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Obama Says Economy is in a Ditch; Waiting for the Plumber; Palin's Push in Pennsylvania; Big Money Ballot Initiatives; Clinton Helps Obama

Aired October 30, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Sarah Palin tries to move the needle in battleground Pennsylvania by making a pitch to former Hillary Clinton voters. But could she sell them on her national security credentials?
And not too long ago, it was push comes to shove on the campaign trail. But now it's handshakes and hugs, as Bill Clinton tries to put Barack Obama over the top.

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

Five days and counting -- as the candidates drive to the finish line, the shrinking economy may be giving a boost to Barack Obama's final push in battleground states.

Let's go live to CNN's Jessica Yellin. She's Virginia Beach, Virginia -- Jessica, is Obama trying to pin this bad economy that we have right now on John McCain?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN Capitol Hill CORRESPONDENT: He sure is, Wolf, with a new twist on his message that John McCain would give America another version of Bush's economic policies.


YELLIN (voice-over): In Sarasota, Florida, a town hit exceptionally hard by the housing crisis, Barack Obama drove home a familiar message.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you want to know where John McCain will drive this economy, just look in the rear view mirror. Because when it comes to our economic policies, John McCain has been right next to George Bush.


YELLIN: If that doesn't sink in, the Obama campaign is hoping this will.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wonder where John McCain would take the economy? Look behind you.

John McCain wants to continue George Bush's economic policies. Look behind you. We can't afford more of the same.


YELLIN: And he's seizing on new data that shows the nation's economy is shrinking.

OBAMA: Our family GDP is a direct result of a failed economic theory -- of eight years of trickle-down, Wall Street first, Main Street last policies that have driven our economy into a ditch.

YELLIN: And in the battleground state of Missouri, a similar message from Senator Joe Biden.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Who will make us better off four years from now?

YELLIN: Biden has been sticking to the talking points, after telling donors last week that if elected, Obama will immediately be tested by an international crisis -- a gaffe so bad, John McCain used it in an ad.


BIDEN: Mark my words.


YELLIN: Now Biden is relentlessly on message and today, joking about it.

BIDEN: I didn't see the band up there. Hey, folks how you guys doing? Thanks for being here. That's really nice of you. Thank you. That's because you -- that's what you call getting off message.


BIDEN: But I tell you, you guys look good.


YELLIN: As the campaign tries to get through these last few days and these battleground states without committing any memorable fouls.


YELLIN: And, Wolf, all three counties that Barack Obama is visiting today went for George Bush in 2004. This last stop in Virginia Beach went for Bush by more than 15 percent -- a sign that he is fighting hard to cut into even the reddest parts of red states and slim down John McCain's possible win in these areas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There was a lot of -- there was a huge commercial, as you know, 30 minutes last night, Jessica, that Barack Obama had on the major networks. But is there any reaction right now to how successful the Obama people feel it was? YELLIN: Wolf, they're very pleased. They think it went very successfully. It was watched by more prime time households than -- more households than most prime time shows. As you know, I think they're doing the Pledge of Allegiance. I should throw it back to you for a moment -- Wolf. I'm sorry.

BLITZER: OK, Jessica. Good point. Thanks very much. Jessica Yellin in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

And I'll have a special one-on-one interview tomorrow with the Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama. He'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Our coverage of all of that begins, as usual, 4:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow.

Ohio is certainly a must-win state for John McCain. But as he barnstormed across the state today, there was a moment of concern when his new sidekick, "Joe the Plumber," actually failed to show up. What happened?

CNN's Dana Bash is on the campaign trail in Sandusky, Ohio -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, John McCain kicked off his two day bus tour through the State of Ohio in a place that he hopes will symbolize his campaign right now -- a town called Defiance, Ohio.


BASH (voice-over): It's one of several small towns is he visiting to teach out to rural voters and blue collar voters -- those that the campaign insists they are actually doing better with and they're coming McCain's way.

And he's traveling to traditionally Republican strongholds, for the most part, where McCain absolutely needs voters to get out and get out in big numbers if he has any chance at winning this critical state. Here's a taste what he's been telling these crowds.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Last night, Senator Obama said that if he lost, he would return to the Senate and try again in four years with a second act. That sounds like a great idea to me. Let's help him make it happen.

