Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Twin Suicide Attacks in Iraq; Making Iraq Pay to Rebuild; Neck- and-Neck Democrats; McCain Adviser on the Republican's Latest Policy Plans

Aired May 1, 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, fresh blood in the streets of Iraq, including a double suicide attack. It comes exactly five years after Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq. The war now taking an unprecedented toll on Mr. Bush.
We're going to tell you how. Stand by for that.

Also this hour, a new superdelegate deflection from Hillary Clinton while Barack Obama loses ground with voters nationwide, according to several polls. I'll talk about that, the race for the White House, with a brand-new Clinton supporter, the governor of North Carolina, Mike Easley. He's standing by live. .

And John McCain grabs for a golden opportunity. But could it slip through his fingers because of an ad war now being leveled against him?

I'll talk about that and more with the top McCain adviser. We'll talk about issue #1, as well, the economy.

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

But up first this hour, glaring reminders of how long and how deadly the Iraq war has been. On this day five years ago, Americans were given reason to hope the worst was over. That's when President Bush famously stood aboard an aircraft carrier in front of a "Mission Accomplished" sign and declared an end to major combat operations.

Stark contrast today in Iraq, where two suicide bombers blew themselves up right in the middle of a wedding convoy.

CNN's Arwa Damon is in Iraq -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, dozens of Iraqis were killed and wounded when double suicide bombers struck a marketplace in Balad Ruz, east of Baghdad. The attack happened just as a wedding convoy was driving down the main road.

The first bomber exploded, and then as Iraqi security forces and civilians rushed to the scene, the second bomber detonated. Iraqi security officials are telling us that one of the bombers was a female.

And this is a disturbing trend that we have been seeing increase over the last few months, the use of female suicide bombers. A tactic that the U.S. military attributes to al Qaeda, saying that al Qaeda is looking to exploit weaknesses within the U.S. and the Iraqi security systems.

The Americans have been consistently saying that they do have al Qaeda on the run, that al Qaeda is expected to be making its last stance, much of its cells now concentrated in the northern part of the country. But today's attack does show that the insurgency here has a continuous ability to strike -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon in Baghdad.

Thank you.

The latest count, by the way, specific count, 35 dead in these suicide attacks, 76 people wounded.

Let's go the White House right now. Our correspondent Elaine Quijano is getting reaction from the White House on this suicide attack.

What are they saying, Elaine?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, officials here certainly mourn the loss of life, but they also say this kind of violence is exactly why the United States must continue to stand with the Iraqi people, why the U.S. fighting forces must continue with their efforts in Iraq. But of course as you know, Wolf, critics are charging that with the Iraq war now in its sixth year, the Iraqis themselves have to do more to stand up on their own -- Wolf.

BLITZER: An interesting development. A very interesting development today up on the Hill, Elaine.

The Senate Armed Services Committee moving now with a proposal to stop funding reconstruction projects in Iraq, more than $2 million, because they're sick and tired of the U.S. paying at a time when the Iraqis are accumulating large oil export surpluses.

I want you to listen to what the chairman, Carl Levin, said. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: It makes no common sense for a country that has that kind of wealth and that kind of surplus in our banks and their banks to be sending us the tab or for us to pay the tab for the infrastructure and some of the training costs that we're now paying for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. So what are they saying at the White House about this proposal? John Warner, the ranking Republican, is on board as well.

QUIJANO: Well, certainly they're well aware of it. And today, White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto was asked about this move. He says, look, the Iraqis are already taking steps to take on more of the financial burden.

Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY FRATTO, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: On major reconstruction projects, we're moving towards 100 percent of Iraqi funding. In fact, we are pretty much out of very large reconstruction projects in Iraq. Those are being funded by the Iraqis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUIJANO: Now officials are also saying, look, if people really want to bring the U.S. troops home, that now is not the time to cut reconstruction aid to Iraq. Officials here believe that doing so might only serve to delay the prospects of those troops coming home and slow down the war efforts in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine, thank you.

Public support for the war in Iraq now at its lowest level ever. Just 30 percent in our brand-new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. And that's taking a huge toll on President Bush's popularity as well.

Take a look at this.

The president's disapproval rating that barely registered back in the days after 9/11 now is at an all-time historic high of 71 percent. Seventy-one percent disapprove of the job he's doing. No other president has ever had a disapproval rating that high.

We're going to have much more on the results of this new CNN poll. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

John McCain is coming to the president's defense on this fifth anniversary of Mr. Bush's aircraft carrier speech about the war in Iraq. The all but certain Republican nominee and supporter of the military surge says he does not fault the president for the "Mission Accomplished" banner that's been so widely criticized over the years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Obviously the president bears the responsibility for it. I mean, we all do. But do I blame him for that specific banner? Of course not.

