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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

Reno Serial Rapist; NIU Shooting Investigation; Lake Mead Drying Up; Delegate Dilemma; NASCAR Anniversary

Aired February 17, 2008 - 09:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody in the community knows this suspect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

T.J. HOLMES, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: A grim discovery in an overgrown field intensifies a manhunt for a suspected serial rapist in Reno, Nevada. We'll have the latest on this investigation.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: And western water woes. As the population booms in cities like phoenix and Las Vegas it threatens the future of Lake Mead.

Plus, this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dario Franchitti? No, never thought we'd hear that in this sport, ever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Oh, you're hearing that and some other names next to the names of Kyle, Jeff and Junior. NASCAR has some new names in the driver's seat.

NGUYEN: You are excited about this, aren't you?

HOLMES: I am a NASCAR fan. I love it.

NGUYEN: And this is the Super Bowl of NASCAR.

HOLMES: The Super Bowl is the first event they do we don't have to wait until the end of the season for the big one, but yes. From the CNN Center, folks, Good morning to you all, I'm T.J. Holmes.

NGUYEN: Yes, good morning everybody on this Sunday, I'm Betty Nguyen and it's February 17th.

Up first, a missing college student's death is confirmed, and now police in Reno, Nevada think she was killed by a serial rapist and they are worried he may strike again.

HOLMES: Yeah, the search for the suspect intensified by the discovery of the missing student's body. The story now from Joe Harrington of your affiliate KOLO.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEPUTY CHIEF JIM JOHNS, RENO, NEVADA POLICE: The remains of that female discovered in the field are those of 19-year-old Brianna Denison.

JOE HARRINGTON, KOLO REPORTER (voice over): Nearly four weeks after Brianna Denison disappeared, hopes that she could still be alive is now gone. Police say they now know Brianna was strangled in what she call a sexually motivated crime. Her body was found Friday in a brush covered vacant lot, left there amid garbage.

JOHNS: We're pretty comfortable the body was there for more than a week. Earlier than that, only law enforcement and the suspect really know, and we'd like to hold that information back.

HARRINGTON: Police are also holding back information about other items found in this field, a location no longer buzzing with federal and local law enforcement activity. A single officer remains stationed as members of the public leave flowers, a tribute to a girl murdered by a serial rapist.

LT BOB MCDONALD, RENO, NEVADA POLICE: Anybody that's ever suffered this type of loss, a close family member deducted from a residence, taken away from their loved ones. For their loved ones, it will never be closure, they will never forget it.

HARRINGTON (on camera): Many of the items being left at this memorial are blue. Blue was Brianna's favorite color, and blue ribbons were used to raise awareness about her disappearance. Through police, her family is asking people to continue to showing those ribbons, instead to memorialize Brianna's life.

Joe Harrington, Reno, Nevada.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: With us with on the phone now is Lieutenant Bob McDonald of the Reno Police Department. And Lieutenant, we do appreciate your time, this morning. What can you tell us about the suspect?

MCDONALD: We know the suspect from a previous attack of then -- one of the UNR students. It's most likely a white male, probably in 25 to 40 years old. Not heavy, with a firm stomach, probably about 5'7" to six-foot tall, strong, but not muscular like a body builder, probably with brown hair, light-colored hair on forearms, a shaved public pubic region, and, as I said, Caucasian based on a very white abdomen and what may be a construction-type worker, somebody that works outdoors, because tanned forearms and hands.

NGUYEN: Is this person striking in any particular area?

MCDONALD: All of the attacks, so far, have occurred within close proximity to the University of Nevada Reno campus, and an area that's in the northwest section of Reno, just a short distance from downtown. It's in close proximity to freeways and major arterials in the city.

NGUYEN: Let me ask you this, there are two other attacks, aside from Brianna Denison whose body has been found and identified. In those other attacks, it seems like the woman survived. Is that true? Is she the only one that's been killed?

MCDONALD: As far as we know, yes. It seems to the attacks started back in late November, and possibly as early as late October, based on another case that went unreported that we haven't forensically attached to this series yet, but it appears to be an escalation. The first one was an attempt and the second one was an actual abduction where the victim was returned to her residence and in this case, of course, we have the abduction and ultimately discovering that Brianna had been murdered.

NGUYEN: So, in the second one, the victim was actually returned and Brianna Denison obviously did not survive this. Do you think it's because of the attention now placed on the case? That maybe the serial rapist got scared?

MCDONALD: I don't -- you know, that's speculation on our part, but you know, there's speculation also that it could have been a number of different things that happened. Maybe it was an escalation on his part or something went wrong during the course of the abduction.

NGUYEN: And I know that you're asking people to look out for this serial rapist who's out there who could possibly strike again, but what exactly are you hoping since there's no sketch, there's no physical picture that someone can look at to identify, just beside the description that we have, so are people just suppose to look for behavioral changes? What are they suppose to be looking out for?

