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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Countdown to Super Tuesday; Exclusive Interview with Michelle Obama; Exxon Mobil's Record High Profits

Aired February 1, 2008 - 23:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Tonight the homestretch -- four days to go until Super Tuesday; four frontrunners campaigning for the votes that will take one of them to the White House.
Here's where the race stands right now.

For the Democrats, the latest Gallup daily poll gives Hillary Clinton a slight edge over Barack Obama. But a new Fox News Opinion Dynamics poll has Senator Obama trailing by ten points; quite a difference. But both poles represent significant gain for Senator Obama.

The Republicans have McCain way ahead. Gallup gives him a 15-point lead over Mitt Romney; 17 points in front of Mike Huckabee. The Fox News poll shows an even wider McCain-Romney point spread - 28.

We'll talk about the contest coming up.

Also tonight, up close with Michelle Obama; stepping into the spotlight, speaking out for her husband.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, BARACK OBAMA'S WIFE: I believe that Barack is going to do well. I think that people in this country are ready for a change in politics. And people have been drawn and continuously motivated by his message. The more they get to know him, the more that they understand the differences between he and his opponent.

I want the story to be who is Barack? And what is his vision? And I don't want that to get lost in the contrast that you naturally to have make in order to make that point.

I think this country is ready for the kind of leadership that he will offer. And there is no one else in this race who can bring about a whole different view about who we are as a country and how the world sees us. That's just a fact in my view.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

Our exclusive interview with Michelle Obama - ahead on 360.

We begin with the biggest prize before the nomination; Super Tuesday. On the line, 24 states, 44 contests and more than 2,700 delegates. Next week, millions of American will be casting their votes and a lot can happen between now and then on the heels of the final debate before Super Tuesday. Senators Obama and Clinton picked up where they left off. Fighting over Iraq, healthcare, the economy; fighting for it all.

CNN's Candy Crowley reports.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thursday night's love fest in L.A. produced a kind of Friday-morning afterglow with the still smiling candidates. But in the subterranean campaign, the Clinton-Obama staffs got into it over this. An Obama mailer warning voters that Hillary Clinton's health care plan will force those who can't afford it to buy health insurance; basically, the printed verse of this --

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She believes that we have to force people who don't have health insurance to buy it.

CROWLEY: -- though the flier, and this is a campaign, after all, left out this part.

HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Contrary to the description that Barack just gave, we actually will make it affordable for everyone because my plan lowers costs aggressively.

CROWLEY: In a conference call with reporters, the Clinton campaign dumped all over the Obama flier, calling the picture of the troubled looking couple reminiscent of a Republican-backed ad that all but destroyed Clinton's healthcare proposal in 1994.

Health care is one of those home and hearth issues that both campaigns know makes a difference in the voting booth. Neither is going to let this drop. She continues to argue his plan leaves people out.

H. CLINTON: I believe with all my heart that it is a moral right for people to have quality affordable health care. That is why I put forth a plan to cover everyone because I would not know who to leave out.

CROWLEY: The candidates are in search of whatever momentum they can find. Big game is a John Edwards endorsement.

OBAMA: He and I shared, I think, a fundamental view that it is not enough just to change political parties in the White House; that we've got to bring about more fundamental change.

CROWLEY: And camp Clinton with the former president in the lead, is putting the full court press on Governor Bill Richardson; a Hispanic with considerable sway in the community. Richardson's office says no decision on whether he'll endorse anyone but this Sunday, he'll be bonding over the Super Bowl with, bingo, the former president and newly mellowed Bill Clinton who by the way is feeling the post debate love.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She was magnificent. And let me say this. Senator Obama was also very good. CROWLEY (on camera): For all the history going on in this Democratic race, it is in many ways a conventional campaign. In the final days before the voting, always put your best foot forward.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

COOPER: We'll get to the Republicans in just a moment.

Let's start off with Obama and Clinton. Senator Obama picked up the big endorsement from the "Los Angeles Times" today. They also endorsed John McCain.

Let's talk about that among many other things with the best political team on television - CNN senior analyst and former presidential adviser David Gergen, CNN political analyst Amy Holmes and CNN's political contributor Donna Brazile.

David, at this point, does an endorsement from the "L.A. Times," does that make much of a difference?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It does in California. In the days of the Chandlers when they owned the "L.A. Times," it was sort of a king. It would have made a huge difference. Today it makes less but it is still significant.

It was only a few days ago, the "New York Times" endorsed Hillary Clinton. So for the "L.A. Times" to come back, it makes a big difference in California.

COOPER: Donna, we just heard now, Obama is attacking Clinton's health care plan. Just as he did basically saying that it is going to force people to buy insurance.

Is that a winning strategy? There are those who felt that she did better on health care during the debate. Is this a way for him to try to get back on the health care issue?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Senator Obama is facing an up-hill struggle to try to close ranks with Hillary in the last closing days of this campaign. It makes sense for him to point out the differences between his health care plan and Senator Clinton's health care plan, as well as the fact that he was opposed to the war from day one and she was not.

