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Romney's Strategy After Michigan; Watch Your Base; Interview With Fred Thompson

Aired January 16, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Mitt Romney taking his Michigan win and trying to run with it. But will it help him in the next round of presidential contests?
I'll have an interview, a live interview, coming up with Mitt Romney. Also, my interview with Fred Thompson.

Also this hour, casino workers have a huge stake in the Democratic race in Nevada. Fights between the two leading candidates and two big labor unions could be crucial in Saturday's caucuses.

We're going to explain what's going on.

And which Democrat would you be able to deal with as far as a terror attack on day one in the White House? Who is most prepared right now to deal with terror on day one?

We'll fact-check dueling claims by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

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

Mitt Romney is telling South Carolina voters today that it was a thrill for him to win in Michigan. The results last night cleared up any doubts about whether Romney is still a major Republican candidate to be reckoned with it. But it did leave the GOP presidential race a bit more muddled and more wide open than ever only days before the next contest.

Let's head out to South Carolina. Mary Snow is standing by with more on what's going on.

Mary, tell us a little about Mitt Romney's new strategy after Michigan.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Wolf, it's an unconventional strategy. He's here today campaigning just like his Republican rivals, but he's looking beyond South Carolina, and quickly.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I'm not going to take questions because I don't want you to freeze any longer.

SNOW (voice over): Mitt Romney arrived in Charleston to unusually cold temperatures for South Carolina. Perhaps it's fitting for the reception he expects here. Romney says he doesn't expect to repeat his Michigan victory and would be OK placing fourth.

ROMNEY: I'm not looking for gold stars on my forehead like I was in first grade. I want delegates. It's something that's growing across the nation.

SNOW: To do that, he is sticking with his message that Washington is broken and needs an outsider to fix it. And he's touting his private sector experience, saying he knows how to help the economy. What's new is his tactic.

While his Republican rivals duke it out in the fight to win Saturday's GOP primary, Romney on Thursday plans to head west to campaign for Nevada's caucuses which coincide with the South Carolina contest.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Nevada has inserted itself into the process in this race, and now Mitt Romney sees this as an opportunity, perhaps, to pick up a whole handful of delegates, while other Republicans are not paying attention to it.

SNOW: Its success is a gamble since Nevada is an unproven testing ground with a traditional road to the White House weaving through Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. After losing New Hampshire and Iowa, Romney had to switch gears.

ROMNEY: This is the state I expect Senator McCain has pretty well wrapped up, and so I am going to spend time here to try and strengthen my position, but I am also going to be spending time in Nevada and spending time in Florida. And then we go on to 22 other states.


SNOW: And Wolf, while Mitt Romney is saying that he expects Senator John McCain to win here, what has been showing is this is a very tight race.

And one other obstacle that Mitt Romney also faces here in South Carolina, evangelicals make up a strong voting bloc. That is not his strong point, as we saw in Iowa, when Mike Huckabee won -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's potentially good news for Mike Huckabee in South Carolina as well. It's a wide-open contest, Mary, right now. Thank you.

The Democrats also are gearing up for their South Carolina primary a week later. CNN and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute are cosponsoring a Democratic presidential debate in Myrtle Beach on Monday, January 21st. That's Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Please join me and Suzanne Malveaux and Joe Johns for this southern showdown just five days before the Democratic primary in South Carolina. It all begins next Monday night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN. Now that Michigan voters have had their say, you can bet the candidates are listening as they head into the next round of contests.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's studied the exit polls inside and out.

They are sending a message. What message did these voters in Michigan actually send, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Watch your base, because that's what the next primaries in South Carolina are all about.


SCHNEIDER (voice over): South Carolina is a crucial test for both parties. That's where candidates have to face the base -- each party's most loyal supporters.

For Republicans, that means conservatives and evangelical voters. For Democrats, that means African-Americans.

Last week, John McCain and Hillary Clinton came roaring out of New Hampshire with new momentum. This week, voters in Michigan sent them a message -- watch your base. McCain explains his defeat in Michigan as a favorite son vote for Mitt Romney.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Michigan voters were good to the native son, and I understand that and support their decision.

SCHNEIDER: But McCain's problems run deeper. In Michigan, conservatives preferred Mitt Romney over McCain by a wide margin.

ROMNEY: I take my inspiration from Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush, who took their inspiration from the American people.

