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Sarah Palin's Big Night At The Republican National Convention; Obama on the Offensive

Aired September 3, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to bring back our viewers into THE SITUATION ROOM and it's happening right now. Sarah Palin in the spotlight -- John McCain's controversial vice presidential pick for vice president has been taking heat. Now she takes center stage.
Can this political newcomer to the national scene quiet the critics with her speech tonight? We're watching.

And Democrat Barack Obama is not keeping the traditional low profile this week after a pounding from the GOP convention speakers last night. He's out on the campaign trail and he's hitting back hard.

And lights out in Louisiana -- Hurricane Gustav has come and gone, but more than one million households are still without power. Why evacuees are urged to stay away.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're here in St. Paul, Minnesota.


It's Sarah Palin's big night -- the biggest speech of her life only a few hours away right here at the Republican Convention.

A former small town mayor, the first term governor of Alaska, has been plucked from relatively obscurity and thrust into the spotlight as John McCain's running mate. Sarah Palin may be unknown around the world, but she's very, very popular in Alaska. And while she's no stranger to controversy, she doesn't back away from a fight.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is here -- Candy, what does Sarah Palin need to do tonight at this convention?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: She has to answer the two questions that have been out there since Friday -- who is she and is she qualified to be vice president?

In the who is she answer, you will hear less about the personal side of her life and more about what she has done in government. On the is she qualified, you will hear her talk about issues. You will hear her sort of show her stuff, if you will.

The other thing she needs to do is make some kind of connection. People don't know her. So many people haven't even heard her voice at this point. So she needs to connect not in this audience -- because this audience already connects to her -- but behind that camera lens. So those are fairly big issues that she has to address. But at the same time, the vice president, as you know, Wolf, is the person that goes out there and roughs up the other team. So we will see a little bit of that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Candy.

I want to go right out to Anchorage, Alaska right now. We sent Kyra Phillips out there to do some digging, to help all of us better appreciate, better understand who Sarah Palin is.

And we've been speaking to you every day since you got there -- Kyra, what's the latest? What have you found out about this woman?

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Wolf, you know, Candy, makes a good point -- a lot of people don't know this woman. They're going to be watching this speech, trying to figure out more about her.

But I can tell you, here in Alaska, she's defined as a political rocket ship. And I can tell you, those afterburners are firing up this state already and she hasn't even begun. Everyone is talking about going to certain people's homes, going to the pubs. There -- lights will be out and people will be inside watching this speech on the television screens.

And we had a chance, of course, to talk to her critics and also her supporters. We w to her church, talked to her pastor, talked to a lot of people that go with her to services on Sunday.

And one thing I asked folks was if, indeed, the commander-in- chief went down and she had to step in, could she lead the free world?

This is what one of her supporters told me.


JOHN HARRIS, ALASKA VOTER: John McCain is going to set up that cabinet and he's going to establish the protocols for that office. So it's not like she has to go in and set everything up herself. She's got an experienced leader doing it for her. But you've got to remember, as the governor of the State of Alaska, she's already set up her own cabinet. And she came in and she cleaned house. And she took out old Republicans that didn't want to do it her way.


PHILLIPS: So politically, that's how she won over a lot of people here in Alaska, Wolf, because she did criticize her own party. She did fight the corruption. She did get rid of a lot of people that were under investigation. But she also won over a lot of people personally when she decided to keep her baby -- that brand new baby with Down Syndrome. A lot of women here in Alaska respected that.


SARAH BROWN, ATTENDS PALIN'S CHURCH: It was something very, very personal, her decision with her son, her recent son, the birth of her son -- to keep him and -- but because she's in the spotlight, I see that as a decision a leader has made. And I respect that -- what she has said to the public about the privilege and the responsibility it is to be Trig's mother. I respect that.


PHILLIPS: Whether it's personal or political, Wolf, she's one of the most popular governors in the country right now and everybody here in Alaska, they've got their eyes on that television set in just a number of hours.

BLITZER: That's going to be widely watched. There's no doubt about that, Kyra. I understand you have a memento from Governor Palin's high school. What do you have?

PHILLIPS: Well, you know, you and I have been talking about this. I mean she's like a renaissance woman within a man's world. She hunts, she fishes, she plays basketball.

