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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

McCain Apologizes For Supporter's Harsh Words; Florida Blackout

Aired February 26, 2008 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening.
Tonight: ugly words from a talk show pit bull about Barack Obama at a John McCain event, calling him a hack, using his middle name as a slander. Senator McCain apologizes, but is this a sign of what the campaign will look like once the nominees become clear? We will look at that tonight.

Also, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. She is slipping further in the polls, trying out a new strategy. The question is, is it working or is she running out of plays?

And coming soon to a street near you? What today's Florida blackout says how vulnerable we all are to something going wrong with the power or the water or the roads we travel.

We begin with tough talk on the campaign trail today, tough talk, an apology, a disavowal, and now questions whether what you're about to hear is a taste of sleazy campaigning and swift-boating to come.

Everyone is buzzing about it: the words of a Cincinnati radio talk show warming up the crowd for John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CUNNINGHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, my fellow Americans, now we have a hack, Chicago-style Daley politician who is picturing himself as change. When he gets done with you, all you're going to have in your pocket is change.

At some point in the near future, the media is going to peel the bark off Barack Hussein Obama. That day will come. Then you will know the truth about his business dealings in Rezko, when he got sweetheart deals in Chicago, and the illegal loans that he received. At some point, the media will quit taking sides in this thing and maybe start covering Barack Hussein Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Talk radio host, also, I guess, a member of the media.

It should be noted right now -- and it will be throughout the discussion -- that John McCain strongly disavowed those remarks. We will talk about that, but also about the question of others, independent attack groups and the like, talking up a similar line if Senator Obama wins the nomination. CNN's John King was there.

John, what's the latest?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it was a remarkable event.

Senator McCain, it should be noted, was on his campaign bus arriving at that event outside when Bill Cunningham was speaking. Local McCain supporters say they invited him, even though they know he's often a magnet for controversy and often says quite inflammatory statements.

They say they wanted him there because they know how critical Ohio will be in November and that he has a proven track record of inciting conservative support, inciting excitement among conservatives, and getting Republicans out to vote.

Now, Senator McCain said had he no idea when he took the stage that Bill Cunningham had said those things. As Senator McCain went off the stage, his top aide, Mark Salter, pulled him aside and whispered into his ear, told him some of the things Cunningham had said.

McCain went back to reporters for a scheduled media availability. But before he took any questions, Anderson, and then repeatedly throughout the questions, Senator McCain apologized to Senator Obama, said that he repudiated the remarks, and that it would never happen again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Whatever suggestion was made that was in any way disparaging to the integrity, character, honesty of either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton was wrong. And I condemn it. And, if I have any responsibility, I will take responsibility, and I apologize for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And, Anderson, this did not end with that. Senator McCain believes it is over. He moved on to Texas.

But Bill Cunningham had his radio show later in the day, and he lashed out at Senator McCain, saying he cannot support Senator McCain now, said Senator McCain has thrown him under the bus, if you will.

So, McCain trying put the controversy to rest, may have started another problem for himself with someone, for all his inflammatory statements, for all his past history of controversy here, all local Republicans will tell you in this area is influential with conservatives that are critical to John McCain's candidacy -- Anderson.

COOPER: Well, clearly, for -- for two-bit radio hosts, this is the biggest thing to happen to them in quite a long time, and they will try to ride this thing as long as possible.

But, John, looking down the road, I mean, is there a sense of what kind of attacks are out there on both sides of the aisle, these 527 groups? Do we already have a sense of what is building, what the general campaign is going to look like?

KING: Well, one of the reasons, we are told, that Senator McCain wanted to denounce this quickly was that Bill Cunningham used the word prophet about Barack Obama and then the word Hussein, his middle name, twice.

Clearly, the McCain campaign took this as some way to suggest again, as others have, that Barack Obama is or was a Muslim. And the McCain campaign says they do expect that kind of fear-mongering and hate-mongering and hateful messages to be done if Obama is the nominee. And they insist Senator McCain wants no part of it.

Now, he has made clear, the senator has, that he wants a campaign on the issues, that he will call Obama a liberal, if he's the nominee. But is this likely to continue? We have seen it between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama in the Democratic primaries, which are still under way, and everybody in both campaigns, the Obama campaign, even as it said it appreciated Senator McCain's words today, does expect this to carry on, Anderson, no doubt about it.

COOPER: Buckle up.

John King, thanks very much.

Now Iraq and campaign '08. To hear Senator McCain tell it, the war in Iraq is going to so well, it will soon be over. Those are his words. And he's betting his campaign on the idea that he can convince many Americans that he's right.

Now, both of his Democratic opponents, of course, disagree, insisting time and again that the war has been such a mess that getting American troops out as quickly and safely as possible is what really matters now.

So, who's right?

