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THE SITUATION ROOM
West Virginia to Hold Democratic Primary Tomorrow; Over 8,000 Dead From Earthquake in China
Aired May 12, 2008 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Will West Virginia be more than a last hurrah for Hillary Clinton? Barack Obama doesn't need to win there. Why a poor showing could come back to haunt him nevertheless. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Thousands dead, thousands injured and thousands more trapped. Including children buried under the rubble of their schools. China's official news agency says the death toll from the country's most powerful earthquake in decades has passed 8,600 and authorities warn it will rise.
The 7.9 magnitude quake was centered in the Sichuan Province in central China but provinces to the north and south were also affected. And the ground shook as far away as Beijing, that's 950 miles away. As this I-Report video shows the quake was followed by a number of powerful aftershocks. CNN's John Vause is in Chongqing -- John.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: After a series of powerful tremors many are spending the night out doors. This is the municipality of Chongqing, home to about 30 million people and many are now sleeping here in this park. They have tents, they have blankets. Because, quite simply, at this stage they are too afraid to return in doors. The epicenter of the quake was 200 miles from here. That is where most of the damage has been reported. In Sichuan Province. In particular one county called the Tuan County (ph), home to about 116,000 people, state media says about 80 percent of the buildings there have been destroyed. The death toll there numbers in the thousands.
Also, around the epicenter, about 60 miles, around 100 kilometers around the epicenter, there are reports at least six different schools have collapsed. At one of those schools as many as 900 students have been buried. Most of those are in the eighth and the ninth grade. Heavy earth moving equipment is on the scene. Search and rescue workers.
There are reports that some teenagers have managed to free themselves from the rubble and also there have been cries for help coming from beneath the debris. Also in the quake zone, two chemical plants have collapsed. And underneath that rubble hundreds of people as well. Also leaking out from those chemical plants about 80 tons of liquid ammonia.
Across this regions, homes, buildings and factories, many of them poorly built have collapsed and roads too have been badly damaged. And that is hampering rescue teams from getting to those (inaudible) areas. (Inaudible) the Chinese government has sent in thousands of troops as part of this rescue effort. The prime minister here (inaudible) says the death toll will continue to spiral. John Vause, CNN, Chongqing, China.
BLITZER: In the wake of Myanmar's cyclone Senator John McCain has been hammering the military junta there. But it turns out two of his aides has ties to the same military leaders. CNN's Mary Snow is joining us now. Mary this must be quite an embarrassment for McCain campaign. What is going on?
SNOW: Wolf, enough for two resignations to come over the weekend. The McCain camp says it only learned of the past ties Saturday.
SNOW (voice-over): The McCain camp says it's moving on and doing so minus two aids who resigned after it was revealed their lobbying firm once did work for Myanmar's military junta. Republican presidential hopeful Senator John McCain called it one of the most ruthless juntas in the world. He's been urging for the victims of the cyclone that killed tens of thousands of people in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They live under one of the more oppressive and repressive regimes in all the world including Asia. And so I hope that this will highlight to the people of the world and the ASEAN nations how ruthless the regime is.
SNOW: "Newsweek" first reported about the public relations background of Doug Goodyear head of the DCI group, and the man chosen by the McCain group to run the GOP convention. Justice Department files showed the Myanmar regime paid the firm more than $340,000 in 2002 to help boost its public relations image with Congress and the administration. Goodyear resigned his position with the Republican National Convention over the weekend so as not to become a distraction in this campaign. A short time later a second McCain aide with ties to the firm stepped aside. The campaign says Doug Davenport, a regional campaign manager resigned to avoid being a distraction. One Republican strategist said he doesn't think the fallout will hurt McCain who has prided himself on being independent of lobbyist influence.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Washington is a single industry town. And the industry is the federal government. And I suspect that almost everybody who's at a senior position in any major campaign has some ties with somebody that you might want to think twice about.
SNOW (on camera): Now we did try to reach both of the men who resigned through the lobbying firm the DCI Group but didn't get an immediate response. Wolf?
