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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Howard Dean; Interview With Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

Aired March 2, 2008 - 12:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11 a.m. in Washington and here in Miami, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."
We'll get to my interview with Senator John Kerry in just a moment, but first a check of major national stories breaking right now. Fredricka Whitfield's standing by at the update desk in Atlanta. Fred?

(NEWS UPDATE)

BLITZER: Tuesday's round of primaries have huge implications for the Democratic presidential race. They could revive Senator Hillary Clinton's fortunes or effectively lock up the presidential nomination for Senator Barack Obama.

Joining us now from Boston is the Massachusetts senator, the former Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. He's strongly supporting Senator Barack Obama. Senator Kerry, welcome back to "Late Edition." Thanks for joining us.

KERRY: Glad to be with you. Good scheduling to be in Miami there, Wolf.

BLITZER: Excellent scheduling. Thanks very much for that. Let's talk a bit about what's going to happen on Tuesday. And I'm going to put up on the screen, Senator, the so-called poll of polls, our average of the major polls of what we see in the two major primaries on Tuesday.

First, in Ohio. Right now, if you average out the major polls up to the minute, Clinton is ahead of Obama, 48 to 43 percent. Nine percent say they remain unsure.

In Texas, the other major primary on Tuesday, Obama is ahead of Clinton 47 to 45 percent. Eight percent say they're unsure. What happens, Senator, if it stays like this, then two of the states, let's say Ohio and Rhode Island go for Clinton, and two of the other states, Vermont and Texas, go for Obama. Does this continue on to Pennsylvania April 22nd?

KERRY: Well, that's obviously a decision that the Clinton campaign would have to make under those circumstances. And none of us are going to, you know, suggest what decision she ought to make. But I think the bottom line is, you have to measure the realities. The reality is that Hillary Clinton has to win a big victory in both Ohio and in Texas. It's not just winning a little bit. In order to close the gap on the pledged delegates, she's got to win a very significant victory.

I think the Obama campaign -- I know the Obama campaign takes nothing for granted here. This is a fight. These are close races.

What the average of those polls tell you is that this is going down to the wire. You have to go out and fight for every vote, and it's going to be that kind of a fight right up until the polls close on Tuesday night.

BLITZER: He's significantly ahead in the so-called pledged delegates. Those are the ones elected in the primaries and caucuses. But she's ahead among the so-called superdelegates. Those are the people like you. You're a superdelegate.

People who are elected party officials, members of Congress, governors, Democrats. There are almost 800 of them. And that could hold the balance. What would be wrong if, let's say he got more pledged delegates, but she got more superdelegates at the convention, and then she went on to capture the nomination?

KERRY: Well, I think it would violate the grass-roots voting that's taking place across the country. And I've said this with respect -- I've said this a number of weeks ago with respect to whoever has more pledged delegates.

I think it's very difficult in a closely fought race for the grass-roots base of the Democratic Party to speak at caucuses and in primaries across the country, and suddenly have insiders and Washington-based politicians come in and say, well, tough on you, we're going to decide what happens.

I think that would be very fractious and difficult for the party. I don't believe it will happen. I think you're already seeing some superdelegates to some degree move. Like John Lewis has switched to Barack Obama. Jay Rockefeller the other day came out for Barack Obama. Not insignificant, incidentally, because he is chairman of the intelligence committee.

BLITZER: So Senator, why even have this superdelegate category? Why not just have pledged delegates and get rid of all those superdelegates if you want to be consistent with your theory that only those who are elected, those who are pledged should have a say in the Democratic presidential nomination?

KERRY: Well, I think that may well by one of the outcomes of this go-around is that people will decide that's a relic of a reform of the past that doesn't work, necessarily. It was put in place as a safeguard after the McGovern election and Dukakis elections of '88. I think it could well be changed. But what's really important to focus on here is not all this game of polls and delegates. It's really a focus on who's going to make the best president and who can beat John McCain.

And what I think is important is that Barack Obama brings both an economic policy that is in stark contrast to John McCain's stated unfamiliarity and discomfort with the economy, and secondly a vision of the world and an ability to build and rebuild America's relationships in the world, which John McCain still doesn't understand, as evidenced by his defense of the Bush policies on Iraq all the way through.

And I think that that's going to be a very interesting contrast.

BLITZER: We're looking at these live pictures of Senator Obama speaking right now in Nelsonville, Ohio, Ohio one of those four states with these critical primaries coming up on Tuesday. Senator Clinton suggesting, as Senator McCain has suggested, other critics of Senator Obama have suggested, he simply doesn't have the experience, the requirements needed to be commander in chief.

Listen to this ad that she is now running in Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Your vote will decide who answers that call, whether it's someone who already knows the world's leaders, knows the military, someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world. It's 3 a.m., and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Here's the question, Senator. What national security issues, what crisis has Senator Obama faced that would justify his being the commander in chief and getting that 3 a.m. phone call?

KERRY: Well, first of all, Wolf, the question applies to both of them. And the person asking the question really is culpable here of a fear tactic. I might add, you know, most of the time I think people are going to hear that phone ringing, and they're going to rush to answer the phone and not see the ad.

But leaving that aside, it strikes me that the ad is really deception and disingenuous. Hillary Clinton has never received a 3 a.m. in the morning telephone call as a senator or as a first lady. And secondly, when asked, when her campaign was asked, well, what crisis has she ever faced in which she's made a difference in foreign policy, they really couldn't answer.

They tried to say, well, she made a speech in China or something like that. The fact is that she had a red phone moment, as Barack Obama said. Her red phone moment was on the war in Iraq, and she chose the Bush course, the wrong course.

She had a red phone moment in Iran. When Senator Dodd, Senator Biden, Senator Obama, myself opposed the policy, she chose the Bush policy on Iran. She had a red phone moment. The fact is that Barack Obama comes to this race with more experience than George Bush, Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton had in foreign policy at the national level. And the fact is that he has proven that it's his judgment that is correct. That's what the American people are voting for, and I believe they will see clearly that's a scare tactic. And in fact, it raises an issue which falls, in my judgment, in Barack Obama's favor.

BLITZER: The president of the United States, George W. Bush, he joined Senator Clinton, Senator McCain in criticizing some of the foreign-policy decisions, some of the foreign-policy statements that Senator Obama has made.

BLITZER: Including his willingness to meet, for example, with Raul Castro, the new leader of Cuba.

Listen to President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I'd just remind people that the decisions of the U.S. president to have discussions with certain international figures can be extremely counterproductive. It can send chilling signals and messages to our allies. It can send confusion about our foreign policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Obama has said he'd be willing to meet with Raul Castro, with Ahmadinejad of Iran, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Are you comfortable with that, Senator Kerry, as someone who's been involved in foreign policy issues for many, many years?

KERRY: Let me tell you precisely what he means by that, as I understand it, and also why I think America should be comfortable with a president who's willing to engage with other countries.

If you follow what George Bush just said, you get the result that we still have, Fidel Castro voluntary turning over power, in Cuba, to his brother, who is following the same hard-line policies.

This policy has been a failure for 47 years. You want to follow failure? You follow the Bush policy.

What Barack Obama is talking about doing is exactly what Richard Nixon did when he sent Henry Kissinger to China to talk to Mao Tse- tung.

Many conservatives, at that time, thought that was absolutely heretical -- how could you do that?

But it wound up breaking down barriers and engaging us with China. The same thing with Russia. Ronald Reagan sat down with Gorbachev, the leader of the "evil empire," as Reagan called it, and he came out of Reykjavik with the agreement that they were going to reduce nuclear weapons. The fact is that diplomacy and security interests are always advanced when you're willing to engage. And I think what Barack Obama means is that he's going to use the powers and tools of the presidency and of executive leadership and of diplomacy that are in the best traditions of our country, in order to strengthen America.

He'll send his secretary of state. He'll send a special envoy. He'll send an ambassador. He'll use a back channel. He'll use all the tools necessary to engage, to set up a meeting that he knows can be productive, between himself and that leader.

He's not going to go out, willy-nilly, for some silly meeting and have a Kennedy and Khrushchev meeting in Vienna. He's smart enough not to do that. But he also knows that the way you protect the United States and strengthen America in the world is to explore the possibilities of peaceful resolution.

As he is quoted, and as I've quote many times, John Kennedy said, "never fear to negotiate." "Never negotiate out of fear, but never fear to negotiate." And we mustn't fear to negotiate.