So I had an idea. Since I played basketball in high school, and I know you love basketball, I have Sarah Palin's basketball. This is when she won the state championship back in 1982. Now, Palin's signature is on here -- Sarah Heath, number 22.

So this is what I thought. Barack Obama plays basketball, right?

He knows how to shoot the tre (ph). He can get the jump shot right on mark. She's supposed to be Sarah Barracuda. You and I love basketball. How about you and I challenge the two of them to a little two on two?

BLITZER: That would be totally unfair, because I love to watch basketball. I have a few problems dribbling -- not that good, not such a great shooter. Sort of a little slow. But I like to watch the Washington Wizards in Washington.

All right, Kyra, stand by. We're going to be checking back with you.


BLITZER: Kyra Phillips is in Anchorage, Alaska, doing some good reporting for all of us.

Gloria Borger is here. You know, she's going to be -- a lot of women and men out there are going to be able to relate to this governor from Alaska, despite all the criticism, whether she's qualified, has national security experience. I suspect that a lot of Americans, like a lot of Americans in Alaska, will come around and like her.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, she's got a huge approval rating in her own state. What is it, 80 percent. She's clearly well liked. People like it when somebody takes on powerful, corrupt people. And that's what she has done in her state. What I think she has to do tonight is put that side forward, but also reassure people that she's up to this job.

You know, Wolf, in the last few administrations, we have had very powerful vice presidents. It wasn't always that way. But when you look at the power of Dick Cheney, when you look at the power of Al Gore, when you look at the power of Walter Mondale...

BLITZER: And the first President Bush, too. He was the vice president for eight years.

BORGER: And the first President Bush. When you look at all of these people, these jobs were not just attending funerals abroad. These are serious, substantive jobs.

She's got to let the American people know that she's up to it. That's part of what she has to do tonight. And reassuring is what she's got to be. And I think she'll do it in terms of energy policy and reform.

BLITZER: Well, we'll see how she does. We'll watch it and we'll have it later tonight.

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

CAFFERTY: Didn't she ask Larry Kudlow in an interview on CNBC what exactly is it a vice president does?

BLITZER: Yes, she did. That was a few months ago. I think it was in July. She wasn't exactly sure, at least according to that answer. She said -- he asked her if she would be interested in being a vice presidential running mate. She said well, first I have to fully understand exactly what a vice president does and whether or not what he does would be good for the State of Alaska.

She -- I'm paraphrasing, but that was the gist of her answer.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Well, it seems like I remember. All right. Thanks, Wolf.

While the Republican delegates and the party officials are celebratory, screaming, stomping their feet in support of John McCain up there in St. Paul, it turns out the rest of the Republican Party is less fired up about the election than the Democrats are.

A new "USA Today"/Gallup Poll shows a slight increase overall in voter enthusiasm among both parties since the Democratic Convention and since McCain named Sarah Palin as his running mate.

But the Democrats hold a significant lead here. Sixty-one percent of Democrats say they're more enthusiastic than usual about voting this time, compared to just 42 percent of Republicans who feel that way.

It's worth noting there's been a decline in voter enthusiasm since January and February, when the numbers were just simply off the charts during the heated primary season. In fact, levels of voter enthusiasm now are a bit lower than they were in 2004 at this same time.

Part of the reason might be that some people have gotten tired of what seems like a never-ending race for the White House.

I am one of those.

Also, Gallup suggests the decline in Democratic enthusiasm could be due, in part, to the disappointment of Hillary Clinton supporters. Nevertheless, the Democrats hold the edge on this enthusiasm deal. And it's something that couldn't be missed in the excitement and size of the crowd at INVESCO Field last week, much like the crowds that Barack Obama has been capable of drawing ever since he got in the race.

No question that for either Obama or McCain to win in November, they're going to have to rally their bases and get their supporters to actually go to the polls and vote. There's some question mark about all these young people that like Obama, whether they'll actually show up and vote or not.

The question is this: Why are Democrats more enthusiastic about the election than Republicans are?

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

BLITZER: All right. Jack, thank you.

Barack Obama under fire from the podium here at the Republican Convention. He's now firing back. Listen to this.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think that John McCain's a bad man. I think he just does not get it.


BLITZER: The Democratic candidate, he's sort of breaking with tradition. We're on the campaign trail with him. Stand by.

