Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Covering the Continuing Campaign Action

Aired March 16, 2008 - 14:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, HOST: Welcome to CNN's "Ballot Bowl."
I'm Suzanne Malveaux, here in Chicago.

At this hour you'll get a chance to hear from the presidential candidates -- John McCain, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton -- live on tape, unfiltered.

Joining me at this hour is my colleague Jim Acosta to help sort all of this out. A big, big schedule -- a busy schedule that we have ahead. He is out of Scranton, Pennsylvania, just outside of Scranton.

Jim, I understand that there is a lot going on. Obviously a big contest, a big competition over the key state of Pennsylvania.

That's right, Suzanne. I am in South Sterling, Pennsylvania, outside of Scranton, in the Pocono Mountains. And you're right, the race is on here in the Keystone State for this big primary coming up on April 2nd -- 158 pledged delegates up for grabs.

And Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are taking nothing for granted in this state. And so it will be a hot and very heated contested battle for this primary, which is just a month away.

But before we get to the politics happening in this state, we want to get to what's happening half a world away. And our own John King is standing by live in Baghdad. He is following John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee who has made a somewhat surprised, unannounced trip to Baghdad to check on the progress of the war there, on what is now becoming the fifth anniversary of that conflict.

John, how are things going there?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, quite a long way from where you are in the Poconos, but you're right, Senator McCain taking this trip. We should make clear, this is an official congressional delegation. He says it has nothing to do with his campaign, although of course Iraq is a defining debate in the presidential campaign back home.

But Senator McCain is here on this official congressional delegation with two of his Senate Armed Services Committee colleagues, Joe Lieberman, the Independent of Connecticut, Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina. Many would note that both Senator Lieberman and Senator Graham also are McCain for president supporters, but they have been spending the day with U.S. officials. We are told U.S. military officials and diplomatic officials, getting what one Senate office staffer just emailed me was an update on what they believe to be considerable progress on the ground here. We don't know the exact details of the senator's schedule. Because of security reasons and because that is traditional in these congressional delegations, which are often low key, we've had no media coverage of the senator's visit yet, no exact details of his schedule. But we do know he is supposed to meet with General David Petraeus, the commanding general here, with Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador, and with Iraqi officials, including, we are told, the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki.

Now, all of this is part of a busy international trip for Senator McCain that he is conducting and he wants to emphasize as a senator. This is his day job, he says, but it's also impossible to disconnect the facts of this trip from the presidential campaign back home.

General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will be back before Congress next month making their case for the Bush administration's policy here in Iraq. Every day on the campaign trail back home Senator McCain makes note to any one of his audiences that he's one of the few Republicans who stood up to former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and demanded more troops in Iraq, denounced the Bush administration policy at the beginning as a failure. And at every stop along the campaign trail, he says he believes both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton are flat wrong, that they would "wave the white flag of surrender" in pulling U.S. troops out too soon. And Senator, McCain as he did earlier this week in Springfield, Pennsylvania, makes the case at almost every stop that he believes while the surge is painful, especially to military families, he believes it's succeeding.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The hardest thing in warfare to counter is someone or any group of individuals who are willing to take their own lives in order to take others. You can go all of the way back to our World War II veterans who will tell you that the kamikaze pilot in World War II was the hardest thing for us to counter.

Ask the Israelis how hard it is to secure their borders against these suicide bombers. So I worry about it great deal, but I also believe that they may be able to carry out some spectacular suicide attacks, but we do have them on the run. And up in Mosul, where the battle is raging right now, I'm happy to tell you that the overwhelming majority of that fighting is being done by Iraqi troops, not by American troops. That's the success of the surge.

And Americans are grieved. We are grieved at the sacrifice. But if we can reduce and eliminate American casualties, the struggle may go on, but we will have won. And then we determine what our relationship is and what our presence is there.


KING: A taste of Senator McCain back home on the campaign trail, there again making the case that he believes the surge policy is working and that he believes while eventually this commander in chief or the next commander in chief should be able to begin to bring troops home, he believes both of the plans put forward by Senator Clinton and Obama would be a recipe for disaster.

