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Ballot Bowl '08: Keeping Tabs on the Candidates

Aired February 24, 2008 - 16:00   ET


JIM ACOSTA, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: Keeping tabs on the Democrats. Hello, Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: Jim, it's going to be a very busy couple of hours on "Ballot Bowl," as we expect Barack Obama to address this very rowdy rally, this audience here in Toledo, Ohio. We're also expecting Senator Hillary Clinton in Central Hall, Rhode Island. She is going to be going live as well.

As you know, it is a heated war of words between the two candidates that heated up tremendously over this weekend over the last 24, 48 hours over healthcare as well as free trade, that NAFTA agreement. And who believes what, who's representing or misrepresenting the other candidate's position.

It all started yesterday, a war of words, Senator Hillary Clinton starting firing, got emotional about it and accusing Barack Obama of delivering flyers to Ohio voters and others which she says misrepresent her position when it comes to her universal health care plan as well as NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. Let's take a quick listen out of the sound from Cincinnati, Ohio, where she launched that first salvo.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's have a real campaign. Enough with the speeches and the big rallies and then using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove's play book. This is wrong. And every Democrat should be outraged. Because this is the kind of attack that not only undermines poor Democratic values but gives aid and comfort to the very special interest and their allies in the Republican party who are against doing what we want to do for America. So, shame on you, Barack Obama. It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public. That's what I expect from you. Meet me in Ohio. Let's have a debate about your tactics and your behavior in this campaign.


MALVEAUX: All right. You heard those words. "Shame on you." Senator Barack Obama not taking this lying down at all but fighting back. He fought back yesterday saying that both of these adds are accurate. There is nothing that distorts her record in both of these ads. Also today in Lorain, Ohio, he went after her again saying that her positions are very clear when it comes to NAFTA. In the past, she certainly praised this and supported this. This coming out of her husband's administration. He also talks about her healthcare plan. Let's take a quick listen to Barack Obama.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Clinton has been going to great lengths on the campaign trail to distance herself from NAFTA. Yesterday, she said NAFTA was negotiated by the first President Bush, not by her husband. But let's be clear. It was her husband who got NAFTA pass. In her own book, Senator Clinton called NAFTA, one of Bill's successes and legislative victories. Yesterday, Senator Clinton also said, I'm wrong to point out that she once supported NAFTA. But the fact is she was saying great things about NAFTA until she started running for president.

A couple of years after it passed, she said NAFTA was, and I "free and fair trade agreement." And that it was, "proving its worth." In 2004, she said "I think on balance, NAFTA has been good for New York and America." One million jobs have been lost because of NAFTA including 50,000 jobs here in Ohio. Yet ten years after NAFTA passed, Senator Clinton said it was good for America. I want to be very clear. I don't think NAFTA has been good for America and I never have. I didn't just start criticizing unfair trade deals like NAFTA because I started running for office.

I'm doing it because I've seen what happens to a community when the factory closes down and jobs move overseas. Some of you may know I began my career as an organizer on the south side of Chicago fighting joblessness and poverty in neighborhoods that have been devastated because of steel plants had closed there back in the early and mid 80s. It is because of this longstanding commitment to working families that I will not sign any trade agreement as president that does not have protections for our environment and protections for American workers. And I intend to pass the Patriot Employer Act that I've been fighting for ever since I ran for senate so we can end tax breaks for companies that shift job overseas and give those tax breaks to company that's create good jobs with good and decent wages right here in the United States of America.

It is also time to let our unions do what they do best which is organize workers. If the majority workers want a union, they should get a union. It is that simple. We need to stand up to the business lobby that has been resisting it and go ahead and pass the employee free choice act. That's why I've been fighting for it in the senate and that's why I'll make it the law of the land when I'm president of the United States of America.

