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Complaints from Early Voters; Sarah Palin One-On-One; Obama's Florida Strategy

Aired October 21, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Sarah Palin one-on-one -- she's sounding off on Barack Obama and Joe Biden and suggestions that their ideas smack of socialism. How does she reconcile that with John McCain's embrace of a bailout for Wall Street?

Early problems for early voters -- long lines may be the least of it. What about those voting machines that seem to have minds of their own? We're with voters who say their choices were simply switched.

And the frightening possibility that the next president could face a serious crisis within weeks of taking office. A look at how the Pentagon is preparing for the transition.

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

Fourteen days until election day. Political passions are at a fevered pitch and so is the rhetoric out there on the campaign trail. John McCain's controversial pick for vice president has been at the center of a lot of it. Just ahead, Sarah Palin's first CNN interview right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You're going to see the entire interview -- no edits -- everything. You're going to be seeing that. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're also standing by to hear from Senator Barack Obama. He's getting ready to speak down in Florida. We're anxious to hear what he has to say in that critical battleground state. Stand by for that.

Meanwhile, there is -- there are problems. Early voting is underway and there are some problems in Florida and elsewhere from seemingly endless waits to cast ballots, to more ominously, perhaps, voting machines that seem to have minds of their own. CNN's Sean Callebs is standing by in Miami.

But let's go to Brian Todd. e's in Ripley, West Virginia with the CNN Election Express.And I know you're checking into this. And what you're picking up, Brian, is disturbing. Tell our viewers.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the problems with early voting here in Jackson County, West Virginia and in neighboring Putnam County have to do with what, on the surface, seems to be a fairly simple problem, but it is causing a lot of worry here. So we talked to voters and local officials to get to the root of it.


TODD (voice-over): Calvin Thomas has voted in West Virginia since Truman beat Dewey. He's 81 years old now and his eyesight is deteriorating. But when he tried to vote early in his hometown of Ripley and brought his daughter Micki Clendenin into the booth to help him, Thomas' vision wasn't the problem.

CALVIN THOMAS, JACKSON COUNTY, WEST VIRGINIA VOTER: I went in there and I pushed the Democrat ticket. And it jumped to the Republican ticket on the president of the United States.

TODD: Micki helped her dad touch the screen a couple of times, but his vote for Barack Obama still clicked on John McCain. Then it happened to Micki. Each time poll workers had them repeat the process.

MICKI CLENDENIN, JACKSON COUNTY, WEST VIRGINIA VOTER: The lady came in and she was -- she very nicely, she just said oh -- she said it's just been doing this and so just hit it again. So we hit it again and this time it did go to Obama.

TODD: At least five voters reported the same problem in two West Virginia counties. State and local officials tell us these were isolated cases, that each time poll workers fixed the problem and the correct vote was cast.

The machines, manufactured by a company called ES&S, will be used in several states this year and were among those that had problems in Ohio in 2004. Company officials tell us they've inspected the machines in West Virginia and nobody has cast an inaccurate vote.

In Ripley, West Virginia we weren't allowed to film the actually machines that had problems, but Jackson County clerk Jeff Waybright took us through the process with an identical machine and zeroed in on what he thinks happened.

JEFF WAYRIGHT, CLERK, JACKSON COUNTY: They touched on Barack Obama -- or they thought they were touching, but their finger may have possibly rolled up. Now, if I roll my finger down, you can see that it looks like my finger is definitely on Barack Obama's box.

TODD: We asked Waybright about insinuations in local news reports of political manipulation, since he and the neighboring County clerk are Republican and, in most cases, Democratic votes clicked to a GOP candidate.

WAYBRIGHT: If I was going to, you know, try to manipulate the machine, I wouldn't know how to do it to begin with.


TODD: Now, the West Virginia secretary of state's office tells us it believes the problem stems from these machines not being calibrated properly. Essentially that means the electronic boxes are not lined up correctly. But on his end, Jeff Waybright disputes that, saying that he believes all of his machines are calibrated perfectly. The bottom line, he says, this, in most cases, was voter error -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How many of these machines with this kind of format are there across the country, if we know, Brian?

TODD: The manufacturer tells us 97,000 machines of this type are going to be used in 20 states, Wolf. This is going to be going on all over the place. It is really up to people to -- when you touch that screen, make sure it registers properly. You are allowed touch it again and erase what you just did, but you've got to watch it very carefully.

BLITZER: Yes. This is scary stuff. Stay on top of it for us. I know you will, Brian.

Let's go to Florida right now. It's a matter of hurry up and wait down there. Early voters hoping to get a jump on election day are facing long lines and they're facing other problems, as well.

