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CNN NEWSROOM

Castro Resigns as Cuban President; 'Ballot Bowl '08'

Aired February 19, 2008 - 12:00   ET

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


DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello and welcome to this special edition of "Ballot bowl '08."
I'm Dana Bash, coming to you today from Columbus, Ohio.

Now, "Ballot Bowl" is your chance to hear the presidential candidates as they are on the campaign trail vying for your vote and for their party's nomination. Today is a special day because it is voting day.

Three states are having their caucuses or primaries. And our Suzanne Malveaux is in one of those states, Hawaii. She will be joining us from Honolulu in a moment.

And we're going to get to all of that in a moment, but it is also a historic day in Cuba today, because Fidel Castro announced that after more than a half-century of rule, he is resigning as that country's leader. Now, it is one of those dramatic events that always tends to be a part of the narrative on the presidential campaign trail, and certainly that is no exception today. After all, Fidel Castro's rule spanned about 10 presidencies, so there are candidates already reacting to the news, especially since all of these candidates want to be the next president of the United States.

And we're going to get you caught up on the reaction from the presidential candidates on the campaign trail to this Castro news in a moment. But first I want to hand it over to my colleagues, Betty Nguyen and T.J. Holmes, who are in Atlanta.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Dana. We appreciate you.

Of course, Castro has pretty much pestered and provoked a lot of U.S. presidents. About 10 now (INAUDIBLE) communism a mere 90 miles away from U.S. shores.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And today the world wonders, what now?

We know for the time being, at least, the U.S. embargo on Cuba will stay in effect. That's according to the deputy secretary of state, John Negroponte.

And we are covering all the latest developments. Susan Candiotti has reaction of Cuban exiles in south Florida.

First, though, we do go to Cuba and CNN's Havana bureau chief, Morgan Neill. He is the only U.S. network correspondent based in Havana.

What's the reaction there in Cuba?

MORGAN NEILL, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Betty, first of all, today's announcement, truly historic. Forty-nine years after he led a revolution and overthrew the government of Fulgencio Batista, Fidel Castro is stepping down today.

Now, Castro's message from the commander in chief was splashed across all of the state-run newspapers today. It was read out on state radio, state television. The news everywhere.

Now, what has been the reaction? Well, so far it's been fairly subdued among some of the people we've talked to, simply because they say they've seen a year and a half now with Raul Castro a head of the country, albeit provisionally. We were told a lot of them are saying this was a wise decision given that Fidel Castro's age, given that his condition, that it was the best decision that could be taken.

Now, a lot of the young people we've talked to said they're not too concerned who holds the titles at the top of power. What they want to know is, who is going to make the changes that they've been asking for over and over and increasingly in recent weeks -- Betty.

NGUYEN: All right. Havana Bureau Chief Morgan Neill.

Thank you for that, Morgan.

HOLMES: And President Bush, half a world away, still closely monitoring the end of an era. The president traveling in Africa. And he says the change in Cuba could signal a transition to democracy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, the question really should be, what does this mean for the people in Cuba. They're the ones who suffered under Fidel Castro. They're the ones who were put in prison because of their beliefs. They're the ones who have been denied their right to live in a free society. So I view this as a period of transition, that -- that should be the beginning of the Democratic transition for the people in Cuba.

There will be an interesting debate that will arise eventually. There will be some who say, let's promote stability. And, of course, in the meantime, political prisoners will rot in prison. And the human condition will remain pathetic in many cases.

I believe that the change from Fidel Castro ought to begin a period of a Democratic transition. The first step, of course, will be for people put in these prisons to be let out.

I met with many of the -- some of the families of prisoners. It just breaks your heart to realize that people have been thrown in prison because they dared speak out. The international community should work with the Cuban people to begin to build institutions that are necessary for democracy, and eventually this transition will lead to free and fair elections.

And I mean free, and I mean fair. Not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers tried to foist off as being true democracy.

And we're going to help. The United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty. And so those are my initial thoughts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: That's the reaction there from the current White House occupant.

Now to the reaction of those who want to be in the White House.

