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Sarah Palin Prepares to Accept Republican Vice Presidential Nomination

Aired September 3, 2008 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Amid questions and criticisms, John McCain's vice presidential pick gets her turn to speak to the nation tonight. Everything about her speech will be watched, weighed and then wrangled over.
Republicans are hungry for more red meat against Barack Obama. So, three of the biggest-name Republicans will whet their appetites. Tonight, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, they will serve up a three-course political attack against Barack Obama.

And two states both sides desperately want to win moving from tossup to leaning toward one side, including this state -- all that coming up, plus the best political team on television.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the Republican National Convention, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

She's likely never seen a night fraught with so much expectation, anticipation, and pressure. Republicans will open day three of their convention in about an hour. And Governor Sarah Palin is set for the biggest night of her political life.

Today, she toured the stage from which she will give her big speech. Last night, she prepared for it. The McCain campaign says she huddled with her advisers into the wee hours of the morning.

How she does is all the more important because the McCain campaign says she's under siege from a barrage of questions.

CNN's Dana Bash is joining us. She's on the floor here watching all of this.

The whole world, I should say, including our viewers around the world on CNN International, Dana, will be watching this speech tonight.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And they are obviously well aware of that inside the McCain campaign.

And, in fact, you said that they were huddling into the night last night. I just got an e-mail from somebody in the room with her right now saying that they are still huddling, still preparing, still tweaking Sarah Palin's speech even as we speak.

Now, the word from inside the hotel room from some McCain staffers who are just getting to know her now is that she's a workhorse, somebody who is calm, even in the storm around her. But they understand that the most important question she has to answer when she speaks at that podium behind me tonight is whether or not people out there will buy the fact that she can be a vice president now and, even more importantly, whether she could step in at any moment and be president.


BASH (voice-over): An airport photo-op, the McCain family greets the Palins. And a moment. John McCain hugs and lingers with 17-year- old Bristol Palin and her soon-to-be husband, Levi Johnston, expressing empathy, CNN is told, about thrusting them into the spotlight with news of her pregnancy.

But tonight the eyes of the world will be on her mother. Sarah Palin appeared at the convention hall podium as dawn broke, just in time to be captured by morning television shows, trying to get comfortable on her new stage. The first public Palin sighting all week, because she's been holed up in this hotel, working around the clock with McCain aides, looking for just the right tone for her address, trying to sway undecided voters like this one we met in battleground Pennsylvania.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She doesn't have much experience, a first- time governor. You know, so you do have to worry about that a little bit. But, I mean, the main thing is I haven't really got to see her, haven't got a chance to listen to her speak.

BASH: To help tackle questions about her experience, CNN is told one issue she'll highlight is her command of the energy economy, a top issue in this election she's been heavily involved in as Alaska's governor.


BASH: Now, McCain advisers say one of the key goals of this speech is actually pretty standard V.P. fare. And that is to lay out the contrasts, both in terms of policy and character, between her candidate, John McCain, and Barack Obama.

And it is also, as we know, about expressing herself as somebody who is likable, somebody who has character, that people can relate to. Somebody I spoke to said that the goal is to make her as somebody with a common touch, but with executive presence -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, stand by. We are going to be getting back to you.

John McCain's campaign certainly upset at the news media's coverage of the vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.

Let's bring in Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" and "The Washington Post". Gloria Borger is here with us as well.

You had a chance to speak with one of the top officials in the McCain campaign. And he was not very happy with what we should say the mainstream media is doing right now.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's an understatement, Wolf.

Steve Schmidt is the top strategist for John McCain. And in an extraordinary and very emotional interview with me last night, he talked about the media -- and he included all of the media -- being on a mission to destroy Sarah Palin, as put it.

He said there was a level of viciousness and scurrilousness and a feeding frenzy. And he talked about the kinds of questions that reputable news organizations he said were calling about. Was the governor really pregnant? Had her amniotic fluid been checked? When were her contractions? The son, the one who is -- the eldest son, who is going to Iraq, was he a drug addict? Categorically untrue, says Steve Schmidt.

And he is just on a bit of a rampage and says quite frankly that the McCain campaign feels under siege by all these questions and all this chatter about the qualifications of Governor Palin.

BLITZER: It's only been since Friday since we learned that she had the nomination, Gloria. Things are moving very, very rapidly.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And it's clear that they do feel under siege.

And I think what you're going to see coming out of here and maybe even from Governor Palin herself is a sense that there's been this unfair liberal media frenzy and sort of lumping the press in with liberals who might want to destroy this candidacy.

I don't think she will say that specifically. But clearly these have been some real personal issues for her that the campaign would rather not be discussing and thinks is not relevant.

