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The Situation Room
Stakes are High for Obama, Clinton; Bin Laden-Linked Terrorist Dies; Schwarzenegger Endorses McCain
Aired January 31, 2008 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, countdown to something never seen in this presidential race, and something never seen in all of American politics. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are getting ready to debate one-on-one for the very first time. And eventually one of them will claim a special place in American history.
Also, John McCain eyes a big political prize. And he's showing off a wall of support that includes a popular Republican governor.
And California is ready for its close-up. You're going to find out why what happens here could affect how you get to vote.
I'm Wolf Blitzer at the Kodak Theatre here in Los Angeles, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
In the presidential race right now we're witnessing history in the making. This year will be the first time the Democratic Party nominates a woman or an African-American for president. And just four hours from now, the two people vying for that honor will debate for the first time by themselves.
I'm here at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles to moderate that debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It will be a substantive discussion of the issues, but certainly it could get somewhat testy.
CNN's Jessica Yellin is here with us. She's joining us now to give us a little preview of what we can expect.
You've been talking to both sides. What are you hearing?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm hearing, Wolf, that they know the stakes are high. Both senators Clinton and Obama are working overtime to woo John Edwards' supporters and do something tonight that will break through to all those Super Tuesday voters.
YELLIN (voice over): It's one-on-one now, and it's clear Senator Obama is primed for a fight.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are those who will tell us that our party should nominate someone who is more practiced in the art of power. And when I'm the nominee, the Republican won't be able to make this election about the past because you will already have chosen the future.
YELLIN: So far, Senator Clinton is not taking the bait, saying of Obama's swipes, "That certainly sounds audacious, but not hopeful. I would certainly hope we could get back to talking about the issues." It's a play on the title of Obama's book, "The Audacity of Hope."
Both candidates are going all out with ads up in Super Tuesday states, courting key constituencies, including the prized Latino vote.
YELLIN: And wolf, with John Edwards out it's a brand new dynamic. That means that the so-called grownup in the race is gone. It looks like you're going to have to be the grownup that will keep these two from going at each other all night.
BLITZER: I don't know if I'll be necessarily the grownup, but we want this to be a debate. That's what it is. This will be the first time these two candidates are meeting one-on-one, head-to-head. So we'll let them debate. And obviously we're hoping it's going to be civil. I'm sure it will. They've been practicing. I guess they've been going through potential questions. They normally do this with their top advisers.
YELLIN: Absolutely. These two people know that this is as high stakes as it gets, and they are prepared to take on all sorts of questions.
The big issue, the big dilemma for them, is, how personal, how sharp do these attacks get? We know it works with voters in the end to be somewhat a tad (ph) focused. But voters don't think they like it. And Hillary Clinton in particular has gotten criticized for here negative attacks. It's a big challenge for them tonight.
BLITZER: It's the first time they're going to be one-on-one, Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama. You know what? It may be the last time, too. We'll see -- we'll see what happens in the course of the next few days leading up to Super Tuesday, only a few days away.
Jessica, thanks very much.
And you're going to want to stay tuned to CNN for this first-ever debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama by themselves. Less than four hours from now, I'll moderate that debate here at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. Remember, the debate begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
Let's turn now to word that a high level terrorist is dead. He's described as a senior al Qaeda operative who has had direct contact with Osama bin Laden. He's identified as Abu Laith al-Libi. This comes as President Bush just today talked about keeping terrorists on the run.
Let's go straight to CNN's White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's in Los Angeles. ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at a speech here in Las Vegas, President Bush charged that Democrats are jeopardizing U.S. security by not codifying a law that allows electronic surveillance of suspected terrorists. After this speech, the president signed a 15-day extension of the law, but is demanding a long-term fix.
Now, Democrats have asserted they will not be rushed into this because they say the law as currently written is too broad, that the warrantless wiretaps allow the governments to eavesdrop on innocent Americans. The president dismissed those concerns, saying this is a vital tool in the war on terror. And while he did not mention that a top al Qaeda leader has been killed, he did say America is on offense from Afghanistan to Iraq, and in blunt terms he said the surge is working.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Al Qaeda knows the surge is working. They thought they could live safely in Anbar Province. This was the place from which they were going to launch attacks throughout Iraq and throughout the Middle East. This is a place where they proudly proclaimed, you know, this is our safe haven.
They no longer have a safe haven in Anbar Province. They're on the run. We're going to keep them on the run. And it's in our interest for our own security to keep them on the run.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: The president touted the fact that more than 20,000 U.S. troops will be coming home from Iraq by July. But Mr. Bush once again hedged on whether there will be more troop cuts later this year.