We can also invest in American jobs by investing in America and rebuilding our roads and our bridges. I proposed a national infrastructure reinvestment bank that will invest $60 billion over ten years. This will multiply into almost half a trillion dollars of additional infrastructure, spending can generate nearly two million new jobs. Many of them in the construction industry that's been hard hit by the housing crisis that we're facing. As I was on the tour, I was hearing that demand for wallboard has actually gone down 25%. And that means there is a lot of pressure in the construction industry, in the housing mark. One way to boost that is to shift some of our spending to make sure that we're building infrastructure here in the United States.

In addition, we've also got to do more to create the green jobs that are the jobs of the future. My energy plan will put $150 billion over ten years into establishing a green energy sector that will create up to five million new jobs over the next two decades. Including jobs right near Ohio that pay well and can't be outsourced. We'll also provide funding to help manufacturers convert to green technology and help workers learn the skills they need for these jobs. We all know that this has to be done in a responsible way without adding to the already obscene debt that has grown by $4 trillion under George Bush. We cannot build our future on a credit card issued by the Bank of China. And that is why I will pay for every single part of this job creation agenda by ending this war in Iraq that is costing us billions, by closing tax loopholes for corporations, putting a price on carbon pollution, and ending George Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

But in the end, I think this agenda won't just require an investment. It will require a new spirit of cooperation and innovation and shared sacrifice. We have to remind ourselves that we rise and fall as one nation. That a country in which only a few prosper is wrong. It does not follow our ideals and our Democracy and that those of us who benefited greatly from the benefits and blessings of this country have a solemn obligation to open the doors of opportunity, not just for our children but to all of America's children. That's the kind of vision I have for this country and that's the kind of vision I hope to make real when I am president of the United States of America.


MALVEAUX: Both of the Democratic candidates, battling for voters over their vision of America. What is best for voters. Obviously, talking about the issues that matter the most, particularly to those in Ohio and Texas, talking about health care plans, the economy, as well as gas prices, education, all of those things. People paying very close attention to those key battleground states just coming off in March 4th. If would you like to see some of the highlights and some of the details of those plans, CNN is rebroadcasting the debate out of Austin, Texas that happened on Thursday. Well worth it to watch it again if you saw it before. Obviously fireworks but also addressing those key issues. A lot of specifics about the health care plans that they put forth. Issues like Iraq as well. Jim Acosta in New York, I'm going to throw it back to you and you focused on the Republican side. Jim.

ACOSTA: That's right, Suzanne. And not just the Republican side but the third side of the race for the White House. Speaking of the Democrats, coming up after break, we'll be talking about a candidate who used to strike fear in the hearts of Democrats. Now it is more like heartburn. Ralph Nader after the break on "Ballot Bowl," here on CNN.


ACOSTA: Welcome back to "Ballot Bowl." We now turn to the third side of the race to the White House. Up until today, there were only candidates from the two major parties in this race. Not to disregard the smaller third party candidates out there who will undoubtedly run but there is now a major, if you want to call him that, third party candidate in the race for the White House. And the Democratic candidates may start stocking up on the painkiller of their choice because Ralph Nader is a proven headache for the Democratic party.

Having essentially taken the presidency out of the grips of Al Gore in the year 2000 when he denied Al Gore the state of Florida and then in essence, the White House. And then four years later, John Kerry was concerned the very same thing. Nader turned out to be not as much of a factor in 2004. While he was a distraction to that campaign. And John Kerry at that time did try to tailor his message at times to some of Nader's supporters. And there were many on the left who tried mightily to beg. It was all out begging to keep Ralph Nader out of the race in 2004 where he did and he ended up being not a factor as the votes were counted in November of 2004. Now he says, he is at it again. And he was on "Meet the Press" earlier this morning announcing his intentions.


RALPH NADER (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One feels an obligation to try to open up the doorways, try to get better ballot access, to respect dissent in America in terms of third parties and independent candidates. To recognize historically that great issues have come in our history against slavery, women's right to vote and worker and farmers, progressives, through little parties that never ran or won any national election, dissent is the mother of dissent. And in that context, I have decided to run for president.


