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If Giuliani, Clinton Square-Off; Interview With RNC Chairman Mike Duncan

Aired November 15, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, countdown to political combat. We're in Las Vegas for our Democratic presidential debate where it's a sure bet things will get intense tonight.
Will luck help Hillary Clinton recover from her missteps, or are her rivals betting on throwing her off her game? One thing is for sure, Nevada voters will be watching very, very closely.

Nevada could go either way in this presidential election. You're going to see just how close the split in this state could be.

And Catholic bishops offering some advice on picking your candidate. There's one surprise -- be flexible when it comes to abortion.

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

The important discussions and sharp political attacks will all unfold right here on this stage behind me. All eyes will be on our CNN Democratic presidential debate, and it's happening only a few hours from now.

I'll moderate, the candidates will spar here in the Cox Pavilion at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. It's all happening in a state that Democrats desperately want to win in the primary season and the general election. Nevada is among a handful of tossup states that could vote either Republican or Democratic, and we're see evidence of that in a fresh CNN poll.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is here at the Cox Pavilion with us.

All right. So what's the number one priority for voters right now in this state?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Electability. Voters of both political parties are looking for a candidate who can win the election next year.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice over): Why is Hillary Clinton the democratic front-runner? Polls suggest it's the "E" factor. Democrats see her as the most electable candidate.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know how to beat them.

SCHNEIDER: It's the same reason why Rudy Giuliani is the Republican front-runner, at least in national polls. Many Republicans who don't great with Giuliani on issues like abortion and gay rights are willing to support him because they think he can win.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm the one Republican who can win the general election.

SCHNEIDER: But just how electable are the two front-runners? Seven national polls taken this month pit Hillary Clinton against Rudy Giuliani. Clinton comes out slightly ahead in all of them by one to 10 points. Average the seven polls, and you get Clinton, 49 percent and Giuliani, 44, a five-point lead for Clinton.

So the answer to the question, "Is Clinton electable?" appears to be yes by a narrow margin, but she doesn't do as well as a Democrat ought to be doing. Asked to choose between an unnamed Democrat and Republican candidate, the Democrat leads by 13 points.

Why the difference? Mainly because the former New York mayor does better with independent voters than a generic Republican does. Giuliani appeals to voters who would otherwise not vote for a Republican. The question is whether he can retain that appeal if he sounds more and more like a Republican.

Look at Nevada, a bellwether state that has voted for the winner in every presidential election since 1912, save one, in 1976. How would Nevada vote between Clinton and Giuliani right now? Giuliani 47 percent, Clinton 46 percent, too close to call.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Now, who would carry New York, the state that both Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani call home? A poll taken for Channel New York One this month shows Clinton with a 15-point lead over Giuliani in New York. Now, Giuliani is a native New Yorker, he's lived in New York a lot longer, but in presidential elections, as you know -- you're a native New Yorker -- New York is still a solidly Democratic state.

BLITZER: And -- but it's amazing that Republicans do get elected. Even in New York City -- Giuliani, Mayor Bloomberg was a Republican until recently when he became an Independent. So -- but even New York can get some Republicans elected statewide, including in the city from time to time.

SCHNEIDER: The city of New York. But presidential politics is a whole different matter. There, New York has been and probably continues to be from this poll solidly Democratic.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much. Stand by. You're going to be working hard tonight.

Hillary Clinton will surely try to undo any negative impressions caused by her own missteps or by recent attacks from her rivals. Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King. He's here in Las Vegas watching all of this unfold.

Give us a little sense, John, what should we expect to see tonight?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming front-runner. And the challenge for her is to prove that the last debate was an aberration, that she will have a strong performance tonight.

She's going to face a lot of questions about a lot of issues, specifically the recent dustup over immigration, whether illegal immigrants should get drivers' licenses. And she has to show that she has command of the issue and that she can put that issue behind her.

She's going to have to deal with it in this debate tonight, but she has to deal with her rivals in the Democratic Party first. So all of the pressure, if you will, is on Hillary Clinton right now.

And to the point Bill Schneider was just making, yes, it's about immigration, yes, it's about the criticism her rivals will give her on Iran. But the big picture is all of these other candidates are trying to tell Democratic voters now that Iowa is so close, Nevada just behind it, take a second look. She's not inevitable, and they want to say she's not electable, take a look at us, too. So most of the pressure on the front-runner.

