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Surviving Fight Night in Vegas; 'Second Tier' Breaks Through; Dreams of Voting in '08 Dashed

Aired November 16, 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, the gloves are off. After fight night in Vegas, some people are handing the (INAUDIBLE) to Hillary Clinton. But does surviving rounds of attacks from her main rivals mean more are on the way?
Also, as the candidates get ugly with each other, is that unattractive to you? I'll ask some top strategists from the Clinton, Obama and Edwards campaigns. They're standing by live.

And Republicans are also stepping in to Nevada's political boxing ring. Guess who's winning? And guess who's there today, determined to knock that person off his perch?

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

Today a lot of observers are suggesting that CNN's presidential debate looked more like a fight night in Vegas. One political strategist reportedly put it this way: "Hillary Clinton was supposed to get whacked and they didn't lay a glove on her."

Clinton's rivals stuck to their playbooks of going after the front-runner, but she didn't stick to hers, instead being much more aggressive against what she called -- and I'm quoting now -- "the mud throwing."

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is joining us in Las Vegas right now.

So what does all this mean for the front-runner, Senator Clinton, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, there's a pretty simple answer to that question. It means she's back on her feet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice over): Stand down. We are where we were. She is the front-runner. An hour after a rough-and-tumble debate, Hillary Clinton returned to her perch above the fray, over the heads of her Democratic rivals.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think we're going to draw a stark distinction with the Republicans. The Republicans who are running for president seem to think that eight more years of George W. Bush is just fine. Well, we know better than that.

CROWLEY: Everybody else is still not the front-runner. They continue to pursue her.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Poll-testing our positions because we're afraid of what Mitt or Rudy might say about us just won't do. Not this time, not now.

CROWLEY: Game back on. For Barack Obama and John Edwards, it was not a comfortable debate night. It's never good to get booed.

(BOOING)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, wait a minute.

CROWLEY: But the Edwards people believe there is fodder in Clinton's flip response to whether Ross Perot was right from the start, the free trade agreement she supported would cost U.S. jobs.

CLINTON: All I can remember from that is a bunch of charts. That's sort of a vague memory.

CROWLEY: Camp Edwards responds with what they call the chart that matters, jobs lost because of NAFTA, a bit of a hard argument since Edwards, too, once supported the trade deal.

The truth is, after the worst two weeks of her campaign, Clinton may have emerged from this debate stronger than ever. Within the span of two hours, she proved herself tough enough to push the boys...

CLINTON: But when somebody starts throwing mud, at least we can hope that it's both accurate and not out of the Republican playbook.

CROWLEY: Smart enough to reword her incomprehensible position on drivers' licenses for illegals.

BLITZER: Senator Clinton?

CLINTON: No.

CROWLEY: Game enough to ponder girly things.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you prefer diamonds or pearls?

CLINTON: Now, I know I'm sometimes accused of not being able to make a choice. I want both.

CROWLEY: She's back on her feet, but there are 48 reasons for caution, 48 days until the first contest of the presidential season.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone knows Iowa is a very competitive environment. I think any one of the top three at this point could win in Iowa. If Senator Clinton loses in Iowa, we have a different race.

CROWLEY: The game is not over, but advantage Clinton.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: So where do they go from here? Kind of a rhetorical question, Wolf. Where do they go from here? Of course they go to Iowa.

BLITZER: All right, Candy. Thanks very much.

Candy is going to be with us again during our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour for our roundtable discussion.

Other news on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton, as we just saw, she's not wasting any time celebrating what some see as a strong comeback performance. Today she came back to Washington casting a vote in the Senate, but to make it clear she really wants to win Nevada, Clinton is going back to the Silver State to campaign there tonight. She'll be at an Organizing for Change event, as they're calling it, at an elementary school out in Fernley.

John Edwards, he stayed in Nevada today, took questions from reporters, he toured a hospital where he met with nurses in Henderson. Also today, Edwards will head to Burbank, California, where he will actually join the picket line of some TV writers who are on strike.

As for some of the other Democrats, Senator Chris Dodd will attend house parties in Waterloo, Mason City and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Later he was back here in Washington this morning to vote as well.

And Dennis Kucinich, by the way, campaigned at two universities in Las Vegas.

Democrats certainly do not have Vegas all to themselves today. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also campaigned there, attending an economic roundtable.

With the first presidential voting contest only a few weeks ago, every appearance for the candidates is emerging as critical.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's out in Las Vegas watching all of this unfold.

