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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

John McCain Wins Florida Primary

Aired January 29, 2008 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: On the Democratic side, again, you have Senator Clinton's home state, Senator Obama's home state, California the biggest prize. Watch Edwards looking for congressional districts, the Democratic rules are different; 15 percent is viable in most states. And then you go through congressional districts, so it's much more complicated on the Democratic side because of the different rules.
But essentially, for the national primary and the international primary, it puts an emphasis on resources, it puts an emphasis on organization; that is why we will see key test for Obama.

Hillary Clinton, despite her -- she won in Florida, it's a beauty contest. She lost South Carolina, that one matters institutionally and (inaudible), she is stronger than Obama in most of these states. The challenge is whether he can make up the ground as he has in the past when he has campaigned.

Clinton and Obama have money for television advertising. That's a key question on the Republican side.

Will Romney reach into his own wallet and spend more money? The McCain camp, I'm told, raised $10 million in January, they put a lot of it into Florida in the final days because Romney was advertising so heavily. But they expect to raise a great deal too in what is essentially a national primary.

Very expensive to advertise in California; very expensive as you know to advertise in New York and some other big states as well; and it will be a blur of a week.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And the fact is that the number of candidates is going down and down and down and the political survivor, if you will. There are four Republicans left right now. They'll be on the stage at Anderson's Republican presidential debate tomorrow night at the Ronald Reagan Library.

There is the winner tonight, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul and three Democrats are left fighting it out as well. And that is going to affect their strategy going ahead to next Tuesday.

KING: Absolutely. And again, if you look at polls in most of these states where there has been public polling in most of these states, McCain and Clinton are ahead in the polls. But things will change, we'll see more polling based on South Carolina, based on the Florida results tonight. Obviously we'll see more polling as you go. But they are ahead based on their name identification and structural advantage within the party so they will try to take advantage of that.

But it costs money and you will see a lot less retail politics. You are not going see as many candidates in small diners lingering and taking voter questions. They are going to be stopping at airports and doing events and again as you know, you will target.

Again if you're on the Republican side and your Governor Huckabee there are good conservative states right here; your home state of Arkansas, the Right to Life Movement started in Missouri and you get up into Minnesota; that is where you'll see Governor Huckabee.

You will see him out in California for the debate. There are some pockets out in California. But if you are Governor Huckabee, and you are low on resources, you are going to spend most of your time right here.

And if you're on the Democratic side and you're Obama, you're going for -- you want to play out in California. That's where all the Democrats want to play out for the big prize in California and then hope if you start moving the national poll numbers, obviously, Illinois, it's much more of a national race.

The congressional district calculation on the Democratic side will be very interesting to watch. We will track radio ads in small congressional districts. You will see candidates appearing in small little districts inland in California.

You say why are they there? Why are they not in the big cities? Because they believe they can get CDs and pick up delegates.

Especially interesting to watch the impact of Senator Edwards; very low on resources he has to pick very carefully where to go. But he can have an impact if he can pick up -- cherry pick congressional districts across the country as he goes.

BLITZER: We will be watching it every step of the way, John. Thanks very much. Lou, and as you know very, very well, not only a week but this specific week, it could be a political lifetime if you're taking a look at the poll numbers today. They could change dramatically tomorrow, the day after that. So it's anyone's guess, Lou, what's going to come up next Tuesday.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: You know and I think that is exactly the thought to consider with great intensity here as John lays it out, and I thought laid it out brilliantly, what we can expect in terms of strategy and the demands will be on each of these candidates.

And now the prevailing candidates, in this case from the Florida primary tonight, Senator Clinton and Senator McCain. The dynamics start to change as John suggested. But there are also unanticipated dynamics that work here. And as we have seen, the contest that became rather bitter, petty and direct between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. Or whether it would be the exit of one these candidates and the endorsement of another and the unanticipated further exit. It's going to be fascinating to watch.

But one thing is for certain. Senator John McCain can now claim absolute front-runner status.

Let's go to McCain Headquarters and Dana Bash for the very latest. Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We sure can, Lou. And that is obviously the big story here at McCain headquarters. John McCain coming out and making it pretty clear that he understands not only that but he understands that he won here in Florida and this is a primary that is just of Republican voters. No independents to push him over the line this time.

This is a primary of just people in his own party which is critical for somebody still trying to prove himself with his own party. But that is what happened today.

But the big story also is what is going to happen tomorrow and John McCain gave us a big hint in his speech tonight that it is expected tomorrow in the state of California, he is going to get an endorsement from the man who is now his rival and that's Rudy Giuliani.

Listen to what McCain said earlier about him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to thank my dear friend, my dear friend Rudy Giuliani who invested his heart and soul in this primary and who conducted himself with all the qualities of the exceptional American leader he truly is. Thank you, Rudy. Thank you for all you have added to this race and for being an inspiration to me and millions of Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now this is obviously a very hard-fought primary in Florida. John McCain and Mitt Romney really going at it in a winning daze before today's votes. But John McCain trying to make the case over and over again that he thinks the prevailing issue in this country is national security. And he is the best commander-in-chief.

But Lou, as you can imagine, it was not that simple. He also got a big, big boost from a couple of very prominent Republicans in the state; the governor and of course the Senator Mel Martinez. Mel Martinez told me tonight he made a lot of effort to get the people he knows to vote for McCain.

He made some taped phone calls in Spanish. That helped him clearly in the Latino community here in the state of Florida. And also John McCain, he was -- played pretty hard ball here in Florida.

They had some calls that they put out also to Mitt Romney -- to voters about Mitt Romney, making sure that they think that he switched positions on issues. That he supported tax payer funded abortions.

