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The Situation Room
Clinton vs. Obama: 'Guessing' What's Next; McCain's Challenge: GOP Rivals Fight to Stop Him
Aired February 05, 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, millions of Americans are voting from coast to coast. And the future of this historic and unpredictable presidential race very much on the line right now.
On this Super Tuesday, we're watching the candidates scrambling for every vote. And we'll bring you the first exit poll information, fresh clues about what the voters are actually thinking.
Plus, California gold. It's the biggest Super Tuesday prize and a curtain-closer on this epic primary day. We're going to tell you what to look for when the votes start coming in.
I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's the closest thing we have to a national primary day, and it's happening right now. From Los Angeles and Salt Lake to Boston and Atlanta, Democrats are holding presidential contests in 22 states and American Samoa -- 1,681 delegates are at stake, a huge chunk of the more than 2,000 needed to clinch the nomination. Delegates are awarded proportionately, so even the losing candidate can win delegates.
Republicans are holding contests in 21 states. Just more than 1,000 delegates are on the line. Almost all of the total needed to lock up the nomination. In the states shown in bright red, the winner takes all the Republican delegates up for grabs.
Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee are all from Super Tuesday battlegrounds. They went back home to cast their own votes. Ron Paul votes later in the Texas primary.
The best political team on television is covering this mega-day of voting from every angle. Even if today's contests do not decide the Democratic and Republican races, they'll certainly go a long way toward determining the nominees.
Hillary Clinton says she's kind of guessing what Super Tuesday will mean for her close and heated contest with Barack Obama. But she says she does know this much about what the Americans are demanding. They're demanding, she says, radical change.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I want to put the American people first again. And, you know, I think there is a lot of reason for people to worry that the president just doesn't pay attention, and I want them to know that I get it. And I'll be there for them if they are willing to go out and vote for me today. And I hope everybody watching will do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Senator Obama says he expects a split decision after all the Democratic votes are counted and the delegates are awarded tonight. He's refusing to speculate about his running mate if and win he locks up the nomination.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's some gamesmanship going on right now. It would be presumptuous of me to suggest that Senator Clinton wants to be my vice president. I think that folks on her side, I think, should recognize that we're in a tough contest right now.
If she wins the nomination, then they can start speculating on who the running mate will be. I'll make sure that I focus on winning the nomination. And once we do that, then we'll bring the country together and we'll all go after winning the White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is here at the CNN Election Center.
Candy, you've been covering this Clinton campaign for a long, long time. What are the insiders telling you?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We have agreement between the Obama camp and the Clinton camp. They also think there may be a pretty even distribution of the delegates. They say they think they'll come out of Super Tuesday with more delegates than he has, which they have now. But they don't really expect this is going to be definitive as to who the nominee is.
BLITZER: And they're also making plans, the Hillary Clinton campaign, for down the road. There are more contests this coming weekend, next Tuesday, the following Tuesday, and they're gearing up for more presidential debates.
CROWLEY: Absolutely. And this is a little bit of gamesmanship here, too, because they've accepted four debates down the road. And, of course, these are forums that really favor her.
This has been her strong point. So, obviously, if they are going to go on after here, if there's no definitive nominee after this -- and it doesn't appear there will be -- they want to kind of force his hand into more debates where they think she shines.
BLITZER: Candy, you're going to be busy tonight. Thanks very much. We're all going to be busy. Still ahead, we're going to have a live report on what Barack Obama is doing today and what his campaign expects later tonight.
In the Republican race, John McCain is hoping to come out of Super Tuesday unstoppable, if not the outright winner. But his opponents have some other ideas, especially McCain's most bitter rival, Mitt Romney. Our Dana Bash is in McCain's home state and the Super Tuesday battleground state of Arizona. McCain has been making a last-minute push out West.
Dana, what's the latest?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest is we're waiting for John McCain actually to touch down in California. Right before he took off for California, he said he was actually worried about that very, very important state that's voting today, worried that he's not going to do very well here in that state, I should say.
That's why he's making one last stop with its governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. But, you know, from the McCain campaign, Wolf, they say success -- they hope, at least, success tonight will start back East where you are, in the delegate rich states, winner-take-all states of New Jersey and New York.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to carry New York for John McCain!
BASH (voice over): New York City, not exactly a Republican bastion. But that was John McCain's point as he started Super Tuesday telling GOP voters he's their best shot at beating a Democrat.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to win New York today, and we're going to win New York in the general election.
BASH: His urgent appeal, that Iraq is the biggest dividing line with Democrats, and he's the Republican to make their case.
MCCAIN: And there was times when people said, no, we've got to get out, we've got to set timetables for a withdrawal. That means surrender. And I can tell you right now that the two leading Democrats want to wave the white flag.