ACOSTA: Now, to many Democrats, Nader's raiders are really Nader's traders because of how things went down in 2000 in the state of Florida. And Ralph Nader was asked about that. And many of the other issues that are up for grabs in the race for the White House in 2008 as he left the studios at NBC. He fielded questions from reporter who are gathered outside those studios, as is often the case after these Sunday talk shows, Ralph Nader field some questions on his upcoming bid for the White House.


NADER: Voters need a choice. And the idea that we should censor ourselves and not run for elective office. When supposedly, we have equal rights to run for office. It is another way of saying to the voters, we're going to deny you the choice of your three candidates.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Doesn't this bring an opportunity to have elected the person who represent the things that you're most against --

NADER: Bush took the election from Gore. They ought to go after the thieves in the 2000 election, not after the green party or other third parties that have a constitutional right to run for elective office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Nader, you were definitely an outcome, part of the outcome of 2000. (inaudible) and neither 2 to 3% of the total votes, do you think it's going to be any different this time, this time around?

NADER: I think so. And the purpose of this campaigning is to build for the future. Not just to focus on 2008. It's to build alternative parties. Build a new Democracy, involve more people in solving the problems in this country as they see it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there any new issues from you this time as opposed to 2000, 2004 and you getting in the race this time still the same?

NADER: Nuclear power is rearing its radioactive head. And it demands government guarantees because Wall Street won't finance nuclear power plants because they're too risky. And we need to supplant any possibility or resurgence of nuclear power and its deadly radioactive waste with solar energy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are you running? What makes you the better candidate?

NADER: Well, because I get things done. I've got a 40-year record here in Washington that has saved millions of lives and prevented injuries, safer cars, safer food. We passed the drinking water safety act, freedom of information act. It is not just rhetoric. But in the last few years, big money and the closing down of Washington against citizen groups prevent us from trying to improve our country. And I want everybody to have the right and opportunity to improve their country. And Thomas Jefferson put it very well. When you lose your government, you have to go in the electoral arena. He called it a revolution. Let's call it a Jeffersonian revolution is needed in this country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you think that running is the best way to propagate what you just talked about?

NADER: Well, it is the only way to open up the system and to fill the months during the presidential campaign with subject matter dealing with injustices, deprivations and solutions that the major candidates, Obama, Clinton, and McCain, are ignoring day after day. Like single payer, like the bloated wasteful military budget which people in the Pentagon have described to me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about the Iraqi war? What is your position on that and how would you get it back there?

NADER: Six-month withdrawal. Deadline. That's our main bargaining power. We say to the Iraqi people to Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. We're going to give you your country back. We're going to give you your oil back. You've got six months to put it together. We'll have international peace keeping soldiers to help you. We'll continue humanitarian aid and we'll have a U.N. sponsored free election. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: So, there is the long time consumer advocate Ralph Nader talking about the reasons why he is jumping in the race for presidency. But Ralph Nader, obviously, as we've mentioned, strikes fear in the hearts of Democrats or at least used to. And the candidates in the race right now on both sides from the two major parties, they have had a chance to weigh in on Nader's candidacy. Barack Obama being one of them. Mike Huckabee being another. Here's what they had to say about a Nader candidacy.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My sense is that Mr. Nader is someone, if you don't listen and adopt all of his policies things are not substantive. He seems to have a pretty high opinion of his own work.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it would always probably pull votes away from the Democrats, not the Republicans. So naturally, Republican would welcome his entry into the race and hope that maybe a few more will join in. I think it is a suicide mission third party candidates are not going to win the election. At best, they're going to take away from one of the major parties and I just don't see that happening within the conservative wing at all.


ACOSTA: And so speaking of Mike Huckabee, after the break, we'll be getting back to him and also the Arizona Senator John McCain, he is also after the break. We hope to get to a Barack Obama rally shortly coming up. So, stick with us. This is "Ballot Bowl," on CNN.


