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Senator Stevens Guilty; The Final Days of the Campaign; Men Charged in Plot To Assassinate Obama; Indiana Official Wants Criminal Probe of ACORN; Voters' Names Erased from Colorado Lists

Aired October 27, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, closing argument -- with eight days to go, Barack Obama wraps up his case, telling battleground voters why he should be the next president.

John McCain makes his land stand in those same battleground states, warning voters what may be at stake if Democrats control the White House and both houses of Congress.

And could your vote be at risk? A top official in Indiana wants a criminal probe of registration efforts by the activist group ACORN and several states are now suspected of purging eligible voters from their rolls. And that's led to a lawsuit in Colorado.

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

We're standing by this hour to hear live from Senator Barack Obama. He's in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. We'll go there. He's making his closing arguments, once he starts speaking.

But first, the breaking news out of Washington, where there's a verdict in the corruption trial of Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska.

Let's go straight to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena. The 84-year-old Republican in deep, deep trouble -- Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you said it, Wolf. You know, this decision came in a lot quicker than anyone predicted, but the jury was unanimous -- the senator guilty on all seven counts of lying on Senate financial disclosure forms about more than $250,000 in gifts and services that he received, most of them having to do with renovations on his Alaska home.

Now, Wolf, each charge carries a maximum five year sentence. That totals 35 years. But sentencing guidelines allow for much less and legal experts do not think that the senator will be facing a 35-year sentence for real. Now, no sentencing date has been set yet. The judge instead set a hearing date in February for motions to be heard. The defense says that it's going to ask for a new trial.

You know, Wolf, there were a variety of problems during this trial, most notably, the prosecution did not turn over evidence during discovery. And, Wolf, you know, I wouldn't count Stevens out just yet. Leaving court, he told his wife that it's not over yet. His name remains on the ballot in Alaska. If he does win re-election, he keeps his seat unless he resigns or is expelled from the Senate. So this legal saga, Wolf, will continue.

BLITZER: All right, Kelli. Thanks very much.

Let's get some of the political fallout, though, from what's going on.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is joining is now live from San Francisco -- John, the polls going in to today, before the verdict, against Senator Stevens, showed it's neck and neck between him and his Democratic challenger. But it doesn't look good, necessarily, for him -- convicted unanimously on all seven charges.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Most Republicans, Wolf, that I've e-mailed and had a couple conversations as we made our way here -- we're here in San Francisco on another story. But checking in with them, they say they believe this will break the election, is that the Anchorage mayor, the Democrat, Mark Begich is Senator Stevens' opponent. And most recent polls, as you noted, have had it a dead heat.

They've -- the Democrats believe they have been making up ground steadily in that race, even though the polls are so tight. And they believe that there will be a backlash against this unanimous guilty verdict and that Senator Stevens will be beaten in the election. Of course, that is a week away. We will see how it plays out politically.

I asked Republican strategists if they think there's any national impact of this against an already troubling Republican Party -- a Republican Party that's in quite a bit of trouble at the moment. And they say no. But the reason they say it is not so optimistic. One Republican strategist put it this way: "You can't really impact the national environment where only 12 percent of the American people say things are going well."

So, in a bad environment for Republicans anyway, they expect to lose at least five Senate seats, Wolf. Holding onto Alaska was a key for many Republicans into keeping that number from growing to eight or possibly nine Senate seats. Most Republicans you talk to today think because of this verdict, you can now put Alaska in the Democratic pickup column.

BLITZER: All right, John. Thanks. John is going to be joining us in a little while. Thank you.

Only eight days until the election and Barack Obama delivering what he -- what his campaign calls a closing argument, wrapping up his case for the presidency. In the crucial battleground state of Ohio, Obama outlined his differences with John McCain, telling voters it's now in their hands.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is in Canton.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they're billing it as the closing argument of the campaign. But it is remarkably similar to what we've been hearing over the last two years. It is a very simple message -- and that is Barack Obama is the candidate for change.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): In the final week of the campaign, the closer.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The change we need isn't just about new programs and policies. It's about a new attitude. It's about new politics -- a politics that calls on our better angels instead of encouraging our worst instincts.

MALVEAUX: His simple message -- a call for change -- has been the consistent thread weaving all themes together.

OBAMA: Fired up?


OBAMA: Ready to go?


OBAMA: Fired up?


