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South Carolina Set For Republican Presidential Primary; Interview With Texas Congressman Ron Paul

Aired January 18, 2008 - 20:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again. And welcome to CNN ELECTION CENTER, convening the best political team on television to bring you more from the candidates, so you can make smart decisions on your Election Day, and coming to you tonight from the Liberty Tap Room and Grill in Columbia, South Carolina.
Super Tuesday only 18 days away for voters in nearly half the country, but in Nevada and for Republicans here in South Carolina, the voting and caucusing will be under way in just a matter of hours.

We are releasing a new nationwide poll tonight that shows the economy is now the voters' number-one concern.

In a couple of minutes, I will be asking Ron Paul about President Bush's new economic plan. And he gives us some insights into what his campaign is really all about.

Right now, my colleague Anderson Cooper is covering other angles on the race for president from the Election Center in New York.

Hi, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: John, thanks very much.

While South Carolina is center stage with the Republicans tonight, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have set their sights on tomorrow's Nevada caucuses.

Our new poll also reveals some interesting trends in the Democratic race. We will have details in a moment.

We're also focusing tonight on the voters. When it comes to immigration, they are angry. On health care, they're worried. It's going to be a busy hour.

Let's get started with John in South Carolina -- John.

ROBERTS: All right, Anderson, thanks very much.

As we said, our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows that the economy is now Americans' number-one worry. It outranks Iraq, terrorism, health care, gasoline prices and Iran.

President Bush today asked Congress to quickly pass an economic stimulus package that includes some income tax rebates. He didn't get specific, not yet, but they could be as much as $800 for a single person or $1,600 for a married couple.

It is the talk of the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Demand, demand before we start giving these -- quote -- "rebates."

By the way, you're going to hear all about these rebates. Where do the rebates come from?

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN: Which printing press are we just going to have -- quote -- "rebates" from?

Now, I'm willing to do whatever is necessary to help America and America's families. But let's be serious that you don't -- that money doesn't fall like manna from heaven.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president today has launched a stimulus package, and I think he's on the right track. And one of the things is to make the tax cuts permanent, give people some confidence they're not going to go out there in the marketplace only to have the government reach deeper in their pockets. And that's a good short-term solution.

FRED THOMPSON, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It makes a certain amount of sense to target a certain amount of relief in terms of tax rebates. We have had an unusually long good economic period in terms of growth. When that growth starts to turn down, even though it's well short of a technical recession, it causes us concern. But we need to not rush in with boatloads of money and start throwing it in all different directions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So, some candidates seemed to think that the president's idea was a good one, others not quite so sure.

Our Dana Bash joins me now live from Myrtle Beach here in South Carolina.

And, Dana, not all of the Republican candidates agree with President Bush, and so far, none of them rushing to match him on their own economic stimulus package.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

Mitt Romney actually is going to come out with a stimulus package tomorrow from the state of Nevada. He's not here in South Carolina. We got a sneak preview from a campaign official tonight. It's going to in a large part mirror the president's, but it is going to have some things that perhaps are going to appeal to some voters this election season. It's going to talk about 100 percent elimination of the payroll tax for older Americans, and it's going to really focus on businesses, obviously, a very Republican idea. What you just heard from the Republicans who are here in South Carolina really speaks to a large part of the dynamic in this Republican race. And that is cut spending.

That is what you heard from Thompson. That is what you heard from John McCain. That is really what is going on among Republicans here in South Carolina. Certainly they're upset about the economy, but they are -- first and foremost they want Republicans in Washington to stop the deficit spending -- John.

ROBERTS: Is there any one issue that this primary is likely to turn on, Dana, or will it be a combination when voters go to the polls tomorrow?

BASH: You know, it's going to be a fascinating thing to watch when we will see the exit polls tomorrow.

But, obviously, the economy is a huge issue. It's even bigger given the news here in South Carolina today that the unemployment rate actually spiked to about 6.6 percent. But there is a really diverse issue base among voters in South Carolina.

You have veterans and they have very specific issues. They very pro-military. That could help John McCain. You have a very large evangelical base. That could help Mike Huckabee. It even could help Fred Thompson.

But you also have the issues that you have across the board with Republicans, health care, immigration. It's going to be fascinating to see how those diverse issues affect this race, particularly when these Republicans, there is no front-runner at all.

ROBERTS: Yes, and there could be another variable thrown into the primary tomorrow as well, Dana. It looks like bad weather is on the way once again.

Dana Bash for us tonight in Myrtle Beach, which of course is the scene for our upcoming Democratic debate on Monday night.

