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Michigan: Do or Die for Mitt Romney?; Betting on the Latino Vote; Voting "Uncommitted" in Michigan

Aired January 15, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Michigan puts its stamp on a wide open Republican race. It's a critical new test for three top presidential contenders, but Mitt Romney may have the most to win or lose. And voting under way right now.
Also this hour, are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama putting a racially-charged feud behind them? We'll tell you what Bill Clinton just said a short while ago.

And I'll talk to a South Carolina Democrat who stepped into this war of words. The House majority whip, James Clyburn, he's standing by live.

Plus, a new bipartisan push to draft Michael Bloomberg. Two political insiders are now trying to recruit the New York mayor to run for the White House. Is a third party presidential bid more likely than ever?

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

About five hours to go before the last polling place is closed in Michigan and the next shoe drops in this unpredictable presidential race. Right now, Republican primary voters are deciding whether to give John McCain or Mike Huckabee a second big victory or whether to give Mitt Romney his first major win in the primary season. Even many Romney backers don't think the Michigan native can afford to lose tonight after his defeats in Iowa and in New Hampshire.

CNN's Dana Bash is standing by in Michigan. She's watching the story for us.

A lot of people, Dana, suggesting this is do or die for Mitt Romney. What's the latest?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I guess I can answer that question by just explaining what's going on behind me. You see that this is being set up for what Mitt Romney's campaign calls a victory party tonight.

Now, that was the name of what they called election night both in New Hampshire and in Iowa. Both of those nights he came in second place, but privately Romney aides admit tonight they needed to live up to its billing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BASH (voice over): Mitt Romney knows the stakes in Michigan are enormous, and he's playing the nostalgia card.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think Michigan is going to vote for a Romney again. I'm planning on it.

BASH: Romney's father was a three-term governor, but that was 40 years ago, and he left the state as a teenager.

ROMNEY: We've got to sign these homemade signs. Is that yours?

BASH: Still, he's hoping for a much-needed Michigan win by making the kind of personal connection he's had trouble finding elsewhere.

ROMNEY: Almost all the cars you see are American made, the way they ought to be. And...


ROMNEY: Of course, people speak with no accent. And they know that "pop" refers to a drink, and not a relative.

BASH: Trying to close the deal in this economically depressed state by playing up his business bona fides, railing against Washington.

ROMNEY: Michigan is going through a one-state recession. How in the world can the federal government sit back and watch a state suffer year after year after year?

I grew up in Michigan when Michigan was the pride of America.

BASH: Michigan voters just have to watch TV to see how crucial they are to Romney's candidacy. From January first of last year through last week, Romney spent more than $2 million on 2,555 TV spots in Michigan.

No one else came close. Chief rival John McCain spent just about $359,000 for only 645 TV spots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And were you planning on supporting Governor Mitt Romney at the caucus?

BASH: That, after Romney poured millions into Iowa and New Hampshire, only to finish second both times.

REP. PETE HOEKSTRA (R), MICHIGAN: Let's go, Mitt! Let's go, Mitt! Let's go, Mitt!

BASH: Even supporters like Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra admit to CNN a loss here could be devastating.

HOEKSTRA: It's hard to put a silver lining on if Mitt lost with Republican voters in Michigan. That would be hard to put a silver lining on. This is his home state. You would hope that the home state would rally around the native son.

ROMNEY: Sign your shirt? You bet.


BASH: Now, you just heard Congressman Hoekstra talk about Republican voters. That is something to really watch for, and it's something that Romney aides are really worried about. And that is because the Democrats really aren't competing here. That means Democrats and, even more importantly, Independents could flock even more to Romney's chief rival here, John McCain.

After all, it is Independence that really pushed John McCain's victory here in Michigan eight years ago. So that is something that they are very worried about in the Romney camp looking at the voting today. But the bottom line from a Romney adviser is this Wolf: a Romney adviser says, "A win here helps reshape the race and gives us options. A loss really hurts."


BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much.

Dana is going to be with us throughout the night.

John McCain also has a history in Michigan, having won the 2000 Republican presidential primary there. He's hoping for a repeat victory today by trying to connect to voters and their economic pain.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We know how tough this has been on this state. I've been here enough times over the years to see what's happened, how we've had so many great, great people and wonderful workers lose their jobs at too early a time through causes that had nothing to do with their productivity or their efficiency or their loyalty to their company. And it's sad, and it's tough.

