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Super Tuesday Showdown; Interview With Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee

Aired February 5, 2008 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And happening now: Tonight's the big night, Super Tuesday, the most important day so far in this presidential election. Voters across the United States are casting their ballots, and we could have some results within the next hour.
Plus, the Democrats could come out of Super Tuesday with a split decision. We will take a look at the expectations for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

And will John McCain carve out a clear path to the Republican nomination? We're looking at efforts to try to knock him down by his rivals and by his conservative critics.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center, along with the best political team on television, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In cities and towns across the United States, votes are being cast right now. Ballots are being counted. It's the closest thing we have to a national presidential primary, on the Democratic side, contests in 22 states and American Samoa. And it's all about delegates. Almost 1,700 delegates are at stake, a major chunk of the 2,025 needed for the nomination.

For the Republicans, more than 1,000 delegates are at stake in primaries and caucuses in 21 states. The ones highlighted here in bright red are winner-take-all. Whoever gets the most votes gets all the delegates in the state. The five top candidates all cast their votes today in their home states for what is already a historic presidential election.

The best political team on television is covering every moment of Super Tuesday from all across the nation.

Let's begin with our Suzanne Malveaux. She's joining us live in Chicago now with more on Barack Obama's campaign -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I just came from a briefing from Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, and he says they are in for a long, hard fight here.

He says this is going to be a daunting night. They always believed that it would. But they believe they have the better, superior ground operation on Obama's side and they also say they believe that Clinton has what they call are ceiling issues, rather, that she gets support, a certain amount of support, and then it flattens.

They believe that Obama can overcome those ceiling issues by taking the independents and the Republicans, a lot of downplaying expectations, Wolf. already. The Obama team saying they expect that, clearly, Senator Clinton will have more states and more delegates, but if Obama comes within 100 delegates of Clinton and wins some states, that that will be considered a success.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): The grand finale for the push ahead, a thunderous rally in Boston winding up a multistate blitz. Obama is counting on his message of change to deliver voters in more than 20 states. He's already positioning himself to take on the likely Republican nominee, John McCain, blasting him for his stand on Iraq, while touting his own Iraq policy.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will not have us setting up permanent bases in a permanent occupation in Iraq for decades, which is not only what George Bush has suggested, but also John McCain.

JOHN ROBERTS, CO-HOST, "AMERICAN MORNING": Senator Obama, good to see you this morning.

MALVEAUX: He began Election Day at 5:20 in the morning with a media blitz, 15 interviews across eight states, including the Spanish network Univision. He cast his vote in his home state of Illinois. Now he's closely awaiting the returns.

OBAMA: I still think that Senator Clinton is the favorite. She had 20-, 30-point leads in many of these states. We have been closing some ground. And my guess is, we will have a good night.

MALVEAUX: Aides say he's expected to win Illinois and a good shot at Alabama and Georgia. They're also counting on the six caucus states to deliver, where open voting and strong ground organization will likely benefit Obama. The goal today to keep the race going after Tuesday, by splitting the vote, including the delegate-rich state of California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, obviously, the Obama campaign, the campaign manager also responding to the challenge of four additional debates from the Clinton camp. They said they have had already 18 debates. They're not saying yes or no. They're happy to oblige.

But, in Plouffe's word, he said they are not going to let the Clinton campaign dictate what they do from now on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne, thanks very much.

With less than hour to go before the next round of polls close, Hillary Clinton is trying to stay upbeat and at the same time keep a lid on her Super Tuesday expectations. Let's head over there.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley is watching all of this happen right here in Manhattan. That's where she's going to be awaiting the results.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.

And on this one thing they agree with the Obama camp. They believe tonight will be a split decision.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Clinton strategists believe by the time the counting is done, she will still have a lead in delegates, but not enough to call it a day. At the polls, voting this morning, she was pretty chipper.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It feels really good.

CROWLEY: One insider describes the campaign as cautiously optimistic based on -- quote -- "anecdotal turnout from our people."

"Our people" for the Clinton campaign is women, Hispanics and working-class voters. The more those groups turn out, the better her delegate count at the end of evening. She's working it until the end with a round of morning talk shows, followed by an unending stream of radio and satellite television interviews beaming into primary states.

She is only too pleased to get in a last pitch.

CLINTON: I want to put the American people first again. And I think there is a lot of reason for people to worry that the president just doesn't pay attention, and I want them to know that I get it, and I will be there for them if they are willing to go out and vote for me today, and I hope everybody watching will do that.

CROWLEY: Battling it out on the ground, the Clinton campaign says they called more than 12 million voters last night and more than a quarter-million people watched her national town hall meeting via her Web site.

While flexing their turnout muscle, Clintonites are also busy ratcheting up expectations for Obama, suggesting that California, a Clinton stronghold, is doable for him. Ditto Massachusetts, which once seemed like Clinton territory, but where Obama enjoys the support of the governor and both U.S. senators, who are giving it their all.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The next president of the United States, Barack Obama!

