Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Decision Day: Obama Tries For A Knockout; Clinton's Late Night Boost: How TV Humor is Helping; Results From First Exit Polls

Aired March 04, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And it may be the most crucial day of her political life. So where was she on the eve of these important primaries? Actually, she was laughing it up on late night TV. Why they may actually help Hillary Clinton.
I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Perhaps more than any other day this primary season, this one is decision day. On the Republican side, John McCain could win enough delegates to actually secure the nomination.

On the Democratic side, it may be do or die for Hillary Clinton, though the candidate is playing it very cool, while Barack Obama wants to stay on a roll.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a long process. As some of you have heard me say before, my husband didn't get the nomination wrapped up until June.

That has been the tradition, that it's usually lasted, you know, longer, into the early summer. This is a very close race and we're just taking it day by day. It's a long road to the nomination and I feel good about where we are.



SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're seeing a great surge of momentum and we've closed the gap. Senator Clinton had a big lead. Now it's in a dead heat. And so we just want to make sure that we're finishing strong in the Lone Star State.

We think we've a great chance of, at the very least, winning the most delegates here and potentially winning the popular vote, as well. And we wanted to make sure that we're leaving no stone unturned.


BLITZER: And there are a lot of delegates at stake today. Three hundred and seventy are actually on the line for the Democrats, 256 for the Republicans. There are four separate contests -- Vermont, Rhode Island and the mega states of Ohio and Texas. The best political team on television is standing by.

Hillary Clinton today trying to draw a line in the sand. Barack Obama trying to keep marching right over it.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is joining us now from Austin, Texas, where the tension, Suzanne, is clearly building.


There is a lot of tension here. Everybody is going to be looking to see just what happens in the big state of Texas. It's got a unique process here. A lot of people calling it the Texas two-step.

I met with a precinct judge here of Precinct 342. We have seen voters come in throughout the day to participate in the primary process, in the polling. But then they are invited back to come once again in about three hours or so to caucus for their candidate. That, too, is going to make a difference.

There are some rules here and obviously some explanations. But when it's all said and done, this two-part process is going to make a big difference to one of these candidates.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): It's the last stand -- a Texas-sized showdown like the old Westerns between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

CLINTON: I think there's going to be a tremendous turnout across Texas today. And I'm thrilled at, you know, what's happening here in this campaign.

OBAMA: We're seeing a great surge of momentum. We've closed the gap. Senator Clinton had a big lead. You know, now it's in a dead heat. And so we just want to make sure that we're finishing strong in the Lone Star State.

MALVEAUX: Both candidates campaigned across Texas today in a last minute effort to motivate their supporters. Senator Clinton must break Barack Obama's winning streak of 11 straight victories to go on. Her campaign says Ohio and Texas will determine her future.

CLINTON: I mean these are two really critical states. Obviously, you don't get to the White House as a Democrat without winning Ohio. And we're going to put Texas in play.

MALVEAUX: In Texas, where 193 delegates are up for grabs, voters have to do what's fondly called the Texas two-step. Voters must first go to the polls to vote in the primary during the day. Then they're asked to come back later that evening to vote again in an open caucus.

The candidates are counting on those they've been courting to come through, most notably, Hispanics for Clinton, African-Americans for Obama.


MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, it's officially called a precinct convention that is going to happen in about three hours here. And it's going to happen all throughout the state.

I spoke with the precinct judge and she said back in 2004, there were about 30 people who participated in the process. Well, they've printed up about 300 sign up sheets and they believe that this could be at least 10 times as big as the last go around -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of excitement in Texas. Thanks, Suzanne, very much.

On the Republican side, John McCain has one eye already on November, the other eye, perhaps, on the rearview mirror. He has a commanding lead over Mike Huckabee and today he can essentially wrap up the nomination. McCain wants to get moving, but Huckabee is clearly in no hurry.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Obviously, we are guardedly confident that we can get a sufficient number of delegates with victories in Vermont, Rhode Island, Ohio and Texas tomorrow and move on to the general campaign. But I still respect Governor Huckabee's right to remain in the race for as long as he feels necessary to do so.



MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'd rather see John McCain win, but I'd rather see me win. And that's why, you know, we're fighting through this process. You know, one thing I don't understand, everybody acts like that we've got to make this decision today and, you know, everybody needs to clear the field.

I guess my question is what's the hurry? We're six months away from the convention. We're eight months away from the election.


BLITZER: Let's go to Mary Snow. She's watching all this in Irving, Texas.

