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THE SITUATION ROOM

Cruz, Rubio Score Weekend Wins; Michael Bloomberg Will Not Enter 2016 Race; New Indecision Inside Rubio Campaign; Dems Hunt Michigan Votes After Raucous Debate; Airstrike Kills 50 Fighters in Somalia; North Korean Nuke Threat Tied to U.S.-South Korean War Games. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 7, 2016 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, two-man race. After big weekend gains and with another Super Tuesday just hours away, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are calling on Marco Rubio to get out of the race. But will Rubio get a boost from big-money campaign ads?

Pardon the interruption. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders slam each other over the auto and Wall Street bailouts. It was sometimes hard to get a word in edgewise during our CNN debate. Did either gain an edge going into the next round of primary contests?

Sophisticated bomb. Just weeks after a laptop bomb blew a hole in an airliner over Somalia, a similar bomb explodes in an airport there. Will a devastating U.S. airstrike keep the terrorists off balance?

And un-deterred. As the U.S. and South Korea launch massive war games an angry Kim Jong-un threatens to launch a preemptive strike. Could he make good on his threat?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're counting down to the next Super Tuesday. That would be tomorrow. Four more contests for the Republicans, with 150 delegates at stake. Donald Trump is pulling away, but after a strong weekend, Ted Cruz is nipping at his heels. Both candidates want Marco Rubio to quit the race.

But after a win of his own, Rubio is closing the gap in his home state of Florida, according to latest polls. A new Trump ad, though, is attacking him there while Rubio is getting some help from a conservative group. Can super PAC attack ads cut Trump down to size?

And a sophisticated laptop -- laptop bomb explodes at an airport in Somalia just weeks after a similar device blew a hole in an airliner. And now a U.S. airstrike devastates a terror training camp belonging to al Qaeda's local affiliate. Is there a connection? I'll speak with former Republican presidential candidate, Senator Lindsey Graham.

And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they'll have full coverage of all the day's top stories. We begin with the Republicans. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz hoping to go one on one after tomorrow's contest. Marco Rubio may have other ideas. Our national correspondent, Jason Carroll, is on the campaign trail

for us in Tampa, Florida, right now.

Jason, what's the latest?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Rubio rally is just about to get under way here. As you know, Wolf, Rubio has his sights set squarely on his home state of Florida. It is a state that he must win. And while some people want this to be a two-way race, Rubio telling reporters just a few minutes ago, he has no intention of getting out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Who's going to win North Carolina?

CARROLL (voice-over): Donald Trump's confidence on full display today, campaigning in North Carolina, whose primary is still more than a week away. The GOP front-runner running strong in tomorrow's big Super Tuesday prize, Michigan.

TRUMP: I've been to Michigan a lot. And I think we're going to do well there.

CARROLL: A new Monmouth University poll released today shows Trump at 36 percent in the Wolverine State, followed by Cruz at 23 percent. After big weekend wins, Trump and Cruz say the GOP primary fight is now turning into a two-man race.

TRUMP: Marco Rubio had a very, very bad night. And personally, I'd call for him to drop out of the race. I think that it's time now that he drop out of the race. I would love to take on Ted one on one. That would be so much fun.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you don't want to see Donald Trump as the nominee, then I invite you to join our team.

CARROLL: Cruz picking up some momentum after scoring wins this weekend in Kansas and Maine, helping close Trump's advantage in the delegate count.

CRUZ: We've beaten Donald Trump not once, not twice, but seven times in states all across this country.

CARROLL: Trump, meanwhile, edging out Cruz in Kentucky and Louisiana. Rubio earned his second victory of the primary season on Sunday in Puerto Rico, coming on the heels of disappointing results in Saturday's contests.

But the Florida senator's presidential hopes now rest on his home state, which holds its primary on March 15. Released today showed Rubio within striking distance of Trump, trailing by eight points, 38 percent to 30 percent. Trump slamming his rival on the trail today.

TRUMP: He couldn't be elected dog catcher in Florida. CARROLL: And in a new hard-hitting television ad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Marco Rubio, another corrupt, all talk, no action politician.

CARROLL: Rubio's effort to derail the front-runner getting a boost from super PACs opposed to Trump. The latest highlighting Trump's sometimes coarse language on the campaign trail.