BLITZER: Mary, thank you. Mary Snow reporting. For the latest political news, by the way, any time you can always check out our political ticker at cnnpolitics.com. The ticker is the number one political news blog out there on the Web. That's also where you can read my latest blog post. Wrote one about the future of the U.S. Supreme Court today. Let's go to Jack. He's got the "Cafferty File." Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Money is the coin of the realm in presidential elections and it may be causing John McCain some heartburn and sleepless nights. The reason? The presumptive Republican nominee is struggling to get money from many of the same industries that helped to fund President Bush's campaigns. Bloomberg News reports many people who work for securities and investment firms, construction companies, the pharmaceutical and energy industries have been turned off by John McCain's record and are, in fact, giving more money to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The two Democrats each raised about $11 million from these four industries through the end of March. That compares with only $6 million for John McCain. In 2004 president bush raised three times more money from those four industries than John Kerry did.
Meanwhile, another sign of potential money trouble, the "Houston Chronicle" says that Texas, Texas has been slow to warm to John McCain. Three months after sewing up the nomination McCain is yet to get money from most of President Bush's top Texas donor. In fact, McCain has raised less in Texas than Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. What's wrong with this picture? One political analyst puts it this way. "If a Republican is not out raising a Democrat in Texas, where are they going to out raise a Democrat? Vermont?" Unquote.
One Texas fundraiser says it's been easier to raise money for a Democrat in the Lone Star state this year. And he says the reason is Bush fatigue. Here's the question. Why is John McCain having trouble raising money? Go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment there on my blog. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Jack Cafferty.
I want to go right to Carol Costello. There's a breaking news story that we're watching right now. What are you picking up, Carol?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Those wildfires in Central Florida, let's take a look at the latest pictures we got into CNN. You can see fire in the middle of a neighborhood. This is one of several wildfires burning in central Florida. This is in Brevard County. We understand five homes have been destroyed. Very fast moving fire, Wolf, because it's very dry there and it's very windy. Chad Myers reported just about an hour ago that the winds should die down by 8:00 Eastern tonight. So the danger period is not over yet for the folks in Central Florida. The governor there has declared a state of emergency and hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes. We'll keep you posted.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Carol, we'll watch it with you. Carol Costello on top of this story. Coming up, a landslide win predicted for Hillary Clinton in tomorrow's West Virginia primary. But with Barack Obama now leading on all fronts, will it make any real difference? We're live in West Virginia.
Plus, a monster storm only seconds away. You're going to find out how one Oklahoma couple survived the disaster that killed so many others.
Plus dire predictions for Republicans in the November election. We'll show you what John McCain is trying to do about that to turn it around. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: For a short time Hillary Clinton is reliving what it feels like to be the front-runner. She's the odds on favorite in tomorrow's West Virginia primary. But the overall odds just got even better for Barack Obama. Obama now has an overall lead in the delegates with 1,869 to Clinton's 1,697. That includes Obama's new edge in the superdelegates. He leads by four now in that category.
Let's go live to CNN's Sean Callebs, he is watching this story for us in West Virginia. This is your hometown, your home base over there in West Virginia, Sean. What's going on?
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been great to be back here. It's been fascinating to watch the voters. They are as excited as we have seen voters across the country. Hillary Clinton's campaigning in this eleventh hour down to the wire. Tomorrow morning at 6:30 a.m. Eastern Time the polls open up and certainly Senator Clinton is hoping for a big turnout here tomorrow. She's hoping for a huge win in West Virginia to propel her campaign. But the question everybody has been asking today, sit going to be enough to keep her campaign going?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NY: First I'm going to Clearfork. Then I'm going to Logan ...
CALLEBS (voice-over): Hillary Clinton is working in West Virginia to up the stakes. Even as Barack Obama moved past her in the all important superdelegate count. Senator Clinton hopes for a huge turnout Tuesday. Enough that she could put a dent in Obama's lead in the popular vote and continue her push for the White House.
CLINTON: You know, even when times are tough and it looks like the deck is stacked against you, Americans are still resilient. And, boy, West Virginians are sure resilient.
CALLEBS: Barack Obama did little campaigning in West Virginia. The head of the state Democratic Party here expects that Obama will lose here by at least 30 percentage points. But with momentum and growing talk he'll be the eventual nominee it was easy for him to be gracious. SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am extraordinarily honored that some of you will support me. I understand that many more here in West Virginia will probably support Senator Clinton.
CALLEBS: West Virginia with its primaries so late in the political season is relishing its time in the spotlight. This is the first time in nearly half a century its getting so much attention. Since West Virginia helped a Massachusetts senator take the Oval Office back in 1960.
CLINTON: West Virginia has a record of picking president. West Virginia made it possible for President Kennedy to become the president of the united states. West Virginia in the general election votes for the winner.
