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McCain, Palin Hit the Road; Obama Attacks McCain Over Economy

Aired September 5, 2008 - 18:00   ET


BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CULTURE AND ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: But, instead of complaining about a Democrat using their song, Republicans Brooks & Dunn took the high road, calling it -- quote -- "very flattering to know our song crossed parties and potentially inspires all Americans" -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Brooke, for that.

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

Happening now: John McCain and Sarah Palin are taking their convention show on the road. We're standing by to here from the new Republican running mate. They're looking for added momentum right now in the battleground state of Michigan.

Barack Obama accusing John McCain and Palin of ignoring the bad economy. The Democrat is seizing on a worse than expected unemployment report just out today.

And why the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, just said no to his party. We have an exclusive interview about Jindal's choices during a week of convention hoopla and disaster at home, all of that plus the best political team on television.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

This hour, John McCain and Sarah Palin are in Michigan, still riding a political high after the Republican Convention. We're standing by to hear their remarks and whether they will zero in on the very disturbing new unemployment numbers.

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

The government reports, the nation's unemployment rate zoomed to a five-year high of 6.1 percent last month. And employers slashed 84,000 jobs.

Barack Obama is raising a new red flag about the economy and accusing his Republican rivals of ignoring issues number one.

Dana Bash is with McCain and Palin in Michigan. We will got there in a moment.

But let's go to Suzanne Malveaux. She's covering the Obama campaign. Suzanne, they wasted no time going right after the McCain campaign, suggesting, if you like eight years of Bush's economic record, you will love four more years of a McCain administration.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Barack Obama, he used these new job numbers to compare John McCain and President Bush. He argued that Americans will suffer economically under another Republican administration. And he specifically went after what he said was McCain's $200 billion tax relief plan for big businesses and oil companies.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Off and running.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to start creating jobs here in the United States. That's going to be my central focus when I'm president of the United States.

MALVEAUX: Sixty days in the race to the White House. Barack Obama's message out of the gate, remember me? I'm the change guy, John McCain is the Johnny-come-lately.

OBAMA: John McCain's been in Washington for 26 years. And during those 26 years, John McCain kept on voting against tax credits for wind energy...

MALVEAUX: On energy, education, health care and jobs, Obama hit McCain hard, declaring his opponent had no plans to even tackle them.

OBAMA: Where have you been for 26 years? Where have you been?

We don't need a made-for-TV commercial energy policy. We need a real policy that's serious.

I'm learning about glass here.

MALVEAUX: At a glass factory in Pennsylvania, Obama focused on the new job numbers -- 84,000 lost in August, a five-year high. Obama's economic plan, he says, to cut taxes for 95 percent of working families, $500 for individuals, $1,000 for married couples. And a $25 billion state growth fund to prevent state and local cuts in health, education and housing assistance.

An important message in Pennsylvania, where support during the primaries for Obama in the northeastern region was lukewarm. Here, he is still trying to define himself, blaming the Republicans for spreading false rumors.

OBAMA: Maybe he's got Muslim connections, or we're going to say that, you know, he hangs out with radicals or he's not patriotic. Just making stuff up.


MALVEAUX: Obama took on all of those points. He also addressed gun control, which he says has been largely misunderstood, his position. In his words today: "If you have got a rifle, a shotgun, a gun in your house, I'm not taking it away. We're not going to mess with them."

Obviously, Wolf, the gun owners in rural Pennsylvania a very important voting bloc -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne, thanks very much.

Dana Bash is covering the McCain campaign. She's out at a rally right now. You're in Michigan, I take it, which is a critical battleground state. We're getting ready to hear from Sarah Palin and John McCain. But set the scene, Dana, for us. What's going on?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What's going on is that this new Republican ticket is riding the wave of their convention. There is no question about it. You hear the applause behind me. They're both going to get ready to speak in this critical swing area of a swing state in Michigan.

This big rally is a place where we are going to hear a very similar message that we heard during the convention. And this is not the only stop they made today.


BASH (voice-over): A big open-air rally in small-town Wisconsin, a GOP stronghold John McCain must win to take this battleground state, exactly the kind of place he hopes his new running mate will help.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to tell you squarely, plainly, there is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you in places where winning means survival and defeat means death, and that man is Senator John McCain!

