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Democrats Battle For Indiana and North Carolina; McCain Sets Bar For Supreme Court Justices

Aired May 6, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, guys.
Happening now, a big race day for the Democrats. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama compete in another important round of primaries. Will Indiana and North Carolina throw a late curve into this campaign? We're standing by to bring you early word of what the voters are saying. The first exit poll information and the first real voting results, those will be coming up here soon.

And John McCain sets a bar for choosing Supreme Court justices. He's sending a message to the Republican right and drawing a dividing line with the Democrats.

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

Just two hours from now, the first polling places close in Indiana and the Democrats' latest primary drama will begin to play out in a big way. Heading into today's contests, Hillary Clinton was four points ahead of Barack Obama in Indiana when you average the latest state polls. And Obama led Clinton by 10 points in North Carolina. Up for grabs, 72 pledged delegates in Indiana and 115 in North Carolina.

Expect a lot of action over the next several hours. The first real results, the vote results, will be coming in as polls close across Indiana and North Carolina. And we're about an hour or so away from bringing you the first exit poll information.

The best political team on television is standing by to bring you up-to-the-minute coverage.

Let's begin with our Suzanne Malveaux. She's in Indiana, watching this story unfold.

All right, Suzanne, set the stage for us. What happened?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, essentially, Clinton's message is that she is still in the game. The Clinton camp expects to win Indiana, but the hope -- the hope is, Wolf, is it's by double digits, like Pennsylvania. That is what they are keeping their fingers crossed.

When they look at North Carolina, a good night for Clinton would be if she loses perhaps five percentage points or less. That is what they are hoping for on that end. But what's even more important here, Wolf, is that they are going to be looking at those groups.

Can she hold on to the older voters, female, working-class white voters? Does Barack Obama make some kind of inroads in those groups?

If he does not, she can go to the superdelegates and say that she's got a legitimate case to stay in the race.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Rev up your engines. Today is going to be a hell of a ride -- Hillary Clinton itching to take that victory lap at the Indy Racetrack today.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to get on the track in America, and get toward the finish line and change this country.

MALVEAUX: She says her campaign is going full-throttle, no matter what happens when polls close tonight.

CLINTON: It's going to be the rest of these contests which are very significant. And then, in June, if we haven't done it already, we're going to have to resolve Florida and Michigan.

MALVEAUX: But some close to her concede she must win Indiana, and can't lose by more than five points in North Carolina to justify staying in.

Facing that reality, Clinton is also cautious.

CLINTON: Life is unpredictable. Racing is unpredictable. Politics is unpredictable. So, I'm just going to wait and see what the voters have to say.

MALVEAUX: After two weeks of pounding the pavement across the state...

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: She's been to Hammond. She's been to Whiting. She's been to Hobart. She's been to Crown Point. She's been to Merrillville. She's been to Valparaiso. How about that?


MALVEAUX: ... she's courting those voters most loyal, older, white, working-class, trying to prove she is trustworthy and stands with the working people she says she will fight for, promising to bring mandated universal health care, gas tax relief, and home foreclosure aid.

CLINTON: Some people say I'm tough. Well, I think you have got to be tough to go after the oil companies and the oil countries and get...


MALVEAUX: Now, Wolf, there's no one who I have spoken to who believes that this is going to go to the August convention. They do believe that, whatever happens with Florida and Michigan, it will be resolved in June, along with the remaining contests. There's still a sense, Wolf, of optimism, of hope here. But there are some inside her camp who also believe that, perhaps, she's peaked too late -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne, thanks very much.

Suzanne is in Indianapolis.

Barack Obama says he feels good with about his chances today. North Carolina is his best bet to score another primary win and to shore up his image as the front-runner.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is in Raleigh watching all of this for us.

We heard about what Senator Clinton was up to today, Candy. What about Senator Obama?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a steady-as-she-goes campaign. Obviously, they are looking for a win in North Carolina tonight. They are looking at Indiana -- that, of course, much more iffy.

In the end, what they would really like out of this evening going forward is a change in the conversation.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How's it going, guys? How are you?

CROWLEY: Past midnight in Indianapolis, Barack Obama reached out to the night shift as they left an auto parts plant scheduled to shut down in 2010. Half the UAW workers will be out of a job.

OBAMA: Love to have your support tomorrow. Thank you.

CROWLEY: He's been trying to connect in places like this, the plant he visited last night, the diner he visited in the early morning.

OBAMA: Nice to see you. What kind of business you guys in?

