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CNN ELECTION CENTER

John McCain Up Close; Reverend Jeremiah Wright Speaks Out; Senator Joe Lieberman Elaborates on his Support of McCain

Aired April 24, 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: Thanks, Lou.
Tonight: John McCain, once down for the count, now a real contender? Well, despite two terms of an unpopular president, a war with no end in sight and a shaky economy to boot, despite it all, is this turning into a Republican year? Are the Democrats giving John McCain a real opening?

We're taking a special in-depth look at that tonight.

But, first, our daily overview of the presidential campaign. Here's the view now from 30,000 feet.

Senator Clinton is campaigning in North Carolina, one of two states holding primaries on May 6. An event in Asheville should be getting under way any minute now. We're keeping an eye on that.

Chelsea Clinton is campaigning for her mom in the other May 6 state of Indiana. Senator Barack Obama was supposed to take a day off at home in Chicago, but he worked in a surprise campaign stop anyhow. John and McCain toured New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward today, which still has not recovered from Hurricane Katrina. He's speaking tonight in Baton Rouge. And Louisiana is the latest stop on McCain's Time for Action tour.

He's targeting now voters that Republicans almost never win. But with John McCain, you never say never. Just look at where he was last October in hypothetical matchups against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Back then, it wasn't even close. Well, it is now.

The latest polls show McCain dead even with either Democrat.

Dana Bash spent the day with Senator McCain. And she's joining us now from New Orleans -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Campbell, all week long, Senator McCain has been trying to cast himself as a different kind of Republican. Today, he did that by drawing a very sharp contrast with President Bush in what McCain called a -- quote -- "perfect storm of mismanagement" here in New Orleans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): A walk for the cameras through New Orleans' devastated and still largely uninhabited Lower Ninth Ward. John McCain used these vivid reminders of a stained Bush legacy to try to distance himself from the unpopular Republican president he wants to succeed.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Never again. Never again will a disaster of this nature be handled in the terrible and disgraceful way that it was handled, never again, never again.

(APPLAUSE)

BASH: President Bush famously flew over New Orleans in the days after Hurricane Katrina, a mistake McCain said he wouldn't have made.

MCCAIN: In all candor, if I had been president of the United States, I would have ordered the plane landed at the nearest Air Force base, and I would have been over here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 5, 2005)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And, Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: McCain offered other Bush failures.

MCCAIN: Unqualified people in charge. There was a total misreading of the dimensions of the disaster. There was a failure of communications.

BASH: He vowed to restore Louisiana wetlands and build Category 5 hurricane-resistant levies, estimated to cost tens of billions.

MCCAIN: One of the ways we can find the money is by reprioritizing the public works projects, which are now based too often on the power of an individual congressman or senator.

BASH: This is the finale of a weeklong tour of places Republican candidates rarely go, a civil rights symbol in Selma, a shuttered plant in a blue-collar town, impoverished Appalachia, all intended to appeal to independents and some Democrats by creating an image of a different kind of Republican.

But it didn't always go to script. His spoke about race to a white crowd. His pro-trade talk didn't go over well in hard-hit Ohio.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a bad four letters in this area. It's NAFTA.

MCCAIN: There will many people who will not vote for me, but I'm going to be the president of all the people.

BASH: In New Orleans, McCain's carefully crafted imagery was interrupted by a voters' question about Pastor John Hagee, who endorsed McCain and says things like this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PASTOR JOHN HAGEE, CORNERSTONE CHURCH: What happened in New Orleans looked like the curse of God.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I wanted to point out that over 1,000 churches were destroyed by Katrina, and Bourbon Street wasn't touched.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN: When someone endorses me, that does not mean that I embrace their views.

BASH: And despite McCain's vow for an above-the-fray campaign, a dig at Barack Obama.

MCCAIN: But I didn't attend Pastor Hagee's church for 20 years. And there's a great deal of difference, in my view, between someone who endorses you and -- and other circumstances.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And, Dana, you mentioned in your piece that these are heavily Democratic places that he's targeting now, places not likely to vote for Senator McCain.

But his aides are telling you that this tour is going to help come November. How? What are they saying?

BASH: Well, what they are saying, Campbell, is that what they are trying to do right now, when they have the time, is create what they call a McCain brand, something that is quite different from the Republican brand, which is in dire straits, of course.

And this brand they hope to really sell or market in the fall. And what they are trying to do, like you saw today, is have the president -- have John McCain kick the president some to really help him when Democrats call him McSame, and say he would be nothing more than a third Bush term.

But there is something else that is interesting that they are trying to do, which is to try to build a reservoir of likability and credibility, because they understand that that really is something that is very important. Obviously, his policies, his positions are important across the board. But it's that kind of sentiment, that kind of connection that is almost invaluable for any politician and the voters.

