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Senator Edward Kennedy Diagnosed With Malignant Brain Tumor; Obama's Almost-Victory Lap; McCain: Obama 'Dangerous' on Cuba

Aired May 20, 2008 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Cancer strikes one of America's most famous political figures. Senator Ted Kennedy diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.
We'll have the unfolding details about his condition and the stunned reaction.

Also, Barack Obama's heartfelt reaction to the news about Senator Kennedy. It's part of my new interview with Senator Obama. On another pivotal Democratic primary day, he has his sights on this day firmly on the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain.

And Hillary Clinton looks for a Kentucky landslide. Will it be one of her last stands, or does she still have time to turn things around?

We're standing by for the first exit polls.

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

All the polling places in Kentucky will be closed in just under three hours. A lot of anticipation, though, right now about the Democratic primary there, and in Oregon as well.

We're standing by to bring you the first exit polls. Also, we're going to be bringing you my brand new interview with Senator Barack Obama. That's coming up.

But first, the breaking news about a Democratic icon. Doctors now say Senator Ted Kennedy has a cancerous brain tumor and that's what caused his seizure over the weekend.

Let's go straight to CNN's Dan Lothian. He's joining us from Boston. He's watching this story.

Dan, update our viewers on what we know right now.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we know is that statement that doctors released early this afternoon, saying that as part of the course of treatment that they'll be looking into would be a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, although they want to conduct more tests before they decide which direction to go. Now, we did hear from a spokesperson for the Kennedy family telling us that doctors will not be releasing any additional information today. And, in fact, will not be coming out and talking to the press. But Democratic sources close to the Kennedy family have told our John King that both Senator Kennedy and also his wife Vicki are waiting to see the additional test results to determine whether or not surgery may be a viable option. These sources also say that Senator Kennedy is in good spirits, although those around him are stunned.

And then one source giving this story to show what kind of spirits he's in. He apparently was joking with his doctors, asking if he could leave the hospital to take part in a sailing regatta this weekend. He's been part of it for more than 30 years, sailing from Hyannis to Nantucket. He of course knew the answer would be no, but this just kind of shows how he's dealing with this news during this difficult time.

Doctors, by the way, saying that he should be in the hospital for at least the next couple of days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Dan. We're going to be getting back to you.

But I want to talk a little bit about Kennedy's diagnosis and his treatment options a little bit more with our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who's himself a neurosurgeon.

Sanjay, give us a little sense. They've given some specific details about this malignant tumor. What's the diagnosis and what's the prognosis?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, when you talk about tumors, you divide them into categories such as benign or malignant, and then after that, within malignant even, you have different grades, Wolf. For example, a grade one would be better than a grade four, which would be the worst.

You know, when someone, an adult, has a seizure, a tumor is a very likely cause of that, which is why he got the MRI and they found this. As far as prognosis goes, Wolf, it's really dependent on two things. Which of those grades is it? Is it at the better end of things or is it at the worse end of things?

And also, where exactly is this tumor located? We're hearing the left parietal lobe, but where within the left parietal lobe? Is it deep in the brain? Is it more on the surface of the brain? That's going to sort of tell us whether or not this can be operated, which is going to be a sort of important factor in his outcome.

BLITZER: Because they are talking now about if it's non- operable, if no surgery is really a useful treatment, that they're talking about chemotherapy and radiation. How successful would that be?

GUPTA: You know, it is dependent, again, somewhat on the overall grade of his tumor. And we don't know that for sure yet.

I will tell you, I've been on the phone with some of the doctors at Massachusetts General and, you know, they're being cautious. They're not really releasing too much information about that specifically now.

But, you know, this is a difficult tumor. There's no question, as a neurosurgeon, Wolf, this is a tumor that I've treated many times. And it is unfortunately one of those tumors that is very tough to treat.

It's resilient to treatment really at any of those grades. So, it's tough to say without all the information, but it's no doubt a concerning thing based on the fact that it's malignant and it's the location in the left parietal lobe.

BLITZER: Would it be -- would it be more operable if he were younger? He's 76 years old. How much of a factor, Sanjay, is that?

