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The Situation Room

Who Will Win New Hampshire?; Interview With Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee

Aired January 08, 2008 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: round two between Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. New Hampshire voters are deciding right now whether to give him a second win or to give her a comeback.
And Bill Clinton right in the middle of it all.

Plus, Republican John McCain is counting on New Hampshire to keep his presidential hopes alive. But can Mitt Romney afford to lose again? The best political team on television standing by on this crucial primary day.

And the Iowa winner, Mike Huckabee, keeps a lid on his expectations in New Hampshire. I will ask Huckabee how he thinks he will do tonight.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We want to welcome viewers in the United States and around the world who are joining us.

Less than two hours from now, the last polling places in New Hampshire are expected to close. The governor is predicting a record turnout of more than half a million people, a sign of just how important and exciting this presidential contest is proving to be. The first primary of 2008 is widely seen as a showdown between Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney.

But stay tuned. We will soon find out what's going on. The best political team on television is covering the votes and the candidates.

We begin this hour, though, with some early results, we're getting in from our exit polling and our senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

Bill, what are you learning?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, remember, the economy, stupid? Well, the economy is the number one issue to both Democrats and Republicans in New Hampshire. But how do they feel about the economy?

The Democrats' view? The economy is kind of terrible; 87 percent say the nation's economy not good or poor. Just 13 percent, it's good. Well, they're the out party. They're supposed to view with alarm. If you're the in party, you point with pride. Well, do Republicans point with pride to the nation's economy? Not exactly. Just half of them say the economy is excellent or good. Almost half say it's not good or poor.

So, Republicans are not exactly cheerleaders for this economy. Now, here's what Democrats are really upset about: the Bush administration. How do they feel? Nearly two-thirds, 65 percent, say they are angry, angry about the Bush administration, an additional 28 percent dissatisfied. Only 6 percent have a positive view of the Bush administration.

That's the vote for change. They want something very different from what Bush is giving them. How about Republicans? Are they wildly enthusiastic? Sixteen percent of them are angry and another third are dissatisfied. Add those together, and you get about half of the Republicans, half, 49 percent, say they are angry or dissatisfied with the Bush administration.

What does that mean? It means that the change issue could have some resonance among Republicans, as well as Democrats. And, finally, an interesting factoid from our exit poll: 21 percent of New Hampshire Republicans are born-again or evangelical voters. In Iowa last week, that number was 60 percent -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you're getting new numbers all the time.

We will be checking back with Bill Schneider throughout the night.

Thank you very much.

Now to the Democratic front-runner in New Hampshire. That would be Barack Obama. He's hoping to prove his Iowa win and Hillary Clinton's Iowa loss weren't flukes.

Let's turn to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. She's watching all of this.

What are you hearing, Suzanne, from the Obama camp tonight?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they are very excited about this. They have been seeing these huge crowds, overflow crowds. There's a lot of enthusiasm, as have you heard, momentum as well, coming out of Iowa.

And really those independent voters in the record turnout expected to really do well to really pump up his side and his campaign. They believe they have a pretty good shot at this. They don't know just by how much, but they feel the enthusiasm.

There is something that is happening here just with last 48 hours. It has become very much an aggressive, much more aggressive campaign, a real battle, if you will, between Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton. We have heard her over the days really go after his record, essentially making the case that he is all talk and no action, that there are inconsistencies when it comes to Iraq funding, war funding, when it comes to energy or special interests.

We see Barack Obama fighting back on that as well, taking on the language that she's been using. She's been talking about false hope and giving a reality check here. And so he has taken advantage of that, essentially trying to paint her as kind of the anti-hope candidate. Take a listen.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I understand they're frustrated right now. And I suspect that they will try to get back on track in terms of a strategy for them to do better than they're -- they feel that they're doing right now.


MALVEAUX: And really, it's something that is not tangible. You can't really measure it, but it is inspiration. That is the one thing voters that seem to take away from when you talk to them how they feel about Barack Obama. It is not so much about his experience. It is about inspiration -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thanks very much.

Over on the Republican side, John McCain predicts he will have a landslide victory. He was joking when he said that today, but few people will be laughing if he does win this primary, given the rough time he's had over these many months.

CNN's Dana Bash is joining us from Nashua.

Some are calling it McCain's last stand. I'm not sure that is accurate. But what are you seeing? What are you hearing?

MALVEAUX: Well, you know, it might be. And there is definitely a nervous energy, as you can imagine, in this room.

And there's something that people may not know about John McCain, Wolf. He's a very suspicious man. This ballroom where he's going to have his party tonight, it is the place where he had his victory party exactly eight years ago. The room upstairs where he's staying in this hotel, it is the exact same room he stayed in eight years ago. He's wearing his lucky green sweater today, the one he wore on the day he won the New Hampshire primary in the year 2000.

So, John McCain simply does not want to jinx what are very real chances of winning tonight.


