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The Situation Room

Clinton on a Rollin Iowa; Fight Over Kids' Health Care

Aired October 08, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Hillary Clinton on a roll in Iowa. As the White House hopeful launches a bus tour through the leadoff caucus state, is her bid for the Democratic nomination unstoppable?
Also this hour, Barack Obama's religious mission. He's trying to reclaim faith and value voters for the Democratic Party. Does he have a prayer?

And it's being billed as the first bipartisan presidential campaign event in history. We're going to tell you about the controversial plan that's bringing Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Sam Brownback together.

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

Right now, Senator Hillary Clinton is campaigning in Iowa, trying to build on her considerable momentum there. She's riding high in the state polls. And today she's riding on a bus she's dubbed the "Middle Class Express". More than ever, people are wondering if Clinton will leave her Democratic rivals in the dust when the first presidential caucuses are held early next year.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is watching the senator, Senator Clinton, in Marshalltown, Iowa, where she's speaking either now or pretty soon.

A lot of people are asking, Candy, is Hillary Clinton unstoppable right now?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, her opponents will tell you she is not. And a lot of people who have watched polls in Iowa will tell you they can go any way, and there are 12 weeks left.

Nonetheless, Hillary Clinton is rolling through Iowa here, going directly at the core of her support, which is the middle class. This two-day bus tour -- and of course you can't have a bus tour, Wolf, without a name for it -- this is Rebuilding the Road to the Middle Class.

She's talking about those home and hearth issues, things like creating more and higher-wage jobs, about making retirement more secure, about making college more available. So these are the issues that go directly to the middle class.

It comes, as you mentioned, at a time when Hillary Clinton is now leading in the Iowa polls, as she does in New Hampshire and South Carolina, also both early states, and in the national polls. So as befitting a frontrunner, Clinton doesn't really talk about her Democratic opponents, she goes straight after the Republicans, in particular George Bush and his policies.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No American was too wealthy to be denied big tax cuts. No well-connected company was too prosperous to lose its tax subsidies or protection from competition for government money. Meanwhile, America's middle class families have been invisible to the president. It's as if he's looked right through them.


CROWLEY: Now, as Clinton talks middle class here in Iowa, Barack Obama, one of her key opponents here, is in New Hampshire talking about energy policy, where he, too, talked about creating more jobs and better-paying jobs.

Now, the way the Obama camp looks at Iowa and looks -- and the way the Edwards camp looks at Iowa is that this is a place they're going to need to stop her. It's not that they don't have money to go on, but they don't want to give her the momentum, as they say, coming out of Iowa.

Obama is counting on what he believes is a general revulsion of Iowa. He will today, while not mentioning names, hit Clinton for not leading on issues like energy independence when she had a chance to in Washington. John Edwards also hitting Clinton.

They both sort of see that if people look at Washington now and see a place that doesn't work, a system that doesn't work, they're hoping that people will see Hillary Clinton as a part of that system and Barack Obama and John Edwards as people who, of course, can fix the system -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Rebuilding the Road to the Middle Class, Candy, it reminds me and I'm sure it reminds you and a lot of other political reporters who covered her husband's first race for the White House back in 1991 and 1992, straight out of his playbook.

CROWLEY: Absolutely straight out of his playbook. And frankly, you know, when you listen to these speeches, there are two people she mentions the most. One is George Bush, obviously, in a negative way, but the other is Bill Clinton.

She talks about the 1990s as a time when people were prosperous, when the middle class was getting its fair share of what was going on in terms of trade and companies. So she does bring up his name quite a lot. And it's interesting for a campaign, as Clinton's is, that want to look forward and talks about change, they -- nonetheless, she is not hesitant about looking backwards and reminding people of the Clinton administration, particularly Democrats who, of course, look at that as the heyday of the Democrat Party. BLITZER: Candy Crowley in Marshalltown, Iowa, for us today.

Candy, thanks very much.

Let's get now to the very fierce partisan fight over children's health care. Democrats and their allies are turning up the heat on those House Republicans who are potential weak links in an efforts to uphold a presidential veto.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

And they're using some new advocacy ads specifically targeted against some House Republicans they're hoping might switch their vote.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Wolf. They are and this is a showdown that Democrats and their allies wholeheartedly welcome, because after 10 very frustrating months fighting the White House over Iraq policy, children's health is a fight Democrats view as good policy and good politics.


