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Clinton Denies Trouble in Campaign; 9/11 Suspects Charged; Interview With Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and Former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder

Aired February 11, 2008 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Hillary Clinton plows forward after Barack Obama's winning weekend and her campaign shakeup. And will tomorrow's so called Potomac primaries give her any new momentum?
I'll speak to the current governor of Maryland and a former governor of Virginia. One's backing Hillary Clinton, the other Barack Obama.

Plus, John McCain acknowledging he has a lot of work to do after fresh losses to Mike Huckabee. Will some new big-name endorsements help, including one with a link to the White House?

And they're charged with murder and war crimes in the 9/11 attacks. Six detainees at Guantanamo Bay may face the ultimate punishment, the death penalty.

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

There's a lot of downplaying going on in the Hillary Clinton campaign. Right now her advisers are lowering expectations for tomorrow's primaries in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. Senator Clinton herself is brushing aside Barack Obama's sweep of Democratic contests over the weekend, and a shake-up within her own campaign.

Let's go to CNN's Jessica Yellin. She's following the story for us in Washington.

Is the reality harsher, Jessica, than the Clinton camp is letting on publicly?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you don't make a shake-up when things are going well and after a candidate is winning, because after a weekend of losses, there is a new sheriff in town at the Clinton campaign. I'm told that former campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle cleaned out her office overnight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice over): After replaces her chief of staff, Hillary Clinton hit the campaign trail saying...

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... who would be the best president to be commander in chief on day one, to turn the economy around, to begin to solve our problems...

YELLIN: Yes, the song remains the same, but now campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle is out, replaced by Maggie Williams, who was Clinton's chief of staff when she was first lady.

CLINTON: This was Patti's decision. I have the greatest respect and affection for her. She's going to remain as a senior adviser to me.

YELLIN: Insiders say the change has been coming since Clinton's loss in Iowa and her late discovery that the campaign was running low on money. Her New Hampshire win staved off the inevitable, which came to a head when Maggie Williams assumed more control and there wasn't room for both.

CLINTON: We had a great night on Super Tuesday. I'm still ahead in popular vote and in delegates.

YELLIN: The rest of the chess pieces have not moved. Mark Penn is pollster and strategist. Mandy Grunwald handling media. And Howard Wolfson as communications director.

The question now, can Senator Clinton hone her message, which includes...

CLINTON: I believe health care is a fundamental human right. Well, I am battle-scarred. And I'm proud of those scars.

YELLIN: ... into a scene that catches fire?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Now, Wolf, Patti Solis Doyle worked for Hillary Clinton her entire professional career. Few people could be as close to Clinton, except her replacement, Maggie Williams. Clinton and Williams' work together goes back to the 1980s. Now, one person who was part of Williams' first staff meeting today says the campaign already feels more energized -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So she cleans out her desk. Does that mean she no longer has a role in this campaign? Is that what they're saying?

YELLIN: No. That's not the case, Wolf. They're saying that Patti will still go on the road with Senator Clinton and travel with her every so often.

BLITZER: What about the effort to win over some endorsements? I know both campaigns are really going after John Edwards.

YELLIN: That's right. Senator Clinton sat down with John Edwards and met with him at his House in Chapel Hill last week. We're told they talked about ways that Senator Clinton could fold some of the poverty message into her campaign and into a possible presidency.

Barack Obama was scheduled or intended to meet with him -- with Edwards today, but we're told that that has now been postponed, maybe indefinitely. They say it should happen at some time. Clearly, both campaigns would like the momentum, the energy that an Edwards' endorsement could give them. They're both looking for some decisive edge that could put them over -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica. Thanks.

Barack Obama is telling Maryland voters he's the candidate to lead the nation at a defining moment in U.S. history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am running because of what Dr. King called the "fierce urgency of now." The "fierce urgency of now." Because I believe there's such a thing as being too late. And that hour is almost upon us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Just ahead, we're going to have a full report on Senator Obama's strategy heading into these so-called Potomac primaries tomorrow and beyond. By the way, a total of 168 delegates are at stake for the Democrats tomorrow in those primaries in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. A hundred and thirteen Republican delegates are up for grabs in those three states as well.

Just ahead, we're going to tell you where the hunt for delegates stands right now. We'll update you on who is ahead, who is not, in the Democratic contest. It's a squeaker, I can tell you that.

And please be sure to join me and the best political team on television for complete election coverage tomorrow night. It all begins right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, and then straight into our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour and well, well into the night. Who knows? It could go on until midnight or longer.

