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Leaving Clinton for Obama: Rep. John Lewis Defecting; Radio Host's War on McCain; Interview With Governor Ed Rendell

Aired February 27, 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, a dramatic defection from the Hillary Clinton camp. A civil rights legend and superdelegate is jumping ship and now endorsing Barack Obama.
Also this hour, a declaration of war on John McCain. The conservative radio talk show host who slammed Barack Obama isn't taking McCain's criticism lying down.

And have you ever been annoyed by one of those automatic phone calls from a political campaign? You're going to want to hear what's happening in the Congress right now.

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

Up first this hour, an influential Democrat switches sides. That would be Congressman John Lewis of Georgia.

There's word today the civil rights icon and superdelegate is saying so long to Hillary Clinton and hopping on the Barack Obama bandwagon. The news coming less than a week before the crucial March 4th primaries.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is covering the Democrats. She's out in Ohio right now, one of the states having its primary next Tuesday.

So, Candy, what's the message we're learning from John Lewis' dramatic decision to switch from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the message is that the momentum for Barack Obama continues. You know, this is a psychological blow to the Clinton campaign. It's a political blow to the Clinton campaign. And it's a personal blow.

John Lewis is a good friend of the Clintons. For him to do this really says something, and I was struck by something he told one of the newspapers in Georgia. He said, you know, "I think that something is happening in this country that none of us actually saw coming." And it speaks to that momentum that Barack Obama has been able to really gear up since Super Tuesday, those 11 wins. He's bringing in the endorsements.

We tried to talk to Hillary Clinton here today. She was here talking the economy in Ohio. Her campaign says, look, here is our strategy between now and next Tuesday, and that is to try to focus the voters on the stakes. As she told reporters on the plane, listen, the question is who do you want to be commander in chief? Who do you want to be woken up at 3:00 a.m. in the morning to make a crisis decision? Who do you want to be steward of this economy?

So they're trying to focus on the message here and focus voters on what's really at stake here in the '08 election. And in the meantime, she keeps sort of taking these blows, and John Lewis really is a big one -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Did he offer any other explanation of why he decided to make this decision?

CROWLEY: Again, he told Georgia media outlets that basically, in his district, they had voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. And he was going to go with that, which of course gets us into the whole superdelegate argument, what are they to do?

Are they supposed to follow their constituents? Are they supposed to make an independent decision on who they're going to vote for in that Denver convention for the Democrats? But the fact of the matter is, that this was a broader decision, it seems, for John Lewis in that he just decided that something was happening in the country and the country wanted someone different than the woman that he originally endorsed.

BLITZER: All right, Candy. Thanks very much.

Candy will be back shortly with us. Candy Crowley reporting from Ohio.

Another endorsement today for Barack Obama as well from Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. Obama now has the support of 10 of his Senate colleagues, compared to 13 for Hillary Clinton. Twenty-four Senate Democrats have not yet endorsed either candidate.

Ohio and Texas are so important to the Democratic candidates right now that voters there are seeing a whole lot of them. With the two-week stretch between the last big contest and the March 4th primaries, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been getting around.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was in Cincinnati.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This morning in Lorain.

OBAMA: And if you travel through Youngstown...

CLINTON: ... in Youngstown, in Dayton, in Cincinnati.

OBAMA: ... all across Ohio, all across Texas, Rhode Island, Vermont.

CLINTON: ... from Toledo to Parma, to Cleveland to, you know, Dayton. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Check this out. Senator Clinton has been dashing through 10 Ohio cities over a nine-day period, including today. Senator Obama is barnstorming through seven cities.

Both are familiar with the flight path between Ohio and Texas as well. Clinton stopping in six Texas cities over nine days. Obama visiting eight cities.

While John McCain sets his sights on Barack Obama today, he's certainly feeling heat for defending Obama from a conservative attack. And that's not helping McCain's campaign to win over the right and unite the party. Let's get some explanation. We'll bring in our chief national correspondent, John King.

That conservative radio talk show host where you are in Cincinnati, who introduced McCain yesterday, he's by no means backing down in this fight, not only with Obama, but with McCain as well.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dead right, Wolf. Two hundred and fifty days to the election. No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio.

