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The Colin Powell Effect; McCain's Red State Scramble; Push for New Stimulus Plan Gains Steam

Aired October 20, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Barack Obama's big play for the mother of all battlegrounds. He's encouraging early voters to turn out in Florida and he's getting help from Hillary Clinton. We're standing by to bring you their first public event together in months. You'll see it live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Plus, John McCain and Sarah Palin, they're fighting to hold on to red states with limited time and limited money. We're standing by to bring you McCain's sharper pitch in Missouri. You'll hear it right here, as well.

And the Colin Powell effect. Will his coveted endorsement help Barack Obama all that much in the end? I'll speak about that and more with Republican Mitt Romney, and I'll ask him if the McCain camp is feeling burned.

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

Heading into the final two weeks before Election Day, Barack Obama is unleashing a political stow of overwhelming force. That includes his first public appearance with Hillary Clinton since their famous unity event back in June. We're standing by to bring you this upcoming event in Florida. We'll go there live.

CNN is channeling all of its resources out onto the campaign trail with our political correspondents and battleground reporters fanned out across pivotal states.

Let's go to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. She's covering the Obama campaign in Florida.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in the final weeks of the campaign, it's all about spending money and voter turnout. That record $150 billion that Obama raised last month enables him to spend three times as much as his opponent here in Florida. Also with the endorsement of Colin Powell, the hope for the campaign is this is going to attract those Independent voters.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Armed with the endorsement of Bush's former isn't of state Colin Powell, fresh momentum.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We were thrilled yesterday when a great American statesman, General Colin Powell, joined our cause. (APPLAUSE)

MALVEAUX: In the battleground state of Florida, where presidential ambitions have rested on hanging chads, early voting began. New Democratic voters out-register Republicans two to one here, and Obama needs every one of them.

OBAMA: I want you to go vote. Don't wait until November 4th.

MALVEAUX: Here, the financial crisis has been devastating. Forty-four thousand homes in foreclosure, the second highest rate in the country behind California. Obama is making the case his financial plan will benefit them, the working class. John McCain's, the rich.

OBAMA: No tax; that's my commitment to you. You can take that to the bank.

MALVEAUX: Despite supporting the federal government's biggest intervention in the financial markets since the Great Depression, McCain is accusing Obama of going one step further, promoting a system of government control over private industry or socialism.

OBAMA: It is true that I want to roll back the Bush tax cuts on the very wealthiest Americans and go back to the rate that they paid under Bill Clinton. John McCain calls that socialism.

MALVEAUX: Obama also mocked McCain's running mate Sarah Palin for saying if she had a magic wand, she would prefer not to use the automated calls her campaign is being criticized for.

OBAMA: You really have to work hard to violate Governor Palin's standards on negative campaigning.

MALVEAUX: On a lighter note, Obama praised members of the Tampa Bay Rays, who the night before defied the odds to make it to the World Series, even though Obama's rooting for the phillies.

OBAMA: When you see a White Sox fan showing love to the Rays and the Rays showing some love back, you know we're on to something right here.


MALVEAUX: Well, you hear Obama using more of that language that he originally used back in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention when he captured the national spotlight, and not calling for red America or a blue America, but a United States of America. Now, the hope of the campaign is that he not only gets people to support him, but he inspires them to come out and vote -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne is in Tampa. Stand by.

Florida is one of 34 states and the District of Columbia that allow early in-person voting. Most already are allowing ballots to be cast. Five of those early voting states are considered tossups on CNN's electoral map, but Obama appears to have the edge in most of them.

According to our latest state Poll of Polls, Obama is up by three points in Florida, five points in Nevada, six points in Colorado, and three points in Ohio. Obama and McCain are dead even in North Carolina according to latest CNN/"TIME" Magazine/Opinion Research Corporation poll.

John McCain is campaigning today in the only tossup state that doesn't have early voting. That would be Missouri. Our new Poll of Polls shows McCain has a two-point advantage over Obama in Missouri. That's up a point from 11 days ago, but still not enough for McCain to count on winning that crucial battleground state.

We're standing by to bring you a McCain event. We'll go there live once the senator starts speaking.

But right now, let's go to CNN's Dana Bash in Missouri. She's in Missouri covering the campaign. Dana, as all of us I think realize in these final just more than two weeks, Senator McCain certainly has his work cut out for him.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He sure does. You mentioned the Poll of Polls in Missouri. You know, it was just after the Republican convention that John McCain was actually up five points here. Not only that -- talk about his work being cut out for him, Wolf -- this is the fifth state in a row that he has now been to that went for George W. Bush in 2004, and he's trying to hold on to it.


