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Levee Lawsuits Dismissed; Fight Night; Tensions High in GOP Debate; Murdered Hiker

Aired January 31, 2008 - 10:00   ET

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


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning once again everybody. I'm Heidi Collins.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Tony Harris. You'll stay informed all day in the CNN NEWSROOM. Here's what's on the rundown.

Fight night for the democrats? Boy, let's hope not. Previewing the CNN debate. The republicans, one candidate ranks up a major endorsement today.

COLLINS: How to cash in on the fed's latest interest rate rollback. Personal finance editor Gerri Willis shows us how.

HARRIS: A surprise vacation, from war, this airman wins tickets to Super Bowl XLII. We have that live today, Thursday, January 31st. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Presidential politics, the tensions are high and so are the stakes. Both parties squaring off in the final debates before next week's Super Tuesday showdown. Republicans went toe to toe last night at the Ronald Reagan presidential library. Air Force One wasn't the only thing looming over the CNN debate, so was the bitter back and forth between John McCain and Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why do you say I'm not using the actual quote?

JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The actual quote is we don't want them to lay in the weeds until we leave. That is the actual quote. I'm sure fact checkers -- it means a time table until we leave.

ROMNEY: It's not in there -- is it not fair to have the person who has been accuse of having a position he doesn't have be the expert on what his position is? How is it that you're the expert on my position when my position has been very clear?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: The democrats debate tonight in Los Angeles. You can probably expect big fireworks between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. John Edwards won't just be out of the spotlight, he will be off the stage. Yesterday he pulled out of the race by formally suspending his campaign. COLLINS: It could be another big day for republican front-runner John McCain. He's hoping to build on his momentum with a star endorsement. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger expected to back McCain, a news conference is set for a little bit later today.

Just yesterday McCain won the endorsement of Rudy Giuliani. The former New York mayor dropped out of the race after a dismal showing in the Florida primary.

HARRIS: Five days before Super Tuesday. There is a lot riding on tonight's CNN democratic debate for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. A preview with CNN political analyst Bill Schneider; Bill, good to see you. We say this a lot because we want to generate a lot of interest for these debates but, boy, tonight's debate, down to two; the stakes really do feel pretty high on this one.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. We're going towards Super Tuesday which could be decisive really in both political parties. We're going to come down to two candidates. If one of them wins decisively across the country, more or less, it's all over.

HARRIS: Okay. And, Bill, does John Edwards dropping out of this race, what do you think, does it help Clinton or Obama more?

SCHNEIDER: Well, depends on the state really. In some states, I think John Edwards took more votes from Hillary Clinton. That was probably the case in South Carolina where the white vote was split between Edwards and Clinton pretty evenly. That was his home state, his birth place. In other states like here in California, he may be taking more votes from Barack Obama because he represented a change vote, a vote against Senator Clinton who is very well known and people who don't like her will probably split between Edwards and Obama.

HARRIS: And, Bill, one more quick one here on the republican side. John McCain is expected to get another big endorsement today from California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Do you expect that to be an important endorsement?

SCHNEIDER: I think it is for one particular reason. Schwarzenegger is a man who gets votes from democrats, independent, republicans. He's really above political party which is what McCain would be. He'd like to look like a national Schwarzenegger figure, someone who can bring the country together, someone who has a base in his party. He also insists he is a conservative, that's his base, but he can work with people from other political callings. That's what Arnold Schwarzenegger has always done. It's really a model for McCain.

HARRIS: OK. Bill Schneider for us from Los Angeles. Good to see you.

And with all eyes on Hollywood, what should you expect in tonight's democratic debate? For that, the political ticker I-report analysis, check out CNNpolitics.com. COLLINS: Cold and windy, wet and icy, winter weather causing problems across the country and we're watching for more stormy forecast today. In Buffalo, New York, temperatures plummeted from 53 to 15 degrees in a matter of just hours yesterday. Icy water flowed through the streets of some neighborhoods after Lake Erie ran over its banks. In Brooklyn, a construction worker was killed when the scaffolding he was on collapsed during strong winds. Another worker was seriously injured. And a train traveling in strong winds derailed on a bridge in northern Ohio. Authorities say about ten freight cars plunged into the water. No injuries are reported. In Washington state, an avalanche shut down part of interstate 90 about 50 miles east of Seattle. It trapped two cars. The people inside were able to be rescued.