TRUMP: He gets the nomination, they're going to sue his he said his (EXPLETIVE DELETED). She said he's a (EXPLETIVE DELETED). I don't give a (EXPLETIVE DELETED). We'll beat the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[17:05:06] CARROLL: Again, Rubio telling reporters just a short while ago, Wolf, that he is committed to staying in this race, going the long haul if he has to. One Rubio advisor telling me that they're also encouraged by early voting, which seems to, what they say show voters leaning towards Rubio as opposed to Trump. But one Rubio supporter telling me as soon as I was walking into this venue just a short while ago, saying, "Look, we have an uphill battle ahead of us" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jason Carroll, thanks very much.

We're getting some breaking news right now. Just moments ago the former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, announced he will not -- repeat, not -- run as a third-party independent presidential candidate this year.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is with me here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Sunlen, you and I have just been looking through this statement, an article, basically, that he just put out.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. An op-ed just published, Wolf, under the title, "The Risk I Will Not Take" by Michael Bloomberg, firmly saying he will not run for presidency.

In this op-ed he says, "But when I look at the data it is clear to me that if I enter the race, I could not win. I believe I could win a number of diverse states," he states, "but not enough to win the 270 Electoral College votes necessary to win the presidency."

Later, he goes on to say, "In a three-way race, it's unlikely any candidate would win a majority of electoral votes, and then the power to choose the president could be taken out of the hands of the American people and thrown to Congress."

This had been such a big question mark hanging over the race. Pretty firm decision.

BLITZER: Yes. If no one in a three-person race got that 270 electoral vote magic number, it would go to the House of Representatives, where the Republicans are the majority, and presumably Bloomberg would not get that majority, even if he entered as a third-party candidate and did well, preventing others from getting 270. That would not be enough.

Are you getting some more information now on the Cruz campaign and what they're trying to do? They clearly want Marco Rubio out of this contest.

SERFATY: That's right. Cruz today was campaigning in Mississippi and he not one word said anything about Marco Rubio. It was all about Donald Trump, Donald Trump.

Cruz was supposed to have a day off from the campaign trail. He's been largely under the weather and sick, but they quickly changed his campaign schedule, added last-minute events in Mississippi and Michigan. These are both states, of course, that vote tomorrow.

Now, the Cruz campaign of course, not wanting to leave any momentum from this weekend behind. And Cruz spoke with voters earlier today. Here's what he said to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRUZ: It's neck and neck right now. I'm encouraged. I think momentum is surging our direction. And we're seeing a couple of things now. No. 1, we're seeing folks who had been supporting Donald Trump who are realizing he isn't who we thought he was.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: And he later called Mississippi a battleground. Of course, they will head to the polls tomorrow. And he called Donald Trump his biggest competitor in that state.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what Trump said on Saturday after Cruz won a few states. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I would love to take on Ted one on one. That would be so much fun. Because Ted can't win New York. He can't win New Jersey. He can't win Pennsylvania. He can't win California. I want Ted one on one, OK? Marco has to get out of the race, has to. Because despite what said -- Ted said, oh, do I want to run against just Ted. That will be easy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Interesting. You know, this whole notion of just a two- person race would be fascinating if, in fact, Rubio got out, Kasich got out, neither one of them indicating, at least right now, that they're getting -- going to get out.

But you're talking to people inside the Cruz campaign. Do they really think it's realistic that it's going to be Cruz versus Trump?

SERFATY: That is what they have been hankering for, for a long time. They want to keep trying to push this race towards that.

A Cruz campaign official tells me tonight, they say as far as their path forward, they think they are in a good spot. They say, "We have a path to victory." They're not basing that path on winning any one specific state. Always really trying to reach these thresholds in the states that aren't winner-take-all, pick up delegates here or there, push this as much as they can into a two-person race is always where they felt most comfortable. And that's where they're going to be focused on going forward.

BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty, thanks very much. Sunlen reporting for us.

All right. Joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, a past and once again current target of Donald Trump's attacks, Republican senator, the former Republican presidential candidate, Lindsey Graham, who's been looking for someone to be a viable alternative to Donald Trump.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Anybody.

BLITZER: Let me get your immediate reaction to the news, the breaking news, the risk I will not take, Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City announcing just a few moments ago he doesn't think it's realistic for him to run as a third-party candidate. As a result, he won't run. What's your reaction?