And, you know, Campbell, a lot of people who are working for Senator McCain, they worked for President Bush. And they will say that that kind of likability or connection, that that really helped President Bush at a time where he probably on paper shouldn't have been reelected in 2004. He was reelected anyway.

BROWN: A fair point. All right, Dana Bash from Louisiana tonight -- Dana, thanks.

And now let's look beyond McCain's latest campaign swing, and see how he's getting ready to take on Democrats come fall.

Tom Foreman has the big picture now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Time and information, the war between the Democrats is giving John McCain both. Sure, the Dems are grabbing headlines, pounding away, figuring out what issues sell in every state, county and town.

JONATHAN MARTIN, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, "THE POLITICO": But the downside for them is that there's also mounds of data for Republican strategists to sift through to plan their targets down to the precinct level for this fall. They know where Clinton and Obama are vulnerable.

FOREMAN: Declining violence and casualties in the war, missteps by his opponents, and a unique connection to voters allowed the Arizona senator to rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of a campaign in ruins last summer, just the latest example of his lifelong ability to triumph over terrible odds.

But he needs more. So, he's building up his organization, raising much-needed money. And since he no longer has to court conservatives, like he did in the primary, he is hitting the middle of the electorate.

MCCAIN: If I were president of the United States, the next toy that came into this country from China that endangered the lives of our children, it would be the last toy that came in from -- from...

(APPLAUSE)

FOREMAN: McCain is focusing on independents, moderates, crossover Democrats, and letting his team burnish his image.

MARTIN: And, so, they are trying to get him talking about issues like the price of gasoline, like home mortgages, the kind of things that haven't been his forte typically, but that very much are on the minds of the American voter.

MCCAIN: We must achieve independence on foreign oil.

FOREMAN (on-camera): In other words, McCain is doing what any experienced military man would, reloading, retrenching, and preparing for the battle ahead -- Campbell.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Thanks, Tom -- Tom Foreman for us tonight.

Now let's see what tonight's political panel thinks about McCain's strategy, especially his harsh words about the Bush administration today.

CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger is down in Washington, along with Tara Wall, who is deputy editorial page editor for "The Washington Times." And she's a former director of outreach communications for the Republican National Committee. Here with me in the ELECTION CENTER is Steve Kornacki, a columnist for "The New York Observer"

Welcome to everybody.

Steve, let me start with you.

Dana Bash reported that John McCain had some very tough words for President Bush today down in New Orleans, clearly trying to show he's a different kind of Republican, but also a different kind of man. Do you think this is a smart strategy? Is it going to work for him?

STEVE KORNACKI, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK OBSERVER": Oh, I will give the Republicans credit this year. They did what I didn't think they would do. They nominated their most electable candidate, somebody who has enormous personal goodwill among the American public, is seen as an independent and is seen as a maverick, and actually has some of the attributes that could overcome the enormous burden of the Republican label this year.

BROWN: Tara, do you agree with that?

TARA WALL, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": Yes, I do. I think that he's recaptured some of those disgruntled or unhappy Republicans and moderates and independents. And no one is going to begrudge him for doing some of the things. This is where he seems to do well, in these type of audiences.

But if he's doing it in lieu of not raising money, which he does have problems in, he's going to continue to have problems with the conservative base in that area.

BROWN: Gloria, are voters going to buy this, or is it just too easy for Democrats, do you think, to link him to President Bush and to that administration?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's easy for Democrats to try and do that.

What he's doing right now, Campbell, is trying to inoculate himself against that. He's got a wide-open field. He's reintroducing himself to the American voters, not only as a man who supported the war in Iraq -- everybody knows that. But what he's trying to remind people of is that he's independent, he's a truth-teller, and, by the way, he has good judgment -- unlike George W. Bush, he would not put terrible people in charge -- reminding you, in a subtle way, as he will, as this campaign continues, that he was the fellow who said Donald Rumsfeld should not have remained in charge of the Pentagon and that he would have prosecuted the war in a different way, because he's a better manager, just as he would have gone down and taken charge with Katrina.

So, these are not-so-subtle messages he wants to send to those independent voters. BROWN: All right, hold on, guys. We heard Senator McCain criticizing President Bush earlier. But we have also heard him say that he wants the president out there campaigning for him. So, can McCain really have it both ways?

We will also check in with Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail and find out how a nine-point win in Pennsylvania can be called a double-digit victory. We will explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: John McCain would be the oldest first-term president in U.S. history if he won. He will be 72, or he would be 72, on Inauguration Day. Ronald Reagan was 69 when he began his first term.

We want to go back now to our panel.

We have got CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger, Tara Wall of "The Washington Times" and "The New York Observer"'s Steve Kornacki.

And, Tara, let's go back to President Bush. We were talking a moment ago here he is at the White House. We have got this video with John McCain. This is a few months ago, when McCain had wrapped up the nomination. And Bush said that he would do whatever he could to help him.