HARRIS: Chad, you said it last hour, and you know, it does feel like there is something of note, something significant to be on the lookout for in just about every major region of the country today.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. I mean brutal cold in the north, rain and thunderstorms in the south, tornadoes around Houston, although that's only a tornado watch, nothing on the ground right now. More snow in the Pacific Northwest. Literally, this has been one very busy winter season so far. It's not changing any time soon. It is just one storm after another. They're lined up like freight cars going on the train.

Here's a live shot from Wichita. It's hard to think about Wichita, even saying it without thinking object Glen Campbell and the Wichita Linemen. Let's hope the Wichita Lineman are doing OK today because snow is on the ground. Coffeeville, you've got seven inches. It's going to be snowing in Kansas for a lot of the day. There you go. Look at that visibility, quarter mile, half mile. Maybe six blocks, half mile there from Wichita KWCH, our affiliate there in Wichita.

Now we'll move ahead to where we're going to be here in the next 48 hours, almost 24 hours. I believe the bull's eye for snow with this is going to be St. Louis. You need to look at the scope of this, from Chicago all of the way down these blues here, these lighter blues, four to six inches. There are darker spots around St. Louis. That's pushing eight to ten, zooming right into St. Louis proper. Those numbers are right at ten. A lot of pink here. Come up here to this key. 10 to 12 inches shoveling from St. Louis down to almost Cape Gerardo. Cape Gerardo, I believe you're mixing with some rain and sleet but the snow doesn't pile that up. Not that it's any easier to move that around. It's going to be very wet and heavy snow. Severe weather across parts of the Deep South today and tornado watch here in Houston, Texas, area. Looks like the storms are rotating around you. Up to the north, there has been a couple of areas where we have seen storms actually spin. That could make a tornado. That's the tornado watch, right now though no warnings issued at this point. Look at the snow, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, the Ozarks and it's going to be deep. Back to you guys.

HARRIS: Next line of that song, I am a linemen for the county and -- MYERS: Linemen for the county.

HARRIS: Yeah. Trying to Google it and -- et cetera a great song, Glen Campbell. Nice.

COLLINS: Hey Chad, it's great to have you back.

MYERS: You don't want to have me sing? Viewers are going crazy.

HARRIS: It was.

COLLINS: We'll check in later. Thank you.

I want to get to this story now out of Afghanistan, two suicide bombings in Afghanistan today. At least seven people killed. The first attack inside a mosque in Hellmann province. It killed the deputy governor and five other people. Police say a suicide bomber was wearing an explosive vest and detonated during prayer. This is the scene of the other blast in Kabul. A suicide bomber detonated a red Toyota Corolla next to a bus packed with Afghan soldiers. No troops died. A civilian was killed and two others wounded.

HARRIS: New this morning, we are getting word of a possible guilty plea in the case of a missing hiker who was murdered. According to several Atlanta affiliates, drifter Gary Hilton is expected to plead guilty today to the murder of Emerson. A hearing is scheduled for this afternoon 1 Eastern Time. Hilton led police to Emerson's body in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. Authorities say Emerson was kidnapped while hiking with her dog in the north Georgia Mountains New Year's Day.

COLLINS: Early this morning we learned pop star Britney Spears is back in a hospital taken by ambulance late last night under police escort. Earlier this month she was briefly admitted to Cedar Sinai for psychological evaluation. Spears has been denied visitation with her two children at least until mid February. Paparazzi and tabloids have documented her troubled life since her marriage and divorce from Kevin Federline.

HARRIS: Ahead, caught on tape, a brutal beating and kidnapping attempt. It's grainy and tough to make out. It's pretty brutal though. Now the hunt for the attacker. The story still ahead in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: A super win for a U.S. airman serving in Iraq. Chadwyck McDaniel is back in the state and he is going to the Super Bowl in style. And best of all, free of charge. We're going to talk with him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: A super dream tom true for a U.S airman serving in Iraq. He is back in the states and going to the Super Bowl. The lucky winner of the Super Bowl lottery put on by the charity group packages from home. His prize includes a stay at a five star suite and luxury car for the weekend. His companion for the big game, his brother Tyler. Chadwyck McDaniel is joining us now live from Phoenix along with his mother, Theresa Lane. First of all, congratulations. Second of all, thank you for your service. And third of all, how does it feel to be home?

