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THE SITUATION ROOM
Democrats Prepare for Presidential Debate; Violence in Kenya Spirals Out of Control
Aired January 21, 2008 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BLITZER: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Clinton, Obama Edwards -- the top three Democratic frontrunners getting ready to debate here in South Carolina in only three hours. The state's Democratic primary only a few days away -- this Saturday. We're going to show you what's at stake for each of them.
Also, an exclusive interview with Osama bin Laden's son. You're going to find out why he parted ways with his notorious there is father and why he still defends him, though, on one issue.
Plus, Kenya's deadly political violence is spiraling further out of control, with police turning on civilians and neighbors turning on neighbors. We're going to have details of one glimmer of hope on the horizon. Our Zain Verjee is there.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're less than three hours away from the high stakes face-off here in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina between the top three Democratic presidential contenders -- Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. They're all getting ready right now to make a high profile appeal to this state's primary voters. They head to the polls this Saturday in a contest critical to all three candidates.
For the Republican hopefuls, everything right now is all about Florida. Its GOP primary is one week from tomorrow. Florida Democrats have had their primary effectively canceled by the national Democratic Party for moving up the primary without the party's permission.
Florida will be the first and most crucial test for Rudy Giuliani. He's staked almost everything on that state -- foregoing Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. His showing in Florida, though, could make or break his campaign. Meanwhile, there's growing concern among some Democrats about attacks by Bill Clinton on his wife's main rival, Senator Barack Obama. Obama himself accuses the former president of making statements that are factually inaccurate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "GOOD MORNING AMERICA," COURTESY ABC)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The former president, who I think, all of us have a lot of regard for, has taken his advocacy on behalf of his wife to a level that I think is pretty troubling. You know, he continues to make statements that aren't supported by the facts -- whether it's about my record of opposition to the war in Iraq or our approach to organizing in Las Vegas.
You know, 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.
If you have something that directly contradicts the facts, and it's coming from a former president, I think that's a problem. Because people presume that a former president is going to have more credibility and I think there are certain responsibilities that are carried with that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The tension between the Clinton and Obama camps is very troubling to a lot of Democrats, including the highest ranking African-American in the United States Congress, who's urging the former president to "tone it down."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN CLYBURN (D-SC), HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP: 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 he -- you think he may have crossed the line?
CLYBURN: Well, I've never said that he crossed a line. I did say that he is causing a lot of anxiety among the base that exists in our party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And we're going to have a lot more coming up shortly on the Democratic presidential debate here in Myrtle Beach.
On the Republican side, John McCain's victory in South Carolina's Republican primary last Saturday came despite what's being described as a smear campaign accusing Senator McCain of selling out fellow Vietnam prisoners of war.
CNN's Jim Acosta talked to the man leveling the charges against Senator McCain.
What evidence -- what evidence, Jim, is he offering?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, not much. And score one for the McCain "truth squad." The campaign learned the value of going on offense instead of playing defense against negative attacks.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Jerry Kiley launched the Web site vet Vietnam Veterans Against John McCain, and mailed these fliers to some 80 South Carolina newspapers -- but to no avail. McCain won. But that won't stop Kiley, who told us just before the South Carolina primary, he will hound McCain as long as he remains in the campaign.
(on camera): Is this a smear?
JERRY KILEY, VIETNAM VETS AGAINST JOHN MCCAIN: No, this is factual. You ask the family members -- and we're going to have family members that are going to talk about this. This is not over. This is the beginning, not the end.
ACOSTA: Kiley leads a small group of Vietnam veterans and families of missing soldiers, who allege McCain and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry covered up evidence of living POWs in Southeast Asia in order to normalize relations with the communist country.
But there's no evidence this is true and Kiley himself offers no proof of any cover-up.
KILEY: You have to question what was his motive to bury the POW issue when he came home?
ACOSTA (on camera): Well, let me ask you that.
Why would a former POW who was tortured in custody leave other POWs behind?
KILEY: A good question.
ACOSTA: Why would he do that?
KILEY: And it's baffling for people to try to comprehend that.
ORSON SWINDLE, FELLOW POW WITH MCCAIN: And that's pretty despicable. These people need to go out and get a life.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Orson Swindle, one of McCain's fellow POWs at the infamous Vietnam prison camp known as The Hanoi Hilton, says Kiley is spreading conspiracy theories.