BASH (voice over): The Democrats' hopes of overriding the president's veto of children's health care could ride on a new million-dollar ad campaign.

ANNOUNCER: George Bush just vetoed Abby (ph) and Josh. He vetoed Latoya (ph) and Kevin. Bush vetoed health insurance for millions of America's children whose parents work but can't afford coverage.

BASH: A coalition of labor and advocacy groups is teaming up to sponsor this national commercial and similar ads targeting 20 GOP members of Congress. The goal is to pressure those Republicans to drop their opposition to expanding the children's health program by $35 billion.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: We take it one step at a time. And right now we have the next 10 days to two weeks to try to peel off of about 14 votes in the House.

BASH: But despite the money and manpower Democrats and likeminded groups are pouring into overriding the president's veto, the Democrat in charge of counting the votes tells CNN he's pessimistic.

REP. JAMES CLYBRUN (D), MAJORITY WHIP: It will be very tough for us to get 290 votes. I think that -- you know, a lot of people think that 45, 50 may be the high watermark on the Republican side.

BASH: The president and many Republicans object to expanding the children's health program, saying it unnecessarily broadens government-run health are. But privately, Republicans are concerned that argument is overpowered by Democrats' talk of needy children.

The administration is already looking for compromise. MIKE LEAVITT, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: I think the veto will be sustained, and then we'll get on to a real conversation about how we put poor children first, how we then can put insurance within the reach of every American, including every child.


BASH: Now, the president is proposing to meet Democrats part way, offering a $5 billion increase in the children's health program. Democrats and many Republicans who support a $35 billion expansion dismiss that out of hand. And Democrats in particular who are convinced they have a winning issue here, Wolf, they are dug in. They say they have compromised all that they're going to compromise -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana.

Dana Bash, our congressional correspondent.

Dana and Candy Crowley are both part of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television. And remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our political ticker at

Let's start another week with Jack Cafferty and "The Cafferty File".

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, countries should be building bridges, not fences. That's the criticism coming from Mexico's president, Felipe Calderon, when it comes to that planned U.S. border fence that's meant to reduce the inflow of 3,000 illegal aliens a day into this country.

In an interview with ABC, Calderon praised President Bush's failed attempt at immigration reform -- that would have been amnesty -- saying that economic growth and opportunities in Mexico are ultimately the way to stop illegal immigration, not fences. And Calderon thinks the number of Mexicans illegally entering the U.S. will decrease as his country's economy improves, possibly in the next decade.

Congress authorized construction of 700 miles of fence along parts of the U.S. border with Mexico last year, but it hasn't given final approval yet to all the costs, so it remains unpaid for. And, of course, with a price tag of billions of dollars, even if that 700 miles of fence is built, there will still be 1,300 miles of border unsecured.

So here's the question: Is the planned border fence between the United States and Mexico a good idea?

E-mail or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

Jack will be back soon.

There's mystery surrounding the mayor of a major East Coast resort. Is he missing or pulling a disappearing act? Some city council members are demanding answers right now.

Also coming up, Fred Thompson's performance test. The actor- turned-presidential-candidate is preparing for his first debate. Can he work well without a script?

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


BLITZER: Democrats are facing two red-hot questions today. Can anyone stop Hillary Clinton from winning her party's presidential nomination? And can Democrats turn a presidential veto on children's health insurance into a winning campaign issue?

Joining us now, the former Republican senator, former Clinton administration defense secretary, William Cohen. He's now chairman and CEO of The Cohen Group here in Washington.

Thanks, Mr. Secretary, for coming in.

Let's talk about Hillary Clinton, first of all.

You worked with her. You were secretary of defense in the Clinton administration for four years. You worked with her, even though they knew you were coming in as a long-time Republican senator, long-time member of the House as a Republican.

What was it look to work with her, as opposed to her husband, given all the comparisons that are now being made?

WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, frankly, most of my time was spent with President Clinton. I was at the White House frequently during the course of the week in the Situation Room, the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room.

BLITZER: Did she ever get involved in those kinds of issues...

COHEN: She did not.

BLITZER: ... during the time you were there? The four years you were there?

COHEN: She did not, no.

BLITZER: So you didn't see her pop in to the Situation Room, the White House Situation Room, and say, you know, I'd like to be briefed on this or that?

