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Obama Keeps Everyone Guessing; Train Derailment in Oklahoma; McCain Camp Preps for Obama's VP Choice

Aired August 22, 2008 - 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, Barack Obama keeps all of us guessing. We're standing by for the announcement of his running mate. This is the place to get the first word on Obama's choice when the news breaks.
I'll pump Obama senior adviser Greg Craig for information. He's standing by live. He'll be here.

The McCain campaign is on the red alert right now for Obama's big reveal. Republicans are digging for dirt on the top contenders right now. We're going to tell you what they're coming up with already.

And I'll speak with a McCain supporter, the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal. He's standing by live as well.

And major progress on a plan for U.S. troops to leave Iraq. A big exodus would happen on the next president's watch. Obama and McCain allies are weighing in on the agreement and what it means for the race for the White House.

Lots of news happening.

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

Barack Obama is proving today that he knows how to build suspense and keep a secret. He could announce his running mate right literally at any moment. The exact timing and his choice still are mysteries right now, a day after he acknowledged he had already made up his mind.

Our correspondents and cameras are out in force, they're digging for information. We're simply waiting. We've been staking out the homes of three of the top contenders: Senator Joe Biden, Senator Evan Bayh, and the Virginia governor, Tim Kaine. And we just heard from Senator Hillary Clinton herself. She was asked what Obama needs in a potential running mate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Whatever he decides he needs. That's for him to decide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think?

CLINTON: I am not in that arena. This is his decision, and I respect him to make it however he believes is best for him, and for our party and for the country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you feel like you've been pushing enough for him? Some people say -- you know, they think that you should say "Barack Obama" all the time and you haven't been mentioning him enough and railing enough support for him.

CLINTON: Well, I think again, that's perhaps a misperception about both what I've done and the fact that I've probably done more for Senator Obama than anybody in my position has ever done by this time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And we're going to be hearing a lot more from Hillary Clinton here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stand by for that.

Another Democrat is acknowledging that he is in the running to be Obama's vice president. Congressman Chet Edwards of Texas says he's been vetted by the Obama campaign, and he spoke exclusively with CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CHET EDWARDS (D), TEXAS: I've been considered throughout this process. And Speaker Pelosi has been a strong advocate in my behalf. But I respected the process from day one, and I want to continue to do that today and allow any details about the process and the final decisions to be made by Senator Obama and their campaign, not by anyone else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're also staking out positions in Chicago -- that's where Senator Obama is right now -- including over at Midway Airport, not far away from his headquarters. Obama is in Chicago and he's not saying much today.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is in Chicago. Our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, is already in Denver, getting ready for the convention.

Candy, let me start with you. What are you hearing? Because the suspense, at least for some of us, is building dramatically.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reason the suspense is building is because we're hearing very, very little. In fact, zero at this point.

There is lots of speculation, and understand that the people who knew this, at least as of last night, was a very small group here. They have been told in no uncertain terms that this was not a leak, and so far they are earning their keep, and that hasn't happened.

I can tell you that at other levels of the staff, they have been pretty much kept in the dark other than the process. They are preparing -- even those who are sort of preparing for whoever the selection is, are preparing different sets of bios. That kind of thing.

So at the moment, we are waiting for that text message, or from the candidate himself, as in the vice presidential candidate. That is generally where you do first get word, is someone around that candidate begins to talk a little.

BLITZER: Somebody hasn't started talking yet though. It's pretty unusual, isn't it, Candy, that they could keep a secret this long?

CROWLEY: It's pretty good. I have seen some of the best of them, in fact, keep it a secret right up until those final hours.

I remember standing on a street corner in Russell, Kansas, waiting for Bob Dole to announce his vice presidential candidate. And word leaked from the convention, which was already under way or being prepared to at least start. So it comes from different directions, and there have been people that have been able to keep it, but this rollout is so long.

We've been talking about this for two weeks. Generally, there's sort of a shorter time for us to talk about it.

BLITZER: Gloria, you're obviously in close touch with a lot of folks in the Obama camp and related circles, shall we say. What are you hearing?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I'm hearing -- I just got off the phone with somebody who I would say is once removed from the inner circle. And as Candy said, there are really only a handful of people who know.

This person told me that the vice presidential pick has already been told, that he or she has been chosen. And now it's just a matter of figuring out when they do it.

This person said to me, look, what you want to do is coordinate these text messages they're sending out to volunteers and to supporters with the announcement because they want their volunteers to feel like they're really a part of the process, and that we in the media haven't got -- gotten a scoop on anything before they find out. So that's how they're trying to orchestrate this right now.

The assumption is that on Saturday, Obama will appear with his vice presidential pick. But at this point, the person knows, we just don't know.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by. We're all watching, we all have our little BlackBerrys, our cell phones, waiting for that text message from Senator Barack Obama.

Thanks, Gloria, standing by in Denver.