There were some tactics that perhaps John McCain had said bad things about in previous contests but his campaign understood that this was a state they had to win in order to be, as one official in his campaign told me earlier today, unstoppable.

They do think that he is unstoppable. They think that he is ahead in the next primary states, the Super Tuesday states. And that John McCain made pretty clear today earlier just here behind me that he thinks that they still have a hard road ahead but they think that they are pretty well along to the nomination.

We'll see. Lou?

DOBBS: Certainly, Dana, 57 delegates closer to their goal. But words like "unstoppable" and "inevitable" tend to take on something less of a luster, for some reason, in this particular primary election season.

Let's go now to Mitt Romney, obviously the former governor, the recipient of that tough campaign by Senator John McCain and Mary Snow at Romney headquarters. Mary.

MARY SNOW: Well, Lou, this is clearly a big disappointment for the Romney campaign. But Mitt Romney, vowing to go on and try to take the silver lining in this loss; his campaign is pointing out that they believe conservatives were starting to rally around him.

Mitt Romney is also going to hit hard the theme that says, "Government is broken and that there needs to be a Washington outsider." And he's been taking aim at his chief rival now, John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You see, Washington is fundamentally broken and we're not going to change Washington by sending the same people back just to sit in different chairs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW: And the way the Romney campaign is now phrasing this, is that it's two-man race. This is something they say that they think will suit Romney because the stage is smaller. They feel he will do better.

But also, his main theme has been the economy. It was here in Florida. And still he did not win. So, of course, that is now going to be a challenge.

Looking ahead, his campaign says it's going to California. He's going to be targeting areas in California; also states like Colorado and some of the southern states, Tennessee, Georgia, also Missouri are part of the strategy going ahead.

And Mitt Romney has reached into his pockets. The question is, will he do so again to keep going? He made a joke here tonight as he thanked supporters. He told them they feel like his family. But he joked to them saying don't expect part of the inheritance. And then he said, "I'm not quite sure how much of the inheritance is going to be left after this."

But he is pressing ahead and also the campaign is down playing the Giuliani endorsement saying it won't matter all that much in the end. It could hurt McCain by trying to underscore the fact he is not a true conservative but they did acknowledge that the endorsement by Governor Crist did help John McCain here in Florida and hurt Mitt Romney.

Lou?

DOBBS: Mary, thank you very much. Mary Snow at Romney headquarters.

Let's turn now to Rudy Giuliani's campaign headquarters and Dan Lothian. And Dan obviously the Giuliani endorsement of McCain, eagerly awaited by McCain and his campaign.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly and the question then will be how will this impact the McCain campaign. And how involved Giuliani will actually be in that campaign?

Now this, of course, a very difficult night for Rudy Giuliani. He had been hoping that he would be the victor here in Florida, spent more than $30 million here in the state of Florida, spent almost 60 days here in the state of Florida as well. He was hoping to use this state as to spring board going into Super Tuesday. That of course did not happen.

Speaking to his supporters here tonight, a small group, a somber group; he thanked them for supporting him. He also said he was happy that he was able to address some of these critical issues in front of the American people.

Here is a little bit about what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The responsibility of leadership doesn't end with a single campaign. If you believe in a cause, it goes on and you continue to fight for it and we will.

I'm proud that we chose to stay positive and to run a campaign of ideas in an era of personal attacks, negative ads and cynical spin; we ran a campaign that was uplifting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LOTHIAN: Lou, perhaps that last bit parting shot at Romney and McCain because of the contentious battle that they had been waging here in the state of Florida. As he had been dealing with some of his other issues of national security, he had also been talking to the voters saying, "Listen, I'm the candidate who is staying positive. I'm not running a negative campaign."

So tonight, he was using a lot of past tense in his final speech here to his supporters in Florida. He was also sort of giving that little parting shot that he did run a positive campaign here in Florida, but obviously, not enough to help him win here in Florida.

Lou?

DOBBS: Is there a sense among the staff at the Giuliani campaign headquarters that they wish they had been a little stronger, a little tougher, perhaps a little more negative?

LOTHIAN: Not on the negative issue but you know what I did I was talking to one aide and I said that this whole strategy of focusing solely on Florida and bypassing some of the other critical early states, whether or not they were rethinking whether that is what they should have done.

And I was told there were a lot of unforeseen events that occurred. They didn't expect that someone like a Huckabee would have won in Iowa. They didn't expect that a Romney who was behind, would have all of a sudden gone to Michigan and done well there. Both of them getting some momentum and essentially pushing back Rudy Giuliani.

So they still felt that that was sound, but the strategy focusing on Florida was sound but there are a lot of issues that they did not expect.

DOBBS: Okay, Dan Lothian at Rudy Giuliani headquarters. Thank you very much.

And we're going to come back with our panel. We're going to be discussing what is next for former Governor Mitt Romney now and his quest to stop the front runner, Senator John McCain. What is next for McCain?

What's next for two other senators of some note; Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama?

We'll continue in one moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Well, Senator John McCain is the winner in Florida, Senator Hillary Clinton; Senator Clinton, of course, not much of a surprise there.

Let's turn to my colleague Wolf Blitzer to bring us the latest totals.

BLITZER: And actually almost all the votes have really been counted so we can speak with real authority right now Lou. Thanks very much. So let's take a look at the numbers. A big night, as Lou just said, for John McCain, the senator from Arizona. 95 percent of the precincts have reported in Florida, he's got 36 percent. It has remained steady now for hours. Mitt Romney with 31 percent; a disappointment for the former governor of Massachusetts. A huge disappointment though for Rudy Giuliani; only 15 percent. Mike Huckabee, 14 percent.