SWINDLE: You know, it's a tragedy because these people, in addition to giving themselves sort of a cottage industry for this -- this emotional hue and cry, they raise the expectations of hopes of the families of those who are still missing to thinking that may be something. You know, and that, to me, is just immoral as hell.
ACOSTA: Swindle points out McCain, then the son of a U.S. admiral, actually turned down an early release from captivity because he would have left behind other American prisoners.
SWINDLE: He basically told them to shove it.
ACOSTA: Kiley's group is not alone in making the POW claim. Former presidential candidate Ross Perot told "Newsweek" McCain was adamant about shutting down anything to do with recovering POWs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) lieutenant commander in the Navy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: The McCain campaign is fighting back with this new video on its Web site touting the senator's war record.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM JOHN MCCAIN FOR PRESIDENT CAMPAIGN AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it the courage to fight -- to fight to survive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Kiley goes even further on his Web site. But once again he has no proof of his claim.
(on camera): One of the thing it says on your Web site: "John McCain, the Manchurian candidate."
ACOSTA: What are you suggesting there?
KILEY: Well, there were techniques, we believe, used against McCain.
ACOSTA: So are you saying that John McCain was brainwashed?
KILEY: We're saying that we don't know. We're saying that we know that John McCain...
ACOSTA: If you're saying you don't know, why are you saying it?
KILEY: No, no, no. No. Well, now you're tossing (ph) it. OK, so let's start over. We're saying -- Manchurian candidate, we're saying there's that possibility.
ACOSTA (voice-over): But sometimes even the most negative political attacks can be effective. Kiley's Web site continues to be the subject of news stories across the world. In 2004, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth assault on Kerry touched off a media firestorm.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM SWIFT BOAT VETERANS FOR TRUTH AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He betrayed us in the past. How could we be loyal to him now?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: And rarely do the courts intervene, according to CNN legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: The fierce and sometimes ugly give and take of campaigns always winds up affecting the ballot box. It almost never winds up in court.
ACOSTA: For the voters of South Carolina, it was judgment McCain.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you. Thank you.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
ACOSTA: The McCain campaign remains wary of these negative attacks, as the veterans' vote will be important in the upcoming Florida primary -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for that.
And he apparently did very well with veterans in South Carolina, as well.
Jim Acosta reporting.
McCain's military credentials are impressive. His grandfather was a Navy admiral during World War II, as his was father during the Vietnam War. McCain was a Navy pilot in Vietnam. He wound up spending more than five years as a prisoner of war after being shot down. He was released in 1973, after enduring years of torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese Army.
Democrat Barack Obama is also facing a smear campaign -- e-mail that alleges he's a Muslim with radical ties. He confronted the rumors head-on while campaigning here in South Carolina earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And I've been at the same church -- the same Christian church -- for almost 20 years.
OBAMA: My wife and I were married in that church. Our children were dedicated in that church. I was sworn in with my hand on the family bible. Whenever I'm in the United States Senate, I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.
OBAMA: So if you get some silly e-mail, send it back. Just tell them -- no, don't delete it. Send it back to whoever sent it. Tell them this is all crazy.
OBAMA: Educate. Educate so that...
OBAMA: Right, educate don't hate. That's -- I like that.
I like that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Barack Obama speaking earlier, confronting that smear earlier in the day.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty.
He's got The Cafferty File in New York.
It's getting ugly out there -- Jack.
BLITZER: That was the title of your best-seller and it certainly is getting ugly out there -- these attacks against Barack Obama, against John McCain. People will sort of stoop at nothing to try to get some support out there.
CAFFERTY: Yes. I -- it's a shame that any time at all during a campaign when we're going to elect the highest office holder in the country has to be spent defending this kind of garbage. I mean you can find out what church Barack Obama or anybody else goes to. I mean all you have to do is go on the Internet. It's really sad to see the democratic process taken over by cretins and lowlifes that do this kind of stuff.
Well, the State of Florida may answer all of the questions when it comes to Rudy Giuliani's political future. The former New York mayor has staked practically his entire campaign on winning Florida. His strategy all along -- skip the early races. So far, there have been six of them and he is 0 for the election campaign, focused rather on later delegate-rich states like Florida.
But it might not be working. Not only has Giuliani failed to win anything up to this point, but the one time national frontrunner has now finished far back in the Republican pack in all of the contests held so far. He placed behind Ron Paul in Iowa, Michigan, Nevada and South Carolina. Giuliani is calling Florida "our home field" and he says he thinks he's going to win Florida and if he does, he says he thinks he'll get the nomination.
