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Barack Obama Speaks in Laramie, Wyoming; Hillary Clinton Speaks in Casper, Wyoming; John McCain Speaks in New Orleans.
Aired March 9, 2008 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Chances are someone will be an hour late tomorrow morning. Don't let it be you. Daylight Savings return at 2:00 a.m. Be sure to set your clocks ahead one hour so you are not that late person.
The countdown started for the next shuttle launch. Endeavor is set while most of the country is sleeping. With lift off scheduled for 2:28 early Tuesday morning, the 7-man crew to spend a record 16 days docked with the international space station. There you have it.
Those are the headlines. More of the special "BALLOT BOWL '08" coverage right ahead.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Dan Lothian in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on this special edition of "BALLOT BOWL '08."
We are in Pennsylvania because this is where there will be a crucial primary coming up on April 22. But, of course, there's another context that happened today out in Wyoming, the Wyoming caucuses.
And my colleague, Jessica Yellin, is in Cheyenne, Wyoming, with the very latest there.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Hi, Dan. That's right, CNN has projected that Barack Obama is the winner of the Wyoming caucuses. The final numbers as we have them, 61 percent of caucus voters went for Barack Obama, 38 percent for Hillary Clinton. That's with 100 percent of the caucuses reporting.
Senator Obama's campaign held a conference call with supporters this evening saying it's a reminder of how strong Barack Obama is in the west coast and acknowledging this is another win for him. Also taking a knock on Senator Clinton saying, even though Barack Obama has more votes and more states and more delegates, Clinton is trying to come out on top by trying to destroy Barack Obama. Those are the charges from the Obama campaign.
Senator Clinton's camp is commenting on the results by saying essentially this is a come-from-behind strong showing for Senator Clinton. Her manager saying we are thrilled with this near split in delegates. Pointing out that the campaign predicted victory weeks ago and they are pleased that they had a strong showing today.
CNN projected that Barack Obama will walk away with about seven delegates from the state and Clinton at least four. So the back and forth continues.
We want to bring I sound from both candidates as they were campaigning earlier this week.
Here was Barack Obama in Laramie, Wyoming, yesterday, part of a closing message in the state, reminding people to keep the faith and reminding them of his message of hope and he is a candidate that will clean up Washington.
SENATOR BARACK OBAMA (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you have been trained in that politics and that has been your experience and you have been steeped in Washington, then of course you conclude that talk of something different is naive. Of course, you conclude that Obama hasn't been in Washington long enough. We need to season and stew him and boil all the hope out of him. Of course, that's how you are going to think. That's how everybody thinks. That's how most of the reporters think. That's how the pundits think and the talking heads on TV think. They still can't figure out what's going on in the campaign and they are just waiting every time that we have a move sent back and we lose a race in one of the states. You see? It's not possible to bring about change.
We are defined now. You guys are defined by that notion that politics only has to operate in that one way. There is another way of doing business here in America. There is another way of seeing our democracy operate. We can push aside the drug companies and the insurance companies and deliver on health care. We can push aside the oil companies and the gas companies and have an energy policy that works.
When I talk about hope, people misunderstand me. I do talk about hope a lot. Part of the reason I talk about hope is the odds of me standing here are pretty slim if you think about it. I wasn't born into wealth or fame. I was born to a teenage mom. My father left when I was 2. I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents. They didn't have a lot. What they gave me was love, an education and hope. That's what they gave me.
So I do talk about hope. We have hope on our signs and I wrote a book called, "The Audacity of Hope." I love you back. No, no, this is important. Some of my opponents have said this hope thing is so naive. It's all talk. It's ethereal. His head is in the clouds and he doesn't know how the world really works.
You know what, hope is not blind optimism. Hope is not ignorance of the barriers that stand in our way. You guys are not a bunch of romantics. That's not the reason you're here. I bet there a bunch of people who had hard knocks and don't have health care and may have lost a job and who are trying to figure out how to pay the bills and pay for college. And who have lost a loved one or may have a loved one overseas. I don't think people here are particularly romantic.