The president saying the U.S. has come too far in Iraq to ruin success by pulling more troops too quickly. That sets up another major clash with Democrats over troop cuts in the summer and fall, just as the presidential campaign will be really heating up -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. Ed Henry with that report.
I want to check in quickly with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File."
This is a historic day today, Jack. And we're all excited here at the Kodak Theatre.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You really draw a handful of aces. I mean, when they lotteried (ph) off these debates, or auctioned them off, you got the top of the list. This ought to be a dandy.
CAFFERTY: The stakes, of course, between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama tonight couldn't be any higher. They are huge. They meet face to face. They have the stage all to themselves. This Ali- Frazier. It's the last debate before Super Tuesday. The race is close. The pressure definitely on. Make one big mistake, and, well, you ought to be able to stay home and bake cookies.
Plus, they don't like each other very much. Remember last week the heated debate in South Carolina? Well, tonight could make that seem like a garden party. I'm actually hoping for a knife fight before it's over. During the South Carolina debate, Barack Obama said he sometimes wondered who he was running against, Hillary or her husband. The former president has taken a high-profile role in his wife's campaign.
With that in mind, she couldn't have been thrilled to read "The New York Times" report this morning, a story on a uranium mining deal that former President Bill Clinton may have played a role in and later apparently benefited from to the tunes of millions of dollars. Clinton, The Times says, went to a meeting in Kazakhstan in 2005 with a Canadian mining financier.
A few days later, this guy strikes a huge deal with the former soviet republic. He then later made a $31 million donation to Clinton's charitable foundation. Probably just coincidence, right? Well, there was also a meeting that happened then later in 2007 at Clinton's Chappaqua, New York, home between the former President Clinton, the mining financier, and the head of Kazakhstan's state- owned uranium agency. When The Times asked President Clinton about the meeting, at first he said it never happened. But when they pressed them, The Times, he finally admitted it did.
I wonder if Barack Obama will bring any of this up tonight. Here's the question, what do you want to hear at tonight's debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?
Go to cnn.com/cafferty file. You can post a comment on my blog.
Wolf, before that debate starts get your Kevlar on. It could get ugly.
BLITZER: Yes, it could -- it could, to coin a phrase.
What do you want to hear, Jack? What would you like to hear from these two Democratic candidates in this debate tonight?
CAFFERTY: Something relevant. I would like to hear things that preclude the kind of nasty, petty, personal sniping that we've had from them up to this point. This is their last chance to persuade voters in 21 states that they ought to be sitting in the White House. I want to hear something out of both of them that justifies their ambition to be there.
BLITZER: I think you probably will, because we're going to try to keep them honest tonight.
CAFFERTY: All right.
BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much. Latinos could help decide who becomes the Democratic presidential nominee. Coming up, I'll speak with one U.S. congressman from California who wants Barack Obama to win. He himself is Latino and a major voice in this community.
Also, California often propels entertainers to stardom, but it doesn't often create political stars. But all that could soon change.
And who did best in our CNN Republican debate last night? We're going to find out who some undecided Republicans picked.
I'm Wolf Blitzer at the Kodak Theatre, here in Los Angeles. We're counting down to our Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton debate less than four hours from now.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: In the Republican race for the White House John McCain follows up one big endorsement with another one. The day after Rudy Giuliani endorsed Senator McCain, California's governor does the same thing. All three stood together today.
Arnold Schwarzenegger says McCain can bring people together.
CNN's Dana Bash is here in Los Angeles. She's following all of this.
Dana, throughout this cycle Schwarzenegger has said he would not necessarily endorse a candidate. Why the change of heart?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well he said today, "It's all Rudy's fault," Wolf. He said because he's so close with both Giuliani and McCain, he didn't want to choose between them for president. But he said when Giuliani decided this week to get out and back McCain, Schwarzenegger decided to do the same.
BASH (voice over): Getting an endorsement from the governor of the biggest Super Tuesday state is one thing. When that governor is Arnold Schwarzenegger, it's another.
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: He's a great American hero and an extraordinary leader. And this is why I'm endorsing him to be our next president of the United States.
BASH: Schwarzenegger's sky-high approval rating, 75 percent among California Republicans, is sure to help McCain in the GOP primary. But the governor said his support for McCain is about Democrats.
SCHWARZENEGGER: There are people out there that talk about reaching across the aisle, but he has shown the action over and over again. Is this the size of the panels?