CALLEBS (on camera): And we already have a gauge of just how excited people in West Virginia are about this election. A record 76,000 have cast their ballots early. If you break down the registration in this state, Democrats outnumber registered Republican by about a two to one margin. However, the McCain campaign is not conceding anything. He simply looks back to 2000 and 2004 when, Wolf, George Bush carried the state.
BLITZER: Good point. What about the state itself? How has it changed over the past 10 years?
CALLEBS: You know, it really has changed a lot. If you look at the makeup of the state, when I was growing up here, it was such a labor intensive state. Unions were really king. There was the UMW, steel workers' union, the number of railroads through the throughout the state. They've lost a lot of their clout, their muscle over the years. Really the economy is trying to change. More health care, more education, more high-tech.
And so it's becoming a little more conservative. It used to be a very, very liberal voting state. Look what happened in 2000 and 2004. Before that even back in the Reagan a era, that's where we saw the state begin to change.
BLITZER: Sean Callebs, thanks very much. Sean's watching this in West Virginia. West Virginia is Clinton country. That's obvious. Largely white blue collar and low income. It fits her strengths. But some Democrats worry that tomorrow's primary will highlight Barack Obama's weaknesses going forward.
Let's go live to our chief national correspondent John King. He's looking at this story for us. John, will a poor showing by Barack Obama tomorrow in West Virginia potentially come back to haunt him?
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That certainly is one of the concerns of democrats, Wolf, that if Senator Clinton makes such a strong push in West Virginia she'll get a victory but with most assuming Obama will be the nominee will it show once again his weaknesses especially with white working glass and white rural voters. Let's look at the neighborhood first as you zoom in West Virginia.
If you look around the neighborhood, yes, Barack Obama did do well over here in Virginia and Maryland. But what are the differences between West Virginia and Maryland and Virginia itself? Let's pull out to West Virginia and take a look at it. One of the reason he is did so well in the neighbors states they have large African American populations. West Virginia, Wolf, is demographically is built for Senator Clinton it's 95 percent white. Not a large African American base. Not even a modest African American base for Senator Obama to make a run in. It's also one of the oldest states in the country. And as we all know Clinton has done very well with voters especially over the age of 60 and over the age 65. It is one of the lower education states. More people only have a high school diploma in Virginia (ph). It's about 48th when it comes to those with high school diplomas. It is built demographically for Senator Clinton.
She wants a strong showing to make a point. And this is her point. I'm going to draw you a line along the coast out here, the border with Ohio. Along the Ohio River, Wheeling, Parkersburg, down here to Huntington and around this way. These are the major population centers along with Charleston and Morgantown.
She wants to take us back in time and say look. This is how George W. Bush won West Virginia back in 2004 and 2000. Had Al Gore won this state like Democrats had throughout the earlier 20, 40, 50 years, Al Gore would have been president. What Senator Clinton wants to say is I can get these white working class voters here, I can get the rural voters here and I'm a stronger Democratic nominee.
As you pointed out, many Democrats believe Obama is on a path to the nomination and what might happen here is a big Clinton win that gets her time in the race, perhaps a little more fund raising but most of all raises questions about why is Barack Obama running so weak among these voters and what can he do about it?
BLITZER: And there's a history about West Virginia. Bill Clinton carried the state twice. Al gore didn't have that much luck in 2000. George W. Bush won West Virginia both of his contests. There's a history that we have to appreciate going forward this year.
KING: Exactly right. It is one of the states, look at Iowa, a state that President Bush has carried that was a democratic state. West Virginia is one of the 10 states Michael Dukakis won back in 1988 and it was a Republican landslide. It has a deep Democratic history but also one of the states, New Hampshire is another one, one of these states with rural white populations that more and more over the past decade have trended toward the republicans and certainly changed the Electoral College map. We were talking earlier about the competition for states. This once reliably a Democratic state is now counted as red or at least leaning red heading into November.
That's one of the changing demographics of American politics in part of the Republican Party's success with white working class and white rural and religious voters. It's a problem for the Democrats and Senator Clinton is arguing every day, Wolf, it's a problem for Barack Obama.
BLITZER: All right, John. Thanks. Stand by. We're going to see you back here with that wall coming up in the next hour.
Tomorrow night we'll bring you all the election results from the West Virginia. From the CNN Election Center, coverage begins right here in THE SITUATION ROOM at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. You're going to want to stay with CNN for that.