And Jim, it's quite interesting on this trip, because it's clearly sensitive to the McCain operation. They want to call this a congressional delegation trip. They make note that he planned to make this trip several months ago, and that at that point in the campaign he thought it was unwise, but they say whether he had won the Republican nomination or whether he had faltered, he would be here at this moment.

And it's not just sensitive for the McCain operation. The military is also sensitive to the fact that this will be viewed as somehow the United States military helping Senator McCain from a political standpoint. U.S. officials here say that he is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, that he has two colleagues with him that the trip has been endorsed by his colleagues, Democrats included, back in the United States Congress.

But make no mistake about it, Jim, he is here for his day job as a United States senator, but Iraq is not only a defining debate in the Congress, but also, as you well know, as you stand in the state of Pennsylvania today, in the campaign as well.

ACOSTA: Absolutely, John. And I remember last year when John McCain was there. He was there with Lindsey Graham, who has been sort of his political soulmate when it comes to the issue of Iraq. And Senator McCain took some heat.

He was -- he came under some criticism for some comments that he made when he was in Iraq, when he came back and he said that the security situation had improved enough where he felt safe walking the streets of Baghdad, going to the marketplace in Baghdad. And of course, then many people chimed in and said, and many people in the press pointed out, well, you had sort of an armed (INAUDIBLE) of military personnel with you every step of the way.

It will be interesting to see how he talks about his time there versus last time around.

KING: Absolutely. And we do hope to have an opportunity to talk with Senator McCain tomorrow, Monday morning, here Baghdad time. We are hoping to get that opportunity. It's not official just yet, but we do hope that will happen.

And it will be interesting, because you note that marketplace. It's called the Sorja (ph) marketplace. It's in a Baghdad neighborhood.

We tried to go there today, as a matter of fact. We wanted to see what it looks like now, a year after Senator McCain was here. And he did walk around, and he did say it was proof that there were security gains being made, and that some parts of Baghdad and Iraq were quite safe. And as you noted, he also had 100-plus troops providing his security detail. And many of the merchants in the area, as soon as they were gone, said the neighborhood was quite unsafe.

We got close to that marketplace today, Jim, but our own security advisers here in Iraq didn't want us to go there. They did not believe it was safe for an American to be in that area.

We were in a thriving marketplace nearby, but when you show up, the local Iraqis, well, it is clear that security is better on the street. And it's clear there are more markets open. Just the traffic jams alone tell you that things are better on the streets of Baghdad.

It's also very sensitive potential neighborhoods. That one marketplace, as a matter of fact, that neighborhood, you do see Iraqi police, you do see the Iraqi army. But in truth, that area is controlled by the racial cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army.

So it is still a very volatile and a very sensitive part of Baghdad. But U.S. officials will tell you, on the one hand, they think the troops are working, the surge is working. But another reason it is calmer in Iraq right now -- and that's a relative term in this country -- is because Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his militias have a cease- fire, to not stir up trouble at the moment -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Well, John, after all of that talk about safety, we hope you stay safe there as well. Thank you very much.

KING: Absolutely.

ACOSTA: And we'll be in touch with you, John, as well.

And we want to switch gears now back to what is happening in the Keystone State, here in Pennsylvania.

Hillary Clinton was here in this state campaigning for the Irish- American vote. She took part in not one but, count them, two St. Patrick's Day parades. One in Pittsburgh early yesterday, and then came here to Scranton to march through the streets of that city with the state's very powerful governor and her chief surrogate in this state, Ed Rendell. And by many accounts, if you took a look at the Scranton local newspaper this morning, that paper reported that it was probably its biggest St. Patrick's Day parade in its 47-year history, and a lot of people think that's because the senator from New York was making this a campaign stop.

But during her visit to Pennsylvania yesterday, Hillary Clinton talked about many issues. She talked about this issue of whether or not states of Florida and Michigan should hold re-votes, and redos of their primaries. Also talked about the economy, also talked about the fact that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, brought peace to northern Ireland, or helped bring peace to northern Ireland.

