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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean; Democrats Prepare For Las Vegas Presidential Debate
Aired November 15, 2007 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But you know what? In that first few rows over here, there are going to be 100 undecided voters from Nevada, Democrats...
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Right. Right.
BLITZER: ... who are going to be asking questions. And maybe they will be able to penetrate some of these candidates. And they're all very smart, you have got to admit.
DOBBS: Well, the candidates or the people asking the questions?
DOBBS: The candidates, I think, there are certainly two or three that I think are far more intelligent than the rest, just as is the case on the Republican side.
What we are witnessing, though, some of the brighter candidates create significant problems for themselves because they have not had the courage or the character or the capacity to articulate a position, and have gotten themselves into trouble, amongst them, certainly Senator Hillary Clinton.
BLITZER: Lou is going to get ready for his show. You will be setting the stage for the debate that starts at 8:00 p.m.
DOBBS: You betcha. We're the lounge act. We're the lounge act.
BLITZER: Lou, thanks very much. Good to have you here in Vegas.
DOBBS: Great to be with you. Have fun.
BLITZER: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening right now: countdown to the Democratic presidential debate and what could be a pivotal night in the road to the White House. Tonight, all eyes are here on Las Vegas. And the question, can Hillary Clinton keep her lead?
Also, Howard Dean knows what it's like to lose that first-place position. But now he's leading his party as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He joins us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's standing by.
And a dire warning from the Pentagon chief. The war effort needs money approved right now, or else.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're live from Las Vegas. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The clock is ticking right now, only two hours to go, and seven Democratic candidates will take their places on this stage for a crucial, crucial presidential debate. Supporters gather outside. Last-minute preparations are under way here at the Cox Pavilion on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The candidates are doing their own walk-throughs. They know this could be a very important, defining moment. In exactly seven weeks, the first votes will be cast in the 2008 election season in Iowa.
Candy Crowley is joining us now live. She's got a little preview of what we can expect -- Candy.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one of the things you can expect is to see Hillary Clinton moving along, trying, in fact, to make up for what she lost in the last debate.
CROWLEY (voice-over): For the first time this election season Hillary Clinton walks into a debate having been rocked. It began with the last debate and her answer, which opponents found insufficient, on whether illegal immigrants should get driver's licenses.
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Unless I missed something, Senator Clinton said two different things in the course of about two minutes just a few minutes ago.
CROWLEY: Whether it was driver's licenses, her first lady papers locked up by the National Archives, or Social Security, Clinton was repeatedly hit for what her opponents called her parsing, her lack of candor.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wasn't at my best the other night.
CROWLEY: No, she wasn't. And there is evidence it hurt. She has stalled or fallen in national polls since the debate. And she took a hit in New Hampshire, falling from 43 percent in the polls to 38 percent. Obama picked up his game from 21 percent to 26 percent. It is not Armageddon.
After all, she is still 12 points up in New Hampshire. But Iowa remains a three-way tie, and the last week or so has been less than stellar. There was the Iowa student who said the campaign planted a question with her to ask Clinton.
MURIEL GALLO-CHASANOFF, GRINNELL COLLEGE STUDENT: I felt like I wanted to get the whole story out, just so that people can know the truth.
CROWLEY: Edwards was all over it. EDWARDS: What George Bush does is plant questions and exclude people from the events. And I don't think that's what Democrats want to see.
CROWLEY: Then revisiting that driver's license issue, Clinton said as president she would not support giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Camp Obama pounced with this written statement: "When it takes two weeks and six different positions to answer one question on immigration, it's easier to understand why the Clinton campaign would rather plant their questions than answer them."
In the end, Clinton has clearly been set back on her heels. The question is whether her rivals can actually knock her down.
CROWLEY: Now, in sort of a preemptive strike, Wolf, we heard from chief strategist Mark Penn, who says, listen, despite these attacks from her opponents what this election is all about is leadership, and poll after poll shows that voters think Hillary Clinton has it.
BLITZER: Well, we will see soon enough, less than two hours away.
Candy, thanks very much.
And, as we speak, the audience here for this Democratic presidential debate is beginning to file into the Cox Pavilion. All of this will unfold in a state that Democrats desperately want to win in the primary season and the general election. Nevada is among a handful of so-called toss-up states that could vote either Republican or Democratic. And we're seeing evidence of that in a brand-new CNN poll.
Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's joining us.
Bill, what's the number-one priority that we're seeing among voters this year?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: One word, Wolf: electability. Both Democrats and Republicans are looking for a winner. Now, that's one reason why Hillary Clinton is the front- runner in the Democratic field. Polls suggest that she's seen as the most likely to win next year because of her experience and because of her standing as a former first lady and a senator from New York.
