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Avoiding Disunity in Democratic Party; Ailing Kennedy Shows Up; Dead Heat Race

Aired August 25, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And it's happening right now. We're counting down to the kickoff of the Democratic convention.
Democrats eager to try to rally around Barack Obama and against John McCain. But amid all this celebration, there's still a high chance for high political drama. Democrats are in the Mile High City to erase my miles of disagreement, but as they pursue unity, some Hillary Clinton supporters are saying, what unity?

Meanwhile, Senator Ted Kennedy, recovering from a brain tumor, could make a very dramatic appearance here tonight.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Denver at the Democratic National Convention. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: CNN's live coverage of the Democratic National Convention continues.

BLITZER: Minutes from now, Americans will witness something never seen in the United States, a major party convention to elect an African-American president. Democrats are descending on Denver by the thousands for Barack Obama. They're expressing excitement. There's anticipation, and for some, there's anger.

I'm here on the convention floor in the middle of where it will all be taking place over these next four days. While the Democrats await their guest of honor, Senator Obama takes the long route to Denver. He's touring battleground states, not wasting any time.

Today's stop in Iowa. And today's message, Senator Obama says Senator John McCain doesn't get the problems of ordinary Americans.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: John McCain doesn't have a plan to make college more affordable. He doesn't have a plan to protect pensions.

The truth is, he doesn't have much of a plan. And I don't think that's because he's a bad man. I think it's because he doesn't get it. You know, when your definition of being rich doesn't start until you make $5 million a year...


BLITZER: All right. So what McCain did get today was the endorsement of a popular singer. He's called Daddy Yankee. He's a celebrated Spanish Reggae music star who could boost McCain's appeal among young voters out there.

Young voters will certainly be a key voting bloc in this election. But so are the millions of people young and older who supported Hillary Clinton, some not yet ready to make amends with the man who beat her to this convention.

Dana Bash is working this part of the story. She's here on the convention floor with me.

And some of these ardent Clinton supporters, they're not yet ready to go for this party unity.


You know, tonight, 40 percent of the delegates, Wolf, will be on this floor. They supported Hillary Clinton. And just like you said, a lot of them are having trouble letting go. But it is in the interest of both Obama and Clinton to show unity. And today, Clinton's message, you could say now she is now in it for him to win it.


BASH (voice-over): Hillary Clinton's first convention audience was her home state political army. She pleaded with them to be good party soldiers.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: And now I ask each and every one of you to work as hard for Barack and Joe Biden as you worked for me.

BASH: But that's a nonstarter for some Clinton delegates.

(on camera): Who are you here to vote for?

MARK FRIEDLAND, CLINTON DELEGATE: I'm here to vote for Hillary Clinton.

BASH: Mark Friedland is a Democratic delegate from North Carolina who says the bitter primary battle isn't over for him, and blames Barack Obama for not reaching out to Clinton supporters.

FRIEDLAND: If he had welcomed us, even two, three months ago, had welcomed the Clinton delegates, had welcomed Hillary Clinton, had involved us all in the process of running this convention, there wouldn't be any question about tension and disunity.

BASH: Democratic strategists are concerned that disunity is the biggest threat to Obama making Denver a success. Some Clinton confidants are downright furious that Obama didn't reach out to either Hillary or Bill Clinton before picking a running mate, calling it a missed opportunity.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: As a Hillary Clinton supporter, I'm not impressed -- neither impressed nor pleased with the way this was handled.

BASH: But Obama supporters point to high-profile speaking slots for both Clintons as proof they're trying to achieve what they need, unity.


BASH: Now, as we get closer to the opening gavel, both camps are bending over backwards to try to tamp down on people talking about what you just heard, that narrative of disunity. They even released, Wolf, kind of a "Kumbaya" statement today.

And there's something else. Our Candy Crowley is reporting that there is a negotiation -- there are negotiations in the works to organize a roll call nominating vote that would essentially make support for Barack Obama unanimous. That would, many believe, be the ultimate show of unity.

BLITZER: Just give up even placing her name, Hillary Clinton's name, in nomination?

BASH: Perhaps it would be named at the beginning, but that ultimately when Barack Obama is up for the nominating vote, that would be somehow -- it would be made to be unanimous to show a sense of unity.

