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Governor Mitt Romney Wins Michigan Primary

Aired January 16, 2008 - 00:00   ET


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: What, if anything, surprised you tonight, Wolf?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I thought that, obviously, Romney had a win tonight and he did win, he came through. I think I was surprised by the relatively poor performance of John McCain. I thought that he would do a little bit better in Michigan. I didn't necessarily think he was going to win but I didn't think he would lose by as much as he did lose.

And I was pretty surprised also that Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson did worse than Ron Paul in Michigan. You would have thought that Rudy Giuliani...

L. KING: The name alone.

BLITZER: Yes, the name alone and 9/11 coming out of New York City in the north and a state like Michigan, he would have done better than he did. He's really putting all of his eggs right now in the Florida basket. We'll see if that works

L. KING: What surprised you, John?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The size of the margin. Romney had a very big win and McCain did not do well among Republicans. Not as many Democrats and independents were in the race this time. That perhaps, though, to be expected because the Democratic race didn't count. So they weren't coming out to vote anyway so they weren't -- not as much mischief. And Romney organization and resources matter in politics. He is from that state. The Romney name is a brand. So you can write it off to, oh gee, he had to win this state, it was the right choice on him. But this is a trouncing for John McCain. And the question, Larry, is: how does it impact the psychology of South Carolina.

L. KING: John, were you surprised that the numbers never moved all night, from 1 percent of the vote?

J. KING: In essence when you have a sweeping win like that, the numbers hold.

BLITZER: Except in New Hampshire with Hillary Clinton.

L. KING: (INAUDIBLE), but yes.

J. KING: Yes. When you're winning, you're winning. A very close race. You go to this county, that county, maybe look at the city, other suburbs running different from exurbs, this was -- Mitt Romney won, across the Republican Party of Michigan, he won pretty consistently all across the state with very few exceptions.

L. KING: Ari Fleischer, do you share Wolf's view? This was a bad night for McCain. Are you surprised that he did poorly?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: Well, John McCain has returned to a fundamental problem that doomed his candidacy in 2000, and that is he's not winning among Republicans, Larry. That's his problem. John in 2000 had this wonderful excitement. He captured Independents and Democrats so they turned out and grows and participated in the Republican primary in Michigan in 2000. Not this year. Republicans predominated. They won -- they voted in their own primary and that's why John didn't do well.

John still hasn't satisfied that -- cleared that hurdle in 2008. Can he win among Republicans? So far the answer is no. He's won among squish Republicans, I would argue, in New England but outside that region, he has yet to show any strength.

L. KING: Laura Schwartz, what do the Democrats, in your opinion, take from this Republican primary in Michigan?

LAURA SCHWARTZ, FORMER SPECIAL ASST. TO PRES. CLINTON: Well, they take from this set -- you know, Mitt Romney tonight during his speech in Michigan talked about change, optimism, fighting the Washington machine, which is traditionally a Democratic message. And that you're hearing on the Democratic side from Barack Obama, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton is even trying to fight the change of her own Washington.

So you see a lot of Republicans responding by using that message of change because it's testing well with the American people. So you're going to see folks like Barack Obama, Hillary and John Edwards really hunker down, talk about policy, and not just talk about the change they hope to enact, but they're going to make that happen, because that's going to be the defining line on the Democratic side.

And if I could just mention, Larry, it was also a great night for Rudy Giuliani because if John McCain would have won Michigan, it really would have split Rudy's vote with the independents. So he's still feeling good about Florida but he's a long way from getting the nomination.

BLITZER: He came in this sort of pitiful showing in Michigan so it's hard to see how it could be a good night in Michigan for Rudy Giuliani. But I think the point that Laura is making is a fair is Laura is making is a fair point. If somebody else, let's say, like John McCain or Mike Huckabee would have won in Michigan, it would have undermined Rudy Giuliani's so-called Florida strategy.

L. KING: John -- go ahead, so sorry.

J. KING: It will be interesting to see if Governor Romney sticks with this message going forward. He started off trying to appeal to social conservatives. Many said he was not genuine in doing that. That was his campaign in Iowa. Now he was running as the Massachusetts governor who had to deal with a Democratic legislature saying, "I can get things done. I'll reach across the aisle."

But it was condemnation, not just of John McCain. He ran in the state of Michigan saying Washington has failed you, the state with the highest unemployment rate, he was saying a Republican president has failed you, too, Larry, not just the Congress but a Republican president failed the state of Michigan on the economy. It will be interesting as you go south into places where George W. Bush is still very popular, will he continue to say a Republican president failed you. That's a tough message to sell at a Republican primary.

BLITZER: He kept saying that Washington is broken, the government is broken. Well, the last seven years, there's been a Republican president of the United States of the White House. And so that's a damning indictment of the current president.

L. KING: What do you make, John, of him leaving out George W. Bush in his victory statement, mentioning Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush?

