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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

Primary Showdown & Populist Agenda; Economy Issues Take Presidence in Primaries; Struggle to Keep Jobs and Homes Continues; L.A. Officials Flaunt Immigration Laws

Aired May 2, 2008 - 19:00   ET

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


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf.
Tonight Senator Clinton advances in Indiana and North Carolina. Those primaries could be what Clinton calls a game changer.

Also a rising backlash against predatory lending practices, this time in the credit card industry. We will have a special report.

And the city of Los Angeles reaffirms its push to defy the will of the American people and give sanctuary to illegal aliens. We will have the story, all the day's news and much more straight ahead tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: news, debate, and opinion for Friday, May 2. Live from New York, sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Kitty Pilgrim.

PILGRIM: Good evening, everybody.

Senator Hillary Clinton today declared that Tuesday's primary in North Carolina will be a game-changer. The latest opinion polls indicate Clinton has cut Obama's lead in North Carolina. Obama has also lost ground in the other primary state Indiana.

Senators Clinton and McCain today both emphasized a populist agenda. They renewed their demands for a gas tax holiday, but Senator Obama says that proposal is a gimmick. Now we have extensive coverage.

We begin with Candy Crowley in Chicago -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know Kitty we have gone throughout this election on the Democratic side saying there wasn't much difference between these two campaigns. Well once they got to Indiana and North Carolina, they found one.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): A John Deere service center in North Carolina.

(APPLAUSE)

CROWLEY: An aging steel plant in Indiana. Campaigning from one working class backdrop to another, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton go down to the wire, arguing over a bottom line working class issue, the price of gas, specifically lifting the federal gas tax for three months. Yes, even a little break is better than no break.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want the oil companies to pay the federal gas tax for the summer.

CROWLEY: No, it would save consumers a grand total of $30 and would likely drive prices up.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is not a real solution. It's a political stunt.

CROWLEY: Economists largely agree with him. Political types think she is on to something with voter appeal. Clinton and Obama go into this final weekend before the Indiana and North Carolina primaries from two different places. He's coming off a loss in Pennsylvania and break week, the worst seven days of his presidential bid.

Losing both states will send a massive shutter through his campaign, not to mention the Democratic Party. He is up 10 in North Carolina, even in Indiana. I think we have a terrific chance, he says, but what of the Wright effect? He doesn't know that there is a perceptible hedging of bets.

OBAMA: What I don't spend a lot of time doing is obsessing about what ifs and should have been's. What I will do is we will see what happens on Tuesday and then we're going to keep on going to the next contest.

CROWLEY: She is coming off a nice win in Pennsylvania, but two losses for her is a dooms day scenario. Two wins and she still can't catch him in pledged delegates, but oh what a superdelegate argument she would have.

H. CLINTON: You know this primary election on Tuesday is a game- changer. This is going to make a huge difference in what happens going forward. The entire country and probably even a lot of the world is looking to see what North Carolina decides.

CROWLEY: For all the policy, all the polls and all the pundits, politics is still an art of the unknown.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: And suppose they should split Tuesday. One takes North Carolina and the other Indiana, well then we'll move on to the next critical primary day -- Kitty?

PILGRIM: Candy you know all this talk of game changer and the big moment now, but it does appear that it may go all the way to the convention, doesn't it?

CROWLEY: Well absolutely that's a possibility. And every single election day, I think bar none has been critical and had the possibility of a game changer. We will see. I mean so far this game hasn't changed much. They are still at this point in a very close race. He's ahead in pledged delegates, expected to stay ahead in pledged delegates even at the end of the primary season.

But you know it is entirely possible that they could go on to the convention in late August, but I can tell you something, if the party leaders have anything to say about it and they do have a bit to say about it, that's not going to happen. They don't want a ruckus convention.

PILGRIM: All right. Thanks very much. Candy Crowley, thank you.

Senator Obama tonight won the public endorsement of two dozen black ministers in the Chicago area. Now those ministers say they will support Obama despite his split with his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. The ministers said the focus on Wright has distracted voters from real issues.

And a new poll says a rising number of Democrats are becoming tired of this lengthy primary campaign. Now the Gallup poll says almost two out of every three Democratic voters believe the campaign is doing the party more harm than good. Democrats say they're increasingly concerned about the possibility of a McCain victory in November.

Senator McCain himself today reminded voters that he was the first candidate to propose a gasoline tax holiday. Now McCain acknowledged that many Americans are facing an uncertain future and to help them, McCain is pushing a populist agenda.

Dana Bash reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At a Denver town hall, first things first.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And Americans are going through tough times now my friends and I don't think we can sugar coat it.

BASH: News of April's 20,000 lost jobs was better than economists predicted and not as bad as the 81,000 lost in March, but John McCain knows that as a Republican running in this dark economic climate to look for a silver lining would risk looking out of touch.

MCCAIN: Americans are hurting today. The latest jobs report although not maybe as bad as some had predicted is still bad. Unemployment continues up. Americans are suddenly and recently losing their jobs.