A lot of -- a lot of excitement certainly on the Democratic side, but the Republicans as well. Where do the Republicans stand now?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, the Republicans are all over their place.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice over): The Democratic show is over. Time for the next act. Bring on the elephants. Republicans take your places.

OK, what are the Republicans' places?

Here in Nevada, Rudy Giuliani is out in front.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We want to make sure that we give ourselves every chance to win Nevada.

SCHNEIDER: With Mitt Romney close behind him.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... trip to Nevada. Happy to be with you again.

SCHNEIDER: But wait. Iowa Republicans vote first. Their first choice is Romney, with Mike Huckabee breathing down his neck.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And we are serious, we are here to stay, and we're here to play.

SCHNEIDER: And Giuliani? He comes in third in Iowa.

What about New Hampshire Republicans? They're kind of important. Romney has a bigger lead there. He was governor of neighboring Massachusetts.

And among Republicans nationally? It's Giuliani, with all the other contenders bunched together behind him. But with only 28 percent support, Giuliani is not exactly a formidable front-runner less than two months before the primaries.

One thing Giuliani does have going for him, electability. In Nevada, Giuliani is way ahead of his rivals when Republicans are asked who has the best chance of winning? In Iowa, where Giuliani is running third, he's still considered the most electable Republican.

Same story in New Hampshire. Romney leads, but Giuliani is seen as most electable.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Before Republicans agree on who they want, they better figure out what they want, someone who's the most electable, or someone they may agree with more -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much. Have a safe trip back here to Washington.

And as all of our viewers know, Bill and Candy are both part of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television.

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

Let's go to another member of that best political team on television. That would be Jack Cafferty.

He's in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Nice job out there last night, Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. CAFFERTY: At one point, I don't know whether you intended it to be funny or not, but I think the funniest line of the night was when Barack Obama went into a Ralph Kramden on the same question that tripped up Hillary Clinton two years (sic) ago.

You asked all of them for a yes or no answer -- "Do you approve of driver's licenses for illegal aliens? -- and he started bumbling and babbling around and you said, "Senator, this is a question that lends itself to a yes or no answer."

And I laughed out loud at home.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: The other nice thing about this is the country is learning how to pronounce the name of my home state. It's Nevada.

BLITZER: You know how many people came up to me and said, "Thank you for saying Nevada, not Nevada"? They're really sensitive out there in Nevada?

CAFFERTY: Well, they're not sensitive. That's the way it's supposed to be pronounced. It's just that all these people on the East Coast, you know, pull this elitist jazz about "Nevada" and "tomato" and...

BLITZER: Do you say, Jack -- do you say Missouri or Missoura (ph)?

CAFFERTY: Missoura (ph). And all the people who live in Missoura (ph) say Missoura (ph).

BLITZER: I know.

CAFFERTY: And that's that song.

All right.

We've got an inside look at the early days of Guantanamo Bay prison camp. It's emerging and it's a little scary.

A confidential 2003 manual that was leaked on to the Internet shows that military officials had a policy of denying some detainees access to Red Cross monitors. The document says one goal was to exploit the disorientation and disorganization felt by a newly-arrived detainee, but apparently it was also OK for some long-term detainees to have no access, no contact of any kind with the International Red Cross.

The international organization has a long history of monitoring prisoners' conditions in international conflicts. And some experts are saying that this policy may in fact have violated international law.

In a section of the report called "Psychological Deterrence," the manual says military dogs should be walked in the camp to "demonstrate physical presence to detainees." The U.S. military says the manual is out of date and shouldn't have been released to the public.

Gee, I wonder why.

They say many changes in operating procedures have been made since then and that all detainees now have access to Red Cross monitors and dogs are no longer used at Guantanamo. The U.S. still has about 305 prisoners at the detention center in Cuba whom they suspect of terrorism or links to al Qaeda.

So here is the question: What does it say about conditions at Guantanamo prison camp if, in 2003, military officials wouldn't allow Red Cross workers in to see what was going on?

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

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack. Stand by. We've got a lot more coming up over these three hours, including our roundtable during the 6:00 p.m. hour.

Jack's a member of that.

And they all want to win, but would they stop at nothing? The Democratic presidential campaigns, after their candidates debated, some top campaign advisers will debate among themselves. Standing by live to join us, supporters of Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama.

The candidates lagging those three in the polls also apparently scored. Two are even said to have won against their rivals. We'll tell you which ones.

