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THE SITUATION ROOM

Democrat Rivals Jockey for Position; Bill Clinton 'Needs to Chill'; Interview With Congressman James Clyburn

Aired January 21, 2008 - 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, hours before the last debate ahead of an important presidential contest, Democrats are trading some harsh words. Bill Clinton is criticizing Barack Obama. Obama says he's not going to take it anymore. And many Democrats are urging a toning down of the rhetoric.
Also, is the country ready for an African-American president? You may be surprised of answers from a brand new CNN poll that we're releasing.

And Republican rivals move in on what some see as Rudy Giuliani's turf, this Florida state Giuliani must win. Can he win it?

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

The Democratic presidential race is getting somewhat nasty, and right now I'm at the scene of what could be a harsh back-and-forth in just a matter of a few hours. I'm here in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to moderate the last presidential Democratic debate before South Carolina's primary this coming Saturday.

It's sponsored by CNN and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, and will include a substantive discussion of all the important issues. But it also comes as the Obama camp is accusing the Clinton campaign of doing anything it takes to win, even flat out accusing Bill Clinton of "playing fast and loose with the facts." The Clinton campaign calls such allegations -- and I'm quoting now -- "absurd," and says Obama is simply frustrated at losing some major contests.

The spears were masked though by smiles today as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards all marked this national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

CNN's Brian Todd has more on how Democrats worry divisiveness could damage their party, but let's begin with CNN's Jessica Yellin. She's in Columbia, South Carolina.

Jessica, you were at the Martin Luther King event the candidates attended. Give us an update. What's going on?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I was at the event. It had a very large turnout on what was an unseasonably cold day here in Columbia, South Carolina. And it seemed a fitting way for the candidates to push to the end of their campaigns here in South Carolina, because all three of the Democrats are vying for the African-American vote. This is the first primary state in which African-Americans could make 50 to 60 percent of the electorate on Saturday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice over): At a march and rally honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an unexpected gift from Senator Clinton. She was running so late, for a time she ceded center stage here to her competitors. Eventually, all three spoke of the legacy of Dr. King.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: King inspired with words, not of anger, but of an urgency that still speaks to us today. He said unity is the great need of the hour.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All three of us are on the journey with you on the march to equality and justice and fairness in the United States of America.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The dream is nowhere fulfilled, and now we are called to rise up, speak up, and finally get it done.

YELLIN: Senator Clinton faces an uphill fight here. Polls taken prior to her Nevada win show she's lost ground among African- Americans, and her husband is locked in a nasty spat with Barack Obama, drawing criticism from this African-American leader.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), MAJORITY WHIP: As they would say in (INAUDIBLE) country, he needs to chill a little bit.

YELLIN: John Edwards was born in South Carolina. After Nevada, where, to quote the candidate himself, he got his butt kicked, a strong finish in his home state could recharge his campaign.

But arguably the most pressure is on Barack Obama. He's aggressively shooting down rumors that he's Muslim, which could hurt him in this conservative Christian stronghold.

OBAMA: Yes, I've been at the same church, the same Christian church, for almost 20 years.

YELLIN: Expectations are high for Obama to win this state and prove Iowa was no fluke, and demonstrate he can rally African- Americans to his campaign, while staying true to his message of unity.

It's a theme he hits in a new ad.

OBAMA: We are one people. All of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes.

YELLIN: A message he hopes will carry him through Super Tuesday.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: And Wolf, as you know, South Carolina is the last Democratic primary before Super Tuesday. They are all hoping for a win here to give them momentum going forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Jessica, I take it the infighting among the Democrats spreading to Florida now? What's going on?

YELLIN: That's right. More sparring between the Clinton and Obama camps.

Essentially, both campaigns agreed as part of a Democratic pledge not to campaign in Florida. The Obama camp has accused Senator Clinton of inappropriately campaigning there. Now the Clinton camp is accusing Obama of running ads there when they shouldn't be, or they agreed not to.

Bottom line, both campaigns say they're abiding by the rules. It's just a sign of the increasing hostility between these two campaigns as it become more -- and there's more and more griping between Obama and Clinton as this race remains so tight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And just to make it clear, the Democrats are not supposed to be campaigning in Florida, because Florida moved up its Democratic primary. It's being punished by the Democratic Party, the DNC, for doing so. And the election, as a result, really the primary election in Florida, will have no significant impact on the delegates going forward to the convention later in the summer in Denver.

