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Gun Control & The Campaign; Food Crisis Spawns Deadly Riots; Obama Blasts Clinton, McCain

Aired April 14, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, dozens of mayors are speaking out on gun control and they've got all three presidential candidates on board at least -- at least when it comes to one key loophole. We'll tell you what's going on.

Jimmy Carter visits an Israeli town targeted by rockets, but his plans to meet the group blamed for those rocket fire -- that's leading to a boycott by some Israeli leaders.

And the road to the White House may lead through Nashville. Why the candidates are tuning in to country music right now.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Gun control -- a hot button issue that suddenly is warming up on the presidential race. The nation's largest seller of firearms -- that would be Wal-Mart -- working on a deal on tougher sales standards with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a gun control advocate. The giant retailer agrees to keep records of sales in which guns are later found to be used in crimes.

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena.

She's working the story for us -- Kelli, we're hearing from mayors, presidential candidates, all of a sudden, talking a little bit more about gun control -- what's going on?


Mayors quite voluntarily, but candidates very reluctantly.


ARENA (voice-over): In terms of policy, there's not much to separate Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the issue of guns. Both would restrict gun purchases to one a month. Both want to renew the assault weapons ban. But policy and politics don't always mesh perfectly.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I even shot a banded duck, which was an amazing experience. SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hillary Clinton's out there, you know, like she's out in a duck blind every Sunday. She's packing a six shooter.

ARENA: The bickering does little to further the gun debate. Perhaps this will.


CLINTON: I'll be on your side for closing the gun show loophole.


OBAMA: Closing gun show loopholes.


Close the loophole.


ARENA: The ad was paid for by Mayors Against Illegal Guns and promotes closing the so-called gun show loophole. It allows private dealers to sell guns without buyers going through a background check.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D), NEW YORK: The federal government has requirements in terms of background checks and who can buy guns. Those laws are not enforced the way they should be.

ARENA: The issue has been a minefield for Democrats running for president. Back in 2000, Al Gore pushed for tougher gun laws and lost.

AMY WALTER, EDITOR, "THE HOTLINE": Well, the perception was that, you know, Al Gore's trouble in small towns and rural communities was based on the perception that he was going to be tougher on gun laws than any other candidate.

ARENA: And today, both Democrats are careful to voice support for the Second Amendment.

CLINTON: There is not a contradiction between protecting the Second Amendment rights of Americans and figuring out how we can keep, for example, assault weapons off the street.


ARENA: The promises to protect the fundamental right to gun ownership won't impress the gun lobby, Wolf. The National Rifle Association gave both Clinton and Obama an F on gun policies and Republican John McCain is hardly an NRA favorite. He gets just a C plus.

BLITZER: And one quick correction. We accidentally labeled Michael Bloomberg a Democrat. He, of course, used to be a Democrat, then he became a Republican, now he's an Independent. We apologize for that error. All right, Kelli.

Thanks very much for that report.

He brokered the first Middle East peace deal, but former President Jimmy Carter has angered his own government and the Israeli government by planning to meet with the Palestinian group Hamas. And now he's feeling the fallout.

CNN's Atika Shubert is in Jerusalem -- Atika.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, former President Jimmy Carter is on a nine day tour of the region. First stop, Israel, where he did not receive a warm welcome.


SHUBERT (voice-over): Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter got a firsthand look at the effect of near daily Palestinian rocket attacks in the Israeli town of Sderot.

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm obviously distressed to see this happen. I think it's despicable crime for any deliberate effort to be made to kill innocent civilians. And my hope is that there will be a cease-fire soon.

SHUBERT: He's here on what he calls a tour for peace, not as a negotiator. But Carter insists he wants to talk to Hamas -- the group that Israel holds responsible for these rocket attacks.

CARTER: It's absolutely crucial that in a final dreamed about and prayed for peace agreement for this region, that Hamas be involved and Syria be involved.

SHUBERT: U.S. and Israeli officials do not agree with the former president. The U.S. has listed Hamas as a terrorist organization. The Islamic militant group now controls all of Gaza -- nearly half of the Palestinian territories. That, Carter insists, is why Hamas cannot be ignored.

Israelis did not give Carter a warm reception.


SHUBERT: This woman was rushed away by security as she tried to give him this complaint.

"He's always defending the Palestinians," she says, "but he's not defending us."

