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Obama Campaign Getting Free Ride From Media?; Chris Dodd Endorses Obama; Interview With New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson

Aired February 26, 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, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, John McCain denounces a supporter's rant against Barack Obama. But has political damage been done? The best political team on television standing by.

A former rival endorses Barack Obama against Hillary Clinton. Is Bill Richardson ready to follow Chris Dodd's lead and choose a side? I will ask the former White House hopeful.

And Hillary Clinton's camp says the news media is not playing fair. We're going to examine charges that the Obama camp is getting a free ride.

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

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Strong praise and ugly words directed today at Barack Obama, the kudos coming from a former rival turned supporter, the tirade coming from a radio talk show host who supports John McCain. Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, and our chief national correspondent, John King, they are both standing by in Ohio.

Let's go first to John. He was watching this event unfold in Cincinnati earlier today, this rant that was delivered against Barack Obama by a radio talk show host.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, that radio talk show host's name is Bill Cunningham. Local McCain supporters say he is often a magnet for controversy, but they say they invited him here because he also can be critical in boosting Republican enthusiasm and Republican turnout. Well, that invitation today, they now concede, backfired.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice over): At first glance perhaps a sign of progress -- a conservative radio talk show host on hand to support John McCain.

BILL CUNNINGHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: All is going to be right when the world when the great prophet from Chicago takes the stand and the world leaders who want to kill us will simply be singing Kumbaya together around the table of Barack Obama. KING: Bill Cunningham is a local legend in Cincinnati...

CUNNINGHAM: Well, my fellow Americans, now we have a hack Chicago-style Daley politician who's picturing himself as change.

KING: ... and an instant headache for a candidate who every day promises a respectful tone.

CUNNINGHAM: It's going to peel the bark off Barack Hussein Obama. That day will come. At some point the media will quit taking sides in this thing and maybe start covering Barack Hussein Obama.

KING: Senator McCain was on his bus at the time, planning to focus his day on the economy and national security.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I'm telling you, it is succeeding. It is succeeding, and there's no doubt about that.

KING: But as he headed off stage after the event, top aide Mark Salter told McCain about Cunningham's remarks, and the senator immediately and repeatedly denounced them.

MCCAIN: I did not know about these remarks, but I take responsibility for them. I repudiate them.

KING: McCain said local supporters arranged the program and that he had never met Cunningham.

(on camera): Where do you draw the line? He called Senator Obama -- he said he was Chicago Daley political hack. And he twice used his middle name. Is Barack Obama's middle name appropriate in this campaign?

MCCAIN: No, it is not. Any comment disparaging of either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama is totally inappropriate, and I absolutely repudiate such comments. And again, I will take responsibility. It will never happen again. It will never happen again.

CUNNINGHAM: I'm the warmup act. I'm introducing him, and I'm getting drilled by the candidate that I'm introducing.

KING: Later on his WLW program, Cunningham read news accounts of his comments and lashed out at the media coverage and at McCain.

MCCAIN: He said, I repudiate him. He didn't even know what I said. How does he repudiate me without knowing what he's repudiating?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now, some of the local McCain supporters also called into the program. And, Wolf, they said the national media was exaggerating all of this and they hope Mr. Cunningham will still support Senator McCain. Word of this obviously reached the Obama campaign quickly. It says it accepts Senator McCain's apology and appreciates the swiftness with which he repudiated these attacks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. And we also heard Donna Brazile praising Senator McCain for that swiftness. John King in Cincinnati for us.

Now to Barack Obama's new endorsement. Senate colleague and former rival Chris Dodd today became the first Democratic dropout to choose sides. And he admits it was tough to break the news to Hillary Clinton.

Let's go to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's watching this story for us.

I guess Senator Clinton certainly could have used this Dodd endorsement perhaps more than Barack Obama, Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. But the Dodd nod did in fact go to Barack Obama. The people around Dodd say that they believe that his stature as an experienced senator, they wanted to give Obama the nod because they believe it might help him as he comes under increased assault from Hillary Clinton for not being experienced enough.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice over): It's not just that Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd endorsed Obama. It's what he said while doing so.

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: This is the moment for Democrats and Independents and others to come together to get behind this candidacy. I don't want a campaign that is only divisive here. And there's a danger of it becoming that.

CROWLEY: Dodd says he had a not-comfortable phone call with Hillary Clinton last night, but he denies he's suggesting she ought to drop out. Dodd says he's just trying to cool down the trail.