Sean Callebs is in Miami -- Sean, what are you seeing down there?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there are long lines everywhere you go, really, in this polling precincts down here. The secretary of state says these long lines are a sign of a healthy democracy. But the people who have been waiting for hours through problems and other glitches, well, they have a different terminology for this waiting period.


CALLEBS (voice-over): They were off and standing again in Florida, as early voting continues. Here in Broward County, it took people anywhere from one to three hours to make it through the line. At times, glitches and hiccups in a new system take their toll on voters' patience.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A total disaster. You get up there and you've waited three hours and then the line totally stops. It's very frustrating.

CALLEBS: Fairly or unfairly, people around the country equate voting problems with Florida in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election fiasco. Calls are streaming into the CNN voter hotline, alleging concerns, like this one from Jacksonville.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're having problems with the poll machines. They're not aligned correctly. So you don't -- you're not sure about which candidate you're voting for. So they've said they brought in 10 new machines as backup machines, but they've corrected the issue.

CALLEBS: Election officials in Florida say there isn't one specific problem gumming up the works. But much of the state's switch to its third ballot system in three years. Touch screens were deemed a disaster. So the state went back to paper ballots -- and that means retraining legions of poll workers. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you've got brand new equipment and you're shifting from a touch screen, a digital system, to a more paper-oriented system, as we are this year, it's a familiarization process that really makes it, I wouldn't say difficult, but it makes it so very important.

CALLEBS: It provides a paper trail so if a recount is needed, there's something tangible. But there's no question learning a new system comes with a price.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What a mess. What a mess.


CALLEBS: Another factor we really can't lose sight of is right now, only a small percentage of the polling precincts that will be open on November 4th are open now. For example, in Broward, only 17 precincts of 300 that will be open on November 4th. So county election officials, Wolf, tell us, look, there's no reason to wait in line right now. You've got two weeks. There will be plenty of time next -- in the coming two weeks to vote.

BLITZER: All right, Sean. I know you're going to be working this story for us over the 14 days for us, as well. Thank you.

By the way, if you notice any trouble at your polling place on election day or right now, we want to hear about it. Go to CNN's voter hotline. The number, 1-877-462-6608. Or that's 1-877-GO-CNN-08. Good idea.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: What are we, 235 years old as a country, something like that?

BLITZER: Yes. It's pretty sad, when you think about it...

CAFFERTY: How long is it going to take Florida...

WOMAN: ...that we still haven't figured this thing out yet.

CAFFERTY: How long is it going to take Florida to learn how to do these elections?

BLITZER: I know.

CAFFERTY: I mean, you know, every time there's an election, the top at the list is Florida. It's amazing.

Democratic Congressman John Murtha from Pennsylvania is challenging Republican Governor Sarah Palin for who can say the stupidest things on the campaign trail. Right now, it's pretty much a dead heat.

You may remember about a week ago Murtha called some of his constituents in Western Pennsylvania racist and said many would not vote for Barack Obama. He later apologized. Rule of holes -- when you're in one, stop digging.

Murtha tried to further explain his comments yesterday. A big mistake. He told a Pittsburgh television station that until five or 10 years ago, the entire region was redneck. And what he really meant is that it's hard for many of those people to change their beliefs.

He said only certain segments of the population hold onto racist feelings and may have a problem voting for a black candidate. But Murtha said he's telling voters there to vote on the issues, not to vote on whether a candidate is black or white.

There is absolutely no indication that anyone has asked Murtha for his advice about anything.

Here's the question: Will Democrat Congressman Murtha, calling some people in Pennsylvania -- the state he represents -- redneck and racist, hurt Barack Obama?

Go to and post a comment on my blog. Breathtaking.


CAFFERTY: And it's absolute stupidity.

BLITZER: All right. Jack, thanks very much. Jack is back in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Sarah Palin -- she's also in THE SITUATION ROOM. Does she have the experience to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office?


GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't talk about my experience that much in terms of years in office or in positions that have been in executive experience. But I do have more executive experience than Barack Obama does.


BLITZER: The Republican vice presidential candidate sitting down one-on-one with CNN. She has a lot more to say about Barack Obama, including allegations of socialism.

Plus, Sarah Palin turns out big crowds at her rallies, but what about John McCain? We'll talk about that and more with Joe Trippi and Alex Castellanos. They're standing by live.

