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McCain & 'Joe the Plumber'; Obama: Don't Get 'Cocky'; Market Madness

Aired October 16, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, John McCain playing the plumber card. He turned an average Joe into a political star, and now he's making him the centerpiece of his campaign to try to connect with voters.
Barack Obama warns supporters not to be too cocky. He's fighting perceptions that he has the race locked up, and he's doing it in a place where he suffered a painful defeat.

And a top Obama supporter tries to clean up a mess in his own back yard. Congressman John Murtha now apologizing for calling part of his home state of Pennsylvania, and I'm quoting now, "racist."

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

And if you thought the presidential turf was intense up until now, wait until you see what's coming over the next 19 days. The candidates now scrambling to gain ground or to hold their ground in crucial battleground states. Barack Obama on a swing through the tossup state of New Hampshire today, and John McCain trying to make inroads in Obama-leaning Pennsylvania.

The Republican got a new helper in his effort to try to show regular voters he gets what they're going through. Let's go to Dana Bash. She's here at the Election Center working this story for us.

Dana, we haven't heard a lot from the surprising star of last night's debate, "Joe the Plumber," but it certainly seems to be a centerpiece of Senator McCain's campaign.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right. In fact, Wolf, I actually talked to one of McCain's top advisers just a short while ago, and he said that they're going to "focus like a laser beam" for the next 19 days on the message that Obama wants Americans to "share the wealth."


BASH (voice-over): You'll never guess who is John McCain thinks won the final debate.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The real winner last night was "Joe the Plumber."

BASH: Of course, "Joe the Plumber." MCCAIN: He won and small businesses won across America. They won because the American people are not going to let Senator Obama raise their taxes in a tough economy.

BASH: McCain won't let go of the new political icon he made famous, hoping he's finally found a way to connect with voters on the issue they care most about.

MCCAIN: You know what Senator Obama had to say to Joe? He wanted to spread his wealth around. He wants government to take Joe's money and give it to somebody else.

BASH: But even in fiscally conservative suburban Philadelphia, where McCain campaigned for the second time this week, warning voters about Obama's economic policies is just part of his struggle. His biggest challenge? Detaching himself from the unpopular president.

MCCAIN: As I mentioned last night to Senator Obama, I'm not George Bush. And if he wanted to run against George Bush, he should have run four years ago.


BASH: Applause for anti-Bush line at a GOP rally, a stunning illustration of the political climate. McCain launched a new TV ad with the same message.

MCCAIN: The last eight years haven't worked very well, have they?

BASH: For the first time in weeks, an ad talking about his plans, not hitting Obama's.

MCCAIN: Your savings, we'll rebuild them. Your investments, they'll grow again. We've got 19 days to go. We're six points down.

BASH: But given that hard, cold reality, McCain aides say their urgent goal now is convincing supporters to keep at it.

MCCAIN: We never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history.


BASH: And McCain advisers insist their data still shows that support for Obama in key battleground states is actually soft and things aren't necessarily as dire as they seem. But Wolf, if you just look at McCain's travels for the next several days through the weekend -- and I think we have a map to illustrate it -- it shows what a defensive posture he's in.

He's going to be in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio. Those are all states, of course, that President Bush, the Republican, won in 2004. And he's trying to defend them.

BLITZER: And what about Pennsylvania? Any plans for him to go back to Pennsylvania?

BASH: It's entirely likely and probable for him to go back to Pennsylvania. Obviously he was speaking today in the state of Pennsylvania. His running mate has been there.

They insist that that is one of the blue states that they are going to work the hardest and they have the most resources in, because they think that they have the best chance there. He's very far down. Our latest Poll of Polls shows he's, like, seven points down. But given that, compared to other blue states, they think they have the best chance there because of the demographics.

MCCAIN: All right, Dana. Thanks very much. He's not giving up on Pennsylvania as he did Michigan.

Barack Obama is taking on a potential threat to his presidential hopes, the perception that he's well on his way to victory. Let's go out to Suzanne Malveaux. She's traveled with Senator Obama to New Hampshire, another key battleground state. Obama learned a painful lesson in New Hampshire once before, Suzanne, didn't he?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He certainly did. And he says he's not going to take any vote for granted or even any poll for granted.

Obviously, Hillary Clinton beating him in this state. And it's interesting, Wolf, because New Hampshire only has four electoral votes. So obviously every vote counts in the primary.

