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Preparations for Barack Obama's Acceptance Speech; Vladimir Putin Blames U.S. for Conflict in Georgia; Louisiana Prepares for Tropical Storm Gustav

Aired August 28, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the stage now set for an historic night -- Barack Obama only a few hours away from becoming the first African-American to accept a major party nomination for president of the United States.

But attention will soon shift to the Republicans, as well. We could soon learning who John McCain has picked for his running mate, possibly even before this night is over.

And as the political winds blow, a deadly and dangerous storm is churning toward the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf Coast now in trouble. States of emergency are in effect. We have the latest on Gustav.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're live in Denver.


An unprecedented primary season culminating tonight -- tonight in one historic speech. In only a few hours, more than 75,000 people here at Denver's INVESCO Field and tens of millions in the United States and around the world, will be listening and watching as Barack Obama accepts the Democratic nomination for president.

Earlier, he did a walk through of the stage, where he'll give the most closely watched speech of his life. Just a handful, as I say, of hours from now.

Anderson Cooper is here. We're going to have a long but interesting and fascinating night tonight, Anderson. I know you're excited about this. All of us are excited to watch history unfold.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's amazing, the line to get in here -- I mean it stretches for as far as the eye can see. You can see the stadium is not nearly full at this point. But people are waiting out. The sun is beating down. I hope they have a lot of medical personnel on hand, because there are going to be a lot of people suffering from the heat in this. It is a beautiful day here. But to be sitting out in these seats for the next couple of hours, it's going to be tough.

BLITZER: And interesting, as these people wait in line, Obama organizers, they're getting them to sign up. They're getting them to make sure that they actually register and vote and participate. COOPER: They're probably getting them to text message their friends, to get them to watch, get them to sign up. So they're trying to make this as work man like, I suppose, as possible.

BLITZER: All right.

Let's go to Candy Crowley.

She's up there on the podium -- on the stage. It's a pretty elaborate setup there -- Candy, and some controversy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. You know, the Republicans are all over this set, saying, you know, the Greek columns here -- the fake Greek columns, this huge stadium, that kind of thing. The Obama campaign is pushing back, saying, well, George Bush had columns behind him when he accepted the nomination. George Bush did not have the 75,000 or so people they expect to show up here.

This is a big stakes night for Barack Obama. And he has had them before, but not at this level. Certainly, this is the biggest domestic crowd that will fill this arena that he's ever seen. We all know that he pulled in about 200,000 in Berlin. But this is the domestic crowd.

But beyond this field, because this field is foreign, make no mistake about it. As Anderson said, they're all coming out in a huge heat and waiting in long lines.

So, therefore, this, then, it is that television audience. And you can have, Wolf, Barack O -- Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden do all the vouching in the world for you. In the end, Barack Obama has to make his own case. And the way he does this and the way they want him to do it is say here are your choices. This is what the world will look like if we continue down this path. Here is what the world would look like if we really ascribe to change, if we really want to do this. There will be some specifics to it, not in terms of 12-point plans, but in terms, here's what my energy policy does; here's what his would do; that sort of thing.

So he has a lot riding on this because, as you know, he's seen some pretty good speakers before him. But Obama is no slouch in the big speech department.

So lots of pressure. And particularly with this kind of setting -- it's pretty grand -- he needs to have a pretty grand speech -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's about the best in the business when it comes to delivering a speech, Candy, from a teleprompter. I must say, I've seen a lot of politicians do it. He does it really well.

Let's go to Suzanne Malveaux.

She's got a little preview of the substance of this big speech tonight -- Suzanne. SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've been told by campaign officials he's been working on this, tweaking it, until the very last moment. This really is a very personal speech -- hands on. This is something that -- we expect it to last about 40 minutes or so. But he's reached out and he's studied previous speeches -- John F. Kennedy...



MALVEAUX (voice-over): Officially the nominee.



MALVEAUX: After three days of buildup, Barack Obama takes the stage to define his candidacy.

BILL BURTON, OBAMA SPOKESMAN: And he's going to talk to folks about where he comes from, what sort of values guide him and where he wants to take this country.

MALVEAUX: Forty-five years ago to the day, this country was moved by this speech.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: I have a dream.

MALVEAUX: Some view Barack Obama as the realization of Martin Luther King's dream, as the first African-American nominee from a major party to run for president. That powerful symbol not lost on the campaign.

BURTON: Martin Luther King was a guy who told us to look toward our hopes and not our fears. And you'll see that reflected tonight. This is an important historic occasion.

