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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Preview of Presidential Debate; Interview With Senators Feinstein, Shelby
Aired June 3, 2007 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Live from New Hampshire, this is a special "Late Edition," "The Presidential Debates."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: I announced that I was running for the presidency of the United States.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: My reason is for the future of the country.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: Would you help us form a...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Across New Hampshire, the presidential candidates stumping hard, straining for that bounce that traditionally comes from the first primary state. Tonight, the Democrats debate. Tuesday, it's the Republicans' turn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We must not let Al Qaida have a safe haven in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The number one issue in the debates will be the number one question on voters' minds: the war in Iraq. We'll get analysis and insights from two key U.S. senators: Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, and Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF JOHN EDWARDS: I'm proud to announce my husband, John Edwards.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We'll talk about the crucial roles that candidates' families play on the campaign trail with John Edwards' wife Elizabeth, and with Tagg Romney, an adviser in his father's campaign.
We'll preview both debates with Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist J.C. Watts; and with our partners for these debates, Tom Fahey of the New Hampshire Union Leader, and Scott Spradling and Jennifer Vaughn of WMUR TV.
Plus, analysis from the best political team on television. "Late Edition's" lineup begins right now.
ANNOUNCER: Live from New Hampshire, this is a special "Late Edition," "The Presidential Debates."
BLITZER: It's 11:00 a.m. in Washington and here in Manchester, New Hampshire, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4:00 p.m. in London and 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you are watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for this special "Late Edition."
Today, we are coming to you from the Sullivan Arena here on the campus of Saint Anselm College where, as you can see, the last-minute preparations are being made for tonight's debate between the eight Democratic presidential candidates. We'll be spending most of the next two hours examining the debate, as well as the Republican debate that's coming up Tuesday night. All 10 Republican candidates will be here for that, as well.
Among the crucial issues, the war in Iraq and the United States' vulnerability to acts of terrorism, especially after yesterday's news of an alleged plot to attack New York's JFK Airport.
To discuss all of this and a lot more, two special guests: Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein from California -- she's joining us from San Francisco -- and Republican Senator Richard Shelby from Alabama. He's joining us from Tuscaloosa.
Senators, thanks very much to both of you for joining us.
Let me start with you, Senator Feinstein, and get your reaction to the news we all heard yesterday from New York of this alleged plot to effectively blow up John F. Kennedy International Airport. Here is how the assistant FBI director put it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK J. MERSHON, ASST. DIR. IN CHARGE, FBI: I don't think we're prepared to describe the efficacy of the attacks other than the scope of their plans was for something spectacular. I believe there are even references that it would outstrip the 9/11 event.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, how worried should the American public be? You are a member of the Intelligence Committee.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I don't think you can live with worry heavy on you every day, but I think everybody should be on the alert. I've seen no intelligence about this, but I think those people involved in the gathering of this intelligence really have to be told they did a good job. Clearly, this was nipped in the bud before it developed, and I think that's very impressive and we all should be very thankful. Having said that, our alert status has to remain, and I tried to work hard to see that intelligence has what it needs and that intelligence is able to make the necessary reforms, have the satellite coverage, press to see that the new intelligence reform with the director of national intelligence goes well and that Admiral McConnell has all he needs to really run our many agencies. I think this -- the fact that this was found early on is indeed good news.
BLITZER: Senator Shelby, let me bring you -- and you're a former member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. What do you think right now? How prepared, from the intelligence perspective, is the U.S. to another potential 9/11 or even worse?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: I think we're fairly well prepared, but we'll never be totally prepared, Wolf. We live in an open society and that makes us strong, but it makes us vulnerable. What happened yesterday is no real surprise to a lot of us.
BLITZER: Let me get back to Senator Feinstein for a moment and get you to respond because there's a lot of focus on the war on terrorism, especially comments that former Senator John Edwards made in recent days. I'm going to play you a little clip, Senator Feinstein, and get your reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The war on terror is a slogan designed only for politics. It is not a strategy to make America safe. It's a bumper sticker, not a plan. It has damaged our alliances and it's weakened our standing in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you agree with him on that point, Senator Feinstein?
FEINSTEIN: Well, not necessarily. I think the problem is the war on terror means different things to different people, and it doesn't designate exactly who you're going after. And the Iraq war has been called by the administration "the war on terror."
And, in fact, in many respects, it is not, but we know now what it is doing is encouraging terrorists all over the world to mobilize, to train and to attack America and Western interests wherever they possibly can. So the war on Iraq really has to be looked at in a much wider perspective, I believe.
BLITZER: What about that, Senator Shelby? You speak with some authority on these issues. The argument has been made repeatedly that there really was a very limited terror threat coming from Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power, but it's, obviously, grown more intense over these past four years precisely because of his removal as a strong man, in effect, of that country. What do you say?
SHELBY: I think what you just stated is a fair statement, a summation of basically what the truth is. The terrorism has grown in Iraq. Before Saddam Hussein was overthrown, he had a strong hand on Iraq. He controlled everything there. There was nothing -- he was the powerful dictator.
Now everything's at risk in Iraq, terrorists are everywhere and that's one of our big challenges. It's an asymmetrical war, something we've never seen before.
BLITZER: And the president, Senator Feinstein, made that point this past week, as well. I want you to listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Failure in Iraq would endanger the American citizens because failure in Iraq would embolden the enemies of a free Iraq. David Petraeus said public enemy number one in Iraq is Al Qaida. Al Qaida happens to be public enemy number one in America, too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you want to react to what the president said, Senator Feinstein?
FEINSTEIN: Yes, I would be happy to react to it. This has been the administration's strategy all along. And yet, in fact, it's very difficult to see that we are winning anything in Iraq. In fact, we are now in the process of this surge. We are a few months into it. General Petraeus said he'll know whether it's successful in September. We're in June now and we find that deaths are up, killings are up, incidents are up, violence is up.
And whether the American presence there can ever control this kind of violence is, I think, really the issue. I think it's complicated by the fact that the Iraqi people themselves do not want us there, and this is a real danger for our continuation, I believe.
The question comes really whether the United States can stop this type of violence which, as Senator Shelby said, is asymmetric, is cowardly, doesn't care who they kill, what religious edifices they destroy, the numbers of children killed in the process. It is a terrible, terrible kind of war with terrible violence.
The question comes, what do you do to stop it? Many of us believe the answer has to be fashioned by the present government of Iraq. And this government is really impotent, is really unable to do those things that are necessary to end the violence: the de- Baathification, the sharing of oil revenues, the enablement of former Baathists to work in the workplace. And these are all very serious matters and they go unaddressed month after month.
BLITZER: Senator Shelby, you have confidence in the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that they're going to step up to the plate and do what they have to do?
SHELBY: Wolf, that's a serious question, a central question here. I doubt it. I hope that they will. I've spoken with General Petraeus twice. I told him that I wanted to come and visit Iraq, probably toward the end of the summer when some tough decisions are going to have to be made, and he will have to make them. I think we've had some marginal success, but I'm like Dianne. I don't see a big breakthrough over there at this time. Maybe we will stabilize the area, but we can't do anything other than marginal successes unless the Iraqi government steps up. And I don't see big signs of that. There was always hope. I've been hearing this two years. I'm very doubtful.
BLITZER: Well, let me put some numbers up on the screen, Senator Shelby. The number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq, the highest number was back in November 2004. That month, 137 American troops were killed. In April of 2004, 135.
But this past month, May of this year, 127 now confirmed dead. That's the third-highest since the start of the war. And so far in June, it's only a few days. Already nine more American troops have died. I guess the question for you, Senator Shelby, is, at what point does the United States say enough is enough and it's time to get out?
SHELBY: Well, we're going to know probably by September, no later than probably Thanksgiving at the most. The American people see what's happening. They know we're deeply challenged. We do not like to see our people ground up week by week as you just alluded to.
And we've never been defeated on the battlefield per se there, but this is a different war. It could be their war, not our war. It's ten minutes to midnight.
BLITZER: Yeah, all right, stand by, senators. I want to pick up this conversation and talk a little bit more about what's going on, not only in Iraq, but in neighboring Iran. Serious issues for the U.S. There are also echoes of the Cold War, some comments coming between the U.S. and Russia right now. We are going to get into all of that.
And later, we are going to take a closer look at what's being called the family factor. Candidates, children and spouses are shaking hands, they're making speeches, they're giving advice. We'll get the inside story on this from John Edwards' wife, Elizabeth. She'll be here with us in New Hampshire. And Tagg Romney, one of Mitt Romney's five sons. He's the oldest. In fact, he's the senior adviser to his dad.
And in less than eight hours, the Democratic candidates will fill the stage behind us here and face some tough questions from reporters, as well as from a live audience. An old-fashioned New England town hall meeting, if you will. We'll be back with this special "late edition" from New Hampshire in just a moment.
