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Ballot Bowl: Clinton Campaign Re-Energized; Barack Obama Looks to Regroup; John McCain is the Republican Presidential Nominee; Mike Huckabee Steps Down

Aired March 05, 2008 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hello, I'm Suzanne Malveaux in Austin, Texas. Welcome to CNN's BALLOT BOWL, Wednesday edition, the day after Super Tuesday 2.
Clearly, this is a chance for you, the viewers to get a sense of who these candidates are to get a look up close and personal, unfiltered, raw and on tape. Clearly a battle still raging with the Democrats. Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton really deadlocked when it comes to the delegate number.

Last night a big win for Senator Hillary Clinton, capturing three of the four states there, Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island, plus we're going to have the very latest on the GOP presidential candidates.

Everything seems to be a little bit clearer now with the Republicans on that side. John McCain, clearly sweeping the nomination, Mike Huckabee, bowing out gracefully, we are waiting to see John McCain at the White House, he will be set to get President Bush's endorsement for his own candidacy.

Now joining me in this hour, the best political team on television to help us sort all of this out. Jessica Yellin in San Antonio, Texas, our Mary Snow, that is where she is in Little Rock, Arkansas and of course Dana Bash who is at the White House awaiting that critical endorsement for John McCain.

Dana, give us a sense, a flavor of what is happening there at the White House.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, it was a moment that absolutely will be remembered for the political history books. It just happened just a short while ago here at the White House, both of you are very familiar with, Suzanne.

What happened was, John McCain came here to the White House to be greeted by I should say the man that stopped him from getting the nomination eight years ago and it was quite a scene because John McCain was actually early. His arrival was set to happen right about now, right about 12:00 but McCain was early.

When he got here to the White House to the north (INAUDIBLE) of the White House, the president was actually outside waiting for him. Suzanne, you know the president, you know that he is somebody who tends to be very early to things. So that might be part of it, that he was waiting for John McCain, but there is a lot more to it than that.

This was a symbolic meeting, the fact that the president was waiting, standing outside for a couple of minutes we're told for John McCain, and then not only that, he came around and he greeted Senator McCain. That is absolutely symbolic and a metaphor for what this is supposed to show.

That is supposed to show that President Bush clearly sees John McCain as somebody who is respected and somebody who now has the stature to basically take the baton of the Republican Party from President Bush from his perspective because he is obviously the Republican nominee and the man he wants to succeed him. It is such an interesting, complex relationship between these two men, because of their bitter feud eight years ago in the year 2000 and certainly coming together, a bit of an awkward alliance in the years since then.

But they have a relationship that we're told continues on. They talk every once in a while, including to set the final wheels in motion for this particular endorsement that we're going to see later on this afternoon in about an hour, we're told that this was set up by their staff, for the past several weeks and about a week ago the two men actually talked to finalize the plans for when John McCain got the magic number, 1191 delegates that he would actually come here and get the formal endorsement of the president.

One more thing, they're actually inside right now having lunch, the two men, side by side, and their staff, some of their senior staff are also having lunch right now, Suzanne. And they are, five of the top staffers for Senator McCain, three of them used to work for President Bush. A little bit of interesting trivia there. There's a lot of complex relationships here.

I actually want to push it over to my colleague, Jessica Yellin who is in Texas. Jessica also covers President Bush.

And Jessica, you know the kind of relationship that President Bush has with Senator McCain and what an important, important meeting is going on in this building right behind me between these two old rivals, and now partners, I think we can call them.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Really, it sets up the race ahead, at least on one side, very much settled now and on the Democratic side, the side that I'm now covering, anything but settled. As Suzanne said earlier, Senator Clinton had a primary day yesterday that was widely seen as do or die.

She had to pull out big wins in Ohio and Texas and she did it. She won handily in the state of Ohio, she won with 141 delegates at stake. Senator Clinton won 54 percent of the vote to Obama's 44 percent of the vote. A 10 point margin, double digits, just what she wanted there.

Obama did win the state of Vermont, but Clinton won Rhode Island, Ohio, and the state of Texas where I am now. Now I should point out, as this day continues, the state of Texas is going to be counting results of a separate election process, the caucus that took place here.

The vote from the primary is done. Senator Clinton won it but there was a caucus last night as well and they are still tallying the results there. Barack Obama could end up winning that caucus, he could come out of this state with more delegates overall, but still, Senator Clinton has won the popular vote in Texas.