COHEN: Not at all. It was President Clinton who was in charge. And we met with him quite consistently and very often. And so my relationship with her was at the social functions, in which we had a very good relationship, or when I was senator and she had her initial health plan, which I first was introduced to her. But it's been more on the social side and not the political side.

BLITZER: I covered that administration almost eight years. And she seemed and she seems right now, and correct me if I'm wrong, much more methodical and determined to play out certain things, as opposed to Bill Clinton, who could have been more emotional and more spontaneous. Correct me if I'm wrong, if you think there's a difference there.

COHEN: Well, I think there's a difference. She is very lawyer- like. Shy has a very disciplined approach to things, very analytical, very systematic.

Bill Clinton, by contrast, also a lawyer by training, but he has a very expansive view of the world and willing to embrace many, many subjects. And in depth. But the two have different contrasting styles, but they're both very, very capable, as the country has seen.

And I think right now she's disciplined, she is moving forward, she's treating this as if she has won the nomination, in the sense that portraying herself as the candidate to take on President Bush and those who follow him.

BLITZER: But is that a mistake or is that smart politics? Put on your hat as a politician to just assume you're going to be the nominee, as opposed to fighting the immediate battle ahead to get that nomination.

COHEN: You never assume anything. In politics, as in life, nothing is inevitable until it happens. And so I think that on the one hand, she will ignore her competitors at this point and focus upon President Bush.

On the other hand, I don't think she can convey the impression that it is inevitable. She's going to be out there and have to work and hustle for every single vote. I think that's the combination that she'll have to present if she's going to be successful.

BLITZER: The president vetoed this expansion of this popular children's health insurance program, a $35 billion expansion over five years. A lot of Republicans voted with the Democrats. They can override that veto in the Senate, but they're shy in the House of Representatives.

You served in both of those bodies. Can at this point over the next two weeks, can the Democrats convince 15, 16, 20 Republicans to switch their vote to override this veto?

COHEN: I think it's possible, but not necessarily a done deal, so to speak. I think it's going to be difficult. As your prior piece indicated, they don't have the votes yet.

This campaign is going to focus the issue on two things, it would seem to me, children's health, and then contrast that with spending for the war. And so Republicans are going to have to walk the plank, so to speak, in terms of standing up and saying, no, this is too expensive and then have to face the voters saying, well, it wasn't too expensive to carry on a war which has grown very unpopular. And that could play certainly to the benefit of the Democratic candidates.

So tough vote for Republicans. They may say, look, we're the fiscally responsible party, they're the spendthrifts. But I think going into this election, with the war being so unpopular and...

BLITZER: And so expensive.

COHEN: ... and so expensive, it's going to play into the Democratic Party more than the Republicans...

BLITZER: And those targeted ads that we're now seeing, about to see pop up in their districts, those cute little kids saying they just need some health insurance so they can grow up healthy, that puts an enormous amount of pressure on a congressman who's up for reelection.

COHEN: It does. And those congressmen and women will say, well, wait a minute, I'm for increasing the health care insurance program for children, but I want to do it more responsibly. And there's another bill coming up which I can perhaps be supportive of.

Then the question will be, will the Democrats bring another bill up? And so they may, if they're unsuccessful in overriding the veto, they'll say, well, you've cast your vote, we'll go to the public in the general election and see whether or not they support you. So this is a tough one for Republicans.

BLITZER: We'll see how it plays out.

Secretary Cohen, thanks very much for coming in.

CNN is giving you the chance to question Jimmy Carter, a man who was once the leader of the free world. The former president of the United States will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Wednesday, and as part of our CNN I-Reports segments, you can send questions you'd like to ask the former president.

They'll be your video questions. Possibly, we'll put some of them to Jimmy Carter, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

You can submit your video questions to Jimmy Carter by simply logging on to, and you'll get the instructions how to do it.

The Atlantic City mayor missing in action. He's pulled a no-show now for two weeks, and even his own city council members are wondering, where is he?

Also ahead, why marriage might make you sick.

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



BLITZER: Republican voters are about to get their first side-by- side comparison between Fred Thompson and his primary rivals. Coming up, who's getting Thompson get ready for his big debate debut?

And a Democratic candidate reaching out to people who are religious. You're going to find out how Barack Obama is now appealing to churchgoers.

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


BLITZER: Happening now in Iran, rare and risky acts of defiance. Some students protesting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even chanting -- and I'm quoting now -- "Death to the dictator!"

