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Hurricane Dean Ramps up for Second Pass Over Mexico; Iraq `Frustrations': President Bush Opens Up; Floods Ravage Ohio

Aired August 21, 2007 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Hurricane Dean ramps up for a second pass over Mexico after striking land with maximum force. We're live in the storm zone. We're waiting for a new forecast from the National Hurricane Center on Dean's power and path. That's coming up.
Also this hour, Iraq frustrations. President Bush vents, and the presidential candidates bicker. How might the race for the White House change if troops start to come home?

Plus, Democrat Barack Obama blasts the Bush administration's restrictions on Fidel Castro's Cuba. Is he going out on another limb over foreign policy?

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

And let's begin with Hurricane Dean. It's on the move right now, once again. Much weaker, but still a massive storm about the size of Texas. And it could regain strength as it plows toward offshore oil rigs in central Mexico.

Dean struck Mexico's Yucatan coast early this morning with catastrophic force, but tourist resorts there were spared the worst. We've seen some significant damage, but at this hour, there are no -- repeat -- no reported deaths in Mexico.

Chris Lawrence is near the current epicenter of the storm.

Chris, what are you seeing where you are? Tell our viewers, first of all, where you are.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're about -- I'd say about 35 to 40 miles south of Campeche. This is a residential area called Champoton. And right now we are seeing the winds and the rain definitely start to intensify.

It was at its peak about two hours ago, where the winds were just churning this water right here in the Gulf of Mexico. We're literally about five feet from the Gulf of Mexico, and we can see the water just churning out there. The winds were very intense.

Then it died down to almost nothing. Barely a breeze. Barely a drizzle. And in about the last 20 to 25 minutes, we've started to see the winds start to pick up again. The rain's definitely getting a lot heavier.

So, things definitely in flux here on the western side of the Yucatan Peninsula -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris, as you take a look at the area where you are right now, the hurricane has clearly been reduced. Are there a lot of people in the area? A lot of people living where you are? We know a lot of the tourists attractions and the resorts were on the other side of the Yucatan Peninsula.

LAWRENCE: There are. This is a residential area. And we got a chance to get a pretty good big-picture look.

We started in Mexico City and drove about 700 miles to get here. So, we saw it change as we went along. Just even a couple hundred miles to the south and to the west, we were still seeing schoolchildren standing on the side of the road waiting for the bus to come like nothing was going to happen.

And then as we got closer, you started to see the windows boarded up. And as we got here, right along to the Gulf Coast, we could see people running out into the street, actually trying to move out some of these big tree limbs that had fallen across the road, so that the police and the ambulances could still get up and down the street during the major part of that windstorm.

BLITZER: All right, Chris. Stand by. We're going to be checking back with you.

Chris Lawrence is on the scene for us.

Let's get the latest now on Hurricane Dean's power and path, the hurricane threat that still is out there. Our meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras, is joining us from the CNN hurricane headquarters.

Give us the latest, Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, it's difficult to pinpoint where the center is right now, because the side of the storm -- the eye of the storm has kind of filled in with cloudiness. But I actually thing right here in Champoton, where Chris Lawrence is, I think he was in the eye of the hurricane.

About two hours ago, we had the strong, gusty winds, winds coming in from the south. And then he had a calm period, and now I think he's getting in on the back side of that eye wall as this emerges over open water.

It's about half and half. So, I think in the next hour, we'll see it back over the water. And then we'll start to see this thing intensify once again.

It's a Category 1 hurricane. Winds are 85 miles per hour, maximum sustained. It can get some gusts beyond that.

It weakened a lot from the Category 5 strength it was when it made landfall just about 12 hours ago. It was up to 160.

Now, we think it's going to continue on this westerly track and then strengthen up to a strong 2, maybe a weak 3. And then next landfall will be taking place midday, maybe noonish, give or take a couple of hours on either side of that, for the second impact. And it's going to be very different here compared to what happened over the Yucatan.

Now, look at the size of the storm. The yellow that you see, this is the tropical-storm-force wind. And look how they cover the entire Yucatan at this hour.

When those reds begin to pop up here later tonight and into tomorrow morning, that's a major hurricane. That's predicting up to Category 3 winds.

