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Clinton Hoping for Pennsylvania Victory; Obama's 'Uphill Battle'; Howard Wolfson on Hillary's Campaign and Future Debates with Obama

Aired April 22, 2008 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Pennsylvania Democrats are deciding whether to give Hillary Clinton the win she needs. But is her husband making some new trouble for her campaign?
You're going to want to hear what Bill Clinton is saying now and why he's wagging his finger at reporters. We'll speak about that and a lot more with a top Clinton campaign official, the communications director, Howard Wolfson. He's standing by live.

Also this hour, we'll get a glimpse into what Pennsylvania voters are thinking about the Obama/Clinton contest and the big issues. We're standing by for the first information we're getting in today from our brand new exit polls under way right now.

And John McCain on the fringes. He visits an Ohio border town, keeping one eye on the troubled economy and the other on the Democrats' battle in the state next door.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

When the polls close in Pennsylvania four hours from now, Hillary Clinton could get a new shot of adrenaline for her campaign. Even Barack Obama suggests Clinton is likely to win tonight. If she does win, the big question is this: by how much will she win?

Over the past month, Clinton's lead in Pennsylvania polls has fluctuated. An average of surveys in mid-March showed her ahead by 12 points. By April 10, though, her average lead had shrunk to only four points. Right now on this day it's back up nine points.

Both Clinton and Obama are fighting for every delegate they can get. One hundred and fifty-eight are up for grabs today, making Pennsylvania the biggest prize left this primary season. Heading into today's vote, CNN estimates that Obama has a total of 144 more delegates than Clinton. Can she narrow that gap tonight?

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is standing by. She's covering the Obama campaign.

But first, let's get the latest from our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's over at the CNN Election Express in Philadelphia watching all of this unfold.

All right, Candy, set the stage for us. What, we're only less than four hours now from when the polls will be closed.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Hillary Clinton is still in the state. Barack Obama has left. That tells you something.

When we take all the spin away from both these campaigns, Wolf, here's what we're left with -- Barack Obama expects to lose, and Hillary Clinton expects to win.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton will leave Pennsylvania as she came in, courting voters and Democratic superdelegates likely to decide the race.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I happen to think I'm the stronger candidate against Senator McCain.

CROWLEY: Pennsylvania is another in a series of do-or-dies for Clinton, and the polls point to a do. Even with a win she'll still be behind in pledged delegates and the popular vote, but a win propels her into Indiana and North Carolina, and bolsters, she believes, that electability argument.

CLINTON: This will be one more in a long line of big states, states that Democrats have to win. You know, the road to the white House for a Democrat leads right through Pennsylvania, to Pennsylvania Avenue.

CROWLEY: While the candidate stayed on message, her husband got pulled off the mark with a blast from the past -- a question about a bitter race debate in South Carolina. He blames camp Obama.

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that they played the race card on me, and we now know from memos from the campaign and everything that they planned to do it all along.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hold on a second. So, former President Clinton dismissed my victory in South Carolina as being similar to Jesse Jackson, and he's suggesting that somehow I had something to do with it? OK. Well, you better ask him what he meant by that.

CROWLEY: So a reporter did just that, asking the former president what did he mean when he said the Obama camp played the race card.

W. CLINTON: No, no, no. That's not what I said. You always follow me around and play these little games.

CROWLEY: Meanwhile, back on the reservation...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you agree with that assertion?

H. CLINTON: Well, I think that we're going to stay focused on what voters are focused on.

CROWLEY: Geography can tell you a lot about what campaigns think. Barack Obama left for Indiana this afternoon. Hillary Clinton will be in Pennsylvania tonight, waiting for the results.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: In the end, the arguments from both camps goes something like this -- in the Clinton campaign, they believe Barack Obama should have been able to pull out a win here because he outspend her by more than two-to-one, whereas the Obama campaign says she should win here because the demographics are all in her favor -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And as you point out, Candy, she's going to make her big speech tonight in Pennsylvania, thanking the voters in Pennsylvania, presumably, if she wins. He's already moving on to Indiana, which votes in two weeks. I suppose he's not going to necessarily thank the voters in Pennsylvania if Hillary Clinton winds up winning.

CROWLEY: Well, I mean, you know, Wolf, we'll probably see some statement from the campaign, whether it will be Obama or not is unclear. But the fact of the matter, they both have kind of done this.

I remember in South Carolina, a big win for Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton went on to the next state. You always want to be, if you've lost, moving on to the next place.

BLITZER: That makes sense politically. All right. Good, Candy. Thanks very much.

Barack Obama already, as we say, is looking beyond what he calls his uphill battle in Pennsylvania to the primaries in two weeks on May 6.