GRAHAM: Well, I honor his decision. If he did run, it probably would be hard to get 270 electoral votes for either major party, and you'd go to the House. So in that regard that's probably not a good outcome for the country as a whole. So I respect his decision. He clearly put the country ahead of his own interests here.

[17:10:04] BLITZER: Yes. There are people that I have been speaking to who are close to him. I think if Hillary Clinton were not looking like she was going to get the nomination, and it was going to be Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump, for example, he then might think he could get...

GRAHAM: Probably.

BLITZER: ... enough to get 270 electoral votes. But with Hillary Clinton stronger, apparently, right now than Bernie Sanders, that's probably convinced him this is not a good time for him to run.

GRAHAM: Makes sense.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about you and Donald Trump. You had a little war on Twitter. He tweeted this about you, Senator. He said, "Failed presidential candidate Lindsey Graham should respect me. I destroyed his run, brought him from 7 percent to 0 percent when he got out. Now nasty," exclamation point.

You replied to Donald Trump, "I never got past 2 percent. You aren't prepared to be commander in chief of world's finest fighting force." Here's the question. If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, he's

the front-runner right now, running against, let's say, Hillary Clinton, who do you vote for?

GRAHAM: Well, you ask me after the convention and I'll tell you.

BLITZER: Why can't you tell me now?

GRAHAM: I'm not going to tell you now. I don't believe he's going to be the nominee.

Winning to me is stopping him from getting the nomination. This is not about who we nominate anymore as Republicans as much as it's who we are. This is a fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. What is conservatism? If it's Donald Trump carrying the conservative banner, I think not only did we lose the election, but we'll be unable in the future to grow the conservative cause.

As much as I disagree with Ted Cruz, if it came down to Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, I would be firmly in Ted's camp, because I think he really is a conservative.

BLITZER: Because I know you totally disagree with Ted Cruz.

GRAHAM: On a lot of things.

BLITZER: ... on so much. I'm going to play a little clip for you. We had a conversation. This was on February 4, you and me here. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: In Ted Cruz's world dictators do very, very well. This carpet bombing stuff is a joke. We had 100,000 grounds troops going into the first Gulf War, so you're not going to win the war from the air absolutely. He wants to read Miranda rights to terrorists. I've seen him in action. Every time the libertarian cause was on trial on the Senate floor, he was with them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So you don't have any confidence in him being commander in chief?

GRAHAM: I think he's been just as wrong as Obama if not worse.

BLITZER: Do you want to revise and amend those comments when you say, "I think he's been just as wrong as Obama if not worse"?

GRAHAM: We were talking about Libya and Syria.

BLITZER: Right.

GRAHAM: Those two things. He would rebuild the military. I think he would have a more robust approach to Putin. I think he would be more aggressive when it came to the Iranian deal. I think he would tear it up and get a new deal.

When it comes to Libya and Syria, I don't think he's been much better.

I'm not saying I support Ted Cruz because I think he's the preferred choice. I'd much rather have Kasich or Rubio. But the problem is, we have an ideological contest going on in the Republican Party. This is an outsider year. Rubio and Kasich, to me, are going to have a hard time beating Trump one on one. When you add it up the Cruz, Trump, Carson vote is over 60 percent of our primary.

It seems that Ted has the most persuasive case thus far that he can take on Donald Trump and deny him the nomination. We'll see what happens in Ohio and Florida.

I'm pulling for Marco in Florida and Kasich in Ohio, but I don't know if either one of those could beat Trump in a one-on-one contest, because Ted Cruz is seen as an outsider in a year where people want an outsider.

BLITZER: If Trump wins in Florida and Ohio, beats Rubio in Florida, beats Kasich in Ohio, these guys have to leave, right?

GRAHAM: I think. We're never going to beat Trump with three people or four people in the race. If you want to stop Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have to find some kind of accommodation sooner rather than later. The two together can beat Trump.

Most of Cruz's votes would go to Trump if he got out, and I think most of Rubio's votes would go to Cruz over Trump. That's just a math situation.

I'm pulling for Marco in Florida and Kasich in Ohio, but I'm pulling for somebody to stop Trump.

BLITZER: So basically your position is anybody but Trump?

GRAHAM: Anybody but Trump, and I don't see it happening with four people in the race. They need to consolidate soon. And at the end of the day, if he is our nominee, not only will lose the election, we'll lose the heart and soul...