But he admits that a loss -- a bad loss could be crippling -- his words.
In some ways, Giuliani has been very lucky so far because there's no clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination with three candidates -- Huckabee, Romney and McCain -- splitting the victories so far. Polls in Florida suggest Giuliani has not only lost the commanding lead that he once had there, but, in fact, is now tied with or trailing both Romney and McCain. Florida is win or take all. And in addition to picking up the state's 57 delegates to the convention, the winner rolls toward Super Tuesday -- where more than 20 states vote -- with a big, big head of steam.
And there's more of what could be considered troubling news for Rudy Giuliani. Two new polls out here, in his home state of New York, suggest that he's now in second place, trailing McCain. Giuliani had been leading in the New York polls as recently as last month.
So he's got his work cut out for him.
Here's the question -- was it a mistake for Rudy Giuliani to ignore those early races?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my new blog and then after that, you can go read and Wolf's blog if you want to.
BLITZER: Yes. Mine is at CNNPolitics.com.
Jack, thanks very much.
CAFFERTY: Oh, they're not in the seem place?
BLITZER: No. They're different places -- CNNPolitics.com. Sometimes they're in the same place. It depends on where they want to put it. But mine is always at CNNPolitics.com.
CAFFERTY: Oh, OK. I didn't know that.
BLITZER: On the ticker there.
CAFFERTY: I won't -- visit them both.
BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.
CAFFERTY: All right.
BLITZER: Yes, good idea.
Osama bin Laden's son says he wants to be a force for peace and says his father needs to change his ways. You're going to find out what it's like when your dad is the most wanted terrorist. A CNN exclusive interview. That's coming up.
Also, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards less than three hours away now from that Democratic debate right here in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Suzanne Malveaux and Joe Johns, they'll be joining me in the questioning tonight. They'll be joining me in a few moments to discuss what's coming up -- a closer look at the tough questions the candidates will be facing tonight.
Plus, John McCain -- find out why he wants his mother to wash Chuck Norris's mouth out with soap. Stick around.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: He literally grew up with al Qaeda. But Osama bin Laden's son left the world of terror behind and now he's speaking out -- renouncing his father's fight, but still defending him on one level.
CNN's Aneesh Raman sat down for a one-on-one interview with Omar bin Laden -- Aneesh.
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in his first extensive TV interview, Omar bin Laden, Osama's son, is now speaking out and telling his father to carnage tactics.
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At first glance, 26-year-old Omar seems the image of a modern Middle East -- he drives a jeep, has dread locks and his wife is a British national. You'd never guess this is Osama Bin Laden's son.
(on camera): At what age did you start training with al Qaeda?
OMAR OSAMA BIN LADEN, BIN LADEN'S SON: I started training maybe in 14.
RAMAN (voice-over): As a child, Omar was a soldier in his father's army, training in Afghanistan, like so many others. But by 2000, Omar felt al Qaeda was heading for a fight he didn't want any part of.
O. BIN LADEN: After a few years, they started the war. The fight came on bigger and bigger. And I see a lot of things are being bigger and my eyes was open on a lot of things. And I think it's better if I go outside and see how the life outside.
RAMAN: It was a decision, Omar says, his father accepted.
O. BIN LADEN: He tell me if this is your -- your what?
ZAINA AL SABAH-BIN LADEN, BIN LADEN'S DAUGHTER-IN-LAW: Your choice. Your decision.
O. BIN LADEN: Your decision, what I can tell you?
I'd like you to be with me, but if you -- this is your decision.
RAMAN: So father and son went their separate ways. But for Omar, there was no running from the Bin Laden name -- not after September 11, 2001.
(on camera): Where were you when 9/11 happened? How did you first learn about it?
O. BIN LADEN: I am in Saudi Arabia.
RAMAN: Did you immediately think your father was behind it when you saw the news?
O. BIN LADEN: Yes, maybe.
RAMAN: And what went through your mind?
O. BIN LADEN: At that time (INAUDIBLE) I didn't know -- how I have to feel.
Z. BIN LADEN: He was only 18 or 19 years old.
O. BIN LADEN: Sure, when I see somebody killed, I feel sad.
RAMAN (voice-over): Seven years later, his father is now the world's most wanted man.
