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McCain's Plumber Gaffe; Obama's Rearview Mirror; Bill Clinton Heaps Praise on Obama

Aired October 30, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, John McCain sends a message of defiance in Ohio. But his campaign was briefly thrown off by a gaffe involving "Joe the Plumber."
We're standing by to hear from McCain and Sarah Palin, live. That's coming up.

Also, Barack Obama's rearview mirror. His closing ad blitz links McCain to President Bush and the past.

We're standing by also this hour to hear from Obama, Joe Biden and Bill Clinton. They're all coming up live.

Plus, some are calling it the nastiest race in America right now. Why a House contest in Florida has degenerated to a trash-talking brawl.

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

It's a race against the clock and across the map. Only five days left for the candidates to try to win you over. The live events coming fast and furious over the next three hours. We expect to hear from both presidential candidates and their running mates, as well as Bill Clinton. They're all standing by live and they're all campaigning in crucial battleground states.

This late in the game, no one can afford to make a mistake. Perhaps least of all, John McCain.

CNN's Ed Henry is covering the McCain campaign across Ohio today.

Ed, there was what some were calling an "oops" moment out there on the campaign trail. What happened?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, McCain aides keep saying they're going to close this race strong, but a new bus tour through this critical state started anything but strong today.


HENRY (voice-over): There's nothing subtle about the final few days for John McCain, who began Thursday in the Ohio city of Defiance, as in let's defy the naysayers.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're a few points down, but we're coming back. HENRY: But, in a sign of just how difficult it will be for McCain to pull that off, a dreaded unscripted moment. Excitement had been building because McCain's staff had told the senator and the press that Ohio's now-famous "Joe the Plumber" was in the crowd. Except he was not.

MCCAIN: Joe's with us today.

Joe, where are you?

Where is Joe? Is Joe here with us today?

Joe, I thought you were here today. All right.

Well, you're all Joe the Plumbers.

HENRY: Embarrassing after all the time McCain has spent building up Joe as a symbol of his appeal with middle class voters. A McCain aide claimed Joe decided not to come, and staff couldn't get word to the senator in time. But Joe told CNN that after the campaign initially invited him, nobody ever called back to confirm, and he was not happy about being introduced at the even anyway.

JOE WURZELBACHER, "JOE THE PLUMBER": Get involved in the government. That way we can hold our politicians accountable.

HENRY: The McCain camp scrambled to get Joe to a second rally, but the damage was done. And McCain stumbled mid-attacks as he lashed out at Barack Obama's 30-minute television ad.

MCCAIN: He's measuring the drapes, and he gave his first address to the nation before the election. We're a -- never mind.

HENRY: He recovered, however, to pounce on a comment by Obama, who said if he loses, he'll be glad to work with a President McCain.

MCCAIN: That sounds like a great idea to me. Let's help him make it happen.


HENRY: Now, Defiance is a part of Ohio that has been solidly Republican for years. So John McCain was spending time today just trying to turn out voters who should already be with him. It gives you an idea of where he is in this race, rather than spending this critical time trying to turn out Independent voters, though he will turn his attention tomorrow to those undecided voters by bringing in Arnold Schwarzenegger to Columbus -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That should help a little bit, no doubt about that. All right, Ed. Thanks very much.

Barack Obama is offering a fresh take on one of his top lines of attack against John McCain, that he would be simply another George Bush. Listen to Senator Obama in Florida today.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you want to know where John McCain will drive this economy, just look in the rearview mirror, because when it comes to our economic policies, John McCain has been right next to George Bush. He's been sitting there in the passenger seat ready to take over every step of the way.


BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in our own Jessica Yellin. She's at Obama's next stop, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Obama really pressing this rearview mirror theme, isn't he, Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is, Wolf. It's the theme of a new ad the Obama campaign has released. It features a driver navigating the economy, and every time the driver looks in the rearview mirror, there he sees George W. Bush.

That same ad goes after John McCain on tax cuts, on his health care plan. They're calling it part of Obama's closing message, drawing that distinction on the economy between his policies and John McCain's.

Now, Barack Obama today, Wolf, is in three different areas that are all red state areas, places that went for George Bush in 2004, including right here in Virginia Beach, that went for Bush by 15 percent. But you might recall this is the location Obama showed up to hold his very first rally after he clinched the nomination earlier this year. It was a big, warm reception, and we expect the same today.

