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CNN ELECTION CENTER

Barack Obama Under Fire; Can Hillary Catch Barack?

Aired April 14, 2008 - 20:00   ET

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


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Here we are just about a week from the crucial Pennsylvania primary, and Senator Barack Obama has a problem. He is still trying to put out a political firestorm he started by calling Pennsylvania's rural voters bitter.
Let's begin with the view from 30,000 feet, our all-in-one look at where the candidates are today.

John McCain spoke to the Associated Press convention in Washington, D.C., using the opportunity to slam Obama's remarks, calling them elitist. We're going to have more on that in just a moment.

As for Hillary Clinton, she's concentrating on Pennsylvania, with stops in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and later this evening in Bristol. Her husband, Bill Clinton, made three stops, campaigning for her in Indiana. The primary there is in three weeks. Barack Obama sandwiched a speech to the AP convention in Washington between a morning speech in Pittsburgh and an event that's just now getting under way in Philadelphia.

For the last 72 hours, Obama has been preoccupied with apologizing for using the word bitter to describe Pennsylvania's rural voters. Right now, we're keeping our eyes and ears on this Obama speech going on in Philadelphia. Despite his repeated attempts to explain himself and to change the subject, Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain are not letting him.

Here right now is senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): And on the third day, Hillary Clinton hit him again.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think he really gets it, that people are looking for a president who stands up for you and not looks down on you.

CROWLEY: Facing the Pennsylvania primary, which hinges on working-class votes, Barack Obama is accused of being an elitist. She never let up over the weekend, sporting her working-class creds with tales of when she first learned to shoot a gun and photo-ops sipping beer and tossing back a shot.

Looking to stand this issue on its head, Obama told a crowd of steel industry workers to beware of Washington insiders bearing promises.

OBAMA: They will even come around with TV crews in tow and throw back a shot and a beer. But if those same candidates are taking millions of dollars in contributions from the PACs and the lobbyists, ask yourself, who are their going to be toasting once the election's over?

CROWLEY: Elitists in Democratic Party jargon means unelectable. Think Michael Dukakis. Think Al Gore. Think John Kerry -- products of privilege, Ivy Leaguers, who tried but largely failed to connect to working-class and rural Americans.

They are voters Democrats think vote against their economic interests because they see the party as too liberal and disdainful of socially conservative culture. It is why he goes bowling and she visits diners. It is why it's important this Harvard-educated lawyer pushes back.

OBAMA: I wasn't born into a lot of money. I didn't have a trust fund. I wasn't born into fame and fortune. I was raised by a single mother with the help of my grandparents, who grew up in small-town Kansas and went to school on the G.I. Bill, and bought their home through a FHA loan. My mother had to use food stamps at one point.

CROWLEY: And it is why this Yale-educated lawyer keeps working on it, on the ground and in the air.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CAMPAIGN CLINTON AD)

NARRATOR: Barack Obama said that people in small towns cling to guns or religion as a way to explain their frustrations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was very insulted by Barack Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just shows how out of touch Barack Obama is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: It is the fiercest of battles over the rawest nerve in the Democratic Party: how to bring home the working class.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: So, for Hillary Clinton, how much is enough piling on Obama for his bitter Pennsylvania remark, and how much is too much?

CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is sticking with us. She's in Philadelphia. We're also adding CNN contributor Roland Martin from Chicago, both part of the best political team on television. And we're bringing in Kevin Madden, who was press secretary for Republican Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

Welcome to everybody.

Candy, I'm going to start with you. It looks like Hillary Clinton thinks she's got a winner here. Is she going to keep hammering this through next week's primary?

CROWLEY: Oh, absolutely.

I mean, they think this is a major issue for them, I mean, particularly in this state, which really is fertile territory, as you said, for the working-class voter. They obviously think that they are onto something. It's why you see those ads.

She has been at it, frankly, since Friday, and they're not going to let up on this, because they want to ratchet up the victory. They were already expected to win here in Pennsylvania, but what they want is a big win, a double-digit win, and they think this might put them over that top.

BROWN: Roland, I know it is about the margins. How much trouble do you think Obama is in?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, as this continues and he is off message, obviously, he has to continue to confront it. But, also, I think what the Democrats have to do, even Clinton is playing a dangerous game.

But by them saying that, well, this is a matter of appealing to these working-class voters, Democrats do appeal to working-class voters. What we're talking about are rural voters who traditionally they have problems with.

And so I'm amazed by this whole notion that somehow Democrats don't appeal to them, this notion of elitist. Look, we have presidents who are elitists. They all have money. They all, you know, come from the Senate or are governors. So, it's not like the regular man, average Joe is ever elected president.