BASH (voice-over): Missouri is a state John McCain's advisers told CNN just six weeks ago they hoped to secure and move on. Now it's neck and neck, and he's back.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With your help, we're going to win Missouri and bring real change to Washington, D.C.

BASH: Several thousand people came to see McCain in this St. Louis suburb two days after Barack Obama drew this unprecedented crowd downtown. But McCain aides are taking heart in several national polls showing Obama's wide lead narrowing a bit, which advisers attribute to McCain's relentless use of "Joe the Plumber" to hit Obama's tax plan.

MCCAIN: Barack Obama's plan to raise taxes on some in order to give checks to others, it's not a tax cut. It's just another government giveaway that the liberals have been trying to push on America for a long time.

BASH: And even sharper rhetoric -- talk of socialism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a cloud that will threatens that American freedom that we all enjoy, and that is the creeping socialism that we feel.

BASH: Still, McCain's urgent challenge is not getting drowned out by Obama and his mind-blowing amount of campaign cash. NARRATOR: You did vote with Bush 90 percent of the time.

BASH: Here in Missouri, Obama is outspending McCain on TV ads two to one. In other states, much more. To try to compete, McCain aides say they've doubled the number of his local interviews in critical markets.


BASH: And Wolf, we have what could be a potential development with the McCain campaign. John McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, was on a conservative talk radio show, Hugh Hewitt's radio show today, and they were talking about whether or not the controversial pastor for Barack Obama, Jeremiah Wright, whether it should come up in these final weeks. And Rick Davis said something we haven't heard from the McCain campaign.

He actually said because of some of the controversies, particularly of what we've talked about with John Lewis making some pretty intense statements that John McCain really fired back on, what Rick Davis said is that we're going to have to "rethink" all these things, sending a signal that maybe, maybe, despite the fact that John McCain drew a line in the sand saying Reverend Wright would not be part of the campaign, maybe they are changing their mind in these final weeks. We'll have to see.

BLITZER: All right. You'll let us know, Dana. Thanks very much. Dana Bash is covering the McCain camp for us.

This important programming note for viewers. On Wednesday, Senator McCain will be my guest here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

You can be part of the interview. Just go to You can submit your video questions for Senator McCain. We'll pick some of those questions. We'll ask the senator your questions as well right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That interview Wednesday.

Now to the issue driving this election, the economy. Stock investors took a new leap of faith today, sending the Dow Jones industrials up about 400 points at the closing bell only minutes ago. The optimism fueled in part by growing signs that credit is now loosening up a bit. The markets also are digesting new statements by the White House and the Federal Reserve chairman about a second economic stimulus package.

Let's go to our White House Correspondent Elaine Quijano. She's working the story for us.

It seems there's a new receptivity on the part of the White House, Elaine, to what the Democrats, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Barack Obama, have been pushing for sometime, a second economic stimulus package.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly an idea that seems to be gaining some momentum here in Washington, Wolf. President Bush, for his part, traveled to central Louisiana today to meet with small business leaders and to try to make the case that his administration is making headway in restoring people's confidence.


QUIJANO (voice-over): Just weeks before Election Day, President Bush defended his administration's handling of the financial crisis.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: People's attitudes are beginning to change from a period of intense concerns, and I would call it near panic, to being more relaxed and beginning to see the effects of the changes and the liquidity that are being pumped into the system. Now, we've got a long way to go.

QUIJANO: But the president made no mention of an idea gaing steam in Washington, passing a second economic stimulus package. For the first time, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke endorsed the idea Monday.

BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: Consideration of a fiscal package by the Congress at this juncture seems appropriate.

QUIJANO: Bernanke predicted a weak economy for months to come, a stark assessment underscoring how bleak the U.S.' economic picture is.

On CNN's "LATE EDITION," a top Bush economic adviser even used the word "recession."

ED LAZEAR, CHAIRMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: We are seeing what I think anyone would characterize as a recession in certain parts of the country.

QUIJANO: Against that backdrop, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino told reporters aboard Air Force One the administration remains open-minded to all ideas, including a second stimulus deal. But she cautioned, any such bill needs to actually jump-start the economy.