Now, let's look at that delegate count. The latest estimated numbers show that Barack Obama has 1,451 delegates to Senator Clinton's 1,365. Now in total, 2,025 delegates are needed to make it to become the Democratic nominee, it seems unlikely either will get to that number by the convention, and it will largely be determined in the end by the super delegates and who they choose to back.

All that means is that the next contests are crucial to determining how strong Senator Clinton is, how much momentum she's gotten out of her wins yesterday and how long this fight continues. Now Senator Clinton clearly is feeling very charged and sees this as really a comeback for her. Let's listen to some of her comments from last night.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is your campaign and your moment, and I need your support. For more than a year, I have been listening to the voices of people across our country. You know, the single mom, who told me she works two jobs, neither provides healthcare for her kids.

She just can't work any harder. The little girl who asked how I'd help people without homes, turns out her family was about to lose their own. The young man, in a marine corps shirt who said he waited months for medical care. He said to me, take care of my buddies, a lot of them are still over there, and then will you please help take care of me. Americans don't need more promises, they've heard plenty of speeches. They deserve solutions, and they deserve them now.

America needs a president who is ready to lead, ready to stand up for what's right, even when it's hard. And after seven long years of George W. Bush, we sure are ready for a president who will be a fighter, a doer, and a champion for the American people again. Oh, I think we're ready for healthcare, not just for some people or most people, but for every American.

I think we're ready for an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top, but every single hard-working American, who deserves a shot at the American dream. I think we're ready to declare energy independence and create millions of green collar jobs. We're ready to reach out to our allies and confront our shared challenges. We're ready to end the war in Iraq and win the war in Afghanistan.

And we're past ready to serve our veterans with the same devotion that they've served us. You know, protecting America is the first and most urgent duty of the president. When there's a crisis and that phone rings at 3:00 a.m. in the White House, there's no time for speeches or on-the-job training. You have to be ready to make a decision. I congratulate Senator McCain on winning his party's nomination, and I look forward to a spirited and substantive debate with him.


YELLIN: Senator Clinton making it clear if there were any doubt her campaign is very much alive and that she intends to be the Democratic nominee facing John McCain in the fall. Well we will see, because Barack Obama had a similar message last night when he took the stage.

First, he did something that Senator Clinton does not do regularly, he congratulated her on her victory. Then he moved into a discussion that really outlines in a few of his rhetorical flourishes, a much more grounded vision of what he plans to continue to campaign on his message of change, et cetera.

We've heard it before, but it was a much more substantive concrete discussion than the kind we've heard on his primary nights in the past. But he also looked right past his losses and said that he plans to be the Democratic nominee facing John McCain in the fall, he said it by drawing these contrasts with McCain.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the weeks to come, we will begin a great debate about the future of this country, with a man who has served it bravely and loved it dearly. Tonight I called John McCain and congratulated him on winning the Republican nomination, but in this election, we will offer two very different visions of the America we see in the 21st century, because John McCain may claim long history, straight talk and independent thinking, and I respect that.

But in this campaign, he has fallen in line behind those very same policies that have ill-served America. He has seen where George Bush has taken our country, and he promises to keep us on the very same course. It's the same course that threatens a century of war in Iraq. A third and fourth and fifth tour of duty for brave troops who have done all we've asked of them.

Even while we have asked little and expect nothing from the Iraqi government whose job it is to put their country back together. A course where we spend billions of dollars a week, that could be used to rebuild our roads and our schools, to care for our veterans and send our children to college.

It's the same course that continues to divide and isolate America, from the world by substituting bluster and bullying, for direct diplomacy, by ignoring our allies and refusing to talk to our enemies, even though presidents from Kennedy to Reagan have done just that, because strong countries and strong leaders aren't afraid to tell hard truths to petty dictators.

And it's the same course that offers the same tired answers to workers without healthcare, and families without homes, to students in debt and children who go to bed hungry in the richest nation on earth. Four more years of tax breaks for the biggest corporations and the wealthiest few who don't need them and aren't even asking for them. It's a course that further divides wall street from main street, where struggling families are told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, because there's nothing government can do or should do.

So we should give more to those with the most and let the chips fall where they may. We are here to say tonight, that is not the America we believe in. And this is not the future we want. We want a new course for this country. We want new leadership in Washington, we want change in America. John McCain and Hillary Clinton have echoed each other, dismissing this call for change, as eloquent but empty, speeches, not solutions.