A new poll out today shows John McCain in a dead heat with Barack Obama, slightly ahead of Hillary Clinton. So they say he needs every conservative vote he can get across the river here in Cincinnati. The last thing they say he needs is a fight with a prominent conservative.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The reason why I had to repudiate that was because it was a campaign event.

KING (voice over): It is war now. And words are Bill Cunningham's weapon of choice.

BILL CUNNINGHAM, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: And I'm saying to John McCain, I'm done with you. I may not vote for Hillary, but I'm sure as hell not going to vote for Juan Pablo McCain, who wants to give amnesty to millions of illegals.

KING: The conservative radio host says it will be this way from now until November...

CUNNINGHAM: John McCain is finding it impossible to connect with conservatives because of what he did to me yesterday.

KING: ... unless Senator McCain apologizes for condemning Cunningham and a whole lot more.

CUNNINGHAM: He would have to apologize for McCain/Feingold, apologize for McCain/Kennedy, apologize for McCain/Lieberman, apologize for shutting down Gitmo, apologize for opposing the Bush tax cuts, say he's sorry, he made a mistake, and then I might consider it. But this guy's got a big problem among conservatives like me. KING: Campaigning in Texas, the senator was in no mood to apologize, saying Cunningham is free to say whatever he wants on the radio but not at an official McCain campaign event.

MCCAIN: Americans want a respectful campaign. And they will get it from me.

KING: War with conservative talk radio is anything but helpful. And Rush Limbaugh quickly took Cunningham's side, mocking McCain's apology.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I'm sorry. It's uncalled for. It's uncalled for in American politicizes. It's not going to happen. I take full responsibility although he did it. I didn't even know he was going to be here.

KING: The best McCain can do is try to turn the dust-up to his advantage.

MCCAIN: I will always do what I believe is right no matter what the political consequences are, whether it be on the war in Iraq or things like happened yesterday. That's the only way I know how to conduct my life.

KING: At issue is Cunningham's warm-up act at McCain's Tuesday Cincinnati rally.

CUNNINGHAM: Because now we have a hack Chicago-style Daley politician...

And maybe start covering Barack Hussein Obama the same way...

All's going to be right with the world when the great prophet from Chicago takes the stand.

KING: Cunningham is a local legend, invited by local Republicans who know he's a magnet for controversy.

MAGGIE NAFZIGER, HAMILTON COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY: You're playing with a little bit of fire, but at the same time, I don't think anyone expected the comments.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now, those local Republicans who invited Bill Cunningham to the event now concede privately that was a big mistake. And Wolf, yesterday, they were saying Bill Cunningham was critical to the George W. Bush's two victories in the presidential races here in Ohio. Today, though, the party line is he doesn't have that much of an influence, he's a cranky guy on the radio sometimes. And despite his criticism of McCain, which Cunningham says will go all the way through the election, conservatives here say they are confident if they work hard, McCain can still carry Ohio -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He may be getting slammed by that conservative radio talk show host, but McCain is getting some praise from Democrats. And presumably that might help down the road with moderates and Independents as well. We'll see what happens.

All right, John. Thanks very much.

John King reporting from Cincinnati.

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

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

It seems like Hillary Clinton's not only running against Barack Obama these days, she's also running against us, the news media. Early on in last night's debate, Clinton referenced a "Saturday Night Live" skit that showed reporters fawning over Obama, showering him with softball questions, and she said during the debate, "Well, maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow." That's a quote. Clinton also was whining about getting asked the first question more often in the last several debates.

The Clinton campaign has been complaining recently, more so since she's fallen behind, that the news media is tougher on her than on Obama. It's a tactic as old as politics itself. Things aren't going well, you blame the media.

In today's column in "The New York Times," Maureen Dowd questions Clinton's line of attack against the media. She writes this: "Beating on the press is the lamest thing you can do. It's only because of the utter open mindedness of the press that Hillary Clinton can lose 11 contests in a row and still be treated as a contender."

Now, that's writing.

She has a point, Maureen Dowd does. If Barack Obama had lost the last 11 races in a row since Super Tuesday, chances are we wouldn't even remember his name.

So here's the question: Have the news media been unfair to Hillary Clinton?

You can go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.

Wolf, these questions go up a little before the show starts. We have had over 3,000 responses to this question already.

BLITZER: And there are going to be a whole lot more. I know just the e-mail that I get on this issue is overwhelming. People thinking we're pro-Clinton, anti-Clinton, pro-Obama, anti-Obama. It's amazing how viewers are watching all of this.