And, my friends, we are a Judeo-Christian-valued nation. We cannot leave these people behind.


BLITZER: Mike Huckabee is reaching out to his base of evangelical voters in Michigan and others. And he's suggesting he'll be a winner tonight as long as he defies expectations.

Underdog Republican Ron Paul also is in Michigan today. He's looking for a primary showing anywhere near as strong as his fundraising has been. That fundraising has been very strong.

Rudy Giuliani is not invested in the Michigan primary hardly at all, choosing to focus his time and money and energy on Florida and its January 29th contest. Appearing before the National Troopers Coalition, Giuliani touched on the mantra of this campaign, change. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The challenges of our time -- of our times require change. And we know the word "change" is used a lot in politics. But it's really like change in the right direction.

Change for the sake of change -- change can be bad. Suppose we were to reduce the number of police officers, troopers, throughout the country. That would be change. But it would be bad change.


BLITZER: Fred Thompson is still putting his all into his make- or-break battleground. That would be in South Carolina. The Republican primary there is this coming Saturday.

And please join us here at the CNN Election Center tonight throughout the night for up-to-the minute results of the Michigan primary. When the final polls close in Michigan at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, I'll be here with CNN's Larry King. He'll have a special program at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

We're going to stay right here until all the results are in. So stay with CNN tonight, throughout the night, for the latest from Michigan.

Let's get to the Democrats right now and their first test of the Latino vote. It happens this Saturday when Nevada holds its presidential caucuses.

CNN's Jessica Yellin is out in Las Vegas watching this story for us.

The Hispanic vote, that's one of the reasons the Democratic National Committee decided to move up Nevada and give it more prominence.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. That's exactly why they did that. And how the Latino vote goes here is considered a bellwether for the way the Latino vote will go in the upcoming primaries in other states.

This is the fastest-growing minority group in the nation and a key voting bloc for the Democratic Party. And as you can guess, senators Clinton and Obama are vying for their support.


YELLIN (voice over): From Barack Obama, a rallying cry made famous by the late labor activist Cesar Chavez.


YELLIN: From Senator Clinton; the human touch at home with Hispanic voters.

Hispanics make up 9 percent of eligible voters nationwide, but 12 percent here in Nevada. And with a race this tight, they could decide who wins the state.

ADAM SEGAL, DIRECTOR, HISPANIC VOTER PROJECT: If you have to win this state, and if this is the state that the Democratic Party set up as the example of the influence of Hispanic voters in the Democratic Party, you have to be able to demonstrate that you can win Hispanic support.

YELLIN: Obama scored a crucial boost when the state's Culinary Workers Union endorsed him. Most of their members are Latino and will be encouraged to caucus for Obama.

But Senator Clinton countered, announcing the endorsement of Cesar Chavez' brother, organizer Richard Chavez. And the Latino community has a long history of affection for all things Clinton. Their top concerns are the same kitchen table issues that worry the rest of the nation.

SEGAL: They're really focused on, you know, whether they're going to have a job over the next six months or a year, whether they're going to be able to afford health care, and whether the local education system is adequate for them and their family. Certainly the war in Iraq and immigration are also enormous issues, but the Democrats are not really using those issues as a wedge issue in the primary battle.

YELLIN: Who ever does win the Hispanic vote here will have bragging rights as they face primaries in California, New York and Florida. Battleground states in which the Latino vote could be equally decisive.


YELLIN: And Wolf, both senators Clinton and Obama have just in this hour announced new television ads in the Spanish language markets. These Spanish language ads focus on a lot of the same themes we've heard the candidates focus on broadly.

For Senator Clinton, she promises to be a voice for the voiceless. Barack Obama calls on Hispanics to remember the dreams that brought them to this country, but calls that overall message a message of hope.

I should also point out that they are working very hard going door to door, teaching Hispanic voters how caucusing works -- for many of them this would be their first caucus -- and encouraging them to get out and take a few hours this Saturday afternoon to make their voices heard -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, thanks very much.

Jessica Yellin and Dana Bash are both part of the Emmy Award- winning best political team on television. Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can check out our political ticker at

Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, President Bush has some big economic problems staring him in the face when he gets back home. It's all about the economy, the unraveling of the housing market, the so-called mortgage meltdown, sky-high oil and gasoline prices, growing concerns about rising unemployment and inflation.

