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THE SITUATION ROOM

Republicans Prepare For Day Two of Convention

Aired September 2, 2008 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And it's happening right now.
Republicans are ready to get started with day two of their convention, but questions swirling over the vice presidential pick, they -- presenting a potential roadblock. John McCain is responding firmly.

And we have learned that the Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska had to answer some very embarrassing questions in her vice presidential vetting. Stand by.

Meanwhile, are some of the questions currently confronting Governor Palin fair, especially the question of whether or not she can balance parenthood with political ambition? The best political team on television weighs in.

And nature threatens blow after blow after blow. Amid Hurricane Gustav's aftermath, three more storms are looming right now. Should you be worried?

I'm Wolf Blitzer in St. Paul at the Republican National Convention. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, the gloves could come back off. Republicans muzzled political attacks yesterday because of Hurricane Gustav. Today, they could lift the self-imposed political gag order. We expect they will.

Republicans are eager to focus back on John McCain and off his running mate. The Alaska governor has been under intense scrutiny, which has produced some surprising items about Governor Palin and her family and questions whether she was fully checked out.

We have even learned she was forced to answer some pretty embarrassing questions during her vetting process, as all potential vice presidential candidates need to do. The best political team on television here, is here watching all angles, Joe Johns, Candy Crowley.

But let's begin with CNN's Dana Bash, who has been looking at just some of the vetting questions -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the man in charge of McCain's V.P. vetting process is A.B. Culvahouse, one of Washington's most respected powerhouse lawyers.

And I'm told that McCain called him one last time to be sure he thought that the little known governor's background could really withhold media scrutiny, and that Culvahouse gave McCain the go-ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): On the road to Saint Paul, John McCain defended the process that led him to Sarah Palin.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My vetting process was completely thorough, and I'm grateful for the result.

BASH: But after the bombshell news about Palin's teenage daughter's pregnancy, McCain's campaign is trying to quiet concerns about more surprises. A senior official with intimate knowledge of McCain's V.P. vetting process called CNN to walk us through it.

First, a preliminary report on Palin, one of some 20 contenders, based on public records such as disclosure forms, newspaper articles, and interview transcripts. That was given to McCain and the four top advisers involved in this secretive process.

Then Palin made the short list. That meant a credit check, a call for tax returns and other financial disclosure firms. She and others got a list of 70 intrusive questions, like Have you ever paid for sex? Have you ever been fairly or unfairly accused of sexual harassment?

In one answer, Palin told McCain aides about her husband's DUI arrest 22 years ago. Next, chief vetter A.B. Culvahouse, Palin for three hours. It was there, CNN is told, Palin revealed her teenage daughter's pregnancy and was warned it would become public if she were picked. She said she'd have the conversations with her daughter, the official tells CNN.

From the start of the vetting a red flag was a state senate investigation into whether Palin improperly dismissed Alaska's public safety commissioner for not firing her ex-brother-in-law. CNN is told McCain investigators spent considerable time looking into so-called trooper-gate, interviewing Palin's lawyer and quietly talking to others involved, and decided the facts were on her side.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, this source I talked to intimately involved with the vetting process said, aside from those people they talked to involved with trooper-gate, they really didn't spend a lot of time talking to maybe character witnesses for Palin in Alaska.

And they also, Wolf, they didn't go into her hometown and look at her -- the newspaper articles from her hometown paper in Wasilla, Alaska? Why? Because it's actually on microfilm, and they felt that that would potentially disclose this very secret process that they were undertaking -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks, Dana. We are going to be checking back with you.

Among the people explaining who John McCain is tonight will include the former presidential candidate Fred Thompson, the former Democratic vice presidential candidate Senator Joe Lieberman. And President Bush himself will address the crowd by video link from the White House.

You see Rudy Giuliani right there with his wife, Judith. They are practicing -- at least, he is practicing. He's going to be delivering the speech, a prime-time speech, tomorrow night. We just saw him here in THE SITUATION ROOM a little while ago, giving us a preview of what he plans to say.

Let's go up to the podium right now. Candy Crowley is standing by.

I guess the Republicans, Candy, must be pretty happy to get their convention back on track, now that Gustav didn't appear to be as disastrous for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast as it could have been.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.

And, of course, they're anxious to kind of move this storyline along here, with basically character witnesses for John McCain, people that have known him very well. Joe Lieberman, Fred Thompson are very close friends, have been very close friends, despite the fact that Thompson of course ran against McCain in the primaries.

So, they would like to move this along, talk about Barack Obama, but, tonight, mostly talk about who John McCain is. As you know, one of the mottoes, if you will, of the McCain campaign has been country first. In fact, you can see it all the way around right below you -- or, rather, right above you, Wolf, as you see that slogan.

So, this is going to be about service to country. And it's going to be about one other thing. It's going to be about experience. That is what all of these speakers will, in one way or another, emphasize, saying that John McCain has the experience to go ahead and lead the country from day one.