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

Meanwhile, Democrats are certain to come together to honor one of their longtime leaders. That would be Senator Ted Kennedy. He's recovering from brain cancer, but he could make a dramatic surprise appearance here later tonight.

Jessica Yellin is here. She's over at the Massachusetts delegation.

And there's lots of anticipation as we await Senator Kennedy, Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. The buzz is enormous as people look forward to Senator Kennedy's expected appearance here tonight.

As you know, Kennedy has barely been seen in public since he was diagnosed with brain cancer. And his appearance would not be the first time a Kennedy has provided the emotional high point for a Democratic convention.


YELLIN (voice-over): Twenty-two minutes of uninterrupted applause when Bobby Kennedy honored his fallen brother at the 1964 convention. In 1980, a history-making speech when Senator Ted Kennedy conceded to Jimmy Carter after a fraught convention.

Now battling cancer, Ted Kennedy came to Denver for Barack Obama. Many believe his endorsement of Obama won Democrats over to the newcomer's campaign and could do so again this week.

STEVE GROSSMAN: I think it's huge. I think when he endorsed Barack Obama, it gave him the imprimatur of the greatest family in the Democratic Party's last 100 years. And I think sent Barack Obama on his way to the nomination. Tonight he comes, I believe, to say to these delegates who are still not all together; you've got to come together.

YELLIN: Kennedy got a hero's welcome when he rose from his sickbed to cast a tie-breaking vote on Medicare. Expect that and more, when he appears before a crowd of adoring Democrats tonight.


YELLIN: The travel here to Denver has been tough on him. And there is no plan for him to speak at this time. But a short speech has been written for him. And again, according to people very close to Kennedy, they believe he will speak if he can. They say he is telling people he believes this is his last convention -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be watching. And that will be a very dramatic moment indeed.

Jessica, I know you'll be there for us as well. Thank you.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty on this Monday. Jack, you've got "The Cafferty File."

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I do. Thanks, Wolf.

I've begun writing a weekly column for And this week the headline is, "The Beverly Hillary-billies Come to Denver."

Despite all the rosy assurances from both sides, there are signs of lingering deep bitterness between the Obama and Clinton camps. It's a division and a bitterness you could see coming all the way back in South Carolina.

John McCain is using Hillary Clinton like a ball bat to hit Barack Obama over the head, using her own words from the primaries against him. The Clintons will have ample opportunity to try to heal the wounds this week at the convention, but I'm starting to wonder if they're capable. Hillary speaks tomorrow night; former president Bill Clinton on Wednesday night.

According to CNN's own poll, 66 percent of Clinton supporters -- these are registered Democrats who wanted Hillary to be the nominee -- 66 percent say they're backing Obama. That's down from 75 percent in June.

At the same time, the number of Clinton Democrats who say they will vote for John McCain has gone up 11 percent since June. And the telling number may be this one. Fifty-nine percent is all of Hillary supporters that say the selection of Senator Joe Biden as Obama's running mate was an excellent or good decision. Among all registered Democrats, that number jumps up to 73 percent. So the question then is this: Is it possible that not picking Hillary Clinton as a running mate could cost Barack Obama the election?

Go to, you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. And we'll be reading your column at every single week. I'm sure millions of others will be reading it as well.

Some party loyalists are now wondering why Barack Obama and John McCain are not doing better in the polls, but both parties may have themselves to blame.

Senator Obama's vice presidential pick is already warning Republicans he'll "give them the devil." I'll talk about that and more with conservative commenter Glenn Beck of Headline News.

And Democrats want to know how the West can be won. We'll game out how.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the Democratic convention here in Denver. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're here at Denver on the floor at the Democratic convention, where Democrats surely hope Barack Obama can leave this convention with a bounce in the polls, because right now there appears to be none of that bounce. At least not yet.

Our fresh CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll suggests Obama and John McCain are running neck and neck, both getting 47 percent.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us.

Bill, a lot of people out there are asking, why is this race so close right now?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: That's a question I'm getting from a lot of Democrats, Wolf, here in Denver.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Dead heat. That's what the race looks like in the New CNN poll taken by the Opinion Research Corporation.

Why is the race so close? Here's one reason: party disunity, and not just among Democrats.

Yes, there is some tension among Democrats. Thirty-seven percent would like to see the party nominate Hillary Clinton. More than a quarter of those Clinton supporters are voting for John McCain.