MCDONALD: We know that he drives a specific type vehicle, it's probably a small pickup or a full sized pickup truck, extra cab with the description has been put out many times with a round dashboard, red and blue lighting on the dashboard, maybe baby clothing in the vehicle, cloth seats, automatic transitions and like that. And we've put out so much information now, it's likely someone will notice a behavioral change in an individual, someone will shave off a beard, dye their hair, move, sell a vehicle, something is going to change this person's day in, day out activities.

NGUYEN: And very quickly, has fear pretty much gripped parts of this community? And what are you asking people to do to protect themselves?

MCDONALD: Keep your doors locked, keep your windows locked, be vigilant for when you're out these times of night. You know, people might be around, but if you're a female, please walk in a pair, don't walk by yourself. And yes, there is fear around the university is heightened. This is somebody that strikes in the evening, strikes by stealth and is attacking at random, and so, you know, it's something we have got to find this individual and we got to put him behind bars.

NGUYEN: Absolutely, and we hope you find him soon. Lieutenant Bob McDonald with the Reno Police Department. Thanks so much for your time and information today.

MCDONALD: Thank you. Good morning.

NGUYEN: Well, we want to take you to Illinois now and rembering the victims. Northern Illinois University will hold a memorial service one week for today for the five students shot to death on Valentine's Day.

HOLMES: And class is going to resume the next day, Monday, February 25. University officials say an increased police presence on campus is meant to reassure everybody about the security there.

CNN's Don Lemon is on campus, now.

Don, good morning to you, again. And still the issue is motive. Everybody's looking for it and no answers yet.

DON LEMON, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: No answers yet, and we have new details we want to tell you about this investigation. Overnight, T.J., a DeKalb police source confirmed to us that Steven Kazmierczak, the 27-year-old gunman, did stay at a local hotel, in fact he checked into the Travel Lodge on Monday, just days before the shooting. The source tells us they found a laptop without a hard drive, a duffel bag with ammunition. All of this while some startling details emerge about the gunman's mental past.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there anything you can tell us about this computer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

LEMON (voice over): Investigators back at the DeKalb Travel Lodge for a second day to speak with hotel staff about a laptop computer left behind by a guest who checked in last Monday under the name "Steve." the same first name as the Northern Illinois University shooter.

LEMON (on camera): Who are you guys with?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: City of DeKalb.

LEMON: And so, you can't tell us why you came back a second time to talk to them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not right now.

LEMON: And nothing about the computer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing about the computer.

LEMON (voice over): The hotel manager's wife says her husband, Jay, was behind the desk when Steve arrived wearing sunglasses. Police later showed Jay a photo of Steven Kazmierczak.

RUPAL PATEL, MOTEL MANAGER'S WIFE: But, he cannot recognize him.

LEMON (on camera): Why not?

PATEL: He wearing the glasses and all that.

LEMON (voice over): But days later, after the shooting, when police called asking if a guest named Steve had left behind a Toshiba laptop computer, staff checked the guest card, the last name, unreadable. They sent someone to check room 105.

(on camera): Who found the computer?

PATEL: Well, my maintenance guy. He said it's in there, so he called the police and said in room number...

LEMON: Where is the registry where he signed his name?

PATEL: Police have.

LEMON: Police have the registry?

PATEL: Yes.

LEMON (voice over): Police called in the bomb squad for a sweep and confiscated the computer and other items, but left behind work clothing, luggage and a drawer littered with two sets of unidentifiable packaged pill, energy drinks, empty water bottles and cigarette packs.

Still, police haven't found a motive and are now looking to the 27-year-old's past for clues. According to the "Associated Press," Kazmierczak's parents sent him to a Chicago area group home shortly after high school because he was unruly and refused to take his medication. CNN Chicago affiliate, WLS, spoke with the former group home manager.

LOUISE GRADAMASHI, FMR GROUP HOME MGR: He was already on medication at that time and the problem was he wasn't taking it at home and would not follow instructions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was his condition when he wouldn't take his medication?

GRADAMASHI: He was a cutter. He would cut himself, and then he would let you discover it. He wouldn't tell you, he'd just like roll his sleeve up and ask you a question and if you were at the computer, you'd turn around, you had to see it. I guess it was the shock value or to help him, because he couldn't help himself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Other than the cutting, did you ever see him violent?

GRADAMASHI: See, it's hard to tell when he's violent, because his expression doesn't change. He just strikes out, and you just have to really know him, in his eyes you could see it. You can't look at him like, I'm angry, you're going to know it. It's just stoic, just stoic.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: And that DeKalb police source tells us that Steven Kazmierczak checked in another hotel, the Best Western, which is just down the street from the Travel Lodge, but he did not stay at the Best Western and police they didn't find a note, T.J., so as you said, no motive and we may never find one.