MALVEAUX: That's months ago. This is now.

UNIDENTIFIED SUPPORTERS: Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

OBAMA: Yes, we can!

MALVEAUX: Obama's battle cry of "Yes, we can!" is now more specific. It's vote for me and in one week you can -- fill in the blank.

OBAMA: In one week, we can choose hope over fear and unity over division; the promise of change over the power of the status quo. In one week, we can come together as one nation.

MALVEAUX: Obama's appeal to many new voters, especially the young and disenfranchised, has been the idea -- that this is not just a campaign, but a movement.

OBAMA: That's what's been lost these last eight years -- our common sense of purpose, our sense of higher purpose. That's what we need to restore right now. That's one of the reasons I'm running for president of the United States of America.

MALVEAUX: Obama's purpose has also been to consistently link John McCain to President Bush and his failed policies, most recently regarding the economy. OBAMA: We have tried it John McCain's way. We have tried it George Bush's way. And deep down -- deep down, Senator McCain knows that, which is why his campaign said that if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.

MALVEAUX: It's a formula that seems to be working, delivered in Ohio -- the one state McCain needs to win the White House.


MALVEAUX: It's also a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, second to only Michigan. So the voters here are paying very close attention to Barack Obama's economic plan, as well as his broad theme for change -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thank you.

John McCain also focused in on the battleground state of Ohio today, making a pitch that he's the one to turn the economy around, arguing that Barack Obama would increase spending and raise taxes to pay for it.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So I'll reform the markets and Wall Street. I'll make sure that the SEC enacts and enforces rules that keep our markets safe and competitive. I will demand complete transparency into the accounts and activities at all banks and insurance companies so they can't take on the kind of risk that brought down the financial system.


BLITZER: From Ohio, both candidates have moved on to another hotly contested battleground prize. That would be Pennsylvania. They're both going to be speaking there in the next hour or so. We'll go there live once we start hearing them.

Meantime, let's bring in Jack Cafferty once again for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: He's talking about how the Democrats are going to increase spending?

BLITZER: Increase spending and increase taxes.

CAFFERTY: The national debt increased under the Bush administration by more than it has under all of the previous presidents of the United States combined.

BLITZER: It doubled -- more than doubled, from $5 trillion to more than $10 trillion.

CAFFERTY: And he's saying watch out, the Democrats are going to increase spending. Barack Obama says America is finally getting some of that straight talk from John McCain. Obama has long sought to tie Senator McCain to President Bush. And yesterday, don't you know, on NBC's "Meet The Press," McCain made it very easy for him when he said this about President Bush.


MCCAIN: Do we share a common philosophy of the Republican Party? Of course. But I've stood up against my party, not just President Bush, but others, and I've got the scars to prove it.


CAFFERTY: Admitting anything in common with press George W. Bush is probably not such a great for John McCain. You see, President Bush has one of the all time low approval ratings of any of our presidents. Twenty-seven percent of the people in this country think he's doing a good job. That's according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll.

Last week, 75 percent of Americans said they think that things are not going well in this country. "They feel bad," is the wording, about how things are going. And over the past eight years, John McCain has supported George W. Bush 90 percent of the time.

So here's the question: What does John McCain mean when he says he and George W. Bush share a common philosophy of the Republican Party?

You can go to and post a comment on my blog. Oh, and the Dow closed over an hour ago. There's the question -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good question.

CAFFERTY: Not bad.

BLITZER: All your questions are good, Jack. Thank you.

Going to the polls ready to vote and finding out your name isn't on the list -- it could happen in several states. We're checking the status of a lawsuit now in Colorado. After a weekend focusing in more on the wardrobe than on the issues, Republican running mate Sarah Palin gets back on message. But tensions appear to be mounting inside the McCain campaign.

And the interview that has the political blogs talking.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Aren't you embarrassed by the blatant attempts to register phony voters?

Isn't Senator Obama's comment a potentially crushing political blunder?

How is Senator Obama not being a Marxist? (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, we're going to take a look at this story, as well.

We're also awaiting Senator Obama. He's getting ready to speak in Pennsylvania. We'll go there live. He's making his closing argument only eight days before the election.

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


BLITZER: This is a story just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Federal prosecutors have charged two men with plotting what was described as a killing spree targeting African-Americans and Barack Obama.

Let's go back to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena. She's reviewing the documents that have just been released by the Justice Department. What are we learning about this -- Kelli?

