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GOP To Gavel Convention To Order; Tropical Storm Isaac; Democrat Crashes The Party; Isaac Still A Tropical Storm For Now; Isaac Could Drive Up Gas Prices; 245 Bodies Found In One City; Two American Troops Killed; Party Politics As Isaac Looms; Romney's Big Speech; The Reclusive Pioneer

Aired August 27, 2012 - 13:59   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Suzanne, thank you so much.

Hi, too all of you. I'm Brooke Baldwin, live from Tampa, Florida, live from the CNN Grill, which I was told used to be a parking garage. Pretty stunning efforts to get this up and running.

Welcome to what would have been day one officially of the Republican National Convention. And obviously it's condensed. We're going to talk all about that. Going to talk about what's happening here any moment now. In fact, I think we have the live pictures inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where all the action -- and I temper that by saying that the head of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, and a couple other folks, will be inside the forum in just a couple of minutes.

We have Dana Bash standing by. We have Jim Acosta as well. So if we have Jim, let's begin with Jim Acosta.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Jim, talk to me about what we are expecting to see any moment now.

ACOSTA: Brooke, I can tell you, right behind me, the chairman of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus, is at the podium as we speak. You can see the gavel is right next to him. He is getting ready to call this convention to order. Let's go to Reince Priebus.

(BEGIN COVERAGE OF LIVE SPEECH)

REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: The Republican National Committee has directed that the 2012 Republican National Convention be held in Tampa, Florida, starting at 2:00 p.m. on the 27th day of August, 2012. So it is my privilege to proclaim the 2012 Republican National Convention in session and called to order.

The chair announces, pursuant to clause per NV (ph) per N1 (ph) of rule one of the rules of the House of Representatives, the 2012 Republican National Convention stands in recess subject to the call of the chair.

All right. All right. Now we're in recess, but for this convention, we also want to draw your attention to the unprecedented fiscal recklessness of the Obama administration as depicted by the real time national debt clock shown here in the arena. For this convention, we have actually installed a second national debt clock that will log the amount of debt that accrues during the course of this convention. Now, we're still in a recess, but ladies and gentlemen, I kindly ask for your silence. And if you're able, please stand. And if you're wearing a hat, please remove it. I'd like to take a moment to recognize the hard work of all the security personnel, emergency responders and volunteers who are working to keep all convention attendees and all of those in the path of Hurricane Isaac out of harm's way. Thank you for all your efforts.

Now, I am pleased -- thank you. I'm pleased to welcome the Reverend Dr. Russell Levinson of Houston, Texas, who will offer a prayer.

REVEREND DR. RUSSELL LEVINSON (ph): Ladies and gentlemen, please bow your heads as we pray.

Oh, mighty God, father of the whole human family, we thank you and ask your blessing as we gather for this uniquely American moment. We thank Governor Scott and the good people of Florida who have opened their arms of hospitality to welcome those gathering here into their midst.

Lord, you who give life and health and safety, we pray for those already affected by the hurricane and for those in its path. Keep them safe, Lord. Deliver them and provide for their every need and bless those who assist them during this time of trial.

We also remember this day one of our great American heroes, Neil Armstrong, who captured the American spirit as he reminded us Americans have always reached for the stars, inspiring all human kind to do what others deemed impossible. We thank you for guiding our nation's founders who secure the inalienable rights that you bestow upon us -- life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We ask you to guide and direct with your wisdom our president, Congress and the courts. May America continue to be a light into all the nations, enabling those who will lead us to make dream, hopes and aspirations of all Americans into realities and to make the American ideal a certainty, not just for some, but for all.

And, finally, by your mercy, may we never forget that our freedoms have been won with the blood and the sacrifice of our patriots. Always remember that our industry and innovation has been forged with the sweat and toil of American men and women. Always believe that houses of worship and places of service are born of the fruit of your inspiration and the desire to honor and serve others. And may we never forget that we are at our best when we know in our hearts that we are not just one nation, but one nation under God. In the name of our Lord I pray, amen.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (voice-over): When generations of immigrants looked up and saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time, one think they knew beyond any doubt, and that is they were coming to a place where anything was possible. That in America, their children would have a better life. I believe in that America. I believe you believe in that America.

