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Obama Fights 'Elitist' Label; Democrats Reach out to Religious Voters; Americans Angered Over Food Prices

Aired April 14, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, sharp new attacks in a "bitter" battle. Barack Obama tries to turn the tables on Hillary Clinton with a shot about her downing whiskey. But can he put the uproar over his controversial comments behind him? John McCain is trying to keep the "bitter" flap alive, and it's taking him to places he usually avoids -- talking about guns and God.
Plus, keeping faith. Democrats reaching out to religious Americans in CNN's Compassion Forum. Are they speaking the language of voters who embrace prayer and politics?

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

Eight days before the crucial Pennsylvania primary, Barack Obama is fighting back against charges that he looks down on working class voters. Both Hillary Clinton and John McCain are using Obama's remarks about "bitter" Pennsylvanians against him, labeling him as an elitist. Now Obama is suggesting his rivals' concerns for small-town America is just for show.

Dana Bash is covering the McCain campaign. She's standing by in Pittsburgh.

But let's go to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's in Philadelphia watching the story for us.

All right. What's the latest in the strategy that's going on between these candidates, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is quite a battle, Wolf, as you mentioned. Barack Obama went before The "Associated Press" today and started off with a little bit of humor, saying that he knew he kept reporters busy all weekend long and he hoped they weren't bitter about it. But kidding aside, the Obama camp knows this is a serious matter.


CROWLEY (voice over): He is accused of elitism as he faces a primary which hinges on working-class votes. So Barack Obama is looking to turn the criticism on its head.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If John McCain wants to turn this election into a contest about which party is out of touch with the struggles and hopes of working America, that's a debate I'm happy to have. CROWLEY: Obama's more immediate problem is Pennsylvania, and the as yet unknown effect of his suggestion that small-town America is bitter toward Washington and clings to God and guns because of economic distress.

Hillary Clinton got scattered jeers and boos when she brought the subject up before an audience of steel industry workers, but she is pounding him.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think he really gets it, that people are looking for a president who stands up for you and not looks down on you.

CROWLEY: In word and picture, Clinton has been relentless as she goes after Obama while courting the superdelegates who could decide the nominee.

CLINTON: Democrats have reached out to me to say that we, you know, can't afford for people to believe that the Democratic Party is elitist and out of touch.

CROWLEY: Over the weekend she sported her own working-class credentials with tales of when she learned to shoot and a photo-op where she sipped beer and took a shot of whiskey.

On defense for three days now, Obama is on offense. Before the same steel industry audience, he questioned Clinton's commitment to reforming U.S. trade policy.

OBAMA: You can't spend the better part of two decades campaigning for NAFTA and PNTR for China, and then come here to Pennsylvania and tell the workers that you have been with them all along.

CROWLEY: And he warned against Washington insiders bearing promises.

OBAMA: They'll even come around with TV crews in tow and throw back a shot and a beer. But if those same candidates are taking millions of dollars in contributions from the PACs and the lobbyists, ask yourself, who are their going to be toasting once the election's over?


CROWLEY: Now, immediately after Obama's shot at Hillary Clinton's beer drinking, the Clinton campaign noted that Barack Obama had also gone into a sports bar here in Pennsylvania and had a little beer.

Despite all that, Wolf, that seemed sort of lighthearted. But this is as bitter a back-and-forth, as fierce a back-and-forth as I have seen in this campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And only eight days to go until the Pennsylvania primary. Candy, thanks very much.

Senator Obama is used to having his name mangled and his ties to the Muslim world questioned. But today it was literally in his face.

At an "Associated Press" luncheon right here in Washington, Obama was asked a question about Osama bin Laden. Listen closely to how the questioner mispronounced the fugitive al Qaeda leader's name.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you imagine shifting a substantial number of Afghanistan -- a substantial number to Afghanistan? For the Taliban has been gaining strength and Obama bin Laden (sic) is still at large.

OBAMA: I think that was o Osama bin Laden.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I did that, I'm so sorry.

OBAMA: No, no, no. This is part of -- part of the -- part of the exercise that I've been going through over the last 15 months, which is why it's pretty impressive I'm still standing here.