If you take a look at the hard numbers that have actually come in, you can see how McCain did it. Right now, he has 678,000 votes to 582,000 for Romney; 275,000 or so for Giuliani; 253,000 for Mike Huckabee; Ron Paul 60,583. But here is the most important number of the night for John McCain, 57; because he gets all the delegates. 57 delegates. It was winner take all in Florida. Romney, Giuliani, Huckabee get zero percent of those delegates -- zero delegates.

On the Democrat side, largely a beauty contest because the candidates promised they wouldn't campaign there but Hillary Clinton is declaring victory. And she did get the most votes among the Democrats with 95 percent of the precincts in. She got 50 percent to 33 percent for Obama; 14 percent for Edwards.

You take a look at the numbers and see how she did it. A lot of Democrats did turn out even though they will not get any delegates at the Democratic convention in Denver because they moved up their primary. But Hillary Clinton came in with 835,800 or so votes; Obama, 555,000 votes; Edwards, 243,000 and Mike Gravel, the former senator from Alaska, he got 5,151 votes. But take a look at this, the delegates from Florida going to the convention in Denver. Zero for Hillary Clinton, zero for Obama, zero for Edwards, zero for Mike Gravel, because they are not going to be getting any of those delegates.

Lou, I guess a lot of those voters in Florida, they went out there, they were well intentioned. I suspect a lot didn't know that their vote really wasn't going to count as far as the delegates are concerned. But that is the nature of politics. That has happened in Michigan to the Democrats and now it's happened to Florida.

DOBBS: Yes, it's the nature this year for two states of politics. It's going to be interesting to see what unfolds as we approach that convention and see the further results in this primary election season, particularly next Tuesday.

It might be intriguing to talk with our panel about whether or not these non-votes or non-delegate votes in Florida will stand up or in Michigan.

BLITZER: And Lou, I just want to make one point. The Democrats had a different rule than the Republicans. The Democrats stripped Michigan and Florida of all their delegates; the Republicans only took half away.

DOBBS: That's right. And I suppose that Floridians and the folks in Michigan appreciate that the Republicans were so generous as to only reduce their delegate count by 50 percent. My guess is you have got some people who are a little peeved.

What do you think, John King?

KING: Sure if you're in the state of Florida, especially if you're a Democrat. You're peeved and I think Lou that this is likely to be resolved with this caveat.

If you have a Clinton-Obama into the convention, deadlocked. Nobody has the delegates necessary, then there will be a huge fight over seating them because obviously if you seat them based on the results tonight, Senator Clinton would get the majority of them. I had a look at the congressional district vote in Florida, the Democrats have their rules that way but Clinton won a convincing win in Florida tonight, it is a beauty contest.

This would get the lawyers involved and lawsuits involved if you had a fight about seating them. If somebody has a convincing win going into the convention, they will know that Florida is a critical state in the general election. They will say, "Come on in, we will give you extra seats." As long as somebody hasn't locked up.

But if it's contentious, it will be a big fight.

DOBBS: Is it a fight we should look forward to, Amy Holmes?

AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: As a Republican, yes, I would say so. I think it would be quite a lot of fun. You know these Florida voters, they may be peeved but they are also energized that they would go out to the polls, pull the levers or punch the chads, whatever they have done even before that even knowing that their delegates have been stripped. I think that was pretty extraordinary, like Donna Brazile touched on that before.

But John, you said during the break, that one of the caveats here, is that when Obama enters the state and starts shaking hands and meeting these voters, he changes the dynamic. So this win tonight for Hillary, while it's important, it gives here momentum and energizes here. And it gave her a spot of good news in a very bad news week. It's not necessarily going to be leading to -- will these results be applied to future states.

DOBBS: So David Gergen, this is over. Obama comes in to town and energizes the place and away we go.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYSIS: If it were that easy.

DOBBS: The reality here is that we have got a very tight race in both parties. All of the professional seem to be straining against the idea this deal isn't done. It isn't likely to get done and we are so used in this country and so used, given the recent politics, to having the front-runner conferred as the presumptive nominee immediately. That can't happen here, can it?

GERGEN: I don't think so. And I think it's worth remembering in Florida that about a week ago, ten days ago, when John McCain didn't have much money and Mitt Romney was spending heavily. Mitt Romney was moving up on him rapidly so one poll over the weekend, the Rasmussen poll over the weekend had Mitt Romney up six points. And then Charlie Crist, the governor, came in and endorsed and you could see the dynamics of this race changing.

I think the Crist endorsement has torn his armor, I mean, he is a very popular governor. It's also important to remember, a lot of people who came out today didn't vote just for these candidates. There was also a constitutional amendment on the ballot that Crist was pushing for that would limit property taxes.

And there were a lot of people in the National Education Association on the other side who were trying to get Democrats out to vote against that. Now Crist won tonight. This is a big, big night for Charlie Crist and a night that might put him on the ballot as vice president.

DOBBS: And Crist is, as you say, he is not only a possible nominee for vice president but he is a very popular governor and we are going to be talking with our colleague, Jeffrey Toobin, about some of the implications here in just a moment when we return with our panel.

And we'll also be going out to California for the latest from Roland Martin and Gloria Borger as well. Stay with us. We're coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: We're back. The winners in the Florida primary; Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator John McCain.

Jeffrey Toobin, let's go to you and just see what -- are there any surprises not on the outcome but that which influenced the outcome in the state of Florida?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think for the first time now, the Democratic and Republican races look very different. The Republican race is really John McCain's to lose. It would take an earthquake at this point for John McCain, winning Florida, getting Rudy Giuliani's endorsement tomorrow, Super Tuesday just six days away.