You know, I don't -- you know, I can't -- I have no knowledge of that. I can't blame him for it. But I do, I do say, when statements are made, a few dead-enders, last throes, then those are -- as opposed to a banner that just appeared, those are direct statements which were contradicted by the facts on the ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: And Don Rumsfeld spoke of the dead-enders. The vice president, Dick Cheney, spoke about the last throes of this war.

We're going to be hearing more from Senator McCain later this hour.

Right now we have a brand-new snapshot of where the presidential race stands as we head into another round of critical primaries for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, has been going over all these numbers.

All right. What's happening now, Bill, specifically on the Democratic race nationally?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, it's tightening up, which is not what's supposed to be happening at this late date.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Are Democrats around the country finally reaching a consensus about their nomination? The answer is yes and no.

Consensus: a solid majority of Democrats now believes Barack Obama will win the nomination. No consensus: Democrats are about evenly split over which candidate they prefer -- 46 percent for Obama, 45 percent for Hillary Clinton.

Obama has lost his lead. Is it because of the controversy over his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What he saw yesterday out of Reverend Wright was a resurfacing and I believe an exploitation of those old divisions. Whatever his intentions, that was the result. It is antithetical to our campaign, it is antithetical to what I am about.

SCHNEIDER: Only 19 percent of Democrats say Wright's statements have made them less favorable to Obama. More that two-thirds say they've had no effect at all.

The bigger problem appears to be Obama's string of losses to Clinton in big states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. They may have created doubts about Obama's ability to win.

Is he winning against John McCain? Obama leads McCain by four points. That's within the margin of error.

Does Clinton do better? Not really. She leads McCain by five. That's one reason why Democrats are having trouble making up their minds.

What's amazing is that the Republican candidate is doing so well when a Republican president has the highest disapproval rating on record. How can that be?

OBAMA: But what he's not offering is any meaningful change from the policies of George W. Bush.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator McCain wants more of the same.

SCHNEIDER: It can be because Americans are divided over whether McCain's policies would be mostly the same as those of President Bush or mostly different.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Democrats say McCain's policies would be the same as Bush's. What's interesting is, Republicans say McCain's policies would be different. Republicans are looking for change too -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill. Thank you. Very fascinating numbers. A lot more of these numbers coming up later.

Let's check in right now, though, with Jack Cafferty -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Big development in the campaign earlier today, and it could be the beginning of the end for Hillary Clinton. The leader of the Democratic Party under President Bill Clinton is switching his support away from Hillary Clinton and to Barack Obama five days before the Indiana and North Carolina primaries.

Joe Andrew is a superdelegate. He was chairman of the Democratic National Committee, named to the job by President Clinton, from 1999 to 2001. His hometown is Indianapolis. He endorsed Hillary Clinton the day she announced she was running for president.

Andrew is now calling on Democrats to "unite behind Obama and heal the rift in our party." He says the primary process has devolved to the point that it's now hurting the Democratic Party.

Andrew says Obama never asked him to switch his support. It was Obama's handling of the Jeremiah Wright controversy and his decision to oppose a summer gas tax holiday, which Clinton and McCain are both in favor of, that convinced him to switch.

Andrew's decision puts Barack Obama now just 19 superdelegates behind Hillary Clinton and could open the floodgates for more undecided superdelegates to make their minds up and make their decisions known in the next few days. He says -- Andrew -- the Democrats cannot afford to wait any longer on this.

So here's our question: What does it mean that the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Joe Andrew, is leaving Hillary Clinton to support Barack Obama?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf. BLITZER: I can't tell you how many people were e-mailing me today, Jack, saying, "You know what? I never heard of Joe Andrew. I never knew he was a co-chairman of the DNC. Who is he?"

And they sort of feel like, you know, he's betrayed an old friend and they're not happy with him. A lot of people think that this is probably going to be maybe counterproductive, but I'm anxious to hear what our viewers think about Joe Andrew. I don't know how many people knew who he was before today.

What do you think?

CAFFERTY: Well, I don't know. I mean, Bill Richardson was...

BLITZER: People knew who Bill Richardson was.

CAFFERTY: Well, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee is a fairly high-ranking political figure in this country. And if he was named to that job by President Clinton and endorsed her on day one, the day she announced her nomination, and now says having been inside the campaign for 15 or 16 months, you know what, this isn't what I signed on for, I like the other guy, I don't care how well known he is. His stature within the Clinton organization and his history with the Clinton presidency speaks volumes about the decision he made to abandon both of them for Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Let's see how much influence Joe Andrew winds up having. But I'm interested in our viewers, what they think as well.