Meantime, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said taxpayers should get their money back from the bailout plan and then some.

HENRY PAULSON, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: This is an investment, not an expenditure. And there's no reason to believe that this program will cost taxpayers anything.


QUIJANO: Now, an interesting moment, Wolf. As the cameras were being ushered out of the room in Louisiana, a reporter asked the president, "Do you support a second economic stimulus package?"

Now, the president, for his part, did not answer at first, but then said, "Well, look at the quotes from my press secretary, Dana Perino," a moment, Wolf, that really seemed to underscore how the president feels compelled to weigh in on this idea, albeit cautiously -- Wolf.

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

Jack Cafferty is off today.

Bill Clinton is trying to help Barack Obama do what he did. That would be win the state of Nevada. How much does Obama need the former president's help? We'll go there.

Plus, I'll ask Republican Mitt Romney if he's buying into the McCain camp's portrayal of Barack Obama as a socialist.

And she has an impressive name and an impressive resume, but Senator Elizabeth Dole now is fighting for her political life. What's going to tell you what's going on in that important Senate race in North Carolina.

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


BLITZER: With 15 days until Election Day, all eyes are on the battleground states. Bill Clinton is in a state he won twice in his presidential campaigns. Meanwhile, John McCain and his running mate will return to Ohio Wednesday, chasing that state's 20 electoral votes.

We're watching all of it, all part of our new battleground coverage. And it includes CNN reporters dedicated to key battlegrounds through Election Day, only a little bit more than two weeks from tomorrow, actually. Two weeks from tomorrow, to be precise.

Dan Simon is in Nevada with Bill Clinton.

But first, let's go to Mary Snow. She's in Ohio with this report.


UNIDENTIFED MALE (singing): Praise the lord. Praise the lord

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They were crucial in electing George Bush in 2004. Evangelicals in Ohio turned out en masse to support a ballot initiative opposing same-sex marriage. This time around, there's no such measure.

So what's the draw? Since federal law prohibits endorsements from the pulpit, one activist group addressing Bethel Baptist Temple took aim at Barack Obama's former church without naming the candidate.

DAVID MILLER, CITIZENS FOR COMMUNITY VALUES: The United Church of Christ, this is the Christian denomination that has 1.2 million members. It was made famous this year by Reverend Jeremiah Wright. It provides a clear illustration of a non-biblical Christian group.

SNOW: Non-biblical, David Miller says, because the United Church of Christ supports gay marriage. (on camera): The bottom line to interpret from that, you're really saying don't vote for Barack Obama.

MILLER: Anybody can interpret that the way they want to.

SNOW: Miller's group Citizens for Community Values is distributing these videos to churches.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When people of faith elect God-honoring representatives in government, all of America benefits.

SNOW: Behind the effort is Phil Burress, the man who put the 2004 gay marriage amendment on the Ohio ballot. Before Sarah Palin entered the picture, Burress says he told McCain this...

PHIL BURRESS, CITIZENS FOR COMMUNITY VALUES: The bottom line was if you do not pick a pro-family, pro-life running mate, you know, you can forget Ohio. You don't even stand a chance in Ohio.

SNOW: McCain chose Ohio to announce he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate. She lit a fire under evangelicals but economic worries are taking a priority over social issues, even showing up in prayer at the Fairhaven Church.

DAVID SMITH, SR. PASTOR, FAIRHAVEN CHURCH: And we know though we struggle with issues, whether it's the economy, or whatever it might be in our lives, we know that you are a big God.

SNOW: And the focus on the economy is a stiff challenge for evangelicals.

MILLER: That doesn't energize anybody. That does not bring out people. And if they would talk about those issues, again, that distinguish them, there's not enough distinction when you talk about these economic issues.


BLITZER: Mary Snow reporting for us from Ohio.

Let's go to another battleground state right now, Nevada. Dan Simon is in Reno working the story for us. Dan, what's the latest in Nevada? Because this is one of those states that both these candidates desperately would like to win.


The polls here show a very tight race, with Obama a slight edge at this point. The latest CNN Poll of Polls shows him leading by about four points.

Bill Clinton was here in Reno this morning at this community college, just wrapped up a short while ago. And he's somebody who knows a thing or two about the state of Nevada. He's the only Democrat in the last 40 years to carry the state of Nevada both in '92 and in '96. The state seems to have a lot of affinity for Mr. Clinton and his wife Senator Clinton. Remember, she narrowly defeated Obama in the Nevada caucuses.