BASH: Now, McCain's closing theme, which we, of course, hear at every rally, at every stop, is that Obama wants to raise taxes and "spread the wealth," which, of course, came from Obama's encounter with "Joe the Plumber."

Well, this morning McCain had a rally. And McCain aides told us that "Joe the Plumber" was supposed to show up, share the stage for the very first time with McCain. But he didn't show up. And it made for an awkward moment for McCain.

MCCAIN: Joe's with us today. Joe, where are you? Where is Joe? Is Joe here with us today? BASH: But the campaign finally did find Joe Wurzelbacher and they brought him here to Sandusky, Ohio. He had a brief moment on the stage with McCain.

MCCAIN: Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe.


BASH: And as you can imagine, the crowd ate it up -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash reporting for us. Dana, thank you.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Less than 140 hours now until election day. Who's counting? I am.

Americans will rush to the polls in what's expected to be record numbers to decide the direction of this country for the next four years. Never has more money been spent by the candidates for president to try to convince you that they are the answer to America's problems.

And yet, after almost two years, an estimated 7 percent of Americans still are undecided about whether they want John McCain or Barack Obama to run things. The differences between these two men are as pronounced as between any two candidates for the nation's highest office in a very long time.

Whether he admits it or not, John McCain carries the mantle of George Bush with him. He's seen as a continuation of the policies that have led to record low approval ratings for our current president. Americans are simply not happy with the way things are going and a lot of them blame George Bush.

Barack Obama is seen by a lot of people as a transformational figure who offers the country a chance to break with its past. His early campaign theme of change took hold with many of those Americans who are dissatisfied about where we are.

So it would seem that if John McCain has any realistic chance of winning next Tuesday, he must somehow attract a large percentage of those voters who have yet to make up their minds.

The question is this: In the final few days, what can John McCain do to win undecided voters?

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

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Battleground Pennsylvania -- Sarah Palin tries to pick up where Hillary Clinton left off. But can we take votes from Barack Obama by trying to show off her national security credentials?

Bill Clinton finally goes all out for Barack Obama. With just a few days left, though, will it make a real difference? What's going on? We're going to be hearing live from Bill Clinton. That's coming up.

And they're already stacking, sorting and certifying ballots cast in Florida. We're going to get a rare behind-the-scenes look.

Stand by. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're standing by to hear from Barack Obama, John McCain and Bill Clinton. They're all out there on the campaign trail.

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


BLITZER: Sarah Palin is campaigning on -- into the former -- in the home turf, that is, of the former Pennsylvania governor, Tom Ridge, who recently suggested he would have perhaps made a better vice presidential pick, at least in Pennsylvania. Palin is also trying to woo former Hillary Clinton voters. And one theme of the day is national security.

Let's go to Brian Todd. He's joining from us Erie, Pennsylvania with more. Fill us in on the latest -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the McCain-Palin team firmly believes this state is not a slam dunk for Barack Obama. And they have committed resources and star power here in their final push toward Tuesday.


GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And, Pennsylvania, are you ready to help us carry your state to victory?

TODD (voice-over): A full assault on Pennsylvania from a campaign convinced it can turn the tide where the Democrats have dominated for 20 years. Sarah Palin takes the point, starting with the critical blue collar belt in Erie.

PALIN: Only John McCain has the wisdom and experience to get our economy back on the right track, because he has a pro-private sector, pro-growth agenda to get government back on your side.

TODD: Palin's connectability with working class voters, union members and socially conservative Democrats is a key reason she's here -- why a McCain strategist says they can "move the needle in Western, Southern and Central Pennsylvania."

Palin's appearance with Erie native and former governor and homeland security chief, Tom Ridge, designed to bolster the campaign's standing with Pennsylvania's veteran community.

PALIN: Let's not retreat from wars that are almost won. And let's not gut the defense budget in a time of multiple conflicts and obvious dangers.

TODD: Drawing contrasts with Barack Obama on security and taxes, part of a grander scheme to pick off a state where Obama took a pounding by Hillary Clinton in the primaries. McCain campaign officials tell us those Clinton blue collar conservative Democrats are winnable for them. They believe the double digit lead for Barack Obama in many Pennsylvania polls is deceiving. And local political science professor Robert Speel agrees.

ROBERT SPEEL, PENN STATE UNIVERSITY-ERIE: Pennsylvania traditionally, also in the recent elections, the Democrat, such as John Kerry or Al Gore, have had a large lead prior to election day and then when -- on the actual elections, they only won Pennsylvania by a small margin.