(on camera): Are you in touch with your father at all, right now?
O. BIN LADEN: Sure not.
RAMAN: Do you have any idea where he is?
O. BIN LADEN: No.
RAMAN: Do you think that he will ever get caught?
O. BIN LADEN: I don't think so.
RAMAN (voice-over): The reason?
Omar says wherever Osama is, the people around him will never turn.
O. BIN LADEN: The people there are different from here. The people there is -- has freedom between them and their God. They can do anything by God's permission. They didn't care about government.
RAMAN: As for Omar, he's stuck -- at one level still defending his dad.
(on camera): Do you think that your father is a terrorist?
O. BIN LADEN: No, I don't think my father is a terrorist.
RAMAN (voice-over): I asked how he could say that. Because, Omar says, Osama bin Laden believes he is doing God's will and no religious figure around the al Qaeda leader is telling him what his son is saying now.
O. BIN LADEN: I would like to say to my father, try to find another way to help to find your goal. And this is bomb -- or this is (INAUDIBLE)...
Z. BIN LADEN: Weapons.
O. BIN LADEN: ...weapons. It is not good to use it for anybody.
RAMAN: To make the point, Omar and his wife Zaina are organizing a horse race later this year, hoping to cross North Africa with a message of peace. But finding sponsors is difficult when your last name is bin Laden.
Z. BIN LADEN: It would probably have been easier to do a race without having Omar's name. But then the race would be just a race. It wouldn't be a race for peace.
RAMAN: It is a big unknown -- can this son rebrand a name his father has made synonymous with terror?
Aneesh Raman, CNN, Cairo.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: Osama bin Laden has been married five times and has at least 20 children. Omar's mother, Najwa, is bin Laden's cousin and first wife. She married Osama bin Laden when she was 14 and he was 17. According to the best-seller "The Looming Tower," by Lawrence Wright, Bin Laden developed a theory of multiple marriages once remarking -- and I'm quoting now -- "One is OK, like walking. Two is like riding a bicycle -- it's fast but a little unstable. Three is a tricycle -- stable but slow. And when we come to four, ah, that is the ideal."
Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani is betting it all on Florida.
Will his risky strategy pay off?
We're following him on the campaign trail. We're going to hear from Giuliani himself.
Plus, an important warning for pregnant women about caffeine -- how much is too much?
Find out what the experts are now saying.
We're live here in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina less than three hours away from the Democratic presidential debate. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what's going on?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if you're not in the Northern United States at this moment, consider yourself very lucky. It is freezing there. Chicago has warmed up a little since the weekend, when temperatures were in the single digits. But in Van Buren Maine this morning, it was 34 degrees below zero. In Butte, Montana, it was 32 below. International Falls, Minnesota was a lot warmer -- if you want to call it that -- just 16 below.
Investigators are inspecting wreckage from the deadly collision of two small planes in Southern California. Two Cessnas collided yesterday afternoon over a busy automotive mall in Corona. That's in Riverside County. Two people on each plane were killed. A fifth person who was inside a Chevy dealership, though, was hit by wreckage and was also killed. It's not clear what caused the collision.
And a warning for pregnant women about caffeine. A new Kaiser- Permanente study finds that drinking two or more cups of coffee a day doubles the risk of miscarriage. An increased risk was also found when the consumed in soda, tea and hot chocolate. Researchers believe that caffeine stresses the unborn baby's metabolism and they also say it may decrease blood flow in the placenta, which could harm the fetus. That's a look at headlines right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Carol, very much.
John McCain versus Chuck Norris...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I may have to send my 95-year-old mother over and wash Chuck's mouth out with soap.
MCCAIN: Thanks very much. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Chuck Norris threatened with an old school punishment. You're going to hear what he said to prompt McCain's reaction.
Plus, the Bill Clinton factor. We're only hours away from tonight's Democratic presidential debate.
Will the former president be a hot topic on the stage?
And killing on the streets of Kenya -- we'll take you to Nairobi, where the price of democracy is being paid in blood. Zain Verjee is there on the scene for us.
