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Down to the Wire for Democrats; McCain Hopes for Final Blow; Interview With Representative Sheila Jackson Lee
Aired March 4, 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, the polls are open, the voters are deciding, and the candidates are awaiting the results. From the Northeast to the Midwest to the Southwest, the twists and turns of long primary battles could grind to a halt or they could drag on.
The frontrunners, John McCain and Barack Obama, hoping to elbow out the challengers pursuing them, but Hillary Clinton is determined not to be pushed aside. And Mike Huckabee is urging what many people say is politically impossible.
Amid the clamor, expect to see claims of victory, denials of defeat, and opinions on a range of issues from voters just like you.
I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
In the coming hours the presidential race could turn on its head. It's Primary Day, and right now we're watching voters go to the polls and counting down to poll closings.
The stakes are very high -- 370 delegates up for grabs for the Democrats, 256 for the Republicans. That's from Rhode Island, Vermont, and the two biggest prizes, Ohio and Texas.
CNN has reporters in all of those states, as well as in Washington. For Ohio, our CNN poll of polls shows the Democrat, Hillary Clinton, ahead by seven points. That's the average. In Texas she's leading right now by 1 percent. She was behind until these last few hours, though, in these poll of polls.
There's a much different story happening right now on the Republican side. Our poll average shows John McCain ahead of Mike Huckabee by 30 or more points in both Texas and Ohio.
When the day is done, McCain could officially become the Republican nominee, and Clinton could cap or continue her recent string of losses. Obama's campaign even accuses Clinton of "a kitchen sink strategy," throwing everything at them to see what works.
CNN's Dana Bash is following the Republicans in Dallas.
But let's start with Jessica Yellin in San Antonio, where Obama is hoping to have a victory party tonight -- Jessica.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Senator Clinton is fighting to change the momentum in this race, and her senior aides insist that today will be the start of her comeback.
YELLIN (voice over): Senator Hillary Clinton, leaving no one out in her quest for support, insists she's optimistic.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Never underestimate the intelligence of the voter.
YELLIN: As they might say in Texas, right now Clinton has no quit in her.
CLINTON: I feel really good about today. We have a great campaign going on across Texas. The voters of Texas are really focused on the two most important issues, national security and the economy.
YELLIN: Nor do her supporters.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I say "Hillary" you say "Texas."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hillary!
YELLIN: But Barack Obama is equally optimistic.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've closed the gab. Senator Clinton had a big lead. Now it's in a dead heat.
YELLIN: And if he scores sweeping wins today, he could drive Clinton out of the race and steam toward the nomination.
OBAMA: In Texas and Ohio and Rhode Island and Vermont, we have the chance to show America that this is not just a flash in the pan, that we are in this for the long haul.
YELLIN: Both campaigns are playing the expectations game. Clinton's aides insisting if Obama loses Ohio or Texas, that means voters are having, in one aide's words, "buyers remorse," and Clinton is squarely in the contest. They say she has won a diverse set of states, including most of the nation's biggest, which, they insist, a Democrat would have to carry in a general election.
But Obama's aides counter, with his streak of wins and his hefty delegate lead, Clinton must win Ohio and Texas by at least 10 points just to stay in the race.
YELLIN: Today's primaries could also determine which candidate key superdelegates decide to back in the days to come. With record- high turnout predicted in Texas and possibly Ohio, we might not get results until late into night -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jessica. Thank you.
John McCain is leading Mike Huckabee, but he's leaving nothing to chance. Today he campaigned in Texas. Dana Bash is following all of these activities.
Dana, McCain hoping to get a sort of final blow on Huckabee today. What's the latest?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hoping and certainly expecting it, Wolf. You can't see it from where I'm standing, but I want to just describe to you what's going on here as they prepare here at McCain headquarters for this evening.
You have some workers on the other side of this ballroom, and they are working on a big banner. And the banner says "1,191." That's the number of delegates that clearly John McCain expects to get to officially make him the nominee tonight.
There are also balloons being blown up. There's a confetti machine that's right next to me. They're clearly preparing for a big celebration here in Dallas, Texas, tonight because they hope that after tonight, John McCain will effectively be the new leader of the Republican Party.