So, today, McCain's out there pretty much trashing Bush's leadership during Katrina. Are we ever going to see these two guys out on the stump together? How do they handle each other?

(CROSSTALK)

WALL: Yes, you will. I believe you will. And I don't -- actually, I don't think McCain has said anything that the president has not said after Katrina. He admitted he has bumbled it, the administration bumbled it.

McCain hasn't said anything that we haven't already heard from the administration in that regard. He's just reiterating some of those same things and the position he would have taken as commander in chief.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: He's criticized him. I would disagree a little bit, because he's sort of criticized the man himself in terms of his ability to judge people and to manage people.

WALL: And he always has. This is -- again, he did not get this maverick title for no reason. This is what he's always done.

And this is why we rubs some conservatives in the party the wrong way. I will say, though, that you have to remember, President Bush remains, although he has a low overall rating nationally, he maintains an over 70 percent support rating among Republicans. So, he will not shun President Bush. You won't see him out there as much as probably you would have a few years ago. You might see him out there a little bit more, though, with Laura Bush, who has very favorable high ratings with Republicans, Democrats, independents, most of America.

So, he won't shun him, but he will -- you know, he will use him strategically, I believe.

BROWN: Right.

Gloria, what do you think?

BORGER: I think it's a very delicate political dance, Campbell. He's clearly going to use him to raise money, and he will use him in the states where he can be helpful, such as a state like Texas.

But, in talking to folks at the White House right now, Campbell, there are discussions going on about how to use the president, for example, at the convention. What do you do when you don't want to say that John McCain is going to be a third Bush term? They are very well aware of the delicacy of this.

Some folks at the White House I talked said, you know, it's perfectly possible that maybe George W. Bush won't even be at the convention. Maybe he will speak from somewhere else.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Could you really imagine that...

(CROSSTALK)

WALL: I don't see that scenario happening.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But let me just say this. They're talking about everything, because Bush wants to help McCain, not hurt him.

(CROSSTALK)

WALL: Yes. I think -- again, they will -- I think they will propel Laura Bush to a higher level. But I do think that McCain does have problems with fund-raising, and he does -- going to -- he has got to close that gap, because he is far behind the Democrats in that area.

BROWN: I want to throw out another point I want to talk about here. This is an interesting poll. CNN had asked people, who would do a good job of handling the war in the Iraq?

Even though a majority of the country opposed the war and, John McCain, one of the biggest backers of keeping U.S. troops on the ground there, most people still said in this poll that they believe he would do a really good job of handling the situation there.

What do you think that is, Steve? People, is it, they like his personality and, therefore, they are willing to forgive his positions on certain policies?

KORNACKI: Well, that's the story of mass opinion in this country. It's the triumph of personality and personal attributes over the actual facts of the actual issues.

And this is a perfect example of it, because if you look at the question, the base of the question, was that Iraq war the right war to fight at the right time, 70 percent of the public is going to say no to that. It's going to be a 2-1 margin.

But then if you ask the same question, but which of these candidates is best equipped to handle Iraq, John McCain, who is the staunchest defender of the war not just in the presidential race, but probably in the United States Congress, wins that poll. And it's because of those personal attributes that he has, going back to 2000, when he ran and he developed as the reputation the maverick. He's the maverick. He's the independent. He's the no-nonsense, no-B.S. guy.

So, the general public, which perceives, after five years, gets the idea that things have not gone right in Iraq and that it was probably not a good idea to go in there in the first place, they get that. But then they say, well, who is right to handle this, and they look at McCain, and they see the sort of image that's been stuck in their mind now for close to a decade of a tough, no-nonsense guy who is going to give them the straight deal on things. Well, what a perfect guy to go handle Iraq.

Never mind the fact that, on point after point, this is the guy...

BROWN: He's been pretty clear about staying there.

KORNACKI: Yes, I mean, the 100-year war thing is sort of taken out of context, but there is something legitimate to that. This is a guy who believes in his heart that this was the right war at the right time and that it would be not be the worst thing if we fought other ones like it.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Hold on, guys.

We have got to take a break. I know. We're coming back with our panel. They are going to be back with a lot more in just a moment.

But it's not all McCain tonight in the ELECTION CENTER. Senator Hillary Clinton tries to build on her momentum, while Senator Obama tries to get his back. We're going to show you how they did it today -- coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We cannot afford four more years of the same policies, which is what I think we would get with Senator McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Senator Hillary Clinton in North Carolina, where Democrats vote just 12 days from now.

Senator Barack Obama spent the day at home in Chicago, where he spoke at a union rally.

And keeping an eye on them for us is senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, who is in Washington today.