So all of these issues came up as Senator Clinton swept through the Keystone State yesterday.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We talked about the importance of, you know, keeping our campaign on the issues. There's a lot of room to explore the differences between us, for voters to get information about our records and experience and qualifications and the differences that we would bring to the job, and the significant questions that would be raised about health care, the economy and so much else.

And, you know, we both have had instances during the course of the year with staff members, supporters saying things that we've had to reject and to repudiate. And we want to make sure that we try to keep this campaign focused on what voters are interested in and what they should have to -- with information they should have to make their decisions.

QUESTION: Your campaign has made a big argument that you have won in the big swing states, and this makes you a more viable candidate in the general election. Could you explain that logic? Because if Obama lost in Ohio, that doesn't necessarily mean he would lose in a general election, as well as Al Gore and John Kerry won Pennsylvania in the general election. So if you could explain that argument.

CLINTON: Well, there are three critical components here. One is, you have to look at what the electoral map is likely to be in the fall. And I don't think anybody doubts that a Democrat has to have a number of the big states anchored in order to put together the electoral votes needed to win.

There's a generally accepted position that Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida are the critical swing states for Democrats, and that you have to try to win at least two out of three. I would like to win three out of three.

And I think it is significant that I have won Ohio and I won Florida and I've won the big states that would serve as those anchors for the electoral map. And I also think it's significant because those states represent a much broader cross section of the voters that we're going to need to win in the fall.


ACOSTA: And so there is Hillary Clinton on her campaign plane between campaign stops, barnstorming the state of Pennsylvania, looking for votes in advance of that big primary coming up in this state on April 22nd. It's some five weeks away. It's hard to believe that, but both of these companies are gunning hard for votes in this state.

And speaking of the other candidate in this race, Barack Obama, I'll turn back to my colleague now, Suzanne Malveaux, who is in Obamaland there in Chicago.

Hi, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Hey, Jim. Well, while Senator Hillary Clinton can focus more on the issues, Barack Obama is facing kind of a frustrating and tough experience over the last 48 hours or so. A controversy over some comments that were made by his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, some comments that were considered controversial because they were critical of the U.S. government -- this was shortly after September 11th -- amongst some other issues as well.

Senator Barack Obama, really, insiders say, is trying to move beyond the controversy and stay on message, but clearly he has repudiated some of these remarks. He says that he did not sit in the pew listening to these remarks, but they came to his attention relatively recently.

Barack Obama is somewhat in a difficult situation here as he tries to explain the situation and, at the same time, has a relationship with the pastor of nearly 20 years. This is a man who officiated his wedding, baptized his children, who says that he is a biblical scholar, very well respected here in Chicago, as well as in the black community and the religious community.

So Barack Obama, what we've heard in the last couple of days, is he's rejecting some of these more controversial remarks by his pastor, and at the same time trying to use this occasion as a call for unity. We heard this yesterday when he was in Plainfield, Indiana.

Let's take a listen.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You've heard some statements from my former pastor that were incendiary and that I completely reject, although I knew him and know him as somebody in my church who talked to me about Jesus and family and friendships. But clearly had -- you know, but if all I knew were those statements that I saw on television, I would be shocked.

And it just -- it reminds me that, you know, we've got a tragic history when it comes to race in this country. We've got a lot of pent-up anger and bitterness and misunderstanding. But what I continue to believe in is that this country wants to move beyond these kinds of divisions.


That this country wants something different. And so -- and so I just want to -- I just want to say to everybody here that as somebody who was born into a diverse family, as somebody who has little pieces of America all in me, I will not allow us to lose this moment where we cannot forget about our past and not ignore the very real forces of racial inequality and gender inequality and, you k now, the other things that divide us.

I don't want us to forget them. We have to acknowledge them and lift them up. And when people say things like my former pastor said, you have to speak out forcefully against them. But what you have to also do though is remember what Bobby Kennedy said, that it is within our power to join together, to truly make a United States of America, and that we have to do not just so that our children live in a more peaceful country and a more peaceful world, but that is also the only way that we're going to deliver on the big issues that we're facing in this country.

