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Hillary Clinton Fights For Political Life; Republican Unease Over Turnout?

Aired February 28, 2008 - 20:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks for joining us here in the ELECTION CENTER.
If there is a day that could define this dramatic matchup between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, that day is Tuesday, when Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont all hold their primaries. Every move both candidates make in the next four days is critical. Every stop, every speech, every campaign ad gives us some indication of how this all will end.

Plenty of action today, and the best political team on television saw it all, including these stories.

Hillary Clinton fights for her political life. Can she hang on past Tuesday?

Meanwhile, President Bush is entering the fray, taking a swipe at her opponent. Is that exactly what Barack Obama wants?

And can John McCain win without the conservative talk radio crowd? They are out for blood and tonight we have got a return engagement with the man who is leading the pack, Bill Cunningham.


BILL CUNNINGHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: If McCain wins, we are going to have a ruined Republican conservative party for the next 20 years.


ROBERTS: More with Bill Cunningham coming up later.

First, though, all eyes are on Texas. All the candidates are there. And, along with President Bush, everyone, it seems, is ganging up on Barack Obama. Our Jessica Yellin joins us now live from Beaumont.

And Obama, for his part, is responding to this by looking well past Hillary Clinton and taking on both President Bush and John McCain directly. What's up?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What's up, John, is that Barack Obama got a gift from the White House. He is under attack now not just from Hillary Clinton. He's under attack from John McCain, as he has been for more than a week now. Also, all of a sudden President Bush is getting in on the act. He's piling on today in a press conference, accusing Barack Obama of being naive in offering to talk to foreign leaders he considers tyrants. Let's listen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It can send chilling signals and messages to our allies. It can send confusion about our foreign policy.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Obama said, well, we shouldn't have gone in, in the first place. Well, that's history. That's the past.


YELLIN: Now, all of this is basically music to Barack Obama's ears, because what he really tries to do at this point is to both focus on Tuesday and focus on winning here in Texas and Ohio by making himself the presumptive nominee in a sense, by making it seem like the momentum is so intense, that he's the inevitable nominee, and everyone would just be wise to jump on board right now.

He's hitting back against these attacks, but, when he does it, he says to reporters, Look, I'm not turning this into the general election. I'm just responding to the president and John McCain. But this couldn't be more perfect for Barack Obama -- John.

ROBERTS: The big issue in this election, whether you're in Texas, whether you're in Ohio, California, or so many other states, it comes down to the economy. And when we look at the polls, Hillary Clinton still polls higher than Barack Obama on that issue. What is he doing to try to make inroads on that?

YELLIN: Well, first of all, Senator Clinton has traditionally, as you say, had this lock with blue-collar voters. And we saw that start to erode in Wisconsin, where Barack Obama actually started to win on health care and the economy.

But he still has a ways to go to get those voters here in Ohio and Texas. And what he's doing is picking up a page from what we were just talking about, attacking President Bush on the economy, drawing a strong contrast to a man who is enormously unpopular with the Democrats. Here's what he said on that.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For the president to say that he doesn't think we're in a recession is consistent with his general attitude towards ordinary workers.


YELLIN: So, the message there is President Bush is out of touch with the middle class. Where is he? Barack Obama insists he still knows what it is to be a normal guy, an outside of Washington person in touch with the voters.

And that is the message he wants to deliver day in and day out until March 4, until he has a final matchup with Hillary Clinton and clinches this nomination, if he's going to -- John.

ROBERTS: Jessica, this idea of campaigning like he's already the nominee, is there a potential danger in that? He has still got at least two very big contests to get through against Hillary Clinton.

YELLIN: Absolutely. The danger is that he comes off as overly confident or cocky if you will and that turns off voters. So far that's a you have to line to walk. But he's managed to do this in a way where people sense momentum on the ground because you see his poll numbers ticking up, and there's no better way to woo a Democrat at this point than to knock President Bush.

So, that's certainly not a problem for him. The problem is acting too confident. And we will see if anybody registers that. We will see on March 4.

ROBERTS: Jessica Yellin for us tonight in noisy Beaumont, Texas, trains and automobiles. There's got to be a plane out there somewhere.

Well, joining me in the ELECTION CENTER tonight, Mort Zuckerman. He is the publisher of "The New York Daily News." His newspaper endorsed Senators Clinton and McCain, but he has not independently endorsed anyone, nor has he contributed to any campaign. He's also the editor in chief of "U.S. News & World Report" magazine.

Also here with us tonight, "New York Post" associate editorial page editor Robert Gates. "The Post" has -- the editorial page, at least, has endorsed McCain and Obama in the primaries. He voted for McCain this month, but says he has not donated financial to any of the campaigns and has not decided who to support in the general election. And Joe Conason is also with us. He's a columnist for and "The New York Observer." He hasn't endorsed anyone, nor has he contributed to any presidential campaign.