But hope is just the opposite of blind optimism. We know how hard it's going to be to provide health care to every American. If it was easy, it would have been done. We know how hard it's going to be to reduce poverty in this country that has built up over centuries, and how hard it will be to improve our schools. I know that because I fought in the streets of Chicago as a community organizer. And I fought in the courts as a civil rights attorney to bring about justice and equality. And I fought and won and lost some too. Because I know that good intentions are not enough.
YELLIN: Senator Obama, stumping in Laramie, Wyoming yesterday, ahead of today's caucus.
Senator Clinton was not far away. She was in Casper, Wyoming, reminding the audience of her victory in Ohio and talking also about something you heard Barack Obama talking about there -- health care reform. But insisting her plan is the best.
SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I was in southern Ohio, a long way from here, last week. Yeah, we did well. We did very well there. A lot of hardworking people. They're tired of the speeches. They're tired of the promises. They want people to turn words into actions and give them solutions. I think that's what Wyoming wants. And that's what I'm offering.
But I want to tell you, I heard a story that has just kind of haunted me. I was visiting a couple of families, small town on the banks of the Ohio River, talking to a deputy sheriff there. He told me about a young woman who worked at the pizza parlor in town. She worked for minimum wage. You don't get many tips at the pizza parlor. She was living pretty modestly. She got pregnant. She as having trouble. She went to the hospital. The hospital said, well, you don't have insurance. She said, no, I don't. They said, well, we can't see you until you give $100. She said, where am I going to get $100. They said, well, come back when you have the $100.
She came back about a week later. She was having problems. Same response, we need $100. She went away. The next time she came back to the hospital, she came in an ambulance. She was in distress. The doctors and the nurses worked on her and couldn't save the baby. She was so sick that they had to airlift her to the next biggest town with a medical center. Everybody worked for about 15 days trying to save her and they weren't successful.
I'm sitting there listening to this story as this man is telling me and I'm thinking, you know, it hurts me that in our country, as rich and good of a country as we are, this young woman and her baby died because she couldn't come up with $100 to see the doctor. I think that's morally wrong. I believe that we can do a lot better than that.
But I also believe it's so economically stupid. I want you to think about this. She didn't have $100. By the time they tried to save the baby and they tried to save her life and they paid to airlift her to the next big hospital, hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent. You see, we are wasting lives and we are wasting money.
I know we can do so much better and that's why I said, look, if you have health insurance and you are happy with it, nothing changes. You keep what you have. If you are uninsured or if you have insurance except the insurance company won't pay for what you need -- has that happened to you? It happens all the time. Then we are going to open up the plan that members of Congress have for themselves and for federal employees. It's a good plan.
There over 250 options. and they are less expensive because it's like going to a big discount store. You buy a carton of toilet paper, each roll costs less than if you buy one. If you have millions and millions of people in the system here, it's going to be cheaper than in the small company or you try to buy a policy on your own. We are going to be able to say, OK, everybody is going to have a chance to buy into this plan.
Small business is not required to do anything. Everybody is going to be given financial help if they can't afford it on their own. We are going to limit the amount of money that anyone ever has to pay for their health care premium to a low percentage of your income.
YELLIN: Senator Clinton talking about her health care plan.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, her campaign manager is trumpeting the fact that as a results of the caucus suggests that Barack Obama and Clinton nearly split the delegates here. CNN's analysis showed he picked up at least 7 and Clinton picked up at least four, which means their over all count now, Barack Obama has 1,527 total delegates pledged; Clinton has 1,428 pledged delegates. What is needed to win to clinch the nomination, 2,024 pledged delegates.
At this stage, analysis suggests it is impossible for either of them to really get to that 2024 number by the convention. What is much more likely that one of them will be ahead and super delegates will have to weigh in to really decide this thing in the end. Right now our numbers suggest there are 99 pledged delegates separating these two candidates, an enormously close race.
We will continue discussing this. On the other side of the break, we will talk to Sean Callebs, in Mississippi, the site of the next big battle. There is a primary there on Tuesday. Stay with us.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Welcome back to "BALLOT BOWL '08." I'm Dan Lothian, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania, of course, is where another big important contest will be taking place more than a month from now, April 22.