BLITZER: Welcome back to the Sullivan Arena here in Manchester, New Hampshire, where tonight, eight Democrats will face off in two hours of a live debate. We'll get to that and more later.
But joining us now to discuss some substantive policy issues, I suspect a little bit of party politics, as well, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama. I just want to tie up the situation in Iraq, Senator Shelby, with you. Knowing what you know now -- obviously, hindsight, we're all smarter -- was the invasion of Iraq a mistake?
SHELBY: Well, we can't make that kind of decision. I wish I knew what stocks were going to do and the bond market was going to do a month ago, but we can't do that now. We worked on the information we had at the time. There was an overwhelming vote of Democrats and Republicans, as you'll recall.
We had great success in Iraq, but we've had tremendous mistakes. To many, too often, and we're deeply challenged today. As I said earlier, I think the clock's ticking. It's probably ten minutes 'til midnight. We don't want to stay there forever, and I don't believe we will stay there forever. And I think a lot of it depends on the success of the Iranian government, and I am very doubtful of their success in the future in combating terrorism.
BLITZER: Let me rephrase the question then, Senator Shelby. Knowing what you know today, if you had to do it all over again, would you have done the same thing, support a resolution authorizing this war against Saddam Hussein?
SHELBY: Well, we didn't know all that then. And we vote on the information we have.
BLITZER: I know, but if you did -- if you would have known...
SHELBY: I'm not going to answer that -- hey, Wolf, that's a hypothetical question. You're a smart man. And we had the information we had then, and we voted on it.
If it were today and we had new information, that's a different game. We had what we had then, and we voted, and we're there. After great success, a lot of failures. And we're deeply challenged, let's face it.
BLITZER: All right. I know what Senator Feinstein's answer is on that because I've spoken to her about that in the past. And she recognizes that was a mistake. Am I right, Senator Feinstein?
FEINSTEIN: That's correct. And I said from the very beginning if I knew then what I knew now, I wouldn't have voted. Now, having said that, I have to clearly live with it, and it's a very difficult thing to do.
But I believe that come September, members of the Senate are going to be in a much more flexible state of mind about the war. And I think even in the Republican Party, and I think you can pick some of that up this morning, there are changing points of view about this war. And I think increasingly large numbers of us want to see it over.
However we get there, let's get it over. One other point, the big learning experience is how really the mistake that was made was on the follow-on of shock and awe. Of not having a plan, both tactics and strategy to build a country in a unified way.
The terrible mistakes that were made with respect to de- Baathification in particular, I think, leaves this country very divided and very violent. And there's a big learning lesson. A very, very painful learning lesson. And I think we're learning it.
BLITZER: Senator Shelby, from Iraq to its neighbor Iran, we heard this week from the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He said this, and I'll put it up on the screen: "We have passed our point of vulnerability. This means nobody would dare stage a military assault against our nation. I don't think there is an item that we cannot produce if we need it."
Strong words from the leader of Iran, the president of Iran. He seems to be getting closer, at least according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, with his nuclear program, his nuclear weapons program.
What do you think? How much of a timeline, how much of a window is there before at least some would say the U.S. should take some sort of military preemptive action?
SHELBY: I think we have to be very careful. Nine years ago, I spent some time in Islamabad with the infamous Dr. Kahn, the father of the nuclear bomb in Pakistan. I asked him how long would it be before Iran detonated their first nuclear weapon? He said nine to 12 years.
It's been nine years. He could be right. I believe myself Iran's got the money. They've got Russian help. They're headed at all costs to build a nuclear weapon. I wish they wouldn't. I think it's going to destabilize the area more than it is today. Iran could be the big winner in the whole area, but it's not to our benefit for that to happen.
BLITZER: Well, what do you think, Senator Feinstein? How much time there is before Iran is beyond the point of no return? Some already suggesting it may already be beyond the point of no return towards developing a nuclear bomb.
FEINSTEIN: Well, I don't believe that right now based on what I know that I'm not going to go into. I do think this. I think Iran has determined that they're going to proceed. I think in a way this is a result of isolation. And I think talks are going on between Javier Solana and Ali Larijani.
Secretary Rice is now showing new flexibility of wanting to engage the discussions with our Ambassador Crocker on Iran. I think these are all very useful avenues to explore and to develop. I think not to talk, only to threaten, does not achieve the result we want. And that's another lesson that we have to learn.
I think discussions with Syria, discussions with the Iranians, exploring this idea of an international consortium actually running any program, preventing weaponization, allowing nuclear power but preventing weaponization, all of this I think needs to be carefully looked at. And then you have to see whether it's worth it or not. If we never explore the avenues, we never really know.
BLITZER: Senator Shelby, we're going to be having a debate for the ten Republican candidates Tuesday night. Who do you like in the field right now? And I'll throw Fred Thompson in since he's going to be running as well, even though he won't be at the debate Tuesday night. Which one of these Republicans is your favorite?
SHELBY: I like them all. I have no favorite at this point. I think they're going to have to work it out in the field. And the field will narrow. It's going to be a question of power, organization and money, just like it will be with the Democrats. I have no favorite. And I have to choice at this point.
BLITZER: What about you on the Democratic side, Senator Feinstein? Who do you like?
FEINSTEIN: Well, we have a very interesting team of candidates. You have two terrific public policy people in Dodd and Biden. You have Senator Clinton, the first woman ever running. She's been a terrific senator. She clearly knows the executive branch in the White House. You have John Edwards running.
I mean, we've got a very good team of candidates. Barack Obama that has excited so many people. I think the one thing that concerns me is that the race has started so early. And my great fear, there are so many debates going on now is that people are going to tire, and what this early race means, individuals make mistakes, and mistakes over time count.
So, I think there are a lot of dangers in this early start of this campaign. Now, of course, California's moved up its primary in January, the largest state. There will be a lot of electoral votes in this state. And I think January's going to be a very decisive time in the elections, at least in the primary.
BLITZER: And it's not that far from now. January will be here in New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada on the Democratic side, South Carolina. And as you point out, there is a super-duper Tuesday February 5th in California. A lot of other big states will be...
SHELBY: Alabama, too.
BLITZER: ... voting on that day as well. Alabama will have a significant role this time around, as well. Let me thank both senators, Feinstein and Shelby, both of you for coming in. And we'll be talking to you presumably a lot between now and then. Thanks once again.
And coming up here on our special "Late Edition," we're live in Manchester, New Hampshire. We'll get an insider's guide from two political veterans, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist J.C. Watts. They're standing by live.
And later, I'll take you on a behind-the-scenes tour of this debate, a short tour of the Sullivan Arena here at St. Anselm College. That's coming up, as well. Much more of our special "Late Edition: The Presidential Debates," right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition." We're live from New Hampshire. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting. It may still be months from the New Hampshire primary scheduled in January, but it's only hours from the first presidential debate here in the granite state. So let's get some special insight on what the candidates need to do to come out on top in these two debates.
Who better to handicap the field than two of the best political team on television? Former chief of staff for Al Gore's campaign, Donna Brazile, and former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts, both CNN analysts. Guys, thanks very much for coming to New Hampshire.
Donna, we've asked both of you, by the way, to look ahead at some points that you're going to be looking for and you're going to be looking for, you'll be looking for tonight in the Democratic debate and J.C. will be looking for Tuesday night in the Republican debate.
Donna, let's start with you. One of the things you're watching for is this: Will Senator Hillary Clinton be able to keep two new critical biographies in the background? What do you think? Because there are two new books, one by Carl Bernstein, one by some New York Times reporters that are emerging right now?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, since the last presidential debate, of course, Congress has approved the president's supplemental. They're debating immigration. But for the Hillary Clinton campaign, they've also been distracted by these two books that have come out about her past.
Of course, these books, the campaign has refuted most of their salacious allegations, but the books are out there. They are on the bookstands. And the campaign has had to put up an extra piece on the Web site to explain why the books are not true.
BLITZER: So, you're going to see if that even comes up during the debate tonight?
BLITZER: One of the things that you're going to be looking for Tuesday night is this question what you're watching for. Will Senator John McCain's independence get the best of him, J.C. What do you mean by that?
J.C. WATTS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think one of the things that you hear Republicans saying about John McCain is that, well, he's a maverick. You hear conservatives saying that he is a maverick. I think that's a quality in a candidate. I don't think that should be a detriment.
And I think when you hear people say that, that's code word for "We can't tell him what to do." And I think the fact that people feel like he is a maverick, has he topped out because all the polls that you see, he's about 23 percent to 27 percent. So can he grow those numbers? And I think in these debates, that gives him an opportunity to kind of, you know, breakthrough that glass ceiling.
BLITZER: That maverick status, he cooperates with Russ Feingold, a liberal Democrat on campaign finance reform, with Ted Kennedy on immigration reform. We're going to be paying attention, obviously, to that.
