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The Situation Room

Florida Governor Quits GOP; Oil Slick Threatens U.S. Coast

Aired April 29, 2010 - 18:00   ET


DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He's now about 20 back. We have never had a descent like that, I think, in a long, long time. And I think a lot of people in the Republican Party are going to say, you know, he was very happy to be in the club when he was 30 points up. It's not the system that was broken. It was his campaign that was broken.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, when he says, Charlie Crist, Gloria, that this is uncharted territory, maybe in Florida, it is, but, in Connecticut, we had a situation develop, as all of our viewers will remember, when the incumbent Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman did not get the Democratic primary nomination. He ran as an independent. And guess what? He is the independent senator from Connecticut right now. He won.

Is there a situation unfolding in Florida that could be similar to what happened in Connecticut?


Look, you know, this is a real gamble for Charlie Crist, because, first of all, if you talk to any Republicans in the establishment -- and, don't forget, Charlie Crist was the establishment candidate, handpicked by the Republican establishment to run for this Senate seat.

So, now he's taking a total turn because he is way behind in the primary, as you point out -- 22 percent of the registered voters in Florida say they're unaffiliated. He's making a big gamble here. He is saying that those unaffiliated voters are moderates who would tend to vote for him, as opposed to Marco Rubio or perhaps the Democratic candidate, Kendrick Meek.

That is not at all clear to people you talk to in the state, because voters who tend to be unaffiliated right now, independents, are angry and tend to be more conservative than not. So, you know, this is a big gamble for him, because his political future in the Republican Party, at least, is over. If he wins, he's a really important United States senator.

BLITZER: Democratic strategist James Carville, is here. Republican strategist Kevin Madden is here as well.

Kevin, how worried should Republicans be that that Republican vote will now be split between the more moderate Charlie Crist, the more conservative Marco Rubio, paving the way for the Democratic, Kendrick Meek, to be elected?

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I have saying in politics. Worrying is for those people without a plan.

I think that the Marco Rubio folks have a plan. What they're going to do is go out and they're going to appeal to the principles of the Republican base. They're going to go out and try and tap into that independent -- independents that are starting to align themselves with Republicans, and then they're going to appeal to a lot of those Panhandle Democrats who are unhappy with not only their own party, but they're happy with the -- unhappy with the status quo in Washington.


BLITZER: Marco Rubio is getting ready, by the way, to speak, and get his reaction. We will have live coverage of that as well.

But go ahead. Finish your point.


MADDEN: Well, I could not help but laugh throughout that entire speech, that Governor Crist -- Governor Crist speech, because here is somebody who is talking about a broken system.

He is governor. He was chosen by the NRSC, endorsed by the NRSC. The system that he's talking about, he was very much a part of until yesterday, so, I mean, he may have a message. It's a new message, for sure, but it is one that is entirely, squarely at odds with his public persona.


JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it might have been cliche-ridden, focus-group-tested, poll-driven, but he has a message.

In fact, what cracks me up is Joe Lieberman is the most establishment -- here's the Democratic vice presidential nominee. He leaves the. He runs as an independent and all these people are saying, oh, Joe's got great integrity.

And then Charlie Crist, no less a Republican than Joe Lieberman was a Democrat, and all of a sudden, oh, he's just a cravenly ambitious guy.

He may be, but he does have a message. And I don't know -- and they're going to make this about the messenger, not his message, I promise you that.

BLITZER: David Gergen, what does this say, bigger picture right now, in terms of where the country is as far as the lead-up to the midterm elections?

GERGEN: Well, I think a lot of this is about Charlie Crist and the problems with Florida, but it does have a national implication, and that is a moderate establishment figure who is also seen very much as an insider, and others have been making this argument, going down in effect within his own party, because of this insurgency of conservatives who have rallied against him.

Now, in this case it's also Florida-centric because in Marco Rubio there is a very strong candidate. It was not as if he's just a nobody. And he's someone who has captured the imagination of a whole lot of people in Florida and beyond in the conservative movement, so a lot of conservatives have come in to support him, even before Crist made this decision.

BLITZER: And, Gloria, when James Carville says that there were a lot of focus-group-tested comments, cliches, if you will, that the governor, Charlie Crist, made, I took some notes -- our political system is broken. The American people are sick of this political infighting, the name-calling, the politics of political destruction.