Also, I want you to notice that as we look at Texas, you don't get any wind impact whatsoever. It will weaken very dramatically, then, as it moves inland. But, we're very concerned about heavy rainfall, flooding, landslides and mudslides as this is a very mountainous region -- Wolf?

BLITZER: But eventually it will peter off as it goes to central Mexico. It won't represent a threat as it moves over land, that is right?

JERAS: Right. We think the wind impact will be minimal once it gets inland, but we will be worried about flooding and also concern that some of the computer models are bringing it to the north of Mexico City, a very populated area. That's the capital of Mexico there.

So, if the heavy rain kind of stalls out there, that's something certainly we'll be watching very closely about 24 hours from now.

BLITZER: Jacqui Jeras is going to be watching this every step of the way.

And we're standing by, Jacqui, for another forecast from the National Hurricane Center. We expect to get it later this hour, is that right?

JERAS: That's right, 5:00 is the official time that they give us the update, but they usually sneak it in a little early, maybe a quarter until. And we'll bring that to you when that happens.

BLITZER: Yesterday we got it about 25 to. So we got it plenty early yesterday. We'll see what happens today.

Thanks very much, Jacqui, for that.

Just south of the Yucatan Peninsula, Belize was also hard hit by this hurricane. We're joined now on the line by radio correspondent Rhonda Crichton. She's in the city of San Pedro. That's just North of the capital.

What's it like where you are, Rhonda?

RHONDA CRICHTON, LOVE FM RADIO: Well, it has returned back to a normal day. Last night, we had a lot of wind, we had a lot of rain. But it was not near where we had expected.

Everybody had boarded up their building hoping for the worst. And we were blessed enough not to be hit with the worst.

When we got up this morning, for the ones that went to sleep, we -- the streets were just filled with debris. There were a few power lines.

Right now there's no electricity and no water. About 9,000 people left the island before the storm hit and they have not been instructed to come back yet. The reason they are not allowed to come back yet is because there's no light and water. And you wouldn't want so many people on the island without facilities.

But other than that, a few docks (ph) were damaged. A few were totally destroyed.

Some people's homes got wet but not flooded. But, you know, it's like a normal day except for the first on the streets and the silence.

Normally San Pedro is a town that's buzzing. But today it's really, really quiet. You can see people taking off their shutters and taking down the boards that were boarded up, sweeping out water out of their businesses. But other than that, all is well on this side.

BLITZER: Is it the power -- is it lost in all of Belize, or just in Belize City, or just where you are? What do you know about that situation?

CRICHTON: I am sure that the power in the city and in the inland is not lost. The power is lost and it's -- there's no power on (INAUDIBLE).

Further North, (INAUDIBLE), which is a border town to Mexico, I would speculate that they do not have power as well, simply because they were hit, as you would imagine, with the same magnitude that we were hit. And normally they turn off the power lines to prevent further damages. So I am speculating that they don't have current. But for sure, we don't have any electricity on this side and no water.

BLITZER: And no fatalities as far as you know in Belize, is that right?

CRICHTON: That is right. No fatalities. None was reported. And I wouldn't expect any to be reported from this because it wasn't as grand as we thought it would have been.

BLITZER: Rhonda Crichton, thanks very much. Obviously, it could have been a whole lot worse in Belize than it was. Fortunately, no fatalities there.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's joining us in New York with "The Cafferty File".

Hi, Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the 2008 presidential race was the top story in the U.S. news media during the second quarter, April through June. A report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that the 2008 campaign topped all other news stories during that time, including what's going on in Iraq, the policy debate over the war here at home, immigration, Iran. And we're still more than 15 months away from the election. And it's likely to get a lot worse before it gets better.

The report covered 18,000 stories in newspapers, on the radio, online, and on network and cable TV. And it found that Democratic and Republican candidates got about equal attention from the media, which was a change from the first quarter, when Democrats had gotten twice the coverage of Republicans.

On the Democratic side, Barack Obama got more coverage than Hillary Clinton. And among Republicans, it was a tight contest among John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. During that same three- month period of time, researchers found that coverage of the Iraq war actually declined across all of the major media outlets.