Here's a horrible story that's just developing, just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Carol Costello is working the story involving some trains. The pictures are awful. What do we know?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We don't know very much, Wolf, but I'll fill you in with what I know.

We know this is a freight train. It was not a passenger train. We know it's in Oklahoma County, Oklahoma.

We know that hazmat teams from surrounding communities are on the scene right now, trying to control this blaze. And you know when it's on fire like that, something pretty nasty inside those freight train cars.

We don't know how the train caught fire, whether it derailed, whether it ran into something. We're trying to find out that information. But by the pictures, Wolf, it's just an ugly fire. And I'll try to find out more for you.

BLITZER: Well, at least it's a freight train, not a passenger train. And that's good news.

All right. When we get more information, Carol, you'll share it with us.

Let's get back to the race for the White House.

John McCain is enjoying some downtime at his home in Arizona. His campaign is just as eager as the rest of us to learn the name of Obama's vice presidential choice.

Ed Henry is working this part of the story for us.

I guess they're preparing themselves. They're getting ready to pounce, they're getting ready to respond, as soon as they know who the choice is.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They're on the edge of their seats just like we are, Wolf. And I've been talking to Republicans close to the McCain camp all day who are basically saying that they're going to be -- and vowing that they'll be as ready with a rapid response as the Obama camp will be with the rollout.

They're saying they've got people standing by to come to CNN and every other network, push back whether it's Joe Biden or Evan Bayh. And also, they're putting together opposition research.

This used to be done, thick paperwork thrown into file folders, envelopes slipped under the door. Now in the digital age, they're putting together digital dossiers on every vote that these guys have cast. You know, every online video now with YouTube. And they're putting all that together.

And it's interesting. They have to put a file together obviously on Biden, on Bayh, on Chet Edwards. They don't know who it's going to be.

BLITZER: Well, if they pick Joe Biden, for example, I guess they're ready with some material to use against him.

HENRY: Oh, as you know, Joe Biden likes to talk. And he's kidded about that all the time. So there's all kinds of interviews he's done.

They're trying to find embarrassing clips. They're trying to pore through his Senate record.

He's been in the Senate since 1972. He's voted obviously on thousands and thousands of things. But also looking particularly at the presidential campaign.

You'll remember there were some tough debates where Joe Biden, for example, last August, 2007, was asked whether he stood behind comments that Barack Obama is not experienced enough and that the presidency is not on-the-job training. Biden said he did stand behind that. They have that clip ready.

And they also have an interesting clip we just found today as well from Joe Biden's 1988 presidential campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: The White House isn't the place to learn how to deal with international crises, the balance of power, war and peace, and the economic future of the next generation. A president has got to know the territory. But that's not enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: What's funny about that, obviously now, it's almost a script that could have been written by the McCain campaign about how you need to be ready on day one.

They also obviously put together this quote from the beginning of Joe Biden's presidential campaign last year, where he told "The New York Observer" about Barack Obama. "I mean, you've got the first mainstream African-American who's articulate and bright and clean and a nice looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook man."

Obviously an embarrassing moment. We all remember it. Joe Biden apologized for it, he walked those comments back.

But this is the kind of thing that they're going to immediately hit the airwaves with. And it also is a reminder, if Joe Biden is the pick, he's somebody who at any moment could say something that might backfire on the campaign.

BLITZER: The Republicans, even before Joe Biden has the nomination, has been tapped. They're ready. They've got material ready to go.

HENRY: They're ready to hit the "send" button.

BLITZER: All right. Not that surprising.

Thanks very much for that.

Ed Henry working this story.

Meanwhile, as we're awaiting word of Barack Obama's vice presidential choice, there's been an important new development today that could change the presidential campaign debate over the Iraq war.

President Bush and the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, are moving forward with a new plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by 2011. The White House says the two leaders spoke by secure video on the proposal hammered out by U.S. and Iraqi negotiators.

It's not a done deal yet, but it does set a course for U.S. combat troops to leave major Iraqi cities by June of next year. A broader withdrawal would come two years later. The dates could be adjusted if military and political situations in Iraq deteriorate.

Brian Todd is looking into the possible impact of the plan on the McCain/Obama race.

Brian, what are the various campaigns saying?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're both claiming vindication here. Both saying that on the Iraq issue, at least, this deal takes the wind out of the other guy's sails.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): For both John McCain and Barack Obama, there's spin for the taking out of the proposed agreement for a complete U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2011.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It looks like the plan that I had talked about two years ago to start pulling our troops out in a responsible way.

TODD: Obama's aides and Democratic strategists also tell us they believe this isolates John McCain. Even the Bush administration has come around to a timetable for withdrawal, they say, and McCain's the only one who hasn't. Obama has long favored a timetable, but his is quicker -- withdrawal within 16 months from when he would take office.