Also, a triple threat -- three major storms all -- all possibly heading for U.S. shores, including the newest hurricane, Ike.

Plus, U.S. troops accused of a deadly raid inside Pakistan. Was Osama bin Laden himself the target?

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Senator Barack Obama broke a little with tradition today. Instead of keeping a relatively low profile during the opposing party's national convention, he came out swinging against his rival, John McCain, while campaigning in a critical battleground state.

Let's go there.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is live at an Obama rally right now in Dillonvale, Ohio. That's not far away from the Pennsylvania border -- all right, Suzanne, what happened?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is really an important place for Barack Obama to be. He made two stops in, really, what is Appalachian country, rural Ohio. He certainly hoped to do better the last time around. So he really wants to reach the voters here, specifically, people who are struggling economically. He is talking specifics about his plan to raise the minimum wage to $9.50; also, to lower taxes for what he says is 95 percent of American voters.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Following the Republicans first full night of hitting Barack Obama hard, today, he fights back.

OBAMA: And they don't get what most of you are going through. They just don't get it.

MALVEAUX: Back on the trail in battleground Ohio, Obama accused the Republicans of ignoring struggling Americans.

OBAMA: You did not hear a single word about the economy. Now think about it -- not once did people mention the hardships that folks are going through. Not once did they mention what are we going to do about keeping jobs here in Ohio.

MALVEAUX: Obama is painting himself as the issues candidate to counter the Republicans' portrait of him as an elitist with little substance. Specifically, he's outlining his economic plan to help women.

OBAMA: And when I am president of the United States, we are going to pass equal pay for equal work.

MALVEAUX: At Kent State University, Obama was introduced by a single mother who makes minimum wage at a local bakery. He said under his economic plan, she would get at least $3,000 in direct relief.

OBAMA: I was raised by a mom, pretty much in the same circumstance as Gabrielle (ph).

MALVEAUX: Obama is trying to win other working class women, who might find McCain's V.P. pick, Sarah Palin, an appealing alternative. In an effort to connect, Obama told of his own struggle when he lost his mother.

OBAMA: I miss her dearly. And everything I owe, all my success, I owe to her.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, another thing Obama is doing is responding to the Republican theme from last night -- country first -- by defining himself, saying it's about every American achieving the dream, about the economy being strong, responding to U.S. enemies, as well as being strong when it comes to the military.

You can bet, Wolf, that every day the Republicans come out with a theme and with attacks, there will be counterattacks from the Obama campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: No rest, at least not now, for the balance of this campaign, for the weary. Suzanne, thanks very much.

Robert Gibbs is a senior adviser to Senator Obama. He's here in St. Paul watching this convention unfold. Robert, thanks very much for joining us.

ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: Thank you for having me, Wolf. How are you?

BLITZER: Good. Thank you. Gloria Borger is joining me in the questioning, as well.

Let me play a few sound bites -- some of the direct attacks on Senator Obama from last night -- and we'll get you to respond quickly to each one.

Here's one that Senator Fred Thompson leveled against the Democratic nominee. Listen to this.


FRED THOMPSON (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Democrats present a history-making nominee for president -- history-making in that he's the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee to ever to run for president.


BLITZER: All right. So go ahead. I suspect we're going to be hearing a lot more of that line. Go ahead and respond, Robert.

GIBBS: You know, look, there's a lot of hot air coming out of a lot of different speakers here at the Republican Convention. But I want to echo what Senator Obama said today in Ohio. And that is, what you didn't hear from these speakers last night is a plan to make our economy work, to create jobs. To stop sending those jobs overseas and giving tax breaks to companies that do that, making health care more affordable.

And I think people in this campaign want to hear how we're going to help solve their problems, not just tear each other down like we hear every four years.

I think that's what's different about this campaign. I think people want us to think and act big. And I think that's what we try to do at our convention. And it's a little disappointing to be here in St. Paul and just watch actors like Fred Thompson tear people down.

BLITZER: Here's the line of attack from Senator Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic vice presidential nominee. He's now an Independent. He calls himself an Independent Democrat. But listen to this.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: In the Senate, during the three-and-a-half years that Senator Obama has been a member, he has not reached across party lines to accomplish anything significant.


BLITZER: All right. Go ahead.

GIBBS: You know, Wolf, let me take a big whack at that.

