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Political Fight Over Iraq War; Motorcade in Honor of Senior Corporal Victor Lozada Tirado; Iraq's Notorious 'Chemical Ali' set to Die by Hanging

Aired February 29, 2008 - 09:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: CNN NEWSROOM with Heidi Collins starts right now.
HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Heidi Collins. Nice to see you everybody. Watch events come into the NEWSROOM live on Friday, February 29.

Here's what's on the rundown for leap day. Possibly decisive primaries in Ohio and Texas, Tuesday for Democrats, will Clinton or Obama cash in on record February fund-raising? Extra political coverage on this extra day of the year.

A pencil point sized amount can kill you. What's ricin doing in a hotel room? We're tracking this Vegas vice.

And the media blows the prince's secret deployment in Afghanistan. Now Harry heads home; in the NEWSROOM.

Rallying voters raising millions for the presidential candidates heading into the final weekend of campaigning before a key primary on Tuesday. CNN will be here to cover it all for you.

For Hillary Clinton, this could be crucial Tuesday. She's counting on Texas and Ohio for a comeback. Clinton has already seen a record fund-raising rebound. Her campaign says she raised $35 million in February. But she is still playing catch-up to Barack Obama. Some estimates put his February fund-raising at more than $50 million. Both Obama and Clinton are campaigning in Texas today.

So is Republican nominee to be John McCain. He holds a town hall meeting next hour. We'll have extensive live coverage of all the rallies and the race throughout the morning. The best political team on television is in position to bring you all the latest developments ahead of Tuesday's primaries. Voters will be casting ballots in Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont. There are 370 delegates at stake now for the Democrats and 256 delegates for the Republicans.

John McCain drawing the line against Democrats and trying to rally Republican conservatives. He's hoping a Texas-size endorsement will help. Details now from Dana Bash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An endorsement from a veteran of Ronald Reagan's White House. John McCain's latest attempt to convince skeptical conservatives he's one of them.

JAMES BAKER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: John McCain knows that sometimes it's better to take 80 percent of what you want rather than go over the cliff with your flag flying.

BASH: James Baker labeled McCain a principled pragmatist, but the candidate's political pragmatism was on display. McCain knows the debate with Democrats over Iraq will be his biggest challenge and he keeps looking for a head start.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The decision to unilaterally withdraw from Iraq and set a date for withdrawal will lead to chaos.

BASH: Both at this Texas stop and earlier at the Baker Institute of Foreign Policy, McCain kept his long distance verbal volley with Barack Obama going.

MCCAIN: Yesterday Senator Obama said, well, we shouldn't have gone in the first place, and if we hadn't gone 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: For McCain, that means stay the course.

MCCAIN: Continue this strategy, which is succeeding in Iraq, and we are carrying out the surge, the Iraqi military are taking over more and more responsibilities.

BASH: The likely GOP nominee also jumped into the Democrat's slugfest over NAFTA. They're fighting over who's really against the agreement. McCain called himself a free trader very much for it, another convenient dividing line.

MCCAIN: I believe in free trade, and I think that that may be one of the many differences between myself and whoever the nominee of the Democratic Party is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Dana Bash is live now from Round Rock, Texas where McCain is campaigning coming up next hour.

Dana, why is John McCain going after Barack Obama so hard on his position in Iraq?

BASH: It's interesting, Heidi, the McCain campaign they say that they're trying to use the time, the never, neverland time that they have here to test drive their messages, particularly on the issue that John McCain knows for better or worse is going to define his candidacy and is going to determine whether or not he is successful. That, of course, is the war in Iraq.

When you look at what he has been saying about Barack Obama, you know, going at the issue of Obama said, well, John McCain and George W. Bush shouldn't ask gotten into the war. McCain responded yesterday by saying, well, it's not about that. That's yesterday's news. The question is what are we going to do about it? Because it is what it is. We are there. We are in Iraq. How are we going to handle it.

So it's almost as if they have been watching what Hillary Clinton has been doing and lessons learned from Hillary Clinton in her campaign against Barack Obama, the whole issue of experience versus judgment. Barack Obama has to make the case, I may not have the experience but I have the judgment. And what John McCain has been trying to do on the issue of Iraq over the past couple of days is say you don't have the judgment. You were wrong about the idea of the surge working, and that is kind of the message that John McCain is going to make more and more, if, in fact, Barack Obama is his opponent, and you can just tell by the way John McCain is speaking. It's very clear that McCain and advisers do think Barack Obama is going to be selected as Democratic opponent.