After that introduction, we're lucky if we have any time left for discussion, gentlemen.


ROBERTS: So, Obama, as we just talked about with Jessica Yellin, taking on both President Bush and John McCain one-on-one and really not even paying much attention to Hillary Clinton, Mort, what's the strategy here? Is it an attempt to make her look irrelevant by saying, hey, look, these two people, the president of the United States, the presumptive Republican nominee, are coming after me; I am the guy who is going to carry the Democratic flag here?


I think the president and McCain in a sense play into his hand because it enables him to really speak to the national concerns that he is raising in his campaign, particularly about the war in Iraq and national security and in the process he makes Hillary look irrelevant. It's a win-win for him as far as I'm concerned in terms of the way he's being given this opportunity by the Republicans.

ROBERT GEORGE, ASSOCIATE EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, "THE NEW YORK POST": There should be some kind of thing in campaign fund-raising to cover an in-kind contribution, because that's exactly what President Bush and John McCain have given to Barack Obama, because they are in a sense looking at him as the de facto nominee.

So, McCain criticizes Obama and the president criticizes him. You saw on that shot we had in the setup piece there, that looked like Barack Obama was on Air Force One with all the reporters around him.


ROBERTS: And then he responds on his presumptive Air Force One. And here's what he said today. Take a listen.


OBAMA: It's just that John McCain seems to be talking about me a lot. And obviously I want to make very clear to voters in the Democratic primary that I am very confident about being able to make the case as to why John McCain is looking backwards, and we need to take this country forwards.


ROBERTS: So, Joe, he's saying there, hey, I'm only responding to what's coming my way and it's coming my way from some very high- profile people. How does Hillary Clinton counter that?


JOE CONASON, COLUMNIST/POLITICAL EDITOR, "THE NEW YORK OBSERVER": Well, I think she has to try to get back in the mix. But they have had their last primary debate. And I think that there's not that much she can do if the Republicans are concentrating fire on Obama.

They are rehearsing the attacks that they expect to have to mount against him in the general election.

ROBERTS: How does she put up her hand and say, me, too, me, too, I'm still here?

CONASON: Well, she's out campaigning. She's doing the work on the ground. Obama is on TV. We will see who gets more from that. She's in Texas today trying to stir up her support.

ROBERTS: She's still 10 points ahead in Ohio in the latest polls, though he's narrowing the gap, doubling his support in the last month.

Texas, very, very tight. And it could all come down to Hispanic voters, who have traditionally backed Hillary Clinton. But Ruben Navarrette Jr., writing in "The Washington Post," said that -- about Hispanic support for Hillary Clinton, that it may not be wide, but it is not very deep, that with the Clintons, it's mostly about name recognition.

But if you look at Bill Clinton's record, Mort, he really didn't, according to Ruben Navarrette Jr., do a whole lot to advance Hispanics in public life.

ZUCKERMAN: Well, I'm not sure that's the case. He didn't do that much, but I think he paid attention. And they have been cultivating this community for a long time. And I think she's had very good connections into that community for a long time.

And if you want to know how she's going respond to Barack Obama, she better carry this community, because otherwise her campaign is over and done with.

GEORGE: The other thing to keep in mind is,too, in California, Hillary Clinton just completely annihilated Barack Obama with Latino voters. I think it was 3-1.

Even if Obama doesn't win them, even if he comes -- cuts that down to 2-1 or it's like maybe a 55-45 split for Hillary Clinton, he's gaining so much on other parts of her base, that he could considerably win Texas even if she does win a majority of the Latino vote.


ROBERTS: Go ahead.

CONASON: He showed a great -- his campaign has shown a great capacity to actually organize on the ground as opposed to hers which has been caught flat-footed in other states.

So, if he could move the Latinos and others who are willing to vote for him in Texas, she may be able to -- not be able to get people out that she needs to get out.

ROBERTS: Roland Martin made the point a week or so ago to say that Hispanics in California, Hispanics in Texas are different people.

CONASON: Oh, all over the country, New York, everywhere. She's accustomed to representing Dominicans, Puerto Ricans in New York State. In Texas, obviously, it's mostly Mexicans. And in California, it's Mexicans and others. And it's a different community.


ZUCKERMAN: That's where NAFTA comes in. NAFTA is very important to that community. And by and large she's being closer in her support of NAFTA than has Barack Obama. So I think that's something that she can use to cultivate that community very, very significantly.

ROBERTS: Robert, what about this idea this seems to be the week of attacking Barack Obama on a very different level? We had Bill Cunningham doing it at that McCain event on Tuesday. And we're going to hear a little bit more from him in just a couple of minutes. And then today, it was this Hispanic supporter of Hillary Clinton, today, yesterday or today, this Hispanic supporter of Hillary Clinton said this.