Candy, Hillary Clinton is in North Carolina, as we mentioned. She's the underdog there, trying to make some inroads. What issues is she talking. What is her North Carolina strategy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, today, it was military issues. She was in the Fayetteville area. North Carolina has strong military ties down there. So, she was there pitching that particular group.

What she needs to do -- obviously, a win would be very nice. The last time I saw the polls, Barack Obama was up about 13, up by double digits in any case. But what she needs to do relates to her superdelegate argument. North Carolina is the last big population state that they're going to run in of the nine that are left. It has close to 5.7 million voters.

So, her argument now, to the superdelegates, as she kind of reaches beyond these states is, listen, I have won the popular vote. You heard her maim the argument yesterday. This is a place where she cannot lose tremendously, because I think she loses then the popular vote edge that she is claiming. By the way, it only is true if you include Michigan, where he wasn't on the ballot.

But, nonetheless, she has to do very well here. And she's going to go after her traditional voters, older, rural. There certainly are rural voters in North Carolina, obviously, but it is a state with demographics that favor him.

BROWN: And, Candy, a lot of people are looking at the Pennsylvania numbers and noting that Obama is not winning with white voters. And it does raise the specter of whether race is a factor here. What is the campaign saying about that?

CROWLEY: Well, what's interesting is, a while back, Obama was asked about race and how people vote, and he said, you know, if I lose this race, it won't be because I'm black. It will be because I didn't make my pitch well enough.

So, he has kind of taken that off the table previously. Obviously, we saw from the polls that some people did vote in Pennsylvania on the basis of race, and admitted to it. We don't know how many more there were that didn't admit to it, and of those who admitted to it, they voted for Hillary Clinton, most of them. So, obviously, it's a factor, but they do not believe that it is the overriding factor in this election.

BROWN: And, Candy, on the money front, the Clinton campaign has said that they have raised $10 million since her Pennsylvania win. Still, Obama's got four times as much as her to spend. But she's been pushing for debate in North Carolina. Let's listen to what she had so say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I have said I will debate any time anywhere. Look, I'm so sleep-deprived, it doesn't matter. Any time, anywhere, I will show up.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Now, she tends to be a better debater than he is, and it would be great free advertising for her, given the money issues here. Do you think it will happen?

CROWLEY: No, I actually don't. I don't think it will happen in North Carolina. I think there's a slight chance it might happen in Indiana. She was in North Carolina when she said that.

Listen, the last time they had a debate in Philadelphia, which was less than a week before the primary day, what we saw was, they had that debate, and then all the late-breaking votes, most of the late- breaking votes went to Clinton.

But, more than that, it really is free publicity. They really help her get her voice out there, without having to buy what are still very expensive ads. He has a lot more money. There's a limit to what he can do with that money, as we saw in Pennsylvania. But, nonetheless, in states where it is close, like Indiana, it can make a big difference.

BROWN: Candy Crowley for us tonight -- as always, Candy, thanks.

Here's something that could be trouble for Barack Obama. The Reverend Jeremiah Wright is going public, speaking out for the first time since his controversial sermons made news. We're going to hear what he's saying, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: So, did Hillary Clinton really win Pennsylvania by double-digits? Here is what we saw on election night, a 10-point victory, 55 to 45 percent.

But what if you don't round off the numbers? Well, take a look. Clinton has 54.65 percent of the vote, to Barack Obama's 45.34 percent, and that's a spread of just over nine points, making it actually a single-digit win.

Obama's retired pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, has given his first TV interview since his controversial sermons became an issue in the campaign. Wright said he doesn't speak for Obama, and Obama doesn't speak for him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "BILL MOYERS' JOURNAL")

REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: He's a politician. I'm a pastor. We speak to two different audiences. And he say what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. Those are two different worlds.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Let's go back to our panel now, in Washington, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger, Tara Wall of the "Washington Times," formerly with the Republican National Committee, and Steve Kornacki here with me here in New York of "The New York Observer."

Tara, how damaging could the return of Reverend Wright be for Obama in this exact moment when he's having a bad week already?

(CROSSTALK)

WALL: First, I have got to say that's the biggest cop-out that he's just made there.

He was on Obama's -- one of his political committees that Obama took him off of. So, to say that they don't -- the two don't intertwine is ridiculous. And it can -- it should be, and it will be an issue. It will be the monkey on Obama's back up and through the election, should he get the nomination. There have been legitimate issues raised, and they should continue to be raised.

But to suggest now this softer, kinder, gentler Reverend Wright, this is nothing but strategery (ph), if you will. And it just -- it's ridiculous and absurd to think that those two have not and do not intertwine.

BROWN: OK. I have got to go to Steve sitting next to me, shaking his head.

KORNACKI: You know, the softer, kinder, gentler Reverend Wright also happens to be I think the real Reverend Wright. I would just speak up for his defense more of a personal level here, because you have -- I don't know him personally, but we saw a caricature a few weeks ago. We saw 30 seconds on a YouTube clip, the height of a sermon where he, admittedly, I'm sure, said things he didn't mean, didn't mean to come off that way, and were terrible things. But I think...