COLLINS: We shall see. It's not over yet. That's for sure. Dana Bash reporting for us from Texas. Thanks so much, Dana.

Barack Obama battling his Democratic rival and the likely Republican nominee. Jessica Yellin is covering the Obama campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: While he's courting voters near the president's Texas ranch, a chorus of detractors is fighting to keep him out of the white house, the presumptive Republican nominee on Iraq.

MCCAIN: Senator Obama said well, we shouldn't have gone in the first place. Well, that's history. That's the past.

YELLIN: The other Democratic contender on his record in the senate.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My opponent said he never held a substantive meeting because he was off running for president. So I don't think he should be touting that as experience.

YELLIN: And the current white house occupant on his offer to meet with tyrants?

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES: We can send chilling signals and messages to our allies. We can send confusion about our foreign policy.

YELLIN: So far Barack Obama is playing it cool.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll give Bush credit. I have enormous respect for Senator Clinton. I revere John McCain's service to this country. He's a genuine American hero.

YELLIN: He's distancing himself from the fight.

OBAMA: It's just that John McCain seems to be talking about me a lot.

YELLIN: And he hits back only on the issues ho wants to highlight.

OBAMA: For the president to say he doesn't think we're in a recession is consistent with his general attitude towards ordinary workers.

YELLIN: No doubt, there will be more incoming fire with Republican opposition already calling him a hypocrite on special interests, challenging his position on public financing, reminding reporters of an IRS investigation into his church.

To reporters, Senator Obama insists he's focused squarely on beating Senator Clinton in Texas and Ohio on Tuesday but the stump making fewer and fewer pointed attacks on Senator Clinton and more and more against John McCain. It certainly sounds as though Barack Obama is positioning himself as though he already won the Democratic nomination. Jessica Yellin, CNN, Beaumont, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Presidential candidate seeks partners. Who's on the short list of running mates? CNN's Joe Johns has suggestions.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Once the primaries are over, it's the single most important decision for the nominees, who to put on the ticket.

MCCAIN: It would be someone who is prepared to take my place, follows my philosophies, beliefs, principles and priorities.

JOHNS: Washington insiders suggest that governor from outside the beltway to balance McCain's senate experience, South Carolina's Mark Sanford, Minnesota's Tim Polenti, Florida's Charlie Crist. The common advice to McCain is to pick a conservative to mend fences with the base, but former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein says that's a double edged sword.

KEN DUBERSTEIN, FMR. W.H. CHIEF OF STAFF: You're walking a very narrow line with somebody who's acceptable to a broad range of the American people and someone genuflected with the so-called Republican base.

JOHNS: The other advice to McCain, pick someone young, because as he himself says --

MCCAIN: As you may have noticed I'm not the youngest candidate in the race.

JOHNS: Duberstein's caution.

DUBERSTEIN: John McCain has to stay healthy, vigorous and everything on the campaign trail, he'll make all of us much younger look and very tired compared to the stamina John McCain has.

JOHNS: On the Democratic side, here's some advice Barack Obama might not like. Take a page from the George Bush playbook.

BILL CARRICK, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: When he picked Dick Cheney he was looking for somebody experienced, somebody with gray hair, somebody with a Washington inside knowledge, and I think if Senator Obama can do that, it would probably enhance his candidacy a great deal.

JOHNS: Someone like former senator and foreign policy expert Sam Nunn of Georgia. Or a military type, like retired marine general and Iraq war critic Anthony Zinni. Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas gets mentioned for her red state appeal, as does first-term Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. And if Hillary Clinton wins -- some advice she may not much like either. Go for Obama's votes, young, upscale African America.

CARRICK: She needs somebody to be an ambassador to those kind of voters, and, of course, obvious person that comes to mind is senator Obama himself.

JOHNS: But there are others. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Indiana's Evan Bayh.

The short lists aren't worth much now but this advice is -- make sure your pick is qualified to be president and is not someone who will drag you down.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: The nation's bad economy. It makes for good fodder on the president's campaign trail. What would the candidates do to fix it? A closer look at their plans in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Welcome back, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. the presidential candidates making lots of promises about heath care but one state already has a working plan. Dr. Sanjay Gupta will tell us all about it coming up in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Health care for everyone. It's one of the hot button issues driving the presidential race. Massachusetts already has a plan up and running. Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been looking into it.