BLITZER: There's one other option out there: a contested convention. You heard what Mitt Romney had to say. Maybe there's someone on the outside who could still emerge.

GRAHAM: No. No. The people in the arena deserve it. I ran. I got beat. Donald Trump is right to say that he beat me. He did.

BLITZER: So even if he doesn't get the magic number of pledged delegates but he gets the most delegates, does he deserve the Republican nomination going into the convention?

GRAHAM: I think it would be a good opportunity to take all the other delegates and have more than him and see if you could put a coalition up. At the end of the day, I think somebody who's been in this contest deserves the nomination. And my goal is to make sure it's not Donald Trump, because I don't

think he's a Republican. I don't believe he's a conservative, and I think he would destroy a party that I care a lot about.

BLITZER: Even if you would prefer, let's say, a Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan, somebody like that, you don't think that would be fair to the process?

GRAHAM: No. No, I don't think it would be fair to the process. As much as I disagree with Ted, we're both conservatives. He'd pick somebody who was solidly conservative for the Supreme Court. He would not order our military to commit war crimes. He would repeal and replace Obamacare.

[17:15:14] And I think at the end of the day I can count on him to defund Planned Parenthood. I can't say that about Trump.

I prefer Rubio and Kasich, but it's pretty clear to me that my party wants somebody outside the system that's angry and mad and wants somebody to listen to them. They're not looking for me. They're not looking for Jeb Bush. I just hope that we can find an alternative to Donald Trump to make sure that we can go into the contest with a Republican conservative.

BLITZER: Senator, we have much more to discuss. I want you to stand by with us. We're going to take a quick break. Much more with Senator Lindsey Graham when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:20] BLITZER: We're back with senator, former presidential candidate Lindsey Graham as we follow the breaking news. The former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, just announcing moments ago he will not enter the 2016 presidential race as an independent candidate.

Bloomberg just posted an article in which he writes, among other things, this: quote, "I have known Mr. Trump casually for many years, and we have always been on friendly terms. I even agreed to appear on 'The Apprentice' twice, but he has run the most divisive and demagogic presidential campaign I can remember, preying on people's prejudices and fears. Abraham Lincoln, the father of the Republican Party, appealed to our better angels. Trump appeals to our worst impulses."

Let's get some more reaction from Lindsey. Do you agree with Michael Bloomberg on those, or do you go even further?

GRAHAM: Well, I would even go further. I think he's run a campaign on xenophobia, race baiting, religious bigotry. At the end of the day, he is not a conservative.

BLITZER: Why did he carry your home state of South Carolina?

GRAHAM: There are 35, 40 percent of my party that's very disgusted with the way things are going in Washington, the country as a whole. Their life is changing at warp speed. The world that they knew growing up is being lost. They feel like the Mexicans are taking their jobs. They feel like China is stealing market share, and they're fearful.

Donald Trump is not the first person in American political history or politics in general to prey on people's fear. There's a market out there for send them all back, stop the Chinese from taking our jobs, and don't be Barack Obama. What he's got going for him, he's the anti-Obama in every way in the minds of these people.

BLITZER: Looking back over these seven, eight months, what, if anything, could the Republican leaders, like you guys, have done to stop this? Because that train of his, that's leaving the station. It's poised to capture, potentially, the Republican presidential nomination.

GRAHAM: Here's what I said after the Megyn Kelly episode. It's better to risk losing without him than try to win with him.

When he said most illegal immigrants are rapists and drug dealers, they're not sending our best, he took our problems in 2012 with Hispanics and made them far worse by espousing forced deportation. Looking back, we should have basically kicked him out of the party, because that kind of rhetoric...

BLITZER: How do you do that? How do you kick somebody -- if somebody wants to run as a Republican and run for the Republican nomination and qualifies to appear on ballots in primaries...

GRAHAM: Good question.

BLITZER: ... or caucuses, how do you kick somebody like that out?

GRAHAM: We could all gang up and do what we're doing now. What are we doing now? We're trying to pose -- look at what we find. The more you know about Donald Trump, the less likely you are to vote for him. The more you know about his business enterprises, the less successful he looks. The more you know about his political giving, the less Republican he looks. We should have done this months ago.

BLITZER: He's getting millions and millions of votes, a lot more than the other Republican...

GRAHAM: But he's bleeding oil. He's leaking oil.

BLITZER: You think he is leaking oil?