Dana, thanks again.

Before we hear more from the candidates, let's pay attention to the voters.

For that, we go to Anderson Cooper in New York City -- Anderson.

COOPER: John, thanks.

From coast to coast, Americans have a lot on their minds. Certainly the economy now worries them the most.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is here with me now. He has been looking at poll numbers. Bill, no surprise the economy continues to be the number-one issue for voters.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, Anderson.

When the economy is bad, the economy is the issue. But take a look at these numbers. The percentage who say that the economy in the country is poor is now close to 60 percent. That number has been going up steadily for the past year. Is it a surprise? Well, it is to Democratic and Republican strategists who wanted to refight the last war.

Republicans wanted to make 2008 another fight like 2004, a referendum on terrorism. Democrats wanted it to be another 2006, like the war in -- a referendum on Iraq. But the best-laid plans...

COOPER: Best-laid plans indeed.

It's interesting. When voters were asked whether gas prices were important in considering who they were going to vote for, for president, a poll showed 36 percent said they're extremely important; 34 percent of them said very important. So, that's a total of 70 percent.

I'm joined by Bill Bennett, Carl Bernstein, both CNN contributors.

Bill, does that make sense? The president doesn't really control gas prices.

BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, it doesn't make a lot of sense, but this is the limits of polling, too. Do you know any South Carolinians? You think they're going to go to the polls based on gas prices? I don't think so, not the South Carolinians I know. They're going to look at values. They're going to look at character. They're going to look at patriotism.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: More so than the economy, you think?

BENNETT: Well, the economy, too.

But, if you look at that poll, I think, if I remember the numbers correctly, the economy was 44 or 45. Iraq was 43. War on terror was 41.

COOPER: Right.

BENNETT: What are the most important issues to you?

But when they will go into vote, they look at a man. In the case of the Republican field, they look at a man. And they will decide among those men. These North -- these South Carolinians, like North Carolinians, but even more so, are not subject to temporary excitations. They drill down. They're looking for a certain kind of guy.

COOPER: Do you think that's the same -- true on the Democratic side as well?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think you got take a much longer view than a poll on a single day. And, also, if you take the two numbers...

COOPER: But that's what we do in TV.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: We don't have time for the long view.

(LAUGHTER)

BERNSTEIN: We have got to do less of it. We have got to slow down a little bit, because take those two figures on the economy and the war.

The biggest element of the economy is the war. So, you can't separate those twos things. And one of the reasons the Democrats are looking forward to a field day is because this economic situation occurred on George Bush's watch. It's one more, you know, way that the Democrats can say, come November, look. Look what this guy and this party has done to us without any relief. That's the long view.

COOPER: Do you want to...

BENNETT: No, no, of course part of the country will do that. Part of the reaction of the country will be to say that. And that's -- they will hang that on George Bush and try to hang it on the Republicans.

But the war in Iraq remains very important, the war on terror remains very important to a lot of Americans. And we will see what happens the next year. We will see what happens in the economy and we will see what happens in the war. And that again is a problem.

One point I agree with Carl, this is a day-to-day kind of thing, this polling. And you don't know where we're going to be in two months, three months, six months.

(CROSSTALK)

BERNSTEIN: People don't vote pie slices. They really don't. They vote for the people that eat the pie.

(LAUGHTER)

BENNETT: Yes. Who do they trust? Who do they think is going to fix it? They drill down on people and say, this is the guy I think can lead us. COOPER: Is it difficult for John McCain? I mean, the president comes out with a plan today or sort of a broad plan in general. He's been critical in the past. He's supportive of what the president said, but also talks about trying to rein in spending. It's kind of a tricky position for him.

(CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: A little bit, but he's used to it. John McCain has been criticizing George Bush and differing with George Bush for some time. And they like John McCain in South Carolina. Didn't like him enough last time, but it was pretty close.

COOPER: Do Republican candidates have to show that they will go farther than the president today?

BENNETT: I think they have to declare at some point where they agree and where they don't agree. There's a kind of a -- in a state like South Carolina, there's a kind of reflexive loyalty to the president. People don't like to criticize the president.

But people are disappointed, unhappy about some things. John McCain, I think, is a good figure to address that. He's been very loyal to the president on some things, but critical on others.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Certainly, for the Democrats having the president come out with his plan allows them to show themselves in opposition to him.

BERNSTEIN: Yes, but also, first of all, Hillary Clinton has been very thoughtful about the economy and she's been very specific.

