ABOARD THE ELECTION EXPRESS, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (CNN) - Gene Hall didn’t watch Monday night’s Democratic presidential debate. The 46-year-old father of four was working – delivering pizzas until late into the night.
It was Hall’s second shift of the day. Earlier, he was behind the wheel of his Beach Boy taxi. Hall told me he has no insurance - when one of his children needs to go to the doctor, he pays out of his own pocket.
“If I was to get sick for two or three days, I am in trouble,” he said.
The plight of the uninsured is a central theme in this year’s presidential race. But unlike many people who are calling for a universal health care plan, Hall doesn’t think that is the answer.
“Somebody is going to have to pay for it,” said Hall, who added he thinks it would mean an increase in taxes. A tax increase is a hit to the wallet that Hall cannot afford.
ABOARD THE ELECTION EXPRESS, South Carolina (CNN) – The country is at war, the economy is stalling, and the presidential candidates are fighting over everything from universal health care to illegal immigration.
The Democratic and Republican White House hopefuls are offering their plans, but is America listening? Over the next six days we will search for that answer, and provide Americans an opportunity to say what’s on their minds as the CNN Election Express motors from Myrtle Beach to Los Angeles.
For the past year, if you lived in Iowa or New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada, chances are you bumped into Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, John McCain or Barack Obama.
These states have made their voices heard - except for South Carolina’s Democrats, who vote on Saturday - but were the voters in Alabama or New Mexico listening?
The candidates had better hope so. Voters in these states and 22 others head to the polls on February 5, when 1,681 Democratic and 1020 Republican delegates are up for grabs.
This is no planned tour. We are going to make unscheduled stops in little towns and big cities, truck stops and diners. When we pull over, CNN’s Ali Velshi will be jumping off the bus to hear what’s on voters’ minds, while I blog along the way.
We begin our journey in South Carolina, and end in California: 2,600 miles and the lives and stories of millions of Americans lie in-between.
So, tune into CNN and The Ticker throughout the day and night for the latest from the road.
- CNN Political Editor Mark Preston
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Democrat Barack Obama stepped up his efforts Tuesday to battle back against e-mails that falsely label him a Muslim, telling an interviewer the ongoing rumors were part of a "systematic political strategy."
- CNN's Alexander Mooney and Rebecca Sinderbrand
WASHINGTON (CNN) - South Carolina's largest newspaper endorsed Democrat Barack Obama Tuesday, hailing the Illinois senator's "unifying style of leadership."
In an editorial posted on its Web site Tuesday afternoon, The State's editorial board praised Obama for not using his rhetorical skills to demonize his rivals, and said he has the ability to win over independents and Republicans without "neglecting his core values."
"He defends his progressive vision with vigorous integrity," the editorial board wrote. "But for him, American unity – transcending party – is a core value in itself."
While they praised Hillary Clinton as a policy wonk with a "deep understanding of many issues," the editorial board wrote her administration was bound to be highly partisan, and said the Clintons often seem motivated by personal vindication.
They also discounted John Edwards, saying he is no longer "the optimist who won South Carolina in 2004."
Meanwhile, Clinton picked up a key South Carolina endorsement Tuesday in State Rep. Fletcher Smith, a longtime African American legislator from Greenville County.
Clinton will be the third presidential candidate to be endorsed by Smith, who began the race supporting Bill Richardson, but defected to Sen. Joe Biden last fall. Smith has been uncommitted since Biden dropped out of the race after a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses.
Smith's blessing may come in handy for Clinton in the population center of Greenville, where Obama has already enlisted the support of former state party chair Joe Erwin.
- CNN's Alexander Mooney and Peter Hamby
MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina (CNN) - The Democratic presidential debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has now come and gone. I must say I was pretty surprised: I knew there would be some fireworks, but I didn’t think it would become as rancorous as it did.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama came out swinging, and it was intense. They clearly had their zingers ready to go, and they let loose. It didn’t really matter what our questions were - whether on jobs, the economy, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, or health care - they were intent on hammering their rivals for the Democratic nomination.
This was the fourth presidential debate I have moderated during this election season. I hosted a Republican and Democratic debate back in June in New Hampshire, and a Democratic debate in November in Las Vegas. All three were much more subdued.