Donna, here is another thing you're going to be looking at tonight. Will Senator Barack Obama make a name for himself? He's got a name already, as you well know.
BRAZILE: Well, in the first debate, some people believed that he really didn't outshine some of his opponents. So Senator Obama has admitted that he will try to improve.
And I think people will look tonight to see if he has improved a little bit on not just his answers, but also, can he distinguish himself? Can he rally his supporters to close the deal? And can he, of course, take on the front-runner, Hillary Clinton, without coming across as testy?
BLITZER: Here's what you're going to be looking for, J.C., Tuesday, Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. "What's in the well comes up in the bucket," as you phrase it. "Does he have a base?" He's still atop the national polls among registered Republicans, and independents leaning Republicans.
WATTS: And, Wolf, I don't think it's just Rudy or Mitt or John McCain. I don't think it's just Rudy that has to be concerned about Fred Thompson. I call that the Fred Thompson factor. Where does Fred get his numbers when he gets in the race? Does he take them from Rudy? Does he take them from John? Does he take them from Mitt Romney? I think John McCain has a base. I'm not so sure Rudy does.
BLITZER: So he potentially could be more vulnerable to a Fred Thompson?
WATTS: He could be -- that's right. He could be more vulnerable. Mitt Romney, you know -- mitt's trying to pump his numbers up, get beyond 12 percent, 13 percent in national polls. So where does Fred Thompson get his numbers from? I don't think they come from McCain. I think they come from the other three of the two tier one candidates.
BLITZER: Here's another point Donna is looking at. Can Senator John Edwards get beyond the haircut controversy?
BRAZILE: Well, he's been beset by these allegations of his money, his personal wealth, his haircut.
BLITZER: He spent $400 for a hair cut.
WATTS: Hey, 15 buck haircut two days ago.
(LAUGHTER) BRAZILE: Thirty dollars, OK, so we know. All right. But, look, I think John Edwards is going to try tonight to once again refocus on poverty, on health care and, again, Iraq.
I mean, John Edwards has a very tough position on Iraq. He believes that the other candidates, especially Senator Clinton, has not been consistent. And, of course, this week, his campaign had to put out a statement that he was erroneous. He did not read the NIE report. But, of course, the major thing is, get beyond the haircut.
BLITZER: The National Intelligence Estimate. You mentioned Fred Thompson. You're going to be looking at this. "Who will be looking over their shoulders at former Senator Fred Thompson?" He's a movie star, "Law & Order" actor, a former senator, he's big guy. He's what, about 6'6, 6'7. He's a big guy to begin.
He does have a presence, and I guess to a certain degree, if he were at that debate, he would be towering over, physically, a lot of those other Republicans.
WATTS: Well, I would try and stay away from him and not shake his hand if I'm on the same stage with him. And he's got that big, booming voice, that big, authoritative voice. Fred is a factor. I mean, he's kind of the shadow over the Republican field right now. Everything seems to be leaning toward him throwing his hat in the ring.
And, again, as I said a couple of minutes ago, where does he get his numbers? If everybody -- if we get our top four candidates all 20 percent of the vote and say the first one to 30 percent wins, who gets there first? Again, I think McCain has a base. Not so sure to Rudy, and Mitt does. And where does Thompson get his numbers?
BLITZER: Here's another question you're looking at. "Can Governor Bill Richardson," Donna, "recover from some dismal recent TV appearances?" You're referring to his performance last week on "Meet the Press."
BRAZILE: Look, he's not in fourth place. He's a second-tier candidate. He's going to have to mix it up a little bit, get beyond just talking about his resume and really talk about some plans on global warming, health care.
But also, I think, he will have to explain once again his position on immigration, which one day you think he's for it, and then the next day he didn't read it and perhaps he's not.
BLITZER: I had pressed him earlier in the week and asked him specifically -- not this past week, a week earlier -- if it was yes or nay. If you had to vote right now on this compromised proposal, what would you do. And he said, "I would vote yay."
But 72 hours later, he said, "Well, I hadn't read the fine print, I don't like the fine print," and as a result was against it. And that sort of undermined him. Is that what you're suggesting?
BRAZILE: Absolutely. Absolutely did.
BLITZER: You'll watch to see what he says tonight. You're going to watch this question for Tuesday night. "Will Representative Duncan Hunter or Governor Mike Huckabee," the former governor of Arkansas, "gain ground?" Do you think some of these low-tier candidates might have an opening? Is that what you're suggesting?
WATTS: I think Fred Thompson, the fact that he hasn't announced, he's still a tier-one candidate. You've got Thompson, McCain, Romney and Giuliani who make up the first tier. I think the two candidates trying that are still trying to crack the code, if you will, that I still has a chance to do I think is Duncan Hunter and Mike Huckabee.
Duncan Hunter resonates with a lot of Republicans on immigration. Mike Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist minister, he knows the conservative language. So, you know, I thought he had a couple of good shots in the last debate with the haircut line and so forth. So those two guys still trying to crack the code. Hadn't made it into the first tier, but could make a move.
BLITZER: We'll be watching with all you guys. J.C. Watts, thanks very much, Donna Brazile, both part of the best political team on television. You'll be here throughout this entire adventure for all of us. Thanks very much, guys...
BRAZILE: Looking forward to it.
BLITZER: ... for coming in.
In just a moment, we're going to talk to Mitt Romney's eldest son, Tagg Romney, about living in the campaign spotlight, along with his four brothers. They've even got a blog, by the way, Fivebrothers.mittromney.com. We're going to talk to Mitt Romney's son -- eldest son in just a moment.
Later, I'll be joined by Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of former Senator John Edwards. She is battling cancer. She's fighting to be first lady of the United States. It's a tough combination. She's also raising two little kids, got an elder daughter as well, so we'll be talking with her about all of that.
And by the way, you can see the stage is now set for tonight's Democratic debate. We're only hours away from that. Don't forget, Republicans will be right here on the same stage Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. eastern. Both of these debates two hours uninterrupted by commercials. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition." We're live in New Hampshire.
We're only hours away from the Democratic debate. The Republicans coming up fast as well, Tuesday 7 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN. One of the leaders in the Republican race is the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. How is he preparing for this crucial debate for him Tuesday? To get some insight, we're joined now by Tagg Romney, one of five Romney brothers. He's also a senior adviser on his dad's campaign. Tagg, thanks very much for coming in.
TAGG ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S SON: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: Well, tell us what you do, first of all, for your father?
ROMNEY: A couple of things. And mostly I go around the country and speak on his behalf. I've been spending a lot of time in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina and just telling people about him and who he is.
BLITZER: Tell us something about your father that we might not necessarily know.
ROMNEY: He's a great dad and a great grandfather. He has ten grandchildren, and spends as much time with us and with them as he can.
BLITZER: What was he like as a father growing up? Five boys, that's not an easy challenge. And at the same time, he was a very successful businessman. He was working hard all the time. Was he a hands-on kind of father? Did you see him? was he there for dinner for you?
ROMNEY: He was. He was there all the time. You know, people ask us that a lot. We didn't seem to notice he was gone that much. He was there almost every weekend. He was there most nights. He spent as much time with us as he could.
And you know, what I really appreciated from my dad more than anything else was the sense of work ethic and the value system that he gave us. And he was a great dad.
BLITZER: And you had a religious background, as well. All of you are very strong Mormons, including the boys, right?
ROMNEY: That's correct, yes.
BLITZER: All of you observe it, you believe in all of the rituals and everything.
ROMNEY: Yeah, of course.
BLITZER: You haven't deviated from your mom and dad on that?
ROMNEY: No. And you know, like I said with my dad, it's given us a strong value system and taught us integrity and hard work and honesty and the importance of putting others ahead of yourself.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about some of the issues, since you're an adviser to your father. He's quoted by the Associated Press on April 26th as saying this: "It's not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions dollars just trying to catch one person." He was referring to the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
What did he mean by that? Because it's generated a little controversy given Osama bin Laden's role in killing, what, 3,000 Americans on 9/11.
ROMNEY: Well, he's made it very clear that we ought to do what we can to capture Osama bin Laden to bring him to justice. There's no question. But he doesn't think that our entire policy ought to be focused on just capturing one man. But we need to make sure that we understand that this is a global effort and that jihad is threatening our very way of life. And we need to make sure that we don't just focus all our efforts just on him, but that we do everything we can to bring all the terrorists to justice.
BLITZER: But he wants to catch Osama bin Laden?
BLITZER: And if he caught him, he would bring him to justice or kill him or whatever.
ROMNEY: Whatever it takes, yes.
BLITZER: OK. Let's talk a little bit about the other charges against your dad that he's flip-flopped on some of the issues. Let's talk about the illegal immigration issue first. Here is what your dad was quoted by the Lowell Sun in Massachusetts saying last year, a year or so ago, a little bit more, he said: "I don't believe in rounding up 11 million people and forcing them at gunpoint from our country. Those that are here paying taxes and not taking government benefits should begin a process toward application of citizenship as they would from their home country."