DOBBS: We have two more colleagues. Amy Holmes has been kind enough to listen attentively. But David Gergen is shaking his head. John King is nodding his head.

TOOBIN: We're not here for uniformity of opinion. But I think the Democratic race is truly wide open. I mean, I don't have any sense of who is ahead there where as John McCain is clearly well ahead now. And that's the first time the races have taken, in my view, such a different direction.

DOBBS: You were shaking your head, David.

GERGEN: I don't think you can count Romney out of this. He's got a lot of money and money matters and John McCain doesn't have it now. And we have got all these states to do.

There are places where Romney can spend and if he gets the conservatives to come to him as the conservative alternative, you can't count him out of this race yet. I think John McCain is clearly the front-runner, I think he's likely to win. But I don't think it's over.

KING: He has to consolidate a party that is very skeptical of him. And Lou, John McCain gets very crusty about this. Because he is a proud stubborn man and he thinks it is wrong -- yes, he doesn't lead with God and gays but he says his voting record is 80, 90 sometimes 100 percent, why do they oppose me.

He says I want spending cuts, I'm a fiscal conservative. Sure I won't do tax cuts at the risk of a deficit. But I'm a good fiscal conservative.

He thinks the critics are wrong and he gets stubborn about it. The challenge for now is to be big and reach out because David is right. Romney has a chance if he is willing to keep spending his money. He spent nearly $30 million of his own many so far. If he is willing to keep spending it, he has a chance. And McCain, has got 36 percent of vote tonight. In a one on one, he's got to get more than that.

HOLMES: You can sum it up this way with a little ditty. He said, "If you're a conservative Republican and McCain don't fit, it's your responsibility to vote for Mitt."

[CROSSTALK}

DOBBS: Coming from Dana, I have to give pause and credence to the ditty as it were about Mitty.

We're going to turn to our good colleague, Roland Martin, who is always capable of bringing absolute uniformity and consensus to any discussion. You're up, Roland.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: First and foremost, I'm amazed that Mitt Romney sits here and blasts McCain over this whole issue of not voting for the Bush tax cut because McCain is a fiscal conservative and he recognizes the deficits were so large.

He is saying, "Wait a minute. We can't have large deficits run up by Republican, run into Congress and then you want to give tax cuts as well." Republicans have to make up their minds. Either you are for fiscal conservatism or you are someone who wants tax cuts. That's one thing.

But Lou, we have skipped over this issue and danced around this issue all night. This was a stunt tonight about the Hillary Clinton campaign. They are blasting out e-mails saying, "We won the young vote and this vote."

We're in the land of make-believe in Los Angeles. You know what this is all about? This is a make-believe election. And condescending here talking about the delegates she counts. She told the Iowa people and folks in New Hampshire, if they are not going to count, we are not going to campaign there. Stop it. There was no election here. It's ridiculous.

HOLMES: What do you really think?

TOOBIN: It's not ridiculous at all. It's not ridiculous. A million-and-a-half people voted.

HOLMES: No, it's...

TOOBIN: What are they -- that doesn't in...

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Their votes don't count?

DOBBS: Are you (INAUDIBLE) franchising (INAUDIBLE)?

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Come on, Roland.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Jeffrey, I understand...

TOOBIN: She didn't campaign here.

MARTIN: Jeffrey, I understand...

TOOBIN: It is (INAUDIBLE)...

MARTIN: Jeffrey, I understand the meaning to have people voting. But the reality is she signed a pledge along with the other candidates. But the other piece of this is (INAUDIBLE)...

TOOBIN: Which she kept.

MARTIN: If the people in Florida -- Jeffrey, Jeffrey, if the people in Florida and Michigan, if they really want to be upset, get mad at your governor and your state legislature.

DOBBS: Gloria Borger, I don't care...

MARTIN: They're the ones who (INAUDIBLE).

DOBBS: ...if you agree with Roland Martin or not...

MARTIN: They're the ones who changed the primary.

DOBBS: ...you're going to talk about this.

(LAUGHTER)

DOBBS: You're going to get your word in on this. Please, Gloria.

BORGER: OK. I will tell you, I actually -- I don't want to disenfranchise the Democrats in the State of Florida because, obviously, they have every right to go to the polls. And it shows you how energized they are in the State of Florida, because they had no candidates campaigning there.

Having said that, I think that what Hillary Clinton got tonight was a talking point. One of her talking points is -- as you heard her earlier this evening with Wolf -- is that she won this tonight. It wasn't -- it was a beauty contest. It wasn't -- nobody had campaigned in the state...

DOBBS: Well, let me ask you this.

Do you think she won in Michigan?

BORGER: They had all pledged...

DOBBS: Do you think she won in Michigan?

BORGER: No. But in Michigan...

DOBBS: I think a good case could be made that she did.

BORGER: Here's the difference. Lou...

DOBBS: Yes?

BORGER: Lou, in Michigan -- in Michigan, the other candidates took their names off the ballot. She left her name on the ballot.

(CROSSTALK)

DOBBS: And how did that...

(CROSSTALK)

DOBBS: How did that work out?

HOLMES: And 40 percent of the people voted for nobody.

(CROSSTALK)

HOLMES: Forty percent of the voters voted for nobody.

BORGER: I stand corrected.

J. KING: She wins and you have an energized Democratic Party in Florida.

BORGER: So, really, this isn't a great victory for her.

J. KING: You have an energized party in Florida. And the state party leaders told their people get out and vote to send a message to the national party, to your point -- they're not going to disenfranchise us.