BASH: Sarah Palin's not-so-subtle message to conservatives here, believe me when I say you can trust him, because you can relate to me.

PALIN: ... people with honesty and sincerity and dignity, and I know just the kind of people he was talking about, because I grew up with those people. And I know that you did, too, here in the beautiful city of Cedarburg.

BASH: Palin's post-convention popularity is generating an energy largely absent from McCain's events before.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Isn't this the most marvelous running mate in the history of this nation?

BASH: The main message? You want change? Their ticket is best suited to deliver.

MCCAIN: It didn't matter if they were Democrats or Republicans. I fought the big spenders. I fought the pork barrelers.

BASH: But amid all the cheering, McCain was also careful to note yet another gloomy jobs report, calling these tough times.

MCCAIN: You're worried about keeping your jobs and finding a new one, struggling to put food on the table and stay in your home. All you ever asked of government is to stand on your side, not in your way. And that's what I intend to do, stand ON your side and fight for your future.



BLITZER: From there, let's go live to Sterling Heights, Michigan, right now.

The Republican vice presidential nominee is speaking.


PALIN: ... salt of the earth, just like the good folks here in Sterling Heights, Michigan. Thank you for letting us be here. Thank you.


PALIN: Hey, I owe Michigan a great big thank you, also. My son got to spend much of his senior year of high school a couple years ago in this beautiful state. He got to be here long enough to attend some high school that senior year and play hockey here outside of Kalamazoo. He absolutely loved it.


PALIN: Michigan, you took care of my boy when he was doing what he loved to do.

And now that boy is a man serving in the U.S. Army. And he's going to take care of you and this country that we love.


PALIN: John S. McCain also has loved and served this country in good times and in bad.


PALIN: Maybe you remember. It was just about a year ago when things with the war looked very, very bad.

Some in Washington declared that the McCain campaign was doomed because he refused to hedge his commitment to the security of our country. They told us that all was lost, and that there was no hope for this candidate, who said he would rather lose an election than see his country lose a war.


PALIN: But the pollsters and the pundits, they forgot one thing when they tried to write him off. They forgot the caliber of the man himself, the determination, the resolve, the sheer guts of Senator John McCain.


PALIN: Of course, the voters knew better. And maybe that's because they realized there is a time for politics, and a time for leadership. There is a time to campaign, and there is a time to put our country first.


PALIN: John McCain is a man who wore his country's uniform for 22 years. And he refused to break faith with our troops in Iraq, who have now brought victory within sight.

And, as the mother of one of those troops, that is exactly the kind of man I want as commander in chief.


PALIN: Good judgment in the commander in chief can make the difference between victory and defeat, between avoiding a crisis and inviting a catastrophe.

And the best case in point is the surge in Iraq, which our opponent opposed because he said it was doomed to fail. But, just last night...


PALIN: Last night, though, our opponent finally admitted what we have known all along.

And that's, thanks to the skill and the valor of American troops, the surge in Iraq is working.


PALIN: He said...


PALIN: Our opponent has said the surge -- quote -- "has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated."

But it was anticipated. There was one leader in Washington who did predict success, who refused to call retreat, who risked his own career for the sake of the surge and for victory in Iraq.

And, ladies and gentlemen, that man is standing here right next to me, a true profile in courage, John McCain.


PALIN: Now, had America failed in Iraq, the consequences would have been terrible and far-reaching. If the United States military had suffered defeat at the hands of al Qaeda in Iraq, our nation would be less safe today, and millions of innocent people would have been left to a violent fate.

That tragedy would have happened if Barack Obama had gotten his way, and Congress had cut off funding for the surge. It did not happen, though, because John McCain was right. And he had the vision and the will to see the surge through to victory.


PALIN: Here's how I look at the choice that we face in this election. In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change.


PALIN: Among politicians, there is the idealism of high-flown speechmaking, with endless talk about great things, and then there is the idealism of leaders like John McCain, who actually do great things.


PALIN: Senator McCain has shown this quality so clearly. And that's why he presents such a threat to business as usual in Washington. And this is a moment when principles and political independence matter a lot more than the party line.

And this is a man who has always been there to serve his country, not just his party, a leader who is not looking for a fight, but sure isn't afraid of one either.


PALIN: See, John McCain -- John McCain doesn't run with the Washington herd. He's willing to shake things up in Washington. And that is only one more reason to take the maverick of the Senate and put him in the White House.