DODD: I know the temptation in campaigns beyond the ability of the candidates themselves to control it can get out of control. we have witnessed a little bit of that here.

CROWLEY: This is not what Clinton needs right now as her campaign seeks terra firma with twin winds in Ohio and Texas. In an interview with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Clinton seemed alternately angry with Obama for what she says are distortions of her record and mystified by his appeal.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that there is a certain phenomenon associated with his candidacy. And I am, you know, really struck by that because it is, you know, very much about him and his personality and his presentation. CROWLEY: A policy wonk, Clinton is praised for her command of the issues, sometimes panned as robotic and cold. In the interview she agreed with the premise that she's misunderstood, suggesting it's a byproduct of tumultuous times during her husband's presidency.

H. CLINTON: I think what happened during the '90s was incredibly hurtful for the country and for people directly involved to be caricaturized and, you know, in a sense dehumanized.

CROWLEY: She is certainly down, more certainly not out. She looks at the week ahead and sees possibilities. His candidacy is up, but not certain. He sees the dangers.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just want to remind people, I have got a long way to go. I don't want people to get any sense that, you know, we're getting ahead of ourselves here. What we have done successfully over the last month is take each contest one day at a time.

CROWLEY: This evening brings danger and possibilities to both candidates in the last debate for Tuesday's critical primaries.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: E-mailing earlier with a Clinton aide, I asked him to size up the dynamic of the race right now. His reply, "Obama's not in and Clinton's not out." Pretty simple, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Candy, thanks very much.

Candy's in Cleveland. Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Hillary Clinton has her work cut out for her when it comes to that debate tonight in Cleveland, Ohio. If she has any hope of closing the gap on front-runner Barack Obama next Tuesday in Texas and Ohio, Clinton's got to deliver a big night tonight, a really big night.

The question is, which Hillary Clinton is going to show up? In the last few days, we have just about seen it all. At Thursday's debate in Austin, Texas, Clinton showed a softer side, saying that she was honored to be there with Barack Obama. A couple of days later, she morphed into a scolding mother, talking down to a child, waving her finger, and saying, Shame on you, Barack Obama. She called him out, demanding that he meet her in Ohio for a debate on his tactics and behavior in the campaign.

She wasn't finished. Resembling someone with multiple personality disorder, last Sunday, Clinton mocked Obama, derided his calls for unity. She made fun of him, as though his 11 straight victories in the primaries meant nothing.

Meanwhile, some new national polls show that Obama, who trailed Clinton for months and months, now is surging ahead. In one poll, Obama has a 16-point nationwide lead over Hillary Clinton, suggesting that he continues to build a broader coalition among Democratic voters from all walks of life.

So, here's the question: What does Hillary Clinton have to do at tonight's debate to slow Barack Obama's momentum? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, where you can post a comment on my blog.

We have gotten thousands -- plural -- thousands of responses today, Wolf.

BLITZER: People are passionate out there. They're energized. They're excited. And they want to know what is going to happen.

(CROSSTALK)

CAFFERTY: They're interested in this election to a degree that I don't remember seeing for a good, long while. It might be good for this old democracy to have more people involved.

BLITZER: I think you're absolutely right. Jack, thanks very much. See you in a few moments.

They could decide the Democratic nominee. But it's not often they're described this way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Eight hundred superdelegates out of 4,000, that's too many. That's politicians, fat cats, contributors.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The former presidential candidate Bill Richardson on choosing between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He's a superdelegate. He's being courted heavily by both camps. But he says Obama's approach is like a surgical bomb, Clinton's approach, a carpet bomb. Bill Richardson, he's here to explain.

Barack Obama says something that raises the eyebrows of the top Army brass. You're going to hear what that is all about.

And an airline pilot's turn for the worse. He reportedly makes a maneuver to celebrate something, but it ultimately gets him fired.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He dropped out of the Democratic presidential race. And now he's sitting on the fence, not quite ready to endorse one of his former rivals.

And joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, the governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, himself a former Democratic presidential candidate.

Welcome back to Washington. RICHARDSON: Nice to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Why are you having so much trouble picking a horse in this race?

RICHARDSON: Well, because they're both great candidates, also because I just got through the presidential race. I had a legislature in New Mexico. Quite frankly, I don't feel, Wolf, that endorsements by politicians help each other. And I just don't consider myself that important.

BLITZER: Well, do you see any big difference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?