ADELFA CALLEJO, HISPANIC ACTIVIST: Obama simply has the problem that happens to be black.


ROBERTS: So, Hillary Clinton had to come out and apologize.



ROBERTS: But Hillary Clinton came out and apologized for that two days after John McCain had to apologize.

With all of this apologizing going on to Barack Obama over what they perceive as unfair and inappropriate attacks, does that almost inoculate him on a greater level to any kind of attack? Will people be able to differentiate to say that's a legitimate attack and that one's not or does it all kind of start to get lumped in together?

GEORGE: I think what John McCain did that was very smart this week, he immediately denounced or rejected -- I forget what the adverb is -- what the verb is now.

ZUCKERMAN: Disavowed.

GEORGE: Disavowed the comments from Bill Cunningham and said this is completely and totally inappropriate.

And then the next day, he went after what Obama said in the debate, but focused specifically on the comments there. So -- and he was mocking -- it was very clear he was mocking Obama. He said, oh, it's al Qaeda in Iraq.


ROBERTS: And he came back very smoothly and said there was no such thing until we invaded Iraq.

GEORGE: But the point is that the best way I think for McCain to do this is mock Obama for his words, his ideas, policies, and so forth, but don't get into any insinuation of trying to call him Muslim...


GEORGE: ... or something like that.

CONASON: You can expect McCain to want to take the high road and to want to appear to be taking the high road. And this is true in every presidential campaign. The nastiest stuff is going to come from somewhere else. Other groups, so-called independent groups will do all the things and worse that Bill Cunningham hinted at today.

ROBERTS: Of course it's blowing up in John McCain's face in terms of how he sits with conservatives again.

Mort Zuckerman, Robert Gates, Joe Conason, good to see you all. Thanks for coming in tonight.


ROBERTS: Money is the lifeblood of any campaign. And by that measure, Hillary Clinton's campaign appears to be alive and well. She raised $35 million this month alone. That's up from nearly $14 million in January.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When people found out that we didn't have the resources to compete, and I did put my own money in, it just set off a chain reaction across the country of hundreds of thousands of people, saying, wait a minute. We want this campaign to go on. We support her. We believe in her. And I'm going to show that by contributing.


ROBERTS: A good haul by any estimation. Barack Obama's campaign has not yet disclosed how much money he raised in February. They will likely do that tomorrow. With this being a leap year, they have got another day.

And for now they are only saying that he raised substantially more than Hillary Clinton. Well, right now, Senator Clinton is in vitally important must-win state of Texas, where she is hoping to capitalize on Barack Obama's past difficulty in attracting Latino votes.

Suzanne Malveaux joins us now from Houston.

She has got the money to compete, Suzanne. Does she have the message?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, she certainly hopes that, with the money, that she is going to be able to deliver that message. That's really important when you think about those dollars, we're talking about 300,000 donors. They say 200,000 new ones mostly from the Internet, but what's most important is that it is almost all of it for the primary. And she is going to need that money, John, for Texas and Ohio for those advertising dollars.

Clearly, she's still behind Barack Obama, their campaign. But this is really kind of an injection in the arm there. This is something that her campaign desperately needs here to be competitive in the days ahead -- John. ROBERTS: Suzanne, as we were talking about just a couple of minutes ago, her fortunes in Texas could well ride on how she does among Hispanic voters. Four days out, who are Hispanic voters supporting and what are they saying about it?

MALVEAUX: This is so important for Senator Clinton and Barack Obama.

They are looking at these two groups, the Hispanic community and the African-American vote. If you look back, in 2004, Hispanic voters, about 37 percent of the Democratic voters for the primary, African-American about 20 percent. Now, polls are showing that these numbers are getting closer together. This is very competitive. A lot of people looking to Hispanic going to Senator Clinton, African- Americans to Barack Obama.

But what makes this so significant is that they are trying to get inroads -- make inroads in these two different groups. And that is why a Hispanic activist today, 84-year-old woman out of Dallas, made such a huff here out of some comments, saying essentially that Barack Obama had a handicap here. And that was because of his race. Take a listen.


CALLEJO: When the blacks had the numbers, they never did anything to support us. They always talked -- used our numbers to fulfill their goals and their objectives. But they never really supported us, and there's a lot of hurt feelings about that. And I don't think we are going to get over it any time soon.


MALVEAUX: And, John, Senator Clinton, she was asked in an interview whether or not she rejected. She denounced those comments.

Her campaign did put out a statement saying that they did reject and denounce these type of views. But this only really kind of underscores what is happening here. And that is there is a real fear that Barack Obama will somehow make inroads in the Hispanic community. There's also this fear of insensitivity, of racial divisions that are happening in this state.

Both of them have to look at these communities, and are competing fiercely over every single vote -- John.

ROBERTS: Let me come back to that woman for a second here, Suzanne, and Hillary denouncing and rejecting or apologizing, however you want to put it, for what she said.