CROWLEY: He wants to break Clinton's hold on working-class voters.

OBAMA: People are much more familiar with Senator Clinton and President Clinton and their track record. You have got to give them credit. They have been on the scene for 20 years. And, so, you know, they're not going to go down easy.

CROWLEY: A brutal eight weeks has not helped, losing Ohio and Pennsylvania, and then Jeremiah Wright, followed by Obama's own words about bitter voters in small towns. It has all sown doubt.

OBAMA: Any people still undecided here? Because I want to work on you.

CROWLEY: Despite his turbulent two months, Obama has maintained a lead in delegates. So, what he needs tonight is not so much a game- changer. He badly needs a mood-changer.


CROWLEY: And, while the Obama camp is fully prepared to hear more about the demographics and about the white working-class vote, you can imagine, Wolf, that from, here on out, there will be a very hard push by the Obama campaign about the mathematics. They still believe -- and they have every reason to believe -- that, by the end of this process, on June 3, he will still be ahead in pledged delegates -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Candy, for that.

The Democrats are pulling out the stops on the campaign trail in Indiana and North Carolina, as well as on the airwaves.

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King. He is here.

How are these ads playing out? What are we seeing?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, let's start out in Indiana. It's a largely white state, only 9 percent African-American.

So, as we have talked about in recent days, the keys for Barack Obama up here, some African-Americans in the Chicago suburbs, especially the city of Gary, Indianapolis down here. For Senator Clinton, we will find out about the Catholic vote right in this area here, and we will find out if she does as well with blue-collar voters, like she did in Ohio and Pennsylvania, right along here.

The debate, as you note, has been about the economy, Barack Obama trying to prove he can win the support of white, rural, working-class Democrats. So, he's had an ad up on the economy down here in Evansville.


OBAMA: Folks know we desperately need change, gas near $4, jobs leaving, health care you can't afford. But the truth is...


KING: So, you hear Barack Obama talking about gas near $4, health care you can't afford. Hillary Clinton counters by saying, sure, the economy is the number-one issue, but Barack Obama is not on your side.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now, we're living paycheck to paycheck.

NARRATOR: He's attacking Hillary's plan to give you a break on gas prices because he doesn't have one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The price of gas going up.


KING: So, Senator Clinton there, Wolf, clearly hoping that the gas tax holiday she has proposed, along with Senator John McCain, helps her out in this state, Indiana a very white state, about 9 percent African-American.

We will learn very early on if Barack Obama is getting the advantage of being a neighbor and doing better among the white working-class Democrats. He has struggled, of course, in other states.

Over in North Carolina, it's a very different story here. What you're -- what Senator Clinton is trying to do here is get the white rural vote out here, get the white rural vote down here. The biggest challenge for her, cut Barack Obama's margins among African-Americans. You remember Maya Angelou, the poet laureate in the Clinton administration? She's on TV for Senator Clinton here.

Now, that's about cutting his margins, Barack Obama's margins, among African-Americans. That's one targeting effort by the Clinton campaign. Another is right up around Raleigh here, you have a modest, but potentially significant, in a close election, Latino population.

So, Spanish-language ads playing a role in the campaign here in North Carolina as well. We will learn a lot about this state, Wolf, by what happens right in this area here. This is the Research Triangle. You have a lot of people with postgraduate degrees, a significant African-American population as well. Barack Obama should not only do well with African-Americans throughout here, but right here in the center of the state. If he's having any troubles in North Carolina, we will learn right there.

BLITZER: We will learn relatively early, too.

All right, John, let's talk a little bit about Senator Clinton's effort to convince superdelegates, the undecided superdelegates, maybe those who have already decided, but still could change their minds, that she is better positioned in November to win the Electoral College against John McCain. We have a new way of looking at this.

KING: We do.

And, now, certainly, an upset in North Carolina tonight would help her make that case, Wolf. But what Senator Clinton wants to tell the superdelegates is that you want me to go up against John McCain in the fall, not Barack Obama.

This is the map of the last election, 2004. The red is George W. Bush. The blue is John Kerry. I want to go with a side-by-side look here. This is the map of 2004. What Senator Clinton wants you to believe is that, if she is the Democratic nominee, she can do this, that she will keep Pennsylvania. She says Barack Obama probably won't.

She believes she can turn Ohio, like her husband did, back to the Democratic column. She believes she can turn West Virginia, like her husband did, back to the Democratic column. She believes she can be competitive down here in the state of Florida. If all that held true, Hillary Clinton says, look at me. I'm a much stronger November candidate than Barack Obama.