(CROSSTALK)

WALL: Oh, come on. Come on, Steve.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: If you have a man sit down for an interview that last 30 minutes or an hour, you are going to see more of the real man than you're going to see in 30 seconds on YouTube.

(CROSSTALK)

WALL: No, I saw more than 30 seconds of clips.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Tara, you are responding right now to a clip you just saw about 20 seconds long. I'm suggesting you will get a better sense of who this guy is if you watch him for an hour than you would if you are going to watch him for 30 seconds on YouTube or for 20 seconds on a clip from the "Bill Moyers" show.

WALL: I don't think most Americans -- I don't think Americans need to see or hear much more of his vitriol.

We have seen and heard more than 30 seconds. And it is apparent where he falls in the scope of how he feels about this country, how he feels about white people.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Tara, if you don't want people to be hearing about it, why are you -- why do you keep talking about it? I think that's the question...

(CROSSTALK)

WALL: Because it is a legitimate issue when you have sat under a pastor for 20 years that you have called mentor and adviser. And how that person impacts you as a person, a person that you have put on one of your political committees, that certainly is legitimate for Americans.

And I think it has for -- it may not hurt him in the scope overall. But it certainly has hurt him with those voters that he is still struggling to reach out to that are not going to vote for him because of those bitter comments and because of people like Revered Wright.

BROWN: OK. Go ahead.

Gloria, let me bring you into this. And get back to the question at hand. Especially this week, having Wright sit down and do an interview this week coming off of a loss in Pennsylvania, what does it mean?

BORGER: Well, it means that they can't keep him under wraps, number one. I mean, if you are in the -- if you are in the Obama campaign, you probably rather that Reverend Wright were not speaking to the press. But what really struck me about this interview was that he called Obama a politician. And Obama's political pitch, if you will, or his pitch to the voters is...

BROWN: I'm the anti-politician. BORGER: ... that he is not a politician. So, in a way, Reverend Wright was throwing his old friend under the bus here, because he said, you know, we speak to different audiences, I'm a pastor, he's a politician. He used the word politician a few times, and that is not the way Barack Obama wants to be portrayed.

BROWN: Wouldn't the Obama campaign like to have the distance there anyway?

BORGER: Well --

BROWN: And they are happy to be thrown under the bus if that's what it amounts to?

KORNACKI: Sure.

BORGER: Exactly, exactly. I mean, they'll probably say, well, you know, thank you very much. We could have thrown you under the bus more than we did and we didn't.

BROWN: Right.

BORGER: But -- but, on the other hand, if he's distancing himself, you know, they'll take that distance, sure. He just doesn't like to be called a politician.

BROWN: We're out of time. Guys, we got to end it there. Much more to come. Appreciate all of the panel, Tara, Gloria and Steve with me here in New York. Sorry, we didn't have more time.

More to come, including John King's "Insider's Guide," what John McCain has to do to beat Democrats come November.

But first, action star Wesley Snipes pays a big price for not paying his taxes. Find out if prison is part of the bargain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Let's check in with our Tom Foreman now. He's got "The Briefing."

FOREMAN: Thanks, Campbell.

A dramatic announcement from the White House about nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Syria. The White House said today North Korea helped Syria build a secret nuclear reactor, one the White House says was not intended for peaceful purposes. Israel bombed what it also says was a nuclear facility in Syria more than seven months ago. Syria says the building was an empty military warehouse.

Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer says there is no shortage of rice in the United States. His remarks come after retail giants Sam's Club and Costco said they would limit the number of bags of rice customers could buy. The price of rice and other foods have skyrocketed in recent months, and some people have stopped buying. Actor Wesley Snipes was sentenced to three years in prison for not filing tax returns. His lawyers say that he's going to appeal -- Campbell.

BROWN: All right, Tom Foreman for us with "The Briefing" tonight. Tom, thanks.

Senator John McCain campaigning in New Orleans today, one of the places in America he says has been forgotten. It's all part of his strategy to reach across the aisle and grab Democratic votes while Senators Obama and Clinton are busy battling it out. I'm going to talk to Senator Joe Lieberman, a former Democrat himself and one of McCain's biggest supporters, about why he says the strategy will work, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Senator McCain today touring New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, the neighborhood hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. As we mentioned, McCain spending this week campaigning in what he calls the forgotten areas of America, trying to convince voters he's a different kind of Republican candidate. Listen to what he had to say yesterday in Kentucky.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I'm not the son of a coal miner. I wasn't raised by a family that made its living from the land or toiled in a mill or worked in the local schools or health clinic. I was raised in the United States Navy.

