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The Situation Room

Arab Nations Announce Support For Mideast Conference; No Presidential Debate For New Orleans

Aired November 23, 2007 - 18:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a new ray of hope for Middle East peace. Arab nations are behind the breakthrough before a critical conference here in the United States. How much is the Bush administration willing to give to get what it wants?
Also this hour, a Thanksgiving disappointment for thousands of U.S. sailors and an embarrassment for the Pentagon all raising red flags about U.S. relations with China.

And a reversal of fortune in America's wars. Why is the situation in Iraq improving, while Afghanistan is taking a turn for the worse?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It could be the most significant step toward Middle East peace in seven years and now Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations are on board. Today they agreed to attend a U.S.-sponsored conference here in the Washington area next week and dozens of nations and organizations will take part. And the Bush administration says it is a good sign that the talks will be productive.

Our CNN's Kathleen Koch at the White House now.

Kathleen, obviously, the Bush administration doesn't want to raise hopes up too high here, but this could be a breakthrough.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly could be seen as a potential breakthrough, Suzanne, and something that is really important to the Bush administration because it's taken quite a pounding from critics who say that this Middle East peace conference next week at the Naval Academy in Annapolis is simply too little, too late, that the Bush administration has focused too much on Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, to the exclusion of the Middle East peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

But the U.S. also does know that if this is to succeed, that Israel must make peace not with just some, but all of its neighbors. So, the United States is quite pleased to see that these Arab leaders today announced that they are going to participate, Arab leaders including Saudi Arabia.

So, the administration put out a statement from the State Department saying -- quote -- "We welcome the decision by the Arab League follow-up committee to attend the Annapolis conference at the ministerial level." This is a signal they believe this will be a serious and substantive meeting -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Kathleen, what about the role of Syria in these talks?

KOCH: Well, again, Suzanne, this goes to the heart of the matter that Israel must make peace all with all of its neighbors, Syria an archenemy of Israel.

Now, Syria has said it will not participate unless on the official agenda discussion of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured during the 1967 War. Now, that agenda doesn't come out until Monday. But what we're being told by a senior State Department official is that the U.S. is -- quote -- "not going to turn the mike off on anyone," that countries will be free to discuss whatever they choose.

So, no hard and fast commitment from Syria, but we will certainly find out from them Monday if they will participate -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK, Kathleen Koch at the White House, thank you.

KOCH: You bet.

MALVEAUX: The Bush administration is urging calm in Lebanon. That country right now is without a president. Emile Lahoud just left office a few hours ago without a successor in place.

He put the army in charge of maintaining order until parliament can pick the next president. The State Department is warning Americans traveling to Lebanon of possible unrest.

Another story we are following, China spoils the Thanksgiving plans for some U.S. sailors. Now some top military officials want to know why.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joining us now.

And, Barbara, what is going on?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a really good question, Suzanne. Things were supposed to be getting better between the U.S. and China, but, now, there is new unpleasantness between our military and theirs.


STARR (voice-over): It was supposed to be a Thanksgiving port call in Hong Kong for thousands of sailors in the U.S. Kitty Hawk battle group. But on Tuesday just hours before docking, China refused to allow the U.S. Navy into Hong Kong, a port it has visited for years.

Admiral Timothy Keating, the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, says he wants an explanation.

ADMIRAL TIMOTHY KEATING, U.S. PACIFIC COMMANDER: China's denial for port access to the U.S. Kitty Hawk battle group for Thanksgiving is perplexing and concerning to me, as the command of the Pacific Command. It is hard to put a positive spin on this for us.

STARR: Hours later, China relented but it was too late. The Kitty Hawk already on its way back to Japan. Hundreds of family members were left waiting in Hong Kong. It's an embarrassment for the Pentagon. Just over two weeks ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a number of new agreements while in Beijing.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We reached agreement on implementation of a direct telephone link between our two defense establishments. We discussed the need to move forward and deepen our military-to-military dialogue, including on that nuclear policy, strategy and doctrine.

STARR: There's still a chill on U.S./China military relations. China has refused to tell the United States details of a test in which one of its missiles shot down a satellite in space, a significant achievement.

There are new warnings about China spying in cyberspace. A congressional review warned that, "Chinese espionage activities in the United States are so extensive that they comprise the single greatest risk to the security of American technologies."


STARR: So, how serious is China's cyber-espionage? Well, some experts say the type of information it used to take spies years to collect, the Chinese can now do in one computer download session -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon -- thank you, Barbara.