And yet they know, or they should know, that it's a call that did not begin with my words. It began with words that were spoken on the floors of factories in Ohio, and across the deep plains of Texas, words that came from classrooms in South Carolina and living rooms in the state of Iowa, from first-time voters and life long cynics, from Democrats and independents and Republicans alike.


YELLIN: Barack Obama insisting that he is promising something very different from what both Senators Clinton and John McCain offer. He and his campaign insisting today that the race is unchanged, that essentially yesterday's victories for Senator Clinton were awash because Barack Obama remains ahead in the delegates, and has won more states, more votes and they feel quite confident about the next states to come, Wyoming, which caucuses this weekend and Mississippi next week.

We'll bring you more of that but first on the other side of this break, we're going to hear from John McCain and President Bush waiting for John McCain at the White House, did a little bit of (INAUDIBLE) shuffle. We'll bring you more of that on the other side of this break.


BASH: Welcome back to this special edition of BALLOT BOWL, '08. I'm Dana Bash at the White House today.

This is usually the kind of program that we give you to show you the candidates trying to make their way to get elected to the White House. So why are we actually reporting from the White House today?

Well the reason is because as we speak, John McCain, the newly minted Republican nominee is in the White House having lunch with President Bush, the man he wants to succeed to be the next commander in chief. They had a meeting just a short while ago, maybe about 20 minutes ago and it was quite a scene.

President Bush greeted John McCain at the door at the north (INAUDIBLE) at the White House, it was something that was a little bit unusual because presidents don't necessarily usually wait for people, and certainly don't necessarily go over to the car to greet somebody. But this was clearly slated and choreographed to show respect for John McCain and to show a passing of the baton of sorts from President Bush to the person who now is the Republican nominee.

There will be a formal endorsement after their lunch, in about an hour from now. We are certainly going to be bringing that to you live, that's going to be inside the rose garden. Now all of this is taking place of course because yesterday, last night John McCain officially clinched the nomination.

He got that magic 1191 delegates in order to be the Republican nominee. He gave a speech in Dallas last night very much trying to lay out his agenda and his ideas for how he is going to run as the Republican nominee and against the Democrats in the fall. Let's listen to some of that speech.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My friends, now we begin the most important part of our campaign, to make a respectful, determined and convincing case to the American people that our campaign, and my election as president, given the alternatives presented by our friends in the other party, are in the best interest of the country we love. I have never believed I was destined to be president.

I don't believe anybody is predestined to lead America, but I do believe that we were born with responsibilities to the country that has protected our God-given rights and the opportunities they afford us. I didn't grow up with the expectation that my country owed me more than the rights owed every American.

On the contrary, I owe my country every opportunity I have ever had. I owe her the meaning that service to America has given my life. And in the sense that I'm part of something greater than myself, part of a kinship of ideals that have always represented the last best hope of mankind.

I understand the responsibilities I incur with this nomination, and I give you my word, I will not evade or slight a single one. Our campaign must be, and will be more than another tired debate of false promises, empty sound bytes or useless arguments from the past that address not a single of America's concerns for their family's security.

My friends, presidential candidates are judged on their record, their character and the whole of their life experiences. But we're also expected to concentrate our efforts on the challenges that will confront America on our watch, and explain how we intend to address them. As you well know, America is at war in two countries, and involved in a long and difficult fight with violent extremists who despises our values and paternity itself.

It is of little use for Americans for their candidates to avoid the many complex challenges of these struggles by relegating decisions of the past. I will defend the decision to destroy Saddam Hussein's regime, as I -- [ cheers and applause ] -- as I also criticized the failed tactics that were employed for too long, to establish the conditions that will allow us to leave that country with our country's interest's secure, and our honor in tact.


BASH: That was a classic McCain line, praising the idea of going to war in Iraq, but criticizing the tactics, the military tactics used initially to execute and prosecute that war. That, in a nut shell, describes the kind of campaign that John McCain is going to try to run to embrace some of the things that President Bush has done but also try to distance himself from others.

We want to remind our viewers that as we speak, in the White House behind me, President Bush and John McCain are currently having lunch before the president endorses Senator McCain. Now there's been a lot of talk, especially among Democrats, maybe even gleefulness about the idea that these two men having pictures together, really appearing together, because President Bush is very unpopular when it comes to the electorate at large.