Well, Tom Foreman tonight trying to keep them honest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A year ago, Iraq was the Republican albatross, an unpopular, grinding war. And Democrats are still using it to pound on John McCain.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Starting with ending the war in Iraq.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And let me tell you, we don't need more failed policies of the past.

FOREMAN: But look who is hitting back. SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And they were wrong, Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, when they said that the surge would fail.

FOREMAN: So, "Keeping Them Honest," who's right? Michael O'Hanlon has studied the war extensively, writing about its failures and successes.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW IN FOREIGN POLICY STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, certainly, if you want to look at the last year, things have gotten far better in Iraq, and I think it's pretty hard to escape the conclusion that Senator McCain has been much more accurate in the way he's been talking about the progress from the surge than either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton.

FOREMAN: O'Hanlon, by the way, supports Clinton. So, what has changed?

Military and political analysts point out the deaths among troops are below 50 a month, much less than half of what they have been in the past. The Pentagon says efforts to turn insurgents into allies have paid off, pushing al Qaeda in Iraq into hiding. The Shia militias, once considered hugely destabilizing, have quieted their attacks on Sunnis.

Some oil revenues are now being shared. Some rival factions are striking peace deals.

O'HANLON: Although certainly McCain should hasten to add that the progress on the political side in Iraq is much more preliminary than it has on the security side, and even the security environment is going to be difficult to preserve, as we downsize in the coming months.

FOREMAN (on camera): That is what Democrats are seizing on, saying none of the progress really matters unless Iraq is stable enough to make it stick. And while most Americans now acknowledge there has been some progress, two-thirds still oppose the war.

(voice-over): So, both parties have some facts on their side. It's just not clear which facts the voters will follow.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Some late news on the war tonight from Capitol Hill. Senate Republicans have agreed to allow debate on a Democratic bill to pull troops out of Iraq.

Said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, he and members oppose the bill, but welcome the debate as a way of airing what he calls the extraordinary progress in Iraq over the last six months -- another sign, perhaps, that the war is no longer universally viewed as political poison.

Some perspective now from Michael Ware, who is in Baghdad tonight, as he has been since the war began.

Michael, in terms of long term, I mean, how -- how do you measure the progress, militarily and politically?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, clearly, there has been progress in this war. I mean, the number of deaths of both American troops and civilians are clearly down. In Baghdad alone, comparing this month to the same month last year, 1,000 people died from terrorist attacks last year, less than 200 this last year, 800 from sectarian killings last year, only about 40 this year.

There's a number of factors to consider. One is, what is the price of this? Let's look at the surge. What is the surge? I know it's taken on a phenomenon, this phrase, in America, and in the political campaigns. But, whilst it's been successful, there's none of the triumphalism that we hear from the campaigns here on the ground, nor is anyone setting benchmarks for withdrawal. It's far too fragile for that.

The surge is much more than just 30,000 troops. It's about cutting a deal with the Sunni insurgents, about getting the Shia militias to back off and what that takes. It's about the political surge forcing the politicians to move, which is going much more slowly.

It's not just about American boots on the ground. And there's long-term consequences for all of these things that none of the candidates are talking about. And how sustainable is this? There will be costs in the future. Again, the American people need to hear this, Anderson.

So, what's happening on the ground is indeed a success in many ways. But you're not getting the full picture on the campaign trail, and perhaps that shouldn't surprise anyone -- Anderson.

COOPER: When you talk to soldiers -- and that's sort of the perspective on most of the military leaders you talk probably to on a daily basis -- what are they saying about troop levels down the road? I mean, in order to sustain the military side of this, in order to sustain the military successes that universally just everyone has said we have seen, what kind of troop levels do you need down the road?

I read some report by Anthony Cordesman recently, and I think they were talking about 100,000 troops well into 2016, I think.

FOREMAN: Well, that's certainly a number that members of the Iraqi government are bandying about, 100,000 U.S. troops, down from what we will soon have of just over 130,000.

And, certainly, there's an expectation that America will hit that by the end of the year, an expectation held by some Iraqis. That's not necessarily an expectation held by American war commanders here on the ground.

Now, after the surge troops, the 30,000 extra combat forces that were sent here to flush through this war last year, once they go home in July, American force levels, American combat power will have been reduced by 25 percent already. Nonetheless, we're still going to have more Americans here after the surge, just by a few thousand, than before. So, in some ways, that's not a true indicator.

But I can tell you now, Anderson, Senator McCain mentioned 100 years American troops will be here. No one can speak to that. But I can tell you that American commanders here on the ground know that they're going to be here a lot longer than many people would otherwise expect.

Certainly, this sense of once people get into office they will start pulling the troops home is not a view shared by many here on the ground. And many believe that what's being said on the campaign will not necessarily be the action that a new president will take, no matter what party they're from. There's realities here. You just can't pull out -- Anderson.

COOPER: Last January, when the president announce the -- the so- called surge, he laid out 15 political benchmarks the Iraqi government needed to meet. Yesterday, John McCain said that almost of them -- with almost of them, we're either making progress or have succeeded.