BASH (voice-over): Off the bus one last time. He likes it here. And, apparently, New Hampshire likes him.

CROWD: Mac is back! Mac is back!

BASH: A win would reassert John McCain as a GOP force. Win or lose, he claims a special Granite State bond.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And they may not agree with me on every issue, but they know they can trust me to do the right thing.

BASH: Just that he has that chance is remarkable. Last year, what he calls doing the right thing sent his poll numbers plummeting.

MCCAIN: This is the first step, but an important step, to moving forward with comprehensive, overall immigration reform.

BASH: Reviled by the GOP base for pushing an immigration bill giving undocumented workers a path to citizenship, chastised for demanding more troops in Iraq when the mood of the country was, bring them home.

MCCAIN: ... this troop surge be significant and sustained.

BASH: By summer, out of money, campaign staff turmoil, freefall, he renamed his bus No Surrender, kept campaigning, and taking tough questions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I don't believe in amnesty. And how do you feel about that?

BASH: On immigration, a shift in emphasis.

MCCAIN: My lesson is, secure the borders first.

BASH: On Iraq, the surge is showing success, and "I told you so," the experience and judgment pitch.

MCCAIN: I'm the only one running for president that said the Rumsfeld strategy would fail. We have to adopt this Petraeus strategy.

BASH: Now, amid the crushing crowds, brief reflection.

(on camera): You were in a very dark place just this summer, and now you have all of this around you.

MCCAIN: Tell the truth.


MCCAIN: Tell the truth.

BASH: That's your lesson?

MCCAIN: Always tell the truth.

BASH (voice-over): Truth is, he needs a win here to carry on. But it's been quite a ride.


BASH: Now, McCain's advisers here are saying that they are feeling good, but they don't have the money to do internal polling. So, they're relying on public polls, Wolf.

And they say that eight of the last nine in the past week showed John McCain up. That is in part why they're feeling good. But just to show you how crucial tonight is for John McCain, I was talking to one of his advisers a short while ago. He said: "If he wins, he could win the nomination. If he doesn't win tonight, all bets are off" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Jack. He's "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Of all the words he could have chosen to hang his campaign on, Barack Obama picked change. Good choice.

While the rest of the candidates scurry around saying, elect me, I have experience, Obama's message has remained very simple: Washington's not getting it done. We're in some serious trouble here, boys and girls. And we have to figure out a different approach.

The thing that's stunning is that the voters seem to believe him. It's stunning because they're so used to being lied to and jerked around, you might have trouble convincing some of them the sky is blue.

The public seems to be saying to Obama, though: We have had it. Take us anywhere but here.

Look at the turnout in Iowa, double for the Democrats what it was four years ago. The governor of New Hampshire just announced they are experiencing a record turnout in that state as we speak, more than a half a million voters expected to cast ballots today, so many that they ran out of ballots this afternoon and were having to drive them around to parts of the state that were running short.

Barack has young people, independents lining up to support him. His appearances standing room only, and people get downright hysterical when they see him. We haven't seen anything quite like this in a very long time, maybe -- maybe -- since Bobby Kennedy.

Whether he can go all the way, we don't know of course yet. But he's sure getting everybody's attention. And my guess is those incumbent senators and congressmen who have to stand for reelection in November, well, they're noticing too, because, if Obama is right, they're in big trouble, big, big trouble, as well most of them should be, because most of them are a disgrace.

So, here's the question. What message, if any, does Barack Obama's candidacy send to incumbent office-holders?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog.

You know, with turnouts like we're getting in Iowa and New Hampshire, if enough of us get involved in this democratic process, there's a risk we could get it right.

BLITZER: Speaking of blogs, I have got a little viewer's guide on, what to look -- a couple little nuggets.

CAFFERTY: Do you have a link to the Cafferty blog on that site?

BLITZER: Of course. It's all...


CAFFERTY: No, you don't.


BLITZER: Yes, we do, totally linked. You are linked,, CNN SITUATION ROOM, the whole nine yards, Just remember that.

CAFFERTY: All right. Fine.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: I got it. Yes.

Mike Huckabee says he wants to fix what many of you hate.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... disapproved by 80 percent of the American people. It's 66,000 pages of mishmash that no one, including the IRS, understands.


BLITZER: The Republican presidential candidate takes on some economic power brokers, including "The Wall Street Journal," over something he says will help the poor. Mike Huckabee is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

If Hillary Clinton loses New Hampshire's primary tonight, might she shake up her campaign? Some people are talking about that possibility.

And today could be independents day. Unaligned voters could decide who wins New Hampshire's primary. We will talk about that with the best political team on television.

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


BLITZER: As he fights for a decent showing in New Hampshire's primary, Republican Mike Huckabee is raising some eyebrows about something he said. It involves the Constitution and the children of illegal immigrants.


