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Campaign Coverage; Ralph Nader Runs Again; California Teen Faces Grown-Up Charges; Interview with Tom Houck

Aired February 24, 2008 - 18:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It looks like deja vu, but not a scene Democrats want to remember. Ralph Nader runs again. We take a look at how it's going to shake up the presidential race. Plus --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't have no choice. Just stay in the room or just jump off.


HARRIS: Whoa, this 8-year-old says she's afraid of heights, but she didn't have to think twice after her house caught on fire.

And take a look at this picture. This man was called the N-word for years, although the man is white. Why? Because of who he worked for.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He asked if there was a person on the staff that could help with the writing, helping answer mail. I raised my hand. And Dr. King looked at me and said, I hear you have not even finished high school.


HARRIS: Mr. King, an amazing story live this hour in the CNN NEWSROOM.

And hello, everyone. I'm Tony Harris. He is well-known. He has lots of Washington experience. And he says he's the best choice for Americans unhappy with both political parties. Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and political gadfly, says he is running for president. He's tried this before. His best showing was back in 2001. A lot of Democrats blamed him for costing Al Gore the White House. Our Jim Acosta is in New York with more. And Jim, here we go again.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Tony. He used to strike fear in the hearts of Democrats. Now it may be more like heartburn. Nevertheless, Ralph Nader is running for president again.


ACOSTA (voice-over): There he goes again. RALPH NADER, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Senate is the mother. In that context, I have decided to run for president. I'm seeking the presidential nomination.

ACOSTA: Four times a losing candidate for the White House, consumer advocate Ralph Nader is announcing another long-shot bid for the presidency on issues, he says, the two major parties won't touch.

NADER: All the candidates, McCain, Obama, and Clinton are against single payer medical insurance, full Medicare for all. I'm for it.

ACOSTA: That was Nader's message back in 2000 when the then- Green Party candidate earned just enough votes to essentially deny Al Gore the state of Florida and the White House. In 2004, some of the left begged Nader not to run. He did anyway. But in the end, he wasn't a factor in John Kerry's loss. Still Republicans see Nader as a potential spoiler.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it always would probably pull votes away from the Democrats, not the Republicans. So naturally, Republicans would welcome his entry into the race and hope that maybe a few more will join in.

ACOSTA: But Barack Obama says it's up to his party to make sure that doesn't happen.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANIDATE: 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.

NADER: The largest corporation --

ACOSTA: Nader first gained public attention with his campaign for car safety more than 40 years ago. He now faces a hard question. Who is buying what he's selling?

RACHEL SKLAR, HUFFINGTON POST.COM: I'm wondering who wants him to run. Where is the demand? Who has been clambering for Ralph Nader? This is what I genuinely don't understand.


ACOSTA: While he is a headache for Democrats, he is not a proven vote getter. Four years ago, Tony, he managed to capture just 0.3 percent of the overall vote.

HARRIS: We both said it. Here we go again. Jim Acosta for us in New York - Jim, good to see you, thank you. Like Ralph Nader, Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee is facing very long odds to reach the White House, but he's still in the race, refusing to step aside. And he even poked some fun at himself when he showed up on "Saturday Night Live."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SETH MEYERS, SATURDAY NIGHT LIFE: Even if you won every remaining unpledged delegate, you would still fall 200 delegates short.

HUCKABEE: Wow Seth, that was an excellent explanation, but I'm afraid that you overlooked the all important superdelegates. Don't forget about them.

MEYERS: Well I won't forget about them. But the superdelegates are only Democratic primaries.

HUCKABEE: They can't vote in the Republican primary?

MEYERS: They cannot.



HARRIS: All right, so coming up this hour, our bloggers will join us from the left, the right, and new this week, the political center. They will chew on the latest news involving Democratic hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain.

For the first time in nearly five tumultuous decades, Cuba has a new leader. Earlier today the national assembly today chose Fidel Castro's younger brother Raul to be president. Raul is 76. Fidel is 81. The younger Castro has basically been running the island nation ever since his brother underwent intestinal surgery in 2006. Hence, today's outcome was widely anticipated. The elder Castro announced his resignation five days ago by way of a letter published in Cuba's state-run newspaper. Of course, the question on everyone's mind, how will this change Cuba? We are bringing in a special guest to talk about that tonight at 10:00 Eastern. Be sure to turn in for my conversation with author and analyst Peter Kornblum, only in the CNN NEWSROOM.

One California teenager is dead, his classmate is locked up on murder charges. Of course, there is much more to this story out in Oxnard, California. And it's triggered a debate over what motivated a schoolboy to kill. CNN's Vince Gonzalez reports.


VINCE GONZALEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Students marched in Oxnard, California in memory of Lawrence Larry King, a 15-year-old student police say was gunned down by a classmate because he was openly gay. King's murder shocked the southern California community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's inconceivable that anybody could be that angry at a kid that was that nice.