We can't solve health care divided. We cannot create an economy that works for everybody divided. We can't fight terrorism divided. We can't care for our veterans divided.


We have to come together. That's what this campaign is about. That's why you're here. That's why we're going to win this election. That's how we're going to change the country.


MALVEAUX: Barack Obama appealing to voters to take his own words and his own actions into account, not that necessarily of his pastor, and to judge him that way. The Obama campaign, insiders very much aware of the potential political fallout if there are additional tapes.

They will have to answer once again or perhaps repudiate marks. They don't know if that will come about, but obviously that is something that they know and realize that they're going to have to deal with.

The other thing as well developing, some black ministers angry with Barack Obama, denouncing Barack Obama for denouncing his pastor. They say that Reverend Wright is mainstream, that he is somebody who is very well respected in the religious community, in the black community as well.

So we'll see just whether or not Barack Obama loses some of the support from the African-American community. All of those still unanswered questions.

And another unanswered question is, what is going to happen in Michigan and Florida? Are there going to be redos in those critical states for Senator Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?

We'll have more of that on the other side of "Ballot Bowl."


ACOSTA: Welcome back to "Ballot Bowl '08."

I'm Jim Acosta, just outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania, in the Poconos.

And while this state is looming large on the calendar on April it 22nd in the race for the Keystone State between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, there are two other states that are looming large out there and potentially could have a very big impact on this nominating process, and those two states, of course, are Michigan and Florida, the states that held their primaries early against Democratic Party wishes, and had their delegates declared invalid.

Well, now it appears Michigan and perhaps Florida are making progress towards redos. That is, a do-over, if you want to call it that, of their primaries.

Michigan, as of late last week, was inching closer to potentially a primary that could be held perhaps as early as June.


HOWARD DEAN, CHAIRMAN, DNC: I think the best option is whatever we can get the candidates to agree with which puts a vote back in the hands of people of Florida and Michigan, and that's going to be not so easy to do.

ACOSTA (voice over): But Michigan may make Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean's job a bit easier. Some top Michigan Democrats, including Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, say they're working on plans for a June 3rd primary do-over.

Kilpatrick tells CNN, "We are trying to get there. It's not a done deal yet."

Michigan and Florida broke National Democratic Party rules by moving up their primaries to January. The contest took place, but none of the party's major candidates campaigned in the states, and Michigan and Florida's delegates were banned from this summer's Democratic convention.

CLINTON: The result of those primaries were fair and they should be honored.

ACOSTA: Clinton won both primaries. But the idea of awarding delegates based on those results doesn't fly with Obama.

OBAMA: What we don't think makes sense is, for example, the Michigan delegation to be seated when my name wasn't on the ballot.

ACOSTA: With the battle between Clinton and Obama for the nomination so close, and with November victories in both states crucial for the Democrats to take back the White House, both candidates agree action is needed.

CLINTON: Nearly 2.5 million Americans in those two states who participated in the primary elections are in danger of being excluded from our Democratic process, and I think that's wrong.

OBAMA: What we want is an opportunity for the Florida and the Michigan delegates to participate in the convention.


ACOSTA: And Florida and Michigan are very important to both of those candidates because right now, as it stands now, if Florida and Michigan don't have do-overs, Pennsylvania is the last big state that could have a primary with a delegate load that could seriously help one of these two candidates. But if you add Michigan and Florida to the calendar, those two states have as many, and in the case of Florida, more delegates, than Pennsylvania.

So, that is why Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are peppered daily with questions about the potential impacts on their campaigns.


CLINTON: The results of those primaries were fair and they should be honored. Over the last few weeks there's been a lot of discussion about what we should do to ensure that the voters in Florida and Michigan are counted.

Well, in my view, there are two options. Honor the results or hold new primary elections.


I don't see any other solutions that are fair and honor the commitment that 2.5 million voters made in the Democratic primaries in those two states.