BLITZER: Senator Kerry, thanks very much for joining us.

KERRY: Great to be with you.

BLITZER: And just ahead: Is another comeback in the cards for Hillary Clinton?

She's campaigning, right now, in Ohio. That's a key state, with a primary coming up on Tuesday. You're looking at a live picture, by the way, from Westerville, where she's appearing right now.

We're going to hear from one of her top supporters, the House Intelligence Committee chairman and the Texas congressman Silvestre Reyes. What does he say about her chances in Texas?

You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting.

You're looking at these live pictures, right now, of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They're campaigning in the very important state of Ohio, right now. Senator Obama is in Nelsonville. Senator Clinton -- she's buried in a crowd in Westerville, Ohio, right now.

We're monitoring both of these events. We'll update you on what they're telling their respective supporters.

I spoke with one of Hillary Clinton's key supporters, the House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes about Tuesday's primary in Texas, and a lot more.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome to "Late Edition."

REYES: Thanks a lot. I'm glad to be here, Wolf. BLITZER: We'll talk about intelligence and what's going on in the war on terror in a few moments. I want to just pick your brain on what's happening Tuesday in your home state of Texas.

I know you're a big Hillary Clinton supporter; you're campaigning there aggressively. The polls show it is neck and neck right now. Here is the question. Can she win Tuesday in Texas?

REYES: Not only can she win; I believe she will win. The polls that we've been seeing don't normally take into account the areas where she's very popular and that's the Latino community and the areas along the border.

BLITZER: Because a lot of indications show that Barack Obama has been gaining dramatically within the Latino community. Do you see that in Texas?

REYES: I have not seen it. In fact, in El Paso, just within the last couple three days. One of the county commissioners flipped from Senator Obama to Senator Clinton.

We've seen, as we've campaigned -- because, as I was telling you, I've been campaigning for her -- that there is a lot interest, there is a lot of people that are motivated. We have seen record numbers of voters come out this primary so I think she is going to win Texas.

BLITZER: So if she wins Texas and she wins Ohio -- the polls show she is slightly ahead in Ohio -- this will go on. That is what you want. You're a superdelegate yourself, as a Democratic member of Congress.

REYES: Yes, I am and I think there is a lot of us looking forward to going to the convention and seeing how this process works.

BLITZER: So you think it could go all the way to the convention?

REYES: Well, I believe there is a real possibility.

BLITZER: Your support for Hillary Clinton is because you like her that much or because you have concerns about Barack Obama?

REYES: No. I support Senator Clinton because I have had an opportunity to work with her. I sit on the Armed Services Committee as well. I've gotten a chance to work closely with her on issues dealing with our military, with benefits for military families. She's also been very helpful and instrumental in helping us with issues that affect the border. Health issues, infrastructure issues.

So I'm supporting Hillary Clinton because I know she knows, understands and cares about the issues that affect border communities like the one I represent.

BLITZER: Let me play a sound bite from a Hispanic activist in Dallas who says she's a Hillary Clinton supporter, a woman by the name of Adelfa Callejo, who made some controversial comments this week. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADELFA CALLEJO, CLINTON SUPPORTER: When the blacks had the numbers, they never did anything to support us. They always 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're going to get over it any time soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, Hillary Clinton quickly disassociated herself from those remarks.

BLITZER: But how much of a rift is there between Hispanics, Latinos in Texas and the black community?

REYES: Well, I don't think there's a rift at all. In fact, we work together on -- I'll give you an example, in the Texas delegation, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Al Green worked very closely with those of us that represent the border communities that are Latino.

BLITZER: So what is this woman talking about?

REYES: You know, I know Adelfa Callejo and from time to time she'll make outrageous statements like that. I would not put any credence, statewide, on anyone feeling like she does and any rift occurring between the black community and the Latino community.

BLITZER: Let's talk about surveillance, the war on terror. President Bush says that what you're doing in the House of Representatives, the Democrats, as opposed to what was done in the Senate, is undermining national security right now, refusing to go ahead and extend the authorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as he wants it.

Listen to what he said this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Some in Congress have said we have nothing to worry about because if we lose the cooperation of the private sector we can use the old FISA law. They're wrong.

FISA was out of date. It did not allow us to track foreign terrorists on foreign soil quickly and effectively. And that is why a dangerous intelligence gap opened up last year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, the Senate passed this legislation. It's not come up for a vote in the House. The leadership won't let it. Although if it does, it's expected to pass, as the president wants.

So why do you think it shouldn't come up for a vote right now?

REYES: Well, first of all, we passed our version, the RESTORE Act back in November. We urged the Senate to pass theirs as quickly as possible so we would have some time to go to conference. They passed theirs at the very week that the Protect America Act was supposed to expire.

BLITZER: On February 16th.

REYES: Right. And their intent, the strategy that the administration -- you can see how disappointed the president is that his strategy didn't work. Their strategy was to jam us, force us because of the impending expiration deadline to do the same thing that we had to do last August. And that is pass the Senate version which is what the president wanted.

BLITZER: But isn't that the most important thing the Congress and the president can do? Protect the nation from terror threats?

REYES: Well, Wolf, the nation is being protected. The president is being a little more than disingenuous when he talks about, commingles the private sector with FISA. He has said repeatedly that the most important thing is to get retrospective immunity.

I have an open mind about that. We're looking -- in fact, we're meeting with representatives from the communications companies.

BLITZER: Because if you want these big phone companies to cooperate in the war on terror and participate in the surveillance, they say they need that kind of protection from lawsuits...

REYES: Sure.

BLITZER: ... from private citizens.

REYES: Right. But one point that I think is important that I want you to understand is that first of all, we didn't get the documents from the administration like the Senate did until three or so weeks ago.

Secondly, we are talking to the representatives from the communications companies because, if we're going to give them blanket immunity, we want to know and we want to understand the communications companies because if we're going to give them blanket immunity, we want to know and we want to understand what it is that we're giving immunity for.

BLITZER: So it sounds like you're open to that ...

REYES: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... now that -- and have you received all the documents yet or are you still waiting?

REYES: No. We've received the documents. We're pretty much finished reviewing them. We're talking to representatives from the various telecommunications companies. Once we complete that -- and by the way, we're proceeding in a regular order manner with a conference to resolve the differences between the Senate version and the House version.

What the president wanted was, he essentially was telling us that hey, I like the Senate version. You're up against the deadline. Past that.

BLITZER: Last week, Admiral Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, was on "Late Edition." And he made this dramatic point. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADMIRAL MIKE MCCONNELL, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: You're less safe today because we lost some of our ability to monitor. We cannot do this activity without the help of the private sector. And when the act expired, there was a portion of the act passed last year that provided prospective reliability protection. It's expired.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He says we're less safe today -- he said specifically, you're less safe today because we lost some of our ability to monitor. Do you agree with him?

REYES: I do not agree with him. First of all, we haven't lost the capabilities that we had under the Protect America Act. Those authorities are good for a year.

Secondly, both the Senate version and the House version have prospective immunity. So in talking to at least some of the representatives from the telecommunications companies, they recognize that. What they're interested in is retrospective immunity, but they know that both the House and the Senate are in favor of giving them that immunity as we go forward.

BLITZER: So it sounds like you're getting close to letting this legislation come up for a vote in the House and to try to work out a deal that acceptable to the Senate and the president. Is that a fair assessment?

REYES: That's a fair assessment. We think we're very close. Probably within the next week, we'll be able to hopefully bring it to a vote.

BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in. Good luck.

REYES: Thank you, Wolf. Thanks for having me. Thanks a lot.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And in just a moment, we'll hear -- get a very different perspective on the campaigns from the number two Republican in the House of Representatives, the minority whip, Roy Blunt. He's standing by live.

But first, we'll check in on what the candidates are up to. We'll get a live report from the campaign trail. Bill Schneider watching what's going on. "Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." Joining us now from Providence, Rhode Island, where voters are enjoying playing a critical role in the Democratic race is CNN's senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. They're getting ready for primaries in Rhode Island, neighboring Vermont, not very far away.

But the real big ones are Texas and Ohio. I know you're crunching all the numbers. You're looking at everything that's going on. Update our viewers on what we know, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Well, first of all, you know, it's amazing how tight this Democratic race is. They're even fighting over 32 delegates here in tiny Rhode Island, where Barack Obama showed up for the first time yesterday to campaign. Hillary Clinton was here last week.