And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, there's been a massive air raid on suspected Al Qaeda safe havens in the Iraqi town of Arab Jabour. This video is from the Defense Department. It says coalition forces dropped 19,000 pounds of bombs yesterday on Al Qaeda in Iraq weapons' stockpiles. The Pentagon says 35 targets were destroyed. Fears about a U.S. recession are causing stocks to plunge worldwide. Stocks in Europe, Asia and Canada dropped sharply today. In Germany and India, major stock indices fell by more than 7 percent -- the worst day for international stocks since the 9/11 terror attacks. The markets here closed today for Martin Luther King Day.
And for the first time, Democrats living abroad will be able to vote online for a presidential candidate. A branch of the Democratic Party representing overseas voters will hold its first global presidential preference primary next month.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's a very risky strategy -- Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani opting to forego the early primary caucus states to focus almost exclusively on Florida, which holds its primary one week from tomorrow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The best thing for us to do was to concentrate on Florida, where we think we can make a very, very strong showing. And I think our strategy has kind of worked out because this is a wide open field. They all have to come down here. And we think we have sort of set the agenda here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Our chief national correspondent John King is joining us in Orlando. John, Giuliani has everything staked out on Florida because of his poor performances in other states. Are they starting to get nervous about it or do they still insist they're confident?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, their public line, Wolf, is that they are full of confidence and they expect a victory here on the 29th. But if you watch the Giuliani campaign you can see their nervousness. He is now being much more personal in his criticism of John McCain and Mitt Romney saying they opposed or equivocated backing the Bush tax cut debate of 2001. You also see the mayor getting more aggressive in campaigning here.
Their strategy was based on a few assumptions that haven't worked out. One of them was that by the time Florida came up, John McCain would be significantly weakened or wounded and that Rudy Giuliani would step into the leadership national security void. Instead, McCain comes here fresh from a victory in South Carolina.
Another calculation is the shifting debate. Giuliani likes to campaign on leadership, again a tough line on foreign policy, his post-9/11 leadership. The storyline has changed though, Wolf, and the economy is now much more in the forefront. Rudy Giuliani says he has a good record on the economy. He's talking about cutting taxes in New York City but the campaign they now have here is not what they expected. He once had a commanding lead in Florida. Look at the polls now. Rudy Giuliani is just behind John McCain, essentially a competitive four-way race here in the state of Florida.
How much does he need this state as a spring board into Super Tuesday? Well, those two new polls you were talking about earlier. He's now running behind in his home state of New York to John McCain. So the whole idea that he would win Florida and then rally into the 20 plus Super Tuesday states a week later is now in serious question.
BLITZER: And I take it the top staffers, they're still foregoing some salary, given the financial crunch they're under.
KING: They are in a bit of a financial crunch, and yet the Giuliani campaign is in better position than many of the other republicans, even though top aides are now working without pay at least through the month of January, probably into the month of February. Giuliani has maybe $5 million or so on hand, maybe a little less because of his TV ad spending here. That's one of the interesting dynamics, Wolf, not just Giuliani, but John McCain, Mike Huckabee, all of the candidates, not only are they here campaigning this week, they all have fund raising events as well because as they compete in this big state and then prepare for all of those states on Super Tuesday on February 5th, they're all running low on money.
BLITZER: That's one week from tomorrow. In Florida the republican primary; John, thanks very much.
Republican Mitt Romney also campaigning in Florida today where he took his sights off his GOP rivals for a moment to take a swipe at the entire democratic field. Listen to what he said in Daytona Beach.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think as I watch them that what they would like to do is to follow what they know best, which is government. They believe that big government is the right answer for America, that bigger government, big brother, big taxes will make for a stronger America. Because I think fundamentally having been in government all their life, they think that's what makes us such a great nation. I don't think that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Of course, the democratic candidates will be taking part in the debate here in South Carolina in only a couple of hours or so. It's sponsored by CNN and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. People are already lining up to walk inside. They're going through security. They are going to be a lot of people inside this theater behind me. Also inside the theater will be CNN's Suzanne Malveaux and Joe Johns. They'll be joining me in the questioning. This is an important debate for these democrats because the South Carolina primary could be pivotal.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I've spent actually a week here trying to get a lay of the land, you know, what's important to people. They say obviously employment, better jobs but I also realize, too, this is a very personal decision for many African- Americans. A lot of people told me they're really struggling with this decision whether or not to go for Barack Obama, a lot of sense of black pride in a viable candidate or whether or not to go with Hillary Clinton who they really see has a record of civil rights movement and as well as her husband.