I want you to listen now how he made the case for Obama here behind me on this stage. Take a look.


WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can't lose this election unless people forget what it's about in the last two weeks. Otherwise, it's going to be a big victory, and it's going to be a big victory for several reasons.

We have a great candidate and a great candidate for vice president, and they have run good campaigns. And Senator Obama has performed well in the debates.


The autonomy is in the tank, and we all know it. And almost 100 percent of the American people are worried about it, whatever their incomes. And there are more people in real difficulty even than there were in '92 when I was elected.

And America looks more like you now much more than it did in 1992. So this is not a more liberal country, a more communitarian country, a more -- a country that wants us to go forward together and find common solutions.


SIMON: When you think about the state of Nevada in terms of presidential elections, you really want to think about it in terms of three areas -- Las Vegas, which is overwhelming Democratic, Obama will do very well there; the rural areas, that is McCain country. He's expected to basically pick up most of the votes in the rural areas of the state. And then in Reno, the county where I am. This is a so- called swing county, and obviously that's why they sent President Clinton here, the Obama campaign, so see if he can pick up some of the undecided voters here.

But again, Wolf, a very tight race here in Nevada. Back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Dan Simon is in Nevada. You saw Mary Snow in Ohio. They're both part of CNN's battleground coverage. You're going to be seeing a lot of them and our other reporters over the next two weeks.

We're getting word how John McCain really feels about General Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama. McCain obviously not very happy about how it all happened. You're going to find out why and if Powell's endorsement will have a big impact.

And Californians are set to vote on whether or not gay marriage should be legal in their state. And those for and against, including at least one celebrity all of you know, they're weighing in.

Remember, we're also standing by to hear live here in THE SITUATION ROOM from Senators McCain, Obama, and Hillary Clinton. That's all coming up.



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

Happening now, Joe Biden opens up his medical records to reporters to review. What does the information say about a major health scare the senator had 20 years ago and his current health? Stand by. Dr. Sanjay Gupta working the story.

With a record turnout expected November 4th, warnings about a strain on the voting system, especially in the crucial battleground state of Virginia. We're going to be examining how that state is planning to handle what some predict could be a 90 percent voter turnout in certain parts of the state.

And x-ray vision at the U.S./Mexican border. The government deploys controversial technology to give agents a very revealing look at drivers and their vehicles.

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

Colin Powell stands in the middle of a heated political rivalry. On one side, a man he's known over two decades. On the other, a man he praises as a transformational figure. Now that Powell's decided to endorse Barack Obama, we've just learned Senator McCain is not happy with how the endorsement happened.

Let's go to Brian Todd. He's working the story. He's also looking at the impact all of this might have.

What are picking up, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have been looking at that, Wolf. And with strategists on both sides spinning this, we looked at whether Colin Powell's support may tip the balance among that bloc so crucial in two weeks, the undecideds.


TODD (voice-over): Colin Powell's made it fairly clear what he won't do for Barack Obama. An aide to the former secretary of state says he won't cut political ads for the Democratic nominee. And asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" if he'll campaign for the man he's now endorsing...

COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't plan to. Two weeks left. Let them go at each other in the finest tradition, but I will be voting for him.

TODD: The effect Powell's endorsement has on a tightening race may depend on who you talk to. It's already galvanized some conservatives against Colin Powell. RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He evolved over time into a calculating Washington insider who speaks incessantly to the media. He seeks to portray himself in a good light at the expense of others.

TODD: That draws a "no comment" from Powell's camp.

John McCain says he was disappointed Powell didn't give him a heads-up before he endorsed Obama. Moving forward, Democratic strategists say Powell's support could answer some voters' questions about Barack Obama's gravitas, his innate ability to be commander in chief, and they believe that may swing a key voting bloc.

LISA CAPUTO, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY FOR HILLARY CLINTON: Colin Powell appeals to independent voters. And independent voters are key in this election. And this is huge for Barack Obama.

But GOP strategists and some independent analysts say the endorsement of a Republican who has been moving further away from his party are the past few years is neither shocking, nor all that significant. One expert says Powell's endorsement would have meant a lot more in September, when Obama hadn't answered as many questions about his readiness.

As for the independents:

STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": People are deciding for themselves on the presidential race. And they're not letting somebody else, whether it's Colin Powell or "The Washington Post" or Ted Kennedy, make that decision for them. This is a race that is a very personal decision for voters.