Mary, the Huckabee supporters, are they as enthusiastic today as they were, shall we say, before the caucuses in Iowa?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they are enthusiastic. But the problem for Mike Huckabee is that they're not enthusiastic enough to show out in the kinds of numbers that he needs.

Now he today, even said that he believes he can pull off an upset. But he also talked about that enthusiasm among his supporters, saying they're not pulling the default button on the Republican ticket, suggesting that conservatives aren't passionate about Senator John McCain.

And Huckabee says if McCain does win the Republican nomination, that's going to be something that he's going to have to face in the general election. But the big question, of course, is what happens to Mike Huckabee if his hopes are dashed and doesn't do well here in Texas?

The campaign is saying that it does not plan to make any announcements tonight. Mike Huckabee says he's going to be sitting down with his aides tomorrow and a big planning day to take a lay of the landscape to see where they go from here.

But the campaign is looking to make sure that if Senator McCain does have the absolute number needed to secure the nomination. They also want to see how well Huckabee does in the results tonight here in Texas. But Ed Rollins, his campaign director, told me today also that they're not going to run a fool's mission -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Mary, for that.

We'll see what happens in the course of these few hours. You can track all the results as they come in minute by minute, state by state all night here at You'll also get analysis from the best political team. is the place to watch it unfold, together with those of us here at the CNN Election Center.

Jack Cafferty is here with us for "The Cafferty File" right now.


The 2008 primary election will go into the record books -- the history books -- for a lot of reasons. The first serious female candidate, the first serious African-American candidate, record- shattering fundraising, record voter turnout.

Americans have been stampeding to the polls in record numbers every since the Iowa caucuses. And it looks like today is not going to be any different. Heavy turnout expected at the polls in Texas, even in Ohio, where they're being hit with some heavy rainstorms.

In Texas -- this is amazing to me -- 60 percent, it's estimated, of the voters there -- about two million people -- cast their ballots early. You can do that in the Lone Star State. Even the smaller New England states -- Vermont and Rhode Island -- expecting record crowds today. Usually, these primaries don't matter much because they come so far into the cycle after Super Tuesday that it's all sort of been decided. But that's not the case this year.

Vermont's secretary of state predicting a record number of voters. In Rhode Island, officials think they will see turnout levels that are double those of the 2000 primary. They're expecting so many people in Rhode Island that they've opened extra polling places. And all of this, of course, very encouraging for our democracy. Over the last couple of months, we've seen huge numbers of first time voters, young voters, revved up, eager to make their voices heard in this election.

Now, some suggest all of this is a troubling sign for the Republicans come November. In state after state after state, the turnout of Democrats has dwarfed the number of Republicans showing up to vote.

So here's the question: What is it about the 2008 election that's generating record turnouts all over the country?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.

Right after casting their ballots, voters often share their thoughts. Moments away, the first exit polls giving us a big clue about the issues driving voters on this crucial primary day.

Bill Schneider going through the numbers right now. He's standing by to join us.

Also, can Hillary Clinton turn laughs into votes? Why she's been spending time doing comedy on late night TV.

And do the Democrats have a plan in place in case their fight goes all the way to the convention in Denver? I'll ask the party chairman, Howard Dean. He's standing by live.

From the CNN Election Center, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There's some growing concern among Democrats about what happens if the contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton isn't -- isn't decided tonight.

Does the party have a plan in case the contest drags on over the coming weeks and months -- and perhaps even to the convention in Denver?

Joining us now from his home state of Vermont, where they're voting right now, the former governor, the Democratic National Committee chairman, Howard Dean.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Is there a plan -- do you have a plan that if this thing goes on through Pennsylvania and maybe to the convention in Denver, what do you do? DEAN: Well, the plan we have is to let the voters make their decision first. And they haven't done that. They're voting tonight. There's about 950 delegates left to be selected. So it may go to Pennsylvania or South Dakota or North Carolina. It may even go to Puerto Rico, which is the last polling that goes on. I think it's the third of June.

But I would like a nominee before the convention. That makes it easier. But I think the voters are going to make that decision. Whether they make it tonight or whether they make it in a few weeks, we'll see.

BLITZER: But if none of the -- if neither of the two candidates has the magic number, 2,025, locked up, how do you get there?

Do the elders, the party leaders, do they come to one who might be slightly behind the other, given the proportionality and how you divide up these delegates and say you know what, for the good of the party, drop out?

DEAN: No. Look there's enough delegates -- there's only two candidates so somebody has got to get a majority. The question is when.