So I think in the closing days, you'll see a lot of mail hitting the mailboxes out there where Senator Obama will try to ratchet up the arguments and try to draw an even larger contrast with Senator Clinton.

COOPER: Amy, yesterday during the debate both candidates made a point of complimenting John Edwards and today Obama talked about how they share a similar vision and pushing for change. Does either candidate do you think have a leg up in wooing Edwards' support? It would be hard to imagine Edwards endorsing Senator Clinton after saying that she is a status quo candidate.

AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. He has underscored that he wants change. He repeats that word. Politicians are never so nice as when they want something.

Heaping this praise on Edwards clearly is not just to woo John Edwards and possibly one to their side but his voters. And right now, it doesn't look like the voters are going one way and another. They seem pretty evenly divided. So Hillary and Barack are trying to go after those blue collar voters that might be able to push them over the finishing line.

COOPER: David, we were talking about endorsements before. I should also mention the liberal group moveon.org endorsed Obama. They have 3.2 million members and the California, the largest labor union in California also did as well. They have over 600,000 members. Obviously those kinds of endorsements actually bring people out to campaign.

But Obama announced that they raised $32 million last month. In terms of strategy, what states does he concentrate on leading up to Super Tuesday?

GERGEN: Well, he has a somewhat different strategy than Hillary Clinton does. And Hillary Clinton wants to concentrate both on the West Coast in California, on the East Coast in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts. So she's got leads in all those states with the possible exception of Connecticut. And if she can sweep those big, that's where the big rich delegations are.

But Obama has a different strategy. And that is if he can win the interior states, places like Colorado and then put that together with a serious showing in California, and pick up the delegates on the East Coast. Then he can be he can come out of the night; he may lose more states but he comes out of the night very competitive. That's when the $30 million as John King reported last night becomes so important.

He is probably going to have as much as $20 million out of that $30 left out of Super Tuesday to spend on the primaries to come. And there is a view that the longer this goes on, the more it favors him. That time is on his side.

What we have, Anderson, is very different. On the Republican side, we have McCain seeming to pull away from Romney. On the Democratic side, we have Hillary Clinton still very much the favorite, but Obama closing in on her. And the question is how much can he close before Super Tuesday? Nobody knows the answer to that.

But can he keep coming at her? He has some momentum as opposed to Romney who's falling back. He seems to be coming forward against her. That's what makes this fascinating.

COOPER: Donna, can Obama chip away at the lead that Hillary Clinton has among Latinos? If so, how?

BRAZILE: I think so. Look. He left Kennedy in California to make a direct appeal. Latino voters like black voters and Democratic voters in general love Ted Kennedy. So I think he will make up some ground with Latino voters.

The endorsement by the Service Employees International Union in California is also going to give Senator Obama a tremendous boost out there. Senator Clinton already has the support of the Teachers' Union, the State County Municipal Workers Union.

So Obama will have an opportunity to have some more boots on the ground; people that can walk into those precincts and get people out to the polls on Tuesday. I think David is absolutely right in terms of electoral strategy, to try to pick up as many delegates in those five big states that will produce about 1,072 delegates.

But Obama is looking in Idaho, for example, and Kansas and Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona to score some important victories. And let's not forget, there are two southern states, Alabama and Georgia, that will also be very important to Senator Obama and Senator Clinton is focusing on Arkansas, Tennessee and Oklahoma.

This is going to be a very interesting -- the next four days will be very interesting as we see these candidates crisscross the country, put enormous resources on the ground as well as run these terrific air campaigns.

COOPER: We're going to have more on talking about the Republicans with Donna Brazile, David Gergen, Amy Holmes in a moment. So you got to stick around.

In the race for the White House, most of the cash, of course, goes to commercials. Here's the raw data -- according to a new study by the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the candidates have intent $107 million on television campaign ads so far. Out of the total number Democrats shelled out $57 million, Republicans about $50 million. Almost none of it was spent in Super Tuesday states.

Earlier you heard what Barack Obama had to say. Coming up, we're going to hear from his wife. Our exclusive revealing interview with Michelle Obama is next.

Also tonight, the John McCain mutiny and why conservatives are threatening to jump ship if he gets the party's nomination. That's when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Senator John McCain on the campaign trail today; holding strong as the front-runner of the Republican Party right now. But Senator McCain faces stiff opposition from a number of leading conservatives and his closest rival, Mitt Romney, is looking to capitalize on that leading up to Super Tuesday.

With a new battleplan, here's chief national correspondent John King.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mitt Romney in San Diego; consider this Plan C.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have as you know a very unusual way of getting delegates. It is district by district, congressional district by congressional district.