It was a record breaking number of voters, nearly 500,000, most of them Democrats. But Barack Obama going after the biggest voting bloc, and that is Independents.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Despite a strong debate performance and increasing leads in national and key battleground state polls, Barack Obama says he's taking nothing for granted.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are 19 days away from changing this country. Nineteen days away. But for those who are getting a little cocky, I've got two words for you -- New Hampshire.

MALVEAUX: New Hampshire delivered Obama a stinging and startling defeat in its January 8th primary. Polls predicted Obama would be the clear winner after his victory in Iowa, but New Hampshire chose Hillary Clinton as the favorite.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I listened to you, and in the process, I found my own voice.

MALVEAUX: New Hampshire give Clinton the comeback she needed to revive her campaign, just like her husband's second-place finish here in 1992.


MALVEAUX: The state known for its fiercely independent voters also saved John McCain's campaign in 2000 against George W. Bush, and put him ahead of the Republican pack this primary season.

At an apple orchard in Londonderry, Obama spoke directly to them.

OBAMA: New Hampshire, it is time to turn the page on eight years of economic policies that put Wall Street before Main Street, but ended up hurting both.

MALVEAUX: Obama also seized on pivotal moments from his final debate with McCain.

MCCAIN: My old buddy Joe...

... "Joe the Plumber"...

... people like "Joe the Plumber."

To "Joe the Plumber," Joe, you're rich. Congratulations.

MALVEAUX: He poked fun at McCain for repeatedly addressing a plumber Obama met on the campaign trail.

OBAMA: He's trying to suggest that a plumber is the guy he's fighting for.


OBAMA: How many plumbers do you know making $250,000 a year?

MALVEAUX: And Obama continued to press that McCain would be no different than President Bush.

OBAMA: I'm not running against George Bush. I'm running against all those policies of George Bush that you support, Senator McCain.

MALVEAUX: Obama's campaign launched a new TV ad to back it up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You may not be George Bush, but...

MCCAIN: I voted with the president over 90 percent of the time.


MALVEAUX: In the primary, Wolf, Hillary Clinton really got the lion's share of the female voters, but it was Barack Obama who got most of those Independents, and the Independents make up 44 percent of the electorate here in New Hampshire. So obviously what Barack Obama is trying to do, his hope is to simply build on that lead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thank you.

Let's get to some breaking news right now from Wall Street. Another very tense and wild day. Stocks, though, did wind up in positive territory only seconds ago, when the Dow Jones industrials closed up more than 400 points. This, a day after a massive 733-point drop. Our Senior Business Correspondent Ali Velshi is looking at the numbers.

It's a wild ride. It started this morning and went down almost 400 points, but at the end of the day, up more than 400 points.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. A couple hours ago, the market was sort of flat. I thought I was going to get an early night off. But no such luck, not in these markets.

Take a look at this, a 400-point gain on the Dow today. That is, as you say, a swing of almost 800 points in one day.

Now, there is one very specific reason for this. We had bad news on a lot of fronts today. We saw job losses, we saw industrial production -- that's all of the stuff we manufacture -- dropping in a way we haven't seen in many, many years. But here's what it was. It was all about oil today.

I'm going to so you what happened to the price of a barrel of oil. Not since last August have we seen it below $70 a barrel. It dropped to $4.69 today.

And Wolf, that is entirely tied to the idea that we are in a recession. And when there's a recession, people spend less. They will drive less. They will do all sorts of things that will conserve oil. And that has been pushing the price of oil down.

You'll recall, 52 percent down from $147 a barrel, which was where oil was just a few months ago. So we are now down to a low that we haven't seen in more than a year on oil, and that is what is drove stocks higher, because if you're not spending it on oil, you're not spending it on gas, and you're not spending it on heating oil, you might be able to spend it on other things. And as you and I have discussed, that is exactly what drives the stock markets, companies that make money because you can spend money at their companies.

BLITZER: Citigroup and Merrill Lynch, no great surprise, they both posted losses, significant losses today.

VELSHI: That's right.

BLITZER: How does that figure in into this wild ride on Wall Street?

VELSHI: This is the continuing sort of shedding of these bad loans and bad debt that these companies had. We did expect those to happen in both cases. By the way, announcing more job losses and some closures at a couple of GM plants, more layoffs. So remember that once this financial crisis passes, Wolf, we will still be left with the fact that we've got lower home prices, probably going lower, and unemployment probably going higher, and greater job losses.

