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Top U.S. Commander Resigns; Spitzer's Sex Scandal Leads to Question of Resignation; Primary Day Dust-Ups
Aired March 11, 2008 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a surprise resignation over at the Pentagon with implications in Iraq. We're following the breaking news in Washington.
Also, here in New York this hour, there's new evidence that the governor, Eliot Spitzer, may be preparing to step down. A stunning prostitution scandal still unfolding. We're following all the latest political and legal consequences.
Plus, on this primary day in Mississippi, a new jolt of racial tension in the Clinton/Obama contest. A top Clinton surrogate drawing a controversial connection between Obama's race and his candidacy.
And John McCain on the defensive. Some Democrats asking this question: Should taxpayers foot the bill for him to go overseas and look the part of commander in chief?
I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The polls close in Mississippi four hours from now. And every Primary Day is important in this still undecided Democratic presidential race. We're going to have the latest on the campaign shortly.
But first, the breaking news out of the Pentagon. Another stunner. The top U.S. military commander for the Middle East resigns after just a year on the job. That would be Admiral William Fallon.
Let's go straight to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre. He's watching the story for us,
Jamie, what exactly is going on? No one expected this.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's a real bombshell. And what it turns out is that an article in "Esquire" magazine that portrayed Admiral William Fallon as the last man standing between the Bush administration and war with Iran has ended the military career of that top commander.
Admiral Fallon, concerned that the -- what he believed was a misrepresentation that he was at odds with President Bush created by that magazine article announced that he will step down as the commander of the Central Command. And today, Defense Secretary Gates accepted that resignation. Here's what Fallon said in part in his statement. He said, "Recent press reports suggesting a disconnect between my views and the president's policy objectives have become a distraction at a critical time. And although I don't believe there have been any differences, the simple perception that there is makes it difficult for me to effectively serve."
Today Secretary Gates said he believes that that is a misperception. Nevertheless, at a Pentagon press conference just a short time ago, he said Admiral Fallon is making the right decision.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think it's the right decision. As I say, the notion that this decision portends anything in terms of a change in Iran policy is, to quote myself, ridiculous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCINTYRE: Ridiculous it may be, but that is the perception that was created by that "Esquire" magazine article, and now may be reinforced by the fact that many will believe that Admiral Fallon has been forced to step aside.
Here's in part a little bit about what that "Esquire" article said. "How does Fallon," said Thomas Barnett, who wrote this article, "with so brazenly challenging his commander in chief? The answer is that he might not get away with it for much longer. President Bush is not accustomed to a subordinate who speaks his mind as freely as Fallon does, and the president may have had enough."
Now, again, the Pentagon disputes that there's any problem between Fallon and the president, or that the president was ready to get rid of him. But they say the perception created by the article is what prompted Fallon to step down. But again, no one told him he should stay. And the very fact that he's resigned, Wolf, is simply going to make this look like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre, I know you're staying on top of the story. We're going to come back to you. Thanks very much. A real bombshell over at the Pentagon today.
Let's get to the other breaking news this hour. The New York governor, Eliot Spitzer, clearly feeling the pressure to resign a day after his bombshell news linking him to a prostitution ring. The New York Democrat is said to be weighing his options and bracing for what could be happening next.
Mary Snow has been covering the story from the start.
What's the latest, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, talking to Democrats in New York State, the question now does not seem to be if Eliot Spitzer will step down, but when.
SNOW (voice over): There was no sign of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer one day after federal prosecutors linked him to a high end prostitution ring. The governor's spokeswoman would only say Spitzer was at his Manhattan apartment with his family.
But in the state's capital of Albany, a legislative aide tells CNN transition talks were under way between Spitzer's staff and aides to Lieutenant Governor David Paterson. And a top state Republican lawmaker says if Spitzer doesn't step down voluntarily, he'll begin impeachment proceedings.
JIM TEDISCO (R), NEW YORK ASSEMBLY MINORITY LEADER: We're waiting for the governor to do the right thing. We think and we hope he will. If not, it's within 24 to 48 hours. We're developing the paperwork right now, putting the resolution together, and then we're going to make that request within the next two days if he does not resign himself so we can go forward.
SNOW: Spitzer admitted nothing specific when he publicly apologized Monday.
GOV. ELIOT SPITZER (D), NEW YORK: I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and that violates my or any sense of right and wrong.
SNOW: Federal investigators have linked Spitzer to a prostitution ring that initially resulted in four arrests last week described in a federal affidavit. Sources tell CNN the link was the result of a money laundering probe after a bank initially filed a suspicious movement report with the IRS.
