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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Conservatives and John McCain; Obama and Clinton Fight to the Finish

Aired February 14, 2008 - 20:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome to the CNN ELECTION CENTER for this Friday night.
Super Tuesday made things clearer on the Republican side, but the presidential campaign is still going full speed ahead, and so is the best political team on television. We're making sure that you will keep hearing from the candidates so that you can make smart decisions on Election Day.

Tonight, we are counting down the hours until tomorrow's group of primaries and caucuses, suddenly crucial for the Democrats. Still more contests get under way on Sunday and then on Tuesday, 357 Democratic delegates at stake in these upcoming primaries and caucuses.

Right now, Senators Clinton and Obama are less than 100 delegates apart.

And while the Republican race isn't exactly sewn up, we have a question for some key conservative leaders, Richard Land, Richard Viguerie, and Tony Perkins: Is John McCain their man or not? Well, the senator says he is, and the sooner that everyone accepts that, the better it will be for all Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Obviously, if we unite behind one candidate -- I hopefully will be, although, again, Governor Huckabee remains, I believe, a viable candidate -- then we have time to move forward uniting the party, et cetera.

I hope that by the speech that I gave yesterday, where I outlined a few of our differences, but most of our areas of agreements philosophically and the challenge we face, we will keep this process in motion to unite the party and to make sure that we all understand that the best way of succeeding is with a united party, and we will have great difficulties if we don't.

And I also want to point out again what I have been saying, you know, in straight talk. We need to reenergize our party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: That speech that Senator McCain referred to was the one that he gave before the convention of CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Committee, where he was sometimes applauded and occasionally booed, like here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I have held other positions that have not met with widespread agreement from conservatives. I won't pretend otherwise, nor would you permit me to forget it.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: On the issue of illegal immigration, a position which...

(AUDIENCE BOOING)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Well, clearly, there are issues on which many conservatives are not exactly thrilled with John McCain.

Let's take a closer look at some of them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCCAIN: And I am proud to carry the banner of a conservative Republican with a record of conservative thought and action in voting.

ROBERTS (voice-over): Be that as it may, the first point of contention between John McCain and many conservatives is immigration. The senator joined with Democrats in co-sponsored a bill to secure the borders, while at the same time providing a path to citizenship for the millions of people already here illegally. It failed. McCain now says he would do things differently.

MCCAIN: And I have pledged that it would be among my highest priorities to secure our borders first. And only after we have achieved widespread consensus that our borders are secure would we address other aspects of the problem in a way that defends the rule of law.

ROBERTS: Conservatives also dislike McCain's record on Campaign finance reform. Again working with Democrats McCain passed laws limiting campaign contributions. Some conservatives think that amounts to limiting free speech. Senator McCain voted against President Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 saying the country couldn't afford them. Many of those cuts are set to expire in 2010. McCain now says he wants to extend them.

MCCAIN: Senator Clinton and Senator Obama will raise your taxes. I intend to cut them. I will start by making the Bush tax cuts permanent.

ROBERTS: Conservatives want a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only a union between a man and a woman. Although McCain opposes gay marriage, he also opposes that constitutional amendment.

MCCAIN: I am pro-life and advocate for the rights of man everywhere in the world.

ROBERTS: While Senator McCain opposes abortion and would like to Roe v. Wade overturned, he supports stem cell research, using frozen embryos that would otherwise become medical waste. Conservatives are dead set against anything that destroys a human embryo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Well, those are just some of the issues where John McCain and conservatives part company.

But don't get the idea that the right is a monolithic voting bloc. Conservatives themselves have different opinions and priorities on economic and social issues.

Joining us first in the ELECTION CENTER tonight, Richard Land. He is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission. He is the author of a book with a provocative question for a title, "The Divided States of America." Activist and author Richard Viguerie is considered a pioneer of the modern conservative movement. His latest book is title "Conservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause."

And Tony Perkins is the president of the Family Research Council. All three have neither endorsed a presidential candidate, nor contributed to any of the campaigns.

Gentlemen, good evening. Thanks very much for being with us.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: Tony Perkins, why don't we start with you, because you were one of the first conservative leaders to say, let's not be so fast to write off John McCain here. Where do you think he stands with conservatives?

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, I think he has a lot of work to do. I think based upon Democratic turnout thus far in this primary season he will have to have a surge of support among social conservatives to win.

Now, he has proven that he can listen. He listened on the immigration issue. There are other issues that I'm hopeful that he will listen to conservatives on as well. I mean, basically on the issue of embryonic research, science, the latest discovery of the use of stem cells is that showing the position that Bush presently may work, if he would hold that.

