(CNN) - Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton ignored Monday’s Kennedy family endorsements for rival Barack Obama, taking aim instead at President Bush and his final State of the Union address.
“The heavens may be smiling on us,” Clinton told a group of supporters in Springfield, Massachusetts. “Tonight will be the last time George Bush ever gives a State of the Union speech. It has been a long eight years, hasn’t it?”
The New York senator also slipped in a jab at Vice President Dick Cheney saying, “When the Vice President shot that guy in the face, I thought that was it, what more can happen?”
The official Democratic response to Monday’s State of the Union Address will be given by Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, but Clinton is expected to provide her own response shortly after Sebelius.
Related: Watch Sen. Clinton on Bush’s Final State of The Union.
- CNN's Mike Roselli and Emily Sherman
Mike Huckabee takes a break from the campaign trail in Florida - a state that looks headed for record turnout Tuesday. (Photo Credit: AP)
(CNN) - The Florida primary isn't until Tuesday, but nearly 1 million voters have already cast their ballots through early-voting and absentees - a sign the state will likely experience a record turnout despite the fact party sanctions have rendered the Democratic contest meaningless.
According to the Florida's Secretary of State's office, more than 474,000 Republicans and just over 400,000 Democrats have already voted. An additional 109,000 voters have also already voted on a property-tax amendment on this year's ballot. Early voting began January 14 and ended Sunday.
The nearly 1 million Floridians who have voted early already rivals the 1.3 million total voters who participated in the state's 2000 primary - the last time both party's held a contested primary.
The record-breaking early turnout is likely a result of the highly competitive races on both sides, and Florida's decision to move its primary from mid-march to early January. But that decision drew strict sanctions from both national parties - the Republicans barred half of Florida's delegates to the convention while the Democrats stripped the state of its delegates entirely.
The nearly 400,00 Democrats who have already cast ballots is particularly surprising, given the leading presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards, all pledged not to campaign in the state or run television advertising following the party's sanctions.
But Clinton, who polls show is heavily favored to win the state, has increasingly stressed its importance to the Democratic race. Following her defeat in South Carolina, the New York senator said Florida is the next battlefront - a contention Obama sharply disagreed with, given the fact no delegates are at stake. Clinton has also called on the Democratic Party to formally lift its sanctions on the state, and on Sunday, she announced she will be in the Florida Tuesday night.
"I intend to be in Florida Tuesday night –the votes of the people of Florida and of course Michigan really matter to me. I am running to the president of our entire country," she said.
- CNN's Alexander Mooney and Shirley Zilberstein
(CNN) - A decade ago, she called Bill Clinton the nation's "first black president." Now, acclaimed black writer Toni Morrison’s first presidential endorsement is going to the potential second, Barack Obama.
In a letter to Obama released Monday morning, the “Beloved” author told him she was backing him because “this is one of those singular moments that nations ignore at their peril.”
“There have been a few prescient leaders in our past, but you are the man for this time,” she wrote
Morrison, who said she had long admired Hillary Clinton, added that her decision to back Obama instead was not based on the Illinois senator’s race.
“In addition to keen intelligence, integrity and a rare authenticity, you exhibit something that has nothing to do with age, experience, race or gender and something I don't see in other candidates,” Morrison wrote. “That something is a creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom. It is too bad if we associate it only with gray hair and old age.”
In a statement, Obama thanked Morrison for her endorsement, saying she “has touched a nation with the grace and beauty of her words, and I was deeply moved and honored by the letter she wrote and the support she is giving our campaign.”
In a 1998 New Yorker piece, Morrison wrote of Bill Clinton: “White skin notwithstanding, this is our first black president. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.”
- CNN Associate Political Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand
(CNN) - Florida congressman Kendrick Meek said Monday that Bill Clinton’s words along the campaign trail have been taken out of context.
“The president’s not trying to make news,” Meek told CNN’s Kiran Chetry. “The real issue is the reporting of what the president is actually saying.” Adding, the focus needs to go back to Hillary Clinton’s message.
Meek, who is also chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, faced controversy surrounding last year’s CBC conference after he and Chairwoman Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Michigan) invited Hillary Clinton to speak at the annual event. Clinton was the only presidential candidate to get her own forum, fueling anger that the group’s neutrality was being undermined by its chairmen.