ACOSTA: Welcome back to "Ballot Bowl" and on to the Republican race for the White House. We want to talk now about John McCain. He was addressing some supporters last night in what he hopes to be supporters. He was at a GOP Governor's dinner. And he is out to rally the conservative wing of the Republican party behind him. That has been a tough battle from him up until this point. But he has had some time with this race almost all but certain for him to sharpen his knives for the upcoming general election fight with either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. So last night, John McCain took to the stage down in Washington to talk about the issues of immigration, national security, and the war in Iraq. So, let's get to John McCain down in Washington last night addressing the Republican governors on those issues.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just want to say one additional word on borders. I want to work with you to fix our borders. We must secure our borders. I understand that. Nobody can tell you the need for that. They're making great progress in the state of Texas. We're making progress in the state of Arizona. We've got a long way to go. But I want to work with you because right now, the federal government has failed in its responsibilities. There are certain things, as I said, I'm a federalist. There are certain things that are federal responsibility. Enforcement of our borders is a federal responsibility.

Since we failed, since we failed you in Washington, now the states are taking on this issue and even cities and -- excuse me, cities and localities so we got a patch work of things. We got to sit down together with the governors and make America safe. And one of the things I would ask for from you as governors, if I secure the presidency is to have a study done in every state as to how we can best keep America safe. America is safer than it was in 9/11. But my friends, none of us believe America is safe, not with this evil that transcended, challenged radical Islamic extremism.

And by the way, in case you missed it, the Democrats left town the other day, they left town the other day without enacting the proper surveillance law that had been in agreed to in the senate by Republican and Democrat alike. And now we are deprived of a capability to monitor the communications of terrorists organizations in the world. That's a remarkable turn of events. And I think, I would hope that all of us would urge the House of Representatives to come back into session and fix that problem before we have a real threat or blow to America's security.

And I also want to thank you for your steadfast support of victory in Iraq. I know it's long and hard and tough and I know that America is divided over this war. And it was very frustrating for a long period of time because it was mishandled, as you know. But thank god, no American is divided over the support and love and affection we have for those young men and women who are serving in uniform today and I thank you for your leadership and your commitment to them. And could I say that we are succeeding, my friends? We are succeeding in Iraq. Both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton want to set a date for withdrawal. My friends, Al Qaeda would then celebrate to the world that they have defeated the United States of America.

Al Qaeda is on the run but they are not defeated. They're on the run but they're not defeated. And so I believe the person that should decide or have the major voice in when we withdraw is not some politician seeking higher office but General David Petraeus, a great American hero. So I would like to say to you that it is long and hard and tough. We still got suicide bombers landing at the airport in Damascus today, headed over into Iraq. We still have Iranians exporting across the Iranian-Iraqi borders these most lethal explosive devices which are killing our young Americans. We have problems in Afghanistan. We haven't got enough troops there from our NATO allies. The Taliban is making something of a comeback. And I don't have to tell but the instability in the political outlook in Pakistan today.

So, it's going to be long and hard and tough. But I am convinced, I am convinced that had now we're on the road to success in Iraq. And that affects the entire region. When we succeed in Iraq, we succeed other places. When we fail in Iraq, we fail in other places. It is now as General Petraeus has described it, the central battleground in the war against Al Qaeda. And whether it was or not we can have all these debates about a lot of things but the fact is, it now is and we are succeeding. And so I'm very proud that this general, and this president has adopted this strategy. And I'm proud that we were able to beat back the attempts to set a date for withdrawal.