KING: Not the way he envisioned it. Plan A was to sweep Iowa and New Hampshire. Mike Huckabee and John McCain spoiled that. Plan B counted on Michigan and then Florida. Again, it was McCain celebrating.

Now a Plan C with little room for error; based on a review of the Super Tuesday map, polling and delegate rules.

ROMNEY: We divided the nation in three major parts. One are states that we think we have a very good chance of picking them up. Others are there states where it will be highly competitive and then others that are real long-shot states.

KING: Authorizing a new ad by Mitt digging deeper into his personal fortune. Romney has now poured more than $35 million into his campaign; a staggering amount and a Democratic punch line.

OBAMA: Mitt Romney hasn't gotten a very good return on his investment during this presidential campaign.

KING: There are 21 Super Tuesday GOP contests in all with 1020 delegates at stake. Most top Romney advisers believe they need to win 400 of those delegates to remain in serious contention.

The top targets are California, Utah, Colorado, North Dakota, Montana, Alaska, West Virginia, and Massachusetts. Minnesota, Georgia, Tennessee and Illinois are in the Romney second tier.

And the message of Plan C? Play the conservative card. Suggesting McCain's record on taxes, immigration, campaign finances and other issues is out of the Republican main stream.

ROMNEY: McCain-Finegold, McCain-Kennedy, McCain-Lieberman, are all three liberal efforts.

King: McCain's new Super Tuesday advertising is a direct Romney rebuttal.

JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He'll cut wasteful spending and keep taxes low; a proud social conservative who will never waiver.

KING: And McCain is getting help from another rival.

MIKE HUCKABEE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator McCain, I don't consider him a liberal. I think when Mitt Romney calls him that, that's absurd.

KING: Campaigning in Oklahoma, Mike Huckabee says it is Romney's conservative credentials at issue.

HUCKABEE: He was very pro-choice, supported strong positions for same-sex relationships; said on television that he would do more for gay-lesbian agenda than Ted Kennedy. That's pretty bold. He said he was not part of the Reagan revolution.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

COOPER: Again, there's pointing out John McCain did receive endorsement today from the "Los Angeles Times" as on the Democratic side, they endorsed Barack Obama.

John joins us now and also brings in David Gergen, Amy Holmes and Donna Brazile.

JOHN: Is there anything that John McCain can do at this point to allay conservatives' concerns besides not accepting the endorsement of the "Los Angeles Times"?

KING: Liberal newspaper endorsements do increase the flak he is taking but they are starting to work more aggressively, Anderson. He will attend the conservative political action committee meeting next week. He snubbed that meeting last week.

He himself is making some phone calls, I'm told, to some skeptical conservatives around the country. His campaign friends are reaching out. Rudy Giuliani is helping him. The Ted Oleson (ph) endorsement, the Steve Forbes endorsement; both men who were supporting Rudy Giuliani.

They are slowly trying to bring the level of conservative criticism down. They know they can't quiet it all but they're trying to bring it down. They mostly believe if they have another string of victories Tuesday night, What senator McCain can say is, "Perhaps some of the leaders of conservative groups don't like me but conservative voters increasingly do."

COOPER: Amy, why is Mike Huckabee defending John McCain so vigorously? How much will Huckabee's presence in this race chip away Romney support among conservatives?

HOLMES: Well, there are cynics and wags who would tell you it's because Mike Huckabee wants to be vice president. And he wants to be on John McCain's ticket. I'm sure Mitt Romney right now is cursing the name Huckabee because he is eating in, he is cutting into Mitt Romney's support.

But you know, John was mentioning the people that McCain has been reaching out to. Boy, he was sure hurt today by a story that just came out that in early 2001 he was considering leaving the Republican Party.

This was an old story, it had been in Daschle's (ph) books. The Washington side he has to wonder if Mitt Romney has been waiting to unload this right before the weekend and again, raise fear, raise doubts and skepticism among conservatives about John McCain commitment to them.

COOPER: So David how -- it is an interesting dilemma because on the one hand, John McCain wants to reach out to moderates, to independents at the same time to start to shore up conservative credentials. How does he do that with the conservatives and not alienate the moderate Democrats and the independents?

GERGEN: Well, it is an extremely fine line. He has to choose a couple of issues, Anderson. I think he's done that. He's gotten to be very hard-lined now on anti-or low-tax position. He was the guy who opposed the Bush tax cuts.

He's gone just the other way now, and he's gone very hard conservative line on the Supreme Court justices; in particular, his embrace of Alito (ph) as well as Roberts. Those have both become litmus tests for conservatives. He's okay on taxes, okay on the court. We may forgive him for the rest.

I actually have to tell you that I think while he is rehearing some opposition from conservatives it is by no means unanimous. I'm actually impressed that more conservatives are coming his way than the other way around, and that he is holding a lot of the grassroots conservatives. So right at this point, I have to say, I think that Mitt Romney again is slipping back; not forward.

COOPER: Donna, it is remarkable, the money being spent. And we found out Romney spent over $35 million of his own money on advertising through the month of January.