BLITZER: You know, John, there's a sense that some of these rivals, especially John Edwards, maybe Barack Obama, can go too far in lashing out at Hillary Clinton and that could backfire. Is there a -- is there a line over which they can't cross?

KING: There's a line out there somewhere, Wolf, and that is the problem for those candidates, trying to find it.

Look, Hillary Clinton has some negatives, but they're mostly with Independents and Republicans. Even Democrats who aren't supporting her tend to like her, have fond memories of her husband's administration. The Clinton campaign on purpose has been using the former president as her defender on the campaign trail. Why? Because Democrats love the Clintons, love the Clinton legacy, and her position essentially is, we need to beat the Republicans next year, why are we fighting among ourselves?

So, it is a line, but if you're John Edwards, Barack Obama, or anyone else in the Democratic field, and you are trying to puncture Hillary Clinton's lead, you have to test and probe and fine where that line is, and maybe somebody will cross it. But the only way to get at her, Wolf, is to criticize her, but she is well liked among Democrats, so it's always risky when you go negative.

BLITZER: It's a fine line.

All right, John. Thanks very much.

John King and Bill Schneider, as all of our viewers know, they are part of the best political team on television.

Suzanne Malveaux, John Roberts and Campbell Brown, they're standing by to join us shortly here in the situation room. They'll be joining me later tonight in this debate as well.

Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our political ticker. Simply go to CNN.com/ticker.

And this programming note once again. We're here in Las Vegas. I'll be moderating the debate in this key western state. The Democratic presidential candidates, they're getting ready for the questioning.

It all starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, later tonight, for two hours, right here on CNN.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York. He's getting ready for the debate as well.

Jack, join us, please.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Is there a debate tonight?

BLITZER: Have you...

CAFFERTY: Yes, I have. I've heard about it.

Millions of Americans getting ready to head home to grandma's house over Thanksgiving or Christmas, or whatever, the holiday season. Think about this: investigators have been able to pass through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at 19 U.S. airports undetected, carrying bomb-making components in their luggage and on their person.

The Government Accountability Office, GAO, says investigators bought this stuff at local stores or online for less than $150. The investigators also tested devices that could be built with these smuggled components, and guess what they found? A terrorist using these things could "cause severe damage to an airplane and threaten the safety of its passengers."

The head of the TSA defends the administration's policies -- of course, that's what they do. They say that the screening checkpoints are only one of a multi-layered approach to security. He says the agency has 19 security steps they use before and after checkpoint screening.

Meanwhile, even though the investigators conducted these tests at 19 airports, they said they would have been successful at many other airports. All they had to do was give it a shot.

So, while airport screeners are busy taking away your shampoo and hand lotion, think about what they might be missing.

Here's the question: How confident are you in airport security if investigators are able to pass through checkpoints at 19 airports carrying bomb-making components?

E-mail us at caffertyfile@cnn.com, or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile.

What do you bet they ask for more money in their budget next year? Because they're doing a great job, but they want to do even better.

BLITZER: They always ask for -- everybody asks for more money, Jack. That's not going to be a surprise.

CAFFERTY: I guess you're right.

BLITZER: Stand by. We have got a lot of work coming up over the next several hours.

Jack's going to be part of our roundtable during our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour as well.

Republicans now smell red meat. Some of them are in Las Vegas amid a sea of Democrats claiming Nevada is Republican-red. But is that true? The head of the Republican National Committee says what he thinks. We'll do a fact check.

That's coming up.

Also, the longest-serving Republican House speaker ever calling it quits. So why does that pose a problem for the Republican Party?

And a group accustomed to offering spiritual counsel offers some political advice, saying it's OK to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights.

We're live from Las Vegas, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It will be the Democratic candidates debating here in Las Vegas later tonight as they square off right here at CNN, but rest assured Republican leaders will be watching very, very closely, including the party's man at the top. He's here in Las Vegas, and he wants to see it up close and personal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Mike Duncan.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

Wolf, thank you. It's good to be with you in the Republican state of Nevada.

BLITZER: You know, I spent some time yesterday with the mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman. He says there are now more Democrats registered in this state, about 30,000 more, I think he said, 20,000 or 30,000, than Republicans. That's what the mayor, Oscar Goodman, said.

Well, I would talk to the mayor of north Las Vegas. There's a Republican mayor there. I think those numbers are wrong.