J. KING: I think I'm about to have to disagree with Ari Fleischer on this point because I don't think it was any accident at all. Especially in the northern industrial states George W. Bush is not popular. So in the state of Michigan, Mitt Romney knew exactly what he was doing. But all of the Republicans are dancing...

FLEISCHER: John is absolutely right.

J. KING: All of the Republicans are dancing on what to do with President Bush right now. And it's a very tough one for them because you have an incumbent Republican president who, in his conservative slice of the Republican Party, is still quite popular. And Larry, let's -- we saw how it played in Michigan. Let's see how it plays in South Carolina, a very pro-military state.

L. KING: And Ari, you're saying John is right?

FLEISCHER: Yes, John -- Larry, since we've -- on the last show you had, you asked me why Mitt Romney said George H.W. Bush, not George W. Bush. I said I thought it was a mistake. I got in touched of one of Romney's top aides and he told me it was not a mistake. It's not a slight to George W. But when Mitt Romney cites Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

L. KING: So he has done that before then?

FLEISCHER: That's correct. That's what the Romney people have told me. He meant to say it and he said it the way he wanted to say it. It was not a mistake.

L. KING: Ari, is this all some sort of a mish-mash for want of a better term? We have Romney winning, what, Wyoming? He wins Wyoming and Michigan, and McCain wins New Hampshire, and Huckabee wins Iowa. Where are we? FLEISCHER: Larry, this Republican race is wide open and I believe it will remain wide open at least through February 5th. I think South Carolina is not going to be the determinative state it usually is because it will be essentially a four-man jumble between Huckabee, Thompson, Romney and McCain. Each one of them has the ability to do relatively close, relative well. So I don't see you getting any propulsion out of South Carolina.

Then you go to the crucial state of Florida. Republicans are searching, Larry. Republicans are searching for who they like most. They haven't decided who that is yet. Highly unusual for a party that's very well-organized. We always know who's on the deck circle. This year, we have no idea.

L. KING: Laura, there are less, but are the Democrats in the same boat?

SCHWARTZ: Yes, they are, Larry, because it's so close from Iowa to New Hampshire. And now we're going to see if Barack Obama is going to have a bounce from Iowa that can last into Nevada. It's rumored that tomorrow that the "Las Vegas Review-Journal" is planning on endorsing him. But Hillary is doing very well in that state. So I don't think either side can take anything for granted, which I think is wonderful. We have a race here, a real, genuine race on the Republican side, on the Democratic side.

And I want to see them campaign hard. I want them to talk about the issues and really give people some real answers and how they're going to institute the changed. So I think this is great for democracy.

L. KING: Wolf, that paper is the clout paper in the state. If they endorse Obama tomorrow, that's something, I think.

BLITZER: Yes. I think he -- as important as newspaper endorsements are, I think when the culinary union endorsed Barack Obama in Nevada...

L. KING: That was more important.

BLITZER: That was a lot more important because they've got thousands and thousands of members who could actually go out and not only vote but bring out the vote. So newspaper endorsements are nice. You want to have them but I'm not sure -- necessarily convinced that they have that much of an impact.

L. KING: Is he favored in Nevada?

J. KING: You know, Hillary Clinton was favored early on. But now I think it's pretty much a dead heat. She has the support of Senator Harry Reid's son in the state, most of the Democratic establishment. He now has some of the labor unions. Senator Edwards has some of the labor unions.

It's very interesting. On the issues, the Democrats are largely united. But their party is fractured, too, in terms of the African- American groups, the labor unions groups, some of the women's groups. So structurally, they're fractured in terms of the people who turn out votes, which is interesting. They're not as fractured on the issues as the Republicans are. But this is the reason why the big answer tonight when you say who's going to win is I don't know.

L. KING: We're going to take a break and be back with our panel. Lots more to come on this live edition of LARRY KING LIVE, live midnight edition, 9:00 in the Pacific Time zone. Don't go away.


MITT ROMNEY (R), 2008 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Is Washington, D.C. broken?


ROMNEY: Can it be fixed?


ROMNEY: Are we the team that's going to get the job done?


ROMNEY: All right. Let's take this campaign to South Carolina and Nevada and Florida and all over the country. Let's take it all the way to the White House.


ANNOUNCER: LARRY KING LIVE brought to you by...


L. KING: Welcome back.

Our panel of Wolf Blitzer, John King, Ari Fleischer and Laura Schwartz is now joined by Roland Martin, the nationally syndicated columnist and radio host and CNN contributor, a valuable edition, by the way, to CNN. I salute your being aboard.


L. KING: Roland, what's your read on tonight?

MARTIN: What? The debate, Michigan, which one do you want?

L. KING: Michigan.

MARTIN: First of all, Romney desperately needed this. He needed to win a state that he was expected to win. I guess (INAUDIBLE) mention going into the southern states. Everybody sort of has a test. And so I think for him, how is he going to win a southern state? How is he going to play in the south? Strong economy there in Michigan. Things set him up well in South Carolina because they have economic problems as well. And so McCain stalled his momentum. But again, South Carolina, here's your military state. He should play well there as well.