Economists at Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley have all said this economy is poised to slip into a recession. A lot of Americans think it already has.

Now suddenly everybody in Washington is talking about stimulus plans to turn the economy around. The problem is, the same partisanship that keeps anything else from getting done in Washington is likely going to make this more difficult, too.

The president, Republicans will likely lean toward tax rebate programs, business investment incentives, tax credits, while the Democrats will push to restore a tax credit for lower-income families. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke yesterday to discuss some options, and she says she's hopeful that both parties can work together.

If they do, it will be the first time in years.

One measure both sides seem to agree on -- this is getting a lot of talk in Washington -- is a one-time $500 tax rebate for every household in the country to be spent by mid year.

So here's the question: What would you include in an economic stimulus package to help the economy?

You can go to and post your comment there on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Excellent. Thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: You still have a blog?

BLITZER: I do at And it's getting tons -- not as many comments as you get, because you get a ton of comments.

CAFFERTY: We get a lot of mail.

BLITZER: I got 3,000 the other day. Did you ever get 3,000?

CAFFERTY: Yes. Oh, yes.

BLITZER: That's a lot.

CAFFERTY: That is a lot, though.




Thanks, Jack.

CAFFERTY: All right.

Bill Clinton is speaking out on another radio show aimed at African-Americans. Is he cooling racial tensions between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, or is he fanning the flames?

Also ahead, can two veteran political figures convince Michael Bloomberg to run for president?

We're measuring the clamor for a third-party candidate to jump in.

And coming up, Michigan voters are having their say right now. We're going to tell you what to look for tonight in the exit polling.

The results are coming in. We'll share some of them with you right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: One candidate who's a minister visits a church. Another with business experience visits a company to talk jobs. And a third candidate whose campaign some people thought had died actually visits a funeral home.

Today, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, John McCain went to some interesting places, but all for one reason -- votes. It's only hours before the results of Michigan's Republican primary are known.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's here. He's watching all of this unfold with us.

What should we be looking for as the exit polls -- and our people have been conducting these exit polls throughout the day -- as they begin to come into THE SITUATION ROOM? And that will be relatively soon.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. There is information coming in our exit poll that could determine the future of this race.


SCHNEIDER (voice over): If Mitt Romney does not win Michigan, where he was born and his father was governor, can his campaign go on?

ROMNEY: If I lost among Republicans that would tell me one thing. If, on the other hand, the same thing happened as happened in 2000, where Democrats gave the nomination to John McCain, why, that may be another.

SCHNEIDER: Voters do not register by party in Michigan. Anyone who wants to can vote in the Republican primary, including Democrats and Independents.

So how will we find out how people who call themselves Republican voted? We'll be asking them in the exit poll.

A Romney comeback would create more confusion in the Republican race. Some liberals also want to stop John McCain's momentum since polling shows he'd be the strongest Republican in November.

Here's a YouTube video urging Michigan Democrats to vote for Romney in the Republican primary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democrats vote Romney on the 15th. They may call it underhanded, but it's time for America's mitten to take off the gloves.

SCHNEIDER: We'll find out from the exit poll whether Democrats who voted in the Republican primary actually did vote for Romney or for McCain, as they did in 2000.

Mike Huckabee is trying out an economic populist message in Michigan to try to broaden his support beyond his evangelical base.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been living in the real world while some of these guys have been living in that insular bubble called Washington, D.C.

SCHNEIDER: The exit poll will tell us whether Huckabee succeeds and whether voters believe any Republican candidate is responding to Michigan's economic troubles.


SCHNEIDER: The Michigan Democratic primary will be the first test of the African-American vote. But Hillary Clinton is the only leading Democrat whose name is on the ballot.

Barack Obama and John Edwards took their names off the ballot because Michigan's primary violates party rules. Many of their supporters may vote uncommitted.

Will we be able to see whether black voters are divided? Sure. Our exit poll asks Democrats if they would have voted for Obama or Edwards if the names were on the ballot?

BLITZER: But is it skewed in the sense that a lot of African- Americans who might have voted for Barack Obama are not going to show up because he's not on the ballot? So do we still get a fair sampling as the result of that kind of question?

SCHNEIDER: No, because his name is not on the ballot. But we'll see among those who do participate in the Democratic primary and who can vote if they wish uncommitted whether there are a lot of hidden Obama votes there.