So, the question is this: When it comes to the 2008 presidential race, are the media paying too much attention too soon?

E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile.

As a viewer of my own segments, I'd like to respond to my question.

Yes, they are -- Wolf.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, stand by. We're going to get back to you soon, Jack. Thanks very much.

President Bush is opening up today about Iraq and his deep frustration with the political leadership in Baghdad. Is he ready to see the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, go?

Also, Senator Barack Obama responds to a remark by his wife. Is a strong family life a prerequisite to being president of the United States? You're going to want to hear what he has to say.

Also, we're standing by for a new forecast from the National Hurricane Center on Hurricane Dean's path and the threat that still lies out there.

All that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring other stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: We're also tracking some severe weather right now out in the Midwest. Several inches of heavy rain caused flooding in northern Ohio. People on the ground in Ohio are sending in their I- Reports here to CNN.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

How bad is the flooding based on what we're seeing, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, take a look at this view of Bucyrus, north central Ohio, sent in to I-Report by Nate Roshon. He works at the Bucyrus Community Hospital.

This is a view from the roof just a couple hours ago. He reports a tremendous amount of lightning and a constant, steady rain. Overnight, some reports eight inches of rain. And this is the view towards the Sandusky River, which he says has been steadily rising throughout the day.

The hospital is at one of the elevated points in town, so it's escaped some of the flooding. But from his other pictures, take a look at this. Not everyone fared so well.

Contractors' trailers there under water. He says that the police and fire are now diligently going around town blocking off the roads that are worst affected. Those roads are like rivers.

And just a few miles here to the east in Mansfield, Ohio, these pictures from Vicki Smith, who describes the speed at which the water was rising, she says. As it subsides today, vehicles are appearing that they didn't even know were under there -- Wolf.

All right. Thank you. Pretty amazing pictures out there.

And by the way, in our next hour, we're hoping to speak on the phone with Vicki Smith about her perilous experience in these rising floodwaters.

Hurricane Dean is zeroing in on its next target after pounding Mexico's Caribbean coast with powerful winds and pounding rains. We're going to have another live report from the storm zone.

And we'll go back to our CNN hurricane headquarters for new information on Dean's path of destruction. A new forecast about to be released.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now: A newly declassified government report says former CIA Director George Tenet knew about the threat of al Qaeda before the 9/11 attacks, but did not come up with a comprehensive strategy to fight the terror network.

Tenet says that there was, in his words, there was a robust plan, an extraordinary effort to fight terrorism prior to the attack.

Just hours ago, a federal appeals court upheld the corruption conviction of former Illinois Governor George Ryan. Last year, Ryan was convicted of 18 counts of racketeering, fraud, conspiracy and other offenses. He was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison.

And U.S. foreclosure rates last month jumped 9 percent from June and 93 percent from a year earlier. Five states, California, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Georgia, account for more than half of the total.

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

Let's return now to our top story. Hurricane Dean is tearing across Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. This video, just in from the area where Dean slammed into the coast last night as a catastrophic Category 5 storm, to cause widespread flooding, downed trees, tore roofs off houses, knocked out electricity.

Authorities there are now cleaning up, and the storm has been downgraded to a Category 1. But it could regain strength as it moves back over open water.

Jacqui Jeras is following the path of the storm from the CNN hurricane headquarters.

Jacqui, update our viewers on the latest.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, I think the eye is now back over open water. And, as we get this 5:00 advisory in, I think it will confirm that.

So, we will watch for this to start to regenerate and kind of get a little stronger in the coming hours. Winds are now 80 miles per hour. They have dropped just a little bit. Then you can see the position here on the map, maximum sustained winds, 85. So, our computer map hasn't updated, but Dave Hennen is telling me that that is coming in now.

It's pushing off to the west and will be in the bay of Campeche overnight tonight and into tomorrow morning. And we're predicting the next landfall to be midday tomorrow, possibly a Category 3 storm again. That's considered a major hurricane. But the impacts are going to be very, very different here.

And I want to explain that a little bit. Here's where Dean made landfall at around 4:30 this morning. And the Yucatan Peninsula is extremely flat. Take a look at that on Google Earth, you know, very little terrain involved here. Elevations remain very low.