Is that the view you hear from the political leaders on the ground, Iraqi and American?

WARE: Well, certainly from the State Department. They believe that what they call the political surge, which has been an unsung success of all of this, has been working.

And they're talking about the benchmarks. Absolutely, there's been significant gains on the political front. The deals that have been cut, the way Baghdad has been segregated off with massive blast barriers, so that it resembles a sectarian divided Sarajevo, where people can't cross the lines, has brought this down and bought some breathing room for political progress.

But, again, there's a cost for that. Can you pull the barriers down? No, or the bloodletting will resume. But, on the benchmarks, there has been progress on many of the fronts. But, again, remember, what are the costs? How long can it last? And don't forget, it's all completely underwritten by the presence of hundreds of -- more than 100,000 U.S. troops keeping everybody apart -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Michael Ware. Appreciate the reporting, Michael. Thank you very much, from Baghdad tonight.

Democratic politics coming up in just a couple of minutes.

And, remember, I'm blogging during the program tonight. So, join the conversation at CNN.com/360.

Up next: late word on the Florida blackout, millions left without power for much of today. The pictures were remarkable. We will have a closer look at America's vulnerable power grid. Why isn't more being done to keep the lights on? And, later, opening eyes and hears and hearts with music, shadowy North Korea embracing the men and women who came to make the joyful noise.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: That's a look at the traffic trouble there after a massive power outage in Florida from Miami to Tampa.

Authorities say it began at a substation where a fire broke out and a switch failed. Well, tonight, the good news, most of the electricity has been restored. But this scenario has happened before, most recently nearly five years ago. Remember the chaos here in New York after a massive blackout that affected 50 million people across the Northeast?

So, weren't changes made after that? There were a lot of promises made.

Tonight, we're "Keeping Them Honest."

Joining me now is Stephen Flynn, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He's also the author of the book "The Edge of Disaster."

So, Stephen, what happened? I mean, why is America's power grid so vulnerable? And are we going to see more of these kind of power outages like we saw today in Florida?

STEPHEN FLYNN, SENIOR FELLOW IN NATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, like any machine, things will break from time to time.

The real issue is how frequently will this happen and how widespread. And what we seem to be is in a situation where the grid is going to be breaking more frequently and it's going to affect more people.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Just because it's old or...

FLYNN: Well, A -- it's three things, really.

What we have is a system that generates the power. Then we transmit it across lines. And then we transform it, so that we can get into our homes and houses. And what happens is that system is old, and it's at basically full-throttle. And, so, when something goes wrong, it trips off the line, and people lose power for a while.

Now, what actually came out pretty good today was how quickly they were able to turn it back on. But the fact is, as a country, we have this ailing infrastructure, and we're not investing into it.

And what we have is utility executives pushing it to the limits to try to keep it going, and they do it pretty well. But Americans need to step back and they should be asking, frankly, these presidential candidates, you know, what gives here? We're the wealthiest country in the world. Why are things falling apart? Why are the lights going out?

COOPER: Well, also, I mean, this is a national security issue. It's not just an inconvenience. And in an age where we pay a lot of attention to foreign dangers, this is something right here at home that is literally right in our backyards.

And, I mean, I remember, after the blackout in 2003 across much of the Northeast, you know, eight people died -- it cost an estimated $10 billion -- there were all these promises made about repairs, and fixing and upgrading. What's been done to improve the system? Anything?

FLYNN: Well, a little bit.

What we had was essentially an honor system before the event that happened in the Northeast in 2003. That is, we had guidelines that said, utilities, you probably should do these things to make sure the system is resilient.

And what happened after that is, we did the investigations. We realized we had to set some standards. And that's improved. But what we're missing is the investment. You know, we're not producing that much power, in terms of generation, and we have the same old infrastructure, old transformers, some in the New York area, for instance, three decades-plus old.

And so things break. And when we put more demands on them, like a very hot summer, or basically a lot of demand that will happen because we use a lot more electricity with our electronics and so forth here, things break.

But the other part of it is, we're so dependent upon this. You know, from -- most people don't -- rely on, from ATM machines, and 24- hour gas stations and food. We don't have much resilience, much self- reliance as people. So, when the power goes out, we get pretty well incapacitated.

So, there's a lot here that we should be addressing. We're more dependent upon it. We're putting more use and demands on the infrastructure, and, yet, we're not investing in it. And, so, from time to time, we're going to see it fail badly. And a lot of people's lives are going to be disrupted.

COOPER: And, bottom line, you say we need to get the presidential candidates talking about this and asking them about it?

FLYNN: Absolutely.

We need to go back to Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was a commander in chief who really put infrastructure at the forefront, recognizing that, as a nation, we need to make sure that we're -- essentially, we can keep the lights going as a normal course, but also to be able to continue to protect power beyond our shores. COOPER: Stephen...