Why haven't more states adopted health care for everybody?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think a lot of states are thinking about it. A few states have tried. What's interesting though, look at Massachusetts in general, Heidi. This was a bipartisan agreement, then Governor Romney, the senator coming together. You had a lot of people uninsured, percentage of the state's population. And a lot of those people could actually afford to buy health care insurance. I think those are the three ingredients that really made it work and sustained to some extent in Massachusetts.

Now it has worked in terms of numbers of uninsured who now become insured. Take a look at the numbers, 300,000 for people now have health care insurance. There's probably anywhere between 100 and 350,000 who still don't have health insurance but the estimates are hard to do. Sometimes you have to look at census data that is old. Costs will continue to rise by about $400 million in 2009.

To be fair, they did anticipate there would be a cost increase. Because people actually are going to get health care insurance even if they can't afford it. So subsidies, providing for those people, that's going to cost money.

There is this idea of mandates. This idea if you can afford to buy health care insurance you have to buy it. That's at the core of the Massachusetts plan. If you don't, you'll be fined more than $1,000 a year. So that is sort of how they give incentivize more people to actually get it.

COLLINS: I know you love to talk policy. A lot of discussion throughout this election, we'll hear more about how you do this. How you make a universal health care system. Some say you can't. You have to do it state by state. I mean, there are those who argue that. How do you really make it all work?

GUPTA: I've heard arguments on the same issue, the exact opposite way. People will look at Massachusetts, they'll look at California, where this got voted down, and say, look, that's why we can't do this at a state-by-state level. That's why it has to be on a federal level.

People who argue against the federal level say, look, Massachusetts worked. You have more people insured than ever before in terms of actually signing people up for this program. That's why it has to be done at the state level.

So you're hearing the exact opposite. There are about nine states now, Heidi, thinking about some sort of universal health care insurance, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa. Some of them say just for children specifically. Some say for adults and children. Some say mandates, some say no mandates. There's all sorts of different iterations of this. But a lot of people talking about, everyone should be covered in some way.

COLLINS: So not to put you on the spot or anything but do you think it will happen?

GUPTA: Well you know if you look at history, you have election season, then the president, then you have congress and then you have -- there's a lot of steps before now and then. I mean, after the campaign is over, someone gets elected, they have to put the bill forward, they have to get it through the congress, through the senate. It's going to be a lot of work I think. 94 was the last time that you had some sort of universal health care plan proposed and it went down in defeat.

COLLINS: Well, appreciate that very much. We'll keep an eye on it. Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks.

Developing this hour, it was a closely guarded secret; Britain's Prince Harry on the front lines in Afghanistan. But now the cat is out of the bag and Harry is heading home.

Phil Black is outside Buckingham Palace live this morning.

Phil, what's the reaction there? Are people there very upset about this?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly it would seem that Harry actually going through that extra effort, getting to Afghanistan, serving alongside the other troops that has had widespread support here.

The British military went to considerable lengths to set up an elaborate plot, if you like, to maintain the secrecy surrounding his deployment. They recruited a wide network of British media, foreign ones as well, CNN as well, to keep this a secret, to sign on and agree not to report the fact that he was in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban there. But that secret has leaked out through the wider global media, and the British ministry of defense has now made the decision that it is simply too dangerous both to the prince and to the soldiers he's serving with to keep him there.

This will be bitterly disappointing to Harry. He has made, in a way, his effort to get there has been extreme and he made no secret of the fact he was enjoying his time here. We can actually hear from him in his own words just what his experience in Afghanistan was like.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRINCE HARRY, BLUES AND ROYALS REGIMENT: I've got the oxygen next to me, if I need, worse case scenario, if I have to drop a bomb to get -- the contact, or on the ground contact, I turn around, look, can I drop? They'll say, yeah, drop. As soon as they hit air, they get aground. So it makes life a little tricky. In air, coming from the -- that gives us a better feedback from way up. Means they can carry on their normal sort of passage of life and we can follow them and I keep my face slightly covered so I don't get recognized putting others in danger. I'm called the bullet magnet.

