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Leahy Calls on Clinton to Drop Out; Condoleezza Rice Speaks Out on Race; Bogged Down in Basra; Politicians' Pet Projects

Aired March 28, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to the viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, rockets raining down in the heart of Baghdad and Iraqi forces have their hands full against militia fighters down in Basra. President Bush is calling it a defining moment. But is the war taking a turn for the worse?
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks out on race, saying America still has trouble dealing with race because of a "national birth defect." By addressing a key campaign issue, could she be thinking of entering the campaign herself, perhaps on a ticket with John McCain?

And some long time Republicans are defecting to the Democrats -- why the GOP is worried right now in Pennsylvania.

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

As Democrats worry about the deep divisions caused by a nasty campaign, some critics say Hillary Clinton has no real hope of gaining the nomination. Senator Patrick Leahy, an Obama supporter, today became the latest to actually call on her to drop out of the race. Campaigning today in Indiana, Clinton indicated that's the last thing on her mind.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There was a poll the other day that said 22 percent of Democrats wanted me to drop out and 22 percent wanted Senator Obama to drop out. And 62 percent said let people vote until we finally know what the outcome is.


BLITZER: Barack Obama today began a renewed effort to cut into Senator Clinton's lead in the battleground of Pennsylvania. And he got an important endorsement.

Let's go out to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. She's watching this story for us.

All right, talk a little bit about what's going on -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this really is a new phase of Barack Obama's campaign. Instead of those kind of really large, kind of rock concert style, big rallies, we're going to see these smaller sessions.

They're are called listening sessions. And this is something that Senator Clinton was very successful with in her bid for the Senate. It is really a chance for Barack Obama to introduce himself to those in Pennsylvania in a much more intimate setting.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Barack Obama kicked off his six day bus tour across Pennsylvania with a clear message -- he's moving forward.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can't wait to fix our schools. We can't wait to fix our health care system. We can't wait to bring this war in Iraq to an end.


OBAMA: We cannot wait. That's why I'm running for president of the United States of America.

MALVEAUX: No more talk of his controversial pastor and relatively routine criticism of Senator Clinton.

OBAMA: And she was a friend of mine before this campaign started. She will be a friend after this campaign is over.

MALVEAUX: He's back to his original stump speech, saving his firepower for Vice President Cheney, Republican presumptive nominee John McCain and their pals.

OBAMA: The era of "Scooter" Libby justice and Brownie incompetence and Katrina and warrantless wiretaps and Karl Rove politics, those days will finally be over.


OBAMA: We can put them aside.


OBAMA: John McCain is a great American and a decent man, but he basically wants to run for George Bush's third term.

MALVEAUX: Obama picked up a key endorsement -- Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.

SEN. BOB CASEY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: He will fight for us here in Pennsylvania.


MALVEAUX: Casey is important for Obama because he is popular among white, working class and Catholic voters -- groups who tended to go for Clinton in earlier primaries.

Polls show Clinton is leading if Pennsylvania. She's been campaigning with high-powered endorsers, including the state's governor, Philadelphia's mayor and anti-war Congressman John Murtha. But the road to the nomination may well go beyond Pennsylvania's April 22 primary.

OBAMA: I think there's some people who felt like God, when is this thing going to be over. It's like -- it's like a good movie that lasted half an hour too long, you know?


OBAMA: And sort of --


OBAMA: But the truth is that I think this has been a great campaign.


MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, it is going to last a little bit longer. I should let you know that the people here in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, they know something when it comes to war.

It was an Army Reserve unit from Greensburg here who was a victim of the single largest casualty in operation Desert Storm, when the U.S. Army barracks were attacked in Saudi Arabia. Clearly, that is something Barack Obama is going to address. He's going to be talking about the need to bring soldiers home when it comes to the Iraq War -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Suzanne, thank you.

She's the nation's highest ranking African-American official. Now the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is speaking out about race.

Let's bring in our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee. She's watching the story for us. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

All right, what's going on -- Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is weighing in on an issue that's triggered heated debate on the campaign trail. Rice says that she's not going to talk about politics, but her comments could make waves.


OBAMA: Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.

VERJEE (voice-over): Condoleezza Rice calls Barack Obama's speech on race "important for a whole host of reasons."

Asked for her views, she told "The Washington Times": "The U.S. has a hard time dealing with race because of a national birth defect." She says black and white Americans founded the country together -- but "Europeans by choice and Africans in chains."

So blacks, she says, because of race, never had the same opportunities, which "makes it harder for us to confront it, hard for us to talk about it and hard for us to realize that it has continuing relevance for who we are today."

