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Obama's Confrontation With Hecklers; McCain & Race Issues; McCain Takes Reporters' Questions

Aired August 1, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Barack Obama's remarkable confrontation today with hecklers. He responds at length to their allegations that he's neglecting the African-American community.
Plus, John McCain faces a tough crowd himself. He goes before a mostly black audience just a day after accusing Obama of playing the race card.

And a stunning twist, truly stunning. Almost seven years after poison-laced letters scared Congress and the nation, the main suspect in the anthrax case is now dead.

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

This was not your typical confrontation with hecklers. Barack Obama decided that this particular group of protesters would not or should not be ignored or dismissed. His response during a town hall meeting in Florida was somewhat surprising, maybe because the hecklers' complaints were so sensitive.

Let's go to Suzanne Malveaux. She's working this story for us.

We were watching it, Suzanne. It was sort of live on the air when it happened. Update our viewers on what we know.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, having covered President Bush and plenty of candidates, it's not really surprising when the occasional heckler emerges. And typically what happens, the Secret Service or some kind of security quickly whisks them away. But that is not what happened today.


MALVEAUX (voice over): It was a rare campaign moment, Barack Obama interrupted by a small but persistent group of hecklers.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hold on a second. What's happening here? Wait. Hold on a second.

MALVEAUX: Three men holding a banner and two white female supporters shouted, "What about the black community?" As Secret Service moved in, the crowd drowned out the protesters.

AUDIENCE: Yes he can! Yes he can!

MALVEAUX: Obama won their silence by promising them they'd get their chance.

OBAMA: Just relax. You'll get your chance.

MALVEAUX: During the question-and-answer period, the heckler unleashed a heavy charge, that Barack Obama failed to respond to perceived attacks against the black community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Attacks like the killing of Sean Bell by the New York Police Department and Javan Dawson (ph), right here in St. Petersburg by the St. Pete Police. And the Jena 6 and Hurricane Katrina. The list goes on.

MALVEAUX: Obama addressed his criticism point by point.

OBAMA: Jena 6, I was the first candidate to get out there and say this is wrong. When Sean Bell got shot, I put out a statement immediately.

MALVEAUX: But Deup Olivala (ph), a member of a group that advocates issues of concern to Africans and African-Americans, wasn't satisfied. Obama tried another approach.

OBAMA: I may not have spoken out the way you would have wanted me to speak out, which -- which gives you the option of voting for somebody else, it gives you the option to run for office yourself.

MALVEAUX: In the end, Olivala said he appreciated Obama addressing his concerns, but added that the candidate failed to win him over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to vote for him because he has not shown any evidence that he's going to do anything to benefit my community.


MALVEAUX: Well, in a rare move for a candidate, Obama spent 10 minutes of this back-and-forth trying to provide that evidence to this heated voter -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And by all accounts, he did a pretty good job dealing with a sensitive subject like that, including the heckling earlier on.

Suzanne, thank you.

John McCain had some uncomfortable moments of his own today in Florida. He spoke before the National Urban League, a mostly African- American audience. The appearance coming only a day after Senator McCain accused Senator Obama of playing the race card.

Dana Bash is working this story for us.

Dana, did this whole sensitive issue of the race card allegation come up today?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It actually didn't, Wolf. It was interesting.

He did take many questions from the audience. Nobody asked him about the issue of the race card. Instead, the audience focused much more on issues like education and affirmative action, but it didn't make the timing of McCain's speech any less interesting.

BLITZER: All right.

Dana, I know that Senator McCain is about to hold a little news conference. We're looking at live pictures right there of Senator McCain. He's in Panama City, Florida. I think that's Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida, who is with him.

What, is he making an opening statement now and then he's going to answer some questions? So maybe we'll wait until he starts answering a few questions and go there live.

But while we wait for Senator McCain to finish up with his statement, I know you've worked on his day today. And it was an interesting, fascinating appearance he had before the National Urban League.

BASH: It was interesting, because, you know, a couple of weeks ago, John McCain spoke before another very large black audience, and that was the NAACP conference. And there, he went out of his way to praise Barack Obama. It was the very first thing he did.

Today, Wolf, he was pretty biting. The first thing he did was talk about the fact that Barack Obama's rhetoric might be soaring, but his policies are something that they should really listen carefully to. It didn't go over well though in the audience -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They were waiting for him to start answering some questions about -- I assume the reporters eventually are going to get into this very sensitive issue. He did speak to our own John King yesterday, and he stood by his campaign advisers who made this very serious allegation against Senator Obama.