SCHNEIDER: Romney even edged out Mike Huckabee among evangelical voters. The South Carolina vote on Saturday will tell us whether the Republican base is ready to embrace Romney or Huckabee or Fred Thompson or maybe McCain, or will they remain divided?

With no Democratic campaign in Michigan, Hillary Clinton easily won. But Michigan had a message for her, too -- watch the base.

Two-thirds of African-American voters in Michigan voted for an "uncommitted" slate. One reason? John Conyers, Michigan's highly- respected African-American congressman, endorsed Barack Obama and made a radio ad urging Obama supporters to vote uncommitted. Asked how they would have voted if Obama's name had been on the ballot, African- American voters said they preferred Obama over Clinton by better than three to one.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SCHNEIDER: Michigan did not have any Democratic campaign, and so it really wasn't a fair test. The first reliable test of African- American sentiment will come in South Carolina on January 26th -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And that's because among likely Democratic primary voters, about 50 percent of them are African-American. Is that right, Bill?

SCHNEIDER: That's correct. About 50 percent are African- American, and so it's going to be the first really reliable test of their sentiment.

BLITZER: And that's a primary that will actually count in terms of achieving delegates to the convention in Denver.


BLITZER: All right, Bill. Thanks very much.

Bill Schneider. And all of our viewers know not only he, but Mary Snow as well, they are both part of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can check out our political ticker at That's where you can also read my daily blog.

Let's go to another member of that excellent team. That would be Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You still hustling that blog, are you?

BLITZER: I'm trying to promote everybody, including myself.

CAFFERTY: You're all over the place. You're the face of CNN. All right.

Senator Clinton took a shot at President Bush last night during that Democratic debate out in Las Vegas, Nevada. She accused President Bush of begging the Saudis to cut oil prices.

President Bush, as you'll recall, was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. If you don't recall, we're going to show you some pictures of it right now, I think. I hope.

He met with King Abdullah and other dignitaries during his visit. He at one point had a sword on his shoulder. And he was asking that OPEC consider the effect that high oil prices have on the U.S. economy when OPEC sets its production levels.

Saudi Arabia is the number one oil exporter in the world. Its oil minister politely declined the president's request. Senator Clinton called the whole scene pathetic. She said instead of begging from OPEC -- there's the video, better late than never -- the U.S. should change its energy policy and put people to work in green jobs as a way of fighting off recession.

So here's the question. Hillary Clinton accused President Bush of begging the Saudis to cut oil prices and said the whole thing was pathetic. Is she right?

Go to and post a comment there on my blog, the Cafferty File blog.

You got that, Blitzer?

BLITZER: I got it. It's one of my favorite blogs out there.

You like that sword dance, Jack?

CAFFERTY: That's not very presidential. I mean, he just looks silly.

BLITZER: All right. Jeanne Moos is going to have a piece on all this later in THE SITUATION ROOM. You're going to want to see this.

Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

Economic times are certainly tough right now, but should the U.S. be getting a foreign bailout?


FRED THOMPSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to understand that it's not in United States' long-term interest to go hat in hand begging people to do things that in the end we know they're not going to do.


BLITZER: Coming up next, my interview with the Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson. He will tell us what he would do to help Americans keep their homes heated, keep food on the table.

Plus, Hillary Clinton says she is ready for the worst if she wins the White House. But Barack Obama accusing her of fear mongering. We're going to take a closer look at the terror threat on day one of the next administration.

And as Americans struggle with soaring fuel costs, we will tell you where the candidates stand on making America more energy independent.

Lots of stuff happening here today, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The top Democrat and the top Republican in the House of Representatives, they're driving home their push for a bipartisan plan to try to jump-start the ailing economy. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the minority leader, John Boehner, appearing on Capitol Hill just a short while ago together after talks on what might be included in a brand-new stimulus package to try to strengthen the economy. Members of Congress clearly getting the message, along with presidential candidates, that Americans are deeply worried about the economy.


BLITZER: And joining us now from South Carolina, the former Tennessee senator, Fred Thompson, a Republican presidential candidate.

Senator, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: The federal government just released numbers showing that last year was the highest inflation in the United States in 17 years. A lot of people are worried about being able to pay for food, for energy costs.

If you were president right now, what would you do to make sure that people could afford these essentials given this high inflation that's under way right now?

THOMPSON: Sound economic principles, fundamentals that have to do with our fiscal policy, or primarily right now have to do with our spending policies. We are locked into a mandatory spending cycle now that's going to literally bankrupt us some years into the future. So it all gets back to that.