BLITZER: The former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, he's joining us from Manchester right now.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

HUCKABEE: Thank you a lot, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: All right. I want to get to politics shortly.

But a couple of substantive issues on policies that's causing a little consternation out there right now. On the issue of birthright, citizenship for anyone born in the United States, are you now suggesting that children of illegal immigrants who are born in the United States should not be allowed to get U.S. citizenship?

HUCKABEE: No. I did not advocate that. I said that the Supreme Court would have to make that decision. If they review that decision, we would follow what they have ruled. But so far, lower courts have ruled that the 14th Amendment still does apply. And so, that's my position, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Because,there was some confusion today that you were moving away from what is the 14th Amendment -- anyone born in the United States automatically becomes a citizen.

What is your personal opinion? Do you feel, though, that that 14th Amendment should stay as it is or the Supreme Court should reconsider or there should be a constitutional amendment forcing a change in that birth-right privilege?

HUCKABEE: I think when the birth is -- when people are here and the child is born, we're going to abide by the Constitution. I think it's pretty clear.

There's been a lot of question as to whether a person who comes illegally just for the purpose of giving birth, should there be reconsideration. Frankly, it's not something I have weighed in on a whole lot. Hadn't thought about it.

Someone had suggested to me that it needed to be reviewed. My understanding is lower courts have reviewed it, but have held the 14th Amendment did apply.

And in a conversation, I simply said that's something the Supreme Court would have to rule on. It's not something I would support a constitutional amendment to try to change, because the two constitutional amendments that I personally would like to see done would be to protect human life as well as to affirm the traditional place of marriage. And those are the only two that would be on my agenda at all.

BLITZER: Because when I heard the report earlier today, I was a little surprised, given what you have told me and many other reporters in recent weeks...


BLITZER: ... that children should not be punished for the failures or mistakes or crimes of their parents. And I just wanted to clarify your position on this issue.

HUCKABEE: Yes, the report -- it was a report in a newspaper. And it was not attributed to me, it was attributed to a conversation that someone had had with me.

And it was disappointing that the reporter who filed the report never bothered to contact our campaign before filing the story to find out was there validity to it.

BLITZER: There's another article on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal today, going after you on your FairTax proposal, saying it's ludicrous, it doesn't make any sense, it would just be a waste of time, it isn't going anywhere, because of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which authorizes an income tax, among other things.

The author of that article wrote, "The problem is that none of this would happen" -- what you want -- "people would simply switch from cheating on income taxes to cheating on sales taxes."

You want to -- I don't know if you had a chance to read that article today, but I wonder if you want to respond to this notion that your FairTax would just be a disaster.

HUCKABEE: No, it's nonsense that it would be a disaster.

What we have now is a disaster, Wolf. The tax code we have now is disapproved by 80 percent of the American people. It's 66,000 pages of mishmash that no one, including the IRS, understands. Penalizes productivity. It's chased $10 trillion of capital offshore.

The FairTax was not designed by me. It was designed by some of the smartest economists from Harvard, Yale, MIT, Boston University, Stanford University. It was designed by people who said "if we could design as close to ideal a tax system as we could, what would it look like?" That's what they came back with.

So, you know, the Wall Street Journal has hated this proposal. I don't know why, because frankly it would be good for everyone up and down the economic ladder. But it would especially be empowering to people at the bottom end of the economic ladder, the poor, because it untaxes them. And why that's such an anathema to some people, I don't know.

All right.

BLITZER: And I do want to get your thoughts on tonight. What would you be happy with? I assume you're looking for a third- place finish. Is that right?

HUCKABEE: Well, that would be huge for us. I think even fourth is still better than where we were just two or three weeks ago, when we were like in sixth place.

A lot of people had said there was no point in us even coming to New Hampshire. We thought there was. And we have had unbelievable, just literally overflow crowds everywhere we have been the last few days. Lots of energy.

I just wish we had a few more days, but we don't. The election is today. I think we're going to have a good day today. We feel like the momentum has definitely been moving our way.

And we're going to come out of here with wind to our back. Head on to South Carolina, to Michigan. And we're leading in those states, as well as in Florida. So look ahead for the next few weeks. We're not done.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for joining us.

HUCKABEE: Thanks, Wolf.


BLITZER: By the way, "The Washington Times" is telling CNN that its reporter did in fact speak to a spokeswoman for the Huckabee campaign before publishing that article suggesting that Huckabee was moving away from citizenship for children of illegal immigrants born in the United States. They're disputing that they didn't call his campaign.

Right now, you too can be part of the best political team on television. If you're in New Hampshire, we want to know what it's like. Send us your video. Send us your pictures of these, the final hours. You can do it to We are going to feature some of your I-Reports in our election coverage later tonight.

Remember, our special election coverage from the CNN Election Center begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight. We will be all over this story starting at 8:00 p.m.