TODD: Now, on that Kennedy reference, Stu Rothenberg is referring to Ted Kennedy, and pointed out that, if Ted Kennedy could not deliver Massachusetts for Barack Obama in the primaries, which he did not, there's no reason to think Colin Powell could deliver any state for Barack Obama -- Wolf.

BLITZER: In some of those swing states, Brian, the -- the military vote, if you will, retired military personnel, that could be a significant factor in a close election.

TODD: That's right. And, if you are looking at the swing states, Wolf, the heavy population of retired military there, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, a lot of retired military officers live in those swing states. We spoke with the head of the Retired Military Officers Association. They won't endorse either candidate.

This lady did say that Secretary Powell clearly wins a lot of respect in that community. But, hey, the McCain people say they have got the endorsement of over 200 former military officers. We are going to see how all of that plays out in those swing states.

BLITZER: After his endorsement yesterday, he had an extensive exchange with reporters. In the next hour, we're going to be sharing that with our viewers. I think they're going to want to see this. Brian Todd, thanks very much.

TODD: Thank you.

BLITZER: And joining us now, the former Governor of Massachusetts, the former Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. Governor, thanks for coming in.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: Thanks. Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: General Colin Powell was effusive in his praise for Barack Obama. But also scathing in his criticism of the McCain/Palin campaign and Republicans in general. Among other things saying this -- listen to this little clip.


POWELL: On the Republican side, over the last seven weeks, the approach of the Republican Party and Mr. McCain has become narrower and narrower.


BLITZER: I wonder if you want to respond, because his criticism was pretty complete in going forward and announcing his endorsement of Senator Obama.

ROMNEY: Well, first of all, of course there have been four former secretaries of state that have endorsed John McCain. And I understand that Colin Powell feels differently.

And, you know, actually, as you think about the Republican Party and whether its message is broad or narrow, John McCain among Republican contenders was considered one of those, and is one of those, who really broadens our party. So, I think that particular criticism didn't hit the mark.

But, you know, Colin Powell is entitled to his opinion -- and I will go with the majority opinion of the other four.

BLITZER: I guess his criticism was, you know, why, at a time when there are two wars and a global economic crisis and health care and all these other issues, why are the Republicans, in his suggestion, wasting time with Bill Ayers or accusing Barack Obama of being a socialist, stuff that he says is really marginal and small potatoes at a critical moment like this?

ROMNEY: Well, take something like the economy and Barack Obama's view about the economy. Using a name like Joe the plumber, I think in some respects helps people concentrate on the fact that Barack Obama's tax plans and his idea of redistributing income from higher income people to lower income people is a -- is a direction which is really not good for the economy, not good for Joe the plumber. And this kind of discussion I think is helpful in letting people understand the implications of what otherwise are just sort of empty phrases that Barack Obama might put out...

BLITZER: Well, do you believe, Governor, that Barack Obama is a socialist?

ROMNEY: That's not the word I would use, no. I would say he's a -- a real liberal. He's not in the mainstream of the Democratic Party. I think he's more liberal than that.

I don't think mainstream Democrats, like Hillary Clinton, would be excited about the proposals he's made. And I think his comment about redistributing income is one which would certainly scare a lot of people, certainly scare away a lot of jobs, hurt the creation of small businesses, which has, of course, been the source of job growth in our country.

So I think he's -- he's off with the left wing of the party. And, after all, that's how his votes have also lined up.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the polls right now. In our CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, when we asked -- and the numbers just coming out today -- who would better handle the economy, Obama, 56 percent; McCain, 37 percent.

Now, when you were running for president, the economy was one of your great strengths. What's happened to McCain? Why isn't he perceived as strong on the economy?

ROMNEY: Well, of course, he's known as somebody who could deal with the kind of foreign policy challenges that we might face. And, frankly, this weekend, I think it was Joe Biden said it's likely that if Barack Obama were elected president, within the first six months of his presidency he would be tested by a foreign nation. And who knows how that test might -- might come out, of course.

And John McCain on that front scores very, very high. Barack Obama scores more highly on the economic front.

Frankly, I don't know why. He hasn't had the experience of actually managing anything. He hasn't had to balance a budget for a state, a county, a city.

John McCain has been in the Senate over these last 25 years, has been part of economic ups and downs, understands which things work and which ones don't.