And a year after Americans swept them into office, Democrats in Congress are still unable to end the war in Iraq. They suffered yet another major defeat today.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: With most of the attention paid to Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, some are wondering what a so-called second-tier candidate ought to do to try to get noticed. Apparently launch some quotable zingers or maybe even speak in Spanish.

Let's go to Mary Snow. She's in New York watching all of this.

And, in fact, some of those so-called second-tier candidates, they're getting praised for their performances last night.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are gaining praise, Wolf, but the question is, will it translate into voter support? These candidates are seen as caught between a rock and a hard place, with no easy way out of their position.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SNOW (voice over): Call them the Democratic underdogs. They're the presidential hopefuls with little hope of breaking out from the bottom of the polls.

Senator Joe Biden even poked fun of his status at Thursday night's debate as the front-runners took the spotlight.

BLITZER: I want you to weigh in.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Don't do it. No, don't make me speak.

BLITZER: I want you to. Go ahead.

SNOW: Biden's candor earned him high marks with political observers.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Biden was by far the most natural and direct. I think he connected better with the audience than any other candidate.

SNOW: The veteran senator's experience also came through, as with this response to a question about Pakistan.

BIDEN: I have made it clear to Musharraf personally when he called me -- and I've spoken personally to Bhutto, before, I might add, the president spoke to either one of them.

SNOW: Bill Richardson gained notice for being direct, say some observers.

BLITZER: What you're saying, Governor, is that human rights at times are more important than American national security?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, because I believe we -- we need to find ways to say to the world that, you know, it's not just about what Halliburton wants in Iraq.

SNOW: Overall for the New Mexico governor?

DOUG HATTAWAY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Bill Richardson stands out for working his resume into virtually every response and, interestingly, for not going after Hillary Clinton. It's like he's running for vice president on his resume.

SNOW: Senator Christopher Dodd's answer in Spanish gained him some attention.

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH).

SNOW: Some strategists say the moment showed more about Dodd as a person, but won't help him much in the polls.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich, say political observers, knows he'll never win, but gets headlines and applause with his blunt suggestions like this one on how to deal with the president and vice president.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's called impeachment, and you don't wait. You do it now. You don't wait.

BLITZER: All right.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: While these underdogs may have made an impression, political observers say in the end, they don't really see these debate moments doing much to help these candidates break out of the lower tiers in the polls -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, they work really hard, these candidates, and it's not always glamorous. I was on a red-eye flight back to Washington last night, not the greatest thing to do. Senator Dodd was on that same flight.

He was reading a lot, he was working hard. I know Senator Biden was on another red-eye back to Washington. They both had to get back here this morning for Senate votes. So it's not always as glamorous or exciting as it looks.

Mary, thanks very much for that.

So what do fellow Democratic presidential candidates think of, let's say, Senator Joe Biden? The Biden campaign has its spin out on last night's debate. And it's online.

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

It's very, very cute. Share with our viewers what they're doing.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, and this from a senator who's not known for his brevity, but in this new campaign video, Senator Biden is letting his opponents do the talking.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DODD: Exactly what Joe Biden talked about here.

EDWARDS: And I want to add on to something Joe Biden said.

CLINTON: To do exactly what Joe is saying...

OBAMA: And Joe's exactly right.

EDWARDS: Senator Biden just spoke about...

CLINTON: But I just want to say, Senator Biden really deserves a lot of plaudits, because he knows this issue forwards and backwards.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TATTON: And that's not all in this video which is entitled "Joe is right." There's about a dozen more clips, many of them from Senator Hillary Clinton from previous debates saying much of the same thing. All set to Randy Newman's "You've Got a Friend in Me."

A campaign release that accompanied the video said, "We appreciate it when Senator Biden's opponents pile on his experience and record."

Wolf.

BLITZER: Very cute video. Thanks very much for that, Abbi.

Democrats fail to do something many Americans want them to do. It involves Iraq, and a major defeat once again today.

And you've seen the Democratic presidential candidates debate. Now you're going to see some of their top advisers square off. They're standing by live, representatives from the Clinton, Obama and Edwards campaigns.

Lots more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Coming up, the Clinton campaign very happy about what they see as a very strong performance by Hillary Clinton last night, but what do her Democratic rivals think about how she's doing?

Let's get to some advisers. That's coming up in our next block, advisers from the Clinton, Obama and Edwards campaigns. We'll get their thoughts.