L. KING: No clear leader then?

MARTIN: Absolutely not. Now remember, no one's running from the White House. I mean we are so used to somebody, president or vice president, running from the White House, being able to have a natural transition from one part to the next. So it is wide open. It reminds me of '92 for the Democrats. I remember I was talking about, man, who was the Democratic nominee? You had Clinton, you had Biden, and all these different people, sort of reminds me of that same sort of race. You never know who's really going to connect with the voter. Somebody who wins two or three and all of a sudden just takes off.

L. KING: Do you think we could go to St. Paul and Denver with no clear leader?

MARTIN: I think it's a strong possibility. This is the weirdest campaign on the Democratic side. I think that's why John Edwards is sort of staying in the race, because he is looking at the delegate count and so, "OK. How can I potentially be a king-maker, being able to sort of drive some of my delegates there as well?" That's what's -- it's so fascinating. We just don't know what in the world is going on. And so it's just wonderful.

L. KING: Do you see that happening? Is it possible?

BLITZER: I think it's possible. It's certainly possible that there's nobody emerges of February 5th Super Tuesday when you have some 20 or 25 states with various contests in the real driver's seat basically on the Republican side, let's say, divided up a lot of those delegates and the Democratic side as well. So it's possible this thing might not be resolved on February 5th and could go on and on until the end of August.

L. KING: Which you would love, right, John?

J. KING: Sure, as a story, you would love it. I still think at some point it will break because at some point most races break. But throw all the rules out. The Republicans haven't had a race like this since '76. Even then that was two guys. It was Ford and Reagan. Now, and still, we don't know here. And if you want any calculation, any evidence that the campaigns think it's a who-knows-what's-going- to-happen, delegate chase now, Mitt Romney wins Michigan tonight.

The next contest is South Carolina. You would think it's a big state. It's the traditional, as Ari said, the Republican firewall state. You win the first southern primary, then you're the Republican candidate. What's he going to do? He's only putting up modest TV buys and he's going there for a day and a half and then he's going to Nevada, because he thinks he can win Nevada. He's not sure he can win South Carolina. He wants the delegates out of Nevada and he'll take second or third in South Carolina, because he believes this is about numbers, not about momentum. Normally it's about momentum. You win two or three of the early ones, they all think it's about numbers.

L. KING: Ari Fleischer, do you think we could have bartered conventions?

FLEISCHER: Unlikely, Larry. I think if you just look at modern history, it happens so seldom. That's, of course, a wonderful parlor game. Everybody likes to speculate about it. Ultimately and after time and the primaries go on in February and in March, don't forget, it whittles the field down. So I do think it's going to be unlikely to happen in any type of bartered convention.

L. KING: Laura?

SCHWARTZ: It's an interesting thing that Ari brings up because we do continue with a few more primaries after February 5th, this new super duper Tuesday. And I think that John Edwards is in it for the long haul. I mean there's a lot to be said about being the king-maker of the party. He's still getting some good drive. He's still bringing in the money. But I think what you're going to see is candidates on both sides of the aisle really competing for that free air time, especially when you look at folks like Huckabee and John McCain that really need to bring more money into their campaign.

I mean, Romney, he's got a ton of bucks, right? But he needs this momentum so let's see how long he can carry this through.

L. KING: Yes.

Wolf, what if Huckabee wins South Carolina?

BLITZER: It will be good for him. Then he's going to have to prove himself...

L. KING: But then the ball bounces more.

BLITZER: Yes. I remember -- and both Ari and Laura make excellent points that we think it's all over in terms of the primary schedule February 5th. But there are -- more primaries throughout February, March and even April. You know, there are primaries that people will have to pay attention to in terms of delegates. So this process is going to go on. We could working late, go to live midnight for a while.

MARTIN: Larry, let me add...

L. KING: Roland?

FLEISCHER: I already made it strange. We're seeing...

L. KING: Hold on a second, Ari. Roland?

MARTIN: I already said modern history, you cannot take modern history in this campaign. On the Democratic side, you have a woman, you have African-American, you have, on the Republican side, a Mormon, an evangelical, doesn't have much money, but he went to state. We have Giuliani who waits on in Florida. I mean, there's nothing traditional about this campaign.

L. KING: Yes. Well-said. MARTIN: So I won't depend on modern history.

L. KING: Ari, well-said, wasn't it?

FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not sure because of people's faith it makes it non -- such a different race. But here's what fascinates me as a former strategist who worked on campaigns. On February 5th, Larry, 21 Republican states go to vote. And that means these leading contenders are going to write off good chunks of America. You won't see Mike Huckabee in Connecticut, New York or New Jersey. I don't think you'll see anybody there other than Rudy Giuliani.

You're going to have this divide-and-conquer strategy on February 5th because they can't possibly campaign on all the places. No money, no organization. The only thing they got is their bodies and their time. That's kind of a return to the old ways, isn't it? There's something refreshing about this cycle, too.