OBAMA: I think all of us are interested in making sure that they are seated in some way that doesn't advantage one candidate or another too much. And what we have tried to do throughout the process is just follow the rules that the DNC gave us.

They said that Michigan and Florida wouldn't count. My name wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan. And I didn't campaign at all in Florida. And so what we believe is that there should be some way of arriving at a fair settlement that respects the fact that there were rules in place, but also makes sure that Michigan and Florida voters are seated.


ACOSTA: So there you have it, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the issue of the do-overs, which is now an issue that is looming large over both of those campaigns. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama locked in almost a dead heat, with Barack Obama holding a slim delegate lead over Hillary Clinton, a just over 100-delegate lead over Hillary Clinton. And Hillary Clinton would like to see those two primaries put back on the election calendar if she hopes to lock up this nomination for the Democratic slot to go up against John McCain in the election in the fall.

So, stick with us.

Coming up after the break -- this is "Ballot Bowl" on CNN -- we'll be going to Suzanne Malveaux back in Chicago. She will be taking a look at the number one issue in this election right now, and that is the economy. Stick with us. This is "Ballot Bowl" on CNN.


MALVEAUX: Welcome back to CNN's "Ballot Bowl."

I'm Suzanne Malveaux in Chicago.

Both of the candidates obviously trying to listen to what really resonates with voters and voters are talking about, high gas prices. They're also talking about the fear of losing their jobs, losing their homes, and that is why you hear both of these candidates pushing for issue number one, the economy.


MALVEAUX (voice over): For the guy who has the top job and those who cannot wait to replace him, there is one thing they can agree on. Issue number one is the economy.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because we've got an active plan to help us get through this rough period. We're always open for new ideas.

MALVEAUX: Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have got some of their own. And they are desperately trying to convince voters theirs is the fix.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, too little too late is not an economic strategy. But that seems to be the best that President Bush can offer.

MALVEAUX: The cliche photo-op, Clinton in front of a gas pump, talking about the skyrocketing price of oil.

CLINTON: Both Senator Obama and Senator McCain have sided with Dick Cheney and with big oil.

MALVEAUX: Addressing those hit especially hard in Pittsburgh, Obama is popping up his economic recovery plan, too, touting its affordability.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: "The Wall Street Journal" did an article several weeks ago evaluating our claims, and saying that, if I was able to move my agenda forward, I could in fact pay for all the proposals I have made.

MALVEAUX: So, what are their proposals? Obama is offering a $1,000 tax cut for working-class families, amending the North American Free Trade Agreement to protect U.S. jobs, and create new ones by investing in alternative energy.


MALVEAUX: And CNN is going to have much, much more on this in a special series called "Issue #1." Obviously it is about the economy. It's going to be hosted by our own Gerri Willis and is at 12:00 noon Eastern. You're going to want to watch this.

Obviously talking about a lot of those issues that voters and a lot of people are concerned about -- those gas prices, the housing crisis, the job situation, and whether or not the economy and this country in a full-fledged recession. All of those questions, all of those issues this week, coming up -- "Issue #1," the economy.

Also coming up as well on the other end of the break, taking a look at other news, including that crane accident out of New York City.



MALVEAUX: Welcome back to CNN's "Ballot Bowl."

I'm Suzanne Malveaux in Chicago.

This is your chance to hear the presidential candidates, but also their supporters, their surrogates, including today former president Bill Clinton, who is in New Orleans. That is where our own Sean Callebs is as well, covering that story, talking about rebuilding New Orleans, devastated by Katrina, the Ninth Ward.

And I understand, Sean, that you also got a chance to see Brad Pitt as well, who has been working on this project. I have to say, a little bit of jealousy there, Sean.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I certainly understand that. I can tell that you that, yes, Brad Pitt was walking through the Lower Ninth Ward, his skullcap on, just like he was in the end of December, when he really launched his Make it Right Foundation, his plans to build about 150 homes in the Lower Ninth Ward to those who lost virtually everything after Katrina rolled through this area and, of course, the levies were breached.