A bizarre and deadly trend in Japan. Dozens of suicides committed in a very unusual way. Using a common household product. The story.
Plus what officials are doing about it. That's coming up.
And a tiny Oklahoma town crushed by a monster storm. You'll see firsthand as a family goes back to what's left of their home. Stay with us.
And wildfires and a state of emergency right now in Florida. An update on our breaking news when we return.
BLITZER: Let's get an update from Carol Costello on those fires in Florida right now. The pictures are pretty dramatic, Carol.
COSTELLO: Yeah, they're pretty nasty, Wolf. Let's head back out to Florida to show you some new pictures we're getting in. A state of emergency now declared by Governor Crist for Central Florida where those wildfires burned some 4,000 acres. We believe there are five separate fires in Central Florida.
The two largest fires in Malabar and Daytona Beach forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes. At least five structures have been destroyed. One homeowner tried to fight the flames off with a garden hose to no avail. He was certainly lucky, Wolf, he escaped uninjured. Not a good idea to try to fight those flames off yourself.
One firefighter reportedly injured now. In the town of Palm Bay firefighters are trying to come up with a five point plan to attack these wildfires. We're expecting a news conference soon so I should have a little more information for you. Gusty winds are making the situation worse. And of course it's very hot in Florida. The winds should die down around 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight. Unfortunately arson is suspected in the largest fire burning there.
At least 300 people have been arrested in an immigration raid on the world's largest kosher meat packing plant. It's called Agriprocessors and it's located in the northeastern Iowa town of Postville. Federal officials say they spent months planning the operation. 44 of those arrested were released on humanitarian grounds. Most of them needed to care for their children.
A deadly fad sweeping Japan. More than 60 people have killed themselves this month by mixing detergent with other common chemicals and inhaling the fumes. Just this morning three men used the method in apparent suicide pact. Their bodies were found in a car north of Tokyo. Police are asking Internet service providers to remove recipes for the deadly mix.
An answer to America's energy problems may be literally blowing in the wind. A new energy report says wind turbines could meet 20 percent of U.S. energy needs by 2030. That's roughly the same amount currently generated by nuclear power plants. Right now only one percent of the nation's electricity comes from wind power. Back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Carol, for that. We'll stay on top of those fires in Florida.
The race goes on but some in the news media have already declared the contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama over. We'll take you inside what some see as an Obama love fest.
Clinton says she's determined to finish the primary season. She's speaking out about it and explaining why. You're going to hear what she's saying.
And John McCain, he's trying to rebrand the GOP. Can he bolster Republican prospects in November? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, Israeli police raid Jerusalem's City Hall. It's part of the corruption probe into Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who served as the city's mayor for a decade.
They seized documents dating from Olmert's tenure as the mayor but aren't releasing details.
Also a fragile cease fire is now in effect between Iraq's main Shiite political bloc and supporters of the radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr. It's aimed at ending weeks of violence in Baghdad's sprawling Sadr City slum that's left hundreds of people dead.
New recruits are bolstering the U.S. Marine Corps in huge numbers. The Pentagon says April's recruiting target was exceeded by 40 percent. The Corps has already met this year's goal of growing to a force 189,000 strong and it's on track to reach 202,000 by next year, that would be one year ahead of its target.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The battle for the Democratic presidential nomination isn't over yet. But you wouldn't know it from glancing at newsstands where Barack Obama is the cover man of the week. Howard Kurtz of CNN's RELIABLE SOURCES and "The Washington Post" is joining us live with more on this story. Howie, what's going on? HOWARD KURTZ, CNN HOST: Wolf, Hillary Clinton is expected to score a big win in tomorrow's West Virginia primary. But there's been surprisingly little coverage of that contest because the media have all but anointed Barack Obama the Democratic nominee.
KURTZ (voice-over): It began with the television pundits last week when Clinton lost North Carolina and barely carried Indiana in a squeaker.
TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS: We now know who the democratic nominee is going to be. And no one's going to dispute it.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: She's going to campaign in West Virginia today but this nomination fight is over.
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: I think basically, Maggie, this race is over.
KURTZ: "The New York Post" said Hillary was history and "Time" magazine called Obama the nominee. With only an asterisk saying the editors were pretty sure.
KAREN TUMULTY, "TIME MAGAZINE": We can all keep pretending there's a race going on here but the doors are closing. Barring some kind of cataclysm that Barack Obama's going to be the nominee.