BASH (voice over): Guardedly confident is John McCain's mantra. Too confident is a political danger zone.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm asking you to vote. I'm asking you to get your friends out to vote. And let's show them that we can move on to a victory in November with me carrying the banner of the proud Reagan, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt great Republican Party to victory in November.
BASH: McCain is 71-years old, will be 72 on Election Day. If he wins, the oldest man ever to be president. Whether his Democratic opponent is 46-year-old Barack Obama or not, McCain is focused more and more on turning age into an asset.
MCCAIN: I've spent my entire life addressing national security issues, and I know how to handle them. I don't need any on-the-job training. And I am prepared to leave.
BASH: An echo from Mrs. McCain.
CINDY MCCAIN, WIFE OF JOHN MCCAIN: I truly believe that he is the one man that can step in the White House and not need any on-the- job training.
BASH: While McCain looks past today's primaries, Mike Huckabee visited a polling station, urging Texans not to count him out. But despite his optimistic talk, a dose of reality. MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have got to sit down tomorrow. And tomorrow is going to be a day of sort of looking at the landscape, seeing what's ahead.
BASH: As for McCain, he spent the day trying not to rock the vote, repeating his standard stump speech. But at this last rally before he hopes to clinch the nomination, that joke about his campaign tanking last summer was all the more poignant.
MCCAIN: There were times obviously when my political campaign was not viewed as the most viable in America, as you probably know. In fact, I was reminded of the words of Chairman Mao, who once said it's always darkest before it's totally black. But...
BASH: Now, McCain advisers have been spending the past couple of weeks, frankly, working out and mapping out an election strategy for the general election. But they say if and when he becomes the Republican nominee, it will be a whole lot easier, primarily because he will have access to the Republican National Committee.
And that means, Wolf, access to their GOP database, which has been really years in the making. And that includes information about fundraising, how to get numbers, how to get money from Republican fundraisers. And even more importantly, perhaps, how and where to targeted target the states and even inside the states, what kind of voters they can get, especially for the kind of message John McCain hopes to put forward in a general election -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Dana. Dana is in Dallas for us.
And to our viewers, please stay tuned to CNN throughout the day and tonight for complete coverage of this potentially game-changing primary.
Tonight, I'll be here for a CNN election special. Our coverage begins right after THE SITUATION ROOM at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Joining me will be the best political team on television.
Let's go back to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File."
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the days leading up to these crucial Texas and Ohio primaries have been full of questions and scrutiny for Barack Obama. First, there are ties to the Chicago businessman Tony Rezko, who is now on trial for corruption in Chicago.
Obama is not implicated in that case at all, but Rezko contributed upwards of $150,000 over the years to Obama's various campaigns. That's money Obama says has since been donated to charity. Rezko also helped him buy a home and sold him a strip of land, a purchase that Obama characterizes as bone-headed.
Barack Obama is also denying a report that a senior official assured Canada that the candidate's tough talk on NAFTA is more about political positioning. The Canadian Embassy has backed up Obama's version of that meeting, saying that there was no intention to convey that Obama and his campaign were taking different positions on NAFTA in public than in private. But politics, as you know, is a contact sport, and Hillary Clinton has jumped all over Barack Obama on this stuff, challenging his credibility and accusing him of deception.
It's interesting when you consider that Obama hasn't brought up any of the past Clinton scandals during this campaign. You know, all the stuff that's part of Clinton's experience, like Whitewater and Travelgate; and marital problems; and renting out the Lincoln Bedroom; and the loss of the (INAUDIBLE) billing records for nearly two years until they were miraculously found in the White House living quarters; removing files from Vince Foster's office following a suicide, and before investigators could get there; and refusal to release her White House records and tax returns in a timely manner, to name a few.
Maybe it's been a mistake for Barack Obama to run a campaign about hope and change and not touch any of these things.
Here's the question: How much will Barack Obama's relationship with Tony Rezko and his adviser's meeting with a Canadian official about NAFTA hurt his chances today?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment there on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you very much.
Politics, as Jack just pointed out, is not for the faint of heart. Barack Obama says the Clinton campaign is throwing the political equivalent of the kitchen sink at him. Is it really that extreme?
I'll ask Clinton supporter Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, where they're voting right now.