BLITZER: John McCain also spoke at that "Associated Press" luncheon today, and he came out swinging against Obama. The Republican now is trying to add fuel to the fire over Obama's so- called "bitter" remark days after the Democrat first said it.

Let's go right to Pittsburgh. Dana Bash is watching this story for us.

All right. So, what's the McCain camp doing about this, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know a campaign thinks that they've got a winning political issue when they use it to try to raise money. That's exactly what McCain's campaign manager did in an e-mail to supporters today. That, as McCain himself finally jumped into the fray.


BASH (voice over): Off the trail all weekend as Barack Obama's so-called "bitter" comments brewed, John McCain for the first time launched the attack on his Democratic rival that campaign aides spent three days doing for him.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think those comments are elitist.

BASH: Repudiating Obama for disparaging who he called hard- working people who cherish the Second Amendment and their faith. MCCAIN: These are the people that have fundamental cultural, spiritual and other values that in my view have very little to do with their economic condition.

BASH: It's a political no-brainer for a Republican to jump on a Democrat for suggesting bitter Americans are clinging to faith and firearms. But while McCain is occasionally asked about the subjects...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator McCain, I was wondering what your views are on gun control, like a gun registration?

MCCAIN: I do believe in protecting the constitutional rights ensured by the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

BASH: The reality is McCain is a GOP candidate who rarely talks unprompted about either God or guns on the stump. So the McCain campaign strategy is to cloak his hit on Obama in a theme where McCain has more credibility -- patriotism.

MCCAIN: My other profession in the war I served in, the country relied overwhelmingly on Americans from these same communities to defend us.

BASH: Suggesting in prepared remarks and Q&A at an "Associated Press" forum that Obama is impugning the culture he knows, one that produces American soldiers.

MCCAIN: These are the people that today, their sons and daughters are in harm's way defending this nation.

BASH: But this is a fine line for McCain, who swears he'll run an above-the-fray campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If those remarks were elitist, which you say they are, does that make him an elitist?

MCCAIN: I don't know because I don't know him very well.


BASH: But McCain advisers say that if they do end up competing against Barack Obama for the White House, that their entire campaign, at least at this point, will be likely run through the prism that he is an elitist, he's somebody who is out of touch. But, Wolf, as you well know, they're going to be competing against Democrats, who are already trying to paint McCain as the one who is out of touch when it comes to America's economic woes.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks.

Dana's in Pittsburgh today.

Senator McCain, by the way, also is addressing concerns about his age. He's doing so with humor. Watch now how McCain responds to a question at that "A.P." luncheon here in Washington. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By January 2009 you'll be 72 years old. How does it make you feel knowing that voters may reject you because they feel you're too old to be president?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're not getting out of answering the question.

MCCAIN: Watch me campaign. Come on, on the bus.


BLITZER: If elected, by the way, Senator McCain would be the oldest person inaugurated to a first term in the White House.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" right now.

A lot of humor out there on the campaign trail.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: That was a joke, right?


CAFFERTY: It's pretty funny, actually.

Barack Obama's comments about bitter blue-collar voters who cling to guns and religion have exploded into a bitter fight between him and Hillary Clinton. Over the weekend it got downright nasty.

Clinton pounded Obama over the remarks, calling them elitist, divisive, suggesting they'd kill the Democrats chances of winning the presidency in November. She says Obama's words could alienate voters in Pennsylvania and other states who will soon vote.

Obama says he expected this kind of response from Republican John McCain, but not from his Democratic rival. When it comes to Clinton, Obama says shame on her, and mocks her outspoken support for gun rights.

Clinton has told audiences that she supports the rights of hunters, that she once shot a duck in Arkansas, and that she remembers learning to shoot on summer vacation in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to which Obama says this: "She's talking like she's Annie Oakley. Hillary Clinton's out there like she's on the duck blind every Sunday. She's packing a six-shooter. Come on. She knows better."

Trying to turn the tables, Obama insists it's Clinton who's out of touch with concerns of blue-collar voters, saying that she's accepted campaign contributions from political action committees and drug and insurance lobbyists.

Meanwhile, after appealing to gun owners and churchgoers all weekend, Clinton refused to answer a question about the last time she fired a gun, saying, "We can answer that some other time," and that "It's not a relevant question in this debate." Quoting there. She says she went to church on Easter.