So, let's get a grip. And, really, if you want to compare bank accounts, Obama's probably the brokest presidential candidate between John McCain married to a beer baron and then Hillary Clinton with about 100 million bucks. And, so, come on now. Let's get real with this whole notion of a regular guy, a regular woman is going to be elected president. Ain't going to happen.

BROWN: All right, Kevin, does Roland have a point? Obama was raised by a single mom. He only recently paid off his student loans. Is it fair to label him as an elitist?

KEVIN MADDEN, FORMER ROMNEY CAMPAIGN NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY: Well, you know, I think the elitist part of this is probably -- I don't think that a lot of people took issue so much with the word bitter, as much as the word cling to and the references to both religion and the Second Amendment.

That makes Barack Obama look somewhat contemptuous -- contemptuous of a lot of these traditions and these values that a lot of small-town voters hold very dear. And, you know, I do agree with Roland that this is probably not the best argument that Hillary Clinton can use in order to win the Democrat primary, but in the general election, you can be absolutely sure that John McCain is going to use this to drive home the contrast between the Democrat Party and the Republican Party.

BROWN: All right, guys, we're going to take a quick break.

When we come back, we have got a lot more with our political panel. Stay with us. We will be back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: And we're bringing our panel back right now for a lot more discussion.

And, Candy Crowley, I want to bring you back in.

We were talking about Hillary Clinton being on the attack over these comments made by Barack Obama. The risk here, as we have heard from some people, is that she could overplay her hand with some of the comments she has made over the weekend, like this one. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I also disagree with Senator Obama's assertion that people in this country cling to guns and have certain attitudes about immigration or trade simply out of frustration. People of all walks of life hunt, and they enjoy doing so because it's an important part of their life, not because they are bitter.

OBAMA: She's running around talking about how this is an insult to sportsmen, how she values the Second Amendment. She's talking like she's Annie Oakley.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Candy, what you may not have heard there, but what she did go on to say, was talking about how her grandfather I think used to take her hunting, I mean, very -- not the normal Hillary Clinton I think we're accustomed to hearing from.

CROWLEY: Absolutely.

And, I mean, I think there is a danger that you can go over the top. I mean, we saw her talking about -- it was her father, actually, who took her outside her grandfather's house and taught her how to shoot. So, there were you know things, these sort of personal touches, that candidates want to do, but they do open them up for, yes, well, when was the last time you shot a gun, which was asked of her?

And she said, well, that's not relevant at this point. So, you can go overboard. But she's hitting at the essential issue about this. And that is not so much that you have a candidate who is of the working class or of rural America, but someone who understands the culture. And that's what they're going for here, is, I get you. I understand where you're coming from. And that's a connection she's trying to make and ultimately the one he's trying to make.

BROWN: Let me change the subject a bit.

Senator Obama isn't the only politician apologizing for his poor choice of words tonight. Kentucky Republican Congressman Geoff Davis is also apologizing for calling Obama a snake oil salesman, then going on to tell a dinner party -- quote -- "I'm going to tell you something, that that boy's finger does not need to be on the button," said Davis. "He could not make a decision in that simulation that related to a nuclear threat to this country."

The Obama campaign called that outrageous. Davis has now written the senator a letter, saying his poor choice of words is regrettable and was in no way meant to impugn you or your integrity. I offer my sincere apology to you and ask for your forgiveness. My comment in no way reflects the personal and professional respect I have for you."

Roland, let me go to you.

Some pretty outrageous remarks, I guess. Do you think they're going to resonate beyond this moment?

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: ... this apology?

MARTIN: Well, it's a matter of understanding what the meaning is.

And I can tell you, as an African-American man, being called a boy is more insulting than being called the N-word. And so, I mean, this is an historical sort of perspective that people have to understand when you -- I mean, boy was used to demean black men. It was used to simply dismiss them, even with their children, when they were working, call someone a boy.

I remember I had a colleague who meant absolutely no harm, Campbell, I mean no, harm whatsoever, several years ago who referenced me and said, boy, and he immediately stopped and said, now, you know I didn't mean that. I said, no, I understand what you meant.

But he quickly recognized -- it was a white male -- he quickly recognized what that means. And so I don't necessarily know how far it will go, but it does go to show, Campbell, again, how the game has changed when you have candidates who ordinarily we're not used to, an African-American male, a white female, how does that change what you say in a campaign.

BROWN: Let me bring up another element. And, Kevin, I will have you comment on this. This is a new ad that Hillary Clinton has running in North Carolina.