Also, Britain's plans for its troops in Iraq. The prime minister is talking about troop cuts. We're going to tell you about how much and by when.

And it involves a controversy over a film showing a young Afghan boy in a very graphic rape scene. Could the boy and his family now suffer unexpected consequences? The director of "Kite Runner" talking to CNN.

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

It could be a hugely defining moment in his campaign. Fred Thompson getting ready for not just a debate, but a debut. It will be his first appearance in a presidential campaign debate since he jumped into the race.

CNN's chief national correspondent, John King, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM watching all of this behind us.

All right, John, set the stage for us. How big of a deal is this, not only for Fred Thompson, but for his opponents among the Republicans?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fewer than 100 days, Wolf, until the first votes in this campaign, so it is a big moment for all of the candidates in an increasingly testy Republican contest, the campaign debut of former Senator Fred Thompson. His campaign says no big deal, he's coming in to this to simply make two points, that he is a consistent conservative, as he will put it, and he will lower taxes and balance the budget and keep spending under control.

They say he wants to prove that he is a mainstream, low taxes, balance the budget, don't spend out of control conservative, but, Wolf, in Washington, as you know, the campaigns have all been about, and the people in Washington talking about, does he have the energy? He seems like a low-energy candidate. Does he have the energy to stand up for this, and does he have command of the issues?

He's made a few campaigns, forays, especially one trip to Florida, where the other campaigns and most operatives think he stumbled on a Terri Schiavo question, stumbled on, what would you do about drilling in the Everglades question. So people want to see, is he ready?

He's been spending a lot of time in debate prep. His campaign says nothing flashy, but he's ready for this.

BLITZER: Let's stay on the Republican side now, this battle that's been going on between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, a battle over immigration and now taxing --

KING: Right.

BLITZER: ... taxes and spending. What's going on?

KING: You have the two big sharks circling themselves in the water, if you will.

Giuliani has consistently led in the national polls, so some would say, he's the Republican front-runner. And, yet, Mitt Romney is ahead in the polls in Iowa, ahead in the polls in New Hampshire, and inching up slowly in the polls in New Hampshire -- I mean, in South Carolina -- spending money on direct mail, spending money on advertisements.

So, you have the two front-runners, if you could call it that way, circling each other. And much of the debate has been about, are they genuine? Romney's conversion on abortion, is that genuine? Giuliani, obviously, pro-choice, trying to get him on that.

Now they're going to the other side of the Republican base, fiscal conservatism. So, the two guys who are at the top of the pack, if you will, going at each other. Everyone thinks this Republican race is going to get much more testy. Some say much more nasty.

Romney's the only one on TV right now, but the Giuliani campaign and the Thompson campaign hoarding money, trying to do more ads. McCain has a very modest ad buy. But look for this to get more nasty fast.

BLITZER: And we're probably now less than three months away from the Iowa caucuses, so it's going to be a sprint and it's going to liven up.

KING: That will a happy new year event, and it will liven up. And you will see it first in the direct-mail pieces and then you will see the TV ads. And, within a few days, we think, some of the campaigns will be getting to launch their ads.

BLITZER: All right, John, thanks very much.

Senator Barack Obama says God wants you to do the right thing, like healing the bitter wounds between Democrats and Republicans. The Democratic presidential candidate is delivering sermons about religion and politics and how faith gets him through what he says can be some tough times in politics.

Joining us now, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, is Senator Obama on a mission?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's exactly what he's on, a mission to reclaim souls for the Democrats.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): He calls it 40 days of faith and family. Barack Obama went to an evangelical church in South Carolina and delivered a message you don't often hear from Democrats these days.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just want all of you to pray that I can be an instrument of God.

SCHNEIDER: Senator Obama is showing Democrats that he's comfortable speaking the language of faith. He's not trying to create division. He's trying to heal division.

OBAMA: I think that what you're seeing is a breaking-down of some of the sharp divisions that existed maybe during the '90s, when, at least in politics, the perception was, was that the Democrats were fearful of talking about faith.

SCHNEIDER: Actually, the division goes back to the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan reached out to religious voters and accused Democrats of trying to drive religion out of the public square. For over 25 years, the political split between regular and irregular churchgoers has continued to grow.

Today, 36 percent of Democrats claim to be weekly churchgoers. Among Republicans, the figure is 20 points higher. Do voters see the Democratic Party as hostile to religion?