McCain's supporters say, far from isolating him, this agreement justifies a stand he took when it wasn't popular.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He was one of the people that said the surge was necessary, and it plays very much to the fact that his strategy worked. And in essence, it was trying to create stability and security in Iraq so that U.S. forces could come home sooner.

TODD: Still, McCain's aides say he's sticking to his position against what they call an artificial timetable with a date certain.

So who's really got the advantage from this deal? Analysts who don't take a position say it all may depend on whether this agreement resolves the Iraq issue for voters.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: What voters are thinking about Iraq, it may play to McCain's strengths. If they're thinking about the economy, it will almost certainly play to Obama's strengths.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And of course that may depend on whether security conditions in the ground deteriorate between now and November 4th. Of course, that is the crux of both candidates' positions on Iraq. Security conditions on the ground, Wolf, that's everybody's out clause at this point.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thanks very much for that.

More on the Iraq part of the story coming up.

We're also watching this breaking story in the heartland, a freight train on fire right now. Carol Costello is working this story. We'll get you more information. A very dramatic train derailment there. Clearly, you can see these pictures.

As we get more information, we'll share it with you.

Also, Barack Obama's playing his vice presidential card very close to his chest. Is it though too much drama? I'll ask one of his senior advisers, Greg Craig. He's standing by live here. He'll explain the campaign's timing, the campaign's thinking, and a lot more.

And John McCain on the defensive over how many homes he and his wife own. Did he play right into Obama -- into the Obama camp's hands? I'll talk about that and more with the Louisiana governor, a top McCain supporter, Bobby Jindal. He's standing by live.

And our convention countdown from Denver. The stage is now set for the big party. It starts on Monday.

Stick around for a high-tech tour. You're watching THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Barack Obama has a secret. He's decided who he wants as his running mate. The announcement literally could come at any moment.

But while we await word, let's get some insight from inside the Obama campaign. Joining us now is one of Obama's top advisers, Greg Craig. He's a prominent Washington lawyer, also someone who worked in the Clinton administration.

Thanks very much for coming in.

GREG CRAIG, OBAMA SR. ADVISER: Good to be here, Wolf.

BLITZER: You obviously know already who he picked. Is that right?

CRAIG: No, I'm afraid I don't.

BLITZER: You don't know?

CRAIG: No.

BLITZER: Really? Even you don't know?.

CRAIG: Even I.

BLITZER: Do you know when the announcement will be made? You can tell me the truth.

CRAIG: I don't know.

BLITZER: You don't even know that?

CRAIG: No.

BLITZER: Because what's the holdup? What are we waiting for? Everyone is assuming that tomorrow in Springfield, the capital of Illinois, there's going to be a big event there, Obama and his running mate. Can we assume that's going to happen?

CRAIG: I came on this program to tell you I'm not a central person in this decision-making process.

BLITZER: Well, but you have been involved behind the scenes in a lot of this.

CRAIG: Right.

BLITZER: I mean, you helped them go through some of the vetting. You're a top Washington lawyer. I would assume that that's fair.

CRAIG: There were many, many lawyers involved and many, many vettings. But here's the story here, Wolf. This is the first major decision that Barack Obama has to make in front of the whole nation. And he has done it systemically, he's done it carefully, he's included a lot of people in the process in terms of candidates. And he's been very careful at this point because, you know, it's going to be something the country is going to make a decision about.

BLITZER: It will say a lot about who this man is.

CRAIG: Exactly.

BLITZER: Not the vice presidential candidate, but who Barack Obama is.

CRAIG: It will reflect his priorities. And, you know, he's been saying the right thing on this, that the person who should be vice presidential candidate should be also a person who's a plausible president.

BLITZER: Someone who could step in, God forbid, if that is necessary.

CRAIG: Exactly.

BLITZER: And someone he says he wants to challenge him and not just be a "yes" person.

CRAIG: Exactly. He wants someone who is an independent person, someone who has his own ideas, or her own experience.

And you ask about the timing and the politics of all this, the rollout and the unveiling. I think it's dictated by the process. And I think if you look at the way this process has been conducted, it's done right. He's done it systemically and carefully.

BLITZER: Is it possible that someone who was not vetted during these last several weeks could in fact get selected? Because Politico, as you know, Politico.com saying that Hillary Clinton, she has never been vetted for this possibility, even though he said she would be on anybody's shortlist.

CRAIG: Senator Clinton is the first one to tell you that she has been vetted and she's ready to serve. She's said that time and time again.

BLITZER: She's been vetted for 20 years...

CRAIG: Yes.

BLITZER: ... as a public figure. But she hasn't been vetted in the last few weeks, apparently, according to the Politico.com and others.

CRAIG: I don't know that. I think that Senator Clinton is well known. Her service is well known. Her record is well known.

And she herself said to the world that she's been vetted and ready to serve. I don't dispute that. I think she's highly qualified and would be a plausible vice presidential candidate because she's ready to be president.