Let's get the latest now from Suzanne Malveaux. She's already in Indiana, where Obama will be spending this evening.

Suzanne, he's put a lot of money into this race in Pennsylvania, outspent her considerably in those television commercials, yet you're saying he fully expects to lose.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, what he's trying to do today is really project a sense of confidence that no matter what happens today, that ultimately he's going to be the nominee. We heard from him earlier today saying that, look, the process is almost done. He also said he's won twice as many states and that he's still ahead in the pledged delegates.

What the aides tell me here is that they believe that if she doesn't have something like, say, in the 20 points or high-teens range, a lead over Barack Obama, that essentially it's not going to make that much difference in the delegate count, and that's what it all comes down to.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Barack Obama as man of the people. As voters began going to the polls, Obama, with his wife, Michelle, sat at a Pittsburgh diner, gushing over pancakes and the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

OBAMA: Do you guys know Mr. Rooney?

MALVEAUX: Both downplayed the impact of Obama potentially losing here, saying cutting into Hillary Clinton's lead was good enough.

OBAMA: Senator Clinton had a 20-point lead to start with. We think we closed it, but, you know, we, you know, still I think have to consider ourselves the underdogs. A lot of this will depend on turnout. It's a beautiful day.

MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF BARACK OBAMA: We got people who up until the very last minute are undecided. So, it's really hard to know how that's going to play out in the polls. So, we're just happy to see that there's great turnout.

MALVEAUX: But after spend spending tens of millions of dollars here, and six weeks of baby kissing, bowling, beer drinking and bickering, aides concede Obama cannot afford a blowout. Their campaign has outspent Hillary Clinton here more than two-to-one. Obama must continue to project confidence to future voters and undecided superdelegates that he can seal the deal.

OBAMA: Look, the -- I think we can win no matter what the results. The polling shows we can win no matter what the results. You know, it -- when I'm the nominee, Ed Rendell's going to be working for me just as hard as he's been working for Senator Clinton.

MALVEAUX: Obama has been fiercely fighting to cut into Clinton's base of loyal voters in Pennsylvania who are traditionally working class, white, older, Catholic. Obama is probably counting on those who historically favor him -- newly registered Democrats, African- Americans, young voters, and those generally wealthier and highly educated.

Obama's campaign admits they'd love to end the race today, but suspect Pennsylvania will not be the game-changer.

OBAMA: You know, I have come to conclude that this race will, you know, continue until the last primary or caucus vote is cast. And, you know, that's not that far away.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And Wolf, already the Obama campaign is setting its sights here on Indiana for that May 6 primary. Since this evening, Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, will be joined by rocker legend John Mellencamp. As you know, he's from a small town in Indiana. He sings about it, small town. It's something that's very popular in the campaign. All of them appearing here this evening, getting kind of some rock 'n' roll cred, if you will. He has really been working Indiana. He's already been here. He's got offices set up.

And he's got some endorsement from local mayors, as well as state senators. Most notably, the former congressman of Indiana. That being Lee Hamilton, the co-chair of the 9/11 Commission -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thanks very much.

Suzanne Malveaux is in Indiana already.

Republican John McCain obviously has a vested interest in the outcome of the Democrats' primary battle today. He's in Youngstown, Ohio, which is conveniently located near the border with Pennsylvania. Just ahead, we'll have a full report on his day and his latest efforts to prove he can compete with Democrats on issue No. 1. That would be the economy.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's watching all of this here as well -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed. Thanks, Wolf.

The race between Hillary and Barack, as in Clinton and Obama, has gotten so nasty, it's hard now to imagine the two ever teaming up on that so-called dream ticket. But there are Democrats who are holding out hope against hope it's still going to happen.

"The New York Times" reports how several high-profile Democrats, including former New York governor Mario Cuomo, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, along with some of the uncommitted superdelegates, think this is just a dandy idea. Their thinking is it would combine the voter bases of both and be a way to end this thing before the convention in August.

Aides from the two campaigns have not ruled it out, but there are issues. To start with, Clinton and Obama probably can't wait to be done with each other. They don't like each other much these days.

Obama's camp believes Clinton's baggage, her campaign's negative tone, would hurt his message of hope. And The Times, citing unnamed sources, reports the former president, Bill Clinton, thinks that the Obama campaign has portrayed him as a race baiter and a bare-knuckles campaigner.

Some Clinton aides say that she would almost have to offer Obama the vice president's position because of his popularity, and at this point either candidate could make the argument that they have the right of first refusal on the number two spot. History gives examples of politicians who didn't like each other but set their animosity aside for the greater political good.