Spitzer has begun putting together a legal team, which had no public comment. But one former New York City prosecutor says Spitzer's lawyers are most likely trying to negotiate with federal prosecutors.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The last poker chip that Eliot Spitzer has is the governorship. And he's hoping that prosecutors will be willing to allow him to resign and accept that resignation as punishment for the criminal charges.
SNOW: Now, that assessment coming from a former U.S. prosecutor. As for what's happening exactly, we still don't know.
I just checked in with the governor's office, Wolf. A spokeswoman saying there's nothing new to report. But, you know, talking to some of the lawmakers in Albany, they are truly calling this a crisis and saying this, of course, the only thing anyone is talking about.
BLITZER: The biggest political scandal in New York State in a long, long time.
All right, Mary. Thanks very much. I know you're working the story as well.
Just ahead I'll be speaking live with the New York assembly minority leader, Jim Tedisco, about his call for Eliot Spitzer to step down. That's coming up.
Now to the Democratic race -- presidential contest. Barack Obama is hoping to win today's Mississippi primary and put the brakes on Hillary Clinton's renewed momentum. Their contest is playing out right now on several fronts, and racial politics unfortunately right back in the mix.
Let's go to Suzanne Malveaux. She's in Pennsylvania watching this story for us.
They're once again looking at beyond Mississippi today, looking towards Pennsylvania, Suzanne, and even beyond that. What's the latest?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's really telling that both of the candidates are already in Pennsylvania. You've got those 158 delegates at stake.
And six weeks to campaign, but they're not wasting any time at all. These campaigns also today, Wolf, embroiled in a controversy that once again puts Barack Obama's race front and center.
MALVEAUX: Mississippi voters are going to the polls today to weigh in on the fierce political fight between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Senator Obama, the odds-on favorite, campaigned in Greenville, Mississippi, where he stopped at a diner for eggs and grits.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know everybody is going to be either already voted or on their way to vote.
MALVEAUX: Senator Clinton has already moved on to Pennsylvania, where she's hanging her hopes on their April 22nd primary, six weeks away. She is playing up her hometown advantage, reminding voters her family of Rodhams have deep roots here.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And my brother was there and actually was on the team. So it's now up to the voters here. And you have to a choice to make. And I believe that choice comes down to who offers the solutions we need for the problems we face in America.
MALVEAUX: The Clinton campaign is facing pointed criticism from the Obama camp today after controversial comments were published in a California publication "The Daily Breeze" by Clinton fundraiser and financial adviser, and former vice presidential nominee, Geraldine Ferraro.
In an interview, Ferraro said, "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if was a woman, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."
Obama senior policy adviser Susan Rice immediately called for Hillary Clinton to repudiate Ferraro's remarks. Obama supporter Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky followed up with a conference call with reporters. She said the suggestion that Obama was getting preferential treatment because of his race was out of line.
Clinton's communication's director, Howard Wolfson, said the campaign did not agree with Ferraro's statements.
MALVEAUX: And wolf, late in the day Senator Clinton was asked directly about Ferraro's comments, and she said this to the ABC affiliate, WHTM -- she said, "I don't agree with that, and I think it's important we stay focused on the issues that matter to the American people. Both of us have had supporters and staff that have gone over the line, and we both have had to reign them in."
So, Wolf, obviously repudiating those comments by Geraldine Ferraro. This comes after last week, Obama's national foreign policy adviser, Samantha Power, calling Hillary Clinton a monster, left that campaign -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux in Pennsylvania for us already. Thanks, Suzanne.
And remember, this is the place to be for up-to-the-minute coverage of the Mississippi primary results. Tonight I'll be here, along with the best political team on television, throughout the night.
We're going to bring you the first results when the polls close in Mississippi at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Stay tuned for that.
Jack Cafferty is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You expect this is going to be a long night tonight, do you?
BLITZER: Probably not.
BLITZER: But it's always interesting. If you love politics, you want to know what's going on. And we're the place.
CAFFERTY: Well, and we'll know by 8:01 probably?
BLITZER: Maybe. Maybe.
CAFFERTY: The race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama now looks like it could go on for months, and it's becoming increasingly bitter. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting groups that for months have energized the Democratic campaign, like blacks, women, young voters, are increasingly sniping at each other now.
They point out more Republicans now say they're satisfied with John McCain than Democrats are with either Clinton or Obama. This is a big change from January, when many more Democrats were satisfied with their choices.
Some Democratic activists insist this is normal. And after the convention we will all come together and sing "Kumbaya" and go to a big campfire together and cook marshmallows and live happily ever after. Not everybody's convinced that's going to happen.