Many here are uneasy at welcoming the man who brokered Israel's peace with Egypt three decades ago, but in a recent book compared Israeli policies to apartheid South African.

Sderot's mayor welcomed Carter, but admits he has mixed feelings.

MAYOR ELI MOYAL, SDEROT, ISRAEL: Well, he's not that loved in here in these very days.


SHUBERT: Whether or not to meet with the former president has stirred its own debate in Israel. Carter met with the parents of Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, abducted by Hamas more than a year ago. But others were not so forthcoming. He did meet with Israeli President Shimon Perez, though no cameras were allowed. Carter says he requested to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but was refused.

The prime minister's office has refused to comment on any aspect of Carter's trip -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right.

Atika, thanks.

Atika Shubert in Jerusalem.

It is unmistakable right now -- food prices, especially for staples, are store soaring around the world. The World Bank says it's a food crisis of global proportions that could plunge tens of millions of people more deeply into poverty, affecting a lot of children, as well.

CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into this story.

There are fears of starvation, really, out there.

How bad is it -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, to illustrate that, Wolf, we're going to show you a couple of basic visual images. They are staggering. You can see on this graph of world food prices they have been relatively stable for about a decade. But just over the past year, the cost of food has, in some places, risen by as much as 100 percent. Predictably, this has hit the hardest -- taken the worst immediate toll in some of the world's poorest countries.


TODD (voice-over): In Haiti, deadly riots over food prices -- several killed in recent days and the prime minister is tossed out of office. The U.N. secretary-general says global food inflation has reached emergency proportions. He says it could wipe out seven years of gains in fighting poverty -- a sentiment echoed by the head of the World Bank.

ROBERT ZOELLICK, PRESIDENT, WORLD BANK GROUP: We can't afford to wait. We have to put our money where our mouth is now so that we can put food into hungry mouths. It's as stark as that.

TODD: From the White House, a promise to try to help.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We are in a process right now of looking at ways to meet some of the ongoing food needs of certain countries beyond what has already been provided.

TODD: It's hitting everywhere -- from plentiful supermarkets in the U.S. to rice markets in Bangladesh where, according to the president of the World Bank, enough rice for a family of six for one day can take up half its daily income.

Why is it happening?

Experts say it's partly bad weather; but also, high oil prices increasing the transportation costs; more demand in China and India, as people can afford better food; and, some say, competition with ethanol fuel, as more corn grown by farmers is used to make that fuel instead of being sold for food -- good for energy independence but a big trade off.

JEFFREY SACHS, EARTH INSTITUTE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: We're taking this valuable food and we're putting it in the gas tank with a big subsidy. That's also driving up world food prices.

TODD: Aid officials say it's more than just a humanitarian problem. Recent protests over high food prices in Egypt, Ivory Coast and half a dozen other countries suggest it could be a global security problem, as well.

ANDREW THORNE-LYMAN, U.N. WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME: The people who are being hit hardest are really the urban poor. That's why you're seeing a lot of instability that you're seeing in places like Haiti, in urban areas.


TODD: The World Bank has asked for half a billion dollars from donor countries by May 1st. So far, they report receiving pledges for about half that amount -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What's the connection between this crisis, Brian, and prices in our local supermarket?

TODD: Well, here's a couple of figures that will show you that. Cheddar cheese, for example, just over the past year, has gone up 61 cents, to $4.71 a pound. A dozen eggs has gone up 55 cents, to $2.16 for just a dozen eggs. And flour has gone up 69 cents over the past year, to $2.39 for a 5-pound bag. That's just here in the U.S., where people spend, Wolf, about 10 percent of their income on food. Compare that to a place like Nigeria -- 73 percent of an average family's income is spent on food.

BLITZER: These are very, very alarming statistics.

TODD: They are.

BLITZER: And the ramifications enormous.

Thanks very much.

The crisis, by the way, is so serious, the White House has just announced today it's releasing $200 million in emergency food aid to help in this growing worldwide crisis.

We're going to stay on top of this story for you.

Let's go back to Jack.

He's got The Cafferty File in New York.

It sort of puts it all in perspective. We're dealing with a major food crisis around the world. There are starving people out there -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes. There's always been a, I guess, a portion of the global population that's gone hungry. But when I read the thing last week -- the price of rice, for example, up 10 percent or 12 percent in the last few days, that's simply crippling to areas that are right on the edge of possible starvation.