NGUYEN: Here is a sampling of what the presidential candidates are saying today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Fidel Castro announced that he was going to turn over government -- the government, most likely to his brother. This is a great opportunity for Cuba to make a transition to a democracy, to empty their political prisons, to invite human rights organizations into the country and begin the transition to a free and open society, and allow the people of Cuba the same opportunity that people all over the world deserve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NGUYEN: His rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, had this to say: "Certainly the people of the United States would meet a new government to talk about what needs to happen if that government takes some action that demonstrates they are willing to change. So we are hoping that we see some evidence of that."

HOLMES: And Clinton's Democratic rival, Barack Obama, shared some similar thoughts. He said, "The United States must be prepared to begin taking steps to normalize relations and to ease the embargo of the last five decades. The freedom of the Cuban people is a cause that should bring Americans together."

NGUYEN: And just minutes ago we heard from Republican candidate Mike Huckabee. Here's what he had to say: "The Cuban people deserve nothing less than free and fair elections which would provide the only hope for a prosperous and Democratic Cuba. Until Fidel Castro is dead, there can be no significant movement towards reform in Cuba. Raul Castro has proven that he's as much a tyrant and dictator as his brother Fidel. Simply providing more power to another dictator does nothing to promote freedom and democracy to the Cuban people."

Well, let's gauge the reaction from the large Cuban exile community in south Florida.

CNN's Susan Canndiotti is in the section of Miami known as Little Havana. And she joins us live with the latest from there.

It sounds like more and more people are hearing word of this and they're starting to speak out.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are, Betty. And this is always the main gathering place wherever anything of any importance happens in Cuba.

We're outside the Versailles restaurant on Calle Ocho. And over here you see all kinds of interviews being conducted.

People have been gathering here since early this morning. A little farther on down, that's the window where they serve the Cuban coffee. And both the old and the young meet here to talk about what this might be.

Is this the dream come true, a change in power in Cuba, or is this only another development along that long, long road? That is what people want to know. No answers, but let's take a walk over here to the street, Calle Ocho.

Well, of course since early this morning we've been hearing cars driving by and honking their horns. Buses, truckers, you're seeing some of that now. And frankly, we're seeing some of the same exile groups out here as we did a couple of summers ago when it was announced that Fidel Castro was temporarily handing over control of the government to his brother, and it was also announced at that time he was very ill.

Well, people now are raising the same questions, is Fidel Castro already dead? Is this all part of a subterfuge? Or is this the start of a meaningful change?

So you see people out here holding signs, saying that they want Fidel Castro to go. Across the street, a huge Cuban flag hung between two palm trees.

And so, people watch and wait with a healthy dose of skepticism, agreeing for the main part, that if Raul Castro takes over power at this time, they don't anticipate any major developments. But, they quickly add, there is always hope and acknowledge this is certainly an important day and one that many people have been waiting for, for decades -- Betty.

NGUYEN: All right. Susan Candiotti joining us live from Little Havana there in Miami.

Thank you, Susan.

So, could Fidel Castro's move help move the influential group of U.S. voters? Well, we're going to look back at the past and what might come in the future.

HOLMES: And then "Ballot Bowl" and the presidential candidates unfiltered.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: So, a change at the top in Cuba.

HOLMES: Well, does it actually coincide with a change among Cuban-American voters?

CNN's John Zarrella with the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In Miami's Little Havana, the cup was always filled with Republican votes. But for some it doesn't taste quite as good as it used to.

LOURDES DIAZ, CUBAN-AMERICAN DEMOCRAT: We have been made a lot of promises by the Republican Party. They come here. They say, you know, (SPEAKING SPANISH), "Down with Fidel Castro." And then they ignore us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These Democrats that are out there hiding because they don't want to come out, we need to bring them out.

ZARRELLA: At a Democratic Hispanic caucus Florida meeting they talk of getting out the vote. The simple fact there's a meeting at all says a lot.

Cuban-Americans blamed President Kennedy and the Democrats for the failure nearly 50 years ago of the Bay of Pigs invasion aimed at overthrowing Castro. Ever since, they have voted overwhelmingly Republican. That was reinforced with Elian Gonzalez was sent back to Cuba during Bill Clinton's presidency. If you are a Cuban-American it was sacrilege to be anything but.

Millie Herrera says in the past she was harassed for daring to be different.