Jack, thanks very much.

Stick around. We're not going anywhere.

John McCain's proposal for a gas tax holiday is getting some tough scrutiny. Is McCain giving drivers false hope that it can ease soaring full fuel prices? I'll ask a top McCain adviser on the economy and a lot more. Carly Fiorina, she's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also ahead, I'll speak with the North Carolina governor, Mike Easley. I'll ask him why he endorsed Hillary Clinton, what's wrong with Barack Obama, when polls suggest the state is likely to choose Barack Obama. What's going on in North Carolina?

And we'll have more on that new superdelegates defection from the Clinton camp and whether it's really having an impact in the battle for Indiana.

Lots of news happening today right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We all would certainly like to save money on the ever- rising price of gas. And if John McCain could have his way, you wouldn't have to pay the federal gas tax this summer. Critics, however, say that would actually wind up saving you very little and that you'd wind up paying for it in other ways, even more expensive down the road. Even John McCain today said this idea is not a long- term fix to the high gas prices.

Let's discuss this and more with one of Senator McCain's top advisers, Carly Fiorina. She's a former CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

Thanks very much for coming in.

CARLY FIORINA, JOHN MCCAIN ADVISER: Nice to be with you.

BLITZER: Here's what Barack Obama said about McCain's proposal. I'll play it for you.

FIORINA: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: So now it's the Clinton/McCain -- the Clinton/McCain proposal to suspend the gas tax for three months. Here's the problem -- is not only is it worth 30 cents a day to you, but it takes money out of the federal highway fund that goes to rebuilding roads and bridges. And without that money, you could have thousands of fewer jobs here in Indiana and our roads and bridges won't be safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. McCain and Clinton support it. Clinton says she was would have a windfall profit tax on big oil to pay for the roads, for the bridges.

How is Senator McCain going to pay for the roads and the bridges if this tax -- if this federal tax isn't included between Memorial Day and Labor Day?

FIORINA: Well, he would take it out of general reserves. But I think the interesting thing about the clip you just showed is that Senator Obama supported a gas tax holiday when he was a senator in Illinois and when gas was only $1.52. And when he supported that gas tax holiday at $1.52, the price of a gallon of gas fell eight to 10 cents. So...

BLITZER: So when you say that he would take the money from reserves, in other words we would go further into debt to pay for this tax break?

FIORINA: For a three-month period the American people would get a break and money would be moved from one account to another. You know, what I find fascinating is...

BLITZER: But what's wrong with a windfall profit tax? Exxon Mobil today announcing their first quarter profits almost $11 billion. They're raking it in right now.

FIORINA: Absolutely.

BLITZER: They're raking it in at a time when people are going to the gas tank and spending $3.50, almost $4 a gallon for unleaded regular.

What do you say? Why not do what Hillary Clinton says, tax them a little bit more? They can certainly afford it better than working- class people in Indiana, North Carolina, or elsewhere around the country.

FIORINA: Yes. Well, let's just start with the basic idea that this started with -- give hard-working Americans a break at the pump. Let's go back to that fundamental.

BLITZER: But what's wrong with having it excised -- a windfall profit tax on Exxon Mobil.

FIORINA: Probably because Hillary Clinton or Senator Obama would make that tax permanent. And that would distort markets.

BLITZER: Would Senator McCain support a temporary excised -- a temporary windfall...

FIORINA: I haven't had that conversation with him. But I think the most important thing...

BLITZER: Is it something -- as a corporate executive you understand this kind of stuff. What do you think?

FIORINA: I think taxing profits, particularly when the profits of that industry are not out of line, makes less sense right now than, for example, providing those same companies an incentive for, for example, refining.

BLITZER: Are you worried though that politically this could be used to badger Senator McCain in a general election, that he's with big oil, they're against big oil?

FIORINA: No. I think Senator McCain would support incentives or tax breaks for oil companies to invest more in refining capacity, which is what we need for a long-term solution.

We have a refining capacity problem in this country. But I think in the immediate term it was Senator McCain's idea on April 15, long before Hillary Clinton supported it, to say hard-working Americans need a break. Let's give them a break at the pump this summer.

BLITZER: He says he's not going to increase taxes, right?

FIORINA: That's right.

BLITZER: Now, here's what "The New York Times" writes today about his health care proposal.

"Though Senator John McCain has promised to not raise taxes, his campaign acknowledged Wednesday that the health plan he outlined this week would have the effect of increasing tax payments for some workers, primarily those with high incomes and expensive health plans."

Is that right?