PALIN: We have done some shaking up in Alaska, too.

As governor, I took on the old politics as usual in Juneau. I stood up to the special interests and the lobbyists and the big oil companies and the good old boys network.


PALIN: True reform is hard, though. True reform really is tough to achieve.

But, in short order, we put the government of our state back on the side of the people. I came to office promising major ethics reform to end the culture of self-dealing. And, today, that ethics is the law. And that's what we're going to bring to Washington.


PALIN: And, while I was at it, we got rid of a few things in the governor's office that I didn't believe our citizens should have to pay for.

That luxury jet, it was over the top. So, I put it on eBay.


PALIN: And I love to drive myself to work. And, as you might have heard, we got rid of the governor's personal chef, though I have to admit there my kids really do miss her.

I came to office promising to control spending by request, if possible, but by veto, if necessary.


PALIN: Senator McCain also -- he also promises to use the power of veto in defense of the public interest. And, as a chief executive, I can assure you that it works.


PALIN: See, this is a moment that requires that kind of toughness and strength in the heart of the American president. And my running mate is a man who has shown those qualities in the darkest of places and in the service of his country.

Our opponents have been going on quite a bit lately about how they always -- quote -- "fight for you."

But, Since Senator McCain won't say this on his own behalf, let me say it. There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you.

And that man is John McCain!


BLITZER: All right, so, there you have it. Governor Palin, the Republican vice presidential running mate, she's basically sticking to what she said at the Republican Convention in Saint Paul, making the case for herself, but obviously making the case for John McCain against Barack Obama.

One additional note, as we just learned here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the last hour, as far as putting the governor's plane up for sale on eBay, she is right. She did do that. But it didn't sell on eBay. They had to get a broker later, because nobody wanted to buy it on eBay. We heard from one of her former aides.

There it is right there. So, they had to sell it at a little loss, but they did eventually sell that plane in Alaska.

Deciding between a huge party for a man he supports and a huge misery, the huge misery, that is, people were going through. The Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, says it was a very easy decision. He talks to CNN about Republican celebrations and his devastating storm in Louisiana.

And many people along the southeastern coast in Florida very worried right now. Tropical Storm Hanna and Hurricane Ike, they pose very serious threats.

And fresh talk of additional U.S. troop cuts in Iraq and troop additions for Afghanistan, what would it mean for the two wars?

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


BLITZER: Louisiana right now in the grips of recovering from Hurricane Gustav. A third of its households are still without power. And Governor Bobby Jindal is asking for more federal help, as emergency supplies run low.

Let's go to Baton Rouge. Sean Callebs is standing by.

The Republican governor of Louisiana, he is a rising star in the party. He had to make an important decision, but it was an easy one for him to make.


No question, too, that the response after Gustav was light years better than the nightmare that followed Hurricane Gustav, a lot of that due to Jindal. He really set the tone. He did have a tough choice to make, be there for a prime-time speech at the RNC or be here for his people in need.


CALLEBS (voice-over): The day he was supposed to be at this podium introducing vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was in crisis mode. He passed on a prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention, a spot in the limelight, Jindal saying his place is here, where hundreds of thousands of people are without water, food and electricity.

Jindal told me this week the convention didn't even get a passing glance.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: I'm probably one of the few people who has no idea what happened at the convention. I haven't been able to see or watch or hear any of it. We have had our hands full down here, but I'm where I need to be.

CALLEBS: Today, he flew to areas hit hard by Gustav to see what residents need most. He's 37 years old, a staunch conservative.

Political analyst say it's no surprise he was offered a prime role at the convention. LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: If you had to pick one person in the Republican Party, a younger person,, who was very likely to be on a Republican national ticket in the coming several elections, you would pick Bobby Jindal.

CALLEBS: Jindal supporters say he has everything needed to lure young people to the GOP. Understanding his place right now is in Louisiana, a compromise was offered, address the convention via satellite. Again, the governor passed.

JINDAL: We didn't have time for politics. We don't have time for conventions. Look, it was flattering they invited me, but this is where I needed to be.


CALLEBS: I was surprised he watched none of the convention. In talked to him, he refers to the post-hurricane cleanup right now as halftime, a lot of work left to go, Wolf. And he's very worried about Ike turning off there, the thought of having to evacuate 1.9 million and going through this again, but he says the state is up for it.

