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More Campaign Doings; McCain Stepping Up Criticism of Obama

Aired February 23, 2008 - 16:00   ET

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


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: (In progress) And that was true in Iowa. It was true in South Carolina. It was true in Wisconsin, and it is true now. So, I think that they need to take a look at what they've been doing. In terms of the two mailers that she specifically referred to here, these are mailers that, by the way, went out -- started going out several days ago, if not weeks ago. So I'm puzzled by the sudden change in tone unless these were just brought to her attention. It makes me think that there's something tactical about getting so exercised this morning.
And unlike some of the attacks that have been leveled about me that have been debunked by news organizations, these are accurate. Senator Clinton, as part of the Clinton administration supported NAFTA. In her book, she called it one of the administration's successes. And we point that out in a state that has been devastated by trade and is deeply concerned about the position of candidates on trade. With respect to the healthcare mailer, she has been the one who has made this difference about mandates the center piece, not just of the healthcare debate, but practically her campaign. And what this mailer does is point out this difference that she herself surfaced. And describes what the mandate that she's calling for would mean, which is that the government would force you to buy healthcare. That's indisputable. So the notion that somehow we're engaging in nefarious tactics I think is pretty hard to swallow.

[ inaudible question ]

OBAMA: Well, that's fair enough. It is true that the mailer went out before the newspaper made the correction. Right, that's my understanding. I'll need to check with staff on that. But the characterization that she supports NAFTA I think is indisputable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It did go out several weeks ago and when it did go out, many news organizations, many people from -- many democrats said it was a Harry and Louise mailer, it's like a couple sitting at their kitchen table. Have you seen the mailer, sir?

OBAMA: I have seen the mailer. And I completely dispute that characterization. I mean, there are many people who support Senator Clinton, or healthcare experts who believe in mandates who didn't like the characterization of it, but there wasn't anything inaccurate in what was said. It said that under Senator Clinton's plan, although she hasn't identified how she would enforce a mandate, that you would have to buy insurance. Sorry, I mean what I don't want to do is just to rehash sort of the specific language of the mailer because there's nothing in there that's factually inaccurate. What people are concerned about is that -- and what I think Senator Clinton would argue is she doesn't like how the mandate is characterized because she wants to characterize it as, this is universal healthcare. And in the same way that I don't like her characterizing my plan as leaving 15 million people out. Now, but there's nothing in that mailing that is inaccurate. When she says she is going to mandate healthcare, what that means is, and her own experts have indicated this, a mandate does not work unless you impose harsh, stiff penalties on those who don't purchase it. And that's what we point out in this mailer. Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you concerned about recent reports about John McCain having a close relationship with one lobbyist in particular?

OBAMA: Well, if the reference is to "The New York Times" article, I have not studied that carefully. And so, I can't really measure what's going on there. But what I did mention today is it's indisputable that he's got his top advisers in this campaign are lobbyists, that many of them have been running their business on the campaign bus while they've been helping him. And he's comfortable with that. And he's comfortable with raising money from lobbyists who are currently active in Washington. I think that is a problem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, do you believe that it merits further investigation?

OBAMA: I think it is a legitimate issue for voters to ask if somebody presents themselves as a reformer and all the guys that are running your campaign are lobbying on behalf of very special interests and industries. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that Ralph Nader was a spoiler in 2000? What do you think about news reports that he may embark on a third presidential bid?

OBAMA: I think anybody has the right to run for president if they file sufficient papers. And I think the job of the democratic party is to be so compelling that a few percentage of the vote going to another candidate is not going to make any difference.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Clinton feels like your candidacy is not built on substance and disagrees with some of your positions. What do you think about that?

OBAMA: He had called me and I think reached out to my campaign -- my sense is that Mr. Nader is somebody who, if you don't listen and adopt all of his policies, thinks you're not substantive. He seems to have a pretty high opinion of his own work. And by the way, I have to say that historically he is a singular figure in American politics and has done as much as just about anybody on behalf of consumers. So, in many ways he is a heroic figure and I don't mean to diminish him. But I do think there is a sense now that if somebody is not healing to the Ralph Nader agenda, then you must be lacking in some way. Yes, go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... a health issue. Do you think schools should have soda vending machines? OBAMA: I would like to see schools reexamine how easily they make soda available. I speak as a kid who was chugging down three or four Mountain Dews, you know, a day along with the Twinkie. Nobody told me at the time there was all that caffeine. I'm wondering why I was jittery in class. But, so obviously there's a case of -- we survived drinking soda pop. I think there's nothing wrong with having a soda once in a while. I do think that given the extraordinary increases in obesity rates, the extraordinary increases in adult diabetes and children, that we have to start thinking about our kids' health in much more serious ways.