Donna Brazile, who appears frequently on this program, is a Democratic strategist, says this, "I'm fearful we're headed into uncharted territory." She adds, "The mood and tone of the campaign have shifted in the last few weeks."
For example, black talk radio shows are now getting callers who say they will stay home in November if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination. When it comes to women, some Clinton supporters say if Obama gets the nomination, they'll vote for McCain instead. And as for that youth vote that Obama has mobilized in record numbers this primary season, some Clinton backers worry that they wouldn't turn out in the same numbers for her in a general election.
Here's the question: If the Democratic candidate you support doesn't win the nomination, for whom would you vote in the general election?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog.
Very loyal followings, both these Democratic candidates. And a lot of people on one side or the other are going to be disappointed.
BLITZER: And the question will be, can they unify?
CAFFERTY: And then what do they do? Yes.
BLITZER: Can they get together with that, you know -- I hate to even use that expression anymore, the dream ticket? But I wouldn't rule it out.
CAFFERTY: It would be a nightmare.
BLITZER: Jack, good question. That's very much.
It's the question of the day -- that's another question, not Jack's question. This is the question: What was Eliot Spitzer thinking?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ED KOCH (D), FMR. NEW YORK MAYOR: What we see happening here is a Greek tragedy. Yes, it's arrogance. He's a very smart guy. But I think that there is a screw loose. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Up next, the former New York mayor, Ed Koch, has plenty to say about the Spitzer scandal.
Also coming up, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton facing off in Mississippi. We're standing by for the first exit poll information to get a sense of what voters down there are thinking.
And in our "Strategy Session," the former vice presidential nominee, Geraldine Ferraro, pegs Obama's campaign success to his race. Donna Brazile and Leslie Sanchez, they're read to discuss that and a lot more.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Many New York Democrats still are in shock this, the day after the Eliot Spitzer sex scandal broke. Now, like all of us, they're waiting to see if the governor will step down.
BLITZER: And joining us now, the former mayor of New York, Ed Koch.
Mr. Mayor, you've praised him in the past. You've written columns defending him. You know him. What happened here?
KOCH: I think there's a screw loose. I believe that his behavior, beginning with his becoming governor, has been irrational. And what he did is to indicate that he doesn't play by the regular rules. That regular rules don't apply. That you can say anything you want, you can insult anybody you want, including the people that you have to work with, whether it's the speaker of the assembly or the majority leader of the senate.
BLITZER: Was it arrogance?
KOCH: Yes, it's arrogance. He's a very smart guy, but I think that there is a screw loose.
BLITZER: So does that mean he needs help at this...
KOCH: Yes, I would say so. And I'm not a doctor. But I would say that he needs help. It is -- what happens when you think, as Charlie Rangel put it brilliantly a long time ago, you think you're the smartest man in the room, and you have contempt for everybody else. And that's what he has conveyed.
BLITZER: Because when he was the attorney general, he prosecuted prostitution rings, high-end prostitution rings in Staten Island. So he knows something about this kind of business.
KOCH: Now, what he did -- I mean, I don't perceive prostitution to be a terrible crime. I don't think it should be a crime at all. But the fact is, he knew what he was doing, and for him to place himself in that position firstly, as it relates to his wife and children, and secondly as it relates to his ability to govern, is an irrational act. And we're witnessing a Greek tragedy.
BLITZER: You know his wife, too. She looked awful standing there alongside him.
KOCH: My heart went out to her, because she aged in a few moments before your very eyes.
BLITZER: When you say she aged, you saw a difference between earlier pictures of her and what we saw yesterday?
BLITZER: Just a tragic, tragic moment.
KOCH: A tragedy.
BLITZER: So where do we do from here? Can a guy like this continue?
KOCH: Well, firstly, he has very good lawyers. And I don't intend to give him legal advice. I hope whatever happens is for his best future. I personally don't believe he'll be able to survive it, and that he ultimately will at some point -- the government will force him, threaten him with indictments, et cetera, and then settle it with a resignation.
They don't normally pursue you when you're a public official and you step down. I don't know what will happen. I doubt that he can survive and remain governor.
BLITZER: Given all of the political enemies he's created over the years when he was the attorney general, and since he's become governor, do you smell a rat here? Some sort of political witch hunt against him that escalated into this?
KOCH: No, "The Times" laid it out. They said they have special investigators looking at bank accounts. And they were looking at his bank accounts and they found flows of money going to shell corporations, and they wondered whether there was money laundering going on.
And that went to the prostitution ring. And they put in wires. And they got his conversation with the pimps and the prostitutes and so forth.
BLITZER: So you don't see a political vendetta out to get this guy, and they got him?
KOCH: He put himself in harm's way, and he was harmed.