BLITZER: And so even if she hadn't been vetted, she's one of the few that wouldn't necessarily need to be vetted. Is that what you've saying?

CRAIG: Absolutely. I think she has been vetted, Wolf.

BLITZER: You do think she has been vetted?

CRAIG: Yes.

BLITZER: Oh, so Politico.com is wrong.

CRAIG: Well, are you talking about the process?

BLITZER: Oh, I see. You say she's been vetted 20 years...

CRAIG: She has been vetted.

BLITZER: ... but she hasn't been necessarily vetted specifically over the past few weeks.

CRAIG: I don't know the answer to that. She may well have had some vetting. But I do know that she's a known quantity. The country knows her, Senator Obama knows her. She's well known.

BLITZER: All right. Here's what she said today when she was asked specifically whether she should be doing more, could be doing more to help Senator Obama. I want to play this little clip.

CRAIG: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Most people never got around to endorsing the winning candidate until the convention. Sometimes even later. So I think it's a fair assessment that I've done more than anybody has done in my position, and I intend to keep doing everything that I can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think? Has she done enough already to try to help Senator Obama become the next president of the United States?

CRAIG: Well, I personally have absolutely no complaints. I thought her going down to Florida, which is a state that has enormous importance in this campaign, for her in the middle of August to go down there and campaign the way she did was terrific. And I didn't see the merit of the story in the papers this morning that she was insufficiently excited.

I think that trip was very important to a lot of Obama people, that she went down there and did that campaign. I have no complaints about Senator Clinton's support for Obama.

BLITZER: And what about the man you defended during the impeachment process? You were one of his top lawyers, her husband, Bill Clinton.

CRAIG: Well, you hear rumors about the president. And I have no basis to believe that he's not supportive. I mean, he is a leader of the Democratic Party, and he will always be a leader of the Democratic Party.

BLITZER: Can the Democrats unite, the Clinton forces and the Obama forces coming out of this convention going forward? Because that could make or break his desire to be president.

CRAIG: You watch it happen. It's going to be a spectacular convention. And the unity that's going to come out, you'll be able to feel it.

BLITZER: Greg Craig, thanks very much for coming in.

CRAIG: Nice to be here.

BLITZER: When will my BlackBerry start buzzing do you think?

CRAIG: Any time now.

BLITZER: Really? Any time now.

He knows but he's not telling us.

All right.

Thanks very much.

Greg Craig joining us.

Our CNN teams, by the way, are all across the country. We're following every possible vice presidential candidate right now. We're not simply waiting for our BlackBerrys to start vibrating.

Here's a live picture, for example, of Midway Airport near downtown Chicago. Barack Obama's plane is there. Who else might be landing there? Who might have already landed to get ready for a major announcement that literally could happen any time now?

Plus, take a look at this. This is a live look at a train disaster in Oklahoma. Hazmat crews are now on the scene, smoke can be seen literally for miles.

Carol Costello working the story. We'll have the latest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Also coming up, terror watch list. The system is flawed and a proposed fix could make the situation potentially even worse. We're trying to sort it all out.

And as Barack Obama keeps the secret, the World Wide Web is churning about his likely vice presidential pick.

Our own Abbi Tatton, she's standing by to go online.

Stay with us. We're waiting to hear. It could happen any time, when Barack Obama decides to announce his vice presidential selection.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, Russia claims it is pulling its forces out of the Republic of Georgia. But the U.S. and the former Soviet republic aren't buying it. Georgia says the Russians are "just changing military hats."

Harsh words from the CIA for the author David Suskind. The nation's spy agency says Suskind's claim that it falsified evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq are offensive.

And Barack Obama has a half brother named George. He lives in a Nairobi slum, but he says reports that he is impoverished are greatly exaggerated. George Obama tells CNN he lives well and wishes the best for his brother.

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

Barack Obama's secret could be revealed any time now. He has made up his mind as far as his vice presidential choice is concerned, but still no official word on who it or exactly when the big announcement will happen.

We have our cameras glued to the homes of possible running mates and the Chicago airport where one of them could be whisked away. When we know, you will know.

First, though, let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's in Denver watching all of this for us.

Bill, this has been a -- a rather tough choice for Barack Obama, by all accounts.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it certainly has. He has to figure out whether he wants to go for change or experience.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OBAMA: Hello, Chesapeake!

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Barack Obama could choose a running mate who reinforces his message of change.

OBAMA: We are going to fundamentally bring about change in America.

SCHNEIDER: How about a Washington outsider, like Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius? Women are often seen as political outsiders...

GOV. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: The finest of the fine.

SCHNEIDER: Or Virginia Governor Tim Kaine?

OBAMA: Tim Kaine got in this thing for the right reasons.

SCHNEIDER: On the other hand, Obama's limited experience seems to be a weakness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What process would you use to pull in the experience that you would need?

SCHNEIDER: He could go for Senator Hillary Clinton, who's been in Washington since 1992, or Evan Bayh, two-term governor of Indiana, two-term senator.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: A staff member.