I think Joe Lieberman ought to be ashamed of himself. You know, he looked into the camera and he was speaking to the American public about cynicism in politics and then walks out on the very stage behind me and just makes something up and lies about Barack Obama. I wish I could say something softer, but that's actually what it was.

Joe Lieberman knows that Barack Obama worked with Dick Lugar to keep dangerous nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. He worked with conservatives like Tom Coburn to open up transparency in the budget process. And, quite frankly, he knows that we worked with John McCain to make sure lobbying and ethics laws were a lot tougher and they didn't allow lobbyists to walk up to Joe Lieberman and hand out yet some free meals.

It's actually -- it's pathetic what Senator Lieberman did here last night. He can pick whoever he wants to, but do everybody in this country a favor -- don't walk out on stage and make things up about another candidate because you can't fill your air time thinking of good things to say about the candidate you've decided to pick.

BLITZER: Well, those are tough words. But I hear you saying that Senator Lieberman is a liar.

GIBBS: He walked out last night and didn't tell the American people the truth.

And here's what's worse about it, Wolf. He knows that. He knows that he walked out last night and said things that just simply weren't true. It's beneath Joe Lieberman, parts of that speech that he gave last night. He can pick whoever he wants to vote for in this campaign, but do us all a favor, do Americans a favor and tell the truth about each of the candidates.

BLITZER: Does Senator Obama believe that Joe Lieberman, in the next Senate, should -- assuming the Democrats retain the majority -- should continue to be in the Democratic Caucus and have a chairmanship of a powerful committee? GIBBS: Well, look, you know, I don't know the answers to that. A lot of that -- we're waiting to see what happens to the Democratic Senate. We haven't spent a lot of time or, quite frankly, any time focusing on who are going to be committee chairs next year.

What we want to do is elect people to the Senate that will help Barack Obama and Joe Biden move through an agenda for change in this country, to help us create jobs, make health care more affordable, stop shipping our jobs overseas. There's a lot on the -- that will be on the president and Congress' plate. And we want everybody to pitch in for the change that we need in this country, rather than four more years of John McCain and George Bush.

BLITZER: All right, Gloria has a question, Robert.

BORGER: Let's talk a little bit about Sarah Palin, the vice presidential pick. What surprises you the most about this pick, Robert?

GIBBS: Oh, you know, look, I don't know that -- I've been in politics enough this year alone just to know that if you don't think today surprises, you wait until tomorrow.

Look, they can pick whoever they want. I don't even think we're focused on who the vice presidential nominee is for the Republican side. We're focused on who their presidential nominee is -- his lack of ideas and plans to get this economy moving. And you saw last night a very passionate endorsement by President Bush, passing the torch to John McCain for four more years of the same.

We're focused on John McCain. We're not focused on Governor Palin, who I assume will give a very moving and eloquent speech tonight here on the floor.

BLITZER: Robert Gibbs is in St. Paul watching it, together with all of us. Robert, thanks very much for joining us.

GIBBS: Thanks, guys.

BLITZER: And just in to CNN, we're getting new information. The storm called Ike, it's now a hurricane. It's churning in the Atlantic, along with Tropical Storms Hannah and Josephine -- all of them possibly heading toward the United States.

And Oprah Winfrey and her strong reaction to the Democratic Convention. We have the videotape for you right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Carol Costello. We'll get back to Wolf and the convention in just a moment. But first, some new information incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM about severe weather.

Hannah Ike and Josephine all churning in the Atlantic and all posing a potential threat to the United States. And we've just learned Ike is now a hurricane.

CNN's severe weather expert, Chad Myers, tracking them all in our hurricane headquarters. Give us the latest -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And Ike is going to be a cat three hurricane, Carol. It's going to be a major hurricane approaching South Florida by the end of the weekend.

One two and three -- Ike, Hannah, Josephine -- I, H and J. And it's going to be a very busy week.

What we're expecting from Hannah, kind of making a run at either South Carolina or North Carolina as a category one -- 7t, maybe 80 mile per hour hurricane. Not really the destruction that we saw from what was Gustav, but a category one can still do damage.

The bigger one, I believe, that's going to do a lot more damage somewhere is going to be Ike.

And Josephine is about done. Literally, the forecast for it is to just basically die off -- move to the north and die off.