BLITZER: A majority is one thing. But 2,025 is the number you need -- you need to be the nominee.

DEAN: Right, which is a simple majority. If somebody gets 2,025 the other person will have -- actually, it's 2,024 because we -- now, there's -- for technical reasons, that's what it is. So if somebody gets 2,024, the other person will have get 2,023. That's a majority.

BLITZER: But that's -- so you're adding the super-delegates and the pledged or the elected delegates?

DEAN: Sure.

BLITZER: You'll --

DEAN: They're all delegates.

BLITZER: You're not one of those Democrats who says whoever gets the most pledged delegates must get the nomination, forget about the super-delegates?

DEAN: My job is to follow the rules, to follow the rules regarding what states have done and if they're eligible or not and to follow the rules regarding super-delegate. Everybody knew what the rules were when they got into this. So to change the rules in the middle of the game is clearly unfair, no matter what candidate it benefits.

Once you start the game, you can't change the rules, because everybody knew what those rules were. They knew that there were 20 percent super-delegates. They knew that Florida and Michigan delegates couldn't participate in the nomination. And to change those rules, you either have to have a nominee who agrees to it or both campaigns that agree to it. And I don't think that's going to happen.


DEAN: So the rules are not going to be changed.

BLITZER: Explain why you're concerned if this were -- were to go to the convention floor. Why would that be a bad thing?

DEAN: Well, if you go to the convention floor with eight weeks to go -- I've been to those kinds of conventions before. We had one in '68, but I didn't go to that one. But that was the most outrageous.

In '72, there was a big fight over seating delegates. In 1980, there was a division between Senator Kennedy and President Carter. Divided conventions were people walk out and there's a lot of to do, it takes time to heal. And this convention is very late because of the public finance rules.

So I would strongly prefer to have a -- there's no reason not to have a nominee -- a clear nominee -- before the convention starts. And that solves all the problems of Florida and Michigan. And it solves unifying the party again.

And it gives us a target in Senator McCain, who really is focus of what we're doing now, in terms of his ethics problems and his problems with the war and his problems with the huge deficits that they have run up on the Republican side, his problems of being against children's health care. Those are the things that -- my job is to focus on that and let the candidates and the voters sort out who the nominee will be.

BLITZER: Are you getting concerned that this debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama could be getting too nasty?

DEAN: Not yet. You know, there's been a couple of times in the past there where we've had phone calls back and forth. But, look, this is a pleasant walk in the park compared to what's going to go on between the Democratic nominee and the Republican nominee.

These two candidates are very close on the issues. They're incredibly articulate and well qualified -- both are well qualified to be president of the United States. The real fight is going to start when we have the nominee.

BLITZER: You voted today, I assume. Could you tell us who you voted for?

DEAN: Yes. I didn't take a presidential ballot. If I'm going to be neutral, you really have to be neutral all the way. So I voted for the school budget and so forth and so on and did not take a ballot for the presidency.

BLITZER: Tell us about your meeting that you had with the leadership in Congress, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi in the last few days. Because there has been speculation out there that the three of you were trying to come up with some sort of formula to avoid the internal battle that could undermine the eventual Democratic nominee, presumably against John McCain in November.

DEAN: Well, that's partly true. We want to keep -- the discussion was about keeping the party together. We don't have any obvious answers, except for let's see what the voters do. Because the voters are the key.

The voters will make this decision. And it will not be made by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and myself. It will be made by the voters and the people of America who are voting in these primaries.

Look, we've had 20 million people vote so far. That's a 50 percent greater turnout than the Republicans. It's incredible. And, apparently, it's record turnout today. Apparently, two million people voted early in Texas. That's unbelievable.

So, I -- as much as inside Washington wrings their hands over this, the truth is so far the campaign is incredibly successful. Our candidates have campaigned in front of 40 states and 20 million people, not including today's results. What more could you ask for?

BLITZER: Governor Dean, thanks very much for coming in.

DEAN: Wolf, thanks for having me on.

BLITZER: What millions of voters are thinking as they cast their ballots in today's crucial primaries -- we're getting the first exit poll results coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Bill Schneider is going through the numbers. We're about to share them with you.

Plus, Hillary Clinton's late night strategy apparently giving her campaign a boost. But is it coming too late?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on -- Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you're going to -- you're about to see a piece of video that's extremely disturbing -- and I'm not kidding. This is so disturbing, you might want to turn away from your set for just a minute.