KURTZ: Well, I want to make a distinction between the kind of questions we ask, because often we ask about things that are unverified or allegations, and what we actually publish and broadcast.

I don't think there has been that much that has been inaccurate. But I have got to tell you, as somebody who watches too much cable TV, the level of chatter on the air about can she be possibly a good mother and at the same time be a candidate or vice president is getting a little out of control.

And, clearly, a lot of this is raising questions that never would be raised about a male candidate. And I can see where that could spark a backlash among those sympathetic to the Republicans.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by, because we're going to continue this conversation. I know Sunday, on "RELIABLE SOURCES," Howie is going to have a lot more on this as well, maybe even the whole hour, on this 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Republicans are putting Barack Obama on notice right now. The political attacks will sharpen tonight. We can expect more fiery rhetoric from Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, and Mitt Romney. They will all be taking the stage just in a little while.

Let's go to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's up on the podium, where she is for all of these conventions.

It's going to be, shall we say, tough out there tonight, isn't it, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They call this defining the differences, which generally means there will be some very sharp rhetoric aimed at the Obama campaign.

It's going to look a lot like the primary season tonight. All three of these men that you mentioned of course ran against John McCain, now on board. So they will serve, as one senior aide put it, to up the political element here tonight.

So, yes, indeed, we will hear some sharp attacks against Barack Obama. But we will also hear contrasts. Here's John McCain. Here's Barack Obama. Here's the choice -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, stand by. We are going to get back to you shortly.

Barack Obama is not backing down in the face of the political attacks. He's blasting right back. He's launching some zingers from the politically important battleground state of Ohio. Listen to this.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: John McCain's campaign manager said that this election is not going to be about the issues. It's going to be about personalities. That's a quote.

He said it's not going to be about issues. It's going to be about personalities, which probably explains why last night, when they were speaking, all these speakers came up. 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? Not once did they mention, what are we doing about all these retirees that are losing their pensions?

Not once did they mention, how are we going to make sure that Social Security is there for the next generation? Not once did they mention, how are we going to make college more affordable so that young people aren't taking out $40,000 or $50,000 worth of debt? Not once did they mention, how are we going to make sure that people can stay in their homes?

Well, you know, I guess I don't blame them, because, if you don't have any issues to run on, I guess you want it to be all about personality.


OBAMA: And, if you have got George Bush's track record and John McCain voting 90 percent of the time in agreement with George Bush, then you probably don't want to talk about issues either.


BLITZER: And, coming up, we have some brand-new CNN poll numbers, where this race stands right now in two battleground states both of these candidates really want desperately to win. The numbers may surprise you. Stand by for that.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Talk about pressure, Wolf.

Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, tonight giving arguably the most important speech much her life. It will be the first chance for most Americans to get to know John McCain's surprise pick for V.P. Although she's been all over the news since Friday, Governor Palin has not taken a single question from a reporter, with the exception of a "People" magazine interview.

Part of the reason is, she's been hunkered down, apparently, with members of the McCain team preparing tonight's speech. One senior adviser says, while the Democrats and the media have done a good job of lowering expectations -- quote -- "We are going to raise some expectations tonight" -- unquote.

Palin's expected to hit on three themes, the economy, and why Republicans are better equipped to deal with it, as well as Palin's experience with the energy economy in Alaska, next, to make the case for McCain and against Barack Obama when it comes to both policy and character, and, last, to give the public a better sense of what kind of person she is.

Palin is described by campaign aides and people who know her as likable, funny, smart. The stakes don't get any higher. Palin is certainly in a higher-risk position than Joe Biden was, for example, last week since Biden has been on the national stage for decades. And as a newcomer to national politics, Palin will have to prove that she's up for the job and calm all the questions about her experience, which is thin to nonexistent, when it comes to foreign policy or the qualifications to be commander in chief.

So, here's the question: What do you hope to learn about Sarah Palin from her speech later tonight? Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack. Jack Cafferty will be back shortly.

The vice president, Dick Cheney, he is not here at the Republican Convention. Where is he? And why wasn't the current vice president even mentioned here in Minnesota? The best political team on television standing by to tackle that question.

Plus, a look at what goes on behind the scenes here before the top names in the Republican Party step to the podium.

And just days after Gustav hammered Haiti, Tropical Storm Hanna brings more misery. Will it do this to the U.S. coastline?

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


BLITZER: We're live at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, less than hour away from the start of tonight's program and Sarah Palin's big speech -- more coverage right after this.


BLITZER: In the last hour, we spoke to Robert Gibbs from the Obama campaign. He's here in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Let's get the McCain's reaction to what we heard. Nancy Pfotenhauer is here with John King and Gloria Borger and me.