So, I frankly think John McCain has a much stronger story to tell there. And hopefully in these waning days in the election, John McCain's message about strengthening our economy by strengthening jobs will make it through.

And perhaps even this discussion about Joe the plumber will ring through with some people. They'll recognize, "Hey, this is not just about a few people at the upper end; this is about the job creators that we all depend on."

BLITZER: And very quickly, because we're almost out of time. The criticism of Sarah Palin as his running mate, we heard Colin Powell say that that reflects badly on Senator McCain's judgment.

But you also hear other conservatives saying that, whether George Will or Christopher Buckley, the son of William Buckley, and Peggy Noonan. You know, you hear a lot of these Christian intellectual conservatives saying, this was not a good decision by John McCain. Now, you want to weigh in on this one?

ROMNEY: Well, you know, what Sarah Palin has been able to do is to really energize the base of our party. Everybody says that. I think they recognize that. She's drawing large crowds, probably large contributions, as well. And she's done in that regard what I think Senator McCain was looking for. He wants to work with someone...

BLITZER: But is she ready to be president?

ROMNEY: Well, that's something which I believe the American people will assess individually and say, "Yes, she's got the kind of executive experience that you'd hope to find from a person who's been a governor and a mayor."

Frankly, that executive experience was something I pushed pretty hard when I was running. And the other three people on the presidential or vice presidential tickets here don't have that experience.

BLITZER: We'll leave it there. Governor, thanks for coming in.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Elizabeth Dole's Senate seat used to be rather safe. She can't say that this year.


SEN. ELIZABETH DOLE (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Obviously, the -- the climate is not the best, and the presidential factor. But I -- all I can tell -- say is, our polling looks good.


BLITZER: We're in North Carolina, investigating why Senator Dole is in such a difficult fight this year.

Out in California, a ban on same-sex marriage is now on the ballot, and Ellen DeGeneres weighs in. There are factors out there we're going to share with you.

And he survived a brain aneurysm years ago. Now Senator Joe Biden is releasing his medical records. Is there anything for voters to be concerned about? Dr. Sanjay Gupta looking at those records.

We will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: With only 15 days until the election, both presidential candidates are reminding supporters that the race isn't over. Every vote counts. And our new polling drives that point home.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's out with the CNN Election Expresses in West Virginia, a red state that Senator McCain would certainly like to keep.

The political landscape, first of all, Bill, how is that changing nationwide, if it is?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there are a few tremors, no earthquakes.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The presidential race may be tightening up, slightly. A new CNN poll by the Opinion Research Corporation shows Barack Obama leading John McCain by five points among likely voters nationwide.

Two weeks ago, Obama was eight points ahead. The slight narrowing of the race is consistent with most other national polls. Is anything changing? We found one change that may be helping McCain. Two weeks ago, a solid majority said McCain would carry out the same policies as President Bush.

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

SCHNEIDER: Now they're not so sure. Half say McCain's policies would be different. But would McCain's policies be better than Obama's? That's the choice in this election. Both candidates claim to offer change.

MCCAIN: If I'm elected president, I will fight to take America in a new direction from my first day in office until my last.

OBAMA: It will take a real change in the policies and politics of the last eight years. And that's what this election's all about.

SCHNEIDER: But Obama is clearly more credible. Asked who is more likely to bring needed change, Obama beats McCain by more than 20 points.

One of the most important shifts in the poll is in Obama's favor. After the conventions last month, most voters felt McCain was the stronger and more decisive leader. The campaign has shifted that perception.

POWELL: Senator Obama has demonstrated the kind of calm, patient, intellectual, steady approach to problem-solving that I think we need in this country.

SCHNEIDER: Obama now edges out McCain as a strong and decisive leader.


SCHNEIDER: The race may be tightening up, but the Democratic edge in enthusiasm is actually growing. After the conventions, 10 percent more Democrats than Republicans said they were extremely enthusiastic about voting. That margin has now more than doubled. It's now more than 20 points -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And that's a significant factor. Bill Schneider is with the CNN Election Express in West Virginia.

A powerful Democratic voice is trying to help his party win 60 seats in the Senate. That would be a filibuster-proof majority. That would be Senator Ted Kennedy. He's sending out a new letter urging Democrats to donate cash to help the party win more Senate seats, which, in turn, he says, would help Barack Obama if he wins the White House.

One of the Democrats' targets for a pickup, the seat in North Carolina currently held by Republican Elizabeth Dole.