Are Republicans the picture of unity? No. Forty-two percent of Republicans would like to see their party nominate someone other than John McCain. One in five of those anti-McCain Republicans are voting for Barack Obama.

We've got bipartisan disunity.

More than two-thirds disapprove of President Bush. More than two-thirds think things are going badly in the country. Three- quarters say the economy is bad. Two-thirds oppose the war in Iraq.

Imagine what this race would look like if President Bush were running for re-election or if Dick Cheney were running to succeed him. But they're not. McCain is. Same thing, Obama says.

OBAMA: Unfortunately, John McCain's policies are borrowing a page from George Bush and Dick Cheney, essentially just more of the same.

SCHNEIDER: Not the same thing, McCain says.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are issues that I have agreed with the president on, and there are issues that I have disagreed on.

SCHNEIDER: So which is it? The voters are not sure.

Suppose you think things are going badly in the country, but you think McCain's policies would be different from Bush's. What do you do? You vote for McCain. And that's why the election is close.


SCHNEIDER: All week long the spotlight here is going to be on Barack Obama. But what the Democrats here in Denver have to do is to convince voters that McCain means four more years of Bush -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be hearing a lot of that here on the convention floor, Bill. Thank you.

It's unclear, at least right now, if the Democrats will be able to accomplish their electoral goals, but one of them says they'll give them hell trying. Listen to Senator Obama's new running mate, Senator Joe Biden.


SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to give them the devil.


BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit more about Senator Biden and how he might impact this race for the White House.

Joining us now is Glenn Beck. He's the host of the show bearing his same name, actually, "THE GLENN BECK SHOW," on CNN's sister network, Headline News. GLENN BECK, HOST, "THE GLENN BECK SHOW": Hi Wolf.

BLITZER: Glenn, thanks very much for joining us.

BECK: You bet.

BLITZER: Do you think Obama's decision to pick Biden will impact, influence McCain's decision who will be his running mate?

BECK: No. I mean, I can't imagine who John McCain is going to pick.

You know, you were just talking a minute ago about why is -- you know, why is nobody really paying attention to this, or why is nobody really enthused and why is it all tied up. Because neither side is excited about it.

John McCain -- I'm a conservative. I can't see myself pulling the lever for John McCain. I cast see myself pulling for Barack Obama.

And Joe Biden would make me do that? I don't think so. And I can't imagine who -- I mean, maybe Jesus. Maybe if he picks Jesus, I'll go, all right, it is Jesus as his vice president.

But I can't imagine anybody who's going to make me vote for John McCain, because it's the vice president. It's the vice president. Usually they're just going to funerals.

BLITZER: But the vice president, as you know, is a heartbeat away from the presidency.

What about Mitt Romney, who everyone says seems to have a real shot at being McCain's running mate?

BECK: You know, here's the problem for me, Wolf. As more of a Libertarian than anything else, I like Mitt Romney. I think Mitt Romney's energy policies are the best out there. However, he flirts with socialism. And this was my big problem with Mitt Romney when he was running.

You know, Romney care, gigantic disaster. You can't flirt with socialism. And honestly, I think that's why a lot of people are looking at both of the candidates when it comes to the greening and everything else, and the hope for change.

They know that we're flirting with Marxist principles here. And it's not really a good idea. It never works out well in the end.

BLITZER: What do you make of the Democrats' claim that this convention where I am right now here in Denver is going to be the greenest of all these conventions? They made a major point of this. And I know you have some strongly-held views.

BECK: Well, I mean, honestly, first of all, let me say this, if you don't fix the oil problem, I mean, everybody right now is -- notice that people are going, oh, my gosh, it was $3.78 a gallon. Like we're giving it away for free all of a sudden, like that's a low price.

When oil comes back -- and it will come back -- when oil comes back and hits $5, $6 a gallon, mark my words, $6 a gallon, I think that people will be taking the environmentalists out and burying them with their beloved owls and salmon, and they'll be taking them out in the woods and burying them and using Al Gore as a shovel.

It's not going to last. People like to do things that make them feel good. And I guess eating tri-colored foods at the convention, or having biodegradable balloons, which they can't get to biodegrade yet -- in fact, I read one story where it said that the lady who was trying to get the balloons to degrade was out pouring a liquid on them. I mean, what liquid are you pouring on them?