ARENA: Well, Wolf, two men -- one from Tennessee, one from Arkansas -- appeared in court in Tennessee today. Their ultimate plan, according to the Justice Department, was to assassinate Barack Obama.

Now, these men were picked up last Wednesday by local sheriffs deputies in what was described to me as a routine stop. The criminal complaint against them says that they had a sawed off shotgun in their possession.

During interrogation, the men said -- allegedly said that they planned to rob a gun shop to get more weapons, then to target a predominantly African-American school. The complaint goes on to say -- their words, not mine -- the killing spree would have ended with Obama and that the men were willing to die themselves while they were doing this.

And they're both described by officials as having very strong beliefs regarding white power and what officials are calling a skinhead philosophy. And they both face charges of violating firearms laws and making threats against a presidential candidate.

Wolf, I will tell you, in some private discussions that I've had, some -- you know, some questions about whether or not they would have been able to pull off what they wanted to do. But the complaint alleges a plan and at least the possession of one firearm -- a sawed off shotgun. And that's where we stand.

BLITZER: All right, Kelli. Thanks very much. Pretty disturbing stuff, though.

ACORN is falling under more scrutiny than ever. Now a top official in Indiana says he believes the community activist group went too far in its push to register voters. Let's go to our correspondent, Drew Griffin, of CNN's Special Investigations Unit. He's working the story. This official calling -- Drew, what, for a criminal probe?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: Absolutely. Based on his own probe, the Indiana secretary of state has not only found ACORN submitted hundreds and hundreds of fraudulent registration forms, but, Wolf, is now asking for investigations by the U.S. attorney and the local prosecutor for possible felony violations by the group.

As we reported three weeks ago, the ACORN voter registration drive in Northwest Indiana was fraught with problems. More than 2,000 voter registration forms turned in by ACORN were no good -- many handed in with the same handwriting for multiple applications, a few dead people registering in that famous Jimmy John sandwich shop. That was causing incredible amounts of extra work for officials and the potential, they said, for possible voter fraud if they didn't catch them all.

Well, now, the Indiana secretary of state says his review of the ACORN submissions leads him to the opinion ACORN did, indeed, did break the law. In a letter to the U.S. attorney, the FBI and Lake County prosecutor, Indiana's Republican secretary of state, Todd Rokita, says: "Our preliminary examination of these 1,438 voter registration applications reveals significant could be evidence the organization, its officers, agents and employees, through direct action, conspiracy or inducement, violated four Indiana state election laws, violated Indiana's racketeer and corrupt organizations law, violated federal election law."

ACORN has defended itself in the past, saying it is required by law to turn in all these registration forms, fraudulent or not. Well, the secretary of state says if ACORN knew they were fraudulent, it should have turned them into prosecutors, along with evidence as to who committed the fraud, and says: "Simply put, complying with the law to submit legitimate applications does not allow ACORN officials to evade the law against knowingly submitting fraudulent applications."

Now, Wolf, in response, ACORN sent us a statement, through a public relations firm, detailing its procedures in Indiana, admitting there were problems and that the group even shut down its Gary, Indiana office for three weeks. But the group insists it followed the law in Indiana and says: "As with all of our work, we defend our quality control procedures and look forward to cooperating with the Lake County Board of Elections to prosecute those who have defrauded us."

The U.S. attorney in Northern Indiana would not make any comments on this and we have yet to hear back from the local prosecutor in Lake County, Indiana to see if, indeed, a criminal investigation of ACORN is underway -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Drew, thanks for that update. Drew working the story. If you don't vote early, it all comes down to you in the voting booth on November 4th. But you can't vote if you're not on the voter registration list. Several states are suspected of purging eligible voters from their lists by the thousands.

CNN's Dan Simon is in Denver working this story. There's a lawsuit there. It's been filed to try to set things right. What's the status? What do we know about this part of the story, the allegation that there's voter suppression underway?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. The issue here in Colorado is whether the Colorado secretary of state is running a flawed and perhaps illegal voter registration system. A local government watchdog says the answer is, yes. Now the issue will be decided in federal court.


SIMON (voice-over): Colorado election workers are busy processing a record amount of mail-in ballots. But there's concern that thousands of state voters won't get the chance to cast their vote in the election.

