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THE SITUATION ROOM

No-Torture Rules: President Bush Issues New Order; Pentagon vs. Hillary Clinton; America Votes 2008: South Carolina Up for Grabs

Aired July 20, 2007 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush sets a new standard for terror interrogating suspects. Will it ease the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay?
Also this hour, the Pentagon versus Hillary Clinton. The verbal brawl over Iraq is getting more intense. Is it a gift, though, to the senator's presidential campaign?

And red-hot presidential battlegrounds in the spotlight. We're counting down to our YouTube Democratic debate in South Carolina and we're teaming up with Florida governor Charlie Crist to announce a major Republican face-off.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Miles O'Brien.

And you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The White House says President Bush is trying to clarify the rules for holding and interrogating terrorism suspects. Mr. Bush signed an executive order today, stressing to CIA operatives that torture is not an option.

Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is here.

Suzanne, why did the president sign this order now?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, the president has been under a lot of pressure, as well the Bush administration. A lot of questions as to whether or not it tortures the detainees under its custody. A lot of pressure to explain just what the procedures are.

Those procedures are very clear when it comes to the military. The Army field manual specifically laying out traditional warfare, how you treat prisoners of war.

The big question has been over this nontraditional warfare, the CIA programs which interrogate groups like al Qaeda. Now, the Supreme Court said, look, those groups, even if they're more dangerous, even if they have valuable information, should also be treated under the Geneva Convention, that they, too, should not be tortured.

While the administration says it does not torture those prisoners, the CIA has asked for some legal clarification. Critics would say legal cover. But the executive order, Miles, either way, simply provides that. Some of the things that it says is that it prevents -- prohibits torture including mutilation, cruel or inhumane treatment, no personal abuse done to humiliate or degrade. That also includes sexually indecent acts. It prohibits acts intended to denigrate one's religion.

And Miles, it also talks about what the detainees must receive. That includes basic necessities -- food, water, shelter, protection from extreme heat, as well as cold -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Well, Suzanne, there seems to be some open questions here. For example, that very controversial practice of waterboarding. Where -- do we have any clarification on those tactics specifically?

MALVEAUX: Well, Miles, we don't have clarification on those tactics. We just got off a conference from a senior administration official trying to explain essentially what this all means. And they do not get into the specifics about waterboarding. They don't get into the specifics about what it means when you say extreme cold or extreme heat. They don't talk about sleep deprivation.

So, critics would point to that and say, look, the fact that you don't have those kinds of specifics in this executive order gives the CIA the kind of legal cover, if you will, perhaps to continue those type of practices. But, Miles, the bottom line is, this administration is not willing to answer those questions, whether or not they engage in that in the first place. So, it's really hard to tell whether or not this is a real change when it comes to those specific practices -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House.

Thank you very much.

The president will briefly hand over the reins of power to Vice President Cheney tomorrow while he gets a routine colonoscopy. The White House says the president will undergrowing the cancer-screening procedure at Camp David. He'll be under anesthesia for about two and a half hours, which is why Cheney will be in charge temporarily.

More now on the nasty war of words between the Pentagon and the woman who would like to be commander in chief.

Today, front-runner Hillary Clinton is firing her volley after an undersecretary of defense accused her of aiding the enemy in Iraq. At issue is Clinton's demand for details of a possible troop withdrawal.

Our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is here.

Dana, Senator Clinton claims the Pentagon is dodging the real issue here. What does she mean by that?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what she means is that she's not getting what she wants from them, and that is, plans that they may or may not have from withdrawing from Iraq. But when it comes down to what we're really focused on here -- and that is the politics of this -- her campaign for president clearly knows that what this fight is manna from the political heavens.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice over): Senator Hillary Clinton knew she was stirring things up when she asked the defense secretary for contingency plans for troop withdrawal from Iraq.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's imperative that the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs inform the Congress of the plans they have for redeployment.

BASH: Then came a rebuke from undersecretary Eric Edelman, a former Dick Cheney aide, saying, "Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq."

So, instead of withdrawal plans, the Pentagon handed Clinton a political gift, a chance to boost her standing with 2008 Democratic primary voters by engaging in a high-profile fight with the Bush administration over Iraq.

JENNY BAUCKUS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's been hard for Hillary to get some air inside the Iraq debate. She's not seen as the most of pure of the Democratic candidates, being an anti-war candidate.

BASH: Just last year, she was booed by Democratic activists by saying a withdrawal plan is a bad idea.

CLINTON: I do not believe that it is in the best interest of our troops or our country.

BASH: Now Clinton does vote for troop withdrawal and talks about it every chance she gets. But Democratic voters are still skeptical. And a head-to-head brawl with the Bush Pentagon sets her apart from other anti-war contenders.