BASH: That's right. He did.

I mean, he was very brief in his comments. And he said that he thought that obviously his campaign manager did the right thing in calling Obama out on what they believe was him playing the race card.

And as you said, this is going to be the first opportunity for some of those in the traveling press corps to be asking Senator McCain about this issue. They know that, and they've scheduled this press conference knowing that this would be an issue, particularly because of the speech that he gave and the audience he gave it to this morning.

BLITZER: All right. Well, let's listen in. He's making an opening statement, speaking about the economy, among other subjects.

Let's listen in briefly.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now that's what they said. I continuously see some people say, well, it wouldn't matter, it would take many years, et cetera. That's not what the people who are in the business are telling me.

And I would also like to say finally that we need obviously to have a Congress that will act on this issue. I note with some interest that the Congress decided to go into recess for a month without acting on the energy issue, and that's a disgraceful performance and one that obviously contributes to the nine percent approval rating of the American people.

It's time that the Congress came together, Republican and Democrat -- and we know it is under Democrat majority in both houses -- and address the issue of energy independence.

So with that, I would like to answer any questions that you have. I recognize people when they raise their hands rather than yell.

Ed, did you have a question? Yes?

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Senator.

You talked about Congress not stepping up to the plate. The fact is some would say you have missed as many votes as anybody in Congress this year. You've been preoccupied, but is there another reason that you could cite for us?

MCCAIN: Well, let me say that as happened in 2000, I was -- missed votes. People of Arizona understand that I'm running for president of the United States and that I'm not there voting. I would be there if I was not running, but the fact is that we are gridlocked in Congress.

We are gridlocked because the Democratic leadership refuses to reach across the aisle and work with the Republicans. We are gridlocked on every single issue.

And so I want to assure you, when I'm president, I will reach across the aisle, we will sit down, we will work together, and we will do it in a bipartisan fashion. And we'll solve the issues that confront the American people.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Senator Obama earlier today expressed support for a plan, a bipartisan energy plan that would allow oil drilling within 50 miles of Florida's west coast. I would like to get your reaction to that, and to him coming around to that position.

MCCAIN: We need oil drilling, and we need it now offshore. We need it now.

He has consistently opposed it. He has opposed nuclear power. He has opposed reprocessing. He has opposed storage. And the only thing I've heard him say is that we should inflate our tires.

So he has no plan for addressing the energy challenges that we face. And we need drilling everywhere that the states and the governors, such as in the state of Florida, approve of.


QUESTION: Please tell us the thinking behind this new Web ad that mocks Obama as a messiah-like figure.

MCCAIN: We were having some fun. We were having some fun with our supporters that we sent it out to. And we're going to display a sense of humor in this campaign.

I noticed a couple of days ago that Senator Obama challenged me to a duel. Well, light sabers is my weapon of choice.

But seriously, if we have differences, we should have appeared at the Urban League convention today. I've asked him time after time to appear with me on the same stage so we can discuss the issues that are important to the American people.

So I look forward to people across this country saying, appear together, appear in town hall meetings, and discuss the issues that are important to the United States of America.

Kelly (ph).

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that, Senator?

The political video today does use religious imagery. Some people might have questions about that.

And where does mocking, as it has been described by some of your critics, no longer include a respectful campaign? Where is the line for you?

MCCAIN: This is a very respectful campaign. I repeated my admiration and respect for Senator Obama.

That clip is of Charlton Heston. It's a movie. It's a film -- movie.

So I really appreciated the movie, and I appreciated Charlton Heston's magnificent acting skills as I saw it. But it's a movie.


QUESTION: Senator, are you going to steal our governor for vice president?

MCCAIN: I think that your governor has earned a place in the Republican Party not just in the state of Florida, but nationally. He's a great leader, and I think that obviously he has a major role to play in the Republican Party and this nation in the future. We aren't talking about the process, but everybody knows the respect and appreciation I have for him.

QUESTION: Sir, you're receiving a lot of criticism of late for making this campaign go negative. Have you -- are you at fault in making this campaign negative? And why not keep the discussion focused on the issues, as opposed to Obama's character?

MCCAIN: Well, I don't think it's negative. I think we're drawing the differences between us.

I think that the video that we had was about taxes and about energy. That's what we want this campaign to be about, is the differences in our positions.