JENNY ROSE FLANAGAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COLORADO COMMON CAUSE: We have heard voters think they're registered and find that they're not on the list.

SIMON: Jenny Flanagan is the executive director of Colorado Common Cause, a nonpartisan government watchdog group -- a plaintiff in a lawsuit alleging as many as 30,000 Colorado voters have been illegally purged from registration rolls.

FLANAGAN: When in doubt, when we're this close to an election, we've got to err on the side of inclusiveness and give the voter an opportunity to participate.

SIMON: The suit targets Colorado's Republican secretary of state Mike Coffman. It says he eliminated voters for several reasons not allowed under federal law. Among them, they had undeliverable mail within 20 days of registering.

Coffman is also a candidate for Congress. And those who brought the suit say that's a problem.

PENDA HAIR, ADVANCEMENT PROJECT: Having a partisan person both run the election, it's like being the umpire and playing the game at the same time. It should not happen.

SIMON: Coffman's office denies any wrongdoing and says he believes Colorado has fully complied with all applicable voter registration laws and voter cancellation procedures.

He has also said recently the number of voters removed is 14,000 -- less than half of what is alleged. He says the majority had either moved out of the county or state, or were listed as duplicates.

The stakes, of course, are high. Colorado's battleground status has brought added scrutiny to its election procedures.


SIMON: The first court hearing took place today in the federal courthouse behind me. There will be another on Wednesday, when the merits of the case will be discussed. Bottom line here -- the question is whether voters were illegally purged from the system. The judge will have to decide whether or not that, in fact, did occur and whether some names should be reinstated on the voter registration rolls -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Dan -- Dan Simon in Denver. Thank you.

If you have trouble, by the way, at the polls, this is what you can do. Call the CNN voter hotline. You can help us track the problems. We'll report the trouble in real time. This is the number: 1-877-GO-CNN-08. We're keeping them honest all the way through the election and beyond. 1-877-462-6608.

One of America's adversaries may be ailing. That would be Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He's reportedly missed several public events. What's behind his absence?

And we're awaiting a live appearance by Senator Barack Obama in the key battleground state of Pennsylvania. There you see live pictures.

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


BLITZER: Zain Verjee is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Zain, what's going on?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there are growing tensions between the U.S. and Iraq. The U.S. military warning Baghdad it will have to suspend security operations in Iraq if the new security deal isn't signed by year's end. Iraqi politicians are considering a draft agreement that would keep U.S. troops in Iraq through 2011. Several Shia lawmakers object to various parts of the draft.

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is reportedly suffering from exhaustion. But an ally tells Iran's official news agency that the president's illness isn't as serious as some political opponents suggest. Ahmadinejad reportedly missed several events recently because of his illness.

The FBI has arrested more than 600 adults in child prostitution raids across the nation. Authorities say they rescued 47 children from 12 large scale prostitution rings, which the FBI has now broken up. Those prostitution rings were run through call services, truck stops, casinos and the Internet -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much. Zain Verjee reporting.

The question that made Joe Biden's jaw drop somewhat. A Florida TV anchor suggests his running mate sounds like a "Marxist." You're going to hear how Senator Biden responded.

And robo-calls in these, the waning days of the campaign. They may have your phone ringing off the hook. Is there anything you can do to stop them?

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


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

Happening now, she draws rock star attention and has been dubbed a "diva." The Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, gets back on message. But is there too much tension within the McCain camp right now?

Eight days away from the election, more than the White House is at stake. Ultimate power on Capitol Hill could hang in the balance. Is there even one safe seat in Congress for Republicans?

And Syria calls it a terrorist aggression. A Pentagon source tells CNN it's a successful strike against Al Qaeda. So what really happened?

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

All right. Senator Obama is getting ready to speak out in Pennsylvania. He's just making some introductory remarks right now. We'll listen in, hear what he's saying. We'll go there once he gets to some substantive issues that he's discussing, on this, only eight days to go before the presidential candidates -- we have to make up our minds about the presidential candidates.

They're making their closing arguments. Some political insiders, though, are suggesting the race is all but over.

Let's discuss what's going on with our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, along with Republican strategist, Kevin Madden. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Paul -- and I want Kevin and Paul to listen to Ed Rollins, one of our CNN contributors, a former Republican -- he's a Republican strategist. He worked for Ronald Reagan, as you know, in the White House.

This is what he said this morning. I'll play the clip.


ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The critical thing for the McCain team is how do want to end up your campaign? How do you want to end up your public career? Do you want to go out on a happy note? Do you want to go out basically saying what you really believe? And that's what I would argue that they should do.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: He makes it sound, Kevin, like it's all but over. But what do you think?

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Look, it is never over with John McCain until the votes are all counted. You know, we -- in the Romney campaign, we thought we had him early on in the summer of 2006. He came back and he won New Hampshire. He won South Carolina. He won Florida and all the way on to -- on to the nomination.

John McCain is a man of determination. I think the voters are going to see that in these closing days. But Ed is right in this respect -- John McCain's closing argument has to be about John McCain and what he would do to move the country forward. It can't be about disqualifying Barack Obama or only disqualifying Barack Obama. He has to have a compelling and competing vision where he wants to take the country.

BLITZER: All right. Go ahead, Paul. What do you think?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think Kevin gives very good advice. You know Senator McCain, he's tried everything. He's thrown everything at Barack from the kitchen sink to the extent he could pry Joe the plumber off this sink. They even called him a socialist and you've got this alleged reporter who used Marxist to describe Barack Obama. It's crazy and most importantly counterproductive.

If I were advising Senator McCain and I mean this on the level not as a Democrat, I would say go out the way he came in. He is a genuine American hero. He sacrificed for our country more than anybody else in public life today. Why not call in the rest of us to sacrifice, just a little bit, for the good of the country, nothing like the sacrifice he made but he could call on us as he used to do to be a part of something larger than ourselves. That was John McCain at his best and this small and divisive and frankly dirty politician we're seeing at the end of the campaign is not the real John McCain I hope.

BLITZER: Here's what David Frum, he's a Republican, a former speech writer for the current President Bush wrote in the Washington Post yesterday in an article entitled "Sorry Senator, Let's Salvage What He We Can." He said, "There is not a safe Republican seat in the country. I don't mean we're going to lose all of them, but we could lose any of them." What do you think, Kevin?

MADDEN: Look, I don't think anybody running for Congress can go out and rest on their laurels and say I've got a safe seat. I don't have to talk to the American public. I don't have to go out there and knock on every single door and make every single phone call. Everybody who's in a Republican seat right now given the very tough political environment has to go out and work as if they're five points behind even if they're five points ahead.

We can't take anything for granted. It's a challenging environment. We have to go out there and remind voters what it is we're going to do, what it is, the issue that we're going to put forward to move the country forward, economic security, economic conservativism, building stronger families and communities and providing for safer national security. They have to tell the American people why Republicans.

BLITZER: Let me correct that quote that I just put up on screen. That was in an article that David Frum wrote quoting a senior Republican House member unnamed. Just want to be precise on that. That was not David Frum saying there's not a safe Republican seat in the country. That was what he quoted a senior Republican house member. What do you think, Paul?

BEGALA: Well Wolf look, this afternoon, here in Nevada where I am today, I was with Jill Derby, she's a Democratic candidate for the house seat in the second district of Nevada. This is a district held by the Republicans since Nevada joined the union. It's Reno and Tahoe and mostly it's rural Nevada. It's all basically of Nevada except Las Vegas. And you know what? She is dead even. She lost narrowly the last time around. I think she had a very good chance of beating Dean Hiller, the incumbent, because he has voted 92% of the time with president Bush even in some of the most Republican districts in the country, George W. Bush has proven to be toxic and I think you're going to see Democrats win in places like and Jill Derby's got a good chance to win in the second district in Nevada where we never had a chance in the past.

BLITZER: All right. Kevin and Paul, stand by. I want both of you to listen in. We're going to go to the Obama rally out in Pennsylvania. I want to hear what he's saying. This is his closing argument speech. He's making the case the election's coming up in a little bit more than a week.


OBAMA: You can do that.

Now, Pittsburgh, we began this journey in the depths of winter nearly two years ago. It was seven degrees outside. And I stood on the steps of the old state capitol in Springfield, Illinois and back then, we didn't have much money. We didn't have a lot of endorsements. We weren't given much of a chance by the polls or the pundits and we knew how steep the climb would be. But I also knew you this, I knew that the size of our challenges had outgrown the smallness of our politics.


I believed the Democrats and Republicans and Americans of every political stripe were hungry for new ideas and new leadership, a new kind of politics, one that favors common sense over ideology, a politics that focuses on those values and dales that we hold in common as Americans.