FLYNN: This is crazy, the situation we're in, and I hope we will address this.

COOPER: Yes. And, as you said, thankfully, they got it resolved pretty quickly today down in Florida.

Stephen Flynn, it's always good to talk to you. Thank you.

FLYNN: Thanks for having me.

COOPER: In a moment, we're going to have the shot of the day, unbelievable, terrifying, a hot pursuit with a police officer hanging on for his life. We will show you the rest of the video.

But, first, let's check in with Erica Hill for a 360 bulletin -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Anderson.

We begin with Senator Robert Byrd, who is at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for observation. Byrd, who is 90, fell at his home last night, then complained of pain when he arrived to work today. The West Virginia Democrat is third in line, by the way, for the presidency.

Convicted polygamist preacher Warren Jeffs is in Arizona tonight, where he faces more charges of arranging marriages between teenage girls and adult men. The former fundamental sect leader is already serving two five-year-to-life terms in Utah for rape as an accomplice, a result of a marriage he arranged there between a 14-year-old and her 19-year-old cousin.

And an Austrian man is dead after taking part in a tour which actually lets people swim up close with hungry sharks. It happened in Bahamian waters. The head of a diving group tells CNN the tour company that ran this excursion was warned repeatedly to stop them. In fact, they were outlawed in Florida in 2001. The company didn't return CNN's calls, Anderson.

COOPER: Yikes. Geez.

HILL: Awful.

COOPER: I would not do that.

Erica, stay with us. The shot of the day is next -- a hot pursuit in Florida, where the drive took off, the police officer hanging onto the side of the car. We will show you have the dramatic ending.

Also ahead tonight, diplomacy through music, the New York Philharmonic performing in North Korea. The impact of the historic concert -- when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Time now for the shot.

This one is incredible. You're looking at a chase in Tampa. Take a look. Using an infrared camera, a police helicopter following a suspect as he drives through the streets with an officer hanging on for his life.

It's hard to see, obviously, from so high up, but it is terrifying. The officer -- after being dragged for about half-a-mile, the officer was thrown from the Corvette.

HILL: Can you imagine?

COOPER: I know.

This all happened Sunday when the drive pulled away from a routine traffic stop, the police officer was caught in the door.

HILL: Wow.

COOPER: Rushed to the hospital, he was treated for a gash to his head. His injuries were apparently not life-threatening.

As for the suspect, he eventually crashed and was arrested. We're told the Corvette was stolen.

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: It's amazing the he survived.

COOPER: And I never understand why these people just continue to think they can get away. It just never...

HILL: I'm with you.

COOPER: It never works.

HILL: Nope.

COOPER: If you see some remarkable video, tell us about it at CNN.com/360. You can go there to see all the most recent shots, the other segments from the program, the blog -- the address again, CNN.com/360.

So, up next, a historic concert, the New York Philharmonic performing inside North Korea. And a CNN reporter in North Korea on a personal journey searching for her own family -- when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

COOPER: Gershwin's "American in Paris."

But the performers were in Pyongyang, communist North Korea, today. And the notes were very well-received, as well the American national anthem, just two of the pieces played by the New York Philharmonic in the first-ever performance by a U.S. orchestra in North Korea.

Erica joins us again with more -- Erica.

HILL: Yes, Anderson, and so much attention paid to this concert, because it comes as the secretive communist nation, of course, says it's actually in the process of dismantling its nuclear program.

Well, the North's "Dear Leader," Kim Jong Il, was not in attendance, but CNN's Christiane Amanpour was.

And I spoke with her earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HILL: Christiane, it's still the morning after there now in North Korea. Still the glowing reviews after last night?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, to be frank, there is a review, and it's here. The news report is in the local special newspaper, the Communist Workers Party official newspaper. And it was broadcast live on North Korean television last night, now some 12 hours ago, which is unprecedented, because this is a country that really exists on a diet of official propaganda on the radio and television.

So, this was a real first for the people of North Korea, to see a different face of America, to hear the U.S. national anthem, along with their own, played in public here, and to see the stars and stripes flying aloft here on a theater, on a stage in Pyongyang.

There were so many firsts, the first time this many Americans have been here since the Korean War. And, afterwards, really, the atmosphere and the feeling was one of really great success.

I think people felt, both on the North Korean side and the orchestra's side, that they had made a little difference for a couple of hours. They had opened a window. And they felt they had really made some people-to-people, human contact.

At the end, there were standing ovations, and the North Koreans really sort of had a burst of emotion. They were waving to the Americans on stage. It was as if they didn't want them to leave -- Erica.

HILL: So, do you think, then, Christiane, did you get the feeling afterwards that it actually changed any of the North Koreans' perceptions of Americans?

AMANPOUR: Well, that's a very big job to do. But I did ask some of the concertgoers who were leaving.