BASH: But in West Virginia, Mitt Romney tried to trip the front- runner by pounding away at his weakness, saying McCain is too liberal to be their nominee.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do you want to have as your nominee a person who voted against drilling in ANWR? Do you want to have a person as your nominee, someone who voted against the Bush tax cuts?
AUDIENCE: No! ROMNEY: Do you want to have a person as your nominee, a person who voted against the marriage amendment?
BASH: Romney got some 11th-hour help with that from a powerful conservative voice. Focus on the Family's James Dobson announced he could never vote for John McCain, giving a statement to Romney supporter Laura Ingraham to read on her radio show.
LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: "I am convinced Senator McCain is not a conservative and, in fact, has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are."
BASH: Meanwhile, struggling GOP candidate Mike Huckabee, who does have conservative appeal, appeared to give a thinly-veiled boost to McCain in speaking about the threat of terrorism.
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These are fanatics that are absolutely willing to kill every last one of us.
HUCKABEE: Your next president had better understand that threat.
BASH: Now, Huckabee may be the big GOP underdog, but he actually won the very first of today's nearly two dozen contests. He won the 18 delegates in West Virginia -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And that was an interesting way he managed to do it. It was a winner-take-all state over there, a caucus, if you will. Tell our viewers how Huckabee managed to beat Mitt Romney and John McCain for West Virginia's delegates.
BASH: Well, it was actually the "we need to beat Mitt Romney" Huckabee/McCain alliance that made this happen. It was interesting. West Virginia gets its delegates -- or appoints its delegates -- through a convention. And at that convention, in the first round of voting, Mitt Romney was ahead.
So what happened was John McCain's supporters decided to throw all of their weight and support behind Mike Huckabee. They gave him a win instead of Mitt Romney, essentially trying to keep every last delegate -- in this case, 18 delegates -- out of Mitt Romney's column -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll be speaking later here in THE SITUATION ROOM with Mike Huckabee. We'll get his reaction to his win in West Virginia and a lot more. That interview, one-on-one with Mike Huckabee, that's coming up.
Thank you, Dana.
Dana Bash and Candy Crowley, as all of our viewers know, they're part of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television.
And remember, for the latest political news any time, you can check out our Political Ticker at CNNPolitics.com. That's where you can also read my daily blog that I just posted only a few moments ago -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: What did you write about today?
BLITZER: I wrote about how I prepare for a long, long day and night like tonight. I gave a little history there as well. What do I do to prepare editorially so I understand the issues, the states and all that, but physically as well. A lot of people asking me, "How do you have the stamina to stay up all night and do this?"
CAFFERTY: You're a tough guy. You work out, right? Exercise?
BLITZER: You've got to read. You've got to read the little blog.
CAFFERTY: Let me do this and then I'm going to go read your blog, all right?
CAFFERTY: Today's Super Tuesday primary contests are of historic proportions. You may have heard that before. The biggest primary day ever -- 44 nominating contests in 24 states, more than 2,700 delegates up for grabs. It represents more than 40 percent of the total Democratic and Republican delegates.
It's also probably the closest we've ever come to having a national primary in this country on a single day. So why don't we go all the way? There are a lot of arguments to be made for allowing all 50 states to cast their primary votes at once. The system, as it stands now, there's room for improvement. There are stronger words to describe it, but it's a family show.
Candidates spend a lot of time, money, in the early states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. A lot of the voters in those states meet the candidates up close in their homes, churches, town meetings, schools, whatever.
These voters then narrow down the playing field for the rest of us. Consider this -- over the summer there were 18 people running for president in both parties. Now there are essentially two major candidates on either side to choose from. And that's a fairly dramatic reduction in choices based on voters on just a handful of states.
What if I, a resident of New Jersey, liked one of those guys from last summer? They're gone because of the people in Iowa and New Hampshire. Not fair to some of the people who vote later.
We saw a lot of states move up the dates of their primaries this year to have more influence on the outcome. For the candidates, that has met a significantly suppressed amount of time to campaign in nearly half the country. Just a couple of weeks.
For most voters it likely means the closest they'll ever get to any of these office holders or candidates are a few 30-second TV commercials.
Here's the question then: How would you change the U.S. presidential primary system?
You can go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.
Do you know -- somebody pointed out to me -- American Samoa has more delegates than Michigan or Florida, because those two states were stripped of their delegates because they moved their primaries up. So you have American Samoa with three delegates and Florida and Michigan with none.
BLITZER: On the Democratic side?
BLITZER: And I'm going to speak to Howard Dean, the Democratic Party chairman...
CAFFERTY: I mean, it's, you know...
BLITZER: ... in the next hour. We're going to talk about that.
CAFFERTY: That's nonsense.
BLITZER: Yes. Well, we'll see what happens if, in fact, Michigan and Florida do have some influence at the convention, if it comes down to it, at the end of the summer.