GRAHAM: Yes. I think this whole assault on his credentials of being a successful businessman and being a true Republican conservative...

BLITZER: Tomorrow -- tomorrow is Michigan. He's leading there. Tomorrow is Mississippi. Presumably he's leading there, as well. He could capture some significant wins tomorrow.

GRAHAM: We could. Late deciders are breaking against him. And the reason people are looking at Donald Trump anew is because people are going after him for the very first time.

How many of these guys, when there was 17 of us, basically hid in the corner? They didn't want to, you know, poke the guy. They didn't want to get people mad. Ted Cruz was running as his best friend. Then they suddenly realized, you let this guy grow...

BLITZER: It was a bromance, we used to say.

GRAHAM: Exactly.

BLITZER: And lately, he's obviously, in the last few weeks, he's really gone after him, as has Marco Rubio.

GRAHAM: Donald Trump over-performed in the minds of many. And those who calculated leave him alone, don't bother him, well, any time you leave a bad idea or a dangerous idea alone, any time you ignore what could be an evil force, you wind up regretting it.

BLITZER: What's the worst thing, from your perspective, that Donald Trump has said or done since becoming a Republican presidential candidate?

GRAHAM: He suggested that most illegal immigrants are rapists and drug dealers.

BLITZER: He didn't say most; he said some.

GRAHAM: No, he said most.

BLITZER: I don't think he said most are. I don't think he said most are rapists. He said there are rapists. Some are good people. Something along those...

GRAHAM: "There's some good ones among them but most are rapists and drug dealers they're sending us. Not their best, but their worst."

And when he said, "Let's ban all Muslims from coming into our country," that's the one that got me. You know, why? Because if you want to win the war on radical -- against radical Islam, you need people within the faith. Ninety-nine percent of them reject radical Islam.

But what Donald Trump did is he took a whole group of people and put them in one category. The very people we need to partner with, he's excluded from our country. So that shows me he doesn't understand the war.

[17:25:15] BLITZER: So when he said that about Muslims, what he said that about Mexicans, the Republican leadership should have immediately reacted much more vociferously?

GRAHAM: And the one that got me is the military guys, when he said he would order our soldiers to kill innocent children, civilian noncombatants. And it would require military...

BLITZER: That was much more recently.

GRAHAM: Yes, but that's been a couple of months ago. When you add it all up, you ask me what gets me going with Donald

Trump? He doesn't represent conservatism, doesn't understand the war. He would be an unfit commander in chief, in my opinion, based on his temperament and his policy choices. And he would destroy the Republican Party's ability to grow over time.

BLITZER: Senator Lindsey Graham, thanks very much.

GRAHAM: Other than that, he's OK.

BLITZER: Even though you don't like Senator Cruz so much, you think he'd be better than Donald Trump?

GRAHAM: I think so.

BLITZER: Appreciate your joining us. Thank you, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

There's more breaking political news just ahead coming up. Coming up, new reporting about indecision inside Marco Rubio's campaign. We'll share that information. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following breaking political news in the presidential race. New indecision, new turmoil inside Marco Rubio's campaign.

[17:30:42] Joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp; CNN political director David Chalian; CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel; and our political commentator, Ana Navarro.

Jamie, you're getting new information about what's going on inside right now. Critical moments inside the Rubio campaign. What are you learning?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Let me preface this by saying that Marco Rubio is bullish on his chances in Florida, and he does not want to get out before Florida.

That said, there is a division in his campaign, we are being told, and some very senior advisers are suggesting to him that he's not going to do well in Florida and that he should get out sooner so that he does not hurt his chances -- his political future down the road, whether that's running for governor, whether that's being a vice-presidential candidate.

And the other thing they're pointing to is the stop Trump movement, which is, as Senator Graham just said, you have to sort of get Cruz and Rubio together on the same page.

BLITZER: So some insiders are saying maybe he should drop out even before the March 15 Florida primary?

GANGEL: Because they think he's not going to do well. One other note. He had three conversations, I'm told, with Jeb Bush

about getting his endorsement. The first one, he did not ask for his endorsement. The second two, they discussed it. I'm told that Senator Rubio walked away from that conversation convinced that Jeb is not going to endorse him. Jeb has said he has not made a decision yet, but the Rubio campaign does not think they're getting the endorsement right now.