Lower taxes, lower tax rates always mean growth in the economy. On the other side, though, we've got to do better with regard to the spending. And, of course, spending and inflation historically have been directly tied together.

BLITZER: But in the short term, if people can't afford to heat their homes or put food on the table, what are you going to do to help them?

THOMPSON: Well, I think that we are looking at the possibility of a recession now. Nobody knows for sure. We've got to take action that will help those most in need.

I think one of the things that we would have to consider would be a stimulus package that might involve putting a stop on the 10 percent tax rate for a year, declare a moratorium on that, rebate that tax money to those people, increase the child tax credit to $1,500. That would put, depending on the circumstances of the family, maybe a couple thousand dollars in people's pockets that need it, and would help the overall economy.

You have to have a good overall economy for people to be -- to be benefited. You cannot address the issue on a family-by-family basis. You need sound economic principles, and you need to stimulate the economy if it can be done on a targeted basis that will get the job done in short order.

BLITZER: Forget about the technical definition of a recession. There are economists who believe the U.S. already is in a recession.

You have been traveling all over the country. Is the U.S. already in a recession based on what you personally have seen?

THOMPSON: No. I can't say that. I can't say that.

I think it has to do with recent numbers that we're looking at right now, and your conversations with people reflect the fact that we're moving in the wrong direction in some respects. We have got an unemployment rate that's moving up. However, 5 percent used to be considered full employment not too long ago.

So, let's don't get hysterical. Let's don't declare a recession.

I mean, technical terminology does matter. And we're not in one now. But we have to be mindful of the fact that we could be in one.

And the subprime mortgage problem has poured over into the general housing credit market, which has poured over into the consumer credit situation. Automobile loans are tighter. Credit card rates are going up.

So credit is being tightened, and that's hurting a lot of -- a lot of middle income folks. So those are the kinds of things that need to be addressed in the short run.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton says if she were president -- and I'm paraphrasing now -- she would have a 90-day moratorium that there would be no foreclosures at all. No foreclosures over 90 days to help people -- to help them from losing their homes.

Is that a good idea?

THOMPSON: No. I mean, that's totally typical big government. You know, drop money out of a helicopter kind of approach.

You've got to have sound economic fundamentals. Those who are paying taxes now who would have a moratorium on their taxes for a year at the lower income tax bracket, you know, that would be people who are paying taxes that you'd give a benefit to directly and a child tax credit, for example, as I talked about. You know, that would find its way into the economy right now.

But if you're going to squelch a particular part of the economy for a period of time, that pressure builds up otherwise. You're going to create a bigger bubble in the future than you have now. It might sound good politically but it's not -- it's not practical.

BLITZER: If you were president, would you go to Saudi Arabia and ask them for help in increasing oil production, reducing the cost per barrel, as President Bush just did?

THOMPSON: Well, it's a little bigger problem than Saudi Arabia, but, of course, OPEC is important to our oil prices and economic situation. And we need to do what we can to have what influence we can on them.

But we need to understand that it's not in the United States' long-term interest to go hat in hand begging people to do things that in the end we know they're not going to do. They are going to look out for their own self-interest.

They know that the important -- that the United States is a very important customer of theirs. They need to understand that and be reminded of that. But ultimately, they're going to do what's in their own self-interest, and that's going to sometimes be contrary to what we would wish.

So we need to be realistic about that and understand that oil is -- prices are a product of a global economy and supply and demand, and the international marketplace. What we need to concentrate on is diversifying our own energy sources here in this country and opening up what oil reserves that we have here in places such as ANWR, using nuclear more, using clean coal technology more, and all the other things that we can do, including research, instead of going hat in hand to these OPEC countries and hoping that we can solve our problem, them being nice to us because we're nice guys.

BLITZER: We've got to go, Senator, but what's with the picture? Explain the picture behind you.

THOMPSON: Oh, well that's something a little girl did for me and gave to me on the campaign trail. You know, kids do that from time to time. They draw little things up.

And I've got a lot of good support among the children. I think some of them have seen my own little 4-year-old girl on the campaign trail with me, and sometimes they ask about her and give me nice little drawings.

BLITZER: Good luck out there, Senator. Thanks very much.

THOMPSON: Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.