Though each of us comes from very different background, though each of us is chosen to walk a different path in life, we're united by one great overwhelming passion -- we love America. We believe in America. The spirit of enterprise, innovation, pioneering and can-do propelled our standard of living and economy past that of any other nation on earth. And in the campaign to come, the American ideals of economic freedom and opportunity need a clear.

BALDWIN: All right, so it's official. Just about seven, eight minutes later, the Republican National Convention has now officially been called to order.

And, Jim Acosta, to you, as we're sort of watching this video here, you know, a lot of us here, I know, in Tampa were kind of wondering if any of the delegates would actually be in the forum for this official, you know, gavel moment. And it appeared fairly full, at least on the floor.

ACOSTA: That's right. It is full on the floor. Just a few moments ago, Brooke, I was down there by the Massachusetts delegation. And I can tell you that leading that delegation is Karrie Hilly (ph). She was the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts and is obviously a surrogate for the Romney campaign. So she is there in the front row of the delegation as it's seated here on the floor. Other members of the Romney campaign are also seated in that delegation. So, yes, you can see that section of the floor is fairly full right now.

Michigan, also fairly full. I talked to a state GOP official with the Michigan delegation a few moments ago. He was saying they're pretty confident they can compress four days into three. They're not too worried about that. But there are other parts of the floor here, I can tell you right now, that are empty. West Virginia, Wyoming, Alaska, North Dakota, Maryland, all in front of me right now. All of those areas are empty.

And the seats inside this arena, above the floor, are also empty. So I think it's fairly clear, Brooke, that a lot of Republicans who are in town for the convention right now did not come here for the gavel. But they will be here tomorrow, when all of this gets going in earnest.

One other thing that happened here, Brooke. I'm sure we saw this when Chairman Preibus talked about this, but they started a second debt clock here inside this arena. The debt from convention start is the new debt clock that is running right now. There was one that just shows the national debt as it grows ever larger, but they started a second one that started just at the beginning of this convention to indicate, as Republicans would like to, how much the deficit or the national debt is going up during the duration of this convention.

BALDWIN: Sure.

ACOSTA: So lots of different messaging going on. You saw the video that was just playing on the screens here showing Mitt Romney saying we believe in America. That's going to be an ongoing theme throughout this convention.

Brooke.

BALDWIN: Got it. So not just one debt clock, but a second debt clock here. Perhaps a nod to the Tea Party. We're going to talk Tea Party a little later in the show.

Jim Acosta, stand by for me because I do want to go to Dana Bash, not to terribly far from you in the forum.

And, Dana, I want to get to these polls that are just out here with regard to Florida and North Carolina. But, quick, I understand you talked to some delegates from Louisiana. Obviously an area very much so bracing for Isaac. What are they telling you?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, first of all, you and Jim were just talking about the fact that there are a fair number of people here, even though it was just going to be a quick one or two minute session.

But I am in the delegation of Louisiana. You see I'm standing here. And I just want you to take a look at the seats here. It's empty. There's nobody here right now, Brooke. And the reason for that is a pretty good one.

BALDWIN: Oh, wow.

BASH: For the most part, the delegates are actually still here in Tampa. They haven't gone home, except for some of the elected officials. And we know the governor of Louisiana is not coming at all.

But they are back in their hotel making calls, monitoring what is going on back home. And the reason why we know that is because we were just over there. We were just talking to some of the delegates. Many of them who were meeting and kind of hunkering down and trying to figure out what it is that is going to happen back in their state.