Focusing on those issues, making social conservatives and other conservatives feeling comfortable that he understands their issues and will make them a part of his platform as president will go a long way, but he's got a lot of work to do, no question about it. ROBERTS: Richard Viguerie, give us your thoughts on the same question. Where do you believe John McCain stands with conservatives?

RICHARD VIGUERIE, AUTHOR, "CONSERVATIVES BETRAYED: HOW GEORGE W. BUSH AND OTHER BIG GOVERNMENT REPUBLICANS HIJACKED THE CONSERVATIVE CAUSE": Well, he's got an uphill battle, John.

He can, you know, get to the top of that mountain, but it's going to take hard work. And rhetoric will not do it. It's going to have to be specifics. Unfortunately, too many presidents, Republican presidents, for too long have betrayed the conservative voters, betrayed the American people.

And rhetoric just won't do it. We need specific actions. The number one thing John McCain has to do above everything else now is his vice presidential nomination. He has to unite the party as Ronald Reagan did in 1980 and bring everybody that is in the Republican coalition together. And we need specifics. We need to know who is going to populate this presidency.

Number one issue above everything else may be personnel. Personnel is policy. And we have to wait and see, you know, what this man is going to do to ensure conservatives that they have a stake in the presidency.

ROBERTS: That's an issue, Richard Viguerie, I would like to explore in a little bit more detail coming up in part two of this panel.

But, Richard Land, let me go to you first. We heard a little bit about it in a piece that I topped this segment with. The issues that matter to you and where John McCain runs afoul, can you lay those out for us?

RICHARD LAND, PRESIDENT, SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION ETHICS AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY COMMISSION: Well, first of all, he's pro-life. And we wouldn't be having this discussion if he weren't pro-life. If he weren't pro-life, and didn't have a reliable pro-life voting record, there's no way he could unite the conservative coalition.

McCain can do it. Giuliani could not have. In addition to those that were mentioned by Tony and by Richard Viguerie, I would also say the gang of 14, his leadership of the gang of 14, which undermined Senator Frist's effort to do away with filibusters for the federal judiciary.

As a philosophical matter, I do not believe that a Senate rule should trump the Constitution. I believe that every nominated judge has a right to an up-or-down vote. Filibusters may be helpful when it comes to working for compromises on legislation.

But you can't confirm part of a judge. You either confirm all of a judge or none of a judge. And every judge nominated by an elected president deserves an up-or-down vote in the Senate. And Senator McCain was the reason we didn't end filibusters in the Senate. And I would advise him to talk a lot about how he would use Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justice Alito as his template for picking future federal judges and he would reconsider on the question of filibusters.

ROBERTS: Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and others have come out pretty negatively against John McCain, some people even going so far as to suggest that they might sit out this election rather than vote for him because he doesn't share their values.

Listen to how Glenn Beck put it the other day on "THE SITUATION ROOM."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE SITUATION ROOM")

GLENN BECK, HOST, "GLENN BECK": Republicans have lost their soul. They're Republicans. They're all about the elephant. They're not about values anymore.

John McCain is not about values that are conservative anymore. All I care about is values. And John McCain has sold out conservative values over and over and over and over again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Richard Viguerie, for many people, is this about more than winning?

VIGUERIE: Well, it is, in many ways, John, about the heart and soul of the Republican Party.

As my book "Conservatives Betrayed" says, you know, we feel betrayed going back for many years. Both Bushes, both the 41st, the 43rd, said they were conservatives. They convinced many people they were conservatives. And then they betrayed. And they expanded government massively.

So the trust is gone not only among conservatives. Most Americans just don't trust politicians anymore. And so that's why John McCain is going to have to come through with some specifics. The widow dressing of having some popular conservatives in back of him and making conservative speeches is nice, but I think we have gone beyond that now if he wants to stop this open rebellion. I mean, there is an open rebellion going on in the Republican Party right now.

ROBERTS: Yes.

Richard Land, some conservatives have suggested that a couple of years out of the power would be just the thing that the Republican Party needs.

LAND: Well, I think That that's just nuts. We're at war. We're at war. We're at war. And we need to have a commander in chief who understands we're at war.

Clinton wants to walk out of Iraq. Barack wants to run out of Iraq. And McCain wants to win in Iraq. And most conservatives would rather have a second-rate fireman than a first-class arsonist in the Oval Office.

ROBERTS: Gentlemen, I want to take a quick break here and come back and talk more about this.

Richard Viguerie, we are going to hear a little bit more from you a little bit later on, though, on this idea of opening up the convention to another candidate.

In just a minute, former presidential candidate Gary Bauer is going to be joining us. We're going to draw on his experience as we try to help you make that important choice.