BLITZER: They look at Washington, they don't like what they see.

He was saying all the stuff that a lot of people agree with.

BORGER: It was tired of gridlock. And what about this, putting people first? Have we heard that before? I mean, it was -- it was every political cliche that we have been hearing.

Only, it does have some resonance this election year, because voters are angry. But let me say, there are a couple other factors here. One is, as you touched on earlier in the show, is President Obama, kind of an unknown factor here, the economy obviously a very big unknown factor.

And I would have to say that this is probably going to become a very nasty political race, because you can be sure that Governor Crist is going to throw some ethics charges at Marco Rubio. And it will go back and forth and back and forth.

That may be good for the Democratic candidate, but I think, you know, put your seat belts on. It's going to be one tough race.

BLITZER: Yes, we just got a in from the chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele.

Let me read a line or two from it: "Now more than ever, Floridians need leadership in Washington. With unemployment at an all-time high in Florida, they want a senator to exercise strong fiscal discipline and be a catalyst for job creation. Without question, the Republican nominee this fall will offer those qualities. Governor Charlie Crist, however, will not be that candidate."

No surprise, Michael Steele is endorsing Marco Rubio, as the Republican candidate.

Very, very quickly, James, give me your bottom-line assessment. If we look ahead to November, who wins? CARVILLE: If the wind comes out of the west and that massive oil spill in the Gulf hits the Florida coast, then Rubio's not going to win. If the wind goes out of the east and keeps it away, he's got a pretty good chance.

MADDEN: Marco Rubio is going to win because he's going to talk about spending, spending, spending in Washington.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to be hearing from Marco Rubio. He's reacting to what the governor, Charlie Crist, just said. We're also going to be hear from Kendrick Meek. He's the Democratic candidate -- much more of this coming up.

But there's other important news we're watching right now, especially that massive oil slick now covering some 600 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico. And it could start reaching the United States coast within hours.

In the latest developments, the U.S. oil is -- the oil is gushing big time at a rate far greater than previously thought from a well ripped open by last week's explosion and the sinking of the drilling rig.

The Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, today declared a state of emergency, and President Obama spoke with the governors of all the Gulf states, pledging all the resources of the federal government.

Meanwhile, there are urgent efforts to contain the spill. And the Coast Guard has tried burning off the oil, but conservationists fear what they call an environmental disaster.

Let's go straight to our Brian Todd. He's over at the command center in Louisiana.

Update us, Brian, on the latest.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that oil slick is just a few miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River. That controlled burn that you spoke of, they're going to step up those efforts.

Officials here say they think they can step it up to capture between 500 and 1,000 barrels of oil at a time. So, that's one effort that they are going to try to undertake to step up those efforts to try to prevent this from getting to the Louisiana shoreline.

In the meantime, we're getting new inside accounts of what happened on board that rig relayed to us from rig workers who were there.


TODD (voice-over): They experienced the violence and chaos of this blast firsthand. Many of them still cannot speak publicly about it, either because they're traumatized or trying to protect themselves legally. So, they're relaying the horror of that night through family members and attorneys.

(on camera): Describe what they have told you about the conditions in the moments before the explosion, what happened right before and during.

BERNEY STRAUSS, ATTORNEY: The people that I have spoken to were asleep in their beds, and they were basically blown out of their beds by the explosion. There was no indication beforehand that there was any problem on the rig.

TODD (voice-over): New Orleans attorney Berney Strauss has been approached for legal advice by several workers on board the Deepwater Horizon. He's close to taking on the cases of two workers who will likely file lawsuits against rig operator Transocean and oil giant BP.

Neither the workers or others we approached would speak directly to us. They have told Strauss there wasn't just one explosion, but several, and amidst all that:

STRAUSS: They knew how to evacuate the rig, but, of course, in a situation like this that none of them had encountered, it was fairly chaotic. Some were jumping overboard.

TODD: Adriana Ramos' husband, Carlos, a rig worker, gave more detail to her.

ADRIANA RAMOS, WIFE OF OIL RIG WORKER: There were some people on fire jumping overboard.

TODD: Officials at Transocean and BP would not comment on the accounts from Adriana Ramos and Berney Strauss. Strauss says his prospective clients are not sure what caused the explosion. BP's global CEO told CNN this:

TONY HAYWARD, CEO, BP GROUP: The issue here is that the blowout preventer, the ultimate piece of safety equipment in a situation such as this, has failed to operate fully. We don't understand why that is, but it has clearly failed to operate fully.