But now he's running an ad in Iowa and here in New Hampshire saying this, and I want to put it up on the screen and let me play it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Immigration is great, but illegal immigration, that we've got to end. Thank you. And amnesty is not the way to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. It looks like, you know, he is opposing this compromise proposal that President Bush and Senator McCain, Senator Kennedy, they like that compromise that's on the table right now. But it seemed like a year or so ago he was open to that, but now he's not, is that it?
ROMNEY: No. He wasn't open to it then and he isn't open to it now. And there's a lot of reasonable parts of the bill on the table now. But there are some parts of the bill he does not like.
BLITZER: What part doesn't he like?
ROMNEY: Most importantly, it's the Z visa, which is the ability for someone to stay here indefinitely without ever having to go home. And, you know, he thinks that there's three critical elements to any immigration bill. The first one needs to be securing our border. The second is putting in place an employment verification system. And the third is no special pathway to citizenship for anyone who's here illegally.
BLITZER: So when he told the Lowell Sun last year, "Those that are here paying taxes and not taking government benefits should begin a process toward application for citizenship as they would from their home countries," that sounds like he was opening up a pathway toward citizenship for at least some of the 12 million illegal immigrants.
ROMNEY: They ought to be -- all of them ought be given an opportunity to apply for citizenship. He hasn't changed his position on that at all. But none of them should be given a special pathway, special rights that people who aren't here illegally don't have. So the Z visa, in fact, gives people...
BLITZER: So, what do you do with these 12 million? You get rid of them? You throw them out? What do you do?
ROMNEY: What you need to do, first of all, is address the security issue and the porous borders that we have and secure the borders. By the way, we don't know if there are 12 million or if there's 20 million. No one really knows what the number is.
BLITZER: Let's assume there's 20 million. What do you do with them?
ROMNEY: Well, the first thing is, we've got to...
BLITZER: All right, so after you secure the borders, then what do you do with them?
ROMNEY: Well then, most important thing is, you don't do what did you in 1986, which is put in place something like amnesty, where you encourage other people to try to come here and reap the benefits of being here legally.
BLITZER: But your dad's not in favor of deporting them?
ROMNEY: What he's in favor of is having them begin a citizenship process where they are on the same footing as everyone that is outside the country legally.
BLITZER: Here is what, I guess, The Boston Globe, in criticizing your dad, wrote on December 1st of 2006 last year: "For a decade, Romney used a landscaping company that relies heavily on workers like these, illegal Guatemalan immigrants, to maintain the grounds surrounding his pink colonial house. All but one said they were in the United States illegally."
Was that true? I don't know if you checked that out. ROMNEY: Well, the house is yellow, by the way. It's not pink. So that part wasn't true. But he uses a lawn service, legal company. It's illegal for people who use lawn services or other services to ask if their employees are legal citizens or not. So he did what was within the law.
And the lawn company was using illegal aliens. He can't ask the owner of that company if he uses illegal aliens or not.
BLITZER: What's your assessment of how your dad is doing in Iowa, here in New Hampshire, South Carolina, some of the early states? What does he need to do, for example, Tuesday night to jump ahead of McCain and Giuliani and Fred Thompson, who's going to be a big shadow Tuesday night?
ROMNEY: You know, I think he needs to keep doing what he has been doing. And clearly his message has been resonating. When he started this process a few months ago, he was relatively unknown. The more he's been out to New Hampshire and Iowa and gotten to meet people and introduce himself to them, the more people have broken his way. And we're confident that as people get to know him, hear his message, that that message will continue to resonate.
BLITZER: Are you worried that Fred Thompson's going to hurt your dad's chances once he formally gets into this race?
ROMNEY: We're worried about my dad getting out there and introducing himself to the voters. And we're confident that as they get to know him that they will break his way.
BLITZER: And I know you love your dad. We're going to see if the voters out there love him as well. Tagg Romney, thanks very much for coming in.
ROMNEY: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: The debate Tuesday night. We'll be watching very closely. And most of the Democratic candidates split their time this weekend, by the way, between Iowa and here in New Hampshire. But all of them will be right here in just a bit more than seven hours. Face some tough questions in a presidential debate. Questions coming from you the voters as well. There will be an old-fashioned town hall meeting, at least for part of tonight's two-hour session.
And the best political team on television is already here, ready to give us a pregame look at what the candidates have to do to win this critical contest. Our special "Late Edition." We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're here on the campus of Saint Anselm College in beautiful Manchester, New Hampshire. We're getting ready for tonight's Democratic debate. Eight candidates will be here on the stage. They'll be answering questions from reporters also, from a New Hampshire old-fashioned kind of town hall meeting. And there you see the eight slots up on the stage. Tuesday night, 10 Republicans will be in those very same spots.
Welcome back to our special "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're reporting from New Hampshire.
President Bush's longest-serving adviser is calling it quits. Dan Bartlett, who started working for the president during his campaign for Texas governor way back in the '90s announced that he's stepping down in July. I spoke to the White House counselor Friday in "The Situation Room."
BLITZER: Why now? Why did you decide this is a good time to leave the president's side? You have been with him so many years.
DAN BARTLETT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: Well, it has been all those years, Wolf.
After about more than 13 years of service to the Bush family, it was time to start serving the Bartlett family. I have three young sons that are growing up very fast. And I took a look at the situation. We've got about 600 days left in the administration. I felt like it was too much for me to stay with the White House to the very end.
So, with that in mind, I went and talked to the president about this and to the chief of staff, Josh Bolten, and made it clear that I felt it was important that they have the opportunity help recruit somebody new to come to help put their mark on helping this president accomplish the goals he's trying to achieve, while I start a new chapter in my life with my family, and...
BLITZER: Did they try to talk you out of it?
BARTLETT: Well, I think he understood.
Look, we're very close. And he knew I wouldn't come to him at this juncture unless it was really -- if the gig wasn't really up. He knows I have got very small children that are growing by leaps and bounds.
And, so, he knew. Obviously, he was disappointed, as I was, too, that I couldn't stay to the end. It's one of those things you hoped you could do. But, at the same time, I have had an extraordinary experience here and will always treasure it.
BLITZER: The White House counselor Dan Bartlett. He's leaving July, going back to Texas, maybe staying in Washington. We'll soon find out.
Still to come here on this special "Late Edition," who is John Edwards and what does he really stand for? We'll get a preview of what he is standing for, what he's likely to say in tonight's Democratic debate from his wife Elizabeth Edwards. She's going to be joining us live here.
We'll be back at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire for this special "Late Edition" right after this.
BLITZER: Much more ahead on our special "Late Edition." We're live here in New Hampshire, site of the CNN presidential debates. Shortly, I'll be joined by three experts in New Hampshire politics who will be working with me during tonight's debate, Tuesday night's debate, as well: WMUR TV political director Scott Spradling and anchor Jennifer Vaughn, and Tom Fahey, the State House bureau chief for the New Hampshire Union Leader.
Also we'll speak with Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of John Edwards. She's here, as well. We're speaking to her about all things in this campaign. She's got a lot going on in her life. We'll ask her for an update. Elizabeth Edwards live here in New Hampshire right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back. We're live here in New Hampshire. This is a special "Late Edition," "The Presidential Debates."
In less than seven hours now, eight Democrats will stand on the stage behind me, face questions from reporters, also from a live audience. On Tuesday, 10 Republicans will do exactly the same thing.
Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're here in Manchester, New Hampshire at beautiful Saint Anselm College. For much of this hour, we'll bring you the kind of political insight and analysis that you simply can't get anyplace else. I'll be joined by some of the best political team on television for a complete preview of both of these debates: the Democrats tonight, the Republicans Tuesday.
But first, joining us now live here on our set overlooking the debate floor is Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.
Mrs. Edwards, thanks very much for coming in.
EDWARDS: It's great to be with you.
BLITZER: A lot of our viewers are looking at you right now. How do you feel? How are you doing?
EDWARDS: I'm doing great, actually. I'm feeling strong. I'm in the process of getting the treatment that my doctors recommend. And I'm feeling optimistic about the -- my prognosis.
BLITZER: Because you look great, I've got to tell you. I've been interviewing you now for many years, but you look fabulous.
EDWARDS: I look better sick apparently than healthy. BLITZER: I want to show our viewers a picture of you and your kids in the new issue of People magazine because you've lost some weight but you've been trying to lose weight.
EDWARDS: I have.
BLITZER: It hasn't just been as a result of chemotherapy or some of the treatment.
BLITZER: There you are. There are you and your two little kids. This is a really emotional article that is in the People magazine, and in it, one of the most emotional parts which I read deals with the letter you're writing to your kids. Tell us a little bit about this.