JFK picked LBJ as his running mate. Ronald Reagan picked George Bush. John Kerry chose John Edwards. Because after all, in the end it's all about winning, isn't it? Here's the question: Do Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each owe the other one a spot on the ticket?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: That's what Mario Cuomo believes, as you know, the former governor of New York. He's made that proposal.

CAFFERTY: Well, several of the Democrats think it would be a good idea if they could somehow set aside their dislike at the moment for each other. Maybe they can. Who knows? We'll see.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

Bill Clinton says this day is about the voters in Pennsylvania, but did he create an unnecessary distraction from his wife's campaign? We'll talk about that and more about the former president's tiff with the news media and his criticism of Barack Obama with the Clinton communications director, Howard Wolfson. He's our next guest. He's standing by live.

And we're also standing by to get a first glimpse of the Pennsylvania exit polls. Are there any clues that we're getting right now, when and where the Democratic race will finally end?

And John McCain is on traditionally Democratic turf right now, practically under the noses of both Clinton and Obama, duking it out in Pennsylvania. We'll explain right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following what could be a pivotal contest in the Democratic presidential race right now. Voting is under way for Pennsylvania's primary. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are each hoping for a win, but exactly what constitutes a win?

Let's pose that question and more to the Clinton campaign. Joining us now is the communications director, Howard Wolfson. He's joining us from Arlington, Virginia.

Howard, thanks for coming in.

We heard from Terry McAuliffe yesterday saying a win is a win, it doesn't make any difference if it's one point or 10 points or whatever. But you know the pundits will say if it's not a double- digit win, 10 points, it might not necessarily be all that significant.

Go ahead and give us your analysis.

HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, you know, the pundits, Wolf, have counted Hillary Clinton out so many times before in New Hampshire and in Ohio, and at the end of the day it's up to the voters of Pennsylvania. The Obama campaign certainly knows that a win is a win. That's why they're trying so hard to win in Pennsylvania. They've spent a record amount of money in Pennsylvania. A significant amount of it on negative television advertising and mail attacking Senator Clinton. They're outspending us three-to-one, and so they want to knock Senator Clinton out. They're looking for a win in Pennsylvania.

And frankly, there's no reason why Senator Obama shouldn't be trying to win Pennsylvania. It's a critically important state in November. Any Democrat at the top of our ticket in November needs to win Pennsylvania.

Senator Obama knows that. He's going for the win. And he's working hard for it.

BLITZER: Why -- Howard, why are they having so much of a better time raising money than the Clinton campaign?

WOLFSON: Well, actually, Wolf, the Clinton campaign has had a very successful fund-raising experience.

BLITZER: But they raise a lot more.

WOLFSON: We raised -- they do raise a lot of money. And we give Senator Obama a great deal of credit for that. But we've out-raised John McCain, we've out-raised anyone in the history of Democratic primary politics up until this point. And we've done it because we've raised an awful lot of money on the Internet. We have a very successful online fundraising effort.

BLITZER: But why are they better at it?

WOLFSON: You know, I will leave that to the experts. I give Senator Obama credit. He has raised an awful lot of money, and he is certainly using that money in Pennsylvania to do everything he can to knock Senator Clinton out of the race.

He -- as I said, he's breaking records. He's outspending us. He's running negative TV ads. He's sending negative mail, negative phones. He's doing everything he can to win with the money he has.

BLITZER: Let me play this little clip, because it's generating some commotion out there today from the former president, Bill Clinton, and then we'll get your reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

W. CLINTON: I think that they played the race card on me, and we now know from memos in the campaign and everything that they planned to do it all along.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. That was yesterday in that radio interview.

What is he talking about? WOLFSON: Well, President Clinton is talking about a memo that the Obama campaign sent out earlier in the year, that I believe Senator Obama himself distanced himself from at one of the debates, but, you know, this is really not what people in Pennsylvania are going to the polls thinking about. They're thinking about at a time of tremendous challenges in this country, with two wars, a looming recession, a housing crisis, global warming, the largest deficits in our history, the threat of terrorism, who is going to be the best president who can step in on day one and really do the job that Americans expect of our leader in the White House? That's what people in Pennsylvania are voting on today.

BLITZER: Who's more qualified to be president of the United States, Barack Obama or John McCain?

WOLFSON: You know, if Barack Obama is this party's nominee, which I don't believe he will -- I do believe it will be Senator Clinton. But if Barack Obama is our party's nominee, we are going to work hard, as hard as we possibly can, to get him elected, because the stakes in this election are very high.