BLITZER: And you can only say, and I assume you would say, this is the last guy on earth you thought this would happen to. KOCH: Well, I never thought it would happen to him. He's so smart. But if you look back and you say to yourself, how can a guy who is so smart be so dumb?
BLITZER: Mr. Mayor, thanks for coming in.
KOCH: Thank you.
BLITZER: Republicans in New York say the clock is ticking. They say the New York governor should leave on his own or they could force him out. I'll speak with a top Republican making that threat, and I'll ask him if this is a political payback.
And people just like are you are voting right now in Mississippi. So what's on their minds? We're going to have the first batch of exit polls in the primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
You're looking live right now at these pictures, Mississippi voters at the ballot box right now.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, his political enemies are circulating. So New York's governor likely needs some friends. I'll be speaking with one of them, the Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz. He defends Spitzer. He's here to explain why.
Also, Spitzer finds himself in notorious company -- men who apparently risk their public and private lives for sexual pursuits. But many people wonder why.
And Mississippi voters right now at the polls deciding between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. What are they thinking about as they actually vote?
We have the first batch of exit polls. We're going to be sharing those numbers with you.
I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Pressure growing right now on New York's governor to leave office. This after allegations he was a customer in a prostitution ring. If Eliot Spitzer does step down, he would be replaced by someone who would make history.
Let's go to Brian Todd. He's picking up this part of the story.
Brian, the lieutenant governor would immediately take over. Pick up the story.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
No special election for David Paterson for the moment. He would finish the term through 2010. And it would be, of course, up to him the pick up the pieces in New York. He would come in with a clean slate and a little less combative style.
TODD (voice over): Not as well known as Eliot Spitzer and not as controversial, David Paterson was sworn in as lieutenant governor of New York in January 2007.
KOCH: He is an understated guy. And that, I think, at this particular moment in time will be very helpful.
TODD: At 31, he was the youngest state senator ever in New York. Then worked his way up to Senate minority leader, making more friends than enemies. Paterson, who is now 53, lives in Harlem and would be New York's first African-American governor.
In 2004, he was given a speaker slot at the Democratic National Convention.
DAVID PATERSON (D), LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR, NEW YORK: I have a vision for New York State. I can't see it with my eyes, but I feel it in my heart.
TODD: He is also legally blind, but that didn't keep him from running in the New York City Marathon.
PATERSON: I'm as proud of that as any elected office or any other achievement I've had in my life.
KOCH: You've got to give him so many kudos for having overcome that disability so it's no longer a disability.
TODD: If Spitzer were to resign, Paterson will come into office as a relatively fresh face.
STEVE KORNACKI, "THE NEW YORK OBSERVER": The public is hoping for that replacement to redeem the office and to redeem their faith in elected officials in general. So, David Paterson, in a sense, walks into a great opportunity.
TODD: New York State is trying to close a budget gap of as much as $5 billion this year. But Republican leaders say they're willing to give Paterson the benefit of the doubt.
TEDISCO: I told them we would give him our full support, because it's not about politics anymore.
TODD: Well, maybe at least some politics being played here. Republican leaders say, if Spitzer does not resign, they will begin impeachment proceedings within two days -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, reporting, thanks very much.
And that top official in New York says the governor has mere hours to decide what to do next, resign or possibly make impeachment.
The person making that ultimatum is the minority leader in the New York State Assembly, James Tedisco. He's joining us from Albany.
Thanks very much for coming in. What do you say?
TEDISCO: Hi, Wolf. Good to be with you.
BLITZER: How much time do you believe the governor has to make up his mind?
TEDISCO: Well, the governor should make up his mind immediately, sooner, better than later. We're working at a crisis basis like -- right now. I'm in the back of the Capitol. It looks like a circus here. This is a total distraction away from a budget we have to put to place in two weeks.
And you said it right. They said it right. We have a $5 billion deficit. Our hearts and prayers go out to the governor, to his wife, and to his family. This is not something we rejoice in whatsoever. It's nothing that is political. It's not between Republicans and Democrats.
It's what's right and what's wrong. This governor came here with an agenda of increasing ethics and standing up to the special interest groups. And he's really broken that trust and that contract with the public with his involvement, not only ethically, not only with terrible decision-making, but with alleged illegalities.
This is a governor that, at one time, was the attorney general who not only investigated, but prosecuted, but put in jail individuals who have traveled the same travails that he has in his relationship in Washington, D.C., recently.
We can't afford to have this distraction right now and have gridlock in New York State. And it's not only a terrible dream. It's a nightmare that's turned into a reality.