Can the Republican Party rally around John McCain or will conservatives the stand on principle, even if it means losing in November?

Democrats will eventually face the unity question themselves, but not right now. Senators Clinton and Obama are fighting for delegates in a section of the country that usually gets ignored until November.

And don't look away, because before and after the break, we will show you how John McCain and Huckabee stand on the issues that conservatives care about the most.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Conservatives are a major force in U.S. politics. Look at this. Exit polling going back to 1976 shows that in every national election roughly one voter in three is a conservative. The question this year, can conservatives unite behind a Republican ticket that is headed by John McCain?

With us again are Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission. We're also joined by evangelical activist Gary Bauer, who ran for president in the year 2000 and is now president of American Values, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins back again. All three guests, we want to remind you, have neither endorsed, nor contributed to a presidential campaign this year.

Gary Bauer, since we're just bringing you into the discussion here, let's start with you.

John McCain said at the CPAC convention he has got a lot of work to do to unite conservatives. The question is, can he?

GARY BAUER, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN VALUES: I definitely think he can.

Look, John, this is not like he needs a major makeover or whatever. Senator McCain has many conservative accomplishments to his credit. He does have basically a 100 percent pro-life voting record. He's been outstanding, probably the best United States senator, on the question of getting under control out-of-control spending, pork barrel spending. That's been one of the biggest complaints by conservatives at the grassroots. And Senator McCain has led on that issue.

Certainly at a time when we're under threat from a foreign enemy that says it worships death, I can't think of any candidate in the Republican Party that would have been able to do or make a better case on the need for a strong national defense than Senator McCain.

And, look, I want to point out the obvious. There are going to be profound, profound differences between him and Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. So, I think any conservative that takes even 30 seconds to think about this is going to know that on Election Day their place is going to be standing in line outside the voting booth to vote for a man that's a reasonably good conservative.

ROBERTS: But, Gary Bauer, if as you say he doesn't need a makeover, that he has a very conservative voting record, why are people like James Dobson from Focus on the Family saying, I could never vote for McCain? People like Rush Limbaugh are saying, if McCain becomes the nominee, it's going to destroy the Republican Party.

BAUER: Well, you will have to ask them.

Each person is going to take a look at this and make their own judgments. But just in the last couple of days, I went out and polled about 200,000 conservative activists around the country that get an end-of-day report that I send to them. And already there was overwhelming sentiment.

Even though for some of them Senator McCain wasn't their first choice, there was overwhelming sentiment for the need to rally around him and the belief that he would be an extraordinarily better president than the alternatives.

I think it's interesting by the way that in a brutal battle going on in the Democratic Party, I don't hear Hillary Clinton supporters saying, well, if our nominee, if our person doesn't get the nomination, if Barack Obama gets it, we're going to stay home. I even heard Barack Obama people saying that about Hillary Clinton. They want to take the country to the left.

And conservatives need to be just as serious about uniting to keep it on a conservative direction.

ROBERTS: Tony Perkins, Richard Viguerie mentioned something of this in our last segment here about what John McCain needs to do.

Bay Buchanan last night on "A.C. 360" said he has to do more than just talk about it. Laura Ingraham said at CPAC it's not enough to say, I was a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution. What have you done for conservatism lately is what is really the issue here.

So, what he has done for conservatism lately, and what does he need to do, what big move does he need to make to show conservatives that he can get along with them and he can serve their interests?

PERKINS: Well, John, he may not need a makeover, but he certainly needs some powder. So I would have to disagree with Gary on that.

(LAUGHTER) PERKINS: He's got not only his own issues with conservatives, but as Richard pointed out in the previous segment, that Republicans have problems with evangelicals.

George Barna, the pollster, took a -- released a poll earlier this month that showed that only 45 percent of evangelicals are committed to vote for the Republican candidate. That's down from 85 percent in 2004. There's no question there's heavy lifting here. He can do it, but he's going to have to work very hard.

And you're right in what Richard said and Buchanan pointed out. He's going to have to do some specific. It's not just the language. It's going to have to be specifics. Is he going to include social conservatives in the review of his judicial nominees? Would he entertain the idea of appointing a families czar to work to strengthen the families of America?

Will he reach out to both fiscal and social conservatives and pledge to take organizations like Planned Parenthood off the public dole? So it's going to have to be very specific policy and implementation of programs in order to get I think their solid commitment.

ROBERTS: Richard Land, is, as Richard Viguerie said earlier, one of the big things that John McCain could do in picking a vice presidential running mate, and, if so, who would that person be? Who would be acceptable to conservatives? Would it be Mike Huckabee, as some people are suggesting?