But, as we head over towards the Mexican mainland, take a look at the mountains along the second landfall. You can see the coastal area, flat. So, we will have some storm surge. But there you can see the mountains in the background. And the rainfall, then, gets enhanced because of those mountains. And the totals become much higher. We're looking at five to 10 inches overall on a general level. But we could see amounts as high as 20 inches. So, all that rain that falls has to run down the mountains, and we're concerned about landslides and mudslides. Where Dean made landfall earlier today, it was a sparsely populated area, but much more populated in Mexico's mainland.

The forecast track does bring the storm to the north of Mexico City. We don't think they will see a wind impact here, but could receive some problems because of the flooding. There you can see the track to the north of Mexico City -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thank you. Stand by. We are going to wait for that new forecast. We're expecting that soon from the National Hurricane Center.

Jacqui Jeras is watching all of this for us.

With Hurricane Dean ready to slam into Mexico for a second time, residents along the central Mexican coast are preparing for the worst.

Karl Penhaul is just down the coast. He's joining us now north of Veracruz.

Karl, are people there ready where you are?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the port city of Veracruz, as we left there, we saw people making strict preparations there. The state governor has canceled classes for schoolchildren, so they can go home to be with their families to make the necessary preparations.

We also saw fishermen bringing small fishing skiffs onshore to keep them out of the waves, to avoid the potential of those strong, battering waves. But, then, as we drove out of the main port city, the area we're in now, the area that you can see behind me is a very sparsely populated area. We have seen one or two people with ply board to board up their houses, but, on the whole, not a very populated area, certainly not the kind of population that you were looking down at the Yucatan Peninsula, which is a haven for tourists -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The -- I want to show our viewers, Karl, where you are, as opposed to where this hurricane is right now. And, as we -- and we're going to show our viewers the highlighted area. That's where you are.

But you can see, the eye of the storm is moving directly toward you, and in the next several hours, that's going to be coming up on this area. We heard from Jacqui Jeras that there's a lot of concern about mudslides, landslides, given the rocky terrain, the mountains in this area. And there are obviously a lot of people who live in that area as well. What are they doing to try to move inland or move into some safer areas?

PENHAUL: Well, you're right. Down south, around the port of Veracruz, that's pretty flat there. But, as we drove north of Veracruz, in fact, just behind us over there, is a heavy, densely- treed mountain ridge. But, the good news there is that it's not very populated. There aren't many people living there.

There's also a lot of dense vegetation there, which could potentially hold the earth together. This isn't a Haiti-like scenario, for example, when the deforestation contributes to landslides. There's a lot of trees there. So, that might escape it. But forecasters have said, as those winds move across it, towards Mexico City, there could be problems there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to check back with you. Be careful over there, because you're right in the bullseye of this hurricane that's moving across the waters and heading towards central -- central -- Mexico.

Karl Penhaul, thanks very much.

Want to go right to our Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. She's getting some new information on the military, the U.S. military getting involved in dealing with the hurricane and its aftermath.

What are you picking up?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as we have seen so many times in the past in humanitarian situations, the U.S. military gearing up now for assistance to the small country of Belize, which also took a hit from this hurricane.

The U.S. military's Southern Command, headquartered in Miami, has just announced it is sending a 25-person military assessment team and a number of helicopters to Belize. They will get on the ground and they will begin assessing the needs of that country.

A statement coming from Southern Command says they are ready to offer aid in search-and-rescue, medical, engineering, and communications, the things that they believe Belize may be in dire need of. They expect more announcements in the hours ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Mexico? What about Mexico?

STARR: Well, so far, the government of Mexico has not asked the U.S. for any assistance. But what we do know is, there are communications with the Mexican government. The U.S. is ready to offer National Guard troops from Texas which, of course, have significant fluency in Spanish, could move in very quickly, and help, if it is asked for by the government of Mexico, as Hurricane Dean continues to batter that country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They haven't asked for help yet, but Belize apparently has.

Thanks very much, Barbara, at the Pentagon.