Obama spent a lot of the weekend telling reporters his remarks were accurate but poorly phrased.

So here's the question: How harmful will Barack Obama's "bitter" remarks be to his candidacy?

Go to, where you can post a comment on my blog.

It was interesting, Wolf. On Friday, no sooner had Bill Clinton brought up the Bosnia stuff again, than Obama took her off the front page with these remarks about bitter blue-collar workers in Pennsylvania. It's like watching a tennis match.

BLITZER: That's right, back and forth. And we're going to see a lot more of that, Jack. So get ready to get your head shaking in both directions.


BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

A top Democrat is telling Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to cut it out. What will happen if their party faces this bitter battle and keeps on going and going and going? I'll ask the House majority whip, James Clyburn. He's standing by here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, will the "elitist" label stick to Obama? Some other Democrats have tried and failed to prove they're men of the people.

And later, Clinton and Obama on their faith and their relationships with God. How will it play with voters?

We're going to let you listen to the candidates for yourself.

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


BLITZER: The Democrats' primary battle has taken another sharp turn into negative territory, propelled by Barack Obama's remarks about so-called bitter Pennsylvanians.

Let's discuss this and more with the number one African-American in the U.S. House of Representatives, the majority whip, James Clyburn. He's the South Carolina Democrat. And he has not yet endorsed any of these candidates.

Is that right?


BLITZER: And you have no plans so far to endorse anyone?

CLYBURN: Not yet.

BLITZER: You're staying neutral for the time being?


BLITZER: All right. Good. Thanks very much for that.

Hillary Clinton says Barack Obama is an elitist. Do you think he's an elitist?

CLYBURN: Well, you know, South Carolina voters won't use their votes for an elitist. Nor will Georgia, especially African-Americans in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. I think the comments were inartfully made.

BLITZER: Obama's comments?

CLYBURN: Yes. Yes. I think most people understood what he meant, but I don't think that those comments are -- make him an elitist by any means.

BLITZER: And -- but so you personally were not overly concerned by that little snippet of what he said at that fundraiser in San Francisco eight days ago?

CLYBURN: I was concerned about it, yes.

BLITZER: What concerned you?

CLYBURN: Because I understand how these things work. You make a statement, people repeat it time and time again. And after the 14th or 15th time, people start thinking that it may have some substance.

BLITZER: So is this a problem for Barack Obama right now do you think?

CLYBURN: Well, it's a challenge for him.

BLITZER: Going into Pennsylvania and then Indiana and North Carolina on May 6?

CLYBURN: It's going to be a challenge for him to get people to understand exactly what he meant by it.

BLITZER: All right.

Let's talk a little bit about the tone that's going on now between these two Democratic presidential candidates. It's getting pretty nasty out there.

CLYBURN: Yes, it is. I thought a couple of weeks ago, especially about 10 days ago, they were both talking about themselves, they were both talking about the Democratic Party, they were both drawing contrasts between themselves and the presumed nominee on the Republican side. And I thought maybe we had gotten beyond this, that we would get through...

BLITZER: And you wanted them, you urged them to tone it -- to lower that rhetoric?

CLYBURN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BLITZER: And what did they say to you when you said that to them?

CLYBURN: Well, I've talked to them mostly through you, Wolf. I've not talked to them directly on this.

BLITZER: You don't pick up the phone and call Senator Obama or Senator Clinton?

CLYBURN: No, I don't.

BLITZER: Don't you think maybe you should?

CLYBURN: No, I don't.


CLYBURN: If they call and ask, I'll be glad to talk to them, but I don't think I should take liberties telling them how to conduct them themselves on their campaigns. But I will offer advice in the public medium the way I am.

BLITZER: I don't know if you saw the issue of "TIME" magazine, because they have a poll in there that I thought was pretty revealing. At least it's a snapshot of what's going on right now. I write about it on my blog post at today.

We'll put the numbers up on the screen. And you can look right behind you and you'll see them once we get there.

If Obama -- we asked Obama supporters if they would vote for Hillary Clinton or John McCain if they lost. And here, 68 percent said they would vote for Clinton, but 16 percent of the Obama supporters said they'd vote for McCain, 16 percent say they don't know who they'd vote for. That's 32 percent who aren't ready to make a flat commitment they'd vote for Hillary Clinton if she gets the nomination.