CROWLEY: Eons ago, when Clinton reigned supreme in the polls, with no opponent in her rear-view mirror, Super Tuesday looked like the end of it. This afternoon, Clinton's top strategist said they think Super Tuesday results will be inconclusive. It's a step, said one, but not the end.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: And, as Suzanne said, they have accepted four debate invitations here at the Clinton campaign. Of course, they believe that's her strong suit. They would very much like Obama to follow suit -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see if he does. Thanks very much for that, Candy.

John McCain is hoping to come out of Super Tuesday without any doubt that he's going to be the GOP nominee, but his rivals are hoping to knock him down if not out.

Let's go out to Dana Bash. She is in McCain's home state of Arizona right now. That's one of the battlegrounds unfolding right now.

Just wrapped up a meeting out in California. He's really got a lot at stake out there, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He does, and he's quite worried about it. Of course it is the biggest state, 170 delegates. And John McCain has not been spending a lot of time in California. That's why he took one last trip to California.

But, tonight, the McCain campaign, they're looking east to where you are, Wolf, into New Jersey and New York, those winner-take-all states, to start their success, what they hope is success.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to carry New York for John McCain.

BASH (voice-over): New York City, not exactly a Republican bastion, but that was John McCain's point that he started Super Tuesday telling GOP voters he's their best shot at beating a Democrat.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to win New York today and we're going to win New York in the general election.

BASH: His urgent appeal, that Iraq is the biggest dividing line with Democrats and he's the Republican to make their case.

MCCAIN: And there was times when people said, no, we have got to get out. We have got to set timetables for withdrawal. And I can tell you right now that the two leading Democrats want to wave the white flag.

BASH: But, in West Virginia, Mitt Romney tried to strip the front-runner by pounding away at his weakness, saying McCain is too liberal to be their nominee.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do you want to have a person as your nominee someone who voted against the Bush tax cuts?

CROWD: No!

ROMNEY: A person who voted against the marriage amendment?

CROWD: No!

BASH: Romney got some 11th-hour help with that from a powerful conservative voice. Focus on the Family's James Dobson announced he could never vote for John McCain, giving a statement to Romney supporter Laura Ingraham to read on her radio show.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: "I am convinced Senator McCain is not a conservative, and, in fact, has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are."

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BASH: Meanwhile, struggling GOP candidate Mike Huckabee, who does have conservative appeal, appeared to give a thinly veiled boost to McCain when speaking about the threat of terrorism.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These are fanatics that are absolutely willing to kill every last one of us. Your next president had better understand that threat.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And there was another bit of evidence of this McCain/Huckabee alliance, alliance intended to trial to beat Mitt Romney.

And that happened in West Virginia. Wolf, Huckabee actually won West Virginia's 18 delegates today. And it happened because of a convention there. The convention awards the delegates. Mitt Romney was doing well. And it turned out, after that first round of voting, John McCain's voters went over to Mike Huckabee in order to take away any kind of win in West Virginia for Mitt Romney -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're going to be talking to the first winner of the day, Mike Huckabee. That's coming up shortly, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Dana, thanks.

Let's bring in Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File."

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: He was winning until he lost. That's a bare-knuckle game, isn't it?

BLITZER: But he did win in West Virginia.

CAFFERTY: I understand. I mean, Romney was ahead there.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Romney was ahead, but then they...

CAFFERTY: And, all of a sudden, it's like, what happened?

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Politics.

CAFFERTY: President Bush is searching for a legacy. How about this? He may be the reason that there is unprecedented interest around the world in this year's U.S. presidential election. After Bush's eight years in the White House, people around the globe are seizing on this election's theme of change.

Experts say America's image is on the line here. People overseas want somebody who can restore faith in the United States, along with our legitimacy overseas. They're hoping the next president will be someone they can work with. That would be a switch, wouldn't it?

Of all the candidates, Barack Obama's generating a lot of buzz abroad. Some Germans are calling him the black JFK. Many Africans also like Obama. Of course, his father was Kenyan. In Japan, the media are closely following both Obama and Hillary Clinton, pointing out that either candidate could make history.

Israelis seem to prefer Clinton because of her experience and her husband's relationship with the Jewish state. A lot of Europeans also are nostalgic for Bill Clinton's presidency and they support Hillary as well.

When it comes to the Republicans, the Europeans aren't nearly as excited about them. Now, they think Romney and Huckabee are too religious and McCain is too old. Russian leaders, however, like the idea of another Republican president, as long as it's not John McCain, who's been very critical of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

And an Iraqi political analyst suggests that a Republican president will probably remain more committed to Iraq.

So, here's the question: Why do you think there's so much interest around the world in this year's U.S. presidential race? You can go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.

It's a big story all around the world.

BLITZER: And THE SITUATION ROOM is seen live around the world. And you and I, we get a ton of e-mail from viewers around the world. We know they're interested in this.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes. It's a big, big story everywhere.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: Sure.

BLITZER: Jack's going to be back with the best political team on television shortly.

And, as Dana just told us, Mike Huckabee has picked up those 18 delegates today in West Virginia. He's saying don't count him out of the race yet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE: It may be that it's time for the people to elect a president and not just the national media and the pundits to pick our president for us.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Coming up next, my live interview with Mike Huckabee. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We will speak to him momentarily.