Thanks, Nancy, very much for coming in.

You're a senior adviser to the McCain campaign. And Robert Gibbs, a man you know, you debated him here in THE SITUATION ROOM in Denver last week. He made this charge, because he was reacting to very strong words from Senator Lieberman, who basically said that Barack Obama has never crossed the aisle and tried in his years in the Senate to do -- to work on a bipartisan matter on anything significant.

And here was Robert Gibbs' response.



ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I think Joe Lieberman ought to be ashamed of himself. 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.


BLITZER: He was referring to efforts by Obama to work even with Senator McCain and other Republicans, Senator Lugar, on nuclear proliferation, for example. And he says that basically Lieberman was lying.

Now, the question to you is, since you're not a spokeswoman for Lieberman, the McCain campaign does vet all these speeches and they go through them and they approve what the speakers are saying.

PFOTENHAUER: Well, Senator -- nobody tells Senator Lieberman what to say.

But I think what Senator Lieberman was drawing a distinction between -- and there is a huge distinction between carrying the water for your water party to get legislation that is not really controversial through, or kind of bucking your party hierarchy in order to do something that you think is right, but isn't necessarily going to sit well.

And I think that's what distinguishes Senator McCain's efforts. And that's why I said that's true bipartisanship is when your willing -- when your identification of a problem is so -- motivates you so much that you're willing to do what's difficult, not do what's easy.

So, I think Senator Obama was given a couple of balls to carry, but by and large, they were easy balls to carry. And there's no way you can compare Senator Obama's record to Senator McCain's. Now, he hasn't been there very long. But I think it's because he has been running for president for most of the time.

BORGER: But isn't that the kind of behavior on Senator McCain's part that has made him so unpopular with members of your own party?

PFOTENHAUER: He's pretty popular if he's our nominee.

BORGER: Well, he is now. But you know in the Senate that there are lots of Republicans who sort of say John McCain goes his own way too much of the time and needed to toe the party line a little bit more in order to get this done.

PFOTENHAUER: Well, you know what? He has never been running for Mr. Popularity. That's for sure. And he feels like he works for the American people.

And I would agree with you that that's ruffled some feathers. And, from my perspective, good for him. I felt, in watching the last eight years, this taxpayer-funded party that has been going on in Washington with this massive explosion in spending that has been midwifed by both parties, Senator McCain was one of the only people who would call a spade a spade and call members of his own party out on hypocrisy, saying you can't claim to be the party of limited government and then vote for these massive spending bills.

And he rose in my regard, and that is why I joined the campaign.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator Obama today is seizing on a comment made by your campaign chairman, Rick Davis, saying, this election, it is not about the issues. It's about the personal traits. I'm paraphrasing, but essentially that this election is about the personal traits of the two candidates.

What Senator Obama is saying is, well, that's because you don't want to talk about the issues, you don't want to talk about the economy, you don't want to talk about health care. There are many Republicans who say given the trends in this election year, how the fundamentals so favor the Democrats, the only way you can win is to disqualify Barack Obama, essentially convince the American people he's not the man for the job.

Is that what you're doing here?


PFOTENHAUER: Well, first of all, Senator McCain asked Senator Barack Obama to meet him and do town hall meetings across this country, not stage-managed, no big scripting, just really discuss the issues directly with the American people. Senator Obama has said anywhere, anyplace, any time, and then agreed to meet once on the Fourth of July.

And, then, when we did have the candidates kind of back to back at the Saddleback forum, I thought you saw a big difference, and not just in knowledge of the issues, but knowledge of oneself. Senator McCain doesn't pretend to choose his words to minimize any political downside. He says what he believes and he understands that you're going to agree with him some of the time and you're going to disagree with him some of the time. But you have to believe that he's a principled man who does what he thinks is right.

And I think that character does count and does matter. And in these challenging times, that's what you want. You want someone of strong character who has been tested and tried and shown that he puts his country first, even when it's difficult. And that's John McCain.

BLITZER: Will Senator McCain be here tonight when Governor Palin speaks?

PFOTENHAUER: Well, I haven't received official word, but I wouldn't be surprised.


BLITZER: I will take that as a yes.


BLITZER: Nancy Pfotenhauer, thanks very much for coming in.

PFOTENHAUER: Thank you so much for having me.

BLITZER: Nancy Pfotenhauer is a senior adviser to the McCain campaign.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The White House is beefing up its support for the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. vice president Dick Cheney is heading there tomorrow. And today, President Bush announced a $1 billion -- that's with a B -- $1 billion aid package to help Georgia rebuild after its military clash with Russia last month. CNN's Elaine Quijano live at the White House. Elaine, why this much money? And why now?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, in the absence of any real leverage to get Russia to change its behavior, this financial aid package is essentially about the U.S. backing up an ally with cash.