BASH: That kind of talk is aimed at McCain's political reality. Seven in ten Americans now say things in this country under a Republican president are going badly. But it's also targeted at the sector of voters McCain is now honing in on, blue collar whites, what Republican holsters call this year's soccer moms. WHITFIELD AYERS, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: We have been doing a lot of focus groups with blue-collar whites in swing states. They are open to voting for Hillary Clinton, but there is no way on God's green earth they are going to vote for Barack Obama. They will vote for John McCain instead. So reaching out to those people we used to call Reagan Democrats is a very smart strategy for John McCain.

MCCAIN: It's on the poorest Americans, they drive the furthest and they drive the older automobiles, which are the highest gas guzzlers.

BASH: All week long as Barack Obama voiced his opposition to a gas tax holiday, McCain tried to use his support as a way to connect.

MCCAIN: And I want to give the American consumer a little bit of relief just for the summer. Maybe they'll be able to buy an additional text book for their children when they go back to school this fall.

BASH (on-camera): McCain insists he knows temporarily removing the gas tax wouldn't do anything to solve the bigger issues around high gas prices and dependence on foreign oil, as Obama regularly points out, but McCain advisers hope by telling voters he understands that even a few dollar would go a long way for struggling families, he can at least establish himself as someone who is on their side. It's a tough task for a Republican, especially these days -- Kitty?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Thanks Dana. Dana Bash reporting.

Well a new CNN opinion poll confirms that voters believe the economy is the most important issue. President Bush today admitted that economic growth is, "not good enough", but insisted the economy will come on, as he put it.

Bill Schneider has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Things are bad. Even the cheerleader in chief admits it.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have been through a recession. We have been through a terrorist attack. We have been at war. We had corporate scandals. We have had major natural disasters and yet this economy always recovers.

SCHNEIDER: Good to hear, but meanwhile, 70 percent of Americans say things are going badly in the country. That's a lot worse than two years ago when 48 percent thought times were bad and the Republicans lost control of congress. Want to see what good times look like?

2000 when Bill Clinton left office and only 19 percent thought times were bad. How does this year compare with 1992 when the stupid economy got Clinton elected. In 1992, 65 percent said things were bad, now they are worse. How does this year compare with 1980 when Ronald Reagan got elected to save the country from malaise?

In 1980, 68 percent said things were bad, now they are worse. In 1980, President Carter was running for reelection. He lost. In 1992 the first President Bush was running for reelection. He lost too. That's the big difference.

This President Bush can't run for reelection and his vice president is not running either. No matter the Democrats are still running against the status quo.

OBAMA: In recent months we have seen the problems in our economy grow worse and worse.

H. CLINTON: We are not supposed to be losing jobs in America. We are supposed to be creating jobs in America.

SCHNEIDER: John McCain's response, me too.

MCCAIN: We are in a recession right now, at least certainly every indicator is.

SCHNEIDER: Is anybody here the incumbent, apparently not.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Voters do believe that either Clinton or Obama would handle the economy better than McCain, in both cases by 53 to 42 percent, that's not as big as margin as you might think with the country in such a bad mood -- Kitty?

PILGRIM: Bill, I'm sure that everyone has figured every possible possibility for Tuesday. What's your view on the outcomes?

SCHNEIDER: Well three options. One: A game changer. That would be if Obama wins both Indiana and North Carolina, the superdelegates would tilt to him and begin to shut down the contest. Not the game change she wants.

No. 2: She could win both contests. That would be a big surprise to North Carolina. That would mean the superdelegates would tilt even more to her. He would still have the pledged delegates. Result: A crisis in the party.

Option three: She takes Indiana. He takes North Carolina. No change at all.

PILGRIM: And then I ask you what I asked Candy Crowley a little earlier in the broadcast. It goes all the way, doesn't it?

SCHNEIDER: It could very well do that. Because there are not many contests left to resolve this thing.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much. Bill Schneider. Well Senators Clinton and Obama are fighting for every single convention delegate, even those delegates that are thousands of miles away. Now voters in the tiny U.S. Pacific Territory of Guam go to the polls in less than one hour. Four convention delegates' votes are at stake in Guam, but Guam will actually send eight people to the Democratic Convention with each of those people having half a vote.

Still to come, a rising backlash against credit card companies and Louise Schiavone will have that report -- Louise.

LOUISE SCHIAVONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, from our better late than never file, the Federal Reserve is announcing a crackdown on predatory credit card lending coinciding with a congressional effort to do the same -- Kitty?

PILGRIM: Thanks Louise. We look forward to the report.

Also working men and women are reeling from the economic downturn and we will have the story of one family's struggle to survive.

Also the city of Los Angeles reaffirms its amnesty agenda, refuses to uphold our immigration laws. We will have a special report on that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: America's embattled middle class may finally receive relief from unfair treatment by the credit card industry. Now the Federal Reserve today approving a plan to crack down on companies that arbitrarily raise interest rates or don't give adequate time to pay the bills.

Louise Schiavone has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHIAVONE (voice-over): It's easy to spot mortgage holders caught in the sub prime credit vice (ph), not so easy credit card holders drowning in wildly variable rates.

STEPHEN AUTREY, CONSUMER: When you get a slick gloss envelope in the mail and it says fixed -- I assume fixed means fixed -- I didn't know fixed is until they feel like they can change it.

SCHIAVONE: Unable to digest the small print.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Forty-two pages loaded up with every conceivable kind of legal mumbo jumbo.