And Karl Rove on the Republican field. He talks about whether become a Mormon will hurt Mitt Romney's presidential hopes. You're going to want to hear what Karl Rove is now saying.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, how thin is too thin? After an Israeli fashion model dies of anorexia, a friend launches an all-out campaign to protect the health of all the others still on the catwalk.

We'll tell you what's going on in Israel.

And is it the end of days? A doomsday cult holed up in a cave thinks so. We're going to have the latest on a very bizarre and dangerous standoff that's unfolding right now in central Russia.

All that and a lot more still to come. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Much has been made this week of the large population of illegal immigrants in Nevada. Then there are those who want to take the legal path to U.S. citizenship. Some had hopes of being in voting lines in 2008, but are finding the way paved with disappointment.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, has their story from Las Vegas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Behind what locals call the Vegas dream are thousands of immigrants chasing their American dream -- citizenship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He called the people there Indians.

KING: The Citizenship Project is all the more urgent now because of Nevada's new role as an early presidential battleground.

MANNY BARAJAS, LAS VEGAS RESIDENT: I was hoping that I could be ready to vote in '08.

KING: Manny Barajas came to the United States from Mexico nearly 40 years ago, works at a Vegas casino, and when we first met nine months, was confident he would cast his first vote when Nevada Democrats hold a presidential caucus in January.

BARAJAS: The American dreams bring me to the Las Vegas dream. And the last thing for me to do is become a citizen and make my vote count.

KING: But Barajas hasn't heard a thing from the government since submitting his naturalization forms six months ago.

BARAJAS: These are people who are willing to pay the money, learn whatever they have to learn, and they're getting discouraged because we have to wait. The process is so slow.

KING: Felipe Lopez likes President Bush, but isn't sure how he would vote if he gets a chance in 2008. Emphasis on "if."

FELIPE LOPEZ, LAS VEGAS RESIDENT: I'm waiting like -- like almost three years ago. That's a long time.

KING: He passed the citizenship test 16 months ago, but three times he's been summoned for the fingerprinting the government includes in its background check. Still no word about the last step, taking the oath of citizenship.

LOPEZ: We need a letter. That's what I need, a letter.

KING: The Department of Homeland Security says the naturalization process should take seven months, but it acknowledges a growing backlog, nearly 900,000 pending cases, almost twice as many as a year ago.

BARAJAS: I'm not a quitter. I'm kind of a leader person, and I'm going to fight for this.

KING: The way Barajas sees it, some of the resources spent battling illegal immigration could be used to speed the path for legal immigrants.

BARAJAS: I think it's a little discrimination, because they focus on the bad part of immigration. What about all these people that have been in this country legally, paying their taxes?

KING: Unions are major players in pushing the citizenship drive and voter registration here.

(on camera): And because of that, some labor leaders here suggest that perhaps a Republican administration is dragging its feet processing the applications of people it believes are likely to become Democratic voters. But the administration insists this is simply a case of increased demand and limited resources.

John King, CNN, Las Vegas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Over 90 percent of adult applicants for naturalization must meet these basic requirements before becoming a U.S. citizen. They have to have five years of permanent, continuous residence, they must hold a green card and not have left the country longer than six months. Two and a half years of physical presence in the United States, three months as a resident of the state that they're applying from, and they must demonstrate good moral character and have a basic knowledge of English, U.S. history and government.

With last night's Democratic debate behind them, let's find out how the insiders with the three top tier democratic presidential candidates think it went. Joining us now is Howard Wilson, the communications director of the Clinton campaign. He's here in our Washington bureau. David Axelrod is the chief media strategist for the Obama campaign, he's in Chicago, and the Edwards' campaign communications director Chris Cofinis, he's joining us from Raleigh, North Carolina. Gentlemen, thanks to all of you for coming in. Let me start with David Axelrod. David, I'm going to play a little clip of one exchange I had with Senator Obama on this whole issue of driver's licenses and illegal immigrants. Listen to this exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you support or oppose driver's licenses for illegal immigrants?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am not proposing that that's what we do. What I'm saying is that we can't be -- no, no, look. I have already said I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety and that driver's licenses at the state level can make that happen. (END OF VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. I'm sure you prepared for that question, but he started to give an answer that some would say sounded almost like Hillary Clinton's answer the first time she was asked about that. You weren't exactly clear where he stood. It took a little prodding by me to get his answer out. Was that sort of a mistake on his part?

