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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Obama Wins in Wisconsin

Aired February 20, 2008 - 00:00   ET

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


L. KING: Thanks for joining us on another special election night. As Anderson said, another big night for Barack Obama. Keeps rolling along. Winning decisively over Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin. And John McCain keeps racking up numbers as well as he heads for the finish line on the Republican side.
We've got some of the best in the business standing by to analyze it all. Wolf Blitzer and John King are going to kick things off.

Wolf, would you -- are you there?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I am.

L. KING: There here is. Would you explain something quickly? I haven't it heard it explained tonight.

The Washington primary does not count in delegates for the Democrats. Why?

BLITZER: Because they had a contest, I think, on February 9th. And that was the decisive one. Tonight was just sort of a beauty contest because they had to go through with it. But in terms of determining who the delegates would be at the Democratic convention in Denver, they did that days ago and this was a -- was really of no factor on the delegates side.

It was a factor on the Republicans side. There were some delegates at stake on the Republican side. McCain took most of those because he won. But on the Democratic side, in Washington state, it was simply what they call a popularity contest.

L. KING: But since they already had the vote some weeks ago, why have the popularity contest?

BLITZER: The -- apparently, the legislature decided they wanted to go through with it and have this primary on this night even though the Democratic Party decided they were going to use their own caucuses on February 9th and do it from their respective standpoint. So it was just -- in effect...

L. KING: I got it.

BLITZER: ...it was forced through by the system. But the Democrats decided not to go with -- tonight, they wanted to go with, in terms of determining the delegates what happened on February 9th.

L. KING: Right. Now John King in Hawaii, the caucuses there are just beginning now?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Just beginning, Larry. They got under way a short time ago. And some caucuses, it takes pretty quickly. We've been through this before, in Iowa and other states, in Nevada. They just sit in a room, it's raise your hand, so we expect some results to come in relatively quickly, emphasis on relatively.

But others, because you're in a remote island, it could take a little while to get them. Our Suzanne Malveaux is there in Hawaii keeping track of it. And we -- again Obama favored going in but we should get those -- some of those results during the program.

L. KING: All right. Wolf and John, we're all sports fans.

Wolf, for Barack Obama, is this, to quote the term, "momentum"?

BLITZER: Yes, it's huge momentum because assuming he carries Hawaii later tonight, and he was born there, he was raised there, he's got a lot of support there, we've got to assume he's going to do really well. Let's see what happens when they finish their caucuses in Hawaii. But if he does, it will be 10 wins in a row. Zero wins over those 10 wins for Hillary Clinton. She's got to go back to Super Tuesday. So it's obviously, it's obviously an important, an important momentum builder for Barack Obama, Larry.

L. KING: John King, the question might be, then, what happened to her?

J. KING: Well, Larry, her strategy is clearly flawed and he is a growth stock and she is a declining stock at the moment. And by that what I mean is that, if you go back to the beginning of the race where she was doing best among the demographic groups, if you will, within the Democratic coalition, he is increasingly doing better.

He's doing better among voters close to -- from 50 to 64, just below senior citizens. He's doing better among those in the $30,000 to $50,000 income group. He's doing dramatically better. Some of this is the John Edwards departure from the race, but Obama is doing dramatically better among white men and he's even doing a bit better among white women, her core constituency.

So he is growing and eating into what at the beginning of the race was her base of support, while maintaining his own base. So he's stealing from her, I mean that term politely and as a compliment, and she is not reaching back across into his voting pool and stealing from him, if you will.

L. KING: Later in this hour, John King is going to do his -- as only he can do, his versatile map. We're going to hold Wolf Blitzer for a few more minutes.

We want to check in with Jamal Simmons, the Democratic strategist and Obama supporter, and Paul Begala, also a Democratic strategist and a former adviser to President Clinton.

Jamal, where did your candidate go right?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think he's figured out how to talk to voters up and down the income scale. He's figured out how to go after white voters. He's starting to have a greater appeal. He won today among every age group under 65. He won today every income group except those that make less than $30,000. So that's significant progress for Barack Obama. Significant progress.

L. KING: And Paul Begala, what happened?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, you know, what went right for Hillary? And it's a good point. She's lost -- if she loses Hawaii, as Wolf points out, it is Barack Obama's home state originally, then that could be 10 in a row. And I think there've been a lot of mistakes in this. Most importantly, I think, she got on the wrong side of the change dynamic.

It's a big change election. I think she's very much been a change agent her whole life. I mean, my goodness, I've never seen anybody fight harder for universal health care than Hillary did. And the insurance companies spent $130 million attacking her for it. So she could have run, I think, as a much more strong change agent, more of a movement.

But Barack, you know, became the movement in this thing. And I think is that side of it as well -- I think your question to Jamal was a really important one. We in the media -- and I -- of course, I support Hillary. But we in the media tend to criticize the loser. The truth is, Barack is running a remarkably good campaign. It just might be that people are voting for Barack Obama because they like Barack Obama. They don't dislike Hillary Clinton.