BASH: The setting, a company that makes solar panels, reflects their bond over fighting greenhouse gases, but it's controversial among some Republicans. And although McCain's famous new supporters, Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani, have wide appeal, their moderate views on social issues don't sit well with some GOP voters.
(on camera): Is there a downside to this image that you have, given the appeal that you're trying to make to conservatives?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I could never, ever, ever be anything but honored by the presence of these two great American heroes. I'm prepared to lead our party in the nation. And I am prepared and I'm succeeding in uniting it.
BASH (voice over): Meanwhile, rival Mitt Romney sat around a kitchen table in suburban Los Angeles talking economy. Outside, he admitted Schwarzenegger's endorsement will help McCain.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Schwarzenegger obviously is a big figure in California. And I would love to have had his support.
BASH: And he stepped up criticism of McCain for asserting again at Wednesday night's debate that Romney had supported a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq.
ROMNEY: Something reminiscent of the Nixon era. And I don't think I want to see our party go back to that kind of campaigning.
BASH: And Romney personally approved several million dollars, Wolf, in TV ads to spend both here, in California, and other select Super Tuesday states. And you know, despite those tough words you just hurt for John McCain from Mitt Romney, this ad that we actually -- one of the first ones we just saw that's airing here in California, it talks about his Washington experience. It slams a rival, saying that that rival doesn't have experience, but in a twist, that rival is not John McCain.
This ad goes against Hillary Clinton. There are a lot of thinly- veiled messages there, as you know, Wolf. One of them is he's trying to make the case that he is the man who is most electable, and that's what Republicans should think about when they're going to the polls here in California and the Republican primary -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dana Bash reporting for us.
She's fresh off her win in the Florida primary, although no delegates there were awarded. He's touting fresh millions in his campaign coffers. The stage now set for the Kodak Theatre, here, for tonight's Democratic presidential debate, as senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama face each other one-on-one for the first time.
Joining us now to talk about this very different Democratic race as its now emerging, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.
He's touting some big numbers, Barack Obama, that he's raised in the last several weeks of this campaign.
What about the Hillary Clinton campaign?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They're saying they'll have enough to compete and go forward and win the nomination. So they're not telling. At this point, if you were a cynic, you would say, well, that means they don't have the $32 million that Barack Obama has. Nonetheless, there's no doubt that both of these campaigns have sufficient money to go forward.
This is about momentum. You know, fresh off Florida -- I mean, fresh off South Carolina, fresh off the Ted Kennedy endorsement. Now what happens? Gee, I've got $32 million and a whole bunch of new donors. So it's moving quickly.
BLITZER: Do we have any idea of even checking how much money they may have on hand?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, these are -- this is something they don't want to broadcast, Wolf. Obviously, they don't -- each campaign doesn't want to tell the other campaign how much money they have left to spend.
But I agree with Candy. This is really kind of a public relations move for them, saying that they raised more in the month of January than they did in the entire third quarter of last year, because money goes to money. And so if they're raising it, they're hoping they'll be able to raise even more.
BLITZER: And they think that they could give a tactical advantage to the other side if they know exactly, presumably, how much money they have.
BLITZER: We are seeing -- correct me if I'm wrong, Candy -- a little shift in tone from Barack Obama. He seems to be escalating his tone a little bit, whereas the Clintons -- and I say both of them -- the Clintons seem to be toning it down.
CROWLEY: Well, they have different problems. It never works for Hillary Clinton when she goes on the aggressive side. When she and her husband in South Carolina went after Barack Obama, it didn't work. So it's a better mold for her to be in, to be sort of above the fray regardless.
For Barack Obama, if he's going to go into Super Tuesday, he needs to try to take away some of those core Democrats from Hillary Clinton. She has always outperformed him with that group, so he need to be saying, wait a second, she's not electable. He doesn't say it quite that way. She's too divisive, I could win the red states.
So that's what this is about, is pounding her as not electable.
BLITZER: What are you hearing?
BORGER: Well, and if he starts trading charges with her, as they did in your last debate, Wolf, I think that he can then not make the case as easily that he's the candidate of change from the old politics. He doesn't want to be seen as someone who is as polarizing as he says Hillary Clinton.
So, it's a very delicate dance they're going to be doing tonight on that stage.
BLITZER: Candy, what are the Democrats saying about the possibility of running against John McCain, who a lot of them think will be the Republican nominee?