But talking to McCain advisers, they insist that this is a net positive for Senator McCain. Because President Bush is still very popular inside the Republican base, the base that Senator McCain very much still needs to galvanize behind him and President Bush also is a very good fundraiser.

Money is something that Senator McCain still needs a lot of because he's pretty much behind the Democrats and he needs to raise as much money as possible. So they say inside the McCain campaign they are going to use President Bush as much as the president wants to be used. We are told from McCain advisers and also from Bush advisers that the president is part a political animal and is pretty much chomping at the bit to get involved in this race that he has stood on the sidelines for so long.

Now, this particular meeting here at the White House, again, we're going to see the two of them in about an hour, maybe short of an hour, inside the rose garden. The plans were in place for about a week, even more.

They were in place even if former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee did not drop out of the race last night, but he did, he bowed out very gracefully. And after the break we're going to give you some of that speech that he gave last night when he announced that his race had run its course and it was time to get behind John McCain.

Stay with us.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to CNN's BALLOT BOWL, I'm Mary Snow coming to you from Little Rock, Arkansas.

We're here because we traveled with the Mike Huckabee campaign from Texas. Mike Huckabee was not planning to be in Little Rock today. He had been hoping to go on in the race, but last night he bowed out. This after he had held out hope until yesterday that he would have an upset in Texas and stay in the presidential race.

Mike Huckabee decided yesterday after Senator McCain got the delegates he needed to clinch the Republican nomination, that it was time to step aside. He addressed supporters last night outside Dallas.


MIKE HUCKABEE, (R) FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ladies and gentlemen, I called Senator McCain a few moments ago. It looks pretty apparent tonight that he will in fact achieve 1,191 delegates to become the Republican nominee for our party.

I extended to him not only my congratulations but my commitment to him and to the party to do everything possible to unite our party but more importantly to unite our country so that we can be the best nation we can be, not for ourselves but for the future generations to whom we owe everything, just as we owe previous generations, all that they have done for us.

Senator McCain has run an honorable campaign, because he's an honorable man. One of the things I'm proudest of is that the two campaigns that I believe have been run in the most civil manner are the two in the Republican Party that lasted on their feet to the final.

I'm grateful for the manner in which he has conducted his campaign, and quite frankly, with your great help, I'm very proud of the way that you have insisted that we conduct our campaign. And it's been one that we will always be able to say was done with honor.


SNOW: Mike Huckabee telling supporters he fought the good fight and kept the faith and shortly after he did that, he boarded a plane with the traveling press and then came and answered questions and reflected on the 14 months of his campaign, the former Arkansas governor, virtually an unknown outside of his home state, who really had such an upset in Iowa, where he won and came out of nowhere, then he fought on, and he really hoped to make a stir in the Republican Party campaigning on conservative issues.

Mike Huckabee fielded a number of questions from the press last night, including his hopes, what he's looking for in the future. Here's a little bit of what he had to say.


HUCKABEE: When we saw the exit polls and they were matching, you know, other things that have been heard, and there were several different exit polls coming out clearly showing that the trend was there and that there probably won't going to be anything to reverse it. They weren't close. Ohio and the other states weren't close. So it wasn't like that we thought, well, this could, you know, maybe go to 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. It was pretty obvious.

I've been through a lot of elections before. I know when one is on its way to being close and when one isn't. This one wasn't. So there wasn't any point of, you know, sitting there chewing my fingernails all night hoping something would change. It wasn't going to.

As far as what I'm going to do from here, I don't know. I mean I had no plan B. I had one plan and that was to carry this thing all the way to November and beyond. So that's what tomorrow is going to be, is a day of sitting down and starting to figure out where do we go from here.


SNOW: Mike Huckabee saying that he's going to really sit down with his staff and try to take care of them as best as he can, as he closes out his campaign. But he really said that he intended to win and go to the White House. But, of course, he has no plan B and joked that, of course, he plays his guitar. He'd take a position in a band.

But as far as his political ambitions, you know, there's been talk of whether he will run again in four years. He said he's not ruling anything out except he won't run for Senate. He made that very clear. But for the immediate future, he expects to now throw his support behind Senator John McCain. Saying, he'll do whatever Senator McCain needs for him to do to reunite the party and perhaps help heal some of the rifts between conservatives and Senator McCain.

That was Mike Huckabee rounding out his campaign, coming come back here to Little Rock, Arkansas.