And then we asked Clinton supporters -- this is the "TIME" magazine poll -- Clinton supporters who they'd vote for if Obama is the nominee. And look at this -- 56 percent said they'd vote for Obama among Clinton supporters, but 26 percent said they'd vote for McCain, 18 percent said they'd vote for -- they don't know. Forty- four percent refusing to make a commitment to vote for Obama among Clinton supporters.

That's a snapshot. It could change. But that must be very disturbing when you see those numbers.

CLYBURN: No. Not to me. BLITZER: Why?

CLYBURN: I recall primaries before. As long as you're in the primary when people's feelings are raw, they will answer in a snapshot. This is the way I feel today. When we get to September and October, when you pull in contrasts between the candidates, I think you'll see something totally different.

BLITZER: Because you know Obama supporters, a lot of them, are very passionate for him. A lot of Clinton supporters very passionate for her. And to a certain degree they don't like the other guy.

CLYBURN: Yes, but they feel at this time that there's something about this whole process -- they're looking at the so-called superdelegates and what role they may or may not play. And so I think a lot of people are reserving, hedging their bets to see whether or not this process plays out in a fair manner.

If it plays out in a very fair manner, I think everything will be fine. Right now people are very, very concerned about what role the superdelegates will play.

BLITZER: Let me pick your brain on a subject that's before the House of Representatives right now -- the free trade area agreement with Colombia. The president is very upset that Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, is threatening to not even let this come up for a vote.

Listen to what the president said. Listen to this.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is an unprecedented move. And it's not in our country's interest that -- that we stiff an ally like Colombia and that we don't encourage our goods and services to be sold overseas.


BLITZER: He makes the point that especially in tough economic times, a recession or whatever, the U.S. needs more markets to sell products, especially a country like Colombia.

What do you think?

CLYBURN: Well, I think Nancy Pelosi was absolutely right to do what she did. The fact of the matter is she and the president spoke two or three days before he sent the agreement over. However, she asked him to give her time to work with her caucus.

We have a very diverse caucus, Wolf -- 42 African-Americans in our caucus. The president is used to working with the Republican conference, where there are no African-Americans. We have 22 Latinos, 48 Blue Dogs. We have around 39 so-called New Dems, who are the trade people.

She wanted time to work with all of these elements to try to create a climate to do what the president would like to see done. However, he ignored all of that, sent the document up, and tried to set our agenda for us. And Nancy was right to push back.

And that's why she got such strong support from her caucus, because we believe that this agreement ought not go forward until such time as all of the labor considerations, the environmental considerations. All of these things that would make for a good two- way street are, in fact, in place.

BLITZER: Congressman Clyburn is the number three member of the House of Representatives. He's the majority whip.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.

CLYBURN: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

This Colombian trade agreement is not going away. It's going to be a big fight. We'll watch it every step of the way.

Coming up, Barack Obama's comments about so-called bitter voters, they've created an unexpected problem for Democrats. They'd like to talk about the war, the economy, yet he's forced to talk about class right now. Might that hurt his campaign?

And John McCain was not part of the forum on faith last night. You saw it here on CNN. Was that a mistake? Are Republicans letting Democrats talk about faith issues by themselves?

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



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

Happening now, a crisis. Americans are angry that food costs more and more. But there are people actually dying of hunger. And others are dying in riots over food prices. That's happening in some parts of the world right now.

Why are food prices rising? We'll have a full report on this very disturbing story coming up.

His words sparked a political firestorm for Barack Obama. Now the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is speaking out publicly for the first time since the controversy. You're going to want to hear what Wright is saying. That's coming up as well.

And the New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, accomplishes two feats: brokering a groundbreaking agreement and bringing all three presidential candidates together. It involves an issue we should all care about.

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

There are many voters to convince, but only so many days to do it. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton need those voters to rack up delegates. Right now, he leads in pledged delegates, with 1,014 to her 1,243. But Clinton has a slight edge among those critical superdelegates, 28 more than Obama, to be specific.

Meanwhile, they only have a few more contests to fight over. On May 6, Indiana offers 72 delegates, North Carolina 115. But Pennsylvania's primary in eight days offers the biggest delegate treasure, 158.