And now to the race for the White House. With Thanksgiving behind us, the candidates are setting to campaign with a vengeance. After all, the first contest in Iowa now is less than six weeks away. So, look for presidential hopefuls to zero in on three early battleground states this weekend.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, and Joe Biden all campaign in the leadoff caucus state of Iowa in the next two days. Now, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John Edwards, and Dennis Kucinich all plan to stomp in New Hampshire. Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson have scheduled weekend swings through South Carolina.

And in New Orleans right now, there some people who are feeling left out of the presidential election process. And others are feeling downright snubbed. That is because the Big Easy was left off the list of fall presidential debate sites.

CNN's Sean Callebs is in New Orleans.

And, Sean, I understand there's a lot of anger over this.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, really, I think that is a pretty fair assessment. You have been down here a lot, Suzanne. You know that the rebuilding is going along slowly. Well, people in New Orleans thought bringing the presidential debates here would be a good national showcase to show that the building is moving forward and can handle big, important events. Well, it isn't going to happen. And that has left a sour taste in the mouth of the people in this city.


CALLEBS (voice-over): New Orleans likes to put on a show...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on down. It's a party.

CALLEBS: ... and is trying desperately to tell the world that it is coming back.

So, when New Orleans lost out in its effort to lure one of the presidential debates here, local organizers were more than a little miffed.

ANNE MILLING, FOUNDER, WOMEN OF THE STORM: According to the commissioners who spoke to us, I was contacted by the co-chairman Paul Kirk, and he said to me -- quote -- "The city isn't ready," which, of course, we feel is a terrific insult, because of all the things that we have done.

CALLEBS: That list includes two Mardi Gras, with tens of thousands of tourists, the Sugar Bowl, JazzFest, large conventions, and New Orleans is hosting this year's NBA All-Star Game in a few months.

The co-chair of the Debate Commission says, he wants to set the record straight.

FRANK FAHRENKOPF, CO-CHAIRMAN, PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE COMMISSION: Well, it's not a question of whether you can hold a major event or not hold a major event. I think they can hold major events. They have proven that.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have got a lot of work to do here in New Orleans.

CALLEBS: Seven presidential candidates, five Democrats and two Republicans, signed letters asking the commission to hold one of the four scheduled debates in New Orleans.

Women of the Storm, which was formed in the aftermath of Katrina, worked with four universities in the city to sponsor the debate, and believe the snub sets back efforts to rebuild.

MILLING: Right after 9/11, the Republican National Convention chose to go to New York to showcase New York, to talk about the war on terror, but also to help the community of New York heal and bring tourists back to their city.

FAHRENKOPF: There were other cities, Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Miami, Portland, Oregon, that were unsuccessful. There's no allegation by them that somehow we were dissing their city or...

CALLEBS: But there will be convincing a battered city that politics kept the commission from doing the right thing.


CALLEBS: Mayor Nagin weighed in on this and gave us a one- paragraph statement saying, it is disappointing that the recovery and rebuilding that has been going on in the city is not being recognized as a symbol of its strength and determination, but, rather, a measurement of -- quote -- "not being good enough."

And, Suzanne, lest you think it's people just in this city who are somewhat upset, three major newspapers, "The New York Times," "Washington Post" and "USA Today," wrote editorials, saying New Orleans should have been one of the sites for the debates.

MALVEAUX: Sean, thanks for following.

A vacationer's nightmare, an adventure cruise that ends up looking like the Titanic, a passenger ship sinking in the Antarctic, a look at what went so terribly wrong.

Expect Hillary Clinton to play catchup after a setback in Iowa. I will ask that state's former governor and ardent Clinton supporter if she can do it.

And want to ask the Republican presidential candidates questions? Well, here is your big chance. It's our CNN/YouTube debate. Find out how to be a part of it and see questions already coming in.


MALVEAUX: Well, look for Hillary Clinton to put extra time and energy into Iowa in the days ahead, now that her front-runner status has suffered a new blow there, the latest poll from the leadoff caucus state showing Barack Obama gaining ground on Clinton.

Well, joining us now, former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, a national chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Governor, thank you very much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: I want to start off by presenting two polls to you, obviously very consistent on the national level. She is up ahead here, Clinton at 48 percent, Obama trailing at 21 percent, Edwards 12 percent, Kucinich 4.

But then you look at your state, the state of Iowa here, the latest ABC News/"Washington Post" poll showing Barack Obama inching ahead here, 30 percent, Hillary Clinton 26 percent, John Edwards 22, Bill Richardson 11, Joe Biden 4. You know the folks of Iowa better than anybody here. What is happening? Why is she sinking in the polls? Why is she losing traction in your home state?

VILSACK: Well, I would, first of all, say that there have been 12 polls since October 1, and Senator Clinton has been ahead in 11 of the 12.