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: No, I don't think that he was unclear, Wolf. He was clear two weeks ago when he was asked in another debate, he was clear last night. In fact I think he and Chris Dodd may be the only two candidates on that stage who gave the same answer as they did two weeks ago. I'm not sure. And Senator Obama voted on this in 2003. He believes that we ought to require anybody who's on the road to be trained, licensed, to have insurance, so that you can protect innocent motorists on the road. He's very clear on that, but what he tried to say, I understand you wanted it for your format, push it to a yes/no that this is really, what we really need is comprehensive immigration reform. And this question is really moot. Since Senator Clinton has taken so many different positions on this, created a great controversy, the Spitzer proposal has been withdrawn, it's unlikely that any governor's really going to pursue this down the line. But the real news was in fact that Senator Clinton, who straddled it in the last debate the day after said she supported it and yesterday gave a no. She's been veering across several lanes, and took a u-turn, and you didn't really ticket her on that yesterday, did you, Wolf?

BLITZER: Let's ask Howard Wolfson, why did it take her so long to come up with a yes or no on a sensitive issue like that, because she sort of has been all over the place?

HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: Well, Wolf last night when you asked her, she made clear that she was opposed to giving driver's licenses to undocumented persons. She and Senator Obama obviously have a disagreement on that. Senator Obama supports giving illegal immigrants driver's licenses, that's his position. I'm sure it's heartfelt. It took him a while to get it out yesterday, but he did manage in the end to say that he supported it. So there's a difference of opinion on that issue.

BLITZER: Let's bring in the Edwards campaign, Chris, because there was another exchange that he had with Dennis Kucinich, your candidate, I'm going to play the clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People have to take responsibility for their position.

BLITZER: Let's ask Senator Edwards to respond with that voter mistake.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not sure what being a trial lawyer has to do with it, but my response is.

KUCINICH: Try credibility.

EDWARDS: Cute, Dennis.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. This was the first time I think in any of these debates, Chris, that the candidates -- correct me if I'm wrong -- were actually booed by some of the people who were out there. Was that an awkward moment for Senator Edwards when Congressman Kucinich decided to go after him?

CHRIS KOFINIS, EDWARDS CAMPAIGN: No, I think it started actually with Senator Clinton going after Senator Edwards. He made it very clear and I think the Clinton campaign has been doing this pretty regularly now for the last week or so in terms of slinging their own mud against Senator Edwards and the reason is pretty clear. They see Senator Edwards as a very clear threat. He's very strong in Iowa, we're in a great position to win this nomination, they understand that. And I think what you've seen increasingly so and it's going to become even clearer as we get closer is that his positions I think are the positions the American people want, whether it's trade, social security, ending the war in Iraq, dealing with NAFTA. I mean, this as I think is a fundamental election. We talk about it a lot, but this is really a turning point, a crossroads for this nation as to which path we go. We have two paths. We can go I believe in Senator Edwards' path, which is bold and visionary, it's going to lead to good change for this country and help working families, or we can go down the path of Senator Clinton, which basically defends deals like the (INAUDIBLE) deal, NAFTA deal, and says one thing in DC and says another thing in Iowa or New Hampshire.

BLITZER: I want to take a break, but I want Howard Wolfson who represents Senator Clinton to respond, because on that sensitive issue of free trade, she did take a position now basically against what her husband's position was when he was president. She now says NAFTA was a mistake. Howard?

WOLFON: Wolf, I don't know if it was an advantage or a disadvantage, but I was not able to hear Chris, so I don't know what his criticism was.

BLITZER: Well, we're going to have to fix that unfortunately, but basically the criticism is she's been all over the place, on not only the issue of drivers licenses, but on the issue of free trade, for example, now suggesting that the NAFTA agreement and some of the other agreements to promote free trade were mistakes.

WOLFSON: Look, I understand that when Senator Edwards was running for president last time, he supported driver's licenses for undocumented persons, now he's against them. When he was in the senate, he voted for free trade with China, now apparently he's against that. He has become a tribune of the working people, though he took hundreds of thousands of dollars to work for a Wall Street fund that has foreclosed on the homes of hundreds of working people across America.

KOFINIS: That's outrageous.

WOLFSON: So, I get that, Chris, it's ok.

KOFINIS: Now what I find amusing Howard is your campaign talking about how you sling mud. I mean you fellows sling so much mud, you have to take two showers a day. The reality here is this is a serious election, there are serious differences and every candidate has a responsibility to the voters to tell them the truth about where they stand. Senator Clinton wants to tell the voters that she stands on every position, depending on the day. She's for a trade deal, she's against trade deals, she's for illegal immigrants having driver's licenses, she's against them. I mean this is a critical election. What voters want is the truth.