I think that there has been some registration change, and one of the reasons is Clark County is not purged yet. And we're just now getting our registration drive going.

You know, this is a very competitive state from a registration standpoint. The Democrats four years ago got off to a little earlier start on us. Then we caught up and passed them at the end.

But this is a Republican state. We have a Republican governor. We have a majority of the numbers of the congressional delegation. The last two elections have gone to the Republican Party for the president here. So we're very pleased with Nevada.

BLITZER: On the other side, you've got Harry Reid, who's one of the senators. John Ensign is the Republican, Harry Reid, the majority leader, is the other senator, the Democrat.

Bill Clinton carried this state I believe twice when he was running. So it could go either way down the road, but you're obviously focusing a lot of attention on Nevada.

DUNCAN: Absolutely. It's interesting that you mentioned Clinton, because his numbers are much better in Nevada than Reid's or his wife's numbers. You know, Harry Reid's numbers are upside down here.

He has a higher negative rating than he does a positive rating, and that's because he has been moving to the left. The MoveOn.org crowd has been pushing him to the left. He's had -- you know, he's had, what, 59 votes so far on the war. He's naming a lot of post offices, but we're not getting a lot of legislation in Washington.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about what you expect tonight.

If you go to the RNC Web site, you see a lot of focus on Hillary Clinton. Are you guys simply assuming that she's going to be the Democratic nominee?

DUNCAN: Well, Hillary Clinton certainly is doing well in the polls, but it's not our job to pick the Democratic nominee.

BLITZER: But you really go after her -- you really go after her a lot more than you focus in on the other Democratic presidential candidates.

DUNCAN: Well, we're ready for all of them. And I'm very anxious tonight to see what they have to say about taxation, Social Security, just the war issues.

The Democrats all have moved so far to the left. Hillary has been the leader so far, obviously. The polling shows that. The polling shows that she's a leader in this state. It also shows a negative number for her in this state.

BLITZER: In our poll that we just released, likely Democratic caucus-goers in Nevada, Clinton gets 63 percent -- in terms of the best chance of beating a Republican, Clinton gets 63 percent, Obama 15 percent, 11 percent Edwards.

So among likely Democratic caucus-goers, they think she has the best chance of beating a Republican.

DUNCAN: I read the same poll, but I also have seen the polls that show that her unfavorable rating here in Nevada is higher than her positive rating, which gives us great hope. I'm very optimistic about the 2008 presidential election.

BLITZER: In Nevada, the poll we released this morning, in a hypothetical match-up between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, Giuliani gets 47 percent, Hillary Clinton gets 46 percent. So statistically almost a dead heat.

In a hypothetical match-up between Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton gets 51 percent, Romney gets 42 percent.

So in Nevada, what does that say to you, that she beats Romney, but she's very close, maybe even loses to Giuliani?

DUNCAN: It says that our top-tier candidates match up very well against the Democrats' top-tier candidates. This early out -- we're almost a year out -- I'm very pleased with the poll results that we have nationally, not only in Nevada, but in Ohio, and other key states for the elections next year. It shows that our candidates can beat whoever the Democrats put forward.

BLITZER: How much of a burden will the war in Iraq be, do you believe, going into the next election?

DUNCAN: It won't be the overriding issue in the next election, Wolf. I mean, the surge is working, we are having troops come home. Certainly national security and personal security will be an issue in the election, but as far as the negative for the Republican Party, I just don't see it that way.

BLITZER: What's the biggest issue, do you believe, the two, three biggest issues that will be hovering over this upcoming election?

DUNCAN: Well, I think credibility is going to be one of the issues, and it has to do certainly if Hillary is the candidate, is she going to answer the questions? Is she going to unlock the library? Is she going to tell us where she stands on the alternative minimum tax? Is she going to tell us where she wants to remove the Social Security cap? Is she going to tell us what her brother is going to do on pardons?

You know, we would love to get into the library so we can see some of those things and those discussions that went on with the pardons in the last few days of the Clinton administration. BLITZER: I hear a focus on Hillary Clinton once again.

DUNCAN: Well, I'll talk about Obama for a second if you'd like.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

DUNCAN: Obama, I hope he doesn't get a pass tonight the way he did in the legislature where he was recently, because he's relatively new and untested commodity on the political scene, where he was able to vote present on hard issues, like partial-birth abortion. I hope tonight that the questions pin him down on that.