There was a funny moment on the trail, Wolf, when his running mate Joe Biden chided himself for going off message. You know, Biden has been teased recently. Even the reports saying that he's been muzzled because he's made some gaffes. And today he went off message and stopped midstream to say, wait, I'm going off message, I'd better get back.

So, it's a clear theme in the Obama campaign right now. They are just trying not to mess up to, to stick to the talking points and get through these last few days, all the way through the election, without a big foul -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, what do you say to those -- what are they saying to you, I should say, Jessica, the Obama folks, when you ask about this alleged muzzling of Senator Biden?

YELLIN: You know what? They say that they knew that he had a problem with making gaffes when they picked him. They say he comes the bad with the good, and they expected the gaffes. They'll take it. And they think that in the long run, he'll far outweigh it. But they hope he doesn't make any major mistakes before Tuesday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Thanks, Jessica. We're going to get back to you.

By the way, I'll have a one-on-one interview with Senator Obama tomorrow. And you can be part of that interview. Submit your video questions at We'll try to use some of those questions for Senator Obama. That interview tomorrow, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's bring in Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Signs are increasingly ominous that John McCain's dream of being president of the United States is just about over. In one battleground state after another, Barack Obama's lead continues to grow.

CNN's electoral map has been adjusted to suggest that if the election was held today, Barack Obama would get 291 electoral votes. It takes 270 to win. That would leave John McCain getting 163, with 84 still up for grabs. And even McCain won all those, he would still lose.

Barack Obama holds substantial leads in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Colorado, and Virginia. These are all red states won by President Bush in 2004. Obama also leads in Florida and North Carolina.

The Associated Press is quoting GOP consultant Tom Rath in New Hampshire, where McCain trails Obama by double digits, as saying the race is all but over. Quoting now, "I get the sense that it's shutting down."

AP also cites a senior GOP aide in Congress speaking on condition of anonymity as saying that McCain advisers are now being asked by some Republican leaders to focus McCain's travel on states where there are close Senate races, essentially abandoning his White House ambitions in order to help re-elect Republican senators.

So here's the question. How close is the White House race to being over?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

This note - we're standing by for live events from both Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. And we'll also consider whether Bill Clinton has actually changed voters' minds over the past 24 hours.


WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Barack Obama represents America's future, and you've got to be there for him next Tuesday.


BLITZER: The former president side by side with Barack Obama. What's going on? They were together last night. Plus, momentum is building in new battleground state polls. We'll visit one state where a House candidate was left nearly in tears.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, fortunately, it got to the point it went out of bounds. They started hitting my family, my son and my daughter, and...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what would you say about that? I mean, how did that make you feel?




BLITZER: He's the last one, and he wants to help Barack Obama become the next Democratic president. Bill Clinton knows a lot about winning the White House and winning the state of Florida, so he hopes his winning ways will rub off on Barack Obama. They campaigned together for the first time this season last night in Florida.


CLINTON: This is America's future. This is a future state. Barack Obama represents America's future, and you've got to be there for him next Tuesday.


You know, I am very grateful to Florida. I worked hard to bring you back into the Democratic fold. And you came, and I thank you for that. It's time to come back again so we can take America forward.

OBAMA: When you listen to Bill Clinton, you are reminded of what it's like to have a president who is engaged, who's passionate, who's smart, who reaches out, who's inclusive instead of divisive, who has energy, who has vision. And you start getting kind of nostalgic about 22 million new jobs and a budget surplus and an economy that's working for everybody.

CLINTON: I want you to get on the phone. I want you to stop your neighbors on the street. I want you to get on the Internet and say, if you hadn't made up your mind, you ought to vote for Barack Obama. He's got the best philosophy, he's got the best positions. He definitely has decision-making ability, and he is a great executor.

Folks, we can't fool with this. Our country is hanging in the balance. And we have so much promise and so much peril. This man should be our president. All of our president.


BLITZER: All right. So here's the question. How much of a help is Bill Clinton in these final few days?

Let's discuss with our CNN political contributor, the Republican consultant Alex Castellanos.

What's the answer to that question? How much of a help, Alex, is Bill Clinton in these final few days?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, there's no doubt that he's a very popular figure, but his popularity is fairly hollow. When you look underneath the numbers, one of the things you find is that his presidency really doesn't represent much. He is seen as a lot of gift wrapping on a fairly empty box.