SCHIAVONE: The Federal Reserve is moving to blunt gotcha (ph) credit card fees and other unpleasant surprises.

BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: The consumers accept low rate promotional offers. They do not expect card issuers to allocate their payments to minimize the benefits of the offer and to maximize interest charges. SCHIAVONE: Unveiled today proposed regulations requiring credit card issuers to give consumers a fair amount of time like three weeks to pay a bill before charging late fees and prohibiting excessive or unfair fees, deceptive advertising and unfair computations based on double billing cycles. Congress is already on the case.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D), NEW YORK: Credit cards are an important part of our economy. They're an important part of our lives. They help small businesses. They help individuals. But they have to be fair. They have to be balanced. They have to be transparent and they have to really live up to a contract.

SCHIAVONE: Not surprisingly the American Bankers Association doesn't like the Fed's proposed regulations stating quote, "the Federal Reserve's proposal is an unprecedented regulatory intrusion into marketplace pricing and product offerings. Regulatory responses such as these are effectively price controls."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHIAVONE: Kitty, there is a 75-day public comment period for the new regulations. Meanwhile, the meter will be ticking on what the Consumer Federation of America estimates to be the nation's $850 billion in credit card debt. So households that don't pay off their credit cards each month carry an average monthly balance of roughly $17,000 -- Kitty?

PILGRIM: That's an astronomical number. You know Louise, the Fed stepping in is a very key thing, but even if relief if it comes may be too late for many people in this economy as they face rising bills and other quarters.

SCHIAVONE: These variable rates are just strangling people, people who are struggling with their mortgages, struggling with college tuitions, having to reach deeper into their pockets to pay for big ticket items like college, like cars, and these variable rates are just killing them.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much. Louise Schiavone.

Well we have time now for tonight's poll. And we would like to ask you: Do you believe that the members of Congress will stand up for working men and women in the face of heavy lobbying by credit card industries and special interests.

Yes or no? Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We'll bring you the results a little bit later in the broadcast.

Well more economic trouble today for middle class families. The U.S. economy lost 20,000 more jobs in April and this is the fourth consecutive month of job losses. Economists were expecting even deeper job cuts, but the numbers are still not good for middle class families.

Many workers are just giving up the search for jobs. And there was a sharp increase in the number of workers forced to take part-time work because they couldn't find a full time job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE MISHEL, PRES. ECONOMIC POLICY INST.: What's happening to a middle class family now is that their hours of work are being cut back; their wages are growing slowly, far more slowly than inflation. They're ending up in jobs they would rather not have and working part- time and not full time. All this amounts to a squeeze on their income.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PILGRIM: Companies are cutting back on the number of work hours available and that means smaller paychecks at the end of the week at a time when costs for everything from groceries to gas are rising.

Those numbers don't just show how dire circumstances are for many middle class Americans.

Lisa Sylvester has the story of one struggling family.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fifty-three- year-old Roger Lovely lost his job as a maintenance supervisor last August. Since then he's applied for countless positions, but received few responses. He says most openings offer half the salary of his old job.

ROGER LOVELY, HOMEOWNER: It is only going to get worse from what I see. And every job that I'm looking for there that many more people out there that are competing for the same thing, so I may not get what I want.

SYLVESTER: Unemployment insurance helps softens the financial blow at least temporarily.

LOVELY: We had some money saved back and we've used cards to help out, always with the hope that we would -- that I would find something else right away, which did not happen. But since the benefits have run out, it's getting tighter and tighter and tighter.

SYLVESTER: To make ends meet on his wife Beverly's paycheck, they have cut back wherever possible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tomorrow is whenever all of the big sales come out.

SYLVESTER: Now they are looking to sell their home of 20 years and at least temporarily move into the RV they hoped would speed them off into retirement. Without much hope of Roger securing a well paying job, they would rather peer back than go deeper in debt. In her job at a local bank Beverly sees plenty of others making the same tough choices.

BEVERLY LOVELY, HOMEOWNER: What I do is judge people's credit. I judge whether or not they are capable of maintaining their mortgage payments and for me to not be able to write that check, that's a big deal.

SYLVESTER: Unless things turn around the Lovelys (ph) say they could lose nearly everything they have built up over the past 30 years together. Yet they try to remain hopeful.

R. LOVELY: I'm getting more comfortable by the day with the situation and there is still going to be some rough spots, but I think it's going to work out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Now a lot of people are feeling the pain of this economic downturn and worried about losing their homes and it's not just people who have these exotic loans and adjustable rate mortgages. Roger and Beverly Lovely are a perfect example. They have a 30-year loan and they may still have to give up their home -- Kitty?

PILGRIM: Unbelievable. Thank you very much. Lisa Sylvester.

Coming up, is the political momentum shifting from Obama to Clinton? Well we will hear from three of the country's top political analysts.

Also Los Angeles declares it welcomes illegal aliens again. We will have that story. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Los Angeles officials today again embraced their city sanctuary policies a day after thousands of illegal aliens and supporters marched in favor of amnesty. Top city officials made it clear that they are laying out the welcome mat for illegal aliens.

