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Sparks Fly at Democratic Presidential Debate in South Carolina; Interview With Presidential Candidate John Edwards

Aired January 21, 2008 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: An unprecedented debate in Myrtle Beach.
And, if you thought the last several weeks on the campaign trail have been tough, it's nothing compared to the some of the exchanges that we saw on that stage tonight.

A lot of smiles there on the stage right now. You see Hillary Clinton, her daughter, Chelsea, there John Edwards, a lot of smiles.

But, earlier tonight on the stage, the barbs were sharp, the rhetoric rough. The best political team on television is standing by.

And just ahead, after we finish debriefing them, we're going to dig deeper into the issue of race on the campaign trail in a 360 special report, "Race and Politics." Soledad O'Brien will join me at the top of the hour for that, at 11:00 p.m.

But, right now, we have got to talk about tonight's high-stakes, rough -and-tumble debate in Myrtle Beach. It was a chance for Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards to solidify their support among African-Americans.

And it became a night where Clinton and Obama duked it out over what has and has not been said by their campaigns. Remember, we're just five days away from South Carolina's Democratic primary, a crucial race in which almost half of the voters are African-American.

CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley joins me now from Myrtle Beach.

Candy, a remarkable evening.


And anyone who thinks that this race is not personal wasn't watching tonight. This was a debate of moments, Anderson. It began when Barack Obama said that he was helping people on the streets of Chicago who had lost their jobs overseas while she was on the corporate board of Wal-Mart.

Not that much time later, she said: Well, listen, I was arguing against Ronald Reagan's policies while you were representing a slumlord in Chicago. It went on from there. There were other moments. At one point, Barack Obama said something about President Clinton not representing Barack Obama's record correctly, and he: Sometimes, I feel I'm running against the two of you.

In between this was John Edwards sort of counterprogramming, if you will, saying, well, wait a minute. How does all of this actually give children health care? How does it get them a better education?

Even when they got to the issues, Anderson, I thought health care was sort of a perfect time for them, because they did talk about what their proposals were, sort of a gang up from John Edwards and Hillary Clinton about Barack Obama's proposal, because it's not a mandatory health insurance proposal.

So, there was a good back and forth there. But there was always, always this kind of simmering hostility, which has come to really typify what's going on in this campaign -- Anderson.

COOPER: Candy called it a night of moments.

And, we over the next hour, are going to show us some of the most remarkable moments.

We really want to be able to kind of get some of the intensity of the exchanges. So, we're going to be replaying large chunks over the next 45 minutes or so. So, if you missed the debate, you will have a chance in the next 45 minutes to really get a good, quick recap of some of the most significant exchanges.

And there were a number of significant exchanges. It happened really just out of the starting gate. There's a long exchange, but we think it's worth seeing in full.

Take a look.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was just a few days ago that Senator Clinton asserted that she was the strongest candidate when it comes to fiscal responsibility.

She says that the new programs that she proposes she essentially can pay for. She says that you have failed in that regard in the tune of some $50 billion worth of new programs that you cannot account for.

How do you respond to that charge?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What she said wasn't true. We account for every single dollar that we propose.

Now, this, I think, is one of the things that's happened during the course of this campaign, that there's a set of assertions made by Senator Clinton, as well as her husband, that are not factually accurate. And I think that part of what the people are looking for right now is somebody who's going to solve problems and not resort to the same typical politics that we have seen in Washington.


OBAMA: That is something that I hear all across the country. So when Senator Clinton says -- or President Clinton says that I wasn't opposed to the war from the start or says it's a fairy tale that I opposed the war, that is simply not true.

When Senator Clinton or President Clinton asserts that I said that the Republicans had had better economic policies since 1980, that is not the case.

Now, the viewers aren't concerned with this kind of back-and- forth. What they're concerned about is who's actually going to help the get health care, how are they going to get their kids...


OBAMA: ... going to college, and that's the kind of campaign I have tried to run. I think that's the kind of campaign we should all try to run.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I couldn't agree more. But I do think that your record and what you say does matter. And when it comes to...


CLINTON: ... a lot of the issues that are important in this race, it is sometimes difficult to understand what Senator Obama has said, because as soon as he is confronted on it, he says that's not what he meant.

The facts are that he has said in the last week that he really liked the ideas of the Republicans over the last 10 to 15 years, and we can give you the exact quote.

Now, I personally think they had ideas, but they were bad ideas. They were bad ideas for America.


CLINTON: They were ideas like privatizing Social Security, like moving back from a balanced budget and a surplus to deficit and debt.

And with respect to putting forth how one would pay for all of the programs that we're proposing in this campaign, I will be more than happy, Barack, to get the information, because we have searched for it.