BLITZER: We're also standing by for a live interview with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. That's coming up. I'll ask him how he would deal with rising inflation and whether the U.S. has lost control of the economy.

And coming up next, a former member of Congress is indicted in a terrorism case.

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


BLITZER: Losing serves up some tough lessons. One day after the defeats in Michigan, how are John McCain and Mike Huckabee trying to make sure it doesn't happen again in South Carolina's primary on Saturday? Our John King and Dana Bash, they're standing by live with their campaigns.

And Democrats hope to win Nevada's big contest with the help of labor unions, but does support from the leaders of those unions mean support from rank and file workers?

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


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, political chaos in Kenya. And one of our own reporters caught right in the middle of it. Zain Verjee reports on turmoil over disputed presidential elections. She's hit with a tear gas canister.

We're going to show you what's going on. Zain in Nairobi.

Fidel Castro can talk to visiting dignitaries, but he says he cannot do the same with those who want to hear from him the most, everyday Cubans. Now some are wondering if Castro is ready to retire.

We'll go to Havana.

And fresh from his Michigan win, Mitt Romney will be here. I will ask him how he expects to do elsewhere, how he did last night.

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

One presidential candidate puts it this way: "Everyone gets to be a hero of the day." What Fred Thompson is talking about is a wide- open Republican race right now, now that the major races have been won by different top-tier candidates.

Mitt Romney's Michigan win forces John McCain and Mike Huckabee to push harder for a South Carolina win. And they are both campaigning there today. They are campaigning very, very aggressively.

We are covering both of them. Dana Bash is with the Huckabee campaign. Our chief national correspondent, John King, is covering the McCain campaign.

Let's start with you, John. Give us a little reaction on this day after. What's McCain up to?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Disappointment, Wolf, of the defeat in Michigan and the stinging defeat in Michigan last night for Senator McCain. He knows full well he needs to get his campaign back on track here in South Carolina. He has flatly said today that he will win South Carolina on Saturday.

To get the votes here in this conservative state, he's appealing to the large veteran population, stressing his credentials, both serving in the Navy and what he believes are his unique credentials to lead the war on terror. He is also appealing to fiscal conservatives here, saying he has a record of fighting pork barrel spending back in Washington and would use the veto pen aggressively to wipe out any wasteful spending passed by Congress.

But at the beginning of both his events so far here today, something you don't always hear in public from John McCain -- a passionate defense of what he says his lifelong opposition to abortion.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm proud of my pro-life record of 24 years in the United States Congress.


MCCAIN: I believe in protecting the rights of the unborn. I have -- I have a consistent, unwavering voting record.


KING: McCain telling us after one event that he is doing that at the top of his speeches because of phone calls and other mailings being done here in South Carolina questioning his commitment to the anti-abortion cause.

So, Senator McCain says he needs to do that to appeal to conservatives here.

Tough questions about immigration at a town hall here the senator saying he gets the message from his previous support of allowing illegal immigrants to stay. He says he would now secure the borders first and then worry about the rest.

And, Wolf, one goes to the campaign from eight years ago. Back then, John McCain angered many conservatives in this state by opposing the flying of the Confederate flag above the South Carolina Statehouse.

Listen to this exchange at a town hall.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You came out in favor of removal of the Confederate battle flag, when 76 percent of Republicans in this state, when polled, said they wanted it to stay on the capitol dome. What's your answer for that?

MCCAIN: My answer, sir, is that I cannot be more proud of the overwhelming majority of the people of this state who have joined together, taken that flag off the top of the capitol, put it into the place where it belongs.



KING: After that event, McCain saying the applause at that town hall convinces him that most conservatives stand with him on that issue and the people of South Carolina, Wolf, want to leave the flag controversy behind them, again, the senator campaigning aggressively. He will be here through Saturday. He says he must win, he knows he must win, and he says he will win -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A huge contest on Saturday.

Let's find out how the Huckabee campaign is doing right now.

Dana Bash is covering that part of the story.

What is the latest there, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest is that Mike Huckabee is saying that he is intending to reach out beyond the evangelical base that helped get him elected or get him -- gave him victory, I should say, in the state of Iowa.

But the reality, Wolf, is that he is trying very, very hard to repeat the kind of dynamic that he had in the state of Iowa right here in South Carolina. This morning, he had a private meeting with pastors trying to get them to get out the vote in their churches, among their church members.