CROWLEY: They're sort of gaming it out at this point. Like, what does Barack Obama bring to the table? Well, it is in relief (ph) -- change versus experience, a McCain/Obama race. Also, could Barack Obama go into Republicans, go into the Independents that are attracted to John McCain?
On the other side, Hillary Clinton, no one doubts that she doesn't have experience, that she can't be tough enough. So does she move to the conversation to the economy, which so far hasn't prove to be McCain's strong point?
BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by, because both of you are not going anywhere, you're not going very far. We've got a lot more to talk about.
Super Bowl Sunday's fun and games are only a few days away itself, but the top Senate Democrats have a serious message for the NFL. You're going to find out what the majority leader, Harry Reid, is saying.
And how does the Latino community feel about Barack Obama? I'll ask one prominent Latino congressman why he's such a big Obama supporter.
Lots more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're live at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, CNN learns the U.S. military is planning a pause in U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq once the current drawdown is done in July. CNN's Jamie McIntyre standing by to tell us what's going on. The sex scandal involving Detroit's mayor takes a twist and a turn. The mayor apologizes. CNN's Carol Costello will find out what for.
And money matters. The Republican candidates are sounding an alarm, warning that the U.S. economy is riding on Chinese credit.
All this coming up in our next hour.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're live at the Kodak Theatre here in Los Angeles, the site of tonight's Clinton/Obama debate.
And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Only a few hours from now here at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, the last two major Democrats standing. Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will square off.
Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra represents California's 31st district. He supports Senator Obama, is a powerful voice within California's Latino and Democratic communities. The congressman is here with us at the Kodak Theatre.
Thanks very much for coming in.
REP. XAVIER BECERRA (D), CALIFORNIA: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: You spent some time with Barack Obama today at a rally.
BECERRA: A phenomenal rally.
BLITZER: Why isn't he practicing getting ready for the debate?
BECERRA: Oh, he is -- he did a lot of good practice at the rally. He took a lot of good questions. He hit a homerun every time. He's psyched up. I think...
BLITZER: Did he have any good questions that you went through with him?
BECERRA: No. Well, we talked a little bit beforehand. But he's so ready for these things.
BLITZER: A lot of Latinos, as you know, are supporting Hillary Clinton. You're supporting Barack Obama. On which issue -- issues -- not personality, not inspiration, but issues would you say there's a significant difference?
BECERRA: I don't think there's anyone who is running for president, Democrat or Republican, who can turn the political establishment upside down the way Barack Obama can. If we really want to see change in this country headed in a different direction, it's got to be someone like Barack Obama.
BLITZER: At which issue, though? BECERRA: Well, on immigration, he has been steadfast in saying we've got to fix the broken system. We've got to require people if they want to stay here to become citizens, to take on English, to learn they have to pay taxes. He's been very steadfast.
BLITZER: And Hillary Clinton has not?
BECERRA: I don't think anyone has been as forthright and as steadfast as Barack Obama has on that issue, and in reaching out to communities and letting people know they count -- young people, old people. The rally today at the L.A. Trade Tech College was phenomenal.
BLITZER: Does he -- he supports drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants, right?
BECERRA: Well, he always talks about the need to reform the system. It's broken. And you can't -- you can't ask the state governors, you can't ask the city councils and mayors to deal with something that really is a federal responsibility. He's saying, I'm going to take this on as soon as I become president.
BLITZER: Why do think so many other Hispanics, Latinos, have a problem with Barack Obama and are flocking towards Hillary Clinton?
BECERRA: You know, if you had been at today's rally, you would say, why are so many Latinos supporting Barack Obama?
BECERRA: You would see all that signs that are, yes, we can.
There is a sense of momentum and, quite honestly, a sense that, for 40 years, California hasn't meant a whole lot in Democratic primary campaigns. In 40 years, for the first time in 40 years, we will make a difference. The last time, Bobby Kennedy.
BLITZER: What's going to happen -- what's going to happen in California on Tuesday, you think, based on what you know?
BECERRA: I feel a surge. I have the tingle. It's going to be close. I think Senator Obama is coming on.
BLITZER: And on the basis of just your going out there with him?
BLITZER: Or -- because the poll numbers still show she's ahead.
BECERRA: Yes. The rally we had today at L.A. Trade Tech, right in downtown, it was a mixed crowd. You had as many folks who were older generation as you had young generation. The questions were on target, mixed. You just got to feel it. California, I think, is a state that really has wanted to see change. We have always led the country on environmental issues, any other issue you can think of, immigration. Barack is right that at the cusp of that. He's the kind of leader that I think Californians want.