In fact, Democrats still love her if you look at all the polling data. It's just that Barack is running a much better campaign.

L. KING: Wolf...

SIMMONS: And I actually agree with Paul on that front. I think Democrats do like the Clintons. But I think this year is a change year. Barack Obama's captured that message and they're flocking to him.

L. KING: Wolf, what do you make of the tremendous Democratic turnout? A sizeable -- more Democrats turned out tonight than Republicans in Wisconsin. And that's been true in almost every primary.

BLITZER: You're right, Larry. In almost every contest, much larger numbers of Democrats are showing up at the caucuses as well as the primaries than on the Republican side, in state after state after state, clearly a lot of enthusiasm out there on the Democratic side, less so on the Republican side.

There's still a split on the Republican side. John McCain clearly is way, way ahead of Mike Huckabee. But Mike Huckabee is still refusing to bow out. And he's showing that John McCain still has his work cut out for him in terms of rallying the Republican base, the conservative base, the evangelical community, making sure that all the Republicans are on board because he's going to go after not only that entire Republican spectrum but he'll need independents and some other Democrats, if he will -- he's going to be able to win in November.

He's clearly well on his way to getting that Republican nomination. He's not there yet in terms of Mike Huckabee still standing in his way, at least a little bit.

L. KING: One more thing, Wolf, and then we'll let you get a well-deserved rest. John Ling is going to be with us along with our panels through the rest of the hour.

Wolf, where do we -- does Hillary have to sweep the next three?

BLITZER: Yes, I think she really does and she has to do it in a decisive manner. On March 4th, there's going to be three contests on March 4th, Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island. She's got to win. If she wins two, she'll obviously continue until the end of April when Pennsylvania has a big contest. Those are states that she should really be doing very, very well. In Ohio, in Texas and Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, she should do well there.

But Barack Obama, as you pointed out, Larry, has the momentum going right now. He's got two weeks to consolidate that momentum between now and March 4th. So she's facing a daunting, a daunting struggle right now to stay in this race. And it's not going to be easy. But you know what? The sports analogy you like and the one we were talking about earlier, if the first half was relatively a tie score, in the third quarter, Barack Obama is moving way ahead. You've still got the fourth quarter left to go. And let's see if there's a "Hail Mary" pass out there.

L. KING: Thanks, Wolf. We'll be talking lots to you in the days and weeks ahead. Another -- it's a noble job. Thanks for being with us.

BLITZER: Thank you, Larry.

L. KING: John King will remain. Jamal and Paul will have a little mini debate later in the program. We have a full panel, plus John King right after this. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just heard that we won tonight in Wisconsin.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Wisconsin, for bringing us to the point where even a superstitious naval aviator can claim with confidence and humility that I will be our party's nominee for president of the United States. Thank you, Wisconsin. (END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

L. KING: In a moment, I'll have John King give us his proverbial map sweep, which he has made his little special niche on this CNN coverage.

By the way, don't forget the CNN Univision Democratic debate in Austin, Texas on Thursday night. Campbell Brown will moderate.

Let's meet our panel. Laura Schwartz is here with us in Los Angeles, the Democratic strategist. In New York is Amy Holmes, the political contributor to CNN and a Republican strategist. In Fargo, North Dakota is Ed Schultz, host of his own very popular liberal radio talk show. And in New York is David Frum, the former speech writer for George W. Bush, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of "Comeback, Conservatism That Can Win Again."

All right, Laura, before we go to John King and his sweep of a map, what's your read on tonight?

LAURA SCHWARTZ, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's not just that Obama won, it's how he won. Seeing that he could win all across the regions, urban, suburban, rural areas, among women, among Hispanic, among all educational backgrounds, not just the college graduates but the non-college graduates as well, I think sets a big -- big trend going into Texas and Ohio in a couple of weeks.

This is something that we've seen since Super Tuesday, Gallup Poll has said he's made, number one, substantial gains in middle-aged people, middle-aged voters. Then he's trending up among Hispanics, women and self-identified Democrats.

L. KING: Amy, logically, is he the prohibitive favorite now?

AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I wouldn't say prohibitive. Anything can happen. And we heard Michelle Obama, for example, this weekend say something rather unfortunate, that this was the first time in her adult life she had been proud of her country. So those kind of rookie mistakes can be a real turnoff particularly to those conservative Democratic voters that Laura is talking about.

You know what, Larry? Tonight was a blowout. Wisconsin is a purple state. Hillary Clinton had said, you know, vote for me, because I can win those purple states. This was a test of her own theory and it -- she failed.