GONZALEZ: He's remembered as friendly and outgoing, but fellow students say he became the subject of taunts and bullying in school after speaking out about his sexual orientation and reportedly wearing make-up, lipstick and jewelry to school. PHIL COHEN, FAMILY FRIEND: That was a very small part of Larry and just one facet of his life.

GONZALEZ: But the situation apparently escalated, and on February 12th, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney allegedly shot King in the head in the school's computer lab.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was Larry? It was? Oh, my god!

GONZALEZ: McInerney was arrested a few blocks away from campus a short time later.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's over. It's over.

GONZALEZ: King was pronounced brain dead at a local hospital. His body was kept alive so his organs could be donated.

MAEVE FOX, DEPUTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Mr. McInerney is facing one charge of major. There's an allegation that he was 14-years-old at the time, which allows us to direct file on him as an adult. There's the special allegation of a personal use of a firearm, and there's a special allegation that it was a hate crime.

GONZALEZ: Defense attorneys say McInerney is too young to be tried as an adult. He just turned 14 recently.

RYAN VOGEL, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: My client hasn't become an adult in the last three weeks. So we feel it would be more appropriately addressed in the juvenile court.

GONZALEZ: At the school where McInerney allegedly shot King, some parents says it's time to teach more tolerance in California classrooms.

LUCY RODRIGUEZ, PARENT: It's sad, but it's not just this district. It's every district. Something really has to be implemented.

GONZALEZ: Whatever changes will come too late for King and his alleged murderer, who is expected back in court to enter a plea in late March. For CNN, Vince Gonzalez, Los Angeles.


HARRIS: Boy, and this story. Long Island police made a gruesome and sickening discovery. They were responding to a 911 call at this New Cassell apartment. Inside, three young children all dead. Details are still sketchy about how they died or if they were related. We are working our sources for more information.

An east St. Louis, Illinois family is alive and grateful today after quick thinking in a fiery emergency. Alex Fee from our affiliate KSDK has more.


BERNICE DORRIS, FIRE VICTIM: Fire. Black smoke coming out.

ALEX FEE, KSDK CORRESPONDENT: Eight-year-old Bernice Dorris was asleep inside her family's home early Saturday along with her siblings, 3-year-old Bernard, 4-year-old Beyancia, 7-year-old Bernicia, 9-year-old Deveontae, their big sister 12-year-old Derrionna, and their parents.

Who was upstairs?

DERRIONNA ADAMS, FIRE RESCUER: Me, Deveontae and Bernice.

FEE: Bernice spelled smoke and awakened Derrionna.

ADAMS: It was a fire on the steps and the black smoke was coming upstairs. So while we couldn't see anything, so I kicked the window and busted it. We got out the window.

FEE: So Derrionna, Bernice and Deveontae themselves on the roof of a burning house in the middle of the night.

DORRIS: I was scared because I'm afraid of heights.

FEE: So what made you jump?

DORRIS: I didn't have any choice. Just stay and burn up or just jump off.

FEE: What was your big sister telling you?

DORRIS: She told me to jump off. Don't be scared. Everything is going to be all right. And so I jumped.

FEE: So who jumped first?

ADAMS: My little sister and then my brother. And then I jumped.

FEE: Deveontae fractured his ankle in the fall. He remains hospitalized with burns to his arms.

ADAMS: My little brother tried to go in looking more my little sister. And when he went in, that's how he got burned. Then we jumped off the roof.

FEE: What happened when you hit the ground?

DORRIS: Nothing. I hit my toe. But I was OK.

FEE: The Dorris' rent this home. And while the American Red Cross is providing them with a place to stay in the short term, they say they do not have renters insurance. And wait until you hear how Derrionna responded just how she knew what to do.

How did you know what to do?

ADAMS: Because of how my mama raised us.


HARRIS: The hero of the family, 12-year-old Derrionna is a sixth grader. All five of her brothers and sisters are fine today thanks to her. That was Alex Fee from KSDK reporting.

Houston, Texas, Amber Alert, call it off. Little Aliyah Mejia is safe and sound. The 2-year-old was in her parent's truck before dawn today when a thief stole it and stole Aliyah too. And police found the girl in a parking lot a couple of hours later. She's fine. The truck is still missing.

Forty years after driving Dr. King, one man is now revealing another side of the civil rights leader, actually many sides.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The human side, the fun side of Dr. King. Also about this young white boy that found his own dream.


HARRIS: Wow. A view of history from behind the wheel.

Plus, voting may be a right, but no one said it was going to be easy. We will show you just how much drama some voters are going through


HARRIS: Two civil rights icons are being mourned this weekend. In Alabama, Johnnie Carr is being remembered for her courage and for her role along with Rosa Parks in the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. Carr died Friday night at age 97. And the Reverend James Orange was remembered on Saturday in services at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Orange worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His arrest is 1965 is considered one of the catalysts for the historic march Selma to Montgomery march in Alabama. James Orange died a week ago in Atlanta. He was 65.