The military is investigating because the tape appears to show a Marine throwing a puppy over a bridge. The Marine is identified as a lance corporal stationed in Hawaii. No name given. He throws the dog and it makes a yelping sound, as you heard, as it flies through the air. A Marine Corps spokesman calls the video shocking and deplorable. He says if it's deemed legitimate, the Marine will be punished.

It turns out a terrorist wanted by the FBI was the target of yesterday's U.S. strike in Southern Somalia. That's what two senior U.S. officials tell CNN. It's unclear whether the terrorist was killed. He was wanted for questioning in connection with the 2002 suicide bombing of an Israeli hotel and the unsuccessful attack on an Israeli charter jet in Kenya.

Green Bay Packers' quarterback Brett Favre finally did it. He is retiring from the NFL after 17 seasons. Today's surprise move comes after he met -- he set several league records in one of his most successful seasons -- you know, the one last year. One of those records is the most career touchdown passes. Favre is 38-years-old -- which is old for a football player. He was named most valuable player three times.

Take a look at this on the wide screen. NASA has released what it says is the first ever photo of an avalanche on Mars. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took the photo last month. Huge chunks of ice and dust cascaded down from a towering slope on the planet's north pole, sending clouds into the atmosphere. It is unclear what caused this avalanche. And we won't be sending anyone to Mars to find out more. Sorry -- Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to miss Brett Favre. There's no doubt about that. Maybe he'll reconsider and stay with the Packers another year.


BLITZER: That's what we're hoping.

The Clinton campaign's new strategy -- get this, late night laughter.


JON STEWART, HOST, THE DAILY SHOW: And yet you have chosen to spend the night before talking to me.


STEWART: Senator, as a host I'm delighted. As a citizen, frightened.


STEWART: Your response?

CLINTON: It is -- it is pretty pathetic.



BLITZER: These appearances may actually be giving her a big political boost. But is it coming too late? We're watching the story.

Also, the all important battle for delegates -- we're going to show you what we'll be looking for as the results start to come in.

Plus, we'll take you deep inside cowboy country in Texas, where you might be surprised at how people are actually voting.

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


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

Happening now, surprising and worrisome results from a follow-up study of women who took hormones after menopause. It shows them 24 percent more likely to develop cancer and heart problems linked to the pills appear to wane after women stopped taking them.

The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, is moving thousands of troops to his country's border with Colombia. That move in response to a Colombian cross border strike against guerrillas in neighboring Ecuador. Twenty-three people were killed in that attack. Tension in the region is high. We're monitoring it.

And a three-term Republican Congressman is pleading not guilty to charges including insurance fraud, extortion and money laundering. Rick Renzi of Arizona facing 35 counts in all. He's free on $400,000 bail.

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

Hillary Clinton appears to be getting a boost from an unlikely source -- her recent appearances on late night television. But have they come too late to make a real difference in today's critical primary? CNN's Carol Costello is watching this story for us.

Carol, what's the latest on the senator's late night foray?

COSTELLO: A lot of people are laughing, Wolf.

You know, Hillary Clinton was on the comedy circuit the night before the crucial Ohio and Texas primary. And funny thing -- she's using shows like "Saturday Night Live" and the Jon Stewart show as part of her political strategy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, on the eve of the most important make or break moment of her political career, she turns to the last person you'd think would help.

STEWART: It's me!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, a special guest on an all "Daily Show."

COSTELLO: A coup for both comedian Jon Stewart and Hillary Clinton. He gains prestige, she gains very good pub on a show that attracts younger viewers -- maybe even much needed younger votes.

STEWART: And yet you have chosen to spend the night before talking to me.


STEWART: Senator, as a host I'm delighted. As a citizen, frightened.


STEWART: Your response?

CLINTON: It is -- it is pretty pathetic.


STEWART: Damn it! Damn it! I knew it. I knew it.

MARK HALPERIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This is a woman is not known for being a barrel of laughs. But every time she goes into one of these comedy shows, she kills.

COSTELLO: Comedy has inadvertently given Clinton's campaign a shot in the arm. "Saturday Night Live" parodied CNN, accusing the media of lavishing Barack Obama with attention and treating him with kid gloves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you comfortable? Is there anything we can get for you?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Thank you. I'm fine.

COSTELLO: The skit resonated, forcing the media to examine whether "SNL" was onto something, which allowed Clinton to use it on the campaign trail.

CLINTON: If anybody saw "Saturday Night Live," you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow.

COSTELLO: And if you're wondering if the strategy worked, listen to this Ohioan. She's voting for Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If there is an event happening for her opponent and it happens to include someone famous, it's on the news constantly. And yet the same thing could be happening for her and we don't -- we don't see that in the press at all.