When we come back, we're going to go over to the Democratic side and we're going to be hearing from Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama.

You're watching CNN's BALLOT BOWL. Stay with us.


MALVEAUX: Welcome back to CNN's BALLOT BOWL. I'm Suzanne Malveaux in Austin, Texas.

The question, was it dirty tricks, dirty politics or what it exactly what the spin doctor ordered. We are talking about an ad from Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign that was launched days ago that really could have put her over the top for yesterday's contest. It is all about national security. It is a scenario that is set up in the middle of the night. A crisis scenario. Who would make the best commander in chief to deal with that situation.

Let's take a listen to the commercial.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's 3:00 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House an it's ringing. Something's happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call. Whether it's someone who already knows the world's leaders, knows the military, someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world.


MALVEAUX: The question put to Senator Hillary Clinton from reporters, including our own Kiran Chetry on "AMERICAN MORNING" is, what kind of experience is Hillary Clinton talking about specifically when she says that she is ready to deal with a crisis situation, a national crisis, that makes her a stronger commander in chief, one better to protect the American people.

Let's take a listen to her response.


CLINTON: I've got a lifetime of experience. Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience. You know, Senator Obama's whole campaign is about one speech he made in 2002.

You know, I was involved for 15 years in, you know, foreign policy and security policy. You know, I helped to, you know, bring peace to northern Ireland. I negotiated to open borders to let fleeing refugees into safety from Kosovo.

I've been standing up against, you know, the Chinese government over woman's rights and standing up for human rights in many different places. I've served on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And I was the only senator of either party asked to be on an important task force put together by the Pentagon under this administration to figure out what to do with our military going forward.

You know, so I have so much experience. I have the experience of traveling to more than 80 countries representing the United States. You know, sitting down with presidents and prime ministers and kings. And, you know, having the chance to, you know, represent our country in some very difficult situations.

So I'm offering a lifetime of experience. And I think that's a stark contrast to my opponent's offer.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: All of those points are well taken. I was wondering if you could point to a specific crisis where you were the go-to person.

CLINTON: Well, you know, there isn't any way that anyone who's not been president. But, you know, the administration sent me to war- torn zones. I was the first person from the Clinton administration to go into Bosnia after the Dayton Peace Accords. You know, I went to Macedonia and sat down with their government and negotiated opening up that corder. There are a lot of examples.

But it is not just one thing. You know, Senator Obama's whole campaign is about a speech he gave in 2002. And, of course, by 2004, he even backed away from his fervent anti-war sentiment and said he wasn't sure how he would have voted and he actually agreed with the way George Bush was conducting the war. And by the time he got to the Senate, he voted exactly the same way I did.

So if your entire campaign is about one speech, and that's what you hold up as your credential to be president against a lifetime of experience from John McCain and lifetime of experience from me, I think the voters can draw their own conclusion.


MALVEAUX: And Senator Barack Obama was put the same question as well. What makes him qualified to be commander in chief, to handle a crisis situation and national security being a top issue for those in Texas, as well as Ohio, put that question to him earlier today on "AMERICAN MORNING."

Here's how he responded.


OBAMA: She's yet to cite what experience, in fact, prepares her for that 3:00 a.m. phone call. When her advisers were asked about it, there was a deafening silence. So it was a clever ad. But the bottom line is, is that the most important foreign policy call that she's had to make, since she's been in public office, was whether or not to follow George Bush into Iraq. And she made the wrong decision.

So I'm looking forward to having that debate because, in fact, Senator Clinton hasn't cited any particular experience that makes her prepared to make that -- to make that call.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, let me ask you, what specific experience do you have in handling a crisis that would make you the better person to field that 3:00 a.m. phone call?

OBAMA: Well, and that's the point. You know, nobody does because nobody's been in that situation unless you've been president. The question then becomes, who's got the kind of judgment on these critical issues that is -- some -- shows some evidence that you can, in fact, understand how the world is operating and when we have to deal with issues in a military way and on questions like Iraq, on questions like Pakistan and Iran. I think that the judgment I've shown, over the last several years, has been superior, both to Senator Clinton's and to Senator McCain's.

And, you know, if longevity is the measure by which we determine whose's got the best experience to answer that phone call, then John McCain wins because he's been there the longest. But that's not the criteria. The question is, who's got the best judgment, and I think that my record looks pretty good compared to theirs.