Another member of the civil rights movement has a front-row seat to history, but you have probably never heard his unlikely story. A young white man, a high school drop-out, Massachusetts born and bred. He's right next to me here. Does that sound like someone who would work alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as his driver? The answer is yes. CNN's Fredricka Whitfield sat down with Tom Houck.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): All the way from Selma town.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR (voice over): They are foot soldiers with footprints in America history, indelible and deep. You know most of their names and faces, the men who marched in the civil rights movement alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Jesse Jackson, Ralph Abernathy, Hosea Williams.

There were others, mostly in the shadows, sometimes literally in the driver's seat.

TOM HOUCK, KING'S DRIVER: I'm Tom Houck, and I was Martin Luther King, Jr.'s driver.

WHITFIELD: You probably do not recognize him, but part of his story will sound familiar.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm trying to drive you to the store.

WHITFIELD (on camera): Do you kind of think it's funny there are funny little parallels between your role with the King family and "Driving Miss Daisy," the movie?

HOUCK: We'll I'm not Houck of that Houck, I'm Tom Houck.

WHITFIELD (VOICE OVER): Tom Houck was just 18 at the time, 40 years later...

HOUCK: It still gives me goose bumps. Every day I still think about it and the fact that I was able to be that close to a man that has changed the world.

WHITFIELD: And changed this Massachusetts native. At an early age, he was both a witness and a participant in the civil rights movement, tagging along with the brother to picket Woolworth's in support of those in the South doing the same thing.

HOUCK: That was my first demonstration at age 12?

WHITFIELD (on camera): And did it feel right?

HOUCK: And, I liked carrying that sign.

WHITFIELD (voice over): That same year, his mother died. Houck moved South with an aunt. He left high school, lured by everything Dr. King's dream promised. In Atlanta, he joined the southern Christian leadership conference, the SCLC, which Dr. King founded.

HOUCK: I was a foot soldier and I saw myself as a person that was a hell of a good organizer.

WHITFIELD (voice over): So, clearly, something happened when you became involved you know, your roots are deeply into this movement, now. Somehow you have caught the attention of Dr. King.

HOUCK: Well, he asked if there was a person on the staff that could help with the writing, helping answer mail. I raised my hand and I said -- Dr. King looked at me and he said, "Now, Tom, I hear you not even finished high school. How can you possibly answer mail?" I said I was editor of my high school newspaper.

WHITFIELD: Then, one day...

HOUCK: And he asked me if I would like to have lunch with the family. This was a Sunday lunch after church. And I said -- I said to myself -- I mean I was in awe. Then, the kids wanted me to play with them, go outside and play football with them. Dr. King had to go out somewhere. And by the time he came back from where he went, Coretta has asked me if I had my driver's license and said, would you mind taking the kids to school tomorrow morning.

WHITFIELD: This was also the start of a great relationship with the kids. What did they call you?

HOUCK: Well, Martin and Dexter called me Uncle Tom. It was his kid (INAUDIBLE) that would say, "Oh, don't call him Uncle Tom."

WHITFIELD: Did they giggle about it? Did they kind of know the double entendre, there?

HOUCK: Yolanda did. Bunny was too young.

WHITFIELD: The relationships in this new, extended family would endure.


HARRIS: So here's the question. How did this young, white boy growing up in the South find his dream through Dr. King? Tom explains, and he even tells us how he reacted when he was called the "N" word. And later, Tom Houck is taking your questions. There he is. About his experience in the civil rights era. E-mail your questions to weekends at - ooh, you handsome man you - We will read them live. We're back in a moment.


HARRIS: Driving Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Just before the break, you hard the first part of Tom Houck's story, how a young man from Massachusetts became Dr. King's personal driver. What you didn't hear is how the public reacted. It wasn't always pretty. Here's CNN's Fredricka Whitfield.


HOUCK: I'm hoping this new computer will translate and I'm able to get -- I won't lose anything in the process.

WHITFIELD (voice over): Tom Houck, gregarious, politically savvy and proud of his roots in the 60s is now writing his memoir.

HOUCK: Marty and Dexter asked me to go out in the front yard to throw the football, pinching a pass, I fell graciously to the ground. The boy's laughter was loud, but I was now their play friend.

WHITFIELD (on camera): What are you hoping yours will reveal that others haven't?

HOUCK: The human side, the fun side of Dr. King. Also, about this young white boy that found his own dream through Dr. King.

WHITFIELD (voice over): And Dr. King's love of music and conversation.

HOUCK: He enjoy music. I mean, Dr. King would -- you know, Dr. King used to like groups like the O'Jays, Gladys Night and the Pips. You know what I mean.

WHITFIELD (on camera): Which you would play in the car?

HOUCK: We would play in the car. We would listen to WAOK radio in Atlanta and this is before FM turned up.

WHITFIELD (voice over): It's a tribute to a pivotal man, his movement, family, his powerful reach and impact.

HOUCK: I was amazed at the easy going manner of Dr. King and his family.