COSTELLO: Other things have played into Clinton's hands.

CLINTON: Good evening.

COSTELLO: Last Saturday, Clinton appeared on "Saturday Night Live," poking fun at herself and what some call her mannish pantsuits.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love your outfit.


CLINTON: Well, I love your outfit.



COSTELLO: And guess what? The day after that, Hillary Clinton showed up in one of those brown pantsuits on the stump in Austin, Texas. And look at what she wore on Jon Stewart's show.


COSTELLO: That's right, that brown pantsuit. Maybe it's become her lucky charm, I don't know. But does tickling the voters' funny bones translate to votes? Maybe. Those young people who watch SNL and the rest are very motivate the year, Wolf. And if they like the ads, who knows?

BLITZER: It's not just young people who are watching the shows. Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

Let get some more on the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. For that we're joined by two top Democratic strategists. Our own political contributor, Paul Begala, is a Clinton supporter. Jamal Simmons is backing Barack Obama.

What do you think? Does this kind of stuff help the late night comedy for these candidates?

PAUL BEGALA, POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. You know Hillary has not done well when she's gone in with a canned line. Where one her advisers says say this isn't change your can Xerox. Clunk. She goes on John Stewart last night, unscripted, totally witty.

Now, Stewart set her up. He's a comic master but that's what she's good at. It shows that when she trusts her instincts she does well. She's a very funny person.

BLITZER: Let Hillary be Hillary.

BEGALA: Let Hillary be Hillary. There you go. That's a new strategy.

BLITZER: That's a new strategy. What do you think about that?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It seems like it does help Senator Clinton a lot. Any time she's in an unscripted environment. She lets her personality shine through.

The benefit for Barack Obama is whatever you environment you get him in he's a pretty personal guy and it's pretty even throughout the entire campaign. His personality has shown through the same way over time. People are used to that.

BLITZER: So let Barack be Barack.

SIMMONS: Barack is going to be Barack regardless.

BLITZER: Standby.

Bill Schneider has been going through these exit poll numbers. These are actual voters. People show up. They vote. We talk to them afterwards.

Bill, what are you picking up?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We're picking up a lot of lines of competition in the race, particularly in Texas. Let's look at a few of them.

First of all, let's look at African-American voters in Texas. They are voting 83 percent for Barack Obama, as they've delivered for him in other states. Hillary Clinton, 16 percent of the African- American vote.

Now, in competition with that we have Latino voters in Texas. Latino voters, 64 percent for Hillary Clinton, who has strong ties to the Latino community. She's spent a lot of time in south Texas. They're familiar with her. But notice that Barack Obama is getting 35 percent, over a third of the Hispanic vote there in Texas. Obama is doing better with Latino voters than Hillary Clinton is doing with African-American voters.

Now the trade issue has been a very hot issue in Ohio. We can see here exactly why. The voters, the Democrats in Ohio think U.S. trade with other countries either loses jobs or creates jobs or have no effect. 81 percent, an overwhelming majority, say trade with other companies loses jobs. That's why NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, is a very big issue in Ohio.

Do they feel the same way in Texas, a border state? Actually, they do but not nearly as strongly. Among Texas Democrats voting today, 58 percent say trade with other countries loses jobs. That's more than twice as many who say trade creates jobs. This is in a state directly on the Mexican border.

And finally, another two groups that are competitive in race after race in the Democratic Party, the young and the old. Take a look at younger voters in Ohio, voters under 30. They're voting almost two to one for Barack Obama, 65 to 34 percent for Hillary Clinton.

Now let's take a look at seniors in Ohio, voters 60 and older. How are they voting? They're voting just the opposite. More than two to one for Hillary Clinton. Clinton 67 percent. Obama 31 percent.

So we're seeing lots of lines of division in contest after contest. Among the most significant has been the division by age -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill, thanks.

I know Bill will be going through all of these exit polls. We're going to be sharing them with you over the course of the next hour or so and indeed throughout the night.

Let's get back to Paul and Jamal.

I'm struck, Paul, by what Bill just pointed out. Among African- Americans Barack Obama is doing much better than Hillary Clinton. Manage Latinos she's doing better. You're from Texas. They are a lot more Latino voters in Texas than there are African-American voters.

BEGALA: They are. They're both doing well in the communities because they deserve to. They've earned it. Don't forget Barack Obama started out in the African-American community a good 20 points behind Hillary Clinton. He's come back and earned the support. I don't think this is sort of people choosing up because of ethnicity or gender for that matter.