It's a testimonial from a 91-year-old woman, Jewel Hodges. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CLINTON CAMPAIGN AD)

JEWEL HODGES, CLINTON SUPPORTER: She had to climb up the rough side of the mountain in life. I saw her take her faith, courage, strength, dignity, and climb that mountain. With determination and with the God-given strength, she got to the top polished like gold."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: What's the unspoken message here? Is that reference, climbing up the mountain, is that a reference to impeachment, to Lewinsky? Is she bringing that into the campaign, do you think?

MADDEN: Well, I will tell you, Campbell, I was very struck by how the visuals matched the actual buzz words that were used in this ad, the way that she used identity politics to talk with somebody who was an elderly woman, who was also an African-American, and then the words strength and experience and toughness. It's exactly that.

She is trying to hammer home those attributes that a lot of Americans -- that endeared her to a lot of Americans, endeared her to a lot of her supporters, that she gathered during those impeachment hearings. But she's using it in a positive. She's trying to wipe away a lot of the negative memories and hammer home those attributes that she hopes all voters judge her on when they get into the ballot box -- when they get to the ballot box, strength, experience. And those are the type of attributes she wants voters to be left with when they cast their support.

MARTIN: Campbell, it also plays very well in the Democratic primary.

It will not play well in the general election, because Republicans will say, let's bring up all the investigations. And so, again, she knows that Democrats will rally around the Republican attacks. That's why she did it. And also keep in mind, a 91-year-old African-American woman who went through Jim Crow, saw racism firsthand, running against an African-American, appealing to black women, you can't discount the racial and the gender aspect, in addition to the comments about strength of experience.

BROWN: Candy, was there all that thinking going into it on the campaign's part?

CROWLEY: Well, I mean, at this point, I must say, the ad, I think, is sort of aimed at all those trials and tribulations that Hillary Clinton went through, whether it is Whitewater, whether it is impeachment.

I think it is aimed exactly at that. And Hillary Clinton has found that, when she gets up off the mat, that is very popular with voters. They tend to identify with that. And I think that that's exactly what that ad is all about, in addition to the demographics that Kevin talked about.

BROWN: All right. Candy, Roland, Kevin, thanks. Appreciate everybody's time tonight.

Next week's Pennsylvania primary is important, but maybe not for the reasons you think. To look at what is really -- what it's really all about, we're going to head into the ELECTION CENTER war room. We have got one hint for you. Think superdelegates and strategy. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Looking ahead now to next week's primary in Pennsylvania and beyond, the Democrats are battling for votes, but whose votes?

Before we go to the war room, Tom Foreman is joining us with what Pennsylvania is really all about -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hillary Clinton is absolutely throwing all these haymakers in her debates, in her ads, everything, at Obama in Pennsylvania now, because she has to look at the map and the math.

Ten states and territories have yet to decide their votes, with more than 500 pledged delegates between them. More than 300 superdelegates are still undecided, too. That means just over 900 delegates overall still up for grabs.

Now look at the current delegate count. Obama leads with 1,631. And Clinton has 1,488. So, let's say she has a remarkably strong run from here on out, and she takes 58 percent of all the remaining delegates, including the supers. If she did that, she would still go into the convention with only two more delegates than he has.

BROWN: So, Tom, how likely is it she can pull that off?

FOREMAN: Well, I think you know. Not very, Campbell.

Obama has won 52 percent of all the delegates so far. She's only won 48 percent. So, just to get that razor-thin advantage that we're talking about, she would have to improve her performance by 10 percent the rest of the way, and he would have to fall by the same amount.

Remember, she once had a commanding lead among those superdelegates. He's been steadily eating away at that. He's now only about 30 behind, and that's the only number where he trails her in this race.

BROWN: So, Tom, if the numbers look bad for Clinton, what can she even hope for in Pennsylvania?

FOREMAN: Oh, good question.

If she can get a monster win in Pennsylvania, she might get some momentum and make the superdelegates think that Obama somehow can't close the deal and really can't win in a clutch general election. She needs them to think that, because, right now, even though her followers don't want to hear it, that's her best, if not only hope for getting the nomination, if the supers give it to her -- Campbell. BROWN: All right, Tom, thanks very much.

We want to -- or now that, rather, we have crunched the numbers, it's time to head into the war room, where we dissect the constantly shifting tactics of the campaigns.

On the agenda tonight, the real Pennsylvania strategy and what the Democratic candidates need to do now, with just eight days left until the primary.