Both Obama and Clinton are visiting Pennsylvania today. And, as they campaign these days, it appears both of them are more open to talking about faith and religion and values.

CNN's Jessica Yellin is here. She's watching this story for us.

They're getting personal on these very, very sensitive issues that a lot of times politicians, especially Democratic politicians, Jessica, don't normally want to talk so much about.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Wolf. During the Compassion Forum last night, Democrats made it clear that they are aggressively courting faith voters this year.


YELLIN (voice-over): She's not shy about discussing her personal relationship with God.

CLINTON: And I have had the experiences on many, many occasions where I felt like the Holy Spirit was there with me as I made a journey.

YELLIN: He says his faith has been a source of support.

OBAMA: Religion is a bulwark, a foundation when other things aren't going well. That's true in my own life, through trials and tribulations.

YELLIN: A stark change from the days when Democrats talked about religion rarely and with reluctance.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: And we are a country that's made up of people who are Christians and Jews and Muslims and Confucians and -- and Hindu and so forth, and agnostics, and even atheists.

YELLIN: Faith voters flocked to the Republicans. In 2004, Bush won 78 percent of white evangelical voters and 61 percent of all voters who attended church weekly.

This time, both Democratic candidates are making a play for the religious vote. Clinton and Obama both have directors of faith outreach. The Obama campaign coordinated more than 100 forums on faith in primary states. And, in North Carolina, Clinton has just launched this ad heavy on religious themes.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I prayed with her when she didn't know I was praying. But the Spirit was there.


YELLIN: The challenge for Democrats is to address faith without alienating secular voters. Religious leaders say one way is by defining issues like the environment and poverty as religious issues.

Faith leaders insist there are plenty of potential Democratic votes in their congregations.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There are a number of people of faith who have been turned off by the religious right, who have said, they don't speak for me. Democrats cannot appear to be agnostic or appear to be atheist and ignore a huge amount of people.


YELLIN: Now, Wolf, both Obama and Clinton have spoken out about the need for Democrats to court values or faith voters. But it really looks like they have their work cut out for them.

A CNN poll taken in mid-March shows that white evangelical voters prefer John McCain to each Democrat by more than 45 points. And, you know, McCain rarely talks about religion -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you for that, Jessica.

Here's a snapshot, by the way, of Democratic primary voters and how they express their faith. Exit polls in more than 20 Super Tuesday states show about one-third of the Democrats said they attend religious services weekly. Forty-two percent attend occasionally. Twenty-two percent said they never go to church.

Over half of the Republican voters on Super Tuesday said they go to church weekly. Over a third attend services occasionally. Eleven percent said they never attend religious services.

This is a very high-profile week for Catholic voters out there, the Catholic Church, specifically, with the pope's arrival here in Washington tomorrow. We're going to bring you live coverage, by the way, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the pope scheduled to arrive at Andrews Air Force Base tomorrow, 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

We will have live coverage right here in THE SITUATION ROOM of this historic visit.

Let's talk more about our top story right now: Barack Obama's comments about those so-called bitter voters, the backlash it's caused and his explanation and strong defense of what he said, at least what he meant to say.

Joining us now is our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching this story for us.

Is it surprising that Obama is being called an elitist, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is, Wolf, because it is not the problem he was supposed to have in this campaign.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The big issue hanging over the Obama campaign may not be race, but class.

CLINTON: People don't need a president who looks down on them.

SCHNEIDER: Obama is the latest in a long line of new-politics Democrats, like Eugene McCarthy, and George McGovern, and Gary Hart, and Michael Dukakis, who drew their strongest support from educated upper-middle-class voters, none of whom got many black votes in the primaries, until Obama.

The class issue exploded when it was revealed that Obama had drawn a connection between small-town voters' economic frustration and their values.

CLINTON: Someone goes to a closed-door fund-raiser in San Francisco and makes comments that do seem elitist, out of touch and frankly patronizing.

SCHNEIDER: John McCain agreed.

MCCAIN: These are the people that have fundamental cultural, spiritual and other values that, in my view, have very little to do with their economic condition.

SCHNEIDER: Obama quickly moved to disconnect the connection.