MILLIE HERRERA, DEMOCRATIC HISPANIC CAUCUS OF FLORIDA: I will not feed ground to anybody. I will not accept anybody to tell me that I am less patriotic or less beloving of Cuban-American and Cuban freedom just because I'm a Democrat.

ZARRELLA: The Cuban-American National Foundation, a rock solid ally of the Republican Party since the Reagan era, is no longer handing out automatic support.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our community has been changing our outlook towards the Republican Party because of the failure of these administrations to really provide some of the promises.

ZARRELLA: For decades, nearly every Republican candidate and president played to the audience, vowing to bring a free Cuba and for good reason. Census figures show 1.5 million Hispanics in Florida. Thirty-six percent of them, 540,000, are Cuban-American. The majority are registered Republicans and political observers say they'll stick with the GOP in the general election. But Democrats sense an opening. Bottom line, if the Republican nominee wants that cup filled with votes again, he may for the first time in 50 years have to work for them.

John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: Now we want to get back to a special edition of CNN's "Ballot Bowl" with our Dana Bash. Dana's hanging out in Columbus, Ohio, today.

Ma'am, it's all yours.

BASH: Thanks, T.J. Appreciate that.

And we do have a very busy hour for the rest of this hour during "Ballot Bowl." And let me show you what's on the game plan today.

First of all, it is voting day in several states. Three states, to be precise. Hawaii, Democrats are having their caucuses there, and they're doing that across that state. Republican voters are casting their ballots in Washington State.

And Democrats, as well as Republicans, are voting as we speak in Wisconsin in the primary there. We're going to have a lot more on all of that coming up, as well as what's at stake specifically for the Democrat and their intense, intense race that continues to go on.

Our Suzanne Malveaux is going to have that reporting from Hawaii. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's a big day for the Democrats, Senators Clinton and Barack Obama, as they watch those voters go to the polls, the Wisconsin primary. Obviously, both of them trying to get their messages across to voters and hope that the turnout is high. They are looking at those numbers as the day unfolds, as the hours unfold.

Senator Clinton stressing a solutions agenda, what she calls reaching out to the voters and offering real practical plans and steps for various things, whether it be health care, whether it be Iraq, whether it be education. We heard from Senator Clinton in Madison, Wisconsin, when she outlined some of her ideas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know the contrast has been drawn often in this campaign between the soaring rhetoric and the speeches. But I have to say that there is a difference between speeches and solutions, between rhetoric and results. And part of what -- part of what this campaign is coming down to is a recognition that we need to know as specifically as possible what our next president intends to do. We don't need a leap of faith. We don't need to have a beer with the next president. We had that president.

(CHEERING)

Although, you know, I'd be happy to have a beer, too, and we can talk about what we're going to do to solve our problems in the future.

(APPLAUSE)

But we have the opportunity to set the agenda. That's what this election should be about. Because when the cameras are gone and the lights are off, the president is in that Oval Office alone.

You can have all the advisers in the world, you know? They can tell you what to say, they can tell you where to stand. But you have to decide.

For 35 years, I've been working to make life better for people in our country. I started out as a young lawyer working for the Children's Defense Fund right out of law school. I wasn't interested in going to work in a law firm. I wanted to work to defend and represent kids who were abused or neglected, kids in the foster care system. I went door to door amassing the evidence to make the case that children with disabilities belonged in our public schools to open the doors to give them a chance at a better future.

(APPLAUSE)

I never thought when I was here speaking to the women in government that I would ever be back here standing as a candidate for the presidency of the United States. But I always believed that each one of us had a contribution to make, that every single one of us could do something to keep faith with this great country of ours.

And so year after year, the way I judged what I did was whether or not I'd helped people, whether or not I'd made a difference. So whether it was reforming the education system in Arkansas, or extending health care into rural areas, chairing the legal services corporation to give legal assistance to every American who needed it so that the doors of justice were not closed, whether it was moving toward universal health care, and when that was not successful, regrouping and coming up with the Children's Health Insurance Program known as the Badger (ph) program here in Wisconsin to take care of 31,000 children every month...