TEDISCO: And, if we're going to move forward, we have to have Lieutenant Governor Paterson in place soon.
BLITZER: Is there a specific clause in the New York State Constitution that you say would meet the standard for impeachment? What -- what specifically would you impeach him for?
TEDISCO: Yes. The last time we had an impeachment process was close to 100 years ago. The impeachment process starts in the New York State Assembly. It is a resolution with an article of impeachment. It would go to Speaker Silver. He would start the process. You would need two-thirds of a vote. And then it would go over to the Senate. And the Senate would authorize that impeachment. And the governor would be removed legislatively.
We would hate to do that. We would like to have him do it himself. But impeachment is based on ethical reasons, on illegalities, and on inappropriate decision-making, like we think the governor has made, not only in this instance, because this is not the singular instance where the governor has made bad decisions over the last year.
You know we have got something called Trooper-gate going on here, which is an investigation of the governor using our state troopers illegally to investigate Joe Bruno, our majority leader. Then he attempted to send a letter to the IRS to investigate Joe Bruno's taxes, the majority leader.
He's been involved in politics for -- ever since he got here. And here's a man who is bright, intelligent, articulate. Many individuals thought this just a byway on his way to the White House at some point.
BLITZER: All right.
TEDISCO: He's destroyed his reputation and maybe his family...
BLITZER: But is there --
TEDISCO: ... and really put a dent in the progress for New York State.
BLITZER: Is there a specific charge that you would impeach him for? I know, in the U.S. Constitution, they speak about high crimes and misdemeanors. But is there something in the New York State Constitution, a specific charge that you would write into this resolution?
TEDISCO: It would be based on solicitation of prostitution, illegalities in that sense, which he had a press conference, and I think he apologized for. But that's a part of the problem. He apologized, but really didn't define what he was apologizing for, and had his wife with him, of course.
But, yes, inappropriate decision-making, ethical considerations, and illegalities which, as I said, as attorney general himself, he investigated, charged, arrested and incarcerated individuals. And he knew better. He doesn't seem to have a risk-aversion. And you may not know this, but I served 12 years with Mario Cuomo, 12 years with George Pataki, one year with Eliot Spitzer.
All of those individuals could change their policies and politics. None of them could change their personality. And maybe this is just a personality fault by this particular governor, his way or the highway, and -- BLITZER: But the specific charge -- the specific charge, Mr. Tedisco, soliciting a prostitute, is that -- is that the most serious crime that you see out potentially there?
TEDISCO: I think that and also using taxpayers' dollars in his travels to go to Washington, D.C. You can only use taxpayers' dollars for governmental purposes. Obviously, he used those for personal purposes in his travails in Washington, D.C. So, that would also be an illegality and inappropriate to use taxpayers' dollars in his travels by airplane.
BLITZER: All right, James Tedisco is the top Republican in the New York State Assembly. Thanks for coming in.
TEDISCO: My pleasure, Wolf. Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: There are some new questions today for John McCain about his upcoming trip to the Middle East and Europe. It could help him politically, so should taxpayers be footing the bill? That -- those questions being raised by Senate Democratic leaders.
Also, will Barack Obama win Mississippi by a landslide? And, if he does, how much will it really matter? Donna Brazile and Leslie Sanchez, they're ready to offer their predictions in our "Strategy Session."
And coming up in our next hour, we go inside the minds of Mississippi voters. We're standing by, the first batch of exit polls coming in right now.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Barack Obama may be favored to win Mississippi tonight, but Hillary Clinton isn't throwing in the towel.
Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King. He's looking closely at the state.
There's obviously some delegates, what, 33 delegates at stake. What do you see here?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me put back, Wolf, first to the national map a little bit and just take this out, bring in the election map. Here's where we want to see Barack Obama -- she was acting up early today.
Here's where we want to see Barack Obama. The population centers are right here. These are four of the largest cities, Jackson, Gulfport, Biloxi, and Hattiesburg. These are four of the five largest cities in Mississippi. The fifth is South Haven. Actually up here is a Memphis suburb, more or less.
But Barack Obama needs to run up the numbers among the African- American votes. He's heavily favored to do so, Wolf. That's the key to his victory. We will watch this play out. Mississippi is more than 35 percent African-American population, like Alabama, like Louisiana, a state where he should be able the run up those numbers.
The key to Senator Clinton keeping down the margins is out here in rural Mississippi. She needs to get white rural voters. She has had some success doing that in other states. We will see if she can do that tonight. The Clinton campaign is anticipating losing tonight. The key question in that delegate hunt is the margins.
BLITZER: Thirty-five percent of the general population, about 60 or 70 percent of the Democratic population...