Some Democrats think Bill Clinton's criticisms of Barack Obama are simply too harsh and unbecoming of a former president. And they're urging him to tone it down.

Our Brian Todd is watching this part of the story.

Brian, you've been looking into which Democrats want that. Give our viewers what you're finding.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're told that there is concern at the highest levels of the party over this public spat, which has just gotten rekindled.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): It might have been the shakiest and shortest- lived truce in political history. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are back to unloading on each other. The former president leveling this...

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As he said, President Reagan was the engine of innovation and did more -- had a more lasting impact on America than I did. And the next day he said, in the '90s, the good ideas came out from the Republicans, which will be costly maybe down the road for him because it's factually not accurate.

TODD: An Obama campaign official tells us Bill Clinton misquoted him again, says Obama vociferously disagreed with much of what Ronald Reagan did, and only spoke about Reagan's ability to get legislation done. In an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America," Obama was visibly frustrated.

OBAMA: This has become a habit. And one of the things that I think we're going to have to do is to directly confront Bill Clinton when he's not making statements that are factually accurate.

TODD: One Democratic strategist tells us the tension between the Obama and Clinton campaigns is now off the charts. Aides to Senator Ted Kennedy and Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel won't comment on a report in "Newsweek" saying they both had heated conversations with Bill Clinton recently, telling him to stop attacking Obama.

Analysts say this about the party's concerns...

JIM VANDEHEI, POLITICO: They're just worried about having a very divisive primary that would damage whoever the nominee is. There's a lot of Democrats who think you could end up with some sort of Clinton/Obama or Obama/Clinton ticket. And they don't want this to be a ferociously negative campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, despite comments from party leaders like Representative James Clyburn for Mr. Clinton to tone it down, a spokesman for the former president tells CNN he will not back down, he will continue to advocate for his wife, and says that what the former president has done here has at least gotten us all talking about Obama's record. He also says there is no concern in the Clinton camp that the former president's legacy will be tarnished -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, who are Ted Kennedy and Rahm Emanuel supporting right now, if they're supporting any of these candidates?

TODD: Well, Aides to both say that they're both neutral right now, at least publicly. Now, Emanuel, you'll recall, Wolf, is a former White House aide to Mr. Clinton. But he's from Obama's home state, and we're told that he speaks to both of them very frequently, but they're both in very sensitive positions right now. And with the race so close, they might remain that way, at least in the background now until after Super Tuesday.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thank you.

I'll speak with Congressman James Clyburn just momentarily about his urging Bill Clinton to tone it down. That's coming up live. He's here with me in Myrtle Beach.

And again, stay tuned for our Democratic presidential debate later tonight in Myrtle Beach. It's sponsored by CNN and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. Please join me, as well as Suzanne Malveaux and Joe Johns, 8:00 p.m. Eastern -- 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: How are you doing.

Is Bill Clinton going to be in that debate tonight?

BLITZER: No, but his wife will be in the debate.

CAFFERTY: You'd think he was running for president. I mean, we're seeing more of him on television than we are her, and it's getting old.

BLITZER: I know.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

Chuck Norris thinks John McCain -- speaking of old, he thinks John McCain is too old to be president. Campaigning for Mike Huckabee Norris suggested the 71-year-old McCain might not even make it through a single term.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK NORRIS, HUCKABEE SUPPORTER: Can he handle that kind of pressure in that job? And so that's why I didn't pick John to support, because I'm just afraid that the vice president will wind up taking over his job within that four-year presidency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAFFERTY: Get over yourself. You break boards in the movies for a living.

Norris thinks Huckabee, who's 52, is the logical choice. The former Arkansas governor seemed to distant himself from Norris' comments, which is probably a swimmingly good idea.

Huckabee said only John McCain and his hairdresser know for sure. And he says, "I'm not going to say that McCain's too old."

McCain quipped, "I'm afraid I'm going to have to send my 95-year- old mother over to wash out Chuck Norris's mouth out with soap."

If McCain wins at 72, he's be the oldest person ever inaugurated as president for a first term. And although he's joked about being older than dirt and having more scars than Frankenstein, McCain emphasizes things like hiking the Grand Canyon with his son.

His doctors say the Arizona senator is in good health, although his medical history includes multiple bouts with skin cancer and injuries from those years that he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Friends and staff say they have a tough time keeping up with John McCain at 71, and the candidate himself says he has never felt better.