QUIJANO (voice-over): The Bush administration is putting its money where its rhetoric has been, against the Kremlin and squarely on the side of Georgia's democratic pro-Western president, Mikhail Saakashvili.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Today, I am pleased to announce a major U.S. enemy combatant support package which will total at least $1 billion to meet Georgia's pressing humanitarian needs and to facilitate its economic reconstruction.

QUIJANO: Since Russia's invasion of Georgia, a former Soviet republic, more than 100,000 people have been forced from their bombed- out homes. And the U.S. says Russia is refusing to keep its promise to withdraw. But, for now, the U.S. is being careful not to provoke Moscow on the issue of military aid for Georgia.

RICE: This is a reconstruction package for the Georgian economy. It is not yet time to look at the questions of assistance on the military side.

QUIJANO: Vice President Dick Cheney, on a trip to the region this week, will sit down with Georgia's president Thursday. At a stop in Azerbaijan, Mr. Cheney pledged, the U.S.' continued support for the democracies on Russia's doorstep.

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States has deep and abiding interest in your well-being and security.


QUIJANO: Now, as for the aid to Georgia, the Bush administration envisions a multiyear commitment intended to start now under President Bush and carry on in the next administration -- Carol.

COSTELLO: I guess we will have to see about that one.

Elaine Quijano live at the White House.

Changes in the CNN electoral map, two states that were tossups now clearly lean toward one of the candidates. We will show you whether they're red or blue.

Plus, former Democrat Joe Lieberman spoke out against his former colleagues last night. And now they are furious. The best political team on television takes a look at that.

And what goes on behind the scenes at the convention? We will take you backstage for a look at what's happening before the big speeches.


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

Happening now: critical changes on the electoral map that could impact the outcome for the race for the White House, two tossup states now definitely leaning toward one candidate. Stand by.

And, also, just weeks before becoming the Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin was praising some of the recommendations of Barack Obama on one issue. Details of their common ground, that's coming up.

And bumped by a hurricane and now abroad. There has been virtually no mention of Dick Cheney here at the Republican Convention. What happened to the vice president? We will talk about that and more with the best political team on television.

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

Some new polls just coming in show a change in this presidential race. It involves two states Barack Obama and John McCain desperately want to win.

Joining us now is Mark Halperin from our sister publication "TIME" magazine and

Let's go through these polls. We're doing these polls jointly, CNN and "TIME." Ohio, a key battleground state, we know how important Ohio is. Right now, Obama's at 47 percent, McCain 45, sampling 3.5 percent. It's a dead heat there.


Look, Ohio is a critical state. Nothing more important we do in THE SITUATION ROOM, Wolf, than talk about these battleground states.

What they're doing at this convention is trying to win 270 electoral votes. Ohio is a state John McCain must win. The fact that he's going to have to fight for it, under our poll, is bad news for him. And, again, it shows you, I think, the pick of Sarah Palin to try to energize the base in Ohio, to try to get that conservative enthusiasm up there, to hold that vital state for him.

BLITZER: Take a look at Iowa right now, where it all began for Barack Obama early January, right now, 55 percent for Obama, 40 percent for McCain. That's a pretty significant lead.

HALPERIN: Troubling for McCain on several levels. First of all, Obama well above 50 percent. And, of course, that's the number you need to get electoral votes. But he's well above that number. And it's a state that Obama campaigned in for months, trying to win those caucuses. McCain has never been a strong candidate in Iowa in either 2000 or in 2008. So that's a state that they're going to have to make a decision about. If the polling stays like this, that's a state they may have to cede to the Democrats. And they can't afford to let too many states just be handed over to Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

BLITZER: McCain came in fourth in the Iowa caucuses, the Republican caucuses.

HALPERIN: And tenth in the straw poll.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, the caucuses are more important than the straw poll.

HALPERIN: Says you.

BLITZER: That's right.

HALPERIN: All right.

BLITZER: Minnesota, where we are right now, right now, Obama is at 53 percent, McCain is at 41 percent.

HALPERIN: Again, above 50 -- 50 percent, a state where they're having their convention here. They hope that helps them in this state. It's another state that Democrats have won, but George Bush competed very hard here.

If John McCain can't put states like Iowa, like Minnesota, in play, he's going to leave himself with a very small margin of error to get to that 270 electoral votes. Numbers like this -- again, I think it's why John McCain felt he had to pick Sarah Palin -- a risky pick, in some ways, but a pick that he hopes changes the dynamic. A lot of hunters in this state. A lot of people with the same kind of outdoor ethos that Sarah Palin and Alaskans have. They're hoping that she revolutionizes this playing field nationally, but also in a state like Minnesota.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.