GUPTA: You know, age is going to be a bit of a factor, sure. I think that this -- in this situation we certainly do perform operations on people who are in their 70s, even older than that. So I don't think that that's going to be as much the sort of limiting step as the location of the tumor itself.

A couple of examples, Wolf. This area of the brain is responsible for lots of different functions -- for example, speech to some extent. For example, motor movements on the right side of his body.

When something is called inoperable, basically that means that performing an operation will actually cause more harm than good. And that's the decision doctors are going to have to make.

They say more tests are being done now. What that probably means is he's probably getting functional MRI scans to determine just how close these speech areas and these motor areas are to the tumor, and that will give them a better idea as to whether this can be operated on or not.

BLITZER: All right, Sanjay. Stand by. We're going to be getting back to you as well.

Senator Ted Kennedy is one of Barack Obama's most prominent supporters. Kennedy's endorsement of Obama back in January helped tilt the momentum in Obama's way. No doubt about that.

I spoke with Senator Obama just a short while ago. He says he's shattered by the news of Kennedy's cancerous brain tumor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would not be sitting here as a presidential candidate had it not been for some of the battles that Ted Kennedy has fought. So, not only is he a personal friend, not only has he been one of my most important supporters during the course of this campaign, but he's somebody who battled for voting rights and civil rights when I was a child. I stand on his shoulders. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And we're going to have the complete interview with Senator Obama. A lot more on his reaction to Senator Kennedy's news. The rest of my interview, that's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Obama, by the way, is also pushing back very hard against John McCain's latest charge that his foreign policy views are reckless.

Meantime, Senator McCain also emotional today about his colleague and friend, Senator Ted Kennedy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was just informed, as I'm sure you were, that apparently reports are that Ted Kennedy has a malignant brain tumor. Obviously, our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and to him. We hope and pray that they will be able to treat it and that he will experience a full recovery.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All of us are praying for that as well.

Many Americans, especially Democrats, consider the Kennedys to be political royalty. For decades, Ted Kennedy has been a reigning patriarch of his family and a powerhouse in his party.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Politically, Bill, what does Senator Kennedy represent?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: He represents the grand tradition of the Democratic Party in good times and bad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): When Ted Kennedy was first elected to the Senate in 1962, he was the president's kid brother. If his name were Edward Moore instead of Edward Moore Kennedy, it was said, he wouldn't have had a chance. He had to prove himself then, and he's had to prove himself again and again over the past 46 years.

The Chappaquiddick scandal might have finished off any other politician. Kennedy endured.

His unsuccessful run for president in 1980 might have ended his career. Kennedy endured. Kennedy endured because he embodied the grand tradition of the Democratic Party. Its commitment to civil rights and social welfare. He inherited the legacy from his brothers.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Be remembered simply as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.

SCHNEIDER: In politics you need a base. Your base is the people who are with you when you're wrong. Ted Kennedy's base stuck with him. Even when he failed.

KENNEDY: For me, a few hours ago this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dreams shall never die.

SCHNEIDER: This year, the country witnessed the dramatic moment when Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama for president. It was an electrifying moment, signifying that this young little-known candidate had the blessing of the Democratic Party establishment.

KENNEDY: I am proud to stand with him here today and offer my help, offer my voice, offer my energy, my commitment, to make Barack Obama the next president of the United States.

SCHNEIDER: It came as a shock to Hillary Clinton. Kennedy had fought along side her in the great health care battles. She went on to win the Massachusetts primary, but Kennedy's endorsement instantly legitimized Obama to the party. The baton was passed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: To Americans of the baby boom generation, Ted Kennedy is the newsreel of our lives. He has been there every important political moment, and we hope he'll be there for many more.

BLITZER: We certainly do.

Bill, thanks very much for that.

Jack Cafferty is off today.

My full interview, by the way, with Senator Barack Obama on Senator Kennedy and a whole lot more only minutes away here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Obama says, by the way, if anyone has flip-flopped on talking to Cuba, it's John McCain.

Plus, we're standing by to bring you the first exit poll results from Kentucky. What might they tell us about Hillary Clinton's prospects beyond today's primaries?