L. KING: Candy Crowley, CNN senior political correspondent, was in Las Vegas tonight for the Democratic debate and we'll get her look at that right after this.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), 2008 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For a minute in New Hampshire I thought this campaign might be getting easier. But you know what? We've gotten pretty good at doing things the hard way, too, and I think we've shown them we don't mind a fight. We don't mind a fight and we're in it.



L. KING: We're back. Let's head to Las Vegas for CNN's senior political correspondent Candy Crowley who covered the Democratic Party debate tonight.

What happened, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POL. CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me -- just a little backdrop here first, Larry.

For the past week or so, the Clinton and Obama campaigns have been going at each other over the issue of race, whether Hillary Clinton diminished the role of Martin Luther King and civil rights legislation in a statement she made, whether Bill Clinton was belittling Barack Obama's resume, whether the Obama campaign was pushing the race issue to try to get a leg up in South Carolina.

Yesterday, both campaigns sort of called a truce, largely because party regulars were really beginning to worry that this was maybe making some lasting damage within the party.

Well, tonight, here in Las Vegas, that truce held up. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), 2008 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that what's most important is that Senator Obama and I agree completely that, you know, neither race nor gender should be a part of this campaign. It is Dr. King's birthday. The three of us are here in large measure because his dreams have been realized.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), 2008 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Race has always been an issue in our politics and in this country. But one of the premises of my campaign, and I think of the Democratic Party and I know that John and Hillary have always been committed to racial equality, is that we can't solve these challenges unless we can come together as a people.


CROWLEY: Pretty much the nicest debate I have heard all season long, Larry. Of course, we have these Nevada caucuses coming up Saturday. All the candidates want to put forth their most positive note. But, again, a lot of this was because people within the Democratic Party thought that the nastiness, particularly between Obama and Clinton, was getting a little out of hand and might hurt them in November, Larry.

L. KING: Is that race war over?

CROWLEY: Well, it's over in public for the moment. The problem is, you know, they are moving into, first, Nevada, where, in fact, they expect maybe about 12 percent of registered voters here are Latinos. So there's a minority contingent here. They move into South Carolina where almost half the primary voters are African-American. So while I think the principals seem to have made a commitment, the candidates seemed to have made a commitment to not to get back into this, it is very, very difficult to control your surrogates and it's very difficult to control the pamphlets and the leaflets that come through the mail and over the transom.

L. KING: Following that debate tonight, there was a -- there is a rally at the University of California at Davis. It's called Students for Change, and Bill Clinton is addressing that rally. Let's listen to it a little (INAUDIBLE). This is live right now.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We did not expect so many of you to come tonight. And there are still people outside trying to get in, which is why we're a little late starting. I am so glad to see you. I am so glad to see you. You know, I was just -- I watched the debate tonight in Nevada. I don't know if any of you saw it. But it was really wonderful. It made me proud to be an American and proud to be a Democrat and proud to be in an election -- proud to be in an election where I don't have to be against anybody. I like them all.

And I was talking to Hillary on the way in and I said, "Hillary, there's a line outside this meeting that's four or five football fields long. I don't know how many people are inside." I'm glad to see you. Let me just say a few things, if I can, seriously. The -- it's become almost a slogan and it's a truism that every election is about the future. They always are. This country is the longest- lasting, freely elected society on Earth because all of our elections are about the future.

And if you look around this sea of faces tonight, you see that America is not a race. America is not a creed. America is not even a physical place. America is an idea and you're all a part of it. A long time ago, when this country was set up and only white male property owners could vote, they knew -- they were very smart and they knew that their deal would not last. They said that the permanent mission of America, one to which they pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor, was to form a more perfect union.

And the great challenge of every age and time is how to do that. What does it mean? It's pretty clear in a global interdependent world with America growing ever more diverse, our obligation is to form a more perfect union at home and, insofar as we can, all across the globe. And it is pretty clear what the obstacles to that more perfect union are. We are -- besides president..


L. KING: That's Bill Clinton at the University of California at Davis, a rally tonight called Students for Change, rip-roaring rally.

Candy Crowley, before we wind things up with you, what role is he going to play in all of this? Is he continuing to play a formidable role?

CROWLEY: He does, indeed, play a very big role. Look, Bill Clinton is still the most popular Democrat around. He can, as he mentioned at the top, bring real crowds in. Very interesting that he's in California, a February 5th state, delegate-rich, the biggest delegate pot of all. It is interesting that he is at a university. When they came out of Iowa after that loss to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton said to her staff, "We have to make a bigger pitch to the younger generation," and they have to hit harder the issue of change.

So you see Bill Clinton doing both those things to young people and talking about change. So this is all about the new Clinton campaign coming out of New Hampshire. He is a very big part of it, always has been.

L. KING: Thanks, Candy. Candy Crowley, CNN senior political correspondent, on the scene in Las Vegas at the Democratic Party debate tonight. And we were happy to bring you a portion of President Clinton.

When we come back, a few moments with a key adviser to Mitt Romney and then the rest of the way with our panel. Don't go away.