BLITZER: Yes, there is one model that shows Ike moving into the Gulf of Mexico, right towards to Louisiana. Let's hope that doesn't happen.

Thanks, Sean, very much.

President Bush, meanwhile, is weighing a U.S. troop cut in Iraq. Sources telling CNN troop levels could drop by another 7,500 early next year, as units complete their missions and are not replaced. And that could free up some reinforcements for what's going on in Afghanistan.

Let's go to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, who's watching this story for us.

Jamie, what's at stake?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that Pentagon recommendation is on President Bush's desk. And if he approves it, it will be next year before any significant number of U.S. troops come home from Iraq.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): In a sign of concern that security gains are still reversible, sources tell CNN the Pentagon is recommending slowly shrinking the number of U.S. troops in Iraq over the next three months by bringing a number of smaller units home after they complete their missions.

Among the cuts recommended by General Petraeus, an 1,100-man Marine brigade would leave Anbar Province this fall, along with a Marine aviation unit, a senior military officer tells CNN. But the biggest reduction wouldn't come until mid-January, when an Army combat brigade, some 3,500 soldiers, leaves Iraq and is not replaced. That would cut the number of combat brigades from 15 to 14, and reduce overall force levels from 146,000 to just over 138,000, edging closer to the pre-surge level of 137,000 U.S. troops that were in Iraq back in January of 2007.

The White House is hinting President Bush could quickly approve the plan.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I will let the president make his announcement next week, but he obviously listens to the commanders on the ground.

MCINTYRE: Sources say 3,500 soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division who were destined for Iraq in January will now likely be sent to Afghanistan instead. But keeping a full 15 combat brigades in Iraq until year's end will delay the arrival of those crucial reinforcements until mid-January, despite what American commands say is a desperate need.

MAJOR GENERAL JEFFREY SCHLOESSER, U.S. ARMY: I am not able to really get good effects on the ground. I can come in and I can clobber the enemy. But then I can't hold it and stay with the people.

MCINTYRE: General Schloesser complains his lack of manpower is resulting in he termed a slow win in Afghanistan. And he's requested several thousand additional troops to mount a more aggressive hunt of Taliban and al Qaeda forces over the winter.


MCINTYRE: The cautious withdrawal plan for Iraq means the shift of U.S. forces to Afghanistan will be slower than the Pentagon had hoped. And it also runs the risk that the Taliban can hunker down, regroup and launch another deadly spring offensive next year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie -- Jamie McIntyre reporting for us.

One indication that Sarah Palin is getting a lot of good P.R. right now, the publicity she's getting, everything ranging from front pages in "The New York Times" to "People" magazine and all sorts of other publications. But here's a question. Is she ready for her next big test, a debate against Joe Biden? We are going to take a closer look at the odds she's facing.

And Senator Biden has a choice to make. Will he try to rough up Palin or play it relatively nice? The best political team on television weighing the options.

And viewers of the Republican Convention last night were seeing green. Now the web is buzzing about John McCain's odd backdrop.

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


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, the countdown is on for the vice presidential debate. Joe Biden is a foreign policy expert. But does he risk a backlash if he's too tough on Sarah Palin?

And we're now exactly 60 days away from the election. Two months of exciting campaign action lie ahead. What can we expect to see?

And Barack Obama now conceding the so-called surge of troops in Iraq is, in fact, a success. Does that play into John McCain's hands?

All of this, plus the best political team on television.

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

Sarah Palin was an instant star at the Republican Convention in St. Paul. But the countdown already underway for another key appearance in the national spotlight -- a face-off with her Democratic counterpart.

Carol is back. She's looking at this one-on-one debate. And there's a lot of people wondering -- there's no scripts involved, you have to be ready, you have to be prepared. I guess the question is how she's preparing for this.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I bet your first thought is she's cramming like for an exam, right?

BLITZER: I would think.

COSTELLO: Yes. After all, the first V.P. debate is scheduled for October 2nd. Once considered kind of a ho-hum event, now, it is the hottest ticket in St. Louis. If 37 million people tuned in to see Sarah Palin introduce himself, think how many will tune in to see if she can take the heat.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Talk about pressure -- in a little more than three weeks, many say Sarah Palin will play David to Joe Biden's Goliath in the first vice presidential debate.

