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THE SITUATION ROOM

Obama Responds to Bush, McCain; McCain on Hamas Stance; Interview With Mitt Romney

Aired May 16, 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, Barack Obama comes out swinging against things his rivals are saying. He strongly defends his national security credentials and says President Bush and John McCain are trying to divide Americans to keep Republicans in power.
McCain says Obama is naive for favoring meetings with U.S. foes. But did McCain previously favor doing exactly the same thing? Democrats say they have proof of McCain's "hypocrisy."

And how are McCain's supporters responding to all of this? I'll speak with the former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He's here. He'll explain why something Obama said left him, and I'm quoting now, "speechless."

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

Barack Obama says that something President Bush did is nothing short of breathtaking. From Israel, the President suggested Obama and Democrats want to appease terrorists. Now Obama accuses the President of launching a false political attack simply designed to scare Americans.

Obama says John McCain is doing the same thing. Standing in the middle of this debate over foreign policy, Obama delivered this message to both of them -- he won't shy away from either one of them in this foreign policy debate.

CNN's Jim Acosta is in Portland, Oregon. He's watching this story for us.

Jim, Obama's getting some strong support even as he goes out and defends his record from his own rival within the Democratic Party.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will be campaigning here in Oregon over the next couple of days. And instead of tearing into each other, they're taking on a popular Democratic target who happens to be an unpopular President.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: George Bush was before the Israeli parliament...

ACOSTA (voice-over): Barack Obama's response to what some in Washington are calling the Bush slap was perhaps as close as the Illinois senator comes to saying bring 'em on.

OBAMA: They're trying to fool you and trying to scare you, and they're not telling the truth. And the reason is, is because they can't win a foreign policy debate on the merits. But it's not going to work. And it's not going to work this time and it's not going to work this year.

ACOSTA: Campaigning in one of the few remaining primary states, South Dakota, Obama grabbed hold of President Bush's "appeasement" comments and tried to hog-tie them to John McCain. Obama singled out the Arizona senator's support for the war in Iraq, saying it has emboldened Iran and al Qaeda, noting that an Osama bin Laden audio message had just been posted on several radical Islamist Web sites.

OBAMA: Those are the failed policies that John McCain wants to double down on because he still hasn't spelled out one substantial way in which he'd be different from George Bush when it comes to foreign policy.

ACOSTA: The appeasement flap has given the Democratic Party its first real chance to coalesce behind Obama, from Senator Joe Biden's take on the uproar...

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: This is (EXPLETIVE DELETED). This is malarkey.

ACOSTA: ... to the more telling response from Clinton herself. She didn't hit Obama on appeasement. She hit the President.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Bush's comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is offensive and outrageous. (INAUDIBLE), especially in light of his failures in foreign policy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And speaking of Senator Clinton, she has released a new TV ad here in Oregon. It's a positive issue-oriented spot that slams President Bush's No Child Left Behind education policy and doesn't mention Barack Obama by name -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A whole new tone emerging right now.

Thanks, Jim, very much.

Obama says John McCain is guilty of something that McCain accuses Obama of doing. It involves the United States dealing with a group it considers to be a terrorist organization.

Let's go to CNN's Dana Bash. She's in Louisville, Kentucky, watching this part of the story.

The Democrats put out a story today, and it's got a strong assertion against John McCain, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. You know, I'm here at the NRA convention in Louisville, Kentucky, and John McCain's going to speak in just a few minutes. And this was going to be a focus for him today and really his ability to connect with a constituency that he hasn't had the best relations with always. But, you know, when it comes to politics, you don't always get to choose when you're a candidate what story you focus on.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And let me have some of these too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir.

BASH (voice-over): This was supposed to be his message of the day -- John McCain, the outdoorsman. Then came a Democratic accusation of hypocrisy on McCain's position on Hamas. Jamie Rubin, a Hillary Clinton supporter, released this interview he conducted with McCain two years ago in Davos, Switzerland.

MCCAIN: And sooner or later we're going to have to deal with them in one way or another. And I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas, but it's a new reality in the Middle East.

BASH: Barack Obama seized on that, blasting McCain for attacking him for wanting to sit down with the leader of Iran.

OBAMA: He was actually guilty of the exact same thing that he's accusing me of. And, in fact, was saying that maybe we need to deal with Hamas. And that's the kind of hypocrisy that we've been seeing in our foreign policy.