The tsunami of voters turning up at the polls looks now like it's going to continue right through states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Indiana. More than a half a million people are either newly registered or have switched their registration so they can weigh in on the Democratic primaries in those three states.

It shouldn't be much of a surprise, I suppose, when we consider the tremendous interest that was generated by that race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Record registration and turnout, particularly on the Democratic side, we've been seeing it since the Iowa caucuses.

In Pennsylvania, where only registered Democrats can vote next Tuesday, more than 300,000 people have completed new registration or switched to vote Democrat since the first of year -- huge numbers.

North Carolina, the primary on May the 6th, open to Democrats and unaffiliated voters. They've signed up 122,000 people newly registered in that state. And there could be even more because North Carolina has something called a same day registration that allows people to register and vote early, between April 17th and May 3rd.

Indiana, the primary also on May 6th, open to all voters. A hundred and fifty thousand new voters have signed up just since January the 1st.

One expert on voting trends tells the "Boston Globe" all this interest in the primary season is an indication that we are going to see a very high turnout in the general election, perhaps the most we have seen in a century in American politics. Others question whether all the excitement will last and if voters will stay engaged in the process after the presidential election is over.

Here's the question -- how does your interest in the 2008 elections compare to past elections?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog. A very healthy sign for this democracy of ours that the public is participating in near record numbers so far this year. BLITZER: Millions and millions of new voters out there.


BLITZER: All right, Jack, thanks very much.

It's the battle over, the so-called bitter voters and John McCain jumping right in.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think those comments are elitist. I don't know Senator Obama very well. I can only look at his remarks -- and I've seen them now several times -- and say that those are certainly not the vision that I have of America.


Barack Obama, though, swinging right back. And wait until you hear what he's saying about his presidential rivals.

Obama's former pastor, whose racial rhetoric embarrassed the candidate, is speaking out now once again and he's making no apologies. We'll have a full report.

And the candidates go country -- they're betting the road to the White House may lead through Nashville.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: His rivals have had a field day about Barack Obama's remarks about the so-called bitter voters out there. But now he's swinging right back.

Jessica Yellin is watching the story for us -- Jessica, where is this heading?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Barack Obama went on offense today. He says he is not the elitist in this race.


OBAMA: Senator Clinton and Senator McCain seem to be singing from the same hymn book, saying I'm out of touch. When I hear my opponents, both of whom spent decades in Washington, saying I'm out of touch, it's time to cut through the rhetoric and look at the reality.

YELLIN (voice-over): Barack Obama today returning fire against both his presidential rivals and mocking Hillary Clinton's nighttime campaign stop at an Indiana bar, where she was photographed drinking beer and a whiskey. OBAMA: Around election time, candidates -- they just can't do enough. They'll promise you anything. They'll give you a long list of proposals. They'll even come around with TV crews in tow and throw back a shot and a beer.

YELLIN: But late last month, Obama himself was caught on camera drinking a beer at a sports bar during his bus tour of Pennsylvania.

Clinton's rebuttal in Pittsburgh today generated some audience push back.

CLINTON: And I understand my opponent came this morning and spent a lot of his time attacking me. Well...


YELLIN: But still, she made her point about religion and guns.

CLINTON: I believe that people don't cling to religion, they value their faith. You don't cling to guns, you enjoy hunting or collecting or sport shooting.

YELLIN: Jumping into the fray for the first time, the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think those comments are elitist. I don't know Senator Obama very well. I can only look at his remarks -- and I've seen them now several times -- and say those are certainly not the vision that I have of America.


YELLIN: Now the big question, of course, with just eight days to go until the Pennsylvania primary, will all this attention hurt Obama with working class voters in that state?

Well, our latest CNN poll of polls in Pennsylvania does put Hillary Clinton up by 6 points. But we should note all those surveys averaged into that poll were conducted before this controversy broke on Friday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, thank you.

Barack Obama's former pastor, whose racially charged remarks have made him a lightning rod for controversy, he's out speaking once again.

Carol Costello has been following this story for us -- Carol, what's he saying this time?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's certainly not offering any apologies, Wolf.

But he does want to clarify and he's about to do that very publicly.


COSTELLO (voice-over): It was supposed to be private. But when it's Reverend Jeremiah Wright who's delivering the eulogy, sadly, even a funeral is fair game. Chicago reporters sneaked into Trinity United Church of Christ and when Pastor Wright spotted them, he briefly turned away from the subject of the eulogy.