I haven't had a shower in four days, haven't washed my clothes in a week, and everything seems completely normal. I don't know what I miss at all. We have music, food, drink, and, no, I don't miss -- if that's the question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACK: Harry has a reputation as the party prince. He will now be returning to the night life sooner than he hoped. Heidi?

COLLINS: All right. Phil Black in London for us this morning. Phil, thank you.

Class action. A school system separating boys from girls, a heated debate over same-sex studies.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Well, it's Friday, and that's a good thing in and of itself, but it's also time to recognize someone making their mark. The people who most shaped this week's news, the presidential candidates. This coming week could well shape their race force that matter. On Tuesday, possibly decisive primaries, in the delegate-rich states of Ohio and Texas. We're counting down and beefing up here at CNN. Stay with us for extensive coverage.

And just like presidential elections, leap day comes once every four years. Today we mark it with extra political coverage. Our focus right now on the nation's sluggish economy, and the candidates' plans to fix it. CNN's senior business correspondent Ali Velshi is on the road in San Antonio. Hey there, Ali!

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Heidi. We've been on the road with the CNN Election Express, here in front of the Alamo but driving through Texas over a week now talking to people about the economy.

What I want to do, though, is a lot of the voters have been asking about what the candidates are going to do about certain things. We wanted to look at some of the candidates' positions on just a couple of issues.

The first one is taxes. I look through the major candidates we have left. I'll start with John McCain. He would maintain President Bush's tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 including those for high-income earners, however, would cut the corporate tax rate by 25 percent to help businesses out and he would repeal the AMP, alternative minimum tax, many Americans find themselves falling into and losing deductions as a result of. Interesting point from John McCain, he's a big believer in the Internet, ban new taxes on the Internet and cell phones.

Barack Obama's position on taxes, he would repeal the tax cuts that are taken advantage of by high-income earners. He'd keep them in for low and middle income earners. He'd eliminate the tax for low- income seniors, providing $1,000 tax credit for working families under a certain income and he'd reform the capital gains taxes. You pay lower taxes on capital gains invested.

And Hillary Clinton's tax proposals not all that different. She also would repeal tax cuts for high-income earners. She'd reduce some personal exemptions that are available true taxpayers and some itemized deductions. She'd offer a $1,000 child tax credit.

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have tax plans, by the way, that give a credit to working families under a certain amount of income if they agree to save that money for their retirement. Heidi? COLLINS: Yes. I see some similarities and certainly some differences there on the issue of taxes. What about housing? We've been talking for a long time now about foreclosures, the mortgage crisis. What do the candidates have to say, what are differences and similarities on that?

VELSHI: You know, it's an interesting thing. While taxes are actually probably more important in the long-term to the health of the economy, the things people think about, things we're been talking about, gas prices and housing.

Look at the candidates' positions on housing.

John McCain says he would -- he's really been very look warm on the government proposals, calling them bailouts for homeowners. He would help what he calls legitimate homeowners who are facing foreclosure, but not offer help for speculators. A certain percentage, as high as 20 percent of people in trouble on home loans, you can call them speculators if you want. Some of those are investment properties.

Barack Obama's position on housing, he would offer a credit on interest for struggling homeowners. He would like to see a scoring system created to compare mortgages, so people can sort of judge those offered. He'd like new penalties for lender fraud and he'd want to create a mortgage fund for victims of foreclosure.

Hillary Clinton has been really the clearest and the first out of the gate on her views on housing. She would like a 90-day moratorium on sub prime foreclosures. Right now the government has imposed a 30- day moratorium. So if you're in any stage of foreclosure, the legal proceeding stops. Hillary Clinton wants 90 days. She also wants a five-year rate freeze on adjustable rate mortgages. That one's a lot tougher because rates are set in the market. So government intervention into something that is done in the market is very complicated and meets with a great deal of resistance from the investment community. But she has been very clear on her position on housing.

So more of a distinction between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on housing than on taxes, Heidi.

COLLINS: Absolutely. No question about that. All right. Two of the very main issues people are focusing on. No doubt about that. CNN's Ali Velshi for us in San Antonio, Texas. Ali, we'll check in later. Thank you.

Dueling for delegates. They have a different way of doing things in Texas.

FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON, UNITED STATES: This election system here takes the cake. Texas is the only place in America where you can vote twice in the same election without going to jail.