Not really. Only 15 percent call Democrats unfriendly towards religion. Twice as many say the opposite is true. The prevailing view is that Democrats are neutral toward religion. A lot of Democrats are comfortable with that, separation of church and state; religion and politics don't mix.

But Americans are deeply religious. And they see the Republican Party as friendlier to religion. Obama wants Democrats to be more welcoming to people of faith.

OBAMA: I think it's important, particularly for those of us in the Democratic Party, to not cede values and faith to any one party.


SCHNEIDER: Eight Republican candidates, including Rudy Giuliani, have accepted invitations to speak at the Values Voter Summit, sponsored by the Family Research Council, next weekend. All the Democratic candidates have declined, including Obama. Obama says he wants to talk about religion, but not like a Republican. The perception, he said, is that -- quote -- "Republicans have a particular brand of faith that oftentimes seemed intolerant or pushed people away" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

And, by the way, happy birthday to Bill Schneider. Today is a big day for him.

After months of speculation about whether Iowa might be forced to hold its caucuses this December, state Republicans now are zeroing in on two dates very early next year, an Iowa GOP official telling CNN the party appears to be leaning toward January 3, though January 5 also is a possibility.

Iowa Democrats are expected to hold their caucuses on the same day as Republicans. But that may -- may present a problem for football fans in the Hawkeye State. Check this out. The Orange Bowl is scheduled to be held on January 3, and that just might encourage some potential caucus-goers to simply stay home that night. Big college football championship games are also scheduled on January 1, 2 and 7.

If Iowa caucus organizers are concerned about a conflict with any of the bowl games, January 5 -- 5 -- might prove to be a better bet. We're watching the calendar, as we watch politics.

A new presidential odd couple today, Republican candidate Sam Brownback teaming up with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. We're going to tell you what's pushing them to get together.

Plus, now anyone can be a Republican fund-raiser. It's an online attempt to play catchup in the money race.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're getting this in from our bureau in Baghdad, quoting a senior Iraqi government official, saying just a little while ago that an Iraqi government report on the September 16 shootings involving a U.S. military contractor -- that would be Blackwater USA -- this report will call for $8 million in compensation for each of the 17 deaths blamed on the company in that shoot-out back on September 16, 8$ million in compensation to the families. Each family would get $8 million for the deaths that are blamed on Blackwater USA.

We will monitor this story and update you with more information as it becomes available. Presumably, if they agree, this money would come from Blackwater USA.

One's a Democrat, the other a conservative -- one is a Democrat. The other is a conservative Republican, and the holiday both running for president. So, why are Senators Joe Biden and Sam Brownback, a liberal and a conservative, now teaming up in Iowa this week?

Carol Costello is following this story for us. And she's got the answer.

Hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, sometimes, opposites attract. And, when it comes to the war in Iraq, these two unlikely allies appear to see eye to eye.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Call them the latest political odd couple. Joe Biden is a Democrat. Sam Brownback is a conservative Republican, but, when it comes to Iraq, the Senate Foreign Relations chairman and the senior senator from Kansas are in agreement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The amendment is agreed to.

COSTELLO: The bill they cosponsored won overwhelming bipartisan support last week, with 75 senators voting for it. And, in a Congress deeply divided over the war, that is quite an achievement.

The bill calls for a soft partition of Iraq, giving the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds more regional power, but keeping Baghdad the boss.

Brownback calls it:

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R-KS), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A three- state/one-country solution in Iraq, with a Kurdish state, a Sunni state, a Shia state, with Baghdad as the federal city.

COSTELLO: Biden says it's crucial to:

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Allow local control, give them control over their own police forces, their own daily security, as well as the fabric of their daily lives.

COSTELLO: Biden and Brownback will team up in Iowa this Friday for what they call an unprecedented joint campaign event to tout their plan. Is politics behind the joint appearance?

STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": This is about two second-tier candidates who have had a hard time breaking through, getting the voters to look at them, media attention for themselves.

COSTELLO: Both candidates are low in the polls and far behind the front-runners when it comes to campaign cash, but their teaming-up may not boost their campaigns.

ROTHENBERG: It's not likely to fundamentally change the race. It won't catapult them into the top tier, but, if you're a second-tier presidential candidate, it's worth a shot.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COSTELLO: That's right. It is worth a shot.

Both campaigns say partisan politics must not prevent the United States from finding a solution to the war in Iraq. And, Wolf, besides the U.S. Senate, the Biden-Brownback bill has a fan in Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, as you well know.