MALVEAUX: Obama will define himself as the candidate raised by a single mother, from humble beginnings, who overcame great odds. He will paint a picture of how Americans are suffering now and then give voters a clear choice between himself and his opponent, John McCain.

BURTON: We'll see him talk about energy, health care and especially the differences with where he is and with where John McCain is.

MALVEAUX: Obama will argue he's got the judgment and experience to lead a change in America. His candidacy itself already evidence change is coming.


MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, one of the reasons why he'll be talking about Martin Luther King, as you know, not only the anniversary of the "I Have A Dream" speech, but it really was one of his icons, one of his heroes. He was about 15 years too late for the civil rights movement, but really said that that inspired him. We even talked to some law school buddies of his who said he actually used to go around and quote Martin Luther King when he was in school there. Some of the students thought it was a bit strange. Others a little bit inspired by what he was saying.

So we expect to hear some of that language tonight at well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Suzanne, stand by.

You know, Anderson, it's pretty amazing that on this night, where the first African-American to lead a major political party will be delivering his acceptance speech, coincides with the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech.


BLITZER: Because that was certainly was one of his dreams.

COOPER: It will also be interesting to see the degree to which the Republicans have gotten into the head of Barack Obama and his campaign. I mean he is known for giving grand rhetorical speeches.

Earlier in the week, he was saying this is not going to be one of those. This is going to be more workman like. There's going to be a lot more specifics about issues. I'm wondering if that -- and, again, that's the only kind of thing that we can judge afterward. But is that a reaction to the Republican criticism? Is it a reaction to something that the Obama campaign feels they needs to do?

And is it a risk, by not having the kind of a speech we expect from Barack Obama, are people -- the 80,000 people assembled here, are they going to go away disappointed?

BLITZER: Well, I suspect no one will go -- the ones inside here won't be disappointed.

COOPER: Well, that's not true.

BLITZER: But we'll see.

And as Anderson was alluding to earlier, security a huge concern here tonight.

Joe Johns has been working this story for us -- Joe, how tight is security right now?


We're looking across at INVESCO Field from the top of the CNN Grill. Now, for the people trying to secure this thing, as well as people even just trying to get there, this is a logistical nightmare.

We took a drive around the perimeter just about two hours ago to give you a sense of what it's like out there.


JOHNS: The Denver Broncos play there in INVESCO Field. And, you know, this is a huge parking lot, but it doesn't look like you can use a lot of the parking lot because it's full of stuff.

Plus, it seems like it can be kind of a security problem too, right?

They said 25 is going to be blocked off all the way to I-70. It sounds like it's a five or six mile stretch. But that, also, would be a real nightmare in virtually any American city.

If we park out here, how far away from INVESCO Field are we, if we just want to walk?


JOHNS: Really?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, I don't know -- I don't know if you can actually see the side of the building over there.

JOHNS: Now. Now, there you go.

People are already on foot, right?

Those people said they were already headed to INVESCO because what they wanted to do was get an early seat, apparently. It is now 1:00 Mountain time. And that means they're going to be sitting in that stadium for a long time. And I doubt that they'll even get in for now. Perhaps, they're going to go and stand in line.

Oh, look parking $60 here. And everybody on every street is just, you know, making a killing, if they can write up a sign and charge a bunch of money for you to park your car. Plus you see these guys.

Hey man, how much is your t-shirt?


JOHNS: Let me see. What does it say?

"Barack Obama -- Democratic nominee. I was there."


JOHNS: Back live now looking over at INVESCO Field.

So we'll see how it all works today. It will probably go a lot smoother if most of the people got the message to take public transportation -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much. Joe, thank you.

Let's bring in Gloria and John. They're here for us.

How difficult was it for you, Gloria, to get into this stadium tonight?

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, because I work with the best political team on television, you guys had the way all paved for us.

BLITZER: But you could see...

BORGER: But there's a long security line. There are lots of lines, lots of traffic. But you and I, John, we were treated pretty well, I must say.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We were lucky in the sense that we have our vehicles pre-cleared.

BORGER: It's a press clearance.

KING: So we got up pretty close. The line out there is not so bad. And I didn't bring a bag, so I breezed through it. She had a little bit more in her bag than I did.

BORGER: I -- you know, I'm a schlepper.


BORGER: I -- just a lot of bags, so it took me a little longer.

KING: These guys are doing a great job, though. This is an -- this is an enormous challenge. And as frustrated as people get, remember, you know, the Secret Service has to protect not only a presidential candidate, but a vice presidential candidate.

BLITZER: That's -- and, you know, this is going to be -- it's almost like a Super Bowl, to a certain degree -- a political Super Bowl -- because even -- we're going to have halftime entertainment throughout this night. There's going to be some...