And after my own naval career, I became a politician. My work isn't as hard as yours. It isn't nearly as hard as yours.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Earlier, I talked with independent Senator Joe Lieberman who's one of McCain's key supporters, about this tour, and what McCain means by forgotten America.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Senator, as you know, Senator McCain is now taking this tour of America's forgotten places. But you know, we hear both Democrats talking about places like this and people in these places every day on the stump. So who is it that's forgotten them? Is it George W. Bush? Is it the Republican Party?

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I-CT), MCCAIN SUPPORTER: Well, I think what John McCain is doing now is very important, as a way to express to the American people the kind of president that he wants to be. Let's be direct and straight talk, as John would say. He's going to places where Republicans don't normally get a lot of votes. But he's going to say I'm going to be, if I'm fortunate enough to be elected president, I'm going to be president of all the people. And the fact is, John McCain, by his whole record, is a different kind of Republican.

BROWN: But how does that differ from President Bush running against you and against Al Gore as a compassionate conservative?

LIEBERMAN: Well, here's the difference. John McCain has a record in the Senate going over many years, where he has been at the center of just about every significant bipartisan accomplishment. And usually in a way that's -- are often in a way that's taken some guts.

And, if there's anything we need before we can solve a lot of our biggest problems here at home in America, it's somebody, a president, who will break through the partisan gridlock that has really made it difficult for us to get anything done for the American people and made the American people real frustrated.

BROWN: Senator, the McCain campaign put out a memo that sort of gives us a clue, I think, about their strategy if Obama were to become the nominee. They think that some of Hillary Clinton's supporters will be ripe for the picking, and we're talking about this blue-collar Reagan Democrats here. Why would they leap from the Democratic Party right now, and get behind McCain?

LIEBERMAN: Well, you know, when I endorsed John, people said I was so unusual. A Democrat, even an independent Democrat endorsing a Republican. And my reaction was, it may be unusual for an elected official, but not for normal people.

Normal people don't always vote based on party affiliation. They vote for the candidate they think is best for the country, for themselves, for their families. And I think in this case, it's quite a tribute to John McCain that a significant number of those Democrats who are now voting for and supporting Senator Obama or Senator Clinton say that they would, if their candidate lost, would go to Senator McCain.

BROWN: But it seems to me there are two problems with this constituency, in particular is one. Most of them seem to be anti-war, and they're also saying that their biggest concern is the economy. And he himself has admitted that the economy is not his strong suit.

LIEBERMAN: Yes, you mean among the Democrats who say they'll vote for Senator McCain?

BROWN: Exactly.

LIEBERMAN: Yes, I think there's a -- I think the economy probably is their number one concern. I believe that they're saying that they'll be open to Senator McCain frankly because they see him as a leader who will get things done. They don't see him as an extremist.

In a lot of ways, these are values voters. They respect John McCain's service to our country. They respect his courage. I think they think he's the kind of guy that they'd like to have as a neighbor. And that's very much the way they felt about Ronald Reagan.

BROWN: All right, Senator Joe Lieberman with us tonight.

LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Campbell, all the best.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: John King uses his magic wall to show how John McCain could win when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: John McCain reaching out earlier this week to voters in Alabama. You know, not long ago, it was hard to imagine another Republican having a shot at the White House. What with criticism in the Iraq war, the economy in freefall. But now, with no end in sight, the Democrats and their bickering, a lot of people are saying John McCain could actually win this thing.

So, what does he have to do to make that happen? I asked John King to give us an "Insider's Guide" to the campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: So, John, it's April, we still don't really know who the Democratic nominee is going to be yet. But show us theoretically what the electoral map looks like for John McCain right now.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Campbell, for starters, they understand the fundamentals favor the Democrats. The bad economy and unpopular war, the McCain campaign knows this.

But for starters, they take some solace in history. There have been seven presidential elections since 1980. I'm just clicking through them here. We see a lot of red on the map as I click. Why? Because the Democrats have won only two of those seven elections.

This is 1992, Bill Clinton wins with 43 percent of the vote. Remember Ross Perot and the ballot then?

BROWN: Right.

KING: 1996, Bill Clinton wins re-election. Again, only 49 percent of the vote. So in the two the Democrats won, they never received a majority. That is one reason the McCain campaign is optimistic. It is a conservative country.

No. 2, in any campaign, you run this one based on the last one. This is George W. Bush in 2004. He wins re-election. He gets a majority, 51 percent; a pretty sweeping electoral college victory geographically for George W. Bush.

The McCain campaign begins by looking at this map and saying, yes, there are some problem states, there are some struggle states, but there is not one state that George W. Bush won four years ago that the McCain camp says on this day is absolutely, positively out of the picture. So, they start seeing challenges, but they think they're competitive in every one of those states. BROWN: McCain, though, has this argument that he's a different kind of candidate than George W. Bush. How does that work to his advantage?