In the White House, she was opposed to some of her husband's own economic plan. But she's moved on from those days and she's learned a lot more about economics. And Obama's plan is not that much different than hers.

But they both stand in opposition to the very basis of where this economic weakness comes from. And I think they're taking the long view. I don't think that the economy ultimately is going to separate itself out as the factor in determining who the Democratic nominee is. I mean, there are so many things at work.

And one of the things, finally I think, after New Hampshire and Iowa and as we move to February 5, I think people are starting to take a real look at who these people are, what their lives have been about, drilling down a little deeper into their biography, and trying to feel more comfortable about them. In Nevada, you have a very specific situation tomorrow that involves union votes.

COOPER: Right.

BERNSTEIN: But this is a very -- this is a one-off caucus.

COOPER: We're going to talk more about Nevada coming up. Got a lot to cover in this hour.

BERNSTEIN: Right, totally idiosyncratic.

COOPER: Yes.

Carl, stay tuned, Bill as well, a lot more to cover.

The economy may be voters' number-one worry in a lot of places around the country, but health care of course is right up near the top of the list as well. We found a Nevada restaurant where neither the boss nor his workers can afford health insurance. See how that is going to affect their your choices in tomorrow's Nevada caucuses.

John, what else do you have from South Carolina tonight?

ROBERTS: Anderson, coming up, I'm going to be talking with Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, getting ready for another one of his famous money bomb days this coming Monday. He has raised millions of dollars on the Web, and he's got a loyal following, but can he win anywhere? Does he need to? Wait until you hear what he has to say.

Plus, the one issue that makes South Carolina conservatives boiling mad.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Ron Paul down in the polls but flying high in the air over South Carolina tonight, definitely a unique way for this underdog candidate to get his message out.

He has gone from enigmatic fringe candidate to a man who can pull millions off of the Web in a single day. But what is this campaign really all about for Ron Paul?

We talked to him today, and you might be surprised to hear the answer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: The big news of the day is that President Bush has come out and said that he wants a $140 billion to $145 billion economic stimulus package. Do you agree with his plan? What's your idea for preventing the United States from sliding into recession?

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, we need to cut taxes -- I have been arguing that all along -- to have prevented this problem that we have.

But you have to cut someplace. If you just, you know, return taxes or stimulate the economy by spending, and you don't cut something, it increases the deficit.

ROBERTS: Do you have a stimulus plan?

PAUL: My stimulus plan is deregulate and de-tax. ROBERTS: But you can't do that immediately. Do you have a short-term...

PAUL: No, the most important thing is a negative, and that is, let the market work. Get out of the way.

ROBERTS: Congressman, in our new CNN poll, you are at 6 percent, which is about where you have been. You haven't risen much. You haven't dropped much.

You may not have broad support, but what support you have is very intense. You have another one of those money bomb days coming up on January the 21st. How much do you think you will raise?

PAUL: I don't know, because I haven't been very good at predicting, because these aren't rich people. There are a lot of colleges, and poor people.

But I wouldn't be totally shocked if it wasn't quite as much. How do you keep breaking records, first $4 million, then $6 million? I don't think we can continue to do that.

ROBERTS: You still have about $8 million or $9 million in the bank. There's a lot of top-tier candidates who would like to have that kind of cash. You would like to win a state or two in this primary contest, but it seems to me that you don't have to win to stay in.

PAUL: No, I think our people think we're winning all the time, because we're working in the sense that we're trying to reverse the course of history.

And our job is a lot different than just winning an election. We're trying to reverse policies that have existed for over 100 years, foreign, monetary policy, fiscal policy. And this is where we're winning.

ROBERTS: Is it a safe statement to say it's unlikely that you will win the nomination?

PAUL: I think that is safe, but you still can't give up. You still are in the race, so you have to pursue it.

ROBERTS: So, if this isn't about you becoming the nominee, what is it about?

PAUL: I think it's about me and what I have done all my life, is present a case for liberty and a case for the Constitution.

ROBERTS: On the floor of the House of Representatives, on many issues, you are a lone voice in the wilderness. Would you like to, through this movement that you're building, bring in some like-minded members of Congress, so that you have inside the halls of Congress a sort of Ron Paul coalition, who could attack these issues?

PAUL: I would love it. And there are several starting to run now, and they're running, and they attach my name to it, the Ron Paul Republican, because it isn't that we don't support Republican principles. It's just that the Republican Party currently do not support these principles.

I would be delighted if we had a few allies there to have a real debate.