FIORINA: Well, what Senator McCain has said is that he would give Americans who want a choice, he would give Americans a $5,000 tax credit to be able to purchase their own insurance from anywhere in the country. That's part of his plan. And health insurance would be portable from job to job or from job to home.

BLITZER: But would taxes go up for people who have a good health plan right now or make more money? Would their taxes go up under this health care plan?

FIORINA: There's no reason. There's no reason that their taxes would necessarily go up for whatever health plan they currently have.

The goal of McCain's plan is to make health insurance more cost- effective and more accessible to every American. And there's some very specific proposals he's laid out of how you make health care more cost-effective, how you make health insurance less expensive.

BLITZER: As you know, there's a lot of buzz about you being a possible -- possible vice presidential running mate. What do you think?

FIORINA: You know what? I'm enjoying doing what I'm doing right now. I'm doing this because I think John McCain is the right man to lead this country. And if I can help contribute in that way, I'm pleased to do so.

BLITZER: That's the correct answer.

FIORINA: Well, you were good on "Boston Legal" last night too, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, thank you very much for that. Maybe we'll show that clip to our viewers.

FIORINA: There you go. You should.

BLITZER: Carly Fiorina, we hope you come back.

FIORINA: Thanks.

BLITZER: John McCain's critics want you to see him and President Bush in the same light. But McCain is using some unusually blunt talk and tactics to show how he's different. You're going to want to hear what he's doing today.

And the U.S. military sends a message to the troops. If you have mental health problems from serving in the war, seek help.

We're going to tell you about the military's new policy that tries to make that easier.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (NEWSBREAK)

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

Happening now, Barack Obama's wife is candid about the personal effect of the Jeremiah Wright controversy. Michelle Obama speaks to CNN about that and what her family might do if the reverend says even more about her husband.

Stand by for that.

Iran wants Hillary Clinton to know it's listening to her, and something she said has caused a tough response from Tehran. Brian Todd working the story.

And you might see them wherever you are, thousands of immigrants and activists protesting in cities across the country. You're going to find out where they are and exactly what has them out on the streets today.

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

Another superdelegate decides he would rather see Barack Obama become president than Hillary Clinton. But this is not just any superdelegate. He's actually a former close ally of the Clintons, and even endorsed Hillary Clinton the day she announced her presidential bid.

Let's go to our Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. She's in South Bend, Indiana, watching the story.

A lot of people are going to be reading into this very interesting switch, Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely. And it's really what the Obama campaign would like to have happen right now.

They have watched their polls begin to split. They have now gone almost a week on the Reverend Wright issue. And what they are hoping is that this will be the beginning of the turn of the tide. They want this to be the post-Wright era.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): A psychological boost and a superdelegate for a beleaguered campaign.

JOE ANDREW, FORMER DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I'm changing my support from Senator Clinton to Senator Obama.

CROWLEY: Joe Andrew is more than a switch-hitter. He's a triple, a former Clinton supporter, an Indiana native, and head of the Democratic Party in the Bill Clinton era. He says the gas tax debate is emblematic of why he moved to camp Obama. Though it seems like a surefire voter-pleaser, Obama is opposed. ANDREW: Barack Obama took on the heavy and difficult political task of doing what is right on an energy policy and an environmental policy, and not what is politically expedient in order to give a quick pander to Hoosier voters.

CROWLEY: The gas tax dispute has emerged in the midst of a struggle over the working-class vote. Obama argues it would drain money from the federal fund that fixes roads and bridges and only save consumers 30 cents a day.

A number of economists side with Obama, also arguing a tax holiday could encourage Americans to drive more and maybe drive the cost back up.

On the politics of it, he's trying to use the issue to paint her as just another politician.

OBAMA: After John McCain made the proposal, I guess Senator Clinton thought it was going to poll well, so she said, me too. I will do the same thing.

And, so, now it's the McCain/Clinton proposal to -- to suspend the gas tax.

CROWLEY: Clinton argues, her program doesn't touch the Highway Trust Fund, and any relief is better than no relief. Politically, she sees this as a way to frame him as an out-of-touch elitist.

CLINTON: But I find it frankly a little offensive that people who don't have to worry about filling up their gas tank or what they buy when they go to the supermarket think that it's somehow illegitimate to provide relief for the millions and millions of Americans who are on the brink of losing their jobs, unable to keep up with their daily expenses.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Now, the brass tacks of this debate, Wolf, is this. Neither one of these candidates is going to be in a position to do anything about it this summer.

After all, the election is not until November. And, if they get elected, one or the other of them, they won't take office until the end of January. So, they are looking at a problem that could well not exist by the time they take office. But, in the meantime, this is a pretty good political issue for both of them.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley in South Bend, thank you.