The Bush administration is calling it the next step in the global war on terror. U.S. military officials say they'll seek the death penalty for six detainees held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. They're charged with murder in connection with the 9/11 attacks.

Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, tell us more about the charges and how this trial may play out.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, all of that remains to be seen, Wolf, but it started this morning with a compelling announcement here in the Pentagon, one of the sites of the 9/11 attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice over): The Pentagon will seek the death penalty against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and these five other men held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. More than six years after the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans in New York, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon, it was a terse announcement.

BRIG. GEN. THOMAS HARTMANN, DEFENSE DEPT.: Today the convening authority for military commissions received sworn charges against six individuals alleged to be responsible for the planning and execution of the attacks.

STARR: The men face murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and other charges. It took 66 pages to list the names of every victim.

THOMAS KEAN, 9/11 COMMISSION CO-CHAIRMAN: Well, for all of us I think we're very, very happy to see charges actually brought.

STARR: Prosecutors want them tried together and put to death.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: These people represent basically the CEO and the board of directors for the attacks that occurred on the United States.

STARR: The military promises the defendants will get a fair trial and be able to see all the evidence against them.

HARTMANN: There will be no secret trials.

STARR: But some classified evidence may be kept secret, and critics say detainees have been denied basic rights. With the admission Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded to elicit a confession, no one knows if the judge will accept it.

CHARLES SWIFT, FMR. MILITARY DEFENSE ATTORNEY: What the nightmare scenario is, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed can claim that, "I was martyred in an unfair system where I had no representation and the United States took me out and killed me."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now consider this -- if the men are found guilty, they can appeal a death sentence, for example, all the way to the Supreme Court. If they are found not guilty, they still could be held indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay as a threat to U.S. national security -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara. Thanks. A very important story developing today.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" here in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Some of these people admitted to their role in 9/11, right?

BLITZER: Right.

CAFFERTY: After being waterboarded.

BLITZER: Some of them admitted it probably without being waterboarded. CAFFERTY: But some of them were waterboarded and then confessed to their role in 9/11. My question is, will those confessions be admissible at these trials?

BLITZER: I think that the only one they've acknowledged was actually waterboarded was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The others, I could be wrong, I don't think were necessarily waterboarded. I don't know what they did to them, but not necessarily waterboarded. They may have enough with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed without using the testimony that he provided after he was waterboarded.

CAFFERTY: You're beginning to sound like Jeff Toobin.

BLITZER: I'm giving you the explanation.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: All right. Here we go. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama not that far apart on the issues. But when it comes to their spouses, the differences could not be more glaring. "The Wall Street Journal" did a piece today about the evolving role of Michelle Obama. The Princeton, Harvard Law-educated wife of the Democratic front-runner has become an influential adviser. She's been nicknamed "The Closer" because she often pushes harder to seal the deal with voters than Barack does.

She generally stays away from discussing policy and strategy, but gets very involved with issues that affect her personally, like being a working mother. Michelle has also given people a peek into their personal lives. She acknowledges that Barack Obama snores and does not put the butter back in the refrigerator. She says part of her role is to keep people yet another slice of who Barack is, making him even more multidimensional.

I'm not sure we need to know that about him, but it's interesting. She says her comments about his foibles -- i.e. snoring and the butter -- were so people won't deify him -- her word. Then there's the other spouse in the race. That would be the 42nd president of the United States.

Quoting "The Wall Street Journal" story, "Bill Clinton has come across at times as empathetic, seasoned one-time leader of the free world. But at other times, as the red-faced, argumentative attack dog in chief." That's a quote. Some suggest that Bill Clinton may have hurt Hillary, especially with some of this things he said in South Carolina. Since then, it seems like the campaign has toned down Bill Clinton's role and he hasn't been going on the attack as much against Obama.

Here's the question. When it comes to the candidates spouses, who is more valuable, Bill Clinton or Michelle Obama?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, post a comment on my blog. As this thing goes on, it becomes a bigger challenge to find interesting, little untapped sources of information. BLITZER: Well, on "60 Minutes" last night, we learned that Barack Obama likes to play basketball on the days when there's an election, and Hillary Clinton likes to eat hot peppers -- we learned that.

CAFFERTY: And drinks a lot of water.

BLITZER: A lot of water. She likes no coffee, just tea.

CAFFERTY: The other thing we learned about Hillary is that she was known to some of the boys in her high school class as "Miss Frigidaire."