BLITZER: Yes, because he suggested that he could live with this plan, even though it's becoming very unpopular back in Iraq. I spoke with Jalal Talabani on "LATE EDITION" yesterday, the president of Iraq.

Carol, thanks very much.

In an effort to play catchup with Democrats in grassroots fund- raising, a new Web site allows anyone to raise money for Republican candidates online.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She is watching this story for us.

Abbi, so, what's the need out there for this latest development?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, look at what they're up against.

The Web site ActBlue site has raised $30 million in online donations for Democratic candidates since 2004. Now Slatecard is trying to fill that hole for Republicans. Organized by a group of conservative online strategists and bloggers, it allows you to pick a slate of candidates, House, Senate and presidential, and fund-raise for them online.

Other conservative sites are trying this, but Slatecard aims to go further. Like online shopping where reviews let you see why people are buying certain products, Slatecard shows you people's reasons for donating to, say, Rudy Giuliani.

So far, stop Hillary on the site is popular. The Republican site recognizes a gap. In this election, the Democrats' online fund- raising is a force to be reckoned with, unless you're like Ron Paul, a Republican candidate who last quarter raised most of his surprising $5 million on the Web -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's certainly mastered that art, Ron Paul.

Thanks very much for that, Abbi.

She's rolling through Iowa right now, aiming for the middle class. Does Hillary Clinton have a lock on the Democratic presidential nomination? And is that just fine with Republicans? Stephanie Cutter and Amy Holmes, they are standing by for our "Strategy Session."

They will also consider whether Fred Thompson is ready for his first presidential debate. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: She's got winds of support at her back and high poll numbers fueling her sails. Now some are wondering if anything can stop Hillary Clinton's journey for the White House.

Joining us now in our "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist Stephanie Cutter and CNN political analyst and conservative strategist Amy Holmes.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

"The Des Moines Register" poll that I'm sure both of you have seen, likely Democratic caucus-goers -- and that caucus could be as early as January 3...


BLITZER: ... Hillary Clinton is at 29 percent, gone up from May from 21, Edwards down from 29 to 23, Obama holding steady at 22, bill Richardson at 8 percent.

If she wins Iowa, because she's really doing well in New Hampshire, does she have a clean -- a clean path ahead of her toward the nomination?

STEPHANIE CUTTER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it all depends on what hams in those early primary states. Right now, she's leading in Iowa and New Hampshire, and seems to have the momentum in this campaign.

She's run a very strong campaign. But, as you know, in the last 90 days of a run-up to the primaries, that's when things happen. That's when mistakes are made. Other candidates get traction, and they're negative against the front-runners.


BLITZER: Because some people were already saying Howard Dean four years ago...

CUTTER: Exactly.

BLITZER: ... was unstoppable.


CUTTER: Yes. And John Kerry was a blip on the radar screen.


CUTTER: And we all know what happened.

BLITZER: And, so, you, I assume, agree with that? HOLMES: I agree with that, you know, but, in politics, nothing is inevitable, until it is.

And, if you look at Hillary and her performance, if you consider that she's crosswise with the anti-war of her party, she voted for Iraq, she refuses to apologize for it, as John Edwards has, and, even last -- last week in New Hampshire, she said that she -- or two weeks ago, rather -- she said that she would be willing to keep troops on the ground in Iraq through her whole presidency. Yet, she's gaining momentum.

So, I would have to say, at this -- at this point, Hillary has -- you know, she's got it in the bag.

BLITZER: She -- well, she doesn't necessarily have it in the yet, but she seems to be doing really, really well.


CUTTER: Yes. And I don't think -- I think we should be clear. I don't think she's acting like she has it in the bag. I mean, she's out on the trail today giving a very important speech about middle- class...

BLITZER: But what she's doing is, she's really attacking the Republicans, the president and his policies. She's not really attacking her fellow Democrats.


CUTTER: Which is a typical front-runner strategy.

BLITZER: The front-runner is -- you know, is that a wise strategy?

CUTTER: Yes, absolutely. I mean, she's running against Republicans. She's now the element of change in this election.


BLITZER: Should she -- should she be looking ahead to the Republican or she should be focusing in and responding in kind to Obama or Edwards or some of the other Democratic presidential candidates?

HOLMES: Well, I don't necessarily thinks she needs to be responding to the other candidates, but, certainly, she needs to be focusing on these primary constituents and giving them her full attention.