It might make you feel good, but it's not really doing anything.

BLITZER: Glenn's going to be with us all week. Glenn, thanks very much.

BECK: You bet, Wolf. Thanks.

BLITZER: John McCain and the Republicans are trying a new tactic. See how they're using Hillary Clinton to try to divide the Democrats.

And the excitement is building, the final minutes are ticking down. The opening of the Democratic National Convention, it's only about a half an hour or so away.

Stay with us. You'll see it live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



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

Happening right now, we're about only a half an hour or so away from the formal start of the Democratic National Convention and Michelle Obama's big chance to go primetime. We're getting our first look at what she'll tell the delegates tonight as well.

John McCain is trying out a new strategy, one that involves Hillary Clinton. But Barack Obama is trying to steal away a state that usually goes Republican.

Stand by for all the latest from the campaign trail.

Plus, something different for the Democrats. See how they're trying harder than ever to attract religious voters.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN's live coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

BLITZER: Our iReporters are capturing the scene outside the Democratic convention here in Denver.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's watching what's going on. Abbi, what are you seeing online?

ABBIT TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this iReporter here captured a showdown between two Hillary Clinton supporters. The gentleman on the left identifies himself as a delegate now firmly for Barack Obama. The woman he's speaking to identifies herself as an Independent voter who is not going to budge.

Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's people like you is why Democrats keep losing elections.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's people like the Democratic Party.


TATTON: That iReport sent in by iReporter Zeni Abraham (ph).

It's not just the traditional media that are covering this convention, Wolf. It's the hundreds of bloggers, new media who are also there uploading their videos, their perspectives online.

If you have images, you can send them to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Abbi, very much.

Both candidates certainly trying to identify and take advantage of their opponent's weak spots.

With us now are top strategists from both presidential campaigns. Robert Gibbs is a senior adviser to the Obama campaign, Nicole Wallace is a senior adviser to the McCain campaign.

Thanks to both of you for coming in.

Robert, they're really going after some of those disgruntled, angry Hillary Clinton voters. We see the McCain campaign even doing these ads, trying to woo them over. And they're apparently pretty successful based on the polls.

How are you going to counter that?

ROBERT GIBBS, SR. ADVISER, OBAMA CAMPAIGN: Look, we're going to talk to them about the issues that they care about. What brought them to this convention is the need to change the direction of this country, to get our economy back on track, to reduce our dependence on foreign oils, to make our schools better, to cut health care costs, and to renew our standing in the world. The people that supported Hillary Clinton here know that the only candidate that can do all those things is Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Do you have a firm commitment from Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, for that matter, that they are totally onboard and they're going to work with you and emerge from this convention united?

GIBBS: Absolutely, 110 percent. We're united now. We'll be more united on Friday. And, look, I think we're going to talk to folks about the issues. That's what brought them here. They want change. Wolf, they know they can't afford four more years of what we have had from George Bush and John McCain over the last eight. And that's what we're going to change.


BLITZER: Let's bring Nicolle Wallace in from the McCain campaign.

Nicolle, you're trying desperately to get some of these Hillary Clinton supporters. You feel you have a shot at seriously getting them, when all is said and done?

NICOLLE WALLACE, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Gosh, we sure hope so. We're going to fight hard for -- for every vote.

And, you know, I wouldn't call it desperation. This is strategy. Our strategy is to go to places like Michigan and Pennsylvania and Ohio, and really from coast to coast, and fight hard for people who maybe Hillary was their first choice, because of her experience, her ability to step right into the Oval Office on day one and lead.

We think that perhaps we would be a more suitable second choice than Barack Obama. And I think that, you know, they have maybe telegraphed...

BLITZER: Well, one way -- Nicolle, excuse me for interrupting.


BLITZER: One way you might be able to do that would -- one way you might be able to do that would be for Senator McCain to pick a woman to be his running mate. Are any women being vetted right now as a McCain running mate?

WALLACE: Well, look, I think we are trying hard to keep a lid on that process, out of respect for all of the candidates and everyone in the running.

I think Robert really ran a process that we admire, and we're trying to replicate, and keeping the lid on our choice until it's time to make that announcement. So, I think that what women care about, if I could speak as a woman for a moment, is the person that's going to put prosperity and reach for them, the person that's going to address their family, or the urgent needs of their families, lowering the price of gas. And John McCain is the only one who has a concrete plan that -- that could actually break the back of our dependence on foreign sources of energy. So, I agree with Robert. We're going to talk about the issues. And I think we will have a good and respectable debate in these last 70 or so days.