But, if we switch back to the map, the Obama camp will counter. They say, you know what? We are strong out here, and we can do some business against John McCain out in Colorado. We could take a place like that away.

He believes he can hold on to Pennsylvania. And Barack Obama as well believes he could keep Florida and perhaps, perhaps, compete in Virginia and some of these other states because of the African- American vote. So, Wolf, increasingly, you're fighting for Indiana, you're fighting for North Carolina, on to West Virginia and Kentucky.

But, to the superdelegates, both campaigns are arguing, you want me to be up against John McCain in November. At this moment, Hillary Clinton says she has the edge when it comes to the big states. Barack Obama, though, Wolf, says, look at the national polls. We're both running about the same on John McCain. I can be just fine come November once I get the nomination.

BLITZER: We will be spending a lot of time with John over the next several hours.

Thank you.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: What are the chances that 200 economists might know more about the gas tax holiday proposal than John McCain and Hillary Clinton do?

Clinton and McCain would like to buy your vote for somewhere between $28 and $70, which is how much you will save if their idea ever happens, which it won't. And, if it does, I will eat an Exxon station.

The economists, all 200 of them, include four Nobel Prize winners, advisers to past presidents, and Republicans, as well as Democrats -- Democrats, some of whom are Clinton supporters. They all signed a letter rejecting the candidates' plans for the summertime tax relief. They say it would simply generate more profits for the oil companies, instead of significantly lowering prices for consumers.

They also say it would encourage people to keep buying expensive imported oil, instead of conserving. And they think such a tax holiday would not provide much relief for families who are squeezed by current economic conditions. Barack Obama said all along this is nothing more than a political gimmick.

Top House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, chairman of the Financial Services Committee Barney Frank, have also come out against these ideas. But Clinton and McCain don't seem to be paying too much attention to the critics.

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs was out with a report this morning that crude oil could rise to $200 a barrel within the next 24 months. Where are Clinton and McCain on that? The answer is nowhere. They're trying to buy your vote for 18 cents a gallon for three months.

Here's the question: What does it mean when more than 200 economists say the McCain/Clinton gas tax holiday is a bad idea?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

There's new speculation under way right now that the Senate majority leader is a secret supporter of Hillary Clinton. Up next, I will ask Harry Reid about that and where he stands in the debate over a gas tax holiday.

Also coming up, we're standing by for the first results from our exit polling in North Carolina and Indiana. We're going to be giving you an early sense of what the primary voters are actually thinking on this day.

And John McCain often shies away from the subject. So, why is he suddenly talking about the way he would choose judges?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Twenty-eight Democratic members of Congress issued a statement today rejecting the idea of a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax. Almost all of them are supporters of Barack Obama. He also opposes a gas tax holiday, while Hillary Clinton supports it.

And joining us now in Washington, Senator Harry Reid. He is the majority leader. He is also the author of a brand new book entitled "The Good Fight: Hard Lessons from Searchlight to Washington."

Thanks very much, Senator, for coming in. Thanks for writing this book. I want to talk about the book in a moment, but I want to pick your brain on what's going on right now.

We're on the eve of two very important primaries in North Carolina and in Indiana. One of the big issues was this gas tax holiday. Who are you with when it comes to this gas tax holiday? Are you with Senator Clinton's proposal or Senator Obama's proposal?

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We are going to come up with our own package tomorrow, which won't be Clinton or Obama's. It will be the Senate Democrats'. We're going to announce that tomorrow. We have a press conference tomorrow afternoon.

I think it's something that will have the ability to impact prices. That's the American consumer we're concerned about, especially with the price of oil today approaching $123, $124 a barrel. It's hard to comprehend that, but that's where it is.

BLITZER: Four dollars a gallon in some places already.

Here is what you said in 2006. I'll put it up on the screen: "Now that gas prices are skyrocketing and Americans are struggling just to fill their gas tanks, Congress must act to ease the burden. Passing a federal gas tax holiday and repealing the tax giveaways in the Bush energy bill is a good start. "

Is -- is that still where you stand right now?

REID: We have done a -- we have done a lot since then, not a lot that has -- not a lot -- not as much as we need to do.

For example, we did raise the CAFE standards. That was good. We've tried to get where we need to go with renewable energy. That is a tax credit to create tens of thousands of jobs and to lessen our dependence on foreign oil.