The polls here show Hillary Clinton in the lead. This is supposed to be a solid Clinton state. She's leading, but only in single digits. That's why Barack Obama decided maybe he can challenge her in Rhode Island.

But it's also a tight race in those two big states, the crucial states. Texas, the poll of polls that CNN has put together from the most recent polls, show Obama with a very narrow lead, 47 percent Obama, 45 percent for Clinton. Just two points, easily within the margin of error.

SCHNEIDER: In Ohio, the other big state under contention, Hillary Clinton's lead, five points -- 48 percent, 43 percent -- over Barack Obama. So he's narrowly ahead in Texas; she's narrowly ahead in Ohio -- very close in both states; single digits in Rhode Island. This is really going right down to the wire on this Super Tuesday II primary.

BLITZER: What's the assessment, as we look at these live pictures of Barack Obama -- he's speaking to some supporters in Ohio, right now.

If they split, let's say, each of them gets two states on Tuesday -- Hillary Clinton, let's say, gets Ohio and Rhode Island; Barack Obama gets Vermont and Texas -- as the polls suggest, they're ahead right now.

If it stays like that, will she continue -- what's the bottom- line assessment, given the earlier statement, even from her husband, that she needs to win both Texas and Ohio, given the string of, what, a dozen losses over the past few weeks?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the view is, if she -- well, we'll start with this. If Barack Obama wins Texas and Ohio, then the race is probably over and she will have to concede that she can't go on.

If she wins Texas and Ohio, which could easily happen, then she probably will go on, but it won't be so easy, because she still has to catch up in delegates, and there aren't that many states left that that will be easy for her to do. The split decision that you described -- well, no one really knows what's going to happen. There may be pressure for her to concede, because her husband said she has to win both states, but she may decide that she still has a chance, that she has stopped Barack Obama's momentum that he had going in. He's won the last 11 primaries.

Here's another possibility, just to give you all a big headache. You could have lawsuits in Texas and Ohio. Texas has a very complicated voting system, so that one candidate could win the primary, but then you could have another candidate win the delegates, because there are also caucus results there.

Ohio could have problems with its voting equipment. There are lots of controversies there over the vote count in Ohio, which could be very close. So this whole thing could end with a disputed result. How about that? Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. We'll watch every step of the way. We'll have complete all-night coverage Tuesday night here at CNN. Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Coming up next, John McCain runs into some more trouble with conservatives. Will the Republican Party unite behind its presumptive presidential nominee?

We'll talk about it with the number two Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, the minority whip, Roy Blunt, standing by live, when "Late Edition" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting. Joining us now, with his take on the presidential race and a lot more, is the number two Republican in the House of Representatives, the House minority whip, Roy Blunt of Missouri.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

BLUNT: Wolf, it's good to be with you. I wish you were here in the studio, but it sounds -- looks like you're in a pretty warm spot down there in Miami.

BLITZER: It's warmer here than it is there.

All right. Let's talk a little bit about -- we'll talk about politics in a moment. I want to get your reaction to what we just heard from the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Silvestre Reyes.

He said, at the end of that interview, and you heard him say that he thinks by, within a week, there will be a resolution of this dispute between the White House and the House of Representatives over surveillance, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and work out an arrangement, along the lines of perhaps what the Senate has already done. Are you that optimistic that, within a week, this whole matter of intelligence eavesdropping can be worked out?

BLUNT: You know, I'm not quite that optimistic yet, but I am committed to the idea that we have to work this out. The bipartisan bill, where 69 people in the Senate sent a bill over to the House -- it's clear that there's a bipartisan majority in the House to pass that bill.

At least 21 Democrats have written the speaker and said, bring this bill to the floor. I think there are another 30 -- there are another 10, at least, on that -- involved with that group now.

And, really, the country is not as safe as it was a few weeks ago, because the old law, written in 1978, just simply doesn't work with today's technology. And we'll quickly be back into the same backlog that we were in before we passed the Protect America Act, the first of August. And we've had six months of unfettered intelligence to foreigners in foreign countries.

Remember, no person in the United States can be listened to, when they make a call or send an e-mail, without a warrant. If we knew a known terrorist was in the United States and we knew they were going to be contacting Osama bin Laden, to listen to that call, to look at that e-mail, you'd have to get a warrant.

This is all about foreigners in foreign countries.

BLITZER: Let me interrupt, Congressman. There is a provision that you can go ahead and listen, and then, later, you can come back and get that warrant if there's an emergency and you've got to listen to that conversation. There is the authority to go forward, and only later come back and get the warrant.

BLUNT: You know, the authority is there, but nobody thinks the authority really works in the time frame you need it to work. And even if it did, you would quickly get covered up, just like we were covered up under the old law, by the end of July, where they were 300- plus cases behind. All our analysts were spending their time trying to make the case that we needed warrants on foreigners in foreign countries rather than listening to what was going on.

And the system just is not designed to work. And everybody knows that. Our friends on the other side, at Chairman Reyes just said, are willing to give ongoing liability protection.

Nobody is alleging that anybody did anything knowingly inappropriate in the past. It's easy to solve this problem if the Democrats decide they want to solve it. The Senate proved it was easy and enough Democrats in the House believe it's easy that it's just up to the leaders to do this.

BLITZER: Well, you heard the chairman of the Intelligence Committee say he thinks it can be done within a week. We'll see what happens in this week. I want to show you a picture, Congressman. The president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is now getting the red carpet treatment in Baghdad. He's an official visitor right now. This is the first time we've seen this kind of situation, going back many years during the Iran-Iraq war.

This is pretty unusual, to see President Talabani hugging and kissing the president of Iran.

And here's the question a lot of Americans are going to be asking: Is this why the United States went to war in Iraq? Nearly 4,000 U.S. troops are dead, nearly a trillion spent, or about to be spent, so that there can be this kind of relationship emerging between the leader of Iran and the leaders of Iraq?

BLUNT: Well, things that are happening, Wolf, in Iraq that are leaning towards democracy. That's not the one I like the best, but it is part of the process of a free government doing what they want to do.

I like it better when they have moved forward, now, with some revenue-sharing on the oil.

BLUNT: They're doing things to reverse the process where nobody who had served as a civil servant in the past could be a civil servant under this government. Certainly the local governments are doing better.

BLITZER: But let me interrupt for a moment.

BLUNT: I don't like that, but you can't tell a country that they can't visit with their neighbors if they're going to truly develop their own democracy.

BLITZER: But what does that say about the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the president, Jalal Talabani, when they're so warmly receiving President Ahmadinejad of Iran?

BLUNT: Well, one thing is says is they're certainly not dominated politically by the United States, that we're not in there as occupiers. We're in there to try to solve a problem.

How we get out of Iraq is now much more important than how we got in, and I think we've seen a lot of stability in recent days when we let the generals in the field be the generals rather than the generals in Congress try to decide what was going to happen in Iraq.

BLITZER: Senator Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, he has issued a statement -- in fact, he was on "Late Edition" last Sunday, and he said this. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, R-NEB.: I don't think things are getting better. I think things are getting worse. We're not going to be able to sustain the policies that we have in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even though our military is doing a spectacular job everywhere, we've so overloaded them, we've so overburdened them, they can't do it all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Why do you think he's wrong?

BLUNT: Well, almost everybody thinks he's wrong if that's his analysis right now. Things clearly have gotten better in Iraq, both militarily and a slower pace I'd like to see politically, but politically, things have gotten better, too. And that's what we've got to have happen. We've got to have the Iraqis take responsibility for their own future in Afghanistan. Our efforts there, the efforts of our allies need to be whatever is adequate to do the job. And frankly, our NATO allies have been disappointed in Afghanistan in recent days.

That's why we've had to send in a few more troops in, and we're continuing to work with our allies to get them to do their job in a war that everybody appears to be supportive of, but nobody but us and a couple of other countries seem to want to really be part of.

BLITZER: Congressman Blunt, thanks very much for joining us.

BLUNT: Wolf, nice to be with you.

BLITZER: And coming up on "Late Edition," if the Democratic nomination isn't settled by the end of the primaries, could mean a divided convention and huge headache for the Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean. He's going to be joining us live right at the top of the hour.

Much more coming up right here on "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Remember, every vote will count this Tuesday, as four important states go to the polls. The best political team on television, we're going to be staying up all night to bring you every angle. I'll be at the CNN election center. Tuesday night, our coverage begins 7 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Let's get to some of your e-mails right now. The recent political whirlwind surrounding Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's red phone ads stirring up strong reaction from our viewers. Here's just a sample.