BLITZER: Are you surprised at these polls, in our latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, 47 percent, 47 percent? Are you surprised that this race is as tight as it is right now?

GIBBS: No, not if you have watched the last two presidential elections in this country, not if you lost -- watched over the last 20 years in presidential elections.

But, look, we're going to -- we're going to fight for every vote. We're going to fight for Democrats. We're going to fight for independents. And, Wolf, opening up our convention tonight in prime time is a longtime Republican -- former Republican congressman from Iowa, Jim Leach, who knows that the only person that can reach across the party lines to break the partisan gridlock in Washington and finally get something done on the issues that matter most to Americans, that's Barack Obama.

BLITZER: The -- Nicolle, the -- you're going to be hearing from the Democrats over the next four days, starting in a little while, a lot of references that, if you like the eight years of your former boss, President Bush, you're going to love McCain's next four years.

How are you going to rebut -- rebut that, that -- the argument that McCain is simply another term for George Bush?

WALLACE: Well, first of all, I have to say, in response to your question about the polls, we're shocked.

We are the underdog in this race, and we're, you know, pleased as punch that we're still in this fight. The -- the landscape is dreadful, historically hideous, for Republicans. So, we are thrilled that the polls are as close as they are. We predicted about a 10-, 15-point bounce for Barack Obama.

And I agree with Robert. They're going to have a united party coming out of this. They're going to have a head of steam from their announcement. And I'm sure they will have a successful convention.

I think that, when you talk to voters like they're too stupid to know that it was John McCain, the maverick, who stood up to George W. Bush on climate, who stood up to George W. Bush on torture, who stood up to George W. Bush, and fought and yelled at the top of his lungs for a strategy, the one that's actually working in Iraq to save lives and reduce American casualties, a strategy that Robert's candidate, Barack Obama, continues to oppose, which befuddles me, but what do I know, you know, I think we have a lot of work to do.

And we have to tell our story. We're up against a political machine, a really smart and tight one, in Barack Obama's campaign. But we're going to get out there and fight for both. GIBBS: You know, you touched on it. In the polling out today, the public polling shows that two-thirds of all voters believe that John McCain will too closely hew to the presidency of George Bush over the course of the next four years.

We got a glimpse of it last week, Wolf. When asked how many houses John McCain owned, he didn't know, and he asked a staff member. For somebody who is trying -- struggling this month to make their mortgage payment in Macomb County, Michigan, in Youngstown, Ohio, or in Scranton, Pennsylvania, they know that that's out of touch.

They need somebody who has a plan to put this economy back on track, has a plan to stop foreclosures for their mortgages, and get them good jobs, and good-paying jobs, and put them back to work. That's Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Because, Nicolle, as you know, the argument the Democrats are making is that -- that John McCain, the man you want to be -- you want to see as president, is out of touch with working- class, middle-class Americans, didn't even know how many homes he and his wife, Cindy, owned.

WALLACE: Wolf, I was getting nervous that Robert wasn't going to launch this attack, and I wasn't going to have a chance to tell what I think is a great story. And you will hear more of it next week.

John McCain's father-in-law was a veteran of World War II. He was shot down three times. He came back to this country, like many of these great veterans from World War II, scraped together $10,000, and started what became one of the most successful beer distributorships in this country.

Now, we will never, ever apologize for his ability to realize the American dream. John McCain is humbled by that. He's proud of his wife's tenure running this campaign. And unlike the Obama campaign, you know, we -- we refuse to make spouses an issue here.

We are proud of her success. We're very proud of her accomplishments. We're even more proud of her generosity. And I think, as John McCain has talked in recent days, he knows what it's like not to have a home. So, he's grateful for all of the blessings that he has.

BLITZER: All right, we will leave it there. But, hopefully, the two of you will come back.

Nicolle Wallace, currently working for Senator McCain, used to work in the Bush White House, is here in Denver.

And, Robert, I assume there will be some Obama supporters next week in Saint Paul with...

GIBBS: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: ... your version of the -- quote -- "truth squad"; is that right? WALLACE: Robert, I invite you.