What kind of effect might that have there in Texas and on the candidate? Because you don't want to have to apologize for people. You don't want to get booed at debates. And yet there's a lot of this going on these days.

MALVEAUX: And it certainly depends on who you ask here, because I asked several people about this. Is this true? Is there this big tension between the Hispanic community and the black community?

A lot of people believe that this is being overplayed, that it's being exaggerated here, that perhaps she does not represent the majority of folks here, that they don't believe that that's actually the case. They point to Ron Kirk, the former Dallas mayor, who had huge Hispanic support when he was running for the U.S. Senate back in 2002.

They say that there is this back and forth here. But this is very sensitive for both of these candidates. So, they have to be aware, very much aware, of how this is going to come across to voters and nip it in the bud if they feel they're being offensive.

ROBERTS: Well, for the moment, she still appears to have a substantial lead among Hispanic voters. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll we will just put here on the screen conducted February 22 to 24, among Texas Latinos, she's got 66 percent support, Obama 34 percent.

Suzanne Malveaux at a Hillary Clinton rally in Beaumont, Texas, for us tonight -- Suzanne, thanks very much.

John McCain and Barack Obama are not waiting for November. They're punching and counterpunching hard and fast. You're about to see more of that.

Republican voters are staying home in droves. Where has the excitement gone for them? More important, will it come back?

And conservative talk radio is on the warpath. You won't want to miss Bill Cunningham's dire prediction about the harm that a McCain win would do to the Republican Party.

Right now, take a look at where they stand on stimulating the economy.


ROBERTS: Senator John McCain now is in Texas, but instead of focusing his fire on his opponent, Mike Huckabee, he's turning his attention toward his Democratic -- potential Democratic rival, Barack Obama, and what Barack Obama is saying on the campaign trail.

Our Hillary -- our -- Hillary Clinton -- I'm sorry -- our Dana Bash is in Houston tonight. She's following the McCain campaign.

McCain knows that he has got to win on Iraq. And he kept on pressing that point today, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He absolutely did. It's the second day in a row, John, that John McCain went at it with Barack Obama long distance on the issue of Iraq.

He knows -- just like you said, he knows that for better or worse, Iraq and what happens there and how he does in terms of convincing the American people that things are going better there, that that will determine how he does in the election.

So, what he's trying to do is really take this time, this transition time, to test-drive his message against the Democrats. More and more, it's pretty clear that he thinks his Democratic rival will be Barack Obama. So, here is what he said about him today on Iraq.


MCCAIN: In fact, we're succeeding in Iraq, something that both he and Senator Clinton refuse to acknowledge. We're succeeding militarily and we're succeeding politically.

So, yesterday, Senator Obama said, well, we shouldn't have gone in, in the first place and if we hadn't gone in, in the first place, we wouldn't be facing this problem. Well, that's history. That's the past. That's talking about what happened before. What we should be talking about is what we're going to do now.


BASH: Now, what's really interesting about the argument that you just heard John McCain make, John, is that he understands that the debate that's gone on during the Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has been whether or not Obama has the experience.

And Obama has shot back, saying, well, I do have the judgment. What you are hearing from John McCain in that particular sound bite is him trying to get at Obama's judgment, saying, you know what? Whether or not it was the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do, what you want to do now, Barack Obama, in Iraq, which is pull troops out, is the wrong thing to do.

So, this is the kind of thing that you are hearing John McCain try to figure out whether or not it's going to fly with voters, those key independent, middle of the road voters that he and Obama, if Obama is his opponent, which is a big if, that they are going to be fighting, vying for.

ROBERTS: So, he's taking on Barack Obama. At the same time, he's under fire from all of these conservative talk radio hosts after his repudiation of Bill Cunningham earlier this week.

Bill Cunningham is now referring to him. He says, I'm done with John McCain, even refers to him as John "Liberal" McCain. And, on that point, John McCain had an interesting almost slip of the tongue today.

BASH: He had a big slip of the tongue. You know how it goes when you are covering the candidates. You watch them. They give these speeches over and over again. Sometimes, they misspeak.

You have covered George W. Bush. You know how that goes.

(LAUGHTER) BASH: In all fairness, John McCain doesn't do it that often, but he did it today. And he did it on a very unfortunate word. Listen.


MCCAIN: I am a proud conservative, liberal Republican -- conservative Republican.


MCCAIN: Hello. Easy there.


MCCAIN: Let me say this. I'm a proud conservative Republican. And both of my possible or likely opponents today are liberal Democrats.


BASH: Now, that obviously was a slip of the tongue that John McCain caught right after he said it.

But, you know, John, just like you said, conservative radio talk show hosts, they are looking for every opportunity they can to call him a liberal. You can already hear this. They are going to be playing this over and over again on their radio shows tomorrow, John McCain calling himself a liberal, by accident, but he did it.