TODD: The blowout preventer's designed to stop oil from shooting upwards toward the rig and causing an explosion. Rigs in other countries are equipped with a remote-controlled safeguard for the blowout preventer, a switch that shuts down the well, even if the rig is damaged or evacuated.

The Deepwater Horizon didn't have a switch like that. No rigs in the Gulf do. The U.S. government doesn't require them. A government rig safety official told me there are alternative to that, like those remote-controlled submersibles that are now struggling to activate the blowout preventer.

(on camera): But are the alternate means better than that remote-control switch?

MIKE SAUCIER, U.S. MINERALS MANAGEMENT SERVICE: They're just as good, as far as I'm concerned. The main thing is you want to get the BOPs closed, and they do have more than one type of way to do that, and that's what they're working on doing.


TODD: I asked an official with Transocean whether that remote- control switch would have made a difference in this case. He would not comment directly on that, but he said that will surely be part of the investigation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, we're hearing that the effects of this oil slick are already being felt in New Orleans. Is that right?

TODD: That's right. I just got off the phone with that attorney who we had on the piece, Berney Strauss.

Now, we are at this moment, about an hour-and-a-half north of New Orleans when we came here to the command center to talk to officials. Berney Strauss is in New Orleans right now. Just a few moments ago, he said you can smell the oil there in downtown New Orleans. He said it's pretty bad. It's pervasive. They're already being made a little bit uncomfortable by this.

BLITZER: And what are you hearing about the danger to wildlife in this area?

TODD: Well, there are at least 10 wildlife refuges, according to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, that are in the path of this oil slick. There is one in particular that has several species of birds on it that is really right in the path. It's just a few miles away from it.

And one environmental expert said this -- the timing of this really just couldn't be worse for birds and other wildlife like that. She said that birds are nesting and breeding at this time of year, so they're especially vulnerable.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, stand by. We are going to be all over this story, because this is a real disaster.

But let's try to put this leak into some sort of perspective. The Coast Guard says up to 5,000 barrels of oil are spewing into the Gulf of Mexico each day. That's equal to 210,000 gallons. A standard-sized bathtub, by the way, holds about 50 gallons. That means the amount of oil leaking could fill more than 4,000 tubs each day. And think about an Olympic-sized swimming pool. That holds about 600,000 gallons, so the amount of oil now leaking would fill one Olympic-size swimming pool within three days.

Up next, Fran Townsend is standing by. We will get her assessment on whether the government response to this oil disaster was fast enough.

Then we have heard from the newly announced independent candidate in the hotly contested Florida Senate race. We're standing by to bring you reaction from his Republican opponent, Marco Rubio.

Also, the Democratic candidate is getting ready to speak out about what could be a very dramatic contest. Congressman Kendrick Meek, he will be here -- he's the Democratic candidate -- in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And in a country symbolized by the bear, a dire warning about one bear in particular from Vladimir Putin himself.


BLITZER: Let's get more on this dramatic story that's unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. President Obama says the federal government will go all out in combating the oil spill. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have ordered the secretaries of interior and homeland security, as well as Administrator Lisa Jackson of the Environmental Protection Agency, to visit the site on Friday to ensure that BP and the entire U.S. government is doing everything possible, not just to respond to this incident, but also to determine its cause. And I have been in contact with all the governors of the states that may be affected by this accident.

I have been receiving frequent briefings from members of my Cabinet and White House staff, including an update last night on the additional breach and another update this morning.

And while BP is ultimately responsible for funding the cost of response and cleanup operations, my administration will continue to use every single available resource at our disposal, including potentially the Department of Defense, to address the incident.


BLITZER: All right, let's discuss this with our national security contributor Fran Townsend. She was the homeland security adviser to President Bush.

I guess the criticism is already coming in as far as the Obama administration is concerned. Let me get your thoughts. You were once on the inside. You know this kind of criticism always comes forward. Was the Obama administration slow in responding to this disaster?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, look, the president is saying all the right things now, making all the resources available, including potentially the Department of Defense.

There is a reasonable question. It's clear that we -- the U.S. government underestimated the size of the leakage. You were just saying before the break they now estimate it to be 5,000 barrels a day. Of course, earlier, the breach -- the explosion took place back on the 20th, you know, so we are substantially along now in the response to this crisis, and we now learn that it's 5,000 barrels a day.