MCCAIN: Now it's your turn, South Carolina. We're going to fight for your votes. We're going to win this primary and the nomination of our party and we're going to be proud of the way we do it.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), 2008 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As my pastor used to tell me as a little kid, when you're getting kicked in the behind, it proves you're still out front. So we'll probably take a little kicking out here.

ROMNEY: Tonight marks the beginning of a comeback, a comeback for America.



L. KING: With us in Southfield, Michigan, is Kevin Madden, a spokesman for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign. Last time he was with us, he said that Romney would win in Michigan.

So you're not surprised tonight?

KEVIN MADDEN, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: No. We feel very good. Last time you and I spoke, Larry, we were talking about the growing optimism and the growing support that Mitt Romney had. I think Michigan voters tonight really responded to Governor Romney's message of change in Washington. And we're going to take this momentum that we've realized here and we're going to go on to Nevada and on to South Carolina and Florida and February 5th, and on towards the nomination.

This is a -- this was a really good testament to the governor's message really resonating with Republican voters

L. KING: Kevin, with three primaries and three different winners, what do you make of this?

MADDEN: Well, I think right now that there's a certain degree of fluidity to the race. But if you look at all the candidates right now, Governor Romney is the only candidate that can make the case, Larry, that he is appealing across different states and he is appealing on all the issues.

The other candidates, if you look at John McCain and Mike Huckabee, those who have won the other primaries, their only appeal is to those specific states and their only appeal is on certain issues.

Governor Romney represents the full spectrum conservative in this race. And he also represents the one candidate who can appeal to the people in Iowa, to the people of New Hampshire, the people of Wyoming, and then now we have seen tonight, the people of Michigan.

That's why we go on to Nevada and make the case there, and then South Carolina and Florida to do exactly that -- make the case that Governor Romney is the best candidate in this race right now to lead the Republican Party and to really bring change to Washington.

L. KING: Do you think Mormonism will affect him in South Carolina?

MADDEN: Well, look, Larry, I think fundamentally people are motivated by a candidate's positions on the issues. I think when they look at the issue of faith, they look at a candidate and they decide whether or not that candidate shares the same hopes, dreams and aspirations and American values that they do.

And I think that Governor Romney, when he talks about the issues that are important to many social conservatives like those in South Carolina, they look at Governor Romney's position on the issues of marriage and they look at his position on the issue of life and they see that he shares those values, he shares the same hopes and dreams and aspirations that they do for this country. And that's why I think they'll support him in the end.

L. KING: So you're predicting a victory in South Carolina?

MADDEN: Well, I think we'll be very competitive in South Carolina, Larry. Right now, the expectations game is firmly placed on Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson and John McCain, who spent a great deal of time there this week. And of course, there are natural constituencies there for Mike Huckabee and the others.

So we feel we can be very competitive there and we're going to continue to compete across all of these early primary states on towards the nomination.

L. KING: Congratulations, Kevin. Thanks for being with us.

MADDEN: Thanks, Larry, always great to be with you.

L. KING: Kevin Madden, spokesperson for Mitt Romney.

Let's discuss some of the candidates. Wolf Blitzer, what's with Fred Thompson?

BLITZER: Fred Thompson is really throwing all of his eggs in South Carolina right now. He's from Tennessee, which isn't far away from South Carolina. He did come in third in Iowa, which for him was pretty good. He did not do well in New Hampshire, did not do well in Michigan. He has got to really do well, either first or second in South Carolina, I think, to keep on going.

And by the way, he thinks he will do well. He thinks he has got that natural constituency in South Carolina, among the South Carolina Republicans.

L. KING: Has he been, Roland, the lazy candidate, as some have said?

MARTIN: I think so. I mean, he just doesn't come across like he's in the game. I watched one of the debates and I was sitting there going, oh, Fred's there, I'm sorry, I didn't...

BLITZER: Well, but last debate he did come up...

MARTIN: Right. The last one...

BLITZER: Yes, the last one he got on fire.

MARTIN: Like he popped a pill and woke up. I mean, it's just -- he just doesn't come across as really engaged. But what's helping though is everybody is sort of picking their state. Let me get my state. Giuliani is going to get Florida and then maybe I can get some momentum.

L. KING: He was supposed to have a tremendous advantage, John, as a major television figure.

J. KING: Supposed to be the great communicator. He was supposed to be the next Ronald Reagan riding into a party that was searching for a conservative leader. And he fizzled and fizzled bad early. And, Larry, a month ago, we would have said Fred Thompson has to win South Carolina or he's out. He's certainly low on money.

His own campaign staff -- and they moved everybody from Washington to South Carolina and the people who are the national bigwigs are down there and who are doing the little things in South Carolina. He's very, very low on money. What's his rationale to continue if the southern senator can't win the southern state?