I this poll and all of the other 11 that show her ahead basically show one thing about Iowa. And that is that it's a very close race between Senator Obama, Senator Clinton, and Senator Edwards. It's been that way for several months. It's going to continue to be that way.

At the end of the day, it is not going to be about polls. It's going to be about organization. Ultimately, what Iowans are going to look at is whether or not they're in position to nominate someone who can win and someone who is experienced enough to be able to lead from day one.

And I think, when they look at those issues, they are going to conclude Senator Clinton is the strongest candidate for the party.

MALVEAUX: Now, there's something that some Iowa voters are quite concerned about, and that really is whether or not she is honest and trustworthy.

I want to take a look at this poll here. Honest and trustworthy, they score Obama at 31 percent, Edwards at 20 percent. Clinton goes down to 15 percent, just above Richardson at 13 percent.

Does that pose a problem for her?

VILSACK: I don't think so, because as Iowans get to know Hillary Clinton and as she gets to travel around the state, as she is going to continually do through the month of November, they are going to continue to get to know her.

And when they do, they sign supporter cards. They get to know her, not the caricature of her, not the cartoon of her, and not what her opponents are trying to suggest about her, but who she really is.

And I will tell you, I have been in a number of events with her. People gravitate to her. People are excited about it, passionate about it. I think we have got a lot of momentum going on in this state. There's no question about it. And I expect us to do quite well on caucus night.

MALVEAUX: And, Governor, you made a comment in a TV interview that has created quite a stir here, raised some eyebrows lately.

As you said before, you said there is no question she was the face of the administration in foreign affairs, talking about Senator Clinton.

Richardson's folks shot back immediately, this from Tom Reynolds, a spokesperson, saying: "Governor Vilsack's enthusiasm for his candidate has clouded his judgment. We take some exception to this opinion. I also think Madeleine Albright might disagree, too."

Do you want to clarify your comment?

VILSACK: Well, I'm not sure Madeleine Albright would necessarily disagree.

I will tell you what my source is. It's Bill Clinton, the president of the United States, who suggested and has on many occasions in Iowa that during the first term, because he was busy with Bosnia and other areas, he sent Senator Clinton out as his representative, as the country's representative.

She has been to 82 countries. She knows world leaders. There's no question about the fact she was an integral player and a significant player in the first Clinton administration. That's one of the experiences that she brings to the table that is unique and different about her than the rest of the candidates.

MALVEAUX: I want to play real quick here -- this is an ad that was on her Web site for the caucuses. They have got you doing a little bit of a jig here.


MALVEAUX: Now, I know people have said you have gone out of your way to support her. And we see this has gone to great lengths here, because you're out there doing your thing.


MALVEAUX: Let me ask you this, on a lighter note. Do you think that this gives you a little bit of extra boost here, perhaps, to be her running mate? There's been a lot of discussion about that.


VILSACK: Well, I was kind of hoping it might get me a spot on "Dancing With the Stars," but, apparently, the early reviews are suggesting otherwise.

We wanted to make sure that people knew that there were some things in life that are hard. Dancing is very hard for me, as you can see. But caucusing is easy. And we have a lot of first-time caucus- goers. We wanted to make sure they're comfortable with the notion of going on January 3 and standing up for Hillary Clinton.

MALVEAUX: If she asks you to be her running mate, would you say yes?

VILSACK: You know what? I am focused on making sure she is our nominee. And then she will make the right choice for the country and the party.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you so much, Governor. Appreciate it. VILSACK: You bet.

MALVEAUX: Detentions and discrepancies amid fresh attempts to find out what happened to Natalee Holloway in Aruba. Police reanalyze some evidence. And some suspects in the case face longer detentions.

And it's a bizarre murder trial. A pig farmer is accused of being a serial killer and burying bodies on his farm. We will have the latest.


MALVEAUX: Our Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what are you looking at?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A couple of things, Suzanne.

Two brothers held in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway will be staying in jail for now. Today, a judge in Aruba ordered the Kalpoe brothers to spend at least eight more days in custody. A third suspect, Joran van der Sloot, is scheduled to appear before an Aruban judge on Monday. The three suspects were re-arrested this week.

Potentially incriminating evidence against a Canadian pig farmer who is accused of killing six women in Vancouver. A prosecutor presented closing arguments today in the trial of Robert Pickton. The prosecutor said there is a constellation of evidence that links Pickton to the killings. The prosecutor said items belonging to the victims, as well as DNA samples, were found in Pickton's trailer and on his pig farm.