OBAMA: Now, I didn't say it as well as I should have, because, you know, the truth is, is that these traditions that are passed on from generation to generation, those are important. That's what sustains us.

SCHNEIDER: Conservative bloggers had a field day with Obama's remarks. They called it the McGovernization of Obama.

Conservatives are eager to have another values election. They believe they can win those. Clinton supporters are trying to convince superdelegates that the Democratic Party will be taking a big risk if they go with Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The far right wing has a very good track record of using things like this relentlessly against our candidates, whether it's Al Gore or John Kerry.

SCHNEIDER: This is not the risk that superdelegates expected, race, but one they didn't expect, class.


SCHNEIDER: Obama gave a compelling speech on race that saved his campaign. Now he may find he needs to give another equally compelling speech on class -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Bill -- Bill Schneider reporting.

It's a question of faith and a question of politics. When does life begin? The Democratic presidential candidates explain their views. We will hear more of what they had to say during CNN's Compassion Forum.

Stay with us for that.

And isn't Barack Obama putting more sting into his barbs at Hillary Clinton? Donna Brazile and Rich Galen, they're standing by for our "Strategy Session."

Former President Jimmy Carter gets the cold shoulder while he's in Israel. Is his plan to talk with Hamas leaders backfiring? What's going on?

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


BLITZER: Right now, we want you to let you hear more from that Democratic presidential candidates' forum on faith and politics. Each of the candidates took a turn on the stage last night for CNN's so- called Compassion Forum -- Compassion Forum -- speaking about a wide range of religious issues, including when life begins.


OBAMA: This is something that I have not, I think, come to a firm resolution on. I think it's very hard to know what that means, when life begins. Is it when a cell separates? Is it when the soul stirs? So I don't presume to know the answer to that question. What I know, as I have said before, is that there is something extraordinarily powerful about potential life and that that has a moral weight to it that we take into consideration when we're having these debates.

CLINTON: I have concluded, after great, you know, concern and searching my own mind and heart over many years, that our task should be in this pluralistic, diverse life of ours in this nation that individuals must be entrusted to make this profound decision, because the alternative would be such an intrusion of government authority that it would be very difficult to sustain in our kind of open society.

OBAMA: We have got to translate whatever it is that we believe into a language that allows for argument, allows for debate, and also allows that we may be wrong.

And the biggest danger, I think, for those of us of religious faith when we're in the public sphere is a certain self-righteousness, where we start thinking that, "Well, you know, I have got a direct line to God." You know, that is incompatible with democracy.

CLINTON: Well, I understand that concern because part of our obligation as leaders in America is to make sure that any conversation about religion is inclusive and respectful. And that has not always happened, as we know. And it is so personal, the spiritual journey that each of us takes or doesn't take.


BLITZER: That's from the CNN Compassion Forum that you saw here -- at least many of you probably saw it -- on CNN last night.

Coming up in our "Strategy Session," the Obama offensive. He came out swinging today.


OBAMA: You can't spend the better part of two decades campaigning for NAFTA and PNTR for China and then come here to Pennsylvania and tell the workers that you have been with them all along.


OBAMA: That's what you can't do.



BLITZER: Will his new tone change the focus from those so-called bitter remarks to Clinton's record on trade?

And absent from last night's faith forum was John McCain. Is he camera-shy when it comes to talking about his faith? Donna Brazile and Rich Galen, they're standing by for our "Strategy Session."



BLITZER: So, who's an elitist and out of touch? Barack Obama says he's not. And he has a new and tough response to Hillary Clinton and John McCain, who suggest he is.

Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now. Joining us, our CNN political analyst the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist Rich Galen.

Guys, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: He's becoming a little bit more sarcastic in the past 48/72 hours since this uproar began, a little bit more hard-hitting. I will play a little clip of how Obama is talking today.


OBAMA: It may be that I chose my words badly. It's not the first time. It won't be the last. But, when I hear my opponents, both of whom spent decades in Washington, saying I'm out of touch, it's time to cut through the rhetoric and look at the reality.



BLITZER: Well, let's look at the political reality, the hard reality. What's going on?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, his opponents are trying to draw a distinction without a difference. The truth is, is that Senator Obama admitted that he had a -- he used a poor choice of words to describe the frustration, perhaps the anger, of many voters in small-town -- in Pennsylvania and other places that feel their government has basically left them behind. His opponents will continue to use it. And I suggest that Senator Obama just keep talking to the voters. They get it.