The congressman endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton for president back in June and was named a senior adviser to her campaign. He is one of five key endorsements for Senator Clinton in Florida including, Rep. Corrine Brown, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Rep. Alcee Hastings and Sen. Bill Nelson, who announced his support Monday.
Florida’s primary is Tuesday, January 29th.
Related: Watch the entire interview with CNN’s Kiran Chetry.
- CNN’s Emily Sherman
PENSACOLA, Florida (CNN) - Mitt Romney's failure to eat fried chicken with the skin on is nothing short of blasphemy here in the South, according to GOP rival Mike Huckabee.
Romney, of Massachusetts, dug into a piece fried chicken at KFC while campaigning in Lutz, Florida on Saturday, but not before peeling off what most would consider the best part - the crispy skin.
Admittedly, KFC's chicken doesn't exactly stack up against the delectable kind that comes out of deep fryers in kitchens around the South, and Romney said he was looking for the healthiest option available to him for lunch.
Huckabee, looking ahead to a flotilla of southern states up for grabs on Super Tuesday, was told about the move by a reporter here in the Florida panhandle.
"I can tell you this," he said, "any Southerner knows if you don’t eat the skin don’t bother calling it fried chicken."
"So that's good. I'm glad that he did that, because that means I'm going to win Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma ... all these great Southern states that understand the best part of fried chicken is the skin, if you're going to eat it that way."
Huckabee admitted that he hasn't eaten fried chicken in a while because of his weight loss program, preferring it broiled or baked instead.
And speaking of possible gaffes, a good Southerner might also dispute one of Huckabee's claims: since when is Oklahoma "a great southern state"?
- CNN Political Producer Peter Hamby
(CNN) - After days of growing debate about his prominent role in her campaign efforts, Sen. Hillary Clinton said Sunday she knows how her husband feels.
"You know, I think that what he is doing for me is obviously out of a sense of deep commitment to me personally, but also based on his experience as president as to who he thinks would best lead our country," Clinton told CBS' "Face the Nation."
"And I know that in my own support of him going back some years, I sometimes got a little bit carried away. I confess to that."
Asked by host Bob Schieffer whether the former president has gotten "carried away," Hillary Clinton laughed and responded, "I think it's human nature, Bob. I think that the spouses of all three of us have, you know, been passionate and vigorous defenders of each of us and, you know, maybe got a little carried away. But, you know, that comes with a hard-fought election.
"It also comes with sleep deprivation which, you know, I think is marking all of us, our families, our supporters."
Critics have complained about some of Bill Clinton's remarks on the trail for his wife in South Carolina, including his reference to Jesse Jackson having won primaries in the state in the 1980s.
The remark was widely seen as a suggestion that Obama's success would be largely based on his race. In the end, Obama won with a large majority of African-American voters, while most whites voted for Clinton or Sen. John Edwards.
Obama, speaking Sunday on ABC's "This Week," sidestepped a question about whether the former president's remark was a matter of "racial politics."
"I think that that's his frame of reference, was the Jesse Jackson races," Obama said.
Hillary Clinton told CBS, "I am very, very proud of my husband's record as a leader in our country going back so many years and what he's done. And people know his heart. They know, you know, what he has stood for.
"So, I'm really glad that he's there with me, and I think everybody just needs to take a deep breath. We need to be focusing on what's important in the lives of Americans."
–CNN's Josh Levs
WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (CNN) –Mitt Romney expressed sadness Monday over the death of Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church.
“We will miss him as a family, respect him as a man of great character and courage, but particularly his humility and ability to touch the lives of each individual is something for which he will long be noted,” Romney said.
Romney met with Hinckley in Salt Lake City, the home of the Mormon Church, when deciding whether to run for president. “[I] told him that our family was going to be thinking about running for president and he smiled and said it would be great experience if you won and a great experience if you lost.”
Romney said that he did not have a personal relationship with Hinckley until he approached him when running the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City for a donation from the Church and use of the vast amounts of property the Church owns. “I met with him probably three or four times along with his counselors, made my requests, most of them were approved. Some were denied.”
Romney has been questioned about his religion constantly during his campaign for the presidency, even making a major address in December to allay concerns about his faith that remains a mystery for some Americans.