LAND: Well, Governor Huckabee, you know, I have known Mike for 28 years. He's a solid 24-karat social conservatives. And he would be a help. Mitt Romney would be a help.

I would encourage the senator, however, to be very bold. And, if he were to ask me, which I doubt he's going to do, if Senator McCain were to ask me, I would say, Senator, do you really want to win? And if he said, yes, I do, I would say, then you need to get Condoleezza Rice as your running mate, because whoever -- he's going to be running against a strong tide in November of either the first woman president or the first African-American president.

What better way to break the tide than to have as a running mate the first African-American woman vice president? But the vice presidential pick will not do as much good as McCain himself. Only the candidate himself can really deliver social conservatives. He has got to show that he really cares about their issues, that he's willing to work with them, that he's willing to respect them, that he's willing to at least listen to their opinions on things, and that he's going to remain committed to fighting the good fight, to defend our unborn citizens' right to legal protection under the law.

ROBERTS: Interesting prospect, though, Condoleezza Rice as a running mate. Well, some food for thought going forward.

Richard Land, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer, thanks so much for being with us tonight, gentlemen. Appreciate you giving up your Friday night.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: Conservative unease with John McCain could produce something this country hasn't seen in more than a half-a-century, a deadlocked convention with a surprise nominee. But who could that be? We will consider the possibilities.

And what about the Democrats? They're eying a big prize in part of the country that usually gets overlooked during primary season. We will take you there.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jessica Yellin with the Obama campaign in Seattle, Washington, where the battle for delegates continues to rage.

Today, Barack Obama projected confidence that he will win the caucuses here tomorrow, which he says will give him momentum to win the primaries ahead. Even the Clinton camp concedes they expect Obama to come out ahead here in Washington.

Obama spoke today in this arena, which usually hosts the Seattle Sonics. It was filled to capacity, and he was rallying the faithful.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is our moment. This is our time. And, if you will stand with me, if you will caucus for me tomorrow, if you want to give the next generation the same chances somebody gave us, if you're not willing to settle for what the cynics tell you, you have to accept, but are willing to reach for what you know is possible, then I guarantee you, we will win here in Washington. We will win the nomination. We will win the general election.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Well, Senator Barack Obama had some company in Washington state today. Senator Hillary Clinton was there as well attacking Obama's health care plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As things stand now, I am the only candidate in either party who has a plan to ensure every single man, woman, and child in America, no one left out.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: My opponent's plan would leave out at least 15 million people, leave them uninsured, including more than 250,000 right here in Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Well, here to focus on the Democratic race with us now, Mort Zuckerman. He's the editor in chief of "U.S. News & World Report," as well as the publisher of "The New York Daily News," Mark Halperin, who is the "TIME" magazine editor at large, and CNN political analyst.

And Roland Martin, CNN contributor and radio talk show host, joins us tonight from Chicago.

Mort Zuckerman, let's start off with you.

Barack Obama raised $7 million, Hillary Clinton $6.5 million since Super Tuesday. It sounds like they are gearing up for a protracted fight here.

MORT ZUCKERMAN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": Well, there's no doubt about that.

The interesting thing is that he has raised a lot more money because he has a grassroots contributor base. And they have contributed much less than the maximum. She's in a different kind of category of fund-raising. A lot of her contributors have maxed out.

But I think when she contributed the money, the $5 million, it made a lot of people realize that she needs the money. And I think she's going to do very well on the fund-raising.

ROBERTS: It certainly also put to rest all of that speculation when she left the White House as to how she was going to pay for the house that she bought.

ZUCKERMAN: That's right.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: Mark Halperin, let's take a quick look at some of the upcoming races.

On Saturday, we have got three big contests, Washington State, Nebraska, Louisiana, as well, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Mariana Islands in there, and then on Tuesday, the so-called beltway primary, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

Anything likely to break loose over the course of those primaries?

MARK HALPERIN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, "TIME": They're not very big states. Obama will probably get more delegates.

But, under the Democratic rules, as the nation is now learning in our latest civics session, the Democrats divide these delegates proportionately. Obama will probably get some momentum out of more wins. He will probably narrow the gap between him and Clinton in delegates overall.

But, no, it does not break the basic storyline, which is, these two are tied, and they will probably stayed tied for at least the next month.

ROBERTS: So, Roland Martin, Howard Dean said to me the other day he doesn't mind this thing going on, because he loves the publicity that it attracts to his candidates. He loves the fact that they get known in all of these states.