BLITZER: Let me let David Axelrod weigh in. Because I think it's fair to say David that there have been changes in the positions, in the Edwards position on various issues over these years, significant changes on Hillary Clinton's positions over the years. Maybe that's natural. Maybe people just get smarter and they change their minds. Barack Obama hasn't really been around that long to make some significant changes, but he's been fairly consistent. Go ahead and button this part of the discussion up because we have a lot more to talk about.

AXELROD: Wolf, it's actually a very important part of the discussion, because I think what the American people are really looking for is a president who will tell them what they need to hear and not just what they want to hear. This issue of driver's licenses is a good example. We know that it's an unpopular position, and Senator Clinton straddled and endorsed, and walked away from it because of that. It's hard to take some positions that are difficult, but I think people ultimately respect you for it. On this issue of NAFTA, just a year ago Senator Clinton said it was a boon to our economy and one of the great achievements of the Clinton administration and last night she --

BLITZER: Everybody hold their fire for a minute because I want to pick up that thought on what some people are calling the flip flops. Stand by, guys. We have a lot more to talk about. One thing is certain after last night's debate, the stakes are getting higher, the gloves are coming off. When we come back, we'll have more with our panel discussion on the surrogates for the three major democratic presidential campaigns. Also, they sound like opinion polls, but are anything but. We're going to take a closer look at what are called push polls, targeting candidate Mitt Romney's religion and how they could backfire on whoever is behind them.

And the homerun king Barry Bonds' federal indictment. Can his career weather the storm? We'll talk to basketball great, the sports commentator Charles Barkley. He has some strongly held views on Barry Bonds and the indictment. Stick around, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Let's get some more from the surrogates for the three top tier democratic presidential campaigns, from the Clinton, Obama and Edwards campaigns. Howard Wolfson, the argument is that Hillary Clinton, she looks at the polls, then she comes up with a position, even if it's different than a previous position. You heard that from your colleagues here today. What do you say?

WOLFSON: Well I did hear that, and look, let's take a step back. The reason that all the objective analysis of the debate last night made clear that Senator Clinton scored a knockout blow is because her answers were clear, they were crisp, she showed the strength and experience we need to make the change that America desires in the country.

BLITZER: Why didn't she do that the last time?

WOLFSON: I can understand why my friends in North Carolina and Illinois are frustrated by that and I can understand why they want to continue to throw mud, as Chris suggested, but they did not have the best night. Their answers were not crisp and clear. They were frustrated, and it sounds like they're going to continue to be frustrated.

BLITZER: All right, David Axelrod, go ahead. Let's David go first.

AXELROD: Howard actually is a good friend of mine and I admire him --

WOLFSON: That's true.

AXELROD: I admire him for what he does, but the fact is we've gone through, I don't know, five, six, seven minutes here and he still hasn't answered the question.

WOLFSON: Which question?

BLITZER: Why she take two weeks --

AXELROD: Why did she switch her position on licenses? Why she changed her position on NAFTA?

WOLFSON: This is a fundamental choice.

AXELROD: Why she changed her position on social security. These are big questions, because the American people need to know that when a presidential candidate and when a president makes a commitment, that commitment is good today, tomorrow and a year from now, and not just when it's politically convenient.

KOFINIS: This I will tell you is the key thing in this race. What I find interesting is Howard will sit there and talk and he'll throw out the slogans about strength and experience. And the slogan about ready to lead. Listen, if you're ready to lead, you should be ready to answer the questions. And what answering the questions means is you actually tell the voters the truth about where you stand, not that you change your position depending on the day or depending on the poll. Now I find it ironic --

BLITZER: Hold on, one at a time.

KOFINIS: Let me finish.

WOLFSON: No, Chris has had hi say, I'm going to ask him a question because he believes people should answer the questions. Chris, why did John Edwards oppose universal health care in 2004 and why does he support it now? Why did he flip flop on that issue?

KOFINIS: You know what's funny about that Howard, I'll answer that question, because I know you don't like answering questions. But I'll answer that question. What's ironic about that is you've been in Washington too long. What we have in this country is a growing problem. There are 47 million people in this country without health care.

WOLFSON: We didn't have a problem with that in 2004 Chris? John Edwards was unaware we had the problem in 2004?

BLITZER: One at a time Howard.