In the war room tonight, CNN contributor Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist, and Ed Rollins, Republican strategist and former Huckabee national chair -- or national campaign chair.

And welcome to you both.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: So, Hank, let me start with you.

Let's say you are Hillary Clinton's campaign manager. She's hammering Obama right now, as you well know. You're on the phone with superdelegates every waking hour, basically. What are you telling them?

HANK SHEINKOPF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We're going to pound them. We're going to use the class conscious argument. We're going it prove we can win the Catholics in the Midwest, and that's the election. Stand by and don't go anyplace.

BROWN: And they're responding to this argument, you would imagine?

SHEINKOPF: They're going to say wow. They're going to say Obama has really not done the appropriate thing here in Pennsylvania. He has really screwed up, and it may be Dukakis all over again. And the Democrats won't want to hear that.

BROWN: Let's say you're Obama's guy. What are you telling your superdelegates right now to try to reassure them?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, I would get back on message. He's been off message since Friday. He's obviously talking about...

BROWN: And still today.

ROLLINS: And still today.

He has to get back to what worked for him, which is a campaign about hope. He has to talk about being young, aggressive, a new order, not more of the Bush-Clinton era, and basically go get those young people that were for him, and then go convince the workers, the blue collars, the Catholics, the ethnic, that are very important in that state that he understands their life. He made a misstatement, but so what? Let's move on. I can win this thing. I'm tough enough. I'm aggressive enough. Why does John McCain want Hillary Clinton to be his opponent and not me? Because I can win.

BROWN: So, Hank, be Obama's guy now. I mean, does he have a shot? Has he lost rural voters for good, or is there a way for him to woo them back?

SHEINKOPF: It's going to be very difficult for him to get rural voters back. Going to be very difficult for him to get white Catholics, white ethnics back in Pennsylvania. His shot is in the city of Pennsylvania, but the cost per point, probably huge. If I'm him, I slowly back off. I poll and I go on to the next battle.

He's going to win North Carolina, big numbers. He probably will lose Indiana. It doesn't change the basic nature of things.

BROWN: So, Ed, Republicans have got to be deliriously happy about this, I'm imagining. If you're John McCain, what are you doing with this to take advantage of it?

ROLLINS: Well, first of all, you still need to stay on your game plan. Your game plan is to reinvigorate your base and reach beyond that.

If you become overenthused about what's going on here, you take your eye off the ball. At the end of the day, this is their battle. They're going to have a unified campaign against you in the fall, and would better be preparing your base today.

BROWN: OK.

I want to show both of you guys some pictures. I think you can see them on the monitor. This is Hillary Clinton, if we can bring it up, throwing back a shot. I don't think I have ever seen her do that before. We have also got Barack Obama doing his bowlathon. These are two Ivy League-educated senators here.

Do you encourage these sort of salt-of-the-earth kind of moments? Do you think anyone buys it?

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS: Not if they can't do it. You certainly don't let a guy bowl who can only bowl a 37. And you certainly don't let someone put a shot back unless they do it -- I think Hillary is a little more experienced at drinking than he is at bowling.

(LAUGHTER)

SHEINKOPF: I just look at that and what I see is John Kerry walking through the duck fields hunting with a rifle. And I don't think that works at all. I see Mike Dukakis on the tank and I see all kinds of other stuff.

ROLLINS: Well, John Kerry windsurfing was even more...

(CROSSTALK)

SHEINKOPF: Well, that was better.

But there's a level of elitism that is not permitted, that you that can't get past. There's a level of identification that you can become believable about. At some point, this stuff loses its value. What is important is Barack Obama is not believable when it comes to blue-collar people right now. That has a contagion. She is more believable, regardless of income returns and everything else.

BROWN: All right.

Hank Sheinkopf, Ed Rollins, appreciate it, as always. Good to see you guys.

SHEINKOPF: Thank you.

BROWN: A packed courtroom in central Texas today, dozens of lawyers trying to sort out the fate of hundreds of children taken from the polygamist sect in Texas.

Also, CNN's Sean Callebs is looking at how the sect deceived local residents when its leaders first moved into town. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We turn to developments now in the massive polygamy case in central Texas, what may become the largest child custody battle in American history.

And it is truly a legal nightmare, with dozens of attorneys packing the courthouse today, their job, to begin sorting out custody of the 416 children seized during the raid at the polygamist sect's compound.

Also today, the children were bused from an overcrowded shelter to a larger facility at the Coliseum in the town of San Angelo -- that as hundreds more lawyers are being recruited to present -- or to represent the children, some of whom might have been abused.