SCHNEIDER: Joe Biden has been in the Senate for 36 years. How's that for experience?

OBAMA: I have joined with people like Joe Biden to increase $1 billion of investment.

SCHNEIDER: Is it possible for Obama to do both, reinforce his message of change and reassure voters he has people around him with experience?

OBAMA: The key to bringing about change in Washington is going to be to get some good people in there, get a good president, get a good senator, get good congressmen in there.

SCHNEIDER: Chet Edwards has been in Congress for 18 years. He's a moderate Democrat who sometimes supports President Bush and sometimes opposes him.

REP. CHET EDWARDS (D), TEXAS: We have had a lot of disagreements on how to end the Iraq war and -- and on the budget plan of the administration.

SCHNEIDER: After all, he's President Bush's congressman.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Obama talks a lot about bipartisanship and ending the partisan gridlock in Washington. Now, that would certainly be a change -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill.

Bill is already in Denver. I will be off there later tonight.

Also watching closely for Obama's announcement are the cyber- speculators who snapped up Web addresses containing the names of possible running mates. They always do this.

Abbi Tatton is working this story for us.

So, what are some of the sites we're looking at already?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, from ObamaHillary.com to ObamaSebelius, some of those domain names were snapped up years ago. And the owners of them are watching, just like we are, to find out who has hit the jackpot.

ObamaBiden.com. this was bought in 2006 by Lyle Dean of San Francisco. He says that he has no political experience, no Web experience. He just really like that ticket.

And then there's ObamaBayh.com. This one was bought in 2005. Indiana Web developer Noah Coffey says he wanted to buy the other one, BayhObama.com, but they had already been snapped up. So, he ended buying -- up buying this one. The traffic to these Web sites right now is negligible, but that could change at any time when this announcement is made, something that happened in 2004, when the Kerry-Edwards ticket was announced, and KerryEdwards.com, that site's value soared. The Kerry-Edwards campaign told "The Washington Post" in 2004 they made inquiries about buying this Web site, but its owner, Mr. Kerry Edwards, of Indianapolis, wouldn't sell for their price -- Wolf.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: That's pretty good. We will see if anybody has the first and the last name, you know, Obama Clinton, Obama Biden, Obama Bayh. We will see...

TATTON: That would be unlikely, but we will wait and see.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: It would be pretty unlikely, but you never know in this day and age.

All right, thanks very much.

The stage already set in Denver, the Democrats unveil their convention podium today with a lot of flash over on the floor of the Pepsi Center. The location means a lot, especially to the delegations angling for a prime spot.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is already there. He's on the floor.

You got a little version over there, John, of our -- of our magic wall. Give us a sense of what you're going to share with our viewers over the next several days.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf you just mentioned it. Here's our magic wall, viewers familiar with it from the primaries. This is a portable version we have right down here.

We are right down on the convention floor. And you will see it when you get here over the weekend. This map, our viewers are familiar with. This is the Democratic primaries and how they played out, the dark blue Obama states, the light blue Clinton states. Texas, remember, had that split process. Well, this is how all that translates here at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

This is a floor diagram of what the floor will look like. And I am going to circle this front-and-center area and take you through some of the highlights. Barack Obama is what? He's a senator from Illinois. Look at this, front and center, the Illinois delegation. You want to know where the presidential battleground states are? How about Florida, right down here in the front?

Indiana, a red state that Barack Obama would like to turn blue, right here. New Mexico, Nevada, New Hampshire, Colorado, Michigan, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Iowa. Now, how does Vermont get up there? Well, remember, Howard Dean is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Wolf, and the former governor of Vermont. So, he's using his privileges, if you will, to put his delegation front and center.

It's a small, cozy hall. They're doing the finishing touches, testing some of the music and microphones right now. You will love it when you get here, Wolf. Once they start packing all the delegates in here, this is going to be a very crowded, very excited hall.

BLITZER: It's going to be thousands of people.

Take us around the -- the hall a little bit, John. Give us a -- give us a little flavor of what we're about to experience.

KING: I will do that by walking right off our anchor platform, Wolf, which is right down on the floor.

The California delegation is just behind me. And, as I step down now again, remember, these seats will all be filled when the delegates start pouring in here early next week. Right here, the Pennsylvania delegation, a critical battleground state. We spent a lot of time on the floor with the Pennsylvania delegates in 2004. You can be sure we will be doing that again.

Just in front of them, moving up now, the Colorado delegation, obviously the host state, Colorado, but they're not getting those great seats just because they're the host of this convention. They're getting those great seats because this a huge battleground state. It's the reason the Democrats are out here trying to make a statement in the Mountain West.

Right here, the state of Iowa, that is where it all began for Barack Obama, prime real estate for the Iowa delegation. The smaller Vermont delegation, again, a tribute to Governor Dean, right up here in front.

