of what he will say. That's coming up.


BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in Jack Cafferty right now. He's got the Cafferty file.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes a probing inquiry for this hour. How much of the state of the union speeches matter? History suggests they don't matter a whole lot. Here's some of what you think.

Randall writes, "This one will be pretty important. Whatever he promises tonight, his party will be held accountable in November. Will it change the world? No. Will it create jobs? No. It's his view of the state of the union. As history shows, it's usually wrong."

Michael writes, "These speeches usually don't matter that much. This one does matters to me personally. I worked hard to get Obama elected and this is the last chance to show me he cares more about the people than he does about the banks. If he doesn't convince me, I'm out of here."

Pat in Michigan writes, "It doesn't matter much when the president can't make a complete and cognitive sentence. I haven't wasted my time watching them for eight years. I'll give this one 15 minutes. If it turns into another campaign speech I'm going to turn on the travel channel and start plotting my escape from the USS Titanic."

Bill in Michigan says, "The media is already stating this speech could be a pivotal moment for the president. If it weren't for all of the media hype and political fodder for the pundits, I doubt it would matter at all. It's gotten way too much predictable. Obama will make his points on the economy, jobs, terror, health care. The Republican response will tear it apart no matter what he says and the pundits will chatter about it for a week."

Joe writes, "State of the union addresses matter to the extent of gathering together in one place all of the promises which the president is likely to break over the next 12 months."

David in Las Vegas writes, "Wait three months and ask the question again. The speech writer doesn't get anything accomplished."

And Ed in Maryland writes, "They are nice break from reality, just don't hold them in front of a mirror."

If you want to read more on the subject, you will find more on my blog, It's past my bedtime. I have to go now.

BLITZER: We had lunch at the white house today, a few of the television news anchors. I got to tell you, the president of the United States is much less nervous going to this state of the union than the two previous speeches before the Congress. When you are a new guy and walk in, and are introduced, it's a big deal. He is less nervous about it.

CAFFERTY: You know who is nervous tonight? The Congressmen and senators who have to run for re-election based on what he says in about an hour. That's who's nervous.

BLITZER: All incumbents are nervous.

CAFFERTY: Vote all of them out. I'm not joking. Vote them out. Let's start over.

BLITZER: We have excerpts we are going share with you of what the president has to say. And we are also getting excerpts of what the Republican response will be. The newly elected governor of Virginia, Bob McDonald, will deliver the Republican response. Stay with us. Our coverage continues after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're counting down to the president's state of the union address. This is going to be around 9:00 p.m. eastern. About an hour and 15 minutes from now. He will be introduced before a joint session of the house and the Senate. And among other things, he will say this. Let's read the excerpt the white house has released. It's an uplifting part of the speech. The president will say, "It is because of this spirit, the great decency and great strength that I have never been more hopeful about America's future than I am tonight. Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We did not give up. We do not quit. We don't allow fear or division to break our spirit. In this new decade,: the president says, "It's time for the American people - it's time the American people get a government that matches their decency, that embodies their strength and tonight I'd like to talk about how together we with deliver on that promise."

I want to get David Gergen to weigh in on this. And Donna Brazile, she is watching this. She is standing by as well.

Donna, he's going to try to improve the tone, if you will, of the dialog. That is easier said than done. DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: As you know Wolf, he has wrestled for a large portion of the past year with members of Congress because so much of his agenda had to go through Congress in order to get enacted. And of course, he's had trouble at times keeping the Democratic caucus unified. And of course, he is facing challenges with getting the Republicans to come on board and off the political sidelines. So I think this is a challenge to both parties for Democrats to unite and to support an agenda that will restore America's economic growth and for Republicans to come off the sidelines and be a part of the solution.

BLITZER: All right. Donna, stand by. James Carville is here among others. You've got Mary Matalin there to keep you honest. The president seems to be focusing at least in this reading now on Ronald Reagan. As you remember, had problems in '81, '82 when he first took office. I think he is looking to that Ronald Reagan playbook to come up with answers for his own political problems.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: That is true. I think President Reagan, and President Obama, they lost in the high 20s in terms of seats in 1982. But President Reagan did a smart thing. He put everything in context about what he inherited and he stayed on that. And unless the president gives context of how we got here and how his plan differs and how he is going to get out of the there, he is not going to enjoy the same success.

BLITZER: President Reagan he inherited a lot of problems from Jimmy Carter back when he took office in 1981. The interest rates were, what, almost 20% and he was never shy in reminding people about what he inherited.

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Misery index was extraordinary but what he didn't do was what President Obama's been doing this whole year and can go no further is bashing, bashing, bashing. He did put it in context but he kept focusing on what was to be done about it and he focused on exactly what people wanted, jobs, not what they didn't want, in this case, another year wasted by this president on what was one of the lowest priorities for the electorate in the election of, in the last election so he focused on Iraq, did nothing and blaming backwards which is the opposite of what President Reagan did.