CAFFERTY: Yes. But as it stands right now, they don't.
BLITZER: As it stands right now, American Samoa has delegates, but Michigan, the millions of Democrats who voted there and in Florida, they will have no delegates.
CAFFERTY: None. Zippo.
BLITZER: That's right.
CAFFERTY: I'm going to go read your thing now.
BLITZER: Read it. We'll talk.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thanks very much.
We're also standing by, by the way, to bring you the first exit polling information. Our Bill Schneider is going through some of those numbers. We'll get a heads up on what Super Tuesday voters across the country are thinking about. The candidates, the issues, and the state of the nation. Plus, Rush Limbaugh's campaign against John McCain. I'll ask CNN's Glenn Beck and Roland Martin how much damage Limbaugh is making right now on McCain. And most everyone seems to think the Democratic race will be a squeaker today, but what if it's not? Expect the unexpected. We'll talk about that in our "Strategy Session."
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: On this Super Tuesday, a lot of last-minute strategizing, second-guessing going on right now on both sides of the political spectrum.
Joining us now, two outspoken radio hosts and commentators, our own Glenn Beck and Roland Martin.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
GLENN BECK, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: You bet.
BLITZER: This Rush Limbaugh phenomenon that's going on -- and you've watched this closely -- he really doesn't like John McCain at all. He told Howard Kurtz, who wrote a piece in "The Washington Post" today -- he says this: "If I believe the country will suffer with either Hillary, Obama or McCain, I would just as soon the Democrats take the hit rather than a Republican causing the debacle. And I would prefer not to have conservative Republicans in the Congress paralyzed by having to support out of party loyalty a Republican president who is not conservative."
BLITZER: In other words, he's suggesting that Republicans would be better off with Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama than John McCain.
BECK: Republicans will be because Republicans have lost their soul. They're Republicans. They're all about the elephant. They're not about values anymore.
John McCain is not about values that are conservative anymore. He was of McCain/Feingold, McCain/Lieberman, McCain/Kennedy, you name it. Anything the conservatives are against -- I appreciate the dismissal.
Anything the conservatives are against he's for. And if you get him in with a progressive Congress, you're going to have about 30 percent of the Republican Congress say, well, gee, who do I support? I've got to support him. I'm going to pull the lever for Hillary Clinton over John McCain.
BLITZER: Really? So if it came down to Hillary Clinton...
BECK: You're damn right I would.
BLITZER: ... and John McCain, you would vote for Hillary Clinton?
BECK: Yes, absolutely. Because here's what would happen -- here's what would happen. You would have the same kind of thing that you had in 1992. You would have two years of just misery. The Republicans would find their soul and they'd find their values.
BLITZER: So you agree with Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter?
BECK: Yes, absolutely I would.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, this is absolutely nonsensical. Here's a guy who they're mad because he voted against the Bush tax cuts, all right? But he's a fiscal conservative -- because the deficits were going too high. You can't sit here and keep spending, and you want cuts, but then you say you want a balanced budged.
BECK: He's also...
MARTIN: Now, the whole issue of McCain/Feingold, I think a majority of Americans are sick of the amount of money in politics. They're tired of the political interests and the PACs. And infusing the politics with all of their money.
So he's says let's get it under control. And so conservatives are upset. You know why? Because they had a fund-raising advantage over Democrats for so long. So they don't want that to go away. This is a guy who is pro-life. It was amazing that you said you would pull the lever for Clinton, but they actually are on the cusp of having conservatives down (ph) in the Supreme Court.
BECK: I don't talk about politics. I could care -- I could give a flying crap who had the advantage.
MARTIN: So you don't care who's on the Supreme Court? You don't care about that?
BECK: All I care about is values. And John McCain has sold out conservative values over and over and over again.
MARTIN: How? How? He's pro-life.
BECK: If you really don't know, you shouldn't be sitting at this table.
MARTIN: Wait a minute.
BECK: He's pro-life. He's also against the border. He's also -- he wants to spend an estimated...
MARTIN: No, no, no.
BECK: ... $1.2 trillion a year on global warming. Don't talk to me about the budget being out of control. MARTIN: Glenn -- Glenn, what he also recognized -- he said in the debate at the Reagan library -- that, look, when I put forth terms of immigration the public spoke. And that's off the...
BLITZER: Let me just pick your brain. Can you and Rush Limbaugh and other conservative radio talk show hosts effectively undermine John McCain from becoming the next president?
BECK: Wolf, here's...
BLITZER: In other words, do you have enough influence to do what you did on several other issues, including comprehensive immigration reform?
BECK: Couldn't tell you, Wolf, because unlike Air America, I don't get up every day to change peoples' minds. I don't get up every day to get people elected. I get up to entertain people and do radio. That's what I do. So I don't know. Air America failed...