KOFINIS: And here's the reality. You want to live in a fantasy world that that problem hasn't gotten worse. What Senator Edwards says is listen, we need to lead in this issue, we have to learn from the reality that things have changed. You want to sit in Washington and pretend the problems are the same, you want to sit there and read the polls. Here is the reality. American people are thirsty for leadership, offer it.

WOLFSON: You didn't give an answer Chris.

KOFINIS: They want candidates to stand for something, offer it.

WOLFSON: You said people need to give answers and you didn't do it.

KOFINIS: You cannot answer a single question.

WOLFSON: I just asked you a question, you couldn't answer it.

KOFINIS: I'll ask you a question, Howard. When is Senator Clinton going to propose her plan to end the war in Iraq? When is Senator Clinton going to say that she opposes --

WOLFSON: She's offered a plan --

BLITZER: Gentlemen, unfortunately we've run out the clock, we can't continue this, but we will continue it in the days and weeks to come. Thanks to all of you for coming in. I know it's frustrating and a limited amount of time.

AXELROD: Well, what about -- you didn't ask us about pearls and diamonds?

BLITZER: Next time, next time we'll talk about that.

KOFINIS: Tell me which one you'd rather have. BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in.

In our "strategy session" that's coming up, President Bush's ally Karl Rove, he's surveying the Republican's presidential field. We're going to tell you if he thinks Mitt Romney's religion is an asset or a liability in the race for '08. Donna Brazile and John Feehery, they're standing by. Right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We've closely examined the Democratic Presidential Debate last night, from lots of different angles. Here's a question -- have we learned anything new about the candidates? Let's get to our "strategy session," Donna Brazile our Democratic Strategist and Republican Strategist John Feehery, guys, thanks very much. Did we learn anything new last night, Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We know that Hillary's pantsuit is made out of Teflon, not asbestos, that's one thing we know. Look, it was a great debate last night. When we go back and look at this chapter in American history in terms of presidential politics that was a turning point. The Democrats are clearly turning the heat on one another, but I think this will light a fire among voters who are looking for a candidate with vision, someone that will fight for their values. And last night I saw both Hillary and Obama step up to the plate. John Edwards, who I assume was coming in there ready to fight, she looked at him and give him one of those wonderful looks and said, not now, not now.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think Hillary won the debate, no doubt about it. She gave the key point I thought was the immigration question, when she said, no, and didn't say anything more, and I think that Obama really hurt himself with the long-winded answer. I know he's trying to get his policy out there, but it was the wrong time to do it. He should have said yes or no, and I thought that Edwards looked very weak. I thought he looked kind of like Rick Lazzio frankly. Just didn't come off very strong in the debate. I think Hillary won it very easily.

BLITZER: I remember when watching that debate, I was up on the stage, I thought Biden and Chris Dodd did really well as well, even though they're not necessarily the so-called top tier, but they made some points and they scored some points.

BRAZILE: Look, Chris Dodd's ability to speak fluent Spanish, I thought that was a wonderful moment in the debate, especially given the electorate out there in Nevada and the west, but also Joe Biden, his wit, his humor, but he was also very concise in answering questions about Pakistan and of course national security matters.

FEEHERY: I thought Biden was number two, I thought Dodd was number three. Actually I emailed one of your guys about that last night, that's exactly the same --

BLITZER: If this would have been a boxing match that's how you would have scored it. Karl Rove is the new "Newsweek" magazine columnist and he spoke out about the Mitt Romney, who's campaign is religion, he's a Mormon. And he made these comments. I want to play it for you.

(BEGIN VDIEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: I think the American people basically are fair, and they don't want -- you know, they don't vote -- the Episcopalian president or the Lutheran president or the Mormon president, but I do think that they want their president to be a person of faith. And I think as a result, this is likely to be an issue with some, but not a lot, because the American people are fundamentally fair about it.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: John, what do you think? Do you think Karl Rove is right?

FEEHERY: I don't know. We don't have any polling saying hey, I'm going to vote this way or that way based on religion. People aren't going to admit how they vote. There's a lot of reasons why Mitt Romney is not doing as well in national polls, most of it because people don't know him. But some people think it's because of his Mormon religion. Let's hope not. Let's hope that people vote because of character and not because of what faith they actually are, but you never know and we don't have polling that shows.

BLITZER: But even if there are people out there who say you know I'm never going to vote for Mitt Romney because he's a Mormon, they're not necessarily likely to admit that to a pollster.