RICHARDSON: I think that it's a classic race, change vs. experience. And, obviously, I ran on the experience mantle. It didn't work out too well. But I think they're both exceptional candidates, represent fundamental change. I think it's going to be very, very close. I don't think this race is over. But I may make a decision and do an endorsement. I just feel --

BLITZER: Within the next few days?

RICHARDSON: Possibly, yes.

BLITZER: And, if you do, you want to give some hint which way you might want to go?

RICHARDSON: Not really.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: But you will?

RICHARDSON: But I -- well, I may decide not to. I'm just not trying to be cute. I just have felt that an endorsement by me, I don't think it's that significant. But I still might do it.

BLITZER: Here's what Chris Dodd, himself a Democratic candidate himself -- he was a Democratic candidate -- what he said earlier today in endorsing Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DODD: This is the moment for Democrats and independents and others to come together, to get behind this candidacy. I don't want a campaign that is only divisive here. And there's a danger of it becoming that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you understand where he's coming from?

RICHARDSON: Yes. I disagree a little bit. I don't think the race is over. But it is significant. Chris Dodd is very respected. He was a national candidate. He's got a good constituency. Obviously, momentum is with Senator Obama. But this race is going to depend, I believe, on what happens in Ohio and Texas.

BLITZER: And, if she wins both of those, it goes on to Pennsylvania April 22nd.

RICHARDSON: It goes on. And then the superdelegates...

BLITZER: Of which you are one.

RICHARDSON: And I think there are too many of us. There's over 800.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But you're not going to change the rules in the middle of the game, are you?

RICHARDSON: No, but I do think we need to have some fundamental changes -- 800 superdelegates out of 4,000, that's too many. That's politicians, fat cats, contributors. It should be voters.

BLITZER: But that's for the next time, you can change it. But will you go, as a superdelegates, with what the people in New Mexico decided? They voted for Hillary Clinton in a very tight race, the caucuses there. Or will you go with the popular vote, as demonstrated across the country by the pledged delegates?

RICHARDSON: Well, I was appointed superdelegate because I'm Hispanic, because I'm a governor, obviously, my state. But it was very close, Wolf. It was like half-a-percent.

BLITZER: She won.

RICHARDSON: So, I think -- yes, that -- Senator Clinton -- so, I think I have flexibility. I think exceptionally highly of both candidates. They have been calling me. I may make a decision. I may stay out. But, again, I do believe that we're going to have a very strong candidate.

BLITZER: You were quoted in "The New York Times" as saying, "Mr. Obama's approach is like a surgical bomb, while the Clintons are more like a carpet bomb," their wooing you as a superdelegate. What do you mean that their approach is like a carpet bomb?

RICHARDSON: Well, because they get everybody that you have ever known to call you. Senator Clinton calls. President Clinton calls, former colleagues in the Cabinet of mine, their friends, contributor, donors.

Obama, it's just him. He picks up the phone. He calls himself. He doesn't say -- there's not an aide saying, Senator Obama wants to talk to you. It's more precise, more surgical. But both are -- you know, it's very flattering. And I don't mind those calls.

BLITZER: You served in Bill Clinton's Cabinet as an energy secretary, a United States ambassador. And then all of a sudden, we saw that picture of the two of you watching the Super Bowl together. He came over to your place to watch the Super Bowl.

RICHARDSON: Yes, he did.

BLITZER: Was that part of this wooing process?

RICHARDSON: Well, yes, he did get a few requests in. And I had a chance to talk to Senator Clinton, too. I consider him a good friend. I'm very loyal to the Clintons.

But this is -- I ran against Senator Clinton, too. I think this is about who can take America forward, who can change America's role internationally. I think Senator Obama has enormously appealing qualities, too, that I saw in the campaign. I saw him develop as a candidate.

BLITZER: Listen to what she said, though, the other day about the issue of experience and being ready on day one to deal with national security crises.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H. CLINTON: We have seen the tragic result of having a president who had neither the experience nor the wisdom to manage our foreign policy and safeguard our national security. We can't let that happen again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Now, that's a pretty direct comparison between Obama and George W. Bush.

RICHARDSON: Well, I -- I don't agree with that. Obama is on the Foreign Relations Committee. He's had an internationalist upbringing. He's traveled. He has exceptional judgment. So, I disagree with Senator Clinton on that.

BLITZER: You're leaving open the possibility of being vice president.

RICHARDSON: Well, that's not my choice.

BLITZER: But, if they asked you, you would take it?