And he came to where I am right now, to North Greenville University. This is a Baptist university. And he came and spoke before students who were told to come and listen to him. They were told that at their mandatory church service this morning.

And there was quite a moment here that some of Mike Huckabee's rivals are going to have a lot of trouble competing with. He was asked by a university official here when he found Christ, when he had his moment of salvation. And, without missing a beat, he responded it was when he was 10 years old.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I remember praying that prayer that day and feeling overwhelmed with the presence and sense that God really did love me, in fact, so much so that, when everybody went out to play baseball during the break in Bible school, some of my friends said, let's go play.

And I said no, man, I don't want to get dirty, because I had never felt so clean in my life.


BASH: Now, Mike Huckabee, just like in Iowa, trying to convince evangelicals here that he is -- doesn't just understand them, that he is one of them.

But, Wolf, he is trying to reach beyond them. He is really trying to touch all of his conservative bases here in the state of South Carolina. He got an endorsement from a world-renowned bass fisher here, somebody who certainly has a big following.

And he also signed a no-amnesty pledge with an immigration group. So, he is really trying to hit all the notes to appeal to conservatives here in South Carolina. For him, just like the other candidates, it is a must-win in South Carolina -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's shaping up as a big, big day for the Republicans Saturday in South Carolina. We will be covering it every step of the way.

Dana, thanks very much.

Thanks to John King as well.

BLITZER: Shifting to another battleground, there is also intense fighting under way right now to win Nevada's caucuses on Saturday. The top-tier Democrats hoping to do that with help from powerful labor unions in that state.

CNN's Jessica Yellin is standing by live in Las Vegas right now.

You are looking at this whole issue of labor unions in Nevada. It's a real factor for the Democrats on Saturday.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It cannot be exaggerated, Wolf, how crucial the support of labor unions is in this state in which so many voters or caucus-goers are members of unions.

The most powerful one is the Culinary Workers Union. So many of the folks who work at the casinos here in Las Vegas are members of that union, and it's widely believed that that is the plum endorsement. It's the one that can deliver a victory to whoever won that endorsement.

For the longest time, it was undecided. They weren't going with one Democrat over another until just a week ago. They decided to go with Barack Obama. This was a real disappointment to Senators Clinton and Edwards and a huge win for Obama.

So, we asked them why they made this choice. And it was interesting. They tell us, first of all, it's Senator Obama's history as an organizer himself. He has walked on the streets. He has organized, just as they do. He has labor in his heart, they say.

They also say, look, he was for these issues long before he was running for president. His ancestry, with a parent who was an immigrant, mirrors their own makeup, with many immigrant members; 45 percent are immigrants.

But there's something else. They say that Obama represents an anti-establishment energy that they share, and they think that Senator Clinton represents really the elites of Nevada and nationwide.

Here's what the leader of that union said to us and one of the members.


D. TAYLOR, CULINARY WORKERS UNION LOCAL 226: There's no question we're going against the Democratic elite here in Nevada. They are all behind the Clinton campaign. But we feel very comfortable with endorsing somebody who brings people together, is not just aligned with the elite.

PRISCILLA SCOTT, CULINARY WORKERS UNION: I think he's going to be honest 100 percent of the time. I think he is really going to include the American populace in the decisions that are made. I think it's time for new blood. I think it's time for a new school. Old school -- I'm old school. And that's all right when it comes to music. But, when it comes to running this country, we need a new school. And I think Barack Obama is the one to lead it.


YELLIN: So, they think Obama is new school. The problem is, is their endorsement so new that it isn't going to make a difference? With just a week between their endorsement and the caucuses, there's a big question, will they really be able to turn out their members?

We will have to wait and see -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica.

Jessica is on the Strip in Las Vegas watching this story. Saturday, the Democrats meet in Nevada.

And we certainly hear a lot about the Democrats and their caucuses in Nevada Saturday, but what about the Republicans? The GOP followed the DNC's lead and moved up its Nevada contest to this Saturday as well, the same day as South Carolina's Republican primary.

South Carolina traditionally has been a make-or-break state for Republican candidates, so the GOP candidates have focused time and resources there, largely ignoring Nevada. But -- but that appears to be changing right now.

As we reported, Mitt Romney is planning to campaign in Nevada on Thursday and Friday. In this wide-open Republican race, Romney is mindful that every delegate to the convention counts. Nevada has 31 GOP delegates up for grabs on Saturday, compared to 24 for South Carolina.