Do we have any sense of what kind of advertising campaign he would need to run leading up to Super Tuesday? I mean, the amount of money these guys are spending is just remarkable.

BRAZILE: Well, you know, unless you have people on the ground that are willing to, you know, go door to door, canvass for you, help to get your votes out, unless there is a groundswell of support for Mitt Romney, I just don't see the math. I don't see how he gains delegates, given the Republicans rules of winner-take-all.

Look, John McCain is a very interesting guy. For many years, Democrats sort of looked at him and say, well, you know, you could talk to him. He is OK. And perhaps that hurt him with Republicans and conservatives.

But the truth is, is that he is authentic, he is bold, he is audacious. And if conservatives, you know, turn their back to John McCain and decide to embrace Huckabee or Romney, they are going to go into the general election very crippled and give Democrats an even larger advantage in beating the Republicans this fall.

COOPER: It's fascinating.

Donna Brazile, Amy Holmes, John King, David Gergen, thanks very much for your expertise. Appreciate it.

GERGEN: Thank you.

HOLMES: Thank you.

COOPER: There's a lot more happening around the country and the world tonight.

Erica Hill joins us for that with the 360 bulletin. Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, two explosions in Baghdad rocking the world on several levels tonight. The bombers, the suicide bombers, who killed at least 98 people in a pair of pet markets, we're learning, may not have even known what they were a part of. They were mentally disabled and their explosive cargo was apparently detonated by cell phone. The U.S. is blaming Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Chaos in China -- tens of thousands of workers stranded for days by snow, trying desperately to get home to see family. For many, this is their only break of the year for the Lunar New Year Festival. But more bad weather could still cancel that one trip home for many of them.

Massive flight delays here in the U.S., and the worst hit, Chicago's O'Hare, more than 500 flights canceled. The snow managed to peter out around Indianapolis. Much of the Northeast is getting pelted with rain, some of it icy, Anderson.

Be careful out there.

COOPER: All right. Erica, thanks.

Stay right there, because next on 360, going bonkers over Britney. High-level discussions, police escorts and spending a lot of taxpayer money to get her help. "What Were They Thinking?" -- coming up.

Also tonight, Michelle's moment, our exclusive interview today with the wife of Barack Obama -- when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Erica, the segment is called "What Were They Thinking?"

And, tonight, it is about Britney Spears.

HILL: Hmm.

COOPER: So, you would imagine it deals with something outlandish that she did.

HILL: Right.

COOPER: And, obviously, what she is going through is a terrible thing for her and her family.

It is all about her trip back to the hospital for psychiatric evaluation tonight, but the truly mind-boggling part of it is the elaborate and top-secret plan the LAPD cooked up for the whole journey.

According to "The L.A. Times," it involved dozens of police officers, a special transport team. You see the multiple vehicles there, as well as the motorcycle police.

HILL: Wow.

COOPER: There were multiple contingencies, in case the paparazzi rushed her house or mobbed the car. A chopper was circling overhead.

The bottom line for it all, about $25,000 taxpayer.

HILL: Wait a minute, 25 grand of taxpayer money?

COOPER: That's right, just to get Britney Spears to the hospital.

And a lot of Angelenos are left wondering, who needs the mental evaluation now?

HILL: Yes.

COOPER: Yes, $25,000, who knew?

Britney -- excuse me. Erica, I almost called you Britney.

HILL: Yes. I'm not Britney.

COOPER: Yes.

HILL: Last time I checked, not even close.

COOPER: Thank goodness.

HILL: But that's all right.

COOPER: Yes, Erica.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Up next - Soledad O'Brien goes one on one with Michelle Obama, an exclusive interview with the woman Senator Obama calls his rock -- next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

H. CLINTON: He has a spouse, too.

B. OBAMA: Thankfully, Michelle is not on stage. I'm sure she could tell some stories, as well.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

COOPER: Senators Obama and Clinton joking about their better halves at last night's debate.

Now, we have heard a lot from and about Bill Clinton, of course, in recent weeks, but, tonight, the other side in a rare interview with Michelle Obama. The wife of the presidential candidate spoke today with CNN's Soledad O'Brien. It was an exclusive interview and a revealing one.

Soledad joins us now from Chicago.

Soledad, what was she like?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, you know, in a word, she was unflappable, very, very calm.

One of the things she says a lot, one of the phrases is, "it just is." Whether you're asking about the focus that has been on her clothing or her hair or the focus that has been on some other parts of the campaign, she will say, "You know, it is just kind of is what it is. It just is."

And that underscores how calm her demeanor is, and in some ways, how honestly and forthrightly she comes across, even if it's not necessarily a positive spin.

And, so, one of the things we talked about that I thought was interesting was that she makes it very clear, she did not support her husband's presidential ambitions. And she said, you know, this might not be an answer you want to hear, but that it is just honest.