I mean, let's face it. Biden ran for president twice. Debates are old hat to him. But to her...

PALIN: Before I was governor, I was mayor of a small town.

COSTELLO: There were debates, but on a smaller scale. But she's got 27 days to demonstrate she can do it on the national stage and be more than a self-proclaimed pit bull with...

PALIN: Lipstick.

DENNIS ECKHART (D), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Twenty-seven days, though, it seems to me, is more than adequate if she doesn't try to become, Carol, something that she's not. COSTELLO: Eckert, who advised Lloyd Bentsen on how to debate Dan Quayle in 1988, says Palin needs to know what her party's dream headline is -- that is, what message the Republicans want to send the public's way and stick to it.

ECKHART: You don't have to know everything. You just have to know one or two key facts. So she doesn't need to rattle off five things. I mean her answer won't sound like, well, Ted, there's five things we need to do tonight, because then she has to know five things.

COSTELLO: Palin does have some things going for her -- stage presence. She certainly does not have that Dan Quayle deer in the headlights look. And it's likely Republicans will make sure she doesn't make the same mistake.


DAN QUAYLE (R), FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency.

LLOYD BENTSEN (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.


COSTELLO: And her gender may help her. A quip like Bentsen's may play differently if directed at a she. Just ask one of Palin's debate opponents in the 2006 Alaska gubernatorial race.

ANDREW HALCO (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: There was one woman. You know, even if we got slightly aggressive on kind of pushing for answers or demanding answers, people recoiled.


COSTELLO: That means it will be awfully tricky for Joe Biden. He cannot seem condescending. He knows that. He's already touting what a tough opponent he will have in Palin.

BLITZER: You know, we were thinking about this. She's become one of the most intriguing women in the world right now. Take a look at that picture behind us over there on the wall. You see on the left Sarah Palin. On the right, Tina Fey, formerly of "Saturday Night Live." What, separated at birth? What do you think?

COSTELLO: I know. You know, it's amazing. It just points out that people are comparing her to Tina Fey, who is one of the world's most beloved comedians in the United States, I might add. And women love Tina Fey. Even Mike Huckabee...

BLITZER: Here's another shot of her with Tina Fey.

COSTELLO: Even Mike Huckabee mentioned this. He was quoted in a Minneapolis newspaper as saying: "Palin looks like Tina Fuel Fey, has the accent of Marge Gunderson and kicks tail like Chuck Norris." Mike Huckabee. You know Marge Gunderson is from "Fargo" -- was in "Fargo."

BLITZER: Of course. I remember. She was terrific. She's a great actress. You know, I suspect "Saturday Night Live" is already gearing up for a few skits with bringing back Tina Fey, if they can.

COSTELLO: Oh, that would be great if Tina Fey could host "Saturday Night Live" as Sarah Palin, it would be fantastic.

BLITZER: Wow! I think they would get a big audience if they did that.


BLITZER: I'm sure Lorne Michaels is thinking about that right now, even, as we speak. Thanks very much for that.


BLITZER: Let's get to our panel right now and the looming vice presidential debate and a lot more.

Joining us, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley; our special correspondent, Frank Sesno; and another one of our senior political analysts, David Gergen. He's advised presidents from both parties. They're all part of the best political team on television.

How difficult will it be, David, for Sarah Palin to debate Joe Biden in that one and only vice presidential debate?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: A lot less difficult than is assumed, Wolf. I've had the experience of preparing candidates for these presidential debates over the years. And I must tell you, you know, you can usually anticipate maybe 80 percent of the questions, if not 90 percent. And so over two or three days' time, if you -- if a candidate gets off the road and concentrates -- and apparently Sarah Palin has not only a power of concentration, but a lot of energy -- then I think that she can be well prepared for most of the questions.

She does not have to be a rocket scientist in this. And it's easier than it looks. I just want to stress that. And I do think that her -- the expectation levels for her are going to go up, ironically, after her performance.

She is -- you know, there are a lot of other things Sarah Palin is going to do for the ticket between now and then, like draw these big, big crowds that we're seeing today and also energize John McCain. But I don't think this is going to be a major test. I think it's going to be much tougher to go out and see the press corps...


GERGEN: ...and ask tough questions between now and then.