EDWARDS: This is actually something I've been writing probably nearly 20 years now. I started writing it after the movie "Terms of Endearment," where the mother knew she was dying and wrote a letter to her children. I thought, "That's a really great idea."
You don't know when your time's going to come and whether you're going to have any warning and it would be a great idea to pass on the things you thought would be important to them.
So I started writing it then long before I knew, of course, of any cancer. And it just tells them the things I hope that they'll know about growing up. I know they'd have their father as a great moral guide, but of course, there's no mother who doesn't want to get her two cents in.
BLITZER: And you're giving them advice about people they should marry, what kind of church they should go to. It's simple things and really serious things.
BLITZER: And your little kids are, what, 9 and 7, the little ones? You have an older daughter who is 25.
EDWARDS: Right, and these were actually written for our older children. They were a little bit older than this, I think maybe, when I started writing it, or maybe not. But I wrote it for children -- Cate now at 25. So it may come in handy for the younger ones and maybe she'll read it, too.
BLITZER: And I was really happy to read in this People magazine article that the new treatment you're going through is not as apparently debilitating as the other treatment when you were first diagnosed with breast cancer.
EDWARDS: No, I still have my hair so that's a good sign, and I'm not -- it doesn't exhaust me in any way. That's also great news. I can campaign.
BLITZER: And the pills are really, really little. EDWARDS: Yes, they're very, very tiny, I was saying, and they're yellow, actually. And so I was kind of thinking I needed a serious color pill if I was going to have a serious disease. But I have a little, tiny yellow pill to take.
BLITZER: Because people think of chemotherapy, they think of IVs and sitting in a chair for a long period of time and going through this painful, arduous process, but it's a lot different now.
EDWARDS: My doctors have said that you don't have to have terrible side effects to have good effects. You know, we always think no pain, no gain and that doesn't actually apply in this case.
BLITZER: But you're doing well and you can combine your family life, obviously, and also campaigning.
EDWARDS: Absolutely. I spent the previous two days at a wedding with the children here for a couple of days, back home for the last days of their school, and then when they're through with school they'll be on the road with John and with me.
BLITZER: The little ones, Emma Claire, 9, and Jack, 7...
BLITZER: You're going to homeschool them during this coming year. Tell us a little bit about that.
EDWARDS: Well, I actually thought about homeschooling my children in some subjects before, my older set of children. But this time we have an opportunity to let them travel, to see the country, to go it to historical sites as we travel and to be with us and just to home school them for a short period of time.
We're going to get someone to travel with us, too, because honestly I'm not capable of teaching them science and math. I know how to do fourth grade science and math, I just don't know how to teach it in an effective way. So we're going to get someone to help us with those things.
BLITZER: Which makes a lot of sense. All right. Let's talk a little bit about some of the issues in the campaign, if that's OK with you.
BLITZER: Here is what Rudy Giuliani said of your husband's comments the other day about the war on terror. And let me read it to you. He said, "When you go so far as to suggest that the global war on terror is a bumper sticker or slogan, it makes the point that I've been making over and over again, that the Democrats, or at least some of them, are in denial."
Explain to our viewers what your husband, John Edwards, meant by that statement that the global war on terrorism is a bumper sticker or slogan but it's not really serious. EDWARDS: If you think of the global war on terror, it's very big words, and it creates a very large frame. What happened to us on September 11, 2001, was we were attacked by a discreet group with a discreet leader on whom we had focused a lot of attention at first and when we focused attention on him, this is what we were doing. We were going to Afghanistan. We were routing the Al Qaida from its locations, we were suppressing the Taliban and establishing a free, elected government in Afghanistan.
When we got a larger frame, the global war on terror, we lost our focus and since then, we haven't accomplished what we needed. We haven't finished the job. We needed a laser and the global war on terror, that huge language, is a sledgehammer that allows us -- what it really has done, if you think about it and the Pentagon will tell you the same thing, is it took that sledgehammer and whammed it against Al Qaida.
It splintered every place, and instead of this vertically integrated terrorist group against us, now we have lots of splinters, much harder to contain, much harder to deal with. We're going to find them periodically as they act, as the splinters that call themselves Al Qaida and the ones that do not, we're going to find them as we have with the JFK plot. But we've created a much more difficult situation to contain.
BLITZER: But just to be precise, Senator Edwards believes there are terrorists out there who hate the United States...
BLITZER: ... who hate Americans and want to see them dead.
EDWARDS: He absolutely does. He just thinks the frame is so large that it doesn't allow us the narrow focus we need and, in addition, becomes this -- if you think of it as a picture into which you can stick everything as we stick -- "Yes, we can torture because we have the global war on terror. Yes, we can excuse our failure to follow the Geneva Conventions because we have the global war on terror. Yes, we can spy on Americans because we have the global war on terror."
It becomes a great, big excuse for things when we really need a laser to go after the terrorists that are clearly there and we clearly need to route out.
BLITZER: The political consultant, Bob Shrum, he's got a new book out entitled "No Excuses," and he used to work for Senator Edwards.
EDWARDS: He did.
BLITZER: And then he went to work for Senator John Kerry's campaign, split, in effect, with your husband, but he's got some really nasty things he's written in there about Senator Edwards, and I'm sure you've spoken to your husband about it. What does he think about what Shrum is saying? EDWARDS: Well, John has not actually read the things that Bob Shrum said about John. I have read them and I have to say I'm enormously disappointed. As far as I can tell, there's not a single passage that is accurate.
BLITZER: Let me read to you...
EDWARDS: I'll be happy to. Sure.
BLITZER: ... one example of what Bob Shrum writes. He says, "The consensus view from both the foreign policy experts and the political operatives was that even though Edwards was on the Intelligence Committee," -- the Senate Intelligence Committee -- "he was too junior in the Senate; he didn't have the credibility to vote against the resolution. To my continuing regret, I said he had to be for it. He was the candidate and if he really was against the war, it was up to him to stand his ground. He didn't."
Because he was referring to the vote in October of 2002, in favor of the resolution authorizing President Bush to go to war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Is Shrum right about that?
EDWARDS: Can I tell you what really happened?
EDWARDS: There was a meeting on teacher tenure issues at our house that a number of people were at, and Bob Shrum was one of the people who came. He always liked to come to policy, thinks he's very interested in policy, and he always wanted to express his opinion.
At that meeting, which was entirely about education, at some point in the discussion, Bob Shrum -- I don't know whether Bob Shrum was the one who brought it up, but Iraq became a topic of conversation. It was not the purpose of the meeting. There were no foreign policy consultants there or advisers of any kind in the room because it was an education meeting.
And Bob Shrum said that John Kerry had hurt himself by voting against Iraq once and that John couldn't. At that meeting, another person who -- I'm going to let him speak for himself -- another person who is an economist, spoke out against the Iraq war. John was not -- this was not why he was there. John was disinterested in it.
I was also -- in addition to being at that meeting, I was also at a meeting later where John really did have the foreign policy advisers there, people who had worked previously in the State Department, worked in the National Security Council.
He was listening to what they said because that meant he was getting information from George Tenet, but also getting information from people who had worked in the Clinton administration. Those two pieces of information jibed, and though John was not happy with and confident about George Bush, he was convinced that if he was getting it from the Bush administration and the Clinton people thought the same thing, the information was reliable. Unfortunately, it was not, which is why John said the words every woman likes to hear her husband say every once in a while: I was wrong.
BLITZER: And Senator Clinton voted for that resolution as well. She says now if she knew then what she knew now, she wouldn't have. There's another passage, and you were there at this event, and I want your take on this. Shrum writes this. He says: "More troubling was an exchange we had one afternoon as we were throwing around questions and answers in his law firm's conference room. 'What is your position, Mr. Edwards, on gay rights?' I asked. 'I'm not comfortable around those people,' was how he began his answer." You were there...
EDWARDS: I was there.
BLITZER: ... supposedly...
EDWARDS: I was there.
BLITZER: What happened?
EDWARDS: I believe that Bob Shrum brought up the issues of gays and lesbians, and John said, you know, I come from a small southern town, Baptist, you know. As far as I know, I don't know -- this is, I honestly, he said, honestly an abstract issue for me because he said, you know, I don't really know, as far as I know, know any gay people.
You know, so, sort of talk to me about it. And I said, well, actually you do. I referred to a friend of mine from English graduate school and how we had been out -- John and I had been out for the evening. I saw this old friend from English graduate school when we were still in law school, and I went over and spoke to him, and I knew that he was gay, and I said, you know, I'm engaged. And there's the fellow over there I'm engaged to.
And he said, oh, he's awfully cute. I might snake him if he wasn't with you. And I told John that. And this is where he used the word "uncomfortable." He said, that made me feel uncomfortable. So Bob correctly remembers the word "uncomfortable" but incorrectly remembers the circumstances in which he said it. All of us feel uncomfortable at someone snaking us -- I guess in the presence -- trying to snake us in the presence of our fiancee, and that made him feel uncomfortable, and John talked about that.