MALVEAUX: I want to bring in my colleague, Jessica Yellin, who's in San Antonio, Texas. Jessica, interesting, I spoke with a Clinton campaign aide this morning who was talking about the strategy and they say it's all about sewing seeds of doubt for Barack Obama here. Talking about they believe that the Democratic establishment, as well as perhaps even this coalition that he formed, will start to wonder whether or not he really has the goods to deliver here, whether or not he's strong enough to go up against Senator John McCain on this issue of national security.

Is the Obama camp, are they worried, are they concerned moving forward that perhaps this is resonating with voters, that the Clinton campaign has an issue, a hook here, and people are starting to listen and perhaps have those doubts about Barack Obama?

YELLIN: They're not worried, Suzanne. I mean, when you talk to them, they seem pretty confident that they still have the lead in this. But they realize that she's been very successful with her new tact in the last week by essentially going negative.

And what the Obama campaign is doing, the folks I'm talking to, are making it very clear that they think the press has been co-opted in some way or bought into this message from the Clinton campaign that the press has gone easy on Barack Obama, that it's been hard on Senator Hillary Clinton and they are pushing back calling the press out, in fact, saying, hey, you guys bought into this, why aren't you looking at a few things.

And already today their campaign is pushing the tax return issue. Why hasn't Senator Clinton released her tax returns? Well, the Clinton camp says they will in due time, blah, blah, blah. But the Obama message is, well why not now.

And then there's the issue of the Clinton documents from the day she was first lady. She maintains that that is the bulk of her experience, when she was in the White House, negotiating all these issues that she just said she took care of in the foreign policy realm. Well, the only way to verify that is by really looking at her documents from her time as the first lady, which, of course, are locked up and we can't access them.

So what the Obama campaign is doing right now is taking a page from their book, from the Clinton book, and pushing back hard on the press saying, why don't you explore her more, why don't you look into these issues more. In sum, it looks like this campaign is going to get a lot more negative, if you will, or vituperative, a lot more pressure on both sides for each candidate to be explored and fully vetted is the term of art right now, for really digging into the negatives on the other guy -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Jessica, does the Obama campaign buy into this notion that the Clinton camp is putting out that perhaps one of the reasons why she got three (INAUDIBLE) threw them off balance a little bit with some of the accusations, the whole controversy over NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, whether or not he was consistent in that position, his campaign was consistent, talking about his association with the Chicago businessman who's on trial now. Do they feel as if there was any legitimacy to that? That they got distracted in some way trying to answer some of those charges and didn't stick to the message?

YELLIN: Well, look, Suzanne, it's really hard to deny the numbers which show that late deciders in both Texas and Ohio broke for Senator Clinton. So those folks who really were making up their minds in the last three days, when most of the news that you're talking about really erupted, they end up going for Senator Clinton. So it really seems, from an objective perspective, it's hard to deny that all these attacks and these issues that the Clintons brought up have had their effect.

But the Obama folks are maintaining that, look, she had a 20 point lead in these big states, in Ohio and Texas. So she won. But that's hardly a monumental victory -- this is their position because really she was the odds on favorite to begin with. Now that sounds like day after spin and it may be, but they really do feel that she was building from a strong base and they did a great job closing the gap. That's their story today -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Well, Jessica, I know you'll be following their story. I'll be following Clinton's story as well very much in the days and weeks ahead.

And coming up after this break, we're going to hear a lot more from the candidates unfiltered, raw, live, as well as on tape, but certainly in their own words for voters and for viewers to get a sense of where they stand on these critical issues.

BALLOT BOWL continues.


SNOW: Welcome back to this Wednesday edition of CNN's BALLOT BOWL.

A chance for you to hear directly from the presidential candidates unfiltered. And as the Democrats still battle it out, on the Republican side, a much different story as Senator John McCain secures the Republican -- the delegates that he needed to secure the Republican -- to be the Republican nominee.

He is right now at the White House, a big day for Senator McCain. He is expected to accept the endorsement of President Bush. Our Dana Bash is with Senator McCain. And when he comes out, of course, we'll be hearing from her.