HOLMES: Oh, that is unfortunate to hear. Don lemon, who has been on the story for us since it broke last week. Don, we appreciate you.

LEMON: Thank you.

NGUYEN: Now for a look at other stories that we're following this morning. Independence is at hand for Kosovo. Look at these pictures with all of the people in the streets celebrating.

HOLMES: We have July 4, they may now have February 17. The Serbian territory parliament meeting right now to hear the new declaration of independence. Washington and the European Union could recognize Kosovo as a new country as early as tomorrow.

NGUYEN: In Afghanistan this morning, the news isn't so great, 80 people are dead in a suicide bombing. Dozens of others were wounded in the attack. The bomber targeted a crowd of people who had gathered for a dog fighting competition in Kandahar. Witnesses say after the explosion, bodyguards actually opened fire on the crowd. It's not yet clear how many people may have been hit by that gunfire.

HOLMES: So, President Bush is on a five-day visit to Africa. He paused to rember victims of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania. New video here just in of the president laying a wreath at a memorial site. In all, over 200 people were killed in the bombings in Tanzania and Kenya.

NGUYEN: Back in this country, here's a big question: Is Nevada's Lake Mead running dry?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a chance that the reservoirs cannot being operated as they're planned to about 2020 or so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NGUYEN: OK, so is the forecast really as bad as it sounds? Reynolds Wolf joins us with a look at that and so much more.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And we're taking a look at this tremendous storm system rolling across the nation affecting millions of people, over 1,000 miles long, stretching from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast. We're going to talk more about that coming up in just a few moments right here on CNN SUNDAY.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Let's take a look at New Orleans today in this live picture brought to us by our affiliate WDSU, looking a little overcast. Very cloudy and gray there in New Orleans, today, and it has a lot to do with the system that is moving through.

HOLMES: Yeah, Reynolds Wolf keeping an eye on things for us. What is it? It's 8:15 now in New Orleans. Where is everybody? They're still usually partying about this time of the morning.

WOLF: I don't think anyone is partying right now, unless they're doing some kind of a rain dance or something. That's what they've had pretty much this morning.

(WEATHER REPORT)

NGUYEN: A wet day. All right. Thank you.

HOLMES: Thanks, Reynolds. Well, talk about wet weather there well, Lake Mead is drying up that's the conclusion, though, that the lake is drying up we see from a new study coming out of California.

NGUYEN: Yeah, it says the main water supply for millions of people could run out by 2021. Here's Judy Echavez.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JUDY ECHAVEZ, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Lake Mead, on the Colorado River, it's the primary water source for millions of people in fast-growing cities from Las Vegas to Phoenix to southern California. And according to a new study, within the next 15 years this reservoir could dry up, due to evaporation, human demand and climate changes unless water managers take action.

DAVID PIERCE, SCRIPPS INST OF OCEANOGRAPHY: But, there's a real chance the reservoirs cannot be operated as they're planned to beyond about 2020 or so. In fact, we calculate about a 50 percent probability that if you just went down that course without adjusting that things would run dry, the reservoirs would actually run dry.

ECHAVEZ: By adjusting, he means curbing excess water use through better management. After eight straight years of Western drought a white ring surround the half filled reservoir.

(on camera): Just to give you an idea of how drastically the water levels have dropped, where I'm standing now used to be the shoreline.

(voice over): According to the researchers from the Scripps Oceanographic Institute, global warming is the major factor in Lake Mead's shrinking shoreline. The lake draws most of its water from melted snow in the Western Colorado Rockies, but due to less snowfall, the lake isn't filling up.

TIM BARNETT, SCRIPPS INST OF OCEANOGRAPHY: I don't think people took climate change into account. They're taking more water than they're putting in, that can't go on forever.

JAYNE HARKINS, U.S. BUREAU OF RECLAMATION: We don't think that will happen.

ECHAVEZ: The U.S. Burrow of Reclamation operates Hoover Dam and distributes the water of Lake Mead to more than 25 million people in three states.

(on camera): Lake Mead could dry out?

HARKINS: No, because we start making reductions to the users before that point happens.

ECHAVEZ (voice over): Las Vegas is one of those customers Supplying more than two million residents and more than 40 million tourists with water from Lake Mead every year.

PAT MULROY, SOUTHERN NEVADA WATER AUTHORITY: Ninety percent of water comes from the Colorado River.

ECHAVEZ: And Las Vegas has taken action.

MULROY: We've gone through a cultural conversion, here in southern Nevada, and we're still on that journey, taking grass out, paying our customers to take grass out and dramatically reducing the amount of water that we use. We used to use over 300,000 acres and we brought it down, originally down to 265.

ECHAVEZ: And the two scientists say that's exactly the point.

BARNETT: I think, what we've done is not only repeated the wakeup call, perhaps a little louder, but we have perhaps a decade to get our act in order. We should be able to do it.