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Condoleezza Rice helped to expand the conversation that the country really needs about race.

VERJEE: Secretary Rice explained more to reporters at the State Department.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The lesson that Americans have learned since the civil rights movement is that we have to work hard every day to make the extraordinary words, the moving and inspirational words of our founding documents a reality for all Americans. And it doesn't just happen. It's a matter of reconciliation. It's also a matter of having laws that need to be upheld.

But I think Americans can also be very proud of this country and how far we've come. It's a remarkable country that -- I stand as Thomas Jefferson's successor several times removed.


VERJEE: Secretary Rice often speaks of race passionately and personally, about her own experiences growing up in the segregated South. She talks about it here at home and overseas, where she compares America's history of slavery with the worldwide struggle for freedom -- Wolf.

BLITZER: She's very, very passionate when it comes to that subject.

There's been some intriguing speculation out there in recent days, maybe a little bit longer. McCain/Rice -- a McCain/Rice ticket. Is that at all realistic?

VERJEE: Well, we're all passionate about asking that question over and over again. And what Secretary Rice keeps saying is absolutely not. That's not realistic. She wants to back to California and leave politics. There's got to be new blood. But it's certainly something that many conservatives think should be considered seriously, the McCain camp at least.

BLITZER: Yes. We'll see what happens. It is an intriguing thought.

VERJEE: It is.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Zain, for that.

For the latest political news any time, you can check out our Political Ticker at The ticker, by the way, is the number one political news blog on the Web. That's also where you can read my latest blog post.

In news around the world, rockets and mortars raining down on Baghdad's International Zone, hitting the office of the Iraqi vice president, killing two guards. The vice president is OK.

In the South, government forces are on the offensive in Basra. They have their hands fall despite help from U.S. and British air strikes.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM watching this story for us.

All of the sudden what seemed to be a relatively quiet situation in Iraq in the past three or four days has exploded to the point that this could be a turning point.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely, Wolf. Indeed, the renewed fighting in Iraq is now beginning to have real implications for U.S. military policy.


STARR (voice-over): CNN has learned the most closely held military intelligence analysis of the fighting in Basra shows Iraqi security forces now control only a fourth of the city. Officials in the U.S. and Iraq confirm it's not going as the U.S. had hoped.

While Iraqi Army units are fighting, Iraqi police in the city are deeply infiltrated by members of Shia militia groups. One U.S. military officer telling CNN, "This is going to go on for a while."

President Bush was questioned about what the latest fighting means for planned U.S. troop withdrawals.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Have the conditions changed such that you believe your commander is going to make a different recommendation than he might have two days ago? And I can't answer that question. I can only tell you what I'm going to do after -- after we get back from NATO.

STARR: In Basra, the U.S. says Shia militia forces control a wide swath of the city's southeastern sector, including areas close to the airport, where British forces are located. U.S. war planes bombed targets in the city.

MAJ. TOM HOLLOWAY, BRITISH ARMY SPOKESMAN: The first one was a building which was -- had a large amount of militia troops inside and on it and around it. And the second strike was on an enemy military team.

STARR: Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, now in a fight for political survival against Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, is offering more deals -- extending to April 8 a gun for cash program that was to have expired today.

U.S. troops are also trying to avoid large scale movements into Baghdad's Sadr City,, where Shia militiamen continue firing rocket's at Baghdad's International Zone. The U.S. says the rockets are Iranian-made and they are pressing Iraqi forces to destroy those launchers.


STARR: One of the key questions now, Prime Minister Nuri Al- Maliki clearly has staked his political life on this campaign, Wolf. If this military campaign doesn't work out, the question is will U.S. troops have to go in and bail out the Iraqi forces?

BLITZER: And if this continues, that U.S. troop withdrawal is going to be totally put on hold as long as the Bush administration is in office. I guess that's the working assumption.

STARR: Well, look at the calendar. General Petraeus comes town to testify before Congress on April 8 and 9. If this fighting goes on another 10 days or so, it's hard to see how he could say anything but that.

BLITZER: Barbara, thanks very much.

Barbara Starr is our Pentagon correspondent.

Let's get back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, Jerry Reed had a big hit record a few years ago called "When You're Hot, You're Hot." My producer, Sarah Lieder (ph), pointed out it was quite a few years ago.

These days, Barack Obama is hot -- especially on Fridays. Remember last Friday, just as the Reverend Wright's story was threatening to engulf him, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson rode to the rescue with an endorsement of Obama that took Reverend Wright right off the front pages over last weekend.