BAUCKUS: The Clinton campaign is hoping that this is another side of their inevitable candidacy that they can draw a response from the Bush administration when no one else can.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, to keep it going, today the Clinton campaign -- actually, the senator herself, I should say, wrote a letter to the defense secretary, and I'll give you some of it. It's on the wall next to me. She said that she wants to know about his deputy and wanted him to know that his deputy "... made spurious arguments to avoid addressing contingency planning."

And also today, Miles, Clinton joined up with John Kerry, and they formed legislation to try to force the Pentagon to brief Congress on what contingency plans they actually might have when it comes to withdrawing troops from Iraq. But it's important to note that two leading Republicans came up with similar legislation just last week, and the Senate majority leader, their Democratic leader, didn't bring it up for a vote -- Miles. O'BRIEN: Dana Bash on Capitol Hill.

Thank you very much.

It's time now for "The Cafferty File". And Jack Cafferty joining us from New York, as he always does.

Hello, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon, Miles.

Some lawmakers in the state of Utah want the federal government to reimburse their states millions of dollars -- tens of millions, actually. They say that's how much it costs to educate the children of illegal aliens. Children who wouldn't be here if the government enforced the law and secured our borders.

A state audit in Utah put the cost somewhere between $54.9 million and $85.4 million for the 2005/2006 school year. Of course, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what the dollar figure is because they don't know exactly how many kids they are talking about.

One Republican lawmaker says he doubts the federal government will pay the bill. He's probably right. But he says it's important for the feds to hear from the states and to hear "... the impact on this state of their inability to deal with this issue."

Meanwhile, the borders, of course, remain unsecured. An estimated 3,000 illegal aliens a day stream into this country. The federal government continues to refuse to enforce the immigration laws that we have on the books. And the burden on the states continues to spiral ever-upward.

So the question is this: Should the federal government have to reimburse Utah millions of dollars for the cost of educating children of illegal aliens?

E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@cnn.com, or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: I suspect it will be cheaper to just reinforce the border.

CAFFERTY: Well, there you go. But then we don't seem to be able to summon the national will to do that. Despite fighting a war on terror halfway around the world, we can't close the border to suspicious folks who may want to enter the country illegally. It's amazing.

O'BRIEN: Jack Cafferty, we'll be back with you in just a little bit. Thank you very much.

Coming up on the program, hot competition in South Carolina, just days before our YouTube debate in Charleston. We have new numbers on the presidential horse race there. They're very interesting. You'll want to hear them. Also ahead, Florida's governor on what Sunshine State voters want. Charlie Crist joins us to talk about our just-announced Republican debate in St. Petersburg, also involving YouTube.

And the Internet campaign. Everyone's doing it. But who does it best?

We're examining the candidates and their Web sites.

You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back.

The preparations are under way in Charleston right now for the big Democratic debate. That would be the CNN/YouTube forum at the Citadel this Monday night.

As we count down to the debate, we have new snapshots of both Republican and Democratic primary races in South Carolina.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. No one knows the numbers better.

And what is this latest poll tell us, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: It says there's a competitive race in South Carolina. In fact, several competitive races.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice over): You don't need to go to Darlington Raceway to find hot competition in South Carolina. In the Democratic race, Hillary Clinton is leading Barack Obama, with John Edwards running third. Clinton and Edwards are closely matched among whites. Two candidates do better with black Democrats -- Clinton...

CLINTON: In the next two hours, I think we will talk about more issues important to the African-American community than the Bush administration has in six and a half years.

SCHNEIDER: ... and Obama.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have more work to do when more young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities across America.

SCHNEIDER: Clinton's strong black support accounts for most of her lead in South Carolina, but she faces serious competition from Obama.

Look who's leading the Republican race in South Carolina. A former mayor of New York City with moderate views on some social issues. RUDY GIULIANI (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ultimately, there has to be a right to choose.

SCHNEIDER: South Carolina conservatives have not yet rallied behind a favorite. Giuliani is leading, with Fred Thompson showing strength even though he isn't in the race yet.

Conservatives admire Giuliani's record on terrorism and his defiance of liberals in New York.

GEORGE WILL, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST: I would say that your next speaker produced the eight most consecutive years of successful conservative governance in the 20th century in America.

SCHNEIDER: One more hot competition. South Carolina's supposed to be a solid red state. But President Bush's current job approval rating is 35 percent. Right now, more South Carolina voters say they would vote for a Democrat than a Republican for president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: If South Carolina is up for grabs, you know Republicans have got to be worried -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Amazing numbers. All right.

Bill Schneider in New York.

Thank you very much.

(NEWSBREAK)

O'BRIEN: Still ahead in the program, a verbal slugfest. Mitt Romney is sparring with another presidential candidate over sex education for children. Our Mary Snow will explain this political fight.

And could he be able to turn around his campaign and all its problems? Republican presidential candidate John McCain is who we're talking about. He's making some big changes. We'll tell you about the memo ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: The CNN/YouTube debate in South Carolina, Monday night will be the latest example on how the Internet has changed presidential politics.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is in Charleston right there in the center of the Citadel.