Meanwhile, an angry Bill Clinton takes on Barack Obama. The former president calls the handling of his stance on the war in Iraq -- and I'm quoting now -- "a fairy tale." Is that just sour grapes or is there something to it?

And Mitt Romney can't afford another big setback right now, so why is he so confident about the outcome of the New Hampshire primary?

We're on the scene in New Hampshire. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: One hour 36 minutes until all the polls close in New Hampshire. We may be looking at a record turnout right now. There have been extremely long lines, some polling stations reporting that they have even run low on ballots.

Let's go out there.

CNN's Tom Foreman is standing by.

Good weather, exciting candidates, a good combination for a potential record turnout, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Boy, it sure looks like it, Wolf.

The weather has been spectacular today for this time of year in New Hampshire. As you know, it can be bad. And people have just filled the streets. And they have filled this polling center like this all day long, with no letup. It has been an absolutely steady.

There are currently about 4,500 people who have already voted here. There are still people in the hallway and still people streaming in. In all likelihood, by the time they finish voting here, they will be close to 85 percent participation for the people who are registered in this area, unbelievable numbers.

And they, in fact, had to have extra ballots brought in here to deal with the demand. They don't know if they will be able to use them all up, but certainly the numbers have been supporting the notion that this will be a record here and maybe a record all over the state -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Tom, we're going to see if this record turnout is going to result in a win for someone. Who does it help? Who does it hurt?

Tom Foreman, we will be checking back with you throughout the night.

Barack Obama is getting pats on the back from a high-profile Republican.


COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm terribly excited. I'm impressed. And I'm happy for Barack Obama. I know him. I have met with him a couple of times.

And I think this is such an important event for the America, for the American people.


BLITZER: Is Colin Powell ready to throw his support, though, behind Barack Obama? The answer and more of Powell's praise, that is coming up.

Plus, Bill Clinton leads the charge against what he calls Obama's -- quote -- "fairy tale." The best political team on television standing by to talk about that and a lot more.

Independent voters could tip the scales in New Hampshire one way or another. Tonight, the early clues about where the presidential race goes from here.

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


BLITZER: Happening now, only a few minutes from now, President Bush is about to embark on an eight-day trip through the Middle East -- Air Force One standing by at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C., to take him to stops including Israel, the West Bank, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. We're watching the president.

Also, a major offensive against al Qaeda in Iraq -- the U.S. military leading Operation Phantom Phoenix, hoping to take advantage of the drop in violence and wipe out extremist strongholds.

And severe weather is strafing the Midwest. Unusually warm temperatures spawn tornadoes from Arkansas to Wisconsin and flooding in Indiana -- those disasters now blamed for at least four deaths, all of this coming up, plus the best political team on television.

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

A win would even the score, but a loss could send some Hillary Clinton supporters into panic mode. What might the Clinton campaign do if they do not win New Hampshire's primary tonight?

Joining us now, our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's in Manchester, New Hampshire, watching all of this.

I guess a lot depends on what happens tonight. But what are you hearing, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, I mean, here's what's going to happen here.

If they come out of here with a win, plan A still in effect, and they will move onto the next state. They come out of here with a loss, you are going to hear a much tougher tone. We got a preview last night from team Clinton, beginning with the former president, who took on Obama's statements about the war in Iraq.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You said in 2004 you didn't know how you would have voted on the resolution. You said in 2004 there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war. And you took that speech you're now running on off your Web site in 2004. And there's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since.

Give me a break.


B. CLINTON: This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen. SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today, Senator Obama used President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to criticize me. And, you know, basically compared himself to two of our greatest heroes -- saying, well, they gave great speeches. President Kennedy was in the Congress for 14 years. He was a war hero. He was a man of great accomplishments and readiness to be president.


CROWLEY: Beyond the rhetoric, Wolf, you are likely to see some strategic change-ups. First of all, they have to deal with staffing -- should they bring new people on for a Plan B. Second of all, location, location, location -- where do they go to find a win?

And third of all, if they move on to the February 5th states -- very expensive advertising states -- they've got to find a way to calm their donors down -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, thanks very much.

So Bill Clinton going on the offensive to try to help his wife.

Let's talk about that and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Jack Cafferty is here.

John King is here.

Let's start with you -- Jack.

What do you think about what Bill Clinton the former president said?

CAFFERTY: It smacks of desperation. I mean it really does look like the Clinton camp is desperate.

What is the former president of the United States out, you know, running around calling anybody's activities a fairy tale?

What did you just say while we were in the commercial break -- I did not have sexual relations with that woman. That's a fairy tale.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if there was any doubt that this campaign -- Hillary Clinton's campaign -- was about Bill Clinton and was about his legacy and burnishing his legacy, I think this speech, you know, puts that to rest. This was Bill Clinton talking about why his campaign did not win. And you could sense the anger and you could sense the frustration. And it seemed to me to be more about Bill Clinton than it was about Hillary Clinton -- or even Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Give us the story -- John, behind the story.