KURTZ: Even Saturday night live cast Clinton as a sore loser who believes her voters will never back Obama.
AMY POEHLER, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": Second, my supporters are racist.
KURTZ: With Clinton trailing Obama in delegates and time running out, even news organizations that haven't declared the race over have made clear they're treating the Illinois senator as the presumptive nominee. "Newsweek's" cover on the "O Team." "The New York Times" front page with a lengthy look at Obama's rise in Chicago and this lead story, "Already, Obama and McCain map fall strategies."
And journalists keep asking whether Obama would tap Clinton as his running mate. A subject raised by Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
OBAMA: As I said before, "Time" magazine notwithstanding, we haven't wrapped this thing up yet.
CLINTON: Let's make history, West Virginia.
KURTZ: But as the former first lady continues to campaign hard in West Virginia, vowing to stay in the race until the primaries end June 3rd, some journalists have found that some of her supporters are angry about the way the media elite have written off their candidate.
KATE ZERNIKE, "NEW YORK TIMES": I think what people are reacting to this week wasn't so much the media declaring the race is over as it was the kind of ding-dong, the witch is dead quality, about that tone to the comments.
KURTZ (on camera): All this is quite a departure for news organizations that spent last year depicting Hillary Clinton as the all but inevitable nominee. Another reminder that in presidential politics predictions can be dangerous.
BLITZER: Well, Howie, what are journalists supposed to do if they believe the math is against her, there's no way she can win. What, are they supposed to simply say it's going to continue. In other words, are they doing the right or the wrong thing by expressing their opinions what's going on?
KURTZ: Journalists owe us their best analysis, Wolf, of the state of the race and if it's a very uphill climb for Hillary Clinton we should say so. But this spectacle where we all just say it's over, let's talk about the fall, Obama versus McCain turns a lot of people off who say the contest is not over even if want to declare it so.
BLITZER: Good point. All right, Howie. Thanks very much.
Hillary Clinton says as long as there are still primaries left on the calendar, the primaries continue, by the way, till June 3rd, she's not going anywhere. Listen to what she told "Extra."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Speaking of challenges, what do you say to those who are asking you to graciously remove yourself from this campaign at this point for the good of the party?
CLINTON: Well, I would remind people that we have a number of elections coming up. Here in Oregon, in West Virginia and Kentucky and other places. And that I am determined to see them through. Because I have so many people counting on me who believe in what I stand for. And who know that I will fight for universal health care and all the other concerns that affect families in America today.
And I also believe that I am the better candidate to take on Senator McCain. And to win in November and to be the president that our country needs right now. So I'm going to continue to, you know, move forward to the beat of my own drum, believing as I do that I represent millions and millions of people across our country. And that I have the experience and the strength to actually do the job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And let's just talk about this a little bit more with the former Republican senator, the former defense secretary during the Clinton administration, William Cohen, he runs the Cohen Group here in Washington. You haven't endorsed anyone. You're neutral right now. Is that right, secretary?
WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: I'm still neutral. That's right.
BLITZER: Has the news media been fair? Has she gotten fair treatment from the news media, Senator Clinton.
COHEN: I think it goes in cycles. There are times when she's gotten very favorable treatment and Barack Obama has not. And now his cycle is up and when the news media feels that he's on the verge of becoming the nominee for all purposes, they tend to focus more on him. So I think at this point it's a cycle and she's on the downside of that cycle right now. Whether she wins tomorrow in West Virginia and on to several other primaries, that may put her back up a little bit. But I think at this point she's looking to see how she can, number one, continue in the race to see what kind of leverage, if any, she can have in the event that she decides to withdraw at -- after June.
BLITZER: I know you have very strong views on the issue of race in this election. We've discussed it. You and your wife Janet wrote a book entitled "Love in Black and White." She's African American. What about the issue of race in this campaign right now? What are your thoughts?
COHEN: It's distressing for me and certainly my wife. Since we've been talking about this and trying to raise this issue on how we deal with diversity and tolerance and race. We don't like to use the word racism, but it's still out there and it still exists just as anti-Semitism does. But what we have to do as a nation is say, who are we as a country and why do we have to raise the question, is the country ready for a woman president, is the country ready for a black president? We as the American people ought to be above that and say let's look at qualities and capabilities and character. And that's what's distressing about the quality of the debate recently as far as someone is too black or not black enough or are we ready for a woman.