ACOSTA: So there is John McCain. He has this nomination all about wrapped up. And he is addressing or was addressing governors, Republican governors down in Washington last night at a GOP governor's dinner talking about the important issues of Iraq, the national security issue and immigration. And speaking of this nomination that is all but wrapped up, he does have two contenders to deal with. Ron Paul who has yet to win a primary or caucus, and also, Mike Huckabee who is hanging on to this race by his fingernails. He is maintaining that he is staying in this race as long as he can do it without John McCain basically achieving that delegate count victory that he is so very close to achieving. But Mike Huckabee was on "Late Edition" earlier this morning talking with John King about why he is staying in the race.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to stay in this race until someone gets 1,191 delegates or until we go to the convention. And that's still a possibility. But I've also said very clear that if John McCain gets the magic number before I do, then I'll accept the verdict of the voters. But I just think voters in these states that haven't voted yet, particularly in places like Texas and Ohio, these are big states. Lots of Republicans. They haven't even voted yet. So, why should they let the voters in New York and New Jersey make their choice for them without even having a choice? I just feel like that's not exactly the way politics ought to happen. Is that you have millions of people whose votes, frankly or told won't matter.

JOHN KING, CNN, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You mentioned Texas. It is the biggest state still out there on the primary calendar. If you pick up your "New York Times" this morning, if you're in New York City, maybe you have one nearby. You'll see the Texas governor Rick Perry quoted in the "New York Times" Magazine, and he says this and he is speaking of you, sir. "It is time for him to drop out. We have a mercy rule in six-man football. After halftime, if you're behind by more than 45 points, you can stop so it doesn't get to be really ugly." It's not the first time Governor Perry has suggested you find the exit. What do you make of this?

HUCKABEE: Well, Governor Perry supported Rudy Giuliani and Giuliani ended up dropping out. Now he is supporting John McCain. Maybe he'll do for John McCain what did he for Rudy Giuliani. That's my hope. You know, Rick can support who he wants. I'm not going to listen to somebody who is supporting the other candidate to take my cue as to what I'm supposed to do. It would be stupid as to being on the football field that he's talking about and letting my plays be called by the opposing team. You don't do that. And as long as the cheerleaders are on our side and still waving their pompoms, the game is still on.

KING: I want to ask you a question about your calculations. As I do, I want to show our viewers the delegate map because the map is pretty daunting for you.


KING: Here's our delegate map as it is right now. You need 1,191 as you mentioned to win the nomination. Senator McCain has 918 and Governor Romney who has suspended his campaign 286. You, sir, Governor Huckabee, 217 and Ron Paul pulling up the rear with 16 delegates. Obviously, Senator McCain has 918, Governor Huckabee at 217. That is pretty daunting math to make up. As I travel, a lot of people have pulled me aside and now they say what does Huckabee want? What is he looking for? What are you looking for, sir? If the math doesn't work out? Any preliminary conversations with the McCain people about a convention role? Any effort on your part to shape the platform? Any one specific thing that you're looking for?

HUCKABEE: No, we're not talking to the McCain people about that at all. Because right now, I still want to make sure that we're talking seriously about getting rid of our tax code and the IRS, replacing with the fair tax. I want to make sure that we are unapologetic and unflinching in our support for human life. It's been in our platform since 1980. I know Senator McCain has not supported that, but do I and I think a lot of Republicans do. We need to keep that out there. I understand the math but also you look at some of these delegates in that list. Many of them are not pledged delegates. They still could make decisions otherwise.

ACOSTA: There is Mike Huckabee trying to find the math to stay in this race. And I mentioned in the interview with John King, there are folks on his side still waving their pompoms. At this point, he is not finding the exit from this campaign. Speaking of finding the exit from this campaign, that is exactly what they were making fun of or poking fun of last night on "Saturday Night Live" with the help of Mike Huckabee. We'll have that coming up after the break here on BALLOT BOWL.

Also, Hillary Clinton took some more tough shots at Barack Obama. The Democratic race is now red hot as we head towards the next upcoming important contests on March 4. Stick with us this BALLOT BOWL on CNN.