BLITZER: What does he need to say tonight in this debate, coming up in a few hours, right behind us, what does he need to say that will win over those undecided Latino voters?
BECERRA: Yes, we can.
I think he could tell them. What you sensed in Bobby Kennedy 40 years ago, in John F. Kennedy 46 years ago, yes, we can. I can tell you the energy is there.
I always tell a quick story. Crucifix of Jesus Christ, portrait of Virgin Mary on the mantle above the fireplace. What else used to be on there? The portrait of John F. Kennedy. I think Barack Obama fits perfectly with those others.
BLITZER: All right. Well, we will see what happens.
Xavier Becerra, the congressman, thanks very much.
BECERRA: Wolf, thank you.
Just want to note: Later here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we will here from a high-powered supporter of Hillary Clinton. Stick around for my interview with the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa. He will join us live. We will get his take on the debate tonight here at the Kodak Theatre. That debate begins 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
Not only is Barack Obama's campaign touting massive amounts of money raised this month, but new interest in the senator is also reflected online. Visits to his Web site have increased by more than 90 percent in the last month alone, the majority of traffic coming from first-time visitors.
Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.
Abbi, what's going on?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this video is a response from Barack Obama to the State of the Union, not the kind of thing that you might once expect to go viral on YouTube, but this was uploaded by the campaign a couple of days ago.
And already three-quarters-of-a-million people have seen it. This online interest is being noticed in user-generated sites as well. This new site here is called YouBama, just set up by two recent Stanford graduates who created it as a place where anyone can upload their own supporter-generated videos for this candidate.
Student Chris Pedregal says he sees a lot of young people getting very excited about Obama, and we thought this would be a good way to give them a voice.
But online video, young people, this is not an area that Hillary Clinton is going to give up on. This is the latest from the Clinton campaign uploaded to YouTube. It is a VH-1 spoof, a "Behind the Music"-style video, complete with Hillary Clinton playing the guitar in images there.
The message: I will address college education costs. I will address global warming.
And all the actors in this, all young people -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much.
So, what turned voters on and off during our Republican presidential debate last night? We used an electronic tool to measure reactions from a group of undecided voters. You are going to find out who they thought did best.
Also, only five days until what is essentially a national primary. What do Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton need to do to earn your vote?
And a Clinton voter vs. an Obama supporter -- what strategies do they suggest for them? Coming up, I will speak live with James Carville and Jamal Simmons.
We're counting down to the first one-on-one debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, only 3.5 hours or so from now.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: California, the home for our presidential debates, is a player next week for Super Tuesday, a huge player, the largest state in the union.
Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is here at the Kodak Theatre in L.A., where the debate will take place tonight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Could it all come down to this one state, California?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: California is all set to play a role it hasn't played in a long time, the big decider.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): How long has it been since California was the big decider in presidential nominations? PHIL MATIER, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": The last time it made a difference, no -- the last time -- God, I can't remember. I'm serious. I can't remember the last time.
SCHNEIDER: For Republicans, it was way back in 1964, when Barry Goldwater beat Nelson Rockefeller, for Democrats, 1972, when George McGovern beat Hubert Humphrey, long time ago.
This time, we have got two close races and one state with 14 percent of the delegates needed to win the Republican nomination.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a big state, a lot of delegates. I have got to be fighting in California.
SCHNEIDER: And 18 percent of the delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: California will have the most delegates and the biggest primary on February 5.
SCHNEIDER: California could be the big decider in both races. Mitt Romney is trying to rally California's sizable conservative base. This is Ronald Reagan's state, after all. But look who John McCain just got.
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: Now, talking about a great future, this is the very reason why I am endorsing Senator McCain to be the next president of the United States.
SCHNEIDER: Hillary Clinton has got strengths here.
MATIER: Early-on momentum, good operation, plus, a pretty -- looks like a pretty sizable lock on the Latino and women vote.
SCHNEIDER: But Barack Obama is next new thing in a state where Hollywood and Silicon Valley is always after the next new thing. And talk about stars, Bill Clinton for his wife and Ted Kennedy for Obama are as big as they come.
MATIER: California is one of the biggest states in the union, and I'm still not sure if it's big enough to handle both the size of those guy' egos and their personality.
SCHNEIDER: Bill and Ted's excellent adventure, the political remake.
SCHNEIDER: Two pairs of heavyweight contenders battling for titles in the heavyweight state. You know, that's heavy, man.