And the differences between both Democrats and the Democratic Party in general, and John McCain and the Republicans in general are profound. And so, yes, everyone here is going to do whatever we can to work hard for Barack Obama if he's our party's nominee. But I don't believe he will be. And the reason is because Democrats know that in Senator Clinton they have somebody who has been a champion for them, who has stood strong for them, who has the right kind of ideas and the right kind of leadership to step into the White House on day one when the stakes are so high as they are today.

BLITZER: There's already some speculation -- and I want to get your reaction -- that assuming Hillary Clinton wins in Pennsylvania, and the contest continues two weeks from today, in Indiana and North Carolina, she's really going to focus her attentions on Indiana and sort of maybe not neglect, but not really spend a lot of money or spend a lot of time in North Carolina, where polls show him way ahead, at least right now.

Is that right? Is she going to devote most of her energies to Indiana and sort of put North Carolina on the back burner?

WOLFSON: Well, no. She was actually just in North Carolina. And we were working very hard to try to have a debate in North Carolina on the 27th.

Wolf, you've hosted some great debates on CNN. MSNBC has had them. ABC has had them. CBS was looking forward to a debate in North Carolina.

The Clinton campaign said yes, the Obama campaign said no. They did that I think because they had such a poor debate a few days ago in Philadelphia. Senator Obama basically said, boy, I don't want to debate anymore.

We want to debate. We think debates are good. I think the people of North Carolina were looking forward to a debate. Perhaps Senator Obama will reconsider and agree to a debate us in North Carolina.

BLITZER: I'll ask one of his major supporters, Senator Claire McCaskill, later in THE SITUATION ROOM what happened to that debate in North Carolina. Maybe there could be a debate in Indiana as well. We'd love to host another one, as you well know, ourselves.

WOLFSON: Exactly right.

BLITZER: All right. Howard Wolfson, thanks for coming in.

WOLFSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're looking into clues into what might happen tonight when the polls close a little under four hours from now -- three and a half hours or so -- and clues to what could happen in the general election. What might the voting trends in Pennsylvania tell us?

John King is standing by, Bill Schneider is standing by. We've got a lot of analysis coming up.

And the current secretary of state versus a former president. Now that Jimmy Carter has met with the group the U.S. considers to be terrorists, Condoleezza Rice is saying one thing, but Jimmy Carter is saying something very different.

We'll explain that and a lot more right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: With Barack Obama saying Hillary Clinton is a Washington game player, and with Clinton suggesting Obama is elitist, will any of it make a difference with voters and affect tonight's outcome? We're looking at the Pennsylvania polls as they close in just a few hours.

We have exit polls that are coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll share the numbers with you.

And as Democrats wait it out, John McCain heads to a Democratic stronghold, trying to take advantage of the Democrats' fight.

Much more, coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, history unfolding. In the Democratic presidential race, a white man is not a leading candidate, and yet white men will be a huge factor in who wins between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. We'll explain what's going on.

In terms of African-American men, what's it like to be one campaigning in a state like Pennsylvania? We'll speak with the former football player Lynn Swann, who ran for governor.

And many of you want someone, anyone, to do something about those gas prices. What would the presidential candidates do if elected?

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're just hours away from an important contest finally being settled. Either Hillary Clinton will win Pennsylvania and advance her claim that she can win the big states, or she could lose and be confronted with more calls to pull out of the race.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us now.

Bill, what should we be looking for in the exit polls? I know you're going through them almost already. What should we be looking for as they come in to THE SITUATION ROOM.?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, we're looking for the answer to this question -- is anything changing?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The Democratic race has been going on for months. Is anything changing?

Each candidate has established a base. Hillary Clinton's base, women, seniors, blue-collar workers, Catholics, Latinos. Barack Obama's base, African-Americans, young voters, affluent professionals, independents.

Is either candidate making inroads into the other candidate's base? The exit poll will tell us. If nobody is moving, we may be doomed to more weeks of trench warfare, with each side trying to rally higher turnout from its base.

H. CLINTON: I need you to make those phone calls. I need you to drive people to the polls. I need you to make sure that the last- minute canvassing is done.

SCHNEIDER: The Pennsylvania campaign has turned fiercely negative, Clinton calling Obama an elitist, Obama calling Clinton a Washington game-player.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR: There's a reason people are rejecting Hillary Clinton's attacks, because the same old Washington politics won't lower the price of gas or help our struggling economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Do the voters consider either candidate more honest and trustworthy? The exit poll will tell us.

How will we know things are changing? If she wins Pennsylvania by more than 10 points, which was her margin in neighboring New Jersey and Ohio, we will know the race is shifting in her favor. If she wins by a very narrow margin, she's losing momentum. But she may feel encouraged to go on.