Also, we're about 50 minutes away from the closing of the polls in Georgia -- coming up, the issues that are most important to this key Southern state.

And the CIA reveals just which terror subjects have actually gone through the interrogation method called waterboarding.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Mike Huckabee got a boost today with an early Super Tuesday win in West Virginia. He picked up all 18 delegates at that state's GOP convention.

Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, is joining us now from Little Rock.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

HUCKABEE: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: You seem to have combined with the Romney -- against Romney with the McCain folks to win in West Virginia. And the Romney people, as you know, are not happy about this alliance that you forged with John McCain's team in West Virginia.

What do you say about that?

HUCKABEE: Well, yesterday, he was chiding me. He said not to whine. Today, he's changed his position on whining. And, today, he's for whining. So, once again, Mitt has been able to take both sides of all issues, including whining.

BLITZER: What do you make of all this criticism of John McCain coming in from some elements of the conservative base out there, especially some of the talk show, radio talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, who are complaining that, if necessary, they would actually vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, rather -- rather than John McCain?

What do you make of this?

HUCKABEE: Look, I differ with Senator McCain on a few issues, like immigration, stem cell research, the Human Life Amendment, and McCain-Feingold.

But I'm going to vote for John McCain if I'm the one who doesn't get the nomination. I think that's absurd to be talking about, I would vote for Hillary Clinton before that.

And it really does show that, if you would go vote for Hillary or Barack Obama before you would John McCain, then you can't say that you're truly committed to a conservative viewpoint or to the conservative cause or to the Republican Party.

I think I will end up being the nominee. I know I may be one of the few people in the country who believe that, but I still believe in miracles. And, today, I was singing the song, almost heaven, West Virginia. They did me a big favor today. And we're looking good across the South. And I think it's going to be a day when, it's all over, nobody is going to have the nomination locked up, and the game is still on.

BLITZER: So you're in this beyond Super Tuesday; is that what I'm hearing?

HUCKABEE: Oh, absolutely.

I mean, this game is not over until somebody gets 1,191 delegates. It's a delegate count. And so many times, I have seen some of the pundits try to say, OK, this guy won this state. Somebody else won another state.

It's not about winning states. It's about winning delegates. And the states give you a good buzz and a good feeling, but somebody has to have 1,191 delegates. And, going into today, we had only had 8 percent of the delegates even chosen, which meant 92 percent were still up for grabs. We will be a little further down the road after tonight, but we're still not going to have a nominee by the end of today.

BLITZER: You say you would vote, obviously, for John McCain if he got the party's nomination. Will you say the same thing about Mitt Romney?

HUCKABEE: I will vote for the Republican nominee. I have said that all along.

I'm a Republican. When I look at any of us against any of the guys on the other side, I know that, even though I have sharp differences with some of my own colleagues, I have even sharper differences with the idea of the tax increases we would see with Hillary or Obama, the taking down of our military that we would see with either of them, changes in health care that would put more control in government hands and less in my own. There are a number of issues, for example, the sanctity of life. Any of the Republicans are going to be better on the human life question than any of the Democrats. That's for sure. And, if that issue is important to me, how on earth could I say that I would sacrifice my convictions about life, the Second Amendment, about taxes, about marriage, and a host of other things to go vote for a Democrat?

I mean, it just doesn't make sense that a true person of conviction would be willing to vote far across the aisle, if those things are important. Now, there are a lot of people in the center, Wolf, that may not be as committed to pro-life, Second Amendment. And, if that's the case, then, yes, they could switch over and vote, because they are going to voting more on personality.

But, for those of us for whom politics is about deep principles and convictions, there's just some places we won't go.

BLITZER: Give me -- we only have 30 seconds, Governor, but give me a final thought. As voters are still voting out there, Republicans going to the polls, what do you want them to focus on in making the case for yourself, as opposed to John McCain and Mitt Romney?

HUCKABEE: I think consistency. I'm not a person who's had to reinvent myself to be president, but I'm also a person who has got the right experience and the most experience running a government, making the tough decisions, which is what presidents do.

We have got fine people running for president. But I think, at the end of the day, I bring the most in terms of both experience, stamina and preparation to the job. And, you know, I hope people will go vote for me if they still have a chance. And, if they haven't voted and they're not going to vote for me, I hope they will just stay at home, watch TV, give it up, just don't even bother getting out.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right, Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, good luck.

HUCKABEE: Thanks a lot, Wolf. Great to be back with you.

BLITZER: On both sides of the presidential race, it could be a very close one. And campaigns need money to survive. Who's making the most and who might need a cash boost?

Also, stop and take a look at these dramatic photos. Look at this. A child is tossed from a burning building. You are going to find out what happened to the toddler.

That's coming up -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We will get back to our Super Tuesday coverage in a moment. (NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: The first exit poll results are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. It's the battle between change and experience. Which way are the voters leaning? Bill Schneider is standing by to share some of these early numbers with you.

Also, getting the most votes vs. getting the most delegates, they don't necessarily go hand in hand. You're going to find out how to tell who's winning.