MALVEAUX: Welcome back to CNN's BALLOT BOWL. You'll hear unscripted live events as well as throughout the week. I'm in Toledo, Ohio. We're waiting for Senator Barack Obama momentarily. This is a packed audience here, estimated about 10,000 people. One person actually lined up and was waiting since 3:45 in the morning.

Clearly, this is a very heated and hot contest between Senator Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and all eyes are on that critical date, March 4. The next contest, the next big state. We're talking about Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island, as well as Vermont. Now Senator Clinton and Barack Obama exchanging words this weekend. It is getting very, very hot. Senator Clinton, earlier today, essentially saying that this is a campaign that somehow is made of the fairyland - that Bill Clinton had referred to the Iraq war policy. Let's listen to some of the things she said earlier today out of Cincinnati.


SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: None of the problems we face will be easily solved. Now, I can stand up here and say, let's just get everybody together. Let's get unified. The sky will open. The light will come down. Celestial choirs will be singing. And everyone will know we can do the right thing and the world will be perfect. Maybe I've just lived a little long, but I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be. You are not going to wave a magic wand and have the special interests disappear.

You know, politics has been called the hard, boring of bored. It has been called the toughest job that you can have because you've got to bring people together to find common ground and then to move forward. That is what I have done my entire live. And it is what I've done now in the senate. Where I have worked across the party lines to solve people's problems.

You know, it is always a challenge when you have different philosophies, when you see the world differently. It is not all about special interest influence. People don't see the world the same way. When I say we've got to have a rise in the minimum wage because people should not work full time and not have a job that takes them out of poverty, some people disagree with that. When I say we should have universal health care because to do anything other than that is a violation of not only our moral principles, but the economics of health care, about how we get to a point where everybody is covered.

Some people disagree with that. When I say we have to have a new energy future that will make us independent from foreign oil, give as you chance to have home grown energy, that will put us on the right track, some people disagree with that. We need a president who gets up every day and figures out how to navigate through this complex system of ours.

You know, our founders set up a deliberately complicated system. Separation of powers. Checks and balances. They wanted it to be hard to make change. They didn't want anybody or any group to have a lock on what it meant to be an American. And to push us one way or the other in the moments when people's feelings might be running high.

Instead, all of these steps you have to go through. That is our system. That is what the president has to deal with. So I have said on day one, here is what I would do. I would ask the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and our security advisers to give me a plan immediately so that we can begin withdrawing our troops from Iraq within 60 days.


MALVEAUX: They're warming up the audience here, getting ready for Senator Barack Obama to speak momentarily. After the break of the BALLOT BOWL on the other side, we are going to give you the candidates' own positions when it comes to Cuba. Stay with us.


ACOSTA: Welcome back to BALLOT BOWL 08 on CNN, I'm Jim Acosta in New York. It is a new day sort of. The island of Cuba, that is because Raul Castro has been elected. You want to call it that. By the general assembly, the national assembly in Cuba. And Fidel Castro has stepped aside. His brother Raul Castro has been tapped as his successor. Raul Castro who is 76 years old, just five years younger than his older brother who is in power for 49 years. He is effectively not just effectively, he is essential that country's leader now. Without his big brother sort of pulling the strings. So Raul Castro now in charge of the island of Cuba.

And the candidates on the Republican side and on the Democratic side have had a chance to weigh in on this issue. And it has come up as somewhat of a controversy out on the campaign trail between different candidates. John McCain has weighed in on this issue. So has Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on this subject flared up the other night at the CNN debate in Austin, Texas. Barack Obama has taken some flak for saying he would sit down with Raul Castro without conditions.

Hillary Clinton saying that, no, there needs to be better signs coming out of Cuba. More signs of progress on the Democratic front, on the liberty front. Free liberty front. Those two candidates mix it up there. And then John McCain came down very harshly on Barack Obama for saying he would sit down with Raul Castro without preconditions. And so here are those candidates in their own words on the subject of Cuba.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would not meet with him until there was evidence that change was happening. Because I think it is important that they demonstrate clearly that they are committed to change the direction. Then I think something like diplomatic encounters and negotiations over specifics could take pace.