What motivated, what inspired the former president to speak like this?

JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are some people in the Clinton campaign who have been making this case for some time, that Barack Obama is somehow getting a free ride, that we hold her to a different, higher standard because she's a Clinton, because she was the first lady, because people know her and she's a nationally known figure and that somehow there's a double standard in the media treatment. That is a case -- fairly or unfairly, right or wrong, we'll leave it for the history books -- that they have been making for some time, especially now that Obama has started to pull away.

You get it from Clinton campaign people. You get it from some of their supporters. You get it from outside advisers.

But Jack's right. For the president -- an ex- president of the United States to be making this case, it -- it shows their frustration. Look, I don't mean to be cute here -- candidates are people, too. And they put a lot of time and a lot of effort into this. And you have some empathy, whether you're a Democrat or Republican, Independent, Martian, whatever, these people put a lot of work into this and they are very, very frustrated.

But it's not his place. It's a distraction she did not need.


BORGER: It doesn't help.

BLITZER: I mean it's...

BORGER: It really doesn't help.

BLITZER: It's -- Howard Wolfson, a communications director, he -- he could speak like that. But a former president, that's another matter.

Here's how Obama, Jack, reacted.

Listen to this.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Maybe I've been missing something, but it seems like you guys have been reporting on me the entire year. I remember during the summer when we were down 20 points and I was getting knocked around pretty good.



BLITZER: Yes. It's -- it's true. You know, whenever politicians start blaming the news media, you know they've got problems.

CAFFERTY: Well, it's nice that Barack Obama feels like he can maybe stay above the fray, because that's where he is right now. BLITZER: He's trying to do that.

KING: Right. But if he thinks he's been knocked around...


KING: ...and he thinks everybody has looked at his record...

BLITZER: Right. Just wait.

KING: ...and he wins the New Hampshire primary tonight, just wait.

So don't be smug about it. Don't be...

BORGER: Well, he...

KING: Don't be smug, because there will be more coming.

BORGER: You know, and the irony is, also, that Bill Clinton was complaining in this speech about the process and that, oh, there's only five days between Iowa and New Hampshire. You don't have time to vet a candidate.

But they were the ones who wanted this. The Democratic National Committee wanted this. Hillary -- New Hampshire was supposed to be her firewall. She was supposed to sew up the nomination and it didn't work.

CAFFERTY: Five days to vet a candidate -- they've been doing this for a year.

BORGER: Right.

CAFFERTY: This stuff has been going on since last January. So that's bogus.

BLITZER: Here's what is George Voinovich -- he's a moderate Republican from Ohio. And he had an exchange about Barack Obama.

I'm going to play a little clip.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean what are your thoughts of Obama's foreign policy chops? Would he have what it takes?

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R), OHIO: He doesn't -- he hasn't had any experience in foreign policy. Give me a break.


BLITZER: That's Voinovich speaking bluntly.

What do you think of that? CAFFERTY: I think George Bush hadn't been outside the Continental United States eight years ago when he was elected president. He won two terms. His lack of foreign policy experience, arguably, has hurt the country, but I don't think that's enough reason to turn your back on the following that Barack Obama seems to be generating. There are some qualities about him that are very, very attractive and they are getting record turnouts in every place that he's on the ballot. There is interest in this election cycle so far, the likes of which we haven't seen in a long time.

KING: Here's a quick tip of the hat to our Capitol Hill producer, Ted Barrett. You don't see him on television, but he is one of the most aggressive, most amazing reporters in the business, period -- not just here at CNN.

And, in fact, look, George Voinovich -- Wolf, you know him. He says what he thinks. He's been critical of the president. He'll be critical of the Republicans from time to time. He says what he thinks. He happens to be probably the only Republican still of good standing in the State of Ohio. The Republican Party has gone into the tank in the State of Ohio. George Voinovich says what he thinks and you can be sure -- whether it's fair or unfair -- Jack's right, George W. Bush didn't have much experience. This will be a theme against Barack Obama. I had a conversation with John McCain the other day. He says I know it's not working for the Democrats right now, but experience, experience, experience, experience.

BORGER: Yes. I was just going to add to that, I mean, I think experience -- if the nominee is a John McCain, then that's going to be the argument.

Because what other argument does he have to use against Barack Obama?

CAFFERTY: But if experience was all that important, Hillary Clinton would be doing better.

BORGER: Well, Hillary Clinton is different. I don't think it's just about experience with Hillary Clinton. I think it's that people see her as a polarizing figure and that's why they may not like her.

CAFFERTY: But as a factual matter, she's had no more foreign policy experience than Barack Obama.

KING: It is a different equation, though, who do the Democrats want as their nominee and who does the country want as their president?


KING: Actually, they are two different things.


CAFFERTY: That's entirely different.