And right now, Senator Clinton is fighting for every last vote. We're going to bring you up-to-the-minute details of her strategy moving forward.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're only moments away from my interview with Senator Barack Obama. He speaks emotionally about this friend Senator Ted Kennedy. He's also accusing John McCain of distorting his diplomatic approach to U.S. adversaries like Iran and Cuba.

The interview with Senator Obama coming up. CNN's Jessica Yellin is in Florida covering McCain's latest barbs at Obama, but let's go to Suzanne Malveaux first. She's in Iowa, where Obama is getting ready to speak later today, one of the many signs that Senator Obama is getting ready to move into the general election campaign mode.

What's the latest, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he certainly is. Barack Obama's confident that he's going to win Oregon today. But the reason he is in Iowa is to send a clear message to the superdelegates that he feels confident he can win a cross-section of voters across the country for the general election. All you have to do is remember what happened here in Iowa.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OBAMA: We are one nation. We are one people. And our time for change has come!

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Iowa, where it all began. Barack Obama's explosive win here made him the front-runner-to-be. So tonight's rally in Des Moines brings him full circle, but not full victory.

OBAMA: They're ready to turn the page and write a new chapter in American history, and on June 3, we are going to bring this nomination to a close.

MALVEAUX: While Obama's expected to declare he's reached a milestone today by winning the majority of pledged delegates, he still won't have enough to clinch the nomination.

OBAMA: We made a promise.

MALVEAUX: Which makes the picture of him here, in a swing state, 95 percent white, all that more important. A reminder to the superdelegates, those party officials likely to determine who gets the nomination, here Hillary Clinton came in third despite her appeal to the white working class.

The message tonight -- the majority of voters have spoken. Time for the superdelegates to get on board.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And the Obama campaign believes the sooner the better. The DNC and, of course, the Rules Committee meeting at the end of the month to decide what happens to those delegates in Michigan and Florida. They hope that enough superdelegates come over to Obama's side, that that fight won't even be necessary -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thanks very much.

And once again, my full interview with Senator Barack Obama coming up. His push toward the fall and his push back at John McCain, that's coming up shortly. Let's get to John McCain though right now.

Adding more fuel to his foreign policy fight with Barack Obama, the subject this time was the tailor-made battleground state for Senator McCain. That's where he's campaigning on this day.

CNN's Jessica Yellin is joining us from Tampa.

The line of his criticism of Obama today sort of central to his entire campaign, Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Senator McCain is doing what he can to make the general election fight all about his own foreign policy credentials, and today the focus was Cuba.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): In Florida today, John McCain took another swing at Barack Obama. This time over Cuba and Obama's willingness to talk to Fidel Castro's successor.

MCCAIN: An unconditional meeting with Raul Castro. These steps would send the worst possible signals to Cuba's dictators.

YELLIN: If that's not clear enough for you, how's this?

MCCAIN: It's dangerous. It's dangerous to America's national security if you sit down and give respect and prestige to leaders of countries that are bent on your destruction or the destruction of other countries.

YELLIN: Cuban policy is a flash point in Florida politics. Cuban-Americans make up a vocal minority of the state's voters. They tend to be Republican and favor the current policy of isolation.

For many, McCain's comments are welcome news. But McCain's foreign policy hit today wasn't just about local politics. It comes on the heels of his accusation that Obama would be soft on Iran.

MCCAIN: Senator Obama has little or no experience on these issues.

YELLIN: It's part of a larger effort by McCain to use his running start to focus the debate on foreign policy and cast Obama as lacking experience and judgment.

Obama has hit back, painting McCain as a George Bush clone.

OBAMA: We've got to change our foreign policy works. That's not what John McCain is delivering. And that's why he can't be in the White House for another four years or another eight years. He's got the wrong idea and the wrong message.

YELLIN: And now the Obama campaign accuses McCain of imitating President Bush on Cuba as well, saying in a statement to CNN, "Senator McCain fully embraces the George Bush approach of doing nothing and hoping for the best. This is not a strategy, and it will not work."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Now, Wolf, Senator Clinton also tried going after Barack Obama on the issues of experience and judgment. Perhaps John McCain thinks that tactic will work better for him in a general election -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica. Thanks.