Before we get there, there is another contest on Tuesday in Mississippi. It is a primary that is taking place there. That is where we found former President Bill Clinton out stumping today for Senator Clinton. We are days away from that contest. Sean Callebs is out in Ellisville, Mississippi.
And Sean, I understand it's quite a while since the president or former president has been in that town.
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: A little history today in the town of Ellisville. It was not lost, a significant day here.
I want to take you back to this picture back to 1909. You're looking at a whistle stop and, somewhere amid that crush of people, is former President Taft. That was the last time a president visited this small town in central Mississippi. President Clinton noted that he had been the first president in 99 years this visit this area, saying, quote, "He's not half the man that President Taft was." He was a hefty man at about 330 pounds.
A very important day for President Clinton, out stumping for his wife. He four made stops -- I want to take you to live pictures. Meridian, Mississippi, where the crowd is waiting for the former president to come. He has been hammering away at a lot of the issues that are close to the hearts of voters here in Mississippi. 33 delegates up for stake come Tuesday in the primary. A lot of talk about health care. A lot of talk about education and always a sore point here in Mississippi, even though the state spends a great deal of tax money on education. In the end it's not that much. The tax base here is so low.
Perhaps the biggest issue, the economy. The large part of the state is still trying to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. In other parts, the jobs that have been the back bone, the economic linchpin of this area for generations, are going away with those jobs and they are going health care, pensions for workers and things like that. So a lot of discussion about the economy.
One thing we didn't hear about from the former president, Barack Obama. Some of the rankers, that you will, that followed the former president, not evident tonight. The only time he mentioned Senator Obama's name is mentioning Obama's health plan, saying it's better than what we have, but Hillary's plan is better.
Hillary has done campaigning in the state as well. She's facing an uphill struggle. She was in Canton and Hattiesburg on Thursday and Friday. And she herself admits it will be a struggle to pull out a victory here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I'm well aware that Senator Obama has an enormous amount of support here. Some people and as he should have, some people said Mississippi is very much a state that will most likely be in favor of Senator Obama. I said well, that's fine. But I want people in Mississippi to know I'm in favor of you and I'm going to work for you. And I will be there for you and be your partner as we make this future.
(END VIDEOTAPE) CALLEBS: People of Mississippi the have a chance to hear from Barack Obama on Monday. He is scheduled to be in at least two towns in the capital of Jackson and Columbus.
I talked to his campaign earlier and they know he has a strong lead in the polls. However, Dan, the Obama campaign is not counting on anything. They are acting as though it is neck and neck. They have seen the way the polls have been wrong. Look at New Hampshire and Ohio, for example. They thought it would be closer. They are turning out in great numbers. And judging from the turn out, there is a great deal of interest in a state that voted for the Republican candidate every year since 1976. Maybe history in the making here -- Dan?
LOTHIAN: The best poll is once the voters vote. That's clear at that point.
LOTHIAN: What are the things we hear on the campaign trail among Democrats. There is this tug of war going on. They feel like they have two good and strong candidates and it's difficult for them to make up their minds. What are you hearing in Mississippi? Is there that tug of war and struggle taking place among Democrats?
CALLEBS: This state perhaps could be a good microcosm of that struggle that is going on. We talked to a number of voters as they left this evening and all of them believe they are going to be better off over the next four years if a Democrat win asks they have been over the past eight.
If there people who support Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, it is because of the support for the candidate, rather than any ill feelings for the other candidate.
One thing that has to be recognized in the state, about 70 percent of the Democratic Party are made up of African-Americans. That doesn't mean they are going to vote for Barack Obama. We talked to people here tonight and they are either making up their mind and, right now, they don't know which they will support.
I also talked to a political science professor. And this year there will be a number of white Democrats who will support Barack Obama. He said maybe 25 or 30 years ago that may have raised eyebrows here in the state. But he said Mississippi is say far greater state in 2008 than back in the 70s or 60s.