BORGER: A band?

BLITZER: Sheryl Crow is going to be here.

KING: It's an interesting analogy you make, because, as you know, since 9/11, Super Bowls have been designated national security events. And s the Secret Service has taken over security of the events in big stadiums like this. So they know the drill at a venue like this because since 9/11, all the worries about a possible terrorist attack, you know, on a major event in the country. So the Secret Service has been through the crowd -- a crowd like this before.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by for a moment.

All right, let's go to Dana Bash.

She's got some news just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM -- Dana, what are you picking up?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm here in Dayton, Ohio. This is where John McCain is headed right now, Wolf. And a senior adviser to John McCain just called to formally tell me what we actually had been reporting since yesterday. But now it is coming officially from the campaign. And that is that John McCain has made up his mind on who his running mate is going to be.

Now, we are still digging around to figure out exactly who he made up his mind on. We have some clues. We have been working our sources to try to figure out what's going on.

One thing that we are -- that is raising some eyebrows is the fact that somebody who has sort of risen to the top over the past 24 hours or so in kind of the buzz is the governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty.

He abruptly canceled television appearances he had today, some print interviews. He was on CNN this morning back in Denver. I actually saw him there. He insisted he didn't know much at all.

But right now his -- an aide to him is saying that, yes, things are canceled, but won't say anything else besides that.

You know, Tim Pawlenty is somebody who we do know has -- is very, very close, actually, with John McCain, was an early supporter of Senator McCain and supported him even during the senator's darkest days.

So we're waiting to hear on that.

Another thing is Mitt Romney. According to sources close to Mitt Romney, they have not heard either yes or nay, according to sources close to Mitt Romney, from Senator McCain. So we don't know much about -- about Romney, either.

BLITZER: All right. Just to be precise, do we know for sure, Dana, that Senator McCain has notified the winner of this vice presidential contest that that person has been selected?

BASH: We do not. And that's an excellent point. We do not know for sure. The only information that I was given is a call to just make clear that the campaign is officially getting word out that the senator has made his decision.

What's going on here, Wolf, obviously, as were talking about last night and nearly all day today, they are -- they're beating the drums. They understand where you are, what you're reporting, what's going on in Denver right now. And they also understand that they have a big announcement, too. And they want to get back on the map and into the story as fast and as much as possible.

So by making it clear officially that Senator McCain has chosen his running mate, they are -- they are kind of, you know, again beating the drums on this story. And we're told we are going to hear in just a little while, perhaps even in the wee hours of tonight or maybe even earlier, exactly who that choice is. But the choice has been made and the campaign is trying to make that word official now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana.

Thanks very much.

And I just want to tell our viewers that we don't know if it's Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, but we can tell you that he was scheduled to appear just about now in THE SITUATION ROOM. But earlier, a few hours ago, we did get a phone call saying he had to cancel that appearance. So we don't know if that means anything. It could be he's tired or whatever. But we'll find out and we'll get some more information for you.

In the meantime, let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Even for a guy who's used to making impressive speeches, tonight is big.

Barack Obama addresses 80,000 at Denver's INVESCO Field as the first African-American nominee ever for a major political party on the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech.

No pressure.

Millions more watching on TV. And to many of those people, Obama still an unknown. The Democratic nominee has said that there are two things he wants to do tonight. He wants to make the choice between himself and John McCain as clear as possible. And he wants to tell America what he stands for.

Obama wrote the first draft of his speech longhand last week and then worked on it for the rest of the time with his speechwriters. He looked to previous convention speeches from people like Jack Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton for some of his inspiration.

Friends say that Obama has become sensitive to criticism that his speeches lack content. So look for the speech tonight to have specifics on how he plans to fix this country's problems.

He, also, though, has to connect with his audience on an emotional level. There will be plenty of time between now and November for policy. Tonight, he's got to make people to want to vote for him. And in order to do that, he's got touch their feelings.

So here's the question: What can Barack Obama say tonight to convince you to vote for him?

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

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much. And as you just heard Dana Bash report, multiple sources telling CNN John McCain has decided on his running mate. We could learn who that actual pick is before the night is over.

Formally, they're scheduled to appear together, whoever the running mate might be, tomorrow in Ohio.

Also, the U.S. now -- the Gulf Coast bracing for what could be a very powerful hurricane. Gustav bearing down on New Orleans -- possibly, possibly on New Orleans in its path.

And the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, he's now blaming the U.S. for the conflict in Georgia.