John, it's hard to overstate the impact that the Internet has had in these campaigns.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's quite amazing, Miles. We will see it Monday night in our debate when American voters get to ask questions directly from the candidates thanks to the partnership with CNN and YouTube. And we are seeing it across the spectrum as the candidates campaign for the presidency, proof that technology and especially the Internet is revolutionizing how people conduct their campaigns these days.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice over): He made his marks as a grassroots organizer the old-fashioned way, clipboards and shoe leather. Note the typewriter in this photo from a Chicago voter registration drive back in 1992.

But fast-forward to campaign 2008. No typewriters here. The architects of BarackObama.com working constantly to spread the word on YouTube, MySpace, Flickr, not to mention the official campaign Web site, where a click or two finds the next event in a town near you, or perhaps just a new ring tone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): Obama -- go, go

KING: Four years ago, Howard Dean put Internet fund-raising on the map, but in the end failed to turn all his online money and buzz into enough votes. One reason the Dean campaign veteran who now runs the Obama Web operation puts so much emphasis on helping supporters organize.

JOE ROSPARS, OBAMA DIRECTOR OF NEW MEDIA: Folks are forming their own grassroots volunteer groups. There's over 5,000 of them across the country. Each one of these tools is a piece of a campaign that an individual supporter can own use and use to evangelize to their friends.

KING: Every campaign has an Internet presence these days. John Edwards puts a premium on social networking sites, from Facebook to MySpace to Bebo.

Hillary Clinton, likewise, gets high marks from Web watchers for her creative site and attention-grabbing videos.

CLINTON: Ready?

KING: John Walsh helped Deval Patrick go from underdog to governor of Massachusetts in 2006. In part, through Internet organizing, he jokes, took some time to learn and to trust.

JOHN WALSH, FMR. PATRICK CAMPAIGN MANAGER: The first I ever heard "blog" was in this campaign. I described my technical expertise this way: I don't know how they put the little people in my TV set, but I know how to use the clicker.

CHRIS HUGHES, OBAMA ONLINE ORGANIZER: If I click on Nevada, for instance, to see who my friends are who are supporting the campaign there...

KING: Chris Hughes is among the founders of Facebook and now among the twenty-somethings looking to prove the power of Internet organizing.

HUGHES: And the idea is that I'm reaching out to the people I know. I know all these people. I went to high school with her. I knew him from college.

KING: Almost 20,000 people so far have downloaded a special Facebook application to help Obama supporters lobby their friends in early primary and caucus states.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And that, Miles, is the fundamental challenge, to prove that you can take Internet campaigning to the next level. Not just raise money, not just bring people together to into chat rooms or for blog sites, but to actually organize them in groups, especially in the early campaign states, get them to go out then, get away from their computer keyboards, go knock on doors and organize more people. And, of course, the key test in the very end is, can you get them away from the computer to the polling place?

Can you organize on the Internet and deliver votes? That is the challenge for all the campaigns this cycle -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Maybe one day we'll be able to vote at home online. Who knows? But not for now. All right.

KING: Perhaps.

O'BRIEN: John King at the Citadel.

Thank you very much.

Stand at attention next time, will you?

KING: Thank you, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Presidential candidates are clearly using their Web sites to get out their message and pull in campaign cash, as John just told us. But a new study points out that there are many interested in engaging in conversations with voters, too. You saw all those social networking sites that they are going to.

Jacki Schechner is here, who covers the Internet for us and has a little bit more on this for us.

Jacki, when you talk about a conversation, what are they trying to accomplish here?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, they are reaching out online and trying to get this one-on-one contact. But we wanted to take a look specifically at candidates' Web sites.

There's a new study out from the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which is a nonpartisan research group. They took a look at specifically of how these candidates were reaching out, taking a look at their blogs. They found that out of the 19 sites they looked at, 15 had blogs and all but two allowed you to post comments on their blog. Those would be Giuliani and Ron Paul who don't.

Others, seven of them, in fact, are allowing you to start your own blog or diary on their Web site. We even found from this study that some candidates are using television stations to get their message out. But in general the studies are finding that the Democrats are more interactive on their Web sites than the Republicans are -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Jacki, tell us, at the root of this, is this all an effort to bypass the mainstream media?

SCHECHNER: Interesting question. The study looks specifically at that and basically says that these Web sites are including mainstream media news on their Web sites, but generally only articles or press that shows the candidate in a positive or at the very least neutral light.

There's another study also that's interesting to lump in with this. This is a new one from iCrossing that basically says what you can find on the Internet in general may be more important.

It found that 30 percent of people that go to the Internet about information about candidates go to the Web site, but 88 percent go to traditional news sites like CNN.com --Miles.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Jacki.