And we're -- we have not gotten there. We have gotten 59 votes. We needed 60. The Republicans stopped us on that issue. But we're going to keep pushing.

BLITZER: Will your proposal tomorrow -- and I know you don't want to release all the details -- include this notion of a gas tax holiday?


BLITZER: You have decided that's not necessarily a good idea right now?

REID: It's not what we're going to do. We're not going to interject ourselves in the presidential election.

BLITZER: So, you don't want to take sides between these two Democrat. And you're still neutral right now. Correct me if I'm wrong.

REID: Oh, absolutely right. I think that people have to just relax, be patient. Bill Clinton didn't get he nomination until June 2. The last primary will be June 3. I think, at that time, Clinton and Obama will have a few days to make their case to the superdelegates, and then the superdelegates are going to have to act.

They can only come from three places, members of the House of Representatives, senators and DNC members. You don't have to look very far. That's where they all are.

BLITZER: You -- you were quoted by NPR, National Public Radio, the other day -- it's in "The Hill" newspaper now -- as saying this: "I think superdelegates have the opportunity, the ability and the right to vote for whoever they want, and I think that's what they should do. "

You're not among those, I take it, who believes that superdelegates should just follow the lead of the pledged delegates.

REID: You know, Wolf, this is interesting.

I've been accused of supporting Clinton. I've been accused of supporting Obama, which is good. I want to appear neutral. By saying that the decision has to be made a few days after the last primary, people are saying, well, why are you doing that? Are you favoring Obama? And then, when I come out and I say, superdelegates have the right to do whatever they want, people say, well, what are you doing? Are you favoring Clinton?

I don't favor either one of them. I think superdelegates have the right to do whatever they want. I think, shortly after the primary -- last primary, superdelegates are going to have to make a decision.

BLITZER: Here's a question about John McCain, the Republican presumptive nominee. You recently said -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- you thought that McCain has a temper and he has an inability to get along with others.

Is that where you still stand as far as John McCain is concerned?

REID: Well, you didn't have to hear that from Harry Reid. That's fairly common. There have been lots of articles written about it.

John McCain and I came to Washington together in 1982. I like John McCain. Every -- no one can question his courageous -- how courageous he is in time of war. But Democrats are going to win this election because he is wrong on the war and he is wrong on the economy.

BLITZER: But it's not just the temper issue, though, that should disqualify him? Is that what you're saying?

REID: No, that's just one issue to make up a person. We have to look at the whole person when you're running for president of the United States.

BLITZER: Your book "The Good Fight" has a subtitle, "Hard Lessons from Searchlight" -- your hometown in Nevada -- "to Washington. " Tell us the hardest lesson that you've learned that you want to share with readers out their and viewers out there.

REID: Well, I've learned a number of things.

One is that, no matter what you do in life, hard work is the key to success. I believe that's what I learned early on in my days in Searchlight. It took me a long time to understand what Searchlight was all about. I had to be an adult and then some, because I -- frankly, Wolf, I was kind of embarrassed about Searchlight.

I had -- we had no inside toilet, no hot water. My parents were uneducated. My dad didn't graduate from the eighth grade. My mother never graduated from high school. My mother had no teeth.

It was something that was -- I tried to put behind me. But, as I left Searchlight as a boy to go away to high school and college and law school, practice law, entered public service, I came to the realization I couldn't put that to one side, could not ignore it.

Searchlight is who I am. And it's when I came to the realization of that, I became a better person.

BLITZER: It's a Horatio Alger story, a real all-American story, if I say so myself. And I think it's fair to say -- correct me if I'm wrong -- only in America do these kinds of success stories emerge, a young boy from Searchlight now the Senate majority leader.

REID: Wolf, I tell kids -- and I've told them for years -- and that's what this book is about -- if I can make it, anyone can make it. And it shows the greatness of our country.

And I am in public service to make sure that the Harry Reids of the world have opportunities, hopefully with a few less hurdles to go over and a few less obstacles to go around. But I think it's still the case in America that this is a great country, and, if you work hard and have goals in mind, you can make it. You have to look for a little help along the way, as I did, but it's a wonderful country. And I can testify to that.

BLITZER: Thanks for writing this book, Senator. Thanks for coming in.

REID: You bet.

BLITZER: It's a scene of devastation so immense, Myanmar's government is making a rare move -- coming up, tens of thousands of people dead, many more homeless. Time could be running out. We will have the latest on how the world wants to help.