And just a short time ago, CNN learned at least 100 women members of the sect have now returned to the compound. A spokesman tells us they are the mothers of children 5 years and older, and authorities told them they could not remain with the children but could either go back to the ranch or to a women's shelter. The raid that set the case in motion came four years after the FLDS sect broke ground in rural Texas. And today we asked the question, why elected county officials failed to act more quickly.

Sean Callebs takes a look back now at how the polygamous sect became established and thrived in central Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The FLDS compound in remote west Texas began at best as a plausible piece of deception. At worst, it was simply a lie. Local officials say they didn't know the original purchaser of the land was an official of the polygamous sect. Instead, he said he was buying 1,700 acres as a hunting ranch and lodge. State Representative Drew Darby is also a San Angelo real estate attorney who helped with the deal.

REP. DREW DARBY (R), TEXAS STATE: That was obviously a lie, and I was misled, and so was the real estate broker, and so were the sellers in the transaction.

CALLEBS: But for months, the truth about the ranch land was a mystery. Len Meador is a county commissioner.

LEN MEADOR, SCHLEICHER COUNTY COMMISSIONER: People in west Texas and Texas in general, I suppose, appreciate private right, private property rights, and people don't ask questions.

CALLEBS: At least not right away. But soon construction began. Lots and lots of construction. Huge homes of several thousands square feet. A massive foundation that would be the footing of a temple and a huge wall surrounding it.

RANDY MANKIN, ELDORADO SUCCESS OWNER: It didn't look like any hunting retreat I'd ever seen.

CALLEBS: But the new neighbors didn't reveal much.

MEADOR: We found out that as time went on that really they preferred to be left alone.

CALLEBS: Sometime after the sect had discreetly burrowed in, suspicions about who was really building what out here in the scrub brush grew louder and louder.

CALLEBS (on camera): From time to time, people in this region say they noticed very young, very pregnant women. Many folks in this area seemed to understand that this was a polygamist offshoot of a site in Colorado City, Arizona, a site run by FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs. Jeffs is now in prison for his role as an accomplice in rape.

CALLEBS (voice-over): And there are some who didn't focus as much on the alleged underage sex as much as they worried about whether the new group would try to take over the town itself.

MEADOR: We were concerned that maybe they might come in and try to be more involved in our local activities.

CALLEBS: And then just last week came the raid. Many here say the sheriff was in tune with the activities inside the compound and that Sheriff David Doran handled the situation well.

MANKIN: I point to him as the reason this didn't turn into a Waco. CALLEBS: Doran is under a gag order and can't talk. But it's well known he cultivated a relationship with FLDS members. Still, there is no question many are second-guessing the entire affair.

CALLEBS: What could you have done, in all honesty?

DARBY: In all honesty, nothing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Sean Callebs is joining us by phone now from inside the polygamous compound in Eldorado, Texas. So Sean, tell us, how did you get access? What's going on there?

ON THE PHONE: SEAN CALLEBS: You know, it happened very strangely. We were out in front of this ranch, and a member of the sect came out and said we're going to allow you in. So we drove down this long dirt road that leads about a mile onto their property. Once we got down to another gate, they locked the gate and said we need to hear from our attorneys. So we hope to be able to shed some more light on this very secretive sect.

I also take issue with the term compound. They say it's a ranch, and in their words they don't like to use the term "compound" because they believe many people across the country don't know what a compound is and they say, Campbell, that people fear what they don't understand.

BROWN: All right. Sean Callebs joining us by telephone, again, from inside the ranch, as they would prefer it be called, although it doesn't look like a ranch I've ever seen. Anyway, when we come back, a secretive polygamous sect where children allegedly were abused, and it operated for years in plain sight.

Where were federal or state officials? How could this happen? We're going to ask the attorney general in the state of Texas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Back now to our coverage of the FLDS polygamous sect in Texas. Four hundred sixteen children are in temporary custody, relocated today from a crowded shelter to the town of San Angelo's coliseum. Investigators believe that many of those children forced into marriage with adults were victims of sexual exploitation. But we are also hearing from mothers, members of the sect who are pleading for their children to be returned to the FLDS compound.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are happy, sweet children. They love it here. They want to be here. They keep saying they want to go home, they want to go home. Let us go home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Well, clearly, Texas law enforcement does not agree. But why, if the sect broke ground on their compound years ago, did authorities wait so long to act?

We're joined now by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. Mr. Abbott, appreciate your time tonight. Thank you for joining us. I want to ask you, 416 children now in the custody of your state, and in court today we heard allegations of a systematic exploitation and sex abuse of children on this ranch. Why was nothing done until now?