Ike is the one that's going to cause problems here, because it is going to be in very warm water. And you see that number three right there?

That's South Florida. That's a category three hurricane. It could be north or south by a couple hundred -- 400, 500 miles. It could miss Florida altogether. It could be south Cuba. It's just too many days away. But it is going to be a major hurricane for someone.

And, also, tonight, Carol the potential for some tornadoes across parts of Louisiana. We'll watch those for you.

COSTELLO: Unbelievable. Thank you, Chad.

MYERS: All right.

COSTELLO: Alaskans call him their first dude, but who is Todd Palin? We're learning much more about the husband of the GOP vice presidential candidate.

Plus, a surprise underground find -- the story behind a secret tunnel -- why the federal government is getting involved.


COSTELLO: We're going to get back to the Republican National Convention in just a moment.

We'll have much more on Todd Palin, the vice presidential pick's husband -- who is he and why is he affectionately known as the First Dude?

We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Happening now, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, largely unknown before becoming John McCain's running mate. But even less is known about her husband, Todd Palin. We'll fill in the blanks with a profile of the man who calls himself the first dude of Alaska.

And we're hours away from hearing from Sarah Palin herself. She's getting ready for a critical speech at the Republican National Convention. Her critics claim she has no experience, but supporters point to this line on her resume, commander in chief of the Alaska guard. We'll take an in-depth look into what that means.

And Oprah Winfrey, a very vocal fan of Barack Obama, nearly speechless after last week's Democratic convention. Find out what this talk show queen had her tongue-tied.

I'm Carol Costello. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

He seems content to be the Alaska governor's husband and even pokes fun at himself in that role. But how will Todd Palin be as husband of a vice president?

Todd Palin sounds like a career woman's dream. Handsome, a hands-on father, a man who quit his job at BP because it interfered with her job. He told the Anchorage Daily News last year, "Her schedule dictates my schedule. As long as the kids are good, that's the big decision whether I go back to work."

43-year-old Mr. Palin calls himself the First Dude. A blue collar guy, he met his wife, the governor, when both were in high school. They eloped in their 20s because they couldn't afford to pay for a wedding.

Palin seems content to remain in the background. The only time he takes the spotlight is when he races in Alaska's equivalent of NASCAR, a 2,000-mile extreme snowmobile race. That's his wife hugging him at the finish line in 2008. He's a four-time champ.

Not that his past is unblemished. At 22, he was arrested for driving under the influence. But that's 22 years ago.

Politically he has not always been a Republican. According to the Alaskan division of elections, he was a member of the Alaskan independence party until 2002. One of its goals? A vote for Alaska to become a separate and independent nation.

If that's a skeleton in the closet, it's one the McCain camp asserts few care about. "Todd Palin is a registered Republican that re-registered with a third party for a time. It's just not that relevant," it says.


COSTELLO: For the extreme snowmobile race, the first dude is registered to participate in 2009, and those who know him doubt he will drop out even if his wife makes it as a VP, he is a four-time champ, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's pretty impressive, I must say, indeed. He's got a lot of stamina to be able to do that. Carol, thanks very much.

This whole Sarah Palin vice presidential pick continues to raise lots of questions and controversy. Let's discuss with our CNN political contributors, the radio talk show host, Bill Bennett. He's here in St. Paul and Democratic strategist James Carville. He's joining us from Washington.

James, should voters out there be at all concerned about the husband of Sarah Palin, if in fact he was a member of the Alaska independence party years ago? This is a party that wants a referendum whether or not Alaska should be part of the United States.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Let me put it to you this way, Luke -- Wolf, excuse me. If Obama was a member of separatist party, until 2002, our rival Fox News may have a conniption fit. I'm not certain this should be, but I know one thing, the attack on spouses is uniquely right wing thing. And so I'm not going to engage in it. I would just wonder what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot here.

BLITZER: Let's ask Bill Bennett. What would happen if the shoe were on the other foot?

BILL BENNETT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Supposing the presidential candidate used to hang around with the guy who tried to blow up the United States and expresses no regret about it. We would take it very seriously.

Look at everything. Keep the children out of it, like Barack Obama said. But this guy was a member of the Alaskan Independent party twice, now a Republican for a long time. Keep looking. I know they're looking at everything.