KING: They believe it works to their advantage in several key states. Number one is the state we've talked a lot about this week, Pennsylvania.

BROWN: Pennsylvania.

KING: Let's go back and look at the 2004 presidential race. Now, George W. Bush wanted this state badly. He came up just short. Why? Because John Kerry beat him down here in the Philadelphia suburbs. They think John McCain is more competitive.

Same views as George Bush on abortion, but he doesn't wear it on his sleeve, if you will, like George W. Bush did. They believe McCain has a better chance with moderates and independents in the Philadelphia suburbs. And especially if Barack Obama is his opponent, they believe he can do well with Reagan Democrats in places like Scranton, Redding and Allentown, and out here near Pittsburgh. So they think Pennsylvania is in play, depending on who the Democratic opponent is.

One other place would they think being different from George W. Bush helps them, let's take this off and zoom this back out. Let's come back out to the '04 presidential election.

Now, George W. Bush won in New Mexico, Campbell, but just barely, 50 to 49. George Bush also won in Nevada, but just barely, 50 to 48. In both of those states, Latino voters are key. Latino voters in the last two years have turned against the Republican Party because of the immigration debate.

BROWN: Right.

KING: But the McCain camp believes, remember, he's the guy who said, find a way to let the illegal immigrants stay, treat anyone crossing the border as one of God's children. They think he can do better among Latinos than most Republicans will right now.

BROWN: OK. So, where are his electoral weaknesses?

KING: Well, one of the questions about George W. Bush versus John McCain is, George W. Bush had all those Christian right voters. Will they stand with John McCain? Many of them don't have that same feel for him.

One of the states you worry about if you're John McCain is Iowa. Let's go back and look at the 2004 presidential race. George Bush carries the state but just barely, Campbell. A lot of Christian conservatives out here. If they stay home, this state goes blue no matter who John McCain's opponent is. That's one place where they worry.

Another place is Missouri. George W. Bush carries the state with a pretty healthy margin. But the economy is struggling now in Missouri, an industrial state, a swing state. That's a trouble spot for Republicans any way. And again, Christian conservatives all down here along the Bible Belt, if they stay home and don't come out and support McCain, the key, swing Bellwether State is in trouble.

One last state, no Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio. George W. Bush did it. But again, look at that, just barely. A big industrial state, a must-win for the Republicans. The economy is in trouble out here. It's a problem.

The State Republican Party is in shambles out here. That's a problem. And remember, John McCain picked that fight with the radio talk show host down in Cincinnati here. He has troubles with the Republican Party down here with Christian conservatives, with radio talk show hosts.

BROWN: Right.

KING: Ohio is a must-win state for John McCain, and if he's looking at it right now, he knows he has some work to do.

BROWN: All right. John King, mapping it out for us. John, thanks.

KING: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Don't look for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to share the ticket this fall. Listen to what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Larry King.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: First of all, the candidate, whoever he or she may be, should choose his or her own vice presidential candidate. I think that's appropriate. That's where you would see the comfort level, not only how to run, but how to govern the country. And there's plenty of talent to go around to draw upon for a good, strong ticket. I'm not one of those who think that that's a good ticket.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: And Larry is here with us now. Any other headlines coming out of that interview, Larry?

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Oh, lots of talk about lots of things. You'll find it fascinating. She gets into what it's like to work with and be around George Bush on a daily -- almost daily basis. What surprised her about being speaker of the House. It's fascinating tonight with Nancy.

And we've got another great debate lined up. If you were watching last night, you know what I'm talking about. All on "LARRY KING LIVE" at the top of the hour. And then you'll be on following me, I understand tonight...

BROWN: That's right.

KING: ... sitting in for Anderson.

BROWN: He's taking the night off. I'll be there at 10:00 Eastern. All right, Larry. We will see you shortly.

KING: Thank you, dear.

BROWN: Our political strategists are in the "War Room." And one question they are dying to debate, one the Republicans are stressing over a little bit, would John McCain be better off without the support of a highly unpopular president?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's been my honor to welcome my friend, John McCain, as the nominee of the Republican Party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: President Bush giving his stamp of approval to John McCain in early March. This is right after McCain had clinched the Republican nomination. Whether the president's support will help McCain or hurt him has been a big topic of discussion among McCain's strategists these last couple of months. And we've got some top strategists of our very own, in our very own "War Room" tonight.

In Washington, Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez. Here in New York, CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf, and Republican strategist Mike McKeon.

And Mike, we'll start with you. Let's talk about John McCain in New Orleans. Today, he was pretty tough on President Bush...

MIKE MCKEON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Right.

BROWN: ... talking about Hurricane Katrina, saying it was terrible and disgraceful, the way it was handled. If you're running McCain's campaign, what would you be -- have him be saying about President Bush? And would you use President Bush in the campaign looking ahead?