And why don't we -- why don't we stand together at a town hall meeting? That's what we offered and asked for. His answer was that he would have one additional debate, and that would be on the Fourth of July.

So I don't think our campaign is negative in the slightest. We think it's got a lot of humor in it, and we're having fun and enjoying it. And that's what campaigns are going to be like. That's what every campaign that I've been involved in -- and I'm going to enjoy it.

And I'm the underdog, and we'll continue to fight and scrap all the way until November the 4th.

Yes, Julia (ph).

And then you, Michael. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Senator, can you explain why you and your campaign manager have specifically said that Obama played the race card with his comments the other day?


QUESTION: And can you're elaborate when you said that you fought for equal rights for your entire life, what specifically you've done focusing on improving the lives of African-Americans?

MCCAIN: All right. Well, first of all, the first question -- you said why am I...

QUESTION: When your campaign manager -- and you reiterated that you backed Davis in saying he played the race card, can you elaborate on that?

MCCAIN: Oh, because I think his comments were clearly -- were clearly with the race card because of what he said. Everybody can read his remarks.

And in fact, his campaign retracted those remarks. So I think it's very clear.

And I was very disappointed. I was very disappointed at his comments. And so his campaign retracted those remarks, so let's move on.

I've supported legislation time after time that would provide equal opportunities for all Americans. I've supported lower taxes. I've supported increases in educational benefits. I have supported hundreds of pieces of legislation which would help Americans obtain an equal opportunity in America.

I'm proud of that record from fighting for the recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday in my state, to sponsoring specific legislation that would prevent discrimination in any shape or form in America today. And I'm proud of that fight. And I'd be glad to give you the legislative record of my efforts.


QUESTION: The accusation that Senator Obama had played the race card had the effect of putting race front and center in the presidential debate. Was that intent at all?

MCCAIN: I didn't bring up the issue. I did not bring up the issue. Senator Obama did, three times in one day. And his campaign later retracted it.

So I think it's pretty obvious that at least they acknowledge that. So he brought up the issue of race, I responded to it because I'm disappointed. And I don't want that issue to be part of this campaign. And since his campaign retracted it, I'm ready to move on, and I think we should move on.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Senator,, the nonpartisan fact-checking Web site, has cited eight or nine of your recent ads as containing false or misleading information. I was wondering how you would respond to this, and how do you reconcile it with your pledge to run an honorable campaign?

MCCAIN: I don't respond to Web sites that I have no idea what they're talking about.

I'm proud of our campaign. We have been fair. We have been balanced. And we have clearly pointed out the differences between myself and Senator Obama.

And I'd be glad to go through those with you. He wants higher taxes. I want to keep taxes low.

BLITZER: All right. So there he is, Senator McCain responding to some questions, including some sensitive questions about the charges he and his campaign leveled yesterday that Senator Obama had used the race card, brought it up in this election.

Dana, you cover the McCain campaign. He wasn't backing away at all, although he says he's ready now to move on and hopes this won't be an issue anymore. BASH: Exactly. And that pretty much parallels what we heard from his campaign yesterday, that they said that they wanted to lay down a marker on this as soon as they heard Barack Obama make those remarks, that they wanted to get out there and make the case basically that if race is going to be an issue in the presidential race, that they wanted to make it clear that Obama brought it up first, not John McCain. And so we heard from his campaign, just like we heard from Senator McCain now, that they felt that they made their point and they do want to move on, and clearly they're trying to do that.

BLITZER: All right. And we heard him speak earlier about that new Web video that they put out today with Charlton Heston. We're going to show that to our viewers later this hour. We'll discuss it in our "Strategy Session."

Dana, thanks very much.

BASH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty today. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: "He needs to put some meat on his bones. And I won't vote for any beanpole guy." These are people talking about Barack Obama.

"The Wall Street Journal" reporting today on whether Obama's skinniness could wind up being a liability for him in the election. Can you tell how long the campaign is? Particularly in a country where two-thirds of the voting age population is overweight and one- third of us is obese.

A recent poll shows Obama still trails John McCain among white men and suburban women who say they don't see eye to eye with the Illinois senator's background or values. Obama's doctor says he works out regularly. He jogs three miles a day when he can, he has no excess body fat -- his doctor's words. He plays basketball, he rides a bike.

Obama even took some heat from the press a couple of weeks back for spending too much time in the gym in Chicago -- three times in one day for a total of 188 minutes. He apparently stays away from junk food. His daughter said he doesn't like ice cream or sweets, and instead snacks on protein bars and organic tea. Yum.