And while Nevada may be fertile territory for Democrats right now, Republican candidates have won the state in eight of the last 10 presidential elections -- little nuggets you need to know.

Democrat Barack Obama is pushing hard for critical wins in Nevada and South Carolina, but the Illinois senator is also looking at Super Tuesday, February 5. And he is counting on his supporters online for help.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's here. She's watching this.

Let's talk a little bit about the online effort to get support -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is a campaign that has long been touting the numbers of online supporters, the numbers of online donors.

This is an e-mail from back in last March talking about the people that are getting involved online. And now, heading towards Super Tuesday, that online support is being put to the test, the Barack Obama campaign asking for more funds, saying in an e-mail today this is a way to campaign throughout the 50 states.

But it's not just the money. They are targeting their dialing fingers as well, sending out this e-mail to online supporters, saying, hey, join this virtual online phone bank, so you can specifically call people from your own home around the country in those states that are going to be voting on February 5.

Now, all the campaigns do their online outreach, but one of the things that's been special to the Obama campaign is putting tools in the hands of is online supporters to let them do this themselves, to let them organize phone banks and rallies in their own communities. This site called lets people organize their own group and their own events that you can see on this map that is at the Web site.

Another Web site,, recently did a review of how many events that online supporters of these candidates are organizing nationwide. And they found the supporters of Barack Obama have got a lot going on in the next few weeks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure they did. All right, thanks very much.

All these campaigns are a little crazed right now.

Energy prices shooting up. What would the presidential candidates do to help all of us?

And Mitt Romney wins the gold he wanted, but can he get can him a -- can it get him a gold mine of support moving forward? That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."

And some civilians die in Iraq, the suicide bomber a woman said to have worn her bomb under her black Islamic dress. Why are more females carrying out these type of attacks?

Also just coming in, three U.S. soldiers announced dead, killed in Iraq -- all that coming up and a lot more right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The Labor Department reports energy prices shot up last year by the largest amount since 1990. Soaring fuel costs helped drive inflation up to a 17-year high in 2007. It's all the more reason for the presidential hopefuls to think long and hard about energy independence. It's a critical issue facing the country, has been for decades.

CNN senior correspondent Allan Chernoff is looking into the candidates' actual stands on issues voters care the most about.

Allan, the candidates can't ignore these skyrocketing energy costs out there, because it's having an enormous impact on the lives of so many millions of Americans.


The price of crude oil has absolutely rocketed in the past year. It's still trading above $90 a barrel. Of course, it does affect all of us, some more than others. And angry voters now want answers from the candidates.


CHERNOFF (voice-over): Energy expenses are soaring at CarryHot USA, maker of thermal bags for delivering pizza and other foods.

SANDY PLOTKIN, CARRYHOT USA: It's extremely scary.

CHERNOFF: Owner Sandy Plotkin wants help from Washington. He is tired of paying more and more for power and for fuel to deliver his product.

(on camera): The cost of CarryHot's raw materials are also rising. Laminated plastics, vinyl, polypropylene binding, they are all derived from petroleum.

PLOTKIN: It's just -- it's another nail in the coffin. I'm really concerned. And it's not a new concern, and I don't see any movement toward a resolution of this.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's time to tell the Saudis and the rest of the Middle East oil producers that, in 10 years, this country is going to be energy independent.

CHERNOFF: One thing all candidates agree on, the U.S. needs to become more energy self-sufficient.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our priority has to be to reduce and eliminate our dependence on foreign oil.

CHERNOFF: But how? Leading Republican candidates all say drill more oil wells in the U.S. Huckabee and Romney support drilling in Alaska. Republican candidates also want more nuclear power plants.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We haven't licensed a nuclear power plant in 30 years.

CHERNOFF: Democrats are playing the blame game. John Edwards is most aggressive, calling for an investigation into big oil and gas companies.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's absolutely no -- no justification, with the profits of oil companies today, for American taxpayers to be subsidizing oil and gas companies.

CHERNOFF: Leading Democrats all agree big oil should pay more taxes, revenue the government could use to fund alternative fuels.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can invest in clean energy, in solar and wind and biodiesel.

CHERNOFF: But energy experts say it may be decades before such alternative fuels can even begin to replace our need for imported crude oil, leaving Sandy Plotkin to believe none of the candidates has a good answer for him on energy policy.

PLOTKIN: I don't see any creative solution on the horizon.