That may sound familiar, but this is a tack, of course, that Hillary Clinton took during the primary, at least tacitly. Tonight -- and maybe more directly later on -- comparing John McCain's experience to that of Barack Obama.

Mostly, what they would like to do at this point is move the headlines up forward, away from Palin and all the problems that have come up with that particular nomination or that particular selection, and for one night, have this now focused on John McCain, who he is and what he brings to the table, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Candy. Candy is going to be with us throughout the night as well. Stand by.

We want to go right to Chad Myers at the CNN Hurricane Center. There's -- what? What's happening in New Orleans, Chad, right now?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, a tornado warning, Wolf. We have had tornado warnings in Mississippi and Alabama for a lot of the day, but now we have a storm that is right over Marrero, going to head to the north and get into the Garden District, maybe just to the west side of the French Quarter as well. Spin in the sky, not a tornado on the ground yet, but enough spin with this storm that the Weather Service says take cover.

The only good news is, there's very few people there to take cover. They're all gone. To the north, though, where people evacuated to, one of the towns up in McComb, Mississippi, there's a tornado warning for you as well, kind of a rough night for parts of the Deep South -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And that explains, Chad, why the governor and others are saying don't come back yet, if you were evacuated, because in the immediate aftermath of a hurricane, there could be tornadoes. Is that right?

MYERS: No question about it. There are already power lines down. There are shingles that are loose. You get a small tornado, it could really do more damage to these buildings that are just a little bit on the fragile side at this point.

BLITZER: We're going to be speaking with the governor, Bobby Jindal, in a few minutes. Stand by for that, Chad. Thank you.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: There was good news out of Iraq over this past holiday weekend. The United States military has ceded control of Anbar Province, once one of the deadliest places in that entire country, to the Iraqi military.

American casualties way down from their peak and there seems now to be a growing consensus that American military forces are going to be able to leave Iraq some time in the next couple of years. The situation has come a long way from the darkest days, when millions of Iraqis became refugees, hundreds of thousands of them were killed, and nothing approaching political stability was anywhere on the horizon.

The oil's flowing in Iraq once again. Hey, they're sitting on an $80 billion surplus in bank accounts. Something resembling stability is threatening to return to the country and the government as well.

With the tribal animosities, though, that go back thousands of years, it's too soon to declare it's all over. There's no doubt about it, though. At this point, things are definitely looking up.

As evidence of this, a recent CNN poll indicates that only 18 percent of Americans consider the war in Iraq to be the number-one issue in this coming November's presidential election. Forty-eight percent say it's the economy.

So, here's the question: How important will the Iraq war be to voters come November?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog -- or not -- Wolf. BLITZER: A lot of people do. Thousands of people do every single day. Jack, thank you.

She's creating controversy, but, in some key corners of the electoral map, the vice presidential pick, Sarah Palin, could help John McCain. We're going to show you on the magic board. John King is standing by.

And Hurricane Gustav certainly could have been worse. But for many Gulf Coast residents, it's certainly bad enough, flooding, damage, more than a million households without power, and, we just heard, a tornado swirling around New Orleans right now.

And another killer storm may be preparing to strike the United States, with two more gaining strength in the Atlantic. We will have a complete update.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Republican Convention here at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul about to get under way. We're standing by for that. We're told the Republican will take the gloves off tonight.

Stay with us. Our coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're standing by to speak with Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. We will get the latest on Hurricane Gustav, what's going on in New Orleans, elsewhere along the Gulf Coast. Stand by for that.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of evacuees from Louisiana desperately want to go home, but the word from state officials, not so quickly, not yet. There's no power. Some roads and buildings are still in shambles. Parts of the state are basically uninhabitable. And there's a tornado swirling around New Orleans right now, fear of more tornadoes on the way.

Let's check in with CNN's Brian Todd. He's in Houma, Louisiana. It's about 60 miles southwest of New Orleans.

Brian, that city where you are, it got hit pretty hard.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure did, Wolf.

This was pretty much ground zero, where the eye wall of Hurricane Gustav touched down, very dramatic scenes of damage here. This massive tree and power pole came crashing down on the house here in Houma, took out two vehicles, also destroyed two columns from the front porch, took them right out. This is one of those columns.

Now, the gentleman who lives here, Carl Thomas (ph), was very fortunate. He was out here cranking his generator, trying to get the power going in that, took a break. He couldn't get his generator going. He took a break inside the house -- 30 seconds later, all of this came crashing down. He survived, he and many, many residents of this parish very lucky tonight.

The sheriff tells us 95 percent of parish residents evacuated before Gustav hit. The sheriff knows of no deaths or injuries, Wolf, but the bad news is, the sheriff here tells us he doesn't think that a lot of these residents are going to get their power back for maybe as long as a month from now, so that's going to be a huge problem.

Also, the town's services might have to be curtailed because of that. Hospital services, getting healthy water to drink he says it's going to be a real challenge. So, they have got a long way to go before they're really at -- kind of at full capacity here.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, stand by.

I want to go to New Orleans right now. We just got word a tornado -- a tornado is swirling around.