L. KING: Ed Schultz, what's your read?

ED SCHULTZ, HOST, "THE ED SCHULTZ SHOW": I think it's over, Larry. And I'll be the first one to say it. I just don't know how the Clintons are going to turn this thing around. I think somebody in the Democratic Party is going to have to sit down with Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton and have them explain to them how they're going to win this thing. I mean this is going to divide the party. The numbers aren't there anymore.

This sweeping win by Barack Obama, state after state, the delegate count, the popular vote, and I can tell you that these delegates don't want to get these phone calls. They don't want it to come to them. They know that the people are speaking. And I think the Clintons -- it's over. I think -- I don't see them in any way winning this nomination.

L. KING: All right. Wow.

And David Frum, from the other side of the ledger, the Republican side, looking at the Democrats, what's your read on tonight?

DAVID FRUM, FMR. SPEECHWRITER FOR PRES. G.W. BUSH: Well, for Republicans, a very disturbing night because of these low turnout rates on the Republican side. I mean, if this were one race, John McCain would have come in third behind both Hillary and Barack Obama. I'm also beginning to wonder, as you look at these turnout rates, what's the fundraising looking like? How much money is going to Barack Obama and how much money is coming to John McCain?

If this is going to be a privately funded -- rather I mean a publicly funded presidential race as it probably is, are the Republicans going to have the resources? You know, the Democrats claim not to be the party of the rich, but they're raking in the bucks.

L. KING: All right, John.

SCHWARTZ: What small donors.

L. KING: John King, give us your proverbial sweep.

FRUM: Big turnouts.

L. KING: How, John, did Barack Obama do it tonight?

J. KING: Well, Larry, first, let's look at the national map. The darker blue is Barack Obama and he's beginning to show depth of his support from East Coast to West, from north to south. He's won 22 states now to half that for Senator Clinton if you do not count Florida and Michigan, because, remember, their delegates don't count.

Now let's take a closer look inside Wisconsin. Now Laura was just talking about this. Just look at the sweep of the win. She has done well in rural areas, a little bit here tonight. A little bit out here. But, Larry, Barack Obama just swept the state, almost a 60/40 margin. That is striking and remarkable.

And so how does that translate? Well, what it translates into, Larry, we'll go to the delegate map. We can look at the Republicans later if you want. Let's give the state of Wisconsin, goes to Barack Obama. We assign that one. Let's assume for the sake of argument he carries Hawaii tonight, where he was born. We assume that. Not only then, Larry, is he starting to pull ahead, but this is the number to keep watching. Hillary Clinton has more super delegates. Take them out of the equation for now, because they're going to wait on the sidelines and see what happens. He is now pulling ahead of her 100 or more among pledged delegates. And if this trend continues -- and I'll hit a couple of states. Let's assume that Barack Obama can win Ohio, come down here and edit, can take Ohio, give it to Obama, Texas, then he starts to pull away and then the pressure is on those super delegates to let this play out.

And if he continues to win, Larry, he starts pulling in the lead, there is no question the elder statesmen of the Democratic Party will say even if he can't get to the magic line, the magic number by the end of the race, the moment is clearly on his side. If she is to reverse this to the point is this inevitable, Ed Schultz is reflecting the growing sentiment among many Democrats.

But you do not count the Clintons out. And the way she has to do it, Larry, is -- let's just give Obama back Wisconsin tonight. The way she has to do it, I'm going to hit this line twice, because she needs to do this with big wins. She needs to this 65/35 in Ohio and in Texas to get back to parity then the race hits the reset button. If she does not only -- not only win Ohio and Texas but win them big, Obama will still be ahead in those pledged delegates.

I think the best thing for us to do as analysts going forward is take the super delegates out of the equation for a moment. They might matter hugely at the end. But over the next several days and weeks, just look at pledged delegates, because that is what the elder statesmen of the Democratic Party will be looking at. And he is beginning to open up a lead there.

L. KING: And when we come back to John and in the next time we go back in the next session, we'll have him look at the Republican side of the ledger.

We'll be back with our panel right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The change we seek is still months and miles away. And we need the good people of Texas to help us get there. We will need you to fight for every delegate it takes to win this nomination. And if we win the nomination, if we are blessed and honored to win the nomination, then we're going to need your help to win the election in November.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

L. KING: All right. Laura Schwartz, if it's Obama versus McCain, is that going to be the theme? Experience versus no experience, what he just said?

SCHWARTZ: That's exactly the theme and John McCain is trying to hammer it home now.

L. KING: Good theme, isn't it?

SCHWARTZ: It is. It is. But you know what? It's not working in the primaries among the Democrats.

L. KING: He's not running against him.

SCHWARTZ: But Hillary's been touting experience this whole time and yet the country wants change. And if that's the mood in the general election, they're going to vote Obama as well.

L. KING: Amy, is that going to work for McCain?

HOLMES: I would have toned that down a little bit and been a little bit more gracious to Barack Obama. He has -- if Obama becomes the nominee, he has quite a long time to be attacking Obama on the experience factor. But look, John McCain is a genuine war hero when he talks about this. And another message that he hammered home was national security and having experience on the issue of national security and what he considered Barack Obama's naivete when it comes to that very serious topic.