COLLINS: We'll explain, the Texas two-step.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. 9:30 Eastern Time now on a Friday. Thank goodness, right? Everything is big in Texas including this year's primary turnout. Compare the early voting ahead of Tuesday's primary with the last presidential election year.

"The New York Times" reports 805,000 people have voted in the 15 largest counties as of Wednesday. 169,000 people had voted during the same period in 2004. Carrying the race through the Tuesday vote and the Texas Secretary of State projects project 3.3 million voters this primary. That would easily beat the state's 1988 primary record of more than 2.7 million voters.

Another "Leap Day Extra" now from our extra day of political coverage. Just two different things in Texas. The state has a primary and a caucus. Our Ed Lavandera tries to clear up a little bit of the confusion.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This mangled contraption is Nick Anderson's symbol for the Texas Democratic primary. "The Houston Chronicle" cartoonist is struggling to figure out how it works.

NICK ANDERSON, CARTOONIST: I had a colleague explain it to me. And when he did, I think I was even more confused than I was before he explained it to me.

LAVANDERA: Even the candidates are having fun with it.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was here in Texas that's a little complicated. You got to go vote in the primary and then some of the delegates are awarded based on the caucuses.

LAVANDERA: That's right. Texas has a primary and a caucus.

ANDERSON: And that's just the beginning. It's really kind of a loopy system.

LAVANDERA: One that can make you feel like the Looney Tunes character.

(on camera): Texas has 228 delegates at stake. And they're divided up in two parts. In the first part, 126 are awarded. And that's based on the final tally of votes in each of these 31 state Senate districts. So it's really like 31 different contests you're looking at. So do you feel like that cat, Tom, getting hit in the face with the frying pan yet?

And that brings us to part two, the caucus, which counts for 67 delegates. So after you vote on March 4th, you have to go back to your precincts, if you want to, you don't have to, and you sign in for your candidate. But those results won't be known until June. This unique primary caucus system started in 1976. Democratic Party officials say it's designed to give everyone a stronger voice, albeit a confused voice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, it's kind of Democratic Party.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But the fact that it happened right is confusing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's called a precinct convention.

DARLENE EWING, DALLAS CO. DEMOCRATIC PARTY: We don't think it's ridiculous. But, you know, in Texas, we would like to do things our way.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This election system here takes a cake. Texas is the only place in America where you can vote twice the same election without going to jail.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): And maybe that's where they should send the inventor of this system. This Looney Tunes is over.

PORKY PIG: That's all, folks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: I love when you end stuff with Porky the Pig. Ed Lavandera joining us now live. So Ed, I mean, the deal is this. We aren't going to know anything. I mean, that much more, I should say, about where the delegates are going to go and cast their votes by the time Tuesday is over, are we?

LAVANDERA: Of course, that first portion we talked about, the 128, we'll have a pretty good idea of those by Tuesday night. The other part and it's a long process. Those 67 delegates that come in the caucus portion -- that takes -- there's another meeting at the end of the month and another meeting in June. So we won't know about that until June. And then, of course, there's the 35 super delegates that Texas has and we won't know about them until later on in the summer as well.

COLLINS: The whole concept of the meetings after the meeting is really a good one. All right. Ed Lavandera watching the situation for us in Texas. Thanks so much, Ed.

LAVANDERA: Sure.

COLLINS: One party guy, now a swinger. The white man could be the decider in the Democratic race. Here now is CNN's Brian Todd.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She carries women and Latinos. He's got African-Americans squarely behind him. So who do observers now point to as a crucial swing vote among the Democrats to determine whether we get the first American female or black presidential nominee?

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: The major group that's left over out of all of that is white men.

TODD: Since John Edwards left the Democratic race, polls show white male voters are the largest block to swing evenly between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. With Obama showing momentum now since he easily won over white men in Virginia and Wisconsin. Analysts say neither Clinton nor Obama may be able to capture Texas or Ohio without them. Another reason it's critical for Democratic candidates to win support from white men now?

DAVID PAUL KUHN, THE POLITICO: In the general election to the most critical swing block because they make up the largest share of independents.

TODD: Analysts are split as to whether Democrats have made a real effort to capture the white guy vote in recent elections.

(on camera): Some believe that Democrats have written them off because the ranks of white male voters have been shrinking while the numbers of women, blacks, and Latinos have gone up. And the Democrats feel those groups are more their core voters.