Susan Roesgen is there in New Orleans. She's joining us live.

It's pretty scary stuff when you hear a tornado is about to go into a major city. What's the latest, Susie (ph)?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think most people here haven't gotten the message because there's only a few people in different pockets.

Yes, a tornado can be very dangerous, but I think the big feeling here is, what a relief. This city survived something that could have been like Armageddon for the city of New Orleans. It could have meant the end. The Big Easy did get battered around, but we're still here. We're still standing. People are going to come back eventually. And eventually, maybe as soon as just a few days, this city will be back in business.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROESGEN (voice-over): On any day of the year, except Christmas, the famous Cafe Du Monde is a crazy mix of people and powdered sugar. This is where you get those messy delicious beignets.

JAY ROMAN, OWNER, CAFE DU MONDE: Cafe Du Monde has been part of New Orleans since 1862. And we feel like we're intertwined into the city's history. And we take that role very seriously.

ROESGEN: In a city that depends on tourism, the French Quarter is always the first place to get its power back. Other neighborhoods aren't so lucky. And some are still mostly empty, waiting for people to come back and peel off the plywood. Then again, some people never left.

ANN LEYENS, RESIDENT OF NEW ORLEANS: We saw the National Guard two days before. They -- they really prepared. They did a wonderful job. They got everybody out that was willing to go. ROESGEN: Compared to Katrina, Gustav was nothing, unless you come home to find this. The owners were in the middle of renovating.

NIKKI NICHOLSON, RESIDENT OF NEW ORLEANS: Isn't it awful? They have been working on it for like six months. And then they are going to have to come back to this.

ROESGEN: Knowing most people in the city, the owners will straighten the house up and keep going. If nothing else, New Orleanians are resilient.

At Cafe Du Monde, the owners say, come back this weekend. The cafe au lait and beignets will be waiting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROESGEN: Wolf, there is an ironic thing happening now. You know, that storm came to the west of us and it really, as you pointed out with Brian Todd, just hammered Baton Rouge.

We're getting word now that the hospitals in Baton Rouge that tried to stay open and were on backup generator could not supply enough power to keep the air conditioning going. Patients can't survive in 90-degree heat without the air conditioning. So get this, Wolf. They are now sending some of those patients back to New Orleans hospitals. Who would have ever thought that would happen?

They're sending the patients back here, perhaps as many as 800 patients, back to New Orleans hospitals that have been able to stay open and do have air conditioning. So, Baton Rouge really got the worst of it. I know we weren't expecting it there. We feel sorry for Baton Rouge, but New Orleans is doing OK.

BLITZER: All right, well, that's encouraging for New Orleans. Sorry about Baton Rouge, but, as we have been saying, all of this could have been a whole lot worse.

All right, Susan Roesgen, thanks very much.

(NEWS BREAK)

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is looking at I-Reports showing the aftermath of the storm.

Abbi, what are you seeing?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Carol, this is what we're just starting to get in the last couple of hours, I-Reporters returning back to communities where they had evacuated and showing us what they see, what Gustav left behind.

Take a look at this, this New Iberia. We're going to the south here of Lafayette, Louisiana. Look at some of the flooding in this community that was evacuated. Two to three feet in some places in the lower areas, is what Dawn Hayes, who took that video, she estimates. You can here from Brett Livaudais' picture other streets in that community also under water, though they say that they didn't see too much damage to the houses, so, that couple both from Lafayette. And let me show you what the picture is there, tree after tree down, people coming out of their homes, venturing out now to start the cleanup effort, Brett saying that that effort is well under way -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Thank you, Abbi.

Are some of the questions confronting John McCain's running mate fair, especially the question of whether or not she can balance parenthood with political ambition?

Also, where might Governor Sarah Palin politically help McCain or hurt him?

And, in about an hour, Republicans will gavel in day two of this convention. We will bring that to you live and preview the main attractions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And this just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM: Senator Barack Obama has now received his first in-depth intelligence briefing as the newly minted Democratic presidential nominee.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's standing by with details.

I take it this intelligence briefing goes a lot further than ones he received before he became the official Democratic presidential nominee. Is that right, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: By all accounts, Wolf, that is exactly right.

We knew that, earlier today, Senator Obama traveled to the FBI field office in Chicago to receive what his spokesman called routine intelligence briefings, but now we know much more about what was said behind closed doors.

A team of intelligence experts from the office of the director of national intelligence, the top intel official in the U.S., traveled to Chicago and briefed Senator Obama on intelligence matters, far beyond the briefings he would receive as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

This was about very specific matters of national security and intelligence interests, we are told. We are not being given the details. We can only assume subjects, such as Osama bin Laden, the threats posed by Iran, that type of subject is what came up.

What we also have been able to confirm from our sources is that President Bush has now made the decision, as all presidents eventually do during a campaign season, that the top four candidates from the two parties, presidential and vice presidential candidates, will now get intelligence briefings.

So, today, Senator Obama was the first. This will be followed, of course, by Senator Biden, Senator McCain, and the governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.