GREG ABBOTT, TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL: Because there weren't any reports of any kind of outcries or any other allegations of any kind of wrongdoing until recently. This group, just like any other group or individual, has a right to privacy in their own home, in their own property, unless there is some law that is violated. As soon as officials learned that a law was violated, they took swift action to ensure the safety and well-being of the children who were in that compound.

BROWN: But we've heard from numerous people that people generally in the community knew what was going on there. We know for the last four years the sheriff had an informant within the community. So there was a sense that law enforcement was aware.

ABBOTT: Well, as you point out, the sheriff had a contact within the compound. That's what we hear. And so he had some idea of what may have been going on, but he had no direct information of any illegal acts. There was no direct information outside of the compound of any illegal acts that were taking place. As soon as any legal violation was learned, swift and effective action was taken.

BROWN: But with all due respect, we're talking about the sex abuse of children here. So if he had some idea of what might be going on, even without a complaint, couldn't authorities have sent undercover officers in, done surveillance, issued subpoenas? I mean, just because you didn't have a specific allegation, aren't there other methods you could have used to investigate?

ABBOTT: Well, Campbell, here in America we don't invade someone's home unless there is information that there is any legal wrongdoing. And to this date, we're still searching and putting together the evidence determining exactly what happened. And all of these facts will unfold in the coming days.

The key factor, though, is that as soon as a law enforcement officer learned that there was a violation or at least an alleged violation that occurred, swift action was taken to remove the children from a harmful place, put them into a safer place, and now we're going to begin that process of undertaking a comprehensive investigation and if there is wrongdoing that took place, we will be involved in the prosecution.

BROWN: Today the children were moved, I know, to another location, and the number of women who had been staying with the children were returned to the ranch. Why were they moved? Does this mean the children now have been separated from their mothers?

ABBOTT: Well, the first step that had to take place, when the children were removed, was to immediately get them out of harm's way, get them into any place that they could be placed into. Today they were moved into more comfortable lodgings, where hopefully their lives would be a little bit more comfortable as they begin to go through this process.

BROWN: I want to take a look at what this woman said. Her name's Kathleen Jessop (ph). She was returned to the ranch today, and this is what she had to say about this original allegation by the 16- year-old girl. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATHLEEN JESSOP (ph), FLDS MEMBER: Alleged allegation that they came in here with was that there was a Sarah Barlow Jessop (ph). It's a fictitious name. Someone outside of our land called in and made that allegation, and they acted on an allegation without facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: She's saying essentially this girl doesn't exist. What do you make of it?

ABBOTT: We haven't seen the girl yet, talked to the girl yet. What we do know, though, is based upon whatever allegations may have been made, Child Protective Services with the assistance of law enforcement went onto the property, learned information that supported allegations there was sexual assault of children taking place inside the compound that justified Texas CPS removing the children to a separate place, and justifies us at this time undertaking the investigative process to determine exactly the extent of all the legal wrongdoing that took place in that compound.

BROWN: But going back to the girl, what's being done now to find her? And will you be able to make any of the allegations or a case stick, essentially, if you don't have her?

ABBOTT: Right. Efforts are being made to contact the 16-year- old girl who made the allegations. But, according to Texas law, regardless of whether or not that person is ever found, the allegations that will develop will still be able to stick because once there are allegations of wrongdoing or abuse of children, CPS is fully authorized to go into that premise, remove the children from an allegedly harmful situation, make the determination about whether or not the compound was a safe place, and all evidence that is gathered and learned after that point can be used in a court of law to prosecute any wrongdoing that occurred.

BROWN: All right. Well, Attorney General Greg Abbott of Texas, I do appreciate you coming on and answering our questions tonight. Thank you.

ABBOTT: Thank you.

BROWN: The Democratic candidates are opening up about their faith but tiptoeing around a controversy where faith, science, and politics collide.

Plus, why President Bush's former attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, is reworking his resume. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: John McCain utters the "R" word. Let's check in now with Tom Foreman in Washington for that and more of today's other headlines. Hi, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Campbell. You're right. In Washington today, Senator McCain did say for the first time that in his view a recession is under way. While Senator Obama has already said the same, Senator Clinton hasn't been quite willing to go that far nor has the president.

One symptom of the global economic troubles, rising food prices both here in the U.S. and overseas, where it's triggering violence and riots from Haiti to the Philippines. The White House announced today it's releasing $200 million in emergency food aid to help ease the worldwide crisis.