LOTHIAN: Thank you, Sean Callebs, in Ellisville, Mississippi. Thank you.
We have been focusing on the Democrats for sometime now, but also there are Republicans in this race or, I should say, a Republican. It's Senator John McCain. We will take a look at the Republican side of the race after this break.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) YELLIN: Welcome back to "BALLOT BOWL." I'm Jessica Yellin in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Today there is a Democratic caucus. CNN projected Barack Obama the winner with both Democrats getting a good number of delegates out of the total 12 available here.
This is a state that usually votes Republican. In fact, it has not elected a Democrat for president since 1964, Lyndon Johnson.
This is red state terrain. And John McCain would find himself welcome in many parts of Wyoming.
We want to check on where he was speaking in New Orleans not so long ago. He was talking about a conservative base and reassuring voters he is a true conservative. Let's listen.
JOHN MCCAIN, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I come from a state where the borders are not secure. We paid a heavy price for that. Americans want the borders secure so we don't have the repletion of what we did in 1986. We didn't secure the borders and we took care of the issue and now there is more.
I was disappointed in the failure of this last contract of the, quote, "virtual fence." I think you have to build walls and you have to have UAV sensors and cameras and vehicle barriers, depending on where it is. In populated areas, you have to have walls and we have to be manned and have more border patrol as you know.
Then we have to have, after we secured the borders and we can move forward with tamperproof biometric I.D. cards for temporary workers. Anyone who hires someone that doesn't have that, including an electronic employment verification system, would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
These are god's children. We are going to handle it in a humane fashion but with the principal that no one who came here illegally would have precedence with someone who came legally or waited legally for a chance to become a citizen of this country.
Yes, sir? I hope that response to your question. If it doesn't, I would be glad to have a follow-up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, Americans on the left, the center, and the right have lost confidence on what politicians say and their promises. What comfort level can you give conservatives that, if you were fortunate enough to move into the White House next January, that to a large extent to conservatives who would come into the White House with you, we believe personnel is policy.
MCCAIN: I can say, and I don't mean to be repetitious, but one is my record. Second is the vision and the promise I make to the American people. Third, I think is an articulation of the challenges that we face and the remedies, which are based on fundamental conservative principals and values that I would pursue to address the challenges, whether it's the deficit or whether it be out of control spending or whether it be growth and the size of government or to fix a broken Social Security and Medicare system. And also obviously an ability and knowledge and background and experience that leads to having the judgment to address the national security challenges that we face.
I think it's all about, now we are into campaigns, and I will proudly stand on my record but I also have to articulate a strong and conservative vision for the future of this country. I am pleased with the way this party has been coming together. I don't have to tell anybody in this room, primaries are tough and some ways are tougher than general elections. Sometimes is pits friend against friend. I am proud the way that all of my opponents have come together and the way that we are joining together but we have to reenergize our party.
Life is full of experiences. I will never forget, in 2004, traveling across Florida with President Bush on a bus and it was pouring down rain and people standing at the side of the road with signs jumping up and down in the rain. That's the enthusiasm you have to have from your base if you are going to win. We have to have people willing to make the phone calls and put up the yard signs and do the things that win elections. One of my jobs is not only to articulate, but reenergize. One is a promise to bring the spending under control.
YELLIN: John McCain speaking in New Orleans earlier this week.
My colleague, Dan Lothian, is in Philadelphia and he has some of the more controversial sound -- can we call it that -- from John McCain that we have heard about -- Dan?
LOTHIAN: I guess you can. So much has been said about whether or not Senator John McCain has a temper or not. I want to take you back to 2004 when there was a story out there that Senator John Kerry, who was running for president, was a Democratic nominee in 2004, had asked John McCain to be his vice president. At the time, Senator McCain denied there were conversations to that regard.
Then on Friday he was in Atlanta at a town hall meeting and someone brought it up again and said, listen, since he asked you would you put him on your ticket as your vice president?