CHERNOFF: The fact is, the solution to this problem may be beyond the horizon. Candidates certainly have plenty of ideas but none, experts say, is likely to end our dependence on foreign oil -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Allan Chernoff reporting for us, thanks very much.

In our "Strategy Session," the former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney sharpens his message on the heels of his big win in Michigan.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I'm president of the United States, I will tell you this. I will not rest until we fulfill the promises that have been made to the American people, get Washington unstuck, get Washington fixed, and get America back on track again.


BLITZER: But how will his anti-Washington message go over with the voters?

Which candidate best appeals to Las Vegas union members and Latino voters? Donna Brazile and Terry Jeffrey, they're standing by right here live here in our "Strategy Session."

We will be right back.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session." Joining us, our political analyst Donna Brazile -- she's a Democratic strategist -- and conservative commentator Terry Jeffrey. He's editor in chief of the Cybercast News Service.

Terry, what's the major lesson Republicans should learn from what happened in Michigan yesterday?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE: Well, I think what we're seeing is that Mitt Romney is better positioned among Republican conservative voters than the other candidates.

The fact is, John McCain was getting more support from Democrats and independents, who could cross over in Michigan. Independents could cross over in New Hampshire.

You move into the states coming up, including South Carolina, it's going to be Republicans. That means conservatives coming out. And, if you define John McCain on some issues, like immigration, including abortion, which he was talking about apparently today, he is not as good as Mitt Romney, where he stands now.

BLITZER: That's because he does not support a constitutional amendment? Is that what you're saying?

JEFFREY: Well, actually, eight years ago, when John McCain came out of New York -- he beat George Bush -- they went down to South Carolina -- on this network, on a debate moderated by Larry King, John McCain attacked George Bush for supporting the pro-life plank in the Republican platform.

I think that's a real question for John McCain right now. If I were Mitt Romney, I would go right after John McCain. Does he support the pro-life plank, which he didn't support in 2000? Is he going to keep it in the platform?

BLITZER: Because he does have a consistent record for 25 years opposing abortion.

But go ahead. What was the major lesson you think Republicans should draw from what happened in Michigan?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There's no question, the economy matters.

And what we heard over the last couple days is that Mitt Romney has found his voice. He went back into Michigan, after that South Carolina debate, and he really brought home the fact that he had a plan to help the ailing auto industry, and, of course, that he could help workers in general.

So, I think the economy matters now in the Republican primary. And going forward in South Carolina and these other key states, you will hear more talk from the Republicans on the economy.

BLITZER: Here's the criticism of Mitt Romney. And we are going to be speaking with him shortly here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Ron Fournier, the political writer for the Associated Press, writing this -- he says: "Mitt Romney's victory in Michigan was a defeat for authenticity in politics. The former Massachusetts governor pandered to voters, distorted his opponents' record, and continued to show why he is the most malleable and least credible major presidential candidate."

Strong words from Ron.

JEFFREY: Well, look, these are the two sides of the Romney coin.

As I said, he is better positioned where he stands on the issues now, Wolf, for Republican conservative voters. Huckabee has problems on economic issues. He's solid on the social issues.

John McCain voted against Bush's tax cuts. He's on the wrong side of immigration and so forth. With Romney, it's a question of whether he's credible because he had different views when he ran against Ted Kennedy for the Senate. He had different views when he ran for governor of Massachusetts.

Now he's talking like a solid conservative. If he can convince Republican primary voters that he is for real, which he apparently did in Michigan, I think he's the most formidable candidate.

BLITZER: Let's look ahead to Nevada and the Democrat caucuses this Saturday. This is going to be the first test with Democrats, real test, with African-American, with Latino, with union workers.

What do you think? I mean, who's got the upper hand? Would it be Edwards? Would it be Hillary Clinton? Would it be Barack Obama?

BRAZILE: Well, you know, I think this is a three-way race in Nevada.

I would say Senator Clinton, clearly, because Bill Clinton won the state in both 1992 and 1996. It's a swing state for Democrats in the fall election. But I think Senator Clinton has the support of the -- of the state and municipal workers unions, the teachers union, who, by the way, is suing the Culinary Workers Union.

And I'm proud that the Democratic Party will stand with the Nevada Democratic Party in maintaining these at-large precincts to allow the Culinary Union and the SCIU workers and others to participate in the caucus.