A new survey of candidate Web sites, by the way, highlights the difference between the parties when it comes to some of the key words they use. The Project for Journalist Excellence found that the Democratic presidential candidates use these words the most on their Web sites -- take a look at them -- "children," "family," and "American". All good political words.

Republicans use these words the most, though -- "U.S.," "governor," and "Republican".

Now, it's interesting. In a campaign that has had a lot of talk about religion getting an awful lot of play, there's a word conspicuously absent from all of the Web sites of the candidates. That word is "God".

Coming up on the program, the Republican presidential scramble in South Carolina. We'll take a closer look at the surprises in our new poll.

And more on our major announcement. CNN and YouTube will partner up to host a Republican presidential debate in Florida.

I'll speak with Charlie Crist, the governor of that state, all about that important presidential race there, both primary and general election this time.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Happening now, many believe the more the troop increase plan in Iraq succeeds, the quicker U.S. troops can come home. But military commanders are warning, think again. They say success will mean more pressure for U.S. troops to stay.

Also, Colin Powell again at odds with the Bush administration. The former secretary of state supports something his former boss is against.

And you still can't take lots of liquids on board an airplane. So why would the TSA now allow you to carry on a cigarette lighter? A long-held ban has been lifted.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Miles O'Brien.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's take a second look now at our presidential poll brand new from South Carolina.

In the Republican race, Rudy Giuliani leads with 28 percent support, followed by John McCain with 20 percent. Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich aren't officially in the race, but Thompson gets 17 percent, Giuliani, 6 percent. Mitt Romney trails them with 4 percent.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's in South Carolina.

Candy, surprising news about this for McCain in particular. Let's talk about John McCain. His campaign in trouble. And his numbers.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's interesting here, this is a little good news/bad news for John McCain, because the number, 20 percent, is about where he has been before. So, after the worst two weeks of his presidential campaign, it doesn't seem to have affected his standing here in South Carolina.

The bad news is that, when you ask, "Would you support this candidate; would you think about supporting this candidate; would you never support this candidate?" in that last category, fully a third of South Carolina Republicans say they would never support John McCain. So, that's a pretty high number. Nonetheless, he is staying afloat.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about Mitt Romney. It doesn't look so good for him, does it?

CROWLEY: It doesn't. And -- and he's the one that ranks the highest when you say, "Would you ever vote for him?" Something like 37 percent of people say they -- of Republicans -- say they would never vote for Mitt Romney. We're not sure, because we didn't ask them, at this point why. But there, you know, could be issues. It could be the fact that he's a Mormon. There are a number of evangelicals and conservative, right people in this state, many of whom consider Mormonism to be cultlike.

So, there could be a number of reasons for it, but he's not doing well in this state. But I have to tell you that, from the get-go, Mitt Romney's people knew that South Carolina was going to be very, very tough for him.

O'BRIEN: Candy Crowley in South Carolina, thank you very much.

Also this announcement for you: CNN and YouTube are also partnering up to host a Republican debate, this one in Florida. It will be September 17. The presidential candidates will continue to jockey for national exposure, but they will also vie for attention in this politically important state.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: Joining us now is Florida Governor Charlie Crist and the Republican chairman for that state, Jim Greer.

Gentlemen, good to have you with us. Let's talk about the big debate.

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (R), FLORIDA: Thank you. Good to be with you.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Yes.

Governor Crist, Florida's trying to make an awfully big political splash this season, moving up its primary date. And now the big YouTube debate, this is huge.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Tell us, what do you think? What do you think, though? What do Florida voters want to hear? What can candidates say in order to be successful in Florida, which has become an even more influential state this go-round?

CRIST: Well, as you know, Florida is a very important state. It's the first mega-state that will have this early January 29 primary ballot, and I think that's significant.

What -- the issues that Floridians care about are insurance, national catastrophic insurance to lower our insurance rates, taxes. Always, we want to have lower taxes and more freedom. Those are the kind of things that Floridians care about. And with CNN and YouTube, it gives them another opportunity...

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: All right. Obviously, we had some problems with that. We will try to get that tape to work for you, and we will bring it to you a little bit later.

The next presidential debate will be on Monday at the Citadel in South Carolina, as we just heard Candy Crowley and John King there.

CNN is teaming up with YouTube. As we have been telling you, it will be the first debate where all of you can submit your questions to the candidates online.

Coming up on the program, it's rough out on the presidential campaign trail. Two candidates are involved in quite a political scuffle. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama trade barbs over sex education. Mary Snow will explain.

And he's planned his work, but can he work his plan? John McCain has some ideas to try to turn around his campaign. We will talk about them in our "Strategy Session."

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Well, it's no boxing match, but it is a verbal slugfest. Right now, two presidential candidates are ripping into each other over the issue of sex education -- in one corner, Democrat Barack Obama, in the other Republican, Mitt Romney.

Our Mary Snow is right in the middle of it, watching it all for us.

Hello, Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Miles.