ROBERTS: The fact that you and the principles that you support can beat people like Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson in the state of Michigan, you can beat Rudy Giuliani in Iowa, what does that say about the strength of this movement?

PAUL: All of a sudden, I thought, well, this is much bigger than my little effort, that it is indeed time for it.

But I think it's the conditions that are right. The message has been around. But, all of a sudden, more people are recognizing, government doesn't work very well. And a lot of people are looking at, well, Social Security. Young people, do they want to pay Social Security for 50 years and get nothing? So, they're recognizing this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: While he's trailing the pack in South Carolina, he could make an impressive showing in the Nevada caucuses, especially since, as of Wednesday, he was the only Republican to buy television ads there -- now back to Anderson in New York.

COOPER: Interesting discussion, John. Thanks.

Let's talk about the rest of the Republican field now. John just mentioned those new poll numbers that show 6 percent of registered Republicans supporting Ron Paul. So, let's look how the other GOP candidates stack up.

For that, let's go to CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Well, Anderson, the Republican race hat actually gotten murkier.

John McCain is a very narrow front-runner with 29 percent, not close to a majority. Compare that to a week ago and you can see there was a Michigan bounce. Mitt Romney's up five from a week ago. John McCain is down five. So, what's happened is, McCain's lead has actually narrowed in this race.

COOPER: And this poll indicates that the majority of registered Republicans aren't enthusiastic about their candidate. Only 40 percent are strongly behind a candidate. What does that say?

SCHNEIDER: It says that no Republican candidate has actually caught fire. Two Democratic candidates have caught fire. And that's why there's so much drama and excitement in the Democratic race.

The Republican race is producing a lot of the frustration. And you can see it in the turnout numbers. Democratic turnout is surging and Republican turnout has been dropping.

COOPER: Bill earlier was talking about people voting for the person. When registered voters were asked which candidate has the personality and leadership qualities a president should have, 60 percent said McCain, 59 percent Obama; 55 percent went with Clinton, 41 percent Giuliani, followed closely by Romney and Huckabee. John Edwards didn't even figure in there. Are there any other surprises?

SCHNEIDER: Well, what it says here is that three contenders are there that most Americans can see as president, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain. He's the only Republican most Americans can see as president. That suggests that Obama is passing the electability test, and that has African-American voters very excited about him.

COOPER: All right, Bill Schneider, thanks.

Of all the issues in this election, one is guaranteed to make South Carolina conservatives furious. In a state that is about 1,000 miles from the Mexican border, see why people are outraged over illegal immigration.

And if you look and listen closely, you will notice some important changes in strategy by the major Democratic candidates.

We will talk about that coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHIRLEY ZILBERSTEIN, CNN PRODUCER: I'm producer Shirley Zilberstein with the Mitt Romney campaign in Nevada, where the former Massachusetts governor spent his day rallying supporters to caucus for him Saturday, pushing his message that Washington is broken.

Romney is the only Republican front-runner campaigning here today and has a strong lead on his opponents, most of whom are of course battling it out in South Carolina right now. Romney has repeatedly pointed out that Nevada has more delegates at stake than South Carolina, and says this is a race to reach the -- quote -- "magic number" of delegates need to win the nomination.

Later tonight, Romney will appear on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." Romney joked, he figures it's the only way he can be in South Carolina and Nevada at the same time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, in South Carolina, recent poll among conservative Republican voters found that illegal immigration was their number-one concern. Considering South Carolina isn't even a border state, that might surprise some people.

So, we sent CNN's Dan Lothian to talk to people there, find out why so many in the state are so concerned. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): To say that Blaze Tische (ph) is angry about illegal immigration would be an understatement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, this problem is so bad, it just makes a working man want to cry.

LOTHIAN: He recently started this Web site for the public to report companies that hire illegal immigrants. Why is he doing this? The 25-year veteran stonemason told us, cheap immigrant labor being used on many of these construction projects along the oceanfront in Myrtle Beach is costing him his livelihood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's devastating on people. I mean, the working man can't compete with the wages people are willing to pay for you to go out and do your trade.

LOTHIAN: The $15 an hour Tische (ph) says contractors once paid him to do stone and brick work has been cut to $6.50. And he blames illegal immigrants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How can a man live on that when gas is $3 a gallon?

LOTHIAN: That's why he's especially engaged in the 2008 presidential race, searching among Republicans for anyone who has a good solution. Fred Thompson and Ron Paul, he says, have caught his attention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're saying enough about the situation.