BLITZER: And you know a lot about California politics.
BLITZER: You have spent quite a bit of time here and you understand it. Thanks, Bill.
BLITZER: Bill Schneider reporting.
California has a reputation for being heavily Democratic, thanks in part to a large urban center here in Los Angeles, as well as in San Francisco and elsewhere around the state. But the state also have a long history of supporting Republicans, particularly for governor. Of the last nine governors in the state, six have been Republicans, including the current governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Many of you watched the Republican presidential debate last night here on CNN and asked a central question, who among the candidates should you support? We wanted to know the answer from a group of undecided Republicans. And we used some electronic tools to try to gauge that.
Our Mary Snow is in New York.
Mary, this dial testing measured their reactions. What did we pick up?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, 24 undecided Republicans in Oxnard, California, registered their instant reaction. You will see on the screen when the lines go up, it indicates the group responded positively. Down, it indicates they heard something they didn't like.
One thing that did register with them was the sniping.
SNOW (voice-over): It was a heated moment that sparked some of the strongest reaction to Wednesday night's Republican debate.
Watch what happens when this focus group weighs in on the topic of Senator John McCain's claim that his rival Mitt Romney supports secret timetables for troop withdrawal from Iraq.
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": It's open to interpretation.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we weren't leaving, how could the enemy lay in the weeds?
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator, if you have question on this, if you have a question on this, you could have asked it.
MCCAIN: I'm sorry you did not have... ROMNEY: The individual asked in the following question, "do you have a specific time, would you support Congress if they gave you a specific time?" I said "absolutely not."
SNOW: This group had negative reactions to McCain over the exchange.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is continually attacking Mitt Romney on the idea that he was in favor of a timetable. And that definitely does not sell well.
SNOW: The group, while unscientific, said Romney fared better overall. But with some influential political reporters, McCain scored better.
Rita Kirk, a Southern Methodist University professor, who conducted the focus group, says there are sometimes discrepancies between political analysts and regular people.
RITA KIRK, PROFESSOR, SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY: Part of what happens when pundits start speaking is that we often look at the strategies that we know going on behind the scene. There are so many variables that affect a campaign that have nothing to do with the debates themselves.
SNOW: Mike Huckabee complained about not getting equal time. He scored well with this group.
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we leave a bigger mess in Iraq than is there now, it's not going to just affect Iraq. It's going to affect the rest of the Middle East.
SNOW: For at least one voter, moments like that could make a difference.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was leaning towards McCain. But, you know, I think Huckabee had a lot of good answers and sort of like swayed me.
SNOW: And we have been seeing record numbers of people watching debates across the board. And Rita Kirk, who ran the group, says, in talking to these groups, the debates are certainly making an impact on their final decisions -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary, thanks very much.
And, if you want to see how voters are reacting to tonight's debate, only a little bit more than three hours from now, while they're still on the stage, this is what you can do. Check out CNN.com/live and you can get real-time reaction from California voters. That's coming up tonight in the Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama.
Coming up in "Strategy Session," Super Tuesday only five days away and the candidates are looking beyond February 5th.
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SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will not just win the election. We will not just win the general. But you and I, together, we will transform this country, and we will transform the world.
MCCAIN: I'm prepared to lead our party and the nation, and I am prepared and am succeeding in uniting it. We need all parts of our party together if we're going to win in November.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But where should the candidates focus their attention during the run-up to the first national test next Tuesday?
And we're three hours and 17 minutes or so away from the first one-on-one debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. What do our strategists predict will happen? Donna Brazile and Cheri Jacobus, they're standing by, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're at the Kodak Theatre, live in Los Angeles, where the excitement is building, history about to be made, right here in L.A.
BLITZER: And then there were two, the Democratic presidential field now down to Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and Senator Hillary Clinton of New York.
Tonight, right here on the stage at the Kodak Theatre here L.A., Clinton and Obama will debate the issues one on one. This is the first time they have gone one on one since they started their campaign. What can we expect from this showdown.
Let's get to our "Strategy Session." Joining us, our CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus.
Donna, first to you.
What do you expect to hear from these two Democrats tonight?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, first of all, I expect that they both will act presidential. They will put the substance over the superficial.
Senator Clinton clearly will go back to her basic argument, not only about experience and also the kind of change she can bring, but she will talk about the economy, connect with voters on pocketbook issues. Senator Obama will be a lot more specific tonight about the issues that not only worry most Americans, but I think rather than hear the poetry tonight, we will hear the prose.