Also, what will women do, what might African-Americans be thinking, and who will young and old voters choose? You're going to find out what clues there are as signs of how the night might end. We're going to be going through exit polls for you.
And it's not all about Texas and Ohio. You're also going to find out how the primaries in Rhode Island and Vermont could also be playing some major roles in all of these results.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Amid a heated presidential race, one well-known politician has urged voters to choose the candidate who's appealing to your hopes, not your fears. While that may sound like Barack Obama, that's actually from Bill Clinton only a few years ago.
We want to talk a little more about the notion of the politics of hope versus the politics of fear. Let's bring in one of Hillary Clinton major supporters.
Sheila Jackson Lee is a congresswoman from Texas. She's joining us from Houston.
Congresswoman, thanks very much for coming in.
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: Thank you for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: I'll play the clip from Bill Clinton back in 2004, because I want to get your reaction to that 3:00 a.m. phone call ad that Hillary Clinton has been running in Texas.
Listen to the former president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If one candidate is appealing to your fears and the other one is appealing to your hopes, you better vote for the person who wants you to think and hope.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. The argument is that Hillary Clinton right now, by that ad, is appealing to the fears of voters and Barack Obama is appealing to the hopes of voters.
What do you say?
LEE: Both of them are appealing to the hopes and the aspirations of Americans. Remember, those comments were made pre-9/11. The ad that Senator Clinton...
BLITZER: Actually, they were made in 2004. They were made in the fight between John Kerry and a second term for George W. Bush.
LEE: Well, they were made in one election. This is another election. And frankly, if you look at the ad, there are no burning buildings. It is simply the seeking the thinking of the American voter, the Texas voter, about judgment, about making a decision, about being firm in that decision.
It really plays upon the fact that Senator Clinton has received the endorsement of 21 admirals and generals from around this nation who have served in the nation's military who truly believe she would be a strong commander in chief. There's nothing fearful about that. In fact, it is hopeful that Senator Clinton, as a woman, maybe, would have the balance that is necessary to lead the United States forces, but also would lead the world toward peace.
BLITZER: Are you suggesting -- I don't want to put words in your mouth -- that Obama doesn't have that balance?
LEE: Well, what I'm suggesting is that experience counts. And Senator Clinton has years of experience, years of international foreign policy experience by way of her interaction as first lady. And it is well documented that she knows heads of states.
She has made -- given opportunity for negotiations in foreign affairs, that also, as a member of the Armed Services Committee, she has been a number of times to Afghanistan and Iraq. Yes, she has a balance through experience. And that's what we've been arguing and advocating, that she is a candidate of experience.
We think she's a candidate of judgment. And we do think she's a candidate that can capture the hopes and dreams of Americans. How? By being a change maker.
BLITZER: Here's what Obama said today about Hillary Clinton and her campaign. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I think that they are tenacious candidates -- or a tenacious campaign. I think she is going to push as hard as she can. As they've (ph) said, employ the kitchen sink strategy and see if it works. And our job is just to, you know, stay on and keep playing our game.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What about those charges that she's throwing the kitchen sink at him?
LEE: Well, let me say this -- presidential politics is tough. And I think that we've seen that secretary -- Senator Obama and Senator Clinton both have affection for each other. They've worked together.
They recognize that they have to show the distinctions between both of them. Senator Obama has done that. And Senator Clinton has shown the distinctions of her experience.
She's been vetted. She's been tested and tried. And I don't think there's anything different in trying to show the differences and trying to convince the voters who might be the best nominee for the Democratic Party.
But at the same time, both of them, as I've said over and over again, are patriots. They're Americans. They're Democrats. And we will be unified in 2008.
This is a time to be unified. And our candidates, both of them, with this bounty of riches, an African-American and a woman, recognize this.
Our voters are coming out. Our opponent is seeking to get his voters out. We're not doing in a way that will divide the party. We're doing it in a way to show our differences and our way of leadership.
BLITZER: Well, give us your -- give us your assessment. You're there in Texas right now. Who is going to win tonight? LEE: Well, we're looking to win as any candidacy would. We're working very hard.
Senator Clinton was here this morning at an elementary school. She was in Beaumont, in Austin, she was in Dallas. And frankly, her spirits are very high. Her campaign spirits are high.