I think we're better than that and we have to raise the level of dialogue and start a dialogue, a national dialogue about why this country still looks at a person in terms of the color of his skin or her gender. That's something I think that we need to do and hopefully I might tell you my wife and I intend to do this in the coming weeks and months. We're going to hold a series of sessions dealing with race in this country and dealing with the need for tolerance and acceptance of others.
BLITZER: I think that's a good idea. And I'm glad you guys are going to be doing it. But do you believe race, for example, tomorrow in West Virginia, is it going to be an issue.
COHEN: I think it obviously is an issue. You have most of the -- most of that state is primarily white. Ninety six, ninety seven percent of the state is white. Everybody is pretty much writing off Barack Obama saying since he doesn't have a black constituency there that she will -- Senator Clinton will win overwhelmingly. So it's a question of lowering expectations for Senator Obama and raising them for Senator Clinton. But I think race has always been part of this issue. When Barack Obama said he was going to try to transcend that, obviously it comes right back to it when people want to look at something that is negative, they will point to Obama and say, well, I'll never vote for a black person.
But I think the country is bigger than that and better than that. And I would think the Republican Party would be making a big mistake if they try to do the Willie Horton approach, if they try in any way to suggest that Barack Obama is not qualified because of -- that he's black. That would be a big mistake for our party and a big mistake for this country should we ever succumb to that. We are far beyond that. We're bet tore that. And we need to elevate the conversation about who we are a as the people and what we represent to the rest of the world.
Because the rest of the world is looking very closely at how we conduct ourselves and what it says about us as we talk about our ideals. Whether we practice them. And I think we've come a long way but there's still a long way to go.
BLITZER: He's done incredibly well in some of the states where there's only a tiny percentage of black voters. If you take a look around the country, starting with Iowa, you know, he has proven he can get a lot of white support.
COHEN: Wolf, I just came from addressing the commencement at the University of Oklahoma. And I looked out into that audience, and some 25,000 people in the audience, with some 4,000 graduates. They were a mixture of everything, of everyone, of all countries. What I saw out at that audience and what I've seen around the country is that people want the best that we have to offer. They want us to focus on character and capabilities and not upon issues like race or gender.
And I think it's out there and I think that certainly Barack Obama has tapped into it. Hillary Clinton by virtue of the population that still she has a good deal to appeal to says that we want to focus on capabilities. I hope that my party, the Republican Party, will not yield to the temptation to start the Willie Horton ads or the notion that because Hamas or someone else might say something favorable toward Barack Obama they must be -- he must be then supporting their cause. That's the kind of talk I think that's going to be very self- destructive for us.
What we need to do is say, let's look at the candidates. What are their policy differences? And there are substantial differences. Do it on the merits. Don't appeal to the lesser aspects of our nature but the better angels of our nature. That's what we have to appeal to.
BLITZER: Secretary Cohen, thanks for coming in.
COHEN: Pleasure to be with you.
BLITZER: Tomorrow night we're going to bring you all the election results from West Virginia from the CNN Election Center. Our coverage begins with THE SITUATION ROOM. That starts at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.
Almost two dozen dead, entire communities virtually destroyed.
We're going to show you the devastation from this weekend's tornadoes and learn how one couple barely survived.
Plus the first American plane bearing relief supplies arrives in Myanmar but is it too little too late? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Horrific and devastating. That's how Oklahoma's governor describes damage from tornadoes that strafed his state. At least 22 people were killed in a series of twisters that tore across the Midwest and South over weekend. Let's go to one of the hardest hit towns in Oklahoma, it is an area already struggling with a manmade disaster. Susan Candiotti, is guess you're over here. Susan, what's going on?
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, today authorities allowed us to show you yet another section of the town of Picher, this old mining town. I'm going to show you the length and breadth of the destruction from this powerful twister. Look at this area here and check out the trees where the bark has been stripped off. We're talking about wind speeds of up to 175 miles per hour. That's what it can do. And sweeping around here, you can see how far the destruction goes. All the way around here. It is powerful indeed. This day I spoke with one family trying to pick up the pieces and salvage what they can from their home site just over there.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): The killer storm that churned through Picher was so unsparing it stripped bark from trees. A 20 square block area was crushed.
JOHN HUTCHINSON, TORNADO VICTIM: This was the closet.
CANDIOTTI: His home is history. Yet John Hutchinson somehow can muster a smile.
HUTCHINSON: Because I'm alive.