And if Obama beats her in Pennsylvania? She will face powerful pressure to withdraw, rather than further divide the party.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And, if she wins Pennsylvania by just about 10 points, nothing has changed. The trench warfare will go on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will know soon enough.

And bill will be back with us later with the first batch of exit polls coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. They will help us better understand what voters are thinking on this day in Pennsylvania as they actually vote. That's coming up. Stand by for that.

So, what voting trends might we see or look for across Pennsylvania today?

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King. He's watching this for us.

And you're looking at these trends. What are we -- what should we be bracing for?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the biggest question tonight, Wolf, I think, in the mind of Democrats -- and Bill just touched on it in his piece -- is, will Pennsylvania change the underlying dynamics of the race?

And the underlying dynamics of the race are about the delegates right now. So, let's look at where we will start the night tonight. This is Senator Clinton up here. She is trailing. This is Senator Obama. He is ahead, but still a long way to go get out here to the finish line.

Let's assume the polls are right, and Senator Clinton wins Pennsylvania. And let's assume she wins it by about a 10-point margin. That's 55-45. We will give her the state of Pennsylvania. And let's watch what happens up here. She gets Pennsylvania. She closes the gap a little bit, but she's still behind in the delegate count. So, the question then is...

BLITZER: Just because of proportionality.

KING: The proportionality. If Barack Obama wins 45 percent, he will get 45 percent, maybe even more of the delegates, depending on where he wins within the state.

So, here's the question that Democrats are looking at: Then where do we go?

So, let's game it out. Let's assume, again, by about a 10-point margin, she wins down in West Virginia -- and I'm not doing these in the order they vote -- over here in Kentucky and up here in Indiana. And let's assume, for the sake of argument, because Barack Obama has been doing better out here -- as you can see, his color is out here -- that he wins across the Mountain West, all the way out to Oregon on the West Coast.

Then we're going to come back, and I'm going to do something a little controversial. I'm going to give Hillary Clinton North Carolina. Barack Obama is winning right now in the polls, but let's assume...

BLITZER: He's way ahead in the polls.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Way ahead in the polls.

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, she somehow finds a way to come back in North Carolina, and we give her down here in Puerto Rico. I have just given her seven of the final 10 contests by 10 points. No reason to believe she would do that. It's a pure hypothetical, but it's what she needs. And look what happens if I do that, Wolf.

Obama is still ahead. Clinton has closed the gap. And she's closer in the delegates, but Obama is still ahead, even if Senator Clinton wins seven of the last 10 contests, and the biggest contests of those 10, by 10 points. The math is daunting. This is about superdelegate psychology.

BLITZER: But neither one of them has reached the finish line under that scenario either.

KING: Right. Absolutely.

BLITZER: There's another way of looking at this, though.

KING: There is. Let's look at it this way.

If the map confuses you a little bit, we can show you a different way that maybe is somewhat more helpful. This green line is where we start the night. Senator Clinton is up here. She has 1,500 -- roughly -- delegates total. The green line, Senator Obama, 1,650 delegates -- roughly -- total. He's at the green line. The red line gets you to the finish line -- 10 contests left.

Let's assume, if they keep winning -- if one wins and the other loses in the 50-40 range, they essentially split the delegates, Wolf. So, let's give Senator Clinton -- 585 pledged delegates left. Let's give her about half of those. I'm going to come over here. That's a little more than half. Just for the sake of argument, we will give Senator Clinton a little more than half. We will give Senator Obama a little more than half, a couple left over in here, we will bring those down to Senator Obama.

Look what happens. If they split the pledged delegates roughly 50-50, Senator Clinton still behind Senator Obama. Who makes the decision? These 310 superdelegates will make the decision in the end. He would only need a very small percentage of them. He crosses the finish line. Even if she got a very large percentage of them, she's just shy of the finish line. She would have to somehow convince -- I'm taking his away and giving them to Senator Clinton -- she somehow needs to win six, seven of the last 10 and convince those superdelegates you cannot go to Barack Obama. He cannot win the general election.

For her, it's about superdelegate psychology.

BLITZER: And, so, the target really tonight is the superdelegates to -- from Clinton's perspective, to convince them she's more electable in a big state, a major state, like Pennsylvania than he would be.

KING: Absolutely, that she is closing this campaign as the stronger candidate.

BLITZER: All right, John, thanks very much. You're going to be spending a lot of time over here over the next several hours -- John King reporting.

And we're standing by for the first release of the first exit poll information from Pennsylvania. We will bring you the first hard data on what today's primary voters are actually caring about most and how it's influencing their choices.