Plus, a major crisis within weeks of taking office -- how the candidates and the Pentagon are preparing for a worst case scenario.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: She's certainly one of the most visible women in the United States right now. She's running for the country's second highest office. But Republican vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, hasn't given out a whole lot of interviews so far. Only a couple hours ago she spoke one-on-one with CNN's Drew Griffin.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: You seem to be very much on your game. You get huge crowds, even bigger crowds than John McCain. Why is that?

PALIN: I think it's what I'm representing and what the message is. And that is true reform of government that is so needed and having a representative of someone who has a track record of showing that, yes, you can do this. You can reform. You can put government back on the side of the people. You can fight corruption.

You can actually take steps toward helping our nation become energy independent and all those things that we're talking about. I think that more and more Americans are realizing that well, good, we have a candidate who has actually done some of those things. And it's not just talking the talk. She's going to tell us how she's done this.

GRIFFIN: Perfect. Let's talk about some of that, because I mean, two months ago, it was all about who you were and where you were from in Wasilla, Alaska. I think now it's just the economy. And you are the only person in this race with executive experience, who has taken over governments as mayor and governor. What will you do day one to tell the American people things are changing for the better?

PALIN: You know, that's a good point about that experience. And we don't like toot our own horns, so we don't -- I don't talk about my experience that much in terms of years in office or in positions that have been executive experience.

But I do have more executive experience than Barack Obama does. You know, he had served for his 300 days before he became a presidential candidate. And that wasn't in an executive office, of course.

But as an executive, working with John McCain, we will take on the special interests. And we will clean up Wall Street and some of the abuses of power in Washington, D.C. , also -- to first and foremost get government back on the side of the people.

And we do this, economically speaking here, by cutting taxes, not increasing them, allowing our small businesses and our families to keep more of what they earn and produce so that they can reinvest according to their own priorities, not politicians' priorities and special interests' priorities.

Our small businesses keeping more of what they earn -- that allows them to create more jobs. They're going to be hiring more people. That gets our economy going. That's what has happened in the opportunities that I've had in executive positions as mayor, manager and as governor. It works. Reigning in government growth, recognizing government certainly plays appropriate roles in building infrastructure, providing tools for families, for our businesses, but then government kind of getting out of the way, as you have great oversight, making sure that there isn't the corruption and the abuse. But government should get out of the way and let the private sector do what it does best.

GRIFFIN: Yes, but, I mean we're in a crisis right now, it would seem.

PALIN: We are.

GRIFFIN: And the plans that you mentioned take time. You have to go through Congress.

If you guys win, you'll most likely be working with a Democratic Congress. It's going to be a slow process.

What I'm trying to find out from you, from John McCain, as well, day one, people want a difference -- to make a difference in the economy, as we're seeing daily swings in the stock market, houses going foreclosed on.

PALIN: Well, day one, you bring in everyone around that table, too. You bring in the Congressional leadership. A assuming that there will be, certainly, Democrats at that table, that's good, too. These are going to be bipartisan approaches that must be taken. I have that executive experience, also, having formed a cabinet up there in Alaska that -- you know, we've got Independents and Democrats and Republicans whom I have appointed to our administrative positions, so that we have the best of ideas coming together in order to best serve the people.

John McCain, too, he's been known as the maverick, to take on his own party when need be, to reach over the aisle and work with the other party, also.

Now Barack Obama has not been able to do that. He's gone with, what is it, 96 percent of the time with the Democrat leadership, not having that, I think, ability or willingness to work with the other side.

So as an executive, we need to create that team that is full of good ideas and not let obsessive partisanship get in the way, as we start taking the measures to shore up our economy, which, already, Congress is working on, with the rescue package -- with some of the bailout packages, the provisions in there that can work, too. But it's going to take everybody working together.

GRIFFIN: Will you and John McCain appoint Democrats to cabinet positions?

PALIN: I don't know why you wouldn't. If they -- if these Democrats are best suited to serve and if they will not let obsessive partisanship get in the way of just doing what's right with a team effort and support of the president to get this economy moving and to win these wars, to meet these great challenges. I wouldn't have, as my litmus test, party affiliation.

GRIFFIN: Yes. "Joe the Plumber".


GRIFFIN: Socialism. It's come up on the campaign trail now.

PALIN: Sure.

GRIFFIN: Governor, is Barack Obama socialist?

PALIN: I'm not going to call him a socialist. But as "Joe the Plumber" had suggested -- in fact, he came right out and said it sounds like socialism to him. And he speaks for so many Americans who are quite concerned now after hearing, finally, what Barack Obama's true intentions are with his tax and economic plan. And that is to take more from small businesses, more from our families and then redistribute that according to his priorities.