BASH: Riding on his bus, McCain insisted his position on Hamas has always been the same -- no negotiation until they renounce wanting to destroy Israel.

MCCAIN: Hamas would have to abandon their terrorist activities and their dedication to the extinction of the state of Israel. It's very clear then, very clear now.

BASH: Trying to back that up, the McCain camp points to this 2006 CNN interview conducted within days of Rubin's.

MCCAIN: Well, hopefully that Hamas, now that they are going to govern, will be motivated to renounce this commitment to the extinction of the state of Israel. Then we can do business again, we can resume aid, we can resume the peace process.

BASH: Back on his bus, no sign of backing off on Obama.

MCCAIN: If he doesn't want to sit down with Hamas, then he shouldn't want to sit down with their sponsor.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BASH: Now, you heard Barack Obama's speech earlier today. A spokesman for Senator McCain, Wolf, responded, saying it was remarkable to see Barack Obama's hysterical diatribe in response to a speech in which his name wasn't even mentioned. We are expected to hear from Senator McCain himself during the speech here at the NRA to respond personally to Senator Obama.

Wolf, some in the McCain campaign, they insist, yes, he's not talking about guns, he's not talking about what was on his schedule, but they insist that this is his turf, this is Senator McCain's turf, national security. And they're happy if Senator McCain wants to play on it -- excuse me, Senator Obama wants to play on it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana. Thanks very much.

Dana Bash reporting.

Now let's go back to Jack Cafferty once again. He's got "The Cafferty File."

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

The Republican Party in Tennessee is going after Michelle Obama, the wife of the Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama. There is a new Web video out that highlights her controversial comment earlier this year when she said she was proud of America "... for the first time in my adult life." Barack Obama later clarified the remark, saying his wife meant she was proud of how Americans were engaging in the political process and that she was always proud of her country.

Nevertheless, the Republican video replays her remark six times and mixes in commentary by people who live in Tennessee about why they're proud to be Americans and proud of America. The Party says it's always been proud of this country, and it requested that Tennessee radio stations play patriotic music in honor of Michelle Obama's visit there yesterday.

The Obama campaign calls this stuff shameful, says the Republican Party's pathetic attempts to use similar smear tactics failed in elections in Mississippi, Louisiana, and will again in November. The campaign calls on the Tennessee Republican Party to address Senator Obama directly next time instead of going after his family.

Meanwhile, it's not the first time Republicans in Tennessee have made waves. Earlier this year, in a truly low-rent stunt, they used Barack Obama's middle name, Hussein, in a news release questioning his support of Israel and showing a picture of him wearing what it called Muslim attire. The Republican National Committee denounced that piece of garbage.

Here's the question: Is it a good strategy for Republicans to go after Michelle Obama? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog, which, by the way, passed 10 million page views, we are told today, after being up only just a few months. So thank you for your interest in the blog.

BLITZER: That's a real number, 10 million, Jack.

Thanks very much. It's a tribute to you. Appreciate it.

McCain supporters respond to claims he's guilty of hypocrisy. The former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is here. He offers his thoughts and explains why something Barack Obama said left him speechless.

President Bush travels to the place that's home to the world's largest oil reserves and appeals for help lowering our gas prices. What the Saudi's told him will affect you this summer and beyond.

And on the issue of same-sex marriage, could California's historic ruling wind up helping Republicans come November? There are political ramifications.

We'll tell you about that and a lot more right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush and John McCain suggest Barack Obama is naive for his position on meeting with U.S. foes, but Obama says they're simply trying to scare Americans to keep Republicans in power. Ultimately, it's the voters who will decide, but are what are the real differences in the Democratic and Republican approaches to dealing with Iran and other so-called rogue nations?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now from Louisville, Kentucky, at the convention of the National Rifle Association, the former governor of Massachusetts, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Governor, thanks very much for joining us.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Barack Obama really came out swinging today against President Bush and against John McCain for comments they made yesterday suggesting his policy of dealing with Iran could be similar to appeasement, the appeasement policy that was practiced by some European leaders against the Nazis leading up to World War II.

Listen to what Obama said just a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: They're trying to fool you and trying to scare you. And they're not telling the truth. And the reason is, is because they can't win a foreign policy debate on the merits. But it's not going to work. And it's not going to work this time and it's not going to work this year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. He's obviously pretty upset, especially at the forum in which the president spoke yesterday, the Knesset in Jerusalem, on Israel's 60th anniversary.