Plus, the critical battle for campaign cash -- we will show you whose war chest is brimming and who may soon be pinching pennies.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: We're only about 30 minutes or so away from the polls closing in Georgia; 87 Democratic delegates are up for grabs, 72 on the Republican side. We are going to show you new exit poll information just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, delegates vs. votes -- how can you tell who's really winning in some of today's contests?

And he may be Hillary Clinton's most unlikely supporter. That would be Rush Limbaugh -- why he would rather see her in the White House than Republican John McCain -- all of this, plus the best political team on television.

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

So, what do voters really think about two arguments presented in this campaign, experience vs. change?

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us now with a closer look at some exit poll numbers that are coming in.

Fascinating information, Bill. What are we picking up?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We're picking up that change was Obama's theme, and his voters got it. When we asked them what was the most important quality Obama voters were looking for -- and this is our nationwide poll; this is voters in all the primary states together who voted today -- they said change, three-quarters of them, 74 percent. That's what they were looking for. Experience almost didn't register. Just 3 percent of those who voted for Obama said experience matters to them.

Now what about Hillary Clinton voters?

She said she wanted change, too. But the top quality for her supporters around the country was experience. Almost half of them said that's what they were looking for. They found her to be a candidate of experience. Change registers here, 29 percent, but it falls behind experience. She, of course, made the argument very often she offered change as well as Obama.

Let's shift to the Republicans.

What were the top qualities for the various Republican supporters?

And here we just have them listed for each supporter.

For the Mike Huckabee supporters, they wanted a candidate who shares their values. For the Mitt Romney supporters, a candidate who shares their values. Both of them competed among those famous values voters in the Republican Party.

But McCain voters were different. They supported McCain, they said, because they were looking for a candidate with experience. McCain is 71-years-old, he's been in Washington a long time and he has a great life story. Experience is his calling card -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill, thanks very much for that.

Joining us now to talk about these exit poll numbers and a lot more, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; Jack Cafferty and our own senior analyst, Jeff Toobin -- all part of the best political team on television.

Change versus experience -- a lot of Democrats out there, they really want change right now.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

And did you see the marks that Obama's -- the exit voters -- the exit polls gave Obama on experience?

Three percent. So I mean he got overwhelming for change, very -- and she, Hillary, kind of split those two qualities.

BLITZER: This is consistent all across what we've seen so far...

CAFFERTY: Yes, absolutely.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure.

BLITZER: ...the Democrats especially. They want change more than they necessarily want experience.

BORGER: And the Republicans seem to like experience. And so that could be, obviously, setting up the general election, Wolf.

BLITZER: What do you think?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: We have a wide disparity between Barack Obama -- if he's the nominee -- and John McCain -- not just in age, but you have -- you know, John McCain, who's been in the Senate for 20 plus years and Barack Obama, who's been there for four. I mean that is a big, big difference. But Democrats clearly just don't care.

BLITZER: A lot of Democrats take a look at the experience that many of the president's top advisers had, whether it's Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, and say not necessarily all that important...

CAFFERTY: Yes, well...

BLITZER: ...all those 30 or 40 or 50 years of experience.

CAFFERTY: They make a good point, don't they, when you take a look how those careers have turned out and how popular people like Dick Cheney are today?

I just think the mood of the country is so turned off on the status quo that, you know -- that Pinocchio could get elected if he said I'm going to change things.

BORGER: Well, Obama's argument is that it's not about experience, it's about judgment. And that while Hillary Clinton may have more so- called experience -- although he didn't even given that one -- you know, he says he had the judgment to be against the war whereas she did not. And she says, I have the experience to know how to make change.

And we'll see if the voters buy that one tonight.

Kimberly How will we define victory tonight, first of all, on the Democratic side.

TOOBIN: Boy, that is a very hard question. And you can be sure that the candidates are going to try to define it in the terms that helps them.

There are two issues here. There's who wins the popular vote in all of these states. That is clearly one measure. The other measure, of course, is who wins the most delegates. And those might be different. And that is going to be the struggle. I would think, you know, it's our obligation to point out to people that obviously the delegates are what determines the nomination.

But in terms of momentum going forward, who wins each state is obviously going to have quite an impact, as well.

CAFFERTY: I think whoever wins California, on the Democratic side, can say they won. And they're going to say they won whether, in fact, they did or not, whether they're...

BLITZER: Because that's the biggest prize out there.

CAFFERTY: Of course.

BORGER: Sure.

CAFFERTY: And they get, what, a 35 percent premium based on winning the popular vote, in terms of delegates.

BLITZER: But what if somebody wins California, the popular vote, narrowly, let's say...

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: ...but at the same time there's roughly an even split among the delegates?

CAFFERTY: Well, I think there will probably be an even split...

BORGER: There's going to be spin.

CAFFERTY: ...at the end of the night among the delegates. I don't see either Obama or Hillary running away with the delegate count at the end of the night.

It looks like, for example, in New Jersey, Obama is giving Hillary a run in her backyard. She's running well in New York. I think, at the end of the night, there's going to be pretty close to a dead heat.