You know, today, out on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney continued to target Barack Obama's comments on early sex education. And, as he does, his own record is coming under scrutiny.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney fired the first salvo in the sex education debate earlier this week.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I heard a -- a quote today from Senator Barack Obama which -- which puzzled me. He said that we should have sex education in kindergarten.

SNOW: Democrat Barack Obama tells the Associated Press, Romney's claim was a -- quote -- "cheap shot aimed at gaining political points."

Here is what Obama said during a Planned Parenthood conference.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's the right thing to do, you know, to provide age-appropriate sex education, science-based sex education in the schools.

SNOW: Obama referred to a sex-ed program he supported in Illinois that includes kindergartners. Here he is in 2004 explaining it could address topics like inappropriate touching. OBAMA: That was included specifically in the law, so that kindergartners are able to exercise some possible protection against abuse.

SNOW: Appealing to conservatives, Romney is seizing on Obama's support of early sex education.

ROMNEY: He went on to say, of course, it should be age- appropriate.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: How much sex education is age-appropriate for a 5-year- old? In my view, zero is the right amount.

SNOW: What Romney didn't mention was that, in 2002, while he was running for governor of Massachusetts, he answered yes to a Planned Parenthood questionnaire that asked, "Do you support the teaching of responsible, age-appropriate, factually accurate health and sexuality education, including information about both abstinence and contraception in public schools?"

An adviser to Romney says Romney stressed teaching abstinence and fought to have it introduced in Massachusetts schools, but he also admits that, while governor, Romney did not challenge an existing state education framework that includes sex education for kids as early as kindergarten.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, the program in Massachusetts is not mandatory. A Romney adviser says, anecdotally, most of the sex-ed programs in the state don't begin until fifth grade -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Mary Snow in New York, thank you very much.

While Fred Thompson is still testing the waters for an '08 run, a senior adviser confirms to CNN that the actor and former senator will officially launch his bid for the White House after Labor Day. But Fred Thompson's supporters are getting antsy.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what are the Fred Thompson supporters doing online?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Miles, they are saying, what's the holdup?

I want you to meet the FredHeads. These are the self-described supporters of a Fred Thompson presidential bid who populate online forums, unofficial draft sites and blogs. And, as he continues to test the waters, you get the sense that some of them are getting a little bit restless. The operator of the FredHeads.com Web site telling CNN that he worries that support will dwindle as time goes on.

Well, this is the support that Thompson has been cultivating for months now. He's been blogging, doing online interviews. And thousands of people have been signing up at these unofficial draft Web sites, saying, we're ready to help. But, if you speak to some of the people that run the forums, they say they get a sense that people are getting a little bit impatient, if excited at the same time. One person telling me, it's kind of like waiting for the iPhone.

Well, a Thompson spokesperson tells CNN today that they are flattered by the support and told them that, hopefully, they will have an answer for them one way or another in the very near future -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Abbi Tatton, thank you very much, watching the Web for us, lots doing out there.

And, as we told you a little bit earlier, September 17, a YouTube debate with CNN for the Republicans. This time, it will be in Saint Petersburg, Florida.

A little while ago, we gave you the beginning of my interview with Florida Governor Charlie Crist and the Republican National -- excuse me, the state Republican chairman, Jim Greer.

I asked Jim Greer about the Internet gap between Republicans and Democrats and why Democrats seem to be doing better on that front. I asked him what Republicans can do to close the gap.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM GREER, CHAIRMAN, FLORIDA REPUBLICAN PARTY: Well, I think the Republican candidates are recognizing that the Internet is very important to being successful. And here with the Republican Party of Florida and across the nation, the Internet is becoming a major player in electing a president.

O'BRIEN: And, so, what's -- what's your advice, though? Why -- why have Republicans lagged there?

GREER: Well, I think, you know, Republicans have focused on different areas of communication, traditional areas.

But, as we look to the future, we have got to be innovative. And the campaigns are recognizing that. And we certainly are doing it here in Florida by getting together with YouTube.

O'BRIEN: Who's is doing best...

(CROSSTALK)

CRIST: Obviously, we would recommend that they watch YouTube and CNN.

O'BRIEN: There you go.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: We appreciate that. Who is doing best in Florida right now, Mr. Greer? Would you -- would you care to venture which message is resonating so far?

GREER: Well, I think we have a great lineup of Republican candidates across the board. They're all coming to Florida on a frequent basis, because they recognize the importance Florida's going to play in the next election.

So, I wouldn't speculate on who's doing best. I just know, on the Republican side, we have the best candidates.

O'BRIEN: Ever so diplomatic, Mr. Greer, politically diplomatic. Appreciate that.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Governor Crist, let's -- I want to throw some numbers here that any governor would like to see. This is from the Quinnipiac University poll July 12 through the 16, your approval rating at 73 percent. That's a good number. As a matter of fact, you're right at the top among governors right now.

And, first of all...