Here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

O'BRIEN: You have talked about politics being Barack's dream, but not your dream.

M. OBAMA: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

O'BRIEN: Are there moments in this campaign -- or have there been moments where you have said, what are we doing here; this is grueling?

M. OBAMA: Oh, yes, yes, no, every day.

O'BRIEN: Really?

M. OBAMA: Absolutely. You know, I mean, there is nothing rational about politics. And I say this a lot of times in my stump. I say, you know...

O'BRIEN: Kind of a strange position for someone whose husband is running to be president.

M. OBAMA: Right. Right. But it's also honest, I think. And I think people should understand, not out of a sense of sympathy, but I think the truth is, is that most Americans don't opt into this. And it's not because they don't want to help the country. It's just that this is a pretty taxing way to do it.

But, with that said, I also say, this has been one of the most worthwhile things that I have ever done in my life. O'BRIEN: What makes it worthwhile?

M. OBAMA: You know, you don't get an opportunity to travel around the country, to go into people's homes, into their communities, into their barbershops and beauty shops, and to talk. That's part of our challenge in this nation, is that we are so isolated from one another. And that isolation just reinforces what we perceive to be divisions.

O'BRIEN: What kind of a role do you think race has played in this race?

M. OBAMA: You know, I think race in always -- still, in this country, it's always on the table.

The fact that we are talking about the possibility of having the first African-American, and that is, for some, so emotional that it brings tears is a statement about how far we have to go in terms of race. So, it is there.

But I'm also amazed at how people are ready to move beyond it. And our time in Iowa, folks didn't shy away from conversations with me because of race. Once we got through, and I introduced myself, and I introduced myself not -- not from my race, but from my values and my upbringing. That's what I talked about.

I shared my story growing up. I shared the values of my parents, those hardworking folks, and what they were willing to do to sacrifice.

And that's -- that's where the connection -- once those stories were put on the table, all questions of race were -- no one in Iowa ever asked me any questions about, what is it like to be a black woman?

O'BRIEN: President Clinton, who was campaigning actively on behalf of his wife, Senator Clinton, said, people who voted for your husband would be taking a risk. He said it was the equivalent of the role of the dice. He said -- after South Carolina, where your husband won, he said, "Well, Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice."

M. OBAMA: Well, you know, that's politics. And I can go through this whole year of what not just President Clinton said but what all the pundits also said. They said, you know, there's no way Barack would raise the money. And that was the test, raising the money. And so Barack raised money and then money wasn't important.

They said he couldn't build the political organization to outmatch the likes of opponents who had been building their organizations for years. He built it. Had one of the best organizations that folks had ever seen in Iowa and New Hampshire and Nevada and South Carolina.

And then that wasn't an issue. That changed. And then he wasn't supposed to win Iowa. Do you remember that? Iowa was the litmus test. So...

O'BRIEN: Is that hurtful, when you hear those things? It's a roll of the dice if your husband wins? M. OBAMA: What it is...

O'BRIEN: He's a fellow Democrat. I mean, he's not a Republican.

M. OBAMA: It is -- it is politics as a game. It's a sport. And what -- what I get impatient with is politics as a game and a sport. But that's the way it works.

And one of the things that we try to do is stay focused on not doing that because if you want to change it, you can't become a part of it. You have to demand that people look beyond the gamesmanship, which I think folks did in South Carolina.

It didn't work. People did not respond to that tone of politics, because I think we're at a point in time where people are tired of that. They're starting to see through it.

If we allow it into our politics, then it's going to happen in our day-to-day lives. I think that's why people are responding to the way Barack is approaching politics to say, "Look, I'm not going to play those games."

(END VIDEO TAPE)

COOPER: Interesting stuff. Up next, part two of Soledad's exclusive interview with Michelle Obama.

But first, here's tonight's "Beat 360." Picture Senator Obama and Senator Clinton in what some thought was kind of an awkward embrace after last night's debate. Here's the caption from our staff winner, David: "I mean, it, let's move in together and get a lovely little White House, huge front lawn."

Yes, I know. I think you can probably do better. Go to cnn.com/360. Send us your submission. We'll announce the winner at the end of the program.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Partners off and on the campaign trail, Barack and Michelle Obama both trying to make history this year. Michelle Obama just turned 44; clearly, her husband's closest adviser.

She's also determined to keep her public and family life separate. That, of course, is not easy.

Ms. Obama spoke earlier with CNN's Soledad O'Brien. Here's more of the exclusive interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

O'BRIEN: You were and are high-powered, highly-compensated --

M. OBAMA: Right.

O'BRIEN: -- female executive, which is a tough thing to get to. And then you're going after somebody else's dream.

M. OBAMA: Yes. You know, if I weren't doing anything, I'd have time to think about that and bemoan the loss. But you know, we're really kind of busy. I've got a lot on my plate. So I haven't had time to really reflect. I mean, I miss my colleagues. I miss my work. I enjoyed what I was doing. But this is really pretty significant.