BLITZER: All right. There may be a built-in bias as a result.

SCHNEIDER: Of course.

BLITZER: His name is not on the ballot. All right. So we should be careful with that.

Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

With Hillary Clinton being the only Democratic front-runner to remain on the Michigan ballot, liberals online are urging the state Democrats to cast an uncommitted vote.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, why would Michigan voters want to do this?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, take a look at the ballot that Democrats are going to be looking at right now. There you see Hillary Clinton's name is on it. And then if we go down here, none of the other top-tier candidates.

But you have this one down here, "uncommitted". And it's uncommitted that grassroots supporters of Barack Obama and of John Edwards that are rallying the vote right now.

Take a look at this YouTube video online. You're going to see that at the Web site, "Michiganders for Obama" here.

They've been trying to spread this uncommitted. Get the vote out for "uncommitted" if you support Barack Obama for the last few weeks.

The coordinator of this effort is Christina Montague (ph). She says a vote for uncommitted is a way to support your candidate. And she says if people don't do that, then Hillary Clinton gets it.

There's another Web site -- there's a Facebook page for this effort, and a Web site, Michigan for Edwards, which is pushing a similar idea. This one run by Phillip Skaggs (ph), who says that voting uncommitted is a place for people who are upset with the way the Michigan primary process has gone.

Of course, we've heard about this other effort that's going on online, this for Democrats, the idea of voting for Mitt Romney. This is pushed by Marcos Moulitsas at the Web site Daily Kos.

The idea being that if Romney wins in Michigan, then he stays in the race, more money is spent by the Republicans attacking each other. And that's better for the Democrats. We'll see how it goes later on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see. Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

Abbi Tatton and Bill Schneider are part of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television. Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out You can read my daily entry there as well.

Many say Mitt Romney's political fortunes are riding on Michigan. We're going to take a closer look at what might happen should he win or lose in today's primary. That's ahead in our "Strategy Session." Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett are standing by for that.

And a car bombing in Beirut. The apparent target, a U.S. Embassy vehicle. There are deaths involved. We're going to tell you what happened.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Amid a back and forth about race in the presidential contest, Bill Clinton takes to urban radio again. We're going to tell you what he's just been saying over the past hour or so.

And they want him to run for president, an influential group behind a movement to get New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to say yes. And they're looking for your help.

We'll update you on what's going on.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Happening now, we're finally learning what helped cause that tragic Minneapolis bridge collapse. It involves a flaw so major it plunged dozens of cars into water and caused 13 deaths. We're going to get the details for you shortly.

Also, what's for dinner? In the near future you may be saying milk and meat from animals created in a lab. Would you eat food from cloned animals? The government has a controversial decision about that -- food safety.

We're watching this story.

And what are Michigan voters really thinking as they vote in their state's primary right now? We have the very first exit polls coming in.

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

All that coming up, but first this -- Bill Clinton acting in the role of peacekeeper today, publicly supporting a truce between his wife and her top presidential rival, Barack Obama. The former president appeared on the Reverend Al Sharpton's call in radio show just a few moments ago.

Brian Todd has been listening in, watching what's going on.

He's really been in the thick of things, the former president of the United States, Brian. Tell us what he said just a little while ago.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the former president says Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama did the right thing when both tried to take the racial sting out of their heated primary battle.

A number of prominent African-American politicians had warned that a Democrat-against-Democrat fight over race would do the party no good. And they warned that it's done that before.

Just today, the Reverend Jesse Jackson warned that Democrats might lose in the White House in November if they don't stop the bloodletting.

Bill Clinton signaled today that he and his wife got that message.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They have differences in background, approach, in record and positions in this election. And those ought to be debated. And America ought to pick the person they think would be the best president.

But I think that we don't want to play into the Republicans' hands by crippling either one of them by making this race about something it's not. And I think they did the right thing for the country.


TODD: This all began about a week ago when Hillary Clinton made a remark that some read as an attempt to downplay Martin Luther King Jr.'s role in passing civil rights legislation.

Bill Clinton fanned the flames with his now famous "fairy tale" remark that he says was not an attempt to undermine Obama or his experience, but a reference to Obama's stand on the Iraq war.