MCKEON: He needs President Bush to help him with fund-raising. He needs to raise money. He needs a lot of it, so you got to continue to have that relationship with President Bush to help you raise the money.

At the same time, he's going to call it as he sees it. And the one person who gets that more than anyone else is George Bush. He understands that John McCain on the stump is going to have to call the way he sees it, and that's fine. BROWN: And Bush is OK playing this role?

MCKEON: Well, he has to. I mean, you know, he wants this guy to win. It's much better for him if John McCain wins. At the same time, John McCain needs his help for the fund-raising.

BROWN: Do you agree, Hank?

HANK SHEINKOPF, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: He has no choice but to somehow be a Republican, which means being a Bush guy, but not being a Bush guy. The problem will be the economy, because when the people in the Midwest and the heartland, with this campaign, it will be won or lost in the fall.

Look, when they see George Bush, they will think of unemployment, of an economy that's the worst they've had in quite some time, and a financial future that looks bad.

BROWN: Leslie?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: To some extent that's true. You know, no doubt about it. The president is very strong on fund-raising. That's why he's going to align himself with that.

But look at also what President Bush brings to the table in terms of support among social conservatives, fiscal conservatives who are really grumbling -- you know, all the spending. There's an opportunity there for John McCain to distinguish himself and show he wants to be somebody who wants to continue to cut pork and really bring a lot of the economic conservatives back to the table.

So there's enough independents with John McCain for him to take advantage of the social conservative aspect, but also show that he's a different type of Republican.

BROWN: Leslie, let me for the sake of argument, let's assume that Obama becomes the nominee on the Democratic side. If you are advising McCain, how do you exploit Obama's weaknesses, which as a lot of people see it right now, is his inability to relate to these white working class voters?

SANCHEZ: You know, I think they would probably take a page from the Hillary Clinton playbook in that sense. I mean, look at what she has done. She has taken the opportunity to define Barack Obama as somebody who is inexperienced, who likes judgment.

You can't take away what Barack Obama brings to the table in terms of charisma. He's talking about hope and opportunity. He's just not defined. Nobody really knows who he is. He also has one of the most liberal records that you're going to -- he's going to be compared to Dukakis.

He's going to talk about he wants to hurt small businesses, and really the impact he would have on a struggling economy, not to mention that he's probably going to be another Jimmy Carter in the sense of the foreign affairs gaffes that he could make potentially in the future. Those are serious concerns for American voters.

BROWN: Hank? You disagree.

SHEINKOPF: Well, look, this is all nice fantasy and great partisanship. But here are some facts. It will be the YouTube video of John McCain embracing George Bush versus the YouTube video, if he's the nominee, of Barack Obama and Reverend Wright. Which one do you think will win an economic argument? That's the bottom line.

BROWN: Mike?

MCKEON: Again, I think you're going to hear a lot about what Leslie just said. Jimmy Carter, inexperienced. You know, go with what works. Hillary is beating up Obama, and it's working for him. So, John McCain would be smart to --

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Quick, Leslie.

SANCHEZ: You know, Campbell, there's a great point there. The greatest point there is that somebody like Barack Obama is going to suffer the most from a self-inflicted wound -- his own personal gaffes. And he's going to bleed harder than most candidates because he doesn't have the political capital that he -- you know, the reservoir of goodwill...

BROWN: Right.

SANCHEZ: Because people don't know who he is.

BROWN: OK.

SANCHEZ: That's the biggest disadvantage.

BROWN: When we come back, I want you to tell me what you think is Obama's biggest mistake so far. We'll be back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Back with me in the "War Room" now, our own strategists and on the Republican side, Leslie Sanchez in Washington. Here with me in New York, Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Hank Sheinkopf, along with Republican strategist Mike McKeon.

So Leslie, the dust has settled after Pennsylvania or starting to. Obama, home in Chicago today, regrouping. Say you're his guy. What do you tell him? What's the biggest mistake he's making? What's he got to do to fix it going forward?

SANCHEZ: He has to look like a winner. He can't look like damaged goods. He has to show that he can connect with those, you know, Wal-Mart moms, Wal-Mart dads, the working class families who save up all week so they can go to the store and shop and be together. He's got to connect and not look like an elitist.

BROWN: OK. You guys think he should go on the attack? Yes, no?

SHEINKOPF: He has no choice to defend himself, but he loses a shine of not being -- of his self-description of not being an average politician. I'll make this one. He's got to prove to the Wal-Mart moms, which Leslie is right about, that frankly he knows what it means, or can have some sense of feeling about not having a home that you can count on.

BROWN: All right.

MCKEON: He needs to give back hard enough to convince the superdelegates that he's a winner, and that he can keep bringing them on board.

BROWN: OK. Got to go.

Mike, Hank, Leslie, thanks to you all. That's it for us.

"LARRY KING LIVE" starting right now.

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