What is interesting, of course, to people is, the three senators have security clearances as members of those two committees, Senator McCain on Armed Services, Senators Biden and Obama as members of Foreign Relations. There's no indication that Governor Palin has those types of security clearances, but she will, as a matter of routine, get the same type of briefings -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do we know, Barbara, that these intelligence briefings that Senator Obama has now received today and that Senator McCain will start receiving after he's the official Republican nominee, are they the same that the president gets every day in his daily intelligence brief?

STARR: Well, to be quite candid, Wolf, I don't think we do know the specific answer to that, because, to some extent, it will depend, one can only suppose, on what the intelligence community puts in that briefing.

It will also depend, Wolf, on what questions the candidates ask of the intelligence briefers when they sit down with them. We have looked into this a fair amount, and what the intelligence community experts tell us is, over the years, there's been a wide variety, a wide range of experiences about just how curious the candidates are, and how much they press their briefers for more information.

So, we will wait and see, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much.

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

Happening now: Republicans bombarded with tough questions about John McCain's vice presidential pick, but is Sarah Palin facing a double standard because she's a woman?

Also, two major speeches now just hours away here in Saint Paul, President Bush and the former Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, all of this with the best political team on television.

Plus, the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, takes us on a tour of some of the hardest-hit parts of Louisiana, a firsthand look at the damage from Hurricane Gustav.

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

Despite the controversy, Republican insiders are still very excited to have Governor Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate, and they can point to specific places where they think she will help the ticket in November.

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King. He's standing by over at the magic board.

John, and you have a special guest who knows a lot about polls and politics.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

I have Republican strategist Whit Ayres with me. He is one of those who on the floor of the convention here who, despite the skepticism in some editorial pages, thinks Sarah Palin will help John McCain.

Whit, give me a quick overview and then we will get a closer look at the map. How do you think and where do you think Sarah Palin helps John McCain?

WHIT AYRES, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: John, it's hard to overstate the enthusiasm and electricity that the Palin nomination has brought to this convention and these delegates.

If she performs well over the next couple of months, I can potentially see her helping in three different places. The first would be those areas where Barack Obama struggled against Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

KING: OK. That would be in that this area.

AYRES: Exactly. The second is her frontier spirit and her independent-mindedness, I think, helping in the Mountain West, particularly some states that have since become competitive.

KING: Out here, OK.

AYRES: And then the third area would be in those states that Barack Obama has talked about targeting in the South, to make them safer for John McCain.

KING: That would be in here. There's the three circles.

Now I'm going to turn this off for a second and we're going to take a closer look.

You say where Senator Clinton did well in the primaries. Let's take a look at one of the places right here. This is southeast Ohio. Tell me why you think Sarah Palin would help in a place like down here.

AYRES: Well, look at some of the places, Clinton 71-26.

Keep going down, Clinton 53-45. Keep going down -- 77-20, Clinton beats Obama, 78-19.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: What in these communities makes Sarah Palin attractive?

AYRES: It's a more rural area. It's a more South, small-town area.

It's an area where Barack Obama is having some difficulty connecting culturally, where I think Sarah Palin will really help McCain perform well.

KING: OK. We'll switch maps now and go to one of the other -- two of the other places you mentioned.

First, you mentioned out here, the frontier area. I'm going to circle it here. One of the states we list now as a toss-up is Colorado. It went red last time, nine electoral votes.

Why do you think Sarah Palin could potentially swing that to John McCain?

AYRES: She's got that frontier spirit, that independent mindedness that I think plays well in the Rocky Mountain States. I think Colorado is one that is on the cusp. New Mexico is another one that's on the cusp.

KING: You think she could swing that back?

We have it leaning blue right now.

AYRES: I think it's possible that she could really help in New Mexico.

KING: OK. And the other question you raised was down here. Now, we have these states as red. But you're right, Barack Obama -- Virginia is a toss-up. And he thinks he can play in North Carolina and Georgia.

Again, Sarah Palin is from way over here in Alaska.

Why do you think she can play down here in the South?

AYRES: Sarah Palin will play beautifully in any mega churches in suburban areas like Charlotte or Atlanta. She will play beautifully in rural areas, in any gun shows. She could really help put North Carolina and Georgia out of reach for Obama, which would be one less thing that the McCain campaign would have to worry about.

KING: And one last quick question would be the suburbs in places like Pennsylvania. You can't win Pennsylvania unless you can win in the Philadelphia suburbs. They tend to be more moderate voters there who favor abortion rights.

Do we have any idea how Sarah Palin would play in a place like out here, in Delaware County, and in Montgomery County and Bucks County, Chester County, around Philadelphia.

AYRES: It remains to be seen how she does there. She's going to have to energize women. And I think there's something symbolic about her nomination -- at least talking to the women at this convention. It's as important to them to have a woman nominated for vice president as it is for African-Americans to have Barack Obama nominated. It's bigger than any one issue.