And if they are consuming vast amounts of soft drinks, chockfull of corn syrup, then we should consider whether we want to have at least some zones like schools where they have to drink water once in a while. And obviously it all starts, though, at the home and trying to change habits. These are things, by the way, that Michelle and I are, you know, had to work with our own daughters about.

[ inaudible question ]

OBAMA: I think that the federal government should be in a partnership with local school districts and states in figuring out what the best approach is. I don't think we have to be extremists, you know. I mean, with our own daughters we try not to make them obsessive about food. If they want an ice cream once in a while or they want a pop, they can. The question is just can we build in good health habits for our kids. And given the amount of time that kids spend in school, working with those schools to encourage, better health habits in our kids I think is something sensible and has to be part of our broader public health agenda. Last question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you make of the fact that there's only so much talk among senior democrats right now about Senator Clinton conceding the race? If you had lost 10 or 11 straight contests at this point, do you think there would be a different tone in the air about your status in the race at this point?

OBAMA: Yes. But, look, I'm the challenger. I'm the upstart. I'm the insurgent. She's the champ. She's part of the democratic network in Washington. If you're the title holder, then you don't lose it on points. You've got to be knocked out. So, all right.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: So there was Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois. They're in Columbus, Ohio talking about the race against Hillary Clinton. And at the very beginning of that press conference, you heard him address the question about Hillary Clinton's shame on you moment earlier today in which at a press availability also in Ohio, she said to reporters talking about a mailer that Barack Obama has been sending out on the issue of healthcare, she used the words, "shame on you, Barack Obama" to say that the mailers that he had sent out were misleading at best and accused him of using the same tactics that Karl Rove used when George Bush was running for president.

So, that is as tough as it gets when it comes to the talk on the campaign trail. Welcome back to "Ballot Bowl '08." I'm Jim Acosta, live in New York. My colleagues Suzanne Malveaux is covering the democrats. She's in Ohio and she probably overhear a lot of that through her IFB, listening to Barack Obama talk to reporters in Columbus.

And Suzanne, I have to ask you, a measured response coming from Barack Obama. It sounded like he wasn't getting too worked up about what Hillary Clinton had to say. But he has to know this is news of the day. It isn't too often when one candidate says to another shame on you.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. He had to respond to those acquisitions and he had to respond quickly. We heard Barack Obama saying that there was nothing inaccurate about those fliers that had been distributed to Ohio voters and others about Hillary Clinton's healthcare plan as well as NAFTA, the free trade agreement which they say has been misrepresented. The Clinton campaign accuses him of doing just that.

Now, they wasted no time, the Clinton campaign in actually responding to what Senator Obama's defense was. They sent an e-mail here, what they call a fact check, essentially saying that it is false and misleading. Hillary has never said she would make Americans purchase health insurance they can't afford. The Obama campaign is taking her words out of context, in an effort to mislead voters and the press.

Jim, we have seen this kind of back and forth before, but we have not seen it really to the level that we've seen it today, the kind of heated rhetoric that we saw from Senator Clinton earlier today taking on both of those ads. Let's take a listen when she fired the first shot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've been drawing contrasts in this campaign, and I think that's important for voters so that they know where we stand, what our records are, what it is we will do as president. Today in the crowd, I was given two mailings that Senator Obama's campaign is sending out. And I have to express my deep disappointment that he is continuing to send false and discredited mailings with information that is not true to the voters of Ohio. He says one thing in speeches, and then he turns around and does this. And we have consistently called him on it. It has been discredited. It is blatantly false. And yet he continues to spend millions of dollars perpetuating falsehoods. That is not the new politics that the speeches are about. It is not hopeful. It is destructive, particularly for a democrat, to be discrediting universal healthcare by waging a false campaign against my plan. To be talking about NAFTA in a way that tries to make him appear to have a plan when he does not.