BLITZER: You're friends, Ana, with Marco Rubio. Do you think he should, if he doesn't do well tomorrow -- and presumably he won't do well -- he might be smart to just get out before Florida and maybe be humiliated if he loses to Donald Trump in his home state?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Believe me, getting out before Florida would be more humiliating, I think, than staying and just fighting it out. First of all, I don't believe those polls that have him so far apart from -- from Trump in Florida.

I think organization really matters in Florida. The absentee ballots matter a lot in Republican races. There are 600,000, 700,000 that have already voted in Florida. And I think Marco has got the best organization. He should. He's our senator.

I must tell you, I have a hard time buying this story, first of all, because I've never heard any consultant that's actually making money suggest that somebody should get out.

Second of all, I just don't think Marco puts that much priority on the governor's race or his political future. If he wanted a political future, he might have stayed in the Senate or he could have changed, gotten the legislature to change the statute so that he could have run for both things at the same time.

Marco Rubio has four children he needs to put through college at some point. He has to go make money. I think that he couldn't afford to stay in the Senate.

I think that Marco is going to stay in. I think he's going to give it all he has. He's got a problem now, which is Ted Cruz has decided to play and play hard in Florida. He's going to be spending a lot of time there.

BLITZER: That's a huge problem, Ted Cruz really getting engaged there to try to undermine Marco Rubio, not necessarily thinking he's going to win Florida but taking votes away from Rubio.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. There's no doubt that the Rubio campaign would have preferred that everybody sort of looked at Florida and said it's winner-take-all. We'll let Donald Trump and Marco Rubio fight that out, and we'll go play elsewhere. That clearly is not happening. Ted Cruz has said he's making an all-out assault there.

It doesn't surprise me, in hearing Jamie's reporting, that there might be some nervous donors or advisers in the wider Rubio universe about his political future and what it may look like. But I -- everyone around him that's in the campaign that I've spoken with, they don't think Rubio's head, I guess, is in that place.

GANGEL: And that's what I said first.

CHALIAN: Exactly, right. So I don't -- of course there are some people in the universe that would look out and say, "Hey, a bad loss in your home state may be really devastating to your political future. You should think about that."

Rubio's head space clearly is, "I've got to make a stand there. It's do or die there."

BLITZER: So Rubio, assuming he stays in the race and competes March 15 in Florida, he's got to win there, or presumably, he's out. John Kasich, similar situation in his home state of Ohio. He's got to win there to stay in this race.

[17:35:01] S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I think the stakes are a little lower for John Kasich. And let's say he wins in Ohio and gets 66 delegates. It's still a drop in the bucket compared to what everyone else already has.

And I just don't buy the argument that John Kasich can somehow create this rest -- Rust Belt revolution that is going to be enough to compete with Ted Cruz or Donald Trump or even Marco Rubio.

So yes, it should be -- he should win Ohio, but to go where? To what end?

I think there are two things that we can know are patently ludicrous. A, that Marco Rubio should get out before Florida. That's preposterous. Of course, he should play in Florida.

But it's also preposterous to expect Ted Cruz not to try to play in Florida. I mean, Ted Cruz is resurging. Ted Cruz is beating Donald Trump in primaries. Of course, he should go into Florida and try to win Florida, too.

NAVARRO: But what is significant is that Ted Cruz is not playing in Ohio. So they're leaving -- they don't see Kasich as enough of a threat to really compete and put money there.

CUPP: Exactly right.

NAVARRO: He's -- you know, Ted Cruz is not playing in Florida to win Florida. He knows that's not in the game. He's playing in Florida to knock Marco out and make it....

BLITZER: Jamie, you're getting more information about Mitt Romney and his moves against Trump, too. What else are you learning?

GANGEL: So there are two things. First, I'm told that Romney is going full out on the "stop Trump." And one of the interesting things I heard was he's really not coordinating with Cruz or Kasich or Rubio to do this. He gives them a heads up -- "I'm going to make a speech. I'm going to do an interview" -- but he's his own man.

And what I think is interesting about that is we've seen him say over and over, "I'm not running. But if drafted, I wouldn't say no."

So even though he says that he sees himself supporting one of these three guys, he's not coordinating with them. He's doing his own thing there. So the draft movement may have more.

BLITZER: All right, guys, I want all of you to stand by. We have a lot more to discuss.