AIRMAN 1ST CLASS CHADWYCK MCDANIEL, U.S. AIR FORCE: It feels great. I'm just happy to be back with my mom and my brother. I'm just going to try to make this experience the best experience of my life.

COLLINS: How did you decide to enter this contest? Tell us a little bit about it.

MCDANIEL: There was a drawing at NWR and I put my name in the raffle and I got selected in the top 40 and then selected down to the top 5 and then I was selected to be the member to represent the military at the Super Bowl.

COLLINS: Wow. They really drew it out a little bit for you, didn't they? How did you feel when you found out you won?

MCDANIEL: I thought it was a joke at first.

COLLINS: You did?

MCDANIEL: Yes, it was a reality really quick whenever I found out about it.

COLLINS: You know we showed some of the video of you returning home at the airport there and the reunion with your mom and your brother who is younger than you. You've been away for four months. I imagine, the Super Bowl is a great win, but maybe this is even better.

MCDANIEL: Yes, it is. It's very relieving and very -- I'm just blessed to be back here with my mom and my brother.

COLLINS: We are just looking at the hugs. We always like the hug. There's your brother Tyler. What did your fellow air men have to say about this? Jealous or give you their blessing?

MCDANIEL: They pulled my leg a little bit at it but it's all right. They're excited for me and want me to fake take pictures and programs.

COLLINS: Maybe some autographs?

MCDANIEL: Yes, ma'am.

COLLINS: That sounds like a good deal for them. Mom, what was your reaction when you heard that Chad was coming home?

THERESA LANE, MOTHER: I was excited. Just like he said, at first I didn't believe him. I asked him to get all the facts and everything. And it was true, packages from home, they were bringing him home to the Super Bowl to be with his brother and myself. And I guess I had to pinch myself until I actually saw him walking down the walkway from the airport. And --

COLLINS: He looks pretty good, huh.

LANE: Oh, yeah, that was exciting. I was nervous. I was -- it was like the adrenaline was running to see him. So when I saw him it was very, very -- I was so excited to see him.

COLLINS: You're not proud of him or anything, are you?

LANE: I'm very proud of him. He is my hero. He's the hero of all the soldiers that's over in Iraq. He came over to represent all of them, and for us to make sure that we do appreciate them. We appreciate them every single day, every single minute that they're over there. They are why we are having the Super Bowl and why we can have a peace of mind over here. So I want to tell them thank you. And they are our heroes, also Chad is our hero.

COLLINS: You're absolutely right about that. So, Chad, are you a big football fan?

MCDANIEL: Oh, yes, I am.

COLLINS: You are. So who are you picking?

MCDANIEL: I'm picking the Giants. I'm going with the Giants, the underdogs.

COLLINS: All right, the underdog. We won't get into the point spread there. The only bad news, and maybe you don't even see it as bad news, I imagine you very much want to get back with your colleagues in country, but you do have to go back. I believe it's on either Sunday or Monday, very shortly after the game. How are you feeling about that?

MCDANIEL: Well, you know, I'm just going to serve my time and just come back home safely and I'm just going to have everybody come home safely. We're all going to make it home to see our families and be thankful that we're back home in the USA.

COLLINS: How much time do you have left on your tour?

MCDANIEL: Maybe four or five months.

COLLINS: Four to five more months after you go back. Well, this is a heck of an experience and a very nice break for you. We know you're pulling for the Giants. What are you going to do if the other guys win?

MCDANIEL: They win. I mean Tampa Bay Buccaneers is my team, so they beat them. If the Giants win, it's history. If the Patriots win, it's history as well.

COLLINS: That's right. You will be there to see it. It is such a pleasure talking with you. We appreciate your service, to the both of you, Airman Chadwyck McDaniel, for the United States Air Force, and his mother Theresa Lane. Thank you. Have a great day, guys. LANE: You too.

MCDANIEL: You too. Thank you.