In Cuba today, a cell phone revolution of sorts. People were lining up to buy or register cell phones in their own name for the very first time. That wasn't allowed under Fidel Castro. But now that his brother Raul is in charge, Cubans can buy their own phones and calling cards. At $120 apiece, that's more than half a year's salary for the average Cuban.

Finally, guess who's having trouble finding a job? Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who resigned amid controversy last year. "The New York Times" says Gonzales has been trying to entice several Washington law firms to hire him, but so far no takers. The Justice Department is still investigating whether he lied under oath about a secret government eavesdropping program. But the "Times" also says Gonzales is making about $30,000 a clip on the public speaking circuit, and as they say at the Agriculture Department, that's not chicken feed -- Campbell.

BROWN: Yes. Not bad at all for somebody who can't find a full- time job. OK, Tom. Thank you.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is coming up at the top of the hour. Larry, who's joining you tonight?

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Campbell, Stephen Colbert will be with us tonight live from Philadelphia. He's going to tell us who he's voting for. Something tells me it's not going to be a straightforward response.

Colbert on King, live at the top of the hour. This will be something, Campbell.

BROWN: I can't wait, Larry. He's awesome. I'm a huge fan. Well, we'll definitely be watching. Thank you.

KING: Thanks.

BROWN: Last night I helped moderate the "Compassion Forum" at which Senator Clinton and Obama took questions about faith and politics. It wasn't all heavy-duty, though.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON MEACHAM, MODERATOR: Do you think God wants you to be president?

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I could be glib and say we'll find out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Stay with us for some serious answers you hardly ever hear from Democrats. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We turn to the intersection of faith and politics in the campaign, and it's happening on the eve of Pope Benedict's historic visit to the United States. Last night I was one of the moderators for the "Compassion Forum" at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. It was broadcast live on CNN and gave voters a rare chance to hear the Democratic candidates talk about how faith influences their decisions. "Newsweek" editor Jon Meacham was also a moderator, and his provocative question for Hillary Clinton led to a memorable moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON MEACHAM, MODERATOR: Why do you think it is that a loving God allows innocent people to suffer?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well --

(LAUGHTER)

MEACHAM: And we just have 30 seconds.

CLINTON: Yes.

CLINTON: You know, that is the subject of generations of commentary and debate. And I don't know. I can't wait to ask him because I have just pondered it endlessly.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: With me now to talk about religion in this campaign is senior national correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network David Brody. He's in Washington. And CNN contributor Roland Martin joining us again from Chicago.

David, let me ask you, how do you think generally each candidate did last night dealing with these questions of faith? Did one seem sort of more comfort with the issue than the other?

DAVID BRODY, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: Well, I think they both sounded pretty comfortable. You know, listen, Campbell, they were on the religious hot seat and the fact that they actually sat in the chair is kudos to both of them. I mean, what Hillary Clinton did in that clip that you just saw was smile and say you know what, oh, shucks, I don't know. I'll have to ask God when I see him. I mean, that's a moment we don't normally see with Hillary Clinton and that's extremely impressive.

And as for Barack Obama, what he did last night on the life issue, on the abortion question was very interesting because basically, what he was saying, he was giving an olive branch to the pro lifers out there to say listen, there is a moral component to abortion. And you know, to the pro-life voters out there, that's important, to be recognized that hey, what we're saying is resonating in the pro-choice community.

BROWN: Roland, what did you think?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I thought both were certainly strong, and I'm glad they showed up. John McCain, interesting, who needs help with evangelicals, didn't show up. The other thing that was also interesting that has been overlooked and I'm very surprised by it, that Obama talked about wanting to continue the faith-based initiative that President Bush launched, although he clearly said that he wants to run it a different way. That was news coming out of that.

The whole issue of also HIV and AIDS. And look, the bottom line is those folks who are on the right who don't want to hear Democrats talk about it, I heard Rush Limbaugh say these are Marxist evangelicals, talking about, you know, poverty. I don't even know if Rush even reads the bible, but the reality is Jesus ought to talk about poverty and the poor more than anything else. And so, it was great to see Democrats embrace the issue of faith.

And Campbell, understand, there are a significant number of people of faith who are not happy with those on the right, who are progressive, who are moderate, who see the issues of faith beyond abortion, homosexuality. Democrats have to be able to speak to them.

BROWN: And David, let me ask you to follow up on a point that Roland just made, that John McCain did not attend last night. He is having some issues with evangelicals. Do you think there is a reluctance on his part to talk about these issues?