But Hillary began her political career going to south Texas and registering Mexican American voters. In 1972, not that that many people remember it but when they hear about it resonates with them that a well off girl from the prosperous suburbs, Yale law degree, would move to Texas and registers Latino voters in the early '70s. It's pretty impressive. So again, she's earned that vote.

BLITZER: Jamal, he's doing a lot better with younger voters. She's doing a lot better with older voters. Historically older voters vote in much higher percentages than younger voters, although this time given the excitement for him, it may change.

SIMMONS: Yes in this election all bets are off. It looks like younger voters are showing up in unprecedented numbers. They are really providing the backbone for Barack Obama's candidacy.

To get back to Paul's point a little bit, the one thing that we are starting to see is this is a two-tiered election. One, who wins the popular vote but also who wins the delegates.

A lot of those African American communities are going to give more delegates because they're more traditionally Democratic. You may see something that happens where Senator Clinton wins the popular vote perhaps and Barack Obama wins the delegate count. So then we've got a little bit of a wash going on in Texas.

BLITZER: I think a lot of people are coming to the conclusion, correct me if I'm wrong, this is going to go on beyond tonight irrespective of what happens.

BEGALA: I think so. I think it's very likely. We'll hear what voters say. Let's let them finish voting. But what I keep hearing them say and I was in Texas on Thursday. They're not saying let's end this. Let's stop this. They sound like Howard Dean, the party chairman, who you interviewed a little while ago.

They think it's great. It's fun. Everywhere these two go they register more Democrats. They raise more money. They get more volunteers. They're not trashing each other. There's the occasional shot back and forth. That's what politics is. That's good, too. It toughens them up. I don't hear a lot of people saying I want to wrap this up.

BLITZER: What do you think, Jamal?

SIMMONS: Well, I think if Hillary Clinton gets out a small win in Ohio and Texas it will be like punctuation tawny fill seeing his shadow.

BEGALA: Are you kidding me? Six more weeks?

SIMMONS: Sitting here in the nice suits in the studio it's fine. For those people who are doing the field work out in Texas it's tiring.

BLITZER: For the political news junkies out there, and they are millions and millions of them. They're excited. They're energized. They want to see this go on, at least for now.

We'll see what happens. All right, guys. Thanks very much.

If you're one of those political news junkies, is the place for you. You can actually check out our new interactive delegate counter game where you can play real-time what if scenarios with delegates and superdelegates.

You can see how today's primaries could affect the race all at You can actually be John King and go to that board and see what's happening county by county in these various states. Go to That's the place to go. You can read my daily blog post there as well.

We're now less than 90 minutes away from the first polls closing in today's critical primaries. We're getting more exit poll results. Bill Schneider going through the hard numbers. He's going to standby to follow up. You'll see what we're learning.

Also, we're going to show you how it all could play out depending on how the numbers fall in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont.

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


BLITZER: A lot is riding on today's results. In fact, everything may be riding on the results of both races.

Let's bring in chief national correspondent John King. He's looking at this, specifically at Texas.

Last hour we looked at Ohio. Texas is a critical state.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It could be enormously important. We'll see what happens in Vermont, Rhode Island, and Ohio. Then we'll move west and south to Texas. This is the national map so far. The lighter blue are Clinton states. The darker blue are Obama states.

Let's look at Texas. It is critically important and it's an incredibly diverse state. If you're Barack Obama, you're looking to turn out votes here in Dallas, down here in Houston, and over here in San Antonio where you can find a decent population African-American votes, traditionally has been his base in the other states so far. Also, Austin is the capitol of the most liberal city in Texas; those upscale Democrats, more affluent Democrats who have traditionally been voting for Barack Obama in the early primaries so far.

If you're Senator Clinton you want to do well out here in the Forth Worth suburbs, down here in the Dallas suburbs. The most important part for Senator Clinton, especially if it's close, is to her Latino advantage which she hopes to have across this belt here.

Start over here in southeast Texas, Corpus Christie, go all the way over to the border and El Paso. This is the heaviest concentration of Latino vote, the highest Hispanic poll population in the counties out here.

And Wolf another key thing to watch, much like in Ohio, especially if it is close, Senator Clinton has spent a lot of time in smaller rural communities going after the white male vote and the white working class vote. A place to watch for Senator Clinton is these smaller communities up here.

These are normally ignored. The population centers are obviously Forth Worth, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas. This could be her cushion in a close race. She's spent time herself campaigning through, but has also flown in a lot of people on the final days to get into those communities.