But because the rules don't matter in this race anymore, you cannot say he will get out if he doesn't do well, because a lot of these guys are going to hang around for more debates, more free media. Until there is clarity, there's no incentive to get out of the race

L. KING: Ari Fleischer, how do you read Fred Thompson?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think he really has failed to rise to the level of expectations everybody had for him. I think South Carolina is, for all intents and purposes, his last stand. John is right, because of the openness of this cycle, anybody can stick around.

But here's the key to South Carolina. In 2000, of all who voted in the Republican primary, 61 percent of them identified themselves as conservatives. You're now moving into bedrock conservative country for Republicans.

John McCain's only hope is divide and conquer in South Carolina, that the real conservatives in the race, Fred Thompson, and Mike Huckabee arguably -- but he's a local southerner, and to the degree Mitt Romney is perceived as conservative, they carve each other up, that leaves a plurality for John McCain to leap through.

I don't think that's likely to happen. And if it does, I think most Republicans are going to say that the independent Democrat won, so it's not really indicative. It's all why this is so fluid. Conservatives are still looking, still searching. Larry, this is just a wide-open, unprecedented cycle.

L. KING: Laura Schwartz, which Republican, as a Democrat, do you fear the most? SCHWARTZ: Oh gosh, I have to tell you, in the state of world that we're in right now, Larry, I don't think the Democrats really fear any of those Republicans. They're going to stick to their issues.

And the world -- you know, the country really as a whole is really done with this Republican-led Congress, Republican-led administration. There was a changeover in 2006 to Democrats, but not nearly the majority needed to override this president.

So I think that just as a whole, you see not just the Democrats embedded in their Democratic principles, but a lot of independents that want to cross over and really vote Democratic this year. I think that's what's going to win it for the Democrats.

L. KING: So you fear no one?

SCHWARTZ: No, I don't think you can. I think you have to stick to your issues. And the majority of this country right now is on that same track as the Democrats.


BLITZER: Let me just weigh in on one point on that one.

L. KING: Right. John King finds it amusing.

BLITZER: Yes. No, I would say that in our most recent CNN poll, we did a bunch of hypothetical matchups between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, on the Democratic side, and various Republicans on the Republican side. And only John McCain, in these hypothetical matchups, was very, very competitive with the Democrats, 49, 48 or whatever. So McCain is -- at least, in these hypothetical matchups, he does the best.

L. KING: So why dost thou laugh, John?

J. KING: I just think we're in January right now. We've had two back-to-back competitive presidential elections. There is no question, based on the turnout and the energy, right now the juice is in the Democratic Party, without a doubt, in this country.

But the Republicans will have a nominee at some point. That person may be the survivor of a very hotly contested nomination battle. That makes you stronger as a candidate, not weaker as a candidate. And Iraq is fading as a controversial issue. The economy is gaining. It allows the Republicans to run a traditional tax-and- spend campaign at which they are best at.

And so, yes, right now the Democrats are heavily favored in this election, we're in January, Larry, and November is long way off.

L. KING: I'll pick up with Roland Martin right after this. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: You said we would fight for every job, you said that we would fight to get health care for all Americans, you said we'd fight to secure our border, you said you'd fight for us to be able get lower taxes for middle-income Americans, and Michigan heard and Michigan voted tonight. Congratulations...




L. KING: Before we have John King do one of his map specialties, having a look at Super Tuesday, Roland Martin was going to comment on the last conversation.

MARTIN: John mentioned the economy. And sure, Republicans and tax and spend, but remember, the yoke around their neck, George W. Bush, spending out of control, in terms of the deficit. They're going to have to deal with the Republican-led Congress that passed all those different provisions.

L. KING: Well, they're already knocking Washington.

MARTIN: Right. Well, they can knock Washington, but you have to deal with the fact that Republicans were in control of Washington, all chambers and the White House, and the deficit went up. That's a yoke around their neck they have to confront.

L. KING: Now we go to the map, the John King specialty. And he's going to give us his -- he's our map man.

J. KING: Yes. It's the road to somewhere, Larry. We're just not sure where yet. First, this is the state of play right now. You have seen Michigan flashing tonight. That was the primary that was tonight. But look, most of the country has not yet voted. You have Iowa, you have New Hampshire, you have Wyoming out there. So what are we waiting for?

Well, this coming Saturday, of course, we get the South Carolina Republican Primary. And you have contests out in Nevada, the caucuses out there. Those are important, certainly. We'll see if somebody can start to emerge here. Then what happens?

We go one week later, the South Carolina Democratic Primary, the first big test of the African-American base of the Democratic Party there. And then, Larry, we get to the 29th of January right here, which is end-all, be-all for Rudy Giuliani to prove his strategy. Doesn't mean he gets out if he loses.

But he has told all along, has said, I'm going to wait right there and I'm going to prove you can start late and win. And then after Florida, then we go to, wow, and this is where you have nearly two dozen states all across the country and ideologically different, geographically different. Ari Fleischer was making the point earlier. The Republican candidates would cherry-pick. You could have a Rudy Giuliani playing up here in the Northeast. Maybe Mitt Romney plays a little bit. Let's assume Fred Thompson stays in. Maybe he wants to play the southern candidate. This is John McCain territory out here.