I want to give you a chance as a major supporter of John McCain to respond.

ROMNEY: Well, first of all, with regards to the president's comments, the president said that we should not negotiate with terrorists. That's nothing unusual. I was frankly surprised to have Barack Obama say that that was leveled at him.

I guess I'm kind of speechless at him saying that that was something that was directed towards him. The president is saying what presidents have said time and time again. And of course in a place like Israel, saying we're not going to negotiate with terrorists, is exactly what the policy is of that government as well. Although there are other people who take a different course.

And then with regards to Senator McCain, look, you have a very big difference between Barack Obama and John McCain with regards to how you're going to deal with the state sponsors of terror. John McCain, like President Bush and others, recognize that we're going to talk with these other nations, but we're not going to have the dignity of the office of the president of the United States bestowed upon Ahmadinejad or Assad so they can have a propaganda bonanza.

That's just not going to happen. And that's the difference.

Does the president of the United States personally meet with the presidents of these rogue nations, if you will, these sponsors of state terror? Is he going to meet with them personally? And John McCain says no and Barack Obama says yes.

BLITZER: The reason the president's comments at the Knesset yesterday were seen as being directed at Senator Obama and other Democrats is because White House officials traveling with the president told that to reporters after they spotted that paragraph in the speech. So it wasn't as if, Governor, this was something that just the Barack Obama campaign came up with. The news media traveling with the president, they were specifically making that connection.

ROMNEY: Well, I wasn't with the White House press corps there, so I can't comment on that. I can tell you that the comment by the president that we should not have direct discussions -- we should not have negotiations, rather, with terrorists, that's something which has been said time and time again. I think it's entirely spun (ph) up. And the real difference between John McCain and Barack Obama, both of them want to make sure that we have discussions and we talk with the bad actors in the world, but John McCain says no way would he sit down on his first year in office on an unconditional basis with people like Ahmadinejad and Assad.

And that's a big difference. And Barack Obama is going to talk about this a great deal, but, you know, he's the one that said he'll meet with them unconditionally. That's a wrong way to go, and I think it shows a level of naivete that Americans recognize is not right in a commander in chief.

BLITZER: There is a videotape that came out today by Jamie Rubin, who's a Clinton adviser. He used to work for Sky Television in London. He interviewed in Davos, Switzerland, John McCain a few years ago, right after -- a couple of years after Hamas won the Palestinian elections, and in that interview McCain said, "They're the government" -- referring to Hamas -- "sooner or later we're going to have to deal with them."

It seemed, at least the excerpt that was released today, it seemed to suggest that John McCain himself is ready to deal with "terrorists."

ROMNEY: Well, actually, when I was growing up, and my dad said to me, "Mitt, I'm going to have to deal with you one way or the other," that did not mean he was planning on sitting down with me at an official state dinner and having a nice chat. It meant he was planning on some kind of punishment. And my guess is, when John McCain says that he was going to deal with Hamas one way or the other, it's pretty clear what the intent was of his comment, which is that he feels that we just can't stand by and watch Hamas or Hezbollah continue to fight against the well-being of our own citizens, as well as the well-being of our allies around the world.

I think it's a pretty clear statement that he's planning on being tough. Not that he's planning on bestowing the dignity of the office of the president on someone like Ahmadinejad.

BLITZER: You're over at the National Rifle Association convention, the NRA. In their most recent rating of John McCain as a senator, they gave him a C plus in terms of issues, Second Amendment issues, issues very dear to the NRA in terms of gun control, access to guns. He's got his work cut out for him where you are right now, doesn't he?

ROMNEY: Well, I think, actually, as people compare John McCain here with Barack Obama, that they're very squarely going to be standing behind John McCain. Now, John McCain, everybody knows, is his own man. He's been known as a maverick for a long time.

He doesn't stand 100 percent behind any one group, but he does believe in protecting the constitutional rights of Americans, and that includes the Second Amendment. And while I think the folks here are not going to line up with him 100 percent as well, they're recognizing that this is a man who is a lot closer to where they are than Barack Obama is. And I think that's why he'll get the kind of support that I expect that you're going to see here from Republicans, Democrats and Independents who want to protect Second Amendment rights.

BLITZER: Governor Romney, I know you've got a lot of work over there. Thanks very much for taking a few moments and joining us.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And we're standing by to hear live from the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain. He's about to address the NRA, but he's going to be speaking in response to what Barack Obama said today on the whole issue of "appeasement."