(APPLAUSE)

You see, I think it really matters when you're in public service what you've done. I think actions do speak louder than words. I want to be judged by what I will do. And I want to tell you that as I look at our country in 2008, I see a lot of problems.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: You hear Senator Clinton making her case that she is the candidate who will get things done, that she has a plan and solutions. You hear a couple of thinly-veiled swipes at Barack Obama.

She has mentioned before about being the workhorse as opposed to the show horse. Perhaps not the person who is best liked to sit down and have a beer with, but certainly someone who will roll up her sleeves and get things done. That's obviously her message that she has been fine-tuning and presenting on the campaign trail.

Senator Barack Obama also in Wisconsin, stressing another issue, and that is the issue of national security, what he would do as commander in chief to keep American voters safe. He touches on a number of things, including honoring the military, the plight of veterans who are homeless, and clearly his opposition to the war in Iraq.

Let's take a listen to Senator Barack Obama in Beloit, Wisconsin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My job as commander in chief will be to keep you safe. And I will do whatever is required. I won't ever take a strike against those who would do us harm. But part of that means maintaining the finest military on earth, equipping our troops properly, training them properly, putting them on proper rotations, treating them properly when they come home.

(APPLAUSE)

No more disabled just waiting for disability payments. No more homeless veterans. We have to honor our veterans and treat them with the respect and dignity that they deserve.

(APPLAUSE)

But it also means we have to use our military wisely. And the war in Iraq was unwise. The war in Iraq was unwise.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And Obviously another very important contest. That is the caucuses here in Hawaii, where both of the candidates, Senator Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, vying over those 20 delegates. Neither one of them taking this state for granted. Neither one of them campaigning here, but certainly bringing out very high, powerful supporters.

With senator Clinton, it was Chelsea Clinton, her daughter, dispatched here for three days, crisscrossing the islands, talking about her mother's agenda and plans. Not talking to reporters, but rather addressing voters directly, getting involved with some of the people here. A dance of the hula really winning over the hearts of some of the folks here. Already, people are saying that they seem to have a surge in momentum with the Clinton side.

On Barack Obama's side, this is where he was born, in Honolulu. There are warm feelings towards him. Clearly, he is the person who is projected to be the favorite here. The hometown native, if you will. And he is somebody who a lot of people see a great sense of pride in.

Now, I had a chance the last couple of days to sit down and talk to some people who know him directly -- his half-sister Maya, as well as some of the people who shared his childhood with him at his school, at his church and others in his community. So let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice over): Barry Obama, the John Travolta of Punahou High, the easygoing guy with the big smile, recalls his homeroom teacher.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Smile. Big smile.

MALVEAUX: His boyhood passion -- basketball.

CHRIS MCLAUGHLIN, BASKETBALL COACH: Lefty. Nice little left- hand jump-shot from the corner. And nothing but net very often. He was the only one that would dribble his ball everywhere.

MALVEAUX: Friends say the lanky teenager also held court in the classroom, writing poetry and leading discussions. And occasionally he caught someone's eye.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Because I got a crush on Obama

MALVEAUX: Before there was Obama Girl, there was Kelli Furushima, who at 16 had the crush on Obama.

KELLI FURUSHIMA, OBAMA CLASSMATE: He was very funny. He was really warm, friendly, kind of a prankster. Walking by him in the hall, he'd be like, "Hey, short stuff," and pull my pencil out of my ear and stick it in his ear and keep going.

MALVEAUX: He signed her year book.

FURUSHIMA: He signed his name and he put a little afro on the "B," a little afro on the "O"

MALVEAUX: Barack Obama was born in Honolulu in 1961. The son of a black Kenyan father and white Kansan mother, Obama was like many in Hawaii, of mixed cultures. But Barack's father abandoned him when he was only 2.

Barack, known as "Barry," was raised by his single mother and his maternal grandparent in a white household. He attended the prestigious Punahou school on scholarship, where he was the only black boy in his class.

Barack's younger half-sister, Maya, recalls how Barry's relationship with his grandparents helped guide him through difficult times.

MAYA SOETERO-NG, OBAMA's HALF-SISTER: They really offered him a lot of stability. And I think that our grandmother's certainly gave him his pragmatism. She is a rather no-nonsense woman. Our grandfather was restless.