But if you go back six months in time, Senator Clinton was ahead everywhere -- including Michigan, including Florida. Anyplace Senator Obama has campaigned, it's been competitive. He's won some, he's lost some.

So Senator Clinton has every right to claim victory tonight. There's an enthusiastic Democratic Party in Florida. That's good. What's somewhat laughable is they've put out all these memos -- look at how she did among Latinos, look at how she did among young people, look at how she did on all these demographics. Well, they don't match up to any other state where there's actually been a competition for votes.

So I think they're stretching things a bit to say...

DOBBS: No!

J. KING: ...this means...

DOBBS: A political campaign would do that?

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: They need...

DOBBS: Are you shocked?

BORGER: Look, they needed to change the...

(CROSSTALK)

HOLMES: ...in Las Vegas.

DOBBS: The idea, Jeffrey Toobin...

BORGER: No, they needed to change the subject after -- sorry.

GERGEN: That's the second...

BORGER: They needed to change the subject after South Carolina, Lou.

HOLMES: And Ted Kennedy.

TOOBIN: And Ted Kennedy.

BORGER: Yes.

DOBBS: Well, I think they've at least put enough distance behind them -- between themselves and the endorsement.

But the Charlie Crist endorsement, as David Gergen points out, and driving on the constitutional ballot measure played a big part in both the Republican and the Democratic turnout. We're going to see much the same interest in a number of other states across this primary season and then certainly into the general election.

The idea that we have now -- that I hear this sort of attempt -- whether voluntary or involuntary -- as we look at this to sort of coalesce around three U.S. senators -- Obama, Clinton and McCain -- as the presumptive nominees you sorted out. The fact is, 40 senators have tried to be president and 40 senators have failed.

HOLMES: Well, one of these is going to succeed.

(CROSSTALK)

J. KING: They all better hope Ted Kennedy is right and it's 1960 again.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: Right. I mean if you have two senators and you know...

J. KING: Yes.

HOLMES: One of these senators is going to become president.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: If it's McCain against one of the Democrats, one streak we know will be broken...

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: ...which is there hasn't been a sitting senator elected president since John F. Kennedy.

HOLMES: Right.

TOOBIN: But this is an unusual year in that we don't have a sitting president or vice president running, which is the first time in decades since that's happened.

DOBBS: In 80 years, I believe, we've all learned to say.

TOOBIN: Yes.

DOBBS: Eighty years.

Well, we're going to be taking a look at what Mitt Romney can do to turn back what looks like, at least tonight, a bit of a juggernaut on the part of Senator John McCain. We're going to try to figure out what his next steps are and what the likelihoods are -- the likelihood is that he can overcome that momentum.

Stay with us.

We're coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Well, we're back.

And we're going to turn to our colleagues, Soledad O'Brien and Bill Schneider, to give us some insight from the exit polling as to what the voters, both Democrats and Republicans, were thinking as they cast their ballots and propelled Senator John McCain to the frontrunner status in the Republican Party and handed a victory -- we'll define later how important -- to Senator Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side -- Bill, Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Well, Lou, you were asking the question right before the break, which was what's Mitt Romney to do right now?

And I think the exit polls actually give a pretty good insight into that.

We look to the exit polls to see, really, his strengths and weaknesses as they move forward into Super Tuesday.

Let's begin with conservative support.

How does it look for -- for him?

SCHNEIDER: This is the base of the party. And if you look at this, you see Romney 37 percent among conservatives in Florida today. McCain only 29. McCain's problem might be diagnosed medically as weakness of the base. Twenty-nine percent is not very good among conservatives. Romney does better, but 37 percent is not exactly a wipe out.

So it's going to be a race. Romney hopes to sew up that conservative base as he goes into the Super Tuesday states. He clearly wants to fight McCain by rallying conservatives. He's begun to do it in Florida, but he's going to have to do better.

O'BRIEN: Then you look at the category top issue, it was the economy. Those numbers there are very surprising, I thought.

SCHNEIDER: Very surprising because Mitt Romney is a former business executive.

O'BRIEN: It's his issue.

SCHNEIDER: It's his issue -- or it's supposed to be his issue. But look at this. My God, McCain snatched it away from him. Forty percent said they voted for McCain if their issue is the economy, 32 percent Romney. Romney has got to do something to get that issue back, because it's the top issue to the whole country right now, including the Republicans.

O'BRIEN: When the issue was terror -- which is really Rudy Giuliani's issue -- he did not win in that category.

What do you see?

SCHNEIDER: We saw an issue that's really up for grabs. And this could determine the results of this primary race. Take a look at this. Among those who said their top concern was terrorism, Romney actually came out slightly on top. But it looks like a three-way tie.

Rudy Giuliani -- this was his signature issue -- 9/11. You know, someone said he can't -- every sentence he utters has a noun and a verb and 9/11 in it. But he came in -- it's really a three-way tie among voters -- Republican voters who said they were concerned about terrorism, which means that either McCain, who has a lot of national security credentials; or Mitt Romney, who has strong conservative ties; they could both compete to make terrorism their issue now that Rudy Giuliani is leaving the race. But remember, he's endorsing...

O'BRIEN: Someone has got to grab that percentage.

SCHNEIDER: Exactly. But he's endorsing John McCain. We'll see if John McCain can adopt that issue as his.

O'BRIEN: There are hundreds of thousands of absentee voters in Florida -- a huge number.

What -- how are those people reflected in an exit poll?

SCHNEIDER: Well, they don't exit the polls.

O'BRIEN: Right. Exactly.

SCHNEIDER: They don't show up at the polls.

So how did we reach them?