We're just turning every corner to get every vote. And I want to say this -- we're going after African-Americans, Hispanics in Texas, Anglos and Asian and others. We're not shying away from any vote, as I imagine our opponent is. We're working in Rhode Island, Vermont and Ohio.
This is a campaign that people should be proud of, Americans should be proud of, because it is a campaign where every single vote does count, and every single vote must count. And that's what the Clinton campaign stands for.
BLITZER: Sheila Jackson Lee, a United States congresswoman from Texas.
A huge day today in Texas.
Thanks very much, Congresswoman, for joining us.
LEE: Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: And we're approaching two and a half hours from tonight's first poll closings. That would be in Vermont. We already know what the voters are thinking, though. Bill Schneider is going over exit polling, about to give us our first glimpse of what's on the minds of actual voters today.
Also, President Bush has some choice words for the people who are giving the U.S. higher gas prices. We're going to tell you what they're saying and what he says about OPEC.
That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Happening now, if today's primaries don't clear up the nomination, it will be his job to hold the Democratic Party together through the final primaries, superdelegate battles, and possibly the convention floor fights. I'll be speaking live with the Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean. We'll talk about the tough choices he and the Democrats may be facing.
The voters are talking, and we're listening. Now we're getting ready to share the first exit poll results with you.
Plus, a political strategy that isn't just for laughs. We take a closer look at the serious business of joking around to win votes.
I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Just a few hours to go before the first poll closings on this Primary Day. Barack Obama hoping to seal Hillary Clinton's political fate, while Clinton is determined to not only stay in the race, but win.
Joining us now, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, who is watching all of this.
All right, Bill. What should we be looking for tonight?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Lots of things. But closure? Maybe not.
SCHNEIDER (voice over): Enough already. The campaign has gone on for more than a year. Can we get this thing wrapped up?
Here's what to look for.
The gender gap -- the bigger it is, the more it helps Hillary Clinton. In nine Super Tuesday primary states that Clinton won, men were split. Women voted nearly 60 percent for Clinton.
In seven states Obama won there was very little difference between men and women. They both voted for Obama.
Rallying women voters is key to Clinton's success, as is rallying young voters for Obama. When Clinton wins, young voters split. Seniors go strongly for her. When Obama wins, seniors still go for Clinton, but young voters go better than two to one for Obama.
Minority turnout will be crucial, but which minority? African- American voters are solid for Obama. Latinos tend to support Clinton. Obama states have more African-Americans. Clinton states have more Latinos. That's one reason why Texas looks close. Texas has more of both than the other states voting today.
But Ohio has more union voters. That could help Clinton, even though several major unions in Ohio, like the Teamsters and the service workers and the food and commercial workers, have endorsed Obama. We found out in Nevada that union voters don't necessarily vote the way their leaders tell them to. Independents can vote in all four Democratic primaries today. That's likely to help Obama.
Republicans can vote in the Democratic primary in Texas if they want to. Some conservative commentators are urging them to vote for Hillary Clinton, just to keep the Democratic race going. The idea that large numbers of Republicans will vote for Clinton just to make trouble for the Democrats seems unlikely. But lots of unlikely things have happened this year.
SCHNEIDER: How about this, one candidate wins more primary votes, while the other candidate wins more delegates? That could happen, particularly in Texas, where people get to vote again tonight if they go to a precinct caucus. So, we could end up with a dispute over who actually won Texas.
BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much.
Let me do a little explaining now on this very unique and complicated voting system that Texas has. It's unlike any other state. It holds primaries, as Bill just pointed out, as well as caucuses. Voters go to the polls. They cast the ballot, as usual. But, if they vote Democratic, they can return to the polling places later in the night to take part in the caucuses.
Here's why both parts are so important. Texas has 228 Democratic delegates, 126 of them are decided in the initial primary round. But then 67 are decided in the subsequent caucuses. The rest are those so-called super -- superdelegates, as we have been talking about a lot today.
Rhode Island and Vermont are small states, but today they're very important parts of a much bigger drama, where every vote and every delegate is crucial. This is such a tight contest right now -- 21 Democratic and 17 Republican delegates at stake in today in Rhode Island. In Vermont, 15 Democratic and 17 Republican delegates are up for grabs.
Dan Lothian is in Williston, Vermont. Deborah Feyerick is in Rhode Island's capital of providence.