BLITZER: She talked about that as well.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We're getting a lot of information.

CAFFERTY: That's more than we need.

BLITZER: By the way, Michelle Obama is going to be an exclusive guest on "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

CAFFERTY: I like her. She's kind of cool.

BLITZER: Yes. She's a nice lady.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to look forward to that interview on "LARRY KING LIVE" later tonight.

John McCain now has a member of the Bush family in his corner. Ahead, McCain's latest endorsements and whether it will actually help him overcome some embarrassing new losses to Mike Huckabee.

Plus, Democrats divided along the Potomac. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley is backing Hillary Clinton. Richmond mayor, the former Virginia governor, Doug Wilder, is backing Barack Obama. They're going to be joining us together. That's coming up next.

And forget the big Mo. Can Hillary Clinton win by going in slow- mo? We'll explain.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Democratic leaders are picking sides as the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama intensifies. All equally convinced their candidate is the one who can win the general election.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, the governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley, and the former governor of Virginia, the current mayor of Richmond, Doug Wilder. Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in.

Let me start with you, Governor O'Malley. I'm going to play a little sound bite of what Barack Obama says about Hillary Clinton, suggesting, as a matter of fact, she's way too polarizing to go forward in a general election.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I think that it's very hard for Senator Clinton to break out of the politics of the last 15 years. And that politics is basically a politics where 47 percent of the country is on one side, 47 percent is on the other. You have got five percent in the middle. They all live in Florida and Ohio, apparently.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you say about that charge, that it's simply the polarization politics of the past if you give the nomination to Hillary Clinton?

GOV. MARTIN O'MALLEY (D), MARYLAND: I think boast the candidates are best served by talking about what they can do for the American people. And I'm proud to support Senator Clinton.

I'm proud of the fact that she has a specific plan on addressing the foreclosure crisis that's sweeping across our country, a specific plan to create five million new green jobs. And I think both our candidates really do the most to excite the electorate and about a better tomorrow for our country when they talk about the future rather than trying to demean one another.

BLITZER: Well, does she bring too much baggage with her? I think that's the -- that's the upshot of what Barack Obama is suggesting.

O'MALLEY: I don't believe so. You know, I have had occasion to work for people in the past in government, and, you know, it's sometimes what people say about candidates that have very firmly-held views. But I think that Senator Clinton can bring this country together.

I think she can speak to those people in our country who feel like they have been forgotten by their government. And I think that that is an unfair criticism. The fact that she is well known and that her positions are well know, I don't see that as a liability for her. I see that as a strength.

And so I'm proud that she's talking about the future and about what's in the best interest of the working people of our country. And I think that's why Hillary Clinton is going to be president.

BLITZER: Governor Wilder, you hear a lot of criticism of Barack Obama coming from Hillary Clinton supporters, among others, that Senator Obama is simply untested, hasn't been vetted, won't be able to stand up to the Republican attack machine.

Here's what Senator Clinton said just the other day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: People say to me all the time, you're so specific. You talk about all these things you want to do. Why don't you just come and, you know, really just give us one of these great rhetorical flourishes and then, you know, get everybody all whooped up? Well, I've got to tell you, I want you to hold me accountable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Governor Wilder. Rhetorical flourishes, clearly a reference that he's a powerful speaker but he doesn't bring a lot of experience to the table.

MAYOR L. DOUGLAS WILDER (D), RICHMOND, VIRGINIA: Well, according to her husband he's a fairy tale. And that is just a putdown that you just can't accept. Moreover...

BLITZER: Well, let me just correct -- let me just correct. What I think he was saying was that the argument that Barack Obama didn't necessarily change his position on Iraq, and that once...

WILDER: It was a fairy tale.

BLITZER: ... he became a U.S. senator...

WILDER: Yes.

BLITZER: That he's not necessarily a fairy tale, but his stance on Iraq, he was suggesting, was a fairy tale.

WILDER: Yes. And it is not a fairy tale, because whenever he has had the chance to voice opposition to the war, he did just that. Since it's been brought up, Mrs. Clinton would have you believe that she had absolutely nothing to do with it when she talks about the need for health care. I remember. I was the governor when we went and said, OK, you are in charge of health care.

She was made the czar of health. She had working for her Mr. (INAUDIBLE). And we kept saying, what are you plans? What can we tell our people? How are we going to be involved? Now, if you didn't do it when you had the chance with eight full years to do it, what makes the American people now there's something new, then poured into the water, that gives you this impetus to get it done?