We actually telephone them. We asked the voters if they cast an absentee ballot. If they did, they were asked the same questions on the telephone that people were asked as they left the polling places. So those -- I think about 400,000 absentee voters in the Republican primary and almost half a million in the Democratic primary were all included in the exit poll. The absentee voters are there.

O'BRIEN: An exit poll that shows that Mitt Romney has a little work to do before Super Tuesday.

SCHNEIDER: He does. He does.

O'BRIEN: Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Soledad.

Bill Schneider, thanks for the insight. And I suppose Mitt Romney was listening and he's ready to go with that.

It occurs that there are two things happening here that sort of are -- need a little adjustment. One is that Romney, as Amy Holmes was just saying, is running ones the economy -- the CEO, the president. And the economy is the number one issue. John McCain has been typically pushing his national security standing and positions. And the fact is that the war in Iraq has slipped to number four -- at least in Florida.

This doesn't square up, does it, Amy?

HOLMES: Well, it doesn't. And I think the key to understanding that -- again, another interesting finding was that the number one quality for candidates that these voters looked at was shares my values. And they went for Romney and yet he lost.

I think what explains that is, as Soledad was discussing earlier, was that the voters were basically evenly split on what matters to you -- issues or personal qualities. And for the personal qualities, McCain was way out ahead in that. They think, you know, that he's a solid, authentic and truthful guy. And truthfulness is something that Romney is having a little trouble with voters.

TOOBIN: Even though Romney has this very impressive business background, his proposals are not noticeably different than McCain's -- at least as far as I'm aware of. I mean they both support the stimulus package and they both want to cut taxes.

But I don't think Romney has been able to say I will do X but McCain will do Y. He'll just say -- he just says I'm more knowledgeable on the subject...

BORGER: And...

TOOBIN: Which is, I mean, not an extremely powerful argument, I think.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: And I would also add...

DOBBS: And we've sort of done that CEO president thing.

HOLMES: Sure.

TOOBIN: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

HOLMES: Sure. And I would also add, we remember in Michigan, you know, McCain told Michigan voters, your jobs are gone and they're never coming back. That really hurt him. He didn't say that to Florida (INAUDIBLE).

TOOBIN: It's horrible to tell the truth to voters.

DOBBS: David Gergen?

GERGEN: I think we still have to wait and see what the conservative community does in the next couple of days. If they really think that John McCain is about to get this and Rudy Giuliani is their last hope and they really don't want John McCain...

TOOBIN: You mean Mitt Romney is their last hope? GERGEN: I mean Mitt Romney is their last hope -- if they -- if they organize around him and get their network going, that can be very powerful in Republican circles. I just don't know whether they're going to go there or not. I think that's his best shot. I also think tomorrow night's debate, he has to take the economic issue back from McCain.

DOBBS: And I don't think, Roland Martin and Gloria Borger, that we can ignore the fact that the Evangelicals -- the Christian right has been talking about the possibility of a third party candidate here if they are dissatisfied with the -- the nominee.

Let's turn to you first -- Roland?

MARTIN: Look, forget that. There's not going to be a third party candidate. And those Evangelicals need to stop that nonsense.

Here's the reality.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Republicans are one seat away -- one seat away from having a majority on the Supreme Court. Now, if Senator Hillary Clinton is the nominee, ask yourself the question -- if it's John -- Senator John McCain and Senator Clinton and for those Evangelicals, who do you want making a choice to choose three of the next Supreme Court justices, it's not going to be Senator Clinton.

So at some point, they're going to have to suck it up and say you know what, if he's the nominee, he's our guy. We stand a better chance of getting him as opposed to Clinton.

I mean so -- I mean they need to recognize the reality of politics as opposed to their hard core principles.

BORGER: Lou, what we saw in those exit polls tonight...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: ...what we saw in those exit polls tonight -- and this goes to something that David Gergen was talking about earlier -- is that people tend to vote for John McCain because they believe that he tells them the truth. They don't vote for him necessarily because they agree with him on his economic plan.

TOOBIN: Right.

BORGER: They may disagree with him on his immigration plan. They may disagree with him on campaign finance reform. But when they look at John McCain, what they see is an authentic guy.

Now, his little tricky thing that he's got to do -- and David was talking about this earlier -- what he's got to do is make peace with conservatives, but not to the point where...

(CROSSTALK) BORGER: ...where he alienates...

TOOBIN: Right.

BORGER: ...you know, his true supporters...

HOLMES: And I think it's true...

BORGER: ...somewhere he doesn't look like he's the real deal.

HOLMES: And there's -- you know, there's one more point to that, which is if he were to become the nominee, he gets to pick a vice presidential running mate. And that's another area where John McCain could, you know, try to bridge the gap with conservatives and particularly with Evangelicals -- you know, people have been throwing around Mike Huckabee. I don't know if, you know, McCain would actually choose him. But, again, it's another opportunity to reach out to those voters.

GERGEN: It would be interesting...

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: I would think there might be some pressure...

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: There might be some pressure now, in the next few days, on both Mike Huckabee and John Edwards on the Democratic side to drop. There are going to be strong people who would like -- you know, if you're going to -- if Huckabee dropped, that presumably would help Romney. And I think some of those Evangelicals would come more to Romney than they would to McCain.

I don't know whether he'll drop or not.

HOLMES: But...

GERGEN: But it's just like Edwards. I mean he -- the more Edwards stays in here, the more Obama has a hard time with it.

DOBBS: The pressure most likely to be persuasive -- Wolf Blitzer and John King -- would be money rather than probably solidarity in the party.

GERGEN: Right. I think that's right.