Obama's reportedly quit smoking as well several times.

A former staffer to President Clinton points out that while most voters don't choose a president based on looks alone, things like a candidate's height, weight, overall appearance can play into what they see as "presidential." Others point out that struggling with weight loss, much like Bill Clinton did for a time, could endear a candidate to voters, make him seem more human.

As for John McCain, although he has injuries from when he was a POW in Vietnam, his doctor says that he walked the Grand Canyon rim to rim two summers ago and that he hikes whenever he can find the time.

So here's the question: How much does a candidate's physical appearance matter to you?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

A major development in one of the biggest investigations in all of American history: the anthrax attacks. There are new details on just what the FBI has been working on and why a main suspect has now committed suicide.

Congress goes on summer break without passing a bill to try to lower gas prices. Members may get an earful back home.

And Senator Barack Obama wanted to make this election a referendum on President Bush, but it could turn out to be a referendum on him instead.

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


BLITZER: There are new developments involving the nightmarish attacks that traumatized the nation not long after 9/11. Back in 2001, someone or some people mailed out letters laced with spores of the deadly anthrax. They went to lawmakers and to news organizations.

Five people died. No one has been arrested.

But now we've learned that authorities were about to take action against one suspect. And that suspect is now dead.

Let's go to CNN's Kelli Arena. She's been working this story.

What a dramatic turn of events in a case that you couldn't write a novel about stuff like this.


You know, his name was Bruce Ivins. He was a noted microbiologist who sources say was the main suspect in the anthrax investigation.


ARENA (voice over): When Bruce Ivins killed himself, the net was closing fast.

CAPT. KEVIN GRUBB, FREDERICK, MARYLAND, POLICE: On the 27th, we received a call to assist fire board (ph) at 622 Military Road for an unconscious subject in the bathroom at that residence.

ARENA: The government has released no details of its case, but sources say at the time of his suicide the government was set to indict Ivins and seek the death penalty. His neighbors say he had been under suspicion for months.

BONNIE DUGGAN, NEIGHBOR: We started noticing the surveillance probably a year ago.

ARENA: So what led investigators to Ivins? Well, sources say a scientific examination showed the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks originated here, at Fort Detrick Army Lab in Maryland, where Ivins worked for nearly two decades.

The twisted irony here is that Ivins as a top microbiologist who was developing an anthrax vaccine. Officials say the FBI was looking into whether Ivins released the anthrax as a way to test his vaccine.

His lawyers say it was stress, not guilt that caused Ivins to kill himself. They contend he's innocent, that he fully cooperated with the government.

Another irony: According to sources, Ivins even helped analyze some of the anthrax found in letters used in the attacks.

The Justice Department is being tightlipped, saying investigative documents remain under seal and that it has to brief victims and families before the public. One of those victims is former senator Tom Daschle.

TOM DASCHLE (D), FMR. U.S. SENATOR: I'm angered by the fact that we've been so left out of the dark, really, and unaware of what the circumstances are. I think we are owed more than that.

ARENA: Several officials say the FBI may soon close the investigation into the attacks that killed five people, indicating Ivins was the lone suspect.


ARENA: But there are skeptics, Wolf, from members of Congress, to anthrax victims who say the government may be wrong. It focused for years on scientist Steven Hatfill, even publicly identified him as a person of interest, and then had to pay him millions of dollars when he sued. Those doubters say that Ivins won't have that opportunity -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're going to have a lot more on this dramatic turn of events coming up in the next hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Kelli, thanks very much.

Your money on the line right now. Barack Obama tells voters how he wants to try to give them a better life. We're going to hear precisely what he's saying today.

And a surprise twist three years after Britain's worst attack since World War II.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: 2008 has not been a happy year for thousands of Americans. Starting in January, and for every month of this year so far, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, unable to find others. And that number swelled. The total number of people out of work this year, now close to half a million. Edged up the unemployment rate once began.

Our Senior Correspondent Allan Chernoff has details from New York -- Allan.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SR. CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, economists can debate whether or not we're in a rescission, but if you look at the employment picture alone, there is little debate. The unemployment rate shot up to 5.7 percent last month, up two-tenths of one percent from the prior month and at a four-year high.

And in terms of jobs, we lost more jobs once again. Every single month this year we've lost jobs, down by 51,000 during July, and it was across the economy: construction, manufacturing, services like retailing, computer technology, even telecom. There's only been growth in health care, and also, of course, in the energy sector. If you total it all up for the entire year thus far, we've lost 463,000 jobs.