Kelli in Oregon writes, "I am an independent. One the reasons I intend to vote for a Democrat this year is because I'm tired of the scare tactics we've been beating with by the Bush administration. So, does a Clinton administration intend to subject us to four more years of fear, fear, fear?"

Jay from California asked this question: "How can Obama blast Hillary's new ad, calling it fearful in one breath, then go out and make his own ad just like it? He's not mad that it might frighten people. He's mad that he didn't think of it first!"

We always welcome your comments. Our e-mail address is lateedition@cnn.com.

In just a moment, I'll be joined live here by Florida's popular governor, Charlie Crist. He calls himself the people's governor. He's a strong supporter of John McCain. Will he swing this state for the GOP in November? And how serious is this talk that he could be a running mate? "Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: He may not be a typical Republican, but they sure do like him down here in Florida. Florida's governor, Charlie Crist, has an almost 70 percent approval rating.

BLITZER: That's a popularity that certainly could swing the state to the GOP column potentially in November. He also is a strong supporter of John McCain. The governor is here with us in our Miami studios. Thanks very much for coming in.

CRIST: Welcome back to Florida. It's good to have you here.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Democrats first, what, 1.7 million Democrats or so voted in their Democratic primary. But that vote is not going to be counted. Are you as the governor ready to let the Democrats have another primary if necessary to seat those Democrats, those Democratic delegates at the convention in Denver?

CRIST: That'd be fine with me. I think it's very important, though, that those delegates are seated. And I'm hopeful that the national Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee, comes to the conclusion it's the right thing to do. Every vote must count. Every vote should count, and for the Republicans as well. They're not counting half of ours.

BLITZER: The caucuses, the state parties pay for, but a primary, taxpayers would have to pay for it. You, as the governor, you're saying, go ahead and reorganize. Do a redo of the primary so that the Democrats can vote, presumably for either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

CRIST: Well, my preference is, you know, the people of Florida already voted, as you know, Wolf. And I think, you know, their vote should count.

BLITZER: But the candidates couldn't campaign here.

CRIST: No, I know. I know. Well...

BLITZER: It's sort of, you know, a vote without candidates campaigning is not really a fair vote.

CRIST: Well, I'm not so sure. I mean, you know, in a perfect world you'd like to have them campaign, like to have them work hard. We moved up our primary. And I think it was exactly the right thing to do.

BLITZER: Even though the Republicans were stripped of half, and the Democrats were stripped of all their Florida delegates, you still think it was the right thing to do? CRIST: Without a doubt. Yeah.

BLITZER: Why?

CRIST: Because the impact it had. I mean, you know, the people had an opportunity to voice their choice, to make their wishes known. That's important. Because the national committees in Washington decided not to seat delegates, that's their issue. But for Floridians, it was the right thing to do.

BLITZER: It was important on the Republican side, but it doesn't look like it's going to have much impact unless they redo it on the Democratic side.

How worried are you as a strong supporter of John McCain that the economic indicators could hurt him? Because he could inherit a lot of ill will that the Bush administration has received, what, $100 a barrel for oil, inflation now is creeping up significantly, there's fears of a recession, there's job loss, mortgage crisis, all these bad economic indicators are out there that McCain could inherit.

How worried are you that that could hurt him dramatically if it stays as bad as it is right now going into November?

CRIST: I don't think that it will at all. John McCain is the kind of guy who is a leader that people can trust and have confidence in. The other thing that I think is very significant in this election cycle is safety and security.

And there's no better prepared candidate for president than John McCain when it comes to the issue of safety and security. This is a guy who, after all, served 5 1/2 years in a POW camp, fought for our country. He is a true American hero.

He has great strength. That's an issue that's awfully important to the American people. Obviously, it was important to the people in Florida. That's why he won here, and that's why he's winning.

BLITZER: Well, what do you say when Barack Obama points out that he was totally wrong going into the war in Iraq, that he helped create this, quote, "fiasco," by strongly supporting President Bush in going to war against Saddam Hussein when there were no significant weapons of mass destruction capabilities.

CRIST: Well, obviously it's turned out pretty well. Nobody has hit America on our soil since 9/11. The important point...

BLITZER: When you say it's -- the war in Iraq has turned out very well?

CRIST: Well, what's turned out well is the safety and security of the American people.

BLITZER: That would be what happened against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but what's happened in Iraq is, what, almost 4,000 American troops are dead. Nearly $1 trillion, $2 billion a week being spent, and Al Qaeda coming up in Iraq, as opposed to not really having much of a presence there before.

CRIST: Nobody likes war. War is not fun. War is not pleasant. it wasn't intended to be. But we are a safer country because of what's happening. They're on the run, not us.

And it's very important, I think, to have somebody in the White House who understands that for America's safety and America's security, somebody like John McCain gets it. And he understands how important or safety and security are. And, you know, don't you think this president deserves a bit of credit for the fact that nobody has been on our soil since September 11th, 2001?

BLITZER: Who do you fear more as a potential Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, as a strong supporter of John McCain?

CRIST: Neither one. I think that John McCain stands up well against either. You know, he's the kind of guy that is a unique candidate. I mean, he appeals to independents. He appeals to Democrats across the aisle.

This is the guy who will get elected the next president of the United States because he's the right man at the right time for this job, and he has great strength and great faith. I think he's going to be our next president. I sure hope so.

BLITZER: You want to be his running mate?

CRIST: I haven't advertised for that, no. It's not something I aspire to. I'm the governor of Florida, and I'm a blessed man. I couldn't be happier than what I'm doing right now in the Sunshine State.

BLITZER: Because Florida, like Ohio, it's one of those states that could make or break a presidential candidate. Presumably you helped him get the win in Florida when he was running...

CRIST: He helped himself.

BLITZER: But you dramatically helped him as well. And I'm sure he's grateful to you for that support. But if he came to you and said, you know, Governor Crist, I really need your help. I want you to be on the ticket. I think you're most qualified to be president of the United States, God forbid something were to happen to me. What would you say?

CRIST: Well, he hasn't done that, so I haven't had to answer the question, so, I don't feel the...

BLITZER: You're asked that question all the time.

CRIST: I am, Wolf, that's correct. But I don't deal in hypotheticals. I have to deal with the here and the now, and what's happening in Florida.

We have a legislative session that begins this coming week. I'm looking forward to it. We're dealing with issues here like cutting property taxes, making sure that we have good education for our children, keeping our climate clean and our economy strong, and that's what I'm focused on.

BLITZER: What worries you the most about John McCain in terms of electability, not being able to bring in that Rush Limbaugh conservative radio talk show wing, shall we say, of the Republican conservative base?

CRIST: That's not a concern of mine. It really isn't. I mean, you know,this is a conservative guy. This is a reasonable man. He is the right guy at the right time for our country, regardless of party.

Whether they're Republicans, Democrats or independents, John McCain represents America well, and he will serve America well as our next president. He's the guy who understands we need to cut taxes. He's the guy who understands we have to keep our people free and safe. This is the right man at the right time, and I'm so honored to support him.

BLITZER: And you're comfortable with keep the tax cuts for the extremely wealthy that he wants to do, which he originally opposed, but now he says those Bush tax cuts for the wealthy should continue. You're comfortable with that?

CRIST: They're tax cuts for the people. They're tax cuts for the people, and the people deserve to have their money back.

BLITZER: But people making $250,000 more or more a year, let's say, should they continue to get those tax cuts?

CRIST: They should, and so should all Americans. I mean, that's what we're doing here in Florida, and it's the right thing to do. We have cut property taxes in our state $25 billion in just the past year. That's important to make sure we stay on that path, and it's the same for America.

BLITZER: Governor Crist, thanks for the hospitality.

CRIST: It's good to have you Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

CRIST: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

CRIST: Say hey to your mom.

BLITZER: All right.

There's much more ahead on "Late Edition," including the always outspoken Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean. He's standing by live. We'll talk to him about his concerns that Democrats could be heading for a bitterly divided convention.

"Late Edition" continues right at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Democratic showdown.

DEAN: We don't want to go into that convention divided.

BLITZER: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are locked in a heated battle for votes and delegates. Will there be blood on the floor at the Democratic convention? We'll talk with the party chairman, Howard Dean.

Congress debates pulling out of Iraq.

HUTCHISON: He turned it into a terrorist haven, and you put a bullet right in the hearts of our troops who were there.