You're going to hear what John McCain is saying. That's coming up.

Also, we just heard from Mitt Romney. We're going to hear a little bit later from former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, now a major Obama supporter. I'll go one-on-one with John Edwards. That interview coming up live a little bit later.

And California's ruling on gay marriage. We'll tell you how that might tip the scales in the presidential race.

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

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, he still holds a handful of Democratic delegates. He's endorsed Barack Obama. And he possibly could be another vice presidential candidate. I'll talk about all that and a lot more. That's coming up with John Edwards.

Fresh light shines on a longstanding racial discrimination suit against the U.S. Secret Service. A collection of very explicit e- mails goes public.

And the Tennessee Republican Party targets Obama. Not the candidate, but his wife Michelle. What's going on? And why the Obama camp calls it shameful.

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

The Energy Department says it will stop deliveries to the U.S. emergency oil reserve in July. Today's decision follows Congress' directive several days ago that the shipments should be halted.

After the announcement, oil prices retreated from record highs of almost $128 a barrel. Officials in Saudi Arabia announced that last Saturday they began boosting daily oil production by 300,000 barrels. The announcement came as President Bush met with Saudi King Abdullah as part of his Middle Eastern tour.

Our White House Correspondent, Ed Henry, is traveling with the president. ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, after getting the red carpet treatment here in Riyadh, President Bush didn't get what he really wanted -- major relief for American motorists at the gas pump. For the second time in four months, Saudi's King Abdullah pushed back on U.S. calls for big increases in oil production to deal with the soaring price of a barrel, which reached yet another record on Friday.

Saudi officials did announce that this month they started boosting production by a more modest 300,000 barrels a day, though that is not expected to put a major dent in the price. Nevertheless, White House officials say the president was reassured that the Saudis are producing all they can to meet demand right now, and they reiterated Mr. Bush doesn't have a magic wand to fix what's a complicated problem, a problem that's only gotten worse since January, when King Abdullah rejected another presidential plea.

When you look at the numbers, since then oil has shot up from about $92 a barrel in mid-January to $124 to $127 a barrel right now. Gas prices back in January were $3.06 a gallon, now up to $3.77 and counting. And with the summer driving season about to begin, a lot of vacation driving and the like, it's expected that prices could go even higher this summer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry in Riyadh for us.

Thanks very much.

The president's Middle Eastern trip has many political observers wondering one thing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the authors of a brand-new book entitled "Pennsylvania Avenue: Profiles in Backroom Power," Jerry Seib and John Harwood.

Thanks very much for coming in.

JOHN HARWOOD, CO-AUTHOR, "PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE": Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: John, let me start with you. What is President Bush up to? He goes to Jerusalem, he gives the speech before the Knesset, uses the word "appeasement," and all of a sudden we've got this huge story breaking.

HARWOOD: Wolf, I think the president did this very deliberately for John McCain. President Bush is not popular. He's certainly not popular on domestic issues. But one thing Republicans think they still have is that fear about national security, concern about terrorism. And he's trying to draw a line, even with very provocative, controversial language denounced by a lot of people, politicians here in Washington, certainly Democrats across the country.

He thinks that he's laying a marker down that's going to help John McCain run as the guy who's stronger, can protect America; Barack Obama can't.

BLITZER: Was -- was this designed to help McCain or hurt Obama?

GERALD SEIB, CO-AUTHOR, "PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE": Oh, I think a little of both, but I think more to help McCain probably than anything else.

I mean, look, there's not much this president can do for John McCain to help him become his successor. Let's face it. He's seen as a drag on the Republican Party in general and the Republican ticket in the fall.

But this, as John say, is one area. If you look inside our polls, in area after area, Americans have sort of lost faith with Republicans over the last four years, but not in this area, on national security and fighting terrorism. And that's still an ace in the hole. And John McCain is the perfect Republican presidential candidate to take advantage of that.

So, we're going to be back at this over and over again.

BLITZER: How has Obama handled what some are suggesting is the opening salvo in a general campaign? What do you think?

HARWOOD: Well, he's come back strong. And one of the things he's going to do is, A, say that the president has made Iran stronger by his policy in Iraq, but, second, to pivot to domestic issues as well.

That's where Democrats really have the advantage, where Barack Obama can say, you want some more of that George Bush economy? Eighty percent of the American people think we're in a recession right now.