And most of all, I believed in you. I believed in your ability to make change happen. I knew -- because I knew that the American people are a decent, generous people, willing to work hard and sacrifice for future generations. That's been the history of Allegheny County. People working hard for the next generation fur their kids and their grandkids. That's been the future of Pennsylvania.


And I was convinced that when we come together, our voices are more powerful than the most entrenched lobbyists or the full force of a status quo in Washington that wants to keep things just the way they are. Twenty-one months later, Pittsburgh, my faith in the American people has been vindicated. That's how -- that's how we've come so far, come so close because of you. That's how we're going to change this country, with your help. And Pittsburgh, that's why we cannot afford to slow down or sit back or let up for one day, one minute, or one second in this final week. We've got an election to win.


We can't let up. We can't let up. Not now. Not when so much is at stake. We're in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. So far this year, we've already lost 760,000 jobs. Businesses and families can't get credit. Home values are falling. Pensions are disappearing. Wages are lower than they've been in a decade, at a time when the cost of health care and college, food and groceries, have never been higher. It's getting harder and harder to make the mortgage or fill up your gas tank or even pay your electricity bills at the end of the month. At a moment like this the last thing we can afford is four more years of the tired old economic theories.

You know what theories we're talking about. Because Dan Rooney just talked about it in his introduction, the theory that you give more and more to billionaires and big corporations and you hope that prosperity somehow trickles down on everybody else.

The last thing, the last thing we can afford, the last thing we can afford is four more years where no one in Washington is watching anyone on Wall Street because politicians and the lobbyists killed common sense regulation. Those are the same economic theories that got us into this mess. They have not worked. It is time for something new. It is time for a change. That's why I'm running for president of the United States of America.


Now, let me tell you, Pittsburgh, let me say this. Senator McCain has served in the past this country with distinction. He can point -- and he can point to a few moments over the past eight years on torture, for example, where he's broken with George Bush. He deserves credit for that. But when it comes to the economy, when it comes to the central issue of this election, the central issue for working families all across this region, you don't -- he don't get it. Because -- because the plain truth is that John McCain has stood with George Bush every step of the way. Voting for the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy that he said he wants opposed. Don't need to boo. Just vote.

McCain voted for the Bush budgets. That spent us into debt. He called for less regulation, 21 times just this year. Those are the facts. And now, after 21 months, after three debates, John McCain still cannot tell the American people a single major thing he would do differently from George Bush when it comes to the economy. He can't do it. John McCain says we can't spend the next four years waiting for our luck to change, but you understand that the biggest gamble, the biggest risk we can take is embracing the same old Bush McCain policies that have failed us for the last eight years. That's a risk we can't afford to take.

It's -- it's not change when John McCain wants to give $700,000 tax cuts to the average fortune 500 CEO. It's not change when he wants to give $200 billion to the biggest corporations or $4 billion to the oil companies or $300 billion to the same Wall Street banks that got us into this mess. It's not change when he comes up with a tax plan that doesn't give a Penny of relief to more than 100 million middle class Americans. That's not change.

Look, we have try it had John McCain's way, we have tried it George Bush's way. And it hasn't worked. It hasn't worked. I mean, look, it would be one thing if -- it would be one thing if we hadn't tried it, right? It would be one thing if they had some new theory and we were going to say OK, let's give it a shot. We've been doing this same thing for the last eight years and we've got the worst economy that we've had in decades.

And you know what? Deep down, John McCain understands this, which is why his campaign said that if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose. That's why he's spending these last weeks calling me every name in the book because that's how you play the game in Washington. If you can't beat your opponent's ideas, then you distort those ideas. Maybe you just make some up. If you don't have a record to run on then you paint your opponent as somebody people should run away from. You make big elections about small things. Pittsburgh, we're here to say not this time. Not this year. Not when so much is at stake. Not now.


BLITZER: All right. There you got the gist of what Senator Obama has to say in this speech dubbed by aides as his closing argument going in to only eight days remaining in this campaign.

By the way, in the next hour, we're going to be hearing from Senator McCain. He's delivering an important speech on his economic strategy. We'll go there live.

Also in Pennsylvania, the battleground state, Paul Begala and Kevin Madden are both still with us. Kevin, you're a Republican strategist. What do you think of this closing argument trying to wrap this up for himself?