GALEN: Yes, well, they may get it, but it's not the voters that the Hillary and John McCain are talking about.

People in small towns understand the way people in big cities think about them. And what it struck -- I was in Marietta, Ohio, over the weekend, where I went to school, where my wife was born. And those people, that's exactly the way they think when they think about New Yorkers, that we're too dumb and stupid. We have to use religion and Second Amendment and those things as a crutch because we're not smart enough to figure this stuff out for themselves.

That does play into an elitist attitude. And I think it's going to have an effect, not just in the near term in Pennsylvania in the primary. But, remember, in the fall election, Pennsylvania has, what, 21 electoral votes? Ohio has 20.

If the Democrats do well in Ohio, which they probably will, Republicans may well be in a position to bring this all back up again and trade Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes for Ohio's 20.

BRAZILE: Rich, I have lived long enough to see Republicans paint every Democrat, regardless to what they say, as elitists, as liberals, out of touch.

GALEN: And it generally works.

BRAZILE: That's just -- that's just -- that's right, because that's the -- that's the play. That's the frame. The truth is, is that Senator Obama, like Senator Clinton and Senator McCain, must prove to these voters that they have what it takes to help improve our economy, get us out of the war in Iraq, and, of course, bring jobs back to this country. That's what they want to hear.


BLITZER: Let me ask you this, Rich, because you're a good Republican strategist. McCain wasted no time in hammering away at Barack Obama, like Hillary Clinton, the elitist and all that stuff, right Friday night, once those words became public.

He went right after, suggesting to some he really would prefer to go head to head against Hillary Clinton in November, that he's more fearful of Barack Obama.

You have seen those suggestions. What do you think?

GALEN: I'm not sure that he's more fearful.

The difference is that Mrs. Clinton is a much more and better known quantity.

BLITZER: Who would be easier, from your perspective, for him to beat? Would it be Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?


GALEN: I think, at this stage, either one is -- either of the two Democratic candidates has an uphill climb.

If -- you were talking, I think, to Bill Schneider earlier about the back and forth between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama and if going back to what the senator said the other day, this is a -- if this were Wimbledon, this would be an unforced error. And both Clinton and McCain are going to make full use of it.

BLITZER: Here's what you were quoted, Donna, as saying in "The Washington Post" on Sunday: "With the Wright controversy still lingering and now Obama's unartful comments, it will paint the picture of Obama as being, quote -- 'out of synch.' Unfortunately, it was the Constitution law professor speaking, and not the community organizer."


BRAZILE: Well, Senator Obama has this way with explaining, I think, and using perhaps more words than he should, conversations, for example, during the Nevada caucuses when he talked about Ronald Reagan.

Many Democrats felt like he was endorsing Ronald Reagan and Ronald Reagan's policies. So, I think, often, when you -- when Senator Obama's speaking -- he's an eloquent speaker -- don't get me wrong -- what you hear is this constitutional lawyer explaining a problem, with all of his details, and not just getting straight to the point.


GALEN: I have one word for that description: elitist.


GALEN: But go ahead.


BRAZILE: That's not true. That's just...


BLITZER: Was it smart for McCain to skip that faith and religion forum last night?

GALEN: Yes, I think it was.

I mean, McCain is going to be -- one of the reasons that John McCain is going to be very difficult, I think, for the Democrats to beat is because they can't -- the Democrats, especially the left wing of the Democratic Party, is going to have a very difficult time painting him as a right-wing extremist.

And by not engaging in those kinds of -- that debate, as you did last night -- and, by the way, let me just make the point that the clips that you showed earlier, neither Obama, nor Clinton could come up with an answer as to when life began. Everybody in America, frankly, over the age of 12 probably knows what they think about that answer. But they both skated of it.

So, McCain doesn't have to answer for it. He doesn't wear his religion on his sleeve. People know what he is, what he stands for. And this is why he's going to -- he has a great appeal to the vast middle-of-the-road voters in America.

BRAZILE: First of all, Obama is a thoughtful human being. Senator Clinton is also a very thoughtful, intelligent, inspiring human being.