Casey Wian reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What a difference a year makes.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The mayor and police chief of Los Angeles are celebrating Thursday's peaceful pro-amnesty marches. A year earlier anarchists and others threw rocks and bottles at officers who responded with force the LAPD later admitted was excessive. This year police say radical agitators were again present, but officers were better prepared.

DEPUTY CHIEF MICHAEL HILLMAN, LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPT.: We fully anticipated and planned for dealing with being able to specifically target those individuals and to let them know that we were watching, we're here, we're not going away.

WIAN: Also apparently not going away, the estimated one million illegal aliens in Los Angeles. Police Chief William Bratton used the marches to reaffirm his commitment to Special Order 40 (ph), which restricts the ability of LAPD officers to arrest people for immigration law violations.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa renewed his demand that Federal Immigration agents stop raiding businesses in their search for illegal aliens. He says Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raids threaten the local economy. Villaraigosa claims he persuaded the Department of Homeland Security to only target employers who are exploiting workers, not those who unknowingly hire illegal aliens.

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, LOS ANGELES: Because some of them as you know come with documents that look (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Isn't that what they were doing already?

VILLARAIGOSA: No. That's not what they were doing already.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have evidence that they were targeting businesses in Los Angeles, who were...

VILLARAIGOSA: I don't have evidence of -- you know I don't have evidence of anything. I have -- in terms of that I have allegations.

WIAN: ICE has repeatedly said its work site raids only target employers who knowingly and egregiously hire illegal aliens. Seconds after our exchange with the mayor he said in this in response to another question.

VILLARAIGOSA: I'm sworn to uphold the law.

WIAN: Even if he rejects current immigration law.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: The mayor also released a study by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, claiming increased work site enforcement actions by ICE would jeopardize or could jeopardize about a half million jobs in Los Angeles County. The study also coined what may be a new euphemism for an illegal alien, an improperly documented person -- Kitty?

PILGRIM: Casey, you know this back and forth that you had with no evidence, I mean it's very telling, isn't it?

WIAN: Yes, it really is. The mayor has been claiming that businesses in Los Angeles County are terrified that ICE is going to come in and conduct raids at their work sites. In fact, ICE has only conducted one major work site enforcement action in Los Angeles in recent years, so it appears that the mayor is overstating the issue for political effect, Kitty.

PILGRIM: I think so. Thanks very much. Casey Wian.

Well it's time now for some of your thoughts and thousands of you are e-mailing about our coverage of National Law Day.

And Donna in South Carolina wrote: "Dear Lou, I doubt many people knew about Law Day, especially the candidates out pandering to illegal aliens. Happy Law Day, Lou. Don't you love celebrating a day for our immigration laws which are not enforced?" I can't help but think of our border agents Compean and Ramos as they sit in prison for enforcing our law.

And Kaye in Texas wrote to us: "Lou, I had never heard of Law Day until now. Wouldn't it be nice if Law Day was celebrated by enforcing our laws like immigration, instead of trying to circumvent the laws with amnesty?"

And Merle in Florida wrote: "May 1 is also a National Day of Prayer. Maybe we should pray that all Americans learn about Law day."

We will have more of your e-mails a little bit later in the broadcast. Also be sure to join Lou on the radio. On Monday he will have all the details on the furious battle for the Democratic nomination and among his guests Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf, Politico's John Harris and Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University Carol Swain.

That is Monday through Friday "The Lou Dobbs Show." Go to loudobbs.com and loudobbsradio.com to find local listings for "The Lou Dobbs Show" on the radio.

Coming up, presidential candidates try to sell a populist agenda. We will address -- we'll assess that agenda's impact on the voters. Also the race between Senators Clinton and Obama tighten that's before next week's primaries and three top political analysts will join me.

Also we will examine the coverage of "The New York Times" on this campaign and what some people call is pro-Obama bias. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Joining me now are three of the best political analysts in the country. We have Republican strategist and CNN contributor, Ed Rollins. And Ed recently served as the chairman for Mike Huckabee's campaign and Ed was also White House political director under Ronald Reagan.

James Taranto, editor of OpinionJournal.com joins us this evening. Also, Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Robert Zimmerman. Robert is also a Democratic committeeman and a supporter of Hillary Clinton.

All right, let's start with Indiana. It's really fascinating. Obama was up by about 20 points in Indiana, was he not? Or, no that was actually North Carolina. Indiana is a dead heat. I misspoke. And let's look at this. Clinton and Obama, 47 percent, but you have six percent unsure. So, Robert, what do you...

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: May 6 will be the defing moment of this race. And by that I mean, in fact -- if Hillary Clinton is able to win Indiana and in fact come close in North Carolina, that will change narrative dramatically in this race. North Carolina was supposed to be Barack Obama's firewall like Pennsylvania was supposed to be Hillary Clinton's firewall. Indiana, of course, Barack Obama's won every state that's touched upon the state of Illinois, and now it's a tossup. But, keep an eye on Indiana, that undecided vote. That breaks to Hillary Clinton traditionally in the days before the primary.

PILGRIM: And Indiana is a kind of a tough state because there is a split out on the voting public that seems to favor one camp or the other, right James.