I'm anxious to hear what they have to say to you.

Jack Cafferty, thanks very much.

These are very tense times for members of the Hillary Clinton camp, as you know. The Pennsylvania governor and Hillary Clinton supporter Ed Rendell says the candidate hasn't been treated well by the news media, either. You're going to find out why. That's coming up, my interview with Governor Rendell.

Plus, lots of new questions for Barack Obama about his own pastor and about Minister Louis Farrakhan.

And high gas prices hitting hard even in Texas oil country. We're checking out the pain at the pump aboard the CNN Election Express.

Lots of news happening today.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: If the Democratic presidential contest keeps on going following the big showdowns in Ohio and Texas on Tuesday, the next mega battleground will be Pennsylvania -- 158 Democratic delegates will be at stake on April 22nd.

Hillary Clinton has a critical ally in Pennsylvania, and that would be the governor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell.

Governor, thanks for coming in.

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: My pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: How disappointed are you that Congressman John Lewis, a pioneer, a veteran of the civil rights movement, has now changed his mind and has gone from supporting Hillary Clinton, whom you support, to Barack Obama?

RENDELL: Well, disappointed because John Lewis is a great, great path-finding American, but, you know, I'm not a believer in endorsements. Even when I made my endorsement, I said people make up their own mind who they're going to vote for for president of the United States. There's no question about that.

Even someone as popular as Maxine Waters in her district, and she endorsed Hillary Clinton and gave a great endorsement, she didn't carry the day with very many voters. And you know, I think at the presidential level, people sort of shake off endorsements and make up their own mind. The best example was all of the Kennedys -- practically all of the Kennedys -- John Kerry, and Deval Patrick in Massachusetts for Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton wins the state by 10 points.

BLITZER: So the endorsements may or may not be important.

RENDELL: Mine included. BLITZER: Let's talk about NAFTA for a moment, which was a big issue in the debate last night between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Has NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, been good for Pennsylvania or bad for Pennsylvania?

RENDELL: It depends what section of the state. It's had a positive effect in some sections, but no question, it has hurt a lot of Pennsylvania manufacturing. And manufacturing has always been an important component of our economy. So it would get a mixed report card in this state.

BLITZER: So, on balance, would you want Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, if they were president, to opt out, give six months' notice and say it's over to Canada and Mexico and move on?

RENDELL: No. I would like to use the old phrase to amend it, not end it. I think if we put certain things into the NAFTA agreement, it could work successfully for all of Pennsylvania and for all of Ohio.

And by the way, the suggestion that Hillary Clinton is a newcomer to being opposed to some of the effects of NAFTA is pure baloney. I testified two and a half years ago, Wolf, at a hearing that Senator Clinton had, along with the governor of Michigan and the governor of Wisconsin, about the ill effects of NAFTA and the ill effects of unfair trade on manufacturing in this country. She's been concerned about it for a long time and has pretty concrete plans to go after it.

BLITZER: You were quoted in "The Washington Post" as saying this on Monday. You said, "The media does not like the Clintons for whatever reason. Maybe some of it's the Clintons' fault, but the media does not like the Clintons."

Has she gotten a bum rap, unfair treatment, compared to Barack Obama, over the past several months?

RENDELL: Wolf, there's absolutely no question about that. I don't know if you saw "Saturday Night Live." It's become a national joke.

In fact, one of your -- I think -- no, it was MSNBC's reporter who was covering Obama. He said, in referring to one of the senator's speeches, he said, you know, hearing this speech, it's hard not to get involved and be partisan. And then I think Brian Williams congratulated him on having the guts to say that.

Well, I don't know what journalism class he went to, but I have always been told that it's important for journalists, for reporters, to give the news straight and not to be influenced and not to be partisan. I don't think the senator has had a fair shake from the get-go, and I think Senator Obama, who's a terrific guy, who if he's the nominee, I will support with every ounce of energy I have, but he's basically been given a free ride.

Do you remember The Times story about a month ago about Senator Obama being pro-nuclear energy, and not only that, but changing a position in response to a big power company who later went on to become among his biggest contributors? Well, how many of the young Obama supporters out there at these rallies do you believe, Wolf, know that he's pro-nuclear?