CNN's Kate Bolduan is in Raleigh -- Kate


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for the first time in decades, Senate Democrats have a chance to reach that elusive 60-seat filibuster-proof majority. But, here in North Carolina, that means taking on a big Republican name.

DOLE: Jobs will be produced if we move forward quickly with a comprehensive energy policy.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): North Carolina Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole served in two president's candidates, is married to onetime presidential candidate Bob Dole, and she is now fighting for her once safe Senate seat.

(on camera): Is your reelection in trouble?

DOLE: Obviously, the -- the climate is not the best, and the presidential factor, but all I can tell -- say is, our polling looks good.


BOLDUAN: The challenger, a relative unknown, Democratic State Senator Kay Hagan, who is benefiting from Barack Obama's strong showing in the state.

HAGAN: If Senator Helms was Senator No, then Senator Dole has been Senator Nowhere in North Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. BOLDUAN: Hagan is trying to die Dole to the unpopular president and running ads labeling Dole as out of touch with North Carolinians.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's happened to the Liddy Dole I knew?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is just not a go-getter, like you and me.


HAGAN: Even in 2006, she was only in North Carolina 13 days. I have got family members who visit North Carolina more often than that. People in North Carolina want somebody that they can talk to, talk about the issues, and then have somebody really represent them in Washington, and be effective.

BOLDUAN: Dole denies being absent from the state and defends her record.

DOLE: When you get the VFW's endorsement because of your work for the military, you get the manufacturers award because of your work for textiles and furniture, these are the things that I'm working on constantly, whether I'm in Washington in session, or here in the state.

BOLDUAN: Dole and her supporters are trying to paint Hagan as a tax-and-spend Democrat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know that Kay Hagan's record is a big spender. I think that this is a time in the country when we need to rein in on the spending.

CROWD: We need Kay! We need Kay!

BOLDUAN: But Hagan's campaign theme of change is winning over some former Dole voters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want a change, like everybody else does.

BOLDUAN (on camera): One thing both parties are counting on here are the hundreds of thousands of newly registered voters. The state board of elections says they are more than 2-1 Democrats -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Kate Bolduan is in Raleigh.

We're going to be spending a lot of time looking at these other tight, very tight, Senate races. That's coming up over the next 15 days here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Coming up in our "Strategy Session": Senator McCain is upbeat out there on the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCAIN: But, despite the prognostications of the national media, they forgot to let you decide.


MCCAIN: My friends, we have got them -- we have got them just where we want them.


BLITZER: But, with Senator Obama's huge money advantage, how does Senator McCain translate his optimism into votes?

And X-ray vision at the borders, it's helping cut down on crime, but is it a violation of your rights?

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


BLITZER: Senator Barack Obama is asking voters to show him the money, and they are.

For September, Obama's campaign simply broke records. It says it raked in $150 million in donations in September alone. That means, so far, Obama has raised more than $600 million, $605 million, to be precise. That's more money than all the Republican presidential candidates, including Senator McCain, raised this entire election cycle, huge numbers, obviously.

Let's talk about that and the significance in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, Democratic strategist Kiki McLean, Republican strategist John Feehery. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

That's a huge, huge advantage. And -- and you heard Senator McCain say, you know what, that Senator Obama simply broke his word to the American people when he vowed he would accept the $84 million in federal financing, instead of raising all of these hundreds of millions of dollars.

KIKI MCLEAN, FORMER SENIOR CLINTON CAMPAIGN ADVISER: What Barack Obama did was, he inspired millions of Americans to invest in their own future, to become part of this.

You know, this is not sort of the old back-world, cigar-smoking, backroom, big briefcases full of cash. These are individuals in $20 and $30 and $50 increments giving money, because they believe this campaign belongs to them, and they believe Barack Obama wants them to come with him to make change happen.

BLITZER: Because he's going to have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend. And throughout this entire election cycle since the convention, Senator McCain has only had $84 million.


JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Public financing is dead, and Barack Obama killed it. From now on, anyone who wants to do public financing, it's all over. There's no reason to do it anymore. It's completely destroyed.

And it's a big fund-raising advantage. Now, the question is, can John McCain, through other media and other ways, really kind of make his message? And he did that with Joe the plumber, which actually has broken through. These are the type of tactics he needs, because he's getting killed on the ads.