JAMES TARANTO, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM: It's not as friendly to Mrs. Clinton as Pennsylvania is. There aren't as many Catholic voters and it's not quite as -- well, she does very well in Appalachia; she did well in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio and in Tennessee. Now, also coming up are West Virginia and Kentucky, so even if she doesn't win big in Indiana, she's not getting out of the race.

PILGRIM: Oh, OK, and...

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I don't think she is getting out of the race, but I think Indiana is critical. Indiana is now a swing state, it used to be Republican state, one we always counted my former deputy in the White House, Mitch Daniels, is the governor there. , but it's now up for grabs and I think whoever can win this state can amorously prove that they're a viable candidate for the Fall and I think she will probably edge it out in the end.

PILGRIM: Let's look at North Carolina and I mentioned before, Obama was up by 20, he's now got a 10-point spread and so there's a narrowing, but as Robert brought out -- Ed I'll start with you -- it was almost considered a done deal for Obama at one point.

ROLLINS: It was. I think it's closed. There's a large black population, it's about 20 percent of the state, which makes up about 42 to 43 percent of the overall Democratic vote in the state. So, my sense, if there is any erosion, I'd be surprised, but I think that she may have basically gotten more of the white vote over the Reverend Wright stuff for the last week or 10 days.

PILGRIM: Let's talk about the Reverend Wright. James, go ahead.

TARANTO: In fact, I was going to touch on that. An interesting imponderable, Obama, when he made his first Wright speech, said I can no more disown Reverend Wright than I can disown the black community. Right? Well now, he has "disowned" Reverend Wright. So, I wonder if there won't be some disillusion among blacks who feel that they have been disowned.

PILGRIM: You know, that's an interesting point, Robert. What are do you see as the Reverend Wright fallout in this upcoming primary?

ZIMMERMAN: You know, I don't agree with James in that I don't believe that Barack Obama is going to suffer in the African-American community. I think many people there really felt for him and agonized over him over the choices he faced and the challenge he faced in this issue. But, I do believe that it's much -- the issue that Barack -- the challenge Barack Obama is facing is much bigger than the Reverend Wright issue. The issue is, can he connect with middle income white and blue collar voters? That's the challenge they face in Ohio, Pennsylvania, seems to be the challenge he's facing in Indiana, too. And obviously the Wright controversy and his comments about small towns hurt him in that capacity.

TARANTO: I think the Wright controversy raises an even more fundamental question about Obama, which is does this guy believe in anything and does he have any leadership capability at all? I mean, we're expected it believe that he went for 20 years and had no idea what this pastor of his all about and then, you know, the rest of us pegged Wright after watching a few sound bites. Then it took Obama six weeks to figure out what of Wright's statements he disagreed with and to get specific about that. And even then he didn't...

PILGRIM: It has been a tortured process. Everyone was...

ROLLINS: There is one advantage he has. Obviously, he proved he was a lousy bowler when he couldn't break 40 in Pennsylvania. He's a very good basketball player. Indiana is a big basketball state, so maybe he can shoot a few...

PILGRIM: Oh really? So we're betting it on the basketball?

TARANTO: That was only seven frames, in fairness to Obama.

PILGRIM: All right, I didn't realize sports was it.

Let's look at the national -- all voters, Democratic, and this is an interesting statistic, I think our viewers will enjoy this. Obama 46 percent, Clinton 45 percent. When we say it's a dead heat, it's a dead heat. Now, will this go all the way? We've been asking every reporter, all along. What do you think, Robert?

ZIMMERMAN: May 6, I think, will tell the tales whether it goes all the way. If Obama wins Indiana and wins North Carolina comfortably, then I think this race is essentially over. I believe that Hillary Clinton can win Indiana and make North Carolina close, she really get the narrative changes and she gains momentum to go forward. But, the reality is these national polls for the Democratic nominee aren't decisive. What matters is these next upcoming contest. That'll tell the story not the national polls.

PILGRIM: Well, you know...

TARANTO: Well, the upcoming contests matter only indirectly, because the voters aren't actually going to decide this, the so-called superdelegates, or the elected officials and party leader. Because there's just no way that either candidate id going to get a majority from the pledged delegates. So, the primaries in Indiana and North Carolina and elsewhere matter only in as much as they influence the superdelegates.

ROLLINS: People forget, obviously, being older than these two young gentlemen, and certainly much older than you.

PILGRIM: We would never...

ROLLINS: Not a chance of that.

ZIMMERMAN: More mature.

ROLLINS: The last time this happened, something similar to this, was 1984, and by the time the California primary was finished, Gary Hart actually had more delegates than elected by the people than Walter Mondale is, but the superdelegates made the difference. In this election they've been sort of dividing up as you went along and a lot more effort, but I think if Mrs. Clinton does not win one of these, it pretty much is over for her.

ZIMMERMAN: Your point, I was a delegate in 1984 to the Democratic convention, of course the youngest delegate in the convention, I should point out.

PILGRIM: All right, we...

ZIMMERMAN: Work with me on that, Kitty. But, the point here is it was interesting because in that case, superdelegates served to ratify the frontrunner in a sense. It served to ratify Mondale's nomination and brought him over the top, as you point out, Ed. This is a different situation. You could have a scenario where perhaps Barack Obama will lead with the delegate count, but Hillary Clinton could win the popular vote. And that creates a very different dynamic for superdelegates.