And that is the same reason why Rudy Giuliani is the national front-runner among Republicans. Even Republicans who don't agree with him feel he may be the most electable among their candidates. So, they are supporting Rudy Giuliani as the most electable winner.
BLITZER: You know, Bill, this state is really potentially a bellwether because it's an important Western state, the first Western state to actually hold some elections coming up. But it also could indicate which direction the Democrats and the Republicans will take in the West, the Rocky Mountain areas, very important what happens in Nevada.
SCHNEIDER: Yes, it is. And it's not just the West, Wolf. It's the whole country. Nevada is a bellwether state. Nevada has voted for the winner in every presidential election since 1912, with one exception, and that was 1976, when it voted for Gerald Ford, to reelect Ford.
So, Nevada's an important bellwether state, and we just did a poll of Nevada voters and asked them how they would choose between the front-runners in the two parties, Giuliani, Rudy Giuliani, for the Republicans, Hillary Clinton for the Democrats. And the answer is, as they say, tight as a tick. Giuliani leads Clinton by exactly one point, statistically insignificant, too close to call.
So, this election looks like it could be neck and neck if Nevada is still a bellwether.
BLITZER: Bill Schneider here in Las Vegas with us. Thanks, Bill, very much.
And just a reminder. The debate starts tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. I will be moderating, joined by the best political team on television, including our newest anchor -- you just saw her here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Campbell Brown.
And while the Democrats are here, we're also tracking the Republican presidential candidates. Today, Rudy Giuliani stumped in Tampa, Florida, making his 20th campaign visit to that state. Mike Huckabee's in Washington State attending fund-raising and touring the headquarters for Microsoft. And Senator John McCain visited California. He took questions from reporters in Sacramento.
In one answer, McCain almost called Hillary Clinton President Clinton, but McCain became quickly corrected himself, calling her a candidate, which, of course, she is.
Jack Cafferty is joining us once again from New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm proud to hear you call my home state a bellwether state. When I was a kid growing up in Reno, we had one congressman for the whole state of Nevada. His name was Walter Baring.
The place was so sparsely populated. We had our two senators because everybody has to have two senators, but only a single congressman. Now it's a bellwether state. That's good.
When the Democratic candidates take the stage tonight for this debate that Wolf's going to be moderating, all eyes are on Hillary. She is the big dog in the meat house. Going into this debate, her poll numbers in Nevada higher than the rest of the Democratic field combined. Elsewhere, her numbers aren't quite as strong. Last time out, she stumbled rather badly, doing the Ralph Kramden on the question of driver's licenses for illegal aliens. It cost her.
Immigration is a huge issue. And it's been perhaps underestimated by a lot of the candidates in this race. Eliot Spitzer, the New York governor, now understands how important it is. The race in Iowa tightened considerably since the last debate, but Hillary's still ahead. People are going to watch tonight to see if Barack Obama and John Edwards can continue to keep the pressure on her or whether perhaps one of them stumbles.
And they could if they get too aggressive with Senator Clinton. Besides immigration, a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll found Americans are concerned about the economy, the war in Iraq, terrorism, health care, Iran, the usual suspects. Thanks to the abysmal job of the current president and the current Congress, the next president will have his or her work cut out for him or her.
It's easier to read this stuff when there's only men in the race. But we will make the effort. It's more than a legitimate question, whether anybody can overcome the structural deficiencies and the deep partisanship that have come to symbolize and pretty much destroy in many ways our federal government. One more administration like this last one, it might be time for another revolution.
Here's the question. What would you like to hear the candidates answer at tonight's debate? E-mail us, caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.
And Jack, as I want to remind our viewers, is standing by also to join us in our roundtable. That's coming up this hour.
There's one man who knows what it feels like to be on this stage, to be the front-runner and not getting the nomination. That's Howard Dean. He's now standing by live. He's going to be joining us in a few minutes to talk about what's going on. What advice does he have for the candidates? That's coming up.
And the U.S. military hands over some of its airspace to make traveling easier for all of us. Details of a bold new plan by the White House, that's coming up as well.
Plus, a strong warning by the military's top brass. Robert Gates says a squabble between Congress and the president could leave tens of thousands of people without jobs.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
We're watching some important poll numbers, obviously, as we get ready for the Democratic presidential debate here on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Hillary Clinton has a commanding lead in the polls right now, but history tell us -- tells us that that doesn't necessarily mean she's going to get the Democratic presidential nomination. At this time, for example, in the last presidential election, Howard Dean was the clear front-runner. Take a look at this poll from December 2003. It showed Howard Dean with 31 percent. Joe Lieberman was second with 13 percent. The eventual nominee, John Kerry, had only 10 percent of voters behind him.