When Clinton was president, he seemed more as a frat boy who enjoyed good times, rather than a strong leader who produced those good times. And so I think he doesn't really have anything to transfer. He doesn't have the stature or the discipline that, say, a Barack Obama does.

The only way I think he does help Obama is that he makes Obama, I think, look a little more calm, cool, and with greater stature in comparison to Clinton. But Bill Clinton couldn't even really help Hillary much during the Democratic primaries. They sent him to campaign in rural Texas.

BLITZER: But what about this notion, as you heard from Barack Obama, that during the eight years of the Clinton presidency, 22 million jobs were created, and the U.S. went from a budget deficit to a budget surplus?

CASTELLANOS: Well, you know, there certainly were good times, but again, when you ask people, so what did Bill Clinton actually do to produce that, it's hard to really find anything that they can say. Again, he was more of somebody who rode the boat of prosperity, rather than the captain who actually led us anywhere.

So he's not really identified with anything. He's seen as a somewhat, I think, weaker leader who just benefited from good times and did not produce them.

BLITZER: Yet, in the end, despite all of the Monica Lewinsky and the Whitewater investigations, he was in the mid-60s, his job approval numbers, after eight years in office. That was pretty amazing, especially if you look at George W. Bush right now in the mid-20s.

CASTELLANOS: And chocolate ice cream has an approval rating of 80 percent, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's a strong leader or that its endorsement would help you become president of the United States. He is hugely popular. He is incredibly likable. Very personable and engaging guy. But he's not seen as a strong leader, and that's because he wasn't.

As a matter of fact, he was seen as an undisciplined leader who was fairly self-absorbed. Again, he contrasts with Barack Obama. And look, it's probably good to rally the Democratic base, but he doesn't really bring a lot I think to the ticket. BLITZER: All right. Well, we'll see what the impact is.

Let's talk a little bit about Senator Ted Stevens, convicted, seven felony counts this week, yet he's now returned to his home state of Alaska, he's up for re-election on Tuesday.

What do you think, is he going to win?

CASTELLANOS: I think it's getting a little tough. You know, scandal doesn't usually beat politicians.

We were just talking about Bill Clinton. Wilbur Mills got re-elected after he jumped in the tidal pool with a burlesque queen named I think Fannie Fox. But arrogance does beat politicians. And when they become self0absorbed and when they start putting themselves before the voters -- and it happens in Washington. There's this sense that Washington is out of touch with voters, that it's more concerned about these politicians getting re-elected than solving problems.

Ted Stevens has come to represent that. And that tarnishes the Republican brand.

BLITZER: How much does it tarnish the Republican brand?

CASTELLANOS: Well, it's going to hurt him in Alaska, and he'll lose, and that will probably be a good thing for the Republican brand, because right now, that's it the old Republican Party. And if we're going to have a new one that's going to meet the new generation of challenges that we face, then we can't do it with those kind of leaders who are willing to trade their career of public service for a Viking grille.

So I think it's actually a good thing for the Republican Party. Sometimes you have to start from scratch, and I think that's what we're going to have to do in Alaska.

BLITZER: He was a sure thing only a few months ago, Ted Stevens, maybe even only a few weeks ago. An easy re-election for the longest- serving Republican senator who certainly brought a lot of goodies back to his state of Alaska in those earmarks, that pork barrel spending.

Do the Democrats reach that magic number of 60 in the Senate this time?

CASTELLANOS: Well, now it looks like they're awfully close. This Alaska seat gives them an extra one. The North Carolina Senate race is looking very tough with Elizabeth Dole. I think they ran an unfortunate ad there near the end of this campaign where she questioned her opponent's Christian faith I think in a way that many people have concluded went over the line.

But just now at the end of this campaign, Wolf, the generic advantage that the Democrats have, 10 points more popular than Republicans, has come back into play. And it looks like they're going to be very close to getting those 60 seats.

BLITZER: Alex, thanks for coming in.

CASTELLANOS: Good to see you.

BLITZER: A congressman running for re-election says this is about John McCain -- and I'm quoting now -- "I just can't see how McCain can win." Perhaps startling since the congressman who said that is himself a Republican.

Are lawmakers running for re-election right now running away from John McCain?

And Sarah Palin aims to show she understands national security issues. Wait until you hear what she's saying today at a national security roundtable.