And what are voters just like you saying as they actually vote today in Indiana and North Carolina? We're going to have the first batch of exit polls coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're waiting for some exit polls to be coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. As soon as we get the results, we will share them with you.


BLITZER: We're only a couple hours or so away from the polls closing in North Carolina and Indiana. But what will tonight's outcome mean for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?

Our Bill Schneider is looking at specific scenarios and how each could dramatically change this race.

And John McCain does something he hardly ever does. You're going to want to hear what it is and why it's apparently designed to court conservatives on this day.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, oil prices hitting a record, topping $122 a barrel. Is Hillary Clinton right by saying the government should go after these oil companies, or is Barack Obama right in saying Clinton is simply pandering to get elected?

Clinton has positioned herself as a champion of the working class and is winning their vote. Some people say that's a pretty amazing feat considering her life of privilege growing up, and as first lady, and as a member of one of the most exclusive bodies in the world.

And wondering who John and Elizabeth Edwards will endorse. They're now ready to talk about what they like and what they don't like about both Obama and Clinton.

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

What happens in just a few hours from now could dramatically change the Democratic presidential race as we know it. Primaries in Indiana and North Carolina hold the most delegates left in this race. And after polls close this evening, we'll know who won the lion's share of them between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

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

Bill, what are you going to be looking for tonight specifically?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Evidence that the economy is reshaping this campaign.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): There are three possible outcomes of today's primaries. One, Barack Obama wins Indiana and North Carolina. Result: game over. Superdelegates move to crown Obama the winner.

Two, split decision. Result: game goes on. How long? Until the party decides what to do with the Florida and Michigan delegates.

Three, Clinton wins Indiana and North Carolina. Result: new game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She needs a game changer. She needs two game changers.

SCHNEIDER: Could that happen?

CLINTON: Life is unpredictable. Racing is unpredictable. Politics is unpredictable.

SCHNEIDER: Here's what makes this race so unpredictable -- the economy. For the last six months, the number of Americans who say the U.S. economy is in a recession has been rising. It's now 79 percent. Same as in 1992, when the economy got another candidate named Clinton elected.

Now this Clinton is trying to claim the economy as her issue.

CLINTON: I am well prepared to be the president who we can count on to get in there and on that first day be the commander in chief that our troops and our country deserve to have, and be the president to turn the economy around.

SCHNEIDER: Look what's been happening in the primaries. In Missouri on February 5, Democrats who said the economy was their top concern voted 51 to 47 percent for Clinton over Obama. A four-point lead for Clinton.

A month later in Ohio, Democrats who said the economy was their top concern, gave Clinton a 12-point lead over Obama. Two weeks ago in Pennsylvania, Democrats who said the economy was their top concern gave Clinton an 18-point lead.


SCHNEIDER: What's behind Clinton's gains in the late primaries? The economy, stupid. But will it be enough to change the game?

Well, Wolf, we'll see tonight.

BLITZER: Fairly soon. All right. Thanks very much, Bill, for that.

In a last-minute push, the Obama and Clinton campaigns are urging supporters online to make calls in North Carolina and Indiana to get voters to the polls.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's watching the story for us.

So, are they doing a good job reaching these voters, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, you can get an idea of how it's going, Wolf, from this counter here that the Barack Obama campaign has placed at their Web site. They set a goal of a million calls to be made over about 10 days, culminating in the primaries today.

We've been watching this counter, and it's been going up by about 10,000 calls an hour as supporters for the Barack Obama campaign, wherever they might be in the country, make calls to one of the states, Indiana, North Carolina, the states voting today. And they're accessing online script and also a list of phone numbers. So they can make the calls from the comfort of their own homes, wherever those may be.

This is a Web strategy that we've seen developing as this election has gone on. And as the e-mail lists of these campaigns have grown and grown, the Hillary Clinton campaign reaching out to their supporters last night through a text messaging system, on text messaging, asking them to get on the phones and start to make the calls. And you can see people posting on their blogs that this is urgent, even in these last hours, to get the phone calls out to the supporters and get them to the polls -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. It's amazing what's going on out there. A whole new technology getting the vote out.

All right. Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

John McCain is casting his lot with President Bush today on a subject many conservatives deeply care about. Is he telling voters on the right what they want to hear?

Also, can Barack Obama break Hillary Clinton's hold on those blue-collar voters? We're going to bring you the first exit polls. They're coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM from Indiana and North Carolina very soon.

We're standing by for that, and more.