So not only is it experience just as a general idea, but experience went where it really matters.

L. KING: Ed Schultz, if that's Obama versus McCain, how's that race going to shape up to you?

SCHUTLZ: Well, I think it will be tight all the way, Larry, I really do. I think the money that's going to come into play here is not going to let either one of the candidates run away with this thing. It's going to be a fight to the finish. You know, I think that the Bushes coming out in favor of McCain is going to help him with his fundraising. They can rob the train better than anybody when it comes to raising money. And so he's putting his conservative coalition together.

But you know, tonight's speech by McCain almost sounded like a State of the Union address and I don't think it's a good strategy to infer that Barack Obama is somewhat of an empty suit that just gives good speeches. And I don't think he's off to a great start against Obama if it were to start tonight.

L. KING: David Frum, all right, let's do it this way. Strategically, how do you run against this new hero?

FRUM: Right. I thought McCain's speech tonight was really missed the point. There is one issue that really works for Republicans against Democrats in this year and that is immigration and that was an issue that was absolutely missing from McCain's speech. Now he doesn't have a lot of credibility on that issue but he needs to hit it hard.

Obama got backed into a much more radical position in California than actually he really believes and has said in the past. So hit him on that. And Obama has this kind of faintly condescending approach to McCain where he says your half century of service, grandpa, thanks very much, see you at the (INAUDIBLE) yard.

There are a lot of older voters and I think one of the things McCain ought to be playing up is how dismissive and disrespectful Barack Obama has been to those people who have done the fighting, shed the blood, and how he's now coming in to say, I want to be the beneficiary of all of this. Remind older voters of the ingratitude of this person. I think that could be a powerful message.

HOLMES: And Larry, following on that theme that David pointed out, McCain did say in his speech tonight, unlike Barack Obama's wife, which she said this weekend, he has been proud every day of his country and to be an America. And this is a man who could have been deeply embittered by his experiences in Vietnam and being a torture victim in the entire base for five and a half years.

L. KING: Amy, frankly, didn't she mean by that, that a black man had exceeded to become the favorite for the presidency? And wasn't that a reason for her to be particularly -- isn't that what she meant?

HOLMES: Well, I think you can say I'm proud of my country for making this progress. We all are, Larry. I think everyone on this show is proud of our country. What she did say was, you know, I've never been proud of my country, my entire adult life that I can remember until this moment, which is a very different thing. And I think people could point to -- you know, you have a lot to be proud of for what your country has given you.

I, for example, me, Amy Holmes, I'm a graduate of Princeton University. I'm proud of a country that would have a university that it was a gender integrated, racially integrated. She also is a graduate. I mean there's a long laundry list of this. I think it was an ungracious comment of hers.

L. KING: Haven't -- haven't a lot of minorities not been very proud?

SCHWARTZ: Well, because they feel like they've been held back or held down. And Michelle Obama is an amazing success story of this country. Came out of poverty, her dad with multiple sclerosis went to work every day at the water plant in Chicago. She was up and coming and her parents instilled a great sense of hope into her life. And she graduated from an Ivy League college and she doesn't play (INAUDIBLE).

L. KING: So big question is, why did she say that?

SCHWARTZ: And she said it in the context of saying, I'm really proud for the first time as an adult, meaning, this movement is here. I see the hope alive. I see this in the crowd. She uses the statement in a lot of her speeches but I think got a little bit more hard edge the last time she used it. But if you look at the entire context of the speech and the swell of the people around her, they knew what she was saying, and did she.

L. KING: Ed Schultz, how is this campaign going to be?

SCHULTZ: Well, just to comment on this, Larry, if I may, you know, yesterday it was like...

L. KING: You said it's going to be close. What's going to be the issue?

SCHULTZ: The issue? Well, I think -- are you talking about between Obama and Clinton down the stretch here? I think, you know, I don't know how you...

L. KING: No, no, no, Obama and McCain.

SCHULTZ: All right. Obama and McCain, well, you know, I think it's old versus the next generation. That's what I think. I think that it's going to be a third term for the Bush administration if McCain is in there. I mean he's stuck on the war, he's stuck on fiscal policy. He doesn't have any real good ideas on illegal immigration. And that is his weakness.

And I think Barack Obama has come along and has inspired an unbelievable turnout of people. I don't know if John McCain has the ability to inspire that many young Republicans to come out and support old thinking. And I think it's going to be an uphill battle, but I do think he'll figure out how to keep it real close. It will be a fight to the finish.

L. KING: All right. We'll take a break and come back. Then we're going to have a mini debate between Jamal Simmons and Paul Begala. And then we'll come back with this panel and John King. And John will give us a sweep of the Republican race as he looks at his map.