BLITZER: Since 2000. Not exactly a long, long time. The question is, this is the theme last night, serve his country first. Do you want someone whose spouse was in favor, maybe that Alaska shouldn't secede from the country first, because they don't think Alaska should be part of this country?

BENNETT: That issue became less and less of a priority, I understand it, in the history of the Alaskan independence party. But you could say it should become a territory again. You should secede or become a state. I don't know where he stood on that issue. But again, he's not the candidate. But fine. Keep bringing it up. I think they're overplaying their hand. The more you bring up these things about her husband, the more you're going to get everybody in the world talking about Barack Obama's associations, much more troubling.

CARVILLE: In other words, you never mentioned Fox News, or the right wing has never said anything about Michelle Obama?

BENNETT: No, I didn't say that. It's fair game. That's fair game. Your worry has got to be the candidate, not the candidate's spouse.

CARVILLE: Again, I think that Michelle Obama has been under vicious attack from the right. A lot of it unfair. If she was a member of a separatist political party, or party that advocated the option of seceding from the United States and becoming a territory, they'd have to give the whole thing value for the rested of time.

BENNETT: I would not object -- I would not object on that, James. I would say look into this. All I'm saying is let's look further into the associations with Barack Obama with Bill Ayres.

BLITZER: We looked in, James and Bill, to the Alaskan independence party in this most recent platform. Here's what it says on this specific question of whether Alaska should gain independence or remain part of the 50 states. It says this in its platform. The Alaskan independence party's goal is the vote we were entitled to in 1958, one choice from among the following four alternatives. One, remain a territory. Two, become a separate and independent nation. Three, accept commonwealth status. And four, become a state. So that's the platform, Bill, right now.

BENNETT: Yes. That's far out for me. Maybe becoming a state isn't an option. I'm certainly for them remaining a state. We need that oil.

CARVILLE: Can I make a point here, Wolf?

BLITZER: Hold on. Hold on, James. Hold on.

BENNETT: There are some -- no doubt some French people in that party. As there are French people in the libertarian party, there are even French people in the Democratic Party. Let's talk to the guy and find out his views.

BLITZER: James, she has been a registered Republican ever since she started to vote.

CARVILLE: Let's be precise also. On two different occasions, as governor, she sent a videotape welcoming that party. My understanding is that in the '90s, she attended the convention. I'm not saying what this means. If Barack Obama would have sent a videotape to a separatist group that advocated separating from the United States, the reaction would be much different. I'm saying there has to be some kind of equality in the way that we deal with these things.

BENNETT: Deal with it. Address it. Look at it. If Barack Obama went to a fund-raiser thrown by a guy who tried to blow up police stations, we ought to know about it. In fact, that actually happened. The Democratic mayor of Minneapolis welcomed the Republican Party here. Are his views suspect?

CARVILLE: The Republicans might have --

BENNETT: Of the Democratic Party?

CARVILLE: Again, if Michelle Obama had done this, they would be all over right wing talk radio, all over our competitor Fox News. Everybody would be on the talking point.

BENNETT: Let's talk about it.

CARVILLE: It would be an entirely different reaction.

BENNETT: We're talking about it. It's a free country.

CARVILLE: Be very fair about this.

BENNETT: Right. Of course.

BLITZER: The point that's made, Bill, as governor, and then in 2006, she did twice send greetings, a videotaped greeting to the Alaskan independence part when they had their convention. Does she elevate their status by having a greeting from the sitting governor of the state?

BENNETT: Any group that has, you know, that doesn't advocate the overthrow of the United States government, it's good for tourism and you say enjoy Alaska, spend your money, we're glad to have you. Is there anything more here than that? She's the candidate. Each time they do this, by association, it's fine. They can do it. But it raises more questions that we want answers to about their candidate.

BLITZER: All right. James, we'll leave it right there. We have a lot more to discuss. We're only just getting started in our coverage of this day three of this Republican National Convention.

And were U.S. forces involved in an unprecedented cross-border raid into Pakistan? Raising speculation that top al Qaeda figures were targets but the top levels of the Bush administration are keeping very quiet right now.