And all across this hall, Wolf -- I'm going to ask Walter (ph) to spin with me this way as we come, just so you can see the podium. They're testing the music right now. And you can hear some of it. And you walk right down. And as he pans across the hall, you can see this is a cozy place.

And I know you were here, Wolf, a few years ago for the NBA All- Star Game. This is a pretty new hall. This is a fun hall. And when the Democrats pack in here, because they bring a full house of delegates in this cozy space, this will be a rocking place.

BLITZER: How's that Britney Spears mike and headset working so far, John?

(LAUGHTER)

KING: So far, so good. But, as you know, Wolf, it will get a lot louder between Monday and Wednesday.

And, then, of course, Thursday night -- we drove by Invesco Field earlier today, giant stadium. We will have a packed house in here, but just imagine Thursday night, for the finale, they expect about 80,000 people in that big stadium. We will try to keep the noise down.

BLITZER: The noise will be intense over at the Pepsi Center, over at Mile High Stadium, as well, the Invesco Field.

All right, we will -- we will be seeing you tomorrow out in Denver.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: John King will be joining us in a little while here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's got more to report.

The Obama camp says, John McCain is out of touch because he wasn't sure how many homes he and his wife owned. Could this dustup actually wind up hurting McCain, just as Obama gets ready for his convention closeup? We will speak about it with Louisiana Governor and top McCain supporter Bobby Jindal. He's standing by live.

And we're standing by for Barack Obama's vice presidential announcement. He's made up his mind.

Take a look at this. It's a live picture of Senator Evan Bayh's home right here in Washington. We have every potential candidate covered.

In our "Strategy Session": the pros and cons for Obama of keeping the world waiting for so long.

And the CIA pushes back hard against Ron Suskind's explosive allegation that the Bush administration paved the way for the Iraq war with forgery.

Earlier, I said David Suskind. I misspoke. Ron Suskind.

We will have a full report on what the CIA is now saying.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're standing by for Barack Obama's big vice presidential announcement. He's made up his mind. The announcement happen at any moment. Once we know, you will know.

The suspense and all the attention on the Democrats right now coming only three days before their convention in Denver.

At the same time, though, the Obama camp is trying to make the most out of a gaffe by John McCain, who seemed unsure about how many homes he and his wife actually own.

Joining us now is the Louisiana governor and McCain supporter Bobby Jindal.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: Wolf, thank you for having me.

BLITZER: I'm tempted to ask you, how many homes do you own?

(LAUGHTER)

JINDAL: Well, my wife and I have one home. I don't know if we own it or the bank owns it. But there's still a pretty good-sized mortgage on it. We have got the one house.

BLITZER: Well, I have been to your house and the governor's mansion in Baton Rouge. That's a -- and that's a pretty nice house that you don't own, the people of Louisiana own, but you live there.

JINDAL: Right. And we tell the kids every day, don't color on the wall. You know our kids are young. They're 6, 4 and 2. We tell them, you can't color on the walls. This is the people's house. You can go home and color on our walls, but not these walls.

You're right. It is very nice. It is the people's home.

BLITZER: How big of a problem is this for John McCain, that he didn't know how many homes he and his wife owned? Because the -- the impression you're -- you get, that he's out of touch, he doesn't know, he's an elitist. What do you think?

JINDAL: I think the whole thing is silly.

Look, the polls are tightening up. Senator Obama told us he was going to be a different kind of candidate. I think this is the kind of silliness voters just laugh at. It gave Senator McCain the chance to point out that Senator Obama earned $4 million last year, had the help of a convicted felon to buy him home.

But, at the end of the day, none of that matters. The real issue for American voters is, how do they keep their homes? They're worried about the mortgage crisis, the financial turmoil in the markets, what they're worried about.

And I think that the reason many of them will vote for Senator McCain is, he wants to cut their taxes. He wants to lower energy prices. Senator Obama, on the other hand, wants to raise taxes in many different areas, on energy, doesn't want to do more domestic production, doesn't like coal, natural gas, or nuclear energy.

So, you know, it's an entertaining dustup, but the reality is, I think this is what turns people off of politics. They look at both parties in Washington and say, stop playing gotcha. Stop throwing mud. What we really want to know is, what's your plan to help us buy and afford our own homes?

BLITZER: Because Senator Obama says he wants to cut taxes for the vast middle class out there, and only raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year, and that he claims that Senator McCain wants to cut taxes for the very, very wealthy.

JINDAL: You know, the funny thing with Senator Obama is, I'm having a hard time keeping up with what his tax positions are. He voted, as you know, for the Democratic budget, which would raise taxes for those families, those making $42,000, which isn't wealthy the last time I checked, individuals.

He also said at various times he wants to raise taxes on investors, on dividends, capital gains, Social Security. He's wanted to raise taxes on coal and natural gas. That impacts all of us that use those -- those forms of energy.