Don't forget the big debate Thursday night.

Jon Stewart is our special guest tomorrow night. We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is about picking a president who relies not just on words but on work, on hard work to get America back to work. That's our goal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

L. KING: Let's have a little Clinton/Obama debate here with Jamal Simmons, our Democratic strategist and Obama supporter, and Paul Begala, also a Democratic strategist, former advisor to President Clinton and a supporter of Hillary Clinton.

What does -- Paul, what does Hillary have to do?

BEGALA: She's got to draw distinctions on these middle-class economic issues. If I were her, I would take John Edwards' message. He's out of the race now, and his voters are still somewhat in play.

Notice that Barack is growing among those Edwards voters. He's doing better and better with working-class voters, which ought to be -- they were Edwards voters, and Hillary ought to be targeting them the same way. So I would use John Edwards as a battering ram. Quote him.

Edwards had a lot of tough attacks on Barack before he got out of the race. He once accused Barack of stealing his ideas. Now there are allegations that Obama has stolen rhetoric from one of his best friends, the Governor of Massachusetts.

Senator Edwards attacked Barack, saying his health-care plan left 15 million people out. He attacked Barack for voting against limiting the usurious interest rates that credit card companies can charge working people.

So I think if she were to take Edwards' message -- don't worry about his endorsement so much -- but take that message and use it as a battering ram, she could draw some principled economic distinctions with Barack.

L. KING: Jamal, does -- does Barack keep in countenance what Hillary did in New Hampshire?

SIMMONS: What do you mean by that, Larry?

L. KING: By don't take her for granted?

SIMMONS: Yes. Well, yes, I think they may look back at the Obama campaign in New Hampshire and think, you know, as painful as it was, that may have been the best thing that ever happened to this campaign.

I think the campaign felt very good after Iowa. Everybody was elated going into New Hampshire. They may have let the foot up off the gas a little bit. And you know, Hillary Clinton came back. She snuck up on him and won.

I think now you've got a tougher team, a battle-hardened candidate. They're ready to take attacks. They're ready to, you know, throw some blows back, and it's been very good for the campaign.

If you look at one of the things about what Barack Obama did, which is really -- really transformational, is Hillary Clinton brought a lot of the traditional pieces of the party together underneath the wings of her campaign. So Barack Obama was forced to go out there and find new pieces of the party, find new people who weren't normally a part of the party, bring them inside, use new people in the campaign organization. And he really built an organization that's been tremendously successful.

L. KING: Paul, does -- does she hit hard?

BEGALA: As long as it's fair, factual and on public issues, sure, yes. You know, Barack has done a very good job of drawing powerful distinctions, attacking Hillary. But not in an unfair way. You know, I like attack politics, as long as it's fair, factual and on the public record.

Barack gets up in every speech. He says, "She's the past, and I'm the future." And he draws really principled distinctions with Hillary. Hillary can do the same thing with Barack. But never anything personal, never anything that's unfair or untrue.

And as I say, I would just quote John Edwards on those middle- class economic issues. Hard for Barack to rebut that when he's trying to get Edwards' endorsement.

L. KING: Jamal, what's the importance of the CNN/Univision debate Thursday?

SIMMONS: Well, it's going to be interesting to see. You know, Hillary Clinton is now sort of falling behind. You know, when you get behind, you start swinging at your opponent. Sometimes you swing a little bit wildly.

We saw it this week with some of these arguments about rhetoric. And you know, who lifted what rhetoric from whom. Politicians do this all the time. This is not a Ph.D. thesis defense. We're not going to have to send out annotated, footnoted campaign speeches to reporters every time a politician uses a line that may have been familiar from somewhere else. They've all done it. There's enough of it on the record.

So I think, you know, what blows does Hillary Clinton throw? How does Barack Obama come back? You know, Hillary Clinton says that she's the most vetted candidate in the race. Well, that may be true, but I think some people brought up earlier, we don't know what's in her tax returns right now. She says she's going to put them after the -- after the campaign is over, the primaries are over. We don't know what's in there.

We don't know what's in the library donors. Who gave money? All those things that people have some questions about, that we just don't know. And is Barack Obama using any of that in the debate?

L. KING: Paul, tell us about Hillary and Texas. That's your state.

BEGALA: It is. And boy, am I homesick. You know, I wish I'd been there right now. Of course, Austin, I lived there for many years. Hillary has a deep affection for Texas. Not only did she live next door when she was first lady of Arkansas, but even before that, she moved to Texas in 1972 and worked on her first campaign there. Now she worked for George McGovern in Texas, who got blown out. But it kind of shows you she's got a heart for the underdog.

In fact, I just -- on the last commercial break, I got an e-mail from my little brother, Chris, who's a Republican in Houston. Big Republican. In fact, he was helping Bush 41 with the press conference where he endorsed John McCain. That's how Republican my little brother is. President Bush Sr., 41, calls him the good Begala.