Just a month ago, John McCain's pick for the vice presidency, publicly supported Barack Obama's energy plan. Are the Republican running mates on the same page on that very sensitive issue? We're going to be hearing a lot about energy tonight from Governor Sarah Palin. We'll look into this. Much more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: It's the question that must be asked of every vice presidential candidate. In this case, it's Sarah Palin. And the question is this. Is she prepared to serve as commander in chief?

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us now with this part of the story. What are you hearing, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what we have learned is once a year as head of the Alaskan National Guard, Sarah Palin gets a briefing about the guard activity in her state, but is it enough to make her a military leader.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) STARR: Governor Sarah Palin handled plenty of fire power visiting the troops in Kuwait. And John McCain told Fox News Sunday Palin has enough experience to handle the job of president if need be, because she knows what it means to lead the troops.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She's been commander in chief of the Alaska guard.

STARR: But what exactly does a governor do as aide of a state national guard. Here are the facts. Governors decide when and how to deploy the guard, to help in natural disasters. As they are right now in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav. Governors also can use the guard to control civil unrest. We saw it in the 1960s. And after 9/11, governors deployed the guard to airports and subways at the request of Washington.

But for fighting wars? That's the president and the Pentagon. Governors, no matter what state they run, play no role in deciding when their guard forces will be sent to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A governor merely acknowledges that the president is federalizing the troops, the national guardsmen of that state.

STARR: The Alaska National Guard has a unique military role. Manning a missile defense site at Fort Agreeley and flying patrols off the coast, tracking Russian bombers that may try to enter U.S. air space. That special role was highlighted by Cindy McCain on ABC's this week.

CINDY MCCAIN, WIFE OF SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Alaska is the closest part of our continent to Russia. So it's not as if she doesn't understand what's at stake here.

STARR: But under the law, it's President Bush, not Governor Palin, who runs both those operations.


STARR: Now, the Alaska National Guard has about 4,000 troops. President Bush commands a force of 1.4 million. It, of course, will be up to the voters to decide if that difference makes a difference to them. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. We learned something about the National Guard from Barbara. Thank you.

Let's go back to Carol. She has other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

COSTELLO: Wolf, the situation in Louisiana is far from normal in the wake of hurricane Gustav. President Bush saw some of the damage firsthand today, visiting the hurricane zone. He praised relief and recovery efforts so far, saying they're much better coordinated than those surrounding hurricane Katrina. The biggest problem in the state right now, electricity. Huge parts of Louisiana still don't have any.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve is also in New Orleans working that part of the story. Jeanne, how bad is it?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very bad. 1.2 million households in this state without power, and the governor says it could take four weeks to restore it.


MESERVE (voice-over): Louisiana is in the dark. What's the worst thing about living without power?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't blow dry my hair.

MESERVE: This man can laugh. He found a rare gas station with electricity to run the pumps. But even here, no credit card transactions. In vast blacked-out areas, there are no ATMs, no grocery stores, no pharmacies. In some places, no power for water and sewer systems.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: Restoring power is the number one challenge we continue to face as a state.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many generators you got coming here?


MESERVE: Trucks, crews and equipment have come in from 26 states and D.C. generators are being brought in to restore power immediately to critical facilities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hospitals, water treatment facilities, nursing homes.

MESERVE: But until the power is back in communities, evacuees are being urged to stay away. For some, that could mean weeks in shelters. Only two parishes in the state have full power. And in the storm area, 40 percent of transmission lines are out of service. Restoration rival also the scale and difficulty of Katrina, says the power company. Whether one of the storms lurking in the Atlantic hits here or elsewhere, it could have an impact on Louisiana's recovery.

GEORGE FORESMAN, CNN ANALYST: We're going to get to a point, particularly if we see one, two, or three more storms hit, where the amount of resources in terms of people, equipment, transformers, wire, poles, those type of things are really going to stretch the ability to be able to do a quick, rapid restoration.


COSTELLO: Jeanne Meserve reporting from New Orleans.

Pakistan lashes out at what it calls a U.S.-led raid that killed more than a dozen people. Pakistani officials say the American forces carried out a ground assault from Afghanistan into an area considered to be a hiding place for the Taliban. Pakistan warned that the cross border attacks could undermine the war on terror. U.S. officials have not responded to Pakistan's complaints.

Police say a house in Mexico was hiding an underground tunnel leading to the United States. The secret passageway began inside a house in the border town of Mexicali. Eight people were arrested. The tunnel was not finished but customs agents say it was sophisticated. They believed it would be used to smuggle drugs into California.