And one woman said to me, this is a very peaceful and happy message from the United States, and I hope there are more cultural exchanges.

You have to remember that these two countries are still technically at war, after the Korea War that ended in '53 -- there is no formal peace treaty yet -- that these people here, the North Koreans, have been brought up believing that the U.S. started the war and that the U.S. continues to bear them hostile ill will.

So, the concert was, in a way, designed to show that the Americans don't bear the people of North Korea any hostility. But I think the most succinct assessment I got afterwards was from the former Defense Secretary William Perry, who's involved in U.S./North Korea negotiations, or has been. And he was here.

Number one, the North Koreans allowed him to travel across the DMZ from South Korea to get here in time. That is unheard of, he said. And, number two, he felt that this was a historic moment and that it was very important, because he believed that it comes at a time when the nuclear negotiations are making real progress, might in fact achieve their goal by the end of this administration.

And it really leads some -- some sort of way to break down the barriers of human mistrust. And he said that was what the concert could do.

HILL: Christiane Amanpour, joining us from Pyongyang, thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL: Pretty remarkable there, I have to say.

COOPER: Yes. I have always wanted to go there. It would be very cool.

HILL: I would be -- I would be fascinated to see what it's really like.

COOPER: Yes.

For another member of our CNN family, her journey to North Korea hit a highly personal note.

That story from Alina Cho.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Looking at my parents today, you would never know how much they have suffered. They are survivors of the Korean War.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of this wasn't here at that time.

A. CHO: Much of their story, I'm hearing and seeing for the first time.

J. CHO: You see this wall here? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) A. CHO: There are people I'm meeting for the first time, too. Like this man, who my father says taught him how to farm during the war to help feed the family. My dad was just 13.

J. CHO: How are we going to survive? And having enough food to eat, having enough for firewood to, you know, warm the house.

A. CHO: After the North Korean army invaded Seoul in 1950, my dad's family fled the city and walked here to the countryside. It took them four days.

My 90-year-old grandmother says food was scarce. She starved so her children could eat. It is only the second time I've ever seen my dad cry.

(on camera) Today looks totally different.

KIM CHO, ALINA CHO'S MOTHER: Totally different.

A. CHO (voice-over): My mom was only 7 when the war broke out. She remembers hearing North Korean soldiers marching outside her home. Her family was afraid, especially for her older sister, because those soldiers were kidnapping girls in their teens, but only the healthy ones. So my mom's sister deliberately starved herself.

K. CHO: And she was thin, you know, and sick.

A. CHO: She and the rest of my mom's family survived. But the fate of two of my dad's uncles, to this day, is still unknown. They disappeared during the war. No one is quite sure if they were kidnapped or defected, because they were never seen again.

K. CHO: Hope you can find them (ph). Hope a miracle happens.

A. CHO: Which brings me here to North Korea.

(on camera) Being here in Pyongyang has been an extraordinary experience for me personally. I know I have relatives here in North Korea somewhere. That's why every time I look at somebody I can't help wondering, could I be related to them?

I also can't help thinking, if things had been just a little bit different, I could be living here, too.

(voice-over) The North Korean government says there's just not enough time, this time, to find the lost uncles. My government guide, Mr. John (ph), told me he has sadness for the separated Korean families.

(on camera) It's sad, isn't it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language)

CHO (voice-over): He said, if I come back, maybe I'll have better luck then.

Alina Cho, CNN, Pyongyang.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: One reporter's search.

A reminder, we're live blogging throughout this hour. I had my computer connection down for a moment, but it's back up. Join the conversation, CNN.com/360.

Still ahead, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama take the gloves off in Cincinnati. We'll have highlights of the debate, the last big debate before this -- upcoming primaries in Texas and Ohio. We'll also have analysis of tonight's debate. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Another Democratic debate ending. It has ended just now. Perhaps the last one, depending on what voters next week in Ohio, Texas, Vermont and Rhode Island have to say about it.

Going in tonight, Senator Clinton was slipping in the polls and reportedly groping for a winning strategy. She's been, by turns lately, gracious toward Senator Obama, then angry, then mocking, then gentler. The big question, though, how would she handle him tonight and how would he conduct himself? Would he make a mistake? Would this debate make a difference?

Here to break it down, CNN's Candy Crowley and John King, along with Democratic strategist and Clinton supporter Paul Begala, and Obama supporter, Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist and president of New Future Communications.

Candy, the debate began by showing the two very different tones Clinton has recently struck. I want to play this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No matter what happens in this contest -- and I am honored. I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am absolutely honored.

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)

COOPER: Brian Williams, the moderator of the debate, actually played those two sound bites to both the candidates. Then Senator Clinton was asked about that conversation, and the conversation quickly delved into a pretty heated debate on health care, lasted for about 16 minutes. Let's listen to some of the exchanges.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CLINTON: Well, this is a contested campaign. And, as I have said many times, I have a great deal of respect for Senator Obama. But we have differences.