I think it's a mistake, however, for her competitors, Obama and John Edwards, not to be making sharp contrasts with Hillary, as the front-runner.

BLITZER: So, you expect them to be going even more forcefully against her, whether it's Edwards or Obama or Bill Richardson? CUTTER: Well, I'm not sure how much more forcefully Edwards can go against her.



BLITZER: Well, there's plenty of room. There's plenty -- there's plenty of room.


BLITZER: You know politics.

CUTTER: I don't know. He's been pretty tough. And Joe Trippi has been pretty tough.

HOLMES: But I don't think that Obama can continue to be sort of like trying to be above politics and refusing to do any negative campaigning. He needs to tell those Democratic primary voters why him and not Hillary.

CUTTER: He certainly needs to make a case for his candidacy. And I think that he's started to do that, to talk about the type of experience Washington needs and how his vision of this country differs from Hillary's.

BLITZER: All right.

Let's talk about the Republican presidential candidates right now, specifically Fred Thompson. He will be in his first presidential debate tomorrow. One of his campaign spokesman told the AP this, saying: "We think that we will hold our own. But, obviously, every other candidate on the stage has been going to these debates all year long. They have already gone through their preseason. This is our first scrimmage."


BLITZER: He's clearly trying to lower...


HOLMES: ... lower expectations.

BLITZER: ... lowering expectations, because they don't want to make it seem like he's going to win this debate.


HOLMES: Sure. But, as much as he might try to do that, tomorrow night, he needs to razzle-dazzle them.

I mean, so far at this point, his campaign has kind of been on a low boil. He has a couple of problems with his campaign. One is structural and one is substantive. He said he's running a nonconventional campaign. He's relying a lot on the Internet and earned media.

Well, tomorrow night is earned media night, and he needs to get it. He needs to buy it.

BLITZER: What should the -- a strategy of the other Republican candidates -- now that Fred Thompson has been brought into this tent at this debate, what do they do to try to -- to beat him?

CUTTER: I think that they need to demonstrate that, you know, what he's been demonstrating for the past two months, that he's not ready for prime time.

BLITZER: How do they do that? Do they frontally go after him and start posing questions to him, raising questions about his credibility...


BLITZER: ... his record?

CUTTER: You know, it's always a risk to go after someone who -- who's not the front-runner, because you're giving them a platform which wouldn't normally have.

But I think, through contrast, to show that he doesn't have the experience, he doesn't have the knowledge, he doesn't have the substance to lead this country, is not only necessarily, but it's probably going to be easy to do.

BLITZER: Who is Fred Thompson the biggest threat to among the Republican presidential candidates? Would it be Giuliani? Would it be Romney? Would it be McCain? Who does he -- who does he threaten the most?

HOLMES: Well, that's an interesting question.

I think, when it comes to conservative credentials, that he threatens the most McCain, but we see, in Iowa, he's already pulled ahead of Giuliani, who seems to have sort of walked away from that field, unfortunately, I think precipitously. So, where -- where he could be upsetting Giuliani is if he gets a little momentum out of Iowa and then propels him toward New Hampshire.


BLITZER: A lot of people he's really a threat to Romney, though, when all is said and done.


CUTTER: Right.

And, originally, that's what many people thought. But now that the conservatives are sort of pulling away from Fred Thompson, that's more of a question.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thank very much, Stephanie Cutter and Amy Holmes. Good "Strategy Session."


BLITZER: CNN, by the way, is giving you the chance to question Jimmy Carter, a man who was once the leader of the free world. The former president will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Wednesday.

And, as part of our CNN I-Report, you can send questions you would like to ask him. They will be your video questions, and we will put some of them to the former president, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can submit your video questions by simply logging on to

She's one of Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter. And while her father is largely staying out of the presidential race, she is not. You may be surprised to find out who Liz Cheney is backing.

And is the planned border fence between the U.S. and Mexico a good idea? Jack Cafferty is asking that question. He will be back with your e-mail.

Lots more coming up -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: It's time to check our "Political Ticker."

Vice President Dick Cheney isn't taking sides yet in the presidential race, but one of his daughters is. Liz Cheney has been tapped as a co-chair of Fred Thompson's national campaign leadership team. Liz Cheney has worked for the State Department, had roles back in the 2000 and 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign.