So here's the question. Do you agree with Chuck Norris that John McCain is too old to be president? Go to cnn.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my new blog.

I love when these Hollywood types suddenly begin to take themselves so seriously and they give us their pronouncements on these weighty issues. Ugh!

Wolf.

BLITZER: Chuck Norris won't be the first and won't be the last from Hollywood to do so, as you and I know, Jack. Thanks very much.

The highest ranking African-American in the United States Congress has a message for President Bill Clinton -- tone down the political attacks on Barack Obama.

I'll ask Congressman Clyburn exactly what problems he has with what the former president is saying. That's coming up live.

Rudy Giuliani hopes to win upcoming primaries in his home state and another that's home to many ex-New Yorkers. But it appears he's facing an uphill battle in both places.

And Mitt Romney hopes his business experience will win him votes. Does his rhetoric, though, match his actual record?

We're taking a closer look.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Many people say the tone of Bill Clinton's criticisms of Barack Obama are reaching new levels. Now the highest-ranking African- American in the U.S. Congress wants the former president to tone it down.

Congressman James Clyburn says he understands Bill Clinton wants to help his wife, but Clyburn says the former president should dial back the way he's doing that. Congressman Clyburn is joining us here in lovely Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, getting ready for a big debate later tonight.

Thanks very much for coming in.

CLYBURN: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: You told my colleague John Roberts this morning that he needs to chill. That would be the former president of the United States. Explain. Why does Bill Clinton, who's supporting his wife, wants his wife to be president, why does he need to chill?

CLYBURN: Well, I think we have a real unusual circumstance existing here. We have got for the first time in the history of this country a woman with the possibility of being president of the United States. And that woman just happens to be the wife of an ex- president.

That's very unusual. Now, it's not all that unusual for a spouse to want to defend the honor of one's spouse, but I think all of us have to take into account the circumstances that we are operating in here. And as a former president of the United States, the leader of the Democratic Party, I think the president should keep that in mind as he goes about his business of defending his wife.

BLITZER: What specifically didn't you like, where you think he may have crossed the line?

CLYBURN: Well, I never said that he crossed the line. I did say that he is causing a lot of anxiety among the base that exists in our party.

And I think most people know that the African-American vote has been a very reliable vote for Democrats. And let's keep that in mind as we go about discussing these issues to make sure that what we're doing is in fact focusing on the candidate himself and not causing a problem among African-American voters.

BLITZER: Because at some point there's going to be a Democratic presidential nominee. And the party is going to have to rally around that person, whoever it might be. And all the sort of angry back-and- forth that's going on right now, potentially some of that material could be used by the Republicans.

CLYBURN: That's exactly right. And a lot of it could be used to suppress, if not depress, African-American voters.

BLITZER: Suppress the voters from coming out, you mean?

CLYBURN: Yes, and make the voter a little bit depressed. We want to come out of this campaign uplifted. We want to come out of this campaign with the energy that is necessary to get us across the threshold come November. Nothing should get in the way of us doing that.

BLITZER: So you're afraid -- correct me if I'm wrong -- of a potential backlash in the African-American community?

CLYBURN: I'm always afraid of that. In my own campaigns, I'm very afraid sometimes that what I may have said may be interpreted the wrong way. All of us who are in political life must always keep that fear in the forefront of everything that we do.

BLITZER: You also said that what Barack Obama said, in effect, praising Ronald Reagan, made your cringe.

CLYBURN: Yes.

BLITZER: Explain why you changed when you heard Barack Obama say that Ronald Reagan was a transformational president, unlike Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton, for that matter. That's the comparison that Barack Obama made.

CLYBURN: I'm glad you offered me the opportunity to criticize both camps on this.

BLITZER: Because I know you're neutral on this.

CLYBURN: Absolutely.

The fact of the matter is, I understood what Senator Obama was saying. The fact is, though, Ronald Reagan's agenda for this country caused angst among African-American voters. And the extent to which you praise Ronald Reagan, just be very, very careful that you don't cross the line and not talk about his policies.

It's one thing to talk about his personality. He had a great personality. But if you start talking about his policies, those policies were nod good for African-Americans.

BLITZER: Do you feel that he did cross the line, Barack Obama, in suggesting that Ronald Reagan was a this transformational type of leader?

CLYBURN: The problem is, he was transformational. But the problem is, is what direction.