But, of course, today, Howard Dean is still a force in his party as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He's here at the Cox Pavilion at UNLV.
Mr. Chairman, the governor, thanks very much for coming in.
HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Never wise to anoint the front-runner until the voters actually vote.
BLITZER: Yes. And you learned that with personal experience in Iowa.
DEAN: I learned that. That's right.
BLITZER: All right.
So, it's getting a little bit ugly out there in terms of the Democratic presidential candidates. They're really going after each other.
DEAN: Actually, I disagree.
BLITZER: Let me ask you this.
How worried are you that the attacks on each other will hurt the party, will hurt whoever the nominee turns out to be, and give the Republicans ammunition?
DEAN: I don't agree with the premise.
I think it's -- this is not nearly as tough so far as the 2004 race was. I think the press is cranking up the disagreements. But, when I actually -- when you actually read what the candidates are saying about each other, you know, to say somebody just changed their mind about something is not exactly ugly.
BLITZER: So, you think, when John Edwards goes after Hillary Clinton, as he has repeatedly in recent weeks, he's -- that's tame? Because it sounds like it's pretty intense.
DEAN: Yes. Well, it sounds like it's tense -- intense once the media folks get through with it and all the hype and comment and hooting and hollering. But I think they're reasonably well behaved. And it's my job, frankly, to referee. We can't have a primary where people do damage to each other. So far, that hasn't...
BLITZER: Are you doing that?
BLITZER: Have you found yourself having to call any of the candidates and say, you know what, hold off a little bit, because this is going to hurt the party?
DEAN: Not for months. Haven't had to do that for months. We did that early on. There was a little unpleasantness. I don't care...
BLITZER: Give us the background. Who was...
DEAN: I'm not going to do anything of the sort.
But, look, if you disagree with somebody's position on an issue or whether they changed their mind or not, I don't consider that to be dirty campaigning. When you attack somebody's character, it is. That, we do not want to see.
BLITZER: Well, what if they -- if they suggest that the candidate is not being honest, that they're flip-flopping, is that going too far?
DEAN: Well, I think to say somebody -- you don't agree with somebody or they said one thing and did something else, I think that's fine. I think personal attacks are bad. We haven't seen any of those on our -- I think you're going to see that on the Republican side long before you see that on our side, because the Republicans have some really deep issues in terms of their base.
Frankly, most of our candidates believe the same thing. We all think we ought to be out of Iraq. They all think we ought to be in Iraq. We think we ought to pass a children's health care program. They all think it was great. And the president vetoed the children's health care program.
So, what you're really seeing, as far as I'm concerned, is a really clear distinction between the parties, which, of course, works in our favor.
BLITZER: It's true, because, when you see the Democratic debate, and then you contrast that with the Republican presidential debate...
BLITZER: ... you see very, very different party views on a lot of these important issues. DEAN: And that's what we want right now. That's what we want, because, no matter who our nominee is, they're going to be better than the Republican nominee.
BLITZER: Well, give some advice to the candidates tonight. You have been here. Four years ago...
DEAN: I have.
BLITZER: ... you were up on this stage. And all of us remember that. What advice do you have for these candidates?
DEAN: You know, my advice is, take it to 30,000 feet. Talk about the big picture.
What the American people want right now is healing. They're sick of the divisive politics of the Republicans, who always seem to scapegoat this group or that group in order to win elections. What they want is to heal America and bring us back together again. And, if you stick to that theme, I think we will do fine.
BLITZER: How angry is your base right now that the Democrats have been the majority in the House and the Senate for more than a year now, and they have not been able to deliver in terms of ending the war or bringing the troops home from Iraq? If anything, a year ago, there were fewer U.S. troops in Iraq than there are now.
DEAN: Well, the problem, of course, is, you have a determined minority of Republican senators who won't let anything come to the floor and a president who really doesn't care what the American people think.
And I think that's going to become clearer and clearer. This is not the Democrats refusing to do anything. We have passed repeated -- the Republicans themselves have blamed us for having 58 votes on Iraq. The problem is in the Senate we can't get anything passed without the Republican support.
And there's going to be an election about that. And we think we're going to pick up a lot of seats, because the Republicans -- I mean, the American people do not agree with the Republicans on Iraq. They don't agree with them on health care. And they do agree with us.
BLITZER: But you acknowledge that there's a lot of frustration out there in your rank and file because the Democrats haven't delivered?