KING: In the Democratic primary -- (CROSSTALK)
BLITZER: ... is African-American as well.
All right, let's go to the delegate count, as we see it right now. And I want to take a look, specifically, if we include now, as is apparently in the works, both Michigan and Florida, and we re-throw them in the mix.
They were stripped of their delegates because they moved up their primaries to January. Let's assume they have makeovers, as they're called. What -- what would that show?
KING: It could be a human impact on this race. And it's one of the reasons Senator Clinton is still in, despite some pressure from Democrats to get out.
Now, let's start with where we are entering Mississippi. Barack Obama has the lead here in the delegate hunt so far. The finish line is way out here. But let's turn this off and let's go back through some states here.
Let's go back and take a look at this. And we assume that Barack Obama, again, is going to win the state of Mississippi. So, we will assign that to him. And let's just go, based on the trends we have seen so far, let's give Barack Obama these states out here in the West that have yet to vote. I'm doing this by a 55-45 percent margin.
Then the question becomes the big contests with Pennsylvania, which of course comes up on the map. Let's assume Senator Clinton can win Pennsylvania. And if she can win it big by a decent margin, she will start to close the gap. And then let's assume that, by smaller margins, she wins around Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana.
North Carolina would be a huge fight. But, again, for the purpose of this hypothetical, let's give North Carolina to Senator Clinton. Well, now look what has happened. Senator Obama still has a lead. But Senator Clinton has narrowed the gap quite considerably.
And so now let's put Michigan and Florida back into the mix. If we give them back into the mix, and we give them to Senator Clinton, by a small margin, 55-45, she has pulled just about even. Wolf, if by that point, she has momentum and she could win by even a little bit more, she can pass him in the pledged delegates. But she could at least pull about even, which is the chief calculation in the Clinton camp right now, start winning, get new deals in Florida and Michigan, and, then, of course, down here in -- down here, there's still 60-something delegates at play in Puerto Rio.
If she could get that, she could catch up in the pledged delegates and at least get to the tie and, again, with the margins, perhaps even get ahead of him. That is the calculations now.
Keep the margins low tonight. Win in Pennsylvania, and hope that gives you momentum to win these states here. Then take the contest to Michigan and Florida and be the person with momentum at the end. That's the Clinton strategy. A lot of ifs, a lot of what-ifs, but that's the strategy.
BLITZER: John King, thanks very much.
What is abundantly clear, this contest continues. It's going to continue for a while.
John McCain is looking ahead to the fall, campaigning in the swing state of Missouri today, the all-but-certain Republican nominee also looking ahead to his trip to the Middle East and Europe.
But he's getting some questions now about who should foot the bill. Dana Bash is picking up this part of the story for us.
This trip potentially could help McCain with his campaign. What is the -- what is the argument going back and forth?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is really the issue, according to McCain senior advisers that we talked to about this last week, that they are really hoping that this trip that he's taking next week, that this shows him on the world stage and shows his -- his -- his ability to really deal with the world stage, while the Democrats back here are still battling out in their primary.
But, you know, this is something that is going to be an official Senate trip, which means it's going to be paid for by taxpayers. Now, we asked Senator McCain about that today. He said he is going as the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's very important that, as the ranking member, that I understand and keep up to date particularly where young Americans may be in harm's way. And I'm proud to serve. And I -- and I regret that more of my colleagues don't spend more time in foreign travel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Now, McCain is going on this trip with two of his biggest campaign supporters, especially on the war, the Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman.
Now, CNN asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid about what he thinks about McCain's trip being taxpayer-funded. He responded by saying he doesn't think it's appropriate for members of Congress to go to Iraq, because he thinks it takes away from soldiers' duties.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We had helicopters moving around. We had numerous security people around me. And my personal feeling is, I would rather those people trying to protect me were trying to protect other people. So, you know, that's an individual decision people have to make.
I have the greatest respect for Senator McCain, Senator Graham, and Senator Lieberman, but I just, myself, am more focused on the eight soldiers killed yesterday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, Dana, has the -- has Senator McCain responded to Senator Reid's latest comment?
BASH: He has, actually, through a spokeswoman. He gave us a statement. And what he said, responding to Senator Reid, was that he thinks it's critical for members of Congress, who are responsible for funding the war, to go to the ground and actually get a sense, a firsthand look at what's happening on the ground.
In fact, we have a statement, at least part of a long statement that Senator McCain gave CNN responding to Senator Reid. What he said is: "Had I not traveled to Iraq, I doubt I would have been informed enough to understand what we were doing wrong and what we should do to correct our mistakes."