He seemed to indicate in his answer that there was discussions at the time about him being on the ticket with Kerry. Then flying out to New Orleans, where you saw that sound where he was headed on Friday, Senator John McCain was approached by a "New York Times" reporter about this issue and he seemed to get a little hot. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Can you ask you about Senator Kerry. I looked at the story and you told them that you had never had a conversation with Kerry about vice president. MCCAIN: Everybody knows I had a conversation. Everybody knows that. I had a conversation. There is no living American in Washington that knows that. There is no one and you know it too. You know it too.
REPORTER: So you...
MCCAIN: No, you know it. You know it. So I don't even know why you asked.
REPORTER: No, I asked because...
MCCAIN: No, you do know it. You do know it.
REPORTER: No, I just read in the "Times" that you...
MCCAIN: No - you know it, you know it. So I don't know - even know why you asked.
MCCAIN: No, you do know. You do know.
MCCAIN: I don't know what you meant, read, or heard of, and I don't know the circumstances. Maybe in May of '04 I hadn't had a conversation...
MCCAIN: I don't know, but it's well-known that I had the conversation. It's absolutely well-known by everyone. So do you have a question on another issue?
ELISABETH BUMILLER, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, can I ask you when the conversation was?
MCCAIN: No. No, because it's - the issue is closed as far as I'm concerned. Everybody knows it. Everybody knows it in America.
BUMILLER: Can you describe the conversation?
MCCAIN: Pardon me?
BUMILLER: Can you describe the conversation?
MCCAIN: No, of course not. I don't describe private conversations.
BUMILLER: Okay. Can I ask you...
MCCAIN: Why should I? Then there's no such thing as a private conversation, is there, if you have a private conversation with someone and then come and tell you? I don't know that that's a private conversation. I think that's a public conversation. BUMILLER: Can I ask you about your - why you're so angry?
MCCAIN: Pardon me?
BUMILLER: Never mind. Never mind.
MCCAIN: I mean, it's well-known. Everybody knows. It's been well-chronicled a thousand times that John Kerry asked if I would consider being his running mate...
MCCAIN: ... and I said, "Categorically no, under no circumstances." That's all very well-known.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CNN CORRESPONDENT DAN LOTHIAN: So, Jessica, we saw a little bit of a smile there at the end -- but temper? No temper?
I should add a little footnote here that, of course, the New York Times is the paper that wrote that controversial story about Sen. McCain's ties to the lobbyist, so, you know, perhaps not on friendly terms with the New York Times, but perhaps also a window into his personality in this interesting exchange on the airplane.
CNN ANCHOR JESSICA YELLIN: What's so surprising in a sense is that John McCain is, of all politicians, the one who is known as being exceptionally at ease with the press, and he's somebody who often, you know - he's coming back, he's chit-chatting, so I guess maybe he reveals more of himself also when he's back there.
But you've got to imagine when you're traveling with these folks all the time, the amount of attention they have, the amount of -- sense they must feel that they're under the microscope all the time, you know, it's not surprising that they would on occasion lose the temper. But I guess because of John McCain's history and because he's been accused in the past of having a rough temper, it gets a lot more notice. But it is probably not unfair to also acknowledge that that was the New York Times and it's probably not his favorite newspaper at this time.
LOTHIAN: That's right.
YELLIN: You recall the 2004 race, I guess, and this was a big issue back then for a little - for a period of time. It did come up.
LOTHIAN: That's right, it did come up. But, you know, I covered Sen. John Kerry in 2004. It really wasn't a big issue, and, of course, he did knock it down, saying that nothing like this ever took place, that there was no conversation. So certainly he has been denying it, and it pretty much disappeared, and then, of course, it cropped up at that town hall meeting and then leads to this particular reaction.
But you did point out something that is true - very interesting - if you ever travel with his campaign, he really is of all the candidates very open with reporters. He's always taking time to answer questions and will move back to the reporters' section of the airplane to have exchanges, give reporters as much time, so yes, certainly. But as you point out, in campaigns everything really is under the microscope, and when someone has these kinds of issues perhaps, even if it's not real, people think that he might have this issue of a temper. When it happens on the campaign trail and, certainly, in front of the cameras, then it's something that people pay attention to.