But last night was a big night for him when he got the delegates. Of course, the number 1,191 went up. And Senator McCain is now looking forward to the toughest part of this race, the general election, as he faces his Democratic challenger, whoever it may be. And Senator McCain addressed supporters last night. Let's listen to a little bit of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCAIN: Nothing, nothing, nothing is inevitable in America. We are the captains of our fate. We are not a country that prefers nostalgia to optimism. A country that would rather go back than forward. We're the world's leaders and leaders don't pine for the past and dread the future. We make the future better than the past. We don't hide from history, we make history.


SNOW: And Senator McCain's last biggest Republican challenger, Mike Huckabee, stepped aside last night as it became clear that Senator McCain was well on his way to becoming the Republican nominee. Mike Huckabee had held out hope to the very end, hoping that he would cause an upset in Texas.

And we traveled back with him from Texas to Arkansas. This is his home state. And Mike Huckabee saying really, in terms of his political future, he doesn't really have a plan b. He's going to take it right now, just trying to wrap up his campaign and to help his formal rival, Senator McCain.


HUCKABEE: I believe tonight that one of the things that we will be able to say is not only that we fought the good fight and finished the race, we'd like to have finish it first, but we stayed in until the race was over. But I think, more importantly, we've kept the faith. And that, for me, has been the most important goal of all. I'd rather lose an election, than lose the principles that got me into politics in the first place.


SNOW: And whether he'll have a future in politics, Mike Huckabee is saying at this point he's not ruling anything out. Perhaps 2012 he may resurface. But we're going to go out now, switch over to the Democratic side.

Jessica Yellin is in San Antonio, Texas, where the picture is very different on the Democratic side.

YELLIN: That's right. Hi, Mary.

It is anything but settled on the Democratic side. But Barack Obama and Senator Clinton both taking square aim at John McCain. Barack Obama, last night, made it clear that he plans to be the nominee who will run against McCain.

Let's listen.


OBAMA: John McCain may claim long history of straight talk and independent thinking. And I respect that. But in this campaign, he has fallen in line behind the very same policies that have ill served America. He has seen where George Bush has taken our country. And he promises to keep us on the very same course.


YELLIN: Barack Obama and Senator Clinton both try to do their utmost to tie McCain to George Bush and make it seem as though a John McCain presidency would be a continuation of President Bush's currently unpopular policies. But Senator Clinton had a different topic on her mind last night when she announced her victories or accepted her victories. She was very charged.


CLINTON: For everyone here in Ohio and across America who's ever been counted out but refused to be knocked out, and for everyone who has stumbled but stood right back up, and for everyone who works hard and never gives up, this one is for you.


YELLIN: So a very excited Senator Clinton announcing that her race is on. The race is on. And we will talk about what is next in this race. That's the other side of the break. We'll be right back.


MALVEAUX: Welcome back to CNN's BALLOT BOWL. I'm Suzanne Malveaux in Austin Texas, looking ahead to the week, in to the contests before us.

But, of course, looking back just yesterday, Super Tuesday 2, we like to call it. The Democrats really deadlock in a battle over the delegates, but Senator Hillary Clinton coming out on top with three out of four states. Big win for her, Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island. Senator Barack Obama taking Vermont.

Both of these competitors looking forward to the days and the weeks ahead. Clearly a very tough-fought battle over those delegates. Every voter simply counting, making a difference. All of the campaigning getting very intense and aggressive as well.

Jessica Yellin in San Antonio, Texas.

I know, Jessica, taking a look at the Republican side, John McCain clearly out in the front.

YELLIN: Yes, Suzanne, for the Republicans, this thing is really starting to coalesce. Finally, a nominee that they can get around. At least they know this is the man that they will have on the ticket, on the Republican side, going into the general election. And for the Democrats, it's clear that this is the person they will have to run against.

Today, John McCain at the White House getting the formal endorsement of President Bush. That's coming up very shortly. He is in the White House now meeting with President Bush. For the Republicans, it's a sign that the party is now going to work to come together around John McCain. For Democrats, this will be a very happy photo op as well because both Democrats plan to try to tie John McCain as much as possible to George Bush's unpopular policies right now. And this will be a photo they no doubt will be happy to share around quite significantly, George Bush and John McCain together, in the election to come -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And thanks to my colleague, Jessica Yellin, in San Antonio, Texas.

Looking ahead, there is March 8th. That, of course, the Wyoming caucus for the Democrats. And then March 11th. Look to that date as well. The Mississippi primary. It is going to be an important date for the Democrats who are, once again, looking for those votes and vying for those delegates.

Thanks again for joining CNN and BALLOT BOWL this Wednesday.