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT: You don't change who you are because of where you are.


WRIGHT: You don't stop telling the truth because it is not politically correct or it makes a racist uncomfortable.

No, no, no...

COSTELLO: Wright made no apology for his controversial remarks about casting some blame on America for the 9/11 attacks or about racism in America.

WRIGHT: And the founding documents which gave birth to this nation planted slavery and white supremacy in the DNA of this republic, giving it what Condoleezza Rice calls a congenital birth defect. They had intelligence, but they had no wisdom. Thomas Jefferson, in his notes on Virginia -- write it down -- said that God would punish America for the sin of slavery. I guess that makes Thomas Jefferson unpatriotic."

COSTELLO: The remarks are the first public ones since the controversy over Reverend Wright rocked the Obama campaign -- comments Obama continues to distance himself from.

OBAMA: And I have to say that in reports subsequently, you know, there's been this notion that he was, you know, by various terms, my spiritual adviser or my spiritual mentor. You know, he's been my pastor.

COSTELLO: Pastor Wright has yet to address that, but that could change. Since the funeral, he's hit the road, delivering a public mass in Virginia on Sunday. On the 27th, he'll head to Detroit to deliver the keynote address to the NAACP's Freedom Forum.

REV. WENDELL ANTHONY, NAACP, DETROIT: We believe that this is not an occasion to attack anyone. This is an occasion to bring everyone together. We're just so excited that Dr. Wright is going to come to Detroit. This is the hottest ticket in America. We hope you come.

COSTELLO: Ten thousand are expected to come to what's being billed as a nationwide discussion on race. But make no mistake -- it's also about Wright trying to set things right.

ANTHONY: We believe that this is an opportunity for all people who have heard and not heard or misheard what has been said to come and hear the words straight.


COSTELLO: Now, an appearance at Detroit's NAACP's Freedom Forum is quite an honor. Past guests have included Colin Powell, Bill Clinton. Both Senator Clinton and Obama -- somehow I think they will have an overflow crowd for Reverend Wright.

BLITZER: I think you're right.

COSTELLO: Um-hmm. More than 10,000 I'll bet you.

BLITZER: A lot of people will be watching.


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

Even the Democrats are tuning into country music. Why the candidates are betting that the road to the White House leads through Nashville.

And 99.7 percent -- the odds that the major earthquake will hit a certain area of the United States. We're going to tell you where.

Stick around.



BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM -- Carol, what's going on?

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, get ready for the big one. Scientists say California almost certainly will be rocked by a powerful earthquake within the next 30 years. In their first statewide earthquake report, seismologists reveal calculations pointing to a 99.7 percent likelihood. They expect the quake to measure a magnitude of at least 6.7. And the odds are higher it will hit in Southern rather than Northern California.

Blockbuster wants to buy Circuit City. The movie's rental company has offered a billion dollars for the struggling consumer electronics chain, the second largest in the United States. Circuit City's brass is questioning whether Blockbuster can finance the deal. The electronics firm's share price shot up in afternoon trading. Blockbuster says the proposed combined companies would create a chain that could sell portable devices and entertainment.

A major study draws a link between breast cancer and drinking. The National Cancer Institute revealed data from 184,000 women and found that post-menopausal women who consumed alcohol had a higher risk of developing the most common form of breast cancer. Just two small drinks daily boosted the likelihood by 33 percent. More than two, the risk of a tumor jumped even more. Researchers say it's still too early for health recommendations. And Brazil's national oil agency says the South American country could be sitting on a massive oil field. The agency's president says a state-run oil company may have discovered a deep water offshore area containing as much as 33 billion barrels of oil. He says the information is unofficial. If confirmed, it would triple Brazil's reserves and make it the third largest oil reserve in the world and one very rich country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: If they could pump it out of there, it would be a hugely rich country.

All right.

Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

All three presidential candidates will be playing to the same audience later tonight. That would be country music fans.


MILEY CYRUS: Miley Cyrus speaking.

OBAMA: Miley. It's Barack Obama.

CYRUS: Let me guess. You want tickets.

CYRUS: All right, you got me.

OBAMA: I need tickets to the CMT Music Awards. I've got two daughters and they really, really love you.

CYRUS: Sorry. But I don't...

OBAMA: Four words. Treasury Secretary Hannah Montana.