We will hear Senator Obama outline some of the substantive things he's been talking about on the campaign trail, his health care plan, his plan to stimulate the economy, and, of course, his plan for global warming, because he's talking to a national audience. So I think both candidates will try to introduce themselves, reintroduce themselves, to the national audience.
BLITZER: And some people will just be paying attention for the first time, Cheri. It could be a huge opportunity for both of these candidates, obviously. What do you think, Cheri?
CHERI JACOBUS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think that both of the candidates are going to try real hard to please those John Edwards supporters.
I think we're hear a lot about that. They're going to sound a lot like John Edwards. They're going to be invoking John Edwards's name. John Edwards, tonight, is going to be more popular than perhaps he's been throughout this entire campaign, because they want those supporters, and they want them bad.
BLITZER: Donna, let's look ahead, only five days to Super Tuesday, next Tuesday. Half the country, it seems, will be voting. What states should these two Democrats be focusing on, Clinton and Obama?
BRAZILE: Well, Wolf, with over 1,000 delegates available in six states, California, Missouri, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, I suspect that those candidates will try to get as many delegates as possible from those six states.
In addition, I think Senator Obama will look south to pick up perhaps Georgia, Senator Clinton clearly Arkansas and Tennessee. Senator is also doing very well in Colorado, which is a caucus state. Of course, he's also focusing on Kansas.
Senator Clinton looks very strong right now in the New England region, perhaps with New Jersey and Delaware. But this is a wide-open contests as it relates to going congressional district by congressional district to try to pick up delegates. It's not winner take all, like on the Republican side.
BLITZER: Well, let's talk about the Republican side, Cheri.
Where should the remaining Republican candidates be focusing their attention now and Tuesday?
JACOBUS: Well, clearly, California is the huge gain here and for both Romney and for McCain. So, the difference is, besides -- you look at the winner-take-all states. They know where they're going. But, in California, they have to do this splicing and dicing thing. And they're literally fighting this out and duking this out congressional district by congressional district.
Romney has got the money to spend. McCain is trying to spend the money, but, Wolf, he is benefiting -- McCain is benefiting from these high-profile endorsements from Governor Schwarzenegger. And obviously there's been Giuliani, and this endorsement/non-endorsement from Nancy Reagan. That is getting him great earned media statewide and nationally.
So, I think that's going to work for him. Interestingly, I think McCain should also be looking at New Jersey. When you look at the New Jersey and -- the New Jersey market is -- the media market is the same as the New York market. So, the earned media that John McCain is going to get there is going to help him in New Jersey, where he's coming close.
So, that's going to work for him now that New Jersey is a newly minted winner-take-all state. Huckabee doing very well in Missouri. He could actually do something there. Romney was ahead a few months ago in Missouri. Now he's in third place. So, Romney has got to go there and fight with Huckabee. Huckabee can do well there. And Huckabee is also going to do very well in Georgia, where he could just find himself a contender for that number-two spot.
So, I think Romney is the guy that has really got to spend a lot of money. With McCain, the man is the message. Wherever he goes, he is getting press because of the endorsements. And Huckabee is still hanging in there and has got something to offer. So, it's interesting to watch.
BLITZER: Donna, which of these Republican candidates left standing scares the Democrats the most?
BRAZILE: Wolf, we're not scared. I know some Democrats are worried about McCain. Some are worried about Romney. I don't think Democrats should be scared. We -- the party has a strong record to run on, on the economy, on foreign affairs. I really don't think that we should be bothered with the personalities, but instead talk to the American people and try to solidify the party and bring in independents and disaffected Republicans, so that we can win in the fall.
BLITZER: Cheri, are you ready to say, as some observers are suggesting, a lot of them, in fact, that it's now down to McCain and Romney, that Huckabee and Ron Paul, for all practical purposes, are not involved?
JACOBUS: Well, I think they're involved, certainly. And Huckabee is going to have I think some delegates and some sway.
But, yes, I think it's pretty much a two-man race. And McCain has the momentum. Romney, you know, he has got to spend an awful lot of money. And he's got to cover a lot of ground. More and more, he's finding himself marginalized. When you look at the polls in these 20- plus states on Super Tuesday, he's got nowhere to go. So, I think the momentum is with McCain. But Romney has got the money.
BRAZILE: Well, walking about money...
BLITZER: All right, we will -- go ahead, quickly, Donna.
BRAZILE: Barack Obama is advertising in 22 states, with the exception of Illinois. Senator Clinton is advertising in 12 states, including Arkansas and New York. Senator Clinton intends to hold a nationwide satellite town-hall meeting Monday night.