So Democrats often seem to poll better in Pennsylvania than they actually do on election day.


TODD: Robert Speel says he'll still be surprised if John McCain and Sarah Palin pull out a victory here on Tuesday. But he says if they win or if they stay close, it will mean that they've likely also pulled closer in places like Virginia, Florida -- those battleground states that we're all going to be watching so closely on Tuesday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What are we going to be seeing in the next two days? Only a few days left, Brian, as you know.

TODD: That's right. But they are not leaving Pennsylvania, Wolf. Sarah Palin is going from here to Williamsport. She's going to be in York and Latrobe, Pennsylvania tomorrow, really canvassing South and Central Pennsylvania, those conservative voters that they're going to target. They are not leaving here until at least Monday.

BLITZER: And Brian is going to be there at least through Monday or Tuesday, for that matter, in Pennsylvania, as well. Brian Todd, our reporter in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

In many states, voters on November 4th will not only be casting ballots for candidates running for office, but ballot initiatives will be decided in many locations across the country.

Our Chris Lawrence has been looking into some of the most hard- fought and controversial battle initiative campaigns -- Chris, what's going on? Because a lot of spending is being -- is being thrown out there for some of these initiatives.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You said it, Wolf. I mean, for example, Florida and Arizona voters are considering whether to ban gay marriage. But the toughest fight on that front has been right here, in California.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LAWRENCE (voice-over): It's an all-out fight out West, where Californians have broken fundraising records -- $60 million campaigning for and against the gay marriage ban. That's more than any other race in the country. Governors, senators -- everything except the presidency. The measure would amend the state constitution after California's Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry.

ROSE GREENE, SUPPORTS SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: And what our constitution says is that we are going to be treated equally -- all people.

MARVIN PERKINS, OPPOSES SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: We're saying just let's not redefine marriage. You have the same rights. Let's just leave marriage alone.

LAWRENCE: Another measure would stop San Francisco from spending money to investigate and arrest prostitutes. Supporters say it frees up millions of dollars in resources for more serious crimes. Opponents say it opens the floodgates for more drugs and crime.

In Arkansas, voters will decide whether to ban unmarried partners from adopting children. That measure applies equally to opposite sex and same-sex couples.

JOHN THOMAS, OPPOSES UNMARRIED ADOPTION INITIATIVE: I think in cohabiting homes, that's the living situation that you find most, is you find a biological mom who has boyfriends that are in and out.

BARBARA MILES, SUPPORTS UNMARRIED ADOPTION INITIATIVE: If there are a loving, stable, caring families out there, they need to be accessed.

LAWRENCE: Nebraska is considering a ban on affirmative action. If passed, the state government could not give preferential treatment based on someone's race or sex to achieve diversity in employment or college scholarships.

A similar measure is on Colorado's ballot, too. And voters in that battleground state will also to decide whether to define the term "person" so that life begins at the moment of fertilization. That would essentially ban abortion.


LAWRENCE: And that's a very big issue in several states. And South Dakota voters are also considering a ban on abortion except for cases in which there's a rape or for the health of the mother.

And if another proposition here in California passes, doctors would have to doctors would have to notify a girl's parents and wait 48 hours before performing any abortion on a minor -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Chris. Chris Lawrence looking at all these initiatives out in Los Angeles. Thank you. During election night, you can track all the races and ballot measures that matter to you. Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's going to explain how this works -- Abbi, what's going on?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is You can create a space on space online, a personalized space that tracks all those ballot measures, the races around the country that you're interested in. And the results will be coming in right here on election night.

Here's how you do it. Go to the dropdown menus here. I'm on Senate. And it's going to show you all the races going on around the country. Pick the one that you want, add it to the list and that's going to appear in your own personalized scorecard here.

You can do this for up to 35 races or you could do it by zip code. Plug in your zip code and this will be populated with the races going on in your area. And right here is where you're going to see the results on election night -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Abbi. Thanks very much.

We -- we heard about voting issues across the country. But now a major update on a lawsuit that the NAACP filed against the State of Virginia. Stand by. It's just coming in.

And you've heard the allegations concerning possible voter registration fraud and voter suppression. But there's another potential threat to the process and it could involve your vote.