DOBBS: Let's turn to you, Wolf, and to John.

BLITZER: Yes, on the money thing, McCain certainly does not necessarily have the advantage. Romney does, because he can go into his pocket and get a lot of money. He's got a lot of money. He's spent a lot of his own money, John. And if he sees it getting close to him, he may spend a lot more. And next Tuesday is going to be expensive.

J. KING: Romney has spent in the ballpark of $30 million of his own money. He's also raised more than any of the other Republican presidential candidates, to his credit.

The question now is will money come in after this loss in Florida -- other people's money?

And how much of his own money is he willing to spend going forward, making an investment in Super Tuesday. That is a huge calculation for the Romney campaign.

As for McCain, they say they raised about $10 million in January, which, for them, was a pretty good strong month. They did spend a sizable amount trying to keep up with Romney's ads -- or at least keep relative parity in Florida in the last several days. So their cash on hand going into Super Tuesday is down. But they expect to be able to raise some money.

And, Wolf, listening to that discussion -- and it is the question about John McCain is the conservative question. I want to show you a little bit of something tonight that John McCain did make progress tonight. He has a lot of questions still to answer.

But Florida, if you look at the results tonight, this will show you here. These are the Romney counties, this right here. These are the counties won by Romney.

Now, this is one of the more conservative places in the state, up here, Duval County, where Jacksonville is . This is a pretty big win for Governor Romney, no question about it. He beats John McCain 41 to 27 percent there.

Just south of Duval County -- these are smaller counties, but you see again, this is a very conservative area. Romney is winning big.

But let's shrink the map down a little bit and come up here. Down here in Orlando, look at that. That was supposed to be a Romney county. This was supposed to be a Romney county. Instead, that's a McCain county.

This is a conservative place. The Republican Party in Orange County is a conservative state. A narrow win for McCain, but he beat Mitt Romney in a county Mitt Romney was supposed to win, where there are conservative votes.

He also did very well across here, which is an area where the Romney campaign thought it would win here, win right through here. Out here, they knew it would be much more competitive. If you're looking ahead to a general election, in a competitive race, this is where Florida is won or lost -- the I-4 corridor between Orlando and Tampa. This is the case McCain will make to Republicans, saying you might not love me on everything, I'm a competitive general election candidate.

But to the point earlier, John McCain -- let's look at the entire state -- he's winning by about 100,000 votes.

Where did they come from?

They come from mostly down here, Wolf, where you have more moderate Republicans. A 75,000 margin of the 100,000 comes from right down here, more moderate Republican voters. So McCain still has a lot to prove among conservatives, but he did better than you might think. This is not liberal country up here in Florida, and John McCain did quite well.

BLITZER: He won all those counties in the south, which is heavily populated, Miami-Dade and Broward and Palm Beach County.

J. KING: Right.

BLITZER: He did incredibly well.

J. KING: Right. And more moderate voters here, though. The fact that he won so well up here shows that he can make inroads among conservatives. Still a long way to go, though.

BLITZER: All right. And I know the Democrats are worried about that. They see how well he does down there, they're looking ahead to November, potentially. And that's a source of concern.

All right, Lou, we're looking at the map, we're looking at a lot of stuff. But I want to go back to.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Wolf.

Thank you, John.

And coming up at the top of the hour, "LARRY KING LIVE."

That means none other than the great man himself, Larry King -- Larry.

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": My man, Lou.

To share the camera with you is historic on this historic night.

DOBBS: I feel the same way.

L. KING: You can feel the energy.

DOBBS: Absolutely.

L. KING: We're going to have a...

(LAUGHTER)

L. KING: We're going to have a bunch of top pundits -- I know you love pundits, Lou.

DOBBS: I love pundits.

L. KING: People who are ex -- who know excellent why what happened happened, how it happened and what will happen tomorrow. They know. We'll talk to them for a full hour at midnight, 9:00 Pacific. That's at the top of the hour. Ari Fleischer -- good old Ari will be back with us -- and a whole bunch of other really good guests, as we get a look at why Hillary got such a huge vote, even though those delegates aren't going to be counted. She got more votes than McCain, which I find fascinating. And, of course, the McCain victory, as well.

Lou, that's at midnight Eastern, 9:00 Pacific.

DOBBS: I'm looking forward to it, Larry.

Thank you very much.

"LARRY KING LIVE" coming up at the top of the hour.

Let's go out to our colleagues at the Reagan Library -- Roland Martin and Gloria Borger. And I know that they have been chomping at the bit to straighten us out over here on the...

(LAUGHTER)

DOBBS: ...on the right coast.

BORGER: Well, you know, one thing I wanted to say, Lou, we were talking about whether this nomination of McCain looks inevitable now. I agree with David. I would have to say that it's looking really good for John McCain. But I do think that -- and Super Tuesday looks really good for John McCain, if you look at the winner take all states.

If Giuliani endorses him, as expected, tomorrow -- New York and New Jersey are winner take all. Arizona is winner take all. Those are -- those are really good states for him.

But I think what we're going to see here tomorrow night is Romney playing up his conservative credentials. And what he's going to try and do -- maybe -- is get under John McCain's skin. Because one of John McCain's heroes in the world is Ronald Reagan -- Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Those are his two political heroes.

And so it'll be interesting here tomorrow night, to see whether Romney gets to him that way -- by trying to say I'm much more of a conservative than you are and I deserve this nomination because of that.

MARTIN: And, Lou, on that whole issue of a third party candidate, potentially a Evangelical, I want to remind those folks that Bill Clinton -- the reason he became president was because you had a third party candidate who was a fiscal conservative, who attracted all of those fiscal -- those people who were upset with George Bush because he raised taxes. And that's how Bill Clinton became president. That's how he had two terms.