WHITFIELD (on camera): Well, this has to be a huge challenge, this catalog of memories, to condense it now in the form of a book. Why now after all this time you've decided to put it in book form?

HOUCK: Well, for so many years, people would come to me and ask me, all of the people with the movement thought its was a great idea. Everybody said to me, you know, this is really phenomenal. So, we came up with the title, "Driving Dr. King: Chasing the Dreams."

WHITFIELD (voice over): It's clear Dr. King is in his fabric Houck's daily life. Four decades after being the personal driver of Dr. King and his family, Houck's home address, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive.

HAUCK: You know can tell you, when I decided to write this book how happy I was to find a loft over here.

WHITFIELD: As we look at the traffic that goes by, you know, we're listening to it, I can't help but wonder what it was like for you when you were behind the wheel of the car driving Dr. King. What kind of looks did you get from folks?

HOUCK: I did get strange looks. Here, I'd be driving four black kids or two black kids or their friends, and of course, you would get looks in Atlanta in those days. I think I was strong enough to handle it.

WHITFIELD: People called you the n-word, but a hybrid of it?

HOUCK: Right. White nigger.

WHITFIELD (voice over): While writing about the past, Houck says he is excited about witnessing a new milestone in American culture and politics.

HOUCK: It's going to be historic, one way or the other for the Democrats, this year. A woman or a black man. WHITFIELD: Do you think for a moment, gosh, I wish Dr. King got a chance to see that?

HOUCK: Yes, I do, and Mrs. King. I think both of them would be very proud.


HARRIS: There he is, Tom Houck in the house. If you have questions you'd like to ask him about his experience, experiences, e-mail them to us, Oh sorry Tom. We will take them right after the break. And later, long lines, paperwork and a bunch of confusion. The obstacle course some people are going through so they can simply cast their ballot. We're back in a moment.


HARRIS: OK tonight, we are having a candid conversation with a man who once worked as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s driver. Tom Houck, a wide-eyed teen from Massachusetts and moved south and ended up in the driver's seat as vital chapters of the civil rights era played out. He joins us tonight to answer your e-mails questions. Tom, we have been receiving questions for the last couple of days actually. You ready to take a couple on?

HOUCK: I am, delighted and very happy to be here. With a famous actor like you, what a pleasure. But more than that, I would like to say this. I would like to give my condolences to Johnnie Carr's family and James Orange.

HARRIS: And James Orange's family as well.

HOUCK: James Orange was a great pioneer in the civil rights movement. The song that they played -- pick 'em up and lay 'em down, all the way from Selma-town.

HARRIS: I met him maybe three years ago. Just a hulk of a man, what a presence, what a bearing. And then when you realize the role that he played in all of this. Well, it was just amazing. What a tremendous life. All right, you ready?

Let's get to e-mail questions from the viewers. David from West Palm Beach, Florida asks a question that we've actually received from a lot of our viewers. Where were you, Tom, when Dr. King was killed?

HOUCK: I had been on April 2, 1968 at the Luray Motel for an executive staff meeting of SCLC. I was only 20-years-old at the time, 21. And I was organizing the non-block participants in the poor people's campaign. My job was going into Appalachia and getting poor whites involved for what was going to be and did happen, the march on Washington for poor people.

And so, I was in Knoxville, Tennessee, getting ready to address the Tennessee counsel on human relations and trying to get them involved in the FCLC. My job was organizing poor white folks, the Hispanic community. TONY HARRIS, HOST: So, much more than just a driver. Come on. Yes.

HOUCK: I was arrested 20 some odd times in the civil rights (INAUDIBLE).

HARRIS: Exactly. I mean, that's good to make -

HOUCK: Right. And anyway, let me just say, I was in Knoxville. And when I heard the news I called the house immediately. I had the phone number at the home. Mrs. Lockhart who was then the housekeeper for Dr. King answered the phone and she said that Coretta was on her way to the airport. And that Ivan Allen (ph) is going to pick her up immediately. I mean, outside of Knoxville, people were going crazy in the streets. This is a black church I was at in Knoxville. And I drove back to Atlanta to help organize the transportation for the funeral right away. Probably, I didn't sleep for 40 hours.

HARRIS: But you know what folks really want to know is: what was your reaction? How did you take this news?

HOUCK: I'll be honest with you, OK? I was absolutely stunned. I mean, it was like my first instincts were to go out and fight.

HARRIS: It was always a concern.

HOUCK: It was very much a concern. But Dr. King didn't have bunch of bodyguards around him. I mean, not like today, you see all that security. Dr. King didn't have security. I mean, basically, when I picked him up at the airport, I was there with myself with Bernard Lee, was driver assistant or (INAUDIBLE) -

HARRIS: Right. And that was it?

HOUCK: That was it. I mean, people when he would go to the various towns around the country, they would organize. You know, people would be around him security-wise. But Dr. King, you know, did not have security. He never carried a weapon or a gun. He was a man of nonviolence.