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



BLITZER: Governor Sarah Palin speaking in Erie, Pennsylvania, right now on national security, and she's railing at the Democrats.

Let's listen in for a moment or so.


GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... early surrender in Iraq that Barack Obama has talked about. I guess what we might call a retreat dividend is what they're talking about.

It's the far left wing of the Democrat Party. Not mainstream thinking, but way far left, that Democrat Party. They're preparing to take over the entire federal government. And according to their own stated plans, the first thing to go will be one-quarter of the United States' defense budget.

Now, I don't know how many of you have a loved one, a husband or wife, or someone else whom you care about serving over there in Iraq or Afghanistan right now. Surely you know people who have served over there.


Now, I'm a blue star mom, which means I have a teenage son over in Iraq fighting right now.


And I met with a group of other blue star moms recently, and we got to thinking about this. One of them suggested after hearing that Barack Obama had supported cutting off funding for our young men and women, America's finest over there protecting our homeland, our freedom, fighting the terrorists, wanting to cut off funding for, what, for their rations and ammunition and equipment? And one of the blue star moms says, "What are we supposed to do, throw a bake sale?" What are they thinking?

John McCain and I, we have a better idea. Let's not retreat from wars that are almost won and let's not gut the defense budget.


BLITZER: And there she is, Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, speaking out on national security.

We'll continue to monitor what she's saying.

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

Happening now, abortion, same-sex marriage, legalized prostitution. The presidential race isn't the only thing voters will voice opinions on come next Tuesday.

We're taking a closer look at several referenda on several hot-button issues on ballots across the country. Stand by.

And you go to the polls, you cast your vote. But then what? You cross your fingers? CNN's Miles O'Brien explores what could go wrong with some of those high-tech voting machines.

And the low-tech side of elections, opening envelopes and preparing absentee ballots to be counted. CNN's Sean Callebs gets a rare inside look at the process.

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

A new change today in CNN's electoral map. Check it out.

Nevada going from tossup yellow to light blue. That means the state and its five electoral votes are leaning toward Obama.

CNN now estimates Obama has a total of 291 electoral votes if the election were held today. That's 21 more that's needed to win the White House. CNN estimates that McCain has 163 electoral votes.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, has been looking at all the latest polls in Nevada and other battlegrounds.

Bill, what's driving this election right now?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, it's the issues more than the candidates.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Barack Obama's momentum is building in some key states. Obama's lead in Nevada has increased from four points last month to seven. North Carolina was tied early this month. Now Obama is six points ahead.

Pennsylvania looked good for Obama last month, when he was leading John McCain by nine. Now he's leading by 12. Ohio remains close, however. Obama led by three points early this month. Now he leads by four.

What about McCain's home state of Arizona? Where's the love? Well, McCain is leading in Arizona by seven points. George W. Bush carried Arizona by 11 points four years ago.

California is anything but a battleground state. But Obama has been gaining there, too, according to the Field Poll. Obama's gone from a solid 16-point lead in September to a whopping 22-point lead now. That would be the biggest winning margin for any presidential candidate in California since World War II, bigger than Lyndon Johnson in 1964, bigger than Ronald Reagan in his home state. According to California's Field Poll, issue voters are going for Obama by almost 3- 1.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The central question in this election is, what will our next president do differently?

SCHNEIDER: Voters who base their decision on personal qualities are going for McCain.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Senator Obama is running to spread the wealth. I'm running to create more wealth.


MCCAIN: Senator Obama is running to punish the successful. I'm running to make everyone successful.


SCHNEIDER: Only 13 percent of Obama voters in California say they are mainly voting against McCain. Thirty-one percent of McCain voters say they are casting a vote against Obama.


SCHNEIDER: Obama wants to make the election a referendum on President Bush and on the status quo. McCain wants to make it a referendum on Obama. It looks like Obama's strategy is working a little bit better -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider looking at all the numbers.

A reminder that the presidential race still is close. We have averaged all the newest national surveys, and Obama now leads McCain in our poll of polls -- that's an average of the major polls -- by 5 percentage points. Obama had been ahead by seven points in our poll of polls yesterday. So, there may -- repeat, may -- be some late- minute tightening going on right now.

A tighter race means every vote counts more than ever.

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King. He is looking at all of this, especially the Latino vote.

What are you seeing out there, John? JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just back from Nevada.