We've already seen 750,000 jobs lost. We will not get another jobs report until after Election Day. It will be the Friday after Election Day, but we're expecting that to be a bad one, too. That's going to be the problems that's going to be sticking with us for the next year.

BLITZER: Jobs, jobs, jobs.

VELSHI: That's right.

BLITZER: All right, Ali. Thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is off today.

Coming up, though, he's apparently the new star of the presidential race. That, of course, being "Joe the Plumber."


JOE WURZELBACHER, "JOE THE PLUMBER": I'm a flash in the pan. You know, I'm just a novelty. "Joe the Plumber," it's going to be fun for a couple days, and then it's going to go away. And that's it.


BLITZER: Here's the question: Is John McCain's new pro-plumber campaign helping him? We'll speak about it with Glenn Beck. He's standing by live. I'll ask him if he thinks John McCain is back on track, or is he simply off message?

And did Congressman John Murtha do Barack Obama serious harm in Pennsylvania? We're looking into Murtha's remarks about a racist area and his new apology.

And in our battleground coverage, how the Latino vote may tilt the tossup state of Colorado one way or another.

Lots of news happening today, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: "Joe the Plumber" -- Barack Obama and John McCain talked about the Ohio man more than a dozen times in last night's debate, and now Joe has a few things to say about elected officials. Listen to this.


WURZELBACHER: One of the things that me and my friends talk about a great deal is, you know, the politicians are the nobles. We are the serfs. OK?

I mean, we are the peasants as far as they're concerned. You know, they take and they give us back a little bit. You know? And that's wrong. You know? They're not entitled.


BLITZER: Our next guest speaks to regular Joes every single day, the conservative radio and TV commentator Glenn Beck. He's part of our CNN Family. He's the host of "THE GLENN BECK SHOW" here on Headline News.

What do you think about this whole "Joe the Plumber" out of the blue becoming a star?


And by the way, Joe, I think you should absolutely change your name of your business to Joe the Plumber. You should have it on the vans right now.

BLITZER: There already somebody else out there we saw on the Web who's getting bombarded. Got a Web site "Joe the Plumber," a real plumber someplace else.

BECK: Fantastic. Yes. Yes. I'd like to talk to "Bill the Candlestick Maker," too. You know, I think this is just these candidates trying so desperately to relate to the everyday man.

BLITZER: So-called real people.

BECK: Yes. I mean, they're so far away from real people that I think that's why -- I think that's why after two years, this country is still looking at these two going, oh, jeez, I don't know. I mean, can I voted for that guy? I don't know. You know?

BLITZER: In other words, they're saying is this the best we could have done?

BECK: Yes, because neither of them instinctively -- I think most Americans are like, I don't know. I don't know if -- I don't know who he is. And after two years of going through this, we still don't know. You watch, there will be...

BLITZER: There's still around 8 or 10 percent who say they're undecided.

BECK: Right. And the day one of these guys is elected, there's going to be a press release that says, I know I said this on the campaign trail, but things have changed. You watch. It will happen almost immediately.

BLITZER: It always happens, campaign promises. You know, the situation changes.

BECK: But it will be big.

BLITZER: Did McCain do last night what he needed to do? Because as you know, in all these polls he's significantly behind.

BECK: Yes. No, I don't think he -- I don't think he did.

I mean, I thought he was good, but he had to be Ronald Reagan. And he's just not Ronald Reagan. And he's not -- look, he needs somebody to be able to look into the camera and be able to say, America, I get it. You don't trust me, you don't trust him, and the reason why is because we've been lying to you the whole time.

This whole government has been telling you half-truths and nontruths for long enough. So look, here's the bad news: Blah, blah, blah. And here's exactly what I'm going to do, and I mean what I say.

If he could have connected with the American audience -- and also, neither of them -- you know, the Republicans need to police the Republicans and the Democrats need to police the Democrats. They need to get the bad ones out, the ones who are involved in scandal and double talk and everything else. People need to unite.

BLITZER: What was the basic line, if there was a basic line you heard from your listeners out there on talk radio today? What were they saying to you about the debate?

BECK: I think the number one line was for John McCain, good.

BLITZER: Relatively speaking he did well.

BECK: For John McCain, good.

BLITZER: But he had to really hit a grand slam homerun. And Obama's pretty good in these formats.

BECK: Yes, he did have a good line on...

BLITZER: Who had a good line?

BECK: John McCain had a good line on, you know, if you're running against George Bush, you know, that was four years.

BLITZER: "I'm not George Bush. If you wanted to run against George Bush, you should have run four years ago."