Now, economists will look at this and say, hey, the number for July, it wasn't that bad. It could have been a lot worse. But why is it then that unemployment is rising so much?

Well, what happened during the month is that a lot of people who were not working went back into the workforce to try to find jobs. They were looking at higher prices, of course, at the gas pump, in the super market, maybe even facing foreclosure. People saying, hey, I've got to be earning more money.

The problem is though, a lot of these people going back into the workforce were not able to find work. Therefore, the unemployment rate shot up now at a four-year high -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Not good numbers.

Allan Chernoff working the numbers for us.

By the way, the job lows and the new unemployment high caused us to ask this question: How many jobs need to be added each month to the U.S. economy to simply keep up with the population growth of working age people, young people especially, entering the job market every month? So we checked.

Most economists say the economy needs to add between 100,000 and 150,000 jobs every month simply to keep up with population growth. Obviously, that is not happening so far this year.

Summer is surely a season for fun and vacation. Millions of Americans leaving their work behind, off to the beaches, exotic trips, relaxing away at home. And that's exactly what U.S. lawmakers are up to next. They've left important work behind to start a five-week recess. Lawmakers here in Washington say they need a break, but many of you also would like a break, especially from those high gas prices.

CNN's Brianna Keilar is working this part of the story for us.

As is always the case at this time of the year, Brianna, there's a speedy exit from Congress.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was like the last day of school here. Only, instead of kids runs for the doors, it was members of Congress rushing to the airport.


KEILAR (voice-over): Cars parked outside the Capitol Building standing ready to whisk members of Congress off to the airport. On the House floor, Republicans heckled a vote to adjourn for a five-week break.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I asked for a recorded vote.

KEILAR: They insisted Democrats stay until they pass an energy bill that includes opening up protected areas for offshore oil drilling.

REP. ADAM PUTNAM (R), FLORIDA: We are demanding that we not have a recess. In just a few minutes, those steps are going to be covered up with members of Congress making the ultimate race to the airport, when they should be staying here.

KEILAR: But Democrats say Republican energy proposals are misguided, that more offshore drilling won't bring gas prices down, and would be a gift to oil companies that should drill in areas they have already leased.

And, so, the summer exodus begins without any compromise, except for one bipartisan moment, an agreement to stop stockpiling oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Republicans and Democrats have spent weeks debating renewable energy, conservation, speculation in oil markets, and a slew of other proposals, with nothing to show for it, except partisan sniping.

The blame game continued as Congress left town.

REP. BRAD MILLER (D), NORTH CAROLINA: We have had 12 years of Republicans whose idea of an energy policy is doing hardly anything about developing other sources of energy, hardly anything about developing energy-efficient technologies, and giving subsidies and tax breaks to an oil and gas industry that is already making obscene profits.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: The Democrat leaders in this Congress have been thumbing their nose at the American people now for nine weeks. And here we're going home for five weeks. And I think this is a giant insult to the American people that we would leave here without having a vote on this issue.


KEILAR: Republicans point to a majority of Americans who support offshore oil drilling. And that's one of the points they were driving home up until a few moments ago on the House floor. Despite the fact that lights were dimmed, that cameras and microphones were off, Republicans were still railing against Democrats on energy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna, thanks very much, watching everybody get out of town here in Washington.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: The New York City Police Department is looking for you to help fight crime. But wait until you hear how the city is enlisting New Yorkers to take on criminals.

Also, is someone trying to scare voters into donating to Republicans? You're going to hear about about questionable new political tactic. Stand by for that.

And in an age of cutting back on gas, they represent gas guzzlers. The Hummer, what if you wanted to get one right now, especially now that its maker wants to get rid of the brand?

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


BLITZER: If some Democrats have their way, this election will certainly be a referendum on George W. Bush and how John McCain might continue his legacy. But if some Republicans get their way, this election will be a referendum on Barack Obama and whether he is ready to lead.

Let's go to Bill Schneider. He's looking into this intriguing story for us.

What's the most surprising thing so far about this race, Bill?



SCHNEIDER (voice-over): With an unpopular president and a bad economy, this election is not supposed to be close.

Asked whether they would rather see a Democrat or a Republican elected president, voters said they prefer a Democrat, by 12 points. But, in CNN's latest poll of polls, Barack Obama is only three points ahead of John McCain. So far, the election looks more like a referendum on Obama than on President Bush. Many voters don't know much about Obama. McCain is trying to fill in the blanks.