In his second appearance on Al Sharpton's radio show in just a matter of days, the former president took the opportunity to say nice things about Obama and about Dr. King's legacy. But he also played up his own civil rights record, and he suggested that his wife will follow in his footsteps -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, watching this story for us -- thanks very much, Brian, for that.

Another high-profile Democrat is urging the Clinton and Obama camps to move on from racial politics.

That would be the House majority whip, James Clyburn of South Carolina. He's joining us now from Capitol Hill. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about what's going on, because it's been very disturbing, as you well know, to a lot of Democrats, especially African-Americans.

What's your read on -- on what has happened?

CLYBURN: Well, I think that the time has come for all of us to get back to discussing our shared vision as Democrats for this country, for these three candidates that seem to be left in the race, Senator Edwards, Clinton, and Obama, to talk about their vision for taking us to where they think we ought to be, and to really just declare a truce in all of this, accept everybody's explanation for how we got to where we are, and to move on.

And I am pleased that it seems that everybody is going to be doing that.

BLITZER: Yesterday, one of your good friends, a prominent Democrat in the House, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Charlie Rangel, who is a Hillary Clinton supporter, he said that Barack Obama was way off limits in suggesting that Hillary Clinton was saying something wrong.

I want to play this little clip for you, Congressman.


REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D-NY), HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: For him to suggest that Dr. King could have signed that act is absolutely stupid. It's absolutely dumb to infer that Dr. King alone passed the legislation and signed it into law.


BLITZER: He was referring to what Hillary Clinton said, that you needed a president to sign that legislation into law, LBJ, and something that -- that Barack Obama later suggested was inappropriate for her to make that suggestion.

What's your take on that?

CLYBURN: Well, you know, Wolf. I'm a little bit of a student of history.

And I think I recall, I believe it was President Franklin Roosevelt who once, in a session with A. Philip Randolph told Mr. Randolph that he agreed with all of the civil rights requests he was asking of him. And then he said to Mr. Randolph, now, you go out and make me do it.

Now, I think that all of us who participate in this process know that everybody has a role to play. And maybe a president is required -- and that's true -- to sign any legislation, but the fact of the matter is, if you really wanted to expand this even more, J. Everett Dirksen, and his work he did in the Senate, also contributed to that.

So, it was Democrats and Republicans. There were blacks and there were whites. And there were elected officials and demonstrators all working together to get this done.

BLITZER: It was a team effort.

CLYBURN: I think that all of us know that. It was a team effort. And that's the way it is today.


BLITZER: I want to clarify your comments that you made on Friday in "The New York Times," because that seemed to have stirred the pot a little bit.

You were quoted as saying: "We have to be very, very careful about how we speak about that era in American politics. It is one thing to run a campaign and be respectful of everyone's motives and actions, and it is something else to denigrate those. That bothered me a great deal."

What bothered you a great deal?

CLYBURN: What bothered me was the notion that anybody was going to minimize anybody's role. We don't minimize the president's role in articulating the moral authority that comes with his office. And we don't minimize the roles of those people outside of the government whose responsibility it is to agitate on behalf of their constituents.

And that's all I was saying about that. And, when we talk about people's motives, we ought to always be very careful. And that's what I have tried to do. And that's why I want us just to accept everybody's explanation for what they meant by what they said and then let us move on.

BLITZER: You're the highest ranking African-American in the Congress, the number-three Democrat in the House of Representatives. So far, you have been neutral in this race...


BLITZER: ... between the Democratic presidential candidates. You plan on staying that way?

CLYBURN: That's my plan. My current plan is to stay neutral.

I made that promise to the National Democratic Committee when they awarded South Carolina the opportunity to have this primary. I made that promise to the South Carolina Democrats when they told me this would be a real good rebuilding program for us if I stay out of the primary. And I told all the candidates that they were to participate in the debates in South Carolina. And, on Monday, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we will have our third debate sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. And I am not going to do anything that would in any way detract from any of that.

BLITZER: We will see you Monday in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Congressman. CNN, as you know, is co-sponsoring that debate with the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. I will be there, joining my colleagues in the questioning.

Thanks very much for coming in.

CLYBURN: Well, thank you so much. Look forward to seeing you on Monday.

BLITZER: An appropriate day to do it, especially on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

CLYBURN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

CLYBURN: Absolutely.

Thank you.

BLITZER: James Clyburn is the Democratic majority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives.