So, this is going to be a very interesting contest. Democrats are excited about these two historic candidates.
BLITZER: Donna Brazile and Cheri Jacobus in our "Strategy Session" -- guys, thanks very much for that.
The field is narrowing, and movers and shakers are making their choices, even -- get this -- Hulk Hogan. We're going to tell you what he going to the mat for.
Also, borrowing money from China, then printing more to pay for it. Republicans sound an alarm. Are they right?
And California's young voters get ready to watch tonight's debate. We're going to find out what issues are important to them. We're here at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. We're getting ready for the debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, just a little bit more than three hours from now.
We will be right back.
BLITZER: In today's Political Ticker, Hillary Clinton is not getting the support at least of one of her hometown newspapers. "The New York Post" says Democrats should support the senator from Illinois instead. "The Post" says Obama represents a fresh start and that Hillary and Bill Clinton represent, in their words, "a return to the opportunistic, scandal-scarred, morally-muddled years" of what "The Post" calls a Clinton co-presidency.
Barack Obama also appears to be the choice of wrestling star Hulk Hogan. In a recent appearance on the "Jimmy Kimmel Live" show, Hogan said Obama really can make a change and that Obama, "seems like the real deal."
Hillary Clinton has a message for you. She says she is the one who can best handle economic problems as president. Clinton's campaign is out with new ads addressing the shaky economy. In one, Clinton says the U.S. economy could, "be heading into freefall." And, in another ad, Clinton says the nation can turn the sour economy around.
President Bush's former political guru is laying what he calls new rules of politics. Among the rules Karl Rove lays out in "The Wall Street Journal" that TV ads don't matter like they used to. Rove says things like voter access to candidates, talk radio and the Internet are far more beneficial to candidates. Remember, for all the latest political news any time, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com. That's the place to go.
Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Let me ask you something, Wolf. Would you decide who to vote for, for president based on who Hulk Hogan likes? BLITZER: No, I would not.
CAFFERTY: I wouldn't either. I mean, what -- what does that even mean?
CAFFERTY: Go ahead.
BLITZER: He probably has some fans, though, who believe in him.
CAFFERTY: Barack Obama should call him and say...
BLITZER: I am -- I'm not one of them.
CAFFERTY: No. Barack should call him up and say, please, take the endorsement back. You're killing me here.
The question this hour is, what do you want to hear in tonight's debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama moderated by Wolf Blitzer? This is going to be a giant. This is the rumble in the jungle, the thriller in the Manila, or whatever. -
Bert writes, "I would like to hear them justify their positions on continuing to allow employers to steal jobs and reasonable wages from low and middle income Americans, with their support of institutionalizing illegal immigration in the form of amnesty or lack of enforcement of our laws."
James in Florida, "Since a lot of our problems -- security, economy, environment -- revolve around our dependence on oil, what do either of these candidates plan to do to get us off oil?"
Ameer in Chicago, "I would like to hear Senator Clinton explain this whole deal made with the Canadian businessman" -- big story in "The New York Times" today about former President Bill Clinton and a Canadian businessman and a trip to Kazakstan and some uranium mines and some money that wound up flowing into the Clinton foundation, et cetera -- "This deal goes to show the deep and evil seeds the Clintons have planted while in the White House, and I only see more things coming out of the closet with this team. This is the kind of baggage Obama does not have."
Bernadette in Florida, "I want to hear about the skeletons in Obama's closet. We already know and found Hillary and Bill's skeletons. This is old news. We need fresh gossip. Move on."
Nathan in Boston, "I want for the candidates to be asked, if they do not win the nomination from the Democratic Party, at least for president, would either of them consider running for vice president with the other candidate?" A lot of you asked that question.
Steve writes, "It would be nice if Obama gave a straight answer for once. I get it, change, but is there actually a plan?"
And James writes, "I want Hillary to explain the latest Clinton scandal. And if her years as a first lady qualify her to run this country, does that mean a brain surgeon's wife is qualified to operate on people?"
CAFFERTY: Wolf, it's going to be a giant.
BLITZER: It's going to -- I want you to look at this crowd that's gathered here at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.
Take a look at these pictures, Jack. We have got people coming from all over. They support, some of them, Obama, some of them, Hillary Clinton. But we're getting a big crowd. And it looks like it's going to get bigger and bigger and bigger as the clock winds down.
All right, Jack. Thanks very much for that.
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