PILGRIM: You know, I like to just touch on one thing. The press coverage has been really very interesting on this whole thing. And we really looked at the "New York Times" headlines in recent days. And you tell us, I mean, is there a clear liberal media bias in this? One of the headlines is, "Clinton may be hopeful, but Obama rolls on." OK? "Between the pulpit and pews, a gulf on Obama's ex-pastor." And then, "Minister's comments hold little sway in Indianapolis enclave." Those are all today. What are we seeing and is there anything to draw, anything to...

ROLLINS: The reality is that the "New York Times" is not relevant in Indiana or North Carolina.

PILGRIM: In Indiana. That's a fair answer. OK, that's a fair...

ROLLINS: And I think at the end of the day, they endorsed Hillary Clinton, at one point, they endorsed John McCain at another point, they certainly have been favorable, but at the end of the day, it's not going to matter. The "Indianapolis Star" that endorsed Hillary today, or yesterday, has a lot more impact on this race.

TARANTO: I love the idea that we're talking about liberal media bias against Hillary Clinton, of all people. And don't forget, Hillary Clinton also got the endorsement of the "Pittsburgh Tribune- Review," Rick Scaife's paper, the founder the Arkansas Project at the "American Spectator." A month or so ago, her campaign was sending out an "American Spectator" article about Obama. Mrs. Clinton is going to mask (ph) right wing conspiracy. I think it's great.

ZIMMERMAN: James, whenever you can use the words "liberal" and "bias" it's (INAUDIBLE), but the bigger issue to me and the bigger concern I've got is this conventional thinking amongst too many political pundits who describes Hillary Clinton as the frontrunner early on, when that's proved that wasn't the case. And in fact still talk about whether she can wrestle the nomination away from Barack Obama, when the facts show this is a dead heat for all intents and purposes.

PILGRIM: Yeah, let's just take...

ROLLIN: Of course, that's when it was going to be the Giuliani -- Hillary, the all of New York.

PILGRIM: All right, let's just take a break and we really -- coming up, we will have more with our panel and what do they think about the president's record disapproval rating, it's the highest of any president. We'll talk about that.

And also, a close call in a Russian spacecraft. Now, is our government putting our astronauts at risk? We'll have that story. Also "Heroes," tonight, the story of a soldier awarded the Bronze Star for valor for his bravery in Iraq. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: I'm back with Ed Rollins, James Taranto, and Robert Zimmerman. You know, we have neglected to put Mr. McCain in our discussion this evening, so let's not give him sorts. McCain has been middle class all this week. That has been the theme song of John McCain. Let's listen to what he had to say in Colorado, today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Many of them are worrying about how they are going to keep their home, how they're going to afford healthcare, how they're going to keep their insurance and Americans are going through tough times, now, my friends and I don't think we can sugar coat it. I think that these are enormous challenges and they affect every level of American society.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PILGRIM: Defining the problem is one thing, coming up with solutions is another. Do you think he's effectively coming up with enough solutions?

ROLLINS: Well, not effectively. He's certainly trying and this is a good practice run for him, obviously the Democrats are in the midst of fray, this is a good testing some themes and some audiences. I think he's trying to develop a domestic program. This is a guy who didn't really have a domestic program before, so it's an important first step. TARANTO: Yeah, the Democratic fight is really buying some time for McCain to work this stuff out and I think he probably is happy to be ignored for a while.

PILGRIM: Yeah. And yet, you have both Democratic candidates talking about jobs, jobs, jobs, you know, all the...

ZIMMERMAN: The problem is, both Democratic candidates are arguing with each other over relatively minor difference, instead of focusing their efforts, senators Obama and Clinton, focusing their efforts on showing how they, as candidates, differ so dramatically with McCain, not his rhetoric today, but his 24-year career in the Senate and before that in the House, where he's never been an advocate or never had a record of standing up for middle class values. Democrats are really missing an opportunity to show the distinction, here.

PILGRIM: It certainly seems to. Let's look at how the president is handling the economy. And, according to a poll, how are things going in the country today, 70 percent of Americans say badly. In Missouri today, the president talked about the economy and let's listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're a resilient economy, because we got good, capable, smart, hardworking people in America. And I know it's tough times, and I know you're having to pay more at the fuel pump than you want, but this economy is going to come on. I'm confident it will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PILGRIM: Now, pep talking gas prices, heating prices, it's very hard to swallow.

ROLLINS: First of all, the economy will come back, but he'll be long gone and maybe forgotten. Right now he's not forgotten, right now he's being held accountable by the American public for the war that's unpopular, for the recession and for a fairly lackluster last couple of years of the administration.

PILGRIM: James.

TARANTO: Well, we just had a poll result, I think it's up on the screen now, that 71 percent disapprove of the job he's doing, which is the highest disapproval rating of any president ever. And you know, I mean, I think we can safely predict he's not going to be reelected this November. But more seriously, you know, I wish he would do something with that unpopularity. If he's unpopular anyway, why not do something bold. Why, you know, do this silliness with sending out rebate checks? Why not fight, for example, to make the tax cuts permanent?