Now, it was interesting to see the kind of cache and the kind of drawing power when you put Brad Pitt and Bill Clinton in the same area for one weekend. Now, Bill Clinton was down here touting his Clinton global initiative focusing on university students. There were hundreds of university students from across the country in New Orleans this weekend talking about philanthropy, talking about giving back to communities, what they can do.

Of course, the Clinton global initiative has helped so many people across the world, perhaps best known for bringing AIDS drugs to Africa, coping with the AIDS crisis there. But in New Orleans, we had a chance to sit down and talk to Bill Clinton one-on-one, and he talked about the hopelessness that many people can feel here.

Many still very bitter, the feeling that government on all levels let them down. But with the hope of a volunteer effort, Bill Clinton said, yes, a better New Orleans can be built.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would tell them first of all that they can see that the country hasn't given up on New Orleans. The country desperately wants this city to be rebuilt, and they want to preserve the unique history, the unique heritage, the unique culture, the unique music. They want it preserved.

Secondly, the money has been appropriated, by and large, to reconstruct the city, but it's been slow getting out. There's been one huge improvement, the movement of Dr. Blakely (ph) here from California.

We worked with him. I did personally work with him after the California Northridge earthquake, which was a massive disaster. And he helped to move that thing. And he will here.

I think the fact that Hillary and I believe Senator Obama also have both said if they were president, they would put a coordinator for Katrina relief in the White House. That's a big deal, because when you're president, what you do is determined by your campaign commitments, the emergencies, the things you didn't know were going to happen, the congressional calendar, and how the White House is organized.

Organizing the White House by having somebody who is personally responsible to say every week, here's what we're doing on Katrina, will move things faster. And then I think the fact that we've got people like Brad Pitt and Bill McDonough and these other people involved in what is the central -- in my opinion the central thing that you can do to make it better, which is a commitment to rebuild New Orleans as a green city, which will generate all kinds of new and different jobs and diversify this economy, and allow people to come back to the Lower Ninth Ward with lower utility bills. That's a big deal.

CALLEBS: What does it say when you have artists like Brad Pitt, Denis Leary helping rebuild fire stations, The Edge providing instruments down here, and the volunteers, the religious organizations that come down and gut homes. It's those people doing the work. It's a huge sense of frustration.

CLINTON: Well, look here. You've got this -- I walked down this street today and I looked at a woman in a work shirt who is a Palestinian student at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. There were two women here who are from Sudan who came from a university in Sudan.

There is still a magnet here. And I think we should be glad of that. But keep in mind, this is the most frustrating part, what you see here, the housing.

Once we can get four or five or six units up here where people can see that it's happening, see it, it will grow like wildfire. And I think then you can get -- and especially if you get a federal coordinator, we can move a lot of this federal money that's been appropriated but is stuck. The national government side still has problems. I mean, look, we have thousands of trailers in my little hometown in Arkansas, in Hope, Arkansas, at the airport. It's embarrassing.

You know, the formaldehyde trailers, the trailers that have never been opened. There are a lot of operational problems there.

But I think the city has gotten its act together here. I think the state will be an efficient partner. And I believe that we can get an unlimited number of volunteers to come here and help.

Once we start the ball rolling, we need to get some of these houses up. It took I think Brad Pitt and Bill McDonough a little longer than they thought to raise some of the initial capital, but we've got some money there now. And I think we just need to start putting things up, making things happen. And then if there tends (ph) to be a cascading effect, I think it will begin to happen much more rapidly this year.


CALLEBS: Now, Brad Pitt's organization has a pretty ambitious goal of building 150 environmentally friendly low-cost homes for people in the Lower Ninth Ward by the end of the summer. And the big question, wow would you build in this area and make it safe?

Well, a number of very prominent architects from around the world have volunteered their time to draw up plans to build these homes, and basically a lot of them would either be on stilts, they would be elevated, so if and when the levees would be breached again, Suzanne, then people here would be much safer.