But how much longer can it go on before it begins to damage the party?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, frankly, I don't think it going to damage the party. I mean, isn't it wonderful that the voters in the state of Washington, in Louisiana, in Maine, and then all of a sudden you go to Texas, you go to Pennsylvania, then you start thinking about Nebraska and Mississippi, how all of these states will frankly, afterthought in a typical year, are finally participating. This is what we should be doing.

I've always said it is generally (ph) unfair that we have nominees decided after only five, 10, 15 states. This is a nominee for the entire Democratic Party or the entire Republican Party, so we should be pleased that more states are involved. And so, again, I think it will certainly go through April. It'll probably going through May. And frankly, that's a good thing.

ROBERTS: Well, Mark Halperin, you wrote a little article recently about the 20 things that John McCain can do because he's the presumptive nominee, the Democrats can't. And Mort, does it give an advantage to McCain, him now being the presumptive nominee?

MORT ZUCKERMAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: I think it does give an advantage to him. I think he's going to be able to consolidate the party. I think he'll be able to race a lot of money that will help him in the general election campaign. I think if you have this kind of a contest in the Democratic side, there is bound to be a lot of bruised feelings, and a lot of people are going to say, well, my candidate didn't win, and they're going to back off a little bit going to into the general election. So, I think, it's definitely a plus for John McCain.

ROBERTS: Let me just put up this graphic as we take a look at where they sit in delegates right now. After Super Tuesday, they are less than 100 delegates apart from each other. And on Super Tuesday, Barack Obama came within 23 of Hillary Clinton. Actually, they're within 200 of each other there. Sorry. And Barack Obama came within 23 of Hillary Clinton on February 5th. Is there a chance, Mark, that this comes down to the so-called super delegates to make the decision? And if it does, where does that leave the Democratic process?

HALPERIN: I think more likely than not, at this point, it will come down by super delegates. It's going to be very difficult again, under the way the delegates are apportioned for any -- either of them to break away. The super delegates make up a fifth of all the delegates out there. So I think it will come down to them, and there's going to be a lot of pressure on them, a lot of focus on them to say, how does each of them make their decision? Do they look for the best president? Are they susceptible to the arm twisting that goes on now, every day with all the undecideds?

MARTIN: John?

ROBERTS: Go ahead, Roland.

MARTIN: Yes, I got a piece. It's going to be on CNN.com early next week dealing with this. And frankly, you know, I love -- the super delegates should not be deciding this. And frankly, I think the super delegates should have some kind of system established where, look, it's not really about you. I think if you are a member of Congress or a former member of Congress, you should be voting based on how the constituents of your Congressional district voted. I think if you are a state official, if you're like Senator Barbara Boxer -- she said in California, whoever they vote for in the popular vote, that's who I am voting for. And that's right. Frankly, I think if you are a former president or a vice president, you should say, who won the most states? Who are the most broad-based, of course?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's too late.

MARTIN: No, no, no. It's not too late.

HALPERIN: Roland, you only got people committed from states that have been won by them, do you think they should switch now?

MARTIN: No, no. It's not. First of all, it is not too late, because according to the Democratic Party rules, they have the flexibility to make a decision.

I think -- I think -- we don't want the people --

(CROSSTALK)

HALPERIN: Senator Kennedy -- Senator Kennedy -- Senator Kennedy who believes in his heart that Barack Obama would be the better nominee and the better president should now sound for Hillary Clinton because she won Massachusetts?

MARTIN: Senator Ted Kennedy, if his state shows her -- he represents that state, that he should vote for her as a super delegate because let the people choose, not some elite Democrat sitting in another room. Let the people choose.

ROBERTS: Mort, if this comes down to a broker convention as it did back in 1952,...

ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

ROBERTS: ... what does that do to the Democratic Party in this day and age?

ZUCKERMAN: I don't think it really is going to hurt the Democratic Party. Once they get the nominee, everybody is going to be putting one nominee against the other nominee. You're going to have an old-fashioned great election, and you certainly going to have that kind of election this year given the intense public interest in it. Witness the number of people who have voted in these primaries. This is a part of the Democratic process. The fact is most of the people who are "super delegates" themselves have been elected, and there's nothing wrong with having peer group assessment in my judgment, because they'll know the candidates up close and they may be able to make a better choice.

ROBERTS: Of course, Howard Dean doesn't want to broker a convention because he wants there to be a definite nominee so that they can launch a national campaign and go forward with all of that.

ZUCKERMAN: Right. I'm sure.

ROBERTS: Well, we'll see what happens. Certainly is exciting. Mort Zuckerman, Mark Halperin and Roland Martin, thanks very much for being with us tonight. Good to see you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, John.

ROBERTS: We're going to turn our attention back to the Republicans and the unthinkable. Should they open up their summer convention and let the delegates choose someone other than these guys?