You have a lot of money that you want to put into foreign aid, a very worthy program. There is no evidence from your Web site, from your speeches, as to how you would pay for it.

Now, why is this important? It's important because I think elections are about the future. But how do you determine what will happen in the future? Well, you have to look to the record, you have to look to what we say in campaigns, and what we have done during our careers.

And I want to be just very explicit about this. We are not, neither my campaign nor anyone associated with it, are in any way saying you did not oppose the war in Iraq.

You did. You gave a great speech in 2002 opposing the war in Iraq. That was not what the point of our criticism was.

It was after having given that speech, by the next year the speech was off your Web site. By the next year, you were telling reporters that you agreed with President Bush in his conduct of the war. And by the next year, when you were in the Senate, you were voting to fund the war time after time after time.


CLINTON: So it was more about the distinction between words and action. And I think that is a fair assessment for voters to make.


BLITZER: OK. Thank you, Senator. Senator, we're a little off topic. I have to let Senator Obama respond, then Senator Edwards, who's going to come...

OBAMA: We're off topic, but...

BLITZER: But go ahead and respond, and then I want to get back to this issue that we're talking about, fiscal responsibility. But go ahead.

OBAMA: Let's talk about it.

Hillary, I will be happy to provide you with the information about all -- all the spending that we do. Now, let's talk about Ronald Reagan. What you just repeated here today is...

CLINTON: Barack...

OBAMA: Wait. No. Hillary, you just spoke.

CLINTON: I did not say anything about Ronald Reagan.

OBAMA: You just spoke for two minutes.

CLINTON: You said two things.

OBAMA: You just...

CLINTON: You talked about admiring Ronald Reagan and you talked about the ideas... OBAMA: Hillary, I'm sorry. You just...

BLITZER: Senator...

CLINTON: I didn't talk about Reagan.

OBAMA: Hillary, we just had the tape. You just said that I complimented the Republican ideas. That is not true.

What I said -- and I will provide you with a quote -- what I said was is that Ronald Reagan was a transformative political figure because he was able to get Democrats to vote against their economic interests to form a majority to push through their agenda, an agenda that I objected to. Because while I was working on those streets watching those folks see their jobs shift overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board at Wal-Mart.


OBAMA: I was fighting these fights. I was fighting these fights. So -- but I want to be clear.

So I want to be clear. What I said had nothing to do with their policies. I spent a lifetime fighting a lifetime against Ronald Reagan's policies. But what I did say is that we have to be thinking in the same transformative way about our Democratic agenda.

We have got to appeal to Independents and Republicans in order to build a working majority to move an agenda forward. That is what I said.


OBAMA: Now, you can dispute that, but let me finish.

Hillary, you went on for two minutes. Let me finish.

The irony of this is that you provided much more fulsome praise of Ronald Reagan in a book by Tom Brokaw that's being published right now, as did -- as did Bill Clinton in the past. So these are the kinds of political games that we are accustomed to.

CLINTON: Now, wait a minute.

Wolf, wait a minute. Wait a minute. Just a minute.

BLITZER: Senator Edwards, let them wrap up. Then I'm going to come to you.


CLINTON: I just want -- I just to clarify -- I want to clarify the record. Wait a minute.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a third person in this debate. BLITZER: Wait a minute, Senator Edwards. Hold on.

There has been a specific charge leveled against Hillary Clinton, so she can respond. Then I will bring in Senator Edwards.

CLINTON: I just want to be sure...

OBAMA: Go ahead and address what you said about...

BLITZER: We have got a long time to. you will have a good opportunity.

CLINTON: We're just getting warmed up.


CLINTON: Now, I just -- I just want to be clear about this. In an editorial board with the Reno newspaper, you said two different things, because I have read the transcript. You talked about Ronald Reagan being a transformative political leader. I did not mention his name.

OBAMA: Your husband did.

CLINTON: Well, I'm here. He's not. And...

OBAMA: OK. Well, I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes.


CLINTON: Well, you know, I think we both have very passionate and committed spouses who stand up for us. And I'm proud of that.

But you also talked about the Republicans having ideas over the last 10 to 15 years.

OBAMA: I didn't say they were good ones.

CLINTON: Well, you can read the context of it.

OBAMA: Well, I didn't say they were good ones.

CLINTON: Well, it certainly...

OBAMA: All right, Wolf.

CLINTON: It certainly came across in the way that it was presented, as though the Republicans had been standing up against the conventional wisdom with their ideas. I'm just reacting to the fact, yes, they did have ideas, and they were bad ideas.

OBAMA: I agree.

CLINTON: Bad for America, and I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing law and representing your contributor, Resco, in his slum landlord business in inner-city Chicago.