But David Paul Kuhn, author of the book, "The Neglected Voter" says even though white men have voted more Republican in recent presidential elections, the Democrats shouldn't assume the GOP's cornered that market.

KUHN: They have opportunities here whether it's how unpopular to the current president is. Whether it's -- they still on popularity of the war in Iraq. These men care very much about the war in Iraq. They care extremely about change.

TODD: Another factor that may signal that white men may not be pegged to one party, analysts say, in the 2006 mid-term elections, Democratic candidates made big gains among white men and it allowed them to capture the House and Senate. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHETRY: Trying to boost test scores by cutting down on distractions. For one school system that means separating the boys from the girls. Greene County Georgia will switch to single sex classrooms in the fall. The superintendent calls it a big move to improve dreadful academic stats. Take a look now.

Only 67 percent of the county's students graduate, compared to 72 percent across the rest of Georgia. The average S.A.T. score, 1168. A whopping 290 points below the state's average. The system's overall academic record among the worst in the entire state of Georgia. But some say separating boys and girls is not the answer.

So joining us now, the superintendent of the Greene County Schools, Shawn McCollough. Thanks for being with us.

And Latifa Lyles with the National Organization for Women. And thank you for being here as well.

LATIFA LYLES, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN: Thank you.

COLLINS: Superintendent McCullough, I want to begin with you, if I could. Why do you think same-sex classrooms will actually fix the problems with your school system?

SHAWN MCCOLLOUGH, SUPERINTENDENT, GREENE COUNTY SCHOOLS: Well, same-sex classrooms when you look at the research, the research is very clear that when you move the single gender classrooms you're going to have an increase in test scores, an increase in student achievement, and a decrease in those bad things in school like teen pregnancy, dropout rate and poor academic performance.

COLLINS: But why?

MCCOLLOUGH: I'm sorry?

COLLINS: What does the research point to as to why that phenomenon may happen?

MCCOLLOUGH: I think one of the critical things is, boys and girls learn differently. And if you have an opportunity to tailor fit your instruction to the unique ways that boys learn. I mean, they're more active, they're more elaborate. Then you've got an opportunity to really make some gains as far as their student achievements.

Same thing goes with girls. Girls take lecture form more easily. They're far more structured and if we can tailor fit our instructional activities to meet the unique learning needs of our girls, then we think we're going to increase test scores and increase their opportunities way beyond the high school.

COLLINS: Well, Latifa, I'm a little bit surprised and very interested to know that the National Organization for Women objects to same-sex classrooms. Why is that?

LYLES: Well, this isn't really science. As much of it is ideology. The basic premise of this is flawed. Girls are going to be timid and shy in the classroom and boys are going to behave better as a joke. The idea that girls can't speak up in class or can't be taught to is insulting.

COLLINS: So you see a section of weakness, if you will?

LYLES: Well, what they're saying is that girls and boys can't work together. It's ludicrous. I mean, what kind of message are we sending to our children when we say -- you know, we're going to say this behavior is OK and not fix it, but separate you two?

COLLINS: Well, in fact, I want to bring something up to Superintendent McCollough and also from your organization. This is something that Kim Grandy, who is the president of N.O.W., of that she says and we'll put it on the screen, too, for the people at home.

How can you expect a boy who's never been beaten by a girl on an Algebra test to think it's OK for a girl to be his boss? Obviously, talking about later in life. How do you respond to that, Superintendent McCollough?

MCCOLLOUGH: Well, for one, you know, schools are here to educate kids. We're here to talk about reading, and writing, and math. That's what our responsibility, our primary responsibility. The socialization is a secondary component of schools and we feel like we're going to address that. We're going to have the boys and girls cross gender in the elective classes, arts, music, P.E., and you know, we're also going to another step further.

We feel this is a very good approach, a very good opportunity for kids, but were probably going to end up offering some parent choice. So who's going to argue with parents and families when they make the decision on whether they want to be single gender or cross gender?

COLLINS: Exactly. And you took my train of thought, because that's going to be my next question. I'm a parent. I mean, I would like to be asked if this is what is going to take place in the school system that we are involved in. What about that, Latifa? What about if parents say -- absolutely, this is what we want to do with our kids in this district?

LYLES: Well, obviously, we all believe. I think we can all agree that choice is really important. I mean, education, if we go back to what's important is teach. Yes, we want to educate these children. We want to tell them that we are important.

