WASHINGTON (CNN) - Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy is under heavy fire from a state chapter of the National Organization for Women for his decision to back Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton.
In a sharply critical statement, the New York state chapter of NOW took aim at Kennedy Monday for what it called an "ultimate betrayal," and suggested the Massachusetts Democrat "can't or won't" handle the idea of Clinton becoming President of the United States.
"Sen. Kennedy’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton’s opponent in the Democratic presidential primary campaign has really hit women hard," said the statement. "Women have forgiven Kennedy, stuck up for him, stood by him, hushed the fact that he was late in his support of Title IX, the ERA, the Family Leave and Medical Act to name a few."
- CNN Ticker Producer Alexander Mooney
(CNN) - Democratic sources supportive of and regularly in touch with the Clinton campaign describe what one calls "a huge wave" of sentiment that Bill Clinton "needs to stop."
The sources - who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject - act as either unpaid advisers or surrogates for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Interviewed separately, they agreed that the former president's recent headline-generating statements "hurt more than helped" his wife's South Carolina campaign.
His comments criticized as racially insensitive, the verbal sparring with Barack Obama, and his "scolding" of the media are "distractions," say these Clinton supporters. Hillary Clinton, says one, "needs to take and be the lead."
The former president has long been renowned for his adept political skills. But he is "missing a beat" and has "become tone deaf" about the dynamic he has brought to his wife's campaign, according to one source who has known both Clintons for decades.
"Something has happened," says the source. "He just wants to help her too much, or maybe protect his own legacy too much."
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Many of the Democratic members of Congress convening for President Bush's final State of the Union address tonight have already weighed in on his replacement.
Of the Democratic congressional endorsements, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York leads the remaining candidates competing for their party's nomination with 79 viable endorsements. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois is in second with 59, and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina follows with 16.
Democratic congressional endorsements play an important role in a candidate's ability to secure the party's nomination, beyond any influence they might have with voters. Each Democratic member of Congress gets one vote at the party’s national convention in Denver this August, where the official nominee is elected. These are “superdelegate” votes - independent of their home state's primary or caucus outcomes, which result in the distribution of “pledged” delegates.
To win the nomination, a candidate needs 2,025 of the 4,049 available votes at the convention. There are 286 Democratic members of Congress, including territories. Of those, only 268– about 7 percent of the total convention vote - will have a vote at this year’s convention, because Florida and Michigan have lost their seats due to violations of Democratic Party primary scheduling rules.
Though there is usually a presumptive nominee by each party's conventions at the end of the summer, it’s possible the tight races between the candidates might come down to delegate counts this year.
SANFORD, Florida (CNN) – For a moment Monday, Mitt Romney seemed to nominate himself for a job he doesn't want.
“It’s not really something he understands that well. He’s said it a number of times and indicated that he’d have to choose a vice president who really understood the economy. Well, I do understand the economy.” Catching himself, he added, “I’m not going to be any vice president to John McCain either, that’s not going to happen.”
With Romney and McCain locked in a dead heat in the polls on the eve of Florida primary, barbs have been lobbed back and forth all day long between the two camps.
Romney kicked it off before the sun even came up at a press conference at a gas station, criticizing McCain for the McCain-Lieberman bill that Romney says would make gas prices go up $0.50 and cost Florida families around $1,000 per year.
He added that in addition to the bill, McCain is best known for two other pieces of legislation, emphasizing that he wrote them with Democrats – McCain-Kennedy, which Romney says gives amnesty to illegal immigrants, and McCain-Feingold, which he says restricts First Amendment rights.
“If you want that kind of liberal democratic course as president then you can vote for him. But those three pieces of legislation, those aren't conservative, those aren't Republican,” Romney told a crowd in West Palm Beach.
McCain responded quickly, arguing that Romney had been a supporter of the three issues the bills target, “One thing I think we should really give Governor Romney credit for – he is consistent. He has consistently taken both sides on any major issue, he has consistently flip-flopped.”
In a statement, McCain added, “At a time of grave national security challenges abroad and real economic uncertainty at home, now is not the time for leaders whose consistency is in question.”
Tuesday night’s results will reveal whether the candidates’ efforts to drag the other into debate over their strong suits – McCain on Iraq and national security, Romney on the economy – will pay off.
- CNN Political Producer Alexander Marquardt
(CNN) - A new survey of California voters indicates that John McCain has made dramatic gains with Republicans there.
The Republican senator from Arizona and GOP presidential candidate stands 13 points ahead of his closest rival in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Monday: 39 percent of likely California Republican primary voters back McCain, while 26 percent support former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
For McCain, that's a 19-point jump in the polls since the last CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey conducted in the state two weeks ago. Romney made gains as well, rising 10 points over the past two weeks.
Since the previous poll, McCain has won the South Carolina Republican primary, which was the first test of Southern voters for the Republican White House hopefuls. Romney scored victories in Michigan, his native state, and Nevada, where he was one of the few candidates to actively campaign.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is in third place in the new survey, with 13 percent of Republicans questioned backing him for the GOP presidential nomination. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is 2 points back. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is at 2 percent.
Six percent of likely Republican primary voters remain undecided. That's down from 15 percent two weeks ago.
When it comes to the issues, "Romney has a slight edge over McCain on economic matters, while McCain holds a big lead on the war in Iraq and terrorism among California Republicans," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - It's an annual State of the Union Day tradition: the president invites the TV network anchors and Sunday talk show hosts for lunch at the White House. The ground rules are that we can say we went to the luncheon, but the session is for our background only - meaning largely off the record. Still, it's a good way for us to pierce - at least a little - President Bush's thinking.