That was followed closely by the news that Hillary Clinton failed to tell the truth about her visit to Bosnia in 1996, instead, portraying herself as someone right out of a James Bond movie ducking bullets and running for her life. It was all false.

And now, as we approach the Pennsylvania primary in a few weeks, Senator Clinton had locked up all the endorsements that mattered in that state -- until today. Suddenly, Senator Bob Casey, who had vowed to remain neutral, said, "I've changed my mind. I want you to vote for Barack Obama."

Casey is just what the doctor ordered for Obama in Pennsylvania. His constituency is heavily populated with working class Pennsylvania families. That's Clinton's strength there, Obama's weakness.

'Tis the season of March Madness, you know? And every year it seems there's a Cinderella team that comes out of nowhere to make a serious run at the national title. So far this year, Cinderella's name is Barack Obama.

Here's the question: Can Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey's endorsement help Barack Obama among working class voter voters?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog.

You know who Jerry Reed is, don't you, Wolf?

BLITZER: Of course. Who doesn't? Doesn't everybody?


CAFFERTY: "Smokey and The Bandit" movie. You remember that?

BLITZER: I remember.

All right, Jack. See you in a few moments.

Life-long Republicans defecting to the Democrats -- it's happening right now in one key battleground state. That's sending some shivers down the GOP's collective spine.

Also, Pennsylvania's governor made some stunning remarks about race, Barack Obama and the voters. He says he told the truth. We'll tell you what he said.

And poking fun at a candidate's race or gender may be off limits, but John McCain's age is getting lots of attention these days. Will that hurt him?

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


BLITZER: Some prominent Democrats are putting pressure on Hillary Clinton to drop out of the presidential race, fearing a prolonged bloody battle with Barack Obama will hurt the party's chances in November.

And joining us now, the former Congressman, Tim Roemer. He was a member of the 9/11 Commission. He's a strong supporter of Barack Obama. Congressman, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: Do you agree with Pat Leahy, the senator from Vermont, that Hillary Clinton has no chance of winning and should drop out right now?

ROEMER: Well, I agree with Patrick Leahy on a lot of things. I think it's up to Senator Clinton on this. The math is getting more and more difficult for her. Her negative numbers are going up. A lot depends on the tone in this race, Wolf.

And when candidates are sitting down energizing Democrats, getting record numbers of Democrats to register in Pennsylvania, beating the Republicans by two and three times turnout in South Carolina and California and other places, talking about health care, talking about jobs, that's good.

BLITZER: Yes. But you want...

ROEMER: But when they're attacking each other, that's not good.

BLITZER: But you want...

ROEMER: And I think that's why Senator Clinton's negative numbers are going up.

BLITZER: But you want the -- your fellow Democrats from Indiana -- you're from Indiana -- you want them to be able to participate.

You want them to be able to go ahead and vote for who the Democratic nominee should be, right?

ROEMER: Well, I was out in Indiana working this week for Senator Obama...

BLITZER: So. Because James Carville just told...

ROEMER: And we're excited about this race.

BLITZER: James Carville just told us that what Leahy is doing is hurting Obama because he's going to alienate a lot of voters in Pennsylvania and Indiana and North Carolina who haven't yet had a chance to speak on this process, because he wants to preempt it and force her out right away.

ROEMER: Well, if Senator Clinton decided tomorrow, looking at the math, that there was no chance for her to win and her negative numbers were going up too high and withdrew, I don't think Hoosier voters would -- you know...

BLITZER: But, you know, she's not going to decide...

ROEMER: ...would throw down the gauntlet and say oh, we're so disappointed.


ROEMER: Look, we are excited, Wolf. For the first time in 40 years, since Bobby Kennedy ran in 1968, Hoosiers can pick the next president of the United States.

BLITZER: So this is good.

ROEMER: This is good. But if Senator Clinton decided to get out on her own merits and her own decision making timeframe, I think Senator Obama would be happy to start going head-to-head with Senator McCain.

BLITZER: But that's not happening, at least not yet.

ROEMER: Well, it could happen. We'll see.

BLITZER: All right. It doesn't look like she has any signs of dropping out.

Al Gore -- we haven't heard from him in a while. But he's saying he thinks this is going to resolve itself before the Democratic convention at the end of August in Denver.

What do you think?

ROEMER: I think it will, too. We're getting great signs and great support. There are endorsements that matter and there are endorsements that are not real important in politics.