Mitt Romney likes these states out here in the Mountain West where there are a lot of Mormons. He is not unfamiliar. His faith is not an issue there. And of course, the biggest prize of all is California, that's just on the Republican side, Larry.

It's the same play if you're going for the Democrats. Barack Obama's home state is in this day. Hillary Clinton's state -- adopted home state of New York is in this state. So this is the wow day, February 5th, Super Tuesday.

If we come out of that without clear leaders in both parties, then you move on to the state-by-state delegate battles. But this is what will decide if we're going to have a nominee in the month of February -- early in the month of February, or if this is going to be a delegate battle going on and on and on.

And then we might have another conversation about, could there really possibly be a brokered convention. February 5th will answer those questions.

L. KING: Well done, John. And the word I think of, Wolf, is this could be wild.

BLITZER: It will be wild on February 5th. You know, I was watching at least some of that Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas tonight. It was Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. And all of them were relatively nice to each other. They showed a lot of mutual respect. They were praising each other's policies.

And as I was watching and I'd be interested in getting our panel's thoughts on this, what are the prospects -- and I've discussed this privately with John, that there could be a Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama ticket that -- I don't know who would be atop the ticket, who would be second, but is there enough goodwill there for these two Democrats to get together and work together. I don't know what our panel thinks, but I'd be interested.

L. KING: Roland says no? Kennedy ran with Lyndon Johnson.

BLITZER: Right. In 1960, there was a lot of bad blood going into that.

L. KING: Ari, do you think that would be possible?

FLEISCHER: You know, it's so individualistic. You really have to get into Hillary's mind or into Barack's mind to know the answer to that. I don't think any of us are smart enough to know that. I do think though people overplay the role vice presidents play. Elections are about presidential candidates. And earlier, we were doing some sneak peeking ahead to the general and people saying how bad Republicans are. Don't forget one huge factor out there, and that is if Hillary is the nominee, she's the great equalizer in what's a bad environment for Republicans.

She is so perceived with -- her negatives are so high, higher than her positives, especially in the ticket-splitting, key Midwestern states, Hillary can bring Republicans right back to even in a 50-50 contest. That's why I think still Republicans want Hillary to win the nomination because we still believe she's the best one that we can run against.

L. KING: We'll get much more comments right after these words. Don't go away.


ROMNEY: ... over Washington-style pessimism.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My friends, we fell a little short tonight, but we have no cause to be discouraged or to second-guess what we might have done differently. We did what we always do. We went to Michigan and we told people the truth. We always tell them the truth.




L. KING: Laura Schwartz, what are your thoughts on the possible Democratic ticket?

SCHWARTZ: Well, I really can't see Obama and Hillary joining forces because who would go second? Barack Obama is a commanding figure. I don't think Hillary would want to fight that in a general election. I also think that President Clinton will play a very large role behind the scenes.

I think a lot of Democrats want that, actually, and therefore the vice president -- you know, it would be interesting to see the actual role of a vice president in a Clinton -- second Clinton presidency. But I think there are some great people out there in states this last midterm election that turned from red to blue.

And some good arguments for some Midwestern governors, senators. You know, you've got Evan Bayh out there, a lot of people are talking about him, buzzing about him. He's positive. He's from Indiana, he was once a governor. People like that. Shows great executive experience and you've got to balance out that ticket.

L. KING: Wolf, are the California debates going to be very relevant at the end of the month? BLITZER: I think so. It will be just before -- these will be the two final debates right before Super Tuesday. So it will be the last chance. People, not only in California, but they will be watching all over the country, in New York and New Jersey, and all of the other major states that are going to be having their contests on February 5th. So I think...

L. KING: And you're doing them in an unusual place, right?


L. KING: The Reagan Library.

BLITZER: We're doing the -- the Reagan Library. Anderson Cooper will moderate that one on the 30th of January. I'll moderate the Democratic one at the Kodak Theatre Los Angeles on the 31st. And then a few days later, you've got these big contests. And I think they will be very important.

MARTIN: I keep coming back to that one name that is sitting out there that no one likes to talk about, even bring up, Al Gore.

L. KING: Well, if you've got a brokered convention, you have a possibility of...

MARTIN: No, but what if Al Gore, after South Carolina, makes an endorsement?

L. KING: Oh, an endorsement?

MARTIN: I mean, that's -- he's sitting out there and it's interesting his name doesn't come up. But that would be a huge cue -- coup. And I don't think it will be Hillary Clinton. Just a good bet.

J. KING: Another name that hasn't come up tonight, Larry, is the mayor of this city, who is still, despite all his public denials, waiting and waiting and waiting to see if the possibility of jumping in as a third party, you know, independent candidate.

KING: Good point. Ari, what if Bloomberg comes in? Give me the scenario.

FLEISCHER: Well, it would be a dream come true for the Republicans. Mike Bloomberg, you have to remember, is essentially a Democrat. And that means you've got one Republican running in the general election, two Democrats who would largely carve up each other's votes. So I'd be happy if that happened. I don't think it's ultimately going to happen.