And then there's John Edwards. What can I say? John Edwards, who worked with the hedge fund that he made $500,000 there, yet he wants to be in the other America. And that hedge fund is foreclosing on people, and he did it so he could learn about poverty?

I could go on and on about the Democrats.

BLITZER: So you're doing the opposition research, as they say.

DUNCAN: Yes sir. Yes sir.

BLITZER: Mike Duncan, thanks very much for coming in.

DUNCAN: Well, thank you. Good to be with you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And you're looking at these live pictures here at the Cox Pavilion at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Right behind me, John Edwards is now getting a tour of the facility. We have invited all seven Democratic presidential candidates here in Las Vegas to take a look at the set, take a look at the podium.

Our Washington bureau chief, David Boreman (ph), is briefing him now on the logistics, what all the candidates can expect. There with his back to the camera is John Edwards right now, hearing from David Boreman (ph) some of the layout.

It should be familiar. There have been several of these Democratic presidential debates, including the one I moderated early in June. Very similar situation here at UNLV. And we'll show you the candidates as they all come up on the stage behind me to get a lay of the land, to get a sense of the logistics, what to expect later tonight.

By the way, in our interview yesterday with the Las Vegas mayor, Oscar Goodman, as I noted in the interview with Mike Duncan he claimed there are more Democrats than Republicans actually registered to vote in Nevada. And you just heard the Republican Party chairman, Mike Duncan. He insisted the opposite was the case, so we checked to see who's right.

We checked with the Web site of the Nevada secretary of state, and here is what we found out. As of the end of October, there are 8,711 more registered Democrats than Republicans in this state.

And joining us, by the way, in our 6:00 p.m. eastern hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Howard Dean, the chairman of the DNC, the Democratic National Committee. He'll be joining us live. We'll get his take on what's happening with the Democrats as they get ready for the debate later tonight.

Also coming up, getting ready for your Thanksgiving trip? You can expect some long delays, but President Bush has just done something to try to help rush all of us through. It partly involves the U.S. military.

We'll explain what's going on.

And the math is not in the Republicans' favor. Amid a fresh resignation of a House Republican, the party stares at a very harsh reality. It's going to be very tough trying to get back the House majority from the Democrats.

We're live from the Cox Pavilion at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: The gambling capital is making a huge wager. Nevada is now an important early player in the presidential process, but many are wondering if voters really care enough to come out and vote.

And church and state. If you're worried about whether or not to vote for someone who supports abortion rights, some Catholic bishops have some advice for you. And it may not necessarily be what you expect to hear.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, the U.S. military has been going after al Qaeda and Iraq's insurgents, but critics say Iraq's own government may now be the biggest problem.

Family members executed, unspeakable torture. A young man who survived a North Korean prison camp defects and tells his horrific tale of survival.

This is a CNN exclusive that's coming up.

And a Polish man cornered in the Vancouver airport dies after police shoot him with a stun gun. We have the dramatic video of the incident.

All this and much more, that's coming up. I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're under four hours away from what could be a pivotal moment in this, the presidential contest. Tonight I'll be moderating our CNN Democratic presidential debate here in Las Vegas.

Part of the reason Nevada is now so important this primary season is that it will be the first western state to hold a combined contest. Democrats and Republicans will vote in its caucuses on January 19th, but that's earlier than usual, a lot earlier than usual. And some are wondering if Nevada can actually pull it all off.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is here in Las Vegas. She's joining us now.

Candy, I take it turnout in Nevada is a huge concern.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean, just consider this: in the last election, they had 17 caucuses, one in each county. This election they're going to have more than 1,700 caucuses, one for each precinct. That is a really tall order.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what we're going to show you today is basically a simulated Election Day.

CROWLEY (voice over): Ironworkers Local 433 has gathered in the union hall for caucus 101.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today we're going to caucus for football teams, OK? And that can get a little crazy, too, because I know I'm a big Steelers fan. And if somebody is here as a Browns fan...

CROWLEY: It's one of more than 100 mock caucuses sponsored by the Obama campaign so far, but others are holding similar tutorials.

Which brings us to Jean Hessburg, Nevada's caucus guru.

(on camera): What's your worst nightmare at this point?

JEAN HESSBURG, NEVADA CAUCUS CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR: Oh, gosh. Isn't the worst nightmare for everybody, you have a caucus and nobody comes?