Now, I have seen that it has shifted from the top 1 percent, 2 percent, 5 percent. Taxes would start now, 10 years from now. What's clear to me is, he had dozens of chances to vote to lower taxes while in the Senate, in Congress. He didn't do that, over 90 times, didn't vote to cut taxes when he could have or vote to stop taxes from being raised.

Those are the issues. That's the debate we need to have.

(CROSSTALK)

JINDAL: And if he wants to explain his record differently, have that discussion. Don't get into this nonsense or silliness about going after each other's names or -- or gaffes. That's not the debate we need or deserve as a country.

BLITZER: Let me ask you for a quick explanation. It's a big story in Louisiana, in your state. You're not going to extend anti- discrimination law in your state that would bar discriminating against all sorts of people, including gays and lesbians.

And that's causing quite an uproar. Your predecessor, Kathleen Blanco, approved that legislation four years ago. You say it's not necessary. But there are -- there's a lot of an anger on this issue right now. Why don't you want to keep this law in effect?

JINDAL: Well, three things.

One, it should be no surprise. We said when she issued the order in '04 and again as a candidate for governor, we weren't going to renew the order. We expressed our concerns back then. It was -- "Times Picayune" did a big story about it in October of last year during the race.

Secondly, we strongly oppose discrimination in any form. And I think we have got good strong state and federal laws that prohibit that. But, thirdly, our -- one of our main concerns with the executive order, really, what we don't want is to create special classes, special rights.

But we also are worried about the impact on faith-based groups. Many faith-based groups have said this would interfere with their ability to partner with the state, especially the Department of Health and Hospitals. We have seen in Louisiana the great role of faith- based groups, especially after Katrina and Rita.

For those reasons, we said, we don't see the need for the executive order. But let me be clear. As the governor of Louisiana, we will not condone any form of discrimination. We condemn it. We oppose it. We have got good, strong state and federal laws to prohibit it.

For that reason, we didn't think it was necessary. Now, all of her executive orders, by law, expire today. So, it's not that we -- we basically aren't writing a new one to extend it, because all of her executive orders, by law, expire today.

BLITZER: All right, we will leave it there.

Governor, thanks for coming in.

JINDAL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: The question of the hour, who will be Barack Obama's vice presidential running mate?

Take a look at this. It's Joe Biden's home in Wilmington, Delaware. He's a possible choice. CNN crews are staked out across the country to try to get you the decision the moment it comes out. But why the big secret? We will talk about that in our "Strategy Session."

And how will John McCain's camp counter Obama's pick? Could it be a game-changer? We will assess.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Obviously, the most important question is, is this person prepared to be president? The second most important question, from my perspective, is, can this person help me govern? Are they going to be an effective partner in creating the kind of economic opportunity here at home and guiding us through some dangerous waters internationally?

And the third criteria for me, I think, was independence. I want somebody who is going to be able to challenge my thinking, and not simply be a yes person when it comes to policy-making.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Some hints there from Senator Barack Obama.

He's picked his vice presidential nominee, but he's not revealing a name, at least not yet. Why is he keeping the secret so long?

Let's sort it all out in our "Strategy Session" with two CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist Paul Begala and Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez.

You listened to him. Did you get a sense that he was giving us a hint who he might be picking in that sound bite? PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No. That could apply to a whole lot of people -- frankly, you.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: I could see an Obama-Blitzer ticket, even a McCain- Blitzer ticket, because you're right down the middle.

No, I think -- and those are -- those are the right criteria to have. I think -- I was interested in your interview with Greg Craig. It was my old colleague from the White House and now Senator Obama's adviser.

And I think how he's handled this has been very instructive, kept a tight lid, very professional, very impressive. I like that this anticipation is building. You know, it's like that Carly Simon.

Should I sing it?

BLITZER: Anticipation.

(LAUGHTER)

LESLIE SANCHEZ, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Please, no.

BEGALA (singing): Anticipation.

SANCHEZ: Really, no.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: OK.

SANCHEZ: That's all been great.

The one downside -- and it's important -- broke today. Mike Allen from "Politico" apparently reports that Senator Clinton was not at all on the short list. Now, Senator Obama said she would be. He said she would be on any anybody's short list.

BLITZER: What he reported is that she hasn't been vetted formally over the past few weeks, like others on the short list. But you heard Greg Craig say, she had been vetted for 20 years.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: But Joe Biden has been vetted for 36. I mean, he's been a powerful senator much longer than Hillary has.

BLITZER: So, you see that as a slap to her?

BEGALA: Well, you know, I very rarely do this. I'm going to take behind the scenes in Clinton land, OK?

There's two camps in Hillary land. There's the peacemakers and the PUMAs. I'm a peacemaker. The PUMAs, an acronym for party unity my Aunt Fannie, right, and they're still not behind Obama. These are the folks Senator Obama has to get. Some of them are stirring up a lot of trouble.