Of course, all this comes as another important Democratic primary is only five days away. North Carolina holds its contest next Tuesday.

Joining us now from Raleigh to talk about Obama and Clinton's race, the North Carolina governor, Mike Easley. He's endorsed Hillary Clinton in this race, did it only within the past few days.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

GOV. MIKE EASLEY (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Obama, at least right now, he is ahead in the polls among Democrats in North Carolina. You took the step to endorse Hillary Clinton. I guess it took some -- some guts. Why not Obama?

EASLEY: Well, I actually have been working through this in my own mind for a very good while.

I wanted Hillary to run long before she did. You know, John Edwards was in the race from North Carolina. He and I are friends. And I knew, at some point, he was going to get squeezed out, given the dynamics. And, when he did, I had a conversation with Hillary. And knowing her background, knowing her plans for turning the economy, her ability to lead, be resilient, probably, the one who can get started the quickest, put a White House together immediately, and make the changes we need to get this economy moving again as fast as possible, those are the things that took me to Hillary Clinton.

I have got a lot of respect for Barack Obama, the campaign he's run. A lot of his -- his supporters are good friends of mine. But I just felt like, at this time in our nation's history, we need somebody who's ready to go right away with a good economic policy.

BLITZER: All right.

Can -- can she win? Can she beat him in your state, North Carolina, next Tuesday?

EASLEY: Yes, she can.

I don't know -- I don't know if we're going to get there. I hope we are. We can just keep trying. I don't have a machine to put together out there, like some other states do. All I can do is go out, introduce her to the people I know, and let her tell her story, because what she's doing, making the connection between the economy and education, raising the level of knowledge, talent and skills, so that America's economy is secure, not just now, but in the future, in years beyond, so that we are the masters of our own economic destiny.

That's what Hillary Clinton is about. People appreciate that here. They have been through it. They have seen us transition through all the loss of these textile jobs to China. They know it can be done. And they know that she has the ability to do it. She's got the smarts. She's tough enough. And I think she's the one ready to lead the country.

BLITZER: The most recent Mason-Dixon poll in North Carolina among likely Democratic primary voters has Obama at 49 percent, Clinton at 42 percent, unsure nine percent, a seven-point split right now. But it was a lot more a few weeks ago. You're the governor. You know, the governor has a lot of clout in these kinds of things. Do you think you can deliver?

EASLEY: Well, I think she can deliver for herself. All I can do is go out and introduce her to the people I know. I'm not always right, but they know I won't mislead them and I will tell them what I know about her and what I think she can do.

BLITZER: I ask the question, Governor, because Governor Rendell delivered in Pennsylvania. Governor Strickland delivered in Ohio. The pressure is on you right now to deliver in North Carolina.

EASLEY: I will tell you, when you have got a candidate as strong as Hillary Clinton, you ought to be able to deliver. And I know that.

But I'm starting down a little bit further than they were. I don't have the operation that Ed Rendell had. There's not but one of him. But we do have people out there who are moving to her. You know, right now, as the economy weakens nationally, people are starting to get really focused on that and who can turn this economy around and build America strong again and quickly.

They know we have wasted eight years, and they know we can't afford to do that. And they know we have to get started right away in making the changes that Hillary has talked about.

And I believe, as the economy weakens, people are going to move more and more to her. And I -- I think it's just going to get closer and closer each day. We will just have to see where we are Tuesday. But I promise you this. We're going to working like the dickens down here to get her elected, because we think it's that important to America.

BLITZER: Senator Obama and his supporters make a fair point, that he's done well in a lot of those so-called red states, states where the Democrats in presidential elections normally don't do very well, rarely win.

Would he be a more effective campaigner in your state, North Carolina? Who would be more electable against John McCain come November?

EASLEY: Well, I think we can win with -- with both candidates. I really do.

And I really -- I think Hillary's message is going to resonate better here. It doesn't matter that much, you know, in the general whether you win by one point or 10 points. But what I'm focused on is not so much the margin of victory we might have with one candidate or the other. What I'm focused on is which one can get the job done, turn the country around the quickest, which one can put a White House together, not get bogged down with distractions, and get that agenda through immediately.

And, you know, she has been fighting for the same things now for 20, 30 years. And she's not let up. She's not going to let up. She knows how to -- to work through all of these otherwise distractions to make sure that they don't occur. That is what I think giving her an advantage, that experience and that tenacity that -- you know, she's still showing it today, Wolf.

(CROSSTALK)

EASLEY: Everybody keeps counting her out. She keeps coming back.

BLITZER: He did get a good endorsement. Joe Andrew, a former chairman of the DNC, switched from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama today. What do you make of that?