BLITZER: It's not just for Republicans anymore. The road to the White House makes a stop through Nashville and why that could make a difference. That's coming up.

Barack Obama using a different tactic today, mocking Hillary Clinton about guns and drinking a shot of whiskey.

Plus, Pope Benedict XVI -- he's heading to the United States.

Is he different than Pope John Paul II used to be?

We'll tell you what's going on as we get ready for this historic visit to the United States.


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

Happening now, the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, apparently on his way to his third consecutive term; projections show Berlusconi's conservative block leading solidly in Italy's election.

Cubans are lining up to get cell phone service now that Raul Castro, the new president, has made it available to everyone. It's expensive. Contracts cost about $120, more than six times the average state salary. That doesn't include the actual phone.

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

The three presidential candidates hit the national scene tonight. They'll all be appearing on the CMT Music Awards. It's the Democratic candidates in particular that are hoping to tap into the traditionally restricted area for Republicans.

Let's go to our entertainment correspondent Kareen Wynter. She's joining us now with a preview.

All right. Kareen, what do we expect to happen tonight?

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, perhaps a few laughs, maybe. You know, these candidates want to score with the audience, but more importantly they want to really connect with voters, Wolf. Check out this exclusive preview.


WYNTER: Barack Obama has been called a rock star. Now he's hoping people think he's a country star too.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's Barack Obama. I need tickets to the CMT music awards.

WYNTER: Tonight all three presidential candidates will make cameo appearances in a skit that hopes the 2008 CMT music awards hosted by Billy Ray and Miley Cyrus.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Miley, it's John McCain. I think you know why I'm calling.

MILEY CIRUS, SINGER: I can't vote yet.

WYNTER: While Democrats have enjoyed the endorsement of such pop stars as, John Legend, and Barbara Streisand, Republican celebrity endorsers have tended to be country music stars such as Leann Rimes, Sarah Evans and Brooks and Dunn. But now Democrats want a piece of the action.

CHRIS WILLIAMS, AUTHOR, "REDNECKS AND BLUENECKS": In the past, Democrats there was just this fear that country artists are a bunch of bumpkins, we'll send out the wrong picture, we're too cool for that. Suddenly country music is a lot cooler than it was a few years ago. The Democrats certainly, I think, have gotten on board and are realizing that, you know, we need their support.

WYNTER: But finding Democrats on the mainstream country chart is like looking for a needle in a hay stack. Just ask Tim McGraw.

I think you made waves when you came out as a Democrat.

TIM MCRAW, SINGER: Yeah. There's not a lot of Democrats in Nashville. I think it's changing every day.

WYNTER: Toby Keith says he's a life long Democrat who split his vote in the past four presidential contests.

TOBY KEITH, SINGER: I voted twice for Clinton and I voted for Bush twice. So I'm all over the map.

WILLIAMS: If there's anything southerners have it's an independent streak. The civil war sort of proving that that. I think that continues politically.

WYNTER: Tonight the road to the white house makes a campaign stop through Nashville's music row.


WYNTER: The CMT will reach 3 million viewers but it will re-air nine times this week. So Wolf, that's great exposure. They didn't even have to buy ad time.


BLITZER: All right. Kareen, thanks very much.

As we just heard, they're going country and they're getting religion. Democrats are treading into what may seem to be unfamiliar territory.

Let's discuss with two guests, our Democratic strategist James Carville, he's a Hillary Clinton supporter. And in Illinois, Congresswoman, Jan Schakowsky, she's backing Barack Obama.

Guys, thanks for coming in.

Let me ask James quickly, on the country music part, can the Democrats make some inroads here?

JAMES CARVILLE, CLINTON SUPPORTER: Sure. I mean if you look at what's happening, we could pick up two congressional seats in Louisiana. I was just on the phone with a really good consultant who tells me we have a shot at a seat in Mississippi and maybe Alabama. I think that we are ready to compete this year in 2008 across the board. I'm glad to see they're down there. I'm an old time country music, George Jones kind of guy.

BLITZER: What do you think, Congresswoman, when it comes to the religion part? We saw Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama last night speaking out very personally about their own faith, their own values, the religious part. Can they make inroads among religious Americans which I guess a lot of people think has been sort of GOP territory in recent elections?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D), ILLINOIS: Well, I really appreciated the compassion for them last night. I thought it was interesting John McCain decided not to come at all. And I certainly was proud of my candidate who was very comfortable talking about his faith. I thought for all Democrats that it was -- it was a really good night to hear them talk as candidly as they did about their religion and faith and what impact it has on their decision making as leaders in our country.