Deb, officials were expecting a heavy turnout in Rhode Island. How heavy has it been?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it has been heavy, as a matter of fact, 1,100 voters at this polling place. One election worker told me that said felt was so busy, she barely had time to life her head all day.
Rhode Island printed twice as many ballots, expecting a heavy turnout. Chelsea Clinton did come to Providence to come and thank volunteers. She's now on her way to meet her mom. Now, we spoke to many Democratic voters. And they tell us that, really, this decision was a tough one for them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I voted for Obama.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My son talked me into it. It's been wonderful to watch him. He's a senior in college in Ohio, at ground zero. And it's been wonderful to listen to him. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At the list minute, I did decide to vote for Hillary. I -- and because of the scrutiny that she's been under. I feel it's been very intense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FEYERICK: Now, Rhode Island has more unaffiliated voters than registered Democrats and Republicans. That means they can vote for either party. And if they haven't made up their mind still when they get here, they can vote uncommitted and vote in November, when there will be fewer choices -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Deb, thanks.
Let's go to Dan in Vermont.
Set the scene for what is going on there, Dan.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Wolf, this is a state that is not used to being in the limelight. They're right next door to New Hampshire, which really gets all of the focus. They're not quite Texas and not quite Ohio. But certainly, as you were talking about earlier, the delegates here really important, especially in these very tight races.
Now, the voters here telling me that they feel very good, that -- and one particular voter telling me that he feels like, for once, his vote really does count. The issues here that they are concerned about, much like the rest of the country, the economy, health care, but in particular here, the war in Iraq. And a lot of voters were going to the polls today with the war in Iraq on their minds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the war in Iraq. I think the kind of sentiment in Washington, the negativity, the fear. I think we're looking for someone to bring a little bit of new attitude, new change, new direction.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we're not helping our security. We're actually hurting our security and our standing in the world. And I'm hoping someone will -- can bring us back to the standing we have in the world by kind of taking a more measured approach and a little more thoughtful than kind of just going in and steamrolling the place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: We recently talked to the secretary of state's office, telling us that they're expecting record voter turnout. And that certainly parallels what we have been seeing here, a steady stream of people coming in since 7:00 this morning, two-and-a-half-hours to go -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dan Lothian, thanks very much.
And Dan and Bill and Deb, they are all part of the Emmy Award- winning best political team on television.
And, remember, for latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com. The Ticker is the number-one political news blog out on the Web. That's also where you can read my latest blog posts. I just posted one a little while ago.
Show them the votes, that's what the candidates want to pull off. They want some big wins tonight. But where might they actually find those votes? Our John King is standing by. He's going to show us the possibilities.
Also, it could depend on what the meaning of victory is. Some inside the Clinton campaign are defining that differently. Is there discord in the ranks?
And are some people setting the bar too high for Hillary Clinton? What might be her options if she doesn't get what she hopes for on this primary day?
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Hillary Clinton has made winning Ohio a top priority. All right, let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King. He's watching this.
Show us Ohio -- in the next hour, we will do Texas -- what we should be looking for.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's a huge state in presidential elections, not only in this primary campaign, but, obviously, in the general election. So, what should we look for?
Obviously, you see the main cities here, Cleveland, Akron, Columbus down here, Cincinnati, Toledo. NAFTA, trade has been a huge debating point between the Democratic candidates. We will see the impact up mostly up here, the northern third of the state, the industrial towns, Toledo, Akron, Youngstown, Cleveland. That's where the NAFTA debate will ring big. It's also a critical area for Barack Obama.
He needs to get African-American votes here in Cleveland and African-American votes down here in Columbus and down here in Cincinnati. That is the critical part for Obama, the three blue circles.
If there's a place to watch, Wolf, if it's close early on, we going to want to look at what happens in Youngstown. This is a racially split community. It's an industrial community. Both Obama and Clinton have spent some time there playing to the economy issue, hotly contested.
If there's one community we will watch to see if it's an even state, we will look right there. And then, again, if it's very close into the night, all down here, this is Ted Strickland the governor's base down here, small rural communities, white working-class voters, voters you might have expected to be the John Edwards vote, if he were still in the race, white working-class rural voters down here, tiny communities, not much population.