CANDIOTTI: He and his family huddled inside a closet at this frightening massive black funnel cloud barreled toward his home and ripped it right from its foundation. The family landed about 70 feet away with the closet door on top of them.
But the storm shoved you way over here. Where did you wind up?
HUTCHINSON: Under this door just on the other side of this little table.
CANDIOTTI: It was one of several tornadoes that wreaked havoc this weekend killing at least 21 people in Oklahoma, Missouri and Georgia. In Picher a young mother died shielding her toddler. The baby is hospitalized. Police say two women were crushed inside their home. Three others died when they were thrown from a car. Sue Siegel (ph) is thankful she wasn't home. Her house is a heap of rubble. The widowed schoolteacher is now getting help from students and others to salvage what she can including a cherished souvenir from a fellow Oklahoman.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mickey Mantle autographed it. An autographed ball.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're fortunate there weren't more fatalities.
CANDIOTTI: Oklahoma's governor toured the devastation. Picher has had more than its share of it. The old lead and zinc mining community is fast becoming a ghost town. It's in the middle of a multimillion dollar federal housing buy out, an environmental cleanup blamed on contamination. Now this. What does this do to the town of Picher.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just the finishing blow to a dying town.
CANDIOTTI (on camera): Wolf, I also want to show you, there had been a mobile home on this very corner. An elderly couple lived there. When they heard the sirens neighbors tell me the couple ran outside, attempted to get into their car but the twister picked them up and threw them about a block or two down in this direction. They have survived but I want to show you where their car landed. They were trying to get in it. Look. That's their car over there. Flipped upside down. If they had made it to the car, imagine what might have happened to them.
The destruction as we said is just overwhelming. The tornado being the last straw for this poor old mining town. Back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Our hearts go out to those people. Susan, thank you.
The United Nations secretary general today lashed out at Myanmar's military rulers for what he calls an unacceptably slow response to the cyclone disaster that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Ban Ki-Moon demanded more foreign aide workers be allowed into that country. The first American plane load of aid arrived in Myanmar earlier today. Let's turn to our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee. She's got some information for us. Zain, this is awful. Merely a drop in the bucket.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Exactly, Wolf. It really is just a fraction of the kind of aid that the people of Myanmar really need. You got one plane load that came into Myanmar today. Two expected to land tomorrow. And U.S. ships are just hours away off the coast of Myanmar.
VERJEE (voice-over): U.S. aid trickles into Myanmar. The first flight Monday. Two more Tuesday. Approval still restricted by the military government.
DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's a little bit like a drop in the bucket. The amount of need in the country is tremendous.
VERJEE: The U.S. keeps offering money, $13 million more, Monday. The Myanmar regime says it's taking the U.S. aid and flying it into the disaster zone. But how do Americans know that's where it'll end up? The U.S. says private charities will track the deliveries.
KY LUU, USAID: We're working through all avenues right now to make sure that supplies reach the intended victims as quickly as possible.
VERJEE: U.S. ships are heading to Myanmar loaded with clean water, waiting for permission to deliver it. The U.S. government has lifted some financial restrictions, making it easier for Americans to send money via banks or wire transfers to people in Myanmar not under sanction.
Here at the Mandalay Restaurant in suburban Washington, DC, a family transplanted from Myanmar is cooking up their own plan to help. Joe (ph) says his customers came up with the idea of a fund raising feast set for June 1st.
KWAW MYINT, MANDALAY RESTAURANT: Anybody walking in is fine too.
VERJEE: Relatives including his father, his brother survived the storm. The whole family has been moved by the misery in their homeland.
MYINT: Very sad. Very sad. A lot of people, you know, they have nothing already. Now it's worse. They need help. They need a lot of help.
VERJEE (on camera): The biggest concern for the U.S. right now, Wolf, is the threat of diseases breaking out and spreading among the people there. Diseases like cholera or malaria. The U.S. is saying that's why it's so key to get water, clean water, in there immediately.
BLITZER: All right, Zain. Thank you. We'll watch the story.
John McCain goes green. Can his campaign rebrand the Republican Party? And how will that sit with the party faithful?
Jack Cafferty asks, Why is John McCain having problems raising money? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The Republican nomination is now just a formality for John McCain. But with it comes a daunting task of leading his party into an election in which its prospects are questionable. At least right now. Carol Costello is looking into this story for us. Carol, what is McCain doing right now to improve the GOP's chances in November.