With Fidel Castro in poor health and out of sight, there's a renewed focus on this country -- this country's relations and future relations with Cuba. Could it be an important issue in the presidential race? We're going to take a closer look -- John King standing by for that.

And Hurricane Dean, as we now know, barrelling closer to a second strike on Mexico. We're keeping you up to the minute on the storm's path and who may be in harm's way.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Presidential candidate Barack Obama is plunging back into the weeds of foreign policy today. The Democrat is blasting the Bush administration's decision to tighten restrictions on relatives of Cubans who want to visit the island or send money back home.

In an opinion piece in "The Miami Herald," Senator Obama calls that policy a strategic blunder and says he would reverse it if he's elected president.

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King. He's here with us. He's watching the story.

How much of an issue is Cuba likely to be in this campaign?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a big issue in Florida. Whether it turns into a big national issue, we don't quite know yet. But, by writing that op-ed, Senator Obama is stirring up a debate that has faced every president and every presidential candidate, Wolf, since Dwight Eisenhower.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): Fidel Castro's failing health adds emphasis to a debate that stretches back five decades and 10 U.S. presidencies, gaining steam as a campaign issue when Ronald Reagan Florida's Cuban- American vote a key target in the 1980s.

As he might put it, here we go again. Whether and how to isolate the Cuban regime is again a debating point in the 2008 campaign.

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Even though it is not the number-one issue for the majority of voters in Florida, for a -- for a very vocal minority, it is an incredibly passionate issue that has a lot of history.

KING: Stirring the issue now is Senator Barack Obama. In advance of a weekend fund-raiser in Miami, he wrote this op-ed, saying he favors reversing Bush administration policy and granting Cuban- Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney was quick to pounce, saying, "Unilateral concessions to a dictatorial regime are counterproductive and that Obama's position proves the senator "does not have the strength to confront America's enemies or defend our values."

Current restrictions allow Cuban-Americans to send family members no more than $1,200 a year and limit visits to up to 14 days once every three years. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was already on record favoring unrestricted family visits and remittances.

Going beyond that, Democratic hopeful Senator Chris Dodd favors allowing all Americans to travel freely to Cuba. Dennis Kucinich would lift the embargo outright.

Most interested in this debate is a tiny slice of the electorate. Cuban-Americans amount to less than 1 percent of the U.S. population, but they are heavily concentrated in a critical presidential battleground, Florida, adding up to about 8 percent of the electorate in a state decided by just 537 votes in campaign 2000.

Cuban-Americans are the most reliably Republican of the nation's Latino voters, leaving many to wonder why Obama would want to stir up such an emotional debate.

CARDONA: Once again making Cuba the issue. They want to hear about other things.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Some of his rivals, though, suggest that Senator Obama might be trying to shift attention from that debate controversy over his statement that he would meet with Fidel Castro and other leaders of so-called rogue nations in his first year in office. In that op- ed, Wolf, he does talk about his wish to have bilateral relations with Cuba, but he says he would like to sit down bilaterally with the post- Fidel government.

BLITZER: What about Hillary Clinton? Where does she fit into this debate?

KING: It's quite interesting. She's the front-runner in the Democratic field, and, right now, she's with George W. Bush, the current president of the United States. She says keep the embargo in place, make no changes in U.S. current policy.

And her campaign says it would be irresponsible to talk about any changes right now because of the status of the Castro government in Cuba, his sickness. Interesting, though, that puts her in synch with the conservative Cubans in Florida. But don't count on her getting those votes.

Her husband did quite well in 1996, 40 percent among Cubans in Florida. And, then, remember, he is the president who sent Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba. That infuriated Cuban-Americans, especially in Miami. Don't look for Mrs. Clinton to do all that well there.

BLITZER: All right. John, thanks very much.

This footnote: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 1.6 million Cuban-Americans. Only slightly more than a third of them were born in this country. More than half of all Cuban-Americans -- that would be about 833,000 -- live in Florida.

In our "Strategy Session," Barack Obama's wife is talking values.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: So, our view is that, if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, is a good home a prerequisite to being president of the United States?

And, in a new commercial, Mitt Romney says major cities are sanctuaries for illegal immigrants. Is it a not-so-subtle critique of the former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani? All that in our "Strategy Session," that's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The wife of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama recently said that, if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House.