SEIB: And I actually hope that this debate isn't just slid past. It would be interesting to have a serious debate -- not the sound bit discussion, but a serious debate about what Barack Obama has suggested here, which is, are we better off talking to the Iranians or not talking to the Iranians? Are we better off talking to the Syrians, or not talking to the Syrians?

Do we engage on a diplomatic or a business level or a personal level with these countries or not? That's an interesting proposition and worth debating in a presidential campaign.

BLITZER: It's an important issue and it clearly is an area of disagreement between these two campaigns.

Take us inside the Obama campaign, because you're really -- well, both of you are among the best in the business. What's the thinking on this so-called dream ticket involving Hillary Clinton? Is that farfetched, because it could unite major elements of the Democratic Party?

HARWOOD: It could, but I do think it's farfetched at this point, Wolf. I think that the Obama campaign wants a ticket with a minimum of friction, a minimum of complications. And they want to maximize that message about turning the page and moving forward to the future. Hillary Clinton unavoidably represents, along with her husband, a bit of a look back, even though she has shown a lot of appeal this primary season.

He could reach out to the Hillary Clinton forces by picking one of her supporters, maybe Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio. That would be a way to make a gesture to the other side. I wouldn't expect it to be by picking Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: Because this party is pretty evenly divided, if you look at the popular vote out there, between these two Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama wings.

SEIB: Yes, well, a lot is going to be determined by how the loser loses here, what happens when it's over, what's said, what's done, how does it look, what are the theatrics, what's the temperature in the room when there's a concession speech made. That's going to be really important.

You know, I was thinking about this dream ticket thing the other day, and it occurred to me the ideal solution for Barack Obama, if he's the nominee, is to offer the vice presidential slot to Hillary Clinton, and have her say no. And they don't have to carry the baggage into the campaign, they but get credit for reaching out to her.

HARWOOD: That's dangerous, though, because I don't think she would say no.

(CROSSTALK)

SEIB: Well, I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not.

BLITZER: You write this fascinating book, "Pennsylvania Avenue: Profiles in Backroom Power." This city -- and all of us have been covering it for a long time, John -- has really changed over these years.

HARWOOD: You know, what we write about here, Wolf, is how the two parties over the course of our professional lifetimes covering, say, since the Reagan era, has changed -- the two parties growing more distinct ideologically, further apart, more polarized, more difficult to get business done.

But we also describe some of the ways in which many of the insiders are frustrated themselves. Certainly, voters are frustrated. They see Washington as not getting anything accomplished and, in some ways, setting the table for this general election choice we have between Barack Obama and John McCain, both unconventional candidates.

John McCain is going to attract more Democratic support than George W. Bush did. Barack Obama is going to attract more Republican support and independent support than John Kerry was able to. BLITZER: But the more things change in Washington, Gerry, the more things are still the same. There are these power brokers here who call a lot of the shots.

SEIB: Well, you know, I think what -- the front of the book for us was telling stories about people who work in this environment. It's a difficult environment. But there are people who figure out how to get things done. Ken Duberstein, somebody we all know, is a Republican...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Former chief of staff for Reagan.

(CROSSTALK)

SEIB: ... for Ronald Reagan, who still has good relations on the other side of the aisle, and who is a guy who quietly manages to get things done.

You have people on the Hill like Sam Brownback, who's a really conservative Republican, social conservative, who nonetheless likes to reach over to Democrats and talk about things like Darfur and Sudan and sex trafficking around the world and some domestic issues. You do have people trying to make things work in this town. And we have tried to tell the stories of some of those -- and, often, they're stories in frustration -- that's true -- against the backdrop of a campaign this year in which maybe this whole dynamic is subject to change.

HARWOOD: And, Wolf, what's interesting is, some of the pressure is coming from interest groups, who are very frustrated that nothing is happening. And, so, for them, it's not left vs. right. It's forward or back, do something or do nothing.

And you see business and labor talking about coalitions of the lions and the lambs lying down together, trying to get something done on issues like health care.

BLITZER: John Harwood, Gerry Seib, guys, thanks very much. Thanks for writing this book.

HARWOOD: Thanks for having us.

SEIB: Happy to be here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: So, what are the political implications of an historic ruling in California? Its top court clears the way for same-sex marriage. How will that play out on the presidential race? There are political ramifications.