BLITZER: Probably not a whole lot.

RENDELL: I would say probably not one.

BLITZER: All right. Well...

RENDELL: And why didn't that story have legs? Why didn't CNN, why didn't MSNBC, why didn't other newspapers report it?

BLITZER: Well, we did report it. But you know, we can't report the same stories every single day.

RENDELL: Oh, a teensy...

BLITZER: But let me talk about Pennsylvania for a moment, because we don't have a lot of time.

In the latest Quinnipiac poll, it shows that Hillary Clinton's lead in your state -- and you have your primary scheduled for April 22nd -- has gone from on February 14th from a 52 to 36 point advantage. It's now tightened up a bit, 49-43.

If in fact it does -- this contest continues April 22nd in Pennsylvania, how solid do you think support for Hillary Clinton among Democrats is?

RENDELL: Well, I think this is a great state for Hillary Clinton. It's the second oldest state in the union, as you know. And Hillary does well with older voters. It's a state that's had in some areas a rough economic period, even though the state overall is doing well.

The Clintons are very well liked in southeast Pennsylvania and have spent an inordinate amount of time there, both Hillary and the president. So I think she starts with some natural advantages.

If she gets to Pennsylvania -- and assume that means winning in Texas and Ohio -- I believe you'll see a reversal of that trend, and I believe you'll see her lead grow. And I think if it's competitive in Pennsylvania, she will win a solid victory -- 6-to-10-point victory.

BLITZER: All right. Well, she's lucky to have you as the governor in her corner...

RENDELL: We'll see. We'll see.

BLITZER: ... if it goes to April 22nd.

Governor Rendell, thanks for coming in.

RENDELL: Thanks, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And tomorrow we'll be joined by an Obama supporter right here in THE SITUATION ROOM to discuss the campaign.

They often come when you least expect them, and when you least want them. That would be those phone calls, very irritating phone calls, very often from the various presidential campaigns, using the candidates' voices asking for your support. If some people have their way now, though, you may soon be getting fewer of them.

Stand by. We'll explain.

And if John McCain and Barack Obama do face off in November, who might win? You may be surprised by a brand new poll.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Something Barack Obama's pastor said is causing a bit of a stir right now. It concerns the American-Jewish community and is forcing a response from the presidential candidate. We'll update you on what's going on.

And why is there a stir over a woman who's dead and how she would have voted in this current election? It concerns a claim from the Clinton campaign that's causing outrage, at least in part, the woman's family.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, promises, promises. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton say if elected president, they'd start pulling out troops from Iraq. Might they really do that if military commanders on the ground loudly protest?

Barbara Starr watching that story.

Barack Obama admits something he's not done in the Senate regarding foreign relations, while Hillary Clinton loses the support of a key superdelegate. How might all of this affect their rivalry? A supporter for each will be here.

And it's a startling thought. Some experts believe hackers -- hackers have been able to infiltrate every major U.S. government agency. How should the U.S. fight back?

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

Right now Barack Obama faces questions about his level of support for Israel from some American Jews. It's partly because of some controversial comments Obama's pastor has made. Obama is not all that happy with those remarks.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's watching this story for us in New York.

You have been looking into the pastor, what he said on various occasions. Mary, what are you finding?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, Senator Obama has acknowledged that Reverend Jeremiah Wright has at times said some controversial things. And with Obama in the spotlight more than ever, he has been asked about Wright twice in the last few days.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice over): Once again, Senator Barack Obama is facing questions about his church pastor and mentor, Jeremiah Wright, of the Trinity United Church of Christ. The questions started at the launch of his presidential campaign when he disinvited Reverend Wright to speak.

Why the questions? For one, the church's magazine gave an award to Louis Farrakhan last year, saying he epitomized greatness. Wright also told "The New York Times" last March he traveled to Libya in 1984 with Farrakhan, and that when Obama's opponents find out, "...a lot of his Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in hell."

Sunday, Farrakhan had words of support for Obama, unsolicited, said Obama. And he denounced them.

As for what he does to reassure Jewish Americans, who widely view Farrakhan as anti-Semitic:

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have some of the strongest support from the Jewish community in my hometown of Chicago and in this presidential campaign. And the reason is, is because I have been a stalwart friend of Israel's.

REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: Instead of a statistic destined for the poorhouse, you just may end up a statesman destined for the...