My view of career is that I can always have whatever career I want. That's why I made these choices and worked hard and got my education. I don't question that I can go back to that job or go back to something else interesting.

O'BRIEN: But a lot of times, your career helps define who you are.

M. OBAMA: It doesn't for me. It doesn't for me. I mean, what I do in my life defines me. And a career is one of the many things I do in my life. I mean, how I -- I am a mother first. Where do I get my joy and energy? First and foremost, from my kids.

In the midst of this campaign, what I've done is I don't campaign every day. I'm not gone for weeks on end. I will not go on a trip that will have me away for more than two days. And the campaign has understood that. I'm not going to miss a ballet recital. I'm not going to make them move their world around to accommodate me and Barack. We have to do the accommodating.

O'BRIEN: Do you think about what kind of a First Lady you'll be? What would be your focus? What would be the -- things you would take on?

M. OBAMA: I talk -- I talk a lot about work-family balance. I mean, what I found for me is that I am most passionate about the things that I -- that resonate with me personally.

And right now, as a wife and mother and a professional, you know, I'm doing what most women are doing, regardless of their race or their socioeconomic status. I'm juggling and struggling to keep my head above water, because this whole balancing act that is now the life of a woman and a family has become more and more impossible.

And that's true for me who has resources. And if we're struggling, just imagine what's going on with folks who are getting up, working shift jobs where they don't have the flexibility to go see their kids' ballet performances, where they don't get sick days off, where they don't have insurance, they don't have access to quality and affordable childcare.

I mean, women and families are drowning. And I think that what I'd like to do is bring voice to sort of the direction that we need to be going.

O'BRIEN: Will we come out of Super Tuesday knowing who's going to be the Democratic nominee?

M. OBAMA: I think it's going to be close. I think this is going to be a race that will go through to the -- to the end. I believe that Barack is going to do well. And the more that they get to know him, the more that they understand the differences between he and his opponent, the more...

O'BRIEN: You're not going to even name her? Senator Clinton?

M. OBAMA: No, I'm not. I don't want to be criticized for talking about...

O'BRIEN: Do you get -- do you feel like you get hammered for talking (ph)?

M. OBAMA: You can, you know. If you -- yes, you can. And I don't want that to be the story. You know, I want the story to be, you know, who is Barack and what is his vision? And there's no one else in this race who can bring about a whole different view about who we are as a country and how the world sees us. That's just -- that's just a fact, in my view.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Soledad, do you think that Michelle Obama is also trying to stay above the fray?

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. You saw the tone in the debate last night, where I thought everybody was so civil. They were almost overly civil.

At one point, Michelle and I are talking about the race and some of the difficult things, especially around the South Carolina primaries. And she talked about, well, the other candidate's race. And I said, "Well, there's really only one other candidate. Hillary Clinton." And she said, "I'm not even going to say it. I'm just going to say -- I don't want to get in trouble. I'm just going to say."

And, you know, it was interesting, because a lot of what has happened, of course, has been focusing on race. And I thought her take on that was really interesting.

COOPER: A really fascinating interview. Appreciate it, Soledad. Thanks for sharing with us.

Up next, the group of voters Obama and Clinton are fighting for, especially in California. Who is in the lead? Who knows?

And gas prices through the roof. So are Exxon Mobil's profits. Wait until you hear how much they made. "Keeping Them Honest," coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Four days until Super Tuesday. Success might rest in the Latino neighborhoods of California and the southwest. The candidates of both parties are campaigning hard in those communities, no doubt about it, knowing that the outcome there will be shaped by the nation's largest minority.

More now on the voting power of the Latinos from CNN's Thelma Gutierrez.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Francisco Tellez is a new American citizen. And he'll proudly cast his vote for the first time ever in the Arizona primary. The presidential candidates are fighting hard for his support.

(on camera) Why, because in seven Super Tuesday states, there are more than nine million registered Latino voters, making Latinos a powerful swing vote.

ERICA BERNAL MARTINEZ, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF LATINO ELECTED OFFICIALS: On February 5, whichever candidate manages to capture the majority of Latino voters is well on their way to being the next president of the United States.

B. CLINTON: They want to hand us...

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Bill Clinton had overwhelming Latino support in his presidential campaign, while President Bush managed to win 44 percent of that vote in '04.

B. OBAMA: We have to give a pathway to citizenship after they have paid a fine and learned English.

H. CLINTON: Therefore, what we've got to do is to say come out of the shadows. We will register everyone.

GUTIERREZ: But this time around, with Democrats seen as more lenient on the issue of immigration, polls suggest Latinos may give Republicans the cold shoulder.

H. CLINTON: Thank you all very, very much.

GUTIERREZ: This year, the real battle is between Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And you can see how it's playing out in California, with the nation's largest Latino electorate.