PILGRIM: You know, Robert... ZIMMERMAN: That's what scares us, he'll try to do something like make the tax cuts permanent, because they're geared towards the very rich of our society and they don't really provide any protection or relief for the middle class. Ultimately, he is an irrelevant president except that he -- in terms of really implementing any real solutions. The problem though is that McCain is still running even with Obama and Clinton and that just speaks to the point that they have got to focus on showing how they differ from John McCain.

PILGRIM: You know, so often in these discussion, we put the economy in a political context, but I'm sure that Americans sitting out in their living rooms tonight, do not want to hear about how it plays in the campaign, they want to hear how it's going to be fixed. And I'd like to ask your honest assessment. Do you think the economy is in such state that the next person in, whoever it is, will be able to do something about it? I know you're not economists, but...

ZIMMERMAN: No, but the point is, we all, obviously, living with the tragic consequences of this economy and they don't happen in a vacuum. They are results, in many cases, of political policies, the fact that we have not moved towards energy independence, that we're more reliant on foreign oil than ever before and the inflation that's produced. There are answers, they come through the congressional and electoral process and that's what's got to be focused on. And I think I got to tell you, I believe there has been more of a focus on energy independence and creating green jobs as one approach to dealing with the economic issues.

ROLLINS: The next president will have a wonderful opportunity to basically move forward with an agenda that the country will look forward to, whatever that may be and whichever party that may be, hopefully it's my party, but at the end of the day, this presidency is finished and the quicker that people can turn the page. There's nothing he can do to fix gas prices or any of the rest of it and I think to a certain extend, he is the most irrelevant president to my lifetime.

PILGRIM: So, do Americans bite the bullet until the elections change...

TARANTO: Well, let's also point out, whenever you take polls on the state of the economy, people always estimate their own economic wellbeing much higher than the estimate the country's economic wellbeing. So, you know, people aren't necessarily suffering all that much, they think other people are suffering.

ZIMMERMAN: Oh, quite to the contrary, I think people truly are suffering and I think we have to recognize this. Whether it's the cost of healthcare, we have 47 million Americas without health insurance, 36 million Americans in poverty. We have real consequences to this administration.

PILGRIM: You know, I have to add my two cents on this, because on this broadcast, we document more on the middle class, we've been doing it literally for years and some of the data that we've turned up is so dire that it's shocking. ROLLINS: The important thing about this election, on the Democratic side, we're seeing, is how important the middle class is. The middle class really is the group that is basically going to -- keeping Hillary alive and obviously it will be the group that will have great focus in the Fall campaign and where they go is going to be who wins.

PILGRIM: All right, thank you very much, gentlemen. Ed Rollins, James Taranto, Robert Zimmerman, thank you.

Coming up at the top of the hour, the ELECTION CENTER with Campbell Brown.

Campbell, what are you working on?

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ELECTION CENTER: Thanks Kitty. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will be crossing paths tonight and with the jabs they have been throwing at each other today, it can be very interesting.

We're also going to show you the dirty -- or show you politics at its dirtiest. A doctored video that's making the rounds on the Internet is a hoax and Clinton loyalties are furious. We're going to have the anatomy of a hit coming up at the top of the hour -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Campbell.

A reminder now to vote in tonight's poll. Do you believe members of Congress will stand up for working men and women in the face of heavy lobbying by the credit card industry and special interests? Yes or no? Cast your vote at LouDobbs.com and we'll bring you the results in just a few minutes.

Also coming up, is NASA out sourcing the safety of this country's space program? We'll have a special report.

And heroes. Our tribute to the men and women who serve this country and this week we introduce you to Army Specialist Zachary Ridge, recipient of the Bronze Star with Valor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Another disturbing example tonight, of the threat that outsourcing poses to our national security. Secret technology in the new F35 fighter program may have been compromised. A newly released report by the Pentagon's inspector general says the defense department failed to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive technology at BAE facilities and computers.

Now, the British-based BAE Systems is one of two main subcontractors working on the F35 program. The report did not cite any specific leaks and BAE Systems declared no information was compromised.

Now, there rising concerns tonight about the safety of the Russian spacecraft carrying American astronauts. Two weeks ago a Russian-made Soyuz capsule with three astronauts on board made a rough landing in Kazakhstan, but NASA still plans to use the Soyuz capsules to bring astronauts home when its shuttle fleet retires in 2010. Miles O'Brien has more on NASA's outsourcing plan from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): They say any landing you can walk away from is a good one. U.S. astronaut, Peggy Whitson, would say amen to that after a wild, tense, fiery freefall from space.

PEGGY WHITSON, SOYUZ ASTRONAUT: I really never had too much time to get scared, we were always just focusing on what was next.

O'BRIEN: When a Soyuz comes home, it is supposed to shed two attached capsules first. But in Whitson's case, one of the pieces mysteriously hung on too long, sending the Soyuz toward earth catawampus, exposing unshielded parts of the capsule to the seering heat of reentry. Fortunately, the snagged piece broke away and the capsule righted itself before a catastrophe.

WHITSON: Well, I think it's, obviously, something everyone needs to be concerned about and I think that our Russian partners are looking at this, they're doing an investigation.

O'BRIEN: The concern is heightened because a nearly identical failure happened on the previous Soyuz landing last Fall. In both cases, the space craft reverted to an emergency landing mode that is much steeper and jarring for the crew.