BECK: Four years ago. He should have said, Ronald Reagan would have said, but, oh, no, you couldn't have. You weren't even a senator four years ago. You know, he's just not -- he just doesn't...

BLITZER: He gets up there but can't close the deal.

BECK: Yes. And somebody -- you know, a listener said to me today that they thought he was uncomfortable with taking people out, you know, because of honor, et cetera, et cetera. I don't know if that's true. You know, I think...

BLITZER: Should he have brought up the Reverend Wright? Because he has studiously avoided -- he brings up William Ayers, he brings up, you know, ACORN and some other stuff.

BECK: Yes.

BLITZER: He never brings up Reverend Wright.

BECK: He's bringing up these topics in the wrong way. And not as a political strategist or as a politician or anything else, just as a guy who says, OK, the problem with all of these guys is they're all Marxists. They're all Marxists. They're all spread the wealth.

So look, I'm not going to tie you to these people any more than they have to, but I mean, all the way from the Frank Marshall Davis to your reverend, they all preach Marxism. Now you say to "Joe the Plumber," I'm going to take your wealth and give it to somebody else. That's Marxism.

BLITZER: Is there anything McCain can do now to still win this election? Nineteen days, not a lot of time.

BECK: Yes. I think that if he can get his -- you know what? If John McCain would be John McCain -- I think the problem is with politicians, is they're always told by everybody, no, no, no, you've got to say it this way. Stop it.

Just be yourself. And if you lose, then you lose. You know what I mean? Just be yourself, just say what you mean and mean what you say.

BLITZER: Let Glenn Beck be Glenn Beck. Did they ever tell you've got to change, you've got to do other stuff? No.

BECK: Oh yes, they did.

BLITZER: They told you that but you never listened to them.

BECK: Never did.

BLITZER: That's why you're Glenn Beck.

BECK: And that's why you're Wolf Blitzer, my little Wolfie.

BLITZER: Thanks.


BLITZER: They certainly endured withering criticism. Now the voter registration group at the center of a scandal is fighting right back. You're going to find out how ACORN is scorning critics who accuse it of massive fraud.

And only 19 days to go before Election Day. John McCain faces several serious problems across the electoral map. John King standing by. He'll tell us where these problems are and what McCain needs to do.

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



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

Happening now, Barack Obama and John McCain face off on the campaign attack ads, each accusing the other of hitting below the belt. Are they right? We'll get to the facts.

On the chopping block. Both candidates suggest key government programs may well fall by the wayside to get the ballooning federal budget back on track. Stand by.

And they fought on the same side in Iraq and now they're battling each other for a key congressional seat. And it's driving the war -- the Iraq war, that is. It's dividinging both of them.

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

There's new that evidence that Barack Obama is gaining momentum in key battleground states. Our new Poll of Polls shows he's inched up a percentage point in three of those critical states, Florida, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

Take a look at this. When you average all the latest polls in Florida, the most recent numbers, Obama ahead 49 percent, 45 percent for McCain. A four-point spread.

The same thing happening in Colorado right now. Obama 50 percent, McCain 44 percent. A six-point spread in Colorado.

But look at Pennsylvania, another key battleground state. Obama right now in our Poll of Polls, 53 percent, McCain 40 percent. That's a 13-point spread.

Our Chief National Correspondent John King is looking at all the challenges, and there are serious challenges, for McCain across the electoral map -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, where you find the candidates on the trail tells you quite a bit about their perceived strengths and weaknesses heading into the final stretch.

Barack Obama spending time today up here in the state of New Hampshire. It leans Democrat at the moment. He is down here where the people are in southern New Hampshire. Most of the population is right down here in this state.

It's a message aimed not only at New Hampshire, but at Independent voters across the country, as well. There are more undeclared or Independent voters in New Hampshire than there are Democrats or Republicans.

John McCain facing a stiff wind in his face here in a critical area in American and Pennsylvania politics, and that is the suburbs. You find McCain today campaigning in Chester County. You see that as red from four years ago -- George Bush won narrowly -- but there has been a dramatic shift in this area. It is critical to winning statewide in Pennsylvania.

Four years ago, there were more registered Republicans in Montgomery County, now more registered Democrats, four years ago, more registered Republicans in neighboring Bucks County, now more registered Democrats -- John McCain trying somehow to take Pennsylvania away from the Democrats, but facing a tide in registration here, and also a significant deficit in the polls at the moment.