Judy Echaves for CNN, Lake Mead, Nevada.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: Now, I guess we could go back to Reynolds now, but he's passed along some information that Lake Mead will actually get some relief, because the Rockies, that incredible snowfall, about 26 feet, so that will help with water supply, Colorado River...

NGUYEN: Which is a good thing, but they definitely need a whole lot of it. You know, we've been talking about these drouts how drying up lake like Lanier, here in Georgia, has issues.

HOLMES: We're going to run out of water before long.

NGUYEN: Yeah, out of water. Changing the way that we're using our water, maybe this is a good lesson for us all.

HOLMES: Yeah, well, all right. Well, we will turn back to some politics, and a good night for John McCain, last night, but nobody was even voting yesterday. We'll tell you why it was a good night.

Also, we've got this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRYSTAL GAINES, VICTIM'S DAUGHTER: All of a sudden I looked back and saw this white thing coming, but it had no lights, no nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NGUYEN: An illegal street race in Maryland turns deadly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: New this morning, an arrest in the gruesome killing of a New York psychologist. Police say this man, right there, David Tarloff butchered Kathryn Faughey with knives and a meat cleaver. Officers say Tarloff told them he had been institutionalized in 1991 by one of Fayey's coworkers and that he'd gone to the office on Tuesday to rob the psychologist. The police chief says Tarloff has a history of mental problems.

HOLMES: For this horrible story, now, eight people now confirmed dead in that gruesome street racing accident in Maryland.

NGUYEN: Yeah, police are still piecing together what happened, but one witness, still in shock, describes what she saw. CNN's Kate Bolduan reports.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Witnesses describe an unbelievable scene.

GAINES: All of a sudden I looked back and saw this white thing coming, but it had no lights, no nothing. So, I had pulled my father and as I was pulling him, the car took him away from me and flew him up in the air, and I just ran, you know, pushing my daughter down so she wouldn't get hurt.

BOLDUAN: Crystal Gaines with her 13-year-old daughter and her father, were part of the crowd gathered overnight to watch drag racing on a highway in Maryland, about 15 miles outside of D.C.

GAINES: Right now it's like a dream to me because I can't believe this happened. You know, you see this stuff on TV, never think it will happen to you, you know? And it happened to me. You know, that's my father over there on the ground.

BOLDUAN: Gaines' father died, one of the spectators, police say, were killed early Saturday morning. Hours later, the carnage was still evident on the roadway.

(on camera): Police say a white Crown Victoria was traveling here on this north-bound lane, but the driver was blinded by the smoke created from the drag racers burnout. That's when the car plowed through the crowd of people standing by. CPL CLINTON COPELAND, POLICE SPOKESMAN: This one was probably one of the worst that I've seen, with the amount of victims that were on the scene, it was pretty -- pretty bad scene.

BOLDUAN (voice over): Prince George's County police Corporal Clinton Copeland says this road in Maryland is unfortunately an attractive setting for street racers.

COPELAND: It's a rural road, of course, as you notice the traffic signals are fairly far apart, so it is very enticing for individuals to want to race on this road; however, it is illegal.

BOLDUAN: Police investigators are trying to piece together exactly how this gruesome accident happened. Meanwhile, Crystal Gaines and her family are left with terrifying memories and a horrific loss.

Kate Bolduan, CNN, Accokeek, Maryland.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: Such a tragic accident. Well, we are also talking presidential politics this morning, because they are looking for some support, pushing for delegates, of course, and trying to get some momentum. Our "Trail Mix" is up next.

HOLMES: And then a little later, we join NASCAR's good ol' boys on the track, today. Are fans ready for a driver named Dario?

NGUYEN: Who?

HOLMES: You know.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice over): Brenda Frese is no stranger to the basketball court. She as a standout player in high school and college, but she's really made her mark from the sidelines. In 2006, Frese became one of the youngest coaches to win the NCAA Division One Women's Basketball title, she was only 35 years old. Two years later, the head coach of University of Maryland women's basketball team has a couple more things to worry about besides winning another championship, she's pregnant with twins.

COACH BRENDA FRESE, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: We've two verbal commitments.

HOLMES: But, she's used to playing mom for her team.

FRESE: I really do think the goal is much greater than just a national championship. Parents entrust their daughters to me, it's about the maturation process and to see them grow and develop from their freshman year to their senior year.

HOLMES: Her pregnancy hasn't stopped her, yet. Frese is due in March, a month before the national championship game. FRESE: I was an active coach on the sideline, I can't do that anymore. I sit from a chair, but there's no way you'll have me miss the NCAA tournament. I can pretty much guarantee that' I'll be back for that run.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Well, good morning and Welcome back to CNN SUNDAY MORNING, I'm Betty Nguyen at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

HOLMES: And hey there everybody, I'm T.J. Holmes.