BLITZER: This is really the first major test, Joe, of the African-American democratic vote. The last time around, almost 50 percent of the democrats who voted in the South Carolina primary were African-American. We expect something along those lines on Saturday.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well certainly. They've got a lot to think about here in South Carolina, African-Americans, as you know. There are older Americans in this state who grew up in Jim Crow, who lived through the civil rights movement. And now they're actually looking at the possibility of an African-American running for president as the national nominee for the Democratic Party.
On the other side they are many, many African-Americans in this state, both young and old, who are looking at Barack Obama, looking at Hillary Clinton, saying which is the right choice? This woman who came along through happy times for many African-Americans in the country when Bill Clinton was president versus this symbol of what America could be. So quite a choice for them, and I've heard a lot from people. I used to work here in the Carolinas.
BLITZER: You know this area.
JOHNS: Right. And I've heard a lot from people here. I've talked to people around the state. People here are very excited about it, very energized and looking forward not just to the debate but also the primary.
MALVEAUX: And also it's interesting because a lot of people say I mean they have a great deal of respect for Hillary Clinton. But I hear people say pillow talk. They keep saying pillow talk. There's a sense that they get two for one, two presidents if they vote for Hillary. There's still a sense of loyalty to Bill Clinton.
BLITZER: I want you to take our viewers inside our process in formulating questions, Joe, for tonight. We've been spending hours and hours and hours. We asked our viewers to send in some suggestions. We've gone through all of those. It's not easy coming up with questions for these three democratic presidential candidates.
JOHNS: That's very true. What's been fascinating about this is how interactive it really all has been. You did a ticker. You put out a question on the Internet asking people to send questions. They sent in thousands of questions. I personally have talked to me people around the state. As I did, I told them e-mail me questions. I gave them my e-mail address. I've talked to people all over both here in Washington and other places just asking for these questions. Then, when we got here, we all got inside a room and just went through all the different questions and iterations to try to ...
MALVEAUX: Our producer team, they were up until 4:00 in the morning going through all those questions trying to twiddle them down and obviously there's some unsolicited e-mail I've gotten as well from family and friends ask them this, ask them that.
JOHNS: Me too.
BLITZER: There's so many questions we all would like to ask. There's two hours. We're going to have two hours, which seems like a long time, but it goes really quickly. And you know, Suzanne, all of us are going to be frustrated and the viewers are going to be frustrated. Why didn't you ask this? Why didn't you follow up with that? And that's just one of the problems inherent in this kind of a situation.
MALVEAUX: That's certainly found it the last time, the last debate as well, I mean sifting through all the questions. You want to get through as many as possible. But obviously things that are going to make the news will really dominate. And the economy. A lot of people talking to me about they want the candidate who really has a plan who's going to help make their lives better.
BLITZER: The economy is still very much so the priority number one on the minds of voters here and across the country. Look what the international markets are doing today. They could be bracing for some serious economic problems in the markets tomorrow.
JOHNS: Absolutely. There's so much concern about the possibility of a recession looming. There's the issue of unemployment. There's the issue of education, which folds into do I get a better job. There's the issue, of course, of the sub-prime markets, which is so critical to people who want to fulfill that part of the American dream and go and buy their first house. So a lot of things here to talk about; the economy on the front burner for African-Americans. Obviously the Iraq war is a big issue as well in a state with so many military bases and so many military families.
BLITZER: And our partners, the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, they've been terrific in helping us as well. There's no doubt that the economy and jobs, poverty, that's the priority number one for African-Americans in this country right now as well because when a lot of people suffer, African-Americans suffer more because at their lower end of the economic scale.
MALVEAUX: And you look at the health care. That's another thing as well because there's almost 20 percent of African-Americans who don't have health insurance in this state, and so obviously they're looking at that. How do you take care of your elderly? How do you take care of your participant parents who are sick? I know a lot of people who I talked to said that was something that they really wanted to reach out and see who has got the best plan.
BLITZER: Suzanne and Joe, they are going to be with me at 8:00 p.m. eastern. We're going to be up there for two hours asking questions. Get ready. It will be exciting.
MALVEAUX: It's going to go quick. BLITZER: It goes quickly. Then we'll look back and say, I should have said this. I should have said that. The good thing is we'll have plenty of opportunities down the road. Thanks very much.
MALVEAUX: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: And remember, 8:00 p.m. eastern tonight the CNN Congressional Black Caucus Institute democratic presidential debate right behind me here in Myrtle Beach.