That is -- that is not good for the entrepreneurial spirit that has built this great country. That is not good for our economy. Certainly, it's not good for the opportunities that our small businesses should have to keep more of what they produce in order to hire more people, create more jobs. That's what gets the economy going.

So, finally, "Joe the Plumber" and, as we talked about today in the speech, too, he representing, you know, Jane the engineer and Molly the dental hygienist and the Chuck the teacher and all these good, hardworking Americans who are -- finally, we're able to hear in very plain talk the other night what Barack Obama's intentions were to redistribute wealth.

GRIFFIN: Do you think his intentions, though, if not a socialist, is to move away from capitalism -- true capitalism?

PALIN: Well, anyone who would want to increase taxes at a time like this especially, with economic woes that are adversely affecting all of us, anybody who would want to do that, to take more from businesses and our families and then dole those dollars out according to their priorities, that is not a principle of capitalism.

GRIFFIN: Some are saying we're already moving toward socialism with the bailout -- the banking industry investment that this government has made, that John McCain and Barack Obama have signed on for. What is your views on that and yet another possible supplement to the income of Americans?

PALIN: We cannot start moving closer and closer to socialism. That will destroy the entrepreneurial spirit in America. That will punish hard work and productivity and that work ethic we try to instill in our children so that they will know that they can be rewarded for their productivity, for their hard work.

We cannot move in that direction. That should be so concerning for any American voter to consider that perhaps there are some who would like us to go there.

Now, as for the economic bailout provisions and the measures that have already been taken, it is a time of crisis and government did have to step in, playing an appropriate role to shore up the housing market, to make sure that we're thawing out some of the potentially frozen credit lines and credit markets. Government did have to step in there.

But now that we're hearing that the Democrats want an additional stimulus package or bailout package for, what, hundreds of billions of dollars more, this is not a time to use the economic crisis as an excuse for reckless spending and for greater, bigger government and to move the private sector to the back burner and let government be assumed to be the be all, end all solution to the economic challenges that we have.

That's what's scaring me now about hearing that the Democrats have a plan for an even greater economic bailout package. But we don't know all the details of it yet. And we'll certainly pay close attention to it.

GRIFFIN: And, on its face, are you against that?

PALIN: On its face, I want to make sure that this is not being used by the Democrats as a time for bigger government, more dollars being taken from taxpayers to bail out anybody -- any entity that's been engaged in corruption, in self-dealing, in greed there on Wall Street or in D.C. that has adversely affected Main Street.

So, on its face, what we're going to need to know is more about what the Democrats have in mind for this additional bailout.

GRIFFIN: You know, as -- you're a fiscal conservative.


GRIFFIN: As a fiscal conservative, I'm looking at the McCain proposals. And all of them seem to involve heavy amounts of government money or government involvement, whether it be home mortgages or propping up the banking industry. Are you square with that?

PALIN: I beg to differ with that, because what McCain has talked about was shoring up the home mortgage market, also, to make sure that we're going to have a level playing field here. He's not asking for an additional hundreds of billions of dollars. He's saying OK, with the $700 billion that his colleagues and he there in Congress have already approved, let's make sure that the priority is we're going to help the homeowners who had been kind of sucked into the wrong mortgage. And that was via predatory lenders taking advantage, unfortunately, and exploiting too many Americans.

He's saying let's take the dollars that are already there and let's best use them. Let's -- he's not saying more and more and more government intervention and more dollars. He's saying let's best use the dollars that have already been approved.


BLITZER: All right. So that was the first half of the interview with Governor Sarah Palin. We're going to be playing the entire second half unedited. That's coming up in a little while right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

By the way, in this part two of the interview, Governor Palin, we're going to hear what she has to say about her husband's role in the governor's office -- the firing of the -- one of her top cabinet officers; also, why Governor Palin is now apologizing for something she said. I think you're going to want to hear that. Part two of the interview with CNN -- that's coming up shortly right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, inside Barack Obama's Florida strategy -- we're live on the campaign trail with the Democratic presidential candidate in a critical toss-up state. And the subject, obviously, the economy. We're going to go live to hear what he's saying. He's getting ready to speak in Florida

Plus, what's prompting a provocative ad campaign by atheists?

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


BLITZER: City buses in London are about to be hit with an atheist ad campaign. It's a rather provocative reaction to other ads posted on buses.

Let's go back to Abbi Tatton. She's looking at all of this -- the slogans, Abbi, what are they saying?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, they say, "There's probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life." That's the slogan that you might soon see plastered across London buses, after an online campaign by comedy writer and atheist Ariane Sherine. Sherine tells me today that she got sick and tired of seeing these buses with these ads with Christian messages traveling across London. So she decided to set up a Web site of her own, collect donations and drive people to the British Humanist Association.