But, in a close race, look for the turnout in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. See what happens across these industrial areas. And then if it's very close late on, Hillary Clinton has spent a lot of time in these small communities down here. It could make the difference for her.
BLITZER: They close at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, so that's relatively early in the night. We will begin to get some real indication.
KING: The vote should come in quick.
And, remember, also an early-voting state. When I was out there last week, both campaigns especially getting people get out and vote early, trying to run up the totals early. As we know, in one county, the voting has been extended because of some flooding. But we should get a pretty -- idea pretty quickly.
And, again, the big cities, as we watch the vote come in, Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is, that's almost 13 percent, a little more than 12 percent, of the state population. See if Barack Obama is running up the numbers with African-Americans. He has to do that to be competitive in Ohio. So, the vote count should start to come in early, and we will watch.
BLITZER: Does the severe weather, the bad weather help either one of these candidates or hurt both of these candidates or one of these candidates?
KING: You know, conventional wisdom is that Obama is more of the passion candidate, if you will, and your voters would come out.
But, remember, Senator Clinton also has deep institutional support in the state from the governor, from some of the key members of Congress, people with ground operations. They tend to give -- in terms of the nuts and bolts on the ground, most people say slight advantage Clinton in Ohio.
BLITZER: All right, we will watch Ohio. In the next hour, we will talk about Texas.
Thanks, John, very much.
Stay tuned to CNN throughout the day for complete coverage of this potentially game-changing primary today. Remember, tonight, right after THE SITUATION ROOM, I will be here anchoring our CNN election special. Our special coverage begins 7:00 p.m. Eastern. That's when the polls, by the way, in Vermont close. Joining me will be the best political team on television.
In our "Strategy Session": President Bush takes aim at OPEC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I were a member of OPEC, I would be concerned about -- about high energy prices causing people to buy less energy over time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is the commander in chief trying to deflect criticism of his own party for the country's economic woes?
And which is it? Bill Clinton says Ohio and Texas are must-wins. His wife says she's just getting started. Can Senator Clinton suffer a setback and keep on going? Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett, they're here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Hillary Clinton is counting on today's primaries to resurrect her campaign, get some new political momentum going.
With me for our "Strategy Session" right now, Democratic strategist and CNN political analyst Donna Brazile, and our CNN contributor Bill Bennett of the Claremont Institute.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
On February 20, Bill Clinton said this. And, on February 11, James Carville said something. I'm going to play both of these clips. Then we will talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If she wins in Texas and Ohio, I think she will be the nominee.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
B. CLINTON: If you don't deliver for her, I don't think she can be. It's all on you.
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The truth is, is that Senator Clinton has to win Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. If she wins those three, she's probably the nominee. If she loses one of those three, then Senator Obama is probably going to be the nominee. That's a fact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That may be a fact, but Howard Wolfson, the communications director for the Hillary Clinton campaign, said this on Sunday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I don't believe this race ends until we get to the Denver convention. I think we're going to do very well in Ohio and Texas. We then go onto Pennsylvania, which is another -- a very large state with a lot of delegates at stake. We think we have got momentum on our side, and we're feeling great.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, so, Donna, you're a strategist. What is it? Does -- if she doesn't win Texas and Ohio, is it over, as both Carville and the former president seem to suggest?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I'm -- I'm going to take my cue from Senator Clinton, and, of course, the voters when they decide today on whether or not they should go on.
Look, Senator Clinton has made it very clear that she's going to fight until she can win it. Now, the truth is that math -- the math is not in her favor. Senator Obama won big in February. He won many contests by as much as 15 points. In order for her to win, she just cannot win in Texas and Ohio. She must win big.
BLITZER: What do you think?
BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Donna is a strategist -- and a very good one -- but she's also a loyal Democrat. I'm neither a strategist, nor a Democrat. So, I don't know and I don't care.
BENNETT: But I will tell you, I think she's in trouble if she loses either of these states tonight, either of these big states tonight. Now, everybody is saying she's way ahead in Ohio or up six or eight. I don't know if that's true or not.
I'm not sure people are buying it. But I think she's going to lose Texas. And if she loses Texas, they may not say it's over, but I think it's over.
BLITZER: If she loses Texas, but wins Ohio, let's say she wins Rhode Island, loses Vermont, they both get two states, will it go onto Pennsylvania?