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, Virginia election officials are announcing improved election day plans, so the local NAACP has put its lawsuit against the state on hold. The civil rights group had said that Virginia was inadequately prepared for Tuesday. They wanted government intervention on things like extended voting hours to reallocating voting machines. Since 2004, Virginia has added hundreds of polling places to reduce the long lines and also added more voting machines for what's expected to be record turnout.

One worker is dead and nine had to be rescued after a bridge gave way and a girder gave way and sent the crew into Lake Pontchartrain. The construction workers fell about 30 feet in the accident this afternoon. The bridge is going to replace two spans of I-10 heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

A series of explosions in Northeast India kill at least 60 people. More than 300 are wounded. The largest blast came near a top government official's office. And that caused chaos, as bystanders were forced to drag the wounded and the dead to cars and take them to hospitals. The region is torn by dozens and dozens of militant separatist groups that are fighting the government and one another.

And a big change in Baghdad, where more women are choosing note to wear the traditional Islamic head cover. Some female university students say that they don't feel they have to wear the hejab thanks to the improved security in the last year. Religious law forced women to wear the scarf, and in some cases face punishment and even death -- Wolf, I was wondering if you have a tracking device on you?

BLITZER: No. No tracking device.


BLITZER: But hopefully I won't get one...

VERJEE: We know where are you.

BLITZER: You can see. The whole world can watch us right now. Zain, thanks very much.

For Democrats, it was an unbelievable sight.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you have any doubt about Senator Obama's ability to be the chief executive -- that's what the Constitution calls the president -- just think about all of you. Look at this.


BLITZER: The love fest between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama -- so what happened to the tension? What happened at midnight last night?

Plus, five days to go before election day and our poll of polls showing tightening a little bit. We're going to show you the numbers. We'll discuss them and more, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: With only five days to go, we're watching the campaign trail. Senator Obama, Senator McCain and Bill Clinton -- they're all getting ready to speak.

We'll go there live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama together at last. The former president and the Democratic candidate make their first joint campaign appearance. Was it a love fest? The answer is yes.

Five days and counting until election day and the race gets tighter. We're looking closer at where the candidates stand this moment in our latest poll of polls. Stand by.

And no more hanging chads, but can we trust the newer voting technology?

Our own Miles O'Brien finds out the benefits and pitfalls of high tech electronic voting machines. All that still ahead.

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

If nothing else, for the Democrats, it was electric. For the first time, Bill Clinton campaigned alongside Barack Obama. The former president took the stage with the Democratic candidate in Florida.

Here's a sample. Listen to this.


B. CLINTON: Our current president said something that's really true -- the president is the decider-in-chief. And in this election, you've got a very unusual thing I've never seen happen before. You've got to watch the candidates make not one, but two presidential decisions. You always get one -- who did they pick as vice president?

He hit that one out of the park, folks. That was a good decision.


B. CLINTON: OK. Then -- then you got to see the reaction to the financial crisis and America nearly coming off the wheel or having the wheels nearly run off. I saw this up close. Do you know what he did?

First, he took a little heat for not saying much. I knew what he was doing. He talked to his advisers. He talked to my economic advisers. He called Hillary. He called me. He called Warren Buffett. He called Paul Volcker. He called those people. You know why?

Because he knew it was complicated and before he said anything, he want wanted to understand. Folks, if we have not learned anything, we have learned that we need a president who wants to understand and who can understand.


B. CLINTON: Who can understand. Yes, he can.


BLITZER: All right, so here's the question -- are they good friends right now? What happened to all that animosity during the primaries?

They clearly are out there together on the campaign trail. Bill Clinton -- what can he do for Barack Obama right now?

Let's discuss with our CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and national talk show host -- radio talk show host, Bill Bennett -- it looks like they've really buried, Bill, that hatchet. Bill Clinton was pretty enthusiastic there last night. I don't know if you were up at 11:30 last night watching it live on "ANDERSON COOPER 360," but it was pretty amazing, that love fest.

WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, that was a lot of plugs in there at once. It's an hour before I get up, so, no, I wasn't. But yes, five days before the election, a good thing Bill Clinton did show up. He's quite a guy, isn't he?

He says Barack Obama, a complicated economic situation, he calls Paul Volcker, he calls Warren Buffett, calls me. You know, what a guy.

Listen, it's fine and he's popular. Obviously, a crowd turned out partly to see him. But I'll bet you 80 to 90 percent of them turned out to see Barack Obama.