Obviously, the situation changes over time, but, when Governor Jindal came out yesterday, I think it was, he said the right thing. You know, you hope for the best; you plan for the worst. But the time to start planning for the worst was back on the 20th, when it first happened. To start that planning now on that flow of resources puts -- puts the response behind, frankly.

BLITZER: So, how -- this slow response, at least from the start, how will that affect what's going on right now?

TOWNSEND: Well, you see things like, one, we have seen a deterioration in the situation there. There's an increase in the amount of leakage. And we see it getting closer and closer to the coast of Louisiana.

I'm not suggesting that we could have stopped that altogether, but certainly you're going to see impacts on the economics of the Gulf Coast. This is the same area, right, that suffered after Katrina. Now they're going to -- fisheries, shrimping, oysters.

You heard James Carville talk about the economic life of that region really is based on the waterside. And so this is going to have a dramatic impact. How quickly we're able to respond and mitigate against how that spill affects the coastline is going to be very, very important to people in that region who rely on the water for a living.

BLITZER: What about the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal? Did he push hard enough to get to get -- to get a more robust federal response right away?

TOWNSEND: You know, Wolf, we don't really know enough about that.

I have been fascinated. Governor Jindal made a statement yesterday. He made another statement today after he had asked Secretary Napolitano to indicate -- to designate this as an incident of national significance, but I don't know why he didn't. Did he ask sooner? If he didn't, why not? Why did he wait until now?

I think those are legitimate questions. And, frankly, you can bet, when Governor Jindal's up for reelection, his opponent is going to put this out there and ask the questions about why he didn't ask for more and get more from the federal government sooner. We don't know the answers.

BLITZER: Yes. The stakes are enormous right now.

Within hours, that oil spill could be reaching land. So, we will watch it closely. Thanks, Fran. Thanks very much.



BLITZER: The other news we're watching, the dramatic race in Florida for the U.S. Senate. It's now a three-way race, with Governor Charlie Crist announcing his independent bid just moments ago. You saw it live. We're standing by to get reaction from his Democratic candidate -- from the Democratic challenger, Congressman Kendrick Meek. Also, Marco Rubio, the Republican candidate, is reacting. Stand by.

Plus, protesters marching on Wall Street -- we have the story behind the outrage.



BLITZER: It's now a three-way race in Florida, Charlie Crist, the governor, set to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent. You heard him live here just a little while ago. Does that help or hurt the chances of the Democratic candidate, Kendrick Meek? I will ask him. He's standing by live on Capitol Hill. There he is.

And a rally on Wall Street -- yes, stocks did go up, but we're talking about a protest rally. We will take a closer look at the strong emotions behind this.


BLITZER: Let's get back to the dramatic story unfolding in Florida right now. It's official. There's a three-way race for the United States Senate. Infighting among Republicans leads the governor, Charlie Crist, to run for the Senate as an independent. Can Democrats now take advantage?

Let's go to Capitol Hill. The Democratic candidate, Congressman Kendrick Meek, is joining us now.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.

Before we talk, we heard earlier from Charlie Crist. He announced why he's running now as an independent. Only moments ago, the Republican candidate, Marco Rubio, reacted. He made a brief statement, among other things, saying this:


MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: ... believed I was the only candidate in this race that would stand up to what was coming out of Washington and offer a clear alternative.

And nothing that has happened today has changed that. I remain the only candidate in this race that will stand up to this agenda and offer a clear alternative.

I knew that I was running against people who I thought are good people, but, quite frankly, I believe are wrong on the issues. I didn't realize I would have to run against both of them at the same time.

But that's the nature of what's been an interesting election year.


BLITZER: Who are you more worried about, Congressman? Would it be the governor, Charlie Crist, or Marco Rubio?

REP. KENDRICK MEEK (D-FL), SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: I will tell you what I'm worried about. I'm worried about 12.3 percent unemployment in Florida right now,

I'm worried about that individual who does not have health care. Thank God we started working on it. I'm also worried about those veterans that are counting on a strong United States senator. The governor has been spending the last three weeks going back and forth on his political future.

Mr. Rubio is far right of many Floridians, and really will not grasp the reality of what's going on in everyday lives of Floridians. He's really picked up on a number of the national very conservative groups that have pushed his agenda, and they're counting on him.