DEAN: There is frustration in our rank and file. And my message to our rank and file is, this is the time to actually do what the Republicans do at election time.
You need to coalesce around our candidate, no matter who they are, because our candidate is going to be so much better than any of the candidates that they have, again, on health care. All -- our candidate will get us out of Iraq. Their candidate will keep us there. That ought to be enough for most of the American people. BLITZER: And when you take a look at the -- keeping the majority in the House and the Senate down the road, it -- from your perspective, it looks, obviously, pretty good right now.
We believe that we will pick up three to five seats net in the Senate and we will pick up -- and I don't have quite as good a handle on the House, but I would say between about five and 15 seats additional in the House, over and above what we have got today.
BLITZER: Which Republican candidate scares you the most?
DEAN: You know I will never answer that question.
BLITZER: Why not?
DEAN: Because, in 1980, I thought it was great when they nominated Reagan. What did I know? So, you know, I have long given up trying to predict Republican politics. I have got enough trouble with the Democratic politics.
BLITZER: Is there any one thing you're going to be looking for tonight?
DEAN: I would like to see them continue. Do you know we're getting 61 percent of the vote under 30? And it's because our candidates look like America.
Their candidates look like the 1950s, and they talk like they're in the 1850s. So, I just want our candidates to get up there and put their best foot forward, and I think they have been doing that. I think these debates have been terrific. I really do.
BLITZER: Well, we hope we will have a good one tonight as well.
Howard Dean, thanks very much for joining us.
BLITZER: We had your counterpart, the Republican National Committee chairman, Mike Duncan, here in THE SITUATION ROOM earlier.
BLITZER: He was in Las Vegas as well, although he's gone by now.
DEAN: Wolf, thanks for having me on.
BLITZER: Thank you very much, a very nice man, indeed. Thanks to both of you for coming in.
DEAN: Thank you.
BLITZER: And we're also following some other important, stunning news that's happening right now, breaking news involving baseball. The home run king, Barry Bonds, is facing some very, very serious charges. He's been formally indicted on perjury, obstruction of justice. We will update you on what's going on.
Plus, an unusual move to keep air traffic moving over the Thanksgiving holiday. But will it work?
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Carol Costello's monitoring some other important stories incoming to the THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What's going on, Carol?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, devastating news for baseball's home run king. Barry Bonds was indicted today on perjury and obstruction of justice charges. He was charged with lying when he told a federal grand jury that he did not knowingly use performance-enhancing drugs.
The indictment culminated a four-year investigation into steroid use by elite athletes. A spokesman for President Bush says he's very disappointed to hear about today's indictment.
A close call in the skies above Indiana. The FAA says two passenger planes came within seconds of colliding Tuesday night because of an error by an air traffic controller. Officials say the controller directed a Midwest Airlines plane into the path of a United Express jet. But a collision avoidance device in the Midwest plane went off, and the pilots made an emergency climb to get out of the way of each other.
There's encouraging news for Thanksgiving holiday air travelers, really. President Bush has ordered the Pentagon to open up some unused military airspace between Florida and Maine. That will create a Thanksgiving express lane for commercial planes. There will also be a holiday moratorium on non-essential maintenance projects, so the FAA can focus on keeping flights on time.
And the Transportation Department will propose doubling the bump fee that airlines must pay to travelers who buy tickets, but end up without a seat -- back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Carol, thank you.
A dire warning by the top brass in the U.S. military. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The military would cease operations at all Army bases by mid-February next year. This would result in the furloughing of about 100,000 government employees.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the Pentagon just can't do one critically important thing anymore. We will tell you what's going on. He's demanding that Congress come up with cash or else.
And Bill Clinton, former president, campaigner, and now actor? We're going to tell you what's going on in the latest video.
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.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: The stage is now set. The candidates are prepping right now for tonight's Democratic presidential debate, high stakes for all of them here in Las Vegas, especially Hillary Clinton, whose lead may depend on her performance tonight.
Also, we're going to show you the new video out from her campaign. The former president, her husband, Bill Clinton, has a starring role, mocking himself.
Plus, a major change of course by Catholic bishops. You're going to find out what they're now saying about candidates and abortion.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
An unusual warning from the defense secretary, Robert Gates. He says military shutdowns and layoffs are imminent -- imminent -- if the U.S. Congress doesn't pass a war spending bill, which congressional leaders say might be put off until next year.
Let's go to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- he's watching this story -- live.
The stakes are enormous right now. Is this situation, though, Jamie, as dire as Secretary Gates is making it out to be?