Joining us now in our "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist John Feehery.

All right, here's the clip. Here's the little excerpt of what Michelle Obama said. And it's generating some commotion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

M. OBAMA: One of the most important things that we need to know about the next president of the United States is, is he somebody that shares our values? Is he somebody that respects family, is a good and decent person? So, our view is that, if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, what do you think? Who was she referring to? Because we're trying to read between the lines here.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, she was introducing her husband, and she's trying to tell an audience that really don't know Barack Obama that he's a family man, that he cares about his children, he cares about families, and, as president, he will restore family values to the White House.

I don't think he was taking -- she was taking a swipe at the Clintons or Giuliani or anyone else. She was trying to establish his credentials as a family person.

BLITZER: What do you think, John? JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think she was talking about Hillary Clinton, no doubt about it, and the Clinton -- well, all -- they have a nice family with Chelsea and the whole nine yards. I think that all that turmoil just, you know, trying to -- they're -- the Obama campaign...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The Obama campaign denies that. And they point to the fact that she said, is he somebody that respects somebody that respects family values? She didn't say, is she somebody that respects -- because you could read this and say maybe she is referring to Rudy Giuliani, who has had a history of some problems.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: She's probably referring to Bill Clinton, actually.

The fact of the matter is, the Barack Obama campaign is a little bit desperate. They kind of remind me a little bit of my White Sox. They keep trying all these things, but they keep making mistakes. And they don't make up any ground in the polls. And I don't know what they going to do. I mean, he himself said he's -- he is running out of time. So, I think that that is going to be trouble for the Obama campaign.

BRAZILE: Look, she is a straight-talking person. She's very smart, very articulate. She's an asset to the campaign. And I think, if she wanted to take a swipe at somebody, she would not hide words. Michelle Obama would come out and say it.

BLITZER: She doesn't strike me as someone who is shy about anything.

BRAZILE: No.

FEEHERY: Well, that's probably right.

BLITZER: Here's what Barack Obama, by the way, said on another subject.

I want to read it to you. He said: "The challenge for us is to let people know what I have accomplished at a time when the campaign schedule is getting so compressed. I just don't have much time to make that case."

When I heard that, I said, what is he talking about? There's months and months and months to go. What is so compressed about the schedule?

FEEHERY: He also said Ron Fournier that it -- it's a stretch for people to want to vote for him.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Ron Fournier is the AP reporter. FEEHERY: The AP reporter.

So, I think, you know, he's feeling the pressure. He's feeling the heat. And I think that, you know, he's seeing the time running out, because he's not making up any ground on Hillary Clinton. And I think that's very frustrating for him.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BRAZILE: I think Barack is trying to define his candidacy before the others define him. And he gave one of the best debate performances this past Sunday, but he's trying to close what Ron Fournier also pointed out, the stature gap.

He's trying to tell people about his experience and compare it to the others and say, look, I may not have Washington experience, but I have a different kind of experience, and I also have good judgment.

That's what he's saying.

BLITZER: Mitt Romney, on the Republican side, seems to be taking some swipes at Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor. Listen to this new commercial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR: Immigration laws don't work if they're ignored. That's the problem with cities like Newark, San Francisco, and New York City, that adopt sanctuary policies. Sanctuary cities become magnets that encourage illegal immigration and undermine secure borders.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: When Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York, there was an element of New York being a sanctuary city then.

FEEHERY: Well, the problem with the Romneys this -- and this ad, that Massachusetts had the same problem. They had several sanctuary cities as well. So...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And he suggested, as governor, he really couldn't control what was going on in Boston.

FEEHERY: Well, you know, I think the problem -- Romney is trying to throw anything he can against the wall. The problem that he's got is, he's down in the polls. He's just trying any -- any kind of issue.

And illegal immigration is a huge issue for Republican primary voters. And he thinks that this might work. I think that's why he's doing this.

BLITZER: Do you think it's going to work? BRAZILE: No, because, once upon a time, he was for amnesty, he was for giving undocumented workers a path to citizenship. He supported the Bush-McCain immigration bill. And now he's opposed to it.