COOPER: One of the lengthy, but important exchanges.

Again, we're joined by Candy Crowley, also CNN's Joe Johns, who took part in tonight's debate.

Along with us, "TIME" magazine senior political analyst Mark Halperin and KIRO radio talk show host Carl Jeffers, who is also contributor at "The Seattle Times."

Joe, some rough stuff there. How did Senator Obama respond to that last charge?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was very difficult for me to hear the last charge, but I can talk to you overall.

COOPER: It was about being the -- well, it was about being...

JOHNS: go ahead.

COOPER: Helping out a slumlord.


Well, that, of course, is one of those very difficult things that has dogged Senator Obama for some time. And he pretty much brushed it off. He gave a very short answer to a question that has been floating around for some time the newspapers in Chicago have covered very heavily and very carefully.

So, I don't think there was a full and complete exploration of it, though it's just a little bit complicated. The thing that was fascinating, and I think...


COOPER: He did say -- he did basically say, though, he was an associate at this law firm. He billed about five hours. They were actually representing a church which was...

JOHNS: Right. Right.

COOPER: ... doing a deal with this man. And then he moved on to other topics.

JOHNS: Exactly.

COOPER: Overall, Joe, what was it like being on that stage?

JOHNS: Over -- I think the one thing you have to say -- and maybe Candy said it a little earlier -- is the notion that Barack Obama was sort of in the middle taking fire from both sides. He gave, it appeared, as well as he got it.

It was clear coming in here that he would be a target, because a lot of people have said he's doing well among African-American voters here in South Carolina.

Certainly, Senator Clinton was very aggressive with him, but it was also interesting to see how he fired back, particularly on this issue of Ronald Reagan, which has been playing out over the weekend. It was quite clear, as of Friday or so, when it first became clear that he had said this, that there were going to be a lot of questions, because African-American voters view Ronald Reagan oftentimes through a completely different prism than a lot of white Americans have.

And he tried to correct the record. He said that he was simply saying that Ronald Reagan was a transformational figure because he was able to get Democrats to come over to the other side.

A lot of Democrats, including people in this room, took his comments to suggest that he was admiring Ronald Reagan, certainly a problem for him here in South Carolina, Anderson.

COOPER: I also want to get the quick perceptions.

Mark Halperin, your take on tonight.

MARK HALPERIN, EDITOR AT LARGE, "TIME": Well, these are two candidates -- talking about Obama and Clinton -- who don't like each other. I think that was obvious before tonight.

Anyone who didn't know it before knows it now. On, I grade the candidates after each debate on the page. I gave Obama an A-minus, the top grade, the other two B-pluses. I think the crowd was clearly with Obama.

His next focus, his current focus, is South Carolina. I think the way he presented himself, the way he stood up to Senator Clinton and her husband, who was there, if not in body, in -- in spirit, the way he stood up, I think, will help him. I think people in South Carolina want to see him be willing to stand up.

Senator Clinton and Senator Obama brought a lot of opposition research with them today. They brought up personal things, pretty incredible. A lot of political people I have talked to said they haven't seen a debate like this in a very long time.

COOPER: Carl Jeffers, your takeaway?

CARL JEFFERS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, the first thing I would say is that there's an old axiom in American politics. If you have three people running for the same position, if two of them start going against each other, it always benefits the third one.

And I believe that, actually, tonight was John Edwards' best performance, and, actually, he came out better than he has in any other debate. And one of the reasons is because I -- I think that there are a lot of Democrats, let alone mainstream Americans, who were turned off by this personal animosity between Senator Clinton and Barack Obama.

And that benefited John Edwards. Now, the idea of a sort of a tag-team match -- and it reminds me of a debate with Ross Perot and with Bill Clinton and George Herbert Walker Bush. And, afterwards, President Bush said, yes, I was there at that tag-team match the other night.

But it wasn't exclusively Edwards and Obama after Clinton. At times, it was, in fact, Edwards and Obama. And, at other times, it was Edwards and Clinton. So, it wasn't entirely just ganging up on Obama.

But I do think a couple strategic things. One, Obama clearly felt, strategically, it was to his benefit to try to link Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, that he was running against both of them at the same time.

Two, Hillary Clinton clearly, strategically, felt that what she wanted to do was not so much run to win in South Carolina, because I think Obama wins in South Carolina. She's conceded that. What she wanted to do was to run for the rest of the country. And she got her most positive response on health care. And she was campaigning in New York and California, not South Carolina.

But Edwards clearly came out very well tonight. But I -- unfortunately, for him, I think he still comes in third in the primary, but he certainly helped himself. And I believe he now, even if he comes in third, as a result of his performance tonight, can keep going to the convention, where he may still have a role to play.