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Imagine, Wolf, that Congress cutting off funds to U.S. troops at war and the Pentagon laying off 100,000 people just because the Congress and president are in a wrestling match over $50 billion in war funding. The government would never let that happen, right?
Well, wrong, says the Pentagon's top man. Defense Secretary Robert Gates insists there is a big misconception, that the Pentagon can simply shift a few billion dollars here, a few billion dollars there, and make ends meet. But Gates says, it's simply not the case, and he insists he is not bluffing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: To be honest, I think that there is probably also a sense that things like I talked about today is the Department of Defense crying wolf, that somehow we always figure out a way to make it work. Well, the way we always figure out a way to make it work is because the chiefs and the service secretaries have to jump through hoops to figure out ways to try and be prepared for a cutoff of funds.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCINTYRE: So what will the Pentagon have to do if the money doesn't come through?
Well, Gates says he would order the military to cease operations at all Army bases by mid-February of next year. And that would require a furlough of 100,000 government employees and another 100,000 contractors. And then in March, he says he'd have to do the same thing for Marine Corps bases. And because of union laws that require two months' notice of furloughs, Gates says he has to take that action very soon. And it's all because Democrats in Congress want to have conditions on that next $50 billion in war funding and the Bush administration wants the money with no strings attached.
So here's the kicker, Wolf. Even if the $50 billion passes, the Pentagon will be in the same situation by the end of January, right when Congress gets back from its holiday recess -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right.
What a story.
Jamie, thanks very much.
Let's take a look at the debate that's about to start here at the Cox Pavilion at UNLV.
Let's get some analysis right now of some of the specific issues we can expect to come up.
Joining us, our senior political analyst Gloria Borger. She's here with me in Las Vegas.
Jack Cafferty is in New York. He's the author of the important and best-selling book "It's Getting Ugly Out There".
And our chief national correspondent, John King. He's just outside of the Cox Pavilion here on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas -- Jack, what do these candidates really need to do tonight to stand out, to make their point and to eventually go on and become the Democratic presidential nominee?
CAFFERTY: Well, as a father and a grandfather, I'd like to hear two things. And one of them relates to that story that Jamie just did. Forgive me if I don't break out my violin. The defense budget is $650 billion a year in this country. The American people want this joke of a war in Iraq over. And so far the Democrats and Congress haven't done squat.
Now, these are Democrats that want to be president. I want to hear specifics from these candidates tonight -- how are you going to end the war, when are you going to end the war, when do the troops come home, what's going to happen to Iraq after we leave, what are you going to do about the mess that's left behind?
And no Ralph Kramden. I want specifics. And the other thing I'd love to hear is somebody call on this country to make some sacrifices aimed at energy independence. We have no energy policy in this country. Oh, except for that thing that was done behind closed doors by Dick Cheney and the oil companies, when oil has gone from $28 a barrel to $98 a barrel. We are in a nest of scorpions in the Middle East and it's because of our need for their oil.
If the American people were asked to undertake a five or 10-year program of putting together an energy policy that would get us the hell out of that part of the world, I think that candidate would win in a landslide. And I'd love to hear somebody talk about it tonight.
BLITZER: Gloria, are we likely to hear those kinds of specific answers that Jack wants to hear?
GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know. I think the American public might like to hear them. But I also think there are lots of other issues that we're going to hear about tonight -- things like immigration reform and also we may learn a little more about these candidates as people. Hillary Clinton has really been under attack, by Barack Obama in particular, and John Edwards. And I think we're going to sort of see how she reacts to being under attack. I think for the first time, she can't really float above it all. She's going to have to engage with these other candidates on the issues.
BLITZER: Because that's an important point, John, that Gloria makes. Because as important as the positions are of the candidates and all the various substantive issues, voters out there look at these candidates as individuals -- how comfortable they are with them and whether or not they want that person to be the president of the United States. So it's a tough line they have to walk.
JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Wolf. Now, of course, specifics on the issues matter. And, of course, there are disagreements among these Democratic candidates that will be exposed tonight on immigration, on a timetable for bringing the troops home from Iraq, on what would the mission of the U.S. troops in Iraq be as the troops were coming out. Those are all important issues to explore with the Democrats.
But you're absolutely right, the threshold issue for picking a president is first, likeability -- a comfort factor. You look at a person and say is this a person I want to lead the country. And if you're comfortable with that person, most voters are willing to put aside one or two disagreements or some fundamental threshold issues. But that is a big challenge. And as the frontrunner, of course, more pressure on Senator Clinton. But as -- we've had a lot of debates. But we're also now right on the cusp of the voting and so these debates matter a lot more as the American people, especially the voters in the early primary states say OK, it's time to really play close, close attention, because I'm going to have to make my choice soon.