Mark Halperin from "Time" magazine.

John King is looking at all of this, digesting it. And you're using our magic map to better explain what's going on.

KING: Well, let's translate what you and Mark were just talking about into looking at the 270 votes you need for the Electoral College.

Here's where we started the day, Wolf, before these polls came out -- Obama at 226 electoral votes. Those are states that are either a solid lead or leaning Democratic. John McCain at 189 electoral votes, either solid lead -- that's the dark red -- or leaning Republican -- that's the lighter red.

Now, let's take a look at the impact of what was just decided. Minnesota, where we are today, 10 electoral votes. Well, we are going to put that state now not red, but blue. See, we're going to lean that to the Democrats. That's 236 it gets Obama up to.

Now we come down to Iowa, seven electoral votes. Let's turn that not red, but we're going to turn it blue. Two-hundred and forty-three electoral votes. That leaves Barack Obama just 27 electoral votes shy, if he can keep all these states we have shaded blue, if he can hold them that way, he needs only 27 more electoral votes. He could try to get those down here in Florida. Just winning Florida, under this scenario, would make him the next president of the United States.

If he can't win Florida, he could do it by getting a combination of Michigan -- there's 17 -- and Virginia, 13. That would make him the next president of the United States.

What that tells you is that John McCain, essentially, under this scenario, if he leaves the convention with the map looking like this, he almost has to run the board here, Wolf. He could afford only to lose a very small state, maybe like New Hampshire and its four electoral votes.

So this map right now is tilted in the Democrats' way almost to a lopsided degree.

And Mark made a key point about Ohio here. No Republican has ever been elected president without winning Ohio. And one of the most stunning things is our new poll showing a toss-up is in the Cincinnati-Dayton area, Wolf, down in the southwest corner of Ohio. That is now a toss-up. That is the biggest area for Republican turnout down here.

Now, how much does this convention matter?

Let's take a look. Look at these states. The gold states are the toss-up states. Look at the real estate they get. Here's the podium up here, where John McCain and Sarah Palin will be speaking. All the toss-up states are front and center. And Minnesota and Iowa, which we just moved over to the blue, they have pretty good seats to begin with. But this is why. These are the states John McCain has to win -- most of these, unless the map changes dramatically, to have a chance of coming back to get Barack Obama.

So these are the delegations at this convention. And in the nine weeks from this convention to election day, Wolf, that will get the most attention.

BLITZER: All right. We'll be watching it every step of the way. Don't go away, John. We have more for you.

John McCain's choice for vice president, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, has sometimes dished out praise for her opts -- for his opponents, that is.

Are the Republicans running on the same page?

The running mates -- Brian Todd has been looking at the record -- Brian, what are you learning? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're finding some interesting grains on Sarah Palin's comments about other candidates, including John McCain's current and former opponent.

Less than a month ago, Palin publicly supported at least part of Barack Obama's energy plan. He did call for the completion of the Alaska natural gas pipeline to tap those reserves in the state. And in a news release August 4th, Palin said: "I am pleased to see Senator Obama acknowledge the huge potential Alaska's natural gas reserves represent in terms of clean energy and sound jobs."

She also praised Obama's proposal to offer rebates to people struggling with energy costs, saying: "It is gratifying to see Senator Obama get on board."

Now, for perspective, the pipeline has long been a favorite project of Sarah Palin's and John McCain has also supported that.

And, in that same news release, Palin also criticized Obama's idea for windfall profits taxes on oil companies. So she was not with him on every aspect of his energy plan, just a couple of them there.

Now, back on Super Tuesday, in February, Palin praised the energy policies of Mitt Romney, then in a tight race against McCain for the GOP nomination.

Here's what Palin told an interviewer from MTV.


GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, you know, Romney -- he just said all the right things about resource development in Alaska -- again, understanding our Arctic climate, our Arctic resources that we're sitting on that should be tapped into. They've said the right things.


TODD: Now, in that same interview, Palin said that Ron Paul, who was also challenging McCain then, was "cool" and a good guy. She said she admired Ron Paul's independence, how he went against the party machine. And, of course, those, again, things that John McCain has campaigned on very solidly.

Now, back in 2000, Palin was a supporter of Steve Forbes, who ran against John McCain for the GOP nomination.

Of course, none of this means Palin was an opponent of McCain's. And a spokesperson for the McCain-Palin campaign told us this happens all the time and what matters now is that these two candidates -- John McCain and Sarah Palin -- are in lockstep on issues like energy, taxes, the war in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Brian Todd working that story for us. Before I let you go, though, a quick other question, Brian.