The shrinking field may be partly responsible for the new combative tone. When there are eight candidates fighting for time, it's tough for the candidates to go after each other. It's a lot easier when there are only three of them left standing.
Another factor: as the contest gets into the final rounds, the stakes become ever higher.
I made a deliberate decision last night to try to speak as little as possible. This was a debate, and I wanted the candidates to debate the issues, and let them go back and forth - much easier to do now that there are just three candidates left, as opposed to nearly three times as many.
During those early debates, some criticized me for interfering too much - either by interrupting the candidates and forcing them to wrap up their thoughts, or by moving on to the next question too quickly. “Why didn’t you just let them debate?” some of my critics asked. Following this most recent debate, some of my critics complained that I didn’t adequately control the two-hour session.
I certainly understand both criticisms. But I don’t agree with them.
As riveting as the back-and-forth might be, it wasn't the point of the event: I hope the people watching Monday night came away from this debate in South Carolina with a better understanding where the candidates stand on key issues.
–CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer
GREENWOOD, South Carolina (CNN) – The woman made famous by Barack Obama's "fired up" stump speech story is speaking her mind on the recent feud between the Illinois senator and former President Bill Clinton, implying he crossed the line with his latest attacks on the Illinois senator.
"The president needs to step back," said Edith Childs, a city councilwoman from Greenwood, South Carolina who is, as Obama puts it in his stump, famous for her chant of "fired up, ready to go."
"His wife is the candidate, not him," she continued. "I think he just needs to step back and maybe coach her in what she needs to do."
Today's rally in Greenwood was Obama's first visit to Greenwood since meeting Childs back in June. A the end of his speech, he told the story as he usually does but brought Childs on stage to lead the crowd in a new chant that included the lines "go out and vote" and "Sen. Obama will be our next presi dent."
Related video: Obama: 'Fired up'
–CNN Political Producer Chris Welch
NAPLES, Florida (CNN) – The banner with the new slogan said it all, ‘ECONOMIC TURNAROUND.’ Tuesday’s news of the Federal Reserve’s emergency interest rate cut and nervous markets provided the ideal news peg for Mitt Romney’s economy-centric message to Florida’s primary voters.
“I think actually that what we're seeing in the stock market today is only one peek at what's been happening for some time in the overall economy,” Romney told reporters at a stop in Coral Springs. “We have some intractable problems that Washington has not been willing to solve.”
Romney began plugging his economy-in-peril message to voters in Michigan, a state with the country’s highest unemployment rate and an auto industry in deep trouble. But the role of Washington outsider with the financial experience to get America’s economy back on track is clearly one he feels comfortable with.
He is quick to remind audiences and the press of his 25 years in the private sector as a consultant and venture capitalist and caps off speeches telling crowds that it’s time for a president who’s had a job in the “real economy.”
(CNN) - In the latest American Votes 2008, watch the White House hopeful discuss the economy out on the campaign trail.
Related: Listen to Candy Crowley discuss Monday night's Democratic debate
President Bush is desperate for a legacy. Oh, he'll be remembered, but for all the wrong reasons: an economy headed into recession, trillions of dollars of additional debt for somebody else to worry about, the illegal invasion of Iraq, Katrina, the destruction of our reputation worldwide, the failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, and countless investigations into the shadiest, if not the most outright corrupt, administration in memory.
But all is not lost. Perhaps President Bush will be remembered as the last white male to be allowed to serve as president for a good long while.
Think about it. The Republican presidential field is wide open, and whoever gets the nomination will have to run against the stuff mentioned above. No easy task. 70% of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction.
That leaves the Democrats. They're down to three candidates, and it doesn't look like John Edwards will be around much longer. So unless things change, it looks increasingly like the country will be called upon to elect either an African-American or a woman…something we've never done before.
To read more and contribute to the Cafferty File discussion click here
Thompson had a disappointing showing in the GOP's South Carolina primary. (Photo Credit: AP)
In a statement issued by his campaign, Fred Thompson said:
"Today I have withdrawn my candidacy for President of the United States. I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort. Jeri and I will always be grateful for the encouragement and friendship of so many wonderful people."