COOPER: We're going to continue with our panel later on, Carl Jeffers, Mark Halperin, Joe Johns, Candy Crowley.

We're also going to talk to Senator John Edwards right after this break.

And we will show you more of the remarkable moments from tonight's debate coming up.

We will also take a look at the exchanges that scored with undecided voters, a real-time reaction through dial-testing, which is always fascinating.

And, then, at 11:00 p.m., "Race and politics," our 360 special. Soledad O'Brien joins me at the top of the hour for an in-depth look at how race is shaping the 2008 election in ways that might surprise you -- all that ahead on 360.


COOPER: And we bring you back to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where a remarkable evening of debate has taken place between the three main Democratic front-runners for president.

I'm joined right now by Senator John Edwards, who is still at the stage at Myrtle Beach. Let's go to him now live. Senator Edwards, how did you think, first of all, the debate went tonight?

EDWARDS: I thought the first half of it was very lively. I did think that -- as I pointed out during the debate, Anderson, I thought there were times when it got a little too bickering and petty, instead of talking about what really matters for the country.

We're not going to get kids health care and do anything about New Orleans by this little petty bickering.

COOPER: It was, as -- I mean, you said petty bickering -- intensely personal exchanges at times. Did that surprise you?

EDWARDS: A little. A little.

I -- you know, you expect serious engagement on substantive issues among Democrats. I mean, we have differences. You know, I pointed out numerous times tonight that I think my health care plan is universal. Senator Obama's is not. We have differences on some other substantive issues that are important. We talked about Iraq tonight, talked about the influence of money in politics.

But I -- I thought there were -- I thought there were moments when it got very sort of in the ditch, particularly between the two of them.

COOPER: It's difficult, at times, for you. Obviously, they have done better in -- in some of the earlier races.

How important -- you have had a disappointing finish in Nevada. How important is South Carolina for you now?

EDWARDS: Well, I mean, I got my butt kicked in Nevada.

And now I'm here. I picked myself up, dusted myself off. It's not the first time I have been knocked down in my life, Anderson. And I'm back up fighting. I'm fighting not for me, but for all these people that I'm trying to give voice to. And the cause hasn't changed. It has not gone away.

I mean, the reality of the race is, I'm running against two celebrity candidates who have raised over $100 million each. I am the underdog. I admit that. But I'm a serious underdog. I'm getting delegates. I'm competing. I think anybody who came to this debate with an open mind, I would expect I did very well with.

COOPER: Senator John Edwards, appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

EDWARDS: Thanks, Anderson.

The top candidates talked about key issues, like the economy, health care, peppered with sharp exchanges, the kind of heated sparring we haven't seen before in this hard-fought primary season. Again, we want to show you another significant exchange during this debate. It's longer than the kind of short sound bites TV usually shows you, but we think these exchanges are important. We want you to hear to more from the candidates than from our pundits.

Let's listen.


CLINTON: Senator Obama, it is very difficult having a straight- up debate with you, because you never take responsibility for any vote, and that has been a pattern.

You, in the -- now, wait a minute. In the Illinois state legislature...


CLINTON: Just a minute. In the Illinois state senate, Senator Obama voted 130 times present. That's not yes, that's not no. That's maybe. And on issue after issue that really were hard to explain or understand, you know, voted present on keeping sex shops away from schools, voted present on limiting the rights of victims of sexual abuse, voted present time and time again.

And anytime anyone raises that, there's always some kind of explanation like you just heard about the 30 percent. It's just very difficult to get a straight answer, and that's what we are probing for.

OBAMA: I feel bad for John...

BLITZER: Yes, I know.


OBAMA: ... because I know John's not getting a lot of time here.

Let me just respond to this.

EDWARDS: You don't feel that bad.

OBAMA: I feel pretty bad. I do.


OBAMA: I feel pretty bad.

But let's just respond to the example that was just thrown out.

The bill with respect to privacy for victims of sexual abuse is a bill I had actually sponsored, Hillary. I actually sponsored the bill. It got through the senate.

(APPLAUSE) OBAMA: That was on the back of 12 other provisions that I was able to pass in the state legislature. Nobody has worked harder than me in the Illinois state legislature to make sure that victims of sexual abuse were dealt with, partly because I have had family members who were victims of sexual abuse and I have got two daughters who I want to protect.

What happened on that particular provision was that after I had sponsored it and helped to get it passed, it turned out that there was a legal provision in it that was problematic and needed to be fixed so that it wouldn't be struck down.

But when you comb my 4,000 votes in Illinois, choose one...


OBAMA: ... try to present it in the worst possible light, that does have to be answered. That does have to be answered.