Our top stories, the search for a serial rapist. An autopsy confirms that a body found in a Reno, Nevada, field is in fact that of 19-year-old college student Brianna Denison. Police think she was strangled by a man linked to at least two sexual assaults on women.

NGUYEN: In DeKalb, Illinois in the wake of last week's killings, classes at Northern Illinois University will be closed until February 25. Next Sunday, the universality will hold memorial services for the five student shot to death. Seven people are still hospitalized.

HOLMES: All right, we will turn to some politics, now. And the Democrats, you know, if you had your choice, you had to spend your time in Hawaii or Wisconsin, well, the Democrats are picking Wisconsin, it has more delegates at stake than Hawaii, but both states will be voting coming our way on Tuesday. Both of them have several events today, scheduled in Wisconsin. Of course the primaries and caucuses actually happening in Hawaii, they're doing caucuses coming up on Tuesday.

NGUYEN: On the Republican side. Mike Huckabee back in Wisconsin, today, after a one-day paid speaking engagement in the Cayman Islands. But, while he was there, he fell farther behind John McCain. Eighteen Michigan delegates now say they will support McCain at the national convention. They had been promised to Mitt Romney before he dropped out of the race.

And in Louisiana, delegate decisions made at the state's Republican convention. Thirty-two delegates now say they will vote for McCain. There were no official delegates awarded at the Louisiana primary, because none of the candidates got 50 percent of the vote.

HOLMES: All right, we'll turn our attention back to Wisconsin, now. There may be something more important than delegates at stake for Democrats, there. Momentum heading to Texas and Ohio. CNN political producer, Sasha Johnson joins us now live from Washington this morning.

Good morning to you, kind ma'am.

SASHA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: Hi. How are you?

HOLMES: I am well. We keep talking about momentum, even though Barack Obama put together a string of wins in all those states, nobody seems to be able to just close this thing out. So, no offense really to Wisconsin and Hawaii, who are going to be voting on Tuesday, but in the grand scheme of things, are Ohio and Texas where it's at?

JOHNSON: Well, they sort of are because that's what Clinton campaign has set them up to be. I mean, they've basically come out and said we need to win Ohio and Texas, that's where we're going to make our mark. So, because they've done that, they've put an incredible amount of emphasis on those states, and, therefore, states like Wisconsin and Hawaii, while they matter in the sense that if Hillary Clinton were to win, the momentum or whatever you want to call it, might actually shift a little bit in her direction. They aren't expecting a win in Wisconsin, they're expecting Barack Obama to do well on Tuesday, so you know, yeah, it's going to go on past March 4.

HOLMES: And if they keep splitting the vote like this, and you know what, by whatever numbers, if he does keeps getting large numbers, or if she gets large numbers in Texas and Ohio, if we keep going at this is pace, is there any way possible that either one of them will have enough pledged delegates to actually wrap this thing up by convention time or we're going to depend on these superdelegates.

JOHNSON: We are. I mean, it's very unlikely at this point, unless she comes out in Ohio and Texas or he comes out in Ohio and Texas and Pennsylvania and wins by incredibly large margins, which is something that I really don't think we're going to see. I do think that these superdelegates or actual delegates, as the Clinton campaign is now calling them, will matter and ultimately will kind of make the difference and anoint whoever the nominee is going to be, which is why we're have this controversy over whether these elected party leaders, whether these congressman, these senators, these party officials should have the power to anoint a nominee and potentially override the will of the voters.

HOLMES: Wow, "actual delegates."

JOHNSON: "Actual delegates."

HOLMES: Ah, what's in a name?

JOHNSON: Well, "superdelegate" sounds like, you know, they have super powers. So, the Clinton people are saying, you know, they can't go to Mars, I mean, they're people.

HOLMES: But if they decide this thing, then they will be superdelegates.

JOHNSON: Well, yes. And especially, what's interesting about this, though, is you look in local papers, you watch "The View," you watch mean stream shows like that...

HOLMES: Sorry, I don't watch "The View." Know what I mean?

JOHNSON: Well, but people are talking about the superdelegate issue and it's becoming a P.R. problem, because if say, oh, you know, this election is going to be decided in a smoke-filled room, people don't like that.

HOLMES: People do not like that and no offense to "The View." I'll start checking...

JOHNSON: I like "The View".

HOLMES: I know you do. All right, we'll talk about John McCain, here. He's got a big endorsement coming up. Does he really -- he might not need it in terms of trying to beat back his still opponents, Huckabee, that he has right now, that he's still up against. Not terms of delegates, but in terms of getting the Republican nation behind him, if you will, those conservatives. How important is it that the former President Bush is going to be endorsing him?

JOHNSON: It's a really, really good thing for John McCain. I mean, it shows that the establishment, Republican Party, the party elders are coming together and saying this is our nominee, this is the man that the whole party should rally around to beat the Democrats in November and maintain the White House. So, this is a big, big boost for him. I would imagine he's incredible happy with this endorsement.