HARRIS: Of interest to all the fed cuts rates, how do you cash in?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: A Georgia judge steps down in the Brian Nichols murder case, a magazine article getting the blame. Nichols is accused of killing four people in a dramatic courthouse shooting and chase almost three years ago in Atlanta. Judge Hilton Fuller was put in the New Yorker saying Nichols' only defense is insanity because, quote, everyone in the world knows he did it. That left Fuller open to questions about his ability to be fair and impartial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE HILTON FULLER, DEKALB. CO., GA. SUPERIOR COURT: I wasn't excited about that, but I did take it for what I think to be the right reasons. I am disappointed not to be able to complete that, that responsibility professionally and very disappointing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Fuller claims the interview was off the record. The article was written by CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

HARRIS: All right. About an hour into the trading day. Let's get you back to the New York Stock Exchange. Take a look at the big board. What's going on today? Just day to day, you just don't know what's driving the markets one way or the other. The Dow as you can see is down 98 points. That's about the low for the session right now. The NASDAQ down 13 points. We are going to continue to follow the markets. Susan Lisovicz joining us shortly right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

The Federal Reserve cuts interest rates again. What's happening with the markets? Should be going the other way? Good news for your wallet especially if you know how to cash in. Gerri Willis is here to tell us where the best money moves are right now. Gerri, great to see you.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Great to see you.

HARRIS: Need this market to bounce back a little bit.

WILLIS: We all do.

HARRIS: Absolutely.

Does it make more sense right now, save your money, borrow your money, what do you think?

WILLIS: Well you know, rate cuts, they're great for borrowers. If you're thinking about refinancing your mortgage loan, there's no better time than the present to start doing your homework. 30-year fixed mortgage rates, Tony, are at their lowest level in two years. If you live in a high-cost area like California and New York, you may benefit from an increase in the performing loan limit proposed in the new stimulus package. If you have what they call a jumbo loan, you could get help from the economic stimulus package. We'll probably know next week if that's in the final version of this.

HARRIS: Gerri, what advice do you have for savers out there?

WILLIS: Rate cuts may be great for borrowers but they're not great for savers. If you have money tucked away in a savings or money market account, now is the time to look at it. The interest rate will probably take a hit. If you have a CD that's maturing soon, you will see lower rates when you reinvest. It's up to you to find the best savings tools. Check out your local bank but be sure to go online to bankrate.com or search for credit unions to find other opportunities. You want to cast a wide net. You want your return to be above I nation. Core rate right now 2.7%. You've got to beat that hurdle so you don't lose money.

HARRIS: Absolutely. It seems like that this is an environment where there are some opportunities. Am I correct in thinking that?

WILLIS: You bet. You know your money market or savings account should be a temporary parking place for your cash. Once you have your emergency cushion stowed away and safe, now is the time to start thinking about long-term investments like the stock market. Start looking at broad-based index funds offered by Vanguard or Fidelity. This is inexpensive way to getting access to the stock market and they typically offer funds at low costs.

HARRIS: You get e-mails from folks, particularly boomers who are seeing less in terms of a return on their investments right now. Do you have any advice for them, us?

WILLIS: I'm hearing from these people everywhere I go. You know and these are the folks with the most at stake because they're getting ready to retire. Their best defense is a diversified portfolio. They need to have a mix of stocks, bonds, international investments. In the end you never know how the market is going to react or what the fed does or anything else for that matter. So you've got make sure you've got your money in a lot of different pots. Check out morningstar.com's instant x-ray tool to help see if you're making any unintended bets in one market. Sometimes you over-invest in S&P 500 stocks instead of moving your money all around. Find a financial planner to help you plan out your goals and make sure you're doing the right thing.

HARRIS: That makes all the sense in the world. I'm curious looking ahead, what do you have coming up on the big "OPEN HOUSE" show?

WILLIS: Saturday morning at 9:30 right here on CNN, from the economy to housing and health care, we've got you covered with CNN's financial security watch and we'll tell you what the candidate's proposals mean to your money.

HARRIS: Thanks for the advice.

WILLIS: Thank you, Tony.

HARRIS: And let's look now at the most clicked on videos at CNN.com this morning. On strike, nude art models in Italy. What's up with this? That's right. About 300 professional nude art models are off the job. They are asking for better pay and better working conditions. What does that mean? Logon to CNN.com/mostpopular and hear and see more. While you're there check out this story. Meet Courtney Oliver. We brought you her story yesterday in the NEWSROOM. She is a certified veterinarian assistant and she just graduated from college. Did I mention by the way she's 10 years old? Get a look at Austria's newest attraction. 5-month-old panda named Fulong. That means lucky dragon in Chinese. She made her debut yesterday at Vienna's Zoo. For more of your favorite videos go to CNN.com/popular and download the daily podcast and see the stories that will have you talking. It's available 24-7 to you.

Still head, democrats and republicans bring their best, election 2008, and the CNN debates.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Coming up at the bottom of the hour, welcome back to the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Tony Harris.