The people of the state of Florida is counting on me. I'm very excited about this race. We qualified by signature. That's the best way to qualify, by the people of the state of Florida. So, I look forward to a good race.

BLITZER: But are you worried about one of these other two guys more than the other? Or are they both of equal concern to you?

MEEK: Well, let's put it this way.

When you're running in an election cycle such as this one, you're running in what I believe will be the third largest state after the census track is -- takes place, I'm -- I'm just worried about getting around the state, making sure that Florida voters know that I'm the best candidate in this race to be the next United States senator. I believe, Wolf, that we will win. I believe that I'm running against two Republicans. Regardless of what the governor said today, he is still the Republican governor of the state of Florida. And I guess, his night job will be running as an independent, and I think it's going to confuse a number of voters in the state.

BLITZER: You are pretty well known in South Florida, the Miami- Hollywood and Miami-Dade County, Broward County, Palm Beach County, but up north, you're not that well known. That's a big problem for you, isn't it?

MEEK: Well, you got to remember, Wolf, both of these candidates spend hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last four, five months attacking one another based on credit cards and party problems and back-waxing. We have been going throughout the state of Florida, in parking lots, grocery stores, meeting with mayors, meeting with local communities about how I can be a good United States senator for all 67 counties in Florida. The election is not held today, and today, happens to be my mother's 84th birthday. So, this is a good day for her, and she's in Miami right now watching us, but I can tell you right now, I look forward, my entire family, and my campaign going throughout the state, and at the right time, we will be where we need to be. We haven't even bought a 15- second radio ad yet. Both of these candidates have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting themselves.

BLITZER: Happy birthday to your mother, first of all.

MEEK: Thank you.

BLITZER: She's a lovely, lovely lady. But let's tackle about your strategy, do you want President Obama coming in to Florida, campaigning on your behalf?

MEEK: Absolutely. I mean, he's the president of the United States. The president who won the state of Florida. I count on his support. There are a few issues that we don't see eye to eye on, but you know, something I'm a representative of the people of the state. He's the president of the free world and the leader here has been elected to be president of the United States, and I look forward to working with -- with the president on the issues even when we disagree.

But we agree on more than we disagree on. I think it would be a benefit to the people of the state of Florida, at least an open conversation with the president, that someone has been very approachable, and I'm looking forward to building that relationship as we move through the season.

BLITZER: I suspect on one issue you strongly disagree with the president, the recent decision to support offshore oil drilling which Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, the Democrat, he hates that decision. What about you?

MEEK: Oh, Senator Nelson and I are hand-in-hand on that issue. I did raise reservations with the administration. We were supposed to talk with not only the secretary of the interior, but also the White House on this very issue. I've been consistent as relates to being against offshore drilling in Florida. I can't say that by every candidate in the race. It was news flash as of two days ago that the governor switched his position once again on offshore oil drilling, and it's important. There's not one Chamber of Commerce along the Gulf Coast area, either be a Republican or Democratic county or what have you, they're saying that they want offshore oil drilling. What has happened now in the gulf is the perfect example that can wreck Florida's tourism economy, and we'll continue to work with the administration on that issue.

But that's the reason why Senator Nelson, that's the reason why I can go in to the White House and firsthand speak on behalf of Floridians. Should we look at proposals? Absolutely. Should we act on them? If it's going to result in what we have right now, absolutely not. And I look forward to representing the will and the desire of the people of the state of Florida when I become the next United States senator. BLITZER: This means, I assume, you're not going to seek re- election obviously in the House of Representatives. You're giving up your seat, right?

MEEK: Yes, sir. I'll just put it this way. I'm all in. I don't even know how to play poker, but I know they push their hands forward when they do it. I'm all in running for the United States Senate. That's been the case, and, Wolf, that has been a question that folks have been asking me, leaving a very safe congressional seat that my mother held that I'm now holding, but I look at this as an opportunity to serve the people of the state. Me being elected to the U.S. Congress is not a career, it's an opportunity.

BLITZER: Kendrick Meek is the Democratic candidate for the United States Senate. Your folks are telling me you got to go vote, so I'm going to go let you vote. Thanks very much, congressman. Good luck.

MEEK: Thank you so very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Kendrick Meek, Democrat of Florida. We've invited the other two candidates, Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio, to join us here in the SITUATION ROOM. We hope they will in the next few days.