I don't like it. I'm a peacemaker. I donated the maximum to Senator Obama the day Hillary asked us to. But there's -- this story empowers the PUMA crowd, because they see this -- and I do, too -- as sort of disrespecting Senator Clinton and breaking Senator Obama's words.

It's the one glitch in what has otherwise been a beautiful process.

BLITZER: All right, Leslie?

SANCHEZ: I would call it far from a beautiful process. It's been an interesting process. It's a process divided on race and gender. We know that. I think that there's a lot of skepticism.

I mean, in all fairness, he came out and said she would be on anybody's short list -- just not his. And I think that's something that a lot of women in particular are going to look at him and say, there's the same old politician saying whatever he needs to.

I think there's a couple of interesting things with the delay in announcing his V.P. pick. It's like he has a secret, but doesn't want to tell anybody. One of the -- think of the massive speculation that has been built by every member of the press. Who is it? When is he going to announce it? Why is he going to announce it?

It's an amazing, almost P.T. Barnumesque type of showmanship, in terms of marketing this -- this announcement. But the second part, text messaging, all of -- millions of people are signing up right now, building a huge massive house file of people that can be mobilized or educated that last 60 days leading to the election. It's actually brilliant.

BLITZER: Because everybody wants to know first, so this is a way to expand their whole computer list, if you will.

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: I have Republicans calling saying, oh, I'm on the list.

I mean, now they have moved from Democrats, independents...

BLITZER: They will get a lot of -- they will get a lot of e- mails from that Obama campaign.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: And, of course, Senator McCain being on the cutting edge of technology for him is, I think papyrus is what he will use...

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: ... or etching it in granite. No, Obama...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: He is a 21st century candidate.

BLITZER: You made a very serious point. If she doesn't get selected by Barack Obama, you know, there's going to be some hard feelings. Is that what you're saying?

SANCHEZ: Yes.

BEGALA: No, no, I'm saying the fact that she wasn't vetted.

Look, I said this on this air. I didn't think -- I don't think it's a good job for her. I don't think it's a good fit. I think she's better in the Senate. I have not been agitating to see Hillary on the ticket. But I think the fact that he said she would be on the short list and then, according to published reports, has not followed through on that, it empowers a small segment of Hillary land that could cause a lot of trouble at the convention and later on.

It's the last thing Senator Obama needs, is to have the PUMAs energized.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And you know, Leslie, that Senator McCain is doing his best to reach out to those Hillary Clinton supporters, the ones who are still wavering, as far as Barack Obama is concerned, to bring them into his camp.

SANCHEZ: Absolutely.

I mean, look at the fact that, almost consistently, John McCain has earned about 16 percent to 17 percent of the Democrats. You have a lot of conservative Democrats have said the line, who want -- want to see -- don't want to see the American eagle become a sitting duck. These are the folks that really wanted a strong national security stance, somebody with experience, somebody principled, and leader -- that was a leader.

And they looked more to Hillary Clinton, even, in that role than they did a Barack Obama, who was such a political newbie. Very fair there. And I thought, you know, she talked about the 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling.

I think there's very much a resonating factor with women, who looked at this as an important person who needed to be respected. She ran a fair race. There were a lot of people telling her to get out early. And this kind of feeds into that.

BLITZER: You know, yesterday, you thought it was Joe Biden. What -- do you still think that?

BEGALA: I do. I do. I don't have any sources. As you can tell, I'm not all that plugged into Obama land.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: But, yes, I think -- I think it all sort of lines up right for Senator Biden, a terrific guy, politically, really good with the kind of blue-collar lunch bucket. He's an Irish Catholic guy from Scranton originally, now senator from Delaware.

But, also, substantively, he does meet those criteria that Senator Obama was charting out. He would clearly be qualified to take the office. He would be an excellent adviser. And I think he would very much challenge Obama's thinking. It could be any of the ones that were talked about, but I still am betting on Biden.

SANCHEZ: I think very much still a flawed candidate, somebody who has had a little bit of foot-in-mouth disease that some political candidates have. And I think this is going to be an example of people waiting to see if the other shoe drops with him.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

We are waiting and watching for Barack Obama's big announcement. As soon as we hear it, you will hear it as well. Stand by.

There are other major stories, though, that we're working on, including some important news coming from Georgia and Russia. Russian troops are on the move once again. CNN's Michael Ware is on the Georgian border. We're standing by live to speak with him.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker" today: A new poll shows Barack Obama leading John McCain by seven percentage points in the battleground state of Michigan. The survey of likely voters shows Obama with 46 percent, McCain 39 percent, three percent supporters of other candidates. Twelve percent are undecided.

And stay right here to get the jump on all the convention action. Our coverage of the Democrats' party in Denver begins this weekend with special reports at 8:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow and Sunday.

I will be in Denver. Of course, we will have complete convention coverage all week right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, as well as in prime time. Stay with us for that.

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