KING: And, Wolf, what you see right is the enthusiasm among Republican activists and most Republican strategists. Of course, if you did notice, Whit Ayers did say from the beginning, if she holds up to the scrutiny of the next two months. And that will begin, of course, with her big speech in this convention hall.

But Republicans do believe that she adds a lot to deal with that enthusiasm gap we talked about so much, where Democrats have been so excited about this election. The Republican base so far more lackluster. You sense it out on the floor here. They like what they hear so far about Sarah Palin.

BLITZER: But a quick question, Whit.

I hope you can hear me.

AYRES: Sure.

BLITZER: Is there any evidence that over the years -- and you've studied this about as well as anyone -- that voters really care about vice presidents?

Because they always vote for the top of the tickets. It would be John McCain and Barack Obama.

Do you think this time that the vice presidential nominee on the Republican side could really make a difference?

AYRES: Wolf, it's certainly the case that people vote for the top of the ticket. But her nomination is sending a symbolic message that has really energized this convention. And if she can reach out in the same way to independent women around the country, she could really make a difference.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

Whit Ayres.

AYRES: Thank you.

BLITZER: John King is not going away. He's going to be with us all night.

Certainly part of the controversy surrounding vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin stems from her role as a mother of a large family facing serious challenges. And some say that smacks of a double standard.

Let's go back to Carol. She's working the story for us. What is it all about -- Carol? What's going on here?

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, you know, there is a new video on John McCain's Web site introducing Sarah Palin as a maverick government reformer. But talk of Governor Palin's pregnant daughter and her baby son is drowning that out. There is actually a debate raging whether Palin, as a mother of five, can lead the country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): We've come a long way baby -- unless you have babies.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was just your average hockey mom in Alaska.

COSTELLO: Sarah Palin's attempt to balance motherhood with political ambitions is generating plenty of debate among women. Some wonder if she can, given that her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant and her newborn son has Down Syndrome.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a child who has special needs. And I know how hard it is to work and have a child, even though my husband really contributes to his upbringing. So I think it's particularly difficult when you have a child with special needs, in addition to a new baby.

COSTELLO: There's plenty of buzz on conservative blogs, too. This post from spiritual Beliefnet.com: "The mom in me wonders why she's exposing her family to all of this garbage."

It's the kind of buzz rarely heard about career dads. Barack Obama, after all, has two young daughters. Some women told us they're miffed at that.

After all, Sarah Palin has a husband, doesn't she?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean what's her husband doing? Is he a home husband?

I mean he could take care of them too, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If a man could be vice president with a family of five, a woman could just as well be. Women are just as competent as men.

COSTELLO: One woman already in a position of influence agrees.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And I think that Sarah Palin has proven that you can choose, as a woman, to be a mother and be a strong executive and to have a wonderful, loving family.

COSTELLO: Other women say they're worried Palin, even with the help of her husband, won't be able to handle the job, which could reinforce the notion that working mothers really can't have it all.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

COSTELLO: You know, it's a debate many women say we shouldn't be having in 2008. There are a ton of women who work and manage to be wonderful mothers. The truth is there's also a certain amount of guilt women have when they decide to have it all. And maybe, Wolf, that's part of the reason this debate is now raging. BLITZER: Carl, thanks very much for bringing us that story.

Let's get some more now on the controversy swirling around Governor Palin and more.

For that, we're joined by our own Jack Cafferty; our CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's here in St. Paul with me; as is Steve Hayes, the senior writer for "The Weekly Standard."

Guys, thanks very much.

Let me get your reaction. You're a working mom. You've got two sons, what we just heard.

Can she balance being a vice president raising five kids, including a 4-month-old who has special needs, has Down Syndrome?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, as a working mom, I have to tell you, every woman has to answer that question for herself. I would never say that a woman can't do it. I would never say that a woman should do it. I know that I worked and had kids. And I know it was really, really hard. I have a great husband who contributes.

So I don't think you can make any generalizations about working moms. I think the question is her qualifications and what her choice -- and the way this choice was done tells you about John McCain because, after all, he's the candidate.

BLITZER: Let me get -- bring in Jack Cafferty -- Jack, the controversy continues, not so much on what Carol Costello was just reporting, on this supposed double standard that's out there, but on her qualifications to be commander-in-chief. It's not going away, by any means, although you just heard Whit Ayers, the Republican poster, tell us that she could really help galvanize, strengthen that conservative base and help John McCain get elected?

CAFFERTY: Well, that may be. I don't know if she can help him get elected. I think she can help him strengthen the conservative base of the Republican Party.

But I think, at the end of the day, people who are undecided or perhaps Independents will have to decide if this 44-year-old woman who has been in the governor's mansion in a state that has the same size population as Austin, Texas is qualified to be the leader of the free world, command the largest military nuclear arsenal the world has ever known, deal with the people like Ahmadinejad and Chavez and Putin, who was out killing endangered species -- shot a tiger today. I mean these aren't lightweight guys you meet at a PTA meeting.

And I think undecided voters are going to have to make that determination.