BORGER: She did live in the White House.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by.

I'm going to show our viewers a picture of Air Force One right now. It's in the video all right there. You see it taxiing. The president of the United States getting ready to fly off to the Middle East -- an eight day visit to Israel, the West Bank, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates -- arguably, an extremely important trip for this president.

I'm not sure, given the politics and what's going on right now, how much coverage he's going to get. But you can be assured here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we will watch.

CAFFERTY: You know what's more important, as far as I'm concerned?

The fact that the White House and the administration are considering an economic stimulus package. This economy is in trouble and it's very, very close to going into recession. And rather than having him across the pond -- I think it's fine, you know. But maybe he should be here worrying about what's going to happen if we wind up in a recession.

You know how that's going to work for the Republicans in about four or five months?



BLITZER: OK, guys, stand by. We've got a lot more to talk about, including the Republicans.

What's going to happen to happen there?

Mitt Romney -- apparently he's very confident.

Should he be?

We're following him on the campaign trail.

Plus, Independent voters -- they could sway the primary in New Hampshire tonight.

Who are they backing?

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


BLITZER: We're back with the best political team on television.

Guys stand by. I want to talk about what's happening with the Republicans, especially Mitt Romney.

Mary Snow is watching what's happening out there.

Give us a little flavor of this moment, what, an hour or so before the polls close.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Mitt Romney really has been optimistic today. The pressure has been on him since his Iowa upset. But he told reporters today he thinks that things could turn his way here in New Hampshire.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it would be very hard for John McCain to beat a Barack Obama. I think John McCain would suffer the same fate that Hillary Clinton and Chris Dodd and Joe Biden suffered when they faced Barack Obama in Iowa.

People want change. They do not want a Washington insider. They don't believe an insider can turn Washington inside out. They want somebody from the outside. And that's why I think you're going to see me elected on our side and ultimately in the final race.


SNOW: And he said he can't guarantee anything, but told reporters that he feels more confident than ever that he is going to win. But he has also said that even if he doesn't win, he vows to press on. And even tomorrow, he's going to stop in Boston for a national fundraising day before he heads out to Michigan and then on to South Carolina -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Mary Snow watching Mitt Romney.

It looks like a two man race tonight in New Hampshire -- Mitt Romney versus John McCain, who has come from almost nowhere only a few months ago to be a formidable political figure out there right now.

CAFFERTY: The question is whether it goes beyond tonight. He's got to win tonight, McCain, I think. I think Romney has less to lose in New Hampshire than McCain does. McCain won there in 2000, went to South Carolina, got his head handed to him and that was the end of the story.

So, you know, I think after tonight, Romney will go on. I'm not sure McCain can.

BLITZER: But Romney has a lot more money, too.

BORGER: Oh, he has a lot more money. And if -- you know, if he were to lose tonight, and here were to...


If Romney... BORGER: If Romney were to lose tonight and he were to come in sort of a close second, he goes on to Michigan. His father is a former governor of Michigan. He goes on to Michigan. Even if he's beaten by McCain in Michigan -- which could happen -- they still have South Carolina. Romney's got more conservatives for him and, you know, McCain's going to be fighting a war on many fronts against many folks.

BLITZER: But Huckabee told me he's doing well in South Carolina, too. Fred Thompson has high hopes for South Carolina.

KING: Huckabee is also doing -- largely based on the Iowa bounce -- but doing reasonably well in Michigan right now.


KING: We think of Michigan, there is a cultural, social conservative slice of Michigan out in Western Michigan. It's not the biggest part of the Republican Party, but it's a significant part of the Republican Party.


KING: Romney leads in the polls right now. But remember, New Hampshire wasn't the only surprise for George W. Bush back in Campaign 2000. John McCain won in Michigan. We just don't treat it as all that important because it's squeezed in and we focus on the first Southern primary, because we want to guess just what do Republicans in the South think, because the South is such a Republican district.

Michigan will matter this time. If Romney loses, McCain gets his old people in Michigan who say, hmmm, maybe we can do this again. Then you may have a three-way race out there and the winner of Michigan could be very important heading into South Carolina.

BORGER: And Independent voters, again, can vote in the Republican primary in Michigan...

KING: Right.

BORGER: ...which will be important for McCain.

BLITZER: Independents tonight, in New Hampshire...


BLITZER: Tell our viewers why they're so huge. There's a specific number of Democrats, a specific number of Republicans. But Independents can come in and register at the last minute and vote on -- for either party.

CAFFERTY: For either party. The split going in tonight was -- about 40 percent of the New Hampshire voters are Independents -- a big, big piece of the pie.

KING: Maybe even a little bit more. CAFFERTY: It might even be higher. It might be 45. Sixty percent were leaning Democratic, 40 percent leaning -- now if you look at the Republican ticket, Romney and Huckabee -- Romney might be a little bit in front of Huckabee without the Independents. Depending how many Independents go for Barack Obama -- and remember, the Republican leaning ones can jump across and vote for Barack Obama if they want to -- McCain's got to get...