And so they don't want to make the mistake of running a third party candidate and literally hand the White House to the Democrats for a second time.

DOBBS: So noted.

And we're going to return with our panel in just one moment.

Stay with us.

We're coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Welcome back to the CNN Election Center.

The Florida primary delivering frontrunner status tonight to Senator John McCain and Senator Hillary Clinton.

Wolf Blitzer now able to claim a victory. We can debate what kind of victory it is since there were no delegates will result, at least according to the current rules of the party.

BLITZER: You know, the Obama campaign, their spokesman, Bill Burton, put on a statement. I'll read it to you, Lou, and to our viewers: "When Senator Clinton was campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, she said that states like Michigan and Florida that won't award delegates 'don't count for anything.' Now that Senator Clinton has lost badly in South Carolina, she's trying to assign meaning to a contest that awards zero delegates and where no campaigning has occurred. Senator Clinton's own campaign has repeatedly said that this is a contest for delegates and tonight Florida awarded zero."

That's the statement from Bill Burton.

DOBBS: But my -- I'm a little confused.

Is it -- wasn't it Senator Obama in Las Vegas, in Nevada, who was -- was trying to keep the votes moving forward and he was accusing the Clinton campaign of disenfranchising voters there?

BLITZER: Well, Nevada had authority to go ahead and (INAUDIBLE)...

DOBBS: No, I understand they had authority. But it's interesting that they're on the opposite ends of this disenfranchisement.

BLITZER: This is politics.

DOBBS: Oh, is it?

(LAUGHTER)

DOBBS: I wondered what this was.

BLITZER: This is all about politics.

DOBBS: It's ugly. It's partisan and pure.

BORGER: What?

BLITZER: That's what happens.

BORGER: What? DOBBS: We're going to -- you know, our colleagues out in California have been insistent throughout this evening that that left coast perspective is imperative...

BORGER: I don't...

DOBBS: ...and let's turn to...

BORGER: I don't understand...

DOBBS: ...to Gloria Borger now and to Roland Martin out at the Reagan Library.

Your thoughts, Gloria?

BORGER: Well, look, this is something that Hillary Clinton needed to do to change the subject from South Carolina, from Ted Kennedy. The reason she canceled all of her cable interviews last night was clearly the fact that she didn't want to talk about Ted Kennedy's endorsement of Barack Obama. She didn't want to answer questions about how is your husband going to campaign for you now?

And this is a victory. However, my -- my e-mail box all evening -- and I know everyone has been talking about this -- it's just been sort of filled with these -- these e-mails from the Clinton campaign -- youth vote, women vote, this vote, that -- saying look at this fabulous, wonderful, terrific victory we had. And to say that it's an overstatement is an understatement.

MARTIN: You know, Lou...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Lou, a couple of things. First, we have not heard from Senator Barack Obama all night. And so his campaign literally wants to give this impression that frankly this meant nothing. That's why you haven't heard from him.

But, also, I did get this e-mail from the "Union Leader" out of New Hampshire. And they said: "Clinton coldly and knowingly lied to New Hampshire and Iowa. Her promise was not a vague statement, it was a signed pledge with a clear and unequivocal meaning."

It later went on to say: "New Hampshire voters, you were played for suckers." And so, clearly, they're not happy with her obviously...

BORGER: Well, that's the "Union Leader".

MARTIN: Right.

BORGER: That's the Manchester "Union Leader".

MARTIN: Right. But, you know...

BORGER: It's conservative.

MARTIN: It's still...

BORGER: Yes.

MARTIN: ...throwing it out there. Pretty interesting.

(LAUGHTER)

DOBBS: You know, Roland, Gloria, as you say this, I'm thinking about two parties here right now that -- whether it is Mitt Romney and Senator McCain in a very difficult contest, Wolf, or whether it's Senators Clinton and Obama on a very difficult contest, this is not going to be, it seems to me, at this sort of a juncture, at least, this doesn't seem to me like this is going that easy a healing process no matter who emerges from the conventions and these primaries, of course, as the nominees of the respective parties.

BLITZER: Yes. I think there's been some real, you know, bad blood between Romney and McCain over these past several days. And there's been some bad blood between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. You saw them both last night on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, when President Bush delivered his State of the Union address. They were very close to each other, loud, but they didn't acknowledge each other and I don't think that was an accident.

DOBBS: As you say. And the reality is here that we are being treated to a spectacle issue. We knew it would be wide open, but I don't think anyone anticipated, as we began this primary season, that we would be seeing quite this ugly a contest, certainly on the Democratic side and at best, a difficult contest...

BLITZER: But we'll see what happens tomorrow night and Thursday night at these two presidential debates.

DOBBS: And what network will they be on?

BLITZER: That would be CNN, the Cable News Network.

DOBBS: And the moderates will be?

BLITZER: Anderson Cooper tomorrow night and me the next night.

DOBBS: Wolf Blitzer. All right.

BORGER: And right here.

DOBBS: And right there.

MARTIN: That's right, with a big...

BORGER: Right here.

DOBBS: In that big 007.

MARTIN: With the plane behind us.

BORGER: Right here with the plane. Right. DOBBS: Absolutely.

Well, it is...

(LAUGHTER)

DOBBS: It is great for everybody to participate.

BORGER: Beautiful.

DOBBS: We look forward to the debates. I know you'll do your usual terrific job, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

DOBBS: Great to be with you this evening.

BLITZER: Thank you, Lou.

DOBBS: And up next, "LARRY KING LIVE".

Thanks for watching.

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