An uncomfortable confrontation for Mitt Romney in New Hampshire this weekend. A man suffering from muscular dystrophy pressed Romney about his opposition to marijuana for medical use.

Listen closely when he asks Romney if he would arrest him for using the drug. Romney tries to quickly answer and then move on.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you arrest me and my doctors if I get medical marijuana?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not in favor of medical marijuana being legal...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excuse me. (INAUDIBLE) Will you please answer my question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not going to answer his question, Governor?

ROMNEY: I think I have. I'm not in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He asked if you were going to arrest patients like him, Governor.

ROMNEY: Hi. How are you? Nice to see you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to just ignore a person in a wheelchair?

ROMNEY: Hi. How are you? Hi. How are you? Hi. How are you? Nice to see you.


BLITZER: The Al Gore presidential speculation game continues.

The former vice president is said to be a favorite to win the Nobel Peace Prize this Friday for his campaign against global warming. And that's refueling some Democrats' hopes that he will run for the White House next year. In fact, supporters in California reportedly are starting today to collect signatures to put Al Gore's name on the state's February 5 primary ballot.

Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our Political Ticker. Simply go to

Let's go back to New York and Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is, is the planned border fence between the U.S. and Mexico a good idea?

We heard from Buck in Peru, Indiana. I wonder where that is: "I lived in San Diego for almost 30 years, and not a night went by that we didn't have at least one group of illegals sneaking through our yard. After the fence was built and the Border Patrol stepped up enforcement, I'm happy to report the illegal population sneaking through my yard dropped to near zero."

Joan in Michigan writes: "The border will never be secured until a tamper-proof I.D. card is required for all workers. And that will never happen, because American businesses, large and small, from businesses hiring chicken pluckers to dishwashers and family diners, want the cheap, off-the-book labors. Make the jobs go away, then the problem will go away."

Roger also in Indiana: "Building the wall on our southern border is a good idea, if it's done right, double-layered steel and concrete, not virtual and virtually useless, except to take high-resolution photographs of the law-breakers."

Gerald in the Bronx: "Not unless it covers the entire northern and southern borders, includes night-vision cameras and ground sensors to detect tunneling. A few armored vehicles and Apache helicopters to deter the drug runners couldn't hurt either."

Jonathan in Lee's Summit, Missouri: "Of course it's not a good idea to build a border fence to keep immigrants out. America was built on the very principle that everyone is an immigrant. That's why we celebrate Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. We as a country would be better off using the money spent to build a fence instead building Mexico's economy, so that it would be equivalent to America's."

Isn't that Mexico's job?

And Darryl writes: "Has anyone ever thought about the irony surrounding the border fence? Think about it. Congress green-lights the project, who are they going to hire to build the fence? Only in America" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Stick around for a second, Jack. I want to show our viewers some of the "Hot Shots," some of the pictures coming into the THE SITUATION ROOM, and then I want to talk for you for a second.

CAFFERTY: I like the "Hot Shots."

BLITZER: I know you like the "Hot Shots." That's why I want you to see them.

Let's take a look at some of those "Hot Shots" coming in from the AP right now.

We will start in Indonesia. A young boy waits for his train to leave Jakarta. Here's part of an annual -- he's part of an annual mass exodus of the major cities, as Muslims return to their home villages at the end of Ramadan.

Look at this. In Germany, a man prepares to put beach chairs away along the Baltic Sea at the end of the bathing season.

In California, a toddler sits on a prize-winning pumpkin. It weighs more than 1,500 pounds.

And, in Switzerland, look at this. One of two newborn Brazilian porcupines checks out its new habitat -- some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words.

BLITZER: Jack, you looking at that porcupine? Take a close look at the eye.

CAFFERTY: Anywhere he wants to.

A close look at his eye?

BLITZER: Yes. I want to put that up on the -- we will put that up.


CAFFERTY: Put it up again, if we can.

BLITZER: If we can put that up, there it is. Take a look. See that eye...


CAFFERTY: It's not there.

BLITZER: There it is.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes, I see his eye. He's got one on the other side, too, I bet.


BLITZER: All right. Jack, see you in a few moments -- Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File" and our "Hot Shots."

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: America's closest ally backs away from Iraq. Britain will withdraw almost half its troops. You're going to find out how that will impact U.S. men and women at war.

Chants of "Death to the dictator," as Iran's president tries to speak. But, this time, guess what? The rough reception he's receiving is at home. Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suddenly in trouble in Iran?