BRAZILE: Again, she might have momentum to go onto Pennsylvania, but Senator Obama will have the math in his favor, the delegates. It's about accumulating delegates. And unless she can begin to pick up 60, 65 percent of the remaining pledged delegates -- look, after tonight, there are only 611 delegates left in 12 states.
BLITZER: These are the pledged delegates.
BRAZILE: Pledged delegates.
BLITZER: But there's still almost 400, what superdelegates -- 800 superdelegates at play. And there's still the opportunity to rethink what to do about those delegates in Michigan and Florida and whether to do a redo, have another primary or caucuses or come up with some other formula. So, you're looking strictly at the pledged or elected delegates?
BRAZILE: I'm looking at the pledged delegates that the voters will send to Denver. Of course, the superdelegates are part of the mix. And superdelegates -- I'm one of them -- we have the right to change our minds.
I'm still neutral. But, at the end of the day, Senator Clinton must be ahead in pledged delegates, as well as superdelegates, in order to clinch the nomination.
BENNETT: But, yet, you know, politics and the American imagination, you know, romance, the story. And people love the comeback story. We had one. A lot of people counted John McCain out, finished, on the mat, down for the count.
Now, there's been so much said and written, so much punditry, about her being done, you know, including what I just said, that, if she wins one of these big states, they're going to say, well, it's not over yet, you know, because, if she's done, she should be done, and that should be --
BLITZER: The argument would be made by the -- and the Clinton people are already making it -- you know, I won in New York. I won in California.
BLITZER: I won in Ohio.
BENNETT: Big states.
BLITZER: These are the states any Democratic...
BENNETT: Big states.
BLITZER: ... candidate needs. And that's the argument they will make.
BRAZILE: And Senator Obama has come back from 20 points behind in a matter of weeks. So, I can understand the arguments they will make, but I also can understand the arguments that the Obama people will make, that the math favors Senator Obama if he continues to accumulate delegates.
Look, we -- we might grade on a curve of the Democratic side with the proportional rules. But, at the same time, Senator Obama has competed in small states, large states, red states, purple states, and blue states. So, we have to give Senator Obama credit. But let's not count Senator Clinton out, because she's a fighter.
BLITZER: What do you think of President Bush today basically telling OPEC, you know what, it's in your interest to lower the price per barrel? He obviously is concerned about the impact more-than- $100-a-barrel oil is costing on the U.S. economy...
BLITZER: ... and the political ramifications maybe for John McCain in November.
BENNETT: Well, I wish -- I wish it were more in their interests. And if we were getting more energy-independent, it would -- they might see that point. This does underscore the political saliency of this question. Energy independence is a big deal. I think drilling in ANWR is a big deal, too, which we will disagree with the Democrats.
BLITZER: Up in Alaska.
BENNETT: But -- right -- but -- but the whole idea of energy independence, getting some alternative to going with these sheiks, it's -- it's not good for the president of the United States to be pleading in this kind of way. I don't like that. I would rather have a stronger posture, where we say, we're going to do something else. You know, we will put American ingenuity to work here.
But I hope this raises this issue. Apparently, in a lot of polls today, the number-one issue was -- was gasoline prices. So, raise the profile of this issue for the general campaign. And I know, however all this works out, I'm ready for the Super Bowl. Let's bring this thing on, you know?
BLITZER: I mean, we may go longer. I understand that. But it's going to be some general election.
BLITZER: Bill Bennett and Donna Brazile...
BENNETT: The primary season has been amazing.
BLITZER: ... they're both with us for the duration.
BENNETT: Yes, sir.
BLITZER: Guys, don't go anywhere. We have got a lot of reporting and analyzing to do...
BENNETT: Yes, sir.
BRAZILE: Thank you.
BLITZER: ... in the course of these coming hours.
Obama is for Obama. What does that mean? It's an interesting story that combines politics and geography. You're going to want to hear what this one is all about.
And voters just like you are heading to the polls. So, what's on the minds of actual voters? We're going to have the results of the first batch of the exit polls. That's coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
And, on this primary day, get organized. That's what Obama's campaign hopes its supporters will do, via the Internet. But are they? Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is standing by to take a closer look.