BLITZER: Which is a liberal radio network.
BECK: Yes. They try to influence elections. I don't really care. I'll tell you what I believe. If you like it, great. If you don't, don't. I personally think if you listen to me -- and I'm not endorsing any of these weasels. If you listen to me for my endorsement and then you go out like a zombie and do it, you're a moron. You shouldn't be anywhere near a voting booth.
MARTIN: Wolf, the answer is no. They can't do it. And the bottom line is, I think that most conservatives, if they have a choice between Senator Hillary Clinton and John McCain, knowing full well that the next president will likely choose three Supreme Court justices, they're not going to choose Senator Hillary Clinton.
We have four conservatives right now. They have the opportunity to actually have a conservative majority on the Supreme Court for the next year.
BECK: He'll destroy -- he'll destroy the conservative movement.
MARTIN: Please. Please.
BECK: He'll destroy the conservative movement.
MARTIN: Here's a guy who...
BECK: There's nothing left of it.
MARTIN: Come on.
BECK: There's nothing left of it.
MARTIN: And whose fault is that? Whose fault is it? So...
BECK: It's absolutely the Republicans' fault.
MARTIN: Well, OK.
MARTIN: So he's the -- so the bottom line is 00 and it was an interesting piece...
MARTIN: These same conservatives, Wolf, they will not rally around Mitt Romney.
BLITZER: Do you feel differently about Huckabee or Romney?
BECK: There's nobody out there that I say, yeah, Romney is the best. In my view, if I had the choice to vote today -- I'm not a Republican, so I can't vote in the Connecticut primary where I live. My wife is voting today. She's voting for Romney. If I could vote, I would rote for Romney. But I would still look at that and say, jeez, I don't know.
MARTIN: Well, it is pretty hilarious though that conservatives were not running behind Romney out the outset of his campaign...
BECK: I was.
MARTIN: ... because they were concerned about several different issues -- his flip-flop on various issues, how he's changed his positions.
BECK: No he hasn't.
MARTIN: Now, all of a sudden -- no. No, I'm saying...
BECK: No he hasn't.
MARTIN: ... I'm saying what conservatives were saying.
BECK: If you absolutely thought...
MARTIN: Now, all of a sudden -- well, first of all, I did talk to him when I made the point about same-sex marriage. He said, "I was not against same-sex marriage. I was pro-gay rights."
BLITZER: Let me pick your brain...
MARTIN: So that's...
BLITZER: I'm going to be speaking with Howard Dean in the next hour, the chairman of the Democratic Party. And I'm going to ask him about American Samoa, which is voting right now.
They've got some delegates at stake. Think about this -- American Samoa potentially could have a lot more influence helping to shape who is going to be the Democratic presidential nominee than millions of Democrats in either Michigan or Florida, who will have zero influence.
BECK: Can I tell you something, Wolf?
MARTIN: But the people in Michigan and Florida, they should be blaming their state legislature and their governor who signed it into law. They could have their primary at February 5th, but they wanted January 29th. Their lawmakers passed that. They should be blaming their lawmakers for doing that, not the Democratic Party.
BECK: Instead of talking about blame, we should be looking at this whole system. I've been saying for 18 months this country is in real trouble. We are so disenfranchised. If you look at American Samoa having this kind of influence over -- over Michigan...
BLITZER: No disrespect to American Samoa.
BECK: No, no, no. But if you look at that, that's ridiculous. If you look at what happened at West Virginia today, the game that was played in West Virginia, this is disenfranchising people. Let people's voice be heard. Stop all the games.
BLITZER: The McCain and Huckabee groups in West Virginia ganged up. They combined their efforts to beat Mitt Romney.
BECK: That's right. Let me tell you something...
MARTIN: Well, the same thing happened -- the same thing happened in Iowa. If you didn't get (ph) the 15 percent threshold, Senator Clinton's campaign complained that Governor Richard's people went over to the Obama campaign. I don't like the caucuses anyway. So that's just me.
BECK: Jack Cafferty has a better chance of being the front-door greeter at the Magic Castle in Disneyland than Mike Huckabee has for being president of the United States.
BLITZER: He won West Virginia, though.
BECK: He sure did.
MARTIN: And also...
BECK: Sure did. He's in the game of politics.
MARTIN: ... he's allowed to run for president. He met the Constitution requirement. You guys still like the Constitution, right? He still met the Constitution requirement.
BLITZER: All right. Roland, Glenn, thanks, guys, for coming in.
BECK: Thanks, Wolf. BLITZER: It's a state-by-state battle, this Super Tuesday. But we'll also give you the big picture of the presidential race and show what may happen next.