I also think Obama has tremendous strength among young people, of course. And, also, he has support from organized labor.

BLITZER: So, you're saying it's wide open in Nevada?

BRAZILE: It's wide open, yes.

BLITZER: We can't predict?

BRAZILE: John Edwards has the support of the carpenters union. You know, I'm not on the ground, so I can't taste what they're eating, but I can tell you this much. They are serving up a large menu for voters to come out on Saturday.

BLITZER: What do you think, Terry?

JEFFREY: I think, as a conservative and a Republican, I would like to see the Democrat race go on with Clinton and Obama competing for liberal voters, moving more and more to the left.

This week, Hillary Clinton was out there trying to win Latino votes, saying it would take 200,000 buses to deport all the illegal aliens. Republicans are not talking about forcibly deporting people, Wolf. But, if we get into a general election where you have a Republican winning against Hillary Clinton, we could have a straight- up referendum on illegal immigration. That plays to the benefit of the GOP.

BLITZER: We will leave it on that note.

Donna and Terry, stand by.

BRAZILE: Yes. Thank you.

BLITZER: We have got a lot more to talk about.


BLITZER: Guys, thanks for coming in.

It involves an issue you deeply care about. Which presidential candidate is most ready to protect Americans from the threat of terror? We will have a reality check on some of the claims -- that's coming up.

Also, if Fidel Castro can talk to VIPs visiting him, why can't he talk to the Cuban people? We are going to take a closer look at Castro's latest statements and what they might mean.

And Mike Huckabee is raising eyebrows by talking about abortion, the Constitution and God. You're going to want to hear exactly what he's saying.

Stand by. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On our Political Ticker: the latest delegate count in the presidential race.

After four presidential contests, Mitt Romney leads with Republican pack with 52 delegates; 22 of them are from his big win in Michigan last night. Mike Huckabee has 22 delegates, John McCain 15. Ten other delegates are divided among the remaining candidates.

Hillary Clinton leads the Democrats with 190 delegates. Barack Obama has 103, John Edwards 51. Dennis Kucinich has one delegate.

The lion's share of delegates are up for grabs in the upcoming contests through Super Tuesday, on February 5; 1,126 Republican delegates are at stake, almost all of the 1,191 delegates needed to win the GOP nomination; 1,751 Democratic delegates are up for grabs through Super Tuesday, 86 percent of the delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out

Right now, we can check out Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: I wonder how many delegates Giuliani has?

BLITZER: I don't think he has many right now.

CAFFERTY: Maybe one or something, right?

BLITZER: Yes, he's in trouble. He didn't do well yet.



CAFFERTY: All right.

The question this hour is as follows. Hillary Clinton accused President Bush of begging the Saudis to cut oil prices and said that the whole scene with Bush and the Saudis was pathetic. Is she right?

We got a lot of mail.

Rudy writes from Yucca Valley, California: "The comments from Hillary about Bush's trip are mild. I think his main mission was to close a weapons deal, make his defense industries happy. If Bush truly wanted relief on oil prices, he and Cheney could lean on their cronies in the oil industry or cap gas prices. No, just like his demented sword dance, it was all show. He should be behind bars."

Peter writes: "Not only were his remarks pathetic; he is pathetic. What an embarrassment he is. Of course the Congress is pathetic. The Senate is pathetic as well, and since we, the American people, put them all where they are, I suppose we are pathetic, too."

Dan in Des Moines: "Pathetic is Clinton stooping to childish criticism without any answers of her own to our energy problem. She and liberals in general have blocked drilling our own oil and continue to do so. They own this mess."

Gary writes: "Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Bush dancing brings up a similar image in my mind. It's not the price of the oil. It's the value of the dollar."

Steve writes: "If the previous Clinton Administration is any example, I should think that, if Hillary were president, she would be in Saudi Arabia doing the sword dance for oil, too. Perhaps she could even arrange a stay for the prince in the Lincoln Bedroom."

Rashmi writes: "As usual, Hillary is playing politics with the oil. Oil price is a real problem, and instead of addressing how she will deal with it, she blames Bush, as she does every time for everything. We really need to elect a strong leader who will address tough issues like oil without politicizing it. Unfortunately, I don't see one."

And Donald writes from Denver, Pennsylvania: "Pathetic? Did you see that sword dance? George Bush looked like Danny Kaye on Geritol. It seemed more like a family reunion than a meeting of heads of state" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Jack.