CRIST: Well...

O'BRIEN: ... does that make you nervous, when you're -- when you're that high, or do you -- do you -- do you feel like you can sustain that kind of support?

CRIST: Are you kidding? Of course it makes me nervous.

You know, when you see numbers like that, you know that there's only one way to go, and it's down. So -- but, really, in all seriousness, as it relates to those kind of ratings, it's a team effort. Those aren't really my numbers.

Those are numbers that I share with the Florida legislature, with our speaker, Marco Rubio, our Senate president, Ken Pruitt, frankly, with people that work hard every day all over this state. And, so, while I'm flattered and I'm humbled by those kinds of numbers, I realize that's just a daily snapshot.

What I have to do is keep working hard for the people of Florida on some of the issues we talked about, continuing to try to lower their property insurance and their property taxes. Those are huge issues in our state.

O'BRIEN: You know, it's interesting, though. You have sort of found yourself in the Bloomberg-Schwarzenegger wing of the party, with some moderate stances on the environment, for example, fiscally conservative, in your case, interestingly enough, too, still very tough on crime. You signed the first death warrant in Florida in seven months, after some controversy about the death penalty there.

Is it -- is this hard for Republican voters to understand? Is it too -- too all over the map, do you think?

CRIST: No, not at all. I think it's very much what a common sense public servant would advocate. I mean, we are tough on crime here in the state of Florida. We do believe in lower taxes. We do believe in protecting our environment.

You know, we -- we do believe in restoring felons' rights after they have paid their debt to society. I mean, these are the kinds of things that the founders of our party fought for, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, civil rights, protecting our environment. I think it's just a common sense approach. It's the Florida way of doing things.

O'BRIEN: Governor...

CRIST: Yes, sir.

O'BRIEN: ... you're at home in Saint Petersburg. You have announced a debate that is going to happen in September right on your home turf. What do you want hear from the candidates, then?

CRIST: Well, I think what other Floridians want to hear. We want to make sure that the candidates are focused on the issues that matter to Floridians, and, frankly, I think all Americans, lower taxes, tough on crime, making sure that we protect our environment, we do the kinds of things that improve the quality of life of our fellow Floridians and our fellow Americans.

I think the debate in September gives us exactly that opportunity. It empowers voters, frankly, to give them a chance to make a better selection and be better educated when that time to vote on January 29 comes and passes.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Governor Charlie Crist and the party chairman in Florida, Jim Greer.

CRIST: Thank you, Miles.

GREER: Thank you. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: We're getting thousands of questions for you from -- from you for our CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential debate, but none may be more surprising than an entry from a top Republican Party official.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE DUNCAN, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Senator Clinton, last year, you said you didn't think it was a -- quote -- "smart strategy" to set a date certain for withdrawal from Iraq.

And, Senator Obama, you said you didn't -- quote -- "believe that setting a date certain for the total withdrawal of U.S. troops was the best approach to achieving our goals." Since then, however, both of you have reversed your positions. My question to both of you is this: In the 2004 election, your colleague Senator Kerry was criticized for his contradictory positions on the Iraq war. How do you expect to win this election by taking a page from his playbook?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That was Mike Duncan, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

The Republican Party is urging all of its members to post their own questions to the Democratic candidates via YouTube and CNN.

Still ahead: the stakes in South Carolina. Just days before our big debate, who needs to improve their Southern strategies? J.C. Watts and Paul Begala are standing by. They have clearance to enter THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also in our "Strategy Session": Were predictions of the death of John McCain's campaign premature? Is he on the comeback trail?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: We are counting down to our CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential debate Monday at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina.

Right now, we're poring over some new poll numbers of the horse race that is shaping up in that state. They are some interesting numbers.

Joining me now are two political analysts who join us here frequently. Paul Begala is a Democratic strategist, J.C. Watts a form Republican congressman from Oklahoma.

Good to have you both with us.

All right, let's start on the Democratic side here for just a moment. This is CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, July 16-18. Hillary Clinton at the top, with 39 percent. Obama comes in with 25 percent, Edwards at 15 percent, Gore with 10 percent. But that's the overall group.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Now, let's do the subset very quickly here, if we could. Separating it among the races, African-Americans vs. whites, Clinton at 47 to 30, Obama 31/18, Edwards 4/27.

What -- Paul Begala, what do you make of those numbers, overall, as well as racial...

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, so far, so good for Hillary.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

BEGALA: You know? Her campaign strategy has been the notion that she wears well. Yes, there are people who don't like her. There are some people who love her. But, over time, she can win you over. That is what she's done in New York. That's what her strategists think she can do so far in the nomination process. And she is.

What's historic about this, South Carolina is the first major primary with significant African-American vote support -- not a lot of blacks in Iowa or New Hampshire.

In the past, when we have had major African-American candidates, whether it's Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, most of the white candidates were either unable or unwilling to compete for those votes.