This healthcare mailing, which is very reminiscent of the health insurance industry's attacks on what we tried to do the last time we went after universal healthcare is the worst kind of politics. Number one, it is wrong and untrue. And number two, it is exactly the talking points that the health insurance industry and the republicans use on a daily basis. Senator Obama knows that it is not true that my plan forces people to buy insurance even if they can't afford it. My plan has more financial help. My plan has been evaluated by independent experts as actually achieving universal coverage and providing the financial assistance so everyone can have healthcare. This mailing about NAFTA saying that I believe NAFTA was, "a boon," quotes a newspaper that had corrected the record. We have pointed it out. The newspaper has pointed it out.

Time and time again, you hear one thing in speeches and then you see a campaign that has the worst kind of tactics, reminiscent of the same sort of republican attacks on democrats. Well, I am here to say that it is not only wrong, but it is undermining core democratic principles. Since when do democrats attack one another on universal healthcare? I thought we were trying to realize Harry Truman's dream. I thought this campaign finally gave us an opportunity to put together a coalition to achieve universal healthcare. That's what Senator Edwards and I fought for, had talked about throughout the campaign.

Just because Senator Obama chose not to present a universal healthcare plan does not give him the right to attack me because I did. So let's have a real campaign. Enough with the speeches and the big rallies and then using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove's playbook. This is wrong and every democrat should be outraged, because this is the kind of attack that not only undermines poor democratic values but gives aid and comfort to the very special interests and their alleys in the republican party who are against doing what we want to do for America.

So shame on you, Barack Obama. It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public. That's what I expect from you. Meet me in Ohio. Let's have a debate about your tactics and your behavior in this campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Plenty of charges and counter charges today from these two candidates. Both of them exchanging words about the healthcare plan as well as NAFTA and whether or not these advertisements, these fliers to voters really reflect the true position of each other. This is obviously something that has become very heated between these two candidates, as it is very important among union voters, working class voters who are looking at all this, looking at their plans and trying to decide which candidate really has the best plan for moving forward. Healthcare, as well as free trade, very important issues to the voters here. We'll bring much more of this controversy with our own Bill Schneider after "Ballot Bowl" returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Time and time again you hear one thing in speeches and then you see a campaign that has the worst kind of tactics, reminiscent of the same sort of republican attacks on democrats. Well, I am here to say that it is not only wrong, but it is undermining core democratic principles. Since when do democrats attack one another on universal healthcare? I thought we were trying to realize Harry Truman's dream. I thought this campaign finally gave us an opportunity to put together a coalition to achieve universal healthcare.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You guys have been following this campaign now for 13 months. We have been subject to constant attack from the Clinton campaign except when we were down 20 points. And that was true in Iowa. It was true in South Carolina. It was true in Wisconsin. And it is true now. The - I think they need to take a look at what they've been doing in turn.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: I want to bring in our own Bill Schneider to weigh in on all of us. Bill, what I'm hearing is really both of these candidates have gone after each other over their healthcare plans. We've heard that and seen that in the debates. We've also seen it in these fliers that they've been distributing to the voters. So, that really is nothing new. What seems to be happening here is that she is sharpening her attack and really trying to point out the differences between their healthcare plans because she thinks that is really a way to make en roads and voters to see the distinctions between both of them. What is your take on this?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the gloves are off is what's really happening. She is criticizing Barack Obama for his fliers on both NAFTA and healthcare. She claims that - you know, she said how dare another democrat attack a democrat on healthcare. He has put out an e-mail saying she has been attacking his plans for what he regards as universal healthcare. She claims it's not universal healthcare, but they've been going back and forth on this for quite some time. This really ratchets up the intensity, the attacks, you know, when she says that he's using the tactics of the insurance industry that were used against her in the healthcare plans of the 1990s, that he's using the tactics of the republicans and Karl Rove. That really is a whole new level of attack between these two campaigns.

MALVEAUX: We have not seen that kind of attack before. There's a lot of pursing that's going on, I know, particularly with the language over NAFTA. It was "New York News Day" that had claimed initially, they said that Clinton thinks NAFTA has been a boon to the economy. They since retracted that, that those were not her exact words. Those are words that are used in the Obama flier that they are paying particular attention to. And they are saying they object to that language, why does he still have that flier out there. But the Obama campaign is going back and saying, well, this really represents her true position. How much of it do you think really means anything to the voters? Are they going to pay that close of attention in pursing this language?