And as I said before, the reason this makes a difference -- and I understand that most viewers want to know, how am I going to get helped in terms of paying my health care? How am I going to get help being able to go to college?

All those things are important. But what's also important that people are not just willing to say anything to get elected. And...


BLITZER: Senator...

OBAMA: ... that's what I have tried to do in this campaign, is try to maintain a certain credibility.

I don't mind having policy debates with Senator Clinton or Senator Edwards. But what I don't enjoy is spending the week or two weeks or the last month having to answer to these kinds of criticisms that are not factually accurate.


OBAMA: And the press has looked at them. They are not accurate. And you need to present them as accurate.

BLITZER: We're going to be coming back.

CLINTON: Well, that law is still on the books. It was never struck down. That is there.

BLITZER: We're going to be visiting all these subjects, but I just want Senator Edwards to weigh in.

Suzanne has got an excellent question coming up.

Go ahead.


EDWARDS: She's been wanting to ask it, too.


EDWARDS: Can I just ask, though, before -- before I do -- I hear the back-and-forth on this one particular vote. But I think it's important -- and I mentioned this about Senator Clinton earlier, to be fair, about Social Security.

I do think it's important whether you're willing to take hard positions. I mean, the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who are sitting in front of me right now know they have to go to the floor of the House every day and vote on hard issues, and they have to vote up or down or not show up to vote. One of those three choices.

I -- what I didn't hear was an explanation for why over 100 times you voted "present" instead of "yes" or "no" when you had a choice to vote up or down.

OBAMA: I'll be happy to answer. Because in Illinois -- in Illinois, oftentimes you vote "present" in order -- in order to indicate that you had problems with a Bill that otherwise you might be willing to vote for. And oftentimes you have a strategy that would help move the thing forward.

Keep in mind, John, I voted for 4,000 bills. And if you wanted to know whether or not I worked on tough stuff, I passed the first racial...

EDWARDS: I don't question whether you work on tough stuff.

OBAMA: Hold on a second.

EDWARDS: It's just the question is, why would you over 100 times vote "present"?

OBAMA: John...

EDWARDS: I mean every one of us -- every one -- you criticized Hillary and you criticized me for our votes. We cast hundreds and hundreds of votes. What you're criticizing her for, by the way, you've done to us, which is you picked this vote and that vote out of the hundreds that we've got.

And all I'm saying is, what's -- what's fair is fair. You have every right to defend any vote. You do. And I respect your right to do that, on any substantive issue. It does not make sense to me. And what -- what if I had just...

OBAMA: Wait a second.

EDWARDS: What if I had not shown up to vote on things that really mattered to this country? It would have been safe for me politically. It would have been the careful and cautious thing to do. But I have a responsibility to take a position. OBAMA: John.


COOPER: And we've got our panel. Candy Crowley is standing by, Joe Johns as well. Mark Halperin from "TIME" magazine, as well. And Carl Jeffers in Los Angeles.

Candy, John Edwards actually came to Senator Clinton's defense in this one. Do you think these charges that he doesn't stand up for tough issues, does that stick? I mean, it's been around for a while.

CROWLEY: Well, I think first of all, I wouldn't necessarily look at it as coming to Senator Clinton's defense. I mean, John Edwards is fighting a two-pronged war here. If he can clamp down on Obama's chances here, he sees himself as the anti-Hillary candidate. Now whether or not that's a fantasy depends on who you talk to.

But -- so I wouldn't see it, necessarily, as pro-Hillary so much as trying to get, in fact, into the debate.

Having said that, you're right. Obama's "present" votes have come up a couple of times. I think it's one of those things that sort of voters -- you know, comes into the ethos, maybe, but voters don't quite get. It has to do with the Illinois state legislature in how it worked.

But it was a good -- if he's picking on their votes, as John Edwards pointed out, it's fair to pick on his. I think that overall point is made without the intricacies of the argument.

COOPER: Carl Jeffers from KIRO Radio. Also, a contributor to "The Seattle Times." You talked earlier about John Edwards rising above the fray and benefiting from that, you thought.

But Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are in a tough fight right now for African-American votes in South Carolina, five days from the primary. Did tonight's debate change anything?

JEFFERS: I don't think it changed anything in the African- American community, Anderson. Because the African-American community, even if they did not like the fissure between Obama and Clinton and thought that it got too far, they still will support Obama.

And every time Hillary tried to defend herself, it looked as if they felt that was an attack. So they will still continue to support Obama. Where Hillary helped herself was, I think, among white voters who may have felt that she was, in fact, making positive points on the actual issues.

But I think Candy makes an excellent point, that it's not so much that -- that Edwards was trying to join Hillary against Obama. Edwards is trying to stake his own claim.