But he said in an e-mail, he said that early voting started today in Texas. And in his home county, Harris County, which is Houston -- it's the biggest county in Texas -- a year ago on the first day of early voting, only 1,300 people voted. Today, 12,000 people voted, 9,400 of whom were Democrats in a Republican county in President Bush's home county.

And my brother, Chris, says those are likely to vote for Barack Obama. So that's actually pretty good news for Barack, you know, in Houston, Texas.

L. KING: What does that tell you, Jamal?

SIMMONS: Well, what's good about that, not just for Obama, but what's good about that for Democrats, is what we're seeing is a tremendous amount of turnout.

We've watched 2002, 2004, Republicans were experts at going out there, turning out Republican voters, finding voters in places where Democrats didn't even know they existed. It looks like we, as a party, Democrats, have now figured out how to go out there, find new voters, bring them to the process and get them to vote for us in a tremendous way.

So if that can continue through November, we should have a very good November, whether it's Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

L. KING: Thank you both, Jamal Simmons and Paul Begala. The bad Begala.

SIMMONS: They're all good Begalas.

L. KING: We'll take a break and be back with our panel, and John King will tell us how McCain did it right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You always look for some hint of good news in the midst of the bad. And frankly, even in what was less than the kind of performance we wanted out of Wisconsin, there was good news in the middle of it.

Some of you were with me when I went out on a limb with a pledge that, if we won Wisconsin, that I would put the cheese hat on and be photographed in a cheese hat. So there I was with that bold prediction and comment that I would do that.

So the bad news is we didn't win Wisconsin. But the good news is, I don't have to have the photograph with the cheese hat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

L. KING: Back with our panel, Laura Schwartz, the Democratic strategist. Amy Holmes, the CNN political contributor and Republican strategist. Ed Schultz, host of his own program. Ed's in Fargo, North Dakota. And in New York, David Frum, the former speech writer for George W. Bush and the author of "Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again."

Let's go to John King at his own map desk. And John will tell us how McCain did it and how McCain is doing -- John.

J. KING: Well, Larry, we showed you earlier the sweep of Obama's win in Wisconsin. Let's look at Senator McCain's win in Wisconsin. Almost all of the vote count. We're up to 93 percent right now. Senator McCain is winning 55/37, and he's doing it with a pretty dramatic sweep.

Remember, previous states we've seen large pockets of support going to others. Well, Governor Huckabee's support is isolated here, not a very populous area. Senator McCain is the red, and he is winning where the people are, down here in Madison where the university is, Milwaukee, with the largest center of population. Up in Green Bay, which is a traditional Republican city when you get to the fall election.

But this area here, Larry, still a reminder that Senator McCain has some work, consolidating his support among rural cultural conservatives. And also, in these smaller, industrial cities where Governor Huckabee is still doing a good job selling his more populist economic message, you might say.

But a pretty dramatic sweep for Senator McCain tonight. Improvement. He's not there yet but improvement in consolidating the Republican base.

Now where does that take him? This is where the Republican race is so different from the Democratic race, Larry. Senator Obama beginning to pull away from Senator Clinton but still with a narrow lead among the delegates.

Look at the difference here, Senator McCain, way out here. Governor Huckabee way, way back here. Governor Romney, of course, has left the race. Congressman Paul running way behind on the delegate count. So Senator McCain is now within striking distance of the finish line here.

But let's look at some of the states to come. We know, of course, coming up on March 4, we'll assume Senator McCain wins these states. On March 4, you have Vermont that comes up. You have Rhode Island that comes up. You have Ohio that comes up. And you have Texas voting on that day. This is a calculation of Senator McCain winning 50/40, Larry, with Ron Paul getting 10 percent of the vote. And that would get Senator McCain close but not quite to the finish line by March 4. So by the math, very difficult for Senator McCain to officially clinch on March 4. He would have to run the board, getting 70 percent or 80 percent of the vote.

But he will get dramatically closer, which is why you did hear Senator McCain tonight for the first time drop any conditional in his phrasing. When he came out to speak tonight in Ohio, he said, "I will be the nominee of my party." They are increasingly confident, which means they're turning their attention more to the Democrats, very tough on Obama tonight in the speech tonight.

They're also addressing that very important point that David Frum made a little while ago, trying to raise money now. Reaching out to more than 300 fund-raisers across the country, former Bush fund- raisers, former Romney and Giuliani fund-raisers saying, join us now. Like us or not, we will be the nominee.

Still, some issues, some would say problems, in consolidating the party. But when it comes to the nomination challenge, this math is lopsided, Larry. It's over.

L. KING: Thanks, John. Thanks.

Another great job tonight. We'll be seeing you again soon on the trail. John King, noble work.

Let's check in with Lexington, Kentucky. Hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry. I was wondering what the panel thinks are the greatest strengths and weaknesses policy-wise of the two front- runners?