There seemed to be some other fundamental disagreements she has with Barack Obama on energy. Just clarify that.

TODD: Well, that's right. And, again, it's very important to say that even though she praised parts of his energy program last month, certainly not in agreement with him on everything.

One big point, offshore drilling. Obama has been an opponent of that. He's offered a little bit of compromise on that recently. But Palin and McCain firm supporters of offshore drilling. They have fundamental differences on energy.

BLITZER: All right, Brian.

Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Sarah Palin now just a few hours away from the biggest speech of her political life.

Let's discuss this and more with our own Jack Cafferty. He's in New York. And our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. And Steve Hayes, the senior writer for "The Weekly Standard". They're here with me.

What do you think, Jack, what does she need to say tonight to convince the American public she's ready to become vice president of the United States?

CAFFERTY: I don't know if she can do that tonight with one speech. All the advance word on her is that she's smart and likeable and engaging. You can see that in these little clips of these interviews.

So my guess is the speech will go off well and she'll be well received.

I think the acid test on whether -- of deciding whether or not she's qualified to be the vice president for the reasons you mentioned will be when we get to see her in a sit-down interview with somebody who knows what they're doing in terms of the questioning. Whether we'll see that before the election or not, I don't know. But I think that will tell us more -- if we get to see her in an interview situation -- than simply reading a prepared text, although I'm looking forward to the speech. I think it will be more than interesting.

BLITZER: I think millions of people will be looking forward to listening to her speech tonight. Steve, the same question to you, what does she need to do?

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER AT "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think she needs to basically make a compelling case for John McCain, criticize Obama in a way that's tough but not angry and just be presentable to the American people. I mean, you talk to people around the Alaska delegation and elsewhere, and they will tell you she is an incredibly commanding figure, she can give a good speech, she can be very compelling and she has good presentation.

I think if she does those things, she'll be fine. BLITZER: She's obviously an accomplished speaker. She was Miss. Congeniality when she was a runner-up for Miss Alaska. So she obviously is poised. She's a sportscaster.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: She knows how to look into a camera and read a teleprompter.

Barack Obama knows how to do that quite well, also.

BORGER: Right. I was talking to somebody who's been with her. And he said that they're going to point out this evening that she is a genuine executive, that she's going to showcase her executive experience, particularly on energy policy. You heard her talk about that in that MTV clip that Brian just used.

She also has to reassure people about who she is and introduce herself. She'll make the case for McCain, but she's got to make the case for herself, in a way, also.

BLITZER: And she is, Jack Cafferty, she is, by all accounts, and we might even say, at least at this moment, the most intriguing woman in America.

CAFFERTY: Well, yes, I guess. I mean that catches me flat-footed. But I can't think of anybody right off the top of my head that's generated the kind of interest, at least on THE SITUATION ROOM and "The Cafferty File" and the blog that I have and stuff like that. We have gotten tens of thousands of letters about this woman in the last three days -- a story unlike any, perhaps, since Katrina.

So, yes, she's fascinating to a lot of people. She's a bit controversial. She's certainly compelling. She's and brand new. Everybody wants to know more about her.

And regardless, regardless of whether the election goes in McCain's favor or not, if she plays her cards anywhere close to right, she will entrench herself as one of the stars of the Republican Party for probably 10 or 20 years to come, if she chooses to stay active in politics. I mean she's in the right place now.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. We have much more to discuss.

Unmentioned here at this convention, the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney. He's all but been ignored. They didn't mention him at all last night here in St. Paul. What's going on? The best political team on television will discuss.

Also, Democrats fire back at the Independent senator, Joe Lieberman, accusing him of lying about Barack Obama's record.

And what really goes on behind the scenes here at the Republican Convention?

We have your backstage pass. Ed Henry takes us there. That's coming up.

Three hours 54 minutes until Sarah Palin's speech. We're counting down. Take a look at that.


BLITZER: We're back here at the Republican National Convention. We're watching what's going on. The vice president of the United States not here. He's in Azerbaijan right now.

What's going on?

Stay with us.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Let's get back to the best political team on television.

Steve Hayes, you know the vice president. I covered him for a long time when he was the defense secretary, when he was the White House chief of staff when Gerald Ford was president. He served as vice president for eight years.

You would think he would be here or at least make a video appearance and these delegates n these supporters would have a chance to say thank you for your public service.

But he's in Azerbaijan right now. He was supposed to be here on Monday, but they canceled that whole thing because of Hurricane Gustav.

Is this unseemly that these Republicans sort of want to just push him aside right now because he's not very popular?