Plus, Hillary Clinton says, a win is a win, but does she need a blowout tonight to give her campaign a real boost? Our "Strategy Session" is coming up.

And the presidential candidates say they feel your pain with gas prices skyrocketing to new highs, but can they actually help bring prices down?

We're here in the CNN Election Center. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: While the Democrats duke it out in Pennsylvania today, John McCain is practically a stone's throw away, talking about his would-be rivals this fall.

Let's bring in our Dana Bash. She's in Ohio, not far from Pennsylvania, in Youngstown, right now.

Dana, McCain is trying to steal some of the Democrats' thunder. And he's certainly trying to steal some of their votes. What's going on?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're right.

You know, this part of Ohio has gone overwhelming -- overwhelmingly for the Democrat candidate in recent years in presidential elections. And, you know, John McCain came here to this area, which has lost a lot of jobs really for the past generation or so. It was a former steel industry that lost jobs, many people here think, to free trade.

And he came and made arguments for free trade, not necessarily popular, but McCain insists that is the kind of thing that he thinks will help him in the general election, and that he's focusing on that, not the Democrats. But you can be sure he's watching what's going on over the border very carefully.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Staged in front of a shuttered steel plant, sleeves rolled up, John McCain tried to show voters in this economically battered blue-collar town he gets it.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We do not underestimate or understate the difficulties and challenges that America faces today.

BASH: Youngstown, Ohio, is a Democratic stronghold. McCain is trying to make inroads here as he closely tracks the Democrats' race to be his opponent.

MCCAIN: It's a big news day in politics, with the -- with the Pennsylvania primary and all. And I have been left recently in the unfamiliar position of facing no opposition with my own -- within my own party.

BASH: McCain insists he's neutral on who wins Pennsylvania or Democratic contests beyond.

MCCAIN: I have never stated whether I wanted this -- this election to stretch out or not. That's up to the Democratic Party voters, and I have nothing to do with that.

BASH: But, privately, McCain advisers tell CNN they do have a view. They have concluded that, the longer the Democrats battle, the better it is for McCain. And many in his camp are secretly rooting for a Clinton win in Pennsylvania to keep the contest going.

Publicly, though, the candidate talks about analysis he saw on TV, arguing, a prolonged Democratic race is good for them, bad for him.

MCCAIN: That they are registering more voters, that it's getting more interest, that they're raising more money, et cetera, I don't have -- I don't have a view on that.

BASH: But just in case some Democrats are turned off by the candidate they ultimately get, McCain is spending all week appealing to traditionally Democratic voters, even relating their plight to his own political struggles.

MCCAIN: If you hold on, if you don't quit, no matter what the odds are, sometimes, life will surprise you. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, the McCain campaign is actively working on two general election strategies, one against Hillary Clinton, the other, of course, against Barack Obama.

And though it is very obvious that the McCain campaign thinks that Obama will be more likely McCain's opponent, you talk to his advisers, and they think that Hillary Clinton, for various reasons, Wolf, could be harder to beat.

BLITZER: Dana is in Youngstown, Ohio. Thanks, Dana. We are going to continue the discussion on what you just reported in our "Strategy Session." That's coming up as well.

And we're only minutes away from the first wave of exit polls from all -- from the all-important Pennsylvania primary.

But, first, also in our "Strategy Session" that's coming up -- the expectations game.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Yes, I think we can win, no matter what the results. The polling shows we can win, no matter what the results.

H. CLINTON: A win is a win, especially under the circumstances where my opponent has outspent me probably three-to-one, maybe four- to-one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're going to cut through all the spin. Why isn't winning enough? Is it?

And he was a big-time NFL star, but he lost the Pennsylvania race for governor. Now Lynn Swann is telling us why he's worried about racism in his home state of Pennsylvania.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Senator Clinton is hoping for a tremendous day in Pennsylvania, but just how big does she have to win to sway the superdelegates? That's the target for a lot of what's going on today.

Let's discuss this and more in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our CNN political analyst, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist Alex Castellanos.

Alex and Donna, thanks to both of you coming in.

Does she have -- is a win a win, or does she have to win big? DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: A win is a win, because she will have bragging rights in saying that she won seven out of the 10 largest states, with the exception of Michigan. That includes Florida.

But, of course, a big win will allow her to accumulate delegates. She needs delegates. Math really does matter in this case, because Senator Clinton needs to accumulate some more pledged delegates, along with the superdelegates, who I'm sure by now are ready to fly off the handle.

BLITZER: What do you think?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think any kind of win -- you know, she just wants to live another day. So, she will take it.