KEN BOWERSOX, SOYUZ ASTRONAUT: All the way down, you're wondering: well, is the rest of the system going to work?

O'BRIEN: Five years ago, astronaut Ken Bowersox walked away from an emergency Soyuz landing after an electronics failure. The recent problems underscore his worries about the U.S. dependence on Russian rockets.

BOWERSOX: I think it's in a position where I wouldn't want to be. I think to be a good, strong partner it's good to have your own transportation system.

O'BRIEN (on camera): This is a mockup of a Soyuz space capsule. U.S. astronauts better get used to it. The shuttle fleet is headed for museums by the end of 2010 and the U.S. replacement vehicle, the Orion, won't be ready until 2015 or 2016. To fill the gap, NASA has bought a bunch of seats on Soyuzs at $20 million a pop.

(voice over): But, the new U.S. system is bound to face funding and technical delays.

Well, gaps like this get bigger, don't they?

LEROY CHIAO, SOYUZ ASTRONAUT: Generally speaking, yes. That's certainly what happened with the shuttle. O'BRIEN: In fact, when the shuttle first launched in 1981, it was about six years later than originally planned.

Miles O'Brien, CNN, Houston.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Now Russia says it will release a preliminary report on the Soyuz landing at the end of the month, NASA is not part of that investigation. NASA's new spacecraft, Orion, will not be ready, as Miles mentioned, for manned missions until at least 2015.

Still ahead, "Heroes," our tribute to the nation's men and women in uniform and tonight, the courageous story of Army Specialist Zachary Ridge. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Tonight, we bring you the story of a critically wounded Marine whose courageous fight to live made him an inspiration to many Americans. But, Sergeant Merlin's efforts to recover from a bomb blast in Iraq that left him critically burned has ended. Sergeant German died last month while undergoing treatment. The Pentagon announced this on Thursday. Now, the Marine hero was burned over 97 percent of his in 2005 when a roadside bomb exploded under his vehicle in Iraq's Anbar Province. Doctors, at that time, give him a slim chance of survival, but Sergeant German was determined to live and he fought through the pain and 150 surgical procedures, he became an inspiration to his fellow Marines and many other Americans. German even created a charity, Merlin's Miracles to aid children burn victims. Sergeant Merlin German was just 22 years old when he died.

And now our weekly tribute to the service men and women serving this country overseas. Tonight we have Army Specialist Zachary Ridge and his courageous actions under fire in Iraq earned the 21-year-old soldier a Bronze Star with Valor. Bill Tucker reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL TUCKER, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Army Specialist Zachary Ridge joined the Army just out of high school at the age of 19. His older brother, still serves in Iraq. Specialist Ridge's assignment while he was in Iraq was Ramadi where conducted day to day patrol of neighborhoods.

SPEC ZACHARY RIDGE, U.S. ARMY: We would just walk from house to house, knock -- we'd knock on the doors and we'd just ask the people if they had, you know, or knew of any insurgents.

TUCKER: They also signed up men to join the Iraqi police force and passed out food and water. It may sound mundane, but...

RIDGE: My squad was going to one house and our other squad that was in my platoon that was on patrol with us was going to another house and we was going to over-watch a road so our commander could come through. We got about 100 meters into the patrol and we started taking contact, machine gunfire, so my squad bounded to our objective house, got up there and got up on the roof and then the second squad, they got to their objective and we was just -- everything kind of got quiet when we got to our objectives and then a sniper shot and killed Ming Soon (ph).

TUCKER: Ming Soon (ph) was a fallen comrade, they were not going to leave him behind.

RIDGE: We were pinned down. And when they were getting Ming Soon off the roof, our LT told us to cover fire. And we just -- we just stood up and started covering fire for him.

TUCKER: For his courage under fire and his ability to take charge and lead soldiers in combat, Ridge was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor.

RIDGE: When we got to Ramadi, it was pretty much the worst place in Iraq. It was like the Wild West. But when -- by the time we were there for six or eight months, it was -- we turned it into the safest place in Iraq.

We did our job -- what we were supposed to do in Ramadi.

TUCKER: Back home in Lake City, Arkansas, Ridge is a hometown hero.

Bill Tucker, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: A remarkable young man, and we wish him well.

The results of tonight's poll -- 95 percent of you do not believe that members of Congress will stand up for working men and women in the face of heavy lobbying by the credit card industry and special interests.

Time now for some of your thoughts on Law Day coverage.

Art in Washington wrote: "Lou, what Law Day? We are turning into a country of 'pick the laws you like!' Even our lawmakers don't support the law. So the question would have to be asked -- what are we paying these people for?"

And David in Maine wrote to us:" Lou, your friends, the mayor of Los Angeles and the police chief should have been arrested on Law Day for failing their oaths of office."

And Nikki in New Mexico wrote: "There is no way that La Raza would ever represent my Hispanic family. I am a Spanish American and my naturalized citizen parents taught me that they had given me the gift of citizenship and it was my job to be a good citizen and I was to become part of the mainstream. I have done that, and so have many second generation Americans. Happy Law Day, Lou."

Thanks for being with us tonight. Please join us tomorrow. The "ELECTION CENTER," with Campbell Brown begins right now -- Campbell.

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