RICHARDSON: Well, you can't preclude anything like that. As I said before, I love being governor of New Mexico. But obviously you can never preclude something like that.

BLITZER: So, you're leaving it open?

RICHARDSON: Leaving it open.

BLITZER: Nice beard, by the way.

RICHARDSON: Thank you very much. Thank you. BLITZER: Governor, thanks.

RICHARDSON: I'm trying to be like you.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thanks for coming in.

RICHARDSON: Thank you. Thanks very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: You will rarely hear a Republican presidential candidate wish his party was more like Democrats. But Mike Huckabee does on one key issue. So, what does Huckabee think Democrats do better and why? Stick around.

And hundreds of thousands of people in Florida see the lights go out. What caused it? We have the latest on that massive blackout that caught a lot of people off guard.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: In her diary, Anne Frank writes about her true love. But up, until now, no one had ever seen his photo. Now, after more than 60 years, we're getting a glimpse of Peter Schiff online. Let's turn to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, how did Anne Frank describe Peter Schiff?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: She wrote in her diary that he was the ideal boy, tall, slim and good-looking. Now we have this image of Peter Schiff found and handed over to the Anne Frank House in the Netherlands by a former classmate of his. Take a look at the page where his name appeared.

This is in 1944. Anne Frank hadn't seen him for almost two years at this point. But she said she had a crush on him. And she said she didn't need a photograph to remember what this boy from the neighborhood looked like. He was just a couple of years older than her.

Well, now we do have this photograph, which is posted online. The former classmate is now 81 years old, living in London. Not much more is known about Peter Schiff. According to the Anne Frank House, they say that he was killed in Auschwitz. They're asking for any other information about him to be submitted on the Web site -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thank you, Abbi, for that -- Abbi reporting.

These days, some families are finding it tough to talk about politics around the dinner table. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they're really mad. I have people not even speaking to me because they -- they think I'm part of the devil or of some crazy cult.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Coming up, some voters take the Obama vs. Clinton contest to extremes.

Plus, are journalists giving Barack Obama a free ride? The Clinton camp says, yes. We are going to turn a lens on the news media and its coverage.

And will John McCain be judged by a supporter's tirade against Barack Obama? The best political team on television, it's ready to weigh in.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, what some say is a double standard in the news media, with Barack Obama getting easier treatment than Hillary Clinton. Is there any basis for that claim?

Also, why Hillary Clinton says she's misunderstood. We are going to show you her candid comments in an unlikely interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Plus, John McCain's Ohio embarrassment. How will a supporter's anti-Obama tirade impact McCain's campaign?

All of this, plus the best political team on television.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are set to go at it again in a big debate. She surely hopes to slow down his momentum. But some say Obama is doing so well because of a political love fest between him and the news media.

Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES." And he has details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hillary Clinton's campaign has been complaining for months that the media are giving her a hard time and Barack Obama a free pass. Now the candidate herself is pointing to an unusual source to back her up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE") UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Like nearly everyone in the news media, the three of us are totally in the tank for Senator Obama.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ (voice-over): Comedy aside, it's hard to deny that Senator Obama has gotten largely upbeat coverage from the time he first flirted with running for president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Barack Obama, the rising rock star.

BILL PRESS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: It's about Barack Obama, the rock star.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His rock star popularity.

KURTZ: The media gave a big ride to Obama's endorsement by Oprah Winfrey. And, when Ted Kennedy backed him, there was talk of Obama as the new JFK. Some journalists have talked openly about the inspirational quality of his rallies and speeches.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: The feeling most people get when they hear a Barack Obama speech, my -- I felt this thrill going up my leg.

KURTZ: The news magazine covers on Obama and his wife, Michelle, have been glowing. "Why You Love Him" says "The New Republic."

While Hillary Clinton has been scrutinized from everything from her cleavage to her laugh to a couple of teary moments, controversies involving Obama never seem to get the same traction in the media world. His ties to indicted fund-raiser, Tony Rezko, his pattern of voting "present" more than 100 times, sometimes on controversial bills, in the Illinois legislature, his decade-old meeting with former Weather Underground radical, Bernadette Dohrn (ph), Michelle Obama's comment that this is the first time she's been really proud of America.

Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said this week that the media have largely applauded Obama for attacking Clinton, while his candidate gets criticized when she goes after Obama. And while that overstates the case, some journalists say the details are less important than the overarching plot line.

CLARENCE PAGE, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Every campaign's -- every big story has a narrative. And the narrative here has been one of the heroic young challenger against the mighty incumbent-like woman who is running for president.