BLITZER: Is this fertile territory, James?

CARVILLE: Well, I think, look, sure. We need to do better in that. I think everybody understands that. I think that we were down a little bit in 2004 from where we need to be. I think we can pick that up in 2008. I think that this compassion forum last night was a good thing. I think that we need to participate and show people we care about this country, that we love this country, that we're deeply patriotic, which people are. If we do that, I think we can do a lot better.

BLITZER: Congresswoman, I can't tell you how many Democrats e- mail me or tell me how angry they are about the nastiness of this fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They just feel uncomfortable. So many Democrats like both of them and they hate it when they're going after each other because they think in the end it's only going to help John McCain and the Republicans. I want you to weigh in.

SCHAKOWSKY: Well, I feel that particularly in this last round when Barack Obama's meaning was clear, but his words in his own admission were very clumsy, somehow this meaning is being twisted.

Americans really are frustrated. I think part of what they're frustrated is the way campaigns are run. That they do get so nasty. They're frustrated they lost their pensions, they've lost their jobs, they've lost their health care. That's what they really want to hear the candidates talking about.

And so I think that we need to reject the negative, particularly when it really doesn't have any basis and fact as this last brew ha ha does over the so-called, you know, the bitterness statement. Americans are bitter.

BLITZER: Your candidate, James. She's getting ready to launch some advertising, some commercials on this very sensitive issue.

CARVILLE: I like the way we describe bitterness and we go out and attack Senator Clinton but at any rate I'll let the record know I noted that. I'm not that stupid.

Look, I think that as I pointed out Sunday morning, just some terrible inaccuracies in what Senator Obama said. It doesn't mean he can't be president and not qualify. Incomes and jobs went up during President Clinton -- in the '90s when he was president. I think to equate the Clinton administration with the Bush administration economically shows maybe we need to bone up a little more on our economic statistics here.

I think that you know running for president, Senator Clinton didn't bring this up. This was a statement Senator Obama made and I think he has every right to explain it and put it into context and I think he's doing that right now.

BLITZER: All right. Go ahead, Congresswoman.

SCHAKOWSKY: I think he has put it in context and today he talked in front of the steel workers who express loudly their support at the meeting that, yes, Americans are very concerned about the things that Barack Obama mentioned, that they are concerned about the lost opportunities that they've had, the jobs that have been shipped overseas.

Barack Obama has addressed these continually. And so I hope that we can move beyond a statement that I think has, as much as he takes the blame for misstating the actual words, the meaning is absolutely clear.

We need somebody who's going to attack these problems that affect the middle-income people.

As far as, you know, the issue of elitism, Barack Obama has made decisions at every step of his life to take an anti-elite path. Those of us who know him well from Illinois know that someone who graduated with the degrees that he did, deciding to become a community organizer at $12,000 a year in Chicago, being raised by grandparents, his grandfather went to school on the GI bill, he can relate to ordinary Americans who are suffering. And, yes, some that are feeling bitter.

BLITZER: All right. Quickly, James. Go ahead.

CARVILLE: Not only are they fill busting in the senate, they can fill bust in the house too. I think we're going to see an interesting election here in Pennsylvania. I think Senator Obama is right. I think Indiana is going to be the tie breaker here. I think after Indiana we'll know a lot more.

BLITZER: May 6th, Indiana, North Carolina; April 22nd, Pennsylvania. Thanks to both of you for coming in.

CARVILLE: Appreciate it. Thank you.

SCHAKOWSKY: Thank you.

BLITZER: A dramatic hostage rescue in Iraq, this time the hostage was a western television producer and the rescuers Iraqi troops.

He's still a bit of a mystery to American Catholics. Now they're about to get a firsthand look at Pope Benedict. We'll take a closer look at how he stacks up against his popular predecessor.

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


BLITZER: Pope Benedict XVI begins his first visit to the United States tomorrow.

CNN's Mary Snow is joining us now. Got a little bit of a preview.

All right. What can we expect from the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, American Catholics will get some insight of the pope's view into the world and morality. Pope Benedict is also expected to address the sex abuse scandal that has cast a dark shadow over the Catholic Church in the United States. With visits to Washington and then New York, the pontiff will aim to reach 70 million Catholics living in the U.S.