John McCain is not a young man. John McCain has had four bouts of melanoma. It's conceivable he wouldn't finish the first term. Voters have to decide whether they want her to finish it for him. BLITZER: I know, Steve Hayes, I suspect you disagree with Jack -- Steve.

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER AT "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes, look, I mean this is what we've been hearing now for three days. It's getting tired. It's the same old talking point.

Why is Barack Obama more qualified than Sarah Palin?

She has had executive experience. She's run a state. She's run a budget. You ask people in the Obama campaign what he's done that qualifies him to be president, where his experience comes from, and they consistently tell you that it's because he's run a presidential campaign. I'm sorry, that does not...

BORGER: That's not their argument.

HAYES: ...that does not give him more experience. It doesn't make him qualified to be the leader of the free world, as Jack has raised.

BORGER: But if you're talking about executive experience, Wolf -- and, by the way, I agree with you. I don't think that's a great argument for the Obama campaign. But John McCain doesn't have a lot of executive experience, either.

BLITZER: He's been a senator for 26 years.

BORGER: Right he's been a senator, but hasn't run something, which I think seems to be the argument they're having.

HAYES: All right, let's take a step back. I mean what's interesting about this debate is we are obsessing about her experience and we're talking about it in the context of Barack Obama's experience. This helps the McCain campaign. This helps the McCain campaign. This is exactly what happened in 2004 with Dick Cheney and John Kerry, where Dick Cheney and John Kerry engaged in a debate about national security issues, about who was the most qualified to be commander-in-chief, and George W. Bush stayed above the fray. And the Cheney people, at the time, couldn't believe that Kerry was engaging Cheney.

Well, here you have a debate about Barack Obama's experience, on the one hand, Sarah Palin's on the other...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Jack, what do you think about this argument that you know what, Barack Obama doesn't have a whole lot of so-called executive experience, either?

CAFFERTY: Well, I don't think either Barack Obama or Joe Biden has been engaging Sarah Palin. I mean that's just false. The only people that are raising this are the folks who are armed with a list of Republican talking points.

I clicked around and watch the Sunday morning talk shows. Every single Republican on every single Sunday morning talk show said exactly the same thing, in some cases word for word. It's like they all had a meeting the night before and said here's your speech, go out and give it. I mean it's fairly transparent what's going on here.

How do you defend this?

James Carville, who has a way with a phrase, said: "This is the weirdest thing I've ever seen."

BLITZER: Yes. Let me ask, Steve, what does this say about John McCain?

His decision -- he had since early February to think about it. That's when he clinched the nomination. He had six months or so -- if not longer -- to come up with a vice presidential running mate -- the most important decision a vice -- a presidential candidate -- a presidential nominee can do. And what we're told, he met briefly with her in February. And then in the last few days, before he had to make up his mind, he met with her again.

Now, what does this say about his decision-making process, because some are suggesting it's the other side of being a maverick, if you will?

HAYES: Yes. And I agree with that. And I think, actually, those are very legitimate questions, as we talk about the selection of Sarah Palin. It's perfectly legitimate to talk about those things and the policy things that they've missed.

What I think is outrageous -- and has me fired up in a way I haven't been fired up in a long time -- is the suggestion that she's somehow a bad mother. And the suggestion that comes from feminists, who, for years have been saying you can't denigrate women because they choose to work now are suddenly saying she can't possibly do this or she's a bad mother. I find that outrageous.

BORGER: Well, I...

BLITZER: Let's look ahead to tonight for a moment, Gloria. Lieberman -- Joe Lieberman, eight years ago -- almost exactly eight years ago, he was the Democratic vice presidential nominee. And tonight he's going to be speaking behind us, endorsing Senator John McCain.

It's a real split screen moment, if will you.

BORGER: Right. Right. And, you know, Wolf, there are some who say -- and our reporting shows -- that he was almost the vice presidential nominee this time around.

BLITZER: I think McCain would have had, you know, complete cart blanche and...

BORGER: He would...

BLITZER: He could have done that, but there would have been an uproar on the floor from a lot of conservatives about that.

BORGER: And that's one of the reasons they went with Sarah Palin.

But to answer your question, I think they think he's the perfect fellow to get out there and be a character witness for John McCain, particularly on the war in Iraq, and for John McCain as a maverick, somebody who follows his heart, somebody who's courageous, who will stand up and fight for what he believes in. And Joe Lieberman, who has been ostracized from the Democratic Party, knows how he feels because he agrees with McCain on Iraq.

He's not going to attack George W. Bush, he's going to support John McCain.

BLITZER: What do you think about all of this?

Looking ahead to tonight's schedule, with Lieberman, Fred Thompson, among others, the president of the United States via satellite, is going to be addressing this crowd as well, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well, Lieberman stood up in 2000, when he was on the other side of the aisle and the candidate for the Democratic vice presidential office, and absolutely trashed -- laid waste to the Republican Party and to its positions. You know, this -- Lieberman is the most opportunistic, self-absorbed politician that I can think of right off of the top of my head. And it's tough to come up with somebody to head the list.