MADDEN: Well, you know what I think it's most interesting about Senator Obama's words is the fact that he incentivizes all of those people out there who are part of his campaign essentially telling that campaign worker on the streets in Pittsburgh knocking on doors that that person is the most important to this campaign's success. That is a very powerful argument to make when are you running a grassroots campaign.

Secondly, I also think it was important for him to include a lot of Republicans and independents into that closing argument. That he's trying to -- very unifying language. He pivots right away and starts hitting John McCain but he does so by drawing the contrast.

That's the charge John McCain has right now. He has to go out and make his argument about the contrast between him and Barack Obama, that he is essentially the one with an actual record of accomplishment whereas with Barack Obama, you just saw from him was just words.

BLITZER: Paul, you used to write speeches for President Clinton. You know something about the speech writing business. What do you think of this closing argument that he's making?

BEGALA: I got to say Wolf that was music to my ears. You know, I was thinking actually as I was watching that that his ailing grandmother Madelyn Dunham watches her son on CNN and so if you're watching, you should be very proud of the grandson that you helped to raise. The man in the moment seemed to have come together in just the right way. He is he exactly what the country needs.

Kevin makes a good point. We want change but very often we become angry and that anxiety turns to anger and it's easy and cheap for politicians to tap into that anger and become bitter. Frankly, if you look at Sarah Palin, she's a very sarcastic and divisive sort of speaker. It alienates independents and Democrats. Senator Obama is giving hope in a time of anger, in a time of anxiety. That's a really precious commodity and a wonderful thing. I think it's why he's going to win because we not only want change but we want unity. I think he gave both of those messages in that summation. It was wonderful.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, thanks very much, Paul Begala and Kevin Madden. Remember the next hour, we'll be hearing from Senator McCain and this Friday, by the way, I'm going to be interviewing Senator Obama. Last week I interviewed Senator McCain. We get Senator Obama in THE SITUATION ROOM on Friday. Stand by for that.

Candidates do hundreds of interviews during the campaign season, but this one is causing a bit of a stir out there. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Aren't you embarrassed by the blatant attempts to register phony voters? Isn't Senator Obama's comment a potentially crushing political blunder? How is Senator Obama not being a Marxist?


BLITZER: Wow, Joe Biden's response to those questions and the debate it's generated. Stand by. Ann an attack in Syria; Syria says innocents were killed. U.S. sources say it was a successful strike against terrorism.

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


BLITZER: Senator Joe Biden's jaw nearly dropped when a Florida news anchor suggested his running mate is taking a page from the communist playbook. That was just for starters. Here's CNN's Sean Callebs.


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Confronted by anchor WFTB anchor, Barbara West, Joe Biden momentarily lost his cool.

BARBARA WEST, WFTVB ANCHOR: How is Senator Obama not being a Marxist if he intends to spread the wealth around?

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Are you joking? Is this a joke?


BIDEN: Is that a real question?

WEST: That's a question.

BIDEN: He is not spreading the wealth around. He's talking about giving the middle class an opportunity to get back the tax breaks they used to have.

CALLEBS: West went on.

WEST: What do you say to the people who are concerned that Barack Obama will want to turn America into a socialist country much like Sweden?

BIDEN: I don't know anybody who thinks that except the far right wing of the Republican Party.

CALLEBS: It's become a YouTube favorite. But infuriated the Obama camp, something that surprised West. The anchor at the center of the controversy who wonders if this is how if this is how Democrats will respond if they win.

WEST: I think it was a silly reaction. I think it was an overreaction. I think that Joe Biden and all of the candidates on either ticket are seasoned enough people that they should be able to respond to any questions that are thrown their way.

CALLEBS: The Obama campaign canceled an interview WFTV had scheduled the next day with the senator's wife, Jill, basically saying the station wouldn't get anymore Biden or Obama interviews. An Obama spokeswoman says, "Let's be clear. This station's interview with Joe Biden wasn't tough. It was just absurd. Republicans and their allies are looking for any excuse they can find to change the subject, because by their own admission, if they keep talking about the economy, they're going to lose."

The anchor's husband, Wade West, has been a political strategist and has done work she says with Republicans and Democrats. Records show Wade West has donated $2,250 to Republican candidates since the year 2000.