HARRIS: Well, I got to tell you, the second part of David's question: do you think James Earl Ray was guilty?

HOUCK: Well, you know, there's a big dispute about that. I happen to probably come down on the side and think that he was guilty. Do I think others were involved with it? Probably. Will be able to find out? Maybe. You know, they're going to release the FBI papers 50 years after Dr. King's assassination, which will be 10 years from now: April 4th, 1968, the assassination, so, April 4th, 2018. These papers are going to be -- it will be interesting to see what happens in the papers.

HARRIS: Yes, ready for you next question?

HOUCK: Go for it. HARRIS: We have a person from Irvine, California who writes: Tom, I have been made to feel unwelcome by some because I am white. Were you ever on the receiving ends of this kind of discrimination? From whites and I'm curious from blacks as well because of your relationship with Dr. King and the family.

HOUCK: Well, but I'd put it to you this way. I mean, you know, I mean, a lot of people in the side of FCLC would call me Cory's boy. I was with Coretta, you know, I was working out of the house. I mean, I was able to handle it as a young kid. Yes, I mean, I were -- I mean, a lot of black folks didn't want white folks in the movement. On the other side of that, a lot of these white folks wanted to kill you because you were with black folks. So, I mean it was both ways. Yes, I mean, I came through that. You know what I mean? You know, someone asked me the other day, you know, what's your religion? I said I'm a black Baptist. I've been to more black churches than any place else in the world, you know. Yes, I've always had that feeling like, you know, I mean, even during the black power movement, (INAUDIBLE). I was friends with a lot of people say, Julian Bonds (ph), OK? So, yes, I mean, I wouldn't take as a meaning me. I guess that a lot of people might have thought that. But I have pretty thick skin. I was able to handle myself.

HARRIS: All right. I got another question here from a Dr. Gibson. Boy, this is someone who was well-versed on Dr. King. He asks was Dr. King right or left-handed?

HOUCK: He was right-handed. And I know that because he signed my paycheck. I wish I had kept that $15. I've gotten subsistence in (INAUDIBLE). He was right-handed. But I know that there's a big dispute about that. Maybe he's -

HARRIS: Is there really? Is there a dispute on that?

HOUCK: Yes, some people think he's left-handed because of various statues around the country or whatever. I mean, he was right- handed.

HARRIS: I see. I see. OK, one more question for you.

HOUCK: Go for it.

HARRIS: From Mary in Los Angeles. We got this question from a lot of our viewers. When will the book, folk, she writes for the book, when will the book be published, and did the King children approve of your book or have to approve before you were given or before you took on the responsibility?

HOUCK: I want to say, I have a good relationship to this day with the King children and certainly with Dexter and Martin. Not so much with Bernice. It's very hard to see the death last year of Yolanda. I was very fond of. Yes, I have a good relationship with them. I work on the details on, you know, what I need to go through.

HARRIS: So, there are details that have to be worked out? HOUCK: Right. It's intellectual property rights and I certainly will adhere to those. Hopefully, I'll have little preference. But along those lines, OK, if this to other people out there that knew Dr. King or around Dr. King on the young age let me know. Please e-mail me at (ph). I would hope to have this book finished by later this year and published next year. And I want you to have me back on, Tony.

HARRIS: Come on. Absolutely, consider that done. And maybe you've answered it in Fred's piece. I'm going to ask it again. Why did you decide that now was the time? I know that folks have been asked.

HOUCK: I guess probably about a year ago. A very good friend of mine, Freddie Henderson (ph) died, who head up some travel agency, the first major black travel agency in the country, a tremendous woman. You know, Dr. King's worked for the Nobel Peace Prize. When she died I thought that I really needed to get moving in full gear because there's so many people around today, that won't be around 10 years from now that I want to go back to and get in their minds about what happened and that spirit (ph). I was a young kid. I was only 18 years old when I got, you know, my first arrest in the civil rights movement in summa (ph), and when went onto work with Dr. King. There were so many pioneers before me. You know, C.T. Vivian's of the world, John Louis' (ph) of the world. So, I mean, I want to get inside of them to help me recreate to my memoir, the Martin Luther King that we need to know.

HARRIS: What a story. What a man. What a life. Boy, front row seat to history. Tom Houck, great to see you, thanks for your time.

HOUCK: My pleasure.

HARRIS: Man. All right. Still to come and you see it on NEWSROOM, you know it's Oscar night. Hollywood royalty is looking for gold and we will take you live to the red carpet.

But first: Ralph Nader is in the race again. What does that mean for the presidential election? We will ask our political bloggers.


HARRIS: Si se puede. Yes, we can. You've heard both the Democratic presidential candidates use that phrase when reaching out to Latino voters. But half a million angry Latino voters are saying no, we can't. What they can't do is vote because of a bureaucratic log jam. Here's CNN's Thelma Gutierrez.


THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It was a massive turnout in major cities across the U.S., legal immigrants answering the call to become U.S. citizens. They chanted "Today we marched, tomorrow we vote." But of course, no one knew about the obstacle course that would follow. (on camera): What happened next stunned everyone. The number of legal immigrants, legal tax paying immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship, more than doubled last year. A record 1.4 million immigrants, mostly Latinos, applied in plenty of time to vote or what should have been plenty of time to vote in the presidential election.

JESUS TORRES, CITIZENSHIP APPLICANT: It's very disappointing, and it angers me.

GUTIERREZ (voice over): Jesus Torres who came from Mexico when he was 10 is married and a father to 5-year-old Edgar. He applied for citizenship last year so he could vote.

TORRES: If I get a chance, I'll be able to put my voice out there and let it be heard.

GUTIERREZ: We learned that's where the obstacle course begins. First, the government raised the citizen application fee from $400 to $675, a higher fee, so it could afford to hire more than 3,000 new workers to process all the applications. Even so, Emilio Gonzalez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says, the government was overwhelmed.

EMILIO GONZALEZ, CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES: What we weren't prepared for, quite frankly, was the avalanche of applications that we got.

GUTIERREZ: The next obstacle? Jesus and hundreds of thousands of others received these government notices.

(on camera): It says, you should expect to be notified within 365 days, that's one year what, did you think?

TORRES: I thought it was way too long. I didn't really expect that. I expected maybe sooner so I'd be able to vote and participate. With this in mind, maybe my chances are very slim.

GUTIERREZ (voice over): Labor organizer, Eliseo Medina helped organize the citizenship drive and can't imagine how this became such a mess.

ELISEO MEDINA, LABOR ORGANIZER: In theory, their job is to plan for this kind of things and to be ready. That's why they said they were raising the fees.

GUTIERREZ: Julia Moreno is studying at home to take her citizenship tests.

ANNOUNCER: How many stripes are there on our flag?

GUTIERREZ: She believes the delays are another case of Latinos being taken for granted.

JULIA MORENO, CITIZENSHIP APPLICANT: We're angry because they came, this is not necessary, it's not necessary the Spanish people, they have to vote. It's not important. But this is very important. GUTIERREZ: Gonzalez says that's absurd. He's a naturalized citizen himself, but members of Congress are also angry with the delays. Last month, Gonzalez was put on the hot seat.

REP. LINDA SANCHEZ, (D) CALIFORNIA: The waiting time keeps getting longer, not shorter, and I find that incredibly frustrating.

GONZALEZ: There's a right way of doing things and a wrong way of doing things and that we're not going to sacrifice quality and we're not going to sacrifice security for the sake of production.

GUTIERREZ: Gonzalez concedes 500,000 may not become citizens in time to vote.

TORRES: I've been waiting for this stage for so long, and now, when I get a chance to do it, I want to, probably, be one of the first ones out there in the line to be ready to cast my vote.

GUTIERREZ: But clearly, no one knew how long that line would be. Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Los Angeles.


HARRIS: OK, time to check out the buzz on the blogs. On the right, Michael Goldfarb from "Daily Standard Blog", Michael, it's good to see you. Jeff Chang on the left from "Can't stop, won't stop blog", Jeff, it's good to see you. And in the middle, Jill Zimon from "The Moderate Voice Blog", Jill, it's good to see you. All right, it's a new twist we added to make things a little more interesting especially with the Ralph Nader news out today. So, Jill, let's start with you. What do you think? Ralph Nader in the race again: Whoopee (ph) or "Oh, no"?

JILL ZIMON, THE MODERATE VOICE BLOG: Probably a little bit closer to the "Oh, no". You know, the independents and the unaffiliated voters that are being drawing out are individuals who are coming out a lot in part because of Obama. And the independents, the unaffiliated that may normally want to go to Nader, you know, they're not locking as much as they may usually be when Nader was a little more popular. If we look back at 2000, he still got under 3 percent of the vote. In 2004, he had something like 0.35 percent of the vote. So, I don't really think that this is really going to impact too many people, at least, you know, the current people running now.

HARRIS: Well, Mike, do you agree with that?

MICHAEL GOLDFARB, DAILY STANDARD BLOG: I don't know. This is what Barack Obama might call the audacity of hope, right? He's going to go out there, and he's going to try to drum up some support. But what you might have is you may have three candidates who are anti-war. You might have Ron Paul. You're going to have Nader. And you're going to have Obama. And I think that's good for the GOP.

ZIMON: You know, being (ph) in Cleveland, where we got Dennis Kucinich, we got a lot of audacity up here. So, you know, when I think about what Kucinich was like when he ran and how the people here were treating that presidential run, both the last two times that he's run, you know, I'm not feeling that hopeful for Ralph Nader.

HARRIS: Hey, Jeff, don't let these two have the stage here. Jeff, mix it up, come on.