They believe they know for sure, if Michael Bloomberg runs, he -- quote -- "will be elected president," those exact words from a man part of a bigger movement to try to convince the New York City mayor right now to jump into race. They want your help. We will explain what is going on.

Also, just after they vote, we're asking Michigan primary voters what influenced their votes. We have the very first exit polls. And we're going to share them with you shortly.

And, in Kenya, some angry, some very angrily -- angry officials screaming. They're saying -- they're accusing authorities of stealing votes. Now some call for mass demonstrations amid more political turmoil. It's already left hundreds of people dead.

Zain Verjee is there. She will update us on what is going on -- lots of news happening right now, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Right now, some people are saying the race is early and the time is right for Michael Bloomberg to jump into the presidential contest.

If only they could get the independent New York mayor to buy into that, but that's not necessarily stopping them from trying right now. There are new developments on this front.

Carol Costello is watching this story for us.

And it involves two sort of well-known political figures that are urging the mayor to get into this contest.


And, Wolf, they say the time is now. They want to force New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to just say yes.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Michael Bloomberg is the man who would be an independent candidate for U.S. president, if only, if only he would say yes.

DOUG BAILEY, FOUNDER, "THE HOTLINE": Michael Bloomberg, if he runs, will be elected president of the United States.

COSTELLO: He is Republican Doug Bailey, founder of "The Hotline" political newsletter. And he is Democrat Gerald Rafshoon, who worked for President Carter. And this is their latest bipartisan effort to force Bloomberg's hand, to get him on the presidential ticket.

BAILEY: Sign the petition, and let's get this man into the race.

COSTELLO: It's an online petition meant to show the mayor just how many Americans want him in the Oval Office. Never mind Bloomberg himself has consistently denied he's interested.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I think they're wasting their time. I'm not a candidate.

This country does not need another candidate. And I am not a candidate.

If everybody in the world was dead, and I was the only one alive, yes, sure.

COSTELLO: Still, Bloomberg lives in a political world where no sometimes means yes, and he has been polling voter sentiment across the country.

MAURICE CARROLL, DIRECTOR, QUINNIPIAC POLLING INSTITUTE: He's doing everything that you should do if you're going to run. He has got a zillion dollars. But, when you have that kind of money, you don't have to sort of look at the bank account and look at -- you do it when you feel like it.

COSTELLO: And some believe Bloomberg may feel like it now. Why? The economy, stupid. Oil prices are up. Stocks are down. The housing market is a mess. And recession is in the wind.

BAILEY: If the is economy is failing, it would be nice to have a president who knows something about it. COSTELLO: And there are analysts agree who with Bailey, saying, fixing the economy would be a cornerstone of a Bloomberg presidential bid. It's obvious, they say, every time Bloomberg opens his mouth.

Listen to what he told a local audience in Harlem a few days ago.

BLOOMBERG: Whether the term recession, which is a technical term, will be appropriate, I have no idea, but the country is in a -- has some very serious economic problems.

COSTELLO: And if Bailey and Rafshoon's petition drive gathers tons of signatures, Bloomberg has some ammo to woo voters. New York City is fiscally sound. Its murder rate is at the lowest in decades. Bloomberg just has to say yes.


COSTELLO: But Maurice Carroll says Bloomberg won't say yes until he's sure he can win. And he won't know that until after Super Tuesday, when he believes we will all know who will be running in the general election. Only then will Bloomberg be able to figure out if he can beat the two who make it in -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Carol, for that -- Carol Costello reporting.

In our "Strategy Session": Mitt Romney is talking about what he would do as president.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will go to Washington to stop the bickering, the sniping, the partisanship, the score- settling. I will go to Washington to actually get the job done for the people of America.



BLITZER: But, first, does he have to win in Michigan? Or can his campaign go on with a close second?

And former President Clinton spent an hour on the Reverend Al Sharpton's radio show today. We are going to get reaction from Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett. They are standing by live -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Many say Mitt Romney's political fortunes are riding on Michigan's primary today.

Let's go to our "Strategy Session." What might happen should he win or lose? Joining us now, our political analysts, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and conservative commentator Bill Bennett, also with the Claremont Institute. He hosts a daily very popular radio show as well.

Let me start with you, Bill.

How critical is this for Mitt Romney, what's going to happen tonight in Michigan?

BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's pretty critical. I won't say absolutely, but pretty close.