It was not good for us. And so you can't allow your description to sound like a praise. Descriptively, Barack was right. But it sounded like to some people that he was praising him.

BLITZER: You've got to be really careful with the words that you utter.

CLYBURN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right. There have been accusations over the past few days from the Clinton and Obama camps of voter suppression. Today is Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday, it's a national holiday. He fought for equal voting rights, as you know. That was one of his major goals in this country.

When you hear these Democrats fighting over accusations of voter suppression, what goes through your mind? Especially today?

CLYBURN: Well, I always say history is a great predictor of the future. And we have to always stay vigilant not to allow that history to repeat itself. Who was it, (INAUDIBLE), that told us that you have to be careful about that? And so I think that we have to be very, very careful.

BLITZER: As a Democratic Party.

CLYBURN: As a Democratic Party, that you do not -- I remember what happened to Hubert Humphrey in his campaign for the presidency. I remember what happened to Jimmy Carter in his campaign for re- election.

A lot of the differences in those two campaigns came over the fact that African-American voters stayed away from the polls in droves. And they did it because they became disenchanted. They were depressed. And then that effectively hailed down the black vote.

BLITZER: This is going to be an exciting debate tonight. Hopefully we'll learn more about these three Democratic presidential candidates. Are you confident we will?

CLYBURN: For sure. Absolutely. I feel real good about this debate tonight. And I feel really good about the primary contest on Saturday.

BLITZER: All right. We'll be here in South Carolina with you.

CLYBURN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much.

CLYBURN: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Always a pleasure.

Rudy Giuliani is from New York, but can he win New York's upcoming presidential primary? You may be surprised where he ranks in two -- two brand new polls in New York.

And is the nation ready for the first African-American president? You'll find out what many -- you're going to find out what many of you say in a brand new CNN poll that we're releasing.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: With the Republican presidential contenders turning their attention to Florida right now and next Tuesday's Republican primary there, Mitt Romney is campaigning hard on the economy. But do his credentials really give him an advantage over his rivals?

Also, on the Democratic side, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, they're making some last-minute preparations for tonight's key debate right here in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

We'll break down what's at stake, what each candidate needs to accomplish. That's coming up right here in our "Strategy Session."

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, he literally grew up with al Qaeda, and his father is the most famous terrorist in the world. But he says his personal mission is peace.

You can see our exclusive one-on-one interview with Omar bin Laden. That's coming up.

Also, caught on tape, shocking video of police violence in Kenya. Our own Zain Verjee right in the middle of the turmoil. You're going to want to hear what she has to say. That's coming up.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, site of tonight's Democratic presidential debate. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's get back to the campaign trail right now, where the pressure is clearly mounting on Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani. We're only eight days away from the Florida primary. It's a virtual must-win for the Giuliani campaign.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is joining us now from Orlando.

John, Giuliani's strategy has been to focus in like a laser beam on Florida. Here's the question -- is it working?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, let's use a baseball metaphor. Today, earlier today, the Yankees center fielder, Johnny Damon, appeared here with Rudy Giuliani. And Giuliani's strategy all along has been, forget about Iowa, forget about New Hampshire, forget about South Carolina, essentially saying he could sit out the early innings of the game and then jump-start with a big victory here in Florida.

Well, more and more of that strategy is being called into question.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): Alone across the finish line at the famous Daytona Speedway, but Rudy Giuliani suddenly has company here in Florida and good reason to be nervous.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My Republican opponents all want to do tax reductions of one kind or another, but none of them are as bold as mine.

KING: That's just the warmup. Giuliani is getting more personal, as his heavy investment here appears more and more at risk.

GIULIANI: I supported the tax Bush cuts. John McCain sided with the Democrats and voted against the Bush tax cuts. Mitt Romney was equivocal in his support for the Bush tax cuts.

KING: The former New York mayor has spent 50 days campaigning in Florida, talking tough on national security...

GIULIANI: Our goal in Iraq has to be victory in Iraq.

KING: ... and signing up support while his rivals were slugging it out elsewhere.

GIULIANI: And are we going to win Florida?

CROWD: Yes!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GIULIANI: Thank you. God bless you.

KING: But the competition is here now. And, eight days before Florida votes, it's not Rudy Giuliani getting the crush of attention.