HOLMES: OK, and we were showing a video of Huckabee, there, he was giving a speech in the Cayman Islands the other day, had a paid speech there, but bless his heart. What is he doing?

JOHNSON: Well, I would say it's probably an unconventional move to leave the country when are you running for president. I think most people would agree with that. But look, I mean, he has a following, he has supporters. I think that there are a large number of people who say why can't he keep going, if he has picked up delegates, if he's giving John McCain a run for his money in some these states like Virginia...

HOLMES: But, what's the support going get him? If he has it, he still can't win. What's the point?

JOHNSON: He can't win, but he can also raise his profile for politics in the future or for higher speaking fees when it's all over or he can become...

HOLMES: But doesn't that seem selfish? Isn't he going to get -- be seen as selfish?

JOHNSON: Well, I mean, I guess, potentially by some people, but, you know, he also has issues, he has a platform, he has, you know, different opinions than John McCain does. So, perhaps he becomes a leader because of those issues in the party and becomes a voice that people listen to.

HOLMES: All right, Sasha Johnson, our political producer, always good to see you.

JOHNSON: Good to see you too.

HOLMES: All right, have a good one. We'll talk about "The View" next time. JOHNSON: Yes.

HOLMES: All right -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Yeah, you'll have to study up on that one, T.J.

Here's a reminder for you, CNN's BALLOT BOWL is back. It's your chance to get past the 30-second sound bites to hear more from the candidates. BALLOT BOWL comes your way today, 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

HOLMES: And the BALLOT BOWL is a lot, but if it is just not enough for you, you can join us for the next Democratic debate. Campbell Brown hosts the CNN/Univision debate live from the University of Texas in Austin. You familiar with that school, Betty?

NGUYEN: I know a lot about that school. Hook 'em horns!

HOLMES: That's going on Thursday night at 8:00 Eastern. I don't even know why I give you that opportunity...

NGUYEN: I don't know why you did either, because you knew I would take it.

All right, so by now you know all the presidential candidate. You probably even know some of their stump speeches, but do you know what they do for fun? Well, our Josh Levs will has been looking into it and he's going to show us what they do, coming up.

RAY D'ALESSIO, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Plus, it's the 50th running of the Daytona 500. We'll have a live report, coming up, after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Take a look at these pictures. They are celebrating in Pristina, and you want to know why? Because it's no longer Pristina, Serbia, it is Pristina, Kosovo. They have officially declared their independence from Serbia. It's a move, though, that I will tell you, is opposed by both Serbia and Russia. And a little later today, Russia is expected to call an emergency meeting at the U.N.

Now, the Serbian foreign minister says that his country will refrain from using force against Kosovo after they have already declared this independence, but they will take some punitive diplomatic, political and economic measures against the province. So, we'll see how that plays out.

But in the meantime, none of this matters to the people on the streets, they are so excited and celebrating today because they have declared their independence from Serbia. This is now Pristina, Kosovo. The country is Kosovo. It is Independence Day. We talk about July 4, well, they are going to be talking about February 17. We'll stay on top of the story and bring you the latest as it develops.

HOLMES: It's not every day we welcome a new country. NGUYEN: No, it's not.

HOLMES: So, a lot of controversy surrounding it, lot of things still need to play out, but for now, they're happy. Independence Day, there.

NGUYEN: Well, astronauts aboard the space shuttle "Atlantis" wrapping up things, got their work done, they're getting ready to leave the International Space Station. Hatches between the two space craft are scheduled to be sealed this afternoon. "Atlantis" undocks tomorrow and returns flight to earth on Wednesday. The astronauts were up there installing a new European space lab.

HOLMES: Well, it's race day. I mean, are you...

NGUYEN: I'm so excited.

HOLMES: Nobody is buying that.

NGUYEN: I didn't even buy that.

HOLMES: It's race day. It's race day. Daytona, Betty.

NGUYEN: I know, this is like your Super Bowl, right?

HOLMES: This is the Super Bowl of racing. Their first event is their Super Bowl.

NGUYEN: And it's a huge day. In fact, it's the 50th Daytona 500 and there are some different things to watch in this edition of the Super Bowl of motorsports.

HOLMES: Yes, CNN's Ray D'Alessio joins us now live from Daytona Beach. Oh, he gets some good assignments some days and this is one of them.

Ray, good morning, sir. How are you doing?

D'ALESSIO: Good morning to you guys. T.J. and Betty, I'll tell you what, you can feel the energy in the air, but still right now, it's a little bit kind of a calm before the storm type thing. Back in the garage area the 43 drivers are going through the final preparation as they get set to take part in the 50th Daytona 500, hard to believe.