WEST: He's no longer a consultant let me say. Has never worked at all for anyone in the Bush administration or done any consulting during the Bush administration.

CALLEBS: West says she's not a mouth piece for the GOP and says she's been tough on John McCain asking about reports Sarah Palin was straying off message.


WEST: Is that indicative that she believes your ticket will not win and is positioning herself for the future?

MCCAIN: That's pure baloney.



CALLEBS (on camera): West says her interview with Biden has fostered a great deal of interest. Most of the e-mails have supported her questioning of Biden. Joe Biden is still talking about this on the campaign trail in North Carolina today and says it's a mean campaign fostering innuendo.

BLITZER: Sean Callebs reporting for us. Thanks, Sean, very much.

Let's check back with Jack and "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: What does John McCain mean when he says that he and George Bush share a common philosophy of the Republican Party? He said that yesterday in a discussion with Tom Brokaw on NBC's "Meet the Press." Here's some of what you wrote to us.

Steve writes: "He shares the Republican philosophy of take from the poor and give to the rich. But that's not re-distribution. Re- distribution I sonly when you take from the rich to give to the poor."

Richard in U.S. Virgin Islands: "McCain just doesn't want to tick off that fanatical portion of the Republican Party. The catch-22 is that he can't win with a comment like this."

Brad writes: "It must mean that George Bush is a maverick."

Meredith writes: "McCain shared Republican values are defense of this country against all enemies, value of work ethic for all the economic growth through investment inceptive, being prepared at all time to defend our allies and friends, to prevent the spread of terrorism both overt and subtle and to not reward those who do not strive to do better. Those are a few of the things I can think of right this second."

Jeremy says: "Essentially it means he shares Bush's view that puts capitalism above humanitarianism. It means McCain has abandoned every single thing that made him a maverick and has now conformed to that reckless greed that defines the modern GOP. His campaign is every bit as if not more slimy than Bush's campaign was against him in 2000. In a nutshell, McCain has sold his soul for a chance to be president."

Doran in San Francisco: "The common philosophy of the Republican Party is be divisive, win at all costs, and keep everyone else from succeeding while they look down the masses. Looks like the maverick is in step with his party. Shame, shame, shame."

And Peter from Long Island writes: "I think John McCain and George Bush share the same feelings the late, great George Carlin once said, the rich make all the money, pay none of the taxes. The middle class pay all the taxes, do all of the work. The poor are there just to scare the hell out of the middle class to keep them paying the taxes."

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

I miss George Carlin.

BLITZER: Yes. He was a very funny guy. Thank you, Jack.

A terror attack or an assault against al Qaeda? The American action that has Syria furious.

And we're standing by to hear from Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Like Obama he's live in Pennsylvania. We'll hear what he has to say and a lot more coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: American troops air lifted from Iraq into Syria to carry out a daring and bloody raid. The target, a network of foreign fighters tied to al Qaeda. The results a matter of serious dispute right now.

Let's go live to our senior pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre. A very sensitive story. Jamie, what are you learning?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, Pentagon officials say a mission like this could only have been approved at the highest levels, namely by President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MCINTYRE (voice-over): U.S. sources confirm Syria's claim American commandos in Blackhawk helicopters carried out the cross border attack Sunday. A Syrian website posted this video showing U.S. helicopters over Syria. CNN cannot confirm the authenticity. The Syrian government says it knows of the video but did not release it. However, the Syrian foreign minister said they saw two helicopters and landed and killed at least seven civilians.

WALEED MOALLEM, SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: A father and three children and they killed a fisherman who was fishing from the river.

MCINTYRE: A U.S. official calls the attack a successful strike telling CNN the target was a man who was identified as an Iraqi national who is the leader of a smuggling network operating out of Syria described as a facilitator for al Qaeda in Iraq running arms, money and foreign fighters along so-called rat lines into Iraq. Syria denounced the attack as an act of serious aggression and summoned an official for answers.

SEAN MCCORMACK, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: She went and listened to the Syrians. They brought her in there to raise with her these reports of activities.

MCINTYRE: The representative didn't admit any U.S. involvement nor has there been an official acknowledgement from Washington.


MCINTYRE: U.S. commanders in Iraq have been complaining for a long time that Syria is a safe haven for smugglers and are sending a message when it comes to protecting U.S. and Iraqi lives, a border will not stand in the way -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre working the story at the Pentagon, thanks.