AUDIENCE: White House.

WRIGHT: Yes, we can.

SNOW: A "Chicago Tribune" religion writer says, with Wright gone as pastor, it's unclear how close he and Obama still are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because the church has kind of blocked out the media at this point, we are not allowed to ask questions about Obama to the current pastor.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, we did reach out to the Reverend Wright, but his office declined our request for an interview.

We should also point out that we also contacted Mr. Farrakhan's office for comment on Obama, denouncing him, but we haven't gotten a response -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary, thanks very much for that story.

Hillary Clinton is making the late former Texas Governor Ann Richards part of her Texas campaign. At least week's CNN debate, she made no bones about Richards playing a key role in her life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ann was a great champion for the people of Texas. She also reminded us that every so often it is good to have a laugh about what it is we're engaged in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A new Web ad from the Clinton campaign also features Ann Richards, but some members of her family don't like that.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what does this ad say?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is that Web video that has the late Ann Richards' sons upset.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CLINTON CAMPAIGN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So many women around Texas and America are saying, wish Ann was here, for us and for Hillary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: Ann Richards' daughter, Ellen Richards, is a Hillary Clinton supporter. And she says, through the campaign, "I believe, if my mom were alive today, that she would be stumping for Hillary."

But her brothers feel very differently, son Dan Richards saying, "We don't presume to know her mind when she was alive, and we certainly don't know now."

He tells CNN that he and his brother objected to this Web video last week, before it came out. Now, Clinton supporter Cathy Bonner, who worked for a long time with Ann Richards and was involved in making this Web video, says that this was completely redone after those objections were raised. And she called this a woman-to-woman video.

But son Dan Richards saying that he's upset by it and that they're doing it for political gain -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Abbi. Whoever becomes president will have to confront one issue of big concern to all of us, gas prices. Seemingly, the only thing consistent about them is this. They keep going up. Today, oil spiked above $102 a barrel -- that's a new record -- before retreating a bit. How might gas prices affect the presidential vote?

Ali Velshi is with the CNN Election Express. He's driving through Texas, talking to a lot of Texans who are going to be voting next week.

Ali, you have been looking at the impact of rising fuel costs there.

What are you seeing?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, we have had a lot of news on fuel prices just this week, a rise of about 17 cents in the last two weeks, about 80 cents in the last year for gasoline. Diesel prices are higher, oil closing above $101 -- or above $100, hitting $102.

This is our fourth stop in our tour of Texas. And the messages are consistent. People are concerned about gas prices and fuel prices and inflation. We're in Goliad, Texas. Take a listen to what we heard here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI (voice-over): The CNN Election Express rolled into historic Goliad, South Texas, population 2,000.

Goliad is the site of the Presidio La Bahia, built in 1741. It was in this chapel that Texas first declared its independence from Mexico back in 1835. Now, oil is a big part of what goes on in these parts, whether it's drilling it or using it.

At a restaurant on the town square, we spoke to the owner's daughter, who put a positive spin on an issue that weighs on everyone's minds here, gas prices.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we're at that real high gas price level right now. But with people, I think it's not as bad as it could be. I'm a little worried, but I think we will pull through and get out of it.

VELSHI: There is a bright side. Some ranchers lease out their oil-rich land in return for cash. A local high school, for instance, has a brand new diamond.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a lot of people that own -- that have the -- the gas royalties and the oil royalties on their property. So, they -- they get some benefit from that. And that seems to stimulate the economy.

VELSHI: These are ranchers, not oil barons. DAVID MOORE, RANCHER: We don't get as much money as everybody thinks. As Ms. Bulis (ph), who owns the ranch, says, she gets cigarette money and gas money out of it.

VELSHI: And with gas prices well above $3 a gallon, the windfall doesn't seem all that great.

MOORE: It's getting costly. When you're paying $3.50 for a gallon of diesel for like my truck or you are paying $3.09 for a gallon of gasoline for a vehicle, it costs you to get down the ranch and get back every day.

VELSHI: Texas, oil they are both part of the state's storied history. And like all of these flags that have flown over this fort, it's a complicated story.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI: And, Wolf, as you can see, we're at the fort here in Goliad. We're going to move on and talk to people along the Gulf Coast about what their economic issues are. But it is the top of everybody's mind here in Texas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Ali Velshi, with the CNN Election Express.