Also, President Bush criticizes Barack Obama, but could that wind up helping Obama by making other Democrats come together around him? And she's a respected voice in conservative politics, but she's also seen as an anti-feminist crusader. And that has some people angry over what Phyllis Schlafly set to do. Carol Costello is standing by to explain.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: One day after the California Supreme Court struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, its national reach and political impact are being weighed.

Let's go back to Carol Costello. She's watching this story for us.

Is there someone out there in the presidential race that could benefit from this decision by the Supreme Court in California?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes, Wolf, John McCain.

If you want to get conservatives to the polls, despite a candidate they're less than thrilled about, put a gay marriage issue on the ballot.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): Celebrations in California Thursday, as the state's Supreme Court overturned a ban on same-sex marriage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What a day in California. What a day for America.

COSTELLO: But for opponents of same-sex marriage:

MAGGIE GALLAGHER, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MARRIAGE: I think it energizes us enormously. I mean, our phones are ringing off the hook. We have got people calling up, saying, how can they help?

COSTELLO: Some groups are already pushing for changing state constitutions to ban same-sex marriage. A same-sex marriage amendment will be on the November ballot in Florida, and possibly California and Arizona as well. So, could a question on same-sex marriage on ballots in November help John McCain?

MATT BARBER, CONCERNED WOMEN FOR AMERICA: This is going to mobilize the base and galvanize the base of the Republican Party and will light a fire under them, I believe, in much the same way it did in 2004.

COSTELLO: In 2004, same-sex marriage bans appeared on ballots in 11 states. One state in particular could have made all the difference for George W. Bush. Of the people who voted for banning same-sex marriage in Ohio, two-thirds also voted for Bush. He narrowly won the state. What we will never know is whether the gay marriage initiative in Ohio swung enough votes Bush's way to hand him the state and a second term. But what about 2008?

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: It's a big election year, when big issues like Iraq and the economy are going to dominate politics. And there just isn't as much room on the table for the social issues, like gay marriage?

COSTELLO: But, if the same-sex marriage issue were to fire up social conservatives in close states like Florida, it's certainly possible that this issue could make all the difference again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: You just never know.

John McCain, by the way, told reporters on his bus today that he would support a California ballot initiative to ban gay marriage and he would support a ban in his own state of Arizona in November. But he would not support a federal constitutional amendment. He said it's a state issue -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol, thanks.

The California Supreme Court ruling isn't exactly in line with national sentiment. A recent poll asked if same-sex marriage should be legally valid. Forty percent of Americans surveyed said yes. Fifty-six percent said no.

But, if you break it down by region, there's clear contrast. Americans in the West and East show similar leanings. In both regions, just over half say same-sex marriage should be valid. The picture is quite different in the Midwest and the South. An overwhelming majority of Americans in those regions are against gay marriage.

Coming up in our "Strategy Session": the politics of appeasement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals.

OBAMA: That's exactly the kind of appalling attack that's divided our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It's dominating the news cycle right now. But could the issue unite Democrats and backfire on the GOP?

And watching his flank -- could an overwhelming African-American turnout in the South be McCain's undoing? We will discuss that and more in our "Strategy Session."

We're also standing by to hear from Senator McCain respond to Senator Obama.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Barack Obama is fighting back today, after President Bush's suggestion in Israel that he and other Democrats want to appease terrorists. The issue has become a Democratic rallying point.

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

Joining us, Democratic strategist and former adviser to Senator John Kerry Tad Devine, and Republican strategist, CNN political contributor Leslie Sanchez.

While we're discussing this, I want to listen to Senator McCain right now. He's responding to Senator Obama's remarks earlier.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

MCCAIN: I would not add to the prestige of those who support violent extremists or seek to destroy our allies.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: Earlier today, Senator Obama made a few remarks I would like to respond to.

I welcome a debate about protecting America. No issue is more important. Senator Obama claimed, all I had to offer was the -- quote -- "naive and irresponsible belief" that tough talk would cause Iran to give up its nuclear program.

He should have known better. I have some news for Senator Obama. Talking, not even with soaring rhetoric, unconditional, in unconditional meetings with the man who calls Israel a stinking corpse, and arms terrorists who kill Americans, will not convince Iran to give up its nuclear program. It is reckless. It is reckless to suggest that unconditional meetings will advance our interests.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: You know, it would be a wonderful thing if we lived in a world where we don't have enemies. But that's not the world we live in.