BLITZER: Nice to see Mary Matalin surrounded by James Carville and Paul Begala, let me read excerpt about what the president says about health care reform. I think we have that up on the screen. Here it is right there. "By the time I'm finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up." The president goes on to say, "Copays will go up, patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether." Paul, at the same time, at the same time, while he will stress the importance of trying to deal with health care reform he'll take a breath because he doesn't have the votes.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Apparently not. Can he build support for it tonight? That's an awfully tall order to ask that be in just one speech. I don't think people ought to cry for the Democrats because they only have 59 senators and majority seat in the house. If they can't govern with that, they can't govern. The responsibility to govern is theirs and they need to exercise that. If the opposition party opposes it's their opportunity to govern but it's going to take toughness, it will take abandoning the myth of bipartisanship. If you look, no president came to Washington wanting to heal the breach more than Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. Republican, Democrat alike they wanted to heal the breach, they had records in their home states of being bipartisan. How did that work out? If you look at the last 16 years you knew this president would walk into a highly charged partisan environment. He seemed unprepared for that. Let's see if he can correction that portion out.

BLITZER: I want Alex to weigh in and Bill Bennett as well.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: One thing talking about Ronald Reagan and Obama the comparison, President Obama's populism is different. It's almost a divisive populism. Those people are good Americans, the people are bad Americans. These Americans are too successful and it's at the expense of these other Americans and it's a very dark, divisive populism that I think doesn't let him use his best gifts which are inspirational and that quote you read, Wolf. Reagan's populism was different. It was we can all go forward together, the least and the greatest among us, we can all move forward together and Americans are all great. You didn't see that kind of division.

BEGALA: I have his speech in front of me from 1982. Ronald Reagan spent a huge part of his speech trashing and bashing Democratic economics which was his right.

CASTELLANOS: But he didn't trash the American people.

BEGALA: He went to Neshoba County, Mississippi, and talked about state's rights. He was a divisive man in his day.

BLITZER: Bill Bennett you worked for Ronald Reagan, didn't you?

BILL BENNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I did. I'm always excited for state of the unions. I sat there in the cabinet for five of them except when I was sent out I was sometimes the last man standing; they have to have one person for succession, god forbid, think about that, Paul. No kidding.

BEGALA: You'd make a great president.

BENNETT: I was there with the military aides. Look I think one major difference Ronald Reagan was a man of the center right and Barack Obama is a man of the left. You can't govern from the left. Paul Begala's guy, Bill Clinton when he had to pivot back to the center he didn't have that far to go. Barack Obama has a longer way to go. I want to underscore something else Paul said; they have a 78- person advantage in the House of Representatives. They have an 18- person advantage in the Senate, they have the white house. Since when did 41 become bigger than 59? Did you see Jon Stewart and his calculator, Colbert, I want this guy to do my income tax. They've got majorities, they've got the government and going to blame the government, they're going to blame Washington, that is ridiculous.

BLITZER: Guys, I want everybody to stand by over here. Roland Martin, welcome. I'm glad you're here as well, Candy Crowley is here, we have a great team, a lot more coverage coming up, much more of our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: We're only about one hour away from the president of the United States delivering his first formal state of the union address before a joint session of Congress. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Campbell Brown is here, we've got members, flanked by members of the best political team on television, these men and women, Campbell, will help us better appreciate what we're about to see and hear.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: A different kind of night perhaps, Wolf, than the white house was hoping to have tonight. Certainly a Republican win in Massachusetts, kind of putting a different spin on things, forcing the white house to rethink a little bit, their priorities and certainly how the president talks about his priorities.

BLITZER: I think it's very clear that some of the speech could have been written two, three, four, five weeks ago but some key passages we will all discover tonight could have only been written over the last few days since the dramatic upset election in Massachusetts where Ted Kennedy's seat went to a Republican.

BROWN: That's absolutely right. It will also be interesting, we'll be watching certainly the crowd tonight as we always do, and interesting to note, I think the reception the president gets not just from Republicans, but from Democrats, who were obviously going to be applauding wherever they're supposed to applaud, but he is walking into a chamber where Democrats aren't exactly thrilled with this president right now, and he's going to be speaking a lot to his own party, and what they want to hear tonight.

BLITZER: We're going to be covering every second of this. Stand by for a moment. I want to walk over to the wall over here, senior white house correspondent Ed Henry is there on the north lawn.

Ed, I know we have some excerpts of what the president has to say but fill in some of the blanks. Give us a little preview of what we'll hear.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. One of the excerpts we've heard the president talk about not just a deficit of money but a deficit of trust. What he's referring to there I'm told by senior officials he's going to talk about a new beginning tonight, basically he believes Washington has broken down and it's time for both parties to come together and specifically you mention the Massachusetts special election they insist most of this was written before that. I'm told there will be a passing reference to that election loss for Democrats but the president's going to try to use it to push forward and challenge the Republicans and basically say now you've got 41 votes in the Senate. You bear some responsibility to govern, the first key test on that, that he's going to sort of use as a barometer to say there's a jobs bill that the Senate is expected to take up next week.

We're told by senior officials the president likely to make, sort of push for various tax cuts that Republicans like, to be added to that jobs bill, almost sort of call their bluff, look, are you going to step up or not. Beyond the economy of course he'll talk about health care. Top officials say he'll make another push but not going to get very specific. They think right now Congressional leaders want to take a deep breath on health care, focus on jobs and come back to health care down the road.

There will be a second tier of issues beyond the economy and health care. Energy reform, climate change legislation, he's going to talk about some bipartisan efforts even though it's stalled now. Secondly talk about wall street reform, new rules on the road, a chance to beat up on bankers, the populist rhetoric we heard before, I finally talk a lot about education, a very substantive issue. The president will push for about $4 billion more money for education, even as he's talking about some big cuts in other areas, tightening the belt in other areas, he's going to try to push for a lot more education money, we're told, Wolf.