When you get endorsements from Bill Richardson, who ran with Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, and he picks Senator Obama; when Chris Dodd picks Senator Obama; those matter. And today we got a very important one from Senator Bob Casey. People in Pennsylvania love the Casey family.

BLITZER: And what about the (INAUDIBLE) --

ROEMER: This is important for us.

BLITZER: -- the Reverend Jeremiah Wright flap?

What do you make of that?

ROEMER: I think this kind of endorsement helps us with those blue collar ethnic workers that are looking at what does Senator Casey think about this guy, we don't know him too well yet?

The other thing, Wolf, is the more you hear Senator Obama talking about the economy, about change, about hope, the more you like him and vote for him. He's on a six day bus tour. You're going to see those numbers go right up. And we're real excited about Pennsylvania. We are the underdog. We're the challenger. And I think you're going to see a real competitive race.

BLITZER: Do you think there will be a surprise there?

ROEMER: I'm working in Indiana. I'm working in Pennsylvania. We'll see. We've got great chances in both and we're the underdog.

BLITZER: Well, if he does surprise her in Pennsylvania, then it be over. But we'll see how -- how both of these candidates do.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.

ROEMER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sexism and racism confronting the Democratic candidates. But John McCain has his own hurdle to overcome -- that would be his age. At least some people feel that way. You're going to find out how big a problem that could be for the presumptive Republican nominee.

And what if politicians put an end to pork barrel spending -- what if? We're going to show you some of the unusual pet projects that simply could disappear. Frank Sesno is standing by with that right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Carol Costello is on assignment in Pennsylvania right now. Her report coming up shortly.

Zain Verjee is here monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Zain, what's going on?

VERJEE: Wolf, law enforcement officials are testing soil for signs of possible secret graves on the ranch that once served as Charles Manson's hideout. Trained dogs tipped off investigators earlier this month as they were combing the land in remote East- Central California. Manson is serving a life sentence for a 1969 killing spree that left seven people dead.

A New York mother finds her abducted son in South Korea thanks to a tip on her MySpace page. The boy's father took him in August as the man was facing jail for not paying child support. Tiffany Rubin tracked down her 7-year-old son in a South Korean school. She disguised him in a wig and then fled to the U.S. Embassy. Mother and son are now safely home.

Now, this is a disturbing story. This woman was tied to a tree and beaten by a mob who accused her of being a witch. This happened in northeastern India. The journalist who filmed this called police and they came and arrested six people. The woman was roughed up, but not seriously hurt.

And Cuba's new president, Raul Castro, is giving Cubans one small new freedom -- cell phones. His government is clearing the way for ordinary citizens to have access to what's been a privilege reserved mainly for VIPs. But the high cost means cell phones will still be out of reach for many Cubans -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm not sure they all want those cell phones. They're sort of a blessing in disguise sometimes.

All right. Thanks very much, Zain.

Zain Verjee reporting.

A looming nightmare for the GOP. Pennsylvania Republicans planning to cross party lines and vote Democratic in the state's upcoming primary. You're going to find out why they're defecting.

Also, Pennsylvania's governor causes an uproar with some remarks about Barack Obama and race. Now he's sitting down with CNN to try to calm the furor. You're going to find out what he said and what he's saying now.

Some troublesome new poll numbers for John McCain. We're going to show you how many people say they might not vote for him because of one factor he simply can't change. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, Mexico cracking down on deadly violence raging across the border from Texas, sending almost 2,000 troops and police into Ciudad Juarez, a neighbor to El Paso in Texas. Drug violence in that Mexican city has killed more than 200 people so far this year.

Puerto Rico's governor surrenders to the FBI. Anibal Acevedo Vila was booked on 19 criminal corruption counts contained in a federal indictment -- charges that could get him up to 20 years in prison.

And a suspect is now in custody in a series of highway shootings along Interstate 64 in Virginia. Nineteen-year-old Slade Woodson was arrested on unrelated charges. Investigators say there may have been a second person involved.

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

As the Pennsylvania primary campaign heats up, some long-time Republicans are defecting to the Democrats and the GOP is deeply worried.

Carol Costello is joining us now from Philadelphia. She's watching this story for us.

You're aboard the CNN Election Express. What are you picking up -- Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the number is pretty big. Eighty-seven thousand people switched to Democrats here in the State of Pennsylvania. And that number is big enough to concern the Pennsylvania GOP.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Democrat, Republican -- labels that don't seem to inspire the intense loyalty of the past. Pennsylvanians Charles and Peggy Conrad, Republicans for more than 20 years, have switched.