EASLEY: Well, I don't know him, and I don't know why he switched.

But I think there's going to be a lot of switching going on back and forth between now and Denver. It's going to be interesting. I don't think it's all that bad. I think it's good for the American people to have to get involved, to have to make tough decisions, to recognize that this is their country, and they're going to have to stand up and pick a good leader to make sure that we get -- we get back on track.

BLITZER: So, you think...

EASLEY: And I think Hillary's the one who can do that.

BLITZER: Do you think it will go to Denver?

EASLEY: Me, well, I hope I don't have to. I hope it's resolved before then. But, if not, I will be there. Now, I like Denver. Don't get me wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: No, no, I know you will go to Denver.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I know you will go to Denver. But I wonder if it's -- I'm asking if you think it will only be decided at the convention in Denver.

EASLEY: OK. I'm sorry. I misheard you.

I don't know. I think it will be decided before then. That's what my gut tells me. But I don't think it's the end of the world if it goes to Denver. People worry about that. They think things are going to come unglued, and that, you know, we will all be fighting.

But, at the end of the day, Democrats are one big happy family. We know we can beat John McCain. We know we have the right prescription for turning this country around and especially getting the economy back in shape. And that's what Hillary is focused on. BLITZER: All right.

EASLEY: And that's why I'm focused on Hillary.

BLITZER: She's lucky to have you as a supporter, Governor. Thanks for coming in.

EASLEY: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you again.

BLITZER: The governor of North Carolina, Mike Easley, joining us.

John McCain's critics believe they have some strong ammunition against him, and they're playing it up in a new major campaign ad. Will it hurt him in an important fall battleground state?

And the Democrats' fight for superdelegates, it's getting tighter and tighter. Will it end sooner, rather than later, or is this going all the way? Our "Strategy Session" is standing by.

And, later, a full report on the shocking turn in the case of the so-called "D.C. Madam."

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: While Democrats try to figure out who will face John McCain in the fall, the Republicans -- at least the Republicans' critics -- are trying to fill the void. McCain is campaigning in the battleground state of Ohio today.

That's where our chief national correspondent, John King, is joining us, in Cleveland.

He's had a head start, a dramatic head start, in terms of the fall campaign. What's going on right now? He's not wasting any time. I see him popping up in Ohio and Pennsylvania, in Florida. Those are the states that the Republicans would desperately need if they're going to be in the White House.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. And add Iowa and Colorado to that list.

Senator McCain moved on from here in Cleveland to Iowa. He will be in Colorado tomorrow, using the rare gift he has, the luxury of time, to focus on states that he believes will be critical in the fall, while Senators Clinton and Obama slug it out, the Democratic race now carrying on into May.

They're too busy, the Democratic candidates, to spend too much time on John McCain. But, more and more, and especially on this, the fifth anniversary of that now infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech by President Bush, critics of Senator McCain on the left, including the Democratic Party, tried to push him off his message and back to the Iraq war, an issue they believe is much more favorable to the left.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCCAIN: I think that...

KING (voice-over): The stage to himself in another November battleground, John McCain looking to make the most of a golden opportunity.

MCCAIN: There are those who are convinced that the solution is to move closer to a nationalized health care system. The key to real reform is to restore control over our health care system and restore it to the patients themselves.

KING: At the Cleveland Clinic, health care dominated the discussion.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

KING: But McCain also welcomed a chance to address blue-collar concerns that foreign trade and globalization mean lost jobs.

MCCAIN: We have failed. We have failed miserably to give education and training to workers.

KING: Critics, though, suddenly are making a more determined effort to knock McCain from his careful script.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MOVEON.ORG AD)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Major combat operations in Iraq...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: This what the liberal group MoveOn.org promises will be a million-dollar ad campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MOVEON.ORG AD)

NARRATOR: Now we need to know how long we would be in Iraq if John McCain were president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A half-million-dollar Democratic Party ad buy also centers on McCain and Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE AD)

NARRATOR: If all he offers is more of the same, is John McCain is right choice for America's future?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: McCain disputes he's more of the same, noting his early criticism of the Bush-Rumsfeld approach and advocacy of the surge policy in place now.

MCCAIN: And I think that history will judge me that the fact that I thought it was wrong and I knew what was right.

KING: But history's judgment will come long after the November election. And McCain tries to turn any Iraq question into a debate about what comes next, not the past five years.