ROBERTS: Well, you know, they're so sleep-deprived and they have been on the campaign trail for so long, you have got to give them one once in a while.

BASH: Exactly.

ROBERTS: And I called you Hillary Clinton just a second ago.


ROBERTS: Dana Bash in Houston, Texas, for us tonight.

BASH: Touche.

ROBERTS: Dana, thanks very much.

BASH: Thank you.

ROBERTS: You're blonde, but that's where the resemblance ends.

Democratic voters are breaking all kinds of turnout records, but is something wrong in Republican land? What could it bode for November?

And where's the love for John McCain on conservative talk radio?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROBERTS: Well, just four days to go now before the primaries that could effectively settle the presidential nominations, and Republicans are looking at a worrisome trend.

Democrats across the country have been coming out to vote in huge numbers, in fact, millions more than on the Republican side. And that could spell serious trouble for the GOP come November.

But, first, there's the critical state of Ohio, which goes to the polls on Tuesday.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is there, looking at what voter turnout so far in this primary season could predict for Republican hopes.


JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Ohio presidential primary is Tuesday, but turnout is already smashing records, unprecedented early and absentee voting here in Cincinnati and across the state.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I voted for Obama.

KING: More than 40,000 ballots requested in southwest Ohio's Hamilton County alone. Four times the number in the past two presidential campaigns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are some signs for you.

KING: It's in part because of aggressive organizing by the Democrat who knows that a come from behind victory could mean everything.


KING: By the numbers, Republicans have a serious case of turnout trouble. Excluding caucuses, more than 22 million Democrats have cast ballots in primaries held today compared to just 14 million Republican votes. And Ohio looks to be no exception in a primary season punctuated by remarkable Democratic intensity and some signs of a shrinking or changing Republican base.

ERIC RADEMACHER, UNIV. OF CINCINNATI SURVEY CENTER: More people are telling us that they're going to be voting in the Democratic primary, for example. And when we look at our polls over time, we're seeing a little bit of a dip in the number of people who are identifying themselves with the Republican Party.

KING: Rally crowds don't always equal success on Election Day, but here there are discrepancies, too.

Six hundred or so is a good crowd for this McCain Cincinnati rally. But a day earlier for Obama, the lines stretched across a university campus and in the end, 13,000 jammed into a basketball arena.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really like it, people involved and get them knocking on doors.

KING: And in a big Democratic fund-raising advantage so far, some Republicans are at least a little nervous.

WHIT AYRES, GOP POLLSTER: Every coalition and every party undergoes some transitions over time. I think the Republican Party is undergoing a transition.

KING: But despite so many early signs of trouble, Republicans do see an upside. Here in Ohio and nationally, Senator McCain ones statistically even or better in early general election polling.

AYRES: John McCain could very well be the next president of the United States based upon current polling. So that suggests that whatever transition the Republicans are going through, it may very well end up being a successful transition.


KING: Now, Republicans say their best answer to that Democratic edge in intensity is superior organizing and voter targeting. And that effort is already underway here using a sophisticated Republican Party database. Regular church goers, for example, will be reminded repeatedly between now and November of Senator McCain's opposition to abortion. And the Republican Party is also taking the voting roles and matching them up against things like applications for gun licenses, hoping that in the end, independents and conservative Democrats can be swayed to support Senator McCain -- John.

ROBERTS: John King for us tonight in Cincinnati. John, thanks very much.

CNN is the place to be for complete coverage of the key primaries next Tuesday. Election night coverage with the best political team on television starts at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday.

Conservative talk radio still up in arms about John McCain. Bill Cunningham, the guy that McCain repudiated two nights ago, joins me again tonight and isn't in a forgiving mood.


ROBERTS: It seems that the Republican faithful are divided on whether or not to use Barack Obama's middle name, Hussein. Today, the Republican National Committee issued a press release criticizing members of the Tennessee Republican Party who earlier in the week used Obama's middle name in a statement. The RNC today said, "The RNC rejects these kinds of campaign tactics. We believe this election needs to be about the critical issues confronting our nation."

This issue came to a head on Tuesday at a McCain rally in Cincinnati when guest speaker and Cincinnati radio talk show host Bill Cunningham went on the attack. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CUNNINGHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: At some point in the near future, the media is going to peel the bark off Barack Hussein Obama. That day we'll come, then you'll know the truth about his business dealings with 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.


ROBERTS: As you recall, McCain quickly renounced Cunningham's comments, apologizing three separate times in a space of three minutes. And later that night, right here on this program, Cunningham accused McCain of throwing him under the bus. He said he got thrown under the straight talk express. Well, tonight, there is no letup in the talk radio backlash against McCain. Just listen to what Bill Cunningham told me a little while ago.


ROBERTS: Recently the party from the top right down to the candidate are saying you can't do this. It's not the right thing to do. What do you say?