BLITZER: Today's Political Ticker begins in a Japanese fishing village where the U.S. presidential election is actually attracting lots of interest. The town's name is Obama. So, you can guess the name of the people's favorite candidate.
Obama's mayor sent Barack Obama a special pair of chopsticks and recently got a reply in which the senator writes -- let me quote -- "As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, it is excited to hear that you are engaged in debates that reach beyond your shores. We share more than a common name."
The latest numbers show Senator Barack Obama is ahead in spending on political advertising. He's outspent Senator Hillary Clinton in all four states holding primaries today, and is already running ads in Mississippi, which votes next week. Nationally, Obama's campaign has spent some $50 million on ads, compared to the Clinton campaign's $34 million. The McCain campaign's ad spending has yet to pass $10 million.
Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com. That's where you can also read my daily blog post.
It's been a year since the Obama campaign launched online organizing groups for its grassroots supporters. With just a few hours to go before the polls close in several states, volunteers are putting all those tools to the test.
Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.
Abbi, what are they doing?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, let's take a look at Columbus, Ohio, right now, some of the events organized by Barack Obama supporters going on and advertised online. We have get-out-the- vote efforts, phone banking.
I even saw down here they're looking ahead to the morning after and a headquarters cleanup planned there. These are all events, some 30,000 events, that have been organized this political season on this online tool called MyBarackObama.com by Barack Obama volunteers, seen right here.
Now, you can certainly find Hillary Clinton's campaign advertising events as well. Look around here on the Web site, all of these events going on around Austin.
But the Barack Obama campaign, through this tool, lets people connect with other Barack Obama supporters and organize online. I talked to Deanna Goodson (ph), who is in Austin, Texas, who told me she has used her page on the site from everything from handing out yard signs to advertising an event where she trained people in what to do at a caucus, almost operating as a mini-campaign.
Some of these groups were set up a full year ago, when the tool was launched, like Austin for Obama with almost 700 volunteers. They have got a watch party organized for later on tonight, where they will watch the results come in and see if their efforts paid off -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.
Let's bring back Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: How much will Barack Obama's relationship with Tony Rezko and his adviser's meeting with that Canadian official about NAFTA hurt his chances today in the four states that are holding primaries?
Al writes from California: "I think some people will turn away from Obama because of these scandals. But, in the end, scandal didn't hurt 'Slick Willie,' and I doubt it will hurt Obama enough to matter. He would do better to stay away from the mudslinging at Hillary, even though he has very fertile ground to do so, because that appears to be some of Obama's appeal. Turning the other cheek is wise right now, but he better be prepared to take on McCain in November."
Marion writes: "Yes, buying property from Rezko's wife was a boneheaded mistake, given that Rezko was under a cloud of suspicion at the time. It raised doubts in the public's mind only because of its inappropriateness. In no way has Obama been accused of illegal dealings, however. Also, he rightly gave the thousands from Rezko to charity. Of course, we should see through the Clintons' rabid desire to cast doubt on Obama's honesty. But I see no reason we should believe this was anything other than the boneheaded mistake that Obama admitted it was."
Gigi in Alabama: "It probably won't hurt him too much in today's primaries, but if he can't answer it to suit the Republicans, they will have a heyday with him if he is the Democratic nominee in the general election. He won't be able to just grin and say the Clintons are at it again."
Debby writes: "The younger generation will still vote for him, but I bet he will lose some older votes."
Jenny in New York: "I'm afraid it will allow Clinton to win the popular vote in both Texas and Ohio, thus giving her the ability to spin any marginal delegate gain she may or may not receive. But it won't stop Obama from winning the nomination."
And Tom in Maine writes: "Voters aren't as easily fooled as the Clintons would like us to be. Bill tried these shenanigans in South Carolina and gave Hillary a bigger loss there than she would have had if they had played it straight. Desperation is a poor choice of ensemble to wear to Waterloo" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that. See you in a few moments.
To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: Hillary Clinton's land stand? Her own supporters say it's a must-win day and a can-win day. But she's standing in the path of a Barack Obama steamroller. He's vowing to fight hard every step of the way.
Four crucial contests, including the big ones in Ohio and Texas -- only minutes from now, the first exit polls telling us what's on the minds of voters as they cast their ballots.
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