But if she can win in double digits, then I -- she does have an argument to make with superdelegates. And that is, Barack Obama can't close the sale. He doesn't have the strength, especially to -- you know, in a general election, because what he's losing here are the voters that he needs in a general election.

So, she's -- her hand will be strengthened quite a bit today.

BLITZER: And she did win by 10 points in neighboring Ohio and in neighboring New Jersey. So, she -- we will see what happens tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: But it shows that Obama can close the gap. Obama has had to deal with a 20-point gap over the last seven weeks. He's also played defense, from everything from defending his remarks of his former pastor, to having to deal with bitter-gate. He's been on defense.

He's closed the deficit. He may not be able to overcome her huge lead and political advantages in Pennsylvania, with a popular governor, a popular newly elected Philadelphia mayor. But the truth is, tonight will not settle anything.

BLITZER: But, you know, he's outspent her in Pennsylvania, what, two-to-one or three-to-one.

CASTELLANOS: He has outspent her tremendously. And he had the momentum and was closing the gap. He had this probably within a handful of points last week.

BLITZER: He was down to four points in our poll of polls.

CASTELLANOS: And then he stepped on his own feet. And then he said, by the way, these voters in Pennsylvania, these working-class voters, they only cling to their faith and their values because government hasn't done enough to solve their problems.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: We will see, because we're see in the exit polls that are coming.

CASTELLANOS: And that kind of elitism...

BLITZER: We will see how that plays.

I want to play for you, Donna, a little clip about of what Hillary Clinton said on "LARRY KING LIVE" last night. Listen carefully, and then we will discuss.

BRAZILE: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")

H. CLINTON: We have got nine more contests after Pennsylvania. Some very important states are still up to bat. And I think we're going to go all the way through this process and see where we stand in June.

We also, don't forget, have to decide how we're going to seat the delegates from Florida and Michigan -- 2.3 million people voted. I don't want to disenfranchise either of those states.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is there any movement on that last point about seating the delegates from Michigan and Florida? I know that you're directly involved in this whole discussion.

BRAZILE: Well, clearly, the credentials committee, which will meet 86 days before the convention, will have to take up the complaint to seat those delegates. Howard Dean has indicated that he would like to work with Florida and Michigan officials.

As you well know, they did not comply with the rule. And they also decide not to hold a revote to come into compliance. I believe that a settlement will be achieved.

BLITZER: Is it possible they will seat those delegates as the states voted, even though we know that Barack Obama's name was not on the ballot in Michigan? His name and the other names were on the ballot in Florida, although no one campaigned in Florida. Will they seat those delegates as the results unfolded?

BRAZILE: Wolf, many of your viewers will not like my answer, but I don't believe they should be seated.

BLITZER: In either state?

BRAZILE: They -- they were in violation of the rules. And you cannot ask 48 states and the territories to comply with the rules, two states to not comply. The residents of those states will know that we will have, you know, some seats, perhaps folding chairs. We get those a lot at the Democratic Party.

But Florida and Michigan voters will have a seat at the table.

CASTELLANOS: You know, I think Donna is exactly right. They shouldn't be seated. But the rules are going to become a lot more flexible tonight. If Hillary Clinton wins by double digits, all of sudden, Florida's hands is going to look a little better.

BLITZER: Because you know the fear a lot of Democrats have, especially in Florida, where there's a lot of anger. Those Democrats down there, they voted in big numbers. And, if they're not seated, they may turn in general against the Democrats in general and vote for McCain.

BRAZILE: That's why we worked very hard to try to get Florida officials to comply within the rules to have an alternative process and to really come back into the game.

But, of course, Senator Clinton, as well as Senator Obama, knew the rules of the game before they started this contest. And we have to abide by our rules.

CASTELLANOS: And this went to be about, of course, whether Florida should be seated or not. This will be about, we have enough doubt as Democrats in Barack Obama that we have to find some excuse to open this convention back up and give Hillary Clinton one more shot.

So, that's why the performance tonight, I think, is so important.

BRAZILE: Well, Alex, I just want to let you know that not all of us have doubts about Obama or Clinton. We have a lot of doubts about John McCain. And that's where I will leave it.

(LAUGHTER)

CASTELLANOS: Apparently, Hillary Clinton has a lot of doubts -- and other Democrats -- about Barack Obama, too.

BRAZILE: She will find her choir once the voters have sung.

BLITZER: They will unite, presumably, but we will see.

BRAZILE: We will see.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Don't go away, because you are going to be with us for hours and hours and hours tonight, as we await the results.

Thanks very much.

They're just starting this process.