BRODY: Oh, I don't think there's any question about it. I mean, he's not going to come out and exactly say that. But sure, I mean -- you know, look, John McCain didn't show up for a number of reasons. One, I think the campaign felt it was more of a Democratic event, whatever that would mean necessarily. But also, you know, at the same time he had an opportunity to really capitalize on the pro-life issue here. He could have stood up and said to the pro-choice Hillary Clinton and to the pro-choice Barack Obama to say listen, I have a 24- year pro-life voting record and in essence appealed to many evangelicals out there. And he did not do that.

John McCain does not want to throw out bible verses when it comes to climate change. That's not his thing. He's not going to do it. And you're probably not going to see much of that at all. And so what the Democrats have been able to do, Campbell, is define this faith debate on their own terms, poverty, Darfur --

MARTIN: That's right.

BRODY: And other issues. And therefore, they're making a major inroad especially when it comes to moderate evangelicals.

BROWN: All right, guys. Stay with us. Both candidates were very careful with their answer to the question when life begins we mentioned a moment ago. That leads to questions about abortion. We'll talk about that coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Back to our discussion of religion and politics. Abortion is an issue that has been problematic for the Democratic Party and its candidates. Last night at the "Compassion Forum," Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were asked a yes or no question. Do you believe that life begins at conception? And here's how they responded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is something that I have not, I think, come to a firm resolution on. I think it's very hard to know what that means, when life begins. Is it when a cell separates? Is it when the soul stirs? So I don't presume to know the answer to that question.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that the potential for life begins at conception. I am a Methodist, as you know. My church has struggled with this issue. In fact, you can look at the Methodist Book of Discipline and see the contradiction and the challenge of trying to sort that very profound question out. But for me, it is also not only about a potential life; it is about the other lives involved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: David, let me start with you. Bringing back our -- or rather getting reaction from both David Brody again and Roland Martin, I should have introduced you before. Sorry, guys. But David, let me do start with you. What do you think of each of their answers there?

BRODY: Well, I mean, it wasn't out of the pro-life playbook. I mean, you know -- clearly, you know, the answer, you know, as many religious right Christians would listen to those answers and say no, wrong answer. But let's remember, they're not going after the religious right necessarily.

And what's important here is that when it comes to November of '08, whoever survives, you know, what's going to happen here is that they're not going to get the majority of conservative evangelicals, but they need to fight over that single-digit number. Two percent, three percent of whatever it is that the conservative evangelicals -- because remember, Campbell, there is a broader evangelical movement within the conservative evangelical base.

We're talking about the younger generation that cares about other issues. And so, that's very important to keep in mind.

BROWN: I wanted -- let me ask you -- let me follow up, though, David. Is it even a deal breaker, that issue, anymore for evangelicals? As you said, the younger evangelicals, I noted, at the forum we're talking about a lot of other issues. Climate change was big. Poverty.

BRODY: Right, right.

BROWN: AIDS in Africa. Is that a deal breaker anymore?

BRODY: Well, you know, obviously, that's a whole big equation changer. And that's what Obama is tapping into. Hillary Clinton wants to tap into it as well. And so, sure. You know, the pro-life issue, let's also be very clear here.

The pro-life issue is very important to the younger evangelicals that are out there, the conservative evangelicals. It's not like it's not important to them. But when you broaden the issues out there, it makes for a larger playing landscape, and that's where Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are playing right now.

MARTIN: Hey, Campbell, he's on it.

BROWN: Yes. Go ahead, Roland.

MARTIN: He absolutely nailed it. And the other issue is here. How they can also take the abortion question because it also shows what a lot of other folks are in terms of where you define it. I mean, the whole issue of, you know, where does life -- you know, Senator Hillary Clinton said the potential for life begins at conception. I mean, you're right. It begins when you decide to have sex and that it may result in a child. So you never know.

The other issue is this here. I think, I thought they were going to do but they didn't, to say OK, you know what, I also, as a moral issue, the whole issue of infant mortality. In some inner cities across the country, it rivals third world countries. And so, you have to be able to say prenatal care for women as also instead if you're pro life you would care about children. You also take care of those children before they come out of the womb. This is also a matter of lowering those rates.

BROWN: Right.

MARTIN: The Democrats have an opportunity here, but they have to keep it going.

BROWN: OK.

MARTIN: They can't just limit it to yesterday.

BROWN: All right. We've got to end it there. Roland Martin and David Brody, appreciate the conversation. Thanks, guys.

BRODY: Thank you.

MARTIN: Thank you.

BROWN: That's it for tonight. Join us tomorrow. We've got an interview with Mitt Romney, the former presidential candidate. That's it for us. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.

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