So, it's very interesting, Wolf. This trip that Senator McCain is taking, along with two of his colleagues, is -- is turning out not so much to be, at least right now, today a question of whether or not the taxpayers should be funding it -- after all, he's the presumptive Republican nominee -- but a question of, at least from Senator Reid's point of view, whether senators should be going to places like Iraq at all, whether that's a good idea.
BLITZER: A lot of Democratic senators have gone to Iraq, as we all know...
BLITZER: ... including Senator Hillary Clinton on a few occasions.
BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much for that.
BASH: Thank you. BLITZER: In our "Strategy Session," Geraldine Ferraro, a top Clinton supporter, attributes Obama's success in the race to the color of his skin. Is the Clinton camp playing the race card?
And will Obama build on his lead with today's Mississippi primary? Donna Brazile and Leslie Sanchez, they're going to break down what we should expect.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: In just a few hours, either Hillary Clinton will snatch headlines from Barack Obama, or he will beat her for a second time since Saturday. We're waiting for the polls to close in the Mississippi primary.
Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now.
Joining us, our CNN political analyst, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez.
Guys, thanks for coming in.
LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Thank you.
BLITZER: Is it a foregone conclusion, Donna, what's going to happen in Mississippi tonight?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We know what the polls say. Of course, the voters will have to make the financial decision. Senator Obama has been campaigning in the state, along with Senator Clinton.
It's clear that Obama may have a slight advantage. He -- after all, he won Louisiana and Alabama. But Senator Clinton will not give up campaigning in Mississippi. She will get some delegates. She may not win the popular vote, but she will get enough delegates.
SANCHEZ: I think that's accurate. We call this the Gold Coast. There's a lot of conservative Republicans there. But, with respect to this, I think Barack Obama will do well because he has student, liberals, and African-American vote.
I think Hillary Clinton is definitely going to be competitive. But there are not enough women over 50 to counter, I think, the large African-American support.
BLITZER: Geraldine Ferraro, who was the Democratic vice presidential nominee back in '84, with Walter Mondale atop the ticket, said some very -- something very controversial.
And I will put it up on the screen, Donna, and get your reaction: "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position, and, if he was a woman, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is, and the country is caught up in the concept."
She's a supporter of Hillary Clinton. What do you think about this?
BRAZILE: Well, I worked for Geraldine Ferraro in 1984. And I was very inspired to work for Ferraro when she was on the ticket with Walter Mondale.
I think what's happening now, Wolf, in the Democratic race is that the candidates are -- are in a very protracted struggle. And some of their supporters are just going off-script, going off-message.
And to somehow or another suggest that Obama is not a talented, gifted politician, Senator Clinton, talented, gifted politician -- we have the embarrass of riches on the Democratic side. I think people need to just stay on message, tell the American people what they will do as president, give us a vision, and I think things will work out fine.
SANCHEZ: She didn't get off-script. She got off the deep end. I mean, it's really reprehensible, what she said, in the nature she said it. As somebody who has been a recipient of the politics of gender, she has a lot of nerve kind of pointing to the politics of race. I think that's what is so disturbing about her comment.
BLITZER: David Axelrod, who is the chief strategist for the Obama campaign, he said, "When you wink and nod at offensive statements, you're really sending a signal to your supporters that anything goes."
How should the Clinton campaign respond? We heard Hillary Clinton disassociate herself with what Geraldine Ferraro said. But I didn't hear anybody saying, you know what, she's no longer involved in this campaign. The Obama people did that to -- to some of their supporters who said some controversial things, as you know.
BRAZILE: Well, I think Senator Clinton did the right thing in distancing herself from those remarks. And I don't believe that this reflects Senator Clinton or Bill Clinton's hearts.
BLITZER: But how should they respond? Should they say, you know what, Geraldine Ferraro went too far?
BLITZER: And she's gone?
BRAZILE: She's not a paid staff person. She's not a paid staff person. She's not an adviser. She's a fund-raiser who supports Hillary Clinton.
I don't see why she needs -- they need to go any further in repudiating, rejecting, denouncing. I think that she went far enough in saying, those are not my remarks. I don't agree with them.
SANCHEZ: I think, in most cases, that would be OK. But in politics that is this vigorous, and people are hyper-sensitive to race and gender, particularly in this election, I don't think you have the leeway not to denounce a statement like that.
So, I don't think she has enough political capital for people to say, you know what, it's really OK for Geraldine to stay on the campaign. I don't think it's there.
BLITZER: Let met get both of you to weigh in on the -- the huge scandal here in New York State involving the governor, Eliot Spitzer. I'm anxious to hear what you think, Donna.
BRAZILE: Well, I'm very disappointed. And my prayers are with his family right now, because this is probably a very tough and emotional situation that -- that Governor Spitzer and his family, they're dealing with.