He's got to win. You know, the silver is fine, but he's got to win one of the races. And, apart from the fact the field has got five or six people in it, in each of these races, it has come down to two people. He was matched up against Huckabee in Iowa, matched up against McCain in New Hampshire, matched up against McCain again here in Michigan, or so it looks from the polls.

He's got to win one of these times. After all, he can't keep coming in second and then say, you are the candidate to match up in a very competitive national election.

BLITZER: Huckabee won, as all of our viewers know, Donna, in Iowa. McCain won in New Hampshire.

If -- if Romney does win tonight, then it does underscore how wide open this Republican field is.


DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, we now have three winners. We have a winner of the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary. And, of course, Mr. Romney won the Wyoming caucus.

I think he needs a win for momentum to go on into Nevada and South Carolina. But I don't believe Michigan is a deal-breaker or a curtain-closer for Mr. Romney. He has organization in all of the key states on February 5. And, of course, he has the resources to get his message out. So, a win would be helpful for momentum purposes, but I don't believe it's a deal-breaker for him if he loses.

BENNETT: But look where he goes. He goes to South Carolina. Where does he stand there? He goes to Florida. Where does he stand there?

This is -- this is his best shot. He needs to -- he really needs to win this one. If he doesn't, he can continue, but he's badly, badly wounded.

BLITZER: If he does win, Donna, tonight in Michigan, it helps the other candidates who have not really shown up yet...


BLITZER: ... especially Giuliani. That's the conventional wisdom. What do you think?

BRAZILE: Look, I agree with Bill that a win would help him in Florida and states beyond Florida. But, look, this is also about accumulating delegates, not just winning states.

And, right now, Mitt Romney has a sizable number of delegates already in his pocket. So, I would think that a win would help him, but coming in second may not hurt him, given the -- the situation in Michigan, where it's a semi-open primary. Independents can play, Democrats. And who knows what will happen tonight. It might be McCain's night, but I think Romney will still be in it after -- after tonight.

BLITZER: Romney told me that he's going to stay in, at least Super Tuesday, February 5, no matter what happens today.

BENNETT: Yes. If he...


BENNETT: Look, if he wins, you're sure right. As they say, it will confuse things.


BENNETT: And it will up the opportunities for Rudy Giuliani, possibly even Fred Thompson, whom we here is doing well in South Carolina. You get three of these major races, you get three winners, I mean, we haven't been here before, Wolf, so it's really very hard to predict what will happen.

BRAZILE: And, remember, this is his home state. He was born in Michigan. His daddy was a popular governor. So, anything could happen tonight.


BLITZER: Yes. His dad was also the president of American Motors at the time, a very popular president of that automobile company.

All right, Donna, President Clinton went on Al Sharpton's radio show just a little while ago for an hour. They spoke about a lot of issues.

And he also said this. I'm going to play this little clip.


B. CLINTON: America ought to pick the person they think would be the best president. But I think that we don't want to play into the Republicans' hands by crippling either one of them by making this race about something it's not.


BLITZER: This whole issue that's come up over the past week or so of race and politics among the Democrats, it's really been awful for the party as a whole, hasn't it?

BRAZILE: Well, it's been very uncomfortable for some people to have a conversation about race.

But, look, Wolf, I talked to President Clinton last night. He's a friend. I have known him for many, many years, of course, and worked on both of his campaigns.

I have talked to Obama advisers. They're all telling their staff, their surrogates, and, of course, their supporters that it's time to take this conversation to higher grounds. We can't attack the problems that plague people of color unless we have a president that can deliver on jobs and health care and, of course, end the war in Iraq.

So, I think, right now, the message that Democrats are at least telling each other is that, we're going to tamp this conversation down and get back to the issues that the American people of all stripes care about.


BENNETT: I think it would be good to clamp it down, tamp it down as well.

But somebody needs to tell Charlie Rangel that and Bob Johnson that and some of the others who are continuing to heat it up. Racial politics is bad for the Democratic Party. It's bad for the country. It's bad when it's used by some, as it has in the past, against Republicans. It's bad when it's used against Democrats.

I still believe there are people in the Democratic Party who do not like Barack Obama's inclusiveness, his colorblind appeal. I think they would like him to play more racial politics. And I think this thing goes underground and continues to seethe.