He's trying to appeal to conservatives, and I don't think it's going to work.

BLITZER: One independent out there, the current mayor of New York, had some strong words on this subject.

Listen to Michael Bloomberg.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: New York's strength has always been and always will be its constant influx of immigrants. We welcome immigrants. We want more of them. Without immigrants, this city wouldn't have a future. And I believe, without immigrants, this country will not have a future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, he's staking out a pretty clear position on this issue.

FEEHERY: I guess that's why he left the Republican Party.

(LAUGHTER)

FEEHERY: He's obviously not going to run for president for the -- in the Republican primary. He's obviously thinking, you know, he wants to make a strong stand for people to come to New York. I think it makes sense for him politically back in New York. It doesn't make sense for him nationally, though.

BLITZER: You just assume he's out of it, he is not going to run as a third-party candidate?

BRAZILE: Well, I will not count out somebody with billions of dollars to spend, and someone who could probably have appeal to independents and perhaps some Republicans who are ready to abandon that party.

BLITZER: Donna, thanks very much.

John, thanks to you as well.

Do you think the media are simply paying too much attention to this presidential race too soon? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail, that's coming up.

Also, in the eye of the storm. We will show you the remarkable images captured by hurricane hunters as we continue -- continue to track Dean's every move. Plus, the panic, the terror, and the amazing escape -- the survivor of an airliner-turned-inferno tells his story. You are going to want to hear what happened on that plane as smoke began to emit, go out from this plane, and then it burst into flames.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our "Political Radar" this Tuesday, presidential candidate Barack Obama picks up the endorsement of an Iraq-war- veteran-turned-member-of-Congress. Freshman Pennsylvania Democrat Patrick Murphy is urging a troop withdrawal from Iraq and liked Senator Obama's early opposition to the war.

Meantime, Obama's daughter apparently has a problem with the Obama Girl. The Associated Press quoting the senator as saying his 6- year-old child, Sasha, asked his wife about the YouTube video that's gotten a lot of attention. And then Sasha reportedly added something along the lines, "Daddy already has a wife." Senator Obama tells the Associated Press he wishes people would think about what impact their actions have on kids and families.

Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd tells anti-war activists in Iowa that an effort to launch impeachment proceedings against President Bush would be a mistake -- "The Des Moines Register" quoting Dodd as warning Democrats could lose control of Congress in the 2008 elections if they go down the impeachment road, rather than focusing in on America's problems.

Remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, this hour, the question is: When it comes to the 2008 presidential race, are the media paying too much attention, too soon?

Anna writes: "No, there is not too much coverage of the presidential campaign, but there is too much coverage of the front- runners and not enough of the entire field of candidates. Yes, there are 15 months before the election, and we would like to make an informed choice. How can we do that, though, if the media has already narrowed the field for us?"

Sheila in Crossville, Tennessee: "Yes, I'm sock of all the hype. I think the only thing this is doing is putting money in the pockets of CNN, MSNBC, and FOX. And that is what it's all about, money. I am sick of TV ruling our lives, but here I am."

Michael in Washington: "It's all too much too soon. A year from today, the GOP will not even have had its convention yet. It used to be candidates would announce and start running in the spring of the election year. Can we get back to that? Probably not. Justin in San Diego: "I do not think the media is spending too much time covering the 2008 presidential race. Perhaps if the current president wasn't such an incompetent criminal, we wouldn't be so collectively interested in his replacement."

Dan in Vancouver: "No, Jack, the media is right to pay attention to the '08 election this early. I'm 50-mumble-something years old, and the upcoming election is one of the most crucial in my memory. The country is in such dire straits on so many fronts. This election may be the last opportunity to restore our republic at the ballot box, before having to resort to the bullet box."

And Patti in Mammoth Lakes, California -- great skiing out there -- "Yes, the race is getting too much coverage. And then today you give us a news report telling us that the race is the top news story. Enough already" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

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

Happening now: We have the new forecast for Hurricane Dean. It came screaming ashore as a Category 5 hurricane. It's headed back over warm waters right now. Forecasters are warning, specifically, the danger is not over yet.

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