Most of the light Bill Clinton got down there was the reflected light of the new leader of the Democrat Party, Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Donna, you know, there was some bad blood, as you remember, during the primaries. Has that all gone away?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, President Clinton has been campaigning around the clock for Barack Obama. He was in Harrisburg. He's been to Ohio. He was down in Kentucky, as well. I don't think anyone is looking at this as a love affair. Bill Clinton is one of the best closers when it comes to getting the vote out for Democratic candidates. And I'm glad to see that he still has the energy and enthusiasm to go out there and rally the faithful.

BLITZER: Bill, there's a really tight race in North Carolina right now, the incumbent Elizabeth Dole, the senator has a strong challenge from Kay Hagan. It's gotten a little ugly over the past 24, 48 hours. As a result of this ad that Elizabeth Dole has running against Kay Hagan. Kay Hagan has gone out and has a rebuttal ad she put out today. I'll play a little clip from both and then we'll discuss.


NARRATOR: A leader of the godless Americans pact recently held a secret fund-raiser in Kay Hagan's honor. Godless Americans and Kay Hagan, she hid from cameras, took godless money. What did Hagan promise in return?




KAY HAGAN (D), NORTH CAROLINA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: I believe in god. I taught Sunday school. My faith guides my life. And Senator Dole knows it. Sure, politics is a tough business. But I approve this message because my campaign is about creating jobs and fixing our economy. Not bearing false witness against fellow Christians. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's pretty strong stuff, Bill. What do you think?

BENNETT: Yes, as you said, a little ugly. It's more than a little ugly because it leaves the implication that was Kay Hagan at the end of that first ad saying there is no god. Lord knows, god knows, only god knows why people have these fund-raisers with folks like this. That wasn't smart. What Elizabeth Dole did at the end of that ad having that quote, having people believe that was Kay Hagan saying that when I think as I understand it, she absolutely did not say that, that's wrong and ugly.

BLITZER: No, that was a voice that may have sounded a little bit like Kay Hagan but it was not her. What do you think, Donna?

BRAZILE: First of all, I'm glad Kay Hagan decided to fight back. She is a leader in her church, First Presbyterian Church, a church elder and a Sunday school teacher. And to use that ad as a way to say she's not a believer, I thought it was -- I just can't believe Elizabeth Dole would stoop so low. That's an ad that is a big lie. An abbot of desperation. I'm glad that Kay Hagan has the resources to tell the truth.

BLITZER: But did she make a mistake, Donna, by going to that fundraiser at the home of a woman who professes that there is no god?

BRAZILE: You know, Wolf, there are a lot of believers. I'm one of them. There are people who just don't believe in the existence of a god. I don't know why because clearly, there is strong evidence that there's a god. But I believe that you serve all the people, not just those who profess to have faith but those with little or no faith. That's how you convert them.

BLITZER: Is it a problem, Bill, to associate with atheists?

BENNETT: This is a woman people who are campaigning to get in god we trust off the currency. You know, I mean, it would have been sensible for Kay Hagan's advisor to say let's just pass on this one. That's going to get you into the association game. You know, the house of like Barack Obama's been tagged with for the last six months or six years.

BLITZER: In our newest poll of polls, Donna, this is the average of the major national polls among likely voters, right now Obama 49 percent, McCain 44 percent, unsure seven percent. That's a five-point advantage. It was a seven-point advantage I think yesterday back a month ago, it was a four-point advantage for Obama. They've been pretty steady. Is this something that really is significant? Is it tightening or not tightening?

BRAZILE: Wolf, from my vantage point, I think Senator Obama is doing the right thing campaigning as if he's five points behind. Is he campaigning around the clock? He's going out west this weekend. His volunteers are still canvassing, still calling people up, regardless of what the polls say. In the last 72 hours, you can make three or four points up on the ground. I don't believe John McCain has the energy or the team to make that many points up. Clearly Senator Obama can do that in the closing days and unique the margin.

BLITZER: Can McCain, Bill Bennett, still close this out this as the winner?

BENNETT: He can. As I count it Wolf and we've been counting it every morning on the radio, it's a point and a half a day each of the last three days. There's four days. That's six points, five-point difference. It's uphill, that's for sure. But yes, he can do it. They've got to be thinking about McCain. Everything got going against him. He won't die. He's the terminator. He keeps coming. We shall see. It will be an interesting Tuesday night.