I want you to listen to a conversations I had with one of those delegates. His name is Mike Brayham. He was in Minneapolis four years ago when they had to delay that convention by one day because of another hurricane heading towards Louisiana. Listen to what he said about what's going on now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: What are you doing to be doing as you're watching from here?

MIKE BAYHAM (R), DELEGATE FROM LOUISIANA: Keeping an eye on the hurricane track. Getting in touch with all my family and friends that are evacuating. Praying. A lot of prayer.

BASH: It's pretty tough. BAYHAM: It is. I mean -- but, you know, so long as everyone gets out all right, that's all that matters. Everything else is just stuff. Property damage. It hurts, but, you know -- you know, I lost so much with Katrina between the oil spill and the storm. You know, fortunately, all my relatives made it out all right and that's what matters most.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now he lives in St. Bernard's Parish and he is just bracing for his home to get hit. He actually said that he believes that it was probably a mistake to have this convention in Tampa. Remember, the fear was that this city was going to get hit. And he also is one of a few people who said, you know what, maybe it's time to start thinking about moving the conventions back to where they were years ago, in July, before hurricane season.

But, you know, it's a very, very -- I think the best way to describe it is people are really walking on egg shells and absolutely across the board saying, we've got to, if nothing else, tone down the tenor of this convention just in case things get really bad.

BALDWIN: Absolutely. There's a word that we're going to be talking about later, optics (ph). You know, you think about -- of course we're anticipating the storm now, but once that storm hits, of course, it's how Mitt Romney and this should be a party for him and the Republicans this week, but how they do sort of curtail the message or soften the message dependent upon what happens, of course, in the Gulf region.

Dana Bash, thank you.

Quickly back to Jim Acosta.

Jim, let me hit you with this poll question because these two polls released, the CNN/ORC polls, a pretty big piece of news here this afternoon. We were releasing this poll now that shows Mitt Romney trailing the president here in Florida by four different points and also there's the poll in North Carolina, a state that we know, you know, President Obama, a huge upset in 2008. A number of African- American voters. Mitt Romney up by one (ph) point. What do you make of these polls?

ACOSTA: Right. You know, I think, Brooke, I think there are going to be some Democrats out there who are going to say, because of that poll that was coming out, about the state of Florida, that perhaps the selection of Paul Ryan might be a drag on this ticket among seniors down in Florida. I think it's probably too early to draw that conclusion at this point, but I will tell you that that is almost certain that that conclusion will be drawn by others.

Mitt Romney has to win one of two major battleground states. He has to win either Florida or Ohio for this race to be competitive. If he loses both, it is almost mathematically impossible, if you look at the way the map stands now, for him to win the presidency. You also talked about North Carolina. The president with a slim -- he's -- I guess Romney has a slim lead in the state of North Carolina. That is also crucial because if Mitt Romney wants to carve a path to the presidency, North Carolina or Virginia has to weigh into those calculations. The president won both of those states last time. It was very surprising for a Democrat to go into the south and win those states. Mitt Romney need to flip those states from blue to red if he wants to win the presidency. At least one of those states. But I would think that the Florida numbers are probably going to be somewhat worrying to the Romney campaign at this stage heading into this convention, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Jim Acosta, thank you so much to you, and, Dana Bash, to you as well. Thank you. There on the floor, the forum. The RNC officially a go.

More news unfolding now, including, of course, the topic on all our minds, Tropical Storm Isaac. The storm forces the RNC here to delay activities. But now, look at this, it is causing concern right there along the Gulf Coast.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will begin opening two of our shelters today at 4:00 p.m.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: People are packing up and they are leaving quite a bit behind.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Seven years to the week since Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans finds itself a potential bulls eye here for a hurricane. Minutes ago, we got this update from the National Weather Center, basically saying that Tropical Storm Isaac is slowly moving now northwest toward the Gulf Coast.

All you have to do is just listen. Do you hear the wind here? That palm tree. This is vide. This shows what it did as a tropical storm beating up the Keys and parts of the Florida coast. That's Big Pine Key, Florida.