Thus Clinton getting the coveted United Farm Workers endorsement.

Obama campaigning among Latinos, addressing crowds in east L.A, where Clinton ate a taco.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking Spanish)

H. CLINTON: Good morning. What a wonderful introduction.

GUTIERREZ: Both have appealed to Latinos over the airways. On radio...

B. OBAMA: Welcome. Thank you so much. What a wonderful introduction. Muchas gracias.

GUTIERREZ: And TV.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking Spanish)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking Spanish)

GUTIERREZ: Clinton has volunteers canvassing Latino neighborhoods.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking Spanish)

GUTIERREZ: Obama volunteers have set up a Spanish-language phone bank in Los Angeles.

B. OBAMA: Latino voters know of my commitment to them and the work that I've done for years, then they gravitate towards my candidacy.

GUTIERREZ: But a recent field poll shows Clinton is 40 percentage points ahead of Obama in California among Democratic Latino voters.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: One of the reasons is competitiveness. These are two groups that have generally been disadvantaged, and they're competitive for jobs. They're competitive for housing. They're competitive for government benefits. They're competitive for resources.

GUTIERREZ: But Erica Bernal Martinez, with the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, disagrees. She believes Hillary has such an overwhelming lead over Obama among Latinos, not because of race but because the Clintons are a known commodity.

MARTINEZ: It's a very provocative thing to talk about this election in terms of race. But I think it's far more important to note the relationship that these candidates have or don't have with the Latino community.

Hillary Clinton benefits from a legacy that her husband held while in the White House that has carried her through.

As for Francisco Tellez, he's bucking what the polls are saying.

FRANCISCO TELLEZ, VOTER: I can die for Barack Obama.

GUTIERREZ (on camera): You would die for Barack Obama?

F. TELLEZ: Yes, yes, yes.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): But Francisco's wife Maggie says she's going with Clinton.

MAGGIE TELLEZ, VOTER: He thinks that I like Hillary because she's a female.

F. TELLEZ: No.

M. TELLEZ: Sometimes you say that.

F. TELLEZ: No. Don't put words in my mouth. No, no.

GUTIERREZ: Ultimately, the people, not the polls, will determine who wins the Latino vote. And if the Tellez family is any indication, it isn't over yet.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

COOPER: Up next on 360 a verdict in the Wesley Snipes tax fraud case.

And Exxon Mobil recording record profits; we're talking tens of billions of dollars. So are they pumping up prices while Americans are struggling to fill their tanks? We're "Keeping Them Honest."

Also ahead tonight, NASA's plan to send this Beatles song into space. Maybe this should have been our "What Were They Thinking" segment - when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Exxon Mobil shareholders must be loving it. It remains to be seen, though, how this plays with everyone else. The world's largest publicly-traded oil company is making history tonight, posting the highest annual profit ever for an American company - $40.6 billion.

Joe Johns is "Keeping Them Honest" on the connection between those profits and our prices at the pump.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Exxon rakes in $40.6 billion, the highest annual profit for any American corporation ever. And the company sees that monster payday now, when a lot of people think America's economy is headed into the tank. You can't help but wonder about the connection.

Some senators do. They're asking about the link between oil company profits and household economic woes.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D), WASHINGTON: We are seeing oil prices in recent weeks hovering around $100 a barrel. And natural gas prices remaining at exceeding historic highs, which I think is adding great impact to what Americans are doing in trying to deal with this economy.

JOHNS: You can say that again. It's not like Exxon is alone. Big oil in general is fat and happy right now.

ALI VELSHI, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Every company that is in the business of getting oil out of the ground or out of the sea and selling it or producing is it seeing these kinds of profits. There's a lot of money to be made because oil is trading at these high levels.

JOHNS: What do the oil companies to have say for themselves? Well, none of them has come out and said greed is good.

Exxon declined an interview with CNN but gave us a statement: "Exxon Mobil's business success benefits millions of Americans who own Exxon Mobil shares or hold them through their pension and mutual funds. And for every dollar we earn, we pay two and a half dollars in taxes, used by governments for schools, roads, hospitals and other essential services."

Plus, industry analysts say it costs money to explore and drill for oil, and it's getting harder and harder to find adequate supplies.

VELSHI: They're selling a product that's in great demand. It's frustrating when you're on the buying side of that equation and you see more and more money going out. But there's absolutely no reason why they would voluntarily not continue to make the money that they can.

JOHNS: So the answer for consumers - live with it.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

COOPER: Staying with dollars and cents, let's check back in with Erica Hill for our "360 News and Business Bulletin." Erica.

HILL: Anderson, President Bush weighing in today, urging Congress to pass an economic stimulus package. Now, currently, it's stalled in the Senate. The president also calling for a new -- also called a new labor report, rather, troubling. That report, of course, revealed employers had 17,000 jobs last month.