Jessica's in Tampa, Florida.

We're going to have more of my interview with Senator Barack Obama right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's coming up. He's getting slammed, as we just heard, from John McCain over Cuba and Iran. Now Obama is firing right back on this key primary day. Why he says McCain is simply distorting his record.

Also, a Boeing military helicopter allegedly vandalized. We're going to tell you who authorities say did it, and we're moments away from the first exit poll results in Kentucky and Oregon.

Lots of news happening today, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Barack Obama verbally strikes back at John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I have never said that I was prepared to immediately normalize relations with Cuba. The only person who has flip-flopped on this issue is John McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The Democratic White House hopeful is here in THE SITUATION ROOM as his war of words with John McCain heats up dramatically. We're going to also have his heartfelt reaction to news of Senator Ted Kennedy's brain tumor diagnosis.

My interview with Senator Obama coming up.

And who's more likely to defeat McCain in the fall, Obama or Hillary Clinton? Our John King will be checking out the numbers.

We'll also be bringing you the first exit poll results in Kentucky and Oregon. All that only moments away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now from the White House, around the nation, and across the aisle in Washington, concern, thoughts and prayers pouring in for Senator Ted Kennedy, diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

The Bush administration versus the Peacock Network. The White House counselor accusing NBC News of deceitfully editing President Bush's words. We're going to show you the televised comments at the center of the storm. Howard Kurtz standing by.

And as primary voters in Oregon and Kentucky make their picks, we're only moments away from the first exit poll results. Our Bill Schneider and his team will tell us what's on the minds of voters on this day.

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

John McCain is accusing Barack Obama of flip-flopping on foreign policy and not just on Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Just a few years ago, Senator Obama had a very clear view on Cuba. When he was asked in a questionnaire about his policy toward Cuba, he answered, and I quote, "I believe that normalization of relations with Cuba would help the oppressed and poverty-stricken Cuban people while setting the stage for a more Democratic government once Castro inevitably leaves the scene."

An interesting perspective on Cuba.

Now Senator Obama has shifted positions and says he only favors easing the embargo, not lifting it. He also wants to sit down unconditionally for a presidential meeting with Raul Castro. An unconditional meeting with Raul Castro.

These steps would send the worst possible signal to Cuba's dictators. There is no need to undertake fundamental reforms. They can simply wait for a unilateral change in U.S. policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Senator Obama says Senator McCain is twisting his words and his record.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

OBAMA: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Senator McCain has leveled some very serious charges against your strategy in dealing with Cuba on this day. Let's go through a couple of them. We heard what he just said.

Are you ready to normalize relations with Raul Castro's regime? OBAMA: No. And so I have to say, first of all, Wolf, his charges aren't serious. That's the problem.

I have never said that I was prepared to immediately normalize relations with Cuba. The only person who has flip-flopped on this issue is John McCain, who, in 2000, said that he would be prepared to start normalizing relations, even if a whole host of steps had not yet been taken. That is a reversal from the position he is taking now.

What I have said is that we should loosen up the ability of Cuban Americans to provide remittances to their family members, to travel to Cuban -- to Cuba to visit family members, as a show of good faith, and that, if we could see progress on a whole host of issues, then we should move in the direction of normalization, because what we have done over the last 50 years obviously not has worked for what is the primary criteria of U.S.-Cuban policy, which is making sure that the Cuban people have freedom.

And what I have also said is that I would be willing to engage in direct talks with Cuba. Now, I know that John McCain likes to characterize this as me immediately having Raul Castro over for tea.

What I have said is, is that we would set a series of meetings with low-level diplomats, set up some preparation, but that, over time, I would be willing to meet and talk very directly about what we expect from the Cuban regime.

BLITZER: Because he says...

OBAMA: And so John McCain -- John McCain keeps on making these statements that simply aren't based on anything I have said.

BLITZER: He says that you would be ready, in his words, to sit down unconditionally for a presidential meeting with Raul Castro. Those were his words.