LOTHIAN: But Mareya Casas who offers translation and other services to the Hispanic community, says immigrants aren't the problem; they're part of the solution.

MAREYA CASAS, DIRECTOR, PRONTO SERVICES: There are a lot of Hispanics working in the city, a lot of them without papers. But, if they don't work, who is going to work? The people hire them because they know that Hispanics are really, really good workers.

LOTHIAN: She says the fact that builders are paying less is a function of the bad economy. Casas is more concerned about what the candidates have to say about health care, but admits the issue of illegal immigration here and across the country needs immediate attention.

CASAS: They need to work a work permit or some kind of things to be able to get everybody under control.

LOTHIAN (on camera): But Tische (ph) wants something much tougher. He argues that local and federal officials need to step up enforcement, so there will be fewer illegal immigrants to compete with.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Let's go back to John Roberts in South Carolina -- John.

ROBERTS: Anderson, thanks very much.

Immigration is one of the issues that Senator John McCain has had to answer a lot of questions about here in South Carolina. McCain supports a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. And, as you might recall, he wrote a pretty controversial immigration bill last year.

McCain also enjoys the support of South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who joined me earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Senator Graham, immigration has emerged here in South Carolina as the number-one issue, beating out even the Iraq war.

How much damage do you think Senator McCain did to himself with his immigration bill last year here in South Carolina?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't think you ever do any damage to yourself when you try to solve a hard problem. There are some people upset with John about the solution. But I was one of the key authors of the bill. There are plenty of people in South Carolina who appreciate the effort.

And conventional wisdom is one thing, and reality is another. Most South Carolinians understand we have got to do something about immigration. That means Republicans and Democrats working together, secure the border, control how you get jobs, and realistically deal with the 12 million.

We're not going to vote in South Carolina about one issue or one position. We're going to elect the leader of the free world. John's going to win because of the way he's lived his life and part of the way he's lived his life is to do the hard things, not just the easy things.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: As I said, the number two issue here in South Carolina is the Iraq war. John McCain looked like he was out on a little bit of a limb when the so-called surge appeared not to be having too much of an effect.

GRAHAM: Yes. Yes.

ROBERTS: Is he now right on the issue in South Carolina?

GRAHAM: The number one issue with all due respect, John, is who is best prepared to be president. You can ask and divide up the pie. But when John wins tomorrow, it will be because of courage, leadership and experience, and Iraq is the best example. John went to Iraq along with myself, and we were told things are going well. We knew it wasn't the media's fault. Democrats went to Iraq and said all is lost, it's hopeless. Republicans said it's doing fine. It's just the media's fault. John understood we had the wrong strategy, and he literally risked everything he's worked for all of his life to argue with Rumsfeld, to add more troops when the polls said less, because he was willing to lose his political career to protect the country and to win a war we can't afford to lose. That's why he's going to win tomorrow. People in South Carolina respect that. Somebody taking on a challenge that's not popular, but necessary.

ROBERTS: Well, Senator Graham, we certainly wish Senator McCain all the luck tomorrow. We'll be watching the results very closely.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

ROBERTS: And thank you for joining us tonight. It's good to see you again.

GRAHAM: Thank you very much.

ROBERTS: Well, you can bet that the Democratic candidates noticed President Bush's call for tax rebates today. And we have noticed some potentially important changes in each of their campaign strategies. We'll see what has changed.

Health care also on the menu. Who do you caucus for when you can't afford health care? And neither can your boss.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WELCH, CNN PRODUCER: I'm Chris Welch of the Obama campaign in Nevada where the Illinois senator cranked up his criticism of Senator Hillary Clinton today, saying that Clinton says she's ready to lead on day one, but that "it's important to get it right on day one." Obama implied the war and the economy are two areas in which Clinton's been wrong and he's been right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: As Obama distanced himself from Clinton on the economy, she was in Las Vegas criticizing the president's new stimulus plan. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Based on press reports, I don't think it does enough. It talks about giving direct payments to people, which is good. I'm for that. But at least according to what we've been told, it leaves out 50 million working Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: And Senator John Edwards was at a campaign stop in Oklahoma adding his own critique of the president's plan. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the dollar amount is in the right ballpark. That there are a couple of things that are real concern, and I hope they can be worked out. Number one, there are about 50 million families low, moderate income families who get little or no help from the president's proposal. The second is, there seems to be no lasting impact.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Joining me now three members of the best political team on television, Carl Bernstein and Bill Bennett back with me, and senior political correspondent Candy Crowley joins us tonight from Las Vegas. I want to read out this new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll just released today.