This today has become quite a hit online. They traveled up to about 40,000 pounds -- about $70,000 -- enough for hundreds of buses in the new year. And you can watch these online donations trickling in. We saw one earlier from Satan, who says he's given 10 pounds.

The bus company's CBS label is running the ads online. They say they stay neutral in all of this issue. They say that the only thing that they believe in is the power of bus advertising -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi. Thanks.

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

Happening now, driving the point home -- Barack Obama sounds his economic themes with some extra help in the battleground state of Florida. Joe Biden turning up the heat. His demand for McCain to stop the character attacks and return to issues.

And preparing for an early test -- what the Pentagon is doing right now to ensure a smooth presidential transition.

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

In battleground Florida, Barack Obama is using the bad state of that state's economy to hammer John McCain.

Let's go live to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's in Miami watching what's going on down there. Certainly, the economy, it's driving this race right now, in this, the final two weeks -- Candy. Tell our viewers where you are and what's going on.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We are in Miami. I'm sure you can see the crowd on the stage behind me. They are pretty much as far as the eye can see here -- thousands coming in to see Barack Obama, probably to give the same message, Wolf, that he has been giving for almost a month.


CROWLEY (voice-over): Florida day two, the economy 24/7, Bush/McCain as one.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They've offered little more than willful ignorance, wishful thinking, outdated ideology.

CROWLEY: Mostly in these final weeks of the campaign, Barack Obama has moved from rally to rally in front of big crowds. But with foreclosures and joblessness way up in Florida, the economy is particularly potent here. So Obama changed it up. In an overheated gym in Palm Beach County, he hosted a panel with former Fed chief Paul Volcker and a bevy of battleground governors to discuss short and long-term economic solutions laced with assaults on McCain.

OBAMA: I heard McCain say I'm more concerned with who gets your piece of the pie than with growing the pie. But make no mistake about it, after eight years of Bush/McCain economics, the pie is shrinking.

CROWLEY: While Obama went wonky in heavily Democratic territory, his wife was dispatched to Republican land -- the conservative Northwestern Panhandle. She sells hope, casting a wide net, courting Pensacola's military voters -- young people from nearby University of West Florida.

MICHELLE OBAMA, BARACK OBAMA'S WIFE: And I want to hear it for the not so young folks.


CROWLEY: Seniors. M. OBAMA: This happens to me everywhere I go. You see somebody in their 80s. And sometimes with tearing streams from their eyes they look at me and grab my hand and say, Michelle, I never thought I'd live to see the day.


CROWLEY: Double teaming here in Florida, of course, you know there are path ways for Barack Obama to win this nomination without winning Florida. But it's hard to see a path for John McCain if he loses here. Right now Barack Obama with a three-point edge but McCain who's been slowly going down in the polls here has some staying power, which is pretty remarkable, Wolf, when you consider the state of the economy here in Florida, when you consider that, in fact, Barack Obama is outspending him by at least $15 million in the state. And McCain is outmanned throughout in all of the counties here that he is just three points behind at this point. Certainly a test to the fact that Florida is still very much a tossup state -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Certainly is. All right. Candy, stand by. Once Barack Obama starts speaking I want to go back there live.

So with only two weeks to go until Election Day, the Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden is calling on John McCain to call off what he describes as the personal attacks. Listen to this.


SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I say to my friend John McCain, if he's really serious when he said this morning on one of the shows that this election is all about the economy, then I say, John, stop your ads. Bring down those robo-calls. If it's about the economy, argue about the economy, not about Barack Obama's character, not about these ads. John, stop these calls!


BLITZER: Let's discuss. Joining us Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist and CBS News political analyst and Alex Castellanos, our CNN political contributor and Republican consultant.

He's obviously pretty angry right now, Joe Biden is. Isn't it smart, Joe, for the Republicans at this point only two weeks to go to keep this drum beat going?

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's the only shot they've got. The McCain campaign has to attack, attack, attack. And the problem with that is it seems to be there's a backlash against it. People are tired of that. They want to focus on the economy. That's sort of the box that the McCain campaign finds itself in.

It's fighting in states like Pennsylvania and Florida that it has to win. And if it loses Florida, it's over. It's fighting on the economy, which isn't good for a member of the GOP to be fighting on, particularly with the Bush economic policies hanging over their heads. All they can try to do is tear Obama down. I don't think it's going to work because people know it's a desperate attack to try to -- to try to gain back -- you know, try to take back a lead that's drifted off.