BLITZER: Will the war help or hurt the GOP in this election? Perspective on war and politics from Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

This Tuesday, the voters of four states could wrap up an extraordinary political contest. We'll have the kind of insight and analysis you've come to expect from the best political team on television.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: The international community should, I think, better know the meaning of the word patience.

BLITZER: Plus, an exclusive interview with NATO secretary- general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, on the military campaign in Afghanistan and much more.

"Late Edition's" second hour begins right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Welcome back. With Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton battling for every vote, it's quite possible that neither candidate will end up with the needed number of pledged and superdelegates before the Democratic convention at the end of the summer in Denver.

So, will this mean a divisive floor fight in Denver that could lead to defeat in November? Let's talk about that and more with the former Vermont governor, Howard Dean. He's the chairman of the Democratic Party. He's joining us now live from Burlington. Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

DEAN: Thanks for having me on.

BLITZER: Let's take a look at the delegate count as of this moment, by our estimates, remembering that 2025 is the magic number needed to be the Democratic presidential nominee. Right now, we have Barack Obama with 1,369; Hillary Clinton with 1,267. That's a difference of only about 100 delegates. But if you take a look at the pledged delegates, he has a lot more pledged delegates. She has more superdelegates.

If they split on Tuesday, they each take two states, what happens next in your opinion?

DEAN: Well, Wolf, I'm not going to speculate about if, that, and the other thing. There's about nine different combinations you could have. So that's not my job.

Look, I think the public is going to elect a nominee for the Democratic Party before we get to Denver. I really do. So you know, you all can have the fun about if this and if they do that, and if they do that. I'm not going to get into all that stuff.

BLITZER: Would you have a problem if it continues on to April 22nd, when the primary is scheduled for Pennsylvania?

DEAN: Look, the voters are going to do what the voters do. I would like a nominee after the last primary's over, and I think we'll get one.

BLITZER: Because earlier, you've said on a few interviews that if this goes well into March and April, you're concerned that this could hurt the Democratic nominee going against presumably John McCain in the fall.

How worried are you if this process drags on, on the Democratic side?

DEAN: Well, I don't think I've ever said that if it goes into March and April I'd be worried that we are going to lose. What I have said is if we have a divided convention, then we're really going to have a problem.

But look, John McCain is a flawed candidate. Here's a guy who has a typical situation ethicist. He runs on his integrity, but he doesn't seem to have any. We're familiar with the fact that he got on the ballot in Ohio with what now turns out to be false pretenses. He qualified because he was taking public financing, and now he says he's not going to. He doesn't have the permission of the FEC to do that.

And just this week, he refused to denounce and reject John Hagee, a militant, anti-Catholic right-wing pastor. John McCain has a history of doing what it takes, regardless of what the ethics of this are. I think he's going to be a flawed candidate. I don't think people want four more years of what essentially is George Bush.

BLITZER: You raised the issue of the public financing, which he's now suggesting he is not necessarily going to want going into the fall campaign, even though earlier he suggested that's exactly what he wanted. But he also cites precedent in saying he can change his mind, including something that you did. I'll play a little soundbite from Senator McCain and get your reaction. I'll read it to you, then. Let me read it to you. He said this, he said, "What we're doing is exactly what Howard Dean did in the previous election and what the FEC ruled in the case of Congressman Gephardt. So I have no doubt about the eventual outcome."

DEAN: Let me read you this. "Based on your letter, the commission has withdrawn its certification of the secretary of treasury that Howard Dean and Dean for American is entitled to payment."

They don't have -- John McCain doesn't have that letter. And John McCain is already most likely exceeding his spending limit. He has material gain, which we did not, because he got on the ballot under false pretenses in Ohio and a couple of other states.

This is -- and -- and he used the money for a collateral for a loan. He said that -- he told the banks that he would apply for public financing.

So, that is a lie. What John McCain is saying is simply not true. And this is a long-term pattern with John McCain. Let's not forget, this is the John McCain that took $100,000 in campaign contributions and flew on corporate jets for the savings and loan magnate Charles Keating, who is now serving jail time, or was serving jail time. This is not -- the John McCain that he says he is, is not who John McCain is. He's a situational ethicist, very much like George Bush. He thinks it's great to stay in Iraq for 100 years. Thought it was terrific that George Bush vetoed children's health care.

I don't want 12 more years of George Bush, and I think the vast majority of the American people don't want 12 more years of George Bush -- or I mean, four more years of George Bush -- and I think that's what John McCain offers us.

BLITZER: How worried are you that the sniping that's going on between the two Democratic presidential candidates could hurt, could backfire -- some of that material could be used by John McCain and his supporters in the fall? I'll play a little example of some of the sniping that's been going on between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: The sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing, and everyone will know we should do the right thing, and the world will be perfect!

You are not going to wave a magic wand and have the special interests disappear!

OBAMA: She's saying, oh, you know, he thinks that the clouds will part and, you know, he's so naive. He is -- wait, wait, wait, wait. You know, he -- he, you know, he thinks he can wave a magic wand and somehow everything will be great.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Is this a source of concern to you, the kind of back- and-forth we're seeing?

DEAN: No, that's an issue about arguing over who is -- whether inspiration or experience or whether they have -- who has what. That is not the kind of ethics problem that John McCain has.

John McCain has a problem with personal integrity. He has a problem of saying one thing and doing another.

What about John Hagee? What about a guy who is a vicious anti- Catholic, who is supporting John McCain, and John McCain does not denounce or reject him? As Barack Obama did to Louis Farrakhan. That is the kind of stuff that really bothers Americans. People arguing over philosophy is not a problem. We can have our disagreements with John McCain. Maybe people want to stay in Iraq for 100 years. That's fair game. But people will not elect somebody that they don't think is honest, and I don't think that John McCain has made a case for his honesty.

BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the problems in the Democratic political structure right now. I'm going to read to you what Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, said about the distinction between the pledged delegates, those who are elected by the caucuses and the primaries, versus the nearly 800 superdelegates -- the party leaders like yourself -- members of Congress, governors and others.

"It would be a problem," she says, "for the party if the verdict would be something different than the public has decided."

And earlier in the last hour, Senator John Kerry, an Obama supporter, also said maybe this whole notion of having superdelegates is inappropriate at this point; just let the Democrats out there vote for the nominee and get rid of this whole category of superdelegates.

What do you say?

DEAN: Well, first of all, we're not going to change the rules halfway through the contest because -- for anybody, because that will advantage or disadvantage a particular candidacy. We are not going to change the rules. We can't do that.

Secondly, you interviewed -- or Anderson Cooper on CNN interviewed one of the superdelegates. He's a 21-year-old college student. Superdelegates look like the rest of the party. They look like them racially. They look like them in terms of gender balance, ethnically. And so, I don't see a big problem with having superdelegates.

The reason superdelegates are there was not to have a bunch of cigar-smoking people slapping each other on the back choosing the next nominee. It was so that elected officials and party activists could get to the convention without having to run against their own people and push them out of the way.

If you're a United States senator and you run an election to be a delegate, you're going to win that. And your own base is going to be disenfranchised by that. We've had conventions where hardly any elected officials have come, and that's why there are superdelegates.

If somebody after this convention wants to change the rules and say there should be no superdelegates or fewer superdelegates, that's not a problem. But you can't change the rules.

Everybody knew when we came into this campaign that 20 percent of the delegates were superdelegates, and you can't change the rules any more than you can change the rules on Michigan and Florida.

BLITZER: Let me just be precise, Governor. If -- when the dust settles, let's say Obama has more pledged delegates, but Hillary Clinton has more superdelegates, and she winds up with more delegates. That would be OK?

DEAN: Well, as you know, I had two teenagers, and learned not to get into those hypotheticals. They go on and on and on. I believe that we'll have a nominee. I believe we'll have a nominee well before we get to the convention, and I believe the nominee will be elected by the voters, not anybody else.

BLITZER: And you heard Governor Crist of Florida just tell me moments ago he's ready to go ahead and support a redo here in Florida, a new primary, which the taxpayers would pay for if the Democrats want that, in order to make sure that Florida Democrats -- 1.7 million of whom voted -- actually could be seated and have a say at the Democratic convention.

Are you ready to accept his offer right now?

DEAN: Well, it's not him to offer that, but that's a very helpful thing for him to say, because money is an issue here.