The Cuban coffee at Miami's Versailles restaurant is the stuff of local legend. Giuliani has made inroads in the Cuban-American community, but John McCain believes his support is deeper and could help him follow up his win in South Carolina with another victory here.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We come into Florida with some wind on our back.

KING: At the moment, the economy is the lead debating point.

MCCAIN: I understand the economic difficulties that are affecting Florida and this country.

KING: McCain says he opposed the Bush tax cuts because the plan did not also include spending cuts. Now he says he back the White House plan to stimulate the economy with new tax cuts and rebates, but adds a warning.

MCCAIN: If Congress loads it up with the pork-barrel projects, which is a major reason why we have gotten into this mess, then, obviously, I would be in opposition to it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now, all along, Rudy Giuliani has said, a win here in Florida on the 29th would springboard him into those 20-plus states, Wolf, voting on Super Tuesday, February 5.

John McCain today saying, though, he believes he will win here in Florida. And, asked about the new attacks from Giuliani, he attributed to the fact that McCain now runs slightly ahead in the polls here in Florida and ahead in two new polls out in Rudy Giuliani's home state of New York -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John, thanks very much.

John is going to be joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM a little bit later.

And, as we just heard from John, it could be make or break for Rudy Giuliani in Florida. A year ago at this time, he was generally considered the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, leading the field at that time with some 35 percent support nationally.

But he's failed to register double-digit support in any of the contests so far. Here's a breakdown.

In Iowa, Giuliani finished sixth place with only 4 percent of the vote. In New Hampshire, he finished fourth with 9 percent. Then came Michigan, where he got only 3 percent of the vote, finishing sixth. He also finished sixth in Nevada with only 4 percent. And, in South Carolina, sixth again, this time with only -- only -- 2 percent of the vote.

Rudy Giuliani isn't the only Republican candidate hoping to gain some momentum with a big win in Florida. Mitt Romney is trying to gain traction with voters by campaigning hard on his economic credentials.

CNN's Mary Snow is with the Romney campaign. She is watching this unfold in Florida right now.

Mary, some people are raising questions about Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts.

What are you seeing?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, yes, as he's trying to make his case here in Florida, the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation -- it's a nonpartisan group -- is taking issue with Mitt Romney's claim that he led an economic turnaround in Massachusetts, saying, the state, while he was governor, only led a handful of others states in terms of economic growth.

But the Romney camp says that Romney helped Massachusetts out of a ditch in terms of the economy.

And it is clear, here in Florida, that the economy is taking center stage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mitt Romney. That's right. I'm running for president.

SNOW: Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney introducing himself to children attending a Martin Luther King Day parade in Jacksonville, Florida. To try and grab the attention of people who actually can vote in this state, he's introducing himself as a former businessman who can handle rough times in the economy.

ROMNEY: I spent my life in the private sector. I spent my life helping create jobs.

SNOW: But, as he touts his economic experience, Romney is finding himself answering questions about why more jobs weren't created in Massachusetts while he was governor.

He responds by saying, Massachusetts isn't growing as fast as other states. Romney has a lot riding on his economic message. It helped him win in Michigan, where the auto industry is suffering. That win kept him in the presidential fight, after two big setbacks in New Hampshire and Iowa. Voters in Nevada, where he won, say the economy was key. And the issue is expected to take center stage in Florida.

LANCE DEHAVEN-SMITH, PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION, FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY: I think the economy will be the major issue. Florida has got a struggling economy now. And we have a population that is somewhat cost-sensitive.

SNOW: A large population of seniors live in Florida, many on fixed incomes, who are worried about taxes and inflation. Romney is tailoring his message to them with a proposal.

ROMNEY: Anybody in the work force who is 65 years of age and older, they would have no payroll tax, either by their employer or by themselves.

SNOW: Among other things, Romney is proposing tax rebates for people in the lowest tax bracket and incentives for corporations.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And to underscore how big of an issue the economy is, when people go to the voting polls next week, there will also be a measure to cut property taxes, as well as people who are going to be picking the Republican candidates -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow in Florida, watching the Romney campaign, thanks.

Everyone seems to agree that the Social Security system is in deep trouble.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TODD MAGGIORE, DENTIST: Do I believe it's going to be there for my generation? Absolutely not. I'm just paying more in that I'm not going to get.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, which presidential candidate is poised to capitalize on the concerns about Social Security?