BLITZER: All right. I'm going to let Governor O'Malley respond, but I just want to press you on the point, Governor Wilder, the Republican attack machine, as the Clinton people are calling it, that once they go after Barack Obama he's not going to be able to withstand that assault.

And they point to the history of what they did to John Kerry four years ago, or Al Gore eight years ago -- they say distorting their respective records. What do you say to that argument?

WILDER: Well, they did that to me when I ran for governor in the last days, and some people talk about the Wilder effect in the polls. Sure, I was leading a little more than I did, but I won. And I think Barack Obama's record, his past, is strong enough to stand any of these attack machines that come his way. And moreover, the American people are crying out for change. They want a difference.

They want someone who won't just say, I stood the test. What did you do after you stood the test? Are you going to fight for them? Are you going to bring schools for them? Are you going to get roads and infrastructure for them?

BLITZER: All right. Governor O'Malley, you want to respond to that?

O'MALLEY: Sure. I mean, you know, in this race, Hillary Clinton does have the strength. She has experience. And she also has a record. And certainly people who do not have a record of national, you know, politics, and being on the national scene for more than two years, as the very talented senator from Illinois has, you know, have an easy time throwing rocks at the record.

But let's look at health care. You know, years ago she did work on health care. Like many other Democratic administrations before, we were not successful. However, there are millions of children now that do have health care coverage because of the SCHIP program that she helped craft and create.

What's different now? Ten years later, you see people from opposite ends of the spectrum in business, like Wal-Mart, and also with the service employees unions, coming together, understanding, as Senator Clinton was trying to tell us years ago, that health care is a mayor impediment to our nation's economic development, to our able to create jobs, and our ability to do the right things as other industrialized countries have done to have universal and actually have universal health care.

BLITZER: All right.

O'MALLEY: That's a key domestic policy difference. Senator Obama is not for universal health care. Senator Clinton is for universal health care.

BLITZER: I'll let you -- give you the final word, Governor Wilder, but please keep it brief.

WILDER: I will. Governor Bill Clinton, a governor of the small state of Arkansas, made it clear that Washington was out of touch. He had no experience at all and did a tremendous job as president. That's what Bill Clinton did. I can tell you this, Barack Obama can do even more. Of course, he has more experience in this regard.

BLITZER: Governor Wilder, thanks very much for coming in.

Governor O'Malley, thanks to you as well. O'MALLEY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good luck in your respective primaries tomorrow in Virginia and in Maryland.

WILDER: Thank you very much.

O'MALLEY: Thanks, Wolf. Appreciate it.

WILDER: We hope to win. Thank you very much.

O'MALLEY: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And refusing to call it quits, Republican Mike Huckabee is fighting on, even though he's far behind John McCain in the delegate count. Does he pose a danger to McCain's front-runner status, or is he just a temporary distraction?

An entirely different dilemma for the Democrats. A razor-close race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is making it very difficult for either candidate to gain the decisive -- decisive momentum. We're watching the story.

So are you, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: John McCain is dealing with new losses to Mike Huckabee by bringing in some big-name reinforcements. Can a formal rival and formal governor help him bring Republicans together?

And is Hillary Clinton actually borrowing from Rudy Giuliani's losing playbook? You'll find out in our "Strategy Session."

That and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, the defense secretary's Iraq surprise. We're going to tell you what it could mean for how and when U.S. troops can come home. Our Jamie McIntyre is in Baghdad.

Plus, terror politics. As the U.S. seeks the death penalty against six detainees, we'll tell you how the presidential hopefuls think terror suspects should be tried.

And Mike Huckabee hoping for a miracle. Can support from evangelicals help him overcome John McCain's daunting lead?

I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. President Bush isn't choosing a candidate, at least not publicly, at least not yet, in the race for the White House, but his brother is. The McCain camp announced today that the senator has picked up the endorsement of the former Florida governor, Jeb Bush. It could help McCain's struggles to try to unite Republicans behind him, including those conservatives who helped Mike Huckabee win big over the weekend.

Let's go out to Dana Bash. She's in Maryland, where there's a primary tomorrow.

How is the McCain camp dealing with those new losses to Huckabee, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're trying to put the best face on it, as you can imagine, Wolf. I spoke with one McCain adviser, who said, talk to me after Tuesday's Potomac primaries. If we lose those, then we have a problem.