So he remembers it slightly, but he remembers it incorrectly. From my book, you'll know I remember things very -- in quite good detail from years ago. And I remember this conversation very clearly, and I have talked to John about that, and he does recall exactly the same thing.
BLITZER: Let's end this conversation the way we started it. You've become an inspiration to a lot of people out there, not only women battling breast cancer, but people battling cancer which is taking an incredible toll.
Give people out there a sense of the lessons you've learned, what they need to do now to get through this because, you know, you've been amazing in how you've dealt, at least from what we can see, dealt publicly. And I'm sure there must be rough moments from time to time, but you've really been amazing, at least in your public persona.
EDWARDS: Well, honestly, I don't think of myself as extraordinary, and I have wonderful support. I have an incredibly supportive husband and great friends and family, but what I've found as I've gone around the country is that people who are facing the same diagnosis have also decided they want to live, too.
So if I can be a public face, I want to be a public face for all of those people who are really living the same way and maybe getting instead of criticism, affirmation that we have a right to make all of us, not just me, all of us have a right to make the choice to live. In fact, it's better than giving in.
You talked earlier about my children. This is maybe the best life lesson I will ever teach them. And that is when adversity hits, you have to be strong and do the things you think are important. Do not cave in to adversity.
BLITZER: I think I speak for all of our viewers in the United States and around the world, we wish you only -- only -- the best health. Good luck to you.
EDWARDS: Thank you so much, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in.
EDWARDS: It's always great to be with you.
BLITZER: And still to come here on our special "Late Edition," I'll give you a tour of what's behind the scenes here at the Sullivan Arena, the inside story of how a hockey rink has turned into a debate hall. First, a key question tonight, if not the key question in the entire presidential campaign: Is the future of the U.S. war in Iraq on the line? How will the candidates handle this tough but essential question?
We'll discuss that with some of the best political team on television. And for our North American viewers, "This Week at War" coming up right after "Late Edition." Join Tom Foreman and his guests. That's at 1 p.m. Eastern. Our special "Late Edition" will continue from Manchester, New Hampshire, in just a moment.
BLITZER: Welcome back. We're here on the campus of St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, the site of CNN's presidential debates. The Democrats meet in only a few hours. The Republicans meet on Tuesday.
So with the clock ticking down, we're going to give you a pregame analysis of the Democratic face-off and the Republican debate that's coming up, as I said, on Tuesday. Both will be for two hours live here on CNN without commercial interruption. Joining us now, three of the best political team on television. "American Morning" anchor John Roberts, CNN political correspondent Candy Crowley and CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Take a look at this and, John, we'll start with you. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll that's out nationwide. Registered Democrats, Senator Clinton with 42 percent, Senator Obama 27 percent, Edwards at 11 percent, Biden, everybody else way, way down the list. She's been holding very steadily throughout all of these months.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She has. As Bill was saying in a piece he did this weekend, a lot has changed politically in the last few months, but not much has changed in terms of the order. But when you look at it on the state level, things do change a little bit. For example, John Edwards is running second here in New Hampshire.
And when you take a look -- there's four things that are important, right, in a political race like this. It's money, it's the state polls, it's the local polls, and Edwards is running fairly strong here. So it gives you an idea that even though the national polls may have Obama as the second runner, depending on the momentum that you take out of Iowa and New Hampshire, you may be able to convert that into a win. It all depends -- but still, we're so far out.
BLITZER: Are you surprised, Candy, that Senator Clinton's still holding this considerable lead nationwide among Democrats or independents leaning Democrat?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm not particularly surprised because, again, she's been -- that's where she's been. It would have been much more of a surprise if we'd seen a closing of the gap. And what we have seen is that the gap has sort of steadily increased over time. So, you know, she still has the name. She still has the money. She still gets the media play, so it's not surprising to me.
BLITZER: And take us behind the numbers, Bill. At this early stage, what, six, seven months away from the first ballots actually being tallied, she has that advantage in the nationwide polls, and that translates into some political sport, especially fund-raising.
BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, well, she has, of course, name recognition but it's more than that. There's a certain amount of longing for return to the Clinton administration, certainly among Democrats.
That poll showed something interesting. When Democrats were asked which candidate do you think would be easiest to elect president, Hillary Clinton was way ahead. You hear questions raised sometimes, is she electable? Can she win? Democrats are convinced she can win.
They have questions about Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton they see as electable. They see her as experienced. They remember her husband's administration with great fondness, particularly compared with what they've got now.
So she has a lot of advantages going but she has to win New Hampshire, particularly if she does badly or comes in second, doesn't win Iowa where she is neck and neck with John Edwards. If she loses Iowa, she's got to come here to New Hampshire a week later and she really has to win this state.
BLITZER: Let's take a look, John, look at the Republican field right now in the same Washington Post poll. Giuliani is at 32 percent. McCain at 19 percent. Fred Thompson, who is now in, I think for all practical purposes, even though he hasn't formally done it, 11 percent. Gingrich not in yet, but might be in at 9 percent. Romney at 9 percent. What do you make of these numbers nationwide not poll specific -- state specific but nationwide among registered Republicans?
ROBERTS: It shows that Romney has got a real problem, the fact that he raised so much money and yet he can't get traction is a source of frustration for his campaign. They're trying to figure out what's gone wrong. For example, they're wanting to get together with members of the media here in New Hampshire to sort of talk about the campaign, I think get a bit of a buzz going.
So the fact that McCain and Giuliani are still running very strong bodes well for them. Those numbers haven't changed a whole lot but the fact that Romney is way down now -- and when Fred Thompson gets in the race, an American Research Group poll in Iowa finds that he cuts his lead in half.
So that could be real trouble for the Romney campaign. They could be the ones here on the cusp of the make or break which is why Tuesday night would be so important for them here.
BLITZER: For the Republicans, Fred Thompson, he's hanging over these Republicans. I don't even know what analogy I want to do but it's a major shadow over this debate.
CROWLEY: He is, and the fact of the matter is that Fred Thompson will pull from all of them in some way, shape, or form.
BLITZER: He'll take votes away from all of them.
CROWLEY: Absolutely. I mean, Rudy Giuliani, for instance, is -- who is he? He's the rock star of this campaign. If you go out, there's a lot of energy with Rudy Giuliani. In comes another actual star from TV, so there's that.
With John McCain, this is somebody who has a record virtually identical to John McCain's. He pulls from there and, as John says, he pulls from Romney in the battle for the conservatives.
BLITZER: Take us behind these numbers on the Republican side. Bill, what are you seeing?
SCHNEIDER: I'm seeing, as the Democratic race is becoming a little clearer, the Republican race is becoming more confused. They don't really -- they're not crazy about that long list of candidates. My god, 10 -- with Fred Thompson, 11 -- candidates. They're not happy with their choice. They have problems with the three leading contenders. A lot of them are looking to Fred Thompson as another Ronald Reagan.
Look, Fred Thompson is the candidate who could gain the most on Tuesday night if the field looks weak and Republicans are unhappy and confused. They could long for someone to come in and save the party, or he has the most to lose because if the debate looks great and somebody comes out looking like a star, then a lot of Republicans are going to say, "Well, who needs Fred Thompson?"
BLITZER: A lot of people think Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker, will jump in eventually in a few months, might be too late and maybe not. But listen to what he said earlier today on "Fox News Sunday." Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER: I think the key question is, is somebody prepared to stand up and say that the American people deserve fundamental change in Washington, and to outline a set of those fundamental changes that are big enough that people look up and say, "That's what I want?"
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. What do you think about Newt Gingrich and the prospects -- he's been lately very critical of the White House, of President Bush, of Karl Rove. He's really trying to distance himself, if you will, from some of the sort of bedrock Bush positions.
ROBERTS: Well, he was very clear in that interview this morning. He says, "Look, I'm not criticizing the president," but he definitely is criticizing some of the president's policies and does he look like the sort of guy who is trying to be the leader of another Republican revolution as he was back in 1995? Perhaps so -- 1994, rather. Perhaps so.
Would it be for 2008 or might he hold his powder until 2012 for a run at the presidency? He's giving conflicting signals here. He's teasing people by saying, "Well, maybe I'll get in. Maybe I'll almost certainly get in. Well, no, I won't get in."
So it could be that he's going to take a look at how the field is shaping up and decide whether or not he throws his hat in the ring in the next few weeks or waits and makes a run at the presidency in 2012.
BLITZER: You saw that article in The New Yorker in which he was quoted extensively and he was, I guess, uncompromising in his criticism of the president, specifically on the issue of immigration.
CROWLEY: Absolutely. There's a lot that Newt Gingrich has to say in trying to bring conservatives back together. I thought what was interesting about his appearance this morning is that he also said "Conservatives need to watch this, the Republicans are really going to lose big if they don't galvanize around someone." And what does he say but "Listen, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson could do that. They're strong leaders."