He comes across as determined to squeeze in as much as he can during this final year in office. It reminded me of what I used to hear from President Clinton when he had a year left. (He used to have similar background sessions with reporters.) They love being president and want to savor every minute.
President Bush does not come across as overly nostalgic - though he no doubt has to feel that way. It would be only natural. There is way too much unfinished business, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; Iran; the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal which he believes is within reach; and the enormous domestic issues on his plate, including the economy. He is laying it all out in his State of the Union address. He professes not to be overly concerned about his legacy. That will be left to historians.
For those of you who are interested, we had lunch upstairs in the White House residence - in the Yellow Oval Office, as it is called. Vice President Cheney also attended. On the menu: mushroom and ricotta ravioli, seared salmon, white asparagus and mini tomato salad, and warm gingerbread cake with praline ice cream. It was delicious. The wine (which I didn't drink because I had to get right back to work) was a 2004 Peter Michael Chardonnay "Ma Belle-Fille."
I spent seven years covering Bill Clinton when he was President, as CNN's Senior White House correspondent. And I have attended several of these luncheons with President Bush. For a reporter, I must say, it is always fascinating getting a chance to see these leaders up close.
–CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer
All eyes will leave the campaign trail briefly tonight and turn to President Bush as he delivers his final State of the Union Address. With just 12 months left in office, this is typically the last time a lame duck president manages to get everybody's attention.
The speech is expected to be about half domestic and half foreign affairs - the big topics to be the economy and the war in Iraq. He'll talk about improved security in Iraq, and other international hotspots like Iran as well as his efforts to jump start the peace process in the Middle East.
When it comes to the economy, there's not much good news to report. A possible recession, the housing collapse and sub prime mortgage mess, a falling dollar, rising unemployment, inflation at a 17 year high, the stock market in pretty much of a nosedive since the first of the year. Not pretty.
The president will call on Congress to finish that economic stimulus package quickly. But that may not happen. Democrats in the Senate are now reportedly trying to add their own list of additional items to the bill passed last week by the house despite warnings from the White House not to.
The White House insists this speech will be forward-looking, and not about his legacy. And perhaps that is a good thing.
To read more and contribute to the Cafferty File discussion click here
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Republican Mitt Romney took aim at John McCain Monday over reports he once considered signing on to John Kerry's presidential ticket, the latest effort by the Massachusetts Republican to paint his chief rival as an inconsistent and unpredictable conservative.
"I do recall a story that he was thinking about being John Kerry’s running mate - he gave that some thought," Romney said at an early-morning rally in West Palm Beach. "Had someone asked me that question, there would not have been a nanosecond of thought about it - It would’ve been an immediate laugh. And of course, if someone asked him if he would consider me as a running mate, he would have also laughed immediately.”
"So, we are different," Romney continued. "I’m conservative"
In 2004, reports surfaced that Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, then the Democratic presidential nominee, informally asked McCain if he would consider serving as his running mate. McCain has said he dismissed the notion immediately. But in an interview with the liberal Web site MyDD last April, Kerry said it was actually McCain's surrogates who floated the notion.
"His people…approached me to engage in a discussion about his potentially being on the ticket as vice president," Kerry said. "So his people were active - let's put it that way."
Romney's comments come just a day before Florida Republicans head to the polls in the season's first GOP primary that closes off independents and cross-over Democrats - groups that have been crucial to McCain's victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Also on Monday, Romney took aim at McCain's past record of teaming up with Democrats on campaign finance reform, immigration legislation, and an energy cap and trade-bill.
"If you ask people, 'look at the three things Sen. McCain has done as a senator,' if you want that kind of a liberal Democrat course as president, then you can vote for him," Romney said Monday. "But those three pieces of legislation, those aren't conservative, those aren't Republican, those are not the kind of leadership that we need as we go forward."
McCain sharply responded to Romney in an issued statement, taking aim at his record as governor, and painting him as a constant flip-flopper.
"The truth is, Mitt Romney was a liberal governor of Massachusetts who raised taxes, imposed with Ted Kennedy a big government mandate health care plan that is now a quarter of a billion dollars in the red, and managed his state's economy incompetently, leaving Massachusetts with less job growth than 47 other states," McCain said.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Sen. Edward Kennedy backed Sen. Barack Obama for president Monday, saying: "It is time again for a new generation of leadership."
"It is time now for Barack Obama," the Massachusetts senator and brother of the late President Kennedy added.
He stood with Obama, his son Rep. Patrick Kennedy and his niece, Caroline Kennedy before a screaming capacity crowd of students at American University in Washington, DC.
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL (CNN) - Ahhhhh...What a difference!!!
When the Huckabee campaign stopped providing transportation for the traveling press, I was reassigned to cover McCain as an embedded photojournalist for CNN. When flying on Huckabee's plane (a dual-prop, 8-passenger commuter) I was forced to ride on the toilet seat...now I am flying on a luxury aircraft complete with leather seats.
I can't believe the differences in the two campaigns.... At the end of a long day when I arrive at the hotel, my room key is ready for me. No longer do I have to load and unload gear on and off the plane completely by myself. I am surrounded by campaign staff who are always willing to help. And the bus is always stocked with beverages and food for all those hungry and thirsty journalists.
And the differences don't stop there. There is also a huge difference when it comes to technology....this campaign provides a Humvee with a mounted satellite dish that follows the press bus everywhere it goes. This vehicle provides high-speed wi-fi internet connections so that we can file our stories and submit photos and video as we race down the highway en route to the next event!
Money makes a huge difference. It seems unfair but I guess that's how things are in this current political environment.
In the end, we as journalists report fairly and impartially regardless of how well we are fed and how fast the internet connection is.
–CNN Photojournalist Jung Park