Meanwhile, outrage boiling over an angry march. One woman explains why she holds Wall Street accountable.


BLITZER: Angry over lost jobs, lost homes and the bailout of financial institutions, labor unions and community groups have been leading a march today on Wall Street. Mary snow's out there. She's finding a lot of emotion. Mary, what's going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a lot of outrage, Wolf. This rally here on Wall Street ended just a short time ago, ending up, of course, at the famous Wall Street bull, the symbol of capitalism, now giving way to tourists taking pictures, but earlier this afternoon, the police estimate there were about 6,000 people who marched, and they are furious at big banks. They blame those banks for the economic crisis, and among those in the crowd are some who are facing the threat of foreclosure.


SNOW (voice-over): Behind the morning routine at Lisa Robinson's home where she lives with her partner and two children, there's worry. Robinson is fighting to keep her house of 11 years after getting a foreclosure notice in February. While she has her own struggles, she's also a church pastor and has congregants coming to her for help. Now, she says she's ready for a showdown with Wall Street.

LINDA ROBINSON, FACING FORECLOSURES: Goldman Sachs, Wall Street bankers, for me, it's all the same. It's all the same.

SNOW: Meaning? ROBINSON: Meaning, the rich are getting richer. While those of us who work, we struggle.

SNOW: Robinson fell behind on her mortgage in October after her work at a nursing home was dramatically scaled back. She had a fixed- rate mortgage and has now had to take out a loan and she makes a higher payment to prevent eviction. But in her neighborhood of Jamaica Queens, she blames predatory lending for the high foreclosure rate.

SNOW (on-camera): A lot of people on the outside were saying why did they get these mortgages if they knew they couldn't afford it?

ROBINSON: Well, I think it's because they were lied to, you know, it's one of those situations that, you know, when you're sitting at the table, it's one thing. But then when you get your paperwork, it's something totally different.

SNOW (voice-over): Robinson says watching Wall Street executives testify on Capitol Hill this week has made her blood boil, and she's taking part in a rally to send banks a message.

ROBINSON: Be fair. You know, you came to the little people to be bailed out. Help us maintain what we have by giving us decent interest rates and stop this predatory lending.


SNOW (on-camera): And, Wolf, beside today's rally here on Wall Street, protesters, hundreds of them, also showed up at the offices here in New York of JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. They apparently wanted to deliver letters to the CEOs, and they are vowing to also show up at shareholder meetings throughout the spring -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary Snow, on Wall Street for us. Mary, thanks very much.

We're standing by for more on the political upheaval in Florida. John King is standing by. He has insight on what's now officially a three-way race.

Plus, Conan O'Brien breaking his silence about Jay Leno and what he calls a toxic relationship with NBC.


BLITZER: Let's get to more on the political upheaval in Florida right now. The Senate race, the Republican governor, Charlie Crist, has just announced he is running as an independent. CNN's John King is here. He's the host of CNN's "John King, USA" which starts right at the top of the hour. Raising money, how hard will it be for Charlie Crist to go out there? He wanted the Republican Party behind him, certainly not the Democratic Party either.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He lost all the infrastructure, Wolf, so as he said, himself, this is uncharted water. I talked to three Republican fundraisers today who have all helped Charlie Crist to varying degrees, some big money guys, one relatively modest, all three of them said they don't foresee helping Charlie Crist at all anymore.

BLITZER: He's lost some of his staff already.

KING: He's lost his staff. His polling firm has resigned. There are number of politicians including a lot of incumbent Republican senators who sent him money saying we want that money back.

BLITZER: He doesn't have to give it back.

KING: He doesn't have to give it back. Here's this challenge now, how do you raise money? There is the internet. We have seen other politicians including Barack Obama, Howard Dean, Marco Rubio, his Republican opponent now, has raised a lot of money online. Can he find a way on the internet to find the middle of American politics? That was his appeal today saying I have no party operation to help me anymore whether its Democrat or Republican.

He has no infrastructure so he has to find a way to take advantage of the new technology and media and some of his old friends to go out and raise money for him. Can he do it? It's a huge question because it's a big and expensive state.

BLITZER: I know you've been watching this race closely. Charlie Crist will run as an independent, what they technically call in Florida --

KING: Nonparty affiliated. There is an independent party in Florida, don't be confused by it.