BRAZILE: Look, I don't know if Karl Rove can write the gospel on American politics at this hour, given all of his failures, but he has a point. I think the American people are looking beyond race and religion, they're looking for someone who shares other values and common traits that we all have as Americans. So I agree on that point.

BLITZER: Congress leaving today for a two week break, thanksgiving break, but a lot of frustration out there that not a whole lot of business is getting done right now. As the Democrats take the heat, Republicans are taking a lot of heat as well.

FEEHERY: Look, they're not doing the energy bill, they're not doing any of the appropriation bills, they didn't do the veterans spending bill, they're not doing any bills that matter to the American people, naming a lot of post offices. You know they came in with a lot of promises, people thought, hey, it's a new congress. A new congress is worse than the old congress, much worse than the old congress and the approval ratings show it, 11 percent in a lot of polls.

BLITZER: There was the one poll that was a few weeks ago.

FEEHERY: I like to use that one. BRAZILE: The Republicans delight and listen to all of the things that the Democrats have not accomplished, but have failed to talk about the things the Democrats have accomplished, that many Republicans have supported. The water bill they just passed, which has enormous funds for regions like the region I'm from, the south, raising the minimum wage, the Veterans bill that will be passed, $131 million more. Look, the Democrats are trying to accomplish a great deal, but given the fact that the Republicans have decided to stall, stop action and delay action, it's very difficult to get legislation through the house and senate.

BLITZER: So you're saying it hasn't been a do nothing congress?

BRAZILE: Look, $23 billion separate the Democrats and Republicans from having all of these spending bills on the table at the president's desk. The president needs to step up and give Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid the ability to get those things done.

BLITZER: Donna and John, we have to leave it right there. Thanks very much.

Beware who's on the other end of your phone. Someone may be calling, saying they're trying to get your opinion on the presidential candidates, but they may actually be trying to influence your opinion. Something one candidate calls a disgrace, he wants it investigated. We'll tell you what's going on. Stick around, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our political ticker this Friday, residents of New Hampshire and Iowa get telephone calls raising questions about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The 20-minute calls that started Sunday point out Romney's Mormon religion and military deferment during the Vietnam War era. The calls are believed to be what are called push polls, those are the calls which sound like opinion polls, but instead of gauging people's attitudes, they simply aim to plant negative ideas in voters' minds about a candidate. Republican senator and White House hopeful John McCain calls the practice a disgrace. He's calling on New Hampshire's attorney general now to investigate. And fellow GOP candidate Fred Thompson calls it smut and robo-bigotry that has to end right now.

Remember, for the latest political news at any time check out our political ticker at cnn.com/ticker.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York. These push polls have been around for a long time, and they do an incredible amount of damage. They're really ugly.

JACK CAFFERTY: I was going to say, depending on the part of the country that they're used in, the potential for really doing big time harm is significant.

The question this hour is, what does it say about the conditions at Guantanamo prison camp if back in 2003 U.S. military officials would not allow the Red Cross in to visit the detainees or see what was going on there? Mary writes from North Carolina, "It's the same old thing. Bush thinks he's above the law and so far has broken most of our laws. He and Cheney should be impeached." Bill in Pennsylvania, "I think it says we must have something to hide when we won't allow the Red Cross to visit prisoners at Gitmo. How can we convince Musharraf, president of Pakistan, that we're not a bunch of hypocrites when we allow things like this to happen in our own country? America is supposed to be an example of what democracy is." John in DeKalb, Illinois, "I really don't care about the conditions at Guantanamo Bay. These thugs and murderers get three squares a day, a roof over their heads, free medical, dental and vision care, all at taxpayer expense. I'd prefer my tax dollars be used to provide the same benefits to the many American citizens who go without them." Richard in East Syracuse, "This is just another example of this administration's disregard or disrespect for the rule of U.S. law or even international law. This is the same thing the Nazis and the Japanese did previously with their prison camps." Peggy in Missouri, "It means what's happening there is so bad, they don't dare let anybody in to see what's going on It's illegal." And Dave in Santa Cruz writes, "Well, the government was just afraid that the Red Cross might see this water-boarding as torture rather than the spa treatment the military seems to think it is. They just didn't want any misunderstandings." Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank you Jack. To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, happening now. A country brought to its knees by a massive killer storm. The death toll now possibly topping 1,000. We'll take you to the cyclone zone as it's now called.

Also, Barry Bonds under federal indictment and possibly facing decades in prison. And now the basketball great Charles Barkley is coming to his defense. We're going to talk to Barkley live, this hour.

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