Let's look at the bigger map to get a sense of the challenge for McCain coming out of the final debate. The gold states are the tossup states. Barack Obama, under our projection, already has enough to clinch the presidency if the election were held today. So, John McCain has a huge challenge ahead of him.

Let's just say he wins all the tossup states. That would be Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Missouri, come out to Colorado, and then over to, finally, in the West. Even then, John McCain would still trail Barack Obama. So, the challenge for the McCain -- and the Republicans, find something blue on this map, and find a way to turn it red.

Virginia, its 13 electoral votes are one target, Pennsylvania, of course, where we found the senator today. But, Increasingly, Wolf, Republicans are looking at this map, trying to decide where to spend their money and resources, and they are very frustrated, and finding a very hard time finding one of these blue states that they think they have a good chance to turn red -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John, thanks very much. John is over at the magic map.

We have all heard the jokes about how Joe the plumber won the final presidential debate, but what about the guys who were actually on stage? It was their last, best shot at appealing to a huge national television audience less than three weeks before Election Day.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He has been going through the polls, looking at the numbers. Was there a clear winner among the viewers last night?



SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The first debate was September 26. Who won? We asked viewers. They said Obama by 13 points. At the second debate, on October 7, the candidates took questions from voters. Who won? Obama, by 24 points. In the third debate, October 15, the candidates were seated face to face. Who won? Obama, by 27 points.

CBS News interviewed only uncommitted voters who watched each debate. The number who thought Obama won went from 39 percent in the first debate, to 40 percent in the second debate, to 53 percent in the third.

McCain showed a lot of fight in the last debate.

MCCAIN: What you want to do to Joe the plumber and millions more like him is have their taxes increased and not be able to realize the American dream.

SCHNEIDER: Eighty percent named McCain as the candidate who spent more time attacking his opponent. They didn't seem to like it. By better than 3-1, viewers said Obama was more likable.

Negative tactics have been known to work. They worked in 1988, when then Vice President George Bush demolished Michael Dukakis with a harsh negative campaign. But Americans were fairly happy in October 1988, when President Ronald Reagan had a 54 percent job approval rating.

President Bush's rating is now 24 percent. Negative sentiments are directed at him.

MCCAIN: Senator Obama, I'm not President Bush.

OBAMA: On the core economic issues that matter to the American people, on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities, you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush.


SCHNEIDER: Now, we asked people, would you like to see more debates? Two-thirds said, no, thank you. We have seen quite enough. We're ready to vote now. And you know what? In 18 states, people already are voting.

BLITZER: And there's early voting in a lot of those states, that's right.


BLITZER: And then the rest -- all the rest will vote on November 4.


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

Ohio sending a message to the United States Supreme Court -- here's the message: Help. Ohio's elections chief, the secretary of state, wants the court to step into a dispute. It involves whether or not Ohio must do more to help counties verify voter eligibility. A federal appeals court has already sided with Ohio's Republican Party, ordering the secretary of state to set up a verification system.

But the elections chief says, fears of massive voter fraud are unsubstantiated right now.

Barack Obama is working to protect his lead in Pennsylvania. And a top supporter may not necessarily have helped his cause. That would be Congressman John Murtha. We're looking into Murtha's claim that parts of his home state are racist, a statement he now says he's sorry he made.

Plus, it's an important voting group in a crucial battleground state -- how Latinos in Colorado could shape the presidential race.

And later: Senator Ted Stevens takes the stand in his corruption trial. We will have a live report from the courthouse.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Barack Obama and John McCain hope to win the lion's share of votes from a key voting bloc in a key battleground state. That would be Latinos in Colorado.

CNN's Dan Simon is there as part of our battleground coverage. He's stationed in Colorado, right now in Denver. You have been looking at the Latino vote, Dan. What are you picking up?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, the polls here show a very tight race. The latest CNN poll shows Obama up by about four points. That's well within the margin of error.

There are any number of factors that could tilt the balance here. Today, we're looking at Hispanics, which are a growing, key constituency in the state.

Take a look.


SIMON (voice-over): Lunchtime at Denver's La Casita Restaurant, a place known for its tamales. But owner Paul Sandoval has as much passion for politics as he does for spicy food. A former state senator and Barack Obama supporter, he says he knows his demographic.

PAUL SANDOVAL, BARACK OBAMA SUPPORTER: In all honesty, I think Senator McCain scores better on immigration than Senator Obama. That's my personal opinion. That's an opinion of a lot of people. But, on the economics, and on education, no question that Obama scores better.