BLITZER: Alex, what do you think?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: I think it's like a football game. You can't win with just offense or defense. You have to have both in a political campaign like this. In fact, your attacks are not going to work unless you give people some hope you can do a little better. You can't just back people against the wall. You've got to have a door out of the room.

And, yes, I think John McCain's doing the right thing by keeping the pressure on Barack Obama I think on the issues, on the economy, not so much on the character attacks. But he's also got at this critical point near the end of the campaign, here's what you get with McCain. He's got a good story to tell. If we change Washington, we can get this economy going again. There's nothing wrong with the American people. It's Washington that's broken, not you.

BLITZER: Because that's a point that people could resonate with, Joe. Checks and balances usually a good thing in Washington. The Democrats have overwhelming majorities in the house and senate and a Democrat in the White House those checks and balances are going to be limited. You hear this. It's late in the game now, but you hear this argument comes from Republicans with increasing veracity right now.

TRIPPI: It may be coming from Republicans, but it's not coming from the McCain campaign. The McCain campaign has been running these robo-calls, you know a lot of them are personal attacks. They're not on the economy. They're not on the balance of power or any of that stuff. They're just trying to scare people.

That's where I think the McCain campaign has fallen flat. They've lost the original maverick theme they came out of their convention with. They're now unfortunately backs to the wall trying to do too many things. Trying to crawl back from too far down, I think, in those desperate acts. It's a backlash that's hurting McCain, not helping him.

BLITZER: The rallies that we see all over the country, Alex, huge rallies. 100,000 folks showed up for Barack Obama in St. Louis over the weekend. When John McCain is together with Sarah Palin, the rallies are pretty intense, lively. Although they're much smaller when he's there by himself. We saw this just over the past 24, 48 hours. But in general, how important really are these rallies when all is said and done?

CASTELLANOS: Usually they're not that important. For Barack Obama, they do common strait breadth of support and they've used them organizationally very well. They collect e-mails, cell phone numbers. They take those rallies and use them as steppingstones to build a very powerful organization. But generally rallies can also be a sign of trouble in a campaign. For example, if you're just collecting the people who are already for you, the intense people, you're not going to win an election. Your job is to actually get those people at the back of the room, the people who don't come to the rallies, the undecided and the less intense. And so if you're just building your campaign to target those people, you may be missing the soft middle that you need to get.

BLITZER: Is he just preaching to the converted? What do you think? We're talking about Barack Obama, Joe.

TRIPPI: With Obama it is jazzing up the energy that he has to help an amazing get out the vote effort. I think we'll see probably the greatest get out the vote effort in the history of this country in terms of the number of people out there volunteering. Many come of them from the crowds.

On the other side with McCain, caution, the last thing you hear in a campaign going down is look how big our crowds are. Once the polls start going, once the states start going you start to hear the hope that the crowds mean something. That's usually when they don't.

BLITZER: Alex Castellanos and Joe Trippi, good discussion, guys. Thanks very much.

Preparing for a worst case scenario, the frightening possibility that the next president could face a serious crisis within weeks of taking office. We're learning new details about what the Pentagon is planning right now.

Caught on tape stealing political signs. Seems, perhaps, silly. But multiply this by the hundreds. One big state cracking down.

And part two of our interview with Governor Palin. That coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Looking at live pictures of a Barack Obama rally down in Miami, Florida; Florida a critical battleground state. Very few people believe that John McCain can be elected president without carrying Florida. Barack Obama spending time there today. John McCain will be spending a lot of time in Florida. It's the big prize in the battleground states. Once Barack Obama starts speaking, we'll go there live. Stand by for that.

Meanwhile, his running mate, Joe Biden, talked about it and the very real possibility that the next president of the United States, whoever that may be, could face a major crisis within months, if not weeks, of taking office. Right now the U.S. military already preparing along with the candidates for that contingency.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is working the story for us. Barbara, a crisis early on in a new administration. That's by no means unusual if you look at history.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It is not unusual, Wolf. That is exactly what the Pentagon is preparing for.


BIDEN: It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Watch, we're going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.

STARR (voice-over): History says, Biden is right. The Pentagon months ago assembled a list of major events since 1961 that happened in the first year of a presidency. Three months after taking office, John F. Kennedy, the failed Bay of Pigs operation in Cuba. Eight months after Gerald Ford is sworn in, the fall of South Vietnam. One month into Bill Clinton's presidency, the World Trade Center bombed the first time. And just eight months after George Bush takes office, the 9/11 attacks.