KURTZ: There are signs that Obama is starting to draw a bit more critical scrutiny now that he's the Democratic front-runner. But it will take a lot more of that to change the "Saturday Night Live" image of a pro-Obama press corps.

Howard Kurtz, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: So does the national news media have a double standard for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton?

Let's talk about that and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's here in Washington. Our own Jack Cafferty in New York. And our chief national correspondent, John King, once again joining us from Cincinnati. He was featured on "Saturday Night Live" himself this past weekend.

Jack, what do you think? Is there a double standard? Is Hillary Clinton sort of getting tough coverage and he's getting a free ride?

CAFFERTY: That would be the meaning of double standard. I got it. No, it's a vast left-wing conspiracy, Wolf. We all got together in the media and said OK, let's all decide collectively to beat up on Hillary and be nice to Barack Obama. That's nonsense.

This is a tailor-made story for the U.S. news media from a couple of perspectives. One, the arrogance and the incumbent presumed nominee way with which this thing was launched -- I don't need the voters, I'm going to be the next president. Katie Couric says what if you -- what if you're not the nominee? Oh, I'll be the nominee -- this arrogance, almost. The lack of planning, figuring it's all going to be over February 5th. No money, no people on the ground in the states that came after that.

And this young guy who recognized the deep dissatisfaction among the people in this country -- not the politicians, the people -- at their government, at their foreign policy, at the economic policies, at the military-industrial complex's chokehold on the country. And it began to resonate. And all of a sudden, it's the media's fault? Get out of here.

BLITZER: What do you think, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure, blame the media. Don't blame the candidate. Don't blame the campaign. Blame the media. And Hillary Clinton herself said look, I've been vetted. Well, she's continuing to get vetted in the way she performs as a candidate.

Is Barack Obama new on the scene? Of course. Has Hillary Clinton been around for a couple of decades? Do voters think they know her? Does the press think that it knows her? Of course. But is she getting favorable treatment because of some mystical quality that Barack Obama exudes? No. It's her campaign and it's the candidate.

BLITZER: Listen to what she told David Brody, John, of the Christian Broadcasting Network, because she's saying -- she's suggesting she's misunderstood.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAVID BRODY, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: Are you misunderstood? And if you are, why?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I have to believe I am because time and time again people who have been criticizing me in very harsh and personal terms, once they have gotten to know me, have apologized to me, have asked even for my forgiveness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You've covered her, John, for a very, very long time -- going back to the '92 campaign. What do you think about this whole issue?

KING: Well, look, her record is much more public than Barack Obama's record because Hillary Clinton has been in Washington throughout her husband's presidency -- eight years of that, plus her time in the Senate. So it is easier to go back and look at the Hillary health care controversy, to look at her sparring with what she calls the vast right-wing conspiracy over the years.

And, yes, she does get the baggage of Bill Clinton's presidency attached to her. Is that fair? It's not my call to make, but it is a reality and a political reality. She benefits from Bill Clinton's likeability in Democratic politics and she is criticized sometimes from it.

I think, in the long run, this all balances out. The Rezko trial begins next week in Chicago. Senator Obama will get some scrutiny because of that. But it has been a constant complaint from her campaign, Wolf. Without a doubt, they believe there has been a double standard and they complain about it on a daily basis.

BORGER: But, you know, the notion that Hillary Clinton is somehow misunderstood, which is the word that was used, is sort of beyond me. She's been in public life for a very long time.

And if she has not been able to make the public understand who she is, then who's to blame for that? I mean it's -- you know, it is, after all, presidential campaigns are about the ways that candidates communicate with voters.

BLITZER: And, Jack, if you take a look at the so-called poll of polls that we have, on the national level, it's pretty dramatic when you think about where it was only a few weeks ago. Right now, Obama is at 50 percent among Democratic voters. Hillary Clinton at 40 percent, 10 percent unsure. It's a significant change we've seen over these past several weeks.

CAFFERTY: Well, and it goes to what I was saying just a moment ago. Barack Obama is in the right place at the right time. The exit polling from places like Wisconsin and Maryland and Virginia showed that he's been gradually eating into Hillary Clinton's base and attracting people from all walks of life who hear what he has to say about the crummy job the federal government is doing running this country.

And they believe that something different is needed or we're headed off the edge of a cliff. And, unfortunately -- and it's no fault of Hillary Clinton's -- she's identified with the past history in this country that has led us to the point where we are now. And that's just the way it goes.