- CNN Political Producer Alexander Marquardt
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Tonight is President Bush’s final State of the Union address - but there may be nearly as much attention paid to another Washington speech a few hours earlier and a few stops up the Red Line.
Meanwhile, as Barack Obama takes that American University stage with both Ted and Caroline Kennedy today, Hillary Clinton will hold an event back in the Massachusetts senator’s home state. Clinton had a substantial lead over Obama there in polls taken before the South Carolina vote – but the Illinois senator, fresh off his overwhelming weekend win, now sports the backing of the February 5 state’s Democratic governor and both U.S. senators, with just over a week to go until Super Tuesday.
Both the Democratic frontrunners will be on hand to vote against FISA cloture today, and stick around for SOTU this evening.
Down south, there’s just 24 hours until the presidential primary, but already nearly a million Floridians have cast their ballots in early and absentee voting – which makes late surveys there an even more uncertain results roadmap than usual.
(Of note: more than 400,000 of those votes have been cast in the Democratic primary-that-isn’t, according to the state party. That’s more than four times the total number of Democratic early and absentee ballots in the 2004 presidential primary – one sign the national party’s penalties haven’t affected the passion of the base in this key swing state.)
Recent polls also give Clinton the advantage here – but the ongoing argument over whether or not the contest will actually count for anything heading forward (whether in the real, delegate-granting sense the Clinton campaign has called for, or via some indefinable edge heading into Super Tuesday) has taken on an esoteric, angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin quality. (The answers right now are: who knows? And: it depends.)
Turning back to a contest that counts – at least halfway – the question of the day is whether Mitt Romney has successfully managed to turn the focus of the Florida GOP contest back to the economy, despite John McCain’s best efforts over the weekend. Mike Huckabee is already looking past the state to friendlier territory, spending much of the day in Tennessee.
- CNN Associate Political Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand
Compiled by Jonathan Helman
CNN Washington Bureau
Washington Post: Hard Choices on the Path to Feb. 5
None of the four remaining major candidates for the Republican nomination has the time to compete in every state that will vote on Super Tuesday. Instead, they will be immersed in the process of picking and choosing, employing divergent strategies aimed at winning the most states and delegates.
NY Times: Kennedy Chooses Obama, Spurning Bill Clinton Plea
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, rejecting entreaties from the Clintons and their supporters, is set to endorse Senator Barack Obama’s presidential bid on Monday as part of an effort to lend Kennedy charisma and connections before the 22-state Feb. 5 showdown for the Democratic nomination.
USA Today: Rudy: Demise Rumors Are 'Premature'
Rudy Giuliani has a message for those who doubt his floundering presidential campaign can survive. "The rumors of my demise are premature," Giuliani told USA TODAY, paraphrasing Mark Twain's famous line.
WSJ: Strategizing for Super Tuesday
For weeks, presidential candidates have waged battle one state at a time. But now the race enters a new phase, with candidates delving into the complex coast-to-coast contest known as Super Tuesday, and tough decisions are being made about where and how to compete.
Compiled by Lauren Kornreich and Katy Byron, CNN Washington Bureau
* Hillary Clinton holds “Solutions for the American economy” town halls in Hartford, Connecticut and Springfield, Massachusetts before returning to Washington.
* John Edwards meets with union workers in Chattanooga and Nashville, Tennessee and in Springfield, Missouri.
* Rudy Giuliani attends rallies in Sanford, Clearwater, Ft. Myers, Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood, and Miami, Florida.
* Mike Huckabee attends a rally in Pensacola, Florida. Later he attends a closed-press fundraising event, media availability, and closed-press meetings with political leaders, then goes on a tour of Music Row and plays guitar in a recording session, all in Nashville, Tennessee. At night, he attends a rally in Tampa, Florida.
* John McCain holds a national security roundtable with political and military leaders, a media availability and a campaign rally, all in Jacksonville, Florida. Later, he holds rallies in Orlando and Tampa.
* Barack Obama attends a rally in Washington, DC.
* Ron Paul is in Maine. He holds a media availability and meets with voters in Portland, and holds a press conference in Augusta.
* Mitt Romney holds "Change Begins with Us" rallies in West Palm Beach, Ft. Myers, Orlando, Panama City, and Jacksonville, Florida.