Months ago, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, the military has to be ready for a post-election crisis.

ADM. MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I look at what worst case could be, and we work hard to do everything we can in the military to be -- to prevent anything from occurring and certainly being able to respond in this time of transition.

STARR: The Pentagon now has a massive presidential transition effort to brief the president-elect and get him ready to make crucial decisions, including cutting the $515 billion defense budget in the wake of the Wall Street crisis, reducing troop levels in Iraq, and perhaps most urgently finding a new strategy for controlling the escalating violence in Afghanistan.


STARR: Now of course Wolf, everyone hopes there will be no crisis in the first months of the new administration. Here at the Pentagon they say they are ready just in case -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Barbara, thanks very much. Contingency planning going on over at the Pentagon.

Is Governor Sarah Palin her party's best hope for the future?


GRIFFIN: Governor, if in two weeks you're not elected?


GRIFFIN: Do you come back at the top of the ticket in 2012?


BLITZER: All right. What did she to say about that? John McCain's running mate, part two of the interview. The full thing unedited right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stand by. You're going to want to see this.

Political signs stolen from front yards across the country. What some people are doing to foil the thieves.

And a controversial new technology. The government can, can repeat, look into your car. Does it simply go too far?

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


BLITZER: There's a growing number of reports out there indicating that this campaign is taking an ugly turn. Yard signs are being stolen from coast to coast. Some victims taking dramatic action to try to catch the thieves.

Let's go to Los Angeles. Ted Rowlands is standing by. All right. Ted, I know there's a particular problem out in California. What's going on?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, what's happening across the country, in California according to the Republicans is really bad. In fact, they say they're trying to make an example of one woman who was caught on tape trying to steal a sign near Sacramento.


ROWLANDS: Republicans want to know if you've seen the thieves that stole this sign. Watch as a woman grabs it and in a matter of seconds with the door of the get away mini van still open, the driver speeds off. Ron Nehring, Chairman of the California Republican Party, says sign stealing is such a problem, they're offering a $500 reward in this case.

RON NEHRING, CHMN., CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN PARTY: We believe that the person in the video has engaged in this in a repeated fashion. We'd like to see this person held accountable for what she's doing, as well as, the driver.

ROWLANDS: Across the country signs are being stolen and defaced. Some have even been burned like this one in Sacramento. Some victims like this Milwaukee, Wisconsin, man have had multiple signs stolen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first one they destroyed. Then the next one they just stole the whole sign. So every night now I just take it in the house.

ROWLANDS: It's not just McCain/Palin signs. A CNN I-reporter sent us these surveillance videos of someone stealing an Obama sign in a Tempe, Arizona, neighborhood. In Oklahoma, David McNeely had his Obama signs spray painted.

DAVID MCNEELY, SIGN VANDALISM VICTIM: They call themselves Americans. But they're trying to suppress the very things that -- that make America. ROWLANDS: In Santa Monica, California, this homeowner put up a message board for people to express their feelings about the fact that Obama signs were stolen from the yard. Someone then stole two of the message boards but left the pen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We actually found an accused sign vandal. He's facing criminal charges in California and wants his identity protected. Why do people do it?

I think that part of the reason people do it is obviously a political agenda. They don't like the other side and they feel like it's a tangible way of taking action and getting your point across.

ROWLANDS: After getting two Obama signs stolen from his Ohio home, Bob Krasen may have come up with a solution. He bolted his sign to a frame and anchored it into his yard. And installed an alarm system using a cow bell.

BOB KRASEN, SIGN THEFT VICTIM: See. There you go. My concern is how I'm going to get it out of the ground once the election is over.


ROWLANDS: That's probably -- that's probably the best way to go about it. Or bring the sign inside. Police aren't exactly putting this at the top of their list of crimes to solve. But it is happening everywhere across the country, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let's see what happens on that front. Thanks very much, Ted, for that report.

Coming up, part two of Drew Griffin's interview today with Sarah Palin.


GRIFFIN: Do you feel trapped in this campaign that your message is not getting out? If so, who do you blame?


BLITZER: All right. The governor's answer to that question and a lot more. What she also says about her husband's role in the governor's office.

And will Democratic Congressman John Murtha calling on some people in Pennsylvania, calling them redneck and racist hurt Barack Obama? That's Jack's question. Your e-mail coming up next.


BLITZER: Tomorrow I'm going to be having a special one-on-one interview with Republican presidential candidate John McCain. You can do to participate. This is what you do. You can submit your I-report questions at My interview with Senator McCain tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Send me a question or two, and maybe I will ask one of those questions to the senator.