BLITZER: You've got some vocal supporters around you. It looks like people are really enthusiastic, at least around you, John. Give us a little flavor.
KING: Well, one of the encouraging things about being in a college community is that you see young activists out here having a good time. We have supporters from all of the campaigns outside. Obama supporters came behind me. The Edwards supporters saw them. There's Hillary Clinton supporters out over here. They're being relatively polite and letting us do our jobs while they show off their enthusiasm for their campaigns. So that's a good thing.
It's also one of the challenges in this election -- can you get young people and new voters to participate?
Nevada has never done this before, Wolf, never had a caucus like this before. So it's an interesting test for democracy on a small level here. And it's fun to see the energy and the enthusiasm outside.
BLITZER: You know, Jack, John makes a good point. Historically, the younger the voter is, the less likely that voter is to actually go ahead and vote. Old people tend to vote in big percentages. Young people don't. And that's a problem we have in the country.
I wonder if you sense that younger people are getting more enthusiastic this time around.
CAFFERTY: Well, I don't know. I think that the public at large is probably more enthusiastic this time around because there's such deep division in the country. I watched that piece of tape that we're going to look at in a few minutes in the office earlier and the Clinton campaign is trying to tap into that youthful enthusiasm, using Bill in a kind of a self-deprecating way, which he was so successful at.
You remember when he played saxophone on Arsenio's program and he was on MTV answering boxers or briefs?
He tapped into those kids. He knew how to do it. And that was part of the reason that he became as popular as he did. And I think her campaign's trying to do the same thing.
I hope the young people are enthusiastic. We're on the edge of something pretty nasty if we don't start grabbing this thing back from where it's going.
BLITZER: Well, let's hope the Internet gets those young people excited and they're actually going to go out and vote.
All right, guys, stand by, because I want to come back and play some of that videotape of Bill Clinton -- this new video that they've put out, the Hillary Clinton campaign. If you haven't seen it yet, I think you're going to want to see it. We'll play it for you and we'll talk about it, as well.
Lots more coming up from the Cox Pavilion here on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
BLITZER: The Clinton campaign is trying to get voters out to the Iowa caucuses. Only seven weeks to go until they actually have to go and decide which of these candidates they like.
Let's continue our roundtable here from the Cox Pavilion.
I want to play, Jack, a little bit of that new video featuring Bill Clinton in an effort by the Clinton campaign to get voters to turn out in Iowa.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM CLINTON CAMPAIGN AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wouldn't you like to take a big bite of sizzling Grade A beef?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exercising is hard. Dancing is hard. Singing is hard. Caucusing is easy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Jack, you were making the point that this is very clever on the part of the Clinton campaign to use the former president in these videos and making a little fun of himself.
CAFFERTY: And of Hillary. And the guy in the middle was Tom Vilsack, who was an early casualty of the presidential race. It's great stuff. I watched the whole thing. It goes on to explain how caucusing is easy. It's much too long and it gets really tedious and boring. The best part is the stuff you just saw. And after that -- you know, if you're interested enough to want to go to a caucus, you'll figure it out. But it is very funny stuff and it's an entertaining clip to see.
BLITZER: I guess they think -- the Hillary Clinton campaign in Iowa -- the younger people, if they see this and they actually go to a caucus -- which is a difficult process. It's not just simply putting a ballot in some sort of box. You've got to spend an hour or two listening to all these respective supporters out there make their case.
BORGER: Well, first of all, they know that Barack Obama is really after those young voters. He has a lot of support with young voters in Iowa. But I wonder if I were 21 -- and I'm not -- if I were 21 and I thought they were trying to attract me by saying it's easy, you don't have to do anything. You can go out afterwards and party. I'm not quite so sure that's a great message. I mean you know, you want to say to them, yes, it may take an hour of your time, but it's really important. Instead, the message is no sweat. It's easy. Do whatever you want.
BLITZER: There's a suggestion, John King, that Hillary Clinton wasn't really as well prepared for the last debate as she should have been and she's spending a lot more time getting ready for tonight's debate.
What are you hearing?
Because I know you speak to sources close to the Democrat from New York all the time.
KING: Well, Wolf, she wasn't prepared. She acknowledges herself it was not her best night. And, imagine, the question she stumbled on was about immigration policy in New York State. Forget about the fact she's running for president. She's a senator from New York State and she didn't have a clear position and couldn't speak articulately about a most controversial policy in her own home state.