I think if you had a Huckabee/Hillary race, that might draw Michael Bloomberg into the race. But in the end, I think it's a flirtation that won't result in a kiss.


KING: I like that, Ari. We'll take a break and back with our remaining moments. Don't go away.


L. KING: Twenty-four hours a day, for ongoing political coverage, you go to And 'round the clock, we're right on top of it, instantaneous coverage,, ongoing political coverage.

John, was anything learned tonight in exit polls that jumps out at you?

J. KING: No, the breadth of the Romney win in Michigan, I think the one lesson of Michigan, the thing to watch in Michigan is that it is a one-state recession, as Governor Romney called it. The economy is the dominant issue there, followed by the economy, followed by the economy, followed by the economy, because the state is in such a slump, Larry.

And this election increasingly is likely to be fought out in the general election on the economy. And so I think the candidates -- the Republicans certainly learned it in Michigan. They had better fine- tune their economic messages. You're beginning to hear it more from the Democrats.

As Iraq fades as an issue, people have made up their mind about Iraq. They're either going to vote for the Democrats to get out of the war, Republicans to try to win the war, the economy is the issue. So I think Michigan was the first laboratory on the debate we'll have in the general election.

L. KING: Are we in a recession, Ari?

FLEISCHER: Well, not technically. And I think I remember everybody saying we were going into recession last August and then of course, the old saying is people have accurately predicted 10 of the last two recessions.

I don't know we are, Larry. I think it's impossible to say what the big issue will be. It still could be terrorism, and let's hope there's not another attack. But we're still in that type of world today.

L. KING: Laura, what do you think is going to be the big issue?

SCHWARTZ: Well, I have to say, even though Ari says we're not technically in a recession, I don't think a lot of the American voters care if we are technically in a recession because they are feeling it.

They are feeling it when they pay, you know, for the gas every time they pull up to the pump. They feel it when they see the cost of education and health care and everything else. I think they are feeling this in their pocketbook and they're thinking about it with the election. It's going to be the economy. It's almost back to '93 with Bill Clinton's campaign, "it's the economy."

L. KING: Roland? MARTIN: I've got to shame on all Democrats tonight. And what I mean by that is, in tonight's debate, Tim Russert, Brian Williams never brought up this lawsuit the teachers have filed against the culinary union in Nevada. Democrats criticized Bush in 2000. They criticized Republicans about Ohio in 2004, about keeping people away from the polls, how can any Democrat defend a union suing another union to keep people from voting in Nevada? And it's embarrassing.

L. KING: What's the basis of the suit?

MARTIN: Well, they are basically saying that these at-large precincts are going to have too much sway over the election because they're going to take place in the hotels there because people work 24 hours. And so for Democrats to who are working to prevent people from voting is atrocious and every candidate in the Democratic Party should denounce that lawsuit.

L. KING: What do you make of that, Wolf?

BLITZER: They don't want people voting in gambling casinos, I guess, that's part of the issue, right?

MARTIN: Well, some people believe...

L. KING: It's a moral issue?

MARTIN: No, no, no, it was some people believed that the culinary union endorsed Obama, some of -- a lot of the teachers' leadership is behind Clinton. And so this is -- because the culinary is largest one. But I'm sorry, I believe in people voting. And we should have an open process, not keep people from voting. And so democrats should be saying something about this.

BLITZER: Because they literally are going to have some of these caucuses on Saturday in Nevada at casinos.

L. KING: John, does Mike Huckabee survive all this? Does he go through to 2/5?

J. KING: If Mike Huckabee can win South Carolina, then he goes into the South, as that calendar I just showed you moved forward, there's a lot of southern contests in there, and you're having an ideological tug of war in the Republican Party over who will be the party's leader after George W. Bush.

And if you can win South Carolina, you're Mike Huckabee, then you're going to South -- you're a happy man. He's short on resources. But the Republicans, we're talking about these individual candidates, we are talking about these individual states, the Republican Party has to decide what it wants to be, what it wants to stand for after George W. Bush. And it has not answered that question.

BLITZER: You have got to give Huckabee a lot of credit, because he came...

L. KING: He's likable. BLITZER: First of all, he's very likable. Second of all, he really did come from almost nowhere.

L. KING: That's what I mean.


MARTIN: Because he has got Jesus.


MARTIN: Jesus is his running mate!


BLITZER: He has got some talent, too. He has got some talent.

J. KING: Ari can tell you, governors win these things.

L. KING: Thank you all, Wolf Blitzer, John King, Roland Martin, Ari Fleischer, Laura Schwartz and other contributors as well to this sprightly hour -- the second hour of LARRY KING LIVE tonight.

We'll be back again, normal one-hour time tomorrow night at 9:00 Eastern. Wolf Blitzer will be back with the "THE SITUATION ROOM." Right now, stay tuned for more political coverage as we give you this around the clock on CNN. Thanks for joining us and good night.