POPE BENEDICT XVI: This Tuesday I leave Rome for my visit to the nation's organization and United States of America.

SNOW: Pope Benedict XVI addressing crowds in Rome Sunday, getting an enthusiastic send off as he gets ready to introduce himself to American Catholics. Three years after succeeding Pope John Paul II, Benedict remains somewhat a mystery.

JOHN ALLEN, SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: I think most American Catholics may not know a whole lot about him. He's not the sexy media icon that John Paul II was but they've seen by and large they've liked.

SNOW: Of American Catholics polled by the Pew Research Center, 74 percent give Pope Benedict a favorable rating. The survey points out he's not as highly regarded as his predecessor. For one, their personalities are different. John Paul was known for his charisma. Benedict is known as an intellectual, an introvert.

CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE, ARCHDIOCESE OF CHICAGO: He doesn't quite get the energy from crowds John Paul II got. John Paul II was extroverted and got energy talking to people. The present holy father loses energy a little bit. He has to rest in between all these encounters.

SNOW: The energy factor is partly due to age. Pope Benedict turns 81 this week. When John Paul became pope, he was only 58 and was able to keep a much more rigorous schedule traveling around the globe. The two men, though, had strong ties. Benedict, then cardinal, was John Paul's chief theological adviser. He was a key figure behind the track down on challenges to moral teachings such as homosexuality and women's ordination.

ALLEN: I think from the outside, you know, he was seen as this arch conservative sort of Darth Vader figure. Some people interpreted his election as pope as a vote for a kind of sharp, lurch to the right, kind of a Reagan revolution in the Catholic Church.

SNOW: But on the inside says Vatican analyst John Allen, cardinals view Benedict as a man who's extremely open, a man who listens to them.


SNOW: Victims of sex abuse by priests are hoping pope benedict listens to them. One group is calling on the pope to meet with victims and transform the church. Another is calling on the U.N. to investigate the Vatican's role.


BLITZER: Thanks, Mary, very much.

When Pope Benedict arrives in the United States tomorrow what sort of catholic community will he find? The Vatican views abortion as a mortal sin. A Pew Research Center poll shows slightly half of American Catholics support legal abortion. The pope wants all embryonic research stopped. 55 percent of U.S. Catholics surveyed say it should continue. The Vatican's position on same sex marriage is that it is fundamentally evil. 42 percent of American Catholics support it according to this poll.

By the way, the pope lands at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, D.C. tomorrow during our SITUATION ROOM coverage, 4:00 p.m. eastern. You're going to be able to see it live as it unfolds right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A British journalist who works for CBS News is free today after two months in captivity in Iraq. Richard Butler's release was not planned and it was not carried out by western military.

CNN's U.S. affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty is in Baghdad with details on his surprising and dramatic rescue.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN U.S. AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this rescue wasn't planned but it couldn't be better times for the Iraqi army or the Iraqi government under fire for how it carried out its recent military operation in Basra.


DOUGHERTY: The rescue was big news on Iraqi state TV. CBS journalist Richard Butler, in apparently good health, ecstatic at his rescue in Basra by Iraqi security forces.

RICHARD BUTLER, FREED JOURNALIST: The Iraqi army stormed the house and overcame my guards. And they burst through the door and I had my hood on, which I had to have on all the time. And they shouted something at me and I pulled my hood off.

DOUGHERTY: An Iraqi military spokesman said Iraqi troops came upon Butler unexpectedly as they carried out a search operation at a house in Basra looking for weapons and what he called outlaws. The spokesman says four men in the house opened fire. The troops responded, arresting one of them. Three fled. Iraqi TV showed Butler being met by high-level members of the Iraqi government and military. They were beaming too and for good reason. The Iraqi military was strongly criticized here and in Washington for an ill-planned operation last month in Basra ordered by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.

BUTLER: Iraqi army brilliant.

DOUGHERTY: The Iraqi government sacked 1,300 Iraqi soldiers so far as a result of their weak performance in Basra. Some fled the fighting or deserted. Others refused to fight. That raised serious questions of whether Iraqi forces are strong enough and committed enough to eventually take over the mission from U.S. led coalition forces. It also raised doubts about the leadership of the prime minister. Saying they were delighted at the news that Butler was freed safely, the British ambassador and the consul general Basra issued a joint statement saying, "We wish to pay tribute to the alertness and professionalism of the Iraqi Army units who recovered Mr. Butler."