CROWLEY (voice-over): She's an import from Iowa, which knows a thing or two about caucuses. Hessburg's mission, increase turnout in Nevada.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: In January 2008, Nevada will lead the country in electing our next president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: The calender helps. Anxious to make inroads in the Rocky Moussaoui states, the Democratic Party moved Nevada up to third, after New Hampshire, before Super Tuesday, which means it could matter. Long-ignored Nevada isn't anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Andy with the Edwards campaign.

EDDIE GERING, NEVADA VOTER: I want somebody who is going to get here and fight, yes.

CROWLEY: Eddie Gering has gone to caucuses before, but this one is different.

GERING: I think it's exciting because we have gotten all this attention nationally and from the candidates. They have been here. Every single one of them has been here numerous times. And I feel like I'm more -- I have been brought more into the process.

CROWLEY: Two-and-a-half-hours north of Las Vegas, political activist Ron Hibble hears that sort of thing all the time when he's promoting the caucuses.

RON HIBBLE, DEMOCRATIC ACTIVIST: But once you again past the door or past the first few seconds, they're so excited and saying, yes, when and where, and, you know, what time is it going to be? And can I help?

CROWLEY: These days, when Jean Hessburg works on turnout, she has more daydreams than nightmares, except maybe for this. If Iowa and New Hampshire go for the same candidate, Nevada could lose its political glitter.

HESSBURG: Certainly, our biggest hope is -- is that what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire stays in Iowa and New Hampshire, and we get our own show in Nevada.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Now Hessburg says her fondest dream would be to get 70,000 people to turn out. She thinks, more realistically, it will probably be between 40,000 and 60,000. But, Wolf, last time, they had 9,000, so that would be a big improvement.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley here in Las Vegas, thank you.

The former House Speaker Dennis Hastert had been expected to serve out his current term, but, today, the Illinois Republican decided not to wait. He announced he's leaving Congress right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R), ILLINOIS: Madam Speaker, there's a tradition among Olympic wrestlers that you leave your shoes on the mat after your last match.

(LAUGHTER)

HASTERT: Well, don't be alarmed, Madam Speaker. (LAUGHTER)

HASTERT: I won't be challenging the rules of decorum by removing my shoes on the House floor. But I do hope that I have left a few footprints behind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Hastert's seat is one of several held by the GOP that will be up for grabs in the coming election. The fact that the party is scrambling to hold on to what it has, that's a fact that has emerged in recent weeks and months.

Our congressional correspondent Dana Bash is joining us now. She's back in Washington.

Dana, can we expect Hastert to be gone by the 1st of the year?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Apparently so, Wolf.

And, you know, Dennis Hastert, he was really a beneficiary of the Republican rise of the 1990s, but, today, he is very much a symbol of its fall from grace and continuing struggles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): A rare moment of bipartisanship for a farewell address from the longest-serving Republican speaker of the House.

HASTERT: After 21 years in serving the people of Illinois in this House, the time has come for me to make my last speech from this podium.

BASH: Dennis Hastert was an accidental speaker, thrust into the job in the wake of scandal, and presided over a politically polarizing era. He said that was his biggest regret.

HASTERT: I continue to worry about the breakdown of civility in our political discourse. I tried my best, but I wish I had been more successful.

BASH: Hastert was speaker when Republicans lost the House last year. That he is quitting Congress in the middle of his term is emblematic of his party's continued troubles.

Hastert's Illinois colleague Ray LaHood is one of 16 GOP congressmen leaving office. His reason?

REP. RAY LAHOOD (R), ILLINOIS: It's not that much fun being in the minority. And I have been around here now serving as a member going -- I'm in my seventh term. And, you know, the prospects, I think, for Republicans winning back the House are fairly slim.

BASH: In fact, as low as the Democratic Congress' approval ratings are, the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows 50 percent of Americans think Democrats deserve to be reelected, but only 38 percent say the same about Republicans.

LaHood says corruption, runaway spending, and the war that voters punished his party for last year still plague Republicans.

LAHOOD: We have lost our way. There's not the enthusiasm and the energy out there right now for people just to rush to the polls to try and get Republicans elected to the Congress.

BASH: As for Hastert, he didn't give a reason for leaving, but the former speaker didn't have to.

HASTERT: Goodbye, friends.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, Republican Party officials insist they have a good crop of candidates to run on what voters want, and that is an anti- Washington kind of campaign.