He'd better hope McCain wins this election, because what the hell is he going to do for a future in Washington, D.C. if McCain loses?

BLITZER: Do you think, Steve, the Democrats will dump him as the chairman if they (INAUDIBLE)?

HAYES: Well, I'm not sure he's going to feel great love from the Democrats even if John McCain wins.

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: There is no love now.

HAYES: There is no love. There hasn't been love since 2006.

I think the important thing that Joe Lieberman is going to do tonight -- again, away from the convention, for people not paying close attention to this, they're going to stop and say wait a second. This is the guy who, eight years ago, was leading the Democratic ticket or number two on the Democratic ticket and he's now with John McCain?

And I think in a change election, that could be a really important moment.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

We're going to stand by. We're going to be watching all of this.

Up next, he's supposed to be here in St. Paul, but instead he's dealing with a hurricane. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal -- he's standing by live. We'll speak with the governor, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There is a tornado in New Orleans.

We're in St. Paul.

We're about to get an update on Gustav from the governor -- the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal. He's standing by live. We'll speak with him in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right to Louisiana. The governor, Bobby Jindal, is standing by. We want to get an update on what's going on.

Governor, thanks very much for joining us. Our heart goes out to everyone in Louisiana along the Gulf Coast. Update our viewers right now on what the situation is in Louisiana and your state.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: Well, Wolf, first of all, I want to thank the American people for their generosity. Literally tens of thousands of our people are in shelters in seven other states, including Louisiana. That makes eight states sheltering tens of thousands of our people.

Literally, the storm has moved up to the northern part of Louisiana as we speak. We're here in New Orleans. We've got a tornado that's come through the west bank, going through the east bank of New Orleans.

But the good news is this. The good news is this. Unlike 2005, we're not reporting mass fatalities. The reality is the people listened. The people evacuated. Over 95 percent of our people left coastal Louisiana -- the largest ever evacuation in our country's history.

We also evacuated 1,000 patients out of hospitals and nursing homes -- the largest ever medical evacuation. And we used buses, trains, airplanes, helicopters. We got people out of harm's way.

I just came back, literally, from St. Mary's Parish, from Houma, Morgan City, from Grand Isle, from the areas that were hardest hit, where the center of the hurricane first made landfall. What they report, tremendous property damage. Power is out for over a million people in Louisiana.

But the good news is this. We don't have the mass fatalities. We've got a lot of work ahead of us -- not only debris removal, but we have hundreds of patients in hospitals and nursing homes running on generators. We're going to either have to get more fuel and more generators for those facilities or airlift and move those patients by ambulance out of harm's way.

We've got a lot of work ahead of us. But the good news is this -- a very strong storm hit Louisiana's coast. The people listened. They were moved out of the way safely. Now we're dealing with debris cleanup and getting power back to our people.

BLITZER: We have a little bug up there saying you're in Baton Rouge. But right now you're really in New Orleans right now, aren't you?

JINDAL: We are, indeed. We're literally here in downtown New Orleans. And, Wolf, if you remember how badly devastated New Orleans was in 2005. We've seen a couple of non- federal levee breaches. We've not had the significant breaches you had in 2005. So the city escaped worst of the storm. You don't see the massive flooding.

People should be able to return home over the next several days. The mayor obviously will make that decision and the state will provide him with the support he needs.

Within 24 hours of telling us they're ready, we can reverse the trains and buses and planes that took them out of the harm's way.

But I want to emphasize, there is still a tremendous amount of work to do here in Louisiana. Over a million people without power. That means dozens of hospitals and nursing homes. That means water and sewer systems aren't up and running in dozens of communities. There's a lot more work to do.

To use a sporting analogy, we may be at halftime, but we've got a lot of work to do. The good news is our people are resilient. We're going to bounce back stronger than we were before.

But I want to emphasize, this is a great country. All kinds of states sent planes, supplies, opened up shelters. The American people have proven again how generous they are.

BLITZER: They certainly have. We're with you every step of the way, governor. Thanks very much. Good luck to everyone in Louisiana along the Gulf Coast. We're praying. And more than that, we're going to get involved and help you, as well. Appreciate your good work. Thank you.

JINDAL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN was also there as the governor and other officials surveyed the damage left behind by Hurricane Gustav.

Jeanne Meserve is live in Baton Rouge right now.

And update our viewers on what you saw -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there was so much water and so much debris in Grand Isle that the helicopters carrying the governor and the secretary of Homeland Security had trouble finding a place to land. They finally did land there and in several other cities, getting an assessment from the air and the ground of the damage this storm did.

Secretary Chertoff was roundly criticized after Katrina for not getting to the Gulf sooner. He said he not only got bad publicity, but bad information. And that's why he's doing it differently this time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: What was frustrating for me two years ago was getting conflicting information and trying to reach people and having the information filtered through one of two or three layers. That that, in the end, you get three or four different stories and you can't really make a decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: The fundamental problem around this state is power. It is going to take time to get it back. Nobody knows how long. And the problem is there are all these storms teeing up over the ocean. Governor Jindal says this state will be ready if another one should come here, but it will not be easy -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne.