And you just made this point. We have now switched Nevada and its five electoral votes to leaning Obama. And that's quite significant, because, if you go back in time, and we look at this, look, this is four years ago. George W. Bush carried Nevada, narrowly, but he did win the state four years ago. And, eight years ago, back in 2000, again, Nevada was red, again by a very narrow margin.

But, more and more, we are detecting this state is trending blue toward the Democrats, because among the voters, Wolf, who want change are many members of America's fastest growing demographic.


KING (voice-over): Door to door in the searing desert heat, Angel Santiago taking the steps he believes will help make Barack Obama president...


KING: ... and help Latino voters make their mark as decisive players in American politics.

SANTIAGO: You know, not since JFK has, you know, the Hispanic community had really a -- a viable candidate that they really liked, and that they actually believed that he was going to actually do something for them.

KING: Santiago logs 10 to 12 hours a day organizing for the Culinary Union in Las Vegas, which hopes to turn out 70,000 votes for Obama in a state George W. Bush won four years ago by just 20,000.

PILAR WEISS, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, CULINARY UNION: Nevada is always like this. It's always this close.


KING: The McCain campaign is also mounting an aggressive outreach effort. Xavier Rivas is a local Spanish radio host and businessman who targets Latino entrepreneurs.

RIVAS: ... love this country. And I have got to go for McCain because is he for free trade agreement. And I think the economy is very important.

KING: But the numbers tell a lopsided story.

Four years ago, President Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote en route to reelection. This year, John McCain is drawing only 25 percent Latino support nationally, and nearly seven in 10 Hispanics voice support for Democrat Obama.

Manny Barajas is one of those Latinos for Obama, and just one example of growing Hispanic clout. We first met Barajas back in early 2007, not long after he applied for U.S. citizenship. It took 20 months, but Barajas took his oath earlier this year and cast his first vote last week using Nevada's early voting window.

MANNY BARAJAS, LATINO VOTER: Well, McCain, to me, I hear him talking, and I -- I hear Bush, the same administration. And that, for me, is no good. I need a change.

KING: Again, the numbers are stunning. There were nine million registered Latino voters four years ago, 12 million now. And much of that growth has come in key battleground states like Florida, Colorado and here in Nevada.


KING: And, Wolf, in Las Vegas, that's right down in here, in the Las Vegas area, where, again, the Culinary Union alone wants to turn out 70,000 of its members. It believes a third of them, somewhere in the ballpark of 20,000 to 25,000, are new voters, the bulk of those new voters Latinos.

BLITZER: You know, the Latinos, they were -- in the Democratic primaries, they were pretty much for Hillary Clinton, right, as opposed to Barack Obama? But now they have basically come around; is that what you're seeing?

KING: They have come around. And we have picked it up in our travels in Nevada, out in Colorado as well. They could be the swing voters in that state, a big segment. And it's more diverse Latino population, Puerto Ricans and Mexican Americans, and the Cuban population in Florida, in all of those places, Obama doing quite well. Significant in North Carolina and Virginia as well, smaller population, but there as well.

BLITZER: All right. Let's show our viewers a new feature we have for our magic map right now. Go ahead.

KING: Wolf, the candidates are traveling nonstop in the final days. And, so, too are members of what we like to call the best political team on television.

Well, guess what? We are keeping track of them. You see my name up here, and I'm flashing. I'm in New York. And you see the rest of -- you see this little bulk up here. Let me spread out the map, and you can see, the candidates are moving. Jessica Yellin, Dan Lothian are in the state of Virginia.

Let's come down here, Ohio, a big battleground, Ed Henry, Mary Snow, and Dana Bash all out in the state of Ohio tracking the candidates. All of our correspondents and many of their producers -- here's Candy Crowley in central Missouri. And the Election Express is waiting for you, Wolf, in the state of Iowa.

It will be the transmission point for your big interview with Barack Obama in Iowa tomorrow. This is a great piece of technology. And let's not forget Suzanne Malveaux. She's the lucky one down in the Sunshine State of Florida. All of our correspondents and many of their producers carrying an iPhone that has a tracking device in it, so that we can keep track of them as they travel.

And let's go back in time and take a look at this now. Let me spread the map out a little bit more. And this is where they are at the moment. But look at this. This is where they have been in the last week. I'm going back. It's a little hard to watch, but watch this as I come forward. And you can start to see our people moving around as they travel. And you see the bus making its way out to Iowa for you, and everybody moving in this busy last week of the campaign.