And in the last several days, some of those differences in tactics and the choices that Senator Obama's campaign has made regarding flyers and mailers and other information that has been put out, about my health-care plan and my position on NAFTA, have been very disturbing to me.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have endured, over the course of this campaign, repeated negative mail from Senator Clinton in Iowa, in Nevada, and other places suggesting that I want to leave 15 million people out. According to Senator Clinton, that is accurate. I dispute it. And I think it is inaccurate.

On the other hand, I don't fault Senator Clinton for wanting to point out what she thinks is an advantage to her plan.

CLINTON: This is too important. You know, Senator Obama has a mandate. He would enforce the mandate by requiring parents to buy insurance for their children.

OBAMA: This is true.

CLINTON: That is the case. If you have a mandate, it has to be enforceable. So there's no difference here.

OBAMA: No, there is a difference.

CLINTON: It's just that I know that parents who get sick have terrible consequences for their children. So you can insure the children, and then you've got the breadwinner who can't afford health insurance or doesn't have it for him or herself.

OBAMA: It is just not accurate to say that Senator Clinton does more to control costs than mine. That is not the case. There are many experts who have concluded that she does not.

I do provide a mandate for children, because No. 1, we have created a number of programs in which we can have greater assurance that those children will be covered at an affordable price.

On the point of many adults, we don't want to put in a situation, in which on the front end, we are mandating them, we are forcing them to purchase insurance, and if the subsidies are inadequate, the burden is on them and they will be penalized. And that is what Senator Clinton's plan does.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Candy, quite the start to -- to what was probably one of the most intense, sort of quietly contentious debates that we've seen.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it really was. And for the most part, it was about issues. Health care has long been where the Clinton campaign thought they had an ace in the hole. You heard there the argument. And you heard there the argument. And her argument is, "I mandate health insurance for everyone. His plan is going to leave out people, because he doesn't have that mandate."

It's a debate that has been going on for, really, since they put out their health-care plans last year. I don't think this moved it forward much on that particular -- on their competing plans.

But it certainly shows you the intensity of two campaigns that, by and large, Anderson, agree about 90 percent of policy. But this has always been a bone of contention.

COOPER: Paul Begala, Clinton also made an issue of feeling like the press has not treated both candidates equally. I want to play some of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Well, can I just point out that, in the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time. And I don't mind. I -- you know, I'll be happy to field them. But I do find it curious. And anybody saw "Saturday Night Live," you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow.

I just find it kind of curious that I keep getting the first question on all of these issues. But I'm happy to answer it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Paul, how did that come across to you?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I don't like politicians whining about the press. And yet, she's right, simply as a matter of objective truth. Watch the debate.

My e-mail was going off -- not a one from the Clinton campaign, by the way -- but from friends, colleagues, competitors in other news media outlets who were struck that the tough question on health care, the tough question on Iraq, and even the gotcha question -- what's the name of the obscure opera chick (ph) who Vladimir Putin has put up to be his puppet replacement? OK, that's like -- that's Final Jeopardy. Really a hard question. Nobody knows that. She even knew that one.

And really, frankly, that's a question you logically would give to Barack, who many voters, and Hillary alleges, is not ready to lead on national security.

COOPER: So you think it is, what, is too favorable toward Barack Obama?

BEGALA: I don't -- I think they're going to be plenty tough on Barack. I don't think the media is anti-Clinton; I know the media is anti-Clinton, Anderson. Let's just tell the truth here. I mean, there's a horrible deep bias against Hillary in the press. But that's life. There was a bias against her husband, and he carried 37 states.

COOPER: Jamal Simmons, do you agree with that? You're a supporter of Barack Obama. Do you think they're too easy on Obama?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, I don't think they're too easy on Obama. I mean, he sat there and had to take five or six minutes of questions about Louis Farrakhan.

He spent the last couple of days looking at pictures of himself, you know, on a diplomatic mission doing what everybody else does, but suddenly it's a problem.

It's interesting, Senator Clinton said that she didn't mind being asked the questions first, but clearly, she minded it, or else she wouldn't have brought it up. I think that's the thing that kind of shone through throughout the evening is that she just seemed to be a little testy throughout the whole evening.

She had ground to make up so she needed to come after Senator Obama. I think she tried to do that. But it was a little -- sometimes the body language conveyed more than the words.

COOPER: John King, do you think this was a game changer of a debate in any way?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On policy matters, no, Anderson. I think that these two both keep saying they like each other, are honored to be with each other, they'll do the right thing if the other one is the nominee and be good and loyal Democrats.

I think it was strikingly clear, especially during the cutaway pictures when one was answering a question and they showed the other one, these two are tired of each other. They don't think much of each other at the moment. They're frustrated in the campaign.