OBAMA: And what I have said is, I would be willing to meet without preconditions, but with a lot of preparation. And this is -- this is the same argument that we've been having with respect to Iran. This is the same argument that we're going to be having throughout the next several months, should I end up being the Democratic nominee.

John McCain essentially wants to continue George Bush's policies of not talking to leaders we don't like and not talking to countries we don't like. It has been a failed policy. Iran is stronger now than when George Bush took office, partly because he engaged in a war in Iraq that John McCain facilitated that has strengthened Iran.

The fact that we haven't talked to them has not had them stand down on nuclear weapons. It hasn't led them to stop funding Hamas and Hezbollah. It hasn't stopped them from threatening Israel. And, so, what I have said is, we should open up direct talks.

By the way, George Bush's own secretary of defense, Robert Gates, has indicated the same thing.

BLITZER: Well...

(CROSSTALK)

OBAMA: I believe the same thing -- I believe that the same thing is true when it comes to Cuba.

And the -- I believe, by the way, that the same thing is true with North Korea. That's one of the few areas where we have seen some progress, primarily because the Bush administration reversed its policy of not having direct talks with these rogue nations, and we have actually started seeing some progress.

Prior to that...

BLITZER: All right.

OBAMA: ... North Korea developed a series of nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: There seems to be some confusion whether you would be willing, personally, as president, to sit down, without preconditions, with Ahmadinejad of Iran or other Iranian leaders.

Is your openness to a meeting with Iranian leaders inclusive of Ahmadinejad?

OBAMA: You know, I think this obsession with Ahmadinejad is an example of us losing track of what's important.

I would be willing to meet with Iranian leaders if we had done sufficient preparation for that meeting. Whether Ahmadinejad is -- is the right person to meet with right now, we don't even know what is going to -- how much power he is going to have a year from now. He is not the most powerful person in Iran.

And my expectation, obviously, would be to meet with those people who can actually make decisions, in terms of having them stand down on nuclear weapons, or stopping funding Hamas or Hezbollah, or meddling in the affairs of Iraq.

But the -- the bottom line here, Wolf, is that John McCain wants to pursue policies that George Bush has pursued for the last eight years, with no success. When it comes to Cuba, what he is now saying is, essentially, the policy we have pursued for 50 years. And the Cuban people are not more free.

And the notion that we would keep doing the same thing over and over and over again, when it doesn't work, and that that somehow is a sign of toughness, is extraordinarily naive, I think does a disservice to the Cuban people. That's the kind of break from the Bush administration that I want to initiate when I am president of the United States.

BLITZER: Let's make the turn to the very disturbing news we just heard about Senator Kennedy. He has a malignant tumor. I know he is one of your early supporters. You're close with him. Give us your reaction to this very sad news. OBAMA: Well, it's heartbreaking. I had just spoken to Ted two days ago, right after the seizure, and he seemed in great spirits. He sounded terrific.

I think the family was feeling more optimistic. Obviously, we're all shattered by the news today. But you know what? Ted Kennedy is a fighter. The reason he is the giant of the Senate, the reason that he has accomplished more than any of the others who were there, the reason that he has been able to help deliver voting rights and immigration rights and helped people who are vulnerable is because he fights.

He fights for what he thinks is right. And we want to make sure that he's fighting this illness. And it's our job now to support him in the way that he has supported us for so many years. He's not just a great senator. He is a great friend. He is beloved by me and beloved by my colleagues. And, so, we're going to do everything we can to support his family during this difficult time. And my thought and prayers are going to be with him.

BLITZER: Give us a final thought, Senator, on what Senator Kennedy means to you.

OBAMA: Well, you know, keep in mind that I think you can argue I would not be sitting here as a presidential candidate had it not been for some of the battles that Ted Kennedy has fought.

So, not only is he a personal friend. Not only has he been one of my most important supporters during the course of this campaign, but he's somebody who battled for voting rights and civil rights when I was a child. I stand on his shoulders.

And the fact that he's also a great friend, somebody who always has a kind word to say, always has good humor, even with his adversaries, you know, he's been, I think, a great model of what a senator can and should be. And I expect that he's going to fight as hard as he can to make sure that he's dealing with this illness.

BLITZER: Like everyone out there, we wish him only, only the best.