We can watch them that way. We can also take a look, Wolf, by doing this, and using these lines to show where they have traveled.


KING: We can go back a week in time and watch where everybody has traveled over the last week and everything.

And it's not Big Brother. It's for their safety and also so that we can show the scope of the campaign and the scope of our coverage.

BLITZER: Yes, it's interesting, also, that, what's his name, Brian Todd -- that's his name -- he's in Pennsylvania right now. So, we have to add him to the list. He's not located there right yet.

KING: Right.

BLITZER: But I guess he doesn't have one of those tracking devices?

KING: Or he's turned it off.

BLITZER: Oh, he's turned it off.

KING: He's turned it off.


KING: Probably taking a lunch break.


BLITZER: We're going to have him in the next hour. We will ask Brian what's going on in the country right there. All right.

KING: You can go in and see, if you want to see exactly where somebody is. See, this is how...

BLITZER: John King is...

KING: This is how good this can be. I'm here in the Time Warner Center...

BLITZER: Wow. KING: ... right there.

BLITZER: That's it.

KING: Columbus Circle in New York City. Here's where we are. And guess what? Look who's hiding behind me? Jim Acosta. He's in the building as well. And we can track him right here in the Time Warner Center.

BLITZER: I love this.


BLITZER: We're going to -- we have got more little tricks that we're going to show our viewers in the next few days as well.


KING: Have some great technology.


BLITZER: ... thanks very much.

Running for Congress can certainly be tough and emotional.


RAUL MARTINEZ (D), FLORIDA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Unfortunately, it got to the point that it went out of bounds. They started hitting my family, my son and my daughter. And...

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: So, how would you -- what would you say about that? I mean, how did that make you feel?

MARTINEZ: Well, tense.


BLITZER: All right. We're going to check out what could be the most attack-filled campaign in America under way right now.

Plus, one of John McCain's fellow Republicans says, he's no maverick. In our "Strategy Session": Has McCain lost his independent appeal?

And millions of Americans already have cast their ballots. We're getting some possible clues about how this race is going.

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


BLITZER: John McCain and Barack Obama have certainly traded barbs, but you might think their attacks are mild, mild, compared to the ugly names flying around one House of Representatives race.

In the Miami area, a congressman is cast as a lawbreaker, while his opponent is called -- and I'm quoting now -- "crooked and sleazy."

Let's go to our man on the scene, John Zarrella. He is in -- one of our battleground coverage reporters in Florida.

What's going on down there, John? Had this is getting wild.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: It sure is, Wolf. It is considered by many political observers to be the nastiest race in the country. The fight for Florida's 21st Congressional District pits two Cuban Americans, who ads -- whose ads talk about anything but the issues.


ZARRELLA (voice-over): It's been a negative campaign on both sides.

RAUL MARTINEZ (D), FLORIDA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: It got to the point that, you know, they're hammering you so much, and all the advisers keep telling you, look, you have got to answer this.

ZARRELLA: Democrat Raul Martinez, former longtime mayor of Hialeah, a city outside Miami, and veteran Republican Congressman Lincoln Diaz- Balart are engaged in a trash-talking fight that rivals the venom you would hear from two heavyweight boxers.

In ad after ad, Diaz-Balart calls Martinez corrupt.


NARRATOR: It's time for Raul Martinez's wheel of corruption, another spin, another scandal.

We know Martinez is corrupt enough for Washington, but that doesn't mean we should send him there.


ZARRELLA: The accusations stem from Martinez's 1991 conviction on racketeering and extortion charges, convictions later overturned.

Martinez fired back.


NARRATOR: Lincoln Diaz-Balart says he's a congressman. Actually, he's a rubber stamp for George Bush.


ZARRELLA: Martinez says Diaz-Balart crossed the line when his campaign charged that Martinez used his influence to get jobs for his adult children.

MARTINEZ: Unfortunately, it got to the point that it went out of bounds. They started hitting my family, my son and my daughter. And... JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF (on camera): So, how would you -- what would you say about that? I mean, how did that make you feel?

MARTINEZ: Well, tense.

ZARRELLA: Diaz-Balart did not return our repeated calls for an interview, but recently told a Miami television station:

REP. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART (R), FLORIDA: We're going to see multiple accusations from here to November 4. This is election time. Our records speak for us.