Coming up, we'll map out all the suspense and intrigue of this monster primary day. And it's been the top concern for voters. That would be the U.S. economy. Now Wall Street is taking another steep plunge. We'll have the numbers and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Happening now, great concerns on this Super Tuesday. What are the biggest issues the voters are thinking about? We're going to have the first batch of exit polls. That's coming up.
Also, there are some serious complaints out there. Some of you say you're experiencing problems voting. We're watching all reports of irregularities.
And in his White House bid, Democrat Barack Obama often says that scores of Republicans supporting him. But how true is that? And are Republicans switching parties any more than normal in a presidential election?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
If Super Tuesday were a lottery, California would be a huge power ball. The state offers the biggest prizes in today's voting, and that makes California arguably the most contested state in today's voting. CNN's Jessica Yellin is out in Fullerton. That's in California.
What are you seeing, Jessica, out there right now?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have seen a steady stream of voters coming in to this polling place all day. California state officials are expecting a record-high turnout. That's because, as you said, this state is a jackpot. It's also a house divided.
YELLIN (voice-over): Not just the governor's mansion, the whole state of California is divided. Californians know that, for the first time, their votes could decide the nominee.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A very exciting election year.
YELLIN: On the Republican side, 170 delegates are at stake, so McCain will be dropping in on San Diego this afternoon.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to win today, and we're going to win the nomination, and we're going to win the presidency.
YELLIN: And Romney says of California voters:
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They got behind my campaign.
YELLIN: The Democrats have even more up for grabs, 370 delegates here. So, candidates have been aggressively courting California's Latino voters, who make up 23 percent of the electorate. Latinos have traditionally been in the Clinton camp, but Obama is the pick of the nation's Spanish-language newspaper.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
YELLIN: Then there's the Hollywood factor, another house divided, with celebrities breaking between Obama and Clinton. The biggest stars on both sides were out this weekend.
OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, "THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW": I'm voting for Barack Obama.
YELLIN: But, despite all the effort, it's possible the candidates will split the number of delegates in California. Even one of Senator Clinton's top advisers said today, "I expect California to be very close. It will be a very late night."
YELLIN: And, Wolf, one of the reasons it's going to be such a late night is because it will take a while to tally this vote. It's not a winner-take-all system. And, on the Democratic side, delegates are given out based on the percentage of the votes each candidate wins in a district. So, it's quite complicated.
Plus, 5.5 million absentee ballots were sent out. Many of them will be returned today. And they have to tally all those up as well, a lot of work ahead for the county clerks -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's just hope it goes smoothly. Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.
Meanwhile, there are some key things all of us should be paying attention to as Super Tuesday results come in. Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching all of this for us.
What should we be looking for tonight, Bill?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Lots of potential storylines. And we're going to have information on all of them.
SCHNEIDER: Storyline: Hillary Clinton wins big. How did she do it? The first place to look is women voters. They rallied to Clinton in New Hampshire. Did they deliver again on Super Tuesday? Latino voters gave Clinton strong support in Nevada and Florida. We will see whether Latinos will be the key to victory for her tonight in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. The economy, stupid. We will look to see whether the economic issue delivers votes for this Clinton.
Storyline: Barack Obama wins big. We will see if Obama has managed to get a larger share of the white vote. And young voters, did they show up in unprecedented numbers to vote for Obama? Obama has been stressing his differences with Clinton on the Iraq issue in recent days. Did Iraq win him more votes? More than half the Democratic delegates will be chosen in open primaries, where independents can vote. Could Obama have won without getting independent votes?
Storyline: McCain wins big. How did he do it? We will see whether McCain wins with or without conservatives. That could determine how easy it will be for him to unite the Republican Party. Two big constituencies for McCain, seniors and veterans, we will see how much they deliver for him. And have Republicans gotten over their problem with McCain on immigration?
Storyline: Romney stops McCain momentum. What happened? We will look at evangelical voters. Did they rally behind a Mormon candidate? Or was it the economic issue? Romney has been touting his credentials as a business executive. We will want to know whether economic fears make Romney the latest comeback kid.
SCHNEIDER: Storyline: Democrats split down the middle. Why can't they make up their minds? Are Democrats bitterly divided between Obama and Clinton? Or do they like both of them, so that a lot of Democrats end up picking at random? Maybe they want both change and experience.
BLITZER: Storyline, that's a good line. Right now, you're watching all these stories.
BLITZER: You're also going to be watching some of these exit polls.
BLITZER: And, as soon as we get some hard information on what's on the mind of the voters out there, you're going to share those numbers with us.
SCHNEIDER: I will be right here.
BLITZER: Bill Schneider, as he always is, thanks very much.
SCHNEIDER: Sure. BLITZER: And you can take our team with you, by the way, any time, anywhere. Simply subscribe to the best political podcast the from the best political team. Do that by visiting iTunes or visiting our own Web site, CNNPolitics.com. That where you can read my just- posted blog as well.