It could pose more political headaches for the Pakistani president. The man Pervez Musharraf ran out of office in a coup could soon be back in Pakistan. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif could return next week. That's according to the Associated Press. They're citing sources in Sharif's political party. Sharif heads one of the two major opposition parties. And Mr. Musharraf does not want him to return until after parliamentary elections in early January.

And a close call for people who were on board a cruise ship that apparently hit an iceberg off of Antarctica. The accident happened last night. The ship began taking on water and slowly sinking. All 154 people on board were rescued by a passing cruise ship. They're all safe tonight, no one hurt -- a look at the headlines right now, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Good news for them. Thank you, Carol.

And there is finally upbeat news from Iraq. U.S. commanders say they can feel a difference. But it's a different story in another conflict nearby. Why the pressure is mounting in Afghanistan -- coming up.

Plus, they're thinking about changing election rules in California, and it could make a big impact on who ends up in the White House.

And, later, thousands of you have sent in your questions for candidates on the CNN/YouTube debate, some serious, well, some not quite. We will take a look at some of those entries -- up ahead.



Happening now: As far as campaign commercials go, there are no nuclear mushroom clouds or frightening wolves in the current ads by presidential candidates. They're using subtlety. But will that get your attention.

Democrats often say they're the party of the poor, but are they really? You may be surprised at what a new study says.

And a 28-second workday in the Senate. The Senate is in session, even though nearly all the senators are away. Well, it's designed to stop President Bush from doing one thing.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A deadly attack on Iraqi police. An official says a suicide car bomb killed at least six officers alongside with three other people in Mosul. That followed a bombing in a Baghdad market that killed at least 13 people and injured almost 60, according to Iraq's Interior Ministry.

This has been the deadliest year for U.S. troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But the two different wars have taken distinctly different turns over the past year, with Iraq starting to look up and Afghanistan starting to look like Iraq did a year ago.

CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre has more.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No one is declaring victory. In fact, U.S. commanders are warning against excessive enthusiasm. But, for the first time in a long time, there are some real positive trends in Iraq that have lasted more than just a few months.

Baghdad, in particular, has benefited from the U.S. troop surge and U.S. commanders say they can feel the difference.

COLONEL JEFFREY BANNISTER, BAGHDAD COMMANDER: We continue to see this progression towards normalcy, markets flourishing, kids in playgrounds and walking to school without parents, our amusement park, extended nightlife, weddings, the reopening of Sunni mosques, increase in electricity, traffic, trash, the participation in local government meetings, et cetera.

(on camera): So, to what extent are the positive trends we're seeing a result of the surge or is it serendipity?

STEPHEN BIDDLE, SENIOR FELLOW IN DEFENSE POLICY, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, the surge helped. I mean, it certainly established conditions that made this more likely. But I think an awful lot of this amounts to a combination of good luck and mistakes by our opponents.

MCINTYRE (voice-over): Stephen Biddle is just back from Iraq. He has in the past provided some informal advice to U.S. commanders.

(on camera): What are the chances that, by this time next year, we will have something resembling success in Iraq?

BIDDLE: I would have estimated a year ago that the chance of getting a cease-fire and then being able to police it would have been maybe one in 10, extreme long shot. I think the odds are probably still better that it will fail than that it will succeed, but radically better than they would have been 10 months ago.

MCINTYRE (voice-over): In Afghanistan, it's a different story. Like Iraq, it's been the deadliest year for U.S. troops serving there, but unlike Iraq the trends in Afghanistan are not positive. As of last month, the number of bomb attacks, including roadside car and suicide, was up 11 percent, more than 1,900, compared to just over 1,700 all of last year. In 2005, there were only 782 such attacks.

According to a recent report from the non-partisan Center for American Progress, the U.S. and its NATO allies need to redouble their efforts.

LAWRENCE KORB, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Prospect of success are getting less each year. We still have about a 50 percent chance of winning, because, unlike Iraq, the American people support it.

MCINTYRE (on camera): The U.S. also has 37 other countries involved in Afghanistan. The problem now is to get reluctant NATO allies to come through with the troops and equipment they promised. In Iraq, the challenge will be to hold on to fragile gains while carrying out the troop cuts so many in Congress and the American public are demanding.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, Washington.


MALVEAUX: Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson is going after his rival Rudy Giuliani, saying he should stop basing his campaign on his tenure as New York mayor.

Well, joining us to talk about that and more in our roundtable, Lisa Desjardins, congressional correspondent for CNN Radio, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger, and CNN political contributor Amy Walter.

The ladies are in the house, I see. (LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: Let's start with a little bit of fresh sound we got. Fred Thompson, this is him. He is in New Hampshire before a group at a gun shop.