And is America ready for a black president? We have a brand-new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. We're going to share the results with you.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: People are beginning to arrive here in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for tonight's Democratic presidential debate. We're here getting ready for it ourselves. Our coverage begins 8:00 p.m. Eastern. That's when the debate of the three presidential candidates will begin. A fresh CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll asks the question many people want to know, if the nation is really ready for an African-American president. In our new poll 72 percent of whites said yes. Only 61 percent of blacks said the nation is ready.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's been going through the numbers.

Are we seeing some sort of racial divide among Democratic voters?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We are, but what's interesting is, it's not primarily about race.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both deeply committed to civil rights.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Dr. King taught us that, in the end, we are all connected, all tied in a single garment of destiny.

SCHNEIDER: Nevertheless, racial differences showed up in Saturday's Democratic caucuses in Nevada. African-American Democrats voted for Obama over Clinton by nearly 6-1. A few months ago, blacks favored Clinton over Obama by a wide margin. What happened?

Obama won Iowa and nearly won New Hampshire, two overwhelmingly white states. The message? Maybe a black man can be elected president.

Most white Democrats in Nevada voted for Clinton. Latino voters also had a voice in Nevada also. They voted nearly 3-1 for Clinton. If the candidates don't differ much on race, what's the split all about? Many blacks support Obama for the same reason many women support Clinton, pride, not prejudice.

There's also a division by age. Young Democrats favor Obama. Older Democrats support Clinton. Clinton does well among Democrats concerned about the economy. Older Democrats look to her to deliver the goods.

CLINTON: I want a more moratorium for 90 days on home foreclosures in America.

SCHNEIDER: Younger Democrats are attracted to Obama's inspirational message of hope and unity.

OBAMA: That's the unity, the hard-earned unity, that we need right now. That is the effort, the determination that can transform blind optimism into hope.

SCHNEIDER: What we're seeing is a clash of political styles, not political principles.

In South Carolina, where almost half the Democratic voters are African-American, we will see if those differences can cross racial lines.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: To borrow a phrase once made famous by Walter Mondale, Clinton is the "Where's the Beef?" Democrat. Obama is the "new menu" Democrat. It's partisan vs. post-partisan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting. Thanks very much. Bill is going to be with us throughout the night as well.

There's at least one issue that all the candidates seem to agree on somewhat. That would be Social Security. Everyone acknowledges that, long term, it's in trouble, but they differ on what needs to be done.

Our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, has been talking to voters out there.

Allan, what are people saying about Social Security as an issue, a critical issue, in the race?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

Voters know that Social Security is a financial time bomb that needs fixing. The latest government calculation is that the system will be go bust, be out of money, in 2041. So, voters who are paying in want something done.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Talk about Social Security with 39-year- old dentist Todd Maggiore, and it's clear he feels he's the one getting a drilling.

TODD MAGGIORE, DENTIST: How long has it been since your last cleaning?

Do I believe it's going to be there for my generation? Absolutely not. I'm just paying more in that I'm not going to get.

CHERNOFF: That's why Maggiore favors private Social Security accounts the workers could manage on their own. President Bush proposed letting Americans have the option to privatize part of their Social Security. It would mean Washington would have to pay out fewer benefits, but the plan failed to gain support in Congress.

MAGGIORE: I thought that was a great idea.

CHERNOFF: Mike Huckabee agrees.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president had the right idea, but he used the wrong word. CHERNOFF: Personalization, not privatization, is Huckabee's preferred term. Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani say they would consider personal saving accounts.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The first thing we have to do is get a consensus behind private accounts, if we're going to change it.

CHERNOFF: But John McCain says personal accounts should only be a supplement to Social Security, which he claims he will fix without raising taxes. Rather than permitting private accounts, Democrats are proposing more taxes. Barack Obama and John Edwards say they want wages above the current cap of $102,000 to be subject to Social Security taxes.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Lift the cap on the payroll tax for potentially exempting folks in the middle, middle-class folks, but making sure that the wealthy are paying more of their fair share.

CHERNOFF: Edwards says he would increase Social Security taxes for those earning above $200,000.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Beyond that, I would raise the cap. I would lift the cap.

CHERNOFF: Hillary Clinton offers less detail, simply saying she would form a bipartisan commission to study options.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My plan for Social Security is fiscal responsibility first, then to deal with any long-term challenges.

CHERNOFF: Maggiore doubts any candidate can fix Social Security. He's leaning towards Giuliani, mainly because he believes the former mayor would be strong on national defense.