I think Senator Clinton very well understands the stakes. And she tried to make her points on health care, on the economy, that she is the one who will fight for more of those lower income, lunch bucket Democrats, if you will. I think it's crystal clear from her expressions and from her comments that she quite understands the stakes and she quite understands the math at the moment. It is not in her favor.

COOPER: We're going to bring you some of the other excerpts from the debate, trying to give you lengthy chunks whenever possible. We'll have more from our panel also.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: One of the things that has happened over the past 36 hours, a photo went out on the Web site the Drudge Report showing Senator Obama in the native garb of a nation he was visiting, as you have done, in a host country on a trip overseas.

Matt Drudge on his Web site said it came from a source inside the Clinton campaign. Can you say unequivocally here tonight it did not?

CLINTON: Well, so far as I know, it did not. And I certainly know nothing about it and have made clear that that's not the kind of behavior that I condone or expect from the people working in my campaign. But we have no evidence where it came from.

WILLIAMS: Senator Obama, your response?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I take Senator Clinton at her word that she knew nothing about the photo. So I think that's something that we can set aside.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama earlier tonight. Back with our panel, Candy Crowley, John King, Paul Begala and Jamal Simmons.

John, yesterday Senator Clinton warned voters not to take a chance with a candidate who lacks experience. Obviously, she was talking about her opinion of Senator Obama. Senator Obama was asked about that critique of him. I want to play his response and then the senator's -- Senator Clinton's response after that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Senator Clinton, I think, equates experience with longevity in Washington. I don't think the American people do, and I don't think that, if you look at the judgments that we've made over the last several years, that that's the accurate measure.

On the most important foreign policy decision that we faced in a generation, whether or not to go into Iraq, I was very clear as to why we should not.

CLINTON: Every time the question about qualifications and credentials for commander in chief are raised, Senator Obama rightly points to the speech he gave in 2002. He's to be commended for having given the speech. Many people gave speeches against the war then. And the fair comparison is he didn't have responsibility; he didn't have to vote.

By 2004, he was saying that he basically agreed with the way George Bush was conducting the war. And when he came to the Senate, he and I have voted exactly the same.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: John, why hasn't the experience issue gained more traction?

KING: In part because, on the one fundamental foreign policy issue that matters most to the Democratic primary base, voters on the left, it is the war in Iraq, and Hillary Clinton voted the wrong way, according to the base of her own party. Now, she's tried to recover from that vote. She said in the debate tonight she'd like to have it back. She has said that since she realized that, in her view, George Bush mismanaged the war. She's tried to do everything to get the troops home.

But if you ask a liberal Democratic primary voter what is the fundamental test for the next commander in chief, they would say ending the war in Iraq. And on that issue Senator Obama was right, and Senator Clinton was wrong, if you will.

So in the general election, trust me, the McCain campaign will go at Barack Obama's experience, Hillary Clinton's experience as well, but more Obama's, if he is the Democratic nominee. But in the Democratic primary election, which is the game field right now, he was right on the war, and she was wrong.

COOPER: Paul, did Clinton, in your opinion, perform well enough? I mean, you're a supporter of hers -- perform well enough to change the trajectory of the race at this point? Was it a game changer?

BEGALA: You know, I didn't see any dramatic moments. Barack stumbled just briefly, momentarily, when he was pressed about whether he would renounce or denounce or reject the support of Minister Louis Farrakhan, who really is a hate-monger and who stands for everything that Barack is opposed to. Right? Barack's whole message, his whole life, has been about unity and reconciliation and bringing people together. Farrakhan is one of the most divisive people on the American scene.

And yet, momentarily, Barack stumbled. Hillary pounced. But you could see, she was literally schooling him. He watched. He listened to her, and he thought, "You know you're right." He said that out loud. He said, "OK. You're right. I reject it. I denounce it, whatever it takes."

So no, I didn't see anything that fundamentally alters the game here. But I've got to tell you, as a Democrat -- and certainly I'm a Democrat -- as a Democrat, it makes you real proud to see these two talents up there. It's a very substantive debate, despite the occasional efforts by Brian Williams and others to sidetrack it under who took pictures of somebody in African garb, the candidates actually want to talk about issues. I thought that was pretty good.

COOPER: I want to play some of that exchange on Louis Farrakhan for our viewers who don't know what we're talking about. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I have been very clear in my denunciation of Minister Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments. I think they are unacceptable and reprehensible. I did not solicit this support.

He expressed pride in an African-American, who seems to be bringing the country together. I obviously can't censor him, but it is not support that I sought. And we're not doing anything, I assure you, formally or informally, with Minister Farrakhan.

TIM RUSSERT, HOST, NBC'S "MEET THE PRESS": Do you reject his support?

OBAMA: Well, Tim, I can't say to somebody that he can't say that he thinks I'm a good guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Candy, how significant an exchange -- obviously, the exchange was longer. This happened already once we were on the air, so I haven't seen the full exchange. How significant an exchange was this?