But we've had this conversation before, Senator Obama and myself. And I believe that we should have full diplomatic engagement where appropriate. But a presidential visit should not be offered and given without some evidence that it will demonstrate the kind of progress that is in our interests and in this case, in the interests of the Cuban people.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Liberty has not been there throughout the Castro regime. And we now have the potential to change the relationship between the United States and Cuba after over half a century. I would meet without preconditions, although Senator Clinton is right. That there has to be preparation. It is very important for to us make sure that there was an agenda and on that agenda was human rights, releasing the political prisoners, opening up the press, and that preparation might take some time. But I do think it is important for the United States, not just to talk to its friends but also to talk to its enemies.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Time to aid Cuba, the time to sit down with the Cuban leadership will only be after they've emptied their prisons, when the human rights organizations are functioning and they have held free elections. Raul in many ways has the worst record than Fidel.


ACOSTA: So there are the different candidates. Barack Obama, John McCain and Hillary Clinton on the subject of Cuba. And as we mentioned, it was announced earlier today that the Cuba National Assembly has officially chosen Raul Castro as the new leader, the new president of Cuba. He is Fidel Castro's younger brother just five years younger, 76 years old. But he has led that country's military for many years. And so he knows the ins and outs of that country very well.

The different candidates in this race for the White House, even though Barack Obama there said that he would not set conditions for meeting with Raul Castro. He did indicate he would like to see those political prisoners being held in Cuba released before sitting down with Cuba leaders. It will be interesting to see how that debate shakes up as the days move forward.

But coming up after the break here on CNN we hope to get to that Barack Obama event out there in Ohio. They are warming up the crowd. Another big crowd for Barack Obama. We'll get to that as soon as we see the candidate here on BALLOT BOWL on CNN.


WHITFIELD: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield back to the BALLOT BOWL in a moment. But first let's get you caught up on other stories in the news right now.

A passing of the torch in Cuba today from the ailing Fidel Castro to his brother Raul. Hours after he cast the secret ballot, his younger brother was officially named Cuba's new president. The only Cubans who voted are members of the National Assembly. The U.S. State Department has called the younger Castro dictator-reich.

A week after Kosovo's declared it's independence from Serbian; ethnic Serbs mounted another protest today. A picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin adorning a stage at an outdoor concert. Much of the west has recognized Kosovo's succession but Russia says it is illegal.

Officials at Northern Illinois University say they are expecting an overflow crowd for tonight's planned memorial. It is to honor the five students killed by a suicidal gunman ten days ago. Classes resumed tomorrow at NIU for the first time since the shooting. The lecture hall where the shooting took place is closed for the rest of the school year. A first today in London as a Virgin Atlantic plane departs Heathrow Airport with biofuel in one of its tanks. Virgin believes the mixture will emit less carbon dioxide than normal jet fuel. Some aren't sure it is really greener. The data from today's fright will take a couple of weeks to analyze.

And Hollywood, hopping and primping. In these last few hours before the Academy Awards, our Kareen Wynter is on the red carpet. She has the preview for us.

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there Fred. So much excitement coming to you from outside the Kodak Theater. We're actually in a special sky lounge. We have the bird's eye view here. And you can probably see, I'm not sure from the shot we have here, the red carpet; it is tinted right now because the weather is the big story of the day. Not only has it been cold but we've had on and off showers. Kind of a damper on the whole ceremony. But still, the party goes on, so to speak.

Another character that we want to talk to you about is some people who have been nominated this year. The stars of the musical comedy, "Once." And even though again the weather is a little dreary, it is not spoiling their parade. They have quite a unique story to tell.


WYNTER (voice over): Their onscreen chemistry is just as electrifying as their music. The stars of the Oscar nominated film "Once." A modern day musical with a romantic twist, this isn't just any love story. This one has history.