BLITZER: He's counting on the (INAUDIBLE)...

CAFFERTY: ...a significant bunch of Independent votes tonight to win this thing.

BLITZER: But, John, he's competing for those Independents with Barack Obama, with Ron Paul, right?


BLITZER: There's a lot of people competing for those Independents.

KING: Which is why McCain has run more of a Republican campaign this time on the issues in New Hampshire. He has the immigration problem. He knows that. He has the tax cut problem and he's trying to explain that. He didn't vote for the Bush tax cuts because there weren't spending cuts. You can sell that message in New Hampshire. They are Yankee fiscal conservatives -- don't spend what you don't have. And that has been McCain's message in New Hampshire.

He won among Republicans in 2000. People often forget that he narrowly beat Bush among Republicans in 2000. The big margin came from Independents.

He can't count on the Independents this time, so he needs to beat Mitt Romney among Republicans.

BORGER: Right. That's going to be the number to look at tonight...

KING: Yes.

BORGER: Because you'll be able to gauge how a John McCain could do in South Carolina.

How does he fare against Mitt Romney with those Republican voters?

Just take the Independents out of the mix, because eventually McCain has to win a Republican primary.

BLITZER: It's not easy, John, for John McCain to be the establishment GOP candidate, because he's been a maverick for so long.

KING: And he failed miserably at being the establishment Republican candidate.


KING: And I say that because he would say the same thing, even if he's watching right now. He inherited the Bush people. He inherited the Bush money machine. He inherited the Bush inevitability -- that we're going to roll -- it's our turn, is the Republican motto. We're going to roll to the nomination. And he failed so miserably at it, not just because he had the machine. Because he was wrong on the issue of the moment, which was illegal immigration. And he was controversial on an issue that he probably has support among Republicans, but it hurt him with the rest of the country -- on more troops in Iraq right now.

The people of New Hampshire like him. If he can get a springboard out of New Hampshire, he has a chance to be "the establishment candidate" again.

But I talked to him about this the other day. He says, he welcomes their support, he would love to raise more money, he's going to keep running the John McCain as maverick campaign.

BLITZER: But, you know, Jack, the establishment GOP may not like John McCain, but they really don't like Mike Huckabee.

CAFFERTY: No. And there's a guy named Rudy Giuliani that's lurking out there that we haven't talked at all about, who is keeping his powder dry and waiting for Florida. Depending on how the Republicans do this demolition derby through Michigan and South Carolina, Giuliani could come riding out of nowhere and step all over them in Florida or he could prove that his strategy is absolutely wrong and he could be a non-event.

BLITZER: Don't go anywhere, guys. We've got a lot more -- we've got a whole night of coverage coming up. We've got The Cafferty File. We've got our special coverage starting at 8:00 p.m....

BORGER: We're ready.

BLITZER: hour...

CAFFERTY: It's exciting, isn't it?

BLITZER: ...and 13 minutes from now, all the polls are closed in New Hampshire.

High praise for Barack Obama from the former secretary of state, Colin Powell. But he's holding out one key word. We're going to tell you what it is and why.

And what message does Obama's candidacy send to incumbent office holders?

That's our question this hour. Jack Cafferty with your e-mail.

That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Lou Dobbs is getting ready for his show that begins right at the top of the hour. He's going to give us a little preview right now -- hi, Lou.


Coming up, many polling places in New Hampshire are closing at the top of this hour, as we begin. We'll be with the candidates, talking with the smartest, best informed political analysts and strategists, and reporting on the issues that are critical to the voters of New Hampshire -- voters who are famous for their independent thinking and their independent voting. We'll have the very latest for you on the exit poll results.

And President Bush today says what he calls this country's "economic fundamentals" are strong. President Bush appearing completely out of touch with a crisis that's overwhelming our working men and women and their families in this country. We'll have that report.

And a White House, a Congress and the presidential candidates who refuse to acknowledge the staggering costs of illegal immigration.

Why aren't they responding?

We'll have that report. Please join us for all of that, all the day's news and more, at the top of the hour on this, the New Hampshire primary election day -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: See you in a few moments, Lou.

Thank you very much.

At one New Hampshire rally today, John Edwards described himself as the underdog candidate. Then Edwards went on to attack Senator Hillary Clinton, saying that for most voters, she represents the past. Edwards says the big question is whether he or Barack Obama will bring about change. We're following his campaign, as well.

Barack Obama's growing momentum is especially gratifying to many African-Americans, including the former secretary of state, Colin Powell.

But is he ready to endorse Obama?

Let's go to Brian Todd.

He's watching this story for us.