BILL CUNNINGHAM, CONSERVATIVE RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: John, there's a disconnect between the RNC and the soldiers in the field. The RNC should let Tennessee be Tennessee, and what this is going to do is drive a deeper wedge between conservatives on one hand and the country club Republicans on the other. And I know Huckabee likes to picture himself as a Wal-Mart Republican as I do also, but this hype and political correctness is not good for the campaign. It's not good for McCain, and it's not good for Obama.

ROBERTS: Karl Rove warned the GOP back in January not to demagogue Barack Obama's name, saying that "the safest way to refer to him was to call him Senator Obama."

CUNNINGHAM: I think Karl may have lost his touch a little bit because there's a great disconnect at least among Ohio Republicans between what McCain did to me and to conservatives, and how he saddles up next to Obama and Hillary. In Ohio, we're a battle ground state. We're used to bare knuckle politics. And the way McCain is going at this reminds us of Bob Dole and Gerry Ford. Losers.

ROBERTS: So is conservative talk radio going to war with John McCain now?


ROBERTS: What are you hearing from your fellow conservative talk show hosts?

CUNNINGHAM: I had a guy today, Peter Bronson who writes for "The Enquirer" in Cincinnati say this is a Sister Souljah moment for John McCain. You might recall Sister Souljah in 1992 said, blacks should quit killing each other and kill whites for a week. And Clinton went after Sister Souljah. And according to Peter Bronson, which I certainly believe, McCain was waiting for that moment to launch on conservative talk show hosts to tell us you didn't help me get here. I don't need you now and to heck with you. And so, this was the Souljah moment for McCain and if he wants to battle, he's come to the right place.

ROBERTS: You're certainly continuing to talk about this on the radio. Let's hear what you had to say about it today.


VOICE OF BILL CUNNINGHAM: John McCain is acting as if he's got a curry favor with the radical lefties for his own political legitimacy. He would rather have conservatives mad at him than "The New York Times."


ROBERTS: What are your listeners saying about John McCain when they come on your show?

CUNNINGHAM: We did a flash poll today, and 75 percent said I'm right and he's wrong, and may God help John Sydney McCain III in the state of Ohio because he's going to have big trouble.

ROBERTS: When you met John McCain, you told us on Tuesday when you came on the program, contrary to what he had said that you had met twice.


ROBERTS: Was it at fundraisers? Does the campaign suggest it might have been? Was it just a quick hello? Would he have reason to recall meeting you?

CUNNINGHAM: There was a dinner at a private club that Senator Mike DeWine called me at home and said...


CUNNINGHAM: ... come meet the senator. And I said, Mike, which Senator? He said John McCain. I said, look, OK. And I met him there and I met him at a fund-raiser about three months later. He's been on my talk show three or four times.

But I don't blame McCain. He's getting a little old. He's got a little bit of Alzheimer's going. He may not remember events, so I don't blame McCain. John McCain is not a liar. He's simply wrong politically. John McCain has a good heart. He needs some work upstairs.

ROBERTS: But do you want him to lose this year? I mean, the way you're talking about it?


CUNNINGHAM: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely.

ROBERTS: He sees that he's the Republican nominee. Why do you want him to lose?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I'm an American not a Republican. But I would say this, John. In '76, if Ford had beaten Carter, Ronald Reagan politically would not have existed. America, because of the "American Idol" effect and the "Jerry Springer" effect, and the "Dancing With the Stars" effect, a lot of those Obama maniacs think there's like an election of vote going on, and you have to hit six digits on your cell phone. To them, it's like some election with "American Idol" or something of that stuff.

So what I'm saying is this. If this year McCain loses and Obama gets it, he's going to make Jimmy Carter look like a great president. So in four years, a Ronald Reagan will rise from the heartland and take back America. On the other hand, if McCain wins, we're going to have a ruined Republican conservative party for the next 20 years. So I'd rather have short-term pain for long-term gain, and that means McCain must go down. The country will go right downhill, and after that Ronald Reagan will come out of the heartland and save America like the Gifford (ph) did in 1980.

ROBERTS: Bill Cunningham, thanks for being with us tonight. Good to see you.


ROBERTS: So as Bill Cunningham suggests, our conservative radio hosts are ready and eager to do battle with John McCain. And could they undermine his already shaky support from conservative voters?

Joining us now are two conservative radio talkers. The first, broadcasting live from his radio show at the Reagan Center. He is former President Reagan's eldest son, Michael Reagan. And from Portland, Oregon, syndicated radio host, Lars Larson.

Gentlemen, thanks very much for being with us. Lars Larson, you listened to the entire interview that I had with Bill Cunningham. Michael Reagan, you only heard a little part of it. So let me ask you first, Lars, is conservative talk radio -- is conservative talk radio at war with John McCain?