BLITZER: Right. He's going to run nonparty affiliate. Marco Rubio doesn't have to worry about a Republican challenger anymore, right?

KING: Right.

BLITZER: Does Kendrick Meek, we just heard him, we just saw him here in the SITUATION ROOM, does he have to worry about a Democratic challenger in the democratic primary?

KING: There are other Democrats who have filed, but nobody down them to treat them as serious candidates. So, it appears now that we will have (ph) as the major candidates Meek, Crist, Rubio, there will be a number of other candidates. Right now, the way the ballot operation works at the Charlie Crist, you have the major party candidates first, the Democrat and the Republican and then the established other party. There's a libertarian party in Florida. There is an independent party in Florida. There are other some other parties that have been established.

They all come first, so Charlie Crist will be weigh down on the ballot. He may be eight or nine names down on the ballot. Everybody knows who he is. The question is, we've had complicated Florida ballots in the past, remember 2000 when people be able (ph) to find him down. That's another one of the challenge, he's not right on the top of the ballot. So you have a three-way race, really, but in a three-way race, those fourth and fifth and sixth candidates somebody getting 2 percent or 3 percent could still impact this race. So, as we focus on those three, this is very complicated.

BLITZER: Let's talk about immigration right now, because the Democratic leadership in the senate, Harry Reid says, you know what, we're moving forward with it. But most people, including the president of the United States, think it's admirable but it's not going anywhere realistically this year.

KING: I brought in the 26 pages right here. Remember, everyone said how the health care bill was 2,000-plus, it is a conceptual proposal for immigration reform. It is not legislation for immigration reform. So, can they turn this into a bill? The early indications are, no. Many Democrats who are in tough races do not want to vote on this, this year. Senator Lindsey Graham, the key Republican, Senator Jon Kyl, another key Republican from Arizona have just issued a statement saying they view this as a political ploy and not as a serious gesture.

They say show us a real bill and talk to us again. As of now, Wolf, they don't have the 60 votes to start the debate on the Senate floor and you heard Speaker Pelosi earlier today say, I'll see if there's an appetite for this in the Senate before I deal with it in the house. So, as we speak today, most people think that this will be an effort by the Democrats to tell the Latino community we tried, but we couldn't get enough votes. At least blame the Republicans, not us. We'll watch this one it as it plays out and see if they can come up with some maneuver to do it. But as of today, it's much more about a political debate about immigration and a --

BLITZER: Because when you say political ploy, a lot of folks say Harry Reid who is running in a tough race in Nevada, he needs to energize the Hispanic and Latino base there and this is one way he's trying to do it.

KING: And if you go to the state of Nevada, it is one place where his Latino community and his organized labor community are in many ways one in the same. A lot of the unions out there are heavily Latino influenced. Immigrations and critical important to vote of those constituencies, and Harry Reid needs to do this. Now, he will say, wrong, poppycock, I'm not just doing this for my base back home, I'm doing this because this is time to move on this issue.

But as you noted earlier on the program, even the president said last night, I'm not sure in this tough midterm election year, but there's a great appetite out there to cast a whole lot of more tough votes. So, they have a problem getting Republicans but much like early in the health care debate, their biggest problem is there are a number conservative and moderate Democrats who do not want to touch this issue for the election.

BLITZER: You can have a lot more on this coming up on "John King, USA" right at the top of the hour. That's why we love covering politics. KING: Amen for that, a great day.

BLITZER: An unprecedented treatment for prostate cancer, how it trains a patient's own blood cells to attack invading cancer cells. There's new information.

And a balloon breaks away from its mooring and goes out of control, dragging its payload along the ground. Stick around. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what else is going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi again, Wolf. The Food and Drug Administration has the proof an unprecedented treatment for prostate cancer. It involves taking a patient's own white blood cells and using a drug that trains them to more actively attack cancer cells. It's called Provenge, and it's intended for prostate cancer that has spread but won't respond to hormone therapy.

Conan O'Brien says he would never do what Jay Leno did to him. At his first interview since leaving "The Tonight Show," O'Brien talks about Leno's return six months after he handed the show over to O'Brien. O'Brien tells CBS "60 Minutes" that if roles were reversed, he would have done something else. O'Brien also says he left NBC because his relationship with the network seemed toxic and without a future.