Let's listen.


FRED THOMPSON, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He relates everything to New York City. Well, New York City is not emblematic of the rest of the country, I don't think. And I think the sentiments of those people in the rest of the country are in strong support of the Second Amendment. This is where I have always been and I don't think he's ever been.


MALVEAUX: Gloria, what is Thompson trying to do here?

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Thompson is really trying to picket Rudy Giuliani's real weakness, which is the sense that Republican voters, in poll after poll, will say that Giuliani just doesn't share their values. That's the question they have about him.

So what he's doing is he's attacking Giuliani on that saying, look, you know, this is a fellow who is for gun control -- and most of us in the Republican Party, not, you know, not only are -- do we want it be able to use our guns, but we're not like those New Yorkers.

MALVEAUX: Amy, how difficult is that for Giuliani here, when you have that reference -- the comparison, oh, he's going back to New York, that there's a whole country out there that doesn't relate to his experience or New Yorkers' experience?

AMY WALTER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's a very good point And here's how he's trying to inoculate himself on this. You'll see it in his ads and you hear it from him on the campaign trail, which was, that's right, New York actually was in pretty bad shape before he got there because Democrats were in control. Once they let a conservative Republican take charge, I cleaned up the city, I got rid of crime, I cut welfare rolls, I made sure that the city is moving forward. This is the kind of stuff -- oh, and, P.S. I was also there on September 11th.

I know how to handle big crises. You can trust me to handle the rest of the country. New York may be different in many ways, but I know what to do in terms of the big picture stuff is handle the big, tough problems that a lot of people don't want to address.

MALVEAUX: And, Lisa, I want you to listen to this ad, because there seems to be a trend here that is happening. We have a lot of ads that are using imagery and subtlety to go after their opponents. This one caught -- an ad for Senator Clinton. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I called Senator Clinton and ask for help. Her office called the next day, letting us know that the hospital was going to absorb the cost of the transplant. I trusted this woman to save my son's life and she did.


MALVEAUX: Why do you suppose, Lisa, that she's -- she doesn't even speak in this ad. This is an ad that is about her, but totally from another person's perspective.

LISA DESJARDINS, CNN RADIO: No question. They want to show that Hillary Clinton is someone that isn't just a campaign machine, but someone who cares about individuals. Her biggest problem in polls is her likeability. Now, I don't think the Clinton campaign thinks they will ever win or get all their voters based on that issue. But they need to make sure they can't lose more ground on that to Barack Obama.

So this ad does two things. It shows her as someone who cares about individuals. It also shows her as a fighter. And maybe it will make people like her more. That's what the Clinton campaign is hoping here.

BORGER: And, Suzanne, her big problem in the polls is also whether voters can trust her. And I think this also goes to the issue of trust. You can trust Hillary Clinton to get things done for you and she doesn't have to come out and say that. This ad does.

MALVEAUX: Is that a problem, that she needs someone to say it for her, do you think?

BORGER: I'm not so sure it's a problem. I think it's a smart way for the ad maker to do it, because when a politician comes out and says trust me, people usually go, oh, really, why, why should I do that?

So I think this is just a clever way to do it.

MALVEAUX: And on the Republican side, Amy, let's take a listen to this ad for Giuliani.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been tested in a way in which the American people can look to me. They're not going it find perfection, but they're going to find somebody who's dealt with crisis almost on a regular basis and has had results.


MALVEAUX: How much can he use this whole connection to 9/11 -- I was the mayor of New York, I dealt with crises here?

WALTER: Well, he's used it pretty successfully up until this point. But it is true when you start to watch his ads now, he actually doesn't mention September 11th specifically. And he talks, instead, a great deal about what he was able to do in actually taking control of New York on all these different -- on all these different levels -- talking especially in New Hampshire about issues like taxes -- a very big concern up there. He uses the word conservative government -- and, again, another catchword there for Republican primary voters.

More importantly, you know, he is -- the campaign, I think, has been very clear that if they win this Republican primary, it's going to be because he is seen as the strongest candidate in November -- as the candidate, number one, who can beat Hillary Clinton, but also the kind of candidate who can go up and project a sort of toughness that Republicans want to be able to put forward in -- fin the next campaign.

BORGER: And, Suzanne, what's also interesting in this is he says you're not going to find perfection. And that's a way of inoculating himself against the charges that he assumes are going to come against him on a personal level -- on his character level -- the fact that he's had a few marriages, that he pushed Bernie Kerik to become the director of homeland security.


BORGER: So, this is one way to play it safe for him.


And we've got lots more on the other side.