O'BRIEN: Mm-hmm.

BEGALA: This is going to be the first time, I think, when you have had a very serious African-American candidate, Barack Obama, and a white candidate, in Hillary Clinton, who is challenging for those votes. Good for the Democrats, good for the party. I think it's good for the South Carolina African-American community, too.

O'BRIEN: So -- can either take the African-American vote as a given, do you think, J.C.?

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's an accurate assessment.

I think, when you look at the numbers, Miles, on the Democrat side, the numbers are trending in favor of Hillary Clinton. They have been for some time. Barack's having trouble breaking through.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Why? What's going on with him? What -- how would you assess that?

WATTS: Well, I -- I -- the dollars that he's raised just haven't translated into votes.

O'BRIEN: It's big money. It's really big money.

WATTS: And but -- but I think there are some interesting things that he has said, some things that he has used when he has talked about changing the page -- turning the page, you know, need -- need fresh -- a fresh face, new start.

You know, that -- that -- that's a shot at Senator Clinton, because, you know, if you look at it, Miles, in November of '08, we would have had a Bush or Clinton on the national ticket in every presidential race for the last 28 years.

So, you know, now, the black vote, I don't think either candidate can say we have got it wrapped up. But, at the end of the day, I think Barack Obama is going to stand his own with the black vote.

O'BRIEN: Oh, you think so?

WATTS: I do.

O'BRIEN: Way too early, I guess, at this point.

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: Yes.

BEGALA: Yes.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's go to the other side of the aisle. Let's look at the Republican numbers here, same poll.

Giuliani on top in South Carolina, Giuliani on top, at 28 percent, McCain at 20 percent. Wait a minute. McCain's -- I thought McCain's candidacy was all but dead, or so we said in the media, right? Fred Thompson, who is not even in there, 17 percent. Newt Gingrich, he is not in there either, 6 percent.

What's going on with that poll?

BEGALA: Well, the most interesting thing is Mitt Romney, who -- where is he?

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Oh, yes, we didn't -- where is Romney's number?

BEGALA: Five, I think.

O'BRIEN: He's at 5, yes..

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Five.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

BEGALA: So, he's competing with margin of error.

O'BRIEN: Right.

BEGALA: OK? Now, he's the guy who has got the most money.

O'BRIEN: And he's some money, yes.

BEGALA: He's got the most money. He's run the most ads.

Now, he's only begun to advertise in South Carolina, four days ago. So, that won't be reflected in this data. But this is really bad news for Mitt Romney. Why he's unable to kind of crack it in South Carolina, I don't know. He's doing quite well in Iowa and in New Hampshire. Maybe his ads will help. He's got this guy Alex Castellanos, probably the best ad-maker in the Republican Party. But he's got to be really worried when -- when...

O'BRIEN: All right.

BEGALA: ... you're sort of the -- one of the front-runners, and you're competing with margin for -- margin of error.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Yes, I hate to say it, but are people in the Bible Belt a little bit suspect of Mormons? Is that it? Is that's what's going on?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: When -- when -- when Orrin Hatch, the senator from Utah, who is a Mormon, ran for president against Governor Bush in 2000 -- he lost -- and I interviewed him, and he said that he thought there was some anti-LDS, anti-Mormon prejudice in his party. Now, that was a long time ago, and I have had other Republicans tell me, well, no, Romney is a different and frankly more talented candidate.

So, I don't know. But I -- frankly, I think, yes, there is some anti-Mormon prejudice there, which is really a tragedy for the Republicans.

O'BRIEN: J.C., What do you think?

WATTS: Well, Miles, I said, on the Democrat side, it is trending towards Senator Clinton. On the Republican side, I -- we don't know where it's trending. I think...

O'BRIEN: It's all over the map.

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: It's all over the map.

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: I think those numbers are indicative of what's going on in the Republican landscape. John McCain, I'm not ready to call him Lazarus yet, but I did say, Paul, I think the last time you and I were on the show, about two weeks ago, I said, don't count John McCain out.

I think John is the one candidate on the Republican side has the stature, has the bandwidth that he can run without the money. He's -- he's -- he's been...

O'BRIEN: Do without money.

WATTS: He's been used to doing that.

O'BRIEN: As a matter of fact, let's share with folks a little bit of the memo that he's circulated around.

Step one, he says, is spend less, significantly reduce the size of the campaign overhead, hold expenses below the lowest-income month, take advantage of free media events, participate in more sponsored events. Live off the land is the term he's using.

Step two is, raise more money.

Is that a memo that you would have written?

BEGALA: No.

O'BRIEN: No. What would you have said?

BEGALA: Absolutely not.

O'BRIEN: What would you have said?

BEGALA: That's all fine, but that's all...

WATTS: But for John McCain?

BEGALA: No. That's -- that's all -- I'm trying to be respectful. McCain is a hero.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

BEGALA: But that's all mechanics. OK?