And, remember, Hillary leads in delegates right now. Hillary leads in the national polls. So, if Edwards can make inroads because Hillary and Obama are fighting, he can become the anti-Hillary candidate and have a greater role.

So I do think that, in fact, in the end, you're right, Anderson, it makes no difference. Edwards finishes third in South Carolina, but he has helped himself nationally. And Hillary was running for the national campaign tonight and Obama was running to win South Carolina.

COOPER: Mark Halperin, do you agree with that?

HALPERIN: I agree with that totally. I think that's spot on. Time and again, you saw Hillary Clinton say things that either would play badly, potentially, in South Carolina or not be understood, necessarily, here in the context of this primary.

But as Carl said, she's thinking about Super Tuesday. What are her strengths, not this primary where her campaign is still worried about her, how she does here. Her strengths are standing in the national polls and her ability to accumulate delegates. And her strength right now is I think the Clinton campaign's gotten at least a little bit inside Barack Obama's head.

He has taken on this fight, fighting both Clintons. I think in South Carolina that might do all right. I think nationally, that's a danger for him. And it gets him off his message. And the Clintons obviously are very happy with it. They're willing to keep this going for a good long while.

In the room, though, again Obama clearly was the favorite. In this state, he's still the favorite. He's worried about doing well here. Then he'll think more broadly.

COOPER: Joe Johns, for John Edwards, obviously, you know, trying to either stake an independent spot or get himself in this fray, or rise above it, trying to make some sort of a remark. I just talked to him. He said he got his butt kicked in Nevada, 4 percent of the vote there.

How important is South Carolina for him? I mean, if he doesn't place first or second there, is he gone?

JOHNS: It's certainly critical for him. I mean, this is the state he was -- he was born in. North Carolina, of course, is a state he was the Senator from. But this is a state he was born in. He's got a lot of roots here. Strong roots. And he really tried to stake a claim on the state of South Carolina.

If he doesn't, you're right. It's very difficult for him to go forward. The question is, of course, whether he's trying to get his head around the idea of making a concession speech. He's vowed, though, that he will fight one. The question is whether he can, Anderson. Might be tough.

COOPER: Yes. We'll have more from our panel right after this break.

Up next, though, another heated exchange from tonight's debate. There were so many fascinating ones. The candidates weigh in on health care when we come back.


COOPER: The stage is clear now. Showdown in South Carolina. What a night it was, tonight's debate unprecedented this primary season, for its fiery exchanges. Here's another sample.


EDWARDS: I believe that there is not a single man, woman, and child in America who's not worthy of help.

BLITZER: I promised Senator Clinton she could respond, as well. Try to keep it to 30 seconds.

CLINTON: Well, first of all, if you don't start out trying to get universal health care, we know and our members of Congress know, you'll never get there. If a Democrat doesn't stand for universal health care that includes every single American, you can see the consequences of what that will mean.

I think it is imperative that we have plans, as both John and I do, that from the very beginning say, "You know what? Everybody's got be covered." There's only three ways of doing it. You can have a single payer system. You can require employers. Or you can have individual responsibility.

My plan combines employers and individual responsibility, while maintaining Medicare and Medicaid. I think that the whole idea of universal health care is such a core Democratic principle that I am willing to go to the mat for it. I've been there before. I will be there again. I am not giving in; I am not giving up. And I'm not going to start out leaving 16 million Americans out of health care.

Second, we have seen, once again, a kind of evolution here. When Senator Obama ran for the Senate, he was for single payer. And said he was for single payer if we could get a Democratic president and Democratic Congress. As time went on, the last four or so years, he said he was single payer in principle. Then he was for universal health care. And then his policy is not. It is not universal.

And, you know, this is kind of like the present vote thing. Because the "Chicago Tribune," his hometown paper, said that all of those "present" votes was taking a pass. It was for political reasons.

Well, when you come up with universal health care plans and you don't have any wiggle room left, you know that you're going to draw a lot of political heat. I am not running for president to put Band- Aids on our problems. I want to get to universal health care for every single American.

BLITZER: I have to let Senator Obama respond. But try to be brief, 30 seconds if possible.

EDWARDS: Good luck. OBAMA: Exactly.

The -- here's the policy question. If, in fact, we are not making it affordable enough, which is what's happening right now, and you mandate on families to buy health insurance that they can't afford, and if they don't buy it and find them or in some other way to take money out of it.

EDWARDS: Something out of the health care.

OBAMA: I haven't finished, John.


OBAMA: Let me finish.


OBAMA: If we -- what is happening in Massachusetts right now, and there are articles being written about it, which is that folks are having to pay fines, and they don't have health care. They'd rather go ahead and take the fine because they can't afford the coverage.