COLLINS: Hi there everybody. I'm Heidi Collins. Among our top stories, California reaming, harsh words and hot tempers in the republican presidential debate last night, the study from the Ronald Reagan Library, bitter feelings in the foreground with only days before the Super Tuesday showdown. Frontrunners John McCain and Mitt Romney held no punches.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: We don't want to have them lay in the weeds until we leave. And Maliki and the president should enter into some kind of agreement for, quote, "timetables".

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Timetables was the buzzword for withdrawal, Senator. I'm using the whole quote where you said I wont --.

MCCAIN: Why do you insist I'm not using the actual quote. The actual quote is, we don't want them to lay in the weeds until we leave. That is the actual quote.

ROMNEY: What does that mean?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: The Democrats get their turn tonight in a CNN debate held in Los Angeles. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will not only dominate the spotlight, they'll own the stage. As you know, John Edwards pulled out of the race formally suspending his campaign.

HARRIS: Steel cage, match. We're wrestling with election stories. In one corner Republican Strategist and CNN Contributor Amy Holmes. Amy, good morning.

AMY HOLMES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good morning.

HARRIS: We're going to have fun this morning. And in the other, Democratic Commentator, and regular guest on our show Keith Boykin. Keith, great to see you.

KEITH BOYKIN, DEMOCRATIC COMMENTATOR: Hi, Tony.

HARRIS: All right. Good, clean fight this morning. Amy, I'm going to start with you, but Keith, I want you to play along here. After hearing Ronald Reagan's name, what, 30, 33, 60 times last night, a song came to my mind, a little Boys To Men song. Listen please for a moment. To yesterday. Do we all remember the song?

BOYKIN: Yes, we do.

HOLMES: I like that song.

HARRIS: Of course you like that song. So, Amy, my question to you is, sometimes it feels like -- I'm wondering to you does it feel that sometimes we're reaching into a time capsule with these Republican candidates?

Well, it was the Reagan Library, after all.

HARRIS: Sure, I'll give you that. But nothing more.

HOLMES: And Reagan was a successful president and a successful conservative governor. He's a patriarch of the Republican Party. And, let's not forget, Tony, that looking at Hillary Clinton she seems to be very happy to dig into the past. The Clinton years and go back to the good old days.

So, you know each party, of course, has the lines of the party that they revere, that inspires them. Republicans and Democrats are no different.

HARRIS: Well, you know, Keith, I think there was one mention maybe just a handful of mentions to President Bush last night. 30 some odd mentioning of Ronald Reagan. I understand they were in the library last night, but do these guys realize they're running for the 2008 nomination?

BOYKIN: I don't know if they do. Ronald Reagan was elected almost 30 years ago. This is not new news. They're still reliving the legacy of the Reagan era because they don't have any new ideas, I think. They don't have any new people.

John McCain is a representative of the old establishment, if anybody is. For God's sake, you can't get much, as he says, older than he is. I think they need to move forward and figure out new ideas, and figure out a way to move their party forward. They're not doing it by talking about Ronald Reagan.

Who is George Bush? Where is George Bush? He's not even on the stage anymore. He's not event being talked about.

HARRIS: Are you going to take that, Amy?

HOLMES: No, I'm not going to take that. What Republicans need to do is they need to stick to principle. They need to stick to principles of lower taxation, less regulation, smaller government. These were the things that in November 2006 -- you know even George Bush said Republicans took a thumping because of out of control government spending.

There's been a lot of talk about, oh is the Republican Party in disarray? The problem is, is that we haven't had a candidate who represents all of those principles, tax cutting, lower government, you know, lower government spending. And Ronald Reagan did. And that's why you hear those candidates talking about Ronald Reagan and saying this is what we need to get back to.

BOYKIN: I actually agree with you on that. The Republican Party is actually very divided, Amy. I think that's what's going on right now. There's a war for the soul of the party between economic conservatives and national security conservatives and the social conservatives. They can't decide who is going to win.

I think that that's a disastrous position for your party to be in.

HARRIS: OK. Here we go here. I just want to cut to the chase a little bit here. It feels like we've got front-runners among the Republicans now, Romney and McCain. We certainly have two candidates left on the Democratic side.

So, I just want to play a little game with you. I want your gut reactions to what you're about to see on the screen here. Are you ready? I feel like a game show host all of a sudden. OK. John McCain, Hillary Clinton, side by side, you're going to see the pictures here. Amy, gut reaction.