Also, our "Strategy Session."

And later, the Indiana senator, Evan Bayh. How does he explain his support for Hillary Clinton when the delegate math apparently is working against her?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Today John McCain is driving home a big difference with the Democrats. And he's doing it from one of the states where Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are engaged in a battle right now. That would be North Carolina.

Our Dana Bash is joining us now from Winston-Salem. She's watching the story for us.

McCain is setting a bar for how he'd choose federal judges. What did he say, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, as you know, Wolf, who a president puts on the courts is really a big issue, because the courts affect large issues that really determine a wide range of issues that affect people's lives, from abortion, to guns, even to land use.

And we've been talking a lot lately about the fact that John McCain has been trying to create an image of a different kind of Republican, but on the issue of judges, he made very clear here he follows a conservative philosophy.


BASH (voice-over): He may be trying to distance himself from the unpopular president on some issues, but when it comes to filling the Supreme Court, John McCain says he'd follow George W. Bush's lead.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will look for people in the cast of John Roberts, Samuel Alito and my friend the late William Rehnquist, jurists of the highest caliber who know their own minds and know the law and know the difference.

BASH: McCain rarely volunteers what kind of judges he would appoint as president. A critical issue for his concerned Republican base.

This was an attempt to reach right. With former GOP rival Fred Thompson and other respected conservatives by his side, he spoke their language.

MCCAIN: My nominees will understand that there are clear limits to the scope of judicial power and clear limits to the scope of federal power.

BASH: Picking judges is a huge dividing line with Democrats. McCain chastised both Democratic candidates for backing judicial activism, but aimed mostly at Barack Obama.

MCCAIN: When Judge Roberts was nominated, it seemed to bring out more of the lecturer in Senator Obama than it did the guy who can get things done.

BASH: But it was McCain's help finding compromise and approving Bush judges, the so-called Gang of 14, that left many conservatives skeptical. Still, he played that up -- a contrast with what he called Obama's partisan vote against the chief justice.

MCCAIN: Somehow, Senator Obama's standards prove too lofty a standard for a nominee who is brilliant, fair-minded, and learned it in the law.

WHIT AYERS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That is very appealing to Independents, particularly against a Barack Obama, who has never joined any of these bipartisan coalitions and has no record of demonstrating that he can get things done in Washington.


BASH: And the Obama campaign shot back with a statement to react to what Senator McCain said here. I'll read it to you. I'll put it up on the wall.

What they said was: "John McCain promised his conservative base four more years of out-of-touch judges that would threaten a woman's right to choose, gut the campaign finance reform that bears his own name, and trample the rights and interests of the American people."

Very clear here that just as we've been talking about in another host of other issues, this issue of judges is one of those big differences, Wolf, between McCain and both Democrats that voters are going to have to choose from in November.

BLITZER: Dana, how are conservative activists reacting to McCain's speech?

BASH: It's interesting, Wolf. I've spoken to several of them who've kind of had their finger on the pulse of some of the conservatives who really are looking at every single word that John McCain says on this issue, and for the most part, it's quite positive, saying that he really hit every buzzword, if you will, talking about the fact that he's very much outraged by judicial activism, talking about the fact that his judges would be strict constructionists.

Those are the kinds of things that conservatives want to hear, particularly, as I mentioned in the piece, from someone like John McCain, who simply doesn't talk about this very much. It was part of the standard stump speech of George W. Bush, for example, when he was running for president, but not so much from John McCain. That's why this is so important for, as one McCain adviser said to me, to check the box for conservatives to have this kind of speech here today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana. Thank you.

Dana Bash reporting.

We're only minutes away from the first wave of those exit polls that are coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. We'll get to those.

Also, our "Strategy Session," sealing the deal in North Carolina and Indiana.


CLINTON: You know, I've said it before, that I think there's a good driving analogy. If you want to go forward, you put in D. If you want to go backwards, you put it in R.


BLITZER: Has Senator Clinton done enough to cut into Senator Obama's double-digit lead in North Carolina? And has Obama done enough to convince blue collar voters he's their guy?

Donna Brazile and Alex Castellanos are standing by right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: So watch what happens in only a few hours, because results in North Carolina and Indiana could dramatically change this Democratic race. Among the items to watch, will Hillary Clinton continue to show strong support among those working-class voters? Will Barack Obama keep an edge with African-Americans?