My core belief is that people desperately want coverage. They desperately want it. And my plan provides those same subsidies. And if they are provided those subsidies and they have good quality care that's available, then they will purchase it. That is my belief.

Now, it's fine for us to have a debate about how the best way to get there is, but to suggest that I'm not interested in having everything covered or to suggest, as Hillary just did, that I was in favor of single payer -- I never said that we should try to go ahead and get single payer.

What I said was that, if I were starting from scratch, if we didn't have a system in which employers typically provided health care, I would probably go with a single payer system.

What's evolved, Hillary, is your presentation of my positions.


COOPER: Now here again to talk about this remarkable night in Myrtle Beach, CNN's Joe Johns, Candy Crowley; "TIME" magazine's senior political analyst, Mark Halperin; and KIRO -- excuse me, KIRO radio host Carl Jeffers -- Carl, I don't know how you say that every morning -- who is also a contributor at "The Seattle Times."

Mark Halperin, yet another heated exchange among the candidates. It was interesting, though. John Edwards seems to be coming to Hillary Clinton's position more than we have seen in any other debate before. It seemed like he used to be siding with Barack Obama. What's that about? Is he seeing the writing on the wall?

HALPERIN: I think -- no, I think he's doing it on the merits. In every case, I think he did it based on what he actually believes, sort of unusual for cynics and the press corps to say that.

But my evaluation is, he sided with her when he agreed with her, with him, when he agreed with Senator Obama. In South Carolina, this is another South Carolina national split, Senator Edwards doing well is not good for Senator Clinton. She needs every white vote she can get in this state and to see John Edwards gets good coverage in this state from this debate, that is good for Barack Obama and his chances here.

Nationally, I think Senator Edwards more takes the anti-Clinton vote. So if he does get good coverage out of this nationally, if he does have a little bit of a resurrection nationally, I think that works to Senator Clinton's advantage. She can rack up more delegates while Obama and Edwards split that anti-Clinton vote.

COOPER: Joe, you asked Senator Obama to respond to the idea that Bill Clinton was the first black president. What did you think of his answer?

JOHNS: It was funny. I kind of anticipated, while we were in the debate prep, that we were going to get a kick out of that. That's one of those questions that, you know, people talk about at the water cooler or whatever. Well, I wonder what Obama thinks about Bill Clinton being the black president.

The -- I think part of the response was, "Well, I'd have to see him dance before I can say whether he's a brother or not."

But you know, sort of the underlying question is, you know, Bill Clinton being a real beloved figure in the Africa African-American community, having such a large African-American vote here in South Carolina. Just how far are you willing to go with this?

He could have gone the other way, too. He could have brought kind of a sharp response, a little sharper response, simply because they've been having this back and forth here in Nevada and moving on in South Carolina. But he didn't go there. I

And it's also a function of the fact that they did all of the fighting in the first half of the debate. And I asked him that question at the second half. So, interesting study in contrast, and it sort of tells you how Barack Obama is thinking right now.

COOPER: Yes, interesting how in the second half, he seems kind of stepped back from the real confrontational stances that they took within the first 20 or 30 minutes. And the first 20 or 30 minutes of the debate were -- you know, there were a lot of wows in the room that I was watching, people just surprised by some of the responses.

Candy, what did each of the candidates -- I mean, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton -- have to do or accomplish this week in South Carolina, as Democrats get ready to vote? John -- John Edwards included.

CROWLEY: Well, I think this is one of those status-quo debates, really, when you get -- when you get over this. I think this will not have moved the polls. I think the people coming out of the first three contests have a pretty good idea.

I did talk to the people in the crowd coming out here who were a little put off by the bickering. But let's face it: they both did it, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

So I think basically this was a kind of "don't make a huge mistake." But I think it was very important for Barack Obama here in South Carolina with about 50 percent of the primary voters being African-Americans. I think it was very important for him to stand up not just to Hillary Clinton, but to Bill Clinton.

I think they came out here with that in mind. They really felt that he needed to show that he could be tough and he would go after both of them. I think he did that. I think she had to kind of soften a little bit of what she's been doing for the past couple of weeks. But, in fact, she didn't.

I mean, they -- they may have had the idea, which is she can't give up ground here at this point. And you sort of see that this campaign has gotten to the point in a 24-hour cycle that you do not ever let a comment go unresponded to. And I think that's what happened in this debate.

COOPER: Certainly. Candy Crowley, John Johns. "TIME" magazine's senior political analyst, Mark Halperin and KIRO radio host Car l Jeffers. Gentlemen, Candy, thank you very much. Appreciate it. Good commentary tonight.