And, you know, John McCain tried everything he could today to not have that problem tomorrow. But he's walking a fine line between trying to be a candidate who still has a stiff -- stiff competition and a candidate who has it all locked up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): No big rally, no music, not even voters here. John McCain's only campaign event ahead of Maryland's primary was as low-key as his strategy now. Look ahead and look unconcerned.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're doing fine. We have 700 and some, close to 800 delegates. And, the last time I checked, Governor Huckabee has very few. So, I think I'm pretty happy with the situation that we're in.

BASH: But he got crushed by Mike Huckabee over the weekend in Kansas by Republican voters not ready to accept McCain as their nominee, lost Louisiana, too. Why does he think Huckabee is still winning?

MCCAIN: Because they like him.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN: I never expected a unanimous vote.

BASH: The McCain campaign knows full well he's losing both from conservatives who don't like him. And they rushed to trumpet the endorsement of well-known evangelical Gary Bauer, who briefly sought the GOP nomination himself eight years ago. "John McCain has dedicated himself to defending human rights around the world, including the rights of the unborn," Bauer said in a statement.

Still, McCain deflected questions about his lingering tension, outright rebellion among some conservatives, instead making it seem like a broader Republican problem. MCCAIN: Our party is dispirited because of spending and corruption, as we all know. And we have got to reenergize our base. And, also, primaries are tough.

BASH: But skeptical conservative leaders warn that, if an already depressed GOP base isn't energized by McCain, it will hurt him in November.

DAVID KEENE, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: If he did nothing, most conservatives would end up voting for him. The question is, how enthusiastically would they campaign for him? If he works at it, he will get the great bulk of them, I think.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: But, if McCain doesn't actually make amends with some GOP conservatives, his campaign insists he will make up for it by his appeal to independents.

In fact, Wolf, McCain today said that he promised to compete here in Maryland in the general election against Democratic rival. And, actually, he insisted he would do well here. That would be a tough feat, considering the fact that Maryland has not gone for a Republican president in two decades -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, I take it there's some news to report involving McCain's financing.

BASH: That's right. The McCain campaign sent a letter to the Federal Election Commission saying that they were not going to take matching funds, that, basically, what they said is that they're not going to participate in public financing at all.

Now, in some respects, it seems a little bit odd, since McCain's name in some ways is synonymous with reforming campaign finance system. But the reality is, it actually would have been bigger news if he decide to participate in this, because it would have meant that fund-raising is still pretty low. And the fact is, his fund raising has been much better lately. That's why he has decided that he's not going to limit himself in the primary season and he's not going to take public -- public financing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of the Republican establishment -- establishment beginning to coalesce around him.

Thanks, Dana, very much.

Let's check where the presidential race stands right now in the all-important hunt for delegates. First, the Democratic side. CNN estimates that Hillary Clinton has a narrow -- a narrow lead in total delegates, 1,148, compared to 1,121 for Barack Obama. John Edwards has 26 delegates. Obama has about 60 more delegates than Clinton in primaries and caucuses, but Clinton still has more super-delegates, as they're called, 224, to 135 for Obama. Those are the elected officials, members of Congress, party leaders. Democrats, by the way, need 2,025 delegates to clinch the nomination at their convention at the end of the summer in Denver.

Let's go to Republican side right now. CNN estimates that McCain has a total of 723 delegates, far ahead of his former rival Mitt Romney, who has 26 (sic). Romney is out of the race. Mike Huckabee has a total of 217 delegates, Ron Paul with 16. Republicans need 1,191 delegates to lock up their nomination at their convention in St. Paul at the end of the summer. We should note, some states that have held contests haven't allocated all their delegates yet. As a result, these are our estimates as best as we can bring them to you right now.

There's a big irony this primary season that probably isn't lost on Hillary Clinton. States scrambled to move up their contests in hopes of becoming more influential. And now the last states to vote could decide, could actually decide, this Democratic race. Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching this story for us.

It all involves the whole issue, Bill, of momentum and how to build it in what is going on.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. The idea was that momentum would carry someone to an early victory. But that idea has lost momentum. But it may be getting it back.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Front-loading the primaries meant that one candidate would build momentum fast, the big mo'. Didn't happen. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton split the early states. Instead of big mo', we got no mo'. Now something else may be happening.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think if, on Saturday, we come out of here with momentum, you know, and with additional delegates, that will be helping to lay the groundwork for what happens in Maryland and Virginia two days -- three days later. And that, in turn, will have a influence in how voters in Ohio and Texas perceive my candidacy.