You know, if we spend all the energy talking about single sex or not into smaller classrooms, better trained teachers, more community involvement, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation. Public funding without giving parents a choice is horrible. Telling parents we're going to fix your children's education problem based on their gender is outrageous. And it's worse to say, your choice at all.

COLLINS: I want to show you some graphics here. This is from the 2007 Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. And it's broken down here, the proficiency rates between boys and girls. Look at that now.

As you can see, higher test scores, not a higher price tag for the school system either. You see the single sex class is 86 percent for the boys and 75 percent for girls as far as how they performed.

Can you see why Superintendent McCollough would at least want to try this? Because we've talked for years and years and years about trying to get better teachers, trying to pay them more. Is this not just another creative approach to try to help kids? Latifa?

LYLES: Well, you know, I think one of the things that we can look at across the country, we have seen that one. When the boys and girls were separated, the curriculums are different. We know that. We're not perfect as a society when it comes to sexism. We know that students -- boys and girls together, can learn together. The difference the science shows are minuscule.

There is no scientific research to say that boys learn differently than girls do. And so therefore, you need to separate them. What the science does show is that smaller classrooms, better funded education systems, higher standards, and I think the superintendent is probably going to agree with me on that, is really where we should be focusing our energy.

COLLINS: Yes. Superintendent McCollough, I have to ask you. If your daughter and your son was right there in your school system, would say they well be, is this something that you would see as the best option for your children?

MCCOLLOUGH: Heidi, 100 percent. You know, I don't know much about the N.O.W. But I do know kids and I know schools. I got a high school that's ranked 332 out of 369 in the State of Georgia. Everybody's throwing rocks right now. Where was the outcry two years ago when we had four children take the S.A.T. at the high school? Where was the outcry when we had 23 of our wonderful children take the A.P. Advanced Placement exam and only one student passed?

Our kids are in a state of crisis and our school district has to be reformed if we're going to save them and get them across the finish line.

COLLINS: Well, it's a very good discussion. We could continue it much, much further. Unfortunately, it is TV and we always seem to run out of time. To the both of you, we appreciate it very much. Superintendent Shawn McCollough and Latifa Lyles from the National Organization for Women. Thanks very much.

LYLES: Thank you.

MCCOLLOUGH: Thank you.

COLLINS: The political fight over the Iraq war. Barack Obama taking a new angle in the debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Senators McCain and Obama going at it over Iraq all week. The Democrat now opening a pocketbook front into the attack. Here's Bill Schneider now, part of the Best Political Team on Television.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Iraq issue is back. Obama said in Tuesday's debate...

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And if al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad.

SCHNEIDER: McCain sprang.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Al Qaeda already has a base in Iraq, it's called al Qaeda in Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: Senator Obama.

OBAMA: There was no such thing as al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: Senator McCain.

MCCAIN: 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.

SCHNEIDER: The debate that's beginning to emerge is over which is the greater threat to U.S. security, for the U.S. to stay in Iraq...

OBAMA: But I intend to bring to an end so that we can actually start going after al Qaeda in Afghanistan and in the hills of Pakistan like we should have been doing in the first place.

SCHNEIDER: Or for the U.S. to get out of Iraq.

MCCAIN: If we left Iraq, there's no doubt that al Qaeda would then gain control in Iraq and pose a threat to the United States of America.

SCHNEIDER: In two recent polls, Americans give McCain the edge over Obama on Iraq. Not because most Americans support the war, but because McCain is seen as having stronger national security credentials. But Democrats have a new angle. They're linking the war with the economy.

OBAMA: We are bogged down in a war that John McCain now suggest might go on for another 100 years, spending $12 billion a month that could be invested in the kinds of programs that both Senator Clinton and I are talking about.

SCHNEIDER (on camera): If it turns out to be a race between John McCain and Barack Obama, the Iraq issue will be a stark choice between a staunch supporter of President Bush's troop buildup and a consistent opponent of the war. Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Working the crowd, working the angles. Democrats in the run-up to crucial votes in Texas and Ohio. Democrats winning the turnout contest. Should that trend make the GOP nervous about November?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: We want to take you to the Dallas area now and some pictures that are coming in to us from our affiliate there. At CBS 11 TV. We are looking at a motorcade here, right now, in honor of Senior Corporal Victor Lozada Tirado. He was, if you remember, a very upsetting story. He was helping escort Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to her event. It was a rally being held in Dallas back on February 22nd, to be exact. He was working in that motorcade when there was a terrible accident. He crashed into a concrete barrier and was killed. We are expecting that Hillary Rodham Clinton will attend the funeral tomorrow for him.