MALVEAUX: Obama struggled with his identity, and in his 1995 memoir writes about how he briefly used marijuana to mask his feelings, something his classmates and teachers say they were unaware of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I read about it in his book, I was surprised.

FURUSHIMA: It meant nothing to anyone that he was even black. I mean, you know, he was just Barry. We defined each other more by personality.

MALVEAUX: Maya says two events helped shape Barack's coming to terms with himself. One was accepting a father who left him.

SOETERO-NG: I think it was important for him to dare to love his father in spite of his shortcomings.

MALVEAUX: The other was losing his mother.

SOETERO-NG: The death of our mother really unseeded us in many ways, made us feel untethered. And so we reached out for one another.

MALVEAUX: The boy with the big smile, now a man seeking the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And many people talk about the aloha spirit, the sense of community, saying they believe that they are unique in a sense from the voters on the mainland, that that is something that they have grown up with. They believe it makes Senator Barack Obama a unique candidate as well.

The executive director of the Democratic Party here in Hawaii says they expect up to 40 percent more people to caucus today. They also say they see a surge in support for Senator Clinton, so it should be a very fascinating day, an interesting race to see what happens here in the home state of Hawaii.

Up ahead, up next, of course, the GOP front-runner, Senator John McCain, and Mike Huckabee. They move forward with their own contest. And clearly the two of them vying for as much support as possible. McCain quite ahead as the presumptive nominee, but Huckabee certainly still in the race.

We'll have more of that as "Ballot Bowl" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to BALLOT BOWL '08. I'm Dana Bash in Columbus, Ohio. On BALLOT BOWL we bring you the candidates from the campaign trail unfiltered.

And today isn't just any campaign day for these candidates. It is also election day. And for Republicans in particular, it's election day in two states. There's a caucus going on in Washington state and primaries going on in the state of Wisconsin. And all told, 56 delegates are at stake.

And for John McCain, he is hoping that those 56 delegates will end up in his column to inch him closer to the actual number, 1,191 delegates need to officially clinch the Republican nomination. But Mike Huckabee is still out there and he's still campaigning extremely hard, particularly in that state of Wisconsin. He has been in Wisconsin for about three or four days doing wall-to-wall campaigning all over this state.

And the point he is trying to make in trying to convince voters not to vote for John McCain and rather to vote for him is simply to say that it should not be the case that there should be a coronation, as he puts it, and that there should be some drama in this Republican race still.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We see the last stand only when somebody has 1,191 delegates. Other than that, we may go all the way to Minneapolis-St. Paul to the convention. It could be a brokered convention. It wouldn't be the first time.

People are, for the most part, spoiled by the last few election cycles when it was sort of a done deal before we ever got to the convention. But I remember even in my lifetime, all the early elections I can remember as a kid were decided with a great deal of drama at the convention itself. Might actually boost enthusiasm for the party if we got to the convention and then decided who the nominee was going to be.

And there's still a possibility that that's what could happen. And if it does, then there's a good chance I could be that nominee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, your message has been increasingly anti-establishment, anti-Washington, I'm the outsider versus these guys who have been in Washington. And you tout your chief executive experience. What do they bring to the table that's positive from their Senate floor (ph) experience?

HUCKABEE: They would be great senators and should stay there. That's what they bring.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No presidential qualities?

HUCKABEE: Oh, I'm sure they have some, absolutely. But it's for them to tell what you they are, not me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, hypothetically speaking, (INAUDIBLE) in the nomination, assuming that you don't get . . .

HUCKABEE: Now why would I make that assumption?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's assume that for a second. Have you given any thought to what you'll be doing after this election?

HUCKABEE: None at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Say anything about future scholarship plans?

HUCKABEE: No. I mean I really hadn't gotten that far. Because if you start thinking about what you're going to do if you lose, then you're already planning to lose. So those are plans I have not made. I have not made plans to lose. I've made plans to continue until I win.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In your mind you've already (ph) won?

HUCKABEE: Again, I barely have time to keep the schedule I have, much less to start anticipating the what-ifs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, what's your reaction to the White House (ph) -- beef recall in U.S. history.