And Bill Clinton says he has learned his lesson, and he's abandoning the raw tactics that were recently making headlines. Tom Foreman tackles the new "Chill Bill" in tonight's edition of "Raw Politics." Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Welcome back to the CNN Election Center. Let's take a moment here and think about the unthinkable, or at least what has been unthinkable for more than a half a century now. What would happen if a political party, in this case the Republicans, actually open up their National Nominating Convention and let the delegates pick a nominee? That is exactly what Richard Viguerie is urging this week in an open letter to conservatives.

He writes, "Currently, Republicans are split among the various candidates. Most conservatives are undecided or ambivalent or support one candidate or another because the alternatives are worse." So, OK, what alternatives? All conservatives and most Republicans are out there, who, you know, they could possibly support.

Richard Viguerie joins us once again, along with David Frum. He is the former speech writer for President Bush as well as the author of the book "Comeback, Conservatism That Can Win Again." Richard Viguerie, let's start with you since this is your idea. How would you open up that nominating convention to allow others in? And because you'd be delaying a national campaign, do you run the risk of just handing the election over to the Democrats?

RICHARD VIGUERIE, AUTHOR, "CONSERVATIVES BETRAYED": Well, John, I thought that was a great idea before Super Tuesday, before Governor Romney dropped out of the race. Now, that the apparent nominee is very clear, John McCain, I'm not sure that that is such a good idea anymore. I don't think it's going to happen.

Republicans are royalists. You know, the king is the king. Long live the king. And John McCain only got basically about a third of the Republican vote. The Republican vote this year is about half of what it's been in previous years. So he's really a minority candidate. But it's not likely that the Republicans at this stage, after Super Tuesday, after Mitt Romney is out of the race, that they're likely to agree to open up the convention.

ROBERTS: David Frum, what are your thoughts about John McCain? You were originally advising Rudy Giuliani's campaign.

DAVID FRUM, FMR. PRES. BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Yes.

ROBERTS: You then went to say -- on to say, well, I sort of like Mitt Romney. McCain, Huckabee and Ron Paul are left. Do you like any of them?

FRUM: Well, I had a lot of ambivalence. After my men dropped out of the race, I found it very hard to make a decision. The decision was made for me. But I think John McCain is going to find it very easy to unite the Republican Party.

ROBERTS: Really?

FRUM: As Richard Viguerie just said, it is a royalist party and they are going to fall into line. And not only that, but, look, it's now, what? The middle of February? The convention is the beginning of September. He doesn't have to make his vice presidential decision until September. So that's months and months and months in which he can dangle this prize in front of people like Mike Huckabee, in front of others, and say, if you go to work for me uniting the party and persuading people to line up behind me, you might get this if you're a good boy. And they'll be very good boys.

ROBERTS: Now, Richard Viguerie, you were suggesting in our very first section here that John McCain can demonstrate his commitment to conservative principles by his choice of a vice presidential nominee. If you don't think that they can open up the convention now, who do you think would be an acceptable running mate for McCain?

VIGUERIE: Well, I think it would not be constructive, John, to identify who the conservatives would like in terms of first, second, third choice. This is John McCain's test. He's got a mountain to climb. He can climb it, but it's not going to be easy for him. He's not known as an independent maverick for nothing. It's a well-earned reputation that he's acquired. He doesn't listen to a lot of conservatives. He likes to work with Democrats.

So we've got a party that's an open rebellion right now. He only got as I said, a third of a greatly reduced Republican vote. And if he waits until September to unite the party with his vice presidential choice, I think it might be too late. Will 65 percent of the conservatives support him? Certainly. But he needs 90 percent. And there's no history that Republicans can scare conservatives into supporting the Republican nominee because it's a lesser of two evils. Every time they have tried that for 60 years, it's failed, whether it was Dewey, Nixon, Ford in '76, George Bush in '92. Every time they tried that, it's failed. You can't scare these people.

ROBERTS: Yes.

VIGUERIE: They are smart. They want -- and they don't want rhetoric. They want specifics and actions and prove, as we don't trust you politicians in Washington. Prove to us you will govern as a conservative.

ROBERTS: Well, Richard, before we give up on this idea of opening up the convention, some of the people we were talking about as a possible person who could come in and take the mantle of the Republican Party, would have been former Senator George Allen of Virginia, Senator Tom Coburn, Senator Jim DeMint or Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina. David Frum, do you think that any of those people as a running mate for John McCain could help them solve the problem he's got with conservatives?

FRUM: They might help him solve the problem with conservatives, but that is really not his most important problem. But the problem -- he has to worry much less about the split in the Republican Party, and he has to worry about the shrinkage of the Republican Party.