And the final TV debate before next month British election ended just a short time ago in two instant poll show. Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown losing badly. The surveys declare conservative David Cameron, the winner followed by Nick Clegg of the liberal Democrats. Clegg strong showing an earlier today has a party virtually tied with conservatives. I know that's an issue, Wolf, you've been following closely.

And the family of rock musician, Brett Michaels is giving new details of his condition as he recovers from a massive brain hemorrhage. His sister is telling a radio talk show that Michaels is doing well and seems coherent, but she adds he is still not out of the woods. Michaels was the lead singer of the group Poison and more recently, a reality TV star.

And it was a near disaster involving a science project from the University of California-Berkeley. A space balloon broke from its mooring just before launch in Central Australia, dragging its car- sized pay load along the route. It crashed into one vehicle, you see crashing there came within feet of hitting bystanders, but no one was hurt. Those are some pretty amazing pictures, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, thank God no one was hurt. All right. Lisa, thank you.

You know how tough it can be when you're trying to back into a space at a parking garage, but you don't know the half of this. We tried to show to you yesterday, we didn't do a very good job, so show it to you right now. A luxury car hanging halfway through the outside wall of a garage in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Now, we're learning new details.

The driver was a 67-year-old man who says his foot got stuck between the brake and the gas pedal of his Mercedes. There was damage below from falling debris, but officials say no injuries. And police say the driver was not ticketed.

Two defining events today with major fallout for the midterm elections. John King goes in depth on "John King, USA." that's coming up right at the top of the hour. >

And one man's last request leads to a most unusual funeral. CNN's Jeanne Moos is on that story.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some hot shots coming in from our friends at the associated press. In India, a boy climbs a coconut tree. In St. Petersburg, Russia, a full moon dominates the sky, while a jets speeds by. In Germany, local take a stroll through an alley at a zoo in Prague, look at this, a gorilla holds her 5-day-old baby. Hot shots, pictures worth a thousand words.

Some viewers may find the images in the next story disturbing. It's about a man whose happiest moments in life were spent on a motorcycle and in death, nothing less would do. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It looks like a normal shot of a guy on a motorcycle, but look at the looks he gets.

MOOS (on-camera): He is dead.

Can you explain, it's his funeral, and he is the deceased.

MOOS (voice-over): In the funeral business, they call this an unusual postmortem display but in plain language --



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, they embalmed his body and put him on a motorcycle?

MOOS: Yep.

He is 22-year-old, David Morales Cologne (ph), killed in a shooting. His uncle gave him the bike as a gift and the family asked this funeral home in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to pose him for the viewing. The owner of Marine Funeral Homes says it takes special skill.

VOICE OF DEMARIS MARIN, FUNERAL HOME OWNER: Embalming is the key. It's a professional secret.

MOOS (on-camera): The tricky part is to make the body rigid enough to pose yet not too rigid to put back in a coffin for burial.

MOOS (voice-over): And he was buried in a coffin, as required by law.

MOOS (on-camera): What did they do with the motorcycle?

MARIN: They take the motorcycle back to the house.

MOOS (voice-over): The video was rocketing around the web, with titles like "Dead Man Riding" or "Dead Man Standing." The same funeral home did this once before because the young man who died had told his family he wanted to be happy and standing at his own funeral.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What would I pose myself doing?

MOOS: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Plain in a casket.

MOOS: The funeral homeowner said reactions to this postmortem display were divided.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Creepy is an understatement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Crazy, crazy to see him on that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's fantastic. He got what he wanted.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good for him. God bless his soul.

MOOS: There are lots of colorful ways to leave this world. Craftsmen in Ghana are famous for the so-called fantasy coffins, shaped like shoes or cell phones or soft drinks. Eternal fizz. And a British company called crazy coffins will send you off in anything from a guitar to a corkscrew, for folks who feel --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to celebrate my life the way I lived it, the way that I want to be remembered.

MOOS: For instance, in a 1913 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost for 8,000 bucks. Some, like the members of this London band --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three --

MOOS: Can't imagine posing at their own funerals. While others just turn tail and run. This guy's dead. Posed him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to be late, I'm so sorry. I apologize.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

Freaked her out.


BLITZER: Remember, you can always follow what's going on the SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter, get my tweets, WolfBlitzerCNN, all one word. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the SITUATION ROOM.

"John King, USA" starts right now.