BLITZER: These poll of polls; this is an average of the major national polls, not just one poll. It averages out all the major polls, some of them show 10, 13-point leads. Some of them only show a three-point. This shows the average of national polls among likely voters. As important as these national polls are, what's so much more important are the polls in north Virginia is, Pennsylvania, these battleground states where the numbers have been pretty consistent over the past several weeks.

BRAZILE: Look, I think the Obama campaign is doing is the right thing. They are putting more people in Indiana. They're focusing on North Dakota. They're trying to spread what I call the battlefield around so that they have more than enough electoral votes come Tuesday night when the polls close across the country.

BLITZER: Is it going to be major coat tails if Obama does really well on Tuesday for the Democrats in the house and senate, Bill?

BENNETT: There will be some for sure. We take some solace in 1948. They surveyed 50 political journalists. All 50 said Dewey would beat Truman and they went to the experts in Las Vegas and they said that Dewey would beat Truman, too. History it can repeat itself. There will be coat tails. I still think we end up -- Democrats don't end up with 60, more like 56, 57.

BLITZER: All right. We'll leave it there. Bill Bennett, Donna Brazile, as usual, we're all going to be busy over these next four, five, six days.

So how easy would it be to steal your vote in the upcoming election? Wow, what a question. Our chief technology correspondent Miles O'Brien has been looking into this. He has an answer that might surprise you. Plus --

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Sean Callebs in Palm Beach County, Florida. There could be millions of absentee ballots in Florida this year. Why so many? People remember 2000. I'll explain.


BLITZER: All right. We're here with Miles O'Brien. You've got a fascinating story. Let me give viewers a little background. In recent weeks, we've heard a lot of the allegations concerning potential voter registration fraud as well as potential voter suppression. Could the biggest threat to the legitimacy of the election lie with counting your vote?

Miles, there are enormous problems out there. And you've been looking at this. You've got a map with a lot of colors. Explain what's going on.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Take a look. This is not the magic map. Let's remember when we talk about red here, we're not talking about any political affiliation. Everywhere where you see red there indicates they have voting machines that don't give voters a voter verification. In essence, an audit trail of knowing how they voted.

Let's look at a couple of battleground states. Ohio, Ohio's actually in pretty good shape. Wherever you see green or yellow means either it's a paper ballot or a DRE, a fancy word for a computer with VVPAT, voter verified audit trail.

Let's go next door, Pennsylvania. We've been talking a lot about Pennsylvania. The number's getting closer there. Look at all that red. That means in all those counties, in all those locations voters vote on a computer. They don't have any way of verifying how they voted and it's making a lot of people long for the good old days of the old machines.


O'BRIEN: Ever since this ugly scene eight years ago, politicos have spent billions of your money to bring in the new and throw out the old. Congress even created a new agency to give states suggestions on what to buy.

ROSEMARY RODRIGUEZ, ELECTION ASSISTANCE COMMISSION: We're hoping that the very design of the testing certification program is so robust, states will want to opt into the program because it will be the gold standard.

O'BRIEN: But eight years later, there is no national standard. And even if there was, states would not have to comply.

SUSAN GREENHALGH, VOTER ACTION: I think it's a huge mess.

O'BRIEN: Election crusader Susan Greenhalgh says the problem is computer voting systems in 17 states and D.C. that leave no paper trail.

GREENHALGH: Spending a lot of money on equipment without oversight without a rigorous testing process, without an assuredly that these systems were going to perform better than what we had before was a mistake.

O'BRIEN: How big a mistake? Princeton Computer Science Professor Andrew Appel bought five surplus computerized voting machines like those used in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Louisiana. And he easily hacked them. He removed a metal cover and found the memory chip.

ANDREW APPEL, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: You pry out one of these chips with a screwdriver. And you push in your replacement. That's it.

O'BRIEN: He programmed the replacement to cheat in favor of one party by 10 percent forever without leaving a trace, no paper backup.

APPEL: If you found that there were fraudulent computer chips in them, you wouldn't know what the vote totals should have been.

O'BRIEN: So you'd have to have another vote.

APPEL: That doesn't happen usually.


O'BRIEN: So Professor Appel, Wolf, is among the people who say the safest way to do this is to vote on paper, scan them with computers. Then you have a computer record and you also have a stack of paper where you can either cross-check it or if there's a failure, you've got some other way to count the vote.