Straight ahead: Super Tuesday basics. If you're wondering which states are involved, which contests are winner-take-all, and have some other questions, we have answers coming up for you.
Also, can John McCain do what his campaign hopes, simply cement his front-runner status and lay claim to being the likely Republican nominee? That's coming up in our "Strategy Session." And he's typically outspoken, so what does Howard Dean think about what is happening today and after today? The chairman of the Democratic National Committee standing by to join us live.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: On this Super Tuesday, let's map out what we can expect tonight, the factors that could swing the contest one way or another. Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King. He's watching all of this for us.
So, John, first of all, tell us the states that are up for grabs tonight.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
That's the big question. And you cannot say this enough. This is unprecedented. We have never done this in the United States of America. You have 24 states from coast to coast, from the tip of Cape Cod all the way to out to the west coast of California, even up to the Aleutian Islands, if you put Alaska up in its place up there.
You have got right up to the Canadian border, down to the Mexican border, and the way down here in the Deep South. So, this is -- from a geographical and an ideological perspective, it is the swathe of America. We have never had anything like it, 24 states in all.
BLITZER: Even America Samoa way out there.
KING: Even America Samoa way out there. Exactly right.
BLITZER: Yes. All right. Let's talk a little bit about some of the areas of focus that the candidates are looking out right now.
KING: And let's do this from east to west, because the results will come in from East to West. If you are Hillary Clinton and John McCain, this -- you start off right here, expecting to win New York and New Jersey, Connecticut and delegate. Massachusetts is Mitt Romney's home state. If he's having trouble in Massachusetts, that's a bad sign for Mitt Romney. He needs to prove off the bat he can win at home. So, the first place we will look at is the Northeast, the New England states, New York, New Jersey.
BLITZER: And the polls close earliest there, too.
KING: Polls close early there.
KING: Then we come down here. This is critical for two people. If you are Barack Obama, you need to do what you did in South Carolina. The highest percentage of African-American voters on Super Tuesday are down here in Georgia and Alabama. He needs to win those states, especially to offset if Clinton is winning up here in the Northeast.
And we will learn right down here, Wolf, if Mike Huckabee is going to continue to be a factor in the race. Already today, he has picked up West Virginia, 18 delegates there. Is he going to have lasting power in the race? He needs to prove himself in the South, including his home state of Arkansas. So, for Obama and Huckabee, these states right here are critical.
BLITZER: What about Tennessee right there, too?
KING: Tennessee, as well, although Obama is not as strong in Tennessee. It's among the Southern states, the smallest African- American population, so more of a battleground among the Democrats, something to watch. This is a state, Wolf -- I'm going to circle it in red and I'm going to circle it again and again and again.
We will be coming back to Missouri all night long. It is a big, huge national bellwether. It picks the winner in general elections all the way back to the 1950s. All three Republicans are contesting it. Both Democrats have fought hard for it. Missouri is a huge state to watch as we start to move from the East into the Midwest. Then we come out here. Bill Schneider has been talking about this, Latino voters down here, very interesting to watch.
BLITZER: Arizona and New Mexico.
KING: Arizona and New Mexico. This should be Mitt Romney territory up here in the Mountain West, Idaho, Utah, Montana. And, then, of course, Wolf, this is it, more delegates anywhere else out here in California.
BLITZER: Now, some of these states on the Republican side are winner-take-all, I think eight of them.
BLITZER: And out of what, 21. But, on the Democratic side, it's all proportional. But, on the Republican, side some are winner-take- all. Some are proportional.
KING: Right. And, so, you want to look at the winner-take-all states are the big early target. And, again, up here, John McCain is hoping New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, all winner-take all, all states where John McCain hopes to win tonight.
We will start off the night the East Coast results. We will see how those ones work. Winner-take-all, West Virginia, already gone to Mike Huckabee. We know that. John McCain, of course, would have liked to win. But he definitely wanted to keep Mitt Romney from winning. So, that's OK for McCain.
BLITZER: There was an alliance there between...
BLITZER: ... the Huckabee forces and the John McCain forces.
KING: A little old-fashioned horse-trading, you might call that.
BLITZER: That's politics.
KING: Missouri, again, a huge bellwether state and a big winner- take-all state. So, one candidate might win that by a very narrow margin. They get all the delegates. That is a huge state in determining whether McCain is having a big night, whether Romney is having a comeback night, or whether Huckabee is going to surprise us right there in the winner-take-all state of Missouri.
Then, when you come out here, Utah and Arizona, Utah expected to go for Romney, Arizona expected to go for McCain, so winner-take-all, but they have essentially home state candidates, if you will. But the winner-take-all states give you a big prize when you're trying to mass delegates, because tonight is about delegates.
BLITZER: And California is not one of those winner-take-all states.