And this is what we are watching right now, as all of those fellow officers drive through the streets there. Once again, Hillary Clinton is expected to attend that funeral for this Dallas police officer. Again, the name, Senior Corporal Victor Lozada Tirado as he tried to help her get to her rally in Dallas back on February 22nd. We will continue to watch these pictures for you. A very (INAUDIBLE) moment out of Texas today. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: A day in the life. Senator Clinton and Obama campaigning hard ahead of Tuesday's possibly make or break primaries. Our Candy Crowley now, part of the Best Political Team on Television.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Working river towns along the Ohio, West Virginia border, Hillary Clinton is all business with a plan to cut child poverty in half by 2020, trying to focus voters on the state, opting for small venues to talk big problems.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The issues that get you up in the morning or keep you up late at night worrying about. How are you going to make ends meet? What is going to happen if you can't afford to send that son or daughter to college? What about those mortgage payments?

CROWLEY: Just days before the Texas and Ohio primaries that could end or revitalize her campaign. The last thing Clinton needs is a brushfire. Say a high-profile Latina supporter who tells a Texas TV station that Obama's race hurts him in the Latino community.

ADELFA CALLEJO, HISPANIC ACTIVIST: When the blacks had the numbers, they never did anything to support us. They always talked that used our numbers to fulfill their goals and objectives but they never really supported us. And there's a lot of hurt feelings about that.

CROWLEY: Initially, Clinton declined to condemn the remark, but her campaign said after seeing the comments in full, she denounces and rejects them. Obama, Bill was also quick to douse its own brushfire. A report that an Obama aide told a Canadian government official that Obama doesn't really mean it when he criticizes NAFTA. The trade deal between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The conversation was denied by the campaign and the Canadian official.

Playing to his signature large crowds, Obama has front-runner aura. His sights set on targets beyond the primaries trying to tie John McCain's fortunes to George W. Bush. SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are not standing on the brink of a recession because the force is out of our control. I think that's very important to understand. This was not an inevitable part of the business cycle. It was a failure of leadership in Washington.

CROWLEY: In the battle on another front, the Clinton campaign says it raised $35 million this month, twice the amount she raised in January. Good news in a campaign that needs it.

CLINTON: It was incredibly gratifying to see people really coming forth with their vote of confidence by their contribution to my campaign.

CROWLEY: Obama aides won't talk specifics, but say they raised more than she did. Still, despite all his money, his crowds and that major league buzz, in fact because of them, if Obama loses Texas and Ohio, he will lose hard. He was asked today about the pundits writing political obits on Clinton.

OBAMA: Well, I am not. I am not. Remember New Hampshire.

CROWLEY: If no one else sees it, he seems to. Tuesday, Barack Obama has as much to lose as Hillary Clinton has to gain. Candy Crowley, CNN, Columbus, Ohio.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: A package believed to contain the deadly poison ricin is found inside a Las Vegas motel room. Homeland security and the FBI are now part of the investigation. Officials say, so far, it does not appear to be terrorism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAPT. JOE LOMBARDO, LAS VEGAS POLICE: We are trying to determine the exact person that is residing within that apartment and what access this individual might have at other locations within the valley. At this point, we are comfortable in saying that the ricin threat is contained within that one particular apartment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Seven people including three police officers were exposed to the substance. Decontaminated and then taken to a hospital. Test results from the Centers for Disease Control are expected today. Ricin is extremely deadly. It is made from waste left over from processing castor beans. According to the CDC, an amount no bigger than the head of a pin can kill you.

Execution approved. Iraq's notorious "Chemical Ali" is set to die by hanging. The final go-ahead coming this morning from Iraq's president and two vice-presidents. Ali Hassan al-Majeed is one of Saddam Hussein's cousins and top henchmen. He was convicted for his role in killing at least 100,000 Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s. Many with poisonous gas and chemical weapons. A high-ranking official says the execution should happen within 30 days.

Good morning once again, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. Extra politics on this extra day of the year. Here's what's on the Leap Day rundown.

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