BLITZER: But that they can limit. They don't even have to do that if they don't want, although they would be criticized by those of us in the news media if they keep her away from us, don't give her -- don't expose her to news conferences and don't let her appear on some of these television programs.

Here's a clip, Gloria, from Joe Biden today, when he was asked, you know, how tough should he be.

Listen to this.


SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I remember my grandfather saying, when they yelled to Harry Truman, "Give them hell, Harry," he yelled back, "I'm not going to give them hell, I'm going to tell them the truth. Then they're going to think it's hell."


BLITZER: He does have an expectations problem. He's known as a great debater. He knows foreign policy questions, a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He knows domestic issues. The expectations for him will be very high. The expectations for her will be much more modest.

BORGER: Sure. But I think, you know, we have to see what happens between now and the debate. As you say, Wolf, the press is champing at the bit. They're not going to let us near Sarah Palin until they think she's ready, if at all.

And if we complain about it, they'll talk about the media elite wanting -- who are they to want to talk to Sarah Palin.

So, you know, I think we have to wait and see how this plays out. And, by the way, lots of folks I talked to today -- a couple of Democratic strategists I actually was with on the airplane coming back to D.C. were saying the Democrats shouldn't really be talking about Sarah Palin. It's getting them off their message. They should be tying John McCain to George W. Bush. They're not running really against Sarah Palin, they're running against John McCain.

BLITZER: That's a good point -- Candy, how do you see it?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, first of all, just to sort of slightly disagree with David. I think that you're probably right that expectations are being raised about Palin. But I think when you go into that Biden versus Palin arena, you are going to hear an awful lot about, you know, Joe Biden's encyclopedic knowledge of places abroad, of his working class roots -- as well as hers, obviously.

So I think that going into that, people will be expecting slightly less of her and more of Joe Biden.

I will also say that I don't think Biden's going to have a problem going after her at all, because remember, this is a guy who can say some really slicing things with the nicest smile on his face. I'm not sure he needs to worry that much about it.

And, then, too, remember, too that Dan Quayle debate that was featured in Carol's piece?

Actually, Bush won. And Bentsen did not become vice president. So while it's a huge and maybe this year vice presidents certainly are seen as more important than the past, it is not definitive. And I think Gloria is right -- they will get back to the top of the ticket versus the top of the ticket.

BLITZER: Yes. I think people vote for the presidential candidates, not the vice presidential candidates, although that could change. But that's been the historic assessment over the years.

Frank, he's got a delicate -- Joe Biden has sort of a delicate stance.

If he gets too tough with her, it could backfire, right?

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure. I mean, you know, and Biden has shown in the past that he can say things and go over the edge with it. But, you know, the Democrats are going to have a decision to make. They have to decide whether this is going to be an equal opportunity campaign or not.

And if they pull their punches too much and they appear to be holding back and they let themselves get defined by the Republicans or they don't join the battle aggressively enough, they're not going to be able to make their case.

And I think, you know -- one thing that strikes me with Palin and all these, you know, comparisons to Dan Quayle are made. You watch her and what she projects -- it's more than just stage presence. You know, it's what -- David Gergen, you've talked about this with respect to Ronald Reagan and other, you know, other people who lead -- people who are comfortable in their own skin. They can step out there.

People are not going to expect her to recite all the capitals of the world. They're not going to expect her to cite every prime minister n president.

They want her, apparently -- and she's going to be, apparently, who she is, which is a governor of this state. And others have done it before. Small governors -- governors of small states -- a guy by the name of Bill Clinton.

So governors make very sometimes stronger and surprising candidates.

BLITZER: And there were expectations against Ronald Reagan. He proved to be a pretty good debater when he was running for president.

All right, guys, stand by for a moment. We have a lot more to discuss, as we continue our coverage of the race for the White House.

We're down to the final 60 days, as it enters the final stretch. The best political team on television will show us what we can expect.

Plus, Barack Obama now calling the Iraq surge a success, but risking playing into John McCain's hands.

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


BLITZER: We're back with the best political team on television.

Gloria, what's the most important thing these presidential candidates need to do between now and November 4th?

BORGER: Sharpen, define, talk about the economy, talk about the ways they will help people personally, Wolf. I mean, you know, we didn't hear a lot of definition from John McCain at this convention. And I think they've got to talk about people's economic anxieties and what they're -- what they're going to do.