PEGGY CONRAD, FORMER REPUBLICAN: We felt strongly that things need to change.

COSTELLO: She plans to vote for Hillary Clinton because in her mind the GOP has become too socially conservative. He is torn between Clinton and Obama, caught up in the drama of the Democratic contest.

Did you think about John McCain throughout any of this?

CHARLES CONRAD, FORMER REPUBLICAN: Yes, I've been a lifelong Republican. I listened to him. I thought this country needs good leadership. And if it comes from the Democratic side then I would vote Democratic.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW RADIO HOST: I've been racking my brain --

COSTELLO: If you think either Conrad is switching because they buy into Rush Limbaugh's dark strategy to weaken the Democratic Part ...

LIMBAUGH: I'm asking people to cross over if they can stomach it. I know it's a difficult thing to do to vote for a Clinton but it will sustain the soap opera.

COSTELLO: Did that enter into your decision?

CONRAD: No. No. I don't listen to Rush.

CONRAD: We don't listen to Rush Limbaugh.

COSTELLO: If they did, perhaps the Pennsylvania GOP wouldn't find this so worrisome.

ROBERT A. GLEASON, JR., CHAIRMAN, PENNSYLVANIA GOP: I'm not happy when people switch over, but we're going to work hard to get them back. And explain to them why they should be Republicans again. And then we'll go at it for November.

COSTELLO: That may be difficult. The decision to join the Democrats isn't easy.

Life-long Republican Linda Lemmon is now supporting Barack Obama. She says her decision was agonizing.

LINDA LEMMON, FORMER REPUBLICAN: I think I'm a Democrat now. I probably will remain a Democrat. Because I did not make this step lightly. I thought about it. And I took it as a -- as an American citizen. Of wanting, you know, to help my country.

COSTELLO: For the Conrad's the idea of switching back may cause different pain.

CONRAD: I'm an observer. I will observe and listen until the day of the election.

CONRAD: He'll be pressured.

COSTELLO: He could.

CONRAD: He'll be pressured by his wife.

CONRAD: But I go in the secret little ballot box and I vote my own way.


COSTELLO: And that is very true. You know, Wolf, one expert told me it's very hard to switch. Once you switched changing your affiliation is sort of like changing a part of yourself. It's unlikely that most voters who have switched to becoming a Democrat or Republican will switch back during the general election.

BLITZER: That's a fair point. I know a lot of friends of mine who have switched parties and they become ardent in their new party. It would be impossible to even think of going back to their own party.

Carol, thanks very much for that.

A successful candidate may be appealing to you ways you don't even know about. That's the intriguing subject on a new book entitled, "The Political Brain." The author is Drew Westen. He is joining us from Atlanta. He's a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Emery University.

Is that right, Professor? Did I get it right?


BLITZER: Congratulations on writing this book. Thanks for joining us.

WESTEN: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: On that last point that we were talking about, is that your experience that once someone switches let's say from Republican to Democrat or Democrat to Republican, it's almost impossible to go back?

WESTEN: Well, it's not impossible but when someone does it particularly in middle age, it's an unusual thing to do. Then it's usually relatively permanent. There's a window from about age 18 to about 30 when people can be somewhat fluid in their feelings toward the parties.

But after that time usually you don't see many changes. When you do it signals something significant about the electoral and feelings toward the party.

BLITZER: So if we're seeing Republicans by the tens of thousands registering as Democrats in Pennsylvania, for whatever reason, that potentially could be significant.

WESTEN: Absolutely. The other thing about it is that it creates what psychologists call cognitive distance where what you essentially have done is you've made a commitment already by making the switch. Once you've done that, it makes you start to think more like a Democrat and to think twice about changing your mind because you've now really started a commitment going the other way.

BLITZER: Are people voting this cycle with their hearts or with their minds?

WESTEN: Well, they're voting as they do in pretty much all presidential elections, with more with their hearts. If you look at the best data of what predicts peoples' voting, behavior, the first and most important is the feelings toward the party and principles. The second is their gut level feelings toward the candidates.

And boy, you look at this electoral season, you're not seeing a lot of focusing on which candidate's health care plan has a mandate or doesn't even when the candidates are talking about that. What you're seeing is basically do I trust this person? Do I feel this person has leadership abilities? Do I feel comfortable with this person?

BLITZER: In this famous poll that's been out for a little while, Barack Obama supporters were asked if he doesn't get the nomination, how would they vote -- 19 percent said they would vote for McCain, 16 percent said they wouldn't vote.