So, again, he's giving that kind of double signal. He's sort of going out there and trying to distance himself and trying to criticize the Bush administration, or at least the Bush government, and then comes out and says, "Oh, listen, Thompson and Giuliani will be fine."
BLITZER: And briefly, Bill, if he does decide to jump in, let's say in September, which is the month, I guess, he's been floating the possibility, who does he hurt and is it too late for him?
SCHNEIDER: Well, theoretically he's supposed to galvanize conservatives who remember him as the man who led them to victory. But, you know, Newt Gingrich is the Republican Party's past -- a distant past, 13 years ago.
They have got to find a candidate who looks like a new, bright future to their party, nobody who is tied to the past and in particular nobody who is latched to the record of the Bush administration.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue this, guys. Stand by. Don't go anywhere. We've got a lot more to talk about including a another political figure hovering over both of these debates. That would be President Bush. We'll get their sense, the best political team on television, what the Bush factor in these debates is all about.
New Hampshire has played a key role in presidential campaigns for decades, as all of our viewers know, and no one knows how people from the granite state think like the actual reporters who cover the state. I'll get the lay of the land from the team who will be with me later today, on Tuesday. They'll be standing by for that.
Stay with us. Our special "Late Edition" will continue right after this.
BLITZER: More of my conversation with John Roberts, Candy Crowley and Bill Schneider -- that's coming up in a moment.
Here's what's coming up for the rest of today right here on CNN. At 5:00 p.m. Eastern, raw politics also with the best political team on television. I'll be there with Lou Dobbs, Anderson Cooper, a pregame look at the Democratic debate, the players, their weaknesses, who is expected to shine and maybe who not.
Then at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, I'll be down on that stage for two full hours. First questions from me, from two veteran local reporters, and then for the first time, the candidates will actually take questions from voters out in the audience. That's coming up at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
And immediately following the debate at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, who won? Who lost? Who scored? Who stumbled? I'll be joining Larry King, Anderson Cooper, John Roberts, the Democratic candidates themselves, another raw politics -- a post debate breakdown. It all starts right here at CNN. We begin our coverage 5:00 p.m. Eastern. This special "Late Edition" live from New Hampshire, we'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're back here in Manchester, New Hampshire, where the stage behind me will soon be filled with eight Democratic candidates for president of the United States.
Joining us right now, John Roberts once again, the anchor of CNN's "American Morning, our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley and our senior political analyst Bill Schneider.
John, Iraq is clearly going to be hovering over this debate and the Republican debate Tuesday night. It is the key issue right now facing American voters. Plenty of other issues, as we all know. The Democrats tonight are going to be defending their respective votes, at least those who had to vote, on the issue of funding the war. I want to play a few clips right now, Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, and Senator Biden.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: Because the president will not change course, and so we are doing everything we can to persuade him to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I understand why my colleagues had a tough time on it, but I couldn't in good conscience say we are just going to continue on a course that is not working.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., D-DEL.: I know what the right political vote was but some things just aren't worth it, Wolf. I'm not running to president to get the nomination by any cost. I think we were wrong to cut the funding off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He was the only one in Congress who voted for the funding to continue, even though Senator Biden is a fierce critic of the president's strategy. How do you think this is all going to play out?
ROBERTS: I think that it's going to help Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the primary campaign, because they are right in line with where the base is on the Iraq war. Joe Biden, he's the Iraq war expert in the Democratic Party. He might be able to -- that might sort of soften the idea that he voted for the funding. And he's correct. He says unless they get 17 more votes, they're never going to be able to pass that bill anyway.
Where it might hurt Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is in the general election. Remember what happened to John Kerry in 2004 when President Bush beat him relentlessly over the head with this idea that he voted for the $87 billion and then voted against it.
If you can say -- if you can make the case Democrats are voting against the troops, which is what I'm sure any Republican candidate would do, then you're potentially vulnerable. But in terms of where they are in the primary campaign, I think that vote probably helps them out.
BLITZER: As much as they have to look ahead to the general election, Candy, it doesn't make any difference if they don't get the party's nomination.
CROWLEY: That's right. It's about New Hampshire, it's about Iowa, it's about South Carolina and beyond. I mean, this is something that is really interesting because you do have both of the candidates, Obama and Clinton, on the record saying, "Well, we're not going to cut funding. That's not an option." So you do have them in what, obviously, is some sort of conflict.
The Republicans have already gone after them, and John McCain in particular, the fiercest war supporter on the Republican side, so -- but the general election right now might as well be in the next century. This is all about Iowa and New Hampshire.
BLITZER: I suspect that we're going to be hearing a lot of the Democrats later today bashing President Bush as opposed to Tuesday when I think the Republicans are by and large going to try to avoid mentioning President Bush.
What's your sense, Bill?
SCHNEIDER: President Who? You're going to hear that from the Republican platform. They don't want to talk about Bush. Bush doesn't exist. If they're forced to, they may talk a little about him. But the answer is, they want to go on. They want to talk about the future, or at least if they're smart they do.
That's one of the problems they have. John McCain is sort of wrapped around the Bush record on Iraq. Now he's connected to the president on immigration, an issue which drives conservatives crazy and it's hurting him.
What the Republicans want to do and what the Democrats want to do, too, is talk about the future. They have got to talk about where we're going to go. So far in this campaign, it looks like the Republicans want to rerun the 2004 race, which they won by stressing the war on terror and the Democrats want to rerun their last victory, the 2006 race, which is all about Iraq. Well, you know, 2008 it's going to be about something else probably. BLITZER: Speaking of immigration, I want to read to you what Peggy Noonan wrote on Friday in the Wall Street Journal. She said -- she is a former Republican speechwriter, as you remember -- "What conservatives and Republicans must recognize is that the White House has broken with them. What President Bush is doing and has been doing for some time is sundering a great political coalition." She is, obviously, referring to immigration but other issues play into this as well.
ROBERTS: Conservatives are very upset about two things. First of all, they're upset about the immigration bill which they do not like at all. Secondly, they're upset about the fact that President Bush, when he was down in Georgia earlier last week, almost painted opponents of this bill, even if they were on the Republican side, as unpatriotic.
And that's got a lot of them really, really hot under the collar and they think that's a mistake for the president to make that sort of a claim because who is going to save the president on this if not the base of his own party?
So there's a real schism growing here in the Republican Party over this immigration issue and certainly it's going to hurt President Bush. Will that linger and hurt the Republican Party in 2008? It's possible it could.
BLITZER: What do you think? I haven't seen the Republicans in this much disarray, Candy, in awhile.
CROWLEY: It is and, you know, part of it is that they have a president in the White House that's a lame duck, essentially. So they all have to begin breaking away from him.
He, of course, has an alternate route which is that he wants this immigration bill in part for legacy, although they say, "Look, this is the right thing to do and why he's doing it."
But in essence, this is his last best chance to have something major legislatively in this second term. So they're on this sort of collision course to begin with and, you know, at the moment it's showing up everywhere.
BLITZER: All right, guys. We've got to leave it right there. Bill Schneider, as usual, you're not going anywhere. You'll be here. Candy will be here.
You'll be anchoring "American Morning" for the next three days from here, right?
ROBERTS: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, yes.
BLITZER: 6:00 a.m. Eastern until 9:00 a.m. Eastern. John Roberts...
ROBERTS: Good luck tonight.
BLITZER: Thank you very much. You'll be working with -- all of us will be working all night. Thanks, guys, very much.
Up next, the Iraqi president warning of the possible consequences of U.S. troops withdrawing from Iraq. Hear what he had to say in our "In Case You Missed It" segment. "Late Edition's" Sunday morning talk show roundup.
And if you missed any of our show today, by the way, you can download our new and improved video podcast. Just go to CNN.com/podcast and click on the link for "Late Edition."
We'll have much more of our special "Late Edition" coverage from Manchester, New Hampshire, including a backstage tour of the Sullivan Arena here, usually a place for hockey, but now the center of the race for the White House. And I'll promise you this: I'll try to refrain from making any jokes about candidates being on thin ice. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: And now in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. On ABC's "This Week," the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, reacted to the possibility that U.S. troops might withdraw if benchmarks are not met by the Iraqis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JALAL TALABANI, PRESIDENT OF IRAQ: I think they have right to worry, but withdrawing forces without achieving success, it will be in my opinion against the national interests of the United States and the Iraqi people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: On "Fox News Sunday," The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, discussed his Monday meeting with Iranian diplomats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: What I heard in those talks was a clear statement from the Iranians that they seek a stable, secure, democratic Iraq that does not threaten its neighbors and is able to control its own territory. That's a good policy. It's very similar to ours. The problem is what the Iranians are doing on the ground.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And on CBS's "Face the Nation," the New York City police commissioner, Ray Kelly, revealed more details of the foiled alleged plot to blow up fuel tanks at JFK Airport.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": Were they really close to pulling off something very dangerous? RAYMOND KELLY, NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: Well, when you say close, it's difficult to say. You're not certain what it's going to morph into. But what they did do is visit Kennedy Airport on several occasions, take films of the airport. They were meeting with people, discussing a plot, so it was a lot of manifestation of their intention to commit a terrorist act. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk. We're going to take a quick break right now.