YELLIN: Okay. Well, Dan, on the other side of the break we're going to check in with somebody else who has been under the microscope and knows this drill, former President Bill Clinton. He will be speaking live in Meridian, Mississippi, and we'll bring you some of his speech when it happens. Stay with us.
YELLIN: Welcome back to BALLOT BOWL '08. I'm Jessica Yellin in Cheyenne, Wyoming, site of Democratic caucuses today. Barack Obama, the winner of today's caucuses, at least projected by CNN.
Sen. Clinton coming in strong as well, walking away with four delegates for her. He's walking away with seven delegates of his own and one delegate yet to be determined. And so the race goes on, as we all knew it would.
Today there's also been a development out of the state of Iowa. Yes, we're back to Iowa.
Steve King, representative from the state of Iowa, was speaking on a radio show when he said that Barack Obama's middle name, the name Hussein, should give - would give terrorists comfort, and that all Americans who are voting in this election have to consider Barack Obama and his middle name and what it would mean to terrorists before they cast their ballot.
Let's listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA : When you think about the optics of a Barack Obama potentially getting elected President of the United States, I mean, what does this look like to the rest of the world? What does it look like to the world of Islam?
Now I will tell you that if he is elected president, then the radical Islamists, the Al Qaeda and the radical Islamists and their supporters will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11th, because they will declare victory in this war on terror..."
YELLIN: Well, Sen. Obama's campaign came out quickly with a very strong response, saying, "Rep. King's comments have no place in politics and should be repudiated by the apparent Republican nominee, John McCain."
John McCain has not commented on Rep. King's remarks, but I will say that this has been an issue that both - that both Sen. Obama and his wife have addressed on the campaign trail before, Michelle Obama most emphatically, saying that his name, the name Hussein, has been invoked to stir fear and anxiety about "foreignness," "otherness," and it's something that the Democratic party should not tolerate in this election season. Barack Obama himself saying many times on the stump that he's used to being teased for having, as he puts it, a "funny name."
So this issue comes up again, and no doubt this will continue to be addressed on the campaign trail -- but again, a very strong statement from Tommy Vietour, spokesman from Barack Obama's campaign in response.
Let's turn now to some active campaigning that's going on right this minute. If there's one person who can just stump and keep on stumping and keep on stumping, it's President - former President Bill Clinton, who knows how to campaign aggressively. He is speaking now in Meridian, Mississippi, and let's listen in.
(BEGIN LIVE COVERAGE)
FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: ... She got up before dawn every single day of my childhood so I could have a better future, and I've seen women carry a lot of loads, and I think it would be a great thing if we had a woman president.
But I have to tell you -- look, my politics were born in the Civil Rights Movement. I think it would be a great thing if America had an African-American president. I think it would be a great thing if America -- when America has its first Hispanic president. It's our fastest growing minority.
I think it would be a great thing when our first Asian-American is elected. I hope the Native Americans get a president one day. They're the only people who didn't come here in the last thousand years...
(END LIVE COVERAGE)
YELLIN: All right, well, Bill Clinton can keep on going, but our signal seems to be having some difficulty keeping up. We will try to repair that and bring it back to you, but let's take a quick break right now. Stay tuned for more BALLOT BOWL on the other side of this break.
YELLIN: Welcome back to BALLOT BOWL. We are trying to dip into Bill Clinton's appearance in Meridian, Mississippi, his fourth stop of the day. We've got that signal back. Let's listen.
(BEGIN LIVE COVERAGE)
FORMER PRESIDENT CLINTON: In the 1990s we had 22.9 million new jobs -- in this decade, just 5 million. In the 1990s we had almost 8 million people moving out of poverty into the middle class, the American Dream. In this decade, 5 million move into the middle class down into poverty, many of them working full time. That's the "American Nightmare."
In the 1990s, median family income - that's the one that most of us made - went up $7,500 a year after inflation. In this decade, median family income declined $1,000 after inflation, with the cost of health care doubling, college education up 75 percent, everything else going up; gasoline hit over $4 a gallon in northern California last week.