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


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Carol Costello. We'll get back to Wolf Blitzer and the Democratic National Convention in Denver in just a moment. But first, other news incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

We start in Southern Russia. where Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is ratcheting up the rhetoric against the United States. CNN's senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, just sat down for an extremely rare interview with the prime minister.

He's here to tell us what Putin had to say.

MATTHEW CHANCE, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, dropping another diplomatic bombshell in an exclusive CNN interview here in the Black Sea City of Sochi.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The fact is that U.S. citizens were, indeed, in the area in conflict during the hostilities. Then it should be admitted that they would do so only following direct orders from their supervisors. Therefore, they were acting and implementing those orders, doing as they were ordered. And the only one who can give such orders is their supervisors.


CHANCE: Well, Russian defense officials say they found a U.S. passport belonging to a man they described as a Texas resident, who was located -- it was found, the passport, at a place where they say they know Georgian Special Forces were operating. That's what's led them to this conclusion that U.S. personnel were involved with the combat operations.

Now, the suggestion has been rejected by the White House. Dana Perino is the White House press secretary. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ...think that those claims, first and foremost, are patently false. And it also sounds like his defense officials, who say they believe this to be true, are giving him really bad advice.


CHANCE: Well, clearly, though, the diplomatic war of words is being stepped up, as tensions between Moscow and Washington continue to rise -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Matthew Chance in Southern Russia.

Watching, worrying and praying -- the Gulf Coast prepares for Gustav. The storm is projected to make landfall anywhere from Texas to Florida early next week. And no one is more nervous than the people of New Orleans. It's almost three years to the day since Hurricane Katrina brought disaster.

Sean Callebs is in New Orleans for us -- Sean, how is the city preparing?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, without question, there's a great deal of anxiety. But here's what we do know. The city has 700 buses at its disposal, ready to move about 30,000 people out of this city who otherwise couldn't evacuate.

They have about a half a million MREs -- meals ready to eat; about half a million liters of water ready for people who are going to be displaced.

But it is the big what ifs, the unknowns, that are really causing the concern.


CALLEBS (voice-over): It's the big what if for a shaky city still in the throes of recovery from Katrina.

What if a powerful storm slams into the region?

Personally, FEMA, widely viewed as a colossal failure for its disaster response, says it's a different organization.

DAVID PAULISON, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: I cannot stop the hurricane from coming in and I can't stop roofs from getting blown off. What we can do is make sure that we're capable of responding and we're capable of making sure people are safe and sound.

CALLEBS: So skeptical Gulf Coast residents wonder what if thousands of homes are destroyed by Gustav?

FEMA says it won't use travel trailers -- the kind put in place following Katrina that became a hallmark to the agency's ineptitude. FEMA's first choice will be apartments and hotels, then mobile homes and prefabricated cottages.

What if powerful winds hit the 350 miles of levees?

COL. JERRY SNEE, NEW ORLEANS EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: The levee system in the inner city is better than they've been in many, many years.

CALLEBS: What if Gustav hits the area as a powerful category three? Well, then, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin will order a mandatory evacuation. This time, the city says, it can provide transportation for 30,000 people.

SNEE: The citizens should not be worried about the flooding again, but it's going to be a terrible place.

CALLEBS: Still, what if it floods?

City officials say massive pumps are capable of pumping an inch of water out of the city for the first hour, a half an inch every hour after that, under the best of circumstances.


CALLEBS: And what if the city is devastated once again?

Well, for many people who have been rebuilding the past three years, they're drained emotionally and financially, and they say that will be it. They say they can't go through the agonizing process once again and they are prepared to move on -- Carol.

COSTELLO: That's sad. OK, we'll be watching and we'll be praying, too. Sean Callebs live in New Orleans.

Coming up next, countdown to the biggest night of the Democratic National Convention. Wolf is back with the best political team on television. But first, the entire Democratic convention smiles for the camera. CNN's Jeanne Moos has an unconventional convention moment.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Don't bother saying cheese for this photo. Amid 20,000 bodies, your smile probably wouldn't show up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to take the como...

MOOS: The what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The commemorative panoramic photo.

MOOS: Apparently, it's easier to take the commemorative photo than to say it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are about to take the commemo...

MOOS: The exceptionally wide view photo is a tradition at the Democratic Convention. This one's from 1928.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please turn around and look at the center camera platform.

MOOS: It sort of reminds us of photographer Spencer Tunic (ph), who specializes in mass nudes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take your watch off, too, and your glasses. I told you, man.

MOOS: The Democrats at least kept their clothes on. Yes, we can finally pronounced commemorative right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are about to take the commemorative panoramic photo.