NARRATOR: He's the biggest celebrity in the world.

CROWD: Barack Obama!

NARRATOR: But is he ready to lead?


SCHNEIDER: Those ads may be keeping the race close.

EVAN TRACEY, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, CAMPAIGN MEDIA ANALYSIS GROUP: Negative ads make undecided voters just that much more undecided. So, what it can do is have a way of at least freezing the race in place.

SCHNEIDER: The Obama campaign is responding.


NARRATOR: He's practicing the politics of the past. John McCain, his attacks on Barack Obama not true, false, baloney, the low road, baseless.


SCHNEIDER: Obama is trying to avoid falling into McCain's trap.

TRACEY: I think the McCain campaign would like nothing more than to get the Obama campaign in a back and forth with negative ad that sort of carries through the fall. This obviously works against Senator Obama's caricature of being a new kind of politician.

SCHNEIDER: McCain's negative strategy is keeping the focus on Obama. By nearly 2-1, voters say they are paying more attention to what kind of president Obama would be than what kind of president McCain would be.


SCHNEIDER: McCain is making the campaign a referendum on Obama. What can Obama do about it? Well, he's trying to answer McCain's charges and stay above the fray at the same time. That takes a lot of discipline -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Not easy work, by any means.

All right, but they want to be president of the United States. They both have to work really hard at that -- Bill Schneider working the story.

We want to remind you that CNN has been launching a fresh effort to help you get to know both of these presidential candidates, where they stand on the most important issues. Each hour, we're going to bring you more of what they have been saying on the campaign trail to help you decide, unfiltered, in their own words.

Earlier, you heard from Senator McCain at his news conference in Panama City, Florida. Now Senator Barack Obama on a top issue for you.


OBAMA: Back in the 1990s, your incomes grew by an average of $6,000, and over the last several years with George Bush in office, they have actually fallen $1,000. So the first thing I want to do, Florida, is just ask you a very simple question. Do you think that you are better off? Now than you were four years ago or eight years ago?


OBAMA: And if you don't think you're better off, do you think you can afford another four years of the same failed economic policies that we've had under George W. Bush?


OBAMA: You can't afford it.


OBAMA: You know, for so many families, these anxieties are getting worse, not better.

I woke up, looked at your newspaper this morning that said that Florida was in recession for the first time in 16 years, the first time in 16 years that the economy in Florida shrank, instead of grew. People are starting to lose faith, not only in their own prospects, but in their ability to pass on a better life to their children and to their grandchildren. They feel as if the American dream is slowly slipping away, the idea that if you work hard, you can pass on a better life, the idea that's behind this country, the idea that you can make it if you try.

People feel like that is slipping away. A lot of people are trying, but they're having a tough time making it. Now, part of this has to do with changes in the economy. And I don't think any of us can deny that the economy is different now. It is globalized. Technology and communications revolutions mean that jobs can go to anywhere where there's an Internet terminal.

So, some of these jobs, some of the economy was going to change no matter who was in office. We have got to recognize that.

Children in Saint Petersburg are now competing not just against kids in California or Indiana; they're going to be competing against children in Beijing and Bangalore. And that means we're going have to work smarter. We're going to have to educate our children more effectively, in order to compete in this international economy.


BLITZER: Senator Obama earlier today.

Remember, we're going to be bringing you excerpts of what they have been saying, both of these candidates, from now until Election Day, November 4.

Coming up in our "Strategy Session": a new McCain Web video spoofing Senator Obama as -- quote -- "the one." Is it over the top, though?

And CNN exclusive on the latest in series of mishaps involving America's nuclear ships and weapons, the possible danger and what went wrong.

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


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

Carol, what is going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, delay of justice in the worst attack against London since World War II.

British media say a jury cannot decide the guilt or innocence of three men accused of helping to plan the 2005 subway and bus bombings. Those attacks left 52 people dead. Because there's no verdict, the men were discharged. They have always said they were innocent. And it's unclear if there will be a retrial.

It's a bizarre and grotesque story. In Canada, prosecutors want a psychiatric assessment of a man charged with murder. On Wednesday night, he and others were on a Greyhound bus from Edmonton to Winnipeg. Out of nowhere, witnesses describe a blood-curdling scream. They say the man pulled out a large butcher knife and began stabbing the man next to him. The attacker then allegedly cut off the man's head. It's unclear what prompted the attack.