BLITZER: I don't understand why this has to be this complicated. You give somebody a Visa or MasterCard, you get a little piece of paper. They do that billions of times around the world every single day and we can't figure out a way to make this safe and secure.

O'BRIEN: We sent a man to the moon and still have problems to this. The problem comparing it to the ATM, there's no problem with and no problem with anonymity. We have secret ballots in this country. So when you put secrecy on one side and accuracy on the other, they're at odds with each other. It's difficult to know if your vote went through and still maintain an anonymous ballot.

BLITZER: This is the United States of America. We can figure these things out.

O'BRIEN: There are smart guys out there. We should be able to figure it out. This is awful that we can't, Miles.

BLITZER: Let's just hope we have an election where there isn't a cloud of confusion and uncertainty.

O'BRIEN: Let's hope. Because that would be awful. Miles, thanks very much.

BLITZER: Let's get more now. Our continuing coverage from this year's election battleground states. You're looking right now at CNN's team of correspondents deployed throughout the country. We're tracking them with a new feature on the magic map that shows the precise location of each crew.

We're going now to Florida where officials are already sorting and verifying stacks and stacks of absentee ballots. Here's CNN's Sean Callebs with a behind the scenes look in a key battleground state -- Sean?

CALLEBS: Wolf, we're in Palm Beach County, Florida, where the first of the absentee ballots are being tabulated. They're not being counted, they're being tabulated and there is a big difference. Election officials tell us they will not be counted until polls close on November 4th. They expect to have million of absentee ballots in this state. Why so many? Well, officials tell us people still remember 2000 and they are still wary of machines.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this year, it's a combination of people wanting to vote early and many people still being distrustful of machines.

CALLEBS (voice-over): Palm Beach County expects to receive 115,000 absentee ballots. Right now they're being stored in all of these plastic bins. These have been accepted and they will soon be scanned. However, if they are l that's when the canvassing board comes into play. It's a group that has an important job. They'll decide if the absentee ballot is accepted or rejected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a member of the canvassing board, I have the unpleasant task of watching numerous ballots thrown out because people failed to sign the absentee ballots.


CALLEBS: Canvassing officials tell us right now, they've only rejected a few dozen ballots. The reason, no signatures on outside of the envelope, signatures that don't match, and in one case a husband and wife put both in one envelope. Officials say they don't want to reject any ballots but their hands are tied. In many cases it's simply the law -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Sean Callebs, thank you.

CNN's keeping them honest. If you have any trouble at the polls, call the CNN voter hot line. You can help us track the problems. We'll report the trouble in realtime. 1-877-462-6608. We're keeping them honest all the way through the election day and beyond.

It was a closest governor's race in U.S. history and now the same two candidates are facing off once again. Could their race be decided by presidential coat tails?

And Jack Cafferty is asking what John McCain can do in the final days to win over undecided voters. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Barack Obama is speaking in Virginia Beach, Virginia right now. That's a key battleground state. Let's listen in for a moment or two.


OBAMA: They were only talking for five minutes. I made Warner wear a coat. He wanted to come out here and do the same thing. I said no, you're going to wear a coat.

Anyway, where was I? Two years ago, it was really cold. It was 7 degrees and we stood on the steps ever the old state capitol in Springfield, Illinois. And announced my candidacy and back then we didn't have much money and we didn't have many endorsements and we weren't given much of a chance by the polls or the pundits, and we knew how steep our climb would be. But I also knew this, I knew that the size of our challenges had outstretched the smallness of the politics.

I believe that the Democrats and Republicans and Americans of every political strife, they were hungry for new ideas and leadership and a new politics and one that favors common sense over ideology and focuses on what we have in common as Americans.

And most of all, I knew the American people. I knew they were decent and generous and willing to work hard, sacrifice for future generations and I was convinced that when we come together like we have come together today, that our voices are more powerful than the most entrenched lobbyists or the most vicious political attacks or the full force of the status quo in Washington that just want to keep things the way they are, and 21 months later, Virginia Beach, my faith in the American people has been vindicated.

BLITZER: All right. So you get a little flavor of what he is say is saying on this day only five days before the election, Senator Barack Obama. We will also hear from Senator John McCain. And also, former President Bill Clinton is getting ready to weigh in on this campaign on this day.