If you're wondering what Microsoft might do with all that cash it has, hey, how about buying Yahoo!? Today, the software giant announcing its $44 billion bid to buy Yahoo!, unsolicited. Market watchers say News Corps, though, could also enter this bidding.

In federal court, a verdict in actor Wesley Snipes's battle with the taxman - found guilty on three counts of failing to file a return, not guilty on the more serious charges of tax fraud and conspiracy.

And NASA getting ready to beam a Beatles tune into deep space. No, not "Tax Man," not of Wesley Snipes. It is appropriately, "Across the Universe" in honor of the 45th anniversary of NASA's Deep Space Network, the 50th anniversary of NASA and the 40th anniversary, Anderson, of the song.

A lot of anniversaries there.

COOPER: Yes, wow.

HILL: I didn't realize, really, any of them were coming up but I'm glad I know now.

COOPER: Me, too.

Time now for "Beat 360," where we put a picture up, ask people to come up with a caption that's better than ours. And we cue the cheesy music.

Tonight's photo deals with politics. More than eight million people saw this picture last night at the end of the Democratic debate. Here's the caption from our staff winner, David - "I mean it, let's move in together and get a lovely little White House, huge front lawn..."

HILL: I think it's good.

COOPER: It's all right.

Tonight's winning viewer, Cathy, in an undisclosed location, came up with this - "You let me lead. I've been 'dancing' longer than you."

The serious factor again coming into play. Yes.

Check out all the other suggested captions at cnn.com/360. They weren't great today. I'm just going to say that. Of course, I didn't even try to submit, so...

HILL: I was going to say, I didn't see yours in all the others...

COOPER: You got to be in it to win it.

HILL: I didn't -- I didn't submit one either today.

COOPER: You can't criticize unless you play.

HILL: It's true.

COOPER: So I should just shut my mouth.

Feel free to play whenever you come up with a good one-liner of your own, of course.

Erica, stay right there. "The Shot of the Day" is coming up next. Yee-haw! It's a cowboy monkey. That's right. Look at him go. How can you not love a monkey on a dog?

HILL: Does that count as dramatic animal video?

COOPER: I don't know what it is. But it -- it's just gosh darn, good, clean fun.

HILL: Whacky.

COOPER: Yes. When 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Erica, time for "The Shot," some dramatic animal video.

HILL: It's been too long.

COOPER: It's Whiplash, the monkey. The rodeo rock star is wowing crowds across the country. This is Whiplash in Ft. Worth, Texas yesterday. Instead of a horse, he rides a dog. I'm not sure why. I'm not sure if he even likes it, frankly.

HILL: I wonder if the dog likes it.

COOPER: It could be worse. He could be on roller skates, smoking a cigar.

He's a shameless self-promoter. He has his own website. He has sponsors, probably an agent. No doubt he'll be in Nashville next week.

PETA members please do not take this out on me. Send your e- mails to Erica Hill.

HILL: No. Send them to Britney.

But you know, I like your monkey, but I will see your "Shot."

COOPER: You like it? Thank you.

HILL: And I will raise you.

COOPER: I'll take that as a compliment. OK.

HILL: Yes. Here's my "Shot," involving you this morning. I turn on the TV. I didn't even realize you were in for Regis today. Nor did I know, Anderson Cooper, you are such a pro in the kitchen.

No, no, I don't need the gloves. I can mix that turkey meat loaf with my hands. There you go.

COOPER: Yes.

HILL: You did a fine job this morning. No, it doesn't end there. We have more shots. There you go. Really get it all well mixed. That's the key. It's the key to a good meat loaf, I find, at my house anyway.

COOPER: Yes. The meat loaf was delicious from this guy. Yes.

HILL: It looks pretty good. I was impressed. I mean, I think some of these TV chefs should watch out. If this CNN gig doesn't work out, did you ever think about the Food Network?

COOPER: Yes, I know. Well, they asked me to put on gloves. I don't know. It just seemed bizarre to put on plastic gloves. But then, of course, my hands smell like meatloaf today.

HILL: Yes. And the onion smell really never -- never goes away, with the garlic. Do you know what works well for that? Lemons. Lemons.

COOPER: I'm not too good in the kitchen, as you can tell.

HILL: But the flip is good.

COOPER: Yes.

HILL: There we go, we've seen it again. Look. Not that many fell out. I think that's better than I would do. COOPER: The guy was like who are you? Where's Regis?

HILL: Where's Regis? Where's Regis?

COOPER: All right. I think we've seen enough. More than enough. Painful.

I appreciated them letting me try.

If you see some remarkable video, you see some foolish people trying to do a cooking segment, tell us about it -- cnn.com/360. You can see all the most recent "Shots" there. You can see other segments from the program. You can read the blog. You can get all our recipes, and you can check out the "Beat 360" picture. Again, the address - cnn.com/360.

For our international viewers, CNN Today is next. Here in America, Larry King is coming up.

Thanks for watching. Have a great weekend. I'll see you Monday.

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