I think what he has done and represents, in terms of his appeal to the whole country and his refusal to play the race card, I think, makes some people very -- some people very angry. And that's very unfortunate.

BLITZER: Well, Donna, go ahead and quickly respond.

BRAZILE: Well, race is not a conversation that -- that Democrats should have. Republicans should have it as well. And perhaps, if Republicans showed up at some of the debate where race is a conversation, we could have that discussion.

This is not a matter of just looking at Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. It's a conversation that really needs a context, because we need to talk about jobs and the injustice that continues to exist.

BLITZER: All right.

BENNETT: Sure. BRAZILE: And, hopefully, Wolf, next week at the debate in South Carolina, we will hit all on of those issues, because it is very important that we discuss race in that context.


BLITZER: Hold on, guys.


BLITZER: Let me just assure you, both of you, and all of our viewers, we will certainly hit on all those issues Monday at the Congressional Black Caucus Institute debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, that we will be hosting.

All right, guys, thanks very much.


BLITZER: To be continued down the road.


BENNETT: Thank you.

BLITZER: If Hillary Clinton wanted to switch jobs, which of these would she choose, a dancer, a singer, or a model? You may be surprised at how she responds.

Also, he's always outspoken. I will speak with the talk show host Glenn Beck. We will talk about the presidential campaign and a personal health scare that has given him a lot to say about the health care system in our country.

And President Bush makes an appeal aimed at lowering the cost of gas and oil. He makes a special request to Saudi Arabia. But will his appeal help millions of you, work?

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


BLITZER: Checking our Political Ticker: Hillary Clinton pondered her career options with model-turned-media-mogul Tyra Banks. The senator taped Banks' talk show yesterday, and they discussed what reality show Clinton might appear on if -- if she were not running for president. She chose "Dancing With the Stars" over Banks' own show, "America's Next Top Model."

Listen to this.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In my dreams, I would be on "America's Next Top Model."



H. CLINTON: But, in reality, I would have to choose between my limited talents. And, of them, dancing is better than singing. You do not want me to sing.



BLITZER: Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can go to our ticker at That's where my latest blog is as well.

I thought that was cute. That was a nice answer she gave.

CAFFERTY: Tyra Banks, political analyst, right?


CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: What would you include in an economic stimulus package in order to help this economy?

Bernard writes from Binghamton, New York: "The main thing I would do to improve the improve the economy: kick all of the lobbyists out of Washington. Their activities cost us, the taxpayers, billions of dollars every year. I would consider introducing a graduated flat tax that would get most of the money from those who can afford it, the very rich who have consistently gotten tax cuts during the Bush administration."

Dave writes: "If these dolts think they can afford to give me $500 and appease me, they've got another thing coming. If there's one thing I despise, it's having my hard-earned money taken from me and then handed back to me, like I'm on an allowance. Then the clowns in D.C. act like they're giving me a gift. It's my money."

Maureen in Massachusetts: "A no-brainer. Repeal the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. Take away tax loopholes and gimmes for big business. Reward companies that don't hire illegals, don't outsource jobs, but rather hire U.S. citizens to work here in the United States. Of course, until you and Lou Dobbs are running the show in D.C., I won't hold my breath waiting for any of this to happen."

Bert writes: "We could solve all our economic woes by nationalizing our oil industry. Energy prices would drop by half. The windfall for the government would pay off the national debt in a few years."

"First off," writes Dave in Brooklyn, "I would heavily tax those corporations that have been given huge tax breaks in the last seven years, along with the wealthy, who have gotten a free ride on the backs of the middle class. Then I would turn all the tax advantages of offshore corporations into tax liabilities. After the oil companies, the wealthy and the multinationals begin to pay their fair share, we can go on from there. But my guess is that we would be able to get taxes on the beleaguered middle class more in line with their ability to pay."

And Wanda writes in Arlee, Montana: "No economic stimulus package would be complete without a stipulation to impeach Bush and Cheney. The boost in champagne sales alone should bring us right out of this slump we're in."



BLITZER: Thanks very much. They got a sense of humor there in Montana.

They're great. Arlee, Montana, I have no idea where that is.

BLITZER: Lovely place, I'm sure.


BLITZER: Thanks.

And happening now: It's the first exit poll from the Michigan primary. It will be out right here in THE SITUATION ROOM shortly, voters sharing with you what's on their minds as they make their choices.