BLITZER: John, I want to take a break, but a quick thought from you, because I know you do some digging on these matters.

How -- within the Clinton campaign, is there a split on what strategy she should take, namely the get tough strategy against Barack Obama or try to take the high road? Is there friction within her camp of advisers?

KING: If you're short on time, I'll give you a one word answer -- yes. There is friction between her advisers and you've seen it play out. She can be very nice in some of the debates and then come out slashing the next day.

There is a split -- not so much a splint over how she should do it, but what the price is of doing it, because Barack Obama is so well liked among Democratic voters. Remember, this is still a contest within the Democratic primaries. Both of these candidates are very well liked. So if one attacks the other, there is a backlash. It's a simple rule of politics.

BLITZER: And, Gloria, the Democrats I speak to, they hate it when they see the tough words going from Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama against each other, because they think that's simply ammunition down the road for John McCain.

BORGER: Yes. They think that she's giving John McCain his applause lines if Barack Obama becomes the nominee. They don't like to see that. And that's why tonight, Wolf, I think you're going to see both of them walk kind of a fine line. She's going to try and lower Barack Obama's altitude. But you're not going to see her say shame on you the way she did in her stump speech over the weekend.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. We have more to talk about, including John McCain. He was forced to distance himself today from some much -- from a very outspoken conservative radio talk show host.

Will that host's anti-Obama tirade hurt McCain's campaign? We're going to tell you what happened.

Plus, the candidates and North Korea -- how might the outcome of the race change the strained ties between Washington and Pyongyang?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CUNNINGHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: All is going to be right with the world when the great prophet from Chicago takes the stand and the world leaders who want to kill us will simply be singing "Kumbaya" together around the table with Barack Obama. It's all going to be great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A conservative radio talk show host takes to the stage for John McCain, rails against Barack Obama in the process. Let's get back to the best political team on television.

Jack, it didn't take very long at all for John McCain to repudiate what this guy who introduced him had to say.

Listen to what McCain said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I regret any comments that may be made about these two individuals who are honorable Americans. We just have strong philosophical differences. And so I want to disassociate myself from any disparaging remarks that may have been said about them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think of this whole flap, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Well, I think we were having a discussion yesterday how much time Ralph Nader deserves on the air. I think he -- Ralph Nader deserves more time than this histrionic little jerk that was -- that was making a fool of himself in Cincinnati today.

As far as McCain distancing himself from it, everybody knows this guy in Cincinnati. Apparently, he's been on WKRP there for a long time. They know what he's capable of. So it would not be exactly a big surprise to have him come out and do this.

If John McCain didn't know about it, maybe he should have known about it. And perhaps they'll be more careful going forward. But that was -- that's just nonsense, that kind of stuff. And I want to know where he buys his clothes. He looks --

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: I really want --

BLITZER: But --

CAFFERTY: Where do you buy mustard jackets and brown pants?

BORGER: Me, too.

BLITZER: Well, let me bring John in, because, John, you were there. You did some reporting. How did this guy get to introduce John McCain at this forum in Cincinnati? KING: Wolf, it was right in this hall earlier today. And how did he get here? The McCain national traveling campaign says they knew nothing about this, that the program was settled by his local supporters. Now, those local supporters say that, yes, they knew they were taking a risk, that the talk show host, Bill Cunningham, is a magnet for controversy.

But they also say in a close election in Ohio -- and this is the Republican area of Cincinnati that is critical in close elections in Ohio -- they say that he's the guy you want on the radio boosting your candidacy because he gets Republicans ginned up and he gins up excitement and gins up enthusiasm and gins up voter turnout, which could be critical to John McCain not only this coming Tuesday, but come November.

So they say they knew they were taking a risk, but that they wanted him on board the campaign. And now they say, clearly, that risk backfired. Senator McCain obviously having to come out. And it's embarrassing. He wanted to talk about Iraq and the economy today. Instead, he had to repudiate one of his own supporters.

BORGER: And, Wolf, be clear -- I think John McCain would take every conservative radio talk show host he can get right now on his campaign, given where Rush Limbaugh stands on him. So this fellow is a conservative radio talk show host, except he ended up embarrassing the campaign. And now, of course, he's disowned the campaign completely. So, this is something they -- you know, if they want to be ready for primetime, they've got to watch out for these things.