It shows a big swing in support for Obama with registered African-American Democratic voters. He now has a 28-point lead among black Democrats, when only a year ago, Hillary Clinton had a 24-point lead over the same demographic. I guess it's not surprising, Bill. The more people get to know Barack Obama, that his numbers would go up among the black community. How much do you think the recent fight has had an impact?

WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think negatives on the Clintons were things that were said by them or their surrogates, more by their surrogates, to be fair than by them -- by Bob Johnson, the Black Entertainment Television guy, he did apologize but it's still out there. By Charlie Rangel, and this was taken very badly. But also positives by Obama.

He's very good. Barack Obama is very good. He hits the right notes. I mean, he did something extraordinary the other day. I played it three times on my radio show here. He praised Ronald Reagan. Now, this also brought some reaction.

COOPER: John Edwards criticized him, so with the Clintons.

BENNETT: Absolutely. But, you know, they touched the third rail. And when they touched race, the Clintons, they talked about Martin Luther King, the birthday is Monday, and you got to be very, very careful. And Obama has, again, done a very interesting thing in American politics. He's a black man running for president. He's a very plausible candidate for president. He has not played the race card.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, he's been able to truly kind of overcome or not even overcome, to surpass race as an issue, it seems.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the Clintons have dreamed of the day when a black person could run for president and win in this country. But not on their watch. But the Clintons have really devoted their lives to racial equality, and since they were teenagers. And they understand better than anybody what this is all about, and it is totally discombobulated them because for the first time, you have a black candidate and black people now are saying, and that's the meaning of the poll, hey, a black candidate could win. That's why we'll support him.

And it totally changes the mathematics of Democratic Party politics because she was banking on black support, and it's causing a hell of a problem. It's going to show also in Nevada.

COOPER: Let's bring in Candy Crowley who is in Las Vegas tonight. Bill Bennett earlier during the break was saying, you know, it's one thing for Senator Clinton and Obama to call a truce. But on lower levels among their followers, doesn't what -- the message doesn't always, you know, filter down. Are you still hearing, Candy, repercussions from the fight over the last several days on race?

CANDY CROWLEY, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Not really. You know, the emphasis out here, Anderson, obviously has been on the Latino vote because Latinos, there are more registered Latino voters out here, at least according to our exit polls than there are nationwide. So there's been a big push by all of these candidates to reach into the Latino community.

There was an interesting radio ad that's now gone out from Magic Johnson who, as you know, is a basketball star, was a basketball star. He's an African-American. He supports the Clintons. They've put out this radio ad in South Carolina, where we know about half the primary Democratic vote is black, talking about Barack Obama, talking about, in fact, using the word rookie. So the implication is that Obama is a rookie, and this is a little bit what started out that big spat that began and presumably ended earlier this week.

COOPER: How does this work? I mean, in a campaign, you know, you have --

BERNSTEIN: Not well.

COOPER: Yes, sir.

BERNSTEIN: Let me say...

COOPER: Right.

BERNSTEIN: Look, the Clintons introduced gratuitously to their regret I believe, this whole element of race. And they don't know what to do with it at this point. It's like the genie that is out of the bottle. And it's coming back to haunt them.

COOPER: But I mean, just strategically, how does it work in a campaign, you know, to get a -- you know, a basketball player like that to do a commercial? I mean, is that written by, you know, Clinton's writers?

BERNSTEIN: Of course. COOPER: Isn't it a top down thing? Is all of this orchestrated?

BERNSTEIN: _________ 22 40 Bennett? Magic Johnson does not have a lot of speech writers.

COOPER: But the founder of BET comes out and makes that statement, and the Clintons said they didn't know what he was going to say in advance. Do you buy that?

BERNSTEIN: But at first, unfortunately for the Clintons, Hillary Clinton said that we endorse what he said, and he really meant community organizer when in fact it was evident to a squirrel that he didn't mean community organizer. Part of what this election is going to be about ultimately is about the people, but also about the conduct of their campaigns.

And right now, the big problem that the Clintons are starting to run into with Democrats is the conduct of their campaign. And you're starting to hear a lot of it within the Democratic Party and it hasn't been a pretty picture. Most interesting thing I've heard is what Lindsey Graham said there a little while ago. He said about, you know, it's about the way John McCain has lived his life.

You got three candidates here, McCain, Clinton, Obama, who have lived big lives, are great stories -- their lives. And that it seems to me, more than any of this other stuff, we're going to be looking at those big lives for months now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

BERNSTEIN: And that's what's going to -- that and the conduct of their campaigns until in the end is what's going to decide --

COOPER: Do you believe that though?