ROBERTS: Yes.

FRUM: That appealing to an ever more intensely, to an ever more smaller number of people is not the way to go. Not this year when the party is in so much trouble. The conservatives will rally, and you're going to see Mike Huckabee and people like that working very hard to do that. But his challenge is going to be to broaden this party. The Republican Party is in a lot of trouble. The conservative movement is in a lot of trouble, and it is in terrible denial about that. And if conservatives think that they are a movement with enormous residual strength, that there are lots of Americans just looking for conservative and waiting for their opportunity to rally to him, they are making a terrible mistake.

ROBERTS: Richard Viguerie, some Republicans, some conservatives have said that they're willing to sit out this election rather than vote for John McCain. Are you willing to sit it out?

VIGUERIE: No. It's far too premature, John, to see -- to say what any conservative is going to do. John McCain has the next move. The ball is in his court. He's got to reach out to conservatives. He's the one with the well-deserved reputation of working with the Democrats.

ROBERTS: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

VIGUERIE: And there are a lot of issues. ROBERTS: David, do you disagree?

FRUM: I so intensely disagree -- the idea that conservatives are going to wait to be courted. I think conservatives need to take some measure of what is it at stake in this election. If the Republicans lose and as things are going, they are going to lose. If they lose, the United States gets a federally-controlled national health system and a military defeat in Iraq. Those are two tremendous consequences. Never mind the Supreme Court and everything else.

ROBERTS: Yes.

FRUM: It is really important to win this election. This election has the potential for Democrats to be a 1980 in reverse. And if we engage in factualism and narcissism, we will be implicated in bringing about that 1980 in reverse.

VIGUERIE: David, I agree with you. But the history is that you cannot scare the voters into voting for the Republican candidate. Every time you say to the conservatives, to the American people, the boogy man is going to get you unless you accept the lesser of two evils, 100 percent of the time it fails.

ROBERTS: Gentlemen --

VIGUERIE: And we can't make a change there.

ROBERTS: Gentlemen, I'm sorry we could talk about this all night, unfortunately, we are going to have to leave it there. It looks like we'll have some time to talk about it because that convention is not until the beginning of September. Richard Viguerie, David Frum, thanks for being with us tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

VIGUERIE: Thank you.

FRUM: Thank you.

ROBERTS: In tonight's "Raw Politics," a similar unthinkable question for the Democrats. Could their super delegates end up picking the nominee? At the top of the hour on "LARRY KING LIVE," by the way, the power of youth. Larry talks to "Ugly Betty"'s America Ferrera about the importance of young voters. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: "LARRY KING LIVE" is coming up in just a few minutes time. Larry is with us now. And who's going to be joining you tonight, Larry?

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Oh, John, the stars are out tonight. Johnny Legend will be here, and Will.i.am (ph) and America Ferrera, all here for an important cause -- your vote. They want you to get to the ballot box so you can have your say in the presidential election. And then, our money panel is back with some sound advice in scary times. All at the top of the hour on "LARRY KING LIVE" immediately following Mr. Roberts.

ROBERTS: Larry, looking forward to that. Thanks very much. We'll see you soon.

KING: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Politics is everything from taking care of people who have just survived a disaster to preventing an economic meltdown. Our Tom Foreman explains in tonight's edition of "Raw Politics."

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All over D.C., people are taking time out from "Raw Politics" to express condolences over those terrible tornados.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): President Bush took a tour of some of the damage in Tennessee amid promises the federal government will assist in cleanup and recovery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it wasn't for my friends I don't know what I'd do.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And you're going to find you've got some new friends showing up, too.

FOREMAN: He had a second term, and now he's having second thoughts. Bill Clinton says considering the firestorm over his recent comments about Barack Obama, including accusation and racial insensitivity, it was probably a bad idea.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think I can promote Hillary, but not defend her because I was president.

FOREMAN: To the post office, Batman. Congress has approved that economic stimulus package. The president will likely sign it next week, hoping to stave off the dreaded mystery (ph) recession, with money in your mailbox maybe by spring.

And a Superman size problem for the damn.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SUPERMAN MOVIE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there no one on this planet to even challenge me?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: If Obama and Clinton keep running neck and neck, the party's elite members called super delegates could wind up handpicking the winning candidates. No kidding. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says, hey, the will of the public will be considered.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: But others say such a move would severely undermine voter trust, and the party better head it off faster than a speeding bullet. That's "Raw Politics."

ROBERTS: "Raw Politics" as only our Tom Foreman can serve it up tonight.