And now food is going up at more than twice the rate of inflation, and for the first time in 16 years people come up to me at meetings like this and saying, "You know, I got to really watch what I spend at the grocery store because otherwise I won't have enough money to buy medicine. I hear it everywhere.
We paid down the debt, we had four years of budget surpluses for the first time in 70 years and paid down $500 billion on the national debt..."
(END LIVE COVERAGE)
YELLIN: All right, well, we're having difficulty with that signal, but we will continue to try to work on it. We're going to take a quickie break, and we'll be right back after this.
YELLIN: Welcome back to BALLOT BOWL. I'm Jessica Yellin in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and as we continue to follow the presidential contest, with the caucus here today and the primary in Mississippi on Tuesday, there's another race going on in Illinois.
My colleague Dan Lothian is in Philadelphia, and he's been following that one for us. Dan?
LOTHIAN: That's right. It's not a presidential race, but a congressional race in Illinois, and this is to take the seat formerly occupied by Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican.
It's a Republican stronghold. Dennis Hastert was in that office for 21 years. The two candidates duking it out there -- Jim Oberweis and Bill Foster, who is the Democrat.
It's a very tight race there, and there's been a lot of money poured into that race because Republicans really want to hang on to it -- millions of dollars from the campaigns and also from both of the parties, the Republican and the Democratic party. It is still very early. Votes are still coming in. Nothing official, but the Associated Press is reporting that the Democrat, Bill Foster, is currently leading. It is still very close, and far from over, but certainly we're keeping our eyes on that congressional race in the state of Illinois, and if we get any additional numbers we'll pass them along to you.
We want to stay in the state of Illinois and take a look at Barack Obama's record there as a state senator. As you know, he has not spent a lot of time as a U.S. senator in Washington, D.C., but he spent eight years in Springfield, Illinois, the state senator there.
The questions, of course, are "What did he do while he was there?" "How effective was he as a legislator?" We went to Chicago to find out.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): New and untested, Barack Obama started early trying to carve out a reputation as an eager, hard-working Illinois state senator when he was elected in 1996...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm sympathetic to that...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: ... telling powerful Democrat Emil Jones, the man Obama considers his political godfather, to throw him into the fire.
EMIL JONES, ILLINOIS SENATE PRESIDENT: He said, "Feel free to, you know, give me any type of assignment. You know I like to work hard.
LOTHIAN: That work, say his critics, resulted in one of the most liberal voting records during his eight years, from pushing for abortion rights to raising taxes.
But what troubles former Republican colleague Dan Cronin, who says he respects Obama and his political skills, is that considering the presidential hopeful's campaign of bold change, his past, he says, doesn't quite add up.
DAN CRONIN (R), ILLINOIS STATE SENATOR: There were no bold solutions. There were no creative approaches. There were no efforts to stand up to the Establishment.
LOTHIAN: But Barack Obama supporters say that happened in part because for the majority of the time that he was a state senator Republicans were in control, making it difficult, they say, for him to pass any bold legislation.
And what about criticism that as a state senator he voted "present" instead of "yes" or "no" nearly 130 times, essentially a vote without taking a side? It's an oddity of Illinois politics that his now Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton says illustrates a refusal to take responsibility, like hitting the "Easy Button" on controversial issues.
But Obama's mentor, who says the senator cast thousands of votes, disagrees.
JONES: She's totally wrong on that.
LOTHIAN: Chicago political analyst Paul Green says other lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, routinely vote "present," a way, he says, to force the majority party to negotiate or to protest parts of a bill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: So, it's strategy?
PAUL GREEN, POLITICAL ANALYST: Of course it's strategy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN (voice-over): Obama did sponsor more than 800 bills. One resulted in the highly touted ethics reform that bans fundraisers at the state capital in Springfield and nearly all gifts from lobbyists.
Another of his bills now requires police in Illinois to videotape interrogations of criminal suspects. One thing everyone seems to agree on -- that Sen. Obama appeared comfortable, reaching across party lines to get what he wanted.