But I still think the winner California can say I won.

BORGER: I think so, too. I think there is going to be a colossal argument over electability. And there is going to be a lot of spin talking about that, because California, more than any other state, makes the case for electability -- particularly for a Democrat, but also for a Republican like John McCain, to see if he can finally get those Republican voters.

If a candidate, however, runs the table and wins 15 out of 22 states, you're going to have to say they have some momentum. But I don't think you can make any serious judgment -- unless that happens -- until you hear about California.

TOOBIN: But the thing is, I mean they are going to have to just go on and on and on. You've got Louisiana over the weekend.

BORGER: Yes.

TOOBIN: And then the Potomac primary next Tuesday. And I think the schedule, by and large, shapes up pretty well for Obama, because Louisiana, D.C. Maryland, Virginia, the next four, really do look like good states for him.

BORGER: He's also got a lot of money. That's going to help.

BLITZER: And he's raised a lot more money in January...

BORGER: More than two to one.

BLITZER: ...than Hillary Clinton, which suggests either she's tapped out with all of her big time contributors earlier or he's got something going on.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: Guys, stand by.

We're going to continue this conversation.

He's one of her oldest and sharpest critics.

So why is Rush Limbaugh saying he'd rather see Hillary Clinton win the election than John McCain?

And why is there so much interest around the world in the U.S. presidential race?

Jack Cafferty will be back with your e-mail.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The conservative radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, is underscoring his deep dislike of John McCain, saying he'd rather see Hillary Clinton win the election.

Let's get back to the best political team on television.

Jack, I'll read to you what Rush told Howard Kurtz of "The Washington Post" in today's "Washington Post:" "If I believe the country will suffer with either Hillary, Obama or McCain, I would just as soon the Democrats take the hit rather than a Republican causing the debacle, and I would prefer not to have conservative Republicans in the Congress paralyzed by having to support, out of party loyalty, a Republican president who is not conservative."

What do you think is...

CAFFERTY: What is wrong with him?

No, I'll tell you, you know what it is?

They hate McCain because McCain's a liberal. But the problems that this country -- that the next president is going to have to deal with -- have accrued on the watch of a conservative Evangelical Republican named George W. Bush -- the war, the economy headed into recession, nothing done about entitlement programs, 50 million people without health care. Immigration hasn't been touched.

Rush Limbaugh is talking about the problems that a Democrat will have to deal with that are created by the incumbent Republican president we have now.

So I don't know what Rush is -- maybe he's back on this medication.

BLITZER: John McCain would take issue he's a liberal but... BORGER: Right. Right.

BLITZER: ...go ahead.

BORGER: I mean he has an over 80 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, so that's not a -- you know, that is not a liberal.

CAFFERTY: That isn't enough to satisfy Limbaugh.

BORGER: I think what's going to be interesting to watch tonight, Wolf, is whether Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives like James Dobson, for example, have an impact on these voters who would either go to Mike Huckabee, for example, rather than vote for John McCain, or go to Mitt Romney, who's been positioning himself as the real conservative in this race. They may have an impact or they may not. We don't know.

TOOBIN: Limbaugh and those -- you know, the talk show screamers -- are also trying to preserve their own importance.

CAFFERTY: That's true.

TOOBIN: Because if John McCain can prove that he can get elected president without them, who cares about them?

BORGER: Well, but I would argue John McCain might be good for them because they can keep listeners, you know...

TOOBIN: Well, but they like to be powerful.

BORGER: Yes.

TOOBIN: And if they are no longer the kingmakers, if John McCain can get the nomination and get elected president with Rush Limbaugh screaming about how terrible he is...

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: ...who cares about Rush Limbaugh anymore?

CAFFERTY: But the legacy of conservative Evangelical right-wing Republican base is the whole list of things that I talked about a minute ago. I mean the country is...

TOOBIN: But they don't think that.

CAFFERTY: ...up to here with that approach.

BORGER: But it's not monolithic anymore. That's the point. No one person carries that power.

Can I remind you that Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani and that went absolutely nowhere.

BLITZER: It didn't do him a lot of good. TOOBIN: Yes, well, that was...

BORGER: It did not do him a lot of good.

TOOBIN: ...either one of them, actually.

BORGER: So Evangelical conservatives care about a lot of things. They care about the environment. They care about the war. They care about the death penalty. They care about lots of issues. And sometimes they disagree with conservative leaders in their party like Rush Limbaugh.

CAFFERTY: I think because of Bush...

BORGER: But that's the way the party is.

CAFFERTY: ...they have no clout this time around.

TOOBIN: But that's a change from 2004.

BORGER: Absolutely.

TOOBIN: In 2004...

BLITZER: The converse, though, of what you said earlier is that if, in fact, John McCain does not sort of wrap it up tonight, they will then say you know what...

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: ...our influence among the conservative radio talk show hosts is a lot more serious than some of these Republicans think.

BORGER: And that could be.

TOOBIN: But they still have yet to settle on a candidate to challenge John McCain.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, a lot of them are settling on sort of a Romney, to a certain degree.