McCain needs a message. The most important thing in a campaign is a message. You can live off the land if you stand for something.

O'BRIEN: Right.

BEGALA: You know? And -- and he needs to stand for something.

And, right now, he stands for a very unpopular position on immigration in his party and a disastrously unpopular war. There's another option for John McCain. He has, unique among Republicans, a progressive view on global warming. Now, he can run as a -- and on campaign finance. He can run as a Teddy Roosevelt Republican, not a Ronald Reagan.

O'BRIEN: Why hasn't he done that?

BEGALA: He should break with Bush, take on big oil, talk about cleaning up the environment.

O'BRIEN: That's straight talk.

What do you think?

BEGALA: Republicans believe in that. And it would be great for McCain. Don't worry about -- let somebody else worry about the money. He needs to worry about the message.

O'BRIEN: What do you think, J.C.?

WATTS: Well, I -- I can't...

O'BRIEN: Would you recommend that?

WATTS: I can't speak for John McCain.

But I think John McCain, the difference in John McCain and Al Gore, when it comes to the environment, is, John McCain believes that we should conserve energy. We should turn our lights off if we're not using them. You know, don't waste energy. But I'm not so sure that he believes that it's because the Earth is melting, and which is the Al Gore position.

O'BRIEN: Oh, he -- no, he's been out there early and often on capping carbon emissions.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I mean, he is one of the -- ironically, for a Republican, he's been really in the vanguard on this.

WATTS: Even, but, you know, that's not -- that's not a -- a popular position in the Republican Party. And I think science would support, you know, what I would say about it.

Well, like I said, I can't talk for John McCain, but I can talk for me. I don't believe the Earth is melting because of carbon emissions.

O'BRIEN: Oh, well, you're not paying attention to the science, J.C.

WATTS: Well...

O'BRIEN: You're definitely not paying attention.

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: You have got science on both sides of that issue.

BEGALA: No.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: No, you don't. No, you don't.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: The scientific debate is over, J.C. We're done. We're out of...

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: Well, Miles, that's your position.

O'BRIEN: No, no, no, that's not -- that is science. That is science.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: The science is...

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: Well, it's political science.

O'BRIEN: Yes, no, no.

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: It's political science.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: The politics of it...

O'BRIEN: We're out of time.

BEGALA: The politics of it, it would allow McCain to break with Bush, which he desperately needs to do, probably wants to do.

WATTS: On the war?

BEGALA: Break with Bush at all. He can't break with him on the war. Break him with taking on big oil companies and their big money.

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: I think he's carrying Bush in the war, which is not a popular position.

O'BRIEN: All right, gents, I'm sorry. We have to invoke cloture.

BEGALA: All right.

O'BRIEN: Sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Still ahead: Should the federal government pay -- thank you, gentlemen.

Should the federal government pay for educating illegal immigrants? Jack Cafferty is standing by with your e-mail.

Plus, we have been studying phone records released by the so- called D.C. madam. You want to know what is in there, don't you? We found some clues about her best clients.

And I will ask the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations why he wants the United Nations more involved in Iraq. Is it because the Bush administration can't hack it? You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Jack Cafferty is back with "The Cafferty File."

Hello, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Miles, the question this hour: Should the federal government have to reimburse Utah tens of millions of dollars for the cost of educating children of illegal aliens?

Gary writes from Alpharetta, Georgia: "As someone who lives through this every day, I don't believe stating that this is a threat to national security goes too far. Who is responsible for national security? Last I checked, it's federal government. They should camp the military on the border and stop this insane flow of illegal immigrants."

Anne in Barefoot Bay, Florida. That's a rather quaint name. "We should not be paying for the education of children of illegals. Send them back over the border and have them come in the same way we did. They don't have enough funding for our children. Why aren't we impeaching this president for not keeping the country safe?"

John in Utah: "Jack, I live in Utah. I can tell you, this is just another attempt by the state government to demand a handout. All this whining by people who claim illegal immigrants' kids are a drain are the same people hiring their parents out front of Home Depot or inviting them over to maintain their overwatered front lawns."

Mike in New Mexico: "Jack, if the feds were to reimburse Utah for the education of illegal children, they would have to do the same for all the border states as well. I wonder if Utah teachers are required to speak Spanish, like we are here in New Mexico."

James in Utah: "Of course not. Utah loves these illegal immigrants. The Catholics and Mormons get the 10 percent tithing, and that is what makes the world go round."

Karen in Michigan: "If the U.S. government reimburses Utah for the schooling of illegal immigrants, it will just add it to what we already owe the Chinese banks. How about the country of origin reimbursing Utah? Want to come to the U.S.? Well, guess what? Freedom isn't free."

And Pamy in Tacoma, Washington: "You bet, and California, and Arizona, and New Mexico, and Texas, and Colorado" -- and, Miles.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Jack.

CAFFERTY: You're most welcome.

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