L. KING: OK, we -- we got a limited time here. David Frum, you want to take that? What's the strongest and weakest of each?

DAVID FRUM, AUTHOR, "COMEBACK": Well, McCain's weakest point is this immigration issue which is just gnawing at him inside the Republican Party. His greatest strength, his heroic personal record in a time of war. He is a man who can talk about war with experience.

Barack Obama, his greatest strength, he inspires people. There's something -- through the magic of TV, millions of people look at him and see him as somebody who represents something to them.

Hillary Clinton has the strength of, she's actually done the work, but this may always be a bridesmaid, never a bride problem.

L. KING: And we'll take a break and be back with more of this outstanding panel on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I revere and honor John McCain's service to this country. He is a genuine American hero.

But when he embraces George Bush's failed economic policies, when he says that he is willing to send our troops into another 100 years of war in Iraq, then he represents the policies of yesterday. And we want to be the party of tomorrow. And I'm looking forward to having that debate with John McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

L. KING: Laura Schwartz, is that the best way to attack McCain?

SCHWARTZ: It is.

L. KING: Praise him and attack him?

SCHWARTZ: Praise him and attack him at the same time. Doesn't know what's coming and it's over. And that crowd, almost 20,000 people tonight in Houston. Loved it when he started talking about the sacrifice that our men and women are still serving for us.

You know, Iraq is no longer the top issue. But we have to remember, almost 4,000 dead. We're at like 3,961.

L. KING: Still not a popular issue. I mean, most of the country is against it?

SCHWARTZ: Most of the country is, especially Wisconsin. They've got senators like Russ Feingold. Very much against it. I think that weighed in on his vote tonight.

L. KING: Amy, what do you think of the way Obama has approached this coming on to McCain?

HOLMES: I think it's been very savvy of him. Because it's, again, underscoring that he's the front-runner. He's the person headed to the general election, and he will be the Democratic nominee to face John McCain. So he's reminding Democratic voters of that.

And what he said in the beginning of the speech, I thought was very interesting. He said early voting is starting now, which means the Obama momentum is starting here, now. The future is here. You know, mail it in tomorrow. We can get this thing done. We can get this thing wrapped up.

So for Barack Obama to focus on John McCain, to focus on getting those voters excited, I think, is savvy of his -- of his campaign.

L. KING: Ed Schultz, is that a good way to approach McCain?

SCHULTZ: I think it is. I think if you look at his campaign, Larry, it's pretty interesting. You know, Barack Obama, he's great on the stump. But he understands YouTube. He uses the blogs. He's on progressive talk radio. I mean, the guy was on my show yesterday. I mean, he is doing a different kind of a very contemporary campaign. And it will be interesting to see if McCain follows suit, because I think this is what's bringing a lot of new people into the process.

You know, Larry, if I could say one of his strengths, Barack Obama was in Houston, Texas, tonight, which is an oil town, and he told them he was going to cap greenhouse gases. That's pretty bold.

He also went down to Texas today, where they cooked up this idea for the war, and he told everybody he was going to end it. I think the guy's got guts, and I think that that's part of being a great leader. And I think he's got what it takes.

L. KING: David Frum, what -- David, what do you think, David, about the way Obama is approaching the upcoming campaign, if it's his against McCain?

FRUM: I think it's shrewd. But I think Ed Schultz has missed why it's shrewd. Obama understands this is not -- he's not buying into the hype that his supporters are believing. He does not think this is transformation. He's playing 51/49 Karl Rove-type politics. That's why he goes to Houston and delivers those things, because he knows he's not going to win Texas.

The danger for McCain is McCain may believe his own hype about being a candidate who appeals to independents, appeals across party lines. And that he may find himself dangling out there.

Obama is playing this in a very shrewd, tough way. He's going to -- he's planning to scrape through, and -- and he's writing off Texas in order to appeal to all those progressive voters.

L. KING: Well said. Interesting. Jupiter, Florida -- we've got a call -- hello.

CALLER: Hi, I was wondering if this panel thinks that we should be looking at Obama painting himself as the fiscally-responsible candidate because of the way his campaign has been able to raise money. And it looks like the ground game can take him to November, winning all these caucuses, while she's spent $140 million and was done by Super Tuesday and had to write herself a check.

If that's going to be a reflection of how they're governing, shouldn't we look at him as a more fiscally responsible candidate than any of the others, and I'll take myself out...?

L. KING: Laura?

SCHWARTZ: That's a good argument to make, Laura. He's put his tax returns out there. He's run a very fiscally responsible campaign, and he's doing well managing his money. That says a lot.

L. KING: We'll be right back with some more moments with Laura Schwartz, Amy Holmes, Ed Schultz and David Frum. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) L. KING: Take another call. Chandler, Arizona, hello.

CALLER: Hi.