And, until Senator Obama understands that reality, the American people have every reason to doubt whether he has the strength, judgment, and determination to keep us safe.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: But I would like to close my remarks with an issue that I know is much on the mind of Americans: the war in Iraq.

Senator Obama has said, if elected...

BLITZER: And so there it is. He forcefully responds to Senator Obama, who had his own choice words for Senator McCain just earlier in the day.

Let's discuss this with Tad Devine and Leslie Sanchez.

We're going to be speaking later here in THE SITUATION ROOM with Senator John Edwards, who is now a major supporter of Barack Obama.

But he didn't mince any words at all, Senator McCain. He went right after Senator Obama.

TAD DEVINE, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: That's right, Wolf.

I think we see right now what's going to happen in this campaign. There's no way they can debate that issues of the economy, the policy in Iraq, health care, or other domestic priorities. So, they're going to attack Barack Obama.

I think it's reckless, what the president did yesterday, to go to Israel, to invoke Hitler, to attack Obama on the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel's independence. It just shows you they will say or do anything in this race.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, I think it's very appropriate that the president is in the Middle East. He's not a historian, but he certainly understands the milestones of foreign policy.

It's appropriate, what he said. His senior adviser, Ed Gillespie, came out and said he didn't mean to imply he was speaking directly to Barack Obama or, you know, shooting something across the bow. He said what is, I think, a significant statement.

What's interesting is, it's basically been able to coalesce and unite the Democrats together in one course. And I think we have an expression. The dogs that bark the loudest are the most scared. I think the Democrats sincerely know they were aced on the issue with Mondale on taxes. They were aced on the issue of crime with Dukakis. And they think, in foreign policy, Barack Obama has some significant problems. I think it's the reason they're coming together.

BLITZER: It's worked, that strategy, for the Republicans for a long time, to paint the Democrats as weak on national security.

DEVINE: It has. And I think Senator Obama's going to have to reassure the American public that he understands, his role as president is first to defend this nation.

But I think that times are very different. We have got a country right now where 80 percent of the people believe the nation is headed on the wrong track. We have a president who has the highest disapproval of any president ever measured in modern history.

And I think the election is going to be about change. Obama understands that. The Republicans know they can't do anything about that.

BLITZER: Is this -- but the whole issue of -- of national security, Republicans keep saying to me -- and I assume you will agree -- that, if this is going to be the focus of the debate between Barack Obama, assuming he's the Democratic presidential nominee, in John McCain, the McCain people are saying, you know, that's great, because that's his strength. It may not necessarily be domestic economic issues, but national security is an area where John McCain supposedly excels.

SANCHEZ: Republicans will tell you, they may not be good on Social Security, but they're good on national security, as much as my Republican colleagues -- I'm going to get e-mailed for that one.

But the truth be told, it's a very strong platform. There are many people who are concerned that Barack Obama is a political neophyte, he is not ready to be commander in chief. And those are Democrats and independents as well. It's a strong argument against a Navy pilot.

Is he Adlai Stevenson again? Are you going to have somebody who loses out to somebody in the military because people are concerned...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Is this McCain's home turf? Does he have a home turf advantage?

DEVINE: He does. The only problem with it is that the American people want an election about the issues they care about. And they want a debate on the economy first and foremost and what we're going to do in Iraq. And I think, on both of those things, he loses.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the strategy going forward for Barack Obama.

There's been suggestions, given the way he's demonstrated his ability to attract votes in this primary season, he could put states in play even in the South that don't necessarily -- aren't necessarily in play, including states like Arkansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia.

These are states that have a significant African-American community. And if he can generate the excitement and the passion and get these people and a lot of others out to vote, he could put those states in play. What do you think?

SANCHEZ: I think the important thing to keep in mind is, for every force, there's an equal and counter -- there's a counterforce for that. Suppose you have a huge surge of African-American. You're going to have a difference in Anglo vote, for example, or Hispanic vote. I don't think you can look at even some of these local congressional races.

I think the Democrats are looking at that, saying maybe we're more competitive than they are. I think it's all yet to be determined, how that shakes out. I think, in the South, President Bush did -- he made incremental gains in 2004. I think there's every reason to believe it will continue to vote Republican.

DEVINE: I think quite the contrary.

I think we have seen, in these last three House races, where Republicans lost safe Republican seats in rural Mississippi, rural Louisiana, rural Illinois, that it tells you what's about to happen.