GIBBS: Safe assumption. We will probably see you there, Nicolle. Save me a good seat.

BLITZER: All right. If both of you are in Denver, we will see you both of you in Denver.

WALLACE: We will save you a seat. I will buy you a drink.

GIBBS: Well, I would love to see Dick Cheney talk.

BLITZER: Is he -- is he speaking at the convention? He is speaking at the convention, Nicolle, isn't he?

WALLACE: He is speaking at the convention on Monday, and he departs the next day for Georgia.

BLITZER: Monday night.

And you will make -- you will make Robert happy when he hears Dick Cheney speak at the Republican Convention in Saint Paul.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

WALLACE: We seek to make Robert happy every day.



Thanks, Nicolle.

A showdown looming in the West. Republicans want to keep many Western states. They obviously have a shot at many of them. But Democrats want to steal them. Our own John King, he is standing by to game out how they might. He's here at our magic map.

Also, a wife will heap praise on her husband tonight, but what does Michelle Obama really need to do to help Senator Obama?

And Madonna apparently compares John McCain to -- guess what -- to Hitler. Wait until you hear how McCain's campaign is shooting right back.

Stay with us. You're here at the Democratic National Convention. We're only about 20 minutes or so away from the start of this historic event.


BLITZER: With the exception of the Pacific Coast, the Western states are usually pretty safe territory for Republican presidential candidates. But, this year, Barack Obama is fighting to try to pry away at least some of those Western states out of the Republican column. Our chief national correspondent, John King, is here on the floor of the convention with us.

John, you're looking at some intriguing possibilities for the Democrats.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, let me show you why the Democrats are here in Denver, and why they think the Mountain West could be so important.

First, let's start by the floor plan -- with the floor plan of this convention. The home state, the host state of Colorado right here. Over here is New Mexico and Nevada, right down in the prime real estate. Now, why are they -- why are they down there? Let's clear this and come over here.

I want to show you a map. This is the 2004 election. Red means George Bush. Look how well he did out here in the Southwest and Mountain West. Here is New Mexico. Here is Colorado. Over here is Nevada. Remember, George W. Bush won all three of those on the way to his victory over John Kerry in 2004.

Now we're going to look at our electoral map, as we see it at CNN right now. See these states right here? You have Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada, nine electoral votes in Colorado. We call it a tossup right now. That's why it's gold and yellow. Five electoral votes in New Mexico, again, a tossup. That's why it's that color.

And over here in Nevada, five electoral votes, we call it a tossup. If the 2004 election played out exactly the same in 2008, but these states went blue, instead of red, if nothing else changed but those three states, Barack Obama would be the next president of the United States, Wolf.

And these states are also critical because of the Latino vote. Down here in New Mexico, more than 30 percent of the electorate will be Latino in this election. That's why they are a huge, huge, huge constituency.

Up here in Colorado, where we are for the convention, more than 10 percent, perhaps as high as 12 percent, 13 percent of the electorate will be Latino. And it's a place where Barack Obama is trying to register so many new voters, the same out here in Nevada. Ten percent of the electorate was Hispanic in the 2004 election. They expect that number to grow closer to 15 percent in this election.

So, if nothing else changed, these three relatively small states, from an Electoral College out here in the Mountain West, could end up being very key battlegrounds between now and November -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John, thanks very much.

I know John's going to be with us throughout THE SITUATION ROOM. He will be with us all night, in fact, going back to that magic map for additional useful information.

In our "Strategy Session": Michelle Obama's big night. She gave our Roland Martin a preview of her speech.


MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: The only thing I really try to do is give people a broader insight into who Barack is, as -- not as a candidate, but as -- as a man, as a father, as a husband.


BLITZER: But does she also need to reintroduce herself to the voters?

And Tropical Storm Gustav, it's churning in the Central Caribbean right now, heading for the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Could this storm threaten the United States? We have our eye on the storm and a lot more.

We're counting down to the formal start of the Democratic National Convention. We're only about 15 minutes away. You will want to see the pageantry as it begins right at the top of the hour.


BLITZER: Only 13 minutes or so to go before the formal opening of the Democratic Convention here in Denver. You will see it all unfold in a few moments, right at the top of the hour.