SCHNEIDER: I think the voters of Ohio, the democrats in Ohio are certainly very critical of NAFTA. It's a very strong issue. There's a lot of resentment. Even Senator Clinton who did support NAFTA when she was First Lady and her husband signed it, she's arguing that she would like to revisit, re-negotiate parts of NAFTA because she knows how much anger there is among voters at this trade agreement. And of course, Senator Obama claims he's against it. The language in the flier is words like she never used. She never said it was a boon to the economy. The newspaper has acknowledge that there was a mistake to characterize her as saying that. And Senator Obama today in his press conference didn't repeat that charge. But he did say she supported NAFTA when she was First Lady. So, he didn't quite repeat the charge in the fliers which she says is false and outrageous.

MALVEAUX: And Bill, these fliers, this is something that we've actually seen before super Tuesday, some of this language, this debate over the language of these fliers here. so, there were some people who found it hard to believe that when she was holding the fliers that she had just been presented these fliers for the first time. This is clearly something that has been going on back and forth between these two campaigns. Why do you suppose she was so emotional today? Do you think that was part of a tactic or spin? What do you think that was about?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Senator Obama said specifically that he charged her with being tactical. That was the word he used. He said, you know, these issues have been debated for some time. They've been out there for some time. Why suddenly is she making this an issue? Is there something tactical going on that she should suddenly become outraged over these charges. We just don't know. But she's chosen now to make it an issue. He claims it's because she's running behind. He's won the last 11 primaries. He still claimed in his press conference today, even though he's won all those contests, primaries and caucuses, he claims that he's the insurgent. She's the champion. She's the establishment candidate. He should be fighting to play catch-up. And yet she's the one making these charges. He says all of the sudden for tactical reasons.

MALVEAUX: All right, Bill. Thank you so much for weighing in on all of this. Clearly, a heated controversy between these two candidates today. And it just got a lot hotter. I want to bring in now Jim Acosta from New York who has been looking at the republican side. Jim.

ACOSTA: Thanks, Suzanne. And obviously not as heated on the republican side as it is for the democrats today. But Suzanne, I have to ask you before I swing it back to the republicans, you've been covering Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for some time now. Has it gotten this heated? And on the question of healthcare, aren't they both a little bit vulnerable, I guess you might say, on this issue of mandates and enforcement mechanisms. They both talked about enforcement in terms of forcing people to pay for some sort of national healthcare system although they're not very specific about it. Hillary Clinton even talked about this back in an interview with George Stephanopoulos a few weeks ago. So, what really do you think is going on here?

MALVEAUX: You know, it's interesting because there are healthcare experts on both sides who look at Obama's plan and believe that's the right way to go. There are others who support Hillary Clinton's. We really don't know how it's going to be applied, how it's all going to come out in the end. These are experiments here. And so both of them are putting out their plans and arguing that they've got the best way to deal with this. We have not seen this level of rhetoric, this kind of heated rhetoric before. And I think Bill brought up a good point here, really kind of underscores where we are in this race.

It is a critical time for Senator Clinton. She needs Texas, she needs Ohio. Her campaign says that's a must-win for her. If you look at the issues that people are talking about, if you look at those critical states, they are talking about healthcare. They are talking about jobs. And we know that the union and labor, very, very important in Ohio. So, it's no mistake that you have this kind of heated rhetoric now that is coming out specifically trying to point out distinctions or differences, making sure that people understand the presentation that she's making and Obama as well trying to, as well, undercut her plan.

So it's not a mistake that this has gotten really, really heated now. Two weeks and it's a very critical time. Jim.

ACOSTA: Very interesting, Suzanne. As Barack Obama said at the end of that press conference, you know, he is the insurgent, the upstart. He described using some boxing terminology, the champ. And that, you know, for him to knock her out of the race, he's going to need a knockout. He's not going to win on points. But it almost sounds as if she's looking for the knock-out punch at this point. Suzanne, thank you very much.