In the meantime, let's check back with Jack who has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: In the final few days, what can John McCain do to win over undecided voters estimated to be seven percent?

Robert writes: "Nothing. Unfortunately, John McCain is a different man than he was eight years ago and he has not changed. If he had continued as a maverick instead of pandering to the Republican base, he would probably be in a better position. I guess that is the cost when you sell out."

Sharon in Houston, Texas writes: "Absolutely nothing. Stick a fork in him. He's done."

Lisa in Ft. Lauderdale: "Jack who the heck are these undecided voters? We've been inundated with so much information. How could anyone outside of a coma still be undecided? At this point, McCain needs to work on restoring his respectability so that he can return to the Senate with dignity."

Timothy in Brea, California: "McCain cannot do anything further than sit back and watch what his tactics have brought him, defeat. Sorry McCain, a war vet's not that good, not good enough to plant you in the White House. Obama in five days and counting."

Marie writes: "John McCain can win undecided voters by going back to the maverick ways and stopping the negative ads and fighting his opponent with real American issues. We don't care about Barack Obama's next door neighbor, but tell us about the 401(k)s and the loss of jobs and economic security. Stop the bull."

Jeff writes: "If he drops out of the horse race I'll vote for him, I promise."

Suzanne says: "Jack, my brother-in-law is one of the people you are referring to. He is not undecided, but he thinks that his vote is none of your business." It's fair enough.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there among the other hundreds -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Jack, thank you.

In the busy last few days of this presidential campaign, at least one candidate has been keeping a relatively low profile. Where is the Democratic running mate Joe Biden lately? We're going to ask Time Magazine's managing editor Rick Stengel who is standing by live.

Millions of people won't go to the polls on Tuesday, and that is because they have already. They have voted already. We will explain what the impact of the early voting may have on this year's election outcome.

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


BLITZER: He made remarks that Senator McCain's campaign has used against Barack Obama, so lately the Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden has been relatively quiet. Here is the question, has the campaign muzzled him?

"Time" Magazine's managing editor Rick Stengel is here for the just in time segment we will have every week. We're looking at a lot of stories you have in our sister publication, Rick, but what have you learned about the vice presidential candidate, because there is a suggestion that he has been muzzled.

RICK STENGEL, TIME MAGAZINE MANAGING EDITOR: Well, we spent about a week with him out on the campaign trail, and after discovering that remark he made where it says look, it looks like Barack Obama will be tested in the first six months of the presidency, that was a huge gaffe that they put him in shrink wrap, and he is a guy who has been on every Sunday show ever to use a teleprompter to give his stump speech now.

BLITZER: It is extraordinary for those of us who know Joe Biden and interviewed him hundreds of times and to see him relatively muzzled like that. It is amazing. Your photographer got exclusive access and I want to show these pictures Callie Shell who does excellent work for "Time" magazine. Tell us a little bit about what we're seeing here.

STENGEL: Well, Callie Shell has been covering the Obama campaign for the last 19 months and has great behind the scenes access. This is in Detroit before the event, and the vice presidential nominee and Barack Obama and she talks about the great intimacy between the two men and how comfortable they are with each other. She actually worked the Kerry and Edwards campaign for us and said they were distant and she says this the closest presidential and vice presidential relationship she has seen and she did the Gore campaign with President Clinton as well.

BLITZER: And also in "Time" magazine you have an intriguing story about gay activists about what they are doing right now out there in this incredible political season.

STENGEL: Yes, it is a group that they informally call themselves the cabinet. They are seven men who are from wealthy families who have made fortunes in the technology business who are helping openly gay candidates or helping defeat candidates who are anti-gay, and they have done important work in the Michigan legislature, and they are targeting New York legislature, and New Mexico legislature this year, and what they have done is that they have picked up on what the Republicans and the co conservatives did so successfully in the 1980s creating think tanks and fund-raising groups and trying to do it now for gay causes.

BLITZER: Let me give "Time" Magazine, our sister publication a plug right now, because as excellent as the magazine is and has been over the years, your website out there has really done some incredible political reporting in a realtime situation. Talk about how important the "Time" magazine website has become.

STENGEL: Right. We are a 24/7 news website now and it looks great. All of our political correspondents are filing daily for and we're often using the best in the magazine and that is the relationship we all have to have these days.

BLITZER: We have a good relationship with our sister publication and your website. Good work. Thank you, Rick. Just in time.

To the viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.