These are human beings with human frailties. And he must make a decision now. The lawmakers will begin to put pressure on him. And, at some point, the governor will have to speak out and decide whether or not he will stay in office or resign.
SANCHEZ: Very much true. The problem is, it's because it's the public trust. This is somebody you put a tremendous amount of faith in, that represents supposedly the state of New York. And that's what difficult, I think, for everybody, regardless of what side of the aisle you're on, on this.
But I do think it also places Hillary Clinton in a difficult position. She has not distanced herself from him. I think it's another example. She's got two candidates this week, or two supporters, who put her in a very awkward position.
BLITZER: You think that this puts her in a difficult position?
BRAZILE: I don't think so. I mean, look, I mean, we have some lawmakers who are still serving in the United States Senate, and there are all kinds of allegations swirling around them. And no one is calling on them to step aside.
It's a distraction for the people of New York. It's clearly a painful moment for the Spitzer family. And, once again, I thought Senator Clinton acted appropriately last night.
BLITZER: Let's leave it right there.
BLITZER: Donna, Leslie, thanks very much.
SANCHEZ: Thank you.
BLITZER: It's not joke, a famous comedian raising some serious questions about one claim Hillary Clinton makes about her foreign policy experience. You are going to want to hear what's going on.
And Eliot Spitzer is not in the best of the company. He's apparently among men who risked their public and private lives for sexual pursuits. Many people are wondering why. Carol Costello taking a closer look.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: On our political ticker, the entertainer Sinbad diving into the debate over Hillary Clinton's foreign policy credentials. Sinbad was along Clinton's trip to Bosnia back in 1996, when she was first lady. Clinton has cited the trip as evidence of her global experience.
But Sinbad tells "The Washington Post" the trip was more like a USO tour than a harrowing journey into a war zone. "The Post" blog quotes Sinbad as saying this -- and I'm quoting -- "I think the only red-phone moment was, do we eat here or at the next place?"
He's a funny guy, Sinbad.
Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com. That's where I write my daily blog post. Just posted one a few minutes ago on Eliot Spitzer and asked this question, the famous question, Jack, that you probably remember Jay Leno asked Hugh Grant.
CAFFERTY: What the hell were you thinking?
BLITZER: What were you thinking?
CAFFERTY: Yes. Well, you know, who knows. But he made a booboo. Sinbad is a funny guy.
BLITZER: He's very funny.
CAFFERTY: My guess is, Hillary Clinton is not laughing...
CAFFERTY: ... about that particular comment.
BLITZER: But that's funny.
The question this hour is: If the Democratic candidate you support doesn't win the nomination, for whom would you vote in the general election? That's a fair question.
Samantha, our standards and practices maven, is the one who came up with this question. And we got a lot of interesting mail.
Patrick writes from North Carolina: "If Obama doesn't win the nomination, I won't vote. My reasoning is simple: I don't believe a Clinton or McCain presidency would bring the leadership or vision our country needs. It is time we hire a president who does not get bogged down in the here and now. We need a president who will plant the seeds for a safe, competitive America 50 years from now. McCain is a commander, not a chief. How can he be a leader if he's just starting to learn about the economy after he's clinched the Republican nomination?"
That's a fair question.
Melinda writes: "I am an ardent Hillary supporter. I will vote for John McCain if Barack Obama wins the nomination. I really do care about experience. It is more important that someone lead the country and the military, rather than give speeches full of empty rhetoric. I am a very well-educated white woman who is not easily swayed by campaign promises."
Joy in North Carolina: "McCain. I am an African-American Republican female who feels that Obama, despite his party affiliation, is best for our country at this point in time. However, if Obama does not get the nomination, I will return to my party and vote for John McCain. I simply do not trust the Clintons, period."
Travis in Augusta, Georgia, site of the upcoming Masters: "If the insipid, inexperienced dolt Obama somehow manages to use Bush-like deception and trickery to pull the wool over people's eyes regarding the lack of substance in his message and win the nomination, I wouldn't vote Democratic if you paid me. Hillary Clinton remains the only one with the experience to stand up to John McCain."
Debbie writes: "I support Obama. I always felt I would vote for Clinton if she gets the nomination, but the way she has been conducting her campaign the past few weeks has changed my mind. I will either vote for McCain or Ralph Nader. It will be the Clintons' fault if the party ends up divided."
And Bill in Georgia writes: "I'm a lifelong Democrat. If, at the end of this primary, the superdelegates are not given to the person having the most pledged delegates, for the first time in many years, I simply will not vote."
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. See you in a few moments.
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