And Senator McCain does not wear his religion on his sleeve. He's very discrete about it. He's a lifelong Episcopalian. He belongs to a Baptist church now. He attends church. From everything I know about John McCain, he's a prayerful fellow, but he doesn't like -- he doesn't like to talk about it in public.

GALEN: Yes, I think that's right. And that's one of the reasons he's going to be tough to beat.

BLITZER: All right.

GALEN: But he's a thoughtful person, not an elitist. I have to just...


BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.


BLITZER: We will see you soon.

Democrats stand clearly opposed to Republican John McCain. But why do Democratic officials want the eventual Republican nominee investigated? You are going to hear about a lawsuit right now.

And many country music fans often support Republicans. But the Democrats hope to change that, and to change it quickly. You are going to find out how.

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


BLITZER: Let's check our political ticker right now. Democratic Party officials are asking a judge to order the Federal Election Commission to investigate John McCain -- at issue, whether McCain violated election laws by withdrawing from the system for public financing of his campaign. The lawsuit filed today in U.S. district court says the FEC is simply too weak to move ahead with an investigation on its own.

Republican Party officials call the lawsuit -- and I'm quoting now -- "frivolous and without merit."

The McCain camp is making a surprising new request of its contributors to help rival-turned-supporter Rudy Giuliani pay off his campaign debt. McCain campaign manager Rick Davis made the request in a recent memo to donors, saying it would help unite the party. It's an unusual move, especially because McCain is lagging himself far behind the Democrats in raising his own campaign cash.

Giuliani still has a few million dollars in debts for his campaign.

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

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

CAFFERTY: We hit the trifecta today, Wolf, on "The Cafferty File." Our questions are posted on,, and That's a pretty good deal.

BLITZER: That's very good.

CAFFERTY: Yes, all three.


CAFFERTY: That's the first time we have been on all three at the same time.

BLITZER: You will get a -- you will get a lot of reaction.

CAFFERTY: Yes, we are. We're getting a ton of mail.

The question this hour is, how harmful will Barack Obama's bitter remarks be to his campaign?

Josh writes: "Yes, I think it will hurt him in the Pennsylvania primary, not because of what he said, but because of the way it is being spun by the political war machines of his opponents. I don't know if there is a way for Hillary to actually win her party's nomination. And I believe this underscores why the smart leaders in the Democratic Party have called for her to step out of the race. She is going to serve this election up on a silver platter for John McCain."

Mary in Florida writes: "Jack, this too shall pass. You've heard that old phrase, and, in this case, it's apt for Teflon Barack. Nothing sticks to him. People just manage to overlook his foibles, while beating Hillary over the head with hers. Sigh."

Sue in Pennsylvania writes: "If you haven't lived it, you can't possibly understand it. With that said, Senator Obama was spot on. We are frustrated and bitter. We don't always feel we have a say in our economics, so we vote on gun issues, abortion, et cetera, and turn to our religion as a way to ground us. So, no, most Pennsylvania voters, who have seen their neighborhoods disappear and prices soar, are not fooled by Hillary Clinton's assertion that Senator Obama is out of touch with hardworking Americans."

Mike in Colorado says: "Americans bitter? Holding onto guns, religion, anti-immigration, and anti-trade sentiment? Ouch. Could it be that some of Reverend Wright's ideology has inadvertently rubbed off on Obama during the 20 years of sermons that Obama supposedly said he wasn't there to hear?"

And Shirley in Florida writes: "I'm from a small town in Florida, and I can't take four or eight years of Grandma Billary and Grandpa McCain. And, no, I was not offended by Senator Obama's bitter statement. I just think he should have used the word angry instead. As an American, I am just that. This is foolishness. Senator Obama holds us accountable, tells us what we need to hear. Like grandparents, Grandma Billary and Grandpa McCain tell us what we want to hear."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to And that's where you will find my blog. You can perhaps your e-mail there. We post hundreds of them for each of these questions every day.

Actually, we don't. Sam (ph) does. Sam is the e-mail poster person.

BLITZER: He's a good guy.

All right, thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: It's a girl.

BLITZER: It's a girl. He's a good girl. She's a good girl.


BLITZER: All right, thanks very much. You're a good guy.