I know you have a lot of close ties down to this area, Suzanne, a story you have followed very closely for the last two and a half years. And for someone of Bill Clinton's stature, Brad Pitt to come through here on a weekend, you just see the hope that it raises in the eyes of the people who have lived and suffered in misery down this area for so long.

MALVEAUX: Certainly, Sean. Some of my own relatives quite pleased to see Brad Pitt there, as well as the former president Bill Clinton.

I want to ask you, too, about Clinton and his role here. We have seen him over the course of this campaign speaking out defending his wife, Hillary Clinton, when he felt that she was attacked. We have seen him make political statements about Barack Obama and whether or not he is a viable candidate. And now we see him focusings on again on New Orleans and the whole issue of poverty, rebuilding this area.

How has his role changed? Do you see that there's a dramatically different message that he's bringing here?

CALLEBS: Well, we had a chance to speak with him at length about politics, about his role in Senator Clinton's campaign. And he emphatically said, no, my role has not changed.

And you kind of saw that flicker in his eye that you have seen so many times. Clearly, it's something he's prepared to answer, something he knows is going to come up.

Look at what happened in Mississippi, a state with a large African- American population. Nine out of 10 African-Americans in that state who are Democratic voted for Senator Barack Obama in the primary last week. That wasn't lost on Bill Clinton.

Clinton says, no, his role has not changed at all. He says the way it is playing out is that his wife goes into very large metropolitan areas, and then he works his way in through the outskirts trying to drum up support.

We saw him in Passe Christian, Biloxi, Ellisville, Meridian, in Mississippi last week, but it didn't pay off in the long run. She was thoroughly trounced in that state.

So, do they have reason to be concerned? Is this race becoming more polarized among the Democrats? Bill Clinton says no. And we'll hear more of the interview coming up throughout the day on "Ballot Bowl."

MALVEAUX: Very interesting, Sean.

And we also know too that Hillary Clinton lost in the state of Louisiana. So still very much in flux, up in air whether or not she really will be able to capture or recapture some of the African- American support that they enjoyed some months ago.

So thank you once again, Sean. Appreciate that.

And obviously Barack Obama is weighing in as well on the economy, talking about the kinds of issues that voters are asking questions. And he's taking questions as well, as he did in a forum. It was just yesterday in Plainfield, Indiana. And that is where he started to make some very specific remarks about what he would do when it comes to gas prices and alternative sources of energy.

Let's take a listen.


OBAMA: Let me talk to you just generally about energy.

We spend -- your book will get signed. I promise.

We spend a billion dollars a day sending money to foreign nations because of our addiction to foreign oil. A billion dollars a day. And oil prices are at the highest level in history, and they're not going to go down significantly any time soon because China and India, they need more fuel for growth.

There are a billion Chinese who don't have cars yet who want a car. There are a billion Indians who don't have a car yet who want a car.

So, the long-term trend -- I mean, things may bounce up and down a little bit, but the long-term trend is fossil fuels are going to get more scarce and more expensive, which means that we need to find new ways of creating the energy that we need for economic growth and our quality of life. And alternative fuels are one of the most important ways for us to do that.

Now, corn-based ethanol is not optimal. I have been a big supporter of corn-based ethanol. I come from a corn state, Illinois. And it's a good transitional technology to start developing the infrastructure, but the truth of the matter is that corn-based ethanol is not as efficient as, for example, what the Brazilians are doing with sugarcane. Much more efficient, produces a lot more energy per input.

And so we've got to start finding, are there things like switchgrass or other, you know, strategies that we can use to create these alternative fuels? All of that is going to require research and development money. And the way we're going to pay for it under my plan, we're going to -- as I said, we're going to cap the emission of greenhouse gases that are causing global warming, and that...


MALVEAUX: And we'll bring you much more about the details of those candidates' plans, economic plans that voters have lots and lots of questions about -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Very interesting, Suzanne.

And that is it for this edition of "Ballot Bowl." There will be one more hour of "Ballot Bowl" -- or I should say two more hours of "Ballot Bowl" coming up in an hour from now. So tune in then.

And "Your $$$$$" is up next. So stick with us right here on CNN.