Much more of our coverage, the breaking political news we're following, all the day's other important news, that's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:41:43] BLITZER: After a sometimes raucous CNN debate, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are back in attack mode, fighting over the auto and Wall Street bailouts. But this on the eve of the next big battle in Michigan: Clinton is offering an olive -- olive branch, sort of.

Let's go to our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, we saw a new line of attack last night. Will it, though, really make much of a difference?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I mean, Wolf, there are few things more sacred here in Michigan than the automobile. And Bernie Sanders spent most of the day trying to defend his vote some seven years ago against voting to bail out the automobile industry. He supported one version of it but not the other.

But Hillary Clinton effectively delivered that attack last night.

But Wolf, that's one sign that they do not believe this race is yet over.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders locked in a new fight over an old issue that came roaring back on the eve of the Michigan primary.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I voted for the auto bailout. He voted against it, because it also helped some other groups, like the banks. But you know, sometimes you don't get perfect choices in life or politics.

ZELENY: The rescue of the auto industry is suddenly front and center in the Democratic primary fight. Sanders says Clinton is intentionally mischaracterizing his 2009 position.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There was one vote in the United States Senate on whether or not to support the auto bailout and protect jobs in Michigan and around this country. I voted for the auto bailout.

ZELENY: But Sanders voted against a broader bill to bail out banks, a point Clinton seized on Sunday night in the presidential debate and today on the campaign trail in a new radio ad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michigan's economy teetering. America's auto companies asked for help.

ZELENY: Sanders cried foul, but it's the latest sign the Clinton campaign doesn't think the race is over.

Tonight a new Monmouth University poll showed Clinton up by 13 points here. Yet, Michigan Democrats say the race feels far tighter.

On the debate stage in Flint, a civil conversation about the city's poisoned water crisis...

CLINTON: It is raining lead in Flint.

SANDERS: What I heard and what I saw literally shattered me.

ZELENY: ... suddenly gave way to a clash...

CLINTON: You know...

SANDERS: Excuse me. I'm talking.

ZELENY: ... over Wall Street, trade and guns.

CLINTON: nrThat is like the NRA's position.

SANDERS: Can I finish, please?

ZELENY: The NRA agreeing, sending out a tweet today: "Senator Sanders was spot on in his comments about gun manufacturer liability." Sanders has been on the defensive about guns, but said he and Clinton disagree whether gun makers should be held liable.

SANDERS: That really means you're shutting down the entire gun industry. That's what it means, pure and simple. If that is Secretary Clinton's position, let her state it.

ZELENY: Some Democrats worry the rancor could divide the party, a prospect Clinton said she would work to avoid.

CLINTON: If I am the nominee, I'm going to want Bernie's help and Bernie's supporters help. You know, some of them like us both, but they feel very motivated by his message. And so I think they will be persuadable. Others may be really disappointed for a long time.

ZELENY: For now Sanders is fighting hard, hoping a win in Michigan could reset the race.

SANDERS: The people of Michigan are going to be coming out and voting tomorrow. All of you going to be out voting tomorrow?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[17:45:05] ZELENY: Well, Sanders says he's on a roll here. He of course has won Nebraska, Kansas and Maine. But, Wolf, it will not be a real roll unless he wins the state of

Michigan tomorrow. So many more delegates here at stake -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. Jeff Zeleny in Detroit for us. Thank you.

Coming up, the former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announcing he will not make a bid for the White House. Could that hurt Donald Trump?

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BLITZER: Just weeks after a laptop bomb blew a hole in an airliner over Somalia, a similar bomb has exploded in an airport there. That comes as a devastating U.S. airstrike hits a training camp belonging to al Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia.

[17:50:07] Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is here.

Jim, this was a massive strike and there were massive casualties.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, the military claims there were 150 casualties. They say that's some 200 fighters who were in formation at this training camp at the time of the strike.

I'm told the military believes they were getting ready to leave on an operation. The target AMISOM forces. These are African Union Forces in Somalia with U.S. forces assigned to them. It is at that crucial moment the U.S. aircraft struck with devastating effect.

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SCIUTTO (voice-over): It was one of the deadliest U.S. air strikes in years. Drones and manned aircraft strike an al-Shabaab training camp in Somalia killing what the military says were some 150 suspected al- Shabaab fighters.