Senator Obama, thanks very much for joining us.

OBAMA: Thank you so much, Wolf. I appreciate it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And we have asked for an interview with Senator McCain. We hope that he will be giving us an interview shortly.

We're also standing by for the first exit poll information from Kentucky.

Plus, who would do better against John McCain in the fall? Would it be Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? Our John King is standing by with some new calculations. I think you're going to want to see this. Plus, another primary day, another opportunity for Senator Clinton to make her case that it's not over with yet. We're following her final push in Kentucky.

And, once the votes are tallied tonight, will the Democrats be all that much closer to having a nominee? Donna Brazile and Alex Castellanos are warming up right here in our "Strategy Session."

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton is parked firmly in Kentucky this hour. Look for her to play up her widely expected blowout there tonight, and to downplay Barack Obama's likely victory in Oregon. We're going to have a full report with Candy Crowley coming up.

But there's some breaking news we're following right now coming in from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Look at these pictures.

Carol Costello, what are we seeing? What do we know?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a large city, the capital of Brazil, Wolf, a city of 10 million people.

There's a fire coming from inside one of those buildings. Local television in Brazil is reporting, the building on fire is an apartment building. Initially, the reports from local television said a small plane crashed into the building. It is by a nearby airport. The domestic airport in Sao Paulo is nearby.

But we're not sure here. We haven't confirmed that. CNN has not confirmed it. It may be just a fire in the building. Whatever it is, it is a massive fire inside of that building. And we understand there are people inside. We're going to try to find out more information. And, of course, I will pass it along -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of smoke, very disturbing pictures. All right, we will get back to you shortly, Carol.

I know Miles O'Brien working this story as well.

As this primary season winds down, Senator Clinton is seeking every opportunity to make the case she's still very much in the game.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is joining us now from Louisville.

Candy, the Kentucky primary is especially important for Senator Clinton on this day.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. How important? She has spent the last four days here, as has her husband. They are looking for not just victory here in Kentucky, but a big victory.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that I have a unique set of experiences and qualifications on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

CROWLEY (voice-over): Universal health care, improved education, an end to the Iraq war, the experience to get it done -- Hillary Clinton of May '08 is like Hillary Clinton of May '07.

H. CLINTON: I need your help.

CROWLEY: Except she's running out of time, out of states, out of paths to the nomination, but not running out of ways to win a battle in this long war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to send Hillary Clinton out of Kentucky with the biggest majority that any state could ever have done.

CROWLEY: It may not make history, but she will win big in Kentucky, but it will not be enough to overcome what is almost certainly an unsurmountable Obama lead in elected pledged delegates.

She will press on regardless, encouraged to do so in a full-page ad from a women's group.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CROWLEY: As both Hillary Clinton and her most passionate supporter made their way through a Louisville diner this morning, he argued, there will be no finality to this race until Florida and Michigan are in the mix.

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Republicans are supposed to be the people that don't count votes in Florida, not Democrats.

CROWLEY: Because Michigan and Florida broke party rules, it is longer than a long shot that Democratic officials will seat their delegates in a way that would change the outcome.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Still, if those delegates are seated, expect the Clinton campaign to take a look at the popular vote that she won in both those states, and add to it their argument that she has won the most popular votes, and, therefore, should be the nominee -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, thank you. We will be checking back with you shortly.

Coming up in our "Strategy Session," setting aside partisan bickering, Congress shows its support for senator Kennedy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I speak for every Republican in the conference that this was a development of great concern and sadness to all of our members.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We stand as a body, and as certainly a Democratic family, with our affection, our love, and our prayers with Senator Ted Kennedy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We will talk about Senator Ted Kennedy and why one senator describes him as a living legend.

And we're only minutes away from the early wave of exit polls, as voters head -- give their preferences in Oregon and Kentucky. What's on their minds? Bill Schneider is standing by. We will share those exit poll results with you -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go back to Carol Costello. She's got some more information on that fire in Sao Paulo in Brazil.

What do we know, Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, we know it's a pretty massive fire, Wolf, but we now know it was not a plane that hit that building in downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil. It is a residential fire in a high-rise complex. And firefighters are desperately trying to control the flames and get everybody out. We will keep you posted -- back to you.