But, Wolf, right now, the combined number of years of experience, both in governing and in getting elected, Republicans actually leaving is more than 200 years. And talk to any strategist, a candid strategist, Democrat or Republican, they will tell you that hurts -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong, Dana, but Denny Hastert, it looks like he's lost a lot of weight. He looks great, in fact, compared to the way he looked only a few months ago. What's going on?

BASH: That's a very good question. We were remarking on that as well out there watching that, how tremendously thin he looks. He does look much different. We will get an answer on that for you. We will let you know his diet trick is, and we will get back to you.

BLITZER: All right, excellent. Good work for Dennis Hastert. And thanks to him for all his excellent service over these many years in the House of Representatives.

The Republican Party, by the way, has its work cut out for it in the fight over the balance of power in the House of Representatives. Of the 16 seats it must defend in the coming election, so far, 12 are coming open because of retirement. Two are being vacated because of presidential runs. Two others will be empty due to runs for the Senate.

Does the Republican Party have the cash it needs to help bankroll its contenders? At last count, the GOP had $1.6 million cash on hand for those House battles, compared to $28.3 million in the Democratic coffers. But it's still a year away.

The face of one major voting bloc is changing ever so slightly, how you might see Catholic support altering on pro-abortion candidates. And the clock keeps ticking towards tonight's Democratic presidential debate. We are going to have a preview on what could be a pivotal face-off. Joining us for the debate tonight, our newest anchor, Campbell Brown. And she's going to be joining us, in fact, shortly, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And international nuclear watchdogs saying they're losing their bite when it comes to Iran's program. We will a closer look at Tehran's on again/off again cooperation.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Right now, some Catholic bishops want you to know this: The candidate who supports abortion rights shouldn't necessarily be counted out from getting your vote. It involves some new guidance for Catholic voters.

Mary Snow is watching all of this unfold in New York.

Mary, it shows some flexibility. What's going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you're right. It does. Catholic bishops say they're not supporting any candidate or party in 2008, but they're asking Catholic voters to apply moral principles to a host of issues, issues like abortion, the war in Iraq, and immigration.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): It's a message about politics from the pulpit. U.S. Catholic bishops met and approved guidelines for Catholic voters. High on the list, opposition to abortion, which the church calls intrinsically evil.

But the bishops opened a door to supporting abortion-rights candidates. Father Thomas Reese, a Catholic scholar who attended the conference, explains that bishops are telling voters to weigh their decisions on a number of moral issues, such as war.

FATHER THOMAS REESE, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: And, if there are serious moral reasons for voting for a candidate who is pro-choice, then it would be legitimate for a Catholic to vote for a pro-choice candidate.

SNOW: What the bishops didn't mention is whether abortion-rights Catholic candidates should be denied communion.

In the 2004 presidential election, then Democratic candidate Senator John Kerry was thrust into a firestorm when a Catholic bishop in Saint Louis said he would deny Kerry communion. That same bishop recently suggested in a newspaper article that he would also deny communion to Republican Rudy Giuliani.

Besides Giuliani, other Catholic presidential candidates supporting abortion rights, Democrats Joe Biden, Christopher Dodd, Bill Richardson, and Dennis Kucinich.

Some critics say the communion question was created by extremists, and they hope they are shut out of this election cycle.

JON O'BRIEN, PRESIDENT, CATHOLICS FOR A FREE CHOICE: I think there's nothing worse, there's nothing that turns the Catholic people off as much as when we see the holy sacrifice of the mass, something that we believe in very strongly, when we see an attempt to try to politicize that by denying communion.

SNOW: Along with abortion, the Iraq war was also high on the list. Bishops urged the U.S. for a quick transition to end the war in Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, the bishops conference has been issuing guidelines like this since 1976, but this was the first time the full body of 200-plus bishops considered the document -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow watching this story -- thank you, Mary.

The Catholic voters, by the way, make up a large bloc of voters out there. In the last presidential election, 27 percent of all voters were Catholic. In 2000, they made up 26 percent. As for who those Catholics actually voted for, the last time around, 47 percent of Catholic voters backed John Kerry. Fifty-two percent backed President Bush.

And, looking at those same numbers for the 2000 election, 49 percent of Catholics voted for Al Gore. Forty-seven percent voted for George Bush.