MOOS: Do you have to pose like Richard Nixon at the Democratic Convention?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are taking the photo right now.

MOOS: With an unconventional moment, I'm Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.



BLITZER: Happening now, Barack Obama is facing the biggest night of his political career. As the crowd files in to Denver's INVESCO stadium, he's putting the final touches on his historic nomination acceptance speech. But will he be able to satisfy his critics? We're breaking it all down from all angles with the best political team on television.

Also, we're getting some brand new polls from several key battleground states that could determine the outcome of this election. We'll go inside the numbers for a look at where the race stands right now.

And it's been a common theme here at the Democratic National Convention -- tying John McCain to George W. Bush. Next week, the Republicans get their chance to respond at their own convention in St. Paul.

Mary Snow is standing by to take a closer look at the GOP plans to counter-punch.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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

BLITZER: The Andrew Mountain String Band.

There's going to be a lot of entertainment here tonight at INVESCO Field in Mile High Stadium.

Stevie Wonder will be here, Sheryl Crow and, potentially, some other surprises we're told, as well. Stick around.

We're going to be bringing you not just the political speeches. We're going to be bringing you the entertainment, as well.

Welcome back to our continuing coverage.

We're joined by a special guest right now, Linda Douglass.

She's here joining John and Gloria and me.

You used to work in the same business. She was a longtime network television correspondent. Now you're working for Barack Obama. I guess it's been a significant change, Linda.

LINDA DOUGLASS, OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: A significant change, indeed. But it has been great fun. I mean it has been fascinating to watch this campaign, you know, unfold the way it has.

I mean think how improbable it was when he announced that he was running for president back in February '07. And now, you know, it really looks as though the American people are absolutely tuning into the message that he's the one who's going to bring the kind of change they so desperately need in their lives.

BLITZER: So here's a question I'm sure that Gloria and John and I are very interested in.

Is it as different on the other side as we expect it is?

DOUGLASS: It is. I won't tell you exactly how different, but it's very different. It took a little bit of adjusting. But hopefully we're into it now.

BORGER: How little do we know?

DOUGLASS: If I shared that with you, then you'd know. You know, actually what we spend most of our time, really seriously, is talking about how great you guys are.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about tonight's big speech. We've heard from Robert Gibbs earlier. He said he's still practicing, maybe changing a few words here and there. Have you actually read his speech?

DOUGLASS: We've seen different drafts of it. But he is a deadline writer. One of the great things, you know, he writes magnificently. He's made his income as a writer. He writes great speeches. And he fiddles around and perfects and edits until the very last minute. Who knows what kind of changes he's made at the last minute. But as you've heard, it's going to be a powerful speech. It's going to be a speech about him. It's going to be a speech about how he wants to rescue America from the failed policies of the last eight years. It's certainly going to mention John McCain here and there.

KING: What a shock. As you mentioned John McCain, let me follow up on that point. We know he's made his decision about a running mate. There's been a bit of a complaint from your campaign saying this is Barack Obama saying, if they're leaking this out today, that's sort of a cheap shot.

DOUGLASS: Well, you know, you should be, long ago, back in the day when you and I were covering politics long ago, that, you know, the candidate of one party would let the other candidate have its party. In today's overheated media world it may not be that way. You'll hear a lot from the Democrats during John McCain's convention next week. And this is all part of an effort by the McCain campaign to really, you know, try to just throw everything negative at Barack Obama, because they really don't have anything, I don't think, positive to say about what they're going to do for the country.

BLITZER: You made that transition very quickly. Thanks, Linda, very much. She worked for ABC News, worked for CBS longtime network television person, now working for Barack Obama.

Next week, of course, as Republicans turn to the spotlight. CNN's Mary Snow is joining us now with a closer look at how the GOP plans to counter punch.

Mary, what do they have in store for the Democrats?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Republicans have been watching, taking note, and now they will aim to draw sharp contrast between John McCain and Barack Obama.


SNOW: Democrats have been united in one theme as Republicans gear up for their convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Paint John McCain as a third Bush term.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: It makes perfect sense that George Bush and John McCain will be together next week in the twin cities, because these days they're awfully hard to tell apart.

SNOW: To counter that image, Republican strategist Kevin Madden said he's not always towed the party line.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's hard to make a case to the American public that John McCain is not just about party, but instead he's about putting America first.

SNOW: On the economy, Democrats have painted McCain as out of touch and the GOP hurting the working class.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They took us from record surpluses to an exploding debt, from over 22 million new jobs to just 5 million.

SNOW: Republican strategist Scott Reed said McCain has to concentrate on the future.