ZARRELLA: Voters have little choice but to look at the records, because most of the campaign has been in the mud.


ZARRELLA: Wolf, as you know, in the past -- now, this is a predominantly Cuban-American district -- and the Castro issue has been front and center in every election. This time, the issue over Fidel Castro in Cuba, hardly a mention.

BLITZER: Really?


BLITZER: Interesting little tidbit there.

Thanks very much.

John Zarrella is our man in Florida. We're going to seeing and hearing a lot from him.

A Republican congressman in a heavily Democratic region is using this reelection tactic. He's criticizing John McCain. That would be Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut. And he says -- and I'm quoting now -- "I just don't see how McCain could win." Will that kind of talk help Shays win?

And is Sarah Palin already thinking about running for higher office in the next presidential election? You're going to hear exactly what she said in a TV interview. And guess what? You will be able to decide.

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


BLITZER: We're standing by for live rallies from Barack Obama and John McCain, also Bill Clinton. We will go there live once they start speaking.

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


BLITZER: We heard a few moments ago from Sarah Palin out on the campaign trail.

Let's listen in for a minute or so to Joe Biden. He's in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.



I can remember, as a kid in Scranton, my dad walking up the stairs to tell me: "Hey, champ. I'm sorry, honey, but I'm going to have to move for a while. I'm going to have to leave. But dad will come back and get you and mom. Dad will come back. We're going down to Wilmington because there's jobs. But I will be back."

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it's about having the thousands of parents having to make that long walk up a very short flight of stairs to tell their son or their daughter: "Sorry, honey, you can't go back to the school next semester. Sorry, honey, we're going to have to leave. You can't be in the neighborhood. Well, honey, foreclosure means, that -- that means we can't stay in our house anymore."

Ladies and gentlemen, 35,000 people here in the state of Pennsylvania have already had that conversation with their children. And, folks, it's real basic to Barack and me. If we can help Wall Street, we sure can help Fourth Street and every other street in Williamsport.


BIDEN: We can Green Ridge (ph) Avenue, every street in Pennsylvania.


BIDEN: That's why Barack and I...

BLITZER: All right. Joe Biden, he is speaking about his personal experiences out on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania.

Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now.

Joining us, Hilary Rosen -- she's editor at large for -- and Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez. They're both part of the best political team on television.

Thanks, ladies, very much.

I'm going to play an exchange that Elizabeth Vargas had with Sarah Palin. It aired on "Good Morning America" earlier this morning. And then we will discuss what was said and what wasn't said. Listen to this.


ELIZABETH VARGAS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: If it doesn't go your way on Tuesday, 2012? GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I'm just thinking that it's going to go our way on Tuesday, November 4. I truly believe that the wisdom of -- of the people will be rebuild on that day. As they enter that voting booth, they will understand the stark contrasts between the two tickets.

VARGAS: But the point being that you haven't been so bruised by some of the double standard, the sexism on the campaign trail to say: "I have had it. I'm going back to Alaska."

PALIN: Absolutely not. I think that if I were to give up and wave a white flag of surrender against some of the political shots that we've taken, that -- that would bring this whole -- I'm -- I'm not doing this for naught.


BLITZER: All right, Leslie, let me start with you.

How did you interpret what she was saying? Because, originally, ABC News put out a press release saying, she's laying out her options for 2012.


BLITZER: But how did you see that and hear that?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I think she sounded like a very confident candidate who was looking to win it on Tuesday. And anything beyond that, she was -- is really conjecture at this point. She's saying, I'm not going to let political attacks take me down, personally or professionally, either in this race or any future race I may have.

And I think that's a laudable goal and really the -- the point of all these things. And don't forget, vice presidential candidates, win or lose, tend to be promoted, so to speak, for the next race, if there is one.

BLITZER: All right.

SANCHEZ: So, she would be at the top of the ticket if there was a 2012.

BLITZER: How did you hear it and see it, Hilary?

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it was a little vague. But, clearly, she is establishing her own identity here.

And, you know, it's sad to say, but Sarah Palin is actually better off being perceived at the end of this campaign as somebody who's not quite a team player than as somebody who actually dragged down the ticket, because different parts of the Republican Party have different views on that.