Look, there are two possibilities. One is that there would be such a redo, as Governor Crist might suggest. And two is that the party would come and have some other alternative that they would try to push through the Credentials Committee. But we're very willing to listen to the people of Florida.

It wasn't their fault that this got done. It was their political leadership, and if they would like to fix that problem so that we could seat Florida without any problems, of course, we'd like to seat Florida.

BLITZER: Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

DEAN: Thanks very much for having me.

BLITZER: You got a tough job out there. We wish you the best. Good luck.

DEAN: Thanks, Wolf. You've got a tough job too for the next eight months.

BLITZER: We'll be busy. Thanks very much. DEAN: Thanks. See you later.

BLITZER: And coming up, John McCain versus Mike Huckabee in Texas. Will the former Arkansas governor get enough votes to embarrass the likely Republican nominee? I'll speak live about that and more with the Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. She's standing by live. We'll talk about all things politics and a lot more when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. This week, John McCain has been campaigning hard in Texas, hoping to try to wrap up the nomination in Tuesday's primary. One of his key supporters is the Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. She's joining us now, live from our Washington bureau.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

HUTCHISON: Thank you, Wolf. Glad to be here.

BLITZER: I don't know if you heard Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, really go after John McCain for not repudiating, not rejecting the support of a well-known pastor, John Hagee, in Texas, given some of the comments he's made about the Catholic Church over the years.

I want you to listen to what Bill Donahue, the Catholic League president, said on Thursday. I'll read it to you.

"I do want a clear-cut statement from McCain, saying that he knows Catholics have been offended when this man Hagee calls my religion "the great whore" and "a false cult system."

Should John McCain repudiate and reject the comments, the support from John Hagee, just as Barack Obama has done that with the Reverend Louis Farrakhan?

HUTCHISON: Well, I think they are two very different situations. John Hagee, Pastor Hagee, has done some very good things, particularly with regard to Israel and the support for Israel and denouncing the terrorism in that area.

And he has a very large congregation. His endorsement, I think, is for people who believe and work with him. And he does some good things.

Now, John McCain has said that he in no way agrees with anything that would denounce or be derogatory about the Catholic Church. A number of Catholics are supporting John McCain. John McCain is very pro-life, has been very -- has adhered to that, and many Catholics believe in him. And he has said he would never denigrate the Catholic religion, or any religion, frankly.

BLITZER: But here's the point that the critics are making right now, and those Catholics who are urging John McCain to reject Pastor Hagee.

Louis Farrakhan has called Judaism "a gutter religion."

Hagee has suggested, at least according to the Catholic League president -- we've done some checking of our own -- he said that Catholicism is "a great whore and a false cult system."

That sounds very, very damning, Senator.

HUTCHISON: Well, John McCain has said he doesn't agree with that.

BLITZER: But is he ready to embrace someone who calls the Catholic religion "a great whore?"

HUTCHISON: Well, I think John McCain's statement that he put out from the campaign, after the question was raised, speaks for itself. And I think that, many times, people who endorse someone are not in total agreement with them on every issue. That's the case with most people. I think this is turning into a political attack, rather than anything that's substantive.

BLITZER: Because he did stand up and reject the comments of a prominent conservative radio talk show host in Cincinnati, William Cunningham, who introduced McCain at a rally in Cincinnati, and, in the process, really made some derogatory comments of Barack Obama.

And, as a result of that McCain was forceful and he repudiated; he rejected that support from William Cunningham, for which he's received some serious criticism from Cunningham and other conservative radio talk show hosts.

So I guess the question is, why is he willing to go forth and reject Cunningham but not reject Hagee?

HUTCHISON: Well, I think that John has spoken to this -- Senator McCain has. I think he's been very forceful in saying what he believes about the Catholic Church. And I think that Pastor Hagee has a large following that is very helpful and supportive of Israel and the goals to have peace in the Middle East.

So I think that we're in a political shouting match here. And I don't think that John McCain would ever be considered anti-Catholic, period. He's said so.

BLITZER: Do you think that Mike Huckabee, the Republican presidential candidate, is positioned to embarrass John McCain Tuesday, in Texas, by getting a significant percentage of the vote?

HUTCHISON: I don't think that, the way our system is set up, that he will. I think he will get some votes. There are people who support him. And, of course, he has carried a message that is embraced by many Republicans.

But I think it's clear now that John will win -- Senator McCain will win Texas by a very handy margin. And I think that there might be a few delegates, because we have proportional delegate splits. There may be a few delegates for Huckabee. There may be. But it will not be many.

John McCain will win Texas very handily, I think. People want the party to come together. They believe John McCain will go over the top, on Tuesday, with the two primaries. He will win a heavy majority in Texas. And people are ready for our party to come together behind our candidate.

BLITZER: Listen to what Hillary Clinton and, for that matter, Barack Obama and a lot of other Democrats and even some Republicans, critical of the war, are saying regarding a statement that McCain made, not that long ago, about a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq.

BLITZER: Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Now, Senator McCain has said that it would be OK with him if American troops were in Iraq for 50 to 100 years. Well, it is not OK with me. I want them to start coming home within 60 days of my becoming president.

(APPLAUSE)

And that is what I will do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is that OK with you, if U.S. troops remain in Iraq for another 50 or 100 years?

HUTCHISON: Well, of course, we're not going to have combat troops in Iraq for 50 or 100 years. And I think that was taken out of context. He was talking about peacekeepers.

We have been in Korea for close to 50 years. We have been in Japan. We have been in the DMZ. We have -- we've been in a peacekeeping role, where there has been a history of conflict. We are not going to have combat troops. John McCain doesn't think we're going to have combat troops.

And John McCain is the president who will pull our troops out at the appropriate time, as soon as possible, to make sure that we leave a stable Iraq that will not be a haven for terrorists.

That is the key question, and John McCain is the one candidate in this race that has the capability, the background, and the understanding of the big picture to pull our troops out, honorably and with a stable Iraq. If there are peacekeepers, that will be under -- with a lot of allies in the field to make sure that the peace is kept. And that is exactly the right approach.

BLITZER: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, thanks very much for coming in. HUTCHISON: Thank you.

BLITZER: And coming up, John King, Gloria Borger, and Candy Crowley. They're all part of the best political team on television. They're standing by. We'll take a closer look at a crucial week coming up in presidential politics.

But just ahead, is NATO losing to the Taliban in Afghanistan?

We'll talk about that in an exclusive interview. The NATO secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer -- he's standing by. "Late Edition" continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We'll get to the best political team on television, analysis of what's coming up on Tuesday.

But, first, this: U.S. and NATO forces are taking on an increasingly bold Taliban in Afghanistan. And the Pentagon is concerned some NATO allies aren't pulling their weight in the fight.

I spoke about that and a lot more with the NATO secretary- general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, this week, in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Secretary-general, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to Washington.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Thank you.

BLITZER: These are difficult times for NATO right now, especially in Afghanistan. There are lots of suggestions that the situation is going from bad to worse, in part because of disunity among the NATO allies.

How bad is the situation?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: The situation is looking quite good. I'm cautiously optimistic. I've just come back from Afghanistan last week.

I think that we've seen the NATO forces increase considerably. We do see millions of children in school. We see the literacy rate going up. We see health care going up. Over 80 percent of Afghans have access to health care.

In 2001, do not forget, Afghanistan was in the Middle Ages. If you look between '01 and '08, there is a lot of progress, although the challenges, of course, are formidable.

BLITZER: Let's talk about NATO, because the criticism of NATO is that some of the NATO allies simply don't want to do what the other NATO allies are doing. And listen to the secretary of defense, Robert Gates. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT M. GATES: I worry a great deal about the alliance evolving into a two-tiered alliance in which you have some allies willing to fight and die in order to protect people's security and others who are not. And I think that it puts a cloud over the future of the alliance if this is to endure and perhaps even get worse.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

That sounds like a pretty dire assessment.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: If you realize, with me, that all 26 NATO allies are in Afghanistan, all 26 of them, together with a lot of...

BLITZER: Some are willing to fight and die and others aren't?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: That's in the south, where the going is tough, from time to time. It gets tough from time to time. There are something like eight or nine NATO allies there, active.

I am not afraid of a two-tier alliance. As the NATO secretary- general, it is crystal clear that I would like to see as few and little limitations on the use of the force as possible. I would like to see more allies, all over Afghanistan, including in the south.