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

Joining us, our CNN political contributor, Donna Brazile. She's a Democratic strategist. And Republican strategist, Alex Castellanos. Obviously, he's a Republican strategist.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

In our Poll of Polls going into today, in Indiana, Clinton was slightly ahead 48-44 percent. Still 8 percent unsure. It looks like she has a slight edge in Indiana. But it's not a done deal until it's a done deal.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: That's true. But look, in every election leading up to the final three, Senator Clinton has been able to sort of take those undecideds and bring them into her column. I think it's because of the fact that people know the Clintons. They know Hillary Clinton. And perhaps it's a comfort zone, especially if you've been undecided.

But Barack Obama has shown that he can weather a couple of storms. Look, he's had to deal with race, religion and class over the last six weeks. And if Obama is able to continue to capture pledged delegates, I don't know how much will change tonight.

BLITZER: It would be huge for him if he could upset her in Indiana. But, you know, obviously it would be huge for her if she could upset him in North Carolina.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think Donna's exactly right. She's got to take him out of North Carolina, because if she doesn't, the geometry of the race basically stays the same.

BLITZER: Well, define a win for her in North Carolina.

CASTELLANOS: Anything. Anything. I think coming close is not a win.

BLITZER: She has to actually get...

CASTELLANOS: But if she wins by a vote, then all of a sudden there's doubt.

He's doing the rope-a-dope strategy at the end of the fight. He's ahead on points and he thinks, well, if I can just sit on the ropes, I can just wait this one out. He's got to be careful that he doesn't get knocked out.

BLITZER: Because in North Carolina, our Poll of Polls has him with a 10-point advantage going in to today, 51 percent for Obama, 41 percent for Clinton, 8 percent unsure. It would be a huge come-from- behind victory for her if she were to stun him in North Carolina. BRAZILE: Look, Bill Clinton has been knocking on every door south of Charlotte and Jacksonville, North Carolina. I wouldn't be surprised.

But, Wolf, I think at the end of the day, the Clinton campaign would like us to focus on psychology and not math. The Obama campaign says, let's do the math.

But the psychology of winning both states would be a game changer. But right now, it's still math and he's leading.

CASTELLANOS: And she's not running a campaign to win. She's running a campaign to stop Barack Obama.

She's transformed herself once again. She had her southern accent on again today. You know, we've got to stop wringing her hands, that kind of thing. She's doing everything but wearing bib overalls I think down in North Carolina. She wants to get that blue- collar working Democrat vote, and she's being effective.

BLITZER: Donna, with the Republican nomination basically wrapped up for John McCain, there are Republicans moving over to vote in these two Democratic contests today. Some suggestions, some may be voting because they like Barack Obama. Others like Hillary Clinton. But a third category simply to be mischievous, if you will.

What do you think is going on among the Republicans?

BRAZILE: Well, we call them the Limbaugh Democrats. Rush Limbaugh is encouraging Republicans to help create chaos in the Democratic Party. I don't know how much it will work.

I do believe in Indiana you have what we call an open registration. You can go in and just grab any ballot. There's no registration on the voter registration points.

But, look, at the end of the day the Democrats will have a tremendous turnout. Hillary and Barack will have two great nights.

They may not win. She may not win, he may not win in terms of what they need to put them over the stop, but they will come away with some bragging rights.

BLITZER: What are these Republicans doing? You're a good Republican. You understand them. What are they doing?

CASTELLANOS: The Clintons have incited such emotions in Republicans over the years, that you get Republicans who, any chance they get to vote against a Clinton may do so. And then on the other side, you also have some Republicans who I think have found something in Barack Obama's transformational message. You know, we can be better than we are. We can all come together and do something.

So I don't think it's just strategic voting that Republicans want to cause chaos in the Democratic Party. This is democracy at work.

BLITZER: You think it's going to be a split decision tonight?

BRAZILE: I think so. Based on the early polls and also based on the fact that I think Senator Clinton has tremendous support in Indiana. I mean, people talk about the northwest corridor, Gary, Indiana.

BLITZER: Basically a suburb of Chicago.

BRAZILE: But she has a former governor, Evan Bayh. He's an institution in Indiana, like Ed Rendell in the state of Pennsylvania.

She also has -- the governor of North Carolina came up. So I don't write Hillary Clinton off. I've never written her off. I didn't write her off in New Hampshire, I won't write her off tonight. But I also believe that this is Obama's moment to show that he cannot only stand against all of the things that's come against him, but he can also rise again.

BLITZER: He's going to be here in a few minutes, Evan Bayh. We'll speak to him.