BENNETT: Oh, I think it's going to be very important, but the race question in American life is always so hard to figure. I mean, it is the great sin of America. Slavery as Faulkner said. The Clintons and the Democrats are used to wielding this issue as a cudgel against us, against Republicans, against conservatives. They're not used to being on the receiving end. What, us? How can you accuse us of that kind of insensitivity? So they may not be as well practiced as they should in defending this.

(CROSSTALK)

BERNSTEIN: You don't think that a lot of Republicans are going to vote for Obama if he's the nominee? If he's the nominee?

BENNETT: Well, I think there will be. I think there will be if he holds this --

The question is whether he holds his ground. Right now, he's in a very good position to. But once this issue gets out, it's very hard to get back because it is a third rail, but it's also that hot oven, Anderson. You look at it, you know it's going to burn you, but you step up and touch it. And there are a lot of people in the Democratic Party who feel a moral authority to speak to it, and to speak to it in terms of this division. So it's not over. It's not done by any means.

COOPER: Bill Bennett, Carl Bernstein, Candy Crowley, thanks very much. A lot more ahead. Nevada voters are not going to polls tomorrow. They are caucusing. Of course, there's a big difference. We're about to use some nifty technology to show you how caucuses work. We're also serving up a health care dilemma. How can a boss provide health care insurance for his own workers when he can't even afford it for himself?

Take a look -- the Election Center wall. We are showing you some of the candidates' positions on health insurance. We'll get one of them now. John Edwards here, and more when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Well, there you just saw where the top Democratic contenders stand on health insurance. It has been a big issue for the Democrats and in Nevada, they're paying attention. Now as CNN's Ted Rowlands reports, tomorrow's caucuses could turn on how well the candidates plan to handle the health care crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Both of these Nevada women in their 50s have health problems. Neither one has health insurance.

DONNA JENKINS, UNINSURED GRANDMOTHER: I know for a fact that my life is going to be cut short due to the fact of not having health care. And I've got children, great grandchildren. It's just not fair.

ROWLANDS: Donna Jenkins has diabetes and a heart condition. Barbara Trella recently had a brain aneurysm. Jenkins says she can't afford her heart medication so she doesn't take it. Trella says she's supposed to get a follow-up MRI but doesn't have the $450 she says it will cost.

BARBARA TRELLA, UNINSURED WIDOW: This might not seem like a lot of money to people, but it is.

ROWLANDS: Rigoberto Gonzalez (ph) is a co-owner of this restaurant. He says health care is a major issue because he can't afford to insure his employees or his wife and three kids. So like an estimated 47 million other Americans, he's rolling the dice that nothing bad will happen.

RIGOBERTO GONZALEZ, LINDO MICHOACAN RESTAURANT: You always wonder when you're on the road, you know, if you ever get in a car accident, if your kids have to go to the hospital, you know, just a very scary --

ROWLANDS: According to the Census Bureau, more than 18 percent of Nevadans live without health insurance. A much higher number than in many other states, Iowa, for example, is at about nine percent. Dr. Ikram Khan has worked for years without much progress advising state and federal policy makers on overhauling health care. He says politicians know that voters, especially in states like Nevada, are expecting the next president to fix the system.

DR. IKRAM KHAN, NEVADA HEALTHCARE ADVISOR: I am very optimistic that this will come about. It may not be 100 percent solution but at least, maybe a step in the right direction.

TRELLA: This isn't something you. This should have been taken care of a long time ago.

ROWLANDS: Barbara and Donna are both undecided Democrats. They say health care will help them dictate who they support. But they're pessimistic anything will be done in time to help them.

ROWLANDS (on camera): Are you scared?

JENKINS: I'm scared to death. Scared to death.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): Ted Rowlands, CNN, Las Vegas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Extremely important issue in this 2008 election as almost 50 million Americans without health insurance. "LARRY KING LIVE" is coming up in just a few minutes time. Larry joins us now. And who's with you tonight, Larry?

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": John, we're going to switch gears a little. We'll take a look at that fascinating story in Texas. Was there a UFO flying over a rural town there last week? We've got witnesses, experts. So you don't want to miss this. Lots to talk about. UFOs tonight coming up at the top of the hour.

You know, you never know what's out there. I wonder if Lou Dobbs is investigating illegal aliens of another kind. John, what do you think?