That's a look at the headlines right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thank you. While Republicans are in the spotlight this week, Oprah Winfrey is still gushing over the Democratic convention. Wait until you hear what she has to say.

We'll take you behind the scenes here in St. Paul. What's going on backstage before the VIPs step out on the podium? I think you're going to want to see this. A lot more coming up from our convention coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: This may be the Republicans week but many Democrats are basking in the glow of their convention last week in Denver, including Oprah Winfrey. She talked about it today at the taping of her 23rd season premiere in Chicago's Millennium Park.


OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: The build-up was a sense of hope and possibility that I never even sort of have been able to tap into. It was -- it was beyond anything I'd ever experienced. It really was. It was a transcendent moment. I hope the rest of the country will feel the same.


BLITZER: Oprah's season premiere is this Monday, featuring a welcome home celebration for 175 Olympic athletes.

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

If Barack Obama is elected president, among many people, he will have to send a clear thank you note to Oprah Winfrey, Jack.

CAFFERTY: My guess is he may have already done that. Without her, it's a question whether he would have gotten the nomination. She campaigned with him and visited states where it was close. The consensus was it was helpful. Maybe she'll be in some cabinet post or something except take a huge pay cut however.

The question is: Why are Democrats more enthusiastic about the election than Republicans are? The Gallup Poll out shows a substantial number of Democrats, more Democrats are excited about this November than Republicans. Patricia writes from Idaho: "Come on, Jack. It's all about Obama. From the first moment I heard him speak and discovered a potential president with a brain and plan, I was sold. The fired up ready to go chant it isn't some slogan imposed on us. It came from the fire in our bellies."

Chris in Pennsylvania: "Talking about change is always exciting. Obama is young, dynamic. His message completely resonates with an electorate that's fed up with politics as usual. Hold on, the GOP is on the verge of its own explosion of excitement due to start tonight when Sarah Palin's member of bringing change to Washington is heard and that's just what lackluster Republicans have been waiting for."

Mark in Ontario: "Is it any surprise after eight years of Bush and the Republican candidate who doesn't offer anything significantly different why should the Republicans be excited? A loss for John McCain in November could actually be the best thing for the GOP. It would reboot the party and might actually produce a candidate worth voting for."

R. in Wisconsin writes: "Having been through a number of elections, I can honestly say I've never been so excited since John Kennedy ran for president. America is waiting for a commander in chief to give us challenges that will change the country."

Lynwood in Washington: "It's simple. Democrats fall in love. Republicans fall in line. The Democratic candidate is a charismatic individual with a triumphant story. The Republican candidate is a great American with a great past but not so many great ideas. After eight years of Bush there is a lot of love on the left and less falling in line on the right."

And Michelle in New Hampshire writes: "Maybe because finally, finally it looks like there is light at the end of the tunnel and this time it's not a train."

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

BLITZER: All right. Jack, thanks very much.

Protest outside this Republican convention. Some of them violent. Many captured on videotape. We're going to show some of them to you.

Plus, why Sarah Palin was praising Barack Obama, at least on one issue weeks before becoming the Republican vice presidential candidate. What was she talking about? We'll tell you. Right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: This week, thousands of protesters are taking to the streets in St. Paul. They're pushing all kinds of causes. Some peaceful and others more violent causing police to make hundreds of arrests. Last night, police fired chemical agents into a large crowd with little warning. Many were using the internet and their cell phones to organize. Let's bring in our internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. Abbi, how are they doing all of this?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: First of all, let's look at some of the pictures taken by CNN I-reporters this week. March protesters clashing with police in the streets of downtown St. Paul. We can also look at the text messages sent back and forth between protesters as this was going down. Here's one of them requesting backup at one street corner as massive amounts of riot cops arrived. Another, suggestions on how to evade searches when the police are on their way.

All of these are being sent by the website, Twitter - let's you send short updates to friends and followers about what you're doing. You can do it online. You can send them directly to people's cell phones and that's what the organizers of these protesters have been doing as you can see from this great long list here.

These Twitter feeds go a little bit quieter during the day, just like the streets of St. Paul, but one of the most recent is here, urgently requesting bail money after hundreds have been arrested - Wolf?

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

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