MAGGIORE: I'm not real confident that this is an issue that's going to be resolved real soon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF: President Bush tried, but failed to change Social Security. There's no reason to believe that the next president will have an easier time of it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Allan Chernoff, thanks very much.

Mike Huckabee is praising Martin Luther King Jr.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE: Had it not been for his courage and his moral clarity on this issue, you know, I shudder to think where this country would be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But how do those words square with something else Huckabee said last week about a symbol of pain for many African- Americans? We're going to talk about that in our "Strategy Session" -- that's coming up.

And what should the candidates do and not do tonight in our Democratic presidential debate. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session" as well.

We're in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, getting ready for that debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All eyes on the Democratic presidential race are turned here, to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where I will be moderating tonight's high-stakes debate.

Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now.

Joining us, the Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons and the Republican strategist John Feehery.

All right, let's walk through these three candidates.

Jamal, we will start with you.

What does Hillary Clinton need to do tonight?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, the big thing Hillary Clinton has got to do is, she's got to try to find a way to unify this party, after a few weeks of some pretty bruising campaign tactics on her -- their behalf.

I mean, right now, the Democrats are in the middle of, you know, union members have been fighting union members. We have got gender and -- vs. race. We have got issues of the people that brought of Obama's Muslim background. There's all -- even though he's a Christian -- there's all this roiling around inside the Democratic Party that we really just haven't seen in a long time.

So, she's got to find a way to sort of say to the Democrats, listen, this -- we know we have been rough and tumble, but it's time for us all to get back together, or else I fear, even if she wins, she will have a divided, fractured party. And we know what happens when that happens. Democrats don't win.

We have done a lot of good in 2006.

BLITZER: All right.

SIMMONS: And we just need to have that happen.

BLITZER: What do you think she needs to do, John?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think she needs to tell her husband to shut up.

The fact of the matter is, this good cop/bad cop is not working for Hillary Clinton in the long term. It might work in the short term, but she has got to think long term. I think she has got the upper hand in this nomination fight.

And I think Jamal is absolutely right. Bill Clinton risk doing long-term damage to the coalition, the Democratic coalition. And I think -- I don't think there's any reason he's got to be out in front anymore. I think it's hurting Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: What about Obama, Jamal? What does he need to do?

SIMMONS: Well, sort of on the same track, he has got to rise it above it a little bit. He's got to get out of the muck, get out of the back and forth, and get people back to what they liked about him in the first place.

He's a unifier, so he has got to unify. And he has got to present a case to the American people that this campaign isn't about one specific interest. Our problems are not black problems or white problems. They're American problems. And I think, if he can get back to that message, he may stand to do very well.

FEEHERY: John?

FEEHERY: Wolf, I think he has got to speak Spanish and bring out Oprah Winfrey. He's getting killed with Hispanic voters, and he's got to have a message that works for them. And he got beat really bad with women voters. And he has got to bring out Oprah Winfrey, who was a big boost in Iowa.

BLITZER: And, briefly, what about Edwards, Jamal?

SIMMONS: Well, Edwards has got a much more interesting case. I mean, he really does have to sort of prove why it is he should still be in these debates, why it is he should still be in this contest.

You have got to win someplace. You have got to somehow someplace. In Nevada this weekend, he didn't do very, coming in with 3 percent or 4 percent of the vote. And I think people really want to see John Edwards at least cross the 15 percent, 20 percent threshold. If he's looking to be a king-maker and figure out who he wants to choose, and maybe his delegates go to the ultimate winner, he has got to win some more of those delegates for that to happen.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He did show in Iowa. He came in second, briefly, just -- just ahead of Hillary Clinton.

All right, what do you think he has to do, John?

FEEHERY: Quit. I think he's had a run. He tried to run to the left of both Hillary and Obama. There's not much room there. If he would have run as a centrist, he would have had a better shot. But he ran to the left of those two. And there's no room there. And I think he ought to quit.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk on the Republican side briefly, Jamal. And I want you to weigh in first, before John.

Mike Huckabee, he said some controversial words last week about the Confederate flag. He spoke out passionately about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. today.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE: If somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we would tell them what to do with the pole. That's what we would do.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HUCKABEE: America owes a lot to Dr. King. The fact is, when politicians were brought basically dragging and kicking to the whole civil rights movement, it was Dr. King that really led this country to recognize the worth and value of every human being.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Jamal, you see a conflict there between those two comments?