BLITZER: They say who has the best ground game could be decisive tonight.

All right. John, we're going to do more of this in the next hour.

Make or break. Do or die. Some of those closest to Hillary Clinton say today's contests are crucial to her candidacy. What if she hits a double or triple today instead of a homerun?

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's watching all of this.

Is there any wiggle room for the Clinton campaign right now, Brian, based on what you're seeing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There seems to be a growing sentiment that there is wiggle room, Wolf, despite the very high bar that was set not long ago by some people very close to the candidate.


TODD: The game of managed expectations, always a Clinton family strength in the white house, more challenging on the campaign trail. Analysts say if Hillary Clinton wins only one of the Texas and Ohio primaries, the media and Obama campaign will harass her with this sound byte.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If she wins in Texas and Ohio she will be the nominee. If you don't deliver for her, I don't think she can be. It's all on you.

TODD: Just days earlier, Clinton supporter James Carville had done Mrs. Clinton's husband one state better.

JAMES CARVILLE, CLINTON SUPPORTER: Senator Clinton has to win, Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania. If she wins those three she's probably the nominee. If she loses one of the three then Senator Obama will be the nominee. That's a fact.

TODD: Three Democratic strategists we spoke to say Carville and Bill Clinton didn't do the campaign any favors with the remarking, set the bar too high. The Clinton team has worked hard since then to dial it all back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe the race ends until we get to the Denver convention.

TODD: Has the strategy worked? A new Washington Post/ABC News poll says if she wins either Ohio or Texas but not necessarily both, two-thirds of Democrats believe Hillary Clinton should stay in the race. Welcome news to the candidate.

CLINTON: You know never underestimate the intelligence of the voter.

TODD: Analysts say Bill Clinton's comment has to be put into context. At the time, Barack Obama was winning everything in sight, and the Clintons needed to really rally supporters.

DAVID GERGEN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It was important psychologically at the time to tell voters this is do or die. You have to get out of your chairs and get to the polls or we lose. This dream ends here.


TODD: Now analysts say there's more of a margin for Mrs. Clinton to move on, even if she loses Texas. A narrow loss there, a marginal win in Ohio, she's still behind in pledged delegates. She can paint as at a change in momentum, look ahead to Pennsylvania and maybe keep some crucial superdelegates from going to Obama -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Brian. Brian Todd reporting. The first polls close a little bit more than an hour from now. The best political team on television is getting ready to bring you the first results from this crucial primary day.

And CNN's Ali Velshi is in cowboy country getting ready to tell us what's on the minds of voters in small town Texas.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty once again. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is what is it about the 2008 election generating record voter turnouts all over the country? It's expected to be the same again today.

Judith writes: "I think American voters have felt so helpless during the current administration we're turning out in record numbers to take matters back into our own hands and make certain there is no close call as occurred in the last election. When that election was awarded to Bush, I think many people realized hey, my vote really would have mattered."

Ashley writes: "I think there's such a good turnout this year because Democrats are stepping up, scared of what would happen if a Republican is in the White House for another four years. And I believe that more young people are stepping up. As a 23-year-old Democratic voter, I know those are my friends and my schoolmates who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and we are all being majorly effected by that."


Gaye in New Jersey says: "It's been a long time since any politician told the American people that we could reclaim our government from the hands of special interests, that our votes would make a difference and that our children could have a better future. All it takes is taking responsibility. Maybe we've learned that you can't hand pride to people with a check. We have to earn it. We can be part of it."

Dawn writes from a place called Lake in the Hills, Illinois: "I can't remember a time when we actually had a choice and it wasn't for the lesser of two evils (Democratic vs. Republican). While my vote is for Obama, I don't exactly feel we're doomed with Hillary either. I like what the Democratic Party has to offer and now there's a choice on who can deliver it. Refreshing, isn't it?"

Margot in San Francisco: "It's easy. When people are happy, they are apathetic. When they are unhappy, they hit the voting booths in order to throw the bums out. People are unhappy with the Cheney demonstration and all that it stands for."

And Steve in Oak Creek, Wisconsin writes: "This si the new American Revolution. We are doing nothing more than taking back our country from those who would do it irreversible harm. The votes cast may be some of the most important in modern history" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I think a lot of people do feel like that. All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

We're trying to take the pulse of voters in Texas not only in big cities, but in small towns as well. Ali Velshi is out there in Texas.

Ali, first of all, where are you?