HUCKABEE: Well, I think it's a stark reminder that food safety is of paramount importance to this country. I'm from an agricultural state. We're the largest, you know, rice producer and the second- largest poultry producer. We have quite a bit of beef cattle and some pork, but poultry is a huge item for us and so while it's not the same as the beef issue, the importance of a safe food supply is critical.

It's tough enough to keep a safe food supply when we have domestically produced beef. What's even more difficult is when we have imported beef and imported proteins and I think that's one reason that I continue to sound the theme that a country, in order to be free, has to be able to feed itself.

The increasing level at which we enter into food safety programs where greater levels of inspection -- you know, as you know, there's about .05 percent of the total beef that's actually inspected. So we do a very small sampling of beef for E. Coli. I think it's probably important to increase the level of sampling to give consumers and customers a greater deal of confidence about -- particularly ground beef.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, you still didn't answer my question concerning the Bush endorsement.

HUCKABEE: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry to harp on it. But which names did they name in Texas, and especially when he comes from a former -- president of the United States. How does that -- your campaign impact this considering the amount of emphasis you (INAUDIBLE).

HUCKABEE: Texas, I lived there four years. My oldest son was born there. One thing I know about Texans, they are very independent people. They're not people who just follow the leader because somebody told them they ought to.

I sense that it will not have a huge impact on rank and file Republicans, the kind of people who support me. Because people who support me know why they do. They're not just listening for a cue from some endorsement. What they're wanting to know is, do I support the human life amendment.

They want to know that I'm actually going to take a stand and give leadership to changing the tax system. They want to believe that someone's going to be a leader who has executive experience. And all the endorsements in the world won't sway those folks for whom it's about the principles, not the politicians, that will dictate how they vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: That's Mike Huckabee in the state of Wisconsin where voters are going to the polls as we speak. Huckabee trying to gen (ph) up his supporters to try to make the case that a vote for him basically wouldn't be a waste. That he wants people to go out and vote for him, as he said, on principle, and because of the principles that he supports, which he has been campaigning very hard on with regard to social issues and with regard to fiscal issues. His fiscal policy, his signature issue being the fair tax to abolish the IRS.

Now, meanwhile, John McCain is also in the state of Wisconsin. He is -- his campaign is basically trying to make sure that they don't get embarrassed there. That is why he spent the morning in Wisconsin campaigning and saying a couple of times, over and over again, he wants his supporters to actually get out and vote because his campaign is a big concern as they have this air of inevitability. And as they try to convince the country that the Republican race is over, they're also sending a signal to their own supporters that they don't need to go vote.

So that is a little bit dicey for a front-runner and somebody who considers himself the presumptive nominee because he doesn't want to get embarrassed in a state like Wisconsin. That's why he was there this morning. And after his rally he turned to an issue that is at the top of the news today, and that is the news that Fidel Castro announced that he is resigning as the head of that country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a great opportunity for Cuba to make a transition to a democracy, to empty their political prisons, to invite human rights organizations into the country and begin the transition to a free and open society and allow the people of Cuba the same opportunity that people all over the world deserve.

And the other issue I've just mentioned on the results in Pakistan, although not unexpected, certainly are going to present a challenge for us to deal with a new government in Pakistan. I believe that whoever runs that country, we have a common interest in defeating the Taliban and having good relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And this transition so far, as they've had a free and fair election according to the observers that are there, and that's good. And we look forward to dealing with the new government of Pakistan. And certainly we appreciate the relationship we have with President Musharraf and hope to maintain that.

Questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What role should the administration have in (INAUDIBLE) that transition in Cuba that you talked about?

J. MCCAIN: Well, I think that we should make it very clear that once free elections are held, that the political prisoners are released and human rights organizations are functioning in Cuba, that we would be willing to provide whatever aid and assistance that's necessary. Any assistance that came in earlier than that might serve to prop up a new regime or Raul or whoever it is that wants to take Castro's place. So we have to be absolutely confident that the transition to a free and open democracy is being made before we provide that additional aid and assistance. Once that happens, I'm sure the American people will do whatever is necessary to help the people of Cuba.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

J. MCCAIN: Because I think Wisconsin is a -- one, it's important to do so. It's always been a swing state. I think I can appeal not only to our Republican base, but to independent voters. I think that there is a strong base here that we could reach out to and I think I can be very competitive here with my economic, as well as other messages. Wisconsin is also a well known state for integrity in government, and I respect that very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

J. MCCAIN: I don't think so. I think he's a legitimately elected president and we'll see what the dynamics of the new parliament is. But, of course not. There's any more than in any other country, if the opposition party gains power, should the president of that country step down. And that's happened in many other democracies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, it sounded like Mrs. McCain was concerned (INAUDIBLE), where she said, for the first time in her adult life she felt proud of her country, in reference to people's desire (INAUDIBLE).