This isn't just about a massive black turnout in a general election. It's about the fact that the American people have become completely disaffected with George Bush and the policies of the Republican Party.

SANCHEZ: You don't know where the youth vote is going to come out. You don't know where older, less-educated individuals and white women are particularly going to come out. I think it's hard to say right now what that would really entail.

But I will say that, just because you see these special elections doesn't mean it's going to extrapolate into the presidential.

DEVINE: We have had record turnout in the primaries, and you're going to see it in the general election as well.

BLITZER: Here's a little clip of what Mike Huckabee said at NRA convention. I will play it for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: We believe that government should get its hands off of us as much as possible. We don't need that much of it. We would like less of it.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HUCKABEE: And we darn sure would like for it to be less expensive. But the reality is -- and I'm worried, because, frankly, within the -- that was Barack Obama. He just tripped off a chair.

(LAUGHTER)

HUCKABEE: He's getting ready to speak, and somebody aimed a gun at him, and he -- he dove for the floor.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Well, that was not necessarily a great joke.

I know he was trying to be humorous at the NRA convention. What do you think?

SANCHEZ: Not in good taste. I don't think I would -- I'm not going to defend that one.

(LAUGHTER)

DEVINE: No. No jokes about guns in presidential campaigns.

BLITZER: I agree. All right. I'm sure the Secret Service wouldn't be happy with those kinds of jokes either.

DEVINE: No.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Hillary Clinton plays nice. She's out with new, more positive ads. You're going to find out how long this tone has been happening as the next Democratic race unfolds.

And private details revealed regarding the U.S. Secret Service -- why did some at the agency receive and send racially offensive e- mails? Some of the e-mail very explicit -- they're not suitable for airing. Jeanne Meserve standing by to explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Could a less combative, more positive Hillary Clinton be emerging? Her campaign is out with a brand-new ad in Oregon and Kentucky that casts her in a more positive light. They stress things like Clinton's support for universal health care. The Democratic primary race is now seeing its second straight week without any negative ads.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can check out CNNPolitics.com. That's where you can read my daily blog post as well.

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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Is it a good strategy for Republicans to go after Michelle Obama?

Some of the e-mails are as follows.

Sean writes from Maryland: "The GOP will attack anyone, anything to find any traction they can. Sad to think Michelle would be fair game, but, to the GOP, there's no such thing as fair. Now, if they can just get Reverend Wright to perform a few gay marriages, the Republican fall strategy will be all set."

Kyle writes: "It is a Pandora's box. If they start attacking Michelle, it makes Cindy McCain fair game. She is open to criticism in a lot of areas, like supporting companies propping up the Sudanese government, not releasing her tax returns, letting her husband use her private jet to exploit a tax loophole, and her past drug addiction -- great family values. The Republicans took aim at Obama's spouse, but they may have bit off more than they can chew." Karen writes: "I have to say, it is a good strategy. It's seemed to work for Obama -- and everyone else, including the press -- to go after Bill Clinton. I have seen the tapes of Mrs. Obama making the proud statement and the statement about how mean this country is. Those were her words. And I, as a fairly intelligent person, believe she meant just that."

Mary in Villa Hills, Kentucky: "The Republicans don't have much, when they have to stoop so low as to go after Obama's wife. For the last seven-and-a-half years, I believe most of us would agree with her that we have not been very proud of our country because of the president, who has put this country in such a mess internationally and economically."

And Davio writes from Las Vegas: "The Republican machine would try to link Michelle and Barack Obama to unicorns, if it would scare the American people and lead them back to the White House. First, he's Muslim. Then he goes to a nutty Christian church, although I don't know how he's both. And how are they going to -- and now they are going after his wife. Does Obama have a dog? Better keep it on a short leash. Soon, the Republicans will say that the dog barks in Arabic."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and maybe find yours there. There are hundreds of them posted -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks for that. Jack Cafferty will be back shortly.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, hypocrisy and fearmongering, tough words aimed at President Bush and John McCain. Barack Obama is striking back, after their attacks suggested he might appease terrorists.

John Edwards is now endorsing Barack Obama, but his wife, Elizabeth, still prefers Hillary Clinton's health care plan. Who does she prefer for the nomination? John Edwards, he will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We will talk to him about that and a whole lot more.

And, after Saudi Arabia turns down the president's appeal to turn up the oil spigot, the U.S. decides to stop filling its Strategic Reserve. But will that make a difference when you go to fill up your tank?

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