Then I'm going to give you a preview behind the scenes of what's going on down on the podium right now, only hours before the debate. We'll also be speaking with three political pros here in New Hampshire, my debate partners for tonight and Tuesday.
And coming up right at the top of the hour for our North American viewers, "This Week at War" takes a closer look at how the political campaign is affecting the war in Iraq.
Stay with us. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition." We're live here in New Hampshire. We're getting ready for tonight's debate. The Democratic candidates will be here on this stage tonight, 7 p.m. Eastern. The Republicans have a turn Tuesday, same time. The debates, by the way, are special in that they're a mix of moderated debate with a traditional New Hampshire-style town hall meeting.
Let me show you what's going to be happening later tonight and also on Tuesday. During the first hour, the candidates are going to be standing here, all eight of them, behind their respective little podiums. I'm going to be out there together with two excellent reporters from New Hampshire. We're going to be asking all of these candidates questions and at the same time, as we ask them the questions, I'll be following up, and we'll allow the candidates themselves to react to the respective statements made by the other candidates.
That's the first hour or so, all of these sort of rough, approximate times. The second hour, we'll remove those podiums. The eight candidates are all going to be seated here in these little red chairs. There will be out there in the audience maybe 100, 150 or so individuals, registered Democrats, all New Hampshire voters who have gathered. A lot more people will be beyond them. They'll have a chance to stand up and ask a question themselves, and then I'll be able to follow up.
We'll be able to get some of the other candidates to respond to what they're saying. That will basically take up the second hour or so. All of this will be done, all of this will be done without commercial interruption. Our hope is that when all is said and done, you'll have a little bit better understanding of who these candidates are, what their thoughts are, what they're planning on doing if they were elected president of the United States.
And then we'll do the same thing Tuesday, 7 p.m. Eastern, when ten Republican candidates will be joining us here as well. Coming up, we're going to speak to three of the best political reporters right here in New Hampshire and get a sense of what this state means in the overall campaign.
BLITZER: Much more of our special coverage on this special "Late Edition" right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition." We're live here at the Sullivan Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire. The countdown getting closer, only a little bit more than six hours before the Democrats take the stage, face questions from a live audience as well as from some reporters.
Working with me tonight and on the Republican debate Tuesday night, three of the best in this state. WMUR political director Scott Spradling, WMUR anchor Jennifer Vaughn, and Tom Fahey of the New Hampshire Union Leader.
Guys, thanks very much. It's been a pleasure getting to know all three of you over the past, what, 24 hours or so. But good to have you.
How important are these two debates, Scott, for the voters in New Hampshire?
SCOTT SPRADLING, WMUR-TV: I think they're very important, Wolf. This is the kickoff really to the New Hampshire primary process. A lot of people have been watching closely already. We've had candidates making numerous visits.
This is their first shot in New Hampshire with New Hampshire folks grilling them on the issues to really get a sense of where the distinctions are and how they can start laying out decisions as they go forward to January.
BLITZER: Do people here in New Hampshire understand that not only all of America but the whole world potentially could be watching? We're going to be simulcast not only on CNN but CNN International going out to more than 240 countries.
JENNIFER VAUGHN, WMUR-TV: Not only do they understand that, they relish that. This is a tradition that goes back generations and you have voters here that have developed opinions but they've developed those opinions because they ask insightful questions and they probe these candidates because these candidates come to them and they actually shake their hand.
And they sit down next to them at the coffee shop so they get to know them and a lot of the decision that the New Hampshire voters make is based on personal perception of each particular candidate. BLITZER: But given the front loading of all these other primaries that are coming up, Tom, do these candidates have that opportunity to engage in what's called retail politics here? Are you seeing it as much this time as you have in earlier elections?
TOM FAHEY, NEW HAMPSHIRE UNION LEADER: Yes, I think we are and I think it's happening earlier than ever. And they realize that this is their chance to do the retail stuff, because once New Hampshire is over they've got 19, 20 states to hit in the course of two or three weeks, that whole front loading effect that's happened where there are a lot of states going on...
BLITZER: They are spending a lot of time here.
FAHEY: A whole lot of time.
BLITZER: Iowa, South Carolina, a lot other states. The most recent poll we had, Scott, in New Hampshire, this American Research Group poll, had Clinton in this state at 34 percent, Edwards 18 percent, Obama at 15, Richardson at 9 percent, everybody else way, way down. It looks like she's doing remarkably well in New Hampshire.
SPRADLING: I think even in New Hampshire some of those polls are more of a name ID type of a poll. People know that Senator Clinton very well and it's also, I think, a reflection of organization, because the senator's organization in New Hampshire right now is very good.
And the other Democrats are keeping track and trying to keep up. And I think tonight will be a lot about the lower-tier candidates, someone, trying to break through and be included in the Edwards-Obama- Clinton tier.
BLITZER: She's been very visible in New Hampshire. How is she received generally. Because early on, we heard Barack Obama was received like a rock star here at big crowds. How has she been received?
VAUGHN: Hillary Clinton I think along the same lines as Barack Obama, certainly drawing the big crowds, getting a lot of interest. But the interesting thing, too, and I think it is, in large part, specific to New Hampshire that Hillary Clinton must be prepared to answer some tough questions when she comes here. Certainly the big crowds are here but with the big crowd comes the big questions.
BLITZER: Let's take a look at the Republican candidates, the field in the same American Research Group poll.
Tom, McCain is at 30 percent, Romney 23 percent, Giuliani is not even a candidate, 21 percent. Everybody else way, way down. How competitive is this Republican field?
FAHEY: Well, I think among those three you mentioned, it's very competitive. But, you know, It's still very early and this state has a history of coming up with last-minute changes to these standings. So there are a lot of candidates out there who could make a late rush.
BLITZER: I may have misread that: McCain at 30 percent, Romney at 23 percent, Giuliani at 21 percent, and Gingrich at 4 percent. This poll showing the top three. What do you think, though, the Fred Thompson impact will be on that Republican contest? He's going to be formally joining this campaign in the next few days.
FAHEY: Right. I think tomorrow there will be an announcement about an exploratory committee. I'm sure they're all looking over their shoulders at the prospect of Fred Thompson entering the race, and that's just going to make Tuesday even more critical for them to perform well and distinguish themselves from this crowd of 10 that they now make up.
BLITZER: What do people say here, Scott, when the criticism comes in saying why should this small state, that is, what, 96 percent or 97 percent of 98 percent white really have this inordinate impact on who becomes president of the United States, if not reflective of the country as a whole and certainly not reflective of the Democratic Party?
SPRADLING: I think the response is, it is retail politics, like you were mentioning before, and it's the level of involvement and engagement that the voters have. We have percentage of turnout for New Hampshire primaries that are unlike anything you see around the country, 80-plus percent. In the 2004 New Hampshire presidential primary, the equivalent of one out of every three men, women, and children in the state cast a ballot.
We're a small state, 1.3 million -- 400,000 ballots were cast. It's high energy. It's in the trenches, like Jen said. It's a very personal relationship between the candidate and the voter and it is very much done in the living rooms across the state of New Hampshire. It's very intimate.
BLITZER: You have a unique role tonight, Jennifer. Tell our viewers what you're going to be doing?
VAUGHN: I'm going to be with the people, I'm going to be with the voters. I think we'll hear a lot of thoughtful, important questions, things that are on the minds of the voters. I think we might hear some personal stories about why they're here tonight. And I think we might gain a sense of what the people are really looking to hear from the candidates before they make some decisions. This is an important night.
BLITZER: We're going to have a lot of excitement, a lot of fun tonight, Tuesday night. Guys, thanks very much. Looking forward to working closely with all three of you. It's been a pleasure getting to know all of you. Thanks very much, guys.
That's it for this special "Late Edition" for this Sunday, June 3. In about four hours or so, CNN will be back with raw politics, bringing you the best pre- and post-game analysis of the debate. Our own Larry King, Anderson Cooper, John Roberts, the rest of the best political team on television will all be here and, of course, my colleagues and I will be down on that stage at 7:00 p.m. Eastern tonight with the Democratic presidential candidates taking questions from voters for the first time.
You just heard Jennifer explain what's going to happen. All of that, only here on CNN. Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Manchester, New Hampshire. For our international viewers, stand by for world news. For those of you in North America, "This Week at War" with Tom Foreman starts now -- Tom.
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