The voice of the people. One place you'll be hearing it loudest tomorrow is Louisiana. We'll have a full report on what gives voters there a heavy clout, and it's not just the gumbo.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHAWNA SHEPHERD, CNN PRODUCER: This is Shawna Shepherd traveling with Republican presidential candidate, Governor Mike Huckabee. He spent the day campaigning in five Kansas cities in advance of Saturday's GOP caucuses. Governor Mitt Romney exiting the race has put Governor Huckabee behind front-runner, Senator John McCain. Though, a distant second, the former Arkansas governor told supporters in laidback (ph) Kansas, his staying in the race to give Republican voters a conservative option.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's an election. It's about a choice, not a coronation. Ladies and gentlemen, I'll make it clear. Conservatives in the Republican Party ought to have a choice for somebody who is unapologetically, 100 percent, without any flinching at all, pro-life, pro-traditional marriage and pro-Fair Tax.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SASHA JOHNSON, CNN PRODUCER: I'm Sasha Johnson with the Hillary Camp campaign in Tacoma, Washington. Camp Clinton is steering belief by strong online fundraising and a flood of new donors. Senator Clinton made the pitch for money at the top of her event here, something we really haven't seen her do before. She said people assumed her campaign didn't need money, so they didn't bother to give. With that money, look for Clinton TV ads in the states with upcoming contests. Senator Clinton also reiterated a few things. Senator Obama's health care plan leaves people out and isn't truly universal, and that she thinks will resonate.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When it comes to universal health care, my opponent is saying no, we can't. Well, I say, yes we can, and yes we will, if we make the right decision in this election!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Stealing Barack Obama's line there. The unsettled presidential nomination battle gives Louisiana voters an unexpectedly powerful voice. Their votes in tomorrow's Republican and Democratic primary really do count, and that includes African-Americans. They make up 42 percent of all voters in the 2004 presidential elections. Dan Lothian reports from New Orleans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Democrat John Young is a semi-retired welder, still fired up about casting his primary vote. But that feeling is not mutual among all of his African- American friends, still reeling from Katrina and the slow recovery.

JOHN YOUNG, LOUISIANA VOTER: They have this feeling that it's going to be the same old thing over and over again, make no difference who run or who win.

LOTHIAN: And to make matters worse, Louisiana hasn't been one of the popular exits on the campaign trail for the two Democratic presidential hopefuls.

SILAS LEE, POLLSTER: In order to get them to the polls, you have to have organization and visibility. That did not occur.

LOTHIAN: Until Super Tuesday heated up the hunt for delegates.

YOUNG: At least, I'm glad now that they realized they can't do it without us.

LOTHIAN: Senator Obama came to town with promises.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When I am president we will finish building a system of levees that can withstand a 100-year storm by 2011.

LOTHIAN: Senator Clinton sent her husband to pitch her presidency.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I hope a lot of people will be there for her as she was there for you when you needed her.

LOTHIAN: In a city still trying to recover from Katrina, voters want a president who can make progress here.

BEN DIGGINS, LOUISIANA VOTER: The initial height of the wall in the house was right here.

LOTHIAN: But Ben and Cheryl Diggins who are finally back in their house after Katrina did this aren't single issue voters.

B. DIGGINS: On the priority list, it would be health care, education, and then more help with the recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

LOTHIAN: So which candidate seems to be resonating? Just look at who was among the thousands at the Obama rally.

CHERYL DIGGINS, LOUISIANA VOTER: I'm going to feel that he has a chance.

B. DIGGINS: Because it's really time for a change.

LOTHIAN: Young, the welder, is an enthusiastic supporter, too.

YOUNG: I voted for Bill Clinton both times, and I was a Clinton supporter. But, you know, I feel that we need a change.

LOTHIAN (on camera): Only a few hundred attended this Clinton event. It isn't scientific, but of the 20 or so African-Americans we approached, all were supporting Obama. But Clinton supporters say she still has a chance, especially if African-Americans who buy her message of experience show up on primary day. Dan Lothian, CNN, New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: "Ugly Betty" using her appeal to get out the vote, the youth vote, that is. America Ferrera talks with Larry King about the influence of young people in presidential politics. That's "LARRY KING LIVE" in the next hour here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Well, if you missed our provocative interviews with top conservative leaders about John McCain or you just want to go back and review them, check them out later on our Web site at CNN.com. Consensus seems to be John McCain will be an acceptable candidate for conservatives, though, he's got an awful lot of work to do to convince them.

Stay with CNN for in-depth campaign coverage. We're going to have the latest Saturday and Sunday from all of the weekend's primaries and caucuses. That's all for tonight's Election Center. See you again on Monday. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.

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