We're just a little bit more than three hours away until the polls close in Pennsylvania. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have already faced off in the wrestling ring -- or at least their doubles did. You're going to see who won the upper hand on the mat. That's coming up.

And gas prices going up and up and up -- would the presidential candidates be able to ease the pain at the pump? We're looking at that.

And a former U.S. Army engineer is accused of passing top secrets to Israel, secrets that involve nuclear weapons. We have the stunning details -- that story coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our political ticker, one of Richard Nixon's daughters is supporting a Democrat for president. That would be Barack Obama. Julie Nixon Eisenhower has given the maximum allowed to Obama's campaign. That would be $2,300. The daughter, who was a staunch defender of her dad during Watergate, now serves as co-chair of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library.

And Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama trying to decide their race by taking each other to the mat in a fight to the finish -- not the real candidates, but masked wrestlers dressed like them. It's a mock wrestling match for WWE's "Monday Night Raw."

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com.

One hundred and fifty-eight delegates are at stake in Pennsylvania today, and the Democratic candidates want to make sure that every vote counts.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what are the candidates doing online today to make sure the primary is running smoothly?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, there's about 200,000 newly registered voters in Pennsylvania.

And the Barack Obama campaign is making sure that those who are supporting their candidate know their rights today. They have got this here online, making sure that people know the I.D. requirements for first-time voters, the polling places, the rules of the day.

And there's a place to report any potential problems that might happen with this online form. It's part of their voter protection center. Online, they have been recruiting volunteer lawyers to help out the campaign.

Hillary Clinton, similarly, has a place to report voting problems, asking people to notify them if they see people trying to keep others from voting.

What we're hearing from Pennsylvania voting officials is that there's been no major problems today. You can report your voting experience to us at ireport.com -- Wolf. BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

Let's bring back Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Do Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each owe the other one a spot on the ticket?

Barbara in North Carolina: "Why would someone of his stature lower his ethics and even ask her? Doesn't make sense to me. I would rather not vote if her name is anywhere near the ballot. Enough lies, enough Clintons. Make them go away."

M.R. in North Carolina: "I don't know what they owe each other, but if they can work together for the betterment of our country, then they certainly owe it to the American people."

Gary in California: "I think there have been too many attacks of a personal nature for them to be able to go forward as a team. Had they kept it to policy differences, maybe, but the road they have chosen to go down does not lead to peace and harmony between."

D. in Washington: "Not at all. Both of them have been so polarizing, that I would actually dread seeing that team in the White House together. Now, one using the other for policy matters or having a seat at the table, that is a different. I would welcome that. For a unifying spot on the ticket, though, let's consider Senator Edwards."

Lori in Michigan: "They both have moved beyond the point of considering the other for the ticket. There would be more pressure for Hillary to put Obama on the ticket, but I'm sure he would decline. Hillary wouldn't give Obama anything important to do, but follow Bill around and make sure he stays out of trouble."

Norm in Massachusetts: "No, but they owe the country. They talk about fair all the time. What I see as fair is both on the ticket. Half the Democrats want one, half the Democrats the other. If the DNC had any common sense, they would demand it. So, you two put aside your squabbles and do what is right -- soon."

Lori writes: "No. If she were his vice president, he would have to have a food-taster."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile. Look for yours among the hundreds of others.

Some of our viewers getting in the same contentious mood as the candidates.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Why not?

CAFFERTY: That's the season, right?

BLITZER: Let them enjoy. CAFFERTY: Of course.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama facing off for the first time in six weeks in a contest that potentially could reshape the Democratic race for the White House. We're on the campaign trail with them, as they make their final push in the Pennsylvania primary.

Also, the price of gas hits a new record high, and each of the candidates has a plan to try to ease the pinch. You're going to find out what their proposals mean for you.

Plus, we're only minutes away from the first exit polls, the first clues about how critical this contest may play out -- this hour, comprehensive coverage of the Pennsylvania primary with the best political team on television.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're now less than three hours away from the polls closing in Pennsylvania. We should know the results of the closely-watched primary in the hours that follow. Hillary Clinton is favored, but it's not a winner-take-all contest. Pennsylvania delegates are awarded proportionally. And with Clinton's lead in the polls narrowing over the past month or so, but coming back over the past few days, it could be tense.

Barack Obama is questioning her ability to overtake his overall lead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The Clinton campaign suggested that they were unbeatable. And I think the -- the strategy they were talking about was that they could overcome our delegate lead and our popular vote lead and the number of states that we have won by winning today in Pennsylvania and future contests. And -- if you take a look at how the delegates play themselves at the end the night, we should be able to measure, given how many contests are left, whether they can make a big run."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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