So it was a bad night for her -- the first bad night in the campaign. And in getting ready for this debate knowing, number one, she will be under attack again; and knowing, number two, she needs to show not just command of the issues, but a commanding presence, she took a little time off the road, doing much more time in debate preparations for this debate just because she does understand if she stumbles two debates in a row, that aura of inevitability will be popped.
So she knows the stakes tonight and she's preparing.
CAFFERTY: You know, there was a poll done...
BORGER: Well, today her...
CAFFERTY: Go ahead, Gloria.
BORGER: ...her chief campaign adviser put out a memo -- they put out a memo and said this election now is about leadership. So -- and this was, of course, timed to occur before this debate so we would all read it. And it's very clear that what Hillary Clinton is going to do is to show that she can engage these people and that she can be a leader among these Democratic candidates. And she's going to take them on and be clear.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Jack.
CAFFERTY: Well, I mean come on.
What is leadership?
That's not a word. That's just -- that's some phony political cover for, you know... BORGER: That's his word. That's his word.
CAFFERTY: No, I understand. But, I mean, if you address the issues, if you start solving the nation's problems, by definition, you're showing leadership. These people stand up there and say I have integrity, I have leadership, I have character, I have this, I have that. Tell me how you're going to make my life better and do it in plain English and don't equivocate.
Don't say I'm for illegal driver's licenses -- or driver's licenses for illegal aliens, but I'm actually against it, but I'm not sure where I stand, but I have leadership. That's -- that's bogus.
BLITZER: Let's wrap this up with John King, because I know you've got a lot of the supporters out there behind you, John.
Will we be surprised, when all is said and done, after the two hours of this debate that's going to begin a little bit more than an hour from now?
KING: Well, we'll be surprised at the end. I think we will see the campaign move forward. And I think as we discussed the bigger dynamics, it is important to note that largely the Democrats know who they are. There are gradations of -- small distinctions about what to do in Iraq, what to do about health care. There are a few significant disagreements on immigration.
But the big fight about who we are as a party is on the Republican side. So it is more. Yes, it's a word in a polling memo. But it is about leadership in the Democratic Party. They have been out of the White House for eight years, Wolf. And if you're a Democratic voter watching this election, electability does matter as much, if not more, in some cases, than ideology. So this is a big test for the candidates. And again, we've been saying this a lot, but Hillary Clinton has a formidable lead in money, in the polling, in everywhere. So the stakes are always highest for the person at the front of the pack -- and that is her.
BLITZER: All right, John.
Thanks very much.
John's going to be with us throughout the night, as is Gloria Borger.
Jack Cafferty is certainly not going anywhere.
He's got The Cafferty File coming up, later -- very, very shortly.
But let's go to Lou Dobbs.
He's also here in Las Vegas, getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of the hour -- Lou, I'll take it you'll set the stage for this Democratic presidential debate. LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Oh, indeed, we will, Wolf. These candidates finally wrestling with a few issues that are very important to the American people. I know that you're going to make it very clear to those candidates that they'll be answering straightforwardly and forthrightly.
Coming up at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, we'll be reporting on one of the bluntest warnings so far about communist China's rising threat to United States and American interests all overt world. We'll have that special report tonight -- "Red Storm Rising."
And members of Congress want to hold Chinese manufacturers accountable now for the millions of dangerous toys and other imported products that have flooded into this country. We'll have that report.
And we'll have complete coverage of tonight's Democratic presidential candidates' debate -- their final preparations for what many see as the most important election debate so far, right here in Las Vegas tonight. The one that's occurring is always the most important. And, by the way, those candidates and the national news media -- they're now paying attention to the issues that we've been reporting to you on this broadcast literally for years.
Please join us at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.
Have fun tonight.
BLITZER: All right.
Thanks very much, Lou.
When we come back, the top 10 zingers from the presidential debates so far. You're going to want to see them.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: In news from our Political Ticker, a hug from his successor, a standing ovation from his colleagues and former House Speaker Dennis Hastert bids farewell to Congress. In a brief reflective speech on the House floor this afternoon, the Illinois Republican announced his midterm resignation. An aide to Hastert says he will retire by the end of December.
U.S. Catholic bishops have approved new guidelines for Catholic voters. High on the list, opposition to abortion -- which the church calls intrinsically evil. But the bishops have opened the door to supporting abortion rights candidates. The bishops say voters should weigh their decision on a number of moral issues, such as war. They say a Catholic who rejects a candidate's support of abortion rights may still decide to vote for the candidate because of other morally grave issues.
Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our Political Ticker. Simply go to CNN.com/ticker.
Let's go back to Jack once again for The Cafferty File in New York -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: It sounds like an answer to a prayer for Rudy Giuliani, doesn't it?