In the "Strategy Session," we ask Jamal Simmons and J.C. Watts to play debate coach for the day. What advice do they have for the front-runners? Should they go on the offense? Should they counter the attacks? And how tough should they be?

And Giuliani leads Clinton in the head-to-head matchup here in Nevada, according to our new batch of polls, but why is he playing so well out here in the West?

All that, a lot more, coming up in our "Strategy Session" -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Take a look at this. You will see the podium up there. I want to show you the selection that the candidates had earlier for their positions from left to right on the podium tonight. If we take a shot what is behind me, you can see the respective podiums from left to right.

Joe Biden will be all the way to the left, followed by Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd, and then John Edwards all the way to the right. They ran -- they -- they had a draw for preference, and that that is the result of their preferences up on the podium later tonight.

We're counting down to tonight's Democratic presidential debate. Primary watchers say this is a good time for someone to try to break away from the pack. We will see what happens tonight.

But let's get some analysis in our "Strategy Session." Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, he's here in Las Vegas, from Washington, our CNN political analyst and former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Jamal, pretend you're a debate coach for the night, and you're giving some advice to Senator Barack Obama, what he needs to do tonight. What do you tell him? Give him -- give us three points he needs to make.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, the first thing I would say to him is, Senator, try to stay on the offensive. You have got your opponent on her heels. People like to see you strong, would like to see you stay in command. So, you have got to stay on the offensive.

The second thing is, connect hope to reality. I mean, people need to feel hopeful. And they understand the change. But let them know what that actually means in their lives. What are the policies that are going to be different when you're president?

And the third thing is, smile. He has got the great smile. Everybody loves it. The more people see it, the more they feel that they are for him. And, also, if you can keep that smile going, and deliver some barbs with a good nature, that will pay off. People won't mind it so much.

BLITZER: All right, good advice.

J.C., give some advice to Senator John Edwards, three points he needs to keep in mind tonight.

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think John Edwards needs to try to break out of the pack.

And the way he has done that to this point, or the way -- the message that he's presented to this point has been a far-left message in a country that I think is probably, you know, by and large, a right-center country. And I don't think he can lead from there.

I think Senator Clinton has stumbled over the last three weeks, and John Edwards would like to take advantage of that. But it looks like, at this point, Barack Obama is the one that's benefiting, or I think could benefit from the stumbles that we have seen her make over the last two or three weeks.

BLITZER: I want both of you to give some advice to Hillary Clinton, starting with you, Jamal. What does she need to do tonight?

SIMMONS: Well, the first thing is, stay above the fray.

She is really the front-runner here. She's the one that everybody has to come after. People like her. And, as long as she can sort of be the one that is above the fray, she can do well.

The second thing is, be direct, be clear. You know, she's got to make sure that she's answering the questions the way she wants them to be answered, and they can't continue to make hay out of this notion that maybe she's on both sides of every issue. So, the more clear and direct she can be, the better off she will be.

BLITZER: All right.

J.C., what advice do you have for Hillary Clinton?

WATTS: Well, over the last three weeks, Wolf, she reminds me of the "Rocky V" movie, when Rocky was fighting the Russian. And, after about the third or fourth round, he -- Rocky was -- got a couple punches and he started bleeding. He went back to the corner, and his corner said, "Hey, Rock, he bleeds."

They have seen over the last three weeks that Senator Clinton, she bleeds; she's not invincible. And I think, you know, the immigration thing with the license that she kind of waffled on and -- and really didn't give a decisive answer -- I think the planted question, although I think that was overblown, it's still a perception that that was calculated, you know, "They're picking on me" deal.

She's had some real stumbles, and so I would say, prove that you really are the emperor. That is going to be her challenge, to prove that she is the person to beat. And she's got to get away from the shucking and ducking, and getting back to saying, I'm the front- runner, I'm the person to beat, and I think give that perception.

BLITZER: Jamal, in the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll that we have done out here in Nevada, in a hypothetical matchup right now in this state between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, he slightly comes out on top, 47-46, though that is well within the margin of error. She does a lot better if she's facing Mitt Romney. In that poll, she wins 51-42 percent, although that's still relatively close, given the margin of error.

Why do you think Giuliani comes out better in this state?

SIMMONS: Well, the other things you see nationally is that Edwards and Obama also do well against their other -- against the Republican opponents.