SCOTT REED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The secret for McCain to win is to talk about his forward-looking agenda, and not talk about Bush and the Bush years, but talk about what he's going to do to create economic growth.

SNOW: On foreign policy, Democrats stress judgment.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Again and again, John McCain has been wrong and Barack Obama is right.

SNOW: Republicans will counter, experience.

MADDEN: This is going to be a contest of candidates on the issue of readiness, on the issue of experience, who's ready to lead from day one?


SNOW: When it comes to swinging undecided voters, Wolf, one Republican strategist we spoke with says the economy is really going to be key for John McCain saying his national security record. He's really going to have to stress his economic plans -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary, thanks very much for that.

Let's talk a little bit more about what we can expect on this historic night. Joining us here on the set with me is Donna Brazile, our CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist and also joining us is our political contributor, Bill Bennett, the host of the conservative national radio show "Morning in America." He's a fellow over at the Clairmont Institute.

I know, Donna, you're very excited. But there's a huge, huge challenge that he faces tonight. He's really got to deliver.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Senator Obama must lay out his vision for the country and to tell the American people how he will govern as president. I think most Americans know right now that senator Obama shares their values. Most Americans want a president who will fight for them, keep jobs here, keep us safe and secure. So I think tonight is about division, and telling them where he will take the country over the next four years.

BLITZER: Bill Bennett, if you were and I know you're not but if you were giving him some advice tonight, what would you tell him?

BILL BENNETT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Listen, it's a great opportunity for him. Yes, there are challenges, Wolf, but he's being asked to do what he knows how to do and what he does very well.

Here's what I think he ought to do. We heard the speeches of the two Clintons, very effective. Biden, quite effective, strong. But they painted a picture of America that because they want to talk about George Bush's America, that was pretty unhappy. It was hard to think of this as a place anyone would want to come to, immigrate to. He has to tell a story of a somewhat different America. He doesn't have to pull any criticism out. But he has to tell the story of the America that made it possible for him to be the nominee of the Democratic Party.

Eight years ago, Wolf, I know you know this, he couldn't get credentials to get on the floor. And now he's the nominee of this party. What kind of country is this, where this can happen. He's got to paint a happier, if you will, a more realistic picture of America as a place that has problems, but is still the last best hope on earth.

BLITZER: It's true, Donna. Americans really want optimism. And you can't just be doom and gloom.

BRAZILE: This is the candidate who has talked about hope throughout the entire campaign. He's been inclusive. He's tried to energize and get the young people in the political process. He's been an embodiment of the American dream. I think tonight you'll hear Senator Obama celebrate the history we've all made, but yet talk about the future that we all want to see.

BLITZER: What grade, Bill, would you give the Democrats so far, three days down, one night to go, it's about to begin? What grade would you give them so far if you're a professor?

BENNETT: I'm cheating, Wolf. I looked over at Paul Begala's paper. I listened to CNN all day, you know that, don't you?

BLITZER: Yes, I do.

BENNETT: I heard Paul say, not clear yet. I think incomplete. I think to close the loop on the Clinton thing, but there was, frankly, too much Clinton. This is Barack Obama's convention. It's Barack Obama's nomination. This is the night that decides it. If he does a great job tonight, he comes out here with a big bounce, you've got to call the convention a success.

BLITZER: What grade so far, Donna? You're a professor at Georgetown University, Donna. What would you give them if these guys were members of your class?

BRAZILE: I would love to say that the Democrats have a satisfactory. This has been a party that had two choirs coming in. Now we have a symphony, a new conductor with Barack Obama. Tonight is important that the Democrats, the American people become a part of this wonderful symphony that we're trying to play out for.

BLITZER: Bill, I've got to ask you about John McCain. You've been hearing, he's now made up his mind. Our Dana Bash is reporting he's decided. We don't know if he's informed his vice presidential running mate, that that is the winner of this process. But they're getting very close. Tomorrow they're going to have a formal event in Ohio. They're going to be appearing together. Could be Tim Pawlenty, could be Mitt Romney, could be Joe Lieberman. What do you think? "A," who do you think it will be, and "B," who do you think it should be? BENNETT: My gut tells me it's Pawlenty. I think the first two choices are a good ide, Pawlenty or Romney and there are other good ideas too. There was some late talk about Sam Brownback. I think that Joe Lieberman is not a good idea. He's a very close personal friend of mine. I admire him very much, but I don't think that's a good idea, Wolf.