Split decision, what does that say to you? What happens next? We wait next week for West Virginia?

CASTELLANOS: We wait again. Well, I think it puts the Democrats on the spot, because what that means at some point geometry won't change. Barack Obama, it's still his. They'd have to take it away from him at the convention.

I don't think the Democratic Party is going to let that happen. So they're going to have to take the family dog to the vet.

It's not something we want to do. The Democrats love the Clintons. But the time has come after June 3 and the last primary, somebody is going to have to sit them down and say this has got to end.

BLITZER: But the math favors her, apparently, in West Virginia next Tuesday, a week from today. Based on the polls there.

BRAZILE: Barack Obama is about 276 delegates short, 136 delegates will put him in the lead in terms of earned delegates. So I don't know if it's about the math. It's about the psychology.

BLITZER: No, I'm just talking about West Virginia, if she were to pull out a win next Tuesday in West Virginia.

BRAZILE: She can win the remaining eight primaries, but the math is the math. And again, if you want to change the subject to psychology, that's a whole different topic. But right now the math still matters in terms of who wins the nomination.

CASTELLANOS: The last six big primaries coming up after this, none of them have over 10 percent black vote, unlike North Carolina in which it's 40 percent or so. So they're not good for Barack Obama, but it does not matter. It's not enough for Hillary Clinton. BRAZILE: Well, if you go by that, Barack Obama would not even be in this position, because African-Americans make up 12 percent of the population. And yes, there's an overwhelming number of African- Americans in some states, but let's give the voters in Iowa and all the other states that have voted for Obama some credit, because they voted for the candidate of their choice.

BLITZER: We give all these voters a lot of credit, guys.

BRAZILE: I love them all.

BLITZER: We'll see you later. Thanks very much.

So, should you brace yourself for even higher gas prices? Oil prices hitting a record, topping $122 a barrel today. Hillary Clinton says go after the oil companies. Barack Obama claims she's saying that to simply to get elected.

And we're close to poll closings in Indiana and North Carolina. What are the voters thinking about all of this as they actually vote? We'll have the first batch of exit polls coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Checking our Political Ticker, new evidence that Barack Obama outspent Hillary Clinton on campaign ads in today's primary battlegrounds. He spent $2 million more in Indiana. He spent more than $1.5 more than Clinton on ads in North Carolina. The figures are from Campaign Media Analysis Group, CNN's consultant on political ad spending.

Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: He's got deep pockets and they are full of cash.

BLITZER: Yes, he's raised a lot more money than she has, and he's spending a lot more money than she has.

CAFFERTY: And he's winning. Maybe there's a connection.

The question this hour is: What does it mean when more than 200 economists say that this Clinton/McCain gas tax holiday is a bad idea? Two hundred, including some Nobel Prize winners.

Paul in South Carolina says: "Raise the gas tax. Raise the money to develop alternative energies. Keep every penny raised out of the grubby hands of the politicians. Then send the incumbents packing. You want real change? This is the way to get it started -- fire the whole damn bunch."

There's a guy after my own heart.

Greg in Oak Park, Illinois: "Well, sir, that depends. In Clintonland it means Hillary's correct and she's facing a vast economics-wing conspiracy. In this reality, it means that it's an incredibly dumb idea that has no chance of passing, and would lay off thousands of road construction workers who in all probability would prefer to stay employed and feed their families. But don't worry about it, Jack, in a month she'll just say that she misspoke."

Peter in Texas writes: "Those over 200 economists must still have jobs. They can afford to speculate on ideas and concepts, and if they're wrong, so what? No blood, no foul. I'll take any help I can get, even if it's only 18 cents a gallon. I'll take it. Only a fool would deny 18 cents off at the pumps. I'm willing to bet those same 200 economists would not refuse the discount when they fill up either."

Randy in Illinois writes: "Most economists say it's a bad idea because that's what it is. It's a bad idea. In Illinois, where I'm from and Obama's from, they tried it. They cut the gas tax. The price went up."

Samantha writes: "The weekend of summer tax-free gas proposals are only minor help. I want a candidate to come forward and say, one, we're too dependent on foreign countries and their prices; two, we need more off-shore drilling here, off the U.S. coasts; and three, what about immediately starting more oil refineries and implementing windmill-powered energy?"

And finally, Brad in Chicago says: "Jack, I completely agree with you, but I hope you're wrong, because watching you eat an Exxon station would be very entertaining."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at Look for yours there, along with hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.

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