I'm going to be in California next week to host the Republican candidates in the debate at the Reagan Library. That's on the 30th. And the Democrats will face off again on the 31st. Now, these are the final debates before Super Tuesday, so they will be quite interesting indeed.

Up next on the program tonight, while the Democrats were debating, some undecided voters were giving instant feedback on what they had to say, from dial testing. It's always fascinating to see responses. When we come back, Erica Hill joins us with the issues and the answers that have the biggest positive and negative reactions from undecided voters.

Also, how does race affect the way people vote? Soledad O'Brien and I take a look. A 360 special, "Race and Politics," coming up in about 15 minutes.


COOPER: That's the scene, the stage at Myrtle Beach. Folks cleaning it up. Candidates already left the area.

Now a high-tech gauge of who came out ahead in tonight's debate. Seventeen undecided South Carolina Democrats allowed themselves to be wired for the event, each reacting as it happened second by second, issue by issue, registering their responses on a hand-held clicker. That deal was to measure which candidate was the group's favorite and whose popularity fell or perhaps who has the lead going to Saturday's primary. It's always interesting to watch this kind of stuff.

Erica Hill has the dial-testing results.


ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Our voters were black, white, male, female, young, and old from all walks of life with two things in common. Before tonight's debate, none had settled on a candidate, and the economy is a top concern.

KENNEDY JOHNSON, UNDECIDED SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: I think the candidates, they have to show that they know what they're talking about as well as what's going on with the economy, what's going on in the world.

BART COLLINS, UNDECIDED SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: And the value -- the value of the dollar has been dropping. You know, it's -- gasoline is almost $3 a gallon.

HILL: But did any of the candidates' plans have effect? Passion paid off. When Hillary Clinton hit the president's economic policies, the dial jumped.

CLINTON: The president's proposed stimulus package is not adequate. It is too little, too late.

HILL: What didn't pay off were attacks. And even aggressive defense.

OBAMA: When Senator Clinton said -- President Clinton says that I wasn't opposed to the war from the start or says it's a fairy tale that I opposed the war. That is simply not true.

HILL: And when they started interrupting each other.

OBAMA: It's patent -- no, Hillary...

CLINTON: I did not say anything about...

OBAMA: These are the kinds of political games that we are accustomed to.

CLINTON: Wait a minute.

HILL: ... that may have played well in the debate hall, but it left our voters cold and left an opening for John Edwards to wrap his best reaction.

EDWARDS: This kind of squabbling -- how many children is this going to get health care? How many people are going to get...

HILL: The exception to that attack and suffer rule: Edwards again, when he went after Obama's voting record and the dial actually went up.

EDWARDS: What I didn't hear was an explanation for why over 100 times you voted "present" instead of "yes" or "no."

HILL: Clinton drew her highest response when she zeroed in on health care.

CLINTON: I am not giving in. I am not giving up. And I'm not going to start out leaving 15 million Americans out of health care.

HILL: And the biggest fight, a 20-point jump when Obama told the audience the idea that race is the defining issue in South Carolina just doesn't match the experience.

OBAMA: I am absolutely convinced that, white, black, Latino, Asian, people want to move beyond our divisions.


COOPER: Erica, did your undecided voters in the room say who they felt won?

HILL: Well, they did. The interesting thing is, they actually thought that Senator Edwards won the debate. But half of them said, even given that, they would, instead, vote for Obama because they say if they're voting with their mind over their hearts, they think that Senator Obama has a better chance of winning the nomination, Anderson.

COOPER: Interesting. All right. Erica Hill, thanks.

Still ahead, a 360 special report on race and politics. Soledad O'Brien joins me coming up in just a few minutes. More 360 ahead.


COOPER: A race in politics special begins in a moment. First, let's get caught up on some of tonight's other headlines. Gary Tuchman joins us with the "360 Bulletin" -- Gary.



From coast-to-coast, bitterly cold temperatures. It's below zero tonight in many parts of the upper Midwest, along with snow as far south as Mississippi. And freezing rain is causing trouble in other parts of the south.

Have you seen this man? The parents of Madeline McCann say he could be involved in the daughter's disappearance. Madeline vanished back in May at a Portuguese resort just days before her fourth birthday.

Moms to be, cut the caffeine. A new study suggests women who consume more than 200 milligrams of caffeine, or about two cups of coffee, had double the risk of a miscarriage. Researchers say it makes no difference whether the caffeine comes from coffee, soda, tea, or hot chocolate.

Anderson, back to you.


COOPER: All right, Gary, thanks.

A 360 special report on race and politics. Soledad O'Brien joins me with a look at some of the racial issues that may affect how America votes this time around when 360 continues.