Tonight's prime-time speech is a huge test for Michelle Obama. Let's discuss that, and more, in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez, and our Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

She's got a major challenge, Michelle Obama, Donna, tonight, in speaking prime time to the American people, and to convince them that her husband should be the next president of the United States.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And Michelle is very excited about this moment.

Look, she is really a terrific surrogate for Senator Obama. She will not only lay out his life story, his journey, so to speak, talk about him as a family person, but also talk about his values, and talk about the kind of president he will be for the country. So, I think this is a very historic moment to hear from Michelle Obama tonight.

BLITZER: And no one knows Barack Obama as well as Michelle Obama does. So, she can really get personal, and she can speak with credibility.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, no doubt about that. And I think she's a wonderful orator. She did an excellent job campaigning for her husband. I don't think that is so much the question.

I think it's also an introduction to this family. There are about 80 million people who are going to -- that weren't really participating in the primary process that are going to see the Obamas for the first time. But it reminds me of an expression Richard Nixon used. Had said, "I handed them the sword." It was an expression at the end of his administration.

And he talked more so about the words that were used against him. And there are some questions that Michelle Obama is going to have to face. And I think she's addressing those. It's unfortunate, but it's -- I think it has to with the fact she's not known on the...


BLITZER: You're referring to the patriotism and that issue.

SANCHEZ: Those things that -- people took advantage of, and used them, and they were sound bites, and there are things she's had to address.

And, to be very fair, it's because people don't know them. I think it has more to with inexperience on the national level than it has to do with ill intent.

BLITZER: What do you think, Donna?

BRAZILE: Oh, there's no question that there have been a lot of rumors, a lot of personal attacks leveled at Michelle Obama, similar to the attacks we have seen over the years of Hillary Clinton and other strong, you know, determined women.

But Michelle Obama is a woman of just true grit. And I think, tonight, you will see her gracious, humble, but yet very strong on talking about Senator Obama.

BLITZER: Roland Martin, our contributor, interviewed her. We're going to have some of that interview. That's coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's talk a little bit about Bill Clinton and his role. There's a report he's not happy with the subject that the Obama campaign asked him to speak about. He wants to speak about some other stuff. Is this going to -- this saga, the -- the Clinton anger, disappointment, is that going to dominate these next -- today and these next three days?

BRAZILE: Wolf, a lot of this is overblown, as you well know.

I spent time today speaking to delegations that voted for Hillary Clinton in the primary. And people are, in the words of Barack Obama, fired up and ready to go.

Bill Clinton has an encyclopedic knowledge about the economy. Clearly, he will weave that information into a topic that the Obama campaign would like him also to talk about. And that's national security.

BLITZER: There's no doubt, Leslie, that if in fact Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, they really get passionate, and get out there and tell their supporters, you have got to work hard for Barack Obama and Joe Biden, because the opposite, the -- the John McCain option, would be a disaster for the country, that could influence a lot of their still disgruntled supporters.

SANCHEZ: Well, it sounds like you're saying if their hatchet men for the party, that, basically, they can mobilize the base. Throw them some red meat. Get them in case -- and they will go.

I think there's something to keep in mind is, people didn't sign a contract when they voted for Hillary Clinton to say they are going to do everything she says for them to do. I think they are independent thinkers. I think there are two different pockets of the voters. You have got working-class individuals who are aligned on Hillary Clinton.

And then you have got the feminist women who are very much disgruntled, I think, by the treatment that she received by the campaign, even including this week, not even calling her about the vice presidential choice.

I think, fundamentally, they will come around. But the biggest point is, you're moving into this convention and people are not unified. And it's yet to be determined if they will get there.

BRAZILE: And, again, you know, this is Republicans not knowing Democrats. We are very much unified. We don't always sing out of the same hymn book, but, once we begin to make a noise, it's always a joyful noise and a sound that will...


BLITZER: And so much will be visual, the -- the physical relationship, in the sense. Will Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton be there when Barack Obama, at Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium, he speaks, and afterwards -- because a lot of us remember Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter that barely were willing to shake hands after their bitter fight.

BRAZILE: Well, Hillary and Bill Clinton are both superdelegates. They will be casting their ballots for Barack Obama.

They will once again persuade, not only their delegates, but the American people, that Barack Obama will carry the torch for health care, will carry the torch for jobs in the new economy. So, this is going to be a moment that the Clintons also celebrate as well, because they have done a great deal to make this moment possible.