By the way, we all could be paying $4 for a gallon of gas very soon. We did the math to see what that might mean for some popular cars. Check it out. Assuming you drive about 15,000 miles a year -- that's average for a lot of folks -- gas for the Honda CR-V would cost you $652 more. Fueling your Honda Accord would set you back slightly less than that, but, if you drive a hybrid, like the Toyota Prius, $4 gas wouldn't hurt as much. It costs an extra $272 per year.

In this campaign season, you never know when a candidate or a surrogate will call.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think they should be limited. I think that we have gotten probably five or six calls from a Republican campaign and more than a dozen calls from the Democratic campaign in a very short period of time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Coming up, will Congress crack down on so-called robo- calls? We're going to tell you what's happening on the Hill right now.

Plus, the impact of John Lewis' endorsement switch. Will it hurt Hillary Clinton more than it helps Barack Obama?

And Hillary Clinton charges, Barack Obama has done next to nothing about Afghanistan. We are going to check her charge and Obama's record. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: If you have ever been flooded with calls from political campaigns, listen up. There's a new push in Congress right now to crack down on those often annoying taped messages known as robo-calls.

CNN's Kate Bolduan is joining us now. She's watching this story.

How big of a problem is this, and what's Congress doing about it?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one survey showed that nearly two-thirds of all voters got robo-calls during the elections two years ago. And, Wolf, that was a midterm.

Now, the -- now, with the presidential race heating up here, these robo-calls are heating up as well. And Congress is now stepping in to restrict them.

BLITZER: All right, we have got a little problem there, Kate, with the tape.

Let's talk a little bit about what's going on. What is the latest initiative in Congress to do something about these very often, very annoying calls that voters get?

BOLDUAN: Yes. Well, that very annoying and -- and very often calls is exactly what Senator Dianne Feinstein said today.

She said -- oh, and, Wolf, I think we are going to go to the package. But, Wolf, what Dianne Feinstein says is that they are annoying, they're abusive, and she now wants to limit them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN (voice-over): You have probably received at least one.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RICHARD CORDRAY, OHIO STATE TREASURER: Hi. This is Ohio Treasurer Richard Cordray. I will be voting early and supporting Barack Obama.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Or maybe several and at all hours.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hi. This is Hillary Clinton. It's time to send a loud, clear message.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Robo-calls, automated telephone campaigns asking for voter support or attacking a political opponent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The political process has to use a lot of means to get out there and reach people. And, you know, if they're annoyed, they can hang up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It would be one thing if it was just a single call with a single issue, but it gets annoying to a point.

BOLDUAN: Senator Dianne Feinstein says these calls can be harassing and violate a voter's privacy. And she wants the government to crack down on abuses.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: They have become for many people very invasive when they come sometimes eight to 10 times a day, and sometimes in the middle of the night.

BOLDUAN: Feinstein is pushing a bill that would ban robo-calls between 9:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m., and limit campaigns to two calls to a household per day. She also wants to open up the federal do-not-call list for telemarketers to include political robo-calls as well.

At least a dozen states restrict or limit these recorded calls.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper wants similar legislation in his state.

ROY COOPER, NORTH CAROLINA ATTORNEY GENERAL: We're not regulating the content or the message in anybody's speech. What we're saying is that people who have said, we don't want these calls, ought not to have to get them.

BOLDUAN: But the lawyer for a company which makes these calls argues, saying do not call to political messages goes too far, a violation of free speech.

JIM BOPP, ATTORNEY: And this is a very cheap and effective way for people to communicate with fellow citizens. If people don't like the calls, they can just simply hang up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: Now, the bill would also force groups to identify themselves at the beginning of the call and to stop groups from blocking their caller I.D. number when the call comes in to your house -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Kate, for that report -- very annoying calls, indeed.

Coming up in our "Strategy Session," John McCain, Barack Obama, they go head-to-head over the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have news for Senator Obama. Al Qaeda is in Iraq. And that's why we're fighting in Iraq. And that's why we're succeeding in Iraq.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have some news for John McCain. And that is that there was no such thing as al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But how do the two front-runners match up among the voters? We are going to tell you.

And a defector from the Clinton camp. Is the civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis' decision to switch sides a bad omen for team Clinton?