And one year ago in Minneapolis, the Interstate 35 bridge collapsed during evening rush hour. Thirteen people died. But, today, many people remembered. Some people sang. Others prayed. And, still, others cried. It's the first major public observance of the collapse since last year -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we remember covering that story. Our heart goes out to all of those families who suffered.

Carol, thank you.

In our "Strategy Session": Why is the member of the Republicans' House Campaign Committee telling members -- the Republican members -- if necessary, to stay away from their party's convention in Saint Paul?

And the McCain campaign invokes images of Moses to question Obama's readiness. Will the biblical reference backfire? Donna Brazile and Leslie Sanchez, they're standing live for our "Strategy Session."


BLITZER: John McCain's campaign continues its stream of negative ads against Barack Obama. In the past few days, the campaign has used Paris Hilton and Britney Spears to mock Barack Obama. Now it's raising the specter of God.

Here for our "Strategy Session," two CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez.

Ladies, thanks very much for coming in.

You heard Senator McCain defend this latest sort of -- it's a Web video. It really isn't a commercial. They just put it out on the Web. And I'm going to play a little clip from this latest effort to go after Senator Obama.


NARRATOR: It should be known that, in 2008, the world will be blessed.

AUDIENCE: Barack Obama!

NARRATOR: They will call him the one.

OBAMA: A nation healed, a world repaired.


CHARLTON HESTON, ACTOR: Behold his mighty hand.

AUDIENCE: Obama! Obama! Obama!


BLITZER: All right, you get the point. They're having a little fun at the expense of Senator Obama.

But there's a very serious effort under way by the McCain campaign, Donna, to -- to -- to make him the issue, not George Bush, not the Republicans, who have been in power in the White House over the past eight years, but to raise questions about his ability to lead.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, we have seen over the last couple of months that the McCain campaign cannot settle on an argument to diminish Senator Obama's stature in the poll and his lead. And, therefore, they're mocking him at every turn, whether they use his words or use his image. But, you know, the funny thing about this ad and some of the other ads, Wolf, is that I think the American people know the difference between substance and -- and the superficial. And they know that, at a time when we have lost another 50,000 jobs, they want -- they want a plan for how we bring our jobs back, now how we bring Moses back.

BLITZER: And, today, responding to McCain's -- the McCain campaign and Senator McCain's accusation that Senator Obama has injected the race card into this effort, he said this, Senator Obama: "There was nobody there -- when he was speaking -- "who thought at all that I was trying to inject this -- inject race in this. What this has become, I think, is a typical pattern from the McCain campaign, whether it's Paris Hilton or Britney or this phony allegation that I wouldn't visit troops. They seem to be focused on a negative campaign. What I think our campaign wants to do is focus on the issues that matter to American families."



BLITZER: You know, he wants to talk about the issues, and the McCain campaign is making fun of Senator Obama.

SANCHEZ: Well, we have a -- well, I think there's a fair point to be made. I think it's a clumsy effort, and you should probably leave the comedy to Jon Stewart and the people that do it well.

But, basically, it's almost like Barack Obama is this big Macy's Day hot air balloon moving down the street, and John McCain is trying to prick a hole in it. He's saying, there's this soaring rhetoric, but it really flatlines when it comes to the accomplishments and the things that he wants to do to change it. You're talking about the energy crisis.

He's basically, they say, Dr. No. He's against drilling. He's against nuclear. He's against the gas tax holiday. He's talking about more -- you know, pulling 16 months out of Iraq, but he's against the surge and all the efforts that went for it. I mean, he's talking about education reform...

BLITZER: All right.


SANCHEZ: ... and he's against school choice.


BRAZILE: Leslie, but here's the problem. They don't -- they don't want to discuss those issues, because then they would have to bring up the Republican record on all of those issues. And that's the reason why John McCain would prefer to mock Senator Obama, and not go into Senator Obama's energy plan, or the fact that Senator Obama has put forward the idea that we need a second stimulus plain to help states and localities that are suffering, like California, which, of course, yesterday, the governor announced he's laying off jobs, and in Florida.

SANCHEZ: You know, I think there's a -- there's a -- John McCain has basically called out Barack Obama and say, let's have 10 different town halls. Let's talk about the issues in more substantive ways. Can't seem to get his attention that way. Perhaps he can get it this way.

BLITZER: What do you think, Leslie, about this recommendation from the Republican leadership in charge of trying to get Republicans reelected in the House and elected to the House, you know what, stay away from that Republican Convention, if necessary, in St. Paul?