What is Powell saying -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he seemed to say everything but the word endorse when speaking about Obama. Not shocking that it's one African-American leader talking about another. But in the context of party lines and future possibilities, Powell's comments were, indeed, provocative. (BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)


TODD (voice-over): A Republican heavyweight effusive about the Democrats' rising star.


POWELL: I'm terribly excited. I'm impressed and I'm happy for Barack Obama. I know him. I've met with him a couple of times. And I think this is such an important event for America -- for the American people.


TODD: An aide to Colin Powell says this is not an endorsement. In this PBS interview, the former secretary of state qualified his praise by saying there were good people on both sides. But he didn't hold back the satisfaction he felt seeing Obama's surge.


POWELL: I wish Barack all the best. And I rejoice in what he's been able to achieve.


TODD: Obama campaign officials say the comments speak for themselves. One aide says Obama has consulted with Powell on foreign policy issues, but the aide say Powell has met with several candidates. Pressed by CNN on and off-camera on whether this might pave the way for Obama to offer Powell a cabinet position if elected, the response is consistent -- we're not there yet.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), OBAMA NATIONAL CAMPAIGN COCHAIRMAN: We're in the second contest here in a long, long campaign. And we're going to pay attention to each one of these states and each one of the challenges and work very hard to get the nomination for Barack.

TODD: Still, political analysts say you can't expect to see Powell's comments in Obama's campaign ads.

Is Powell, the Republican, having second thoughts about his party?

STUART ROTHENBERG, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: And it's clear that the general had some problems with some of the social conservatives in the party. And his nice comments about Obama can only be seen as at least a flirtation with the Obama campaign.


TODD: Powell's spokeswoman called that speculation, said the general speaks for himself and hasn't said anything about moving his support away from the party. When I asked if he is anywhere close to endorsing any candidate -- I asked that of several sources close to Powell -- they said they didn't think so -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Jack.

He's got The Cafferty File once again -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is what message, if any, does Barack Obama's candidacy send to incumbent office holders?

Karl writes: "Their days are numbered. It has taken seven years of rubbing our noses in incompetent, non-leadership to wake Americans up to the fact that if we don't make some drastic changes fast, we are all down the toilet."

Barb writes: "I haven't been so excited about a presidential campaign since we used to watch the conventions on black and white TV, waiting for some state delegates to put some candidate over the top. To see such an energized campaign makes me feel as young as some of the new voters Obama's campaign is bringing to the voting booth. It gives me hope that someone -- if not Obama -- will be able to finally give the people of this country what they want and need -- that's a president who cares about the average American."

All you incumbents watch out.

Matt writes: "The message Barack Obama is sending them is simple -- they haven't done their job and the American people won't stand by and watch them throw this country to the direct. He's telling them the American people are ready for change and they won't stop until they get it. And you know what? I'm telling them, too."

Kevin in Florida writes: "I have been a diehard Republican my entire life, but Obama is offering a chance for change in so many ways, not just because Washington can't get it done. But he is offering the American people the opportunity to believe we can be heard and that that in itself can make a difference. For me, I respect someone who can transcend race, color, creed, who can make a point to listen and make me feel, for the first time in eight years, that my vote will count. And Ewen writes: "Barack Obama's message means the alarm clock has gone off. If the incumbents keep pressing the snooze button, they'll probably sleep past the election train and they'll be voted out." -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

You're not leaving. We've got a lot of coverage coming up in one hour. Our special coverage begins here at the CNN Election Center. The polls -- all of them -- will be closed in one hour.

We'll take a quick break.

When we come back, more from the CNN Election Center.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The real results of the New Hampshire primary, along with complete coverage and analysis available online.

Let's bring in Abbi Tatton.

She's watching this.

And we have unbelievable stuff on

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Specifically,, Wolf. And, as you know, we've got cameras all around the state. Right now, the live feeds are streaming there on Web site. We can see Mike Huckabee just arriving at an event in Londonderry, New Hampshire. And we've also got video there of a polling place -- lines of people at the polls. Later on, we're going to have the candidates' speeches there, as well. You will be able to watch them happening live.

Before that all happens, this is where the results are going to be coming in. The results that we're talking about here on air will be coming in on, broken down for all the candidates town by town.

And we're asking for a little bit of help from people in New Hampshire, as well, here today. Send us I-Reports of your experience today at the polls. We're going to be discussing them, looking at those videos and images that people send into us during our special coverage tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And if you're a political news junkie like we are, what you want to do is watch our coverage here on CNN, but have a laptop along. You can get all of the numbers...

TATTON: Follow along (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: ...inside. Follow along, a laptop and CNN -- that's the way to go.

TATTON: We'll be watching.


Abbi, thanks very much.

By the way, you can take the best political team with you any time, anywhere. Download the CNN pod cast. It's the best political pod cast, that's what you need to remember --

And please be sure to join us in one hour for our special coverage of the New Hampshire primary.

Until then, thanks for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.