BUTLER: Thank you, gentlemen.


DOUGHERTY: This rescue was good news for Richard Butler and his family and badly needed news for the Iraqi government. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty in Baghdad, thank you.

America has waited a long time for a woman to make a realistic run for the white house. Now that Hillary Clinton is a very viable candidate many women are torn. I'll be speaking about that with the veteran journalist and author Cokie Roberts here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

From trade to illegal immigration, Barack Obama takes on issues dear to Lou Dobbs' heart. Lou is standing by to tell us what he thinks about what's going on.

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


BLITZER: Check in with Jack. He's got the Cafferty file in New York.


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the question this hour is how does your interest in the 2008 elections compare to past elections? We've had record registrations, turnouts and no sign it's going to abate. Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina all signing up, literally hundreds of thousands of new voters.

Olga writes from Ontario, "The race between the Democrats so exciting it's good to see the young people getting involved. Obama's instilled this. I think it's a good thing for the country. My husband and I can't wait to get home to click on CNN to watch what has taken place all day. I agree with the other Canadian comments. If Obama doesn't win, we'd love to have him in our country." Ontario, Canada.

Mabel in Georgia, "This is the most interesting election in my lifetime. The non-issue becomes an issue and the graft that is done goes away with the next news headline. We never visit the story line for any length of time. We have people making excuses for why they don't like the black guy. Saturday Night Live makes fun of them all. There's never a dull moment."

Nancy writes, "Your question makes me think about one of my favorite bumper stickers. If you're not outraged you're not paying attention. I would hope everyone is engaged. I'm an ardent Obama supporter, bitter about what the Bush administration has done to our country and clinging to the ideals of this nation. I have to believe there are better days ahead."

R.C. in Philadelphia, "I'm 28. It's only the third presidential election I've had the privilege to vote. In after the blunder in 2000 and the weak Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, this is a very important election to me. So I've been paying close attention."

Joe in St. Louis, Missouri, "I'm in this to stop the lunatic Republicans. I hope to see jobs for Americans again. That's how your parents were able to raise you."

And Tim writes, "I hope my vote will keep the whiskey drinking, bullet dodging, pants suit wearing princess out of the most important office in the world. Things are bad enough as it is."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at Look for yours there along with hundreds of others that are posted.

BLITZER: See you in a few moments, Jack. Thank you.

He's always outspoken. He's always ready to share his views. Our own Lou Dobbs, he's standing by live to join us. We're going to talk about the Democratic presidential candidate.

Speaking of faith, the Democrats bare their souls about the role of spirituality in leading a nation.

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


BLITZER: Let's check in with Lou Dobbs. He's got a show coming up in an hour. I want to pick his brain on what's going on.

Is this a big deal or a little deal, this whole uproar over Barack Obama's comments the other day about bitter voters out there?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: I guess it's not a very big dole to those who consider the second amendment, the first amendment, the way they practice their faith, the empirical basis and the reason they bring to issues like illegal immigration and free trade, I guess it's not a big deal if they don't consider those things important. Most Americans do as you know, though.

I think frankly that Senator Obama has revealed a perspective and frankly a set of personal values that are very disappointing to most Americans.

BLITZER: He says he didn't speak artfully, but he thinks if you listen carefully to what he was saying you get the point that there's a lot of anger out there right now. People have lost their jobs and they cling to various parts of their lives.

DOBBS: Wolf, you and I have been covering this country for a very long time and like me, you travel a lot. There is a lot frustration. There's a lot of anger. There's disappointment. There are all sorts of emotions. The American people and working men and women in this country are not angry. They have much to anger them, to frustrate them but they're not angry people and the idea that Senator Obama can cast himself as somehow a superior being who you know requires his wife, Michelle, on occasion to remind him he's not perfect. The reality is that not one of us is as smart at all of us. The idea that working men and women who are religious, who practice their faith, who care about their Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms, who have views -- you know, the line that he used, that have an antipathy toward people who do not look like them, here's a news -- news flash for Senator Obama.

The fact is, this is the most racially, ethnically diverse country on the face of the Earth. And, Senator, you're completely out of touch with that. This is a nation that is diverse, period.

BLITZER: All right, Lou, I know you are going to have a lot more coming up on this story in an hour.

DOBBS: You bet.

BLITZER: Lou, thanks very much for that.