J. MCCAIN: I don't think we have any comment on that. Do you have any comment?

CINDY MCCAIN, JOHN MCCAIN'S WIFE: I just want to make the statement that I have and always will be proud of my country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But there's been some talk that some of the primary voters in Wisconsin, that are Republican, would vote for either Obama or Clinton in order to give you a better chance to win in the fall. What do you think about (INAUDIBLE) primary voters?

MCCAIN: You know, I've heard all those theories and we heard those theories in Virginia and Maryland and in other states while this competition between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton has heated up. But generally speaking, with very few exceptions, party voters go to the polls to vote for their party leader. They're not that complicated in general. There's always the theory that they will be. But I'm happy to say, in at least the past few primaries, people have just gone to select the candidate from their party.

And we've been getting a fairly good percentage of the independent voters as well where many thought that the independent voters would all move over to the most contested race. I hope that that's because a lot of our Republican voters realize, and independent voters realize, that the Republican primary is not over yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: The Republican primary is not over yet. Well, that is the message that John McCain's campaign is trying to send to those voters who may or may not be going to the polls on the Republican side in the state of Wisconsin, particularly the people who support John McCain. They want to make sure that the energy that is behind Mike Huckabee or perhaps the protest that is out there among conservatives, protest to John McCain's candidacy, doesn't take hold and have an unnecessary or an unexpected, I should say, loss for John McCain in the state of Wisconsin today.

And, meanwhile, we want to look ahead to the next set of contest states. One state in particular that is going to have a huge impact, particularly on the Democratic side, and that is the state of Texas. It holds its primary on March 4th. And we're going to look at that and look at where things stand vis-a-vis the voters in that state. Our Bill Schneider is standing by to talk about that. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: Welcome back to BALLOT BOWL '08. I'm Dana Bsh in Columbus, Ohio.

Today we have been bringing you the candidate in their own words from the campaign trail unfiltered. But we're also reminding you that it is election day in three states today. In Washington state for Republicans, in Hawaii for Democrats, and for both Democrats and Republicans it is primary day in the state of Wisconsin. Fifty-six delegates at stake all together for Republicans, 94 for Democrats. And for Democrats in particular, every single one of these delegates matters incredibly in that dramatic very, very tight race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

And speaking of the Democrats, want to bring in my colleague Suzanne Malveaux, who has been covering the Democrats. Today she is doing so from the caucus state -- the state that's having its caucuses, rather. That state is Hawaii. And also want to bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, who has been crunching the numbers on all of these races in particular.

But also, Bill, you're looking forward to one of the next very, very important states that will hold its primaries, that's two weeks from today and that is the state of Texas. BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, indeed. And we have a new poll conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation of Texas Democrats and Republicans. Hillary Clinton is counting on Texas. Her advisors, her strategists say she has to win Texas to regain her momentum, to be able to win this race. And she has been relying on it.

Where does the race stand in Texas? Well, it's all tied up, you might say, like a heifer in a rodeo. Look at this. Clinton 50, Obama 48. Not good news for Senator Clinton because she has been ahead by a significant margin in Texas and it looks like the Texas Democratic race is getting closer and closer.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Bill, interestingly enough, too, right after the Potomac Primary, we saw that Senator Clinton wasted no time. She was in El Paso, Texas. She got rock star status.

But interestingly that those polls reflect that, that the numbers are really coming a lot closer together. It was the one thing that the Clinton campaign was really fearful of, and that was that he was going to close the gap, that he would have that momentum, use that momentum to get to know people in Texas, for them to get to know him and perhaps move forward and make some inroads in the Latino voters and some of the others that she's really counting on.