COSTELLO: Well, to put it simply he's changing the message. I know. Politicians do that all the time. But John McCain is trying to redefine the Republican Party on the fly.
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN, (I) CT: Senator John McCain.
COSTELLO (voice-over): There he is, Republican John McCain going all Al Gore like, green.
MCCAIN: I think there's no doubt that our environment globally is challenged. And I'm proud of my record of being involved in a number of pieces of legislation, including early on with my beloved friend Congressman Maurice Udall and Senator Barry Goldwater in preserving the beauty of my home state of Arizona.
COSTELLO: It's McCain's way of talking about global warming. Some conservative voters don't believe is happening, in a way he hopes they'll be able to stomach.
MCCAIN: And suppose we're wrong and there's no such thing as climate change and we hand our kids a cleaner world. But suppose we're right and do nothing.
COSTELLO: Many political analysts say what you're hearing the republican message being reassessed and articulated in real time.
MARK HALPERIN, "TIME MAGAZINE": They see in John McCain and his message the potential to remake the brand of the Republican Party as they go along, rush into November, with McCain at the top of the ticket.
COSTELLO: The party has lost 30 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2006. It's in danger of losing another in Mississippi. In part it fears because the candidate is using the same old message and the same old line of attack. Democrats are bad.
ANNOUNCER: When Obama ridiculed rural folks for clinging to guns and religion ...
COSTELLO: The difficult thing for John McCain is choosing which traditional message to tailor without totally alienating the conservative base. For example, immigration seems to be off limits. McCain, who cosponsored a bill conservatives say amounted to amnesty for illegal immigrants, is now singing a different tune.
MCCAIN: If we had done what we were supposed to do, which is secure our borders, and prevent -- and prevent people from coming across our border illegally, and reimburse the local governments for the costs that they have incurred while enforcing those federal laws, we could not have the problems we have today.
(END VIDEOTAPE) COSTELLO (on camera): Now it remains to be seen if McCain's new brand of republicanism works. The poll suggests voters aren't turned off. In a presidential contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton he's running behind but he's close. Keep in mind the numbers could change once the Democratic primary is ever or finally over.
BLITZER: The late Richard Nixon always used to say that a smart Republican who wants to be president runs to the right during the primaries but then runs right back to the center during the general election. Seems what John McCain is doing right now. Thanks very much.
BLITZER: Hillary Clinton boasts some broad support from white Americans. A key Clinton supporter calls that one of the dumbest things she could say. We'll speak about it with Congressman Charlie Rangel. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack. He's got the "Cafferty File." Jack?
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is why is John McCain having problems raising money. Even in Texas of all places he's having problems.
Greg writes from Cabot, Arkansas, "Some people donate some money to candidates with the hope that they will win. Other people donate more money to candidates they think will win. And the big money flows to the best bet or the sure thing. Obama's cashing checks, McCain's asking for money, Clinton is begging for donations. Kind of says something about the mood of the voters."
Norah in Corpus Christi, Texas, "President Bush's 70 percent disapproval rating right now is a huge giant negative for McCain. And even though he tries to distance himself he might want to take bigger steps to get away. Plus I think McCain is not a real Republican in the true sense of the word. He'd like you to think he is but I think not."
Jody in Idaho, "I really don't think the Republicans are happy with their candidate. I know I'm not. I think he's too old, too out of touch, I don't like any of his proposals especially to stay in Iraq, what choice do I have but to vote for someone else? I'm not going to vote for him just because he's a Republican. I'm a schoolteacher who's looking for change. McCain does not represent that change. A lot of Republicans feel the same way. Just ask them."
Derek writes from Cape Coral, Florida. "McCain's having money problems because everybody knows he's the incumbent loser. Why waste money on a candidate when they're going to get nothing back? These industries have to spend money so they can control the president. McCain is not that guy." And Kevin in Georgia writes this. "McCain's having trouble because all those big-pocket republicans that would normally be throwing tons of money into the campaign are busy paying off their rising mortgages and health care bills, thanks to the last good old boy they put in office."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at cnn.com/cafferty file. Look for yours there, among hundreds of others. Wolf?
To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, Hillary Clinton on track for a big win in West Virginia tomorrow. Will it be a new beginning for her campaign or a last hurrah? I'll ask a leading Clinton supporter, Congressman Charlie Rangel. Barack Obama's new break, he's scored more superdelegates than Clinton, and now he's ready to focus in on the fall battlegrounds.