BLITZER: Because as much as we talk about that at the vice presidential debate -- and remember, there are going to be three presidential debates, David. And a lot of people are going to be watching -- millions. And maybe the undecideds will make up their minds based on those presidential debates.

GERGEN: Oh, I think that's right, Wolf. And if John McCain were to get a decisive victory over Barack Obama, that could really turn the election. He's come off a highly successful convention.

But I want to go back to what Gloria said, because I think it's absolutely right. What Obama in particular must do is move this back to issues by sharpening and making more muscular and simpler his economic message.

He has a series of proposals, but they don't seem to add together. I think he needs a sharper economic message and he needs economic surrogates who can come out and speak for him on a regular basis, which he has not had. You know, since he had that big meeting with Bob Rubin and Paul Volcker and Larry Summers and others, they really haven't assembled a surrogate team for him to bring a sharpened economic message to the country. And the 6.1 unemployment, you'd better get out there and hit them and hammer away at that.

BLITZER: Frank, the Republicans have controlled the executive branch, the White House, for the last eight years. The last 12 of -- 12 of the last 14 years, the Republicans have controlled Congress, the legislative branch. The economy is in bad shape right now. Yet this race for the White House is effectively, given the margin of error, a dead heat. Why is that?

SESNO: Why is it?

Well, I think we've got the intangibles regarding Barack Obama. I think John McCain is not a standard Republican candidate and he's -- at least that's how he's trying to portray himself at every opportunity. And he's had more oppor -- I think he's had more success defining himself than the Democrats have defined him.

I just want to come back to one thing that I think is real important on this campaign going forward. You asked about the next two months. It is the economy. I think these candidates -- both of them, all of them are going to have to relate to what people are going through. Eighty-four thousand less jobs this month, 1.2 million foreclosures in the last quarter. Everybody is feeling this or is concerned about what's going on out there.

BLITZER: It was only a few months ago, Candy, we thought the war in Iraq would be issue number one. And now, all of a sudden, Barack Obama is saying that the surge, which John McCain strongly supported, has succeeded -- and I'm quoting now -- "beyond our wildest dreams."

What do you make of this?

CROWLEY: You will see the McCain camp make a lot of it, I think. This goes to their fundamental argument. And that is Barack Obama is not experienced enough to understand the world and to lead the country. So this is a matter for them. They've already been out there today talking about it. They've been out on the trail talking about it.

So you will hear them pick this up. I think what both of them have to do is -- John McCain wants this to be about Barack Obama and his experience and argue that McCain can bring change because he's got the experience to bring it about. And Barack Obama has to keep coming back to these unemployment numbers, to these mortgage figures and he has to make up a new name. And that new name is McCain/Bush. He cannot ever say the word McCain without saying Bush, because that's where they're going.

BLITZER: Whose convention, Gloria -- you were there in Denver, you were in St. Paul -- which convention...

BORGER: With you.

BLITZER: Yes, I was there.

Which was more successful in unifying these two respective parties?

BORGER: Well, I think they each had different jobs. I mean it's interesting because the first couple of days of the Democratic Convention, we were all pulling our hair out -- oh my god, what's going to happen with Bill and Hillary?

And, of course, it wound up that everybody was fine at the end. And now Hillary Clinton is going out to campaign for Barack Obama in Florida on Monday. They're going to be working hard.

This convention, the Republican Convention, Sarah Palin, who knew -- united conservatives behind John McCain. He really had an even tougher problem. And I think, you know, he picked Sarah Palin precisely for that reason.

So, you know, they're both heading into this election with their bases pretty solidly behind them.

The big question now is, Wolf, this election is going to be won in the middle and it's going to be won on turnout. And that...

BLITZER: And very quickly, David, Sarah Palin did for John McCain what he couldn't do. She got that conservative -- Christian conservative Evangelical base of the Republican Party behind him.

GERGEN: She did. She solidified. She did two things, Wolf. She electrified the base. And she seems to be electrifying John McCain. You know, he has this -- he has much more energy himself now.

BLITZER: I think you're right. All right, guys, thanks very much. Sixty days to go and counting.

John McCain's background at the forefront of the convention mystery -- what's going on with all that green? You see all that green behind him? We'll show you.