HOLMES: I can't see the pictures, so gut reaction is --

HARRIS: Sorry.

HOLMES: That's OK. That's OK. Gut reaction is John McCain beats Hillary. She's afraid of running up against him in November.

HARRIS: Keith?

BOYKIN: My gut reaction is going to be a very nasty, dirty fight. And we're not going to see the end of it until the last day of November when they vote. I don't think it's going to be an easy battle at all with those two.

HOLMES: No, I see battle of the titans.

HARRIS: You think so. OK. Gut reaction, Keith, let me start with you, John McCain/Barack Obama.

BOYKIN: You know, I don't have a preference in this race necessarily, but I think that's a whole different race from the McCain/Clinton race. Because if you have Obama versus McCain, then you have a contrast between old and new, young and old, different styles and everything. I think that that's a very different race.

I think it's actually an inspirational race. Quite frankly, I'm inspired by what's going on with the Democratic Party right now. The idea that there will a woman or an African-American at the top of the ticket is historic. And we need to acknowledge that.

HARRIS: Amy?

HOLMES: When I think of Barack Obama versus John McCain I think of a campaign that's going to be about ideas, it's going to be about the principles of each party. I agree with Keith, it will be generational, but it will also be about experience.

When you see those two people, do you want the -- war tested, war-horse national security guy, or do you want the guy who talks about hope and inspiration in the future. That's going to be something the voters have to decide.

HARRIS: Mitt Romney/Hillary Clinton. Keith, wont you start us off here?

BOYKIN: Well, I see that as even nastier than the other debate. Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton, those two people know how to fight. They will not stop until the end. I think we have never seen a contest as dirty as that contest would be.

HARRIS: Amy?

HOLMES: I think we've seen it between Hillary and Barack Obama.

HARRIS: Whoa.

HOLMES: Between Hillary and Mitt Romney -- I see Hillary going very sour, I see Mitt Romney being unflappable just like he was last night in the Republican debate. I like Keith, I think it will be nasty but I think that Mitt Romney will kind of look like the better guy.

HARRIS: Mitt Romney/Barack Obama. Amy?

HOLMES: Mitt Romney/Barack Obama, that's a tough one, even for me. As a conservative, Barack Obama inspires me. I see on the one hand, Barack's authenticity when he talks about the future and hope and change. But then I see on the other hand, Mitt Romney the accomplished CEO, he's a little smooth, a little slick. He's going to need to figure out how to connect more with the voters.

HARRIS: Keith?

BOYKIN: I see a landslide for the Democrats if that happens. I think that's a clear victory because Mitt Romney is so poorly identified changing his visions everywhere, here and there. His people in his own state don't even like him. The people in New Hampshire didn't like him. I can't see how he can even beat Barack Obama in that race.

HOLMES: People in Michigan liked him. He won by nine points out there. People in Nevada like him.

BOYKIN: He's got so many home states, he doesn't even know which one --. HARRIS: All right. All right. Let me see, Amy, let me start with you. What are you expecting out of the Democratic debate tonight?

HOLMES: Fireworks.

HARRIS: Really?

HOLMES: I am expecting it to be sharp elbows. Barack Obama's speeches this week have been really sharp. He's talking about we don't need a poll-tested politician. We learned from his victory speech in South Carolina that when he says status quo that is code for Hillary Clinton.

You hear them talk about Bush, but I think he's been going after Hillary a lot more directly. She's now facing a candidate who has been backed by Ted Kennedy. So you see the Kennedy/Clinton feud. I'm expecting a pretty exciting debate tonight.

And Hillary is going to have to work hard to keep her temper, because it did not help her when she went up against Barrack and she looked sour, she looked patronizing, and I think that --.

HARRIS: Keith is nodding. Are you agreeing there, Keith?

BOYKIN: I'm agreeing that we're going to see fireworks. I'm not necessarily agreeing that Hillary Clinton was whatever Amy was saying she was.

HOLMES: Oh, when she made that remark to Barack Obama -- I just can't figure out where you stand, I can't get a straight answer out of you. This coming from Hillary Clinton, that's rich. And I mean Marc Rich (PH). That was --

HARRIS: Mark Rich, wow.