SCHNEIDER: Call it slow mo'. The primary calendar slows down. One candidate starts piling up victories, and the impression grows, encouraged by the media, that the candidate is on a roll. The news of Obama piling up victories could erode Clinton's support.

TAD DEVINE, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: If someone goes out and begins to win state after the state, I think the message of that person's campaign is going to be predominantly that they're winning.

SCHNEIDER: Senator Clinton has a countertheory, that she wins the states that are really important to Democrats.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And we won states Democrats have to win in November. You know, it is highly unlikely we will win Alaska or North Dakota or Idaho or Nebraska. But we have to win, you know, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, Michigan. SCHNEIDER: Tad Devine, a veteran of Democratic presidential campaigns who is unaligned this year, argues that Clinton is taking a static view of the process.

DEVINE: This is a very dynamic process, that, in fact, the course of events, particularly winning or losing, have an impact on the way voters receive information, how they digest it, and what they do with it. And in a nominating process where both candidates are well liked, this momentum is available to either one.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Most Democrats could vote for either Clinton or Obama, which means they can shift with the momentum of the campaign. So, picking and choosing your states and ignoring the dynamic of the campaign carries a risk. Look what happened to Rudy Giuliani.

BLITZER: Didn't do so well.

SCHNEIDER: No, he did not.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Good point. Thanks very much, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

BLITZER: A long shot in the best of circumstances, but don't tell that to Mike Huckabee, even though the Republican candidate badly trails McCain. Huckabee is staying put and he's actually winning races. Could he pose a real threat, though, to the GOP front-runner? John King looking at the story.

Hillary Clinton focusing in right now on the big primaries in March. But will downplaying expectations for contests this month be her downfall?

And your laptop subject to search and seizure -- privacy rights vs. national security concerns.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The chances of Mike Huckabee actually clinching the Republican presidential nomination are tiny -- tiny. But he's still very much in the race and he's still actually winning primary and caucuses. So, what does that mean for the front-runner, John McCain? Let's go to our chief national correspondent, John King. He's at a Huckabee rally in Virginia right now.

John, is Huckabee a real threat, or is he just what some are suggesting, a temporary nuisance?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he insists that the math still does not make John McCain the nominee; therefore, he still has a chance.

You know, we're Weyers Cave. It's in the Shenandoah Valley. We're about two-and-a-half-hours to the West of Washington, D.C. And what Mike Huckabee is saying as he speaks at a rally inside an airport hanger here, he's telling these rural conservative voters that the political elites off in Washington don't want their votes to count.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC)

KING (voice-over): They keep telling Mike Huckabee it's over, but he keeps telling conservatives, they can do better.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We want a candidate who believes in the Human Life Amendment and in the marriage amendment. We want to vote for a president who believes that embryonic stem cell research on humans is wrong.

KING: After big weekend wins in Kansas and Louisiana, Huckabee is hoping Virginia sends another message on Tuesday.

HUCKABEE: Let's show them the election isn't over until the people have spoken.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KING: Huckabee has won a modest 16 percent of the delegates awarded so far and would need to win an overwhelming 93 percent of the remaining delegates to win the nomination. That math is near impossible. But Huckabee, for now, is ignoring calls for him to step aside.

HUCKABEE: I just think the people ultimately lose when we have this kind of microwaved election. We ought to cook it slow.

KING: It is still, overall, relatively polite, but some attacks on John McCain are raising eyebrows. One new favorite is comparing himself to Ronald Reagan in 1976 and John McCain to the man who beat back Reagan's nomination challenge, but then lost the general election, Gerald Ford.

HUCKABEE: Here's why they lost. They elected a person who did not really energize the conservative base of the Republican Party.

KING: Some Republicans worry, the longer Huckabee soldiers on, the more difficult it will be for McCain to make peace with skeptical conservatives. But there are contrarians, who believe, as long as Huckabee keeps it polite, a longer nomination battle could help McCain.

WHIT AYRES, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: As long as Mike Huckabee stays positive and as long has he does not stimulate a third-party challenge from the right in the fall, Mike Huckabee staying in could actually help John McCain. Moreover, if very conservative spokesmen continue to criticize him, it makes John McCain look better to the independents, who are going to decide the election in the fall.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now, Huckabee says, the more party leaders call on him to step aside, the more determined he is to stay in the race.

Wolf, they do acknowledge the long math. A key question will be, if McCain can win here in Virginia tomorrow and in Maryland tomorrow, and in the District of Columbia, then the math becomes near- impossible, if not impossible, for Mike Huckabee . The question is, would he stay in then?