HAYES: Well, I think -- you know, there was a struggle before the convention about whether he was going to come or whether he wasn't. And there was a lot of behind-the-scenes, I think, back and forthing between the White House and the McCain campaign.

Certainly, the McCain campaign today is not upset that Dick Cheney is not here. I think what the White House -- from the White House perspective, they wanted to have him to speak. They thought he should speak. They thought he should get sort of a thank you.

Dick Cheney would be hugely popular in this crowd. And he's probably more popular in this crowd, among conservatives, than George W. Bush is.

BLITZER: To the 20,000 people who are here.

HAYES: In this -- yes.


HAYES: In the Xcel Center -- than George W. Bush is.

So I think the White House would have liked to comment and, you know, to have a last hurrah, if you will.

But John McCain's campaign never wanted Dick Cheney to come. They fought for a while to keep him from coming and I think there was a compromise, after weeks of sort of negotiations, that would have allowed him to come on Monday night, right before the president spoke, and it would have been sort of the Bush administration night.

BLITZER: But that didn't happen because of Hurricane Gustav. What do you think?

BORGER: Well, I agree with you. And I think they're probably just as happy he has not here. But the specter of Dick Cheney is still here in the choice of Sarah Palin. I mean, Dick Cheney is, arguably, the most powerful vice president in American history. You wrote a book about Dick Cheney.

Wouldn't you agree with that, that he is?

HAYES: Yes. Absolutely.

BORGER: And then you have -- OK. So Republicans chose that the last time around. That's who George W. Bush chose. And John McCain chose Sarah Palin.

Well, the comparison of Dick Cheney to Sarah Palin is apple to orange. And so that's something a lot of people here are talking about, because Cheney has changed the model for vice president.

BLITZER: Let me ask Jack -- Jack, should the Republicans have said thank you to Dick Cheney for his years of public service?

CAFFERTY: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think John McCain looks petty by not having him there.

The other thing about Dick Cheney is the Republican base loves him. They love him. And by Cheney -- kind of pushing him to the side, it makes McCain look a little -- a little petty.

The other thing about Dick Cheney is, we don't know how much worse it might have been if he wasn't there counseling, for want of a better word, the president of the United States during some very tumultuous times.

So he spent a lifetime in public service. I don't happen to be a fan of his. I don't like him for a number of reasons. But the party owes him that. The country owes him an acknowledgement that he did these things. And McCain looks like a chump not having him there.

BLITZER: All right. We've got to leave it there. But we're going to continue our conversation, guys. Don't go away.

A huge video wall dominates the podium here at the Republican Convention. People come and go through cut out sections on both sides. And that got our Ed Henry wondering what is going on backstage -- Ed, what did you find out?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, anyone can see that podium behind me and that video wall. But we decided to go down into the bowels of this arena and give everyone an inside look at what happens behind the stage.


HENRY (voice-over): An exclusive all access pass -- a backstage look at the Republican National Convention -- the spot where hockey players are usually getting dressed and undressed.

AIMEE STRUDWICK, DIRECTOR OF OFFICIAL PROCEEDINGS: And they come right into the Minnesota Wild locker room.

HENRY: Now it's where politicians arrive an hour before they get to the podium. Amy Strudwick is in charge of making sure the big shots have everything they need.

STRUDWICK: Just a little bit of finger food so if they get light- headed, they do not pass out while they're on stage.

HENRY (on camera): That would be bad.

STRUDWICK: A little bit of water, some coffee if you're nervous.

HENRY (voice-over): Cosmetics to make you pretty. Teleprompters and speech coaches at the ready. Five minutes before air, you reach the green room -- the last spot to clear your head before facing millions of people around the world.

STRUDWICK: We tried to bring in lots of pillows to soften it up and make it a nice space for the last few thoughts that you might want to have.

HENRY: Followed by the on-deck circle, which even has tape to remind you where to stand, before finally reaching the big moment.

STRUDWICK: We're taking the long walk. It's probably the longest 15...

HENRY (on camera): Trying to drink it all in and show everybody (INAUDIBLE)...

STRUDWICK: ...15 seconds.


HENRY: Now, Republican officials -- Republican officials here say this is the lowest stage and podium they've ever had at a national convention. John McCain wanted it to be more like a town hall format. We're also told that tomorrow night, when John McCain accepts the nomination, he's going to take the stage into the crowd -- move some of the seats so it can be more intimate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You look pretty good walking on that podium, Ed Henry. Maybe there's a political future for you, after all.

HENRY: You never know.

BLITZER: Ed Henry is our man on the floor right now. Thanks very much.

Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: What do you hope to learn about Sarah Palin from her big speech a little later tonight?