BLITZER: And words are one thing. As you know...


BLITZER: ... action is a lot more. We will see how they follow up after this convention.

SANCHEZ: Exactly.

You know, and they don't want to be criticized as not doing everything they can, because, the truth be told, if Barack Obama fails in this election, it's hard for him to come back, and there's an excellent opportunity for Hillary Clinton in the year 2012.

BLITZER: We are going to be busy, all of us, in the next few days.


BLITZER: All of next week as well.

Guys, thanks very much.

And, remember, we're only a minutes away, eight minutes, to be exact, from the gavel coming down here at the Democratic National Convention. You're going to want to see it. You're going to want to hear it. Howard Dean, the chairman of the party, you will hear what he has to say about those not-so-united Democrats here in Denver.

Plus, something the Democrats stayed away from in 2004, but, this time, they're trying to keep faith with religious voters. See how they're hoping to make a difference.

Our special coverage from the Democratic National Convention continues -- right after this.


BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker": Thanks, but no thanks. That's what the Democratic National Committee is essentially telling Congressman Charlie Rangel.

The New York Democrat's political action committee had given the DNC a $100,000 donation, but the committee will give that money back. A spokesman said it's because Barack Obama does not accept money from political action committees. And that official says it's not because of the recent controversy involving low-cost apartments Rangel leases in New York City.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out

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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour: Is it possible that not picking Hillary Clinton as a running mate could cost Barack Obama the election?

Tom in Florida writes: "Absolutely not. The Clinton name enrages and energizes the Republicans, and she does not help in attracting independent voters. I hope that all of her supporters come to their senses and realize that a vote for McCain is against their own interests. In these complex and difficult times, we can't afford to have the same unintelligent, shallow republican leadership that we have had for the last eight years."

Carol writes: "It was the easy way to mend the Democratic Party, but some people enjoy doing things the hard way. I think his chance of winning could be lost on his choice. Many of the attributes of Joe Biden are the ones that they use against McCain, temper and age being just two. And he looks like McCain."

Mark writes: "Jack, it is possible not picking her could cost him the election. If he had picked her, it definitely would have cost him the election."

Colleen writes: "Obama lost my vote when he did not pick Hillary as a running mate. To quote an old phrase, he cut off his nose to spite his face -- really a stupid move. Had he picked her, he would have won hands down. Now his chances are diminished. I will vote McCain."

Shirley in Florida writes: "Wrong song. We are not voting against Bush. We are voting against Republican policies that see teachers forced to buy their own supplies, health clinics underfunded, jobs gone overseas, insurance costs. And the song goes on and on. Do not count us out. The quiet voters out here who listen to the talking heads, we hope you realize that we are out here."

And Phil in Queens writes: "Biden is the right choice in one regard: the energy crisis. He is the largest source of natural gas in America."


CAFFERTY: "If you can figure a way to hook him up, he could light up the entire Eastern Seaboard."

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

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack.

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

And it's happening right now: the official start of the Democratic National Convention, only about two minutes away. We're on the floor here in Denver with a front-row seat, as history is about to be made. All eyes will be on the candidate's wife tonight, Michelle Obama, topping the bill of tonight's prime-time speakers. She talks one-on-one with our CNN political analyst Roland Martin. You will hear what she's saying.

And Barack Obama himself still on the campaign trail, he's making his way to Denver by way of some critical battleground states, giving John McCain a run for his money.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're live here in Denver on the convention floor, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN's live coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

BLITZER: We're only about a minute, a minute-and-a-half away from the official opening of this historic Democratic National Convention.

For the first time, an African-American will get a major party nomination for president of the United States. This is historic. We have the best political team on television here to bring you every angle. And we're only getting started. We will bring you the events live as they happen.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is standing by.

Candy, I may have to interrupt you, but describe the mood as we see it right now.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Listen, this is one very excited bunch of people.

As you know, the streets of Denver are full of delegates, all of the hotels crammed with delegates. And they -- as they walk in here, you hear it everywhere. They are very excited. There is the subplot, if you will, the Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama delegates.

But, in large part, remember, these are the party activists. These are people who live and breathe politics, for the most part, who went out and actively sought to be a delegate, to be voted for. So, you know, absolutely, they're excited here, as they always are. And, also, the chance to make history obviously is a layover on this convention.