CROWLEY: Well, it certainly was one of the things that the Clinton campaign and others have been pushing saying, listen, check into this relationship. Farrakhan supports him. That obviously would be repugnant to a lot of people in the U.S., particularly the Jewish community.

But I think, as Paul said, he came back. He seemed to sort of stumble there and not kind of reject the support. Hillary Clinton recalled a sort of similar circumstance that she had when someone whose ideas were repugnant to her endorsed her Senate campaign, and she rejected it.

I slightly disagree with Paul, because Obama then came back and said, "OK, I renounce it. I reject it. Whatever you're comfortable with." I think it made her look picky at that point.

I think probably Paul is right in the overview, that he looked at it and thought, "I've got to go a little bit further," but I thought the general effect was that Obama kind of made her look like she was parsing her words.

COOPER: We'll have more moments from the debate coming up. A quick break and then we'll be right back with our panel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: More now on tonight's Democratic debate. Back with our panel: Candy Crowley, John King, Paul Begala, Jamal Simmons.

Jamal, it sounded like right before we took a break, you wanted to get in the comments about Louis Farrakhan.

SIMMONS: Yes. You know, it's like some -- this is some sort of bizarre rite of passage for African-American politicians on the public stage. It seems as if every time Louis Farrakhan says something and there's a prominent African-American on the stage, they have to renounce Louis Farrakhan.

You know, we saw a few years ago, where Trent Lott came out in support of Strom Thurmond, who was a pro-segregationist, and said if he had been president, America wouldn't have the same problems. I'm sure Trent Lott supports John McCain, but nobody's asked John McCain if he renounces Trent Lott's support. And he's an elected official. He's not just the leader of a sect or cult in Chicago.

So it's a little disturbing that every time Louis Farrakhan speaks up, the African-American on the stage has to be -- has to stand up and denounce him.

COOPER: Paul, Senator Clinton was asked if she would release her tax returns so the American people could see how she was paying for her campaign. I want to play some of what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Well, the American people who support me are bank- rolling my campaign. That's -- that's obvious. You can look and see the hundreds of thousands of contributions that I've gotten. And ever since I lent my campaign money, people have responded just so generously. I'm thrilled at so many people getting involved.

And we're raising, on average, about $1 million a day on the Internet. And if anybody's out there, wants to contribute to be part of this campaign, just go to HillaryClinton.com, because that's who's funding my campaign.

And I will release my tax returns. I have consistently said that.

RUSSERT: Why not -- why not now?

CLINTON: Well, I will do it, as others have done it, upon becoming the nominee, or even earlier, Tim. Because I have been as open as I can be. You have -- the public has 20 years of records from me. And I have very extensive filings with the Senate where...

RUSSERT: So before -- before next Tuesday's primary?

CLINTON: Well, I can't get it together by then, but I will certainly work to get it together. I'm a little busy right now. I hardly have time to sleep.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Paul, how do you think she handled this question?

BEGALA: I think with grace, with humor. You know, the Bible says a soft word turneth away wrath. And I think she handled it quite well.

Look, my mom is sitting in McKinney, Texas, trying to decide who to vote for on this primary on Tuesday, is not sitting wondering who's releasing their tax returns. She's going to base it on the war, on health care, on Medicare, on the economy, on things that actually matter.

And if you notice again, those are the issues the candidates we're trying to talk about. This is a meta issue, an issue about how you're running your campaign. It's valid. I think whoever the nominee is for either party should release their tax returns. More importantly, also their medical reports, which for John McCain, who's had cancer twice, is going to be very, very important. McCain released his tax -- his medical records in 1999 when he ran the last time. Has not released them this time. I think that could be an even bigger issue than Hillary's tax returns.

COOPER: Jamal, as an Obama supporter, is this a big issue or is this a meta issue?

SIMMONS: Well, the issue that it gets to is that Senator Clinton has said several times that she's the most vetted candidate in the race, we know all of her skeletons, we know all the things that have happened on the public stage involving her.

But here's something that's clearly out there that we don't know. Barack Obama has released his tax returns. He's sort of opened himself up to this issue. She has not. She says she'll do it in the general election. Does that mean that the general election voters are entitled to know but Democrats aren't entitled to know before they make their decision?

So it's not a huge issue, but it does go to this issue of vetting.

COOPER: We'll let voters decide. Jamal Simmons, Paul Begala, Candy Crowley, John King, thank you all for your analysis. I appreciate it.

Up next, the warm-up act that left John McCain cold today. What a local booster said and what the senator did about it. 360 tonight, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Good evening. Tonight ugly words from a talk show pit bull about Barack Obama at a John McCain event, calling him a hack, using his middle name as a slander.

Senator McCain apologizes, but is this a sign of what the campaign will look like once the nominees become clear? We'll look at that tonight.

Also Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, she is slipping further in the polls, trying out a new strategy.

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