And you know, they do call this the "Great American Race," but this year, the 2008 Sprint Cup Series will have a more international feel to it with the arrival of Indy 500 winners, Jacques Villeneuve, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Dario Franchitti. Safe to say the open rule invasion has officially begun.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice over): The times, they are a changing in NASCAR, gone are the days of just the good ol' boys. If you want to race this season, you'll likely hear names like Dario, Jacques, and Juan Pablo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not used to hearing those kind of names in NASCAR, but, hey, if you can drive the car, why not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dario Franchitti? No, never thought we would hear that in this sport, ever.

D'ALESSIO: While it may be a shock to the traditional fan, the influx of talent from different disciplines is a boost to the credibility of Cup racing.

JACQUES VILLENEUVE, FMR FORMULA I CHAMPION: It shows how big and professional and credible NASCAR has become. That's where drivers want to be now, and it's just getting better year after year. So, you know, for it to become interesting even in Europe, you know, that shows how big it is.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Just the challenge of something new, kind of, can a Sprint Cup car, you know, make it go quickly. Can I be successful at this whole different type of racing? And you know, those are questions we still got to answer.

KYLE PETTY, NASCAR DRIVER: These are Indy 500 winners, these are Formula One drivers, these are world champions. These are guys who have come from other divisions who have won and won championships in everything they've set in, so I don't know why we're arrogant enough to think they can't come and drive a stock car.

D'ALESSIO: For the past several years, NASCAR has implemented changes to draw in a wider audience. But, after experiencing record growth in the early part of this decade, the sport saw ratings and attendance decline in the last two years, so are traditional NASCAR fans wishing for the good old days?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is NASCAR, you know, and you want your NASCAR driver to win before you want somebody that came in from another class of racing. But, I think if you're a redneck, diehard NASCAR fan, I think it's going to take a little longer, but they'll come around.

JEFF GORDON, 3-TIME DAYTONA 500 WINNER: I don't want the fans to think that anybody is trying to exclude them, you know, they're not. You know, it's about trying to continue to grow and grow with the times, and bring more talented racecar drivers in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it opens up NASCAR to a whole new audience, I think, in different countries. That can only be a good thing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

D'ALESSIO: Now, it's important to note, Jacques Villeneuve did not qualify for today's race. Still that leaves three past Indy 500 winners in the field. One of those drivers trying to become only the third person to win both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500, the other two being A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. And T.J. and Betty, speaking of Mario Andretti, you never know who you are going to see here at Daytona International Speedway, Mario passed right by us. He actually wanted to get his picture taken with the trophy back behind us. So, again, just a great day here at Daytona and it should be a fantastic race.

HOLMES: Ray, I got to ask, though, have you seen Ashley Judd?

D'ALESSIO: I have not seen Ashley Judd, of course, she is married to Dario Franchitti. Obviously, she'll probably have that nice little hat on and some fancy-schmancy dress on for today. That's my prediction.

NGUYEN: Looking lovely as always.

HOLMES: Tell her I said hi.

D'ALESSIO: Exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: Tell her T.J. says hi. All right.

NGUYEN: She'll be like: T.J. who?

HOLMES: Yeah, I get that a lot. Ray, we appreciate you, man. We appreciate you.

NGUYEN: All right, this guy, you know his name, Mike Huckabee, jamming with his band. Well, that's a standard photo-op on the campaign trail.

HOLMES: Yeah, have you ever heard John McCain sing Streisand?

NGUYEN: Say it isn't so.

HOLMES: Are you serious?

NGUYEN: And please, do we have this on tape?

HOLMES: Oh goodness. We will show you the lighter side of the presidential campaign, that's straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Oh, rocking out, classic rock fans recognize that, as they call it, chestnuts from the 1970s. You use that term all the time, right?

HOLMES: Chestnut. Yes.

NGUYEN: It's Boston's "More than a Feeling."

HOLMES: Yeah, Mike Huckabee and his band, "Capital Offense" have played that song a few times at campaign events, but the man that wrote the song, Boston founder, Tom Schultz, says he's not really feeling it.

NGUYEN: Not at all. Schultz fired off a letter to Huckabee demanding Huckabee stop playing the song because Schultz supports Barack Obama. HOLMES: And there you go. And the Huckabee campaign says the former governor, who plays bass, knows a lot of popular rock songs and none of them imply a band endorsement.

NGUYEN: Maybe everyone should just lighten up a little bit. Well, let's take it over to Josh Levs. He's a classic in his own right. He's got the latest on this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOSH LEVS, CNN.COM DESK (voice over): You know the candidates, you may be surprised.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hillary takes the stage, the crowd went nuts.

LEVS: Maybe some things are better not known.

SEN JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (sing in): Love, soft as an easy chair

LEVS: Sure, candidates battle out over Iraq and the economy, but they're vying for the cool factor, even if no one can match the Hollywood power of Obama fans "yes, we can" video.