JEFF CHANG, CAN'T STOP, WON'T STOP BLOG: Yes, I was just going to say I think he's got a problem. You know, this is a year -- he's a protest candidate. Nader is a protest candidate. And this is a year in which a lot of the protest energy has shifted into for better for worse to Democratic Party. So, I don't necessarily see where his candidacy can go. He's the same on the war as Mike has already noted. And he's trying to be a pull on health care, but, you know, this stuff isn't necessarily going to motivate people to come out of the woodwork. They've already come out for Obama.

ZIMON: Also, when he points to how much dissatisfaction there is with the different political parties, you know, what we're really seeing is a lot of dissatisfaction with Congress and with our current administration. So, to say that people are specifically dissatisfied with the parties and are looking for a third-party candidate, isn't going to fly this much this year as perhaps, it has in the past presidential election.

HARRIS: Hey, let me jump in very quickly because I don't want to lose our time here before we talk about John McCain. And what do you think, Michael, about how he fared this week, standing up to "The New York Times" the way that he did, did he come out of it OK, at least so far?

GOLDFARB: I think he's come out of it better than OK. I mean, the backlash has been against "The Times". And so, you know, it's really "The Times" was really able to conjure the appearance of impropriety, let the other shoe drops, this has worked great for McCain. He's used it for fundraising and frankly, I mean, he's an old guy, I think the notion that he's sort of out there with young ladies flirting with - I think, it's -

HARRIS: No, no. He can go there.

ZIMON: I'll take issue with that, Michael. I mean, I think that the underlying issue about whether or not McCain is hypocritical in his behavior is really what's at issue. I agree with Michael completely about how "The New York Times" went about bringing up this story and the information behind it, but I also think that people are not happy to have issues raised about, whether or not the candidate is being hypocritical in terms of what they're putting out there and what their behavior is.


GOLDFARB: I'm sorry, I just want to say that this is an example where Barack Obama has been in Washington for only two years. So, obviously, he's gotten much on and he hasn't been there for very long but frankly, this is how business gets in Washington and McCain has done a lot of business.

HARRIS: Jeff, jump in here. CHANG: Well, that's the point here. I think that what you have to look at is the case that they're talking about here. We're talking about McCain intervening on behalf of a company that wanted to take public broadcasting station private, to privatize the public airwaves. So, it comes down to an issue of whether or not he supports corporate interest or the public interest. And I think it's going to play out very much so over the next five months.

HARRIS: Michael, you want the last word on this one?

GOLDFARB: I'm bored already. I mean, that's so boring. And we're eight months from the election. I just can't imagine it can have any -

HARRIS: Well, OK. Well, I hope you're not bored with the next one. How about this dream ticket on the Democratic side here? Obama/Clinton? Clinton/Obama? Jeff, what do you think? You want to go first, Jill?

ZIMON: I don't see it happening but I think Tuesday night here in Cleveland when we get to see the debate, we're going to see just whether or not that's even feasible. You know, Hillary Clinton is going have to come out very hard but it's hard for her to come out hard. Because then she looks like she's a Volant (ph), she's fighting and she's desperate. That's how she's going to get painted. Whereas Obama is very comfortable right now in terms of his leads, how many states he's won. And here in Cleveland, you know, we got some really interesting demographics. We've got Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who's a congresswoman in a district support where she supports Hillary Clinton and her district, you know, people are predicting that her district is going to go anywhere from four to one or three to one for Barack Obama. And so, she's got some real issues to deal with. She could -

HARRIS: But boy, isn't that an unbeatable -- some would say at least -- an unbeatable ticket given all of the energy, the turnout for the Democratic -

ZIMON: I think unbelievable ticket might be a little more accurate. You know, I think people just can't believe that these two would be able to do it together. Frankly, I'm not sure either. And you know, it would be interesting to find out how those voters, particularly independents and unaffiliated who have come out specifically because they were aroused by Barack Obama would stick with an Obama/Clinton ticket.

HARRIS: All right. Jeff, jump in over here. What do you think? Do we have a dream ticket here on the Democratic side?

CHANG: I mean, my dream ticket would be Chuck flavor flave (ph). The thing here that we have to look at is that, you know, Senator Obama is moving toward victory on this. So, I can't see Hillary Clinton saying, yes, even if she were to be asked. She's got a very, very good job to go back to.

HARRIS: Yes. All right. Michael, last word on this. GOLDFARB: Yes, I know. I mean, it's not going to happen, because if you're the change candidate why do you want to bring in Hillary Clinton in your ticket? She's albatross around his neck. She's good for Republican fundraising. It would just be a disaster for him. I can't imagine under any scenario that he would, it would cross his mind.

HARRIS: There you go. The bloggers tonight. Michael Goldfarb, Jeff Chang, Jill Zimon, thanks to the three of you. That was fun. That was fun. Let's do it again, why don't we?

ZIMON: All right.

HARRIS: Good weekend to all of you.

ZIMON: OK, you too.

HARRIS: And still to come in the NEWSROOM: Hollywood is all dressed up for tonight's Oscars, and so is our Brooke Anderson. Oh, Brooke, wow.