But I have to be a realist as well. And being realistic, I have to accept that parliaments in certain nations limit the use of the force in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Because if you have countries, NATO allies, like the United States, Britain, Canada who are willing to go in there and fight, and other NATO allies -- and Nicholas Burns and top State Department officials cited Spain, Italy, France, Germany -- who are not willing to go in there and take those risks, that seems to put a pretty serious split among the NATO allies.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: No, I don't think that's the correct analysis. All those nations you mentioned -- and we'll not start a blame game, and I will not start the blame game -- are in Afghanistan with considerable number of forces. We have seen a big increase over the past eight months to a year. The total force is now nearing 50,000.

So I think NATO as an alliance is doing relatively well. We still need more forces.

BLITZER: Here's what else the defense secretary, Robert Gates, said in the Los Angeles Times. He said, last month, "I am worried we are deploying military advisers that are not properly trained, and I'm worried we have some military forces that don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations."

Does he have a fair point?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I think all allies -- I repeat, I think all allies are doing an excellent job. Where Secretary Gates has a point is that when we send our training teams into Afghanistan, we need, I think, a more common benchmark on the way we train those mentoring and liaison teams going into Afghanistan.

But do not forget that many are there already. And that's Danes and Dutch and Estonians and Romanians. Brits, Canadians and Americans are doing an excellent job, but, as the NATO secretary-general, I say we can always do better. And, on the training benchmarks for these liaison teams, these training teams, I should say, the secretary has a point.

BLITZER: The Atlantic Council of the United States, a private group, a think tank, issued a report entitled, "Saving Afghanistan," in January. It was chaired by retired U.S. general James Jones, a former supreme NATO allied commander. Here is one of the bottom line points they made.

"Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan. Unless this reality is understood and action is taken promptly, the future of Afghanistan is bleak. If NATO cannot provide new forces to fight in the south, its credibility will be dealt a powerful blow, throwing into doubt its future cohesion and, hence, viability."

That's a very different picture than the one you're painting.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: No, it's not. And if it is, I don't share that analysis. It's as simple as that. And I just came back. We are making a lot of progress.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: The international community should, I think, better know the meaning of the word "patience." I say again, 2001 in the Middle Ages, 2008, tremendous progress. NATO has come in with more forces. Almost 9,000 over the past seven, eight months.

You'll see at the summit in Bucharest we're going to have in the beginning of April without any doubt even more of the forces coming in.

BLITZER: Let me change subjects briefly because we don't have a lot of time, and talk about Vladimir Putin. The Russian president is now about to give up the presidency. At the Democratic presidential debate the other day, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were asked about his successor, and I want you to listen to what both of these candidates had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: This is a clever but transparent way for Putin to hold on to power, and it raises serious issues about how we're going to deal with Russia going forward.

OBAMA: I think Senator Clinton speaks accurately about him. He is somebody who was handpicked by Putin. Putin has been very clear that he will continue to have the strongest hand in Russia in terms of running the government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: They were both speaking about Dimitry Medvedev, who's expected to be the next president of Russia, and they were very pessimistic about what is happening in Russia right now under Putin.

You've got to deal with this situation on a day-to-day basis. What do you say when you hear those kinds of gloomy assessments from these two Democratic presidential candidates?

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: What I see is -- and I hope this is realized in Moscow as well -- that in the NATO-Russia relationship, and that is the relationship I'm dealing with, there is the word "engagement." NATO needs Russia, and Russia needs NATO, so we have to engage with the Russians, although we have our major differences. On missile defense. On the future of Kosovo. On the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.

We have many forms of practical cooperation. The Russians realize that decisions, for instance, about NATO enlargements, which will be on the calendar of the Bucharest summit in a few weeks. Are taken by the 26 NATO allies only, and that no other nation has a veto, or as the French say, droit de regard, can influence the decisionmaking process in this regard.

But I hope that whoever will become president, whoever will become prime minister, NATO and Russia will continue to engage. Despite our differences, we have to engage, but that does not mean that we talk about lines in the sand or red lines or vetoes. And I must also say that that's from time to time, I hear a lot of unhelpful rhetoric coming from Moscow, which I think is not conducive to the word "engagement," which I (inaudible).

BLITZER: Secretary-general, thanks very much for joining us.

DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Thank you, Wolf. Thank you so much. Pleasure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And still here to come on "Late Edition," the Democratic candidates might have been out with the voters in Ohio, but their supporters were dueling on the Sunday morning talk shows. We're going to bring you some of the highlights on our very popular "in case you missed it" segment.

But straight ahead, analysis from three of the best political team on television. "Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's a lot we want to talk about as we head into what really could turn out to be a Super Tuesday. Joining us now, our chief national correspondent, John King. He's in Boston. Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's in Ohio. And holding down the fort in Washington, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. Guys, thanks very much for coming in. John, let me start with you. And I'll put up the numbers of the delegate count we estimate is in existence right now, remembering that 2,025 is the key number for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Right now, if you add the pledged and the superdelegates together, we have Barack Obama with 1,369, Hillary Clinton 1,267, a difference of 102 delegates right now. It's pretty close. Talk to us a little bit, John, about the scenarios that could take place on Tuesday that would result in this contest continuing on to April 22nd in Pennsylvania, or ending on Tuesday.

KING: Well, Wolf, the polls in Ohio and Texas show very competitive races. So, if the polls are even close, then one candidate will win, but by a small margin in both of those states. So Obama and Clinton will go forward very, very close in the delegate count. But the key dynamic in the Democratic race now is very simple. The delegate math is secondary almost to the simple question: Can Senator Hillary Clinton stop Senator Barack Obama's momentum? He has now won 11 in a row. If he can somehow win Ohio and Texas, then there will be a lot of pressure on her to acknowledge the reality that he keeps winning.

So, her big, big, big, big challenge right now is simply win those big states. She hopes to add Rhode Island as well. She pretty much concedes Vermont to Obama. If she can win Rhode Island, Ohio and Texas, she resets the race.

The delegate math is still difficult. Then we'll start getting into the brokered convention and the superdelegate scenarios. But she'll deal with all that down the road. She needs to stop his momentum first.

BLITZER: And we heard a prominent Texas congressman, Silvestre Reyes, Gloria, say on this program just a little while ago virtually guaranteeing that Hillary Clinton will win in Texas. He's a big supporter of Hillary Clinton. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REYES: Not only can she win, I believe she will win. The polls that we've been seeing don't normally take into account the areas where she's very popular, and that's the Latino community and the areas along the border.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It's within the margin of error, the latest poll of polls in Texas, Gloria, right now. Obama slightly ahead. But if she wins Texas and Ohio, as John just said, this contest continues. Even if she wins by a tiny margin.

BORGER: Yeah, if she loses both, it doesn't. But as Bill Clinton, her chief campaign surrogate said, if she wins both, then she continues. Look, these races are really tight. Just a month ago, they weren't tight at all. Barack Obama was behind. He's clearly closing a gap. I think the question is whether Hillary Clinton is gaining some momentum in these last couple of days.

She's clearly working her heart out. Her campaign has become much more aggressive, attacking Barack Obama, particularly on the issue of whether he's got the experience to be commander in chief. And whether that has an impact, we're going to know on Tuesday.

BLITZER: Candy, she was on "Saturday Night Live" having some fun last night, Hillary Clinton. I'll play a little clip. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Tonight, I just want to relax, have fun. Not worry about the campaign.

AMY POEHLER, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE" CAST MEMBER: So, no politics?

CLINTON: No politics. But I would like to take this opportunity to say to all Americans, be they from the great state of Ohio or Texas, Rhode Island or Vermont, Pennsylvania or any of the other states, live from New York, it is "Saturday Night"!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Candy, what do you think? I assume that's going to help her a little bit out there, show a different side of Hillary Clinton.

CROWLEY: Well, that's the other side of Hillary Clinton. They've, sort of, had two things going into this race. One was to prove that she's the strongest, that she can be commander in chief -- we have those red phone ads -- that she's got the experience.

The other side is, also, you should like her, because that's always been one of their problems, when you look at the internals in the polls, that people think, oh, she's experienced; she's competent; she's smart, but I just don't like her that much.

So, there are, sort of, two races going on here. One is Hillary, the commander in chief, and the other one is Hillary, nice person. And I think that's what you saw -- the latter is what you saw in that Saturday Night Live clip.

BLITZER: The whole fight, John, that we're seeing, these 3:00 a.m. phone call ads, the fear that's being expressed out there, and, in terms of the ads that are running, what is clear in both Ohio and in Texas, Barack Obama has spent a lot more money and is spending a lot more money on those commercials than Hillary Clinton is spending.