SIMON: Hispanics make up 20 percent of Colorado's population, about 12 percent of the registers voters. Most vote Democratic. Republicans are trying to win over some of those voters.

(on camera): If McCain is going to win Colorado, does he have to do well with Hispanics?

SANDOVAL: He has to do extremely well -- not well, extremely well -- simply because it being a swing state.

SIMON (voice-over): We asked Latina voter Vivian Hanson (ph), a registered independent and McCain supporter, what the Arizona senator could do to gain more Hispanic voters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Say to them, "I'm speaking to the middle class," just as Obama did. You know, he says some great things, but he doesn't direct that to them. And, so, they're kind of feeling like, "You don't really see us."

SIMON: Those decidedly for Obama said things like this as to why they're supporting him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just his positivity. You know, he's just -- he seems like he's more focused. You know, he -- he may not have the experience that McCain has or any of that, but, you know, he has a political background also. So, you know, he -- he's -- he's done some things in his -- in his time.

SIMON: The McCain campaign says it has stepped up efforts in large Hispanic areas in the state, including Pueblo County, south of Denver. It has a tendency to be more conservative.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George Bush didn't win the county, but it's a county that we're going to compete in and we're going to compete aggressively and vigorously in.

SIMON: Nine electoral votes are up for grabs in Colorado, and one constituency could possibly decide it all.


SIMON: Early voting begins on Monday. And more evidence that this is perceived as a must-win for the GOP, Governor Palin expected to swing by the state -- swing through the state on Monday, and Senator McCain himself also expected to make at least one more stop between now and Election Day -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Dan, thank you.

And, once again, Dan Simon is part of the newest addition to the best political coverage on television. Our new battleground coverage features CNN reporters stationed in key states through Election Day, 19 days to go. We will continue to bring you their expert political reports right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's the ugly elephant in the room. No matter Barack Obama's position on the issues, some people may not necessarily support him, simply because he's African-American. Although a great deal of Americans do not feel that way, there are some who do.

And now Congressman John Murtha has ignited a firestorm for how he brought that topic out into the open.

Listen to what he told "The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette."


REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, he will have a tough time. You know, there's no question Western Pennsylvania is a racist area. And, when I say a racist area, I mean that they -- well, the older -- older people are hesitant. You know, they slow in seeing change, real -- real change.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Western Pennsylvania, a racist area. Let's go to Brian Todd, because he's out there in Western Pennsylvania right now. We sent you out there to check into this, Brian. What are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what -- we were just in John Murtha's office a short time ago. He would not go on camera with us, didn't want to do an interview. Neither did any of his aides.

We did overhear some phone calls from constituents calling in to his office just in the next room. One of them happened to be on a speakerphone calling in, and was very irate at the congressman for making those remarks, saying, basically, how can he excuse me, my family, and others here of being racist? We're not that.

You know, we have talked to several local people here, a couple of African-Americans, including one African-American leader, who said he does not sense that this is area is racist.

We want to also bring you a statement that John Murtha has made today, kind of dialing back on all this.

It reads -- quote -- "I apologize for making the comment that Western Pennsylvania is a racist area. While we cannot deny that race is a factor in this election, I believe we have been able to look beyond race these past few months."

Now, an aide to Murtha, in an extensive conversation I had with him today, really tried to put this in perspective. He said, look, what he's trying to essentially say is, kind of a reflection of his district, this 12th District in Western Pennsylvania, very heavily white, went heavily for Hillary Clinton in the primaries, that -- you know, a very, very heavy senior citizen, elderly population, and that that segment of the population may not be as receptive to change, meaning an African-American candidate, may try to vote along those lines.

You talk to people in this town, and a lot of them don't agree with Jack Murtha. They are saying that, you know, they're -- he's kind of putting a blanket statement on people here. They don't think this is -- this is really the case.

We did talk to one young African-American who just moved here from Maryland a couple of years ago. He kind of agrees with the congressman. he says, since he's been here, he's had a tough time getting a job. He thinks that part of it is because of his race, Wolf. So, it kind of depends on who you talk to here.

BLITZER: And I'm sure that there's a lot of economic hardship in parts of that area as well. Brian, stand by, because we're going to be getting back to you. I know you're working this story for us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Coming up in our "Strategy Session": It was McCain's definitive line of the night. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.


BLITZER: But is his latest effort to distance himself from President Bush too little too late?