All that and a lot more coming up -- right here in our "Strategy Session."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As we have been reporting the dramatic news earlier today, the congressman who is well known for his civil rights work has now decided to withdraw his support for Hillary Clinton and instead support Barack Obama.

Let's talk about that and more in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and Republican strategist Rich Galen.

Guys, thanks for coming in.

I will read to you what John Lewis, the civil rights icon, said in announcing his switch from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama: "I think the candidacy of Senator Obama represents the beginning of a new movement in American political history that began in the hearts and minds of the people of this nation. And I want to be on the side of the people, on the side of the spirit of history."

How big of a deal, Steve, is this for the Democratic candidates?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, of course, it's just one superdelegate who switched, but, symbolically, as you point out, it's a huge deal, because of what he means to the civil rights community.

His district, you know, was a district that Barack Obama carried by a significant margin. And John Lewis and other members of Congress like him are under enormous pressure from those constituents all over the country to vote the way the district did. So, I think this is a pretty significant moment for the campaigns.

BLITZER: You -- you agree, Rich?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes.

Not only that, but, as I remember it, way back last spring, when the -- the Selma march was going on, Lewis indicated that he might endorse Obama then. And, as the stories were told, Bill Clinton actually interceded and asked him, withhold. He ended up endorsing Hillary Clinton. And this switch at this time, when she is a very weakened position, I think...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And Bill Clinton did say at the time, when he was being criticized for supposedly having some racially charged remarks before South Carolina, as all of us remember, he referred to the endorsement of John Lewis and the Reverend Andy Young, the former mayor of Atlanta, the former U.N. ambassador, as saying that these people stand with Hillary Clinton right now, and you should as well.

So, there is a history, though, of -- a history of the Clintons and John Lewis.

MCMAHON: There's a deep history.

And, in fact, in his statement, he said, I love President Clinton, and I love Senator Clinton.

But, as you pointed out, again, the statement always indicated that he thinks this is the beginning of a movement, and he wants to be on the right side of that movement.

BLITZER: Let's take a look at a couple of hypothetical matchups involving John McCain, who we all assume is going to be the Republican presidential nominee.

And first with Senator Clinton, if she were to get the Democratic nomination, in this latest "Los Angeles Times"/Bloomberg poll, right now, McCain has 46 percent to Hillary Clinton's 40 percent in a national vote, 3 percent sampling error. If McCain were to run against Obama, it tightens up a little bit, 44 percent to 42 percent.

You know, should we be paying attention to these hypothetical matchups right now?

GALEN: Not from a technical standpoint. We all realize, A, this is not a national election. It's 50 state elections when we get down to November. And, B, the election ain't today, so people know it's not today.

But I think there is a wider issue here. And that is, with all of the ills that the Republican Party has been suffering for the last year, year-and-a-half, the fact that the best they can -- the Democrats can do right now is to be essentially tied with John McCain has to give them pause to worry, especially if this Democratic race goes on for very much longer.

BLITZER: Why does McCain do so well against these two Democratic front-runners in this hypothetical matchup, given the state of the economy right now, which you would think would be ammunition for the Democrats?

MCMAHON: Well, partly because he's pretended to be a Democrat all these years.

But one of the things that we're finding out is, in the course of his -- his Republican campaign, he's had a conversion and he has become really an apostle of...

GALEN: Strategy, strategy...

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON: ... George Bush and a follower of the George Bush policies, whether it's Iraq, whether it's Social Security privatization, whether it's a whole range of issues.

BLITZER: How worried should Democrats...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: How worried should the -- because Rich makes a fair point. How worried should the Democrats be, looking at this matchup right now? We know it's a long time between now and November. And a lot can change. But how worried should they be, in taking a look out there, and seeing John McCain, who presumably could be a rather formidable challenger?

MCMAHON: He is a formidable challenger, but this is going to be a close election. And I don't think anybody believed otherwise or has suggested otherwise.

Hillary and -- Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are still in a primary campaign. Once there's a nominee, as there is on the Republican side, then I think you are going to see this race engage. It's the first poll, by the way, that I have seen that -- that Hillary and Barack Obama don't run closer and that Barack Obama doesn't actually beat McCain in. So, this is a first of its kind. We will see if it holds.

BLITZER: It's within the margin of error. So, let's not get overly exuberant.