He says, for now, the answer is yes, until John McCain gets to that magic number, which is 1,191. That could be still weeks and weeks from now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, he says he's the guy who didn't major in math; he majored in miracles. We will see what he can do.

KING: Exactly right.

BLITZER: Thanks, John King, very much.

Remember, our coverage of the Potomac primaries, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., starts tomorrow night 7:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. The best political team on television will be live at the CNN Election Center all night, right after THE SITUATION ROOM.

In our "Strategy Session": John McCain reaches into his record to try to convince conservatives he's one of them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Our party needs to be energized, as we all know. And one of the reasons why we lost the 2006 election, which is a fact, is because of out-of-control spending, which dispirited our base.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Has the time come for conservatives to accept McCain?

And is team Clinton following the Rudy Giuliani road map for primary success, or lack thereof? We're going to take a closer look at that with Peter Fenn and John Feehery.

They're standing by in our SITUATION ROOM "Strategy Session."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And this just coming in: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have agreed to take part in another CNN debate, this one in the key battleground state of Texas. It will be co-sponsored by the Texas Democratic Party and Univision and will take place next week in Austin on February 21. That's Thursdays night, February 21.

The debate will air live on CNN and CNN International from 8:00 p.m. Eastern to 9:30 p.m. Eastern. And, then, at 11:30 p.m. Eastern, the debate will air in Spanish on Univision. Journalists from (AUDIO GAP) question the candidates. And the debate will be moderated by a CNN anchor -- that information just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.

Some significant questions facing the presidential candidates in the coming days, including how front-runner John McCain plans to win over conservatives.

Joining us now in our "Strategy Session," the Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and the Republican strategist John Feehery.

Let me ask both of you to react, though, to the news that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have agreed to this February 21 debate in Austin, Texas.

Peter, first to you. What do you think?

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think it's very important, Wolf. The Clinton campaign wants more debates, rather than less. And I think it's -- it's good news for -- for -- for CNN. That's for sure.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I think it's good news for the American public as well, John...

FENN: I know.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... because, the more debates, the more we learn about these respective candidates.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it's actually -- it's good for Barack Obama, because he gets of making his case to a Hispanic/Latino audience, which is obviously the audience that he most needs help with.

I think it's good for Hillary Clinton, too, because, right now, you have got to call Barack Obama the front-runner. And Hillary has got to do something that is going to nick that Obama armor that seems to be unstoppable right now.

BLITZER: And...

FENN: And the level of interest is incredible, Wolf. I mean, 8.3 million viewers you had for that last debate in Los Angeles. It -- The public is energized. They're watching. They want to learn more. So it's good all around.

BLITZER: I just want to correct you. It was 8.4 million that night.

FENN: Oh...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: And that was only the first run.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: We replayed that -- we replayed that debate in Los Angeles several times. Millions more watched it.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: And that was only in the United States.

FENN: I'm just plugging for you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We aired it on CNN International. It was on CNN Radio, the Web. It was all over the place.

All right, let's talk a little bit about Hillary Clinton right now and her strategy. That debate will come before the March 4th primaries in Texas and Ohio.

Hillary Clinton seems to be looking forward to those two states, not necessarily to the states tomorrow or next Tuesday in Wisconsin. What do you make of this strategy, Peter?

FENN: Well, I think that she's pretty much figured out that tomorrow is not going to be a good day. This weekend wasn't a good weekend.

And, look, she's still ahead, barely, in delegates. She's looking to the big states, looking ahead. The fact is that we have had about 40 days since the Iowa caucuses. There's 75 days until Pennsylvania. That's a lot of time. She's hoping that folks will take a second look at this race, that the fluid electorate will go to her in those big states. So, that's her strategy.

BLITZER: And is that a good -- Rudy Giuliani's strategy, as some are suggesting, John?

FEEHERY: I don't think so. Rudy actually didn't win any primaries. And Hillary has won primaries.

The thing -- what Hillary needs to do, she needs to get the press to really kind of hit Obama, to find out what he really stands for and what he really believes in. He's kind of -- he's lucky because he hasn't really had too much scrutiny.

And the fact of the matter is that he's kind of hiding the ball now, playing the four-corners offense, in basketball terms. And, you know, the fact of the matter is that she's got to get on -- keep on offense and get him to do something and say something to make a mistake, because, otherwise, the momentum is on with Obama.

BLITZER: Peter Fenn and John Feehery, guys, thanks very much for coming in -- John Feehery and Peter Fenn.