BLITZER: But, you know what, Jack? I've known John McCain for a long time and it does underscore that he is a decent, decent person to so quickly go out and repudiate what this conservative radio talk show host had to say. He didn't mince any words, saying he doesn't want to run a campaign against either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama using this kind of language.

CAFFERTY: Well, OK. Yes. I mean the consensus is John McCain's a really nice guy. And for 12 hours yesterday, the Clinton campaign refused to answer questions about that silly picture of Barack Obama that the "Drudge Report" claimed it got from somebody inside the Clinton campaign.

Politics is politics. What you see isn't always what you get. And I think you have to look at some of this stuff with a bit of a jaundiced eye. And I have two of those.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right. Quickly, Gloria, any final thought?

BORGER: I agree. He's got two jaundiced eyes. That's right.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right, John, a final thought from you? KING: John McCain is not afraid to play hard ball politics when necessary, Wolf. He has said he promises a campaign on the issues. He wants a positive tone against Senator Clinton or Senator Obama. We take him at his word for that. He did act quickly today.

But go back into the primaries, ask people in the Romney campaign or some of the other campaigns if they think that Senator McCain didn't sometimes stretch the truth or be a little overly tough or overly, say, non-factual, in his tactics, and they might have some examples for you. So this cuts both ways in politics.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much. John King out in Cincinnati. Gloria, thank you.

Jack, don't go away. We have "The Cafferty File" coming up.

CAFFERTY: I wouldn't think of it.

BLITZER: We also have an important programming note. This conservative radio talk show host, Bill Cunningham, is going to be John Roberts' guest coming up 8:00 p.m. Eastern in the CNN "Election Center." You're going to want to stick around and see that.

But coming up next at the top of the hour is Lou Dobbs. He's getting ready for his show.

And he's going to give us a little preview of what he's working on -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you.

Coming up at 7:00 p.m. Here on CNN, we'll have much more on the battle between Senators Obama and Clinton and McCain.

And a leading congresswoman and super-delegate from Ohio, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, among the country's finest representatives, will be joining us tonight to tell us whether she plans to support either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama and what in the world are they talking about when it comes to free trade.

Also tonight, new evidence of a worsening financial crisis facing this country's middle class. Millions of Americans own homes that are now worth less than they owe on their mortgages. The number is rising -- and fast. We'll have that report.

And our food safety system is simply broken and our federal government is doing nothing to fix it. Congressmen today accusing the food industry in this country of putting profits before safety -- a refrain we're hearing with increasing frequency.

Three of my favorite talk radio show hosts join me tonight -- Mark Simone from New York, Steve Cochran from Chicago and from Los Angeles, Doug McIntyre. Join us for that, as they give us their perspectives on the presidential campaign.

We'll have all of that at the top of the hour, all the day's news and much more -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Lou. See you in a few moments.

DOBBS: You bet.

BLITZER: Mike Huckabee is explaining why he's still in the Republican race even with the odds all but unbeatable. We're going to have details of what he's now saying.

Plus, Barack Obama's controversial remarks about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now the Army chief of staff is weighing in.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Checking our political ticker, Republican Mike Huckabee says there's good reason he hasn't dropped out of the presidential race. He says just do the math -- or, as he calls it, the Huck-A-Math. He says that John McCain still doesn't have the delegates to officially clinch the nomination and in a perfect world, Huckabee thinks it would be great if Republicans were more like Democrats.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we ran the Republican primary process like the Democrats, with more proportionate delegates and fewer winner-take-all states, there would be a dramatically different picture of where this delegate count is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The U.S. Army chief of staff says he has no reason to doubt Barack Obama's claims about troop and equipment shortages in Afghanistan. But General George Casey says he does dispute any suggestion that troops in Afghanistan are not able to do their jobs.

Casey testified today before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The panel has demanded the name of the U.S. Army captain who reportedly complained that his rifle platoon was poorly equipped. The Obama camp hasn't revealed his name, citing his privacy.

New York's mayor is very critical of the city's top newspaper. Michael Bloomberg saying the recent "The New York Times'" report on John McCain's ties to a lobbyist amounted to a smear. Bloomberg's office confirms a report describing the mayor's anger about the article. Bloomberg told "The New York Post" -- and I'm quoting now -- "I think that the story alleged things either explicitly or implicitly that they had no evidence for."

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com. The Ticker is the number one political news blog on the Web right now. That's also where you can read my latest blog post. Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: It took Bloomberg long enough to get around to reacting to that story, didn't it?

BLITZER: But he was tough. He was tough.