And I think she's going to become a symbol after this race is over for those two different wings, the -- sort of the social conservative wings that have been quite supportive of her, vs. the national security Republicans that have been highly critical. And I think, she -- she, in and of -- of herself, is going to be emblematic of -- of that fissure we're going to see, I think, when -- when John McCain loses next week.

BLITZER: Leslie...

SANCHEZ: Well, I think...


BLITZER: Hold on. Hold on.

Leslie, I want to read to you what Chris Shays -- he's a moderate Republican congressman from Connecticut -- he's up for reelection -- he's got a tough race, as usual -- he almost always does -- he said this the other day.

He said: "I just don't see how McCain can win. He has lost his brand as a maverick. He did not live up to his pledge to fight a clean campaign."

Those are pretty strong words from Republican Chris Shays.

SANCHEZ: They absolutely are.

I want to be sure and be clear here that he is somebody who we consider a Rockefeller Republican. He's an extreme, kind of liberal Republican in that sense. And he's voting -- he's speaking for his paycheck, and not for his independent loyalty to the Republican Party.

Do not forget, it was Senator McCain that was championing his cause and helping him in 2006 and in 2004, two very tight elections. And, you know, he basically threw the senator under the bus, because he's trying to save -- save himself.

BLITZER: Is that how you see it, Hilary?

ROSEN: Well, look, Chris Shays won his race just six years ago by a 20-point spread. In the last race, he won by a two-point spread. Clearly, Connecticut is getting more Democratic. He was highly critical of -- of Barack Obama and a big supporter of the war, which is one of the reasons why I think he's in the most trouble now. And I think he's probably going to lose.

He -- he's, you know, a symbol of those national security Republicans, who saw John McCain as -- as more moderate on issues like, you know, immigration, and -- and on gay rights, and on some other things. And he's disappointed that John McCain has gone, you know, to the -- to the right wing...

BLITZER: All right.

ROSEN: ... of his party to run this race.

SANCHEZ: Well, no, I don't necessarily think that.

I think he's in a tough race. I think Hilary got it right when she said that's a state that is changing. And don't forget, they bonded on things like campaign finance reform and on Iraq. And -- and that's not going to change.

You know, it's the same competitor that he was -- he was fighting against the last two elections.

BLITZER: All right.

SANCHEZ: It's very tight.

BLITZER: Leslie, Hilary, we have got to leave it there. Guys, thanks.

Al Gore may have lost eight years ago, but he wants to keep history from repeating itself. The former vice president returns to a crucial state to stump for Obama. We will tell you what's going on.

And elections aren't just about presidents. From same-sex marriage, to legal prostitution, we examine some of the hotter issues out there on the ballots this year.

And voting machines in the 21st century, they may not be as secure as you might think -- all that and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Al Gore and Tipper Gore plan to campaign for Barack Obama tomorrow in Florida. The Obama camp says, the former vice president will be encouraging voters to cast their ballots early to avoid the kinds of problems that helped cost him the presidency back in 2000. All of us remember that.

And, remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out

Let's check out Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: How close is the White House race to being over?

John writes: "I wish that I could believe it's over. I know, however, the Republicans are capable of subverting the will of the people. What will it be this year? Probably not hanging chads, the Supreme Court, or screwed-up polls in Ohio, but it will be something."

Dee in Antioch, California: "The race isn't over. It won't be over until all the polling stations close, and the last votes are counted. Also, there is a new candidate in the race. The new candidate is called voting machines. How we know that our true vote will be counted?"

Shannon in Georgia writes: "The race for the White House was over once John McCain's campaign unleashed Sarah Palin. She killed McCain's chances for the office of the presidency once she opened her mouth, and nothing, save nonsense, began coming out."

Art in Miller Place, New York, "McCain's presidential bid ended September the 15th, when the economy tanked."

Kris writes: "If the polls are correct, we are doomed, but I have faith that they aren't. It's pretty un-American to delay the World Series last night for somebody who isn't even the President. Some might think it's in the bag, but it isn't over until yet."

Fred writes: "I think we can all read body language pretty good. McCain has acquired the posture of a loser. And his partner, Tinkerbell, is off sewing seeds for 2012."


CAFFERTY: And Gary in North Carolina writes, "The fat lady, her fat husband, and all their little fat children have sung."

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

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

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

Happening now: a final push with only five days to go. Barack Obama says the economy has been driven into a ditch, and he suggests John McCain was helping the Bush administration steer.