A historic nomination is looking increasingly likely for the democrats with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama leading the pack. So is the country ready for a black president, or is the country ready for a woman president? New CNN Opinion Research Corporation polling numbers indicate the answers to both of those questions a strong yes. 72 percent of whites and 61 percent of blacks say the country is ready for an African-American president. That's up from 65 percent and 54 percent back in 2006. As for a woman president almost two-thirds of men and women say the country is ready. About 1/3 of each say the answer is no.
Was it a mistake for Rudy Giuliani to ignore the early races? That's our question this hour. Jack Cafferty is standing by with your e-mail. That's coming up.
Plus police attack civilians and kill neighbors as Kenya spirals into worsening violence. Can a former U.S. secretary - U.N. secretary general, that is, help break the cycle?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: More disturbing images from Kenya where police and protesters have been squaring off over contested elections. CNN's Zain Verjee takes us to the streets of Nairobi where free speech has turned deadly.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These men say they want jobs and justice. They tell me Raila Odinga is their man, their commando, the real president. This is an area on the outskirts of Nairobi that has been the scene of violent confrontation between security forces and the residents here. Disputed elections have triggered chaos in Kenya and ethnic violence.
VERJEE: Their battle cries don't get them there. Security forces won't let them out. Instead brutally crack down. Even young children caught up in the violence. And angry residents tear up a major railway line.
Kenyans watched horrified as mass action turned into mass disaster. This video outraged the nation. A young man dancing, mocking police is shot. He goes down. The policeman kicks him. His friends, too afraid to help, until it's too late. The police initially denied this happened and accused local journalists of manipulating this image. Now they're investigating.
Up to 250,000 have fled their homes. Many telling me they're afraid they will be targeted because they're the same transcribe as President Kibaki. Downpours are adding to their anguish.
In the city center, usually vibrant, there's little or no business. Opposition leaders teared gased and chased around the city. Kenyans heaved a sigh of relief over the weekend as the three days of mass protest ended, praying for peace, ahead of a diplomatic push this week. But many here are pessimistic. The opposition is keeping up pressure on the government with calls for more protests and boycotts of companies allied with President Kibaki. Anxiety and uncertainty grips the nation as most Kenyans look for a way out of the haze, hoping that what they've seen these past weeks won't be repeated in the weeks ahead.
Zain Verjee, CNN, Nairobi.
BLITZER: Chuck Norris uses some unusual calculations to show why he's not supporting John McCain but the actor's math may be a little bit fuzzy.
And Rudy Giuliani is feeling the heat in the sunshine state. Did he wait too long to put up a fight? Jack Cafferty standing by with your email.
That and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina getting ready for the democratic presidential debate.
BLITZER: Mike Huckabee's celebrity backer, that would be Chuck Norris, is taking a swipe at John McCain's age. McCain would be the oldest person elected president if he wins, but Norris' math was a little bit off. Listen to what Norris said at a fundraiser he through for Huckabee at his Texas ranch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK NORRIS, ACTOR, HUCKABEE SUPPORTER: John, I feel, at 72 to take over the presidency, you know, look at the presidents in the past. Look at George W. Look at how he's aged in seven years. He's aged three to one in seven years. Bill Clinton, he aged three to one. Former President Bush who I was with a lot, I saw him age in those four years. Now I'm thinking if John takes over the presidency at 72 and if he ages three to one, how old will he be in four years? He'll be 84 years old.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: McCain wasn't about to take that lying down. Listen to the threat he made while campaigning in Miami.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm afraid that I may have to send my 95-year-old mother over and wash Chuck's mouth out with soap.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Before Fred Thompson officially jumped into the presidential race, his campaign was alive through grass roots supporters, online they called themselves Fredheads. But Thompson hasn't picked up much momentum in the early primary states. Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is joining us now. Abbi, what are the Fredheads saying now?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, months before Fred Thompson actually got into the race, he seemed to be running online. There was this homemade web video where he went after liberal filmmaker Michael Moore. Then they were the frequent blog posts he would make on conservative websites. All of that got him quite the following online, especially with amongst conservatives who are unhappy with the crop of candidates out there. Well, after his third place showing in South Carolina, the frustration out there on these web sites is palpable from redstate.com, comments like good guy, bad politician and uninspired campaign. Though you'll find other people as well who are the die-hards who want him to stay in the race. Eric Ericson is with the site. He says that the opinion out there is split; 60 percent of people thinking that he should get out of the race or expected him to. For others, the conservatives online want him to stay in because they feel they have no other candidate to go to. Wolf?