Thank you.

Jack Cafferty wants to know how much the Iraq War will matter in November. Your answers, your comments, coming up.

Also, more from the convention here in St. Paul after this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just a few days ago, she was so new, even those of us in the media needed a pronunciation guide.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER," COURTESY HBO)

BILL MAHER, HOST: Governor Sarah Palin. Whatever. I'll learn it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Even now, it takes a sec.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wait a minute. It's Palin.

What's her first name?

My God, Stephanie Palin, is it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah Palin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my god.

MOOS: Her name may not trip off the tongue, but her mini scandal has tongues wagging. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, God, we know her daughter's pregnant, oh Lord have mercy.

MOOS: From the cover of the "New York Post" to "Us" weekly, it makes a V.P. candidate almost wish she were back telling the news, rather than making it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Sarah Palin is here with sports.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anyway, the battle for Seattle continued this weekend.

MOOS: So does the battle over her candidacy.

(on camera): Do you care about the daughter being pregnant?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If she can't manage her children...

MOOS (voice-over): If this keeps up, she may long for the time she was known as...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's her name?

MOOS (on camera): Does it -- does that ring any bells?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, no, it don't.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: McCain's running mate?

MOOS: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Obama.

MOOS (voice-over): With an unconventional moment, I'm Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Well, Hurricane Gustav forced the Republicans to scale back the start of their convention and it will start in about 38 minutes from now. This is day two.

Protesters have not been holding back. They're putting a tight security here to the test.

Let's go to Joe Johns.

He's watching what has been outside of the convention hall, a rather wild start.

What's the latest -- Joe? JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, authorities right now are watching very closely a protest involving about 300 people. Before that kicked out, it had been very quiet here in this town. And they were hoping to keep it that way.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): On the first day, it was not exactly the welcoming party Republicans had in mind when they picked St. Paul for their convention.

Somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 demonstrators pushing for all kinds of causes and generally against the Iraq War pretty much got upstaged by a handful of guys in black wearing bandannas, who call themselves anarchists and who organized through small newspapers and the Internet.

Small groups of them splintered off and took to roaming the downtown St. Paul streets, tearing stuff up.

More than 280 people arrested on the first day, 130 charged with felonies, vandalism, damage to property, suspicion of rioting -- that sort of thing.

Police responded with pepper spray, crowd control gas and, of course, handcuffs, but called the day a success because the protesters could not shut down the convention.

CHIEF JOHN HARRINGTON, ST. PAUL POLICE: Yesterday, there was a group of criminals who came here with a very expressed goal and intent. They came here to try and stop the convention, to crash the gates, to stop the buses and the delegates from being able to do their lawful duty. They failed.

JOHNS: Meanwhile, there were new accusations of police heavy- handedness. Amy Goodman, a liberal radio show host, released video of police arresting her. She said her producers were also arrested and treated roughly.

AMY GOODMAN, DEMOCRACYNOW.ORG: I just ran up to the riot police. They had a line and I said I need to talk to your commanding officer. My reporters had been arrested. And they grabbed me immediately.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

JOHNS: Goodman was released and actually able to attend a news conference this morning. I asked authorities to comment on her case. So far, Wolf, nothing on the record.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

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

CAFFERTY: The recent CNN poll this summer showed that 48 percent of the people consider the economy the most important issue. Just 18 percent say the wash in Iraq is the important issue.

So we asked this hour: How important is that war going to be to voters come November

Paulette writes from Pennsylvania: "I think Iraq will be very important. The way we got into the war, how we handled the war, Iraq building up billions in surpluses while draining America's economy and how and when we'll return home are all important questions that have to be answered by the candidates."

A. writes: "The American people have to come to realize the Iraq War is linked directly to the economy. We spend $10 billion a month in Iraq. Of course, the war is going to play a monumental role in this year's election."

Pam writes: "How important will the war be? Extremely, if you have a loved one fighting in it. But despite the 'we support our troops' bumper stickers, not so important if you don't -- and that's sad to say."

Chris writes: "It depends. If major bad news comes out of Iraq, the media will jump all over it, elevate Iraq as an issue. If good news comes out of Iraq, the media most likely won't report much of anything and the main issue will remain the economy -- which most Americans are concerned with anyway, regardless of their politics."

Cheryl in Rockmar, Georgia: "People are currently concerned about keeping a roof over their head, food on the table for their families. That makes Iraq fall farther down on the list of priorities. It will become an issue only if more people die there."

And Taylor says: "Americans are increasingly aware of how the past eight years have tarnished our reputation around the world. Although the war in Iraq might not be the most important, the candidates' positions on Iraq reflect the role they want America to play in the world and that is very much on people's minds"

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours there among hundreds of others. Six o'clock -- Wolf. Seven o'clock.

BLITZER: All right, Jack.

Thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty will be back with us tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Our coverage continues right now of the Republican Convention.