CAFFERTY: Yes, but I mean the story was out last week.

BLITZER: That's right.

CAFFERTY: I mean where have you been?

The question: What does Hillary Clinton have to do at tonight's debate in Cleveland, Ohio to slow Barack Obama's momentum?

Adrian writes: "I'm a woman. My husband has told me that I have been moody, switched gears and even seem to have multiple personalities. Jack, I don't want anyone with that many faces holding down one office. I do believe a woman can be president, but not this woman. After all, which one would handle our foreign policy?"

Justin in Atlanta: "Clinton must make it clear that Obama speaks in vague terms and has no plan of action for his agenda. She must illustrate that she has a plan and that he does not, while at the same time appealing to those who make decisions based on emotion and not logic."

Pam says: "Hillary was presumptuous at first, thinking that she would win this hands down. Then she realized, hey, what the heck, this Obama guy is winning everybody over. She had Billy Boy go out and pull some ugly stunts. Those backfired. She pulled a few of her own. Those backfired. All that's left is for the fat lady to sing."

Lashanda in Maryland: "You're asking the wrong question. It's not what Hillary can do to change the dynamics of this race. The question is what can Hillary do that's best for the country right now? Concede tonight is the answer. Time to come together and focus on McCain."

Marcus in Houston: "There's not much she can do, Jack. She's hurting the party with her rhetoric, making personal attacks against a candidate with whom she's not much different in terms of policy. I think the people will show next Tuesday that they are tired of Hillary's politics as usual."

Richard in Washington: "What does Hillary Clinton have to do at tonight's debate to slow Barack Obama's momentum? Ask Mike Huckabee for a miracle."

And Andrea writes from Lake Charles, Louisiana: "It depends which Hillary shows up tonight. One, Mrs. Experience; two, Mrs. Angry; or, three, Mrs. I Found My Voice." -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

See you tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM. There's plenty of backstabbing in politics, but a real backstabbing? The presidential race may turn an in-law into an outlaw, and that's just for starters. Jeanne Moos finding it all Moost Unusual.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Forget the dirty looks and the name-calling, the political dialogue in America is getting downright (AUDIO GAP).

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): (AUDIO GAP) ... normally might involve back stabbing (AUDIO GAP) with a knife? That's what this Hillary supporter allegedly did to an Obama supporter -- his brother-in-law, no less.

RISA VETRI FERMAN, MONTGOMERY COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: They were talking politics. And talking politics became fighting politics.

MOOS: The knifing happened at this home in Upper Providence Township, Pennsylvania. And according to the criminal complaint (AUDIO GAP) said Barack Obama was trashing Hillary -- meaning Obama is beating Hillary. And the guy who allegedly did the stabbing, Jose Ortiz, said Obama was not a realist.

And though these may not sound like fighting words...

FERMAN: One began choking the other and then the victim of the choking took a kitchen knife and stabbed his brother-in-law in the stomach.

MOOS: ... Sean Shurelds went to the hospital in critical condition, but has now been released. His brother-in-law had a black eye from the fight. While no one we talked to has resorted to knives, the presidential race has people arguing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every night with my husband.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We make faces. We don't fight.

MOOS: This New Yorker, an Obama supporter, says he fights by phone and e-mail with friends and relatives back in Kansas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, they're really mad. I have people not even speaking to me because they think I'm part of the devil or some crazy cult.

MOOS: This guy isn't fighting, he's betting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, I won a steak dinner over it.

MOOS: He bet a friend that Hillary would lose the nomination and his friend just conceded, saying... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's toast. Make the reservation for dinner.

MOOS: On the Web site Gawker, someone told the story of a Hillary supporter who had his drink intentionally knocked out of his hand at a party by an Obama fan, who said that's because you support Hillary. Politics can be intimidating.

How about this group of Ron Paul supporters who chased after Fox's Sean Hannity? Chased him all the way to a hotel. And then there was Bill O'Reilly getting pushy with an Obama staffer.

BILL O'REILLY: Don't block the shot, got it? Don't block the shot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

O'REILLY: No, you're not. You're blocking the shot. That's really low class, pal.

MOOS: At least Bill had enough class not to take a stab at politics with a kitchen knife. As for the alleged brother-in-law stabber, if he's convicted of a felony, he can't vote.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: You've helped make our politics pod cast, by the way, one of the most popular on iTunes. To get the best political team to go, this is what you have to do. You can subscribe at CNNPolitics.com or go to iTunes. That's where you will get it.

Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.

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