MCCAIN: I said, as you well know, more than a year ago, I would much rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. And I still stand by that statement. My knowledge and experience, which Senator Obama and Senator Clinton do not have, dictate to me that we must succeed, and the strategy is succeeding, with spikes and with enormous difficulty and enormous sacrifice.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now, by spikes and sacrifice, McCain is referring to the sad and bloody month of April for U.S. troops in Iraq, after what had been a period of relative calm.

He still says he believes the surge is working, but, Wolf, the events in Iraq of recent days and weeks a grim reminder that McCain can control what he says about health care, he can control his travel schedule, but none of the candidates running for president have any control at all over what the Iraq mission will look like come Election Day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John, in Cleveland, thanks very much -- John King reporting.

In our "Strategy Session," in the contest for the hearts and minds of those superdelegates, Obama has been biting into Hillary Clinton's lead dramatically. Why?

And while Democrats try to figure out who will be their nominee, they should take some heart. In our brand-new poll, both of them outpace McCain -- that in our "Strategy Session" and a lot more -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We have a brand-new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll that's out on the presidential race. And it shows the contest could be very tight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And it also shows how each of them might do in a hypothetical contest against John McCain.

Let's discuss this and more in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, the Democratic strategist Jennifer Palmieri. She's a former press secretary for the John Edwards campaign, worked earlier in the Clinton White House. And Republican strategist Tony Blankley, he's a former spokesman for Newt Gingrich, and an excellent writer as well.

TONY BLANKLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, guys, very much for coming in.

Here's some numbers in our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. Among registered Democrats, Jennifer -- and you're one of those registered Democrats.

JENNIFER PALMIERI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I am.

BLITZER: Back in mid-March, Obama was ahead 52-45. Now it's only 46-45. There's been a pretty dramatic tightening among registered Democrats.

What's going on?

PALMIERI: I think that you see, as we're getting, you know, even -- under -- under sort of the worst-case scenario, this goes to June. We're only a month away. And I think that you see the -- the gap is narrowing, as Clinton -- Clinton continues to rack up wins.

I mean, Senator Clinton saw how it felt badly in February where there was -- where, you know, Obama had a string of wins in February that she didn't. And I think that -- so that her winning streak is sort of reflected in those numbers and some concerns about...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But you're not mentioning the Reverend Wright? Does not -- that not a factor?

PALMIERI: I mean, you know, I don't -- it's hard to know. I -- it -- possibly, it could be. I mean, I think, certainly, we see a problem with...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Here are other numbers in this new poll, Tony. And let me get your assessment.

Among all registered voters, Democrats, Republicans, independents, hypothetical contest between Obama and McCain, Obama 49 percent, McCain 45 percent. Similar numbers, hypothetical contest between Clinton and McCain, 49 percent for Clinton, 44 percent for McCain.

What do you make of this snapshot right now? It's obviously subject to a lot of change between now and November.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: I mean, it's all very dubious projecting ahead that far.

But what's amazing is that McCain is competitive, given that, in the generic ballot, the public prefers the generic Democrat by about 15 points. BLITZER: When you ask, do you prefer Democrats or Republicans, it's...

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: So, what's happening is, McCain is outperforming his brand and the two Democrats are underperforming their brand.

But, as far as your first question about -- I don't think this is a classic tightening. A classic tightening is, you start off with a more known candidate, and the challenger builds and builds. What you have here is the challenger, Obama, coming in, shooting up to the top, and now beginning to fade at a fairly steady rate. The question is, is it a fluctuation or is it a more sustained trend line down, which is -- I think makes for an even more interesting race than usual.

BLITZER: And, Jennifer, you have been neutral, correct me if I'm wrong, in this race, right?

PALMIERI: That's correct.

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI: Well, I was for John Edwards. But now I'm neutral.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You were for John Edwards, but you haven't decided between Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

PALMIERI: Right.

BLITZER: Here's some other dramatic numbers that show how popular Barack Obama has been with superdelegates.

PALMIERI: Right.

BLITZER: Back in February, February 6, Hillary Clinton was ahead in the superdelegates by 193 to 106. The Clinton margin was 87. Today, she has 260, by our estimate, superdelegates, to 241 for Obama. That's only a 19 number split right there.

PALMIERI: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He's really made up a lot in those superdelegates.

PALMIERI: Which is ironic, because in terms of how it's relates to your poll. I mean, your poll shows that, shows the popular vote tightening and it shows that the superdelegates, more superdelegates are going to him.

And I think -- I mean, from the discussions that I hear from superdelegates, I think that superdelegates that are elected officials are very loathe to overturn what the delegates... (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The pledged delegates.

PALMIERI: The pledged delegates. If the delegates end up -- if Obama ends up with more delegates, they're very loathe to overturn that, partly for, you know, their own political purposes. They're elected officials.