LARS LARSON, CONSERVATIVE RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: To a certain extent, yes, because John McCain has left behind the principles of the Republican Party and conservatism. He actually -- he actually slipped today and told us the truth. He said that he is a liberal Republican, and he is exactly that. And to a certain extent, we're at war with him because he doesn't represent the principles of real conservatives in this country.

ROBERTS: I'm not leaping to his defense, but they are so tired out there on the campaign trail that a slip of the tongue every once in a while is something to be expected. Michael Reagan, do you agree with Lars? Is conservative talk radio at war with John McCain?

MICHAEL REAGAN, SON OF FMR. PRESIDENT REAGAN: Well, I think there are some conservative talk radio hosts like Bill Cunningham and Lars that are at war with John McCain. But, you know, they also espouse Ronald Reagan and talk about the mantle of Ronald Reagan. Well, if you want to really check out the mantle of Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan always supported the nominee of the party. If John McCain is the nominee of the party, Ronald Reagan would in fact support him for the presidency of the United States of America. And so, if you're going to espouse Ronald Reagan, then go all the way. Don't try to rebuild him in your own image and likeness.

ROBERTS: Michael, you know -- Michael, you also wrote that John McCain acted like Ronald Reagan and that is showing respect for his rivals. Lars, what do you say about that?

LARSON: Oh, I got to tell you something. God bless Ronald Reagan. And Michael, I have great respect for your father but I think you're dead wrong on this. Because I don't think if David Duke had been the, you know, the nominee of the Republican Party that we would just blindly accept whatever the party does. John McCain has acknowledged the very substance and issues.


REAGAN: Lars, to put -- to put -- to put John McCain -- to put John McCain in the same sentence with David Duke is --

LARSON: No, I'm just saying that there is a point -- there is a point --

REAGAN: That's what's wrong with conservatives today.

LARSON: No, no. Here's what's --

REAGAN: You people are taking the party into the gutter.

LARSON: It's not you people.

REAGAN: That's where you're going.

LARSON: No, what I'm saying is there's a point where a Republican nominee...

REAGAN: David Duke.

LARSON: ... can be wrong on so many issues, on embryonic research, on taxes, on closing Gitmo and the detention center, on not torturing terrorists to find out information to save American lives.


LARSON: When you're wrong on enough issues, you got to be rejected by some conservatives and say, I won't just blindly follow my party over a cliff.

REAGAN: So conservatives walk away, conservatives walk away give me what? Jimmy Carter for four years?

LARSON: Yes, that's what we get.

REAGAN: Who gave you Abu Dhabi, who gave you the mullahs in Iran, who took Aramco away and gave you OPEC. So that's what we do. That's the way we're going to solve the problem. We're going to walk away from the party to prove our point and allow the Democrats to run it for four years and maybe kill all of us?

ROBERTS: Well, that's exactly what Bill Cunningham was suggesting in saying it would be good for the party.


ROBERTS: It will be a shot in the arm for them. Let me just change gears here a little bit.


ROBERTS: Cunningham is a very popular figure among a group of people that John McCain needs to win over if he wants to win Ohio, which he needs to win if he wants to become president. So, Lars, what's the overall effect of what happened this week on John McCain there in Ohio?

LARSON: The overall effect is to communicate that there are so many people unhappy with John McCain as the apparent nominee of the GOP. That a lot of us are simply going to stay home. When people ask me, I'd say, I don't have any choice. John McCain is wrong on so many issues that I can't see following my party. I'm still a member of the Republican Party, but I'm not going to simply follow blindly.

REAGAN: John --

Then John didn't come up with a better candidate to beat him. That's what you need to do.


LARSON: We have a better candidate.

REAGAN: Then if you can't have a better candidate to beat -- no, you didn't.

LARSON: We did and we end up --

REAGAN: If you had a better candidate to beat him, they would be the nominee of the party.

LARSON: We've had -- no, we've had two or three better candidates. We've had John --

REAGAN: No, no, no, you haven't because they didn't win.

LARSON: We've had (INAUDIBLE). Here's what happened, though --


REAGAN: Excuse me, they didn't win. Lars, they didn't win.

LARSON: John -- John -- John --

Hey, John, I got to tell you something. The reason John McCain has done so well is the mainstream media which tilts hard to the left loves John McCain, and they love him for one reason.


REAGAN: But it's conservatism voters that are voting. -- ROBERTS: All right. Let me interject again here, Lars. You said that the mainstream media loves John McCain.


ROBERTS: Well, the main street media last week took a real shot at him in that "New York Times" story to which conservative radio hosts came to John McCain's defense. So they loved him last week on that issue.


LARSON: No, on that issue. No.

ROBERTS: On that issue -- on that issue --

LARSON: We don't love him on that -- we don't love him. We love him. We say if you attack somebody unfairly, we will come to that person's defense. And if you think about the strategy, "The New York Times" and others said John McCain is the right Republican candidate. Once he becomes the apparent nominee, they then do everything they can to cut him to pieces so that the Democrat can win. It's a great strategy by the liberal media.