One question, of course, is, is it the party of the poor or, increasingly, the rich -- the Democratic Party, that is?

You might be surprised at what a new study is now saying.

And a taste of the political statements and tough questions we're receiving for next week's CNN/YouTube debate.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a registered Republican. I'm a Christian and I'm also gay. My husband Jeff and I are raising two children. But a vote for you is a vote against my family.


MALVEAUX: There is still time to submit your questions for the Republican presidential candidates online, and we'll tell you how.


MALVEAUX: Well, it's Republicans that have long been associated with the rich. But Democrats may now be taking on that role.

We are back with our roundtable -- Lisa Desjardins, Congressional correspondent for CNN Radio. CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger.

And CNN political contributor Amy Walter.

Thanks, once again, ladies.

I want to start off by mentioning a part of this study here. It is from the Heritage Foundation vice president of government relations -- obviously, a conservative group that is putting out the study to yet be released.

But here's what he's saying that he has found. He says if you take the wealthiest one third of the 435 Congressional districts, we found that the Democrats represent about 58 percent of those jurisdictions.

So Lisa, what does this mean about the Democratic Party now?

What -- is this a seismic shift here?

DESJARDINS: This is fascinating to me. I think there's a lot of ways to look at this. I think the first thing that's important to mention is we haven't actually seen this data ourselves. There are so many ways to split statistics. I was eager to get into this and see exactly what else was there.

He also does say that above average incomes are -- slightly go Democratic. It's possible that the country in general voted Democratic in the last election and that's why we're seeing this trend. It's also possible that Democrats are really harvesting those rich suburbs around the city. We've seen Democratic candidates for president in Congress raising more money than Republicans.

To me, in a way, though, Suzanne, the bottom line here is that both parties are fighting for the middle class -- especially the upper middle class. They want middle class voters to identify with them. But I think when you hear something like this, voters need to pay attention to what parties do and not if they're the party of this or that -- not these labels, but what do they do?

MALVEAUX: Well, who wins, who loses?

WALTER: Yes, I mean I think

MALVEAUX: Jump in here.

WALTER: Yes, I mean I think that what we're looking at is -- is actually something that's been happening for quite some time here. And this is really not all that new.

What we have known for some time is that economic issues not driving voters as much as cultural issues. That has been sort of a key of elections for the last few years here. And what we know -- if you look at any major city -- go into those inner suburbs -- whether it's around Washington or New York or Chicago -- you'll find those inner suburbs are acting, actually, more like urban areas in terms of how they vote. They're much more Democratic. They're much more liberal. But they're also wealthier.

As you move further out and you get closer to the exurbs, those are the more competitive districts. Those are also districts that may be wealthier, but where the president -- George Bush -- won decisively in 2004. Those are the battlegrounds.

MALVEAUX: So, Gloria, who's the winner and who's the loser in this?

BORGER: Well, I'm not so sure there's a winner and a loser. But I do think it sort of shows you where the country is geographically, Suzanne. I mean I think if you look at New York City, on the one hand, or New York State, on the one hand, and California, on the other hand, you're going to have a lot of those members of Congress. And I think that you can go up and down the East Coast and in the far West and see where most of these districts are going to be.

I think that every politician -- to answer your question -- is going to talk about fighting for the middle class, because that's where they know that most of the voters are. And so we're not going to hear the rhetoric change one bit. And, by the way, Republican politicians will tell you that they represent the middle class, too -- and they'd be right about that.

DESJARDINS: That's right. I think this is all about fighting for votes. And I think -- not to say these numbers are wrong, but we could see competing numbers from Democrats. I see both of these as spin. And I think what's important here is what these parties are doing, not these labels that they're throwing at each other.


We've got to leave it there.

Thank you so much for joining us.

Thank you.

In another political story we are following, some people in one state are trying to revamp the way votes are doled out in the presidential election. But not everyone is happy about it.

CNN's senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, has details.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Suzanne, remember hearing about a ballot measure that would change the way California casts its electoral votes?

It was supposed to be dead.

Well, guess what?

It's come back to life.

(voice-over): A national political battle is being fought out in California -- but the voters there don't seem to know or care much about it. National Republican money is coming into California to pay for gathering petition signatures to qualify a ballot measure that would divide California's electoral votes.

TONY QUINN, CALIFORNIA POLITICAL ANALYST: If this passed, rather than 55 electoral votes going to the Democratic candidate, you would probably have about 35 going to the Democrat and 20 going to the Republican candidate. So that could have a major impact on how we elect the president in 2008.

SCHNEIDER: You bet it would. Twenty electoral votes is as many as the whole state of Ohio. If the measure qualifies for the ballot -- the deadline is next week -- Republicans will argue that it's fairer.