The Clinton camps takes the self-deprecating humor track.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hillary just quit the band.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was like, why? And he goes, Hillary's running for president.

LEVS: Translation, she may not be a rock star on sage, but her platform is presidential. Not to be outdone on reaching folks with the issues, Obama is putting his money where your mouth is.

SEN BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hi, everybody, this is Barack Obama. We can have universal healthcare in this country, we can do that.

LEVS: Every time your phone rings? All right.

Mike Huckabee, meanwhile, is reminding you the mechanics of the nominating process aren't always as they appear.

ANNOUNCER: But, until the race has run its course, who can say there won't be one last final twist before that final...

LEVS: The message, Huckabee keeps on rolling. Though, McCain says.

MCCAIN (singing): Nobody, but nobody is going to rain on my parade.

LEVS: McCain's campaign Web site posted his 2002 appearance singing on "Saturday Night Live," bashing a liberal icon who just happens to be endorsing Clinton this year. MCCAIN (singing): Memories like the corners of my mind...

LEVS: Hey, right now, they all want your vote, meaning all four of them are...

MCCAIN (singing): People, people who need people...

LEVS: Josh Levs, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: Oh, please make him stop, really. I think I'm a really scarred from that.

HOLMES: That should be the attack ad.

NGUYEN: Just play that.

HOLMES: Just play John McCain and I prove this message. You know, you have to give him a lot of credit for getting up and doing that.

NGUYEN: OK.

HOLMES: Well...

NGUYEN: Put that on your ringtone.

HOLMES: All right. All right. Well, our BALLOT BOWL -- sticking with politics, here. BALLOT BOWL's coming back. Your chance to hear the candidates, not singing, but giving speeches in their own words comes your way 2:00, today.

NGUYEN: And we promise no singing from the candidates. Also, if the BALLOT BOWL is not enough, you can join us for the next Democratic debate. Campbell Brown hosts the CNN/Univision debate live from the University of Texas in Austin. That is Thursday night at 8:00 Eastern.

HOLMES: All right, now that time for us to check in with Howard Kurtz in Washington to see what's ahead on CNN's RELIABLE SOURCES. You heard this guy sing before?

NGUYEN: I haven't heard Howard, hopefully it's better than John McCain.

HOWARD KURTZ, RELIABLE SOURCES: After McCain I'm not going to attempt to sing, either.

Coming up, is Hillary history? The media keeps downgrading, maybe even writing off her chances of catching Obama. Are journalists giving favored treatment to Barack and now Michelle Obama?

Chris Matthews rips the Clinton campaign as a bunch of kneecappers. Could this have anything to do with the fact that he and others ant MSNBC have had to apologize to the former first lady? Plus, the cable networks go live as Roger Clemons testifies on the Hill. The media covered the shameless steroid scandal only as a television show.

That and the latest tabloid trash in the Paul McCartney-Heather Mills divorce, ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES.

NGUYEN: Good stuff. Thanks Howard, we're looking forward to it.

HOLMES: Also, the American dream turned nightmare. People losing their homes to foreclosure and creditors increasing interest rates. This afternoon at 6:00 Eastern, we'll introduce you to some people who are facing this problem and learning how to deal with it. Plus, we're going to be taking your questions.

NGUYEN: Yeah, if you have a mortgage or a credit question just e-mail us, weekends@CNN.com. We'll have counselors answering your questions live on the air, that's today at 3:00 Pacific, 6:00 Eastern, again, the e-mail address, weekends@CNN.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Take a look at this video. A wild and crazy police chase just outside of Atlanta. Look at that. OK, it's going to blow you away. Keep watching.

HOLMES: Oh, goodness.

NGUYEN: Man.

HOLMES: Police say the guy, you saw there, was driving the wrong way on the interstate, ditched the car, you see he made a run for it. Well, the police cruiser slammed into him. The guy jumped right up, took off again. The police cruiser hit him, physically. Couldn't stop him. Officers were in hot pursuit. Here's another look at it. I'm not sure where this was outside of Atlanta, but...

NGUYEN: Wrong lane, crossed over.

HOLMES: What...

NGUYEN: There, hit by the police car and keeps running.

HOLMES: Didn't miss a beat. Didn't even break stride, really here, did he?

NGUYEN: No, but he got caught, nonetheless.

HOLMES: Very curious to know why he as so desperate to get away. If he was going through all that, they was -- knew he was in trouble for something.

NGUYEN: For something, yeah.

HOLMES: Not to convict him already, but still... NGUYEN: Well, why are you running, right? That's the question. All right, here's another question for you. Is Barack Obama getting a free ride from the media? Howard Kurtz takes a closer look at the criticism, up next on RELIABLE SOURCES.

HOLMES: Also, at 11:00, "Magic" Johnson sits down with Wolf Blitzer to talk about his candidate, Hillary Clinton and her race for the White House. But first, get a check of the morning's top stories.

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