They don't -- you know, they're concerned about, you know, a lasting problem with the African-American community for the party. And, then, I find that superdelegates that aren't elected officials are more likely to worry about who can actually win at the top of the ticket.

BLITZER: Well, how you do you interpret this -- this gain by Barack Obama?

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: I don't necessarily disagree. But -- and -- and it's your side of the aisle. And you know it better than I do.

(LAUGHTER)

BLANKLEY: But I talked to a Democratic congressmen last week. And my sense was that the -- the Washington-based superdelegates, the congressmen, are just appalled at the thought of denying it to the first African-American. They think, beyond this election, this is -- you can't win a national election, if you're a Democrat, if you don't have a strong African-American vote supporting you.

And, so, I think they just grimace at the thought of seeming you have the white boys in the back room pull it from him at the last minute, even though that's what the superdelegate is for, is to make a decision different than what is emerging.

On the other hand, the state delegates, I think, are looking more at top of the ticket, who's going to be better or who's going to be worse. And, for a long time, they thought Hillary was going to be worse at the top of the ticket. Now I think there's at least doubt. And that's my sense...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Because, if you look at some of the most important states, like Florida, in terms of the Electoral College...

PALMIERI: Right. Right.

BLITZER: ... Pennsylvania, Ohio, it shows, in these hypothetical matchups, Hillary Clinton doing better against McCain than Barack Obama. And electability certainly is going to be one of those factors these superdelegates will have to consider.

PALMIERI: Right. And Obama has to convince them -- and he could do this -- that -- that he would get there -- he would get to 270 electoral votes by a different map. He would different win states. He would win states like Colorado and Nevada, and, you know, states that Democrats don't normally win in.

But it's -- but you would have to have people make the leap of faith that they're ready to accept a new map, a new way to victory.

BLITZER: People will be making a lot of leaps of faith, I suspect...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... between now and November.

We will see what happens.

Jennifer, thanks for coming in.

PALMIERI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Tony, always a pleasure.

BLANKLEY: Thank you.

BLITZER: The Republican Party says there's something you should know about Barack Obama. It involves gas prices and an idea to save you money on them.

And Iran is listening to what the presidential candidates are saying. Tehran has a harsh message in response to Hillary Clinton's very tough talk about that nation.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our Political Ticker: The Republican Party is going after Barack Obama over his refusal to back a gas tax holiday this summer. Both John McCain and Hillary Clinton support the idea. The RNC Web ad says Obama supported a gas tax holiday in Illinois when he was in the state legislature.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com. That's where I write my daily blog post. Posted one just before the show.

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

CAFFERTY: I was listening to your interview with Carly Fiorina when you asked her how John McCain would pay for the gas tax hiatus that he would like to take, and she said, well, he would take the money out of reserves.

BLITZER: General funds, she said, yes. CAFFERTY: What reserves?

BLITZER: That means we go further into debt.

CAFFERTY: There are no reserves.

BLITZER: Right.

CAFFERTY: The country is working on borrowed money. There is no money.

BLITZER: That -- that is correct.

CAFFERTY: So -- so, that answer was -- was pretty bogus.

Anyway, here's the question: And these answers are all terrific, by the way. What does it mean that the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Joe Andrew, is leaving Hillary Clinton in order to support Barack Obama?

John in San Diego writes: "Now that Reverend Wright was thrown under the Obama bus, voters and superdelegates are climbing aboard as it heads toward the -- his inevitable nomination in Denver."

W. writes: "I think this is an indicator something is going on behind the scenes in the Clinton organization that is causing those with a sense of integrity to switch positions."

Yve in Fort Washington, Maryland: "The Judases that James Carville will likely identify them as know the Clintons intimately or are tired of their lying, pandering, and negativity. Obama doesn't have any defectors. It speaks volumes to those wise enough to read between the lines."

Robert writes: "In a practical sense, any time a supporter switches, it has a net effect of a two-vote swing. Clinton loses one. Obama gains one. One equals two. Now, in a symbolic sense, it matters much more than the number two. This is a Clinton loyalist. When a loyalist leaves, you know there's more to it than meets the eye. If I had been named chairman of the Democratic National Committee by the nominee's husband, I would certainly look to keep my bread buttered by supporting his wife."

Kevin in Georgia writes: "I think it speaks volumes, not only of Barack's appeal, but also the disaster that is the Clinton campaign. Barack has gone through the toughest month of his political career and he is still gaining support from superdelegates and the public. How many have left Barack's camp? Zero."

Sue writes: "It means Mr. Andrew better polish up his resume, as he's shortly going to be job hunting when Hillary wins."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile, and look for yours there, among hundreds that are posted -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.