Plus, Oprah Winfrey, Sarah Palin and the rumor the talk show host is denying.

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


BLITZER: People online are buzzing about the backdrop used during Senator John McCain's speech at the Republican National Convention last night in St. Paul. The giant video screen behind Senator McCain showed Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood, California. We're still not quite sure why.

When Senator McCain was in a tight shot, viewers at home could only see the school's green lawn behind him. Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, who's been digging. What are they saying about all of this online -- Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, first off, they're saying what was up with that bright green screen?

All of these blogs from last night saying didn't they learn anything from this -- an appearance back in June against a similar backdrop that prompted comedian Stephen Colbert to issue a green screen challenge to the nation. "Make McCain exciting," he said. And people all over YouTube did just that.

McCain appearing with Macarena, with Madonna, Blue Suede Shoes. Take a look all over YouTube -- there's dozens of these still online.

But green screen aside, what about other question -- Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood. Surely, they meant to find Walter Reed Army Medical Center, but ended up with this instead.

And going onto the Web site talking points memo -- we've been doing a lot of digging -- they also point out that isn't that the same building used in an episode of "The West Wing?" Well, we haven't heard back from the convention or the campaign about any of those questions.

But there is a statement now from Walter Reed Middle School, who says they have been inundated with inquiries about this. They said they didn't give permission for the picture to be used and it should not be considered an endorsement -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Any reaction from the McCain campaign -- Abbi?

TATTON: We haven't heard back from them, Wolf. But we would like to hear.

BLITZER: OK. Good. Thank you.

On our "Political Ticker," countdown to election day -- just two months from now and the milestones along the way.

Check them out.

The big -- the next big event now that the conventions are behind us, the first presidential debate on September 26th. In October, the one and only vice presidential debate on the 2nd, followed by the remaining two presidential face-offs on the 7th and the 15th. Then it's full steam ahead to election day. That's on November 4th -- 60 days from now.

Oprah Winfrey is denying a report that her staff is divided over whether she should or should not book Sarah Palin as a guest. The talk show host issued a statement today saying: "There's been no discussion about whether to have the Republican vice presidential candidate on the show."

Winfrey says when she endorsed Barack Obama, she decided not to use her program as a political platform. She says she thinks Palin would be a fantastic interview, but only after the campaign is over.

Conventions come around only every four years and then they're over. The Republican Party wrapped up last night.

CNN's Jeanne Moos will show us what happened after the TV cameras shut down.

And hanging 10 while hanging on for dear life -- this image and more in our Hot Shots, just ahead.


BLITZER: The party's over -- the Republican Party's convention, that is.

In her final unconventional moment, CNN's Jeanne Moos surveys the aftermath.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The balloon drop. It's sort of like the lights turning on at a party so you know it's the end.


MOOS: The candidates prepare to exit. The delegates have a last dance. The Democrats had real fireworks outdoors. The Republicans had fireworks on the big screen inside. The Dems had the sky cam draped in streamers. The Republicans had TV cameramen buried in balloons deeper and deeper. Even the closing benediction...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All mighty God...

MOOS: ...was blessed with balloons.


MOOS: But first, heal thy heart -- the rock group Heart asked the Republicans to cease and desist. Stop using their song, "Barracuda" to celebrate V.P. pick Sarah Palin. Palin's nickname was Barracuda back when she played high school basketball.

As the convention was gaveled to a close, you almost expected Tony Soprano to show up as they played "The Journey" song from the Soprano's finale.

Remember the screen went to black mid-song?

At least the song finished at the convention.

Delegates grabbed their state sign posts as souvenirs -- signs posted with signatures. They milled around an emptying arena that seemed a little like Time Square after midnight had passed. Once you leave the Republican convention there aren't many places you can wear an elephant hat. It's hard looking dignified when you're checking your BlackBerry dressed like Dumbo.

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


BLITZER: The McCain campaign, by the way, has just told us that it was not a mistake to have that Walter Reed Middle School picture behind John McCain. It was always supposed to be Americana. They say it was supposed to be a schoolyard, a flag and a front porch. That was going to be the backdrop. It was not supposed to be the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. That's it for us.

Thanks very much for joining us. Sunday on ""LATE EDITION,"" among my guests, the Arizona senator, Jon Kyl, and the Virginia governor, Tim Kaine.

Thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, Election Center with Campbell Brown.