BLITZER: Abbi, thank you very much for that. Let's get back to Jack. He's got the Cafferty File. Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Was it a mistake, this hour's question, for Rudy Giuliani to ignore the early races? He skipped all six of them and he's banking everything on Florida and he's trailing now in Florida and he's trailing in some new polls out in New York as well.
Bruce writes from Illinois, "Well, if he can't win New York, how can he beat the democrats come November? Didn't Gore lose Tennessee? I think this is pretty much the end of the Giuliani campaign."
Jonathan writes, "Of course it's not a mistake. The first 5 states nothing but popularity contests. Who cares about Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina? They have virtually no delegates. They say you need momentum. Giuliani has had momentum since September 11, 2001."
Jon in Tempe, Arizona, "It was a critical mistake. Imagine a football team that tries to win a game by not playing in the first quarter because they want to save their energy for the rest of the game. Giuliani should go back to New York because he is mortally wounded. Maybe he can run against Elliott Spitzer for governor or maybe he can run for the Senate seat that everybody knows will soon be vacated by Hillary."
Ben in Chicago, "Mistake, Jack? Are you serious? Can you somehow show up at the Super Bowl without being in the playoffs? I rest my case."
Alana writes, "It wouldn't matter when Rudy entered the race. His disaster of a personal life shows a man without judgment and an ego that tells him that there are no consequences for his actions."
Blair here in New York City knows what it's like he says to live under Rudy Giuliani. He was of course the mayor here. "Rudy made no mistake. If he had run hard in Iowa and New Hampshire, he would have disappeared from the news the same day Joe Biden did."
Diane in North Carolina, "Rudy was a one-issue guy and thought that could carry him through the nomination. He tried to be a one- state guy and he is losing that. Rudy, perhaps you should have been a one-woman guy and you would have been a better guy."
And Dorothy writes, "Sorry Jack. I didn't realize he was running anywhere. I just thought he went to Florida like every other retired person does."
BLITZER: Very creative writers out there, Jack. Thank you very much.
Lou Dobbs has been keeping a very close eye on this campaign as well. He's standing by to join us live. That's coming up next.
And the feud is intensifying between Barack Obama and the husband of his key democratic rival. Today Obama challenged former President Bill Clinton's truthfulness.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Lou Dobbs' show is coming up in one hour. He's joining us now live. Lou, I want you to weigh in on this feud has developed. It's getting nasty between the former president, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Well you know Wolf, as I watch this thing unfold just about the time we think it has died down and it resolved, it starts back up. I think in many ways we're watching the maturity of this Democratic Party to a level nobody could have imagined where they could bring gender and race and all sorts of issues into a campaign and do so to the detriment of the party. I think that it's amazing that the party elders, except the party elders in this case are also participating in this spat of petty politics. You would think somebody would have the sense to say enough. You know the old Reagan comment you know is to the 11th commandment and the democrats certainly need to find the 11th commandment or perhaps go through one there ten and make sure they're checking off there as well.
BLITZER: Because when the dust settles and there is a democratic presidential nominee, a lot of what we've just heard, the back and forth, that's going to be thrown at the nominee by the republicans. You know that.
DOBBS: Yeah, I do know that and as you point out and I think that everyone watching us here today, and on a Martin Luther King Day, I think one other thing is happening. We're watching a party that has based its in large measure here in recent decades on identity and group politics, and they are as Martin Luther King said some time ago, those who live by the sword will die by the sword. That may be what these candidates are doing. This is a time for Americans to be coming together and as I have been saying for years, celebrating and honoring our similarities and our commonalities rather than our differences and our dissimilarities and if this is - I mean when I think about this happening on Martin Luther King Day I mean it's a travesty of the highest order and I think everybody associated with this should be just really embarrassed and ashamed of themselves and repair to a higher standard and quit blathering political nonsense and honor the real ideals of this country.
BLITZER: And I think you're going to be happy Lou later tonight in two hours or so when we begin this debate here in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina because a lot of the issues that you focused in on including the middle class, we're going to be asking those questions. I think you and a lot of our viewers, people all over the country want some answers to. Lou has his own show coming up in one hour. Thanks very much for that.
DOBBS: Good to be with you.
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