ROBERTS: All right. I would imagine that perhaps that could be the case. But if you want to know if there's been a UFO, I always check with Dennis Kucinich. That's a good rule of thumb. Larry, thanks. See you in just a few minutes, coming up at 9:00 Eastern.

If you have never been to a caucus, well, it's not like anything like going to vote. Our Jeffrey Toobin is back at the CNN Election Center tonight. He has mastered some pretty amazing technology to show us exactly what happens. We'll get to him in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, the Democrats said today, pull out a fight, win over caucus-goers in Nevada. Twenty-five delegates are at stake tomorrow. And you may recall how the caucus system worked in Iowa. It's basically the same process in Nevada with some quirks. CNN's quirky senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is here now with the nifty touch screen to explain. And how does it work?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Here we are. OK. Just to refresh your memory, we've got a different number of candidates than we did in Iowa. And basically, we got a demonstration here of how it works. Come on, Anderson, you got to help here. We've got to vote.

COOPER: OK.

TOOBIN: We've got 100 little question marks here, which is about typical for a caucus.

COOPER: I can't believe Mike Gravel is still there.

TOOBIN: Mike Gravel, and I think he may actually win our demonstration here. So what happens is, everybody will vote. There's no secret ballot. And the people will be meeting all over Nevada and the rule, the key rule as in Iowa, is the 15 percent viability rule. At each caucus, you have to get to 15 percent or you're out.

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: And so, let's see -- oh, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama didn't make it in our little demonstration here. And here's one difference between Iowa and Nevada. In Iowa, you could switch. The candidates that were ahead could switch in the second round. But that's not -- in Nevada, you have to stay if you're with one of the candidates.

And here, let's vote for the rest of -- so here, this is the final total for our pretend caucus. John Edwards followed by Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich. And that's really how it's going to be, including, of course, the now famous caucuses at the casinos where the workers there will be able to vote, and of course, their union endorsed Barack Obama. That's supposedly going to help him.

Here's the Republican side, and again, people will vote in caucuses. But the Republicans don't have the 15 percent rule. So it's actually much more straightforward. These are the votes that will be reported into headquarters in Carson City and in Las Vegas, where it's just pretty much a straw poll. And that's how it works.

COOPER: Excellent. Jeffrey Toobin, thanks.

TOOBIN: We'll see what happens tomorrow.

COOPER: You'll be on the air all day tomorrow. We'll be watching. Jeffrey Toobin, thanks very much.

Suppose they've touch screens on UFOs. Maybe, we'll find out at the top of the hour. Tonight, "LARRY KING LIVE" is all about UFO sightings. Some more politics ahead, though. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Just before we go for the evening, Anderson, I think it's worth taking another look at those polls to see how the issues are emerging in this race and how the trends are changing among the candidates themselves. Look at this. Economy, 45 percent. A clear indication, Anderson, that people are really feeling the pain here this year.

COOPER: Also the fact that CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll released just today showing the big swing in support for Barack Obama among registered black Democratic voters. Obama now has 59 percent support, in October only 33 percent. Hillary Clinton down from a high of 57 percent in October, now down to 31 percent, a large shift there. No doubt during the last couple days, Bill Bennett is saying the rancor of the last couple days have no doubt had an impact, as well.

ROBERTS: Yes, and you know, if you dig a little bit deeper into those numbers, and we don't have the actual panel for that. But if you look among support among African-American women, Hillary Clinton had an outstanding lead among African American women, but it has turned around. Barack Obama now leading in that demographic category, not by as much as Hillary Clinton was leading earlier but certainly, he still has a substantial lead.

So if we look back over history and the way that these little changes here and there could affect the entire outcome of an election, if white women were responsible for victory in the 2000 election, it could be said depending on how these primaries go, that black women could be responsible for who becomes the next president of this United States, Anderson.

COOPER: Obviously, our coverage tomorrow, Nevada caucuses. Also, Republicans in South Carolina fighting it out, a key race there for Republican voters and for the Republican candidates. And then next weekend, of course, South Carolina's primary where African- American voters, Democrats will come to the fore.

That's it for us tonight. Thanks very much for watching this. And a special thanks to everyone here at the Election Center and also, John, where are you? You're at the Liberty Tap Room?

ROBERTS: Yes, the Liberty Tap Room and Grill here at Columbia, South Carolina. They have been very gracious hosts tonight. We thank them for hosting us. Don't forget to watch Kiran Chetry and I. Catch us Monday morning, 6:00 a.m. Eastern on "AMERICAN MORNING." Right now, "LARRY KING LIVE." Thanks for joining us.

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