BOYKIN: That's a low blow. That's a really low blow. I think what is unique about this is we have two people on the stage, the two front-runners. This is the first time we've ever seen this, a black person and a woman competing for the highest position in the Democratic Party. They will be on the same stage together by themselves.

That is historic in itself, and I think we need to acknowledge that moment. I think it may be negative in some sense, but I think -- it's a good constructive debate for our country -- HARRIS: All right, I'm long in the segment. I got to go. Amy, great to see you. Keith, great to see you as well. You two have a great day. Thank you.

And, we invite you to tune in tonight as the Democrats face-off in their last debate before Super Tuesday. See it right here at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time only on CNN, your home for politics.

COLLINS: The search is on in Maryland for this man. Surveillance tape shows him attacking a woman with a bat and trying to kidnap her. Police say the man was standing behind this white truck when he grabbed the woman.

Despite being hit with the bat, the 27-year-old woman managed to fight off her attacker. She reportedly was taken to a hospital. Her injuries are not life threatening. Wow.

Katrina victims get kicked by the court. As we reported last hour. A federal judge has now dismissed a class action lawsuit over the failure of New Orleans levees systems. CNN's Sean Callebs is here with a copy of the startling ruling. Sean, what is this all about?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This was perhaps the best hope for thousands and thousands of people in the New Orleans area, who were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. And the reason the judge ruled against the plaintiffs in this goes back to 1928. It's called the 1928 Flood Control Act.

And basically, it's a get out of jail free card for the army corps of engineers, if you will, saying that people cannot file suit against an entity that is trying to provide protection through flood projects.

COLLINS: You can't sue the government?

CALLEBS: Not in this case. You can sue them, but --

COLLINS: You're not going to win.

CALLEBS: -- it didn't go very far. And, they're going to appeal it but even the plaintiffs' lawyer says this is going to be an uphill battle. There -- if you look at the left of the screen, the break in the 17th Street Canal, that break was blamed for much of the flooding, Heidi, that devastated 80 percent of New Orleans.

Now, this was huge for the people who lived there that were really counting on this measure, 489,000 people, businesses, government entities were involved in this class-action lawsuit. At stake, trillions of dollars. The judge pretty much blistered the Army Corps of Engineers.

I want to read you a quote. He said, look, we have to take look at this legislation, the 1928 Flood Control Act. He says, it needs to be overhauled, because in essence, gross incompetence receives the same treatment as a simple mistake. The U.S. district Judge Stanwood Duval talking about that case.

We also have an aerial look at this as we fly over Lake Ponchartrain just to north of the city. And you can get an idea of what the big problem is. So there you see the canal stretching down into the city. What happened was Katrina moved past the city, over lake Ponchartrain, and that counter-clockwise motion began to push the water from the lake back down those canals. It caused scouring at the bottom of the floodwalls and it caused the floodwall to collapse there at the 17th Street Canal, and that is what just allowed the water to pour into that area.

And you know they've been working, spent millions and millions of dollars trying to get that area safe again. Really the canals are the only thing keeping the water out of the city. And I can tell you, there's not a lot of faith in the Army Corps of Engineers down there. They are staying on them, they are very concerned, and people really looking at this damage. But no one can say to this day, is it safe.

COLLINS: It seems, you know, not like rocket science to consider, but something that was written up in 1928, the topography and the land has just probably changed quite a bit since -- obviously it has now after the hurricane -- but it seems very odd to refer back to something that was drawn up in 1928.

CALLEBS: I think the plaintiffs would say that, and certainly the judge talked about that in his ruling. He said basically the Army Corps of Engineers cast a blind eye to protecting people in the New Orleans area. And he went on to say that city -- that the Corps, the Army Corps of Engineers, wasted millions and millions of dollars that could have been used in a better fashion. Boy, we all remember that, just a few days after the storm that sandbagging went on. A heroic effort, but it's really like trying to put the genie back in the bottle.

What happened, the city instantly went to the depth of Lake Ponchartrain. Lake Ponchartrain is only about eight to 10-feet deep. But if you're talking about cities that below sea level, did a great deal of damage.

COLLINS: All right, well, we know that you have been following this story very closely as well as many others out in New Orleans. Appreciate you being here. Sean, we'll check back with you on this one later on. Thank you.

HARRIS: And ahead, stampede at the station. China's heavy snow ties up travel. A run for a train becomes a run for your life.