ROBERTS: But now, he's being cut to pieces by conservative talk radio.

REAGAN: You know, if I can jump in for a moment -- if I can jump in for a moment -- you know, we have been sitting -- we have been sitting here blaming "The New York Times" and the media forever. Ronald Reagan won against the very same media that we're talking about that was certainly not in Ronald Reagan's court. They were against him all of his political life. He was able to, in fact, win because we came together. We supported Ronald Reagan.

The fact is we didn't have another candidate who could beat John McCain, and so, therefore, you have to do what we have to do.

LARSON: John --

REAGAN: We have to support that person who comes out of the process and wins the nomination of the party. (CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: One more quick word -- one more quick word, Lars, then we got to go.

REAGAN: And when you talk about the media, the media is not voting. It was the Republicans voting in primaries not "The New York Times."

LARSON: Michael, the reason people voted for your father was that he was a real conservative. He came to amnesty, you know, unhappily. This guy loves amnesty.


LARSON: This is one of the reasons that a real conservative can't stand John McCain.

ROBERTS: All right.

LARSON: But they loved your dad.

ROBERTS: Gentlemen, we got to go. Mike --

REAGAN: You know why? I talked to Ronald Reagan, you didn't. Ronald Reagan would support John McCain.

ROBERTS: Gentlemen, thanks very much.

LARSON: I don't think so.

ROBERTS: We are out of time. Michael Reagan, Lars Larson, thanks for being with us. Spirited discussion tonight.

Well, we witnessed another one of those inevitable campaign moments on video. Guess who was trying out dance moves on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show"? That's coming up next.


ROBERTS: Look who is showing off his moves on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" again. Senator Barack Obama told Ellen today that his dancing stint on her show last fall was the turnaround point in his political fortunes.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We were kind of in a slump until I was dancing on the show. My poll numbers skyrocketed after that. Everybody saw me bust a move on Ellen. That's all it took.


ROBERTS: Sounds like a musical. Larry King is coming up in just a few minutes time. Larry, can you dance like Barack? He was very smooth, very smooth.

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": He -- he's pretty good. I don't think I'm in that league. We are on the roll tonight, though as you said in "LARRY KING LIVE."

Janet Jackson is here tonight, John. We'll ask. We're going to talk to her about her brand new album, her love life, why she's looking so great these days and more. It's at the top of the hour. Just minutes away, John. You wait with bated breath.

ROBERTS: I certainly do. Larry, thanks very much. We'll see you at 9:00. It's coming up in just about eight and a half minutes' time.

So you heard about those tax rebate checks that you're supposed to get as part of the economic stimulus plan? But when will you get yours? We've got an update for you coming up next.


ROBERTS: A commemorative quarter causes controversy. Ralph Nader picks a running mate. And are you wondering where those economic stimulus rebate checks are? Tom Foreman has it all in tonight's edition of "Raw Politics."

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: April is coming on fast, and the IRS wants you to check your mailbox.


FOREMAN (voice-over): About 130 million Americans will soon get letters reminding them to file taxes so they can get those economic stimulus rebates. The president, meanwhile, says he will not talk about a second stimulus plan until we see if this one works.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think we're headed into a recession, but no question we're in a slowdown.

FOREMAN: Is big brother getting bigger? The administration and Congress are talking about much more monitoring of federal computer networks to prevent a cyber attack which they fear could bring the government to a standstill. After all, that's their job.

A quiz. Who has an even smaller chance of becoming president than Ralph Nader? Answer? Matt Gonzalez, the guy Nader has picked for his vice president.

And the U.S. Mint says the District of Columbia's commemorative quarter cannot bear the phrase that D.C. leaders want because it's too controversial. The phrase, taxation without representation.


FOREMAN: D.C. officials are unhappy about the rejection but frankly, nobody cares. That's "Raw Politics." ROBERTS: As only our Tom foreman can tell it. Tom, thanks very much.

Your primetime exclusive coming up at the top of hour. Janet Jackson joins Larry King for a rare live sit-down interview. Stay with us.


ROBERTS: For the "Most News and the Most Politics in the Morning," join Kiran Chetry and me for CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING" beginning at 6:00 a.m. Eastern. Tomorrow, our Ed Lavandera reports from the critical state of Texas, where he tries to make heads or tails out of that state's complicated but important election process. Some states have a primary. Some have a caucus. Texas has got both on the same day.

We're one hour closer to next Tuesday's super showdown. You won't want to miss a minute of CNN's coverage as the best political team on television follows the voting all day long. Election night coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, Tuesday, right here in the ELECTION CENTER.

That's all for tonight. Thanks very much for joining us. I'm John Roberts. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.