Hillary Clinton supporters were asked the same thing if she didn't get the nomination. Twenty-eight percent said they would actually vote for McCain. 16 percent would not vote. Is this serious? Is this real? Are they just saying that in the passion of the moment? They're so anxious for either Obama or Clinton to get the nomination they couldn't see voting for the other one?

WESTEN: Yes, right now I mean my guess is that probably three fourths of those are going to go back and stay Democratic if they are Democratic voters. The fact that the numbers have gotten up to 28 percent of the Hillary supporters, though, does speak to the fact that she has run a pretty relentlessly negative campaign on Obama over the last month or so.

And it's impacted the feelings that people have towards him particularly her supporters. But it's also hurt her as well. There's recent numbers showing that her negatives have gone pretty high relative to her positives. That's not a situation that you want as a candidate for president.

BLITZER: John McCain has an ad that he is running now. The first ad is the general nominee, if you will, the presumptive nominee.

Let me play you a little clip, and we'll discuss.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Keep that faith. Keep your courage. Stick together. Stay strong. Do not yield. Stand up. We're Americans, and we'll never surrender.


BLITZER: All right. What do you think?

WESTEN: Well, he's doing exactly what he should be doing right now, which is to try to build a brand for himself and to build up positive feelings toward himself at the time when the Democrats are preoccupied with each other. What you are starting to see on the other side Democrats are starting to take more shots at him which is a very good thing for them because they've been working on each other's positives and negatives instead of on his.

BLITZER: It's a strong and important book, "The Political Brain," the author, Dr. Drew Westen of Emery University.

Dr, Westen, Professor, thanks for coming in.

WESTEN: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Pennsylvania's governor is trying to set the record straight. He is sitting down with our own reporters to explain what he met about his controversial remark about Barack Obama, voters in his own state and race.

Plus, the age factor. You're going to find out what it means for John McCain.

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


BLITZER: As we told you, the calls are mounting for Hillary Clinton to drop out of the Democratic race, those calls coming from Barack Obama supporters.

Listen to what the Vermont Senator, Patrick Leahy, himself an Obama supporter, said today.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: I said that she has every right, many would argue not a good reason but every right to remain a candidate as long as she wants to. But as long as there are two candidates fighting for the nomination when it's obvious which one is going to win, all that does is to help the other party's nominee.

This is not an attack on Senator Clinton, whom I like, and whom I admire. I'm just trying to get to the point where in a year where I would hope that the Democratic candidate would win, that we take the steps necessary for the Democratic candidate to win.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you had this conversation with her without her throwing ...

LEAHY: I'm not sure that -- well, she -- she has her own counsel. You know, she has to make up her own mind.


BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on this part of the story coming up in our next hour.

James Carville, our Democratic strategist, a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton, he'll be responding to what Patrick Leahy, an Obama supporter, just said. Standby for that.

Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell is trying to end a controversy that was started by his remarks about Barack Obama, the issue of race and Pennsylvania voters.

CNN's Randi Kaye has been speaking to the governor about this uproar that's been going on.

Randi, what is he saying?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was a very interesting conversation. In a meeting with the editorial board of the "Pittsburgh Post Gazette," Governor Ed Rendell said "You've got conservatives whites here and I think there are some whites are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate."

Well, the governor's comments, as you might expect, were not received very well at all by African-Americans in Pennsylvania. The head of Philadelphia's NAACP called them callous and insensitive. Others have suggested they were politically motivated, even racist.

I sat down with the governor of Philadelphia to ask him about his comments and to give him a chance to defend them. Here's what he told me.


GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I was handicap in a race. I was handicap in a race. It's like saying that North Carolina is going to be duped because it's taller. They've got taller players. Taller players generally get more rebounds than shorter players.

I was handicap in a race in a private room. I wasn't trying to influence. I didn't think my comments would get to the public domain. If I was trying to influence the race to help Senator Clinton, I would have done it in a bag rally or some public thing.

KAYE: You don't regret your comments at all about Barack Obama and white voters?

RENDELL: I had three difficult days. So to that extent I would regret them. I would have loved to concentrate on my governor's job.

But no, do I think there was anything wrong with them? Absolutely not. I told the truth. And we've got to be able to speak the truth about race without someone pointing the finger and saying you're racist. You know? We have to be able to speak the truth.


KAYE: Now in the governor's defense, the "Post Gazette" did write a follow-up article supporting him saying there did not appear to be any malaise in his comments nor did it appear he was trying to strategically plant his opinion about race to benefit Hillary Clinton.