SIMMONS: You know, Wolf, I have known a lot of politics in the South, in Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and the Southern politics are complicated. And I think there aren't easy answers to this.

He's trying to appeal to two different groups. And he -- there's some evidence that he has been successful at this in Arkansas. In Arkansas, he got 40-plus percent of the African-American vote in his last campaign for governor. So, Mike Huckabee is somebody who does have an appeal to African-Americans, who are fairly religious. And paying homage to Martin Luther King won't do him bad in that election.

FEEHERY: Well, I agree...

BLITZER: All right. Briefly, John.

FEEHERY: I agree with what Jamal said.

What goes in South Carolina I think Huckabee was hoping would stay in South Carolina. And it's hard to do that in this modern age. The fact of the matter is, that message doesn't work in the rest of the country. And I think Huckabee -- what Huckabee said about Martin Luther King was closer to what he really believes.

BLITZER: John Feehery, Jamal Simmons, guys, thanks very much.

FEEHERY: Thank you.

SIMMONS: Thank you. BLITZER: Apparently, President Bush's life will be the focus of an upcoming movie. But the director who wants to make that movie is inspiring this question: Will it be fair? You're going to find out who that director is.

Also, CNN talks to the son of the world's most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden. How does he feel about his father's notorious acts? Omar bin Laden speaks to us.

And one of Mike Huckabee's movie star supporters says John McCain is simply too old to be president. Jack Cafferty wants to know what you think.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, getting ready for tonight's debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In today's Political Ticker: Two -- repeat -- two polls suggest Rudy Giuliani is trailing among registered Republicans in his home state of New York. In a WNBC/Marist poll, John McCain leads Giuliani in New York State before its February 5 primary. McCain gets 34 percent, while Giuliani gets 23 percent.

Giuliani also comes in second in a Siena College poll. It shows McCain with 36 percent, Giuliani at 24 percent. Last year, Giuliani was on top in New York State polls.

And the director who has made films about John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon now wants to make one on President Bush. That's what Oliver Stone tells "Variety" -- "Daily Variety" magazine. Stone tells the trade paper it will be a fair look at the president's life, and that he hopes for a possible release by the presidential election or inauguration.

The director wants actor Josh Brolin, by the way, to play President Bush. Brolin currently starts in the movie "No Country For Old Men."

And, remember, for the latest political news any time, you can check out CNNPolitics.com. That's where you can read my daily blog as well. Go there right now if you want to read it.

I know Jack Cafferty probably hasn't, but maybe he will later.

Jack, you have got "The Cafferty File," though, right now.

(LAUGHTER)

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Shameless. You are just shameless.

All right. The question this hour is: Do you agree with Chuck Norris, who is supporting Mike Huckabee, that John McCain is too old to be president? Chuck Norris is that exercise machine guy on TV who, years ago, made a few TV programs. Thaddeus in Bell Acres, Pennsylvania: "Here's what I agree with, Jack. Chuck Norris is barely qualified to endorse fitness equipment, let alone endorse one presidential candidate by insulting another. Since when does it matter what a C-grade celebrity thinks about anything?"

And some of these even got hostile.

Tom writes: "He's not too old, McCain. He's too Republican. If Jesus ran on the Republican ticket, he couldn't get a vote in a convent."

Ryan in Champaign, Illinois: "Yes, Jack. Anyone who wants to make the current administration's tax cuts permanent and keep us in Iraq for hundreds of years is exhibiting signs of inflexible thought and dementia. It's not his body that is too old; it is his world outlook."

Judy writes: "Are you kidding? Chuck Norris? Who cares what he thinks? I'm a Democrat, but I just might vote for McCain, depending on who wins the Democratic primaries."

Eugene writes: "Chuck Norris probably felt President Reagan was too old for the office. The old wannabe Texas Ranger ought to stick with his exercise machine and let Senator McCain get on with saving our country. McCain is only old in years. He has fresh ideas and can help repair that broken system in Washington."

Jim writes: "Yes, he is too old. That said, Chuck Norris is an idiot."

Ron writes: "My wife and I were just talking about this issue late last week. We both agree we would not vote for McCain due to his age."

And Jane in Philadelphia: "I typically hold my opinion on the presidential race until I have heard from Chuck Norris. I'm currently waiting on Britney Spears to issue a statement on global warming" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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