KING: No, California is not one of those states. And we're going to switch maps on this one and look at California from the delegate map. And we want to bring it out, if we can, and make it a little bit bigger, and look at it on our delegate map. You see these lines? It's a little bit confusing. But California is 53 different races, Wolf. I'm going to make it a little bit bigger.
BLITZER: Congressional districts.
KING: All by congressional districts. So, we may know at a decent hour, say midnight...
KING: ... who has won statewide, maybe even a little earlier, who has won statewide. But that's not necessarily a big deal. You have to win 53 different congressional districts. So, the statewide winner may not get the bulk of the delegates. We are going to have to look at this all night district by district by district by district to figure out on both the Democratic and the Republican side who gets the biggest basket. BLITZER: That's why we're all going to be up all night long.
KING: A little bit.
BLITZER: We're going to pull an all-nighter.
BLITZER: All right, thanks, John, very much. You are going to be working this board all night for us.
Coming up in out "Strategy Session": John McCain may be the front-runner, but his opponents aren't throwing in the towel yet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have been fighting for delegates, and we have not been letting any moss grow under our feet.
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Maybe that it's time for the people to elect a president, and not just the national media and the pundits to pick our president for us.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, how do they stop him from all but wrapping up the nomination tonight? And, on the Democratic side, how does the Obama team stop Clinton from having a super Super Tuesday? Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett, they're standing by, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We will be right back.
BLITZER: Even if nobody comes out of tonight with enough delegates to actually capture their party's nomination, some presidential candidates are no doubt hoping to generate unstoppable momentum. That would include Barack Obama. He just voted only moments ago. You're watching pictures of him at the voting place out there in Illinois.
With us on this Super Tuesday edition of this "Strategy Session," our CNN contributors Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett of the Claremont Institute.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
How surprised would you be, Donna, if it were not necessarily all that close on the Democratic side today, that one of these two remaining candidates would actually emerge with unstoppable momentum?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, I would be quite surprised, for obvious reasons. I think Senator Clinton will be able to capture so many delegates, especially in those states where the citizens have been able to vote early, they have been able to vote by mail, and they didn't have to wake up this morning to find cold, wintry weather in Arkansas, in Oklahoma, or Missouri.
Senator Obama just needs to survive. He needs to pick up about 700, 750 delegates, to be able to go into the next round of states and hopefully catch up with Senator Clinton, who has enormous advantages, institutional advantages, and, of course, superdelegates that are also breaking her way in some states.
BLITZER: Same question to you, Bill. What do you think?
BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's possible, Wolf, that John McCain could have a very strong night and effectively end this thing. But I'm not so sure, because Romney has had, to use a word that has, I guess, been used the last year maybe more than ever in its history, a surge lately. He has found his voice. He's been very strong.
As you know, people on my side of the aisle have been saying, go, Romney, and weighing in, and saying, you know, Huckabee should drop and kind of a last-ditch effort, this kind of new discovery of Mitt Romney. But he's a strong candidate. And we will look at Georgia, Missouri, California. So, he may well be alive. McCain does have a big lead, though. So, it -- yes, it could happen, to answer your question directly.
BLITZER: What pressure, Donna, would there be on one of these two Democratic candidates if the other candidate really did develop a lot of momentum tonight and seem to be poised to move ahead in these contests coming up over this coming weekend, next Tuesday, the Tuesday after that?
How much pressure from the party would there be for that underdog, shall we say, to drop out?
BRAZILE: Given the nature of this debate that's taken place inside the Democratic Party, I would be if they -- the party establishment or the party leaders would try to cut this show off before it really gets started.
Look, we have some important states coming up. They may not be as rich in delegates as California and New York, but they're still very important to the Democrats' ability of winning in the fall. So, I would hope that they would take this campaign on to Ohio, onto Louisiana, onto Washington State and Virginia, Maryland, and, of course, some of the other key, critical states, because Democrats really want this debate.
They want the conversation. They don't want it personal, but they really want the candidates to go out there and lift people's spirits and get prepared for the fall.
BLITZER: Bill, what if Romney does really, surprisingly well tonight? What happens then?
BENNETT: Well, obviously, McCain stays in the race, because we -- I would assume that some states will still be in McCain's column. And he has been the presumptive front-runner.
The more interesting thing, I think, is, if Romney does pretty well, you know, takes two or three states -- let me take your question -- will there be pressure on Romney to get out from the establishment? I don't think so, because the level of paranoia right now, Wolf, is so high on the right, you know, that there's some kind of conspiracy against Romney and so on, and that everyone is plotting against him, that I don't think there will be any talk of that.
But, if he -- if he has -- wants to go on, and he isn't -- doesn't win a lot tonight, it comes out of his pocket. So, it's going to be very much his decision.