TOOBIN: Well, but Huckabee is still there...

BLITZER: He is.

TOOBIN: ...making McCain's nomination that much more likely.

CAFFERTY: And Huckabee is more conservative than Romney is.

BORGER: But Huckabee is not the guy.

BLITZER: On the social issues.

CAFFERTY: Yes. BLITZER: Not necessarily on the economic issues.

CAFFERTY: No, no. But on the social issues he's...

BLITZER: On the social issues, yes.

CAFFERTY: ...he's much more appealing to the right-wing.

BLITZER: Yes. Right. Absolutely.

Define victory for the Republicans tonight.

BORGER: Well, I think it's easier to define victory for the Republicans, because there are more winner-take-all contests. So if you win a few big states, you can gather enough delegates to put you on the road to victory. And that's exactly what John McCain is looking for. He's looking...

BLITZER: The New York and New Jersey, those are winner-take-all.

BORGER: Yes, winner-take-all states.

BLITZER: California is not necessarily the same way.

BORGER: No. No.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

You're not going. We're going to be here all night.

Jack, stand by for a second.

I want to go to Chad Myers.

There's a breaking news story we're following down in Memphis -- tornadoes, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Actually, one hit about 15 minutes ago in Bartlett, just to the north and northeast of Memphis. Now one is on the ground in the southwestern and southeastern suburbs of Memphis. This has been confirmed on the ground, making damage in Northern Mississippi. And it is still on the ground, moving into Memphis at this time.

Over into Clinton, Arkansas, a major tornado on the ground in your county, moving right up into the Clinton town. Maybe 25,000 people in this warned area. We do know that this is a large tornado on the ground, Wolf.

You need to be taking cover if you see a big storm in your area. All of these storms could be rotating tonight.

BLITZER: Chad, thanks very much.

Chad Meyers watching these -- the extreme weather story unfolding right now. We'll update our viewers as we get more information.

With primaries and caucuses taking place coast to coast today, we've been -- we've been receiving I-Reports from viewers all across the country who are voting -- in fact, I-Reports even around the world.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, to show us some of these pictures.

What are we seeing -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, we're still getting these in the last couple of hours before the polls close.

We get to go first, to California, where the pictures we've been seeing a lot of are Obama supporters getting their message out today.

This is from John Lara, who is in the northern part of the state. But this kind of thing above the highway seems to be a theme today.

This is from Hollywood, California, where Adam Lorber sent in this picture. He was stuck in traffic. The Obama supporters making sure that everyone who was on Highway 101 waiting there this morning could see who they were supporting.

It's a slightly less congested view out here in Colorado. But caucuses are going to be starting in a couple of hours. Dian Campbell says despite shoulder height of snow, she's still going to try and get out there and caucus for Mitt Romney. She thinks she has to walk the mile-and-a-half to get there.

We're also getting pictures coming in from around the world. Democrats abroad have started their voting today -- 33 countries. There are seven votes at stake at the convention in Denver. This is the Foreign Correspondents Club in Bangkok, Thailand, where they had about 200 people vote. The pictures are all coming in at CNNPolitics.com. And that's where we're going to be looking to see the results come in, in a couple of hours -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks for that.

Let's bring back Jack.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is why is there so much interest around the world in this year's U.S. presidential race?

And there is a tremendous amount.

Garrison writes: "The world is more interested in the presidential race because we've increased our interest in the world. We've mucked around so much in other countries' business, that the outcomes of our elections have a direct bearing on their own futures. We need to take off our knee high boots that we use to wade around in other people's business and start paying more attention to our own fiscal backyards."

Phillip in Germany: "Hi."

Hi, Phillip.

"In my European opinion, the people around the world are so interesting in this year's race because they want a change in the U.S. most Europeans are against the politics of Mr. Bush and they're against the politics of the war."

Brendan writes: "Our standing in the world is shaken. The world is looking to us to elect a president that can restore the once great view of America and the American people."

Gabriel writes: "As a Canadian, I feel my attention drawn to the selection because I've seen how George Bush has not only crippled the states, but ruined relations with Canada in many ways."

David in Malta writes: "I come from a very small country and most Maltese are living this election as if it's happening over here. America defines what happens around us -- directly or indirectly. Democrats speak to the world. I'm afraid Republicans fight it."

Judy writes: "Because the world wants to see if we're brave enough to elect a woman president, like other parts of the world have. It's certainly time. Look at Lady Thatcher. There is also Germany, led by a woman. And, of course there are others. Why not us?"

And Arlene writes: "The world is captivated by the '08 presidential race in this country because it's a circus and everybody loves a circus."

This is your circus tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Jack, we've got a...

CAFFERTY: Lots of luck.

BLITZER: ...ringmaster coming up.

CAFFERTY: That's it.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack, for that.

We're in the final hours of Super Tuesday voting right now.

The polls in Georgia, by the way, will be closing just in a few minutes, right at the top of the hour.