GALEN: Yes. Well, absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON: That would be irrational exuberance, wouldn't it?

BLITZER: Yes, whatever.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

GALEN: But, yes, in Bloomberg's reporting, they point out -- this is a Bloomberg-"L.A. Times" poll -- that McCain has a 13-point advantage on Iraq and a 37-point lead -- this is over Barack -- on terrorism, and -- quote -- also does better on "managing the economy." That, I think, gives you pause to think.

BLITZER: All right. We will consider all of these numbers, as we always do.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

MCMAHON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Those who knew him best say he influenced political history, the conservative icon, William F. Buckley, now dead at the age of 82. We are taking a look back at his life.

And some experts believe hackers have been able to infiltrate -- get this -- every major U.S. government agency. How should the U.S. fight back? Jeanne Meserve taking a much closer look -- all that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our Political Ticker today: One of the first modern-day conservative experts is being remembered for his intelligence, his sharp tongue, and highbrow humor. That would be William F. Buckley, the columnist, the novelist, the debater, the star of the very popular TV talk show "Firing Line." It aired for many, many years.

Buckley died today at his home in Connecticut. He was 82 years old. Before there was a Rush Limbaugh or the Reagan revolution, William F. Buckley championed the rise of the right. President Bush says he was a fan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No question, he was one of the great political thinkers. He influenced a lot of people, including me, and he was -- he -- I can remember those debates that he had on TV. And he was so articulate, and he captured the imagination of a lot of folks, because he was -- he had a great way of defining the issues.

It was erudite, and yet a lot of folks from different walks of life could understand it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The last time I interviewed William F. Buckley was back in 2004. And I asked him if he was comfortable with the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JULY 13, 2004)

WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY JR., FOUNDER, "NATIONAL REVIEW": No, I don't feel comfortable. But I wouldn't -- I wouldn't have taken the position that they did the wrong thing. I did write recently that, if I knew then what I know now, I would not have gone to war, but I would have prosecuted the same goal as vigorously as possible.

You know, people talk about what would you do if you had the hindsight. Well, look at what happened to Saddam Hussein. He had up, until two years ago, the first of 100 palaces to settle down in that night. And now he has settled down in a 12-by-12 cell.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: William F. Buckley dead at the age of 82.

Our deepest, deepest condolences to his family -- William F. Buckley, an icon, a real legend in the conservative movement.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, have the news media been unfair to Hillary Clinton?

Bob writes: "Hillary needs to quit complaining and get with the program. Face life. She isn't a likable person and does not come off well against someone who is in control of his emotions. No matter how hard the press tries to make her look good, she will find a way to mess it up. She is a fighter, and it shows. Obama is a negotiator, and it shows. People are tired of fighting."

Amy in Kalamazoo, Michigan: "You would have to be blind and deaf not to notice some of the media bias against her. Is it something she should bring up in the manner she did last night? No. Is it a totally unfounded complaint? Not at all. If you think the media have been across-the-board fair to all candidates, then you're the one living the fairy tale."

M. in Los Angeles: "Hillary Clinton is looking for someone to blame, anybody to blame for her problems, anybody but herself. She has blamed and fired staff. She has blamed Obama. She has blamed voters for not being realistic in their support, and now she blames the press. At some point, she is going to have to take responsibility for her own campaign."

Mark in North Carolina writes: "Aw, gee, Jack, just because everything she and President Clinton say and do are attacked by the media, and Obama gets continual positive coverage and commentary, you are asking if the media is unfair to her? I'm shocked, I tell you. I'm shocked. In all my 40 years watching politics, I have never seen anything like the obsessive, relentless pro-Obama bias that is rampant right now."

Gerry writes: "When CNN used to be called Clinton News Network, Hillary had no complaints. It's not that the media are giving Obama a free ride. It's just that the media are accurately reflecting a strong desire among the electorate to see an end to the Clinton/Bush era. And, as the pressure has mounted on Hillary, she has become increasingly less gracious." Dale in Virginia writes: "Obama has won 11 contests in a row, received multiple high-profile endorsements, and has passed Hillary in the polls -- all in a matter of weeks. It appears that the facts are biased against Clinton, not the media" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: John McCain and Barack Obama locked in a verbal battle over the war in Iraq. We are going to have details of the latest pointed barbs they're firing at each other out on the campaign trail today.

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