Why should the 44 percent of Californians who voted for George W. Bush in 2004 not get a single electoral vote for their effort?

It would also bring the presidential campaign to California. Right now, the state feels like an ATM machine. Candidates raise money in California and spend it somewhere else.

Democrats will argue it's unfair to split up California's electoral votes unless other big states do the same thing.

QUINN: The Democrats will say it's a power grab.

SCHNEIDER: That's one thing Democrats have going for them -- voter skepticism.

QUINN: It's very hard to see that there's any major, major issue here that the voters care about. Generally, they have refused to involve themselves when the fight is between the two parties. They say, gee, that's not my -- that's not my fight.

SCHNEIDER: When California voters don't understand or care much about a ballot measure, they usually vote no. They figure somebody is up to something.

(on camera): A lot of the money behind the California ballot measure is coming from Republicans with ties to Rudy Giuliani. And a lot of the effort to stop it is coming from the Hillary Clinton forces. It's turning into an early showdown between the two frontrunners, and the voters of California don't even know it -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And we're counting down to the CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate. We'll give you a preview of possible questions, including those asked, in, well, kind of those off the wall ways.

And was John F. Kennedy targeted beyond the city of Dallas?

New assassination allegations ahead.


MALVEAUX: Checking our Political Ticker this Friday, Senate Democrats go to unusual lengths to prevent President Bush from appointing nominees without their consent. One lone senator, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, gaveled the Senate into session for just 28 seconds today. That means the Senate is not technically on a Thanksgiving recess. That also means President Bush can't push through any controversial and unconfirmed nominees by using a recess appointment.

Finally, something Republicans and Democrats can agree on -- party leaders in Iowa apparently are feeling the pain of political reporters who have to spend New Year's camped out in Iowa for the January 3rd presidential caucus. So the state parties are teaming up to throw a party for us journalists. The bash will be funded mostly by the media types attending the party -- and, for the record, it will be a cash bar.

And, remember, for the latest political news any time, check out the Political Ticker at

Forty-four years and one day after President Kennedy 's assassination, we are learning more about allegations that he was targeted in another city.

CNN's Brian Todd has details.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It seems to happen this time every year -- more buzz about the death of John F. Kennedy. This time, the question of whether potential assassins were targeting him weeks before his death. A former Secret Service agent tells CNN just before President Kennedy was to go to Chicago in early November 1963, the agency got an important tip. An employee of a boarding house had seen rifles with telescopic sites and an outline of Kennedy's motorcade route in a room rented by Cuban nationals.

The former agent, Abraham Bolden, would not go on camera with us or do a phone interview. He's writing a book out next spring called "The Echo from Dealey Plaza".

Bolden admits he was not directly involved in the Secret Service investigation into the alleged plot. But in the 1970s, he told the House Select Committee on Assassinations he learned about it by monitoring Secret Service radio channels and observing suspects in custody.

A different author, who has researched the alleged Chicago plot, told us what he believed happened to the suspected Cuban hit man.

LAMAR WALDRON, AUTHOR, "ULTIMATE SACRIFICE": From all indications, the surveillance on the two men were -- was blown somehow. And so the two men were actually at large at the time that JFK was getting ready to leave Washington and come to Chicago.

TODD: Kennedy's trip to Chicago was canceled. But it's not clear if it was because of a security threat.

Contacted by CNN, the Secret Service would not comment on Abraham Bolden's claim, but did tell us he was separated from the agency in 1964 after being convicted of a crime. Published reports say Bolden was convicted of soliciting bribes from a counterfeiter, but that his accuser later recanted. Bolden claims he was framed.

Another author says this about the various conspiracy theories surrounding the young president's death...

VINCENT BUGLIOSI, AUTHOR, "RECLAIMING HISTORY": People find it intellectually incongruous that someone whom they perceived to be a king, like Kennedy -- captivating the world with his wit, charm and intelligence -- he's smiling, he's youthful and he's driving down the road and a second later it's all over with. They say something more had to be involved.

TODD (on camera): But does Abraham Bolden's claim deserved to be lumped win those way out conspiracy theories?

The House Assassinations Committee was not able to confirm the existence of an assassination team in Chicago and wrote that it found Bolden's claim had questionable authenticity.

But the Committee also found that the Secret Service did not make appropriate use of the information about the alleged Chicago threat.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


MALVEAUX: And when Congress gets back to business after the holiday, members will try to break a deadlock over funding for the popular children's health insurance program known as SCHIP.

CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, looks at what's at stake.



DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When 16-year- old Heather lived in New Jersey with her dad, she had health insurance. But when she moved down to Maryland to live with her mom, Cyndee Marrocco, she was no longer covered.

MARROCCO: I couldn't get her on my insurance. I had to take her to the doctor. It was really, really imperative that I took her right away.

GUPTA: So the doctor told Cindy about getting health insurance for her daughter through Maryland's children's health insurance program. It's Maryland's version of SCHIP.

MARROCCO: It's been a blessing because Heather had to see a doctor, a therapist and get prescriptions. And I would have been in financial trouble having to pay those bills. GUPTA: Cindy now wants to move her two younger children on to SCHIP, as well. They're now covered by her health insurance policy -- but she can't afford it.

MARROCCO: I only make $30,000 a year. It costs me $70 a week to keep those kids covered.

GUPTA: The children won't qualify for SCHIP for six months, and by then, Cindy might be working a better shift -- more overtime. She might be making too much money to qualify for SCHIP, but still not enough to afford insurance.

Currently, to be eligible for SCHIP, the family income has to be no more than $41,300. That's twice the federal poverty level. The latest version by Congress would up that to nearly $62,000 -- which is three times the poverty level. That would cost an additional $35 billion. Currently, over 600,000 adults in 13 states are covered by SCHIP. This and funding the higher cost with the 61 cent tobacco tax are two reasons why some oppose the SCHIP bill.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I made it perfectly clear that if you keep passing this piece of legislation, I'm going to keep vetoing it.

GUPTA: And that's something Cindy find hard to accept.

MARROCCO: We have little kids all over the place that have no health insurance. It's -- it's insane that he would say, oh, no, that's too much money. That's too much money, we can't spend it on that, and then right away turn around and ask for billions more dollars to throw away in Iraq. That's -- it's infuriating.

GUPTA: Soon, only one of her three children are going to be insured, as she waits for a final SCHIP decision.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


MALVEAUX: Well, the Republicans are about to get their shot at making history. The next CNN/YouTube presidential debate is just five days away. We'll set the stage for the face-off and show you some of the most provocative and unusual questions submitted online.


MALVEAUX: Well, now, it's the Republicans' turn to make presidential campaign history. The GOP candidates take part in the CNN/YouTube debate on Wednesday in Florida.

CNN's Josh Levs has been looking at the questions submitted online.

It must be fascinating -- Josh.

JOSHUA LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the most fun assignment I've had in so long.

Thank you, CNN.

This is so cool. You've got to see some of these clips that we're about to show you. You know, people all over the country -- they're inundating us with questions, even Americans living overseas.

And as we're going to show you right now, people are not holding back.


LEVS (voice-over): The Republican candidates can run, but they cannot hide -- from your questions in the CNN/YouTube debate, which may include some sharp jabs.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are you going to do to return the civil liberties to the American people and stop these outrageous acts on our security and our privacy?

LEVS: Some offer personal stories, like this man who says he's a gay, registered Republican.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But a vote for you is a vote against my family.

LEVS: A few bring up some of the wackier topics on Earth -- or beyond...



LEVS: Maybe he ought to ask this YouTuber.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am one of many from another dimension.

LEVS: Around 4,000 questions are in -- more than the 3,000 Democratic debate in July. All questions are viewable are online. And we're not saying which ones may be used, just giving you a taste of what we're getting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you going to do as president to assure diversity in your administration?


LEVS: There are unique spins on expected subjects like Iraq, taxes and the national debt. Some want specifics.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you be willing to open up Guantanamo Bay to public view?


LEVS: There are serious subjects that often don't make the headlines...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But what about the war going on in our country -- black on black crime?


LEVS: and questions all about character.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what is your one greatest strength and your one greatest weakness?


LEVS: Getting candidates to admit weaknesses?

Good luck.

Maybe he's in cahoots with this guy, who apparently wants to lull the candidates into some form of hypnosis, though there are plenty of characters to keep them on their toes.



Thank you very much.


LEVS: And that man has left the building.

Well, the debate is Wednesday night in St. Petersburg, Florida. And it's not too late for you to submit your questions. The deadline is tomorrow night, Sunday night -- or, rather, Sunday night. You've got two more days. Sunday night at midnight. All you need to do is go to and click on politics. We're going to show you right here. When you hit that link right there, it brings you to this page. It'll tell you everything you need to do.

You don't even need to be that tech savvy. It will get you exactly where you need to be.

And, Suzanne, I'm expecting at least a few hundred more by then.


Thank you so much.

LEVS: All right.


MALVEAUX: Now to Lou Dobbs.

Kitty Pilgrim in for Lou.