L. KING: Hi. Go ahead.

CALLER: Well, I was watching all the information tonight about Barack Obama being pulling from Hillary's section of her voters, dipping in into white males, into older women. I was wondering how that strategy was going to work against John McCain, dipping into younger Republicans wishing for a change, pushing away from the old regime that old Republicans are used to.

L. KING: Amy, will that -- how will that work?

HOLMES: Well, listen, he has attracted Republican voters. You know, I talk with my friends that are very inspired by what he has to say. They like his message of reaching out to the other side, of working constructively. He's not full of all his partisan rancor, like Hillary Clinton. For example, her saying tonight, "I know how to take a punch." You know, Hillary Clinton, the street fighter.

Republicans are very attracted to Obama's message of, you know -- not just of change but of working together far more constructively than we have in the past 15 years.

L. KING: Could -- Ed Schultz, could he play to what might be the McCain crowd?

SCHULTZ: Absolutely. I think young people, the 20-somethings, they don't know left and right, conservative, Republican, Democrat, liberal, I really think that people are listening to someone who wants to take them in a different direction and wants a different opportunity for American lifestyle.

And I think that Barack Obama is -- is really speaking to those people that I think McCain is going to have a hard time reaching. And I think that's going to be the difference.

FRUM: I don't think...

L. KING: David Frum, is there -- go ahead.

FRUM: I don't think Obama believes that at all. He knows what he is, which is a hard left candidate. He knows he's shooting for 50 percent plus one vote. And all this talk of unification, that's mystification.

SCHWARTZ: But he's winning all those independents.

SCHULTZ: I disagree with that. I think that he is a guy that can unify. I think he's a guy who's very determined. And just like he's peeled off demographics from Hillary Clinton, he'll do the same thing to John McCain.

FRUM: If he's the president, you think he's not going to run -- you think he's not going to try to implement a hard left, national health care program, big-spending, job creation program, that he's not going to be a complete left-wing part of the party fantasy?

SCHULTZ: David, young people don't know left and right. All they know is they don't have health care.

FRUM: Ed, you know -- is there -- let me ask you this. Is there any point on which Barack Obama dissents from the left hard left consensus of the progressive blogosphere? Any point where he has not...

SCHULTZ: He's going to go after the terrorists in Afghanistan. And he's going to finish the job in Afghanistan. He's going to go after al Qaeda. And he's going to work with other nations, something that this administration has not done until it was too late.

FRUM: Is there a specific thing...

SCHULTZ: I think that the hard left talk has worn thin with the American people. It's worn thin with this hard left and right stuff. They want somebody to come in with some new ideas to get the job done.

FRUM: I'm talking to you, a sophisticated consumer of public policy. Is there any -- OK, on the terrorism issue, is there one place where he says, "Some of the people in my party have moved a little bit too far to the left and I think there's some middle ground here," whether it's on surveillance, whether it's on the use of military force? Is there one area that you could indicate that he's not a down-the-line left-winger?

L. KING: We're running -- we're running close on time. David, it might also be true that the country has moved a little to the left.

FRUM: That's true. I think that's why he can get away with it.

HOLMES: I actually think there are two areas. Barack Obama -- as the conservative on the panel. There are two areas where Barack Obama has split with left-wing orthodoxy.

After that -- this latest school shooting, he talked about protecting the Second Amendment. He talked more about what I call nut control, instead of gun control.

He also, you know, very famously right now, is a having a disagreement with Hillary Clinton over -- over garnishing your wages for health care. He's talking about bringing health care costs down. Now, that's actually a Republican position to bringing those costs down. So there's two ways.

But I do agree with David, that he has 100 percent. He's the most liberal senator in the United States state.

L. KING: Thanks, Amy.

Can we say, Laura, is there anyone in history you could compare Obama to? SCHWARTZ: JFK.

L. KING: But JFK had been a senator quite a while and was pretty well-known.

SCHWARTZ: Well, that's -- which is really...

L. KING: And he's not -- he's a good speaker, not a great speaker.

SCHWARTZ: But when you look at those lines, the "just words," it's the pretty remarkable. And I think Obama, when people saw Obama tonight with 20,000 people at that stadium in Houston, they saw a John F. Kennedy talking at the inauguration.

L. KING: Thank you all very much. Thank you. Laura Schwartz, Amy Holmes, Ed Schultz, David Frum and, of course, John King keeping tabs on things.

That's it for now. Check out our Web site, CNN.com/LarryKing. You can download our current podcast, Michelle Obama. Or e-mail upcoming guests. It's all at CNN.com/LarryKing.

Hope to see you back here tomorrow at our regular time, 9 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. Pacific. Jon Stewart will be in the house. He'll take calls. It's a great hour of television coming your way. You can count on it.

That's LARRY KING LIVE Wednesday night. And now stay tuned for continuing coverage of all things politics right here on CNN. Don't go away.

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