But I think Giuliani probably does well out here because he's -- people haven't seen a lot of ads out here. So, they know what they see on television. They have gotten some basic communication. And Giuliani is a pretty strong character. He's got a good national image. There's a lot more to learn about him. We are going to learn more about Bernie Kerik and Judith Regan and all these other characters in his life that most people in the country don't know about. And the more we hear about all those connections -- and who knew that there were three degrees of separation between Rudy Giuliani and O.J. Simpson?

BLITZER: I'm not -- I don't know anything about that.

But I will give you the last word, J.C. Go ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

WATTS: Well, I think -- Wolf, I think, if you would have had John McCain or -- yes, I think John would do very well out in -- out in Nevada. I think Harry -- Harry Reid's numbers are not as strong as they were a year ago. I think that probably gives some sign that independents and, you know, the independent voter is -- is looking at Republicans, giving them a better look.

So, you know, the numbers out there, the landscape, I think, is much different than it was six months ago. And I think that's good for Republican candidates, i.e., John McCain, Rudy Giuliani.

BLITZER: J.C. Watts and Jamal Simmons, thanks, guys, very much.

Coming up: He had the president's ear for years. We are going to tell you what Karl Rove is up to next.

Also, a distraught man, a stun gun and an unexpected death. We have some stunning video. We're going to share to you -- with you what happened over at Vancouver's airport.

And President Bush moves to try to head off some travel headaches next week. In our next hour, CNN's Kathleen Koch is standing by to take a closer look at his plan to try to keep air traffic moving more smoothly over the Thanksgiving holiday.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our Political Ticker today: The Iowa caucuses are only seven weeks away. They take place on January 3. Hillary Clinton wants to let people there know how easy it will be for them to participate.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, so, how is Senator Clinton planning on doing this?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, for months now, all the candidates have been rolling out Iowa-specific online resources. And now, new from the Hillary Clinton campaign, a video targeting first-time caucus-goers.

The campaign is rolling it out, debuting it tonight at one of their debate watch parties that they're hosting in Iowa. They're trying to turn out these young voters for Hillary and they're poking a little bit of fun at Bill in the process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: Wouldn't you like to take a big bite of sizzling grade-A beef smothered in melted cheese, pickles, tomatoes, and mayonnaise?

Exercising is hard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: Exercising is hard, and Hillary Clinton herself comes in for some similar treatment with a line that singing is hard as well. Her off-key performance of the national anthem earlier this year, that it was a hit online

But the message of the video is that caucusing is easy, and there follows a long explanation of exactly what caucus-goers should expect on January 3. The Hillary Clinton campaign says they're also going door to door in Iowa with this video, trying to turn supporters into actual turnout on caucus night -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

Very cute video.

Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I saw that video in the office, Bubba and the cheeseburger. It is very funny and very clever. And the Clinton people are smart. They're tapping into exactly the right part of the former president's personality. He has got a lot of charisma, a lot of personality. And they're using it, I think, in just the right way.

All right. The question is this. This is troubling. How confident are you in airport security, if investigators were able to pass through checkpoints at 19 U.S. airports carrying bomb-making components? Yes, that works.

Alex in Florida: "I'm not confident in airline security at all, never have been. It's about the illusion of security, not actual safety. Until the borders are secured, everything else is just another power grab."

Ken writes: "The 9/11 hijackers brought down airplanes with plastic box-cutters taped to their chests. The razor blades in them would still not set off alarms any more than my wristwatch would. Resourceful people will always prevail over a bloated, theatrical bureaucracy, which feeds our paranoia and pretends to erect a facade of security."

Mike in Omaha: "The whole system is a feel-good sham. The only thing that has been accomplished is to make flying a lousy chore that has cost billions. We need to quit the fear-mongering, return to common sense. Life is full of risk. I have a better chance of being killed on my way to the airport than I do in a terrorist attack."

Ken in California: "I'm as confident in the TSA providing security for air travel as I am that there is a single synapse still firing anywhere in the federal government. Not very."

Steve: "I have no faith in the TSA keeping me safe in the airport, much less in the skies. They couldn't find a lump of coal on a snowman. It's amazing that it's that easy to get things through a screener in the first place."

And Andy writes from Maryland: "Hah! Last time I flew, three different TSA agents devoted their time and attention to my wife's body lotions. I should have wrapped them in wire, electronic timers, and a book of jihad. I would have sailed right through."

Nobody is saying anything very kind about our so-called airport security, Wolf.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack, for that. All right. Stand by.

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