And two men in uniform who fought against a common enemy in Iraq, they're now doing battle in a congressional district. Chris Lawrence will have that story -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The words are crystal clear, but are they too little too late? John McCain telling Barack Obama -- and I'm quoting now -- "I'm not George Bush."

Let's discuss in our "Strategy Session." Joining us, the Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Donna Brazile, and the Republican consultant and CNN political contributor Alex Castellanos.

Is it too little, too late? I will play the clip for you, Alex, and then we will discuss. Listen to this.


MCCAIN: I'm not George Bush. And, if he wanted to run against George Bush, he should have run four years ago.


MCCAIN: I will take us in a new direction. My friends...


BLITZER: All right. Is it too little too late on that one line? Because that's been a major thrust of the Obama criticism of McCain, that it's another four years of the Bush administration.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know, it tells you something about how tough shape the Republican brand is when -- when you have to take off your own jersey, and put on the jersey of the other team to try to score, it tells you you're in tough shape. And that's where the Republican brand is right now.

Is it too late? Yes. Is it too late not to try? No, you have to keep doing it. John McCain has been making this argument throughout the campaign. And I think getting out a positive agenda of where he's going to lead the country, economic growth, tax cuts, a spending freeze last night, helped him separate from McCain (sic).

But, you know, I think, Wolf, the other thing here is, the people that won the last two Republican elections, this is their third election. And this election is part of that same Republican brand. Who -- who hollowed out the Republican brand? Who made us big- spenders and big-government Republicans? That's on the table here, too.

BLITZER: And, you know, he -- he's been hinting at this, John McCain, Donna, for some time. But he was never as blunt as he was last night.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a great line in a debate. It's like going to a movie, and you come away with one line.

But, unfortunately, it put Senator McCain in a very unusual box. He now has to agree with Democrats that they -- the last eight years have been disastrous for the middle class and disastrous in terms of what Alex just said about our overall fiscal health.

So, I don't know if it allows John McCain to pivot to the future, when, in fact, he has voted for George Bush and voted with the Republicans 90 percent of the time. And that's what voters want. They want a break the past. They want a new direction.

CASTELLANOS: And that's...

BLITZER: And the Democrats have been playing that clip, as you know, Alex, of Senator McCain only a few months ago insisting, look, I voted with President Bush more than 90 percent of the time, more than some of his Republican colleagues. And that seems now to have come back to haunt him, given the unpopularity of the Bush White House.

Go ahead.

CASTELLANOS: Well, if you had asked George Bush if -- if John McCain was one of those guys who was always there when he needed him, President Bush might have a different point of view.

But, McCain, as we know, cuts his own path on many of these things. And, in fact, he has been the voice for fiscal responsibility, when the Republican Party and the Republican brand have, as he's pointed out, spent like drunken sailors. So, I think America understands that John McCain is a Republican, but a very different kind of Republican.

BLITZER: All right.

So, let's move on, Donna, and talk about a sensitive issue that came up, that Bob Schieffer raised at the debate last night, the whole issue of abortion rights for women. And, at one point, Senator McCain said this. I will play the clip, because it's generating some commotion out there, and a lot of emotion as well. Listen to this.



MCCAIN: Just again, the example of the eloquence of Senator Obama. He's for health for the mother. You know, that's been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything.


BLITZER: All right. The criticism he's been getting, Senator McCain, is that he's belittling the whole issue of the health of a mother, in terms of a late-term abortion.

And Senator Obama said he would support banning late-term abortion, provided it didn't undermine the health or life of a mother.

Go ahead and give us some perspective on this issue, the sensitivity of this issue, because, for a lot of voters, they're looking at the Supreme Court, and they're wondering what's going to happen when -- with the next president.

BRAZILE: We have debated this issue since the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

But Senator Obama last night, once again, you know, said, let's have some common sense. Let's break new ground. Let's talk about how we reduce the number of unwanted, un -- unwanted pregnancies in this country. Most Americans believe that women should have the -- should have access to the full range of reproductive health services, including the right to choose if that -- if that is a decision that they will make with their family, their doctor, their religious advisers, et cetera.

But to cut women off from this -- this procedure, or any procedure, any services, is a very sensitive subject. And one -- one other point, Wolf, and that is, John McCain has voted in the past against birth control. Again, we want to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. And I think many women today woke up and heard that and said, that's not a good position for John McCain.