We're tracking a developing story right now here in THE SITUATION ROOM involving Russian bombers buzzing U.S. -- a U.S. aircraft carrier. We are just getting in the details. We will share those with you. That's coming up.

And Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul has a reason to think twice about keeping up his presidential bid. And it's not necessarily for a lack of cash. He has a lot of that. We're going to tell you what's driving Ron Paul to perhaps scale back.

Also coming up: Defense Secretary Robert Gates making a surprise visit to Baghdad and weighing in on a plan to put troop withdrawals from Iraq on hold.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Today in our Political Ticker: Long-shot Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul has enough money to continue running for president, but he may be facing some trouble in his home state of Texas. Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what is Congressman Paul saying online about the state of his presidential campaign?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, Ron Paul is saying he's still running as a Republican, but he's saying that he's scaling back his national campaign because, he writes here, he has another priority. That's his seat in Congress, where he faces a primary challenge next month.

A spokesman for the campaign says they're cutting the campaign -- the national campaign staff in about -- by about half, and they're focusing in on Texas. Now, as you know, this is a presidential campaign that has been fuelled right here online by the grassroots supporters, who, with their fund-raiser stunts, have been bringing in, at one point, at its peak, more than $6 million in one day.

A spokesman, Jesse Benton, for the Ron Paul campaign says cash on hand right now, they have got more than $5 million. If Ron Paul were to get out entirely of the presidential race, that's money he could use for his congressional seat. But that spokesman for the Ron Paul campaign says, that's not the intention. And, right now, Ron Paul is recording a YouTube message for his supporters about what's next -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

In Washington and all across the nation right now, Congressman Tom Lantos is being remembered as a true American hero. The California Democrat, the only Holocaust survivor to serve in the United States Congress, died early today. He was 80 years old, had been battling with cancer of the esophagus. As a Jewish teenager, Lantos twice escaped a Nazi-run slave labor camp in Hungary. That experience helped make him an outspoken champion for human rights during his 27 years in Congress and most recently as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 10, 2007)

REP. TOM LANTOS (D), CALIFORNIA: The administration has sent you here today to convince the members of these two committees and the Congress that victory is at hand.

With all do respect to you, I must say, I don't buy it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Lantos also took on Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, accusing the Internet giants of helping China enforce censorship.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LANTOS: Your abhorrent activities in China are a disgrace. I simply do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He was 80 years old, a very, very decent human being, decent member of Congress. And he will be missed.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File."

I -- I knew him for a long, long time. And he was really a powerful individual with an incredible personal story.

CAFFERTY: You could see the character just in those two little tiny sound bites.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: He told it like it is. He spoke from his heart. And we're losing the generation of the Holocaust survivors and all of the people who fought and won World War II. They're leaving us in huge numbers now. And that's too bad.

The question this hour is, when it comes to candidates' spouses, who is more valuable, Bill Clinton or Michelle Obama?

Sharon writes from Michigan: "I like Bill Clinton. I remember how good things were during his presidency, but Michelle Obama seems more like a normal wife and mother, who understands the needs of people in bad situations. Their marriage seems wholesome, and their vision seems to be in the right direction. You can see the pride in her eyes for her husband. I think Michelle outweighs Bill."

P. writes: "Bill Clinton is by far the most valuable spouse. No one should complain that Bill Clinton has been out of line on the campaign trail. Mrs. Obama has been terrible. Her remark that Hillary couldn't take care of her own house, so how could she take care of the White House, was really underhanded."

Paul writes: "Clearly, Michelle represents the future. She will be a great representative around the world. She seems normal, authentic. Bill has been spinning so long, it is doubtful that he even knows the difference anymore."

Linda writes: "It is obvious. It is Bill Clinton. He has been there, done that, could definitely support and understand the pressures and tough decisions that go along with the job. These two together, Hillary and Bill, are a powerhouse, and, right now, that is what we need, not someone with only one term of experience."

Every writes: "I think Michelle Obama would be more valuable. I believe she brings to the table intelligence, good judgment, common sense, inner strength, self-control, and a non-spin of the truth. On the other hand, Bill Clinton is a liar, adulterer, deceiver and a master spin artist."

Yvonne writes: "Each of their spouses are valuable in different ways. But Bill Clinton is the most valuable, because, without him, Hillary wouldn't stand a chance."

And Til writes: "One word: Monica. Monica. Monica. Monica. Monica. Monica."

BLITZER: Five words, six words.

CAFFERTY: Monica.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

Michelle Obama will be on "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, as well.

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