BLITZER: Go work with the constituents. Save yourself, because going to the Republican Convention probably is not going to do you much good.

SANCHEZ: That's absolutely correct.

I talked to Tom Cole about that. That's the same advice...

BLITZER: He's the chairman of this Republican Congressional Committee.

SANCHEZ: Exactly. It's the same advice you would give anybody who's in a competitive race, who's in an open Republican seat, who is maybe trying to defeat an incumbent Democrat. It's good, strong advice. I would rather have them in western New York than going to a fund-raiser, which basically, Donna and I know, that's what a lot of them are. There's a lot of candidates who fly in for a day, they schmooze, and basically fly out. There's some hard work that needs be done. He's absolutely right.

BRAZILE: That's more credentials for people like me, who might find some time to go and visit Leslie at the Republican Convention.


BRAZILE: Look, I think it's embarrassing, but it's understandable, given the -- the brand that the Republicans and the -- and they're really scared right now.

But I think that this is a moment to redefine the Republican Party.

BLITZER: Why is this presidential...


BLITZER: Why is this presidential race, Florida, Pennsylvania -- maybe not necessarily in Pennsylvania, but in Ohio, so, so close right now, according to these latest Quinnipiac University polls? BRAZILE: But it was also close, you know, four years ago.


BLITZER: Shouldn't Obama be way ahead, given...


BLITZER: ... given the right track/wrong track numbers for the country right now?

BRAZILE: No, there is no magic want out here.

Wolf, look, we have an equally divided electorate. We still have Republicans who are holding on to their party identity, and -- and Democrats doing the same.

And, trust me, in the battleground states, Senator Obama is doing quite well.

BLITZER: We will see. It's only August 1, right, August 2, whatever it is.


SANCHEZ: I don't know. Fifty percent approval rating Democrats had when they went in. They have got 9 percent, the lowest in history. They're not doing their job.

BLITZER: Guys, stand by, because we will continue this discussion many times in the days and weeks to come.

We're learning more about the scientist the FBI says was involved in the anthrax attacks back of -- back in 2001. You're going to hear his story as well from his co-workers and friends. That's coming up. Brian Todd is on the scene.

Plus, it sounds too good to be true, but researchers say it's working on mice -- just ahead, the pill that might replace exercise.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker": Wal-Mart reportedly is sending a warning throughout its company about what might happen if Democrats win the White House.

"The Wall Street Journal" says the retail giant is summoning store managers and department heads to tell them that Democrats will likely try to change federal law to make it easier for workers to unionize. "The Journal" quotes a Wal-Mart spokesman as confirming the meetings took place, but he denied any effort by Wal-Mart to tell employees how to vote.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out That's also where you can download our new political screen saver as well.

Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, is how much does a candidate's physical appearance matter to you?

James in New York writes: "Truthfully speaking, among televised, highly-publicized people, looks do matter. You have to look like a winner if you are going to lead a nation of winners. Looks, however, only get you so far, and then you have to dazzle them with your brilliance. Barack Obama just looks presidential. And, when he speaks, you can feel that Harvard education coming out of him, while his opponent sure was something a couple of decades ago -- sorry, but it's true."

Shirley in Ohio: "Sadly, Jack, looks matter. I never watch the State of the Union addresses. But, if Obama wins, I will watch it, not only because he is an intelligent person, but also because he looks good. It is kind of like when the Rock was on WWE wrestling. My boys..."


CAFFERTY: "My boys had to call me when it was time for Rock to wrestle. Now Rock no longer wrestles, and I do not watch it anymore."

Nancy writes: "Is there anything else that is going to be a disadvantage for Obama? He's too skinny. He's too black. He's too smart. He's too arrogant. He's an elitist. He's a celebrity. Give me a break. For those people who are trying to find any excuse not to vote for him, why don't you just call yourself a racist and get it over with?"

Karen writes: "Jack, looks don't matter to me. I was never at that stage where I needed to have a drink with the president. I would rather have a president who doesn't drive me to drink. Therefore, I don't think looks are all that important. I would, however, appreciate having a president who has a brain and is able to string together sentences coherently."

Paul in California writes: "Not at all, unless you're old, bald and stupid."

John in Santa Barbara writes: "If he could get us out of this mess we're in, I would vote for Jabba the Hutt."

And Jed in Texas writes: "If Howdy Doody can become president, anyone can."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at Look for yours there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.