Also interesting to note, Wolf, Barack Obama said he agreed with the governor, that he, too, thought people maybe wouldn't vote for him because of his race or maybe he joked because his big ears. But he didn't let Rendell off the hook. Obama did say Rendell is a savvy politician who probably wanted to project strength for Clinton.

BLITZER: All right. Randi, thanks very much. Randi will have more on the story coming up later tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER 360." "AC 360" airs at 10:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Poking fun at a candidate's race or gender may be off limits, but John McCain's age is getting a lot of attention these days.

Let's go to CNN's Jim Acosta who is joining us from New York. He's watching the story for us.

What's going on over here, Jim? Is this turning out to be a serious problem for John McCain?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf a recent poll in a less than scientific survey of the late-night talk show hosts both find John McCain's age is a factor in this campaign.


ACOSTA: John McCain may have his own political barrier to breakthrough on his way to the White House. Not racism or sexism, but ageism.

This week, an NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll found 29 percent of those surveyed did not think the country was ready for a president over the age of 70. That's higher than the 20 percent who thought voters could not handle a woman in the oval office, and the 18 percent who didn't think voters were ready for an African-American president.

But advocates for the aging aren't so sure that will play out in the election.

DREW NANNIS, AARP: I think that what we're seeing throughout this election is all the stereotypes are getting thrown out. It's politically incorrect one way or the other. It's not helpful to talk about the issues no matter who the candidate is.

ACOSTA: If elected, the now 71-year-old senator would become the oldest American to begin a first term in the White House. Some political analysts suggested McCain's age was a factor.

MCCAIN: I'm sorry. The Iranians are straining extremists. Not al Qaeda.

ACOSTA: After his recent flub that Iran was training al Qaeda. The connection was made on one of the Sunday talk shows.

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: The feeling was not that he was a dope and didn't know he was around but that he might have had kind of a senior moment there.

DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: Looks like a guy who goes to the curb for the paper and locks himself out of the house.

ACOSTA: For the late-night talk show hosts jokes about McCain's age never get old. LETTERMAN: John McCain looks like the guy who picks up his TV remote when the phone rings.

ACOSTA: McCain, who makes light of his age on the trail, often points out his mother remains active in her mid-90s.

MCCAIN: Last year she wanted to drive around France. She landed in Paris, tried to rent a car. They wouldn't rent her a car because she said she was too old, so she bought one and drove around France. That a girl, mother.


ACOSTA: Actually, Ronald Reagan was older than McCain when he left office. And as for questions about his age, Reagan said during a debate with Walter Mondale, I'm not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We remember that moment very well. All right.

Thanks very much, Jim, for that.

So does age matter in the White House? Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest president on the day he took office at the age of 42. John F. Kennedy was next at 43. Bill Clinton was 46. Ronald Reagan was the oldest, entering the White House at 69-years-old. William Henry Harrison was 68. James Buchanan was 65.

What kind of role would Michelle Obama play if her husband wins the White House? Senator Barack Obama went on "The View" today and gave his view about that and more. You'll hear what he had to say. That's coming up.

And just ahead. What if politicians really gave up their pet projects? Are they prepared toe make good on their vows of abstinence? Frank Sesno standing by with that story right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack once again for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: Question this hour, Wolf, is: Can Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey's endorsement help Barack Obama among working class voters in that state?

Marty writes: "I really don't think the endorsements make that much of a difference. I think we ought to give Hillary a lot of airtime and see what other lies and nonsense spew out. She managed to lower her standing in the polls while Obama was on vacation."

Chase writes: "Casey's endorsement will do as much for Obama as the Kennedy and Kerry endorsement in Massachusetts."

Keith writes: "The fact he's a superdelegate who had originally intended on staying neutral until after the Pennsylvania primary is far more important to me, Jack. That's one less super who Hillary's 'money people' couldn't scare into supporting her. Just the opposite happened and I think we'll see even more superdelegates endorse Obama in the coming days."

Jim writes: "The endorsement can't hurt but endorsements don't really do that much either way. What will matter is if Pennsylvania voters think Hillary the Entitled's Bosnia whopper makes her someone they can trust. After all, this is something she said, not what her minister said."

Daniel in Washington says: "No. Casey is a first term senator who has no more experience than the first term senator he is endorsing. Clinton holds the endorsements in Pennsylvania of the experienced and also those who really hold weight over thousands of voters."

Ryan writes: "Being from Pennsylvania I can tell you Bob Casey has a lot of swing with the blue collar workers. This helps Obama but Hillary has a good hold on the state."