Coming up, we'll take a look at our multi-tech screen to show you what Huckabee and Romney have to do to stay in the race.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're still here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're counting down to the closing of the polls in Georgia. Nine minutes and 34 seconds to go. West Virginia has already had their convention. Mike Huckabee picking up all 18 Republican delegates there. Georgia about to close -- an important contest in the South. It will give us an indication what is going to be happening in the South later tonight for Democrats and Republicans.

Let's head over to John King.

He's watching all of this unfold, specifically the Huckabee/Romney factor, which was very significant in West Virginia, we just saw a little while ago.

But what's going on big time right now?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a lot of talk going into tonight, Wolf, that it's a chance for John McCain to take command of the Republican race. So the flip side of that is how would either Romney or Huckabee stop him?

So let's look at the various scenarios.

Number one, let's start with Governor Romney. He has to win his home state of Massachusetts. John McCain went up there yesterday. Most Republicans think Romney is safe there. But that's one to watch early. Romney needs to win that to prove he is viable.

Then, as you said, West Virginia. That was a state Romney wanted to win. Huckabee wins that, so that's a disappointment in the Romney campaign.

So where do they go next?

Very much hoping that they can win down here in Georgia. And as you just noted, we will get results early on that one. So for Mitt Romney, you believe your conservative message -- I'm the conservative alternative to McCain. He hopes to sell that in Georgia.

Then the next big test for Governor Romney is right here -- the bellwether state of Missouri. The same for Huckabee. All three Republican candidates hotly contesting Missouri, hotly contesting Georgia. Those will be key to watch.

And then Governor Huckabee is not playing out here, but Governor Romney is. So if you're Romney, that's very big for you.

BLITZER: That's the big prize tonight, California.

KING: Very big.

And I want to clear the board quickly so we can go through Huckabee. And I'll use red for Huckabee. If you're Huckabee, you've already won West Virginia. You're off to a good start tonight. To make the case that you're not just a player in the race, but you can be a player for the nomination, he needs to do much better across the South. That would be Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and his native Arkansas.

For Huckabee to get back in the race...

BLITZER: We assume he'll win Arkansas.

KING: We assume he will. We'll see when the votes come in. But to prove that he's not just a factor in the race, but a player in the race, he has to do better than that. He has to pick up these Southern states Tennessee would be good. Again, he's tried very hard here. A strong Evangelical base in Southern Missouri. He's campaigned a bit in Oklahoma and he's campaigned a bit up here for social conservatives in Minnesota.

Those are the states, if you're Mike Huckabee, to be more than a player, but to be a factor. You want to do better -- you want to move over to Oklahoma, to Minnesota. And Missouri, again, is the huge prize, Wolf, for all of the Republicans, as we start to make our way across.

BLITZER: And let's take a look at the Democrats now, because Georgia is an important state for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, too.

KING: Georgia is huge for the Democrats in the sense that if you're Barack Obama, remember, you won South Carolina. And the lighter shaded states, we should say, are the states that have already voted. Those states have already voted.

Barack Obama won South Carolina based on overwhelming African- American turnout. He has the potential to copy that in right here in Georgia and Alabama. If Barack Obama is going to have a good night, he needs to start in Georgia with a win, Alabama in a win. A smaller African-American population in Tennessee. Arkansas, of course, Hillary Clinton, before she was the first lady and a senator from New York, was the first lady of Arkansas. So one would assume her old supporters will take care of Arkansas for her.

But, again, you come back to this same state. We're going to spend a lot of time talking about Missouri tonight. It is a bellwether state. It is very representative of all the ideological ranges in both parties -- a heavily African-American city in St. Louis, rural Democrats out here, Evangelicals in the Republican Party. So we're going to come back to Missouri over and over again tonight in both races, Wolf.

And, of course, ultimately, we get out to California, which is a...

BLITZER: Well, let's talk about California on the Democratic side for a second, because as important as the popular vote is going to be -- and it's going to be very, very important -- the delegates for the Democrats -- the way they proportion and decide who gets those delegates is going to be really significant.

KING: And that's why I pulled this out, Wolf, because California will be 53 different races. These are the Congressional districts, those little lines you see inside. And let's assume that -- let's give -- let's say, hypothetical, it's early. Let's say Senator Clinton wins the vote statewide. Some would say wow, she's won California.

Well, that's not necessarily a big deal because the delegate math can change based on Congressional districts.

Now, Senator Obama is the darker blue. Senator Clinton is the lighter blue. Let's watch how this works. If Senator Obama is winning the Congressional races -- and look at the delegate number -- if he's winning the Congressional districts, he's mounting up delegates even if she's won the statewide vote. So it could have a huge impact.

Watch those numbers on top. Depending on how you do the Congressional, it doesn't matter who wins statewide. It's all by Congressional district. And how the Congressional districts go is how the delegate numbers end up at the end of the night.

BLITZER: It will be -- it will be a decision that all of us have to make -- everyone out there in the country -- who actually won California if there's a split decision -- one of the candidates wins the popular vote, but another candidate actually gets more delegates.

KING: And we are more likely to know who wins the popular vote first -- not definitely, but you might hear, if you're watching at home, you might hear Wolf Blitzer tonight say Hillary Clinton has won statewide in California, but Wolf Blitzer will be very smart to say right after that, but that's not the most significant question. The question is who gets the delegates and to do that, it's much more complicated.