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I'm at the 11th Street Cowboy Bar in Bandera, Texas, the cowboy capitol of the world. And don't tell anyone, Wolf, I'm not working all that hard right now. We're setting up for when the returns come in. We're having a bit of a party here at the bar. People are coming in bringing their own meat. There's a barbecue coming. There's going to be a band.

This is a Republican place generally, but we're hearing from a lot of people who say they are Republicans who want to vote for something different this time around. They're going to cast their ballot in the Republican primary. They've already done so. Many people here have already voted.

We ran into a guy who with horses for a living. He has to drive around a large area on a daily basis and put shoes on the horses. That's costing him more money in gas. The inflation and economy are major concerns here in Bandera, Texas.

There's one thing here, Wolf. That is if you're a Republican you can vote in the local election and the primary. If you're a Democrat and you choose to vote in the local election for a Republican you can't do that. You have to declare as a Republican. Democrats who call themselves Democrats have to go in and only vote in the primary.

Republicans are able to vote for a national candidate and their local candidate. The Texas primary caucus two-step is a complicated thing. I know there are other states with complicated voting. This is one of them. Come and visit us, Wolf.

BLITZER: Almost Patsy Klein. All right. Ali, thanks very much. We'll be checking back with you throughout the night.

We're only more than one hour away from the polls closing in Vermont. With Ohio following only a half an hour later. We're going to show you what we know about what's happening in those states as well as Texas and Rhode Island.

Also, it could be Hillary Clinton's last stand or the end of Barack Obama's front runner status. We're on the campaign trail with the Democratic candidates watching every step of the way.

Plus, concerns about voting irregularities in Ohio. You're going to find out why one observer is calling it an election high wire act.

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


BLITZER: Weather in parts of Ohio, take a look at this Lou. It's looking like those who want to vote in Ohio are going to have to really want to do it. It could be a little treacherous going out there. Some people suggesting that may help Obama, who has younger supporters, as opposed to Hillary Clinton who has older supporters. The older might be more reluctant to go out.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: It's one of those where we're starting to over analyze now.

BLITZER: That's what we do.

DOBBS: That's what we do. We do know in parts of Ohio the weather has been so bad they've had to move a few polling places. My guess is Ohioans are tough.

BLITZER: They're used to it the people in Ohio. They have tough weather sometimes. They live with it.

DOBBS: It's never a cake walk anytime in Ohio.

BLITZER: Those of us who grew up in Buffalo, we appreciate that. We are a hearty folk. If it goes on beyond tonight seem people are saying -- we spoke to Howard Dean. He really doesn't want it to go to the convention floor.

DOBBS: We certainly wouldn't want to interfere with Howard Dean. Howard Dean is a drip.

BLITZER: He's the chairman of the Democratic Party.

DOBBS: There's great enthusiasm in the Democratic Party. I don't have a dog in the hunt. I'm an independent. I have no candidate in this thing in these two parties. The reality is that this is great. This is a democracy. 16 states after tonight still will not have been heard from.

What in the world are these fools thinking about? They want this thing over? I want debate. I want discussion. I would like to know what one of these candidates is going to do. I would like to know what they're going to do about U.S. relations. What they're going to do about Russia.

BLITZER: So there's still a lot of questions that you want answered. On the Republican side McCain could wrap it up tonight if he wins all four of the states.

DOBBS: If it's not tonight, it's another night based on what we've seen to this point, if that's not too harsh. I think Mike Huckabee has run long and hard.

BLITZER: I think you have to give Huckabee a lot of credit. He had no money. No staff. He outlived a lot of other Republicans who were considered -- DOBBS: I think there was an inevitably about the nominee presumptive in the Republican Party, unlike the Democratic Party. I would love to see this thing go on. I would love to see Howard Dean sitting there just abuzz with anxiety, gnawing on his fingernails, sweat coming off his forehead as we go into the convention and the American people still awaiting a nominee from the Democratic Party.

BLITZER: It would be a very exciting Democratic convention in Denver. We'd all have to rethink our own strategy, how you cover that convention, what you do. It would be exciting.

DOBBS: Absolutely, an excitement. You know when it gets this interesting that's when it's really nice that there's at least a shadow of democracy left in this country.

They may not want to represent the middle class in Washington, D.C. but this is giving us a sense, a lot of people a sense that maybe we can take this country back and have a democracy and that the governed may once again apply. That would be nice, wouldn't it?

BLITZER: We're just about an hour away from the polls closing in Vermont. You're going to be with us, the best political team on television, we're here all night minute by minute, state by state.