We want to remind our viewers, if you like some of this sparring between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, you'll see plenty of it tonight on CNN. We're going to have a replay of that debate that you saw down in Texas, the showdown in Austin, if you will. That will be replaying tonight at 8:00. And if you think "change you can Xerox" was something, I think "shame on you, Barack Obama," might top that. So, we'll be paying attention to that very closely.

Coming up after the break, the milder exchange going on between the republican candidates on the GOP side, John McCain and Mike Huckabee. We'll get to them on the issues, unfiltered, unscripted on "Ballot Bowl," here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR, BALLOT BOWL: Welcome back to BALLOT BOWL '08. I'm Jim Acosta in New York covering the Republican side and you may be wondering why New York. Basically because Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas is going to be making a guest appearance on "Saturday Night Live" tonight. The writers who have been on strike are back at work and they thought it might be kind of funny to have a governor who once fried squirrels on their show tonight. So we'll have to see how that shapes up. And by the way, he plays the bass guitar. He may be making a guest appearance during the music segment.

On the Republican side, while there isn't a whole lot of heat between John McCain and Mike Huckabee like there is between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama today, there appears to be some heat generating between John McCain and Barack Obama. It's interesting because it sort of indicates where this race may be heading, maybe not. But earlier this week John McCain was at an event and talked about Barack Obama and actually used the phrase empty rhetoric when referring to the Illinois senator. Let's listen to John McCain here talking about perhaps the person who may be his rival coming up in the general election, Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN McCain (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change. It's no more than an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history and return to the false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy that trusts in government more than the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: So there was John McCain talking about Barack Obama. You could hear that sustained applause and enthusiasm almost as if Republicans had been waiting for somebody at this point to sort of take off the gloves and poke Barack Obama in the eye there. I want to bring in Bill Schneider, our political analyst who is down in Austin, Texas. And Bill, I guess it's interesting to take what John McCain is saying about Barack Obama as an indicator as to where this campaign might be heading and then Barack Obama today talking about John McCain at his event in Columbus, Ohio, talked about this stuff that's been out there about the lobbyists doing work from the straight talk express, that meaning there has been some reporting that some of John McCain's top advisers doing work as lobbyists and in some cases doing some of that work from his campaign bus. Barack Obama mentioning that today. What do you make of this give and take between Obama and McCain?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I believe Obama is fighting a two-front war here Jim. He's fighting a war with Senator Clinton over the Democratic nomination. We just heard the squabbling between the two of them with her making charges that his fliers, his mailers are false and outrageous about healthcare and NAFTA. But he's also getting into a war of words with John McCain who has been taking Obama on, essentially seeming to assume that Obama has got the Democratic nomination and starting the general election right now with Obama having to answer charges from John McCain as well as Hillary Clinton. It looks like the battle is on, in Obama's case, on two different fronts.

ACOSTA: I just want to ask you about that phrase eloquent but empty rhetoric, because it's almost as if John McCain sort of encapsulated and crystallized a critique of Barack Obama that as of yet has been difficult for Hillary Clinton to come up with herself. You could hear that sustained applause and enthusiasm in the room there among those Republicans. They were really waiting to hear that.

SCHNEIDER: Yeah, that's right. They want someone to take on Obama. They want this election to begin and they want someone to kind of knock him down. The critique of Obama, you hear it from Clinton supporters. You hear it from a lot of Republicans, that it's empty rhetoric; it doesn't have any substance behind it. I should point out that Hillary Clinton has been saying this for some time. She says she's for solutions, not speeches, that the words that he uses are fine words but empty words. It really hasn't done her a great deal of good. Obama is steaming ahead now. He's the front-runner in the Democratic primary in terms of delegates, not by a big margin, I should point out, but he has moved ahead of her. So her charges are not succeeding. McCain is making similar charges on his part. These are charges that Republicans are waiting to hear, they're eager to hear, and it's going to be very much the sort of debate we're likely to get in the general election campaign if Obama becomes the Democratic nominee.

ACOSTA: There is sort of this invisible issue of campaign financing that's come up in that John McCain was hoping to forego public financing and now he may not be able to. Is that correct, Bill?