U.S. intelligence says the Pentagon indicated the group was in final preparations for a large-scale attack on U.S. and African Union Forces. The camp had been under surveillance for weeks by U.S. Special Operations Forces, part of a small U.S. military presence in the East African nation.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The removal of those terrorist fighters, degrades al-Shabaab's ability to meet the group's objectives into Somalia, including recruiting new members, establishing bases, planning attacks on U.S. and AMISOM forces.

SCIUTTO: It's part of a disturbing trend. Al-Shabaab ramping up efforts to carry out terror at home and beyond Somalia's borders. And al-Shabaab claimed today that it has just tried but failed to bring down a passenger plane. A bomb hidden in a laptop and another electronic gadget exploded in an airport in Somalia today killing several. The blast detonating as security officials inspected luggage before

being loaded on a flight. Somali police said they have several suspects in custody.

Al-Shabaab launched a similar attack just last month, exploding a laptop bomb on this passenger plane departing the Somali capital Mogadishu. The suspected bomber killed as he was sucked out of the hole in the plane's fuselage. The airliner managed to land safely.

The fear now that al-Shabaab is gaining technology and know-how previously believed to be the specialty of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP and its notorious bombmaker Ibrahim al-Asiri.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is concerning because it does show that these groups, including now al-Shabaab, are getting a little bit more sophisticated in how they are conducting attacks. And note, too, that they do have an eye towards the U.S.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: That's why target U.S. another grave concern in North Africa and East Africa is ISIS. U.S. officials increasingly concerned that ISIS may attempt to establish a caliphate in Libya, Wolf, as they've done of course already in Iraq and Syria. Libya's fertile ground. It is also the new destination of most foreign fighters to ISIS because it's become more difficult to get into Iraq and Syria.

BLITZER: Yes. For all practical purposes Libya has become a failed state right now.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Fertile ground indeed for ISIS.

Jim Sciutto, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, North Korea is threatening what it calls a preemptive nuclear strike as the United States and South Korea carry out huge war games which reportedly include drills for attacking North Korea's leadership and nuclear sites.

CNN's Brian Todd reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Explosions thundering up a mountainside, hundreds of thousands of troops storming ashore by sea and air. These are massive joint military exercises by the U.S. and South Korea. Another round kicked off today and tonight Kim Jong-Un is furious, issuing an ominous warning.

Through its official news reader, North Korea's regime says it will launch a, quote, "preemptive and offensive" nuclear strike in response to the drills.

JAMIE METZL, FORMER OFFICER, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: They have threatened nuclear attack before but the farther North Korea progresses in its development of nuclear weapons and delivery mechanisms, like its advanced rockets, the more serious those threats become and the more seriously everybody else needs to take them.

TODD: A U.S. Defense official tells CNN tonight the Pentagon is closely monitoring the tension on the Korean Peninsula, calling on Kim's regime to refrain from provocative actions. But there have been provocations near the world's most heavily armed border for two solid months. There was North Korea's fourth nuclear test; its rocket launch; U.S. stealth fighters flying low over South Korea; and, recently, damaging U.N. sanctions against Kim's government.

Could Kim back up his nuclear threat? Tonight a U.S. official tells CNN his efforts to advance his ballistic missile capabilities are a serious concern. Weapons experts say Kim could probably launch a nuclear attack from close range, hitting Japan or South Korea if he wanted to. But analysts say there is a key long-range missile capability he doesn't yet have, preventing him from hitting the United States.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, PRESIDENT, THE PLOUGHSHARES FUND: A reentry vehicle that can come back down and deliver the warhead on target, major strides yet to be made.

TODD: Still, U.S. officials say Kim is working feverishly towards perfecting that missile capability.

[17:55:05] Most experts believe Kim would not launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the U.S. or South Korea. That, they say, would bring about his country's annihilation but they say this a young leader who is unpredictable and under enormous strain.

METZL: Kim Jong-Un is under immense pressure to demonstrate his leadership. And certainly that explains some of this escalation. Additionally, North Korea is feeling it's position weakening, its relationship with China is fraying; its economy is in terrible shape.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Analysts say more likely that a nuclear strike from Kim is a conventional attack, maybe even a commando raid or possibly a cyberattack, like the one North Korea is accused of launching against Sony. In fact, South Korea's intelligence agency now says that in recent days North Korea has tried to hack the smartphones of South Korean officials -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, reporting, thank you.

Coming up, much more on our breaking news. The former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announcing he will not launch an independent run for the White House.

Could that be bad news for Donald Trump?

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