The question this hour is what would you like the candidates -- to hear the candidates answer at tonight's debate?
Bob in Bella Vista, Arkansas: "Which one of these gutless, self- serving politicians in either party will get us off foreign oil? Don't lie to me about it. Give me a JFK promise and get it done. Oil equals Iraq equals war equals pollution. Get us energy independent. Tell me how. I'll take a nuclear plant in my backyard right now."
Joan in Illinois: "If they're going to have 30 seconds to answer questions, I don't see how they have enough time to say very much about anything. What I would like to hear is all of the candidates have a chance to answer the questions. Biden, Richardson and Dodd might have some good ideas that would be nice to hear. Can we change the format and get everybody in for a change?"
Kurt writes: "I'm a lifelong Democrat who's against amnesty. Can we get one candidate that's for securing our ports and borders, fining employers who hire illegal aliens and is opposed to amnesty?"
Alan in Maine writes: "What they answer is not so important to me as how they answer. I'm sick of equivocation and avoiding any answer at all. I would like to hear a real, honest answer to any question. But I won't hold my breath."
Brandy, who signs her name as "a proud Army wife and Army veteran": "My question for the candidates is simple -- when will my children get their father back? My husband's on his third deployment in Iraq in four years. We have not spent 12 straight months together since 2003. When will this madness end so we can move on with our lives?"
And Lynn in Georgia writes: "if elected, how would you work to represent all the American people and not just those that funded your campaign or voted for you? It's time to have someone who has a really desire to bring us all together."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. We post more of them online, along with video clips of The Cafferty File.
And Wolf, good luck tonight.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you very much.
We'll do the best we possibly can.
Presidential debates are often defined by a single line. We'll take a closer look at the best. That's coming up next. Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Tonight's key Democratic presidential debate is only about an hour or so away. And one thing you can count on, some verbal jabs will be landed.
As we continue the countdown, Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look back at some of the most memorable lines from earlier debates.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Electrifying, no. But after more than 20 debates, we've managed to compile the top 10 debate zingers.
Number 10 -- by a hair.
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've had a Congress that's spent money like John Edwards at a beauty shop and it's high time...
MOOS: Number nine was out of this world.
TIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR: Did you see a UFO?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I did and...
MOOS: The only thing better than a two word answer is a one word answer from a talkative guy known for what the "L.A. Times" called "uncontrolled verbosity."
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MODERATOR: Can you reassure voters in this country that you would have the discipline you would need on the world stage, Senator?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DW), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes.
MOOS: He may tend to be chatty, but we're giving Senator Biden credit for three zingers.
Number 7, Biden's answer to the question what do you like about the candidate next to you?
BIDEN: Dennis, the thing I like best about you is your wife.
MOOS: That would be the redhead, Mrs. Kucinich.
On to number 6, something Senator Biden doesn't like.
BIDEN: Rudy Giuliani -- there's only three things that he mentions in a sentence -- the noun and the verb and 9/11. I mean there's nothing else. MOOS: Number five was when Mitt Romney compared the debate process to "Law & Order".
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It has a huge cast, the series seems to go on forever and Fred Thompson shows up at the end.
MOOS: John McCain liked his own witticism so much that he put it in a campaign commercial. He zinged Hillary for wanting to spend money on a Woodstock museum.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:
Now my friends, I wasn't there.
I'm sure it was a cultural and pharmaceutical event.
MCCAIN: I was I was tied up at the time.
MOOS (on camera): One of our favorite zingers came post-debate -- not from a candidate, but from a snowman.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, Democratic candidates.
MOOS: The snowman who asked Democrats about global warming. Then Republican Mitt Romney suggested he wouldn't answer questions from a snowman, to which the snowman replied...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lighten up slightly.
MOOS: Our number two debate zinger came from Mother Nature.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Catholic Bishop (AUDIO GAP)...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That lightning is having an effect on our entire system.
MOOS: It happened while Rudy was in the middle of an answer about abortion.
GIULIANI: For someone who went to parochial schools all his life, this is a very frightening thing.
MOOS: That's sort of what Mike Gravel said about his rival candidates on stage.
MIKE GRAVEL (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some of these people frighten me.
MOOS: He really zapped his colleagues in the Senate.
Our number one zinger...
GRAVEL: You know, the first time you get there, you're all excited. My god, how did I ever get here?
Then about six months later, you say how the hell did the rest of them get here?
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: We'll see if there are any zingers tonight. I suspect there will be some.
Thanks very much for joining us.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou, we're only an hour away from the start of this debate.
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