In your experience, how big of a deal is that?

KING: Well, it helps a great deal. In any state, Wolf, we've seen throughout this -- and remember the space we've had, two weeks for these candidates to focus, now, on Ohio and Texas, as opposed to primary after primary after primary.

And in any state where Barack Obama has been able to spend time and resources, he has closed the gap. And we have seen that in both Ohio and Texas.

Has he closed it enough? We'll find out late Tuesday night.

But he is outspending her, on television, right now, almost two to one. And that's become almost -- everyone says, oh, yes, he's raising more money than her.

But consider that fact. She's the former first lady. Her husband was the premier Democratic fund-raiser of his generation, throughout the 1990s. And yet Barack Obama is raising a ton more money than her, even though she had a very successful month last month.

And he's using it effectively on his advertisements. And in Ohio, where Candy is, if you watch a Barack Obama ad, it doesn't say just, vote for him, but it also includes all the information if you want to get involved in early voting.

They are trying to get as many of their voters out, as possible, in the early-voting window, which has now closed, heading into the Tuesday primary, because they realize she has a very strong organization on the ground. So they're trying to use every second they have and use their resource advantage to get people out to vote early if possible.

BORGER: You know, Wolf, the question on this commander in chief ad is that now it's allowed Barack Obama to turn around and do a response ad that turns the debate back into the question of, should Hillary Clinton have voted for the war in Iraq?

And, you know, that's a debate that he wants to have. The question is, in Ohio, should she be talking about the war or should she be talking about the economy, which is clearly a huge issue in the state of Ohio?

And we see the beginning of her starting to two-step it, saying there are economic crises as well as international crises, that she can handle both.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. We have a lot more to talk about. We're only just beginning.

In just a moment, we're going to continue this conversation. We'll also discuss John McCain, how he's handling some tricky endorsements from conservatives.

But straight ahead, combative remarks on the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States, our very popular "In Case You Missed It" segment. That's coming up. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

The candidates were all out campaigning this morning, so it was all up to their surrogates. On CBS, Clinton supporter Senator Evan Bayh and Obama supporter Senator Chris Dodd defended their candidates' abilities to handle a terrorist attack and their readiness to be commander in chief.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EVAN BAYH, D-IND.: We're hiring someone to do the toughest job in the country. And a big part of that job is being commander in chief. It's not a question of if we're going to be attacked again by Al Qaida; it's a question of when. It is a dangerous world and we need to have a debate about who is best prepared, at this important moment, to be commander in chief.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRISTOPHER J. DODD, D-CONN.: I think judgment is also important, character, integrity, life experiences. Experience, in and of itself, can't be judged in isolation. It always has to co-exist, in my view, with other qualities that we want to consider, the temperament of an individual, leadership ability.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On Fox, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Dick Durbin disagreed on whether Senator Clinton should pull out of the race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD J. DURBIN, D-ILL.: I hope that there's an honest appraisal of her chances to win the nomination after Tuesday. And having made that appraisal, I hope that --and only she can make this decision -- I hope she'll understand that we need to bring our party together and prepare for a victory in November, which is the ultimate goal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-CALIF.: There's been a lot of talk, well, if Senator Clinton loses this state, she should, kind of, pack it in. I disagree with that. I think she should stay in the race. Her candidacy...

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, FOX NEWS SUNDAY: Even if she loses both?

FEINSTEIN: Her candidacy is extraordinarily important. If ever a qualified woman could hold the presidency of the United States, this is the qualified woman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, announced this week he would not run for president. Why did he decide to pack it in?

We'll discuss that, and more, with our panel, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." The subject once again politics. We're joined by our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, our chief national correspondent, John King, and our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Candy, this whole complaint from the Clinton people, including Senator Clinton herself, that the media have been biased against her in favor of Obama? What do you make of this?

CROWLEY: Well, I make of it that that's not always a great tactic to win voters. But I will tell you that if you go to these events, there is a definite feeling inside those events with supporters of Hillary obviously, that she is -- that the media has been biased against her. The other way to look at that is, that she was the front-runner.

She was, you know, they made her the incumbent, she was the one that was going to march to the White House and get the nomination by Super Tuesday. Always with the front-runner there is a lot more scrutiny. As Obama's fortunes have risen, he has gotten a lot more scrutiny -- I will say with some help with the Clinton campaign which daily puts out all kinds of memos and things they point to as soft spots for Obama.

So, you know, I think part of it certainly is that we concentrate on the front-runner, and that the front-runner has now changed. So as far as whether it's an excuse for Hillary Clinton, I don't think the people look at it quite that way. And those that were prone not to like her sort of see it as whining. So, it depends really on whether you support her or not, because I can tell you that supporters think it's been very unfair.

BLITZER: John, you were in Cincinnati this week when John McCain had that exchange with a conservative radio talk show host who introduced him and in the process said some very tough words about Barack Obama, repeatedly calling him Barack Hussein Obama, noting his middle name.

And then John McCain rejected that, rejected that support, to which the conservative radio talk show host, William Cunningham, said this. I'll play this little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WILLIAM CUNNINGHAM, CINCINNATI RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: When I left John, the crowd was cheering, all was well, no problem whatsoever until about an hour later, when John McCain threw me under the bus, under the Straight-Talk Express. I got thrown under the bus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Here's the question, John, and a lot of people are asking, why was John McCain so willing so quickly to repudiate what William Cunningham was saying, one of his earlier supporters, yet he's reluctant to do something similar when it comes to Pastor John Hagee in Texas, who's made some very anti-Catholic remarks?

KING: It is an interesting question, Wolf, and it tells you -- it shows you sort of the difficult moment John McCain is in, almost Never-Never Land in the sense that, look, John McCain has played hardball politics in the past so let's not anoint him for sainthood here.

But he has said in this campaign he doesn't want any reference to the personal controversies, the personal smear tactics against Barack Obama because of his middle name, Hussein. So McCain, to his credit, quickly came to the back of the room, and before any reporter could ask a question, denounced those remarks.

And yet, he will not denounce Pastor Hagee personally for statements -- and you were reading them earlier in the program with Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, on the program. What they've said is that he doesn't agree with those statements, but he will not denounce Pastor Hagee.

That's a little bit of politics, there, Wolf, plain and simple. They're still a little bit nervous about Mike Huckabee's support among conservatives and among evangelicals in Texas. And so they wanted the endorsement from Pastor Hagee. He's influential. He has a television network for his church. His church has about 18,000 members in San Antonio.

So, they are trying to have it both ways with the Hagee endorsement, saying that we welcome the endorsement; we don't agree with everything he has said. Quietly inside the McCain campaign, Wolf, they believe this is -- they're getting more of a problem from this because of the importance of the Catholic vote in a general election than they're going to get a benefit from it on Tuesday.

BORGER: You know, Wolf, there's a larger question here, too, talking to some Republicans this week who were saying to me, look, conservative talk radio is killing us in this campaign, and we have to figure out a way for John McCain to make peace with conservative talk radio.

Because if they continue at the decibel they're continuing at with Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Bill Cunningham, et cetera, they're worried that it's really going to hurt them. They know they might pick up some independent voters in a general election as a result, but they're worried about consolidating their base right now, and this is a problem for them. BLITZER: All right, guys, we're going to have a lot more to talk about tomorrow and Tuesday, especially Tuesday. We're getting ready for all-night coverage here on CNN. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

And to our viewers, if you'd like a recap of today's program, you can get highlights on our "Late Edition" podcast. Simply go to cnn.com/podcast.

Coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week in Politics" with Tom Foreman. Here's a preview.

TOM FOREMAN, HOST, "THIS WEEK IN POLITICS": Thanks, Wolf. This week, Hillary Clinton appeared to regain her footing, and Barack Obama learned that in politics, the front-runner is always the biggest target.

Also, will the war in Iraq help or hurt the GOP in November? Who will win Texas? Is the press really taking sides in all this? And finally, a look at history's greatest upsets.

All this and much more in "This Week in Politics," coming up at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: That's "Late Edition" for this Sunday, March 2nd. Please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

Don't forget, Tuesday night I'll be in CNN's election center with all of the news, the best political team on television. We'll be up all night to bring you the results of the four crucial primaries. Our special coverage begins 7 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

For our international viewers, stand by for international news. For those of you in North America, "This Week in Politics" starts right now.

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