Tell as you little about the relationship here. The portray that we're seeing in the film.

MARKETA IRGLOVA, OSCAR NOMINEE: Me and Ben knew each other before the movie.

WYNTER: That friendship breathes life into the film while shooting on the streets of Dublin.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): They wouldn't listen.


WYNTER: He pays a street musician who manages to charm a young Czech immigrant who lives in the same neighborhood. They share an affinity for music and begin playing together eventually recording an album. Not a far cry from reality. He is a member of the Irish band, the Brain. Irglova is a singer-songwriter. Neither are professional actors which make their performances even more remarkable.

IRGLOVA: A lot of people say they feel like they are seeing a documentary or something.

WYNTER: They spent much of last year on tour promoting both the music and the movie. Their time on the road together brought them into the real life romance. Something the couple says the film's director John actually predicted early on.

GLEN HANSARD, OSCAR NOMINEE: John said, I guarantee you two will get together some time. And we're like, no way. And he was right, you know. Four months later, we were in a relationship.

WYNTER: Beginning with the debut on the Sundance Film Festival, both the film and its songs have captured the hearts of audiences with their intimate love story. The movie's theme song, "Falling Slowly," has been nominated for best song at this year's Academy Awards. The last place these budding actors thought they would ever end up.

HANSARD: The whole life of this film is an incredible sad chain of foreign.

WYNTER: A couple's musical journey is far from order, especially in one snags Oscar goal.


WYNTER: You want to keep it here to CNN. Right before the Academy Awards, we'll be having a huge Oscar special called Hollywood's gold rush. The special I-reports from the bleachers. You won't want to miss a minute.


WHITFIELD: All right. We will be watching. Thanks so much. Much more of the BALLOT BOWL with Suzanne Malveaux in Toledo, Ohio.

MALVEAUX: Hey Fred. He just said holy Toledo when he looked at the 10,000 plus crowd. In a minute or so, we'll bring you the rest of the speech. It is just getting started in just about a minute after this break.


MALVEAUX: Senator Barack Obama reacting to the audience size, saying holy Toledo. He just started his speech, let's take a listen.

SEN BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People ask me, why you are you running so soon? You seem like a relatively young man. You can afford to wait. And I have to -- no, no. It was not an unreasonable question. I had to explain to people, I'm not running because of some long-held ambition. I know people have looked through my kindergarten papers. That's not why I decided to run. Who brought the tambourine, by the way? [ laughter ]

That's a cute baby, too. No doubt. I'm going to have to kiss that baby. I am not running because I think it is somehow owed to me. Because I think it is my turn. I'm running because of what Dr. King called the fierce urgency of now. Because I believe there is such a thing as being too late. And that hour is almost upon us. We are in a defining moment in our history. And all of you here in Toledo, you know that. You know that in your own lives. Our nation is at war. Our planet is in peril. And the dream that so many generations fought for feels like it is slowly slipping away. You see it in your own lives. People are working harder just to get by. They've never paid more for gas at the pump or heating their homes or sending their kids to college. The costs have gone up for everything. It is harder to save, it is harder to retire. Our health care system leaves 47 million people without health insurance.

And those who have health insurance, they are seeing their co- payments and their deductibles and their premiums going up and up every single year. Despite the slogans, our school system leaves millions of children behind, unable to compete in a global economy. And so in such circumstances, we can't afford to wait. We cannot wait to fix our schools. We cannot wait to fix our health care system. We cannot wait to provide good jobs and good wages and good benefits for the American people. We cannot wait to deal with global warming. We cannot wait to bring this war in Iraq to a close.

We cannot wait. We cannot wait. So when I made the decision to run, it was because of a belief that the size of the challenges had outstripped the capacity made broken and divided politics. And I was absolutely convinced that the American people were ready for something new. They wanted something different. They wanted the politics. It wasn't about tearing each other down but it was about lifting the country up.