SCHNEIDER: It appears to be exactly what's happening. But keep something else in mind. Texas has an incredibly complicated system for assigning delegates. I'm not sure I can explain it. I'm not sure I understand it. I don't know how many people do.

But in Texas, when you pick delegates, you're really supposed to vote twice. You have to show up at the polling place and vote in the primary. And if, and only if, you have voted in the primary, then you can also go to a caucus the very same night and pick additional delegates. One-third of the delegates are picked at caucuses that very same night. So, in Texas, somehow you get to vote twice.

MALVEAUX: And, Bill, I'm really curious about what the voters are really interested in. Some of the issues. I know that when she was in El Paso, the biggest applause that she got, she was talking about the No Child Left Behind program, that it was not a good program for the kids there and that they would not be tested under her administration. What are they saying that's really important?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the economy certainly is the number one issue to both Democrats and Republicans. It surpassed all other issues. We're seeing that in every state and we're certainly seeing that in Texas. To those Latino voters in Texas, a very important constituency that Senator Clinton is relying on. Education is a very, very big issue. Most of their children go to public schools and they rely on public schools for their children to advance in American society. They are deeply interested in the quality of education that their children receive. So it's a very, very important issue.

Now take a look at this. The voters in Texas are evenly divided. But they're not bitterly divided. Seventy-nine percent of all the Democrats in Texas say they'd be satisfied if Hillary Clinton were the nominee. But you know what? Seventy-nine percent say they'd also be satisfied if Barack Obama is the nominee. They're not really that deeply or bitterly divided.

Who do they think is likely to win? Seventy-nine percent -- there's that number again -- think Hillary Clinton is likely to be the Democratic nominee. But when asked, do you think Obama's likely to be the Democratic nominee? Slightly more. Note not a significant difference. Eighty-two percent say Obama is likely to be the nominee. So just like I said, Texas is all tied up.

MALVEAUX: Bill, quite amazing, too, because what we're seeing here in Hawaii is certainly the contest getting a lot closer as well as people tend to look to Clinton a little bit more favorably, but Barack Obama still having a lot of strength here. But, you know, obviously there's a Republican numbers as well there that are fascinating.

Dana.

BASH: That's right, Suzanne.

And, actually, you know, it's interesting. I was with John McCain in Texas yesterday and his campaign is looking to Texas as a place where they hope they can push their campaign over the edge to get to that magic 1,191 delegates to officially become the Republican nominee because it's such a delegate-rich state. But they're actually a little bit worried about the fact that Mike Huckabee has support there. We talked to a Republican -- former Republican chairman who said that there is a significant anybody but McCain vote in Texas. What are you seeing about that in terms of the numbers with regard to conservatives and how they feel in Texas about McCain?

SCHNEIDER: The numbers look good for McCain. Overall, McCain is leading in Texas 55 percent for McCain, 32 percent for Mike Huckabee with 11 percent there, as you can see, for Ron Paul.

But probably the biggest and most important break-through for McCain is this. For the first time in a southern state, in a southern state, he's carrying conservative voters. We saw in Maryland last week that he carried conservative voters in a northern state, which is mostly people who had voted for Mitt Romney, who has endorsed him. But now conservatives in a southern state are voting for McCain, not Huckabee, and that is a break-through for John McCain.

BASH: It certainly is, Bill. And when I guarantee you we are going to here from the McCain campaign over and over again if those numbers hold up with regard to the actual vote on voting day, which in Texas is two weeks from today.

Bill, thank you very much. And thanks to Suzanne Malveaux.

BALLOT BOWL will be right back just after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BASH: Well, for myself, Dana Bash, in Columbus, Ohio, and for my colleague, Suzanne Malveaux, with that beautiful backdrop in Honolulu, Hawaii, we thank you for joining us on this edition of BALLOT BOWL. Tune in tomorrow for another edition at noon Eastern.

And also, stay tuned for tonight's coverage of the election. The election day that is going on as we speak. The election night coverage starts from the election center in New York at 8:00 Eastern. And "Newsroom" is right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Revolutionary dictator, enemy of ten U.S. presidents. Fidel Castro ends nearly half a century of rule over Cuba, announcing his resignation in a letter.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: The cigar chomping, the teed-wearing (ph) dictator once spoke for hours on end to massive crowds.

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