Fifty-three Congressional districts. It's 53 different contests, Wolf. It's complicated, so it makes it fascinating.

BLITZER: And what's fascinating, especially about California, is we've seen these Republican presidential candidates go into heavily Democratic districts like in San Francisco, for example, and Democratic candidates go into heavily Republican districts in Orange County, for example, because they know that those Congressional districts are significant in terms of racking up delegates.

KING: That's absolutely right. And you can pick a winner. You can say -- it's the same thing. You can thing. You can say Governor Romney wins the state, but the whole thing can move based on how the Congressional districts go.

So you're right. You had Mike Huckabee up in San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi's district -- probably the most liberal Congressional district in the country. The man who is the most culturally conservative Republican presidential candidate up campaigning in there.

So it's district by district by district. And you have to remember that as the night goes on. Again, see -- watch this. Watch -- if you turn this, watch the delegate numbers. That's Mike Huckabee. There's John McCain. It goes up. It all depends on Congressional districts.

You see how the state just switched?

The state just switched from a McCain state -- a Romney state to a McCain state.

So we'll know the statewide winner, Wolf, but the math is done in each of these districts. And that will affect the numbers that matter. It's the delegates.

BLITZER: And it's going to take -- it's going to take a while to get that.

Let's go to the finish line right now and show us what we're going to need to see.

KING: You want to get to the finish line?

BLITZER: Yes.

KING: Let's stay with our delegate map. You -- you want to get -- here's your finish line, right here.

There's your finish line, OK?

So let's start giving people...

BLITZER: Among the Democrats?

KING: That's -- that's -- we're on the Republicans right now.

BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE).

KING: We're on the Republicans right now. You have to start giving away states to make it happen and to move the votes over.

I think we're stuck on the telestrator here.

You start moving states over, you give that to McCain -- let's say he wins that. He's -- go and give that to him.

You see the line moving?

BLITZER: Yes.

KING: That's picking up delegates. You start winning states -- and I'm just doing this hypothetically, just to show you how this works. This is not to say Senator McCain would win these states. But you watch that happen. And this is based on proportion. It's in the states that are proportionately -- he's getting a proportion of the delegates.

BLITZER: So wait, what -- what we hear you saying -- and our viewers should get ready for this finish line -- to that finish line right there and that will be the winner of the nomination.

KING: And it is -- and we can say with pretty near certainty neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will get somebody to the finish line. The question at the end of the night will be who is closest to the finish line?

Senator McCain is hoping to get way out like this, so that the other candidates start thinking -- if you're, McCain is here and the other guys are back here -- and I should have done that in a different color -- the idea would be we can't catch him. That is the dynamic Senator McCain wants at the end of the night.

But to do that, he'd better win Missouri. He's going to have to do well in California. We've got a ways to go.

BLITZER: We've got a lot -- a lot to look at here.

I want to bring in Lou Dobbs, because he's got the best political team on television.

We're, what, about two minutes away, Lou, from the polls closing in Georgia.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Absolutely. Two minutes and now 11 seconds from the closing of those polls. And in the intervening time, we're going to introduce our team here, the best political team in television. And that is -- there's just no hyperbole on that whatsoever.

I'm joined by David Gergen and Jeffrey Toobin. And we're joined also by Gloria Borger. We're going to have John King and Wolf Blitzer rejoin us, if you will. And back here, the illustrious Bill Bennett, the inimitable Roland Martin. Jamal Simmons, I'm out of superlatives. And Paul Begala, our good friends and analysts. Also, Soledad O'Brien and Bill Schneider will be joining us here in just a matter of moments to -- all to carry us through this evening of an incredible night, in which we're going to see 1,020 Republican delegates set as a result of the caucuses and primaries held on this Super Tuesday -- 1,681 Democratic delegates settled.

We don't, however, think any of that will settle this race, but we'll see as the hours proceed here on election night on CNN.

So, Wolf -- back to you.

We're ready to go.

BLITZER: I know. It's going to be exciting all around.

Lou's got the best political team on television.

We're watching all of this unfold.

Less than a minute or so now until they actually close the polls in Georgia. Georgia a critical state because it could set some trends once we see, as you just saw from John King, in other critical states in the South that are voting. And their polls will be closing later, at the top of the next hour, not 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

We'll watch what happened in Alabama and Tennessee. And then we're going to be moving out.

But Georgia is a state like South Carolina, which does have a significant African-American population on the Democratic side. And we're going to see what happens in Georgia momentarily.

There's no doubt that -- no doubt that Mike Huckabee has been looking at his native South to try to score some points. He did -- he did capture 18 delegates just a little while ago in West Virginia -- a big boost for him on this night.

So let's stand by for the polls closing in Georgia.

And based on our exit polls, CNN can now project that Barack Obama will win the Georgia primary and the Democratic presidential nomination in Georgia. Barack Obama will beat Hillary Clinton in Georgia. That's based on our exit polls that we saw come forward throughout this day.

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