LOTHIAN: Now I want to head back to that congressional race that we were just talking about in Illinois for former Speaker Dennis Hastert's seat, a Republican stronghold there in the state of Illinois, and CNN is learning now, at least according to the Associated Press, they are projecting that Democrat Bill Foster has won that 14th Congressional District seat in Illinois.
Jessica, I can only imagine that for Republicans this is a major blow.
YELLIN: It has to be very concerning for them as they worry about looking ahead to the 2008 election. It's not just the presidential candidates on that ticket, on that ballot. There's a whole slew of officeholders in Congress who will be up for re- election.
Republicans have to be very nervous. This is, as you say, a Republican stronghold. They thought it was a safe Republican seat. To see it lost to a Democrat, you're right, Dan, it has to be incredibly worrying to many of the Republican leaders right now.
I have a feeling we'll have a lot of time to dissect that in the days to come and for our many hours of BALLOT BOWL tomorrow, so I want to turn to another topic as we wrap up today's coverage.
You know, they say for a reporter one of the tricks is to never be shy around candidates and don't be afraid of asking any questions, and there's nothing like being a fresh babe from the woods unafraid of the big grownups when you're out there doing your reporting.
I think you'll understand what I mean when you take a look at this video. A young reporter decided to question the candidates, asking their views about the environment. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN LEE, CREATOR, GO GREEN MAN (voice-over): Hi, I'm Jonathan, the creator of Go Green Man, and I have interviewed all the presidential candidates to see how green they are and how nice they are to children.
First, John McCain. The John McCain staff let me on their bus to look around, and it was really crowded.
At home, do you recycle?
MCCAIN: Yes, yes we recycle. Yes.
LEE: And do you have anything to say to the children at home about the environment?
MCCAIN: I say recycle. Do everything you can to reduce greenhouse gases.
LEE: He was really funny, especially when he made that funny face. Niceness to children - 9, greenness - 8.
Do you recycle in your home?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes we do.
LEE: And do you have anything to say to the children at home about the environment?
CLINTON: Well, I think it's very important that everybody take responsibility to try to help the environment. So that means don't litter. It means to recycle. It means to tell your mommy and daddy to get compact fluorescent bulbs in the house.
It means to keep the doors and windows kind of shut so you don't let the heat and the cold out, and just generally do what you can. Even if you're a student, there are things you can do.
LEE: She was very kind. Niceness - 9, greenness - 8.
Barack Obama. He was really nice, but he was also really busy, so I got to interview his wife, Michelle Obama, instead. LEE: What do you say to the children at home about the environment?
MICHELLE OBAMA: You know, the environment is really important. We gotta all do our part; I know my daughters are telling us to turn the water off and close the refrigerator. So we're going to have to make sacrifices. All young kids should work on their parents and their families.
LEE: Niceness - 8, greenness - 9.
It's been a wonderful experience for me. I hope you pick the right presidential candidate and has been the most eco-friendly and kindness to children.
These points are just my opinions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: That's right. They do not necessarily reflect the official opinions of CNN. But I bet all those candidates are very glad they were nice to him on camera, and wouldn't be surprised if he's taking one of our jobs someday soon.
Dan, let me wrap it up by reminding everyone of the results today here in Wyoming. CNN has projected Barack Obama the winner of today's Wyoming caucuses, with seven delegates for him, at least four delegates for Sen. Hillary Clinton -- and so they move on to Mississippi and their primary there Tuesday, and we should know the story you just reported means that there's one more super delegate on the Democrat side now.
LOTHIAN: That's right, and, you know, by the way, that young man there, I hear he's going to be hosting BALLOT BOWL tomorrow, so that should be interesting.
YELLIN: We could use the break. I wouldn't mind.
LOTHIAN: That's right. Just kidding. Okay -- Wyoming, as you mentioned, in the rearview mirror now. We look forward to next Tuesday in Mississippi, and, of course, I'm here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania has a crucial contest coming up, a primary on April 22. We will be following everything that happens over the next few days and the coming weeks.
I'm Dan Lothian, again, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We now turn to "CNN NEWSROOM" with Rick Sanchez.
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