BLITZER: Carol, thank you.

Let's get some more now on Senator Ted Kennedy. He's been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

We're going to talk about that and more in our "Strategy Session." Joining us, our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile. She's a Democratic superdelegate, hasn't endorsed a presidential candidate yet. Also joining me, our CNN political contributor, the Republican consultant Alex Castellanos. He was an adviser to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

But you like John McCain right now, right?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. Every Republican does.

BLITZER: I want to talk about what McCain said with Barack Obama today.

But let's talk a little bit about Senator Ted Kennedy. And I want to play this little clip from Robert Byrd, the long-serving senator from West Virginia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Ted, my dear friend, I love you. And I miss you.

And Erma, my darling wife, Erma, would want to say, thank God for you, Ted. Thank God for you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: An emotional moment, indeed, in the Senate.

Donna, I think a lot of people feel like Senator Byrd right now.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, absolutely.

Look, I have heard from people all over the country. Ted Kennedy is a lion in the Senate. He's been a champion, of course, for women's rights, civil rights, equal rights for the disabled, for everyone. People love Ted Kennedy. Everyone is praying for Ted Kennedy, for a speedy recovery. We want him back in the Senate. We want him back championing all of the causes that he's fought his life for.

BLITZER: And, Alex, you know that he had a lot of good friends on the Republican side as well.

CASTELLANOS: Oh, I think Ted Kennedy is -- his picture is in the dictionary next to "worthy adversary." You respect him. You knew where he stood.

He's -- he has been the -- if FDR built industrial-age government, Ted Kennedy is the one who grew it into a skyscraper. He is -- I don't know of anyone who has accomplished more on the Democratic side of the aisle.

BLITZER: And some of the most emotional comments we're getting are from Republicans. He worked very closely with people like Orrin Hatch, among others.

BRAZILE: Look, Ted Kennedy could always find agreement with his adversaries, on immigration reform, for example, working with John McCain, working with President Bush on No Child Left Behind.

I agree with Senator Obama when he said, we all stand on steely shoulders, not just shoulders, steely. This is a who not only shepherded voting rights, but the Fair Housing Act and civil rights acts. So, we all respect his service.

BLITZER: Alex, let's talk a little bit of politics, what's going on, on this day.

Senator Obama wasted no time hitting Senator McCain right back on the issue of Cuba. You saw the speech that Senator McCain delivered today. And then Senator Obama was here in THE SITUATION ROOM responding: If anyone has flip-flopped on Cuba, it's Senator McCain.

CASTELLANOS: Well, I think the point that Senator McCain is making is that Obama's experience, I think, in national -- in foreign policy matters is on the table this election.

I mean, he has great strength. He's a young, new, fresh face. He has great weakness. He's a young, new, untested, fresh face. And when, for example, Barack Obama says, well, I will negotiate with Hamas -- won't negotiate with Hamas, but we should negotiate with everybody, he's kind of caught in a conflict.

And you see that in Cuba, as well, where -- I think Florida is an important swing state, for Barack Obama, a state he must have, and he has alienated, I think, quite a bit of the Cuban vote, saying he would be happy to sit down and play cards with Fidel Castro and Raul.

BLITZER: Donna, I'm going to have you to respond. But stand by for a moment, because I want to take a quick break -- much more of our "Strategy Session" coming up.

Hillary Clinton looking for a big win tonight in Kentucky. Will she do it? And what would that mean for the Democratic nomination battle? We're going to take a closer look at that.

Also, as voters in Kentucky and Oregon make their choice, we will bring you the first exit poll results -- Bill Schneider going through the numbers, only moments away.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our Political Ticker: Hillary Clinton's battle to remain in the White House.

Let's continue our conversation with Donna Brazile and Alex Castellanos.

Donna, this is an important night for Hillary Clinton, because she's by no means -- at least none of the impression we're getting -- ready to throw in the towel.

BRAZILE: Nor should she.