SCHNEIDER: That's right. There's a letter from the Federal Election Commission arguing that because he used the commitment of matching funds from the Federal Election Commission, the Federal government to help him get a loan of $4 million from a Washington area bank, he is now in their view obligated to accept public financing. He wants to opt out of the public financing system for the rest of the primaries because if he accepts those matching funds, he's limited in the amount of money he can spend between now and September to $40 million. That sounds like a lot of money. But for the next what seven, eight months, it's not that much money. He'd like to opt out of the system. The Federal Election Commission says he may not be able to do that given the fact that he used that commitment of matching funds to secure a loan from a bank.

ACOSTA: If he's going to go up against Barack Obama, he's going to need one thing and that is money as Barack Obama has demonstrated in this race so far. Thank you very much, Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst down in the Texas capital of Austin. And there's more coming up here on "Ballot Bowl." After the break,we'll hear from Mike Huckabee who is going to be on "SNL" tonight. He's probably warming up his act as we speak. We'll hear from Mike Huckabee after the break here on "Ballot Bowl" on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Welcome back to New York. I'm Jim Acosta with "Ballot Bowl '08" and we want to take you very quickly to some sound from Mike Huckabee earlier this week. He was down in Texas, down at the Alamo of all places where he didn't have a coonskin hat on and there was no musket in hand, but he's hoping that his insurgent campaign to overtake McCain will be successful. Let's listen to some more from Mike Huckabee earlier this week in Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's more than just Texas history here at the Alamo. There's a piece of the great American courage and spirit that has been a part of so many people's struggles throughout the world and as a result, when we come, we're reminded that there were principles that, there were convictions that mattered so very much to the people who believed that the future of freedom for their own children was far more important than their own lives. And that's something that should not be lost on us at any time in our history.

The battles that we fight in the political realm are so insignificant compared to the battles that give us the capacity to even have a political realm. Because the reality of this place is that because people were willing to put their lives forward and to die for freedom, we today change our government not by muskets, not by bullets and bombs, but by the process of a civil election. It should not be lost on us that had their sacrifice not taken place here, I wouldn't be standing here even talking about the prospects of an election in Texas in less than two weeks.

The battle in Texas on March 4th is not a battle that we will fight with blood. But because blood was shed, we'll be able to have that battle with nothing more than simply going and casting a vote. And we ought to cast those votes with a deep appreciation for everything that made it possible for us to do so. I'm going to take some questions from the members of the media here in San Antonio.

QUESTION: What is your realistic expectation in terms of catching Mr. McCain on the delegate count?

HUCKABEE: Let me repeat questions because I know they're going to be difficult to hear since the questions won't be in the (INAUDIBLE) box. The question is what are my realistic expectations on catching Senator McCain in the delegate count? It all happens here in Texas quite frankly and Texas changes everything if we win Texas. This is the largest single Republican state in America. It's the second largest state in the country. To not have an election in Texas is frankly incomprehensible. For me to pull out of the election before Texans get to vote, is not only unacceptable, it would be inexcusable. It means that the people of Texas would have their choices made for them --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And so there is Mike Huckabee down in Texas and there is plenty more "Ballot Bowl" coming up on CNN. Also we'll take a look at the headlines with Fredricka Whitfield down in Atlanta. All of that coming up on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. Much more of the "Ballot Bowl," but first a check of other headlines. The U.S. Air Force is investigating what it calls the first crash ever of a B-2 stealth bomber. The billion dollar aircraft plunged to the ground early Saturday just after leaving Andersen (ph) Air Force base in Guam. Officials say both pilots ejected safely.

Friends and family members have laid to rest the eighth grade victim of a school shooting in Oxnard, California. Lawrence King was taken off life support February 14th and buried yesterday. Prosecutors charged his classmate, Brandon McKinry (ph) with a premeditated hate crime for the shooting. If convicted, he could face 52 years in prison.

Japan has just launched a satellite designed to deliver Internet service faster than residential cable and DSL. The experimental satellite is a joint venture between the Japan aerospace exploration agency and Mitsubishi heavy industries. If the technology is successful, the first service would be available in the Asia-Pacific region.

We'll take you to the red carpet in Hollywood right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Much more of the "Ballot Bowl" in a moment, but first back to our top stories. With the writers strike now behind us all, Hollywood is looking forward to tomorrow night's big Oscar celebration. CNN's Brooke Anderson live in tinsel town with more. Brooke.