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Tony, hello. I am here at the red carpet outside the Kodak Theater for the 88th Annual Academy Awards. And the red carpet is already bustling with activity. I'm going to speak to this beautiful lady, Kristin Chenoweth after the break. You want to stick around for that.


HARRIS: And again: If you didn't know it was Oscar night, well, welcome back to earth. It's movie stars city at the Hollywood's Kodak Theater this evening. CNN of course is there. Let's take you out to Brooke Anderson. And Brooke, it's great to see you again. Nice dress, boy, a sigh relief that the writers' strike is over and we get Oscar night.

ANDERSON: We do, Tony. No picket lines to contend with. There has been a collective sigh of relief here in Hollywood. And although it is pouring right now, it's raining very hard, it is not dampening the spirits of anyone here. And I'm joined right now by Kristin Chenoweth. It's such a delight, and you are performing tonight. And I heard this is going to be like a big Broadway type number.

KRISTIN CHENOWETH, "PUSHING DAISIES": Yes, I think there's about 75 people on stage with me. I'm just going to work on not falling down.

ANDERSON: And you're used to those big stage performances. How have rehearsals been going and I saw you just spoke with Gil Cates, head producer of the telecast, did he give you any last-minute tips?

CHENOWETH: He said keep doing what you've been doing in rehearsal. We have two days of rehearsal. So, it's not a lot. But I feel ready.

ANDERSON: Let's talk about that because about two weeks ago, we did not know if there would be a traditional Oscar show. Have you had to scramble to get everything ready? And for you it had to be more difficult as a performer.

CHENOWETH: Yes, I didn't know the song. I'd seen the movie and I loved it but I had to learn it very quickly, find things to wear because I'm wearing something different for the performance. So, yes, it's been a little bit of a scramble but, you know, they are worth problems to have.

ANDERSON: Absolutely. You're very lucky. And we're lucky to have you here. And to a lot of people who have asked me, Brooke, is the mood going to be more somber? Some parties have been canceled. It's raining. But it seems like everyone is here and delighted and just relieved to finally be able to celebrate filmmaking.

CHENOWETH: Yes, I feel it, too, and I feel like that there's an energy and it's almost like a coming out party for Hollywood. I mean, we've had the Golden Globes, but we didn't get to celebrate. And now here we are. And we're all together. And I've seen some of the writers on the red carpet and they seem so happy to be here. So, it's a celebration.

ANDERSON: And the fans are finally glad to get a glimpse of all of you celebrities when you hit the carpet, when George Clooney hit the red carpet. It was deafening, the applause and the screams. That must feel good.

CHENOWETH: It feels so good. It kind of keeps my knees from knocking so bad. They were so sweet up there. And you know, let's be honest. With the movies, they wouldn't be anywhere without the fans. And that's why I'm here. I'm just so glad to be a part of it. I really am so touched.

ANDERSON: As an actress, do you aspire to one day be here as a nominee as well?

CHENOWETH: Of course, I think anybody who has -- who's acting, who has any sort of ambition, would love to be among the nominees. But I realized the other day, I thought, even if I had been nominated I would be on camera for maybe 30 seconds. I'm going to be on camera for three minutes.

ANDERSON: You're going to do a fabulous job. I can't wait to see it. It's nice to see you, Kristin, thank you so much.

Tony, as I said, the carpet is bustling with activity. George Clooney, just a few people down. We will be speaking with him. Catch our live show in just a few minutes, Hollywood's Gold Rush.

HARRIS: I can't wait. OK, Brooke. That was fun. See you in just a couple of minutes at the top of the hour.

And just another reminder for you, you can join Brooke Anderson on the red carpet. And you don't even have to get all dress up. CNN's online Oscars features, a virtual red carpet. There's also a pretty tough movie quiz for film fans. And you can vote on which movie you think will win best picture, link to our Oscar special from the front page of

How long will the rain fall on Oscars' big night? Jacqui Jeras is coming up in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: OK, it is raining. It's Oscars, the stars are coming up tonight in their sequins, bow ties, getting a little moist. Jacqui Jeras, not necessarily an award-winning forecast for Oscar tonight.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, not exactly, but it's going to be getting better anyway. Of course, they go from their car with their umbrellas to the covered, you know, red carpet anyway. But there, you can see the rain showers moving the through Hollywood, pushing up to the east and we'll look for intermittent showers, it will still be a possibility through about 10:00 o'clock tonight. Big storm system here out west bringing heavy rain into the valley, heavy snow into the higher elevations. Several feet have already fallen here in the sierras and we're expecting maybe an additional 12 inches yet (ph) tonight. That storm moves into the nation's midsection for tomorrow with fire danger and heavy snow for the Midwest. Tony?.

HARRIS: OK, Jacqui, thank you. I'm Tony Harris. That's all our time. Now the moment we've all been waiting for -- Hollywood's Gold Rush: CNN's special coverage of tonight's 88th Annual Academy Awards.