John McCain has done a lot of work to shore up the base and I think that would be a mistake to put Lieberman in now. People love Lieberman, admire him for his independence on foreign policy. But this is a guy who's got an American conservative rating of about 8 or 9 percent. It's too much to ask the base to swallow when the base is unhappy, was unhappy with McCain for quite a while.

My guess is, my instinct, my gut tells me Pawlenty. But boy, don't write it down.

BLITZER: And Donna, of all those candidates, who scares you the most?

BRAZILE: I'm not afraid of any of them. I think this is an incredible moment in American politics. I think John McCain should pick someone who he believes would make a great president. The names that Bill mentioned, Pawlenty, Lieberman of course, I'm a Democrat and I would be sad to see him go completely overboard to the Republicans, but Mitt Romney clearly must be a favorite of the Republicans in the conservatives at this point.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, don't go away because we've got a lot to discuss over these coming hours. Thanks very much.

Meanwhile, there is new polling that shows how the race is shaping up in several key battleground states. And those states could determine the outcome of the election. You might be surprised by some of these new results coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

The finale of the Democratic National Convention about to get under way here at Invesco Field in Denver. On the agenda, an Olympic gold medalist reciting the pledge of allegiance, Oscar winner singing the national anthem and a lot more.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're joined now by a special guest, the Reverend Jesse Jackson is here with us. John King is here with us as well.

Reverend Jackson, I understand you had a chance to meet with Senator Biden today?

REV. JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: We had a very good meeting. We met for about an hour. I've known Joe since about 1988 when we competed.

BLITZER: You were running for president. And he was running for president. JACKSON: Yes. Joe Biden is always prepared. He has the reputation as a straight shooter. He is a straight shooter. But he has considerable knowledge in Senate and House banking and finance with the economic crisis and Senate judiciary, as well as foreign relations. I think that Barack hid a gold medal for choosing Biden in my judgment.

BLITZER: That's a nice compliment coming from you.

JACKSON: Whatever doubts there were about the freshness and the ingenuity and instincts for Barack, there's a sense of intergenerational balance between Barack and Joe Biden.

KING: As you know, you wander into controversy from time to time. You were caught during a television interview not long ago using some rather colorful language we won't use on family television here voicing some frustration with Barack Obama. What is the state of your relationship with the candidate? Is there tension, because there is a passing of a torch, if you will, in African-American policies?

JACKSON: No, we just really have good relations. You know, the emergence of Barack full fills the mission about the campaign. You know, we have to pull the Berlin Wall down. When the wall was up, you got shot trying to climb it. Now the wall is down. You now begin to see this real reconciliation. You couldn't reconcile east and west with the wall up.

KING: What did you mean when you said that then? What was your frustration?

JACKSON: My real concern is the message of responsibility is a very sound one. But there's so much pain and poverty in urban America.

Chicago, for example, has 500,000 children, 85 percent are on free lunches. Eighty-five percent of the parents are below the poverty line. We need a meaningful commitment to address the issue of growing poverty. The issue of infrastructural bridges collapses, levees collapsing. I felt he's definitely more effective in the last few months from state senate to U.S. Senate to president I support Barack with a real passion.

BLITZER: Revered Jackson, we remember that controversy because that it was the first time I heard your son, the congressman from Illinois, sort of slap you down a little bit. You remember that.

JACKSON: He's my congressman and I'm his father. And he had a right to make --

BLITZER: I must say, I saw him yesterday. He did it out of a sense of love.

JACKSON: You know, if you have -- the big tendency you have for the Clintons under the big tent, Rendell, we must all fit in this stadium on that big tent. The irony is, on this thing, that the loser in Denver determines the winner in November. So reconciliation is really the key to victory.

BLITZER: You can't make this kind of stuff up. Today is the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. It's amazing the timing. Today for the first time in our history, an African-American will accept the Democratic presidential nomination. You were there with Dr. King. I just want you to wrap up this interview by telling us how Dr. King would feel about today.

JACKSON: He would be elated because he argued that the race relations in terms of barbarism, that had to end. But beyond ending the barbaric gap, we also had to address social and economic justice. I just left jail to come to the march. The day we marched, we were the Marshall law. You came into Washington airport, train station, or highway, under Marshall law. People in jail are beaten to unconsciousness. Our mother was contemplating. We couldn't use -- or rent a room from the hotel across the South. We could not buy ice cream.

So we pulled those walls down. And now we see people swimming across, going across, and relations we've never known before. Barack has taken America and the world to another level. It's a great cause for celebration. I think the martyrs and the murders who suffered to make this day possible, truly must smile.

BLITZER: Reverend Jackson, thanks for coming in. Appreciate it very much.

JACKSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: We have the brand-new polls coming in from our CNN Time Opinion Research Corporation poll. We'll share those results with you in several of the key battleground states right after this.


BLITZER: Check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got the Cafferty File -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is what can Barack Obama say tonight in order to convince you to vote for him?

Steven writes from Tennessee: "All he has to do to solidify my vote is get through his speech without using the phrases, my friends or five and a half years in a P.O.W. camp more than 20 times. America is getting tired of a McCain sentence construction that goes something like this. My friends, noun, verb, five and a half years of captivity. Being a war hero and having leadership skills are different things."

Tim in Montana writes: "In order to get my vote, Barack Obama has to tell me in plain terms that a non-Harvard grad can understand, what exactly he will change and how his great policies will help my family. I don't want a motivational speech or a Sunday sermon. We know Bush/McCain Republicans screwed up. That doesn't necessarily mean I'll vote for Obama." Nick in New Orleans writes: "I only worry about one thing with Obama. I worry how he'll stand up against the Putins and Ahmadinejads and Chavezes of the world. I would really like to hear him address that. But I'll vote for him anyway. How's that expression go? No way, no how, no McCain."

Brian in Idaho writes: "Obama could tell me he was going to deport my family to Pakistan and I would still vote for him over McCain. After all, McCain and his love of war and the draft would probably mean I would end up in the Middle East anyway."

Marty writes: "I think he uses a mixture of what Bill and Hillary Clinton said, drive it home with Biden commonality, he'll win over independent voters. McCain handed Obama my vote with his lack of substance and negative ads."

Carolyn in Arizona, McCain's home state: "Absolutely nothing. In four or eight more years, when he gains some depth of experience in the trenches, I'll consider it."

And Ryan says: "If he announces that Stephen Colbert will be the new secretary of state, I'll consider it."

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

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

We'll take a quick break. We're here at Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium in Denver. We're getting ready for the final night of the Democratic National Convention. The folks are beginning to pack in. We'll show you what's going on right after this.


BLITZER: It's one of the more unusual lines of attack in this campaign, John McCain labeling Barack Obama a celebrity. Carol Costello has more on this story for us. Carol, is this strategy working for Senator McCain?

COSTELLO: Well Wolf, Republicans say it is resonating with voters. You know they're painting Barack Obama as a celebrity who revels at his adoring fans but come on. John McCain doesn't exactly shy away from being a celebrity. What's wrong with being a celebrity anyway?


OBAMA: I want --

COSTELLO: Forget tagging Barack Obama with the "l" word. In 2008, the "c" word is so much worse. That anti-Obama ad spawned an entire strategy. Some Democrats say Republicans can't win on the economy or the war, so they're pinning a shallow, scarlet "c" on nearly everything Obama does, from his brief appearance at the DNC Saturday night.

MADDEN: It's like cotton candy. It melts on contact and you can't live on it.

COSTELLO: To Obama's appearance at the home of the Denver Broncos in front of a Greek revival-type backdrop a McCain memo calls the temple of Obama. It intimates like "Animal House."

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: This is the most ridiculous, non-issue of the campaign. If ever we've had two candidates who do qualify as celebrities, it's Barack Obama and John McCain.

JAY LENO, TALK SHOW HOST: Welcome Senator John McCain, ladies and gentlemen.

COSTELLO: McCain doesn't exactly turn down requests to appear on Leno. He's even appeared in Hollywood movies like the "Wedding Crashers."


COSTELLO: Still, it's not like celebrity hasn't worked for candidates.


COSTELLO: For those Republicans, celebrity was certainly a plus. Larry Sabato says the real distinction here isn't who is a celebrity and who is not, it's really who can draught big crowds. Tonight, Obama will draw 75,000. So far, McCain's largest campaign crowd has been fewer than 5,000 -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much.

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

Happening now, it's an event that will change American history as we know it, Barack Obama accepting his party's nomination from this massive stadium before a massive gathering of party VIPs and ordinary voters.

But John McCain refuses to let the historic occasion bump him from the spotlight. He's stoking the fire with this burning question. Who will he pick as his vice president? And CNN correspondents as well as the best political team on television are standing by across the entire political landscape. We'll bring you every moment that is about to unfold.

This fourth day of the Democratic convention is about to be convened to order.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the Democratic National Convention. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. The unprecedented nature Senator Obama's speech will have many people now and beyond asking, where were you when happened? Senator Obama will give it on this, the very day that Dr. Martin Luther King, gave his, "I Have a Dream" speech 45 years ago. The symbolism is not lost on Democrats, as they've transformed this football field into their dreams of winning the White House.