Jay writes from New York: "I'd like to hear her honestly answer what the pundits have been asking for the last week, which is what makes her qualified to step in and be president if something happened to John McCain, should he become the next commander-in-chief? And I really don't want to hear the Republican spin that she commands Alaska's National Guard. I want to know what real life experience she has with foreign policy and national security."

Ariana in Garden Grove, California: "America needs to know how Palin is going to deal with issues that she doesn't face in Alaska. Yet all we have heard from the Republican Party is her life story and what she has done in her scarcely populated home state. She has to be able to apply her changes to a much larger, needier and more diverse scale."

Kathy in California: "I'm going to watch to see how she presents herself -- her views, her goals and the reasons why she should be vice president, especially in light of the vicious attacks that have been thrown at her and her family. Come on people, give this woman a chance. Watch her tonight, along with the debates, then make up your mind."

Rod in Arizona writes: "I'm fired up, excited about hearing from Governor Palin tonight. I think that we only seen the tip of the iceberg where this woman is concerned and the Democratic Party is sailing the Titanic."

Don in Billings, Montana: "I want to learn how her qualifications are equal to or better than Joe Biden, as the person who will be just a heartbeat away from the presidency for the next four years."

And David wants to know: "I want to know if she's learned what the vice president does yet and what it was about the description that made her want the job."

That sounds like one of those questions they ask at a beauty pageant.

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

My guess is big television ratings for this woman tonight -- Wolf. BLITZER: Yes. I think they're going to be huge. A lot of people want to understand who she is and they'll have a chance, at least tonight, to hear from her directly. We'll, of course, have live coverage here on CNN.

All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

This convention, day three. The gavel is about to come down. And our coverage will continue from St. Paul right after this.


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

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're only about three minutes away from day three of this Republican National Convention coming to order. The call to order will be started by the Senate minority leader -- the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

There will be extensive formal color guard proceedings. And then this process will begin culminating later tonight when we hear from Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor, the Republican vice presidential nominee -- soon to be the vice presidential nominee. She's not been nominated -- not been selected yet, but she will be within a matter of a few hours.

We want to welcome our viewers from the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer here in St. Paul. Campbell Brown is here. Welcome back, Campbell, to you. This is going to be an exciting night, because for a lot of people -- not only in the United States, but around the world -- they will have their first real chance to hear from Sarah Palin.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And America is just getting to know this woman. We really don't know her as a person. She has an incredible story to tell about her family, about where she comes from, the State of Alaska, which a lot of us don't know that much about, frankly. And then where she is on policy issues. She is a blank state to much of the country and it is going to be a fascinating night, Wolf.

BLITZER: John King is going to be here with us throughout the night.

Gloria Borger is here.

Bill Bennett, the Republican -- I guess we can call you a contributor to CNN, a radio talk show host...

WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I like the idea of strategist, but no one has asked me.

BLITZER: here, as well. Give us the most...


BLITZER: Bill, give us the most important thing she needs to do tonight, because she's -- she faces a huge challenge.

BENNETT: Well, people need to like her. You know, they need to like what they see.

BLITZER: Do they need to like her or do they need to believe she's credible as a potential commander-in-chief?

BENNETT: Well -- well, both. I mean, like her in general, like her -- say that's a good person, that's a very interesting person, that's a person I could vote for. It's got to be positive.

There's been so much in the air. You know, I don't know if people realize how much they've been building anticipation for this speech. But it has been a great promotional effort.

Whether it's negative or positive, people want to say well, who's the real Sarah Palin?

So I think the only thing it has to be is authentic. It has to be real.

BLITZER: John, does she face high expectations or low expectations?

Because Republicans were saying to me a few days ago, you know what, there could be really low expectations, and, as a result, she's got a low hurdle that she has to clear.

KING: I would throw that out. I would just throw out the spin and the expectations game back and forth and say here is a woman Senator McCain introduced as a huge surprise five days ago at the first event Ohio. And as they traveled on to Pennsylvania, reviewed as pretty positive. She had poise. She had command of herself in giving a speech.

Now she's gone into retreat -- and some Democrats are saying hiding -- for last four days, getting ready for this big speech.

BLITZER: All right...

KING: She needs to prove herself tonight.

BLITZER: Here's Mitch McConnell calling this third day to order.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Delegates and alternates, ladies and gentlemen, welcome.

The third session of the 39th Republican Convention is hereby called to order. (APPLAUSE)

MCCONNELL: Would everyone please rise for the presentation of the colors?

Ladies and gentlemen, the colors will be presented by the Minnesota Law Enforcement Memorial Association.

Let's give them a warm welcome.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please remain standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, the national anthem and the invocation.