BLITZER: We're going to talk a lot tonight, guys. Stand by for that. But, right now, we're out of time.
Donna and Bill, appreciate it.
BENNETT: Thank you.
BRAZILE: Thank you.
BLITZER: How will candidates get their supporters online into real lines over at the polls? You're going to find out what the campaigns are doing right now to turn Internet appeal into actual votes. Also, the first glimpse of what many of you are thinking as you pick a candidate -- we're going to have the first batch of exit polls.
And, if the Democratic battle drags on well past today, will that actually hurt Democratic Party and hurt its chances of winning back the White House? I will be speaking live with the chairman of the DNC, Howard Dean. That's coming up -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: There's a guy living someplace in Pakistan or Afghanistan. We know he's in that area. And, my friends, he gets out on the Internet a message that recruits, motivates and instructs these terrible jihadists and evildoers. And, my friends, that guy's name, as you know, is Osama bin Laden. And I want to assure you, if I have to follow him to the gates of hell, I will get Osama bin Laden and I will bring him to justice.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: John McCain speaking out to his supporters out in San Diego only moments ago -- California a critical contest today for the Republicans and the Democrats.
Also today in our Political Ticker: With millions of Americans voting coast to coast today, the candidates are turning their Web sites into online get-out-the-vote machines. Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.
Abbi, what are the candidates doing online to get those last- minute votes?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this cycle, we have seen social networks, virtual town halls, all kinds of bells and whistles from the campaigns online. But it all comes down to this today, getting those online supporters out to the polls. And, for the Barack Obama campaign, that really means using all the tools at their disposal, whether Web site or Facebook, where they have amassed hundreds of thousands of supporters.
To get on these virtual phone banks, where people can log in online and access a script, this is the kind of thing that people are looking at right now, using these scripts to call people in the February 5 states to try and get them out to the polls. We have seen the Hillary Clinton campaign use it as well.
One new focus of the site here today, on Super Tuesday, is this down here. To report voting problems, citing reports of voting problems coming in from around the country, the Hillary Clinton campaign is saying, hey, go here. We have got a team ready to listen to your complaints, so we can do something about it. They have got it in English and in Spanish.
For the Republicans, one of the stories online has been these dueling Web ads that you have seen from Mitt Romney and John McCain. You might remember this one, which happened right before Florida, from the John McCain team. It was called Mitt-surfing, accusing Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor, of flip-flopping on various issues, echoes of 2004 there.
Well, Mitt Romney is out with his own today. He's got it on his Web site, hoping that this will come into play in the final hours before the polls close -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much.
Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: How would you change the presidential primary system? Nothing is uniform about any of this. You have got delegates and super-delegates. You have got caucuses. You have got regular elections. You have got early primaries. You have got late primaries.
It just is a very complicated and difficult-to-understand and perhaps unfair system.
Joe offer this: "Have a runoff election. Do away with the conventions. One early national primary to narrow the field, and then a late summer national primary to pick the candidate. Don't give me any of that elections are too expensive to have two. Picking the leader of our country is a more rational national expense than most of the pork the Congress wastes our money on."
Martin in Michigan writes: "I would definitely make the voting system uniform for all the states. It's not fair to have some winner- take-all states, some proportional states. The two of them can contradict each other, because, while you have to work very hard to get some delegates in a proportional state, all your previous money and efforts are nearly wiped out if you lose a winner-take-all state. It's just not fair."
Evan suggests: "Start off with eliminating the reliance on the ludicrously frivolous and arguably incompetent major political parties."
"Make it about the people, not about the people who control the people. If we start electing smaller people from smaller parties, we might find that they have some big ideas."
Sarah writes: "I think super-delegates should be done away with. It seems undemocratic that an individual such as a super-delegate has as much power as an entire community. As of last night, Hillary was ahead of Barack due to the support of super-delegates, which seems to be representative of the wants of a select few, not of the overall public."
And Jeff writes: "A national primary would be an excellent idea. However, we would lose a lot of drama. And Americans love drama."
Indeed, they do.
BLITZER: And this campaign, on both sides, is very dramatic.
CAFFERTY: Indeed. Oh, yes.
BLITZER: It's going to get exciting.
CAFFERTY: Do you understand everything that is going on here tonight?
BLITZER: Sort of.
BLITZER: I hope so.
CAFFERTY: I'm going to be watching you.
BLITZER: If I don't understand it, we're in trouble.
CAFFERTY: That's right. BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.
And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, Millions of votes in two dozen states, with thousands of delegates up for grabs, it all adds up to Super Tuesday, a crucial series of contests in the race for the White House. The best political team on television will bring it all to you.
Long lines, broken voting machines, and no paper trail -- why problems at the polls may bring late vote counts and put some results at risk. And, just minutes from now, we're going to bring you the first Super Tuesday exit polls.
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