BLITZER: On this question in our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, we asked, would Senator McCain mostly carry out Bush's policies? Now, earlier in October, 56 percent said yes. That's down to 49 percent right now.

So, some of his message seems to be resonating...

MCLEAN: Well...

BLITZER: ... as he tries to distance himself from the incumbent president.

MCLEAN: Well, and, you know, the reality is, those undecideds that are late-breakers actually do have sort after opinion. So, he's probably bringing some base from the Republican Party home to -- to roost.

The interesting -- interesting thing is that, when you look at the people who contributed to Obama in those small increments, those people are new participants, right? The investment that Obama has made across the country have been about bringing new people to the table, new involvement. And if somebody gives money, chances are, they're getting up that day and pointing on a date and going to the polls.

BLITZER: Here's a killer number in this new poll for -- politically speaking -- for Senator McCain. Who would better handle helping the middle class? And most of the voters are in the middle class. Obama gets 63 percent, McCain, barely half, 32 percent.

That's -- that's a pretty powerful advantage that Senator Obama has.

FEEHERY: Well, it is. And I think that's because of the first question about the fund-raising number and the ads. And he's really -- Obama has done a good job with the ads, kind of hammering on that message.

Now, the question is, who is better experienced to lead? And it's not just about clicking out class, class. Who's better to lead the whole country? Now, John McCain actually has to show -- and I think he is going to show -- that he can do that. And that's really the important message. It's not about class, class, class. It's about who is best to lead the whole country.


BLITZER: You -- you worked for Hillary Clinton.

MCLEAN: I did.

BLITZER: You had a tough challenger, obviously, in Barack Obama.


BLITZER: What does he need to do in these final 15 days...


BLITZER: ... that apparently Hillary Clinton was unable to do in the final 15 days of her effort?

MCLEAN: Well, he's actually got to keep the focus on the issues people care about. I mean, the number you just talked to John about represents a complete crisis of confidence in John McCain and his ability to deal with the economy.

Barack Obama is continuing that conversation. He's not letting up. A race is never over, Wolf, until it's over.


MCLEAN: You and I have been through too many of them, together, to know that. And I think he's got his eye on the ball, and he's not getting up, and he's not kicking back yet.

BLITZER: What does McCain need to do in these final 15 days?

FEEHERY: Keep the focus on Barack Obama.


BLITZER: Why not the focus on himself?

FEEHERY: Well, because if -- my theory, once again, whoever the attention is on the last part is going to be the one who's going to fall in the polls, because they will see all the warts and everything.

And I think, with Barack Obama, his tremendous lack of -- inexperience and his tremendous liberalism will be his downfall.

BLITZER: We will see what happens over the next 15 days. Guys, thanks for coming in.

MCLEAN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, they're campaigning in Florida right now. We're going to go there live. You're going to hear from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton down in Florida. Stand by for that. The McCain campaign is calling Obama a socialist. Now the Democrats and even Colin Powell, they are responding.

And the comedian Tina Fey, a dead ringer for Governor Sarah Palin, it's a great night for "Saturday Night Live," but is it hurting Governor Palin's campaign?

Stand by. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker": A California ballot initiative called Proposition 8 has the future of same-sex marriage resting in the hands of the voters out there. And it's sparking an all-out battle of dueling ads, pushing both sides of the issue online.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. Abbi, this debate is getting pretty heated, isn't it?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, one of the people campaigning in California told me today, it's like hand-to-hand combat at this point. One of the latest people to weigh in is Ellen DeGeneres, a video on her right to marry.


ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST, "THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW": There are people out there raising millions to try to take that right away from me. You have seen their ads on TV. They're twisting the truth and they're trying to scare.

I believe...


TATTON: That was an online message that DeGeneres is now paying to have put on television.

But this is also a viral campaign, as well, on the same side, these ads spoofing those Mac vs. P.C. ad.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. I'm no on Prop 8.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I maintain the current constitution and give everyone equality in the eyes of the law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I eliminate rights.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But just for certain people, so it's cool.


TATTON: That's an ad by a Hollywood group of gays and lesbians that said they saw all this happening and felt last week that they just had to act.

What they're up against, ads like this one, which are blanketing the airwaves.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mom, guess what I learned in school today?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I learn how a prince married a prince, and I can marry a princess.


TATTON: That is an ad from a group called I talked to them today. They won't reveal their ad buys in California, but they say, for the next two weeks, they're going to be going head to head, still, with their opponents -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Abbi.

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