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Fredricka. The industry is ready to celebrate since that 14-week writers strike is now over. It's a rainy weekend here in Los Angeles. But I'm sure that's not going to dampen the spirits of anyone involved. But I will say this, the themes of many of the top contenders are more serious this year. In fact, in what is a reflection of the times, war and politics are prevalent among the Oscar hopefuls. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

"NO END IN SIGHT," COURTESY, RED ENVELOPE ENTERTAINMENT: The president hadn't read it, not even the one-page summary.

ANDERSON: Politics, war and their impact. A plethora of films with political themes are being recognized by Oscar.

"IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH," COURTESY, WARNER INDEPENDENT PICTURES: Mike is the one who wanted to join. I sure as hell didn't encourage it.

ANDERSON: Tommy Lee Jones is nominated in the best actor race for his portrayal of a grieving father whose son died following a tour in Iraq. Co-star Susan Sarandon feels "In the Valley of Elah" is an eye- opening look at the effect of war.

SUSAN SARANDON, ACTRESS: There's clearly been a disconnect between the real war and the politicized war. It's really important that we acknowledge that war changes people and takes good kids and changes them.

"OPERATION HOMECOMING," COURTESY, THE DOCUMENTARY GROUP: I heard and felt the bullets whiz literally inches from my head.

ANDERSON: "Operation Homecoming" which chronicles soldiers' experiences through their own writings is up for best documentary. RICHARD ROBBINS, DIRECTOR, "OPERATION HOMECOMING": The idea of the film was just to try and reconnect people to what it means to be a soldier.

"OPERATION HOMECOMING": War is passage, whether you live or whether you die.

ANDERSON: Life and death in Iraq are also addressed in "Taxi to the Dark Side," another best documentary contender.

"TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE," COURTESY, THINKFILM: People were being told to rough up Iraqis that wouldn't cooperate. You start looking at these people as less than human. You start doing things to them you would never dream of. That's where it got scary.

ANDERSON: "Taxi" is a sometimes brutal look at detention and interrogation tactics.

ALEX GIBNEY, DIRECTOR, "TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE": Some of these soldiers felt they had been badly scapegoated by an administration that really put them in an untenable situation.

ANDERSON: "No End in Sight", another best documentary nominee, another scathing indictment of the Bush administration.

CHARLES FERGUSON, DIRECTOR, "NO END IN SIGHT": If you go to war, it matters a lot. If you go to war carefully and intelligently as opposed to carelessly and arrogantly.

ANDERSON: In the running for best animated feature film, "Persepolis," based on the graphic novels, it's about a girl's coming of age story beginning during the Iranian revolution. From heavy drama and documentaries to animation, statements about war and politics dominate this year's academy awards. Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: And we can probably expect some politically themed acceptance speeches tomorrow as well. Join us tomorrow because we will be here live on the red carpet interviewing the nominees and all the stars, George Clooney, Kate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman among them. You can catch all the action on CNN, 7:00 p.m. live for Hollywood's gold rush. And then we'll have a post Oscar wrap up for you on headline news, 11:00 p.m. Fredricka, it should be a lot of fun.

WHITFIELD: Let's hope it is a lot of fun. But Brooke, sort of given the heavyweight of those nominations that you just spoke of, is there any way of kind of telling what the atmosphere is going to be on the red carpet given that these are very heavy topics.

ANDERSON: They are very heavy topics. And take a look at some of the best picture contenders, "No Country for Old Men", "There Will Be Blood," also "Michael Clayton", these are more serious movies. There are a lot of depressing films being honored here at the Academy Awards this year. But I think everyone is relieved, first of all, that the writers strike is over. And everyone is just happy that they are finally able to celebrate achievement in film making. So I think the tone will be light hearted and I think everybody is going to be just excited to be here.

WHITFIELD: Brooke Anderson, thanks so much from the red carpet of where the Oscars will be tomorrow night. Thanks so much. We'll have other headlines in about 30 minutes from now. Until then, back to the "Ballot Bowl" right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to CNN's "Ballot Bowl," obviously this is a chance for you the viewers to catch up on all the candidates, unscripted, essentially raw coming in live events as you have not seen before. I am Suzanne Malveaux here in Akron, Ohio. This is really where the Democrats are going at each other. They are taking each other apart.

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