BLITZER: I guess the criticism, Alex, that John McCain is getting from some -- some of his critics is not necessarily the substance of the debate, but the -- sort of the way he said it, belittling this whole notion of the importance of -- quote -- "the health of a mother."

CASTELLANOS: Of course, Senator McCain, I think the point he was trying to make was not about the health of the mother at all.

But we all know the way Washington works. They find a loophole. They find a backdoor into a piece of legislation, and they can take a word like "safe" and use it for their own ends.

And the point, I think, that Senator McCain made was that Senator Obama has had one of the most radical positions on abortion of anyone in Congress. He...

BRAZILE: That's not true, Alex.

CASTELLANOS: Well, actually... BRAZILE: He's not had a radical position.

CASTELLANOS: Actually, the guy...


BRAZILE: He's not pro-abortion. He is pro-choice.


CASTELLANOS: Yes, but we don't get what they intend. We get what they vote for.

Patrick O'Malley, a state senator in Illinois, went to the attorney general there and said, are babies protected if they -- if they come out of the womb early? The attorney general said no. He wrote a piece of legislation to address that. Obama voted against it. And now he's having a tough time explaining it.

BRAZILE: Because there was legislation already on the books.

CASTELLANOS: No, no, no. That's my point, Donna.

BRAZILE: No, there was legislation already on the books.


BRAZILE: Again, you're trying to use legislation...


CASTELLANOS: Donna, my point is, the attorney general told the guy who wrote...


BLITZER: One at a time. One at a time.

Hold on.

Go ahead, Alex.

CASTELLANOS: The attorney general -- the attorney general told the guy who wrote the law, no, those babies were not protected.

BLITZER: All right.

CASTELLANOS: And that's why he wrote it.

BLITZER: Quickly, Donna.

BRAZILE: No, no, no, the attorney general...


BRAZILE: Barack Obama, he is a constitutional lawyer. He understood that this protection was already inherent in the law.


BRAZILE: And they were trying to score political points.

Go back and read the statute. It was already in the law.


BLITZER: We have got to leave it right there.

BRAZILE: I trust a constitutional lawyer on this matter.

BLITZER: All right, stand by. We will continue this conversation.

Alex, Donna, thank you to both of you.

Barack Obama has some words of regret. He's criticizing himself for something he said, reportedly calling it -- and I'm quoting now -- "boneheaded."

And it's what our children or their children could be saddled with. That would be the ballooning budget deficit. Between Barack Obama and John McCain, whose proposals would really bring it down?

And ACORN now fighting back -- the voter registration group at the center of a scandal is vehemently defending itself against claims it was engaged in massive voter registration fraud.

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


BLITZER: An e-mail circulating online may leave some voters confused. It gives instructions on straight party voting, a way to vote for all candidates from the same party with one selection. While the e-mail may be right in one state, it's completely inaccurate in others.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, has been investigating. Abbi, what does the e-mail say?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, here it is online.

The e-mail that's been circulating these states with straight party voting, it warns, for those who normally vote straight Democratic, pay attention. It says you must punch Barack Obama's name first, then proceed to punch straight Democratic, or else your vote for president won't count.

Now, in the majority of these states with that option, this information is inaccurate. And officials in those states are speaking out. In South Carolina, the state election commission has a posting on their Web site that this chain e-mail makes false claims. In Texas, the Texas Democratic Party warning voters to ignore the contents of this e-mail.

But election laws are confined to states, and e-mails can travel across state borders. And, in North Carolina, election officials tell us that the content of that e-mail is largely accurate. The best seem -- advice here seems to be that, if something lands in your inbox, don't trust it. Go to the local authorities, the local state election board. And they can tell you exactly what to expect on November 4 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi, thank you.

On our "Political Ticker": Barack Obama acknowledges he's made some mistakes out there on the campaign trail, but he says one of them was worse than the rest. That would be Obama's controversial remark that some small-town Americans are -- quote -- "bitter and cling to guns and religion."

In an interview with "The New York Times" that will be published Sunday, Senator Obama calls those comments -- and I'm quoting now -- "his biggest boneheaded move."

Republicans are complaining that a political pitch by Barack Obama is going to delay a first pitch in the World Series. Major League Baseball agreed yesterday to push back the start -- the start time of game six of the series by 15 minutes if a sixth game is necessary. That will make room for a half-hour of TV time bought by the Obama campaign on that date, October 29.

FOX Television will air the series. The move by Major League Baseball is designed to go forward and allow Senator Barack Obama to -- to have this commercial time allotted to him.

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