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(BUSINESS HEADLINES)

COLLINS: Police squirt pepper spray to bust up a Chuck E. Cheese brawl.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A police sprayed me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was itchy, irritable, scratching her eyes, you know, crying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Mouse house melee, in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Don't go home for the holiday. China telling people to postpone travel due to wicked winter weather. CNN's Hugh Riminton witnesses a dangerous crush at one train station.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HUGH RIMINTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One week into this emergency, sudden forceful action. For days, hoards of people, desperate to get home for the lunar new year holiday, often the only time they see their families all year, besiege the Guangdong train station. With frequent human stampedes as people try to get on to any train that would take them anywhere.

(on-camera): The dangers in this are obvious enough. It only takes one person to stumble over with all their bags and suddenly people are being trampled underfoot. It's happened already several times in the last few days and the security services are simply powerless to prevent it happening again.

(voice-over): Just hours before Premier Wen Jinbao had visited this very place, admitting the system hadn't coped with record snowstorms and promising to do better.

WEN JIABAO, CHINESE PREMIER (through translator): First, we need to fix the electric grid. You know, our trains need electricity. Once the electric grid is fixed, the trains can start to run.

RIMINTON: But soothing words from the very top of the Beijing government, even personal apologies, couldn't get people home. The tension was building, until a change in police tactics.

(on-camera): What we have seen here in these last few minutes is a series of quite deliberate (AUDIO GAP) by the police here to regain control of Guangdong train station. In fact, it could be said that for the first time in a week it is authorities who have control of this area.

(voice-over): The bus services might still be groaning, but some trains at last are moving. And the Shu (ph) family says, it is worth every hassle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is our Chinese tradition to go home and reunite with the family, especially in the last day of the year. Having dinner with my parents, my mom and dad really miss me. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Because we left the village and we spent the whole year working in the city. The money saved we really needed to share with the family.

RIMINTON: That money more need now than ever. The snowfalls have sent food prices skyrocketing, even the market store owners are shocked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): These are the highest prices I've ever seen. It usually goes up for Chinese new year, but not like this.

RIMINTON: Food inflation was already a hot issue. Now these store owners say some vegetables have risen 80 percent. The price of beef and lamb are rising daily.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Thirteen, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20 yuan a kilo. I have seen nothing like this in 25 years here.

RIMINTON: It's a winter of challenges for Beijing, a closely- watched test of confidence and credibility.

Hugh Riminton, CNN, Guangzhouz, China.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: Prized endorsement, Hillary Clinton wanted it, Barack Obama got it. The big catch, a political veteran who is 15-years-old.

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HARRIS: Well, we all know that money is the mother's milk of politics. And these campaigns, certainly for the presidency, they need money to run. We have heard of other candidates having problems raising money. How about this? The "Associated Press" is reporting that Barack Obama has raised $32 million in the month of January alone. One month, $32 million.

And according to his campaign, that matches his best three-month period of last year. Once again, the "Associated Press" reporting that Barack Obama has raised $32 million. Wow -- the month of January. Matching his best three-month period of all of last year.

COLLINS: Pint size legal power house grows up. She's still in the campaign, but she's got a new candidate now. Reporter Vicki Liviakis has her story. She's with affiliate KRON, in San Francisco.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VICKI LIVIAKIS, KRON REPORTER: Like any chatty teenager, Ilana Wexler likes to talk on her cell phone about the usual.

ILANA WEXLER, OBAMA SUPPORTER: Shopping, boys...

LIVIAKIS: This the same plucky kid who spoke at the Democratic convention and chastised Vice President Cheney for using a four-letter world?

WEXLER: If I said that word, I would be put in a time-out. I think he should be put in a time-out.

LIVIAKIS: Wexler brought the house down. That was at the ripe old age of 11 when she started Kids for Kerry. In fact, there she is with the former presidential candidate. Although Kerry lost and the braces are off, today Ilana is back in the mix.

WEXLER: How can you not vote? You know like -- you have this amazing privilege in this society. Why don't you just take advantage of it.

LIVIAKIS: Instead of a kids campaign, she's forming a more age appropriate students political machine. There's a tug of war, even, over her stamp of approval. Yes, she is still a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat ...

(on-camera): ... but Hillary's people wanted Ilana to throw her weight behind the Clinton campaign. But Ilana's friends were all stomping for Obama. So what's a 15-year-old to do?

(voice-over): She followed her friends and her heart and is now backing Barack Obama. After all, she and Obama did share the same stage back in 2004.

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