This is a very competitive race. While Senator Obama will hit a milestone tonight, and capture the majority of the pledged delegates, Senator Clinton will pick up a lot of delegates in Kentucky. She has vowed to fight on. She should, until the last primary in South Dakota and Montana.

BLITZER: It's a majority of the pledged delegates, if you don't include Michigan and Florida. But you, as a superdelegate, as a member of the DNC Rules Committee, you're going to meet May 31. And what are you going to do?

BRAZILE: Well, in 11 days, we will look at various scenarios. The Michigan Democratic Party has come up with a proposal.

The two campaigns should sit down and iron this out, so that we can have a simple solution. I think the best way to move -- of moving forward is to have a fair process, so that both parties come away thinking that we did the right thing.

BLITZER: What do you think, Alex?

CASTELLANOS: I think, tonight, you are going to see the two Democratic parties in view. You are going to see the old Democratic Party in Kentucky, the machine, the working-class party. And then you're going to see a new Democratic Party, much younger people, many more diverse faces. You're going to see that in Oregon.

Barack Obama's going to do very well in the new Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton's going to do very well in the old. It's a generational battle.

BLITZER: Is this smart, for Barack Obama to be showing up tonight in Iowa, where he's going to be giving his big speech, the scene where he won that first Iowa caucuses, and to point to this milestone of having a majority of the superdelegates? Because you know it's going to alienate Clinton supporters, and they're going to -- he's going to need them in his camp if he wants to successfully be the Democratic nominee.

BRAZILE: I think Senator Obama is striking the right balance by showing up in Iowa tonight and going to Florida tomorrow. It's so important that the party begin to unify, to heal, to come together.

And, clearly, the state of Iowa...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Don't you think Clinton supporters, a lot of them, are going to feel that he's trying to pull the -- you know, force her out of this -- this contest?

BRAZILE: Where is Senator Clinton going tomorrow? She's also going to Florida. So, I think it's important that these candidates come up with their schedules and begin to heal the party. This is part of the healing process and moving forward to the general election.

BLITZER: What do you think, Alex?

CASTELLANOS: The longer this goes, I think the better the odds of a Clinton supporter, like, say, Ed Rendell become -- becoming a vice presidential nominee.

BLITZER: He's a Clinton supporter, as you say.

CASTELLANOS: He's a Clinton supporter, from a working-class state, who also...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Pennsylvania is critical.

CASTELLANOS: Pennsylvania very important. So, I think, the longer it goes, the more it helps him. But, you know, also tonight, we're going to see -- Barack Obama is running a general election campaign.

BLITZER: All right.

Here's -- I was going to throw to some videotape of Hillary Clinton. We're going to show that shortly, what she's saying about Senator Ted Kennedy. So, we will talk about that.

But what do you think about this -- this latest tit for tat between Obama and McCain? How smart is that, for both of them right now, to be -- having this, you know, almost on daily basis national security fight?

CASTELLANOS: Well, for McCain, it is certainly his territory. You know, McCain is the one who's got years of experience, the military background, the credibility in military and foreign policy affairs.

So, I think, for McCain, it's certainly playing on home -- the home field advantage there.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BRAZILE: Well...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Because -- because the McCain people say, you know what? They would rather talk about national security than the economy or health care or some of the domestic issues.

BRAZILE: I think Senator McCain needs to get a new playbook, because if he's going to use George Bush's playbook to talk about national security and foreign affairs, he will find that the pages are missing, because most Americans believe that this administration has been a failure when it comes to national security.

I think Senator Obama will address the issue of Cuba. Look, we're dealing with a new day in Cuba. We're dealing with a new political opportunity for us to -- to help the Cuban people move beyond the Castro years. And I think it's important.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: But we're also dealing with some old dictators. And...

BRAZILE: Oh, absolutely.

CASTELLANOS: And to reward them...

BRAZILE: And the only way to move them out is to talk to them and tell them it's time to go. CASTELLANOS: And to reward them with just sitting down at the table, that has value. That legitimizes, I think, a dictatorship. And that's why I think many people in Florida are concerned about Obama's position.

BLITZER: Stand by, guys. I know both of you are going to be with us for -- for the continuing coverage we're going to be having.

BRAZILE: Thanks.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

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