In the meantime, let's go to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: Can I send you a question right now?

BLITZER: Yes, send me a question right now.

CAFFERTY: Right this very minute.

BLITZER: If you want an I-Report, you are on television right now.

CAFFERTY: This is an I-Report right now, live. Ask Senator McCain in light of the fact that Barack Obama is leaving the campaign for two days to go to Hawaii to be with a seriously ill grandmother who is arguably the most important woman in his life despite his wife, does John McCain plan to tone down the attacks while Barack Obama is off of the trail?

BLITZER: All right. Got that question. All right. We have it.

CAFFERTY: He will be mad at you for asking.

BLITZER: No, we have it on videotape.

CAFFERTY: OK. All right.

The question this hour: Will Democrat Congressman Murtha calling some people in his state of Pennsylvania redneck and racist hurt Barack Obama?

Jim writes: "Jack, will race baiting calling Obama a socialist or a pal of terrorists help McCain? Polls show that the negative stuff is not working, no matter who talks trash."

Bonnie in Pennsylvania says: "I live in Western Pennsylvania. Jack Murtha's comments will not hurt Barack Obama. My vote still goes to Obama. I will vote for Murtha, too, even though he put his foot in his mouth. He is a good representative. Most of the people I know are looking at the issues not the race card."

Tim in Texas writes: "Hi Jack. I'm a redneck, born and bred in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania and I'm voting for Obama on Election Day. I may not be a redneck, but I'm not stupid."

Antoine says: "With 14 days left in the election and Barack up by nine points, people should not mess it up for him. People will choose for themselves whether to vote for Barack or not, so Murtha, please shut your mouth and let the people decide."

Ryan in Galesburg, Illinois says: "Jack those comments won't hurt Obama because he didn't make them. The only folks that might be offended are the actual racists who aren't going to vote for Obama in any case." L. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania writes: "Western Pennsylvania guys are not technically rednecks since they would have to leave the beer at the bar and go out in the sun in order to achieve such status."

And John writes: "Jack, take it easy on John. I, too, have the same problem with saying the wrong things. It isn't planned. It just happens and you don't even realize it for a couple of days." I think we can all relate, John.

If you didn't see your e-mail, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there along with hundreds of others -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. Good to have Jack back in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It sounds like something from a sci-fi movie and it is real world and real life and it is happening now. A high-tech machine that can scan your car and see inside and out, that's coming up.

And Governor Palin, what she believes her role will be if she becomes vice president. You will hear it in her own words. The second part of her CNN interview. The first part of CNN interview coming up.


BLITZER: Border agents in California are getting a high-tech revealing view of vehicles and drivers. Critics think though it is a little too close and personal. CNN's Chris Lawrence has the details -- Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it may look like some sort of giant car wash, but this machine can literally see right through you.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Border agents unroll a carpet and find a grown man hiding deep inside. Another one is crammed underneath the seat cushion of a car, but a new technology is making it a lot harder to hide. Just into San Diego, the drive through portal scans cars crossing from Mexico. The car is bathed in low radiation x-rays exposing the driver and everything inside. This is what the border agent sees. Multiple images in real time.

PATRICK SIMMONS, U.S. CUSTOMS & BORDER PROTECTION: It allows the officers to do a more exact search.

LAWRENCE: Cars and trucks selected for secondary screenings will be put through the scanner. Agents started using the machine about a week ago and detected one person trying to be smuggled in and more than 3,000 pounds of drugs.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two kids posing as an adult - Oh, hey Homer.



LAWRENCE: Series like the Simpson's have made fun of what x-rays are can do and movies like "Total Recall" have explored the technology's more serious side. We tested more similar technology that TSA is installing in airports across the country

(on camera): The technology is actually being used in certain military checkpoints in Afghanistan and in the entrance to the green zone in Baghdad.

(voice-over): Privacy advocates have called this screening an electronic strip search. Border agents say that machine is less reveal than the airport scanner and only shows a person's silhouette.

ANGELICA DE CIMA, U.S. CUSTOMS & BORDER PROTECTION: No details. You cannot tell sex or race or anything like that.

LAWRENCE: Officials say you don't have to wear the padded vest you get at the doctor's office, because the portal uses low level x- rays.

DE CIMA: Someone would have to go through this machine more than 2,000 times to get the same radiation that you would get from a chest x-ray.


LAWRENCE (on-camera): There's still going to be some folks who - just don't trust this kind of machine. If you don't want to go through it, you can get out of the car and border agent will drive your car through the scanner -- Wolf

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence - thank you.

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