Tim in Pittsburgh says: "Because of Casey, this 53-year-old white working class male will be voting for Obama."

And Robert in North Carolina: "It couldn't hurt Jack but what really surprised me was that the Clinton people haven't trashed him yet. This should be a pretty good street fight - no love lost between the senator and the governor. Maybe we should turn to pay-per-view for this primary" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It might be worth it.

All right, Jack. Thank you. See you if a few moments.

Politicians certainly have their pet projects. It's a fact of life here in Washington. But the presidential candidates are vowing abstinence.

Let's bring in our special correspondent, Frank Sesno for this week's "What If" segment.

You can't help but ask yourself what if they lived up to that?

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: You can't help but ask yourself that. But I want to ask you though whether you can identify some of these so called earmarks? These pet projects they managed to slide in the budget in the middle of the night. So a couple of questions. Ask the anchor time. Ready Wolf?

BLITZER: Which is the real earmark?

SESNO: Which is the real earmark, rabbit breeding research. That would be in North Dakota. Farm safety education in Iowa. Or asparagus technology and production in West Virginia.

BLITZER: Either A or C. I'll go with A. SESNO: You were close. I want to know what that is. Here's another one. Which was established by an earmark? The Internal Revenue Service, the Iraq study group, our take your daughter to workday.

BLITZER: I'll say B, the Iraq study group.

SESNO: You're right.

BLITZER: I remember that.

SESNO: So actually it's on both sides of the coin. There's some good things and some bad things.

Here's the question. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions, billions of dollars and thousands of earmarks. Can anybody do anything to stop them? Will the candidates do anything? That's the what if.


SESNO: You said it, Hillary has promised it. Obama pledged it. They would impose a moratorium on the congressional treats, earmarks that funnel billions into pet projects.

What if this is one campaign promise they keep? A lot of things would disappear. Like a beaver management project for Mississippi. Cost, $475,000. Brown tree snake management in Guam, now there's a national priority, $700,000. $136,000 for potato breeding in Washington State. The sampling is courtesy of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog.

The list goes on and on and on, thousands of goodies. Horseshoe crab research, nearly half a million for Virginia Tech. Almost a quarter of million for St. Paul, Minnesota to replace warning sirens.

About that deficit, what if earmarks didn't exist? Gosh, it may take what little fun is left out of the job because politics without pork is like eggs without bacon. It's what they're supposed to bring home. The almost $1 million study on berries out of the University of Alaska. Or a museum to Woodstock, that high note from the 1960s supported by none other than Hillary Clinton.

What if the next president stopped earmarks, even for a while? It will be progress, but don't hold your breath. They know it's not good for us. But they love bacon, with our eggs.


SESNO: There are some good earmarks. There's some important things that happened. Kids kicking cancer in Detroit, Children's hunger alliance in Columbus, Ohio, even a national crimes victims law institute, things that can happen without all the debate and wrangling in congress actually get something done in a streamlined way.

These things worth about $15 billion. Even if you stop them all it's just a drop in the bucket with a $3 trillion budget.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks for the context, Frank. See you next week.

Frank Sesno reporting.

Lou Dobbs standing by. We'll speak to him in a moment about an intriguing subject that's going on. Stand by for that.

And Hillary Clinton responding to calls from Barack Obama supporters for her to drop out of the race. You're going to hear what she's telling them right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Lou. He has a show coming up in an hour. I want to pick his brain on some intriguing comments from Condoleezza Rice involving race in our country.

You saw what she said.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": I saw what she said. That the United States has a birth defect on the issue of race. I think it's really unfortunate that Secretary of State Rice believes as she does. The fact is most Americans don't have a problem talking about race.

What we have is a problem of talking about race without fearing recrimination and distortion and someone using whatever comments are made for their own purposes. Usually political purposes.

The reality is, this is the most socially, ethnically, religiously, racially diverse society on the face of the earth. Wolf, we don't make enough of that in the nation media. We listen to some idiot say you can't talk about race or there ought to be these responses when you talk about race or ethnicity and too often, in fact nearly always, we fail to point out that there is no country on the face of the earth as progressive, as racially and ethnically diverse as our own.

It's something for us to be proud of and if any - and to hear a politician whoever it may be talk about how difficult it is to talk about race, well the heck with them. We're living with the issue of race. We've got to be able to talk about it and I can guarantee you this, not a single one of these cotton -- just ridiculous politicians should be the moderator on the issue of race. We have to have a far better discussion than that.

BLITZER: Lou, we'll see you back here in one hour. Thanks very much.

DOBBS: You got it.