I want to take you to Haiti now where this storm killed six people on Saturday. Now emergency officials in the U.S. fear what Isaac will do as a hurricane. It is supposed to make landfall somewhere in the Gulf Coast sometimes tomorrow night, possibly in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. But as Isaac is on the move here, so are people living in and around the Gulf Coast region. You have gas lines as long as people drive to safer areas. Leader in Louisiana, Alabama, they are calling for mandatory evacuations in some areas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: I would emphasize these are especially likely to be happening in low lying areas south of the intracoastal and outside of levee protected areas. And so folks that live in those areas, these are areas that have flooded before. These are areas that, when we've had previous storms, they've seen an accumulation of water. They know where they are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, he was supposed to be here in Tampa. He's one of many governors, Chad Myers, who, for obvious reasons, are staying back at home. Show me the picture that you're standing next to. Tell me where Isaac is right now.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Isaac is in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. So it's hard to show on radar. It's outside what the radar can see. It's farther away from Key West and from Tampa and not close enough to New Orleans yet to see a good signature on radar.

What I'm showing you here is all of this flooding going in south Florida, from Broward County down to Miami-Dade, all the way up to Brevard County, right along I-95 now, tremendous amounts of rain. So even though somewhere over here is the eye, the arm, one of the outer bands here, is already and still affecting Florida. So not done with Florida yet. All of this weather will translate up here to the Gulf Coast within the next 24 hours and obviously that's the next stop.

The next stop here somewhere along very close to the mouth of the Mississippi. And that is 8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning right there. Maybe that's maybe 2:00 p.m. And then onward and on up into the bayous either of Mississippi or all the way over toward New Iberia into Louisiana.

It's going to be a little bit before we know if it's going to be left or right of this track or right on the track. If it stays on the track, this turns into a 95 mile per hour storm, literally right on top of New Orleans. And the new computer models just run, 17 inches of rain in New Orleans itself. Talk about the flood walls not allowing the water from Pontchartrain and from the river in. but sometimes that doesn't allow the water out. You get 17 inches of rain. It has to get pumped out of these because it's below the sea level. It's not going to run anywhere. The pumps have to run. Any big failure of those pump is another problem for New Orleans. Let's hope that doesn't happen.

BALDWIN: And, of course, we're talking New Orleans. We'll continue also talking Mississippi. I know they bore a lot of the brunt of Katrina. So certainly they're on our minds as well, Mississippi and Louisiana. Chad, thank you.

Back here in Tampa, a Democrat -- perhaps we'll call it crashing -- crashing the Republican's big party. Coming up next, the chairman of next week's Democratic National Convention stopping by the CNN Grill. We're going to talk to him about Mitt Romney's strong showing in some of our news polls, including a poll on the economy. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa live in the CNN Grill. Back in a flash. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Well, the Republicans have descended upon us here in Tampa, Florida, but they have some company. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, he is chairing next week's Democratic Convention in Charlotte.

So, Mr. Mayor, nice to see you in person.

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), LOS ANGELES: It's great to be here.

BALDWIN: Let's first begin with your guy, with President Obama. We have these new poll actually showing in one of the spots where Mitt Romney is out polling the president. It's the economy specifically. In this new poll that we just got in 10 minutes ago, CNN/ORC, in the state of North Carolina, you know the story in 2008, a state in which the president upset victory. A number of African-American voters. The president won then. You see the numbers here on the screen. This is the economy poll but the president is down one point when it comes to North Carolina. What does this say about a state like that?

VILLARAIGOSA: First of all, Democrats and Republicans agree the number one issue right now is this weather and the potential harm to the people of Louisiana and Florida.

BALDWIN: Of course.

VILLARAIGOSA: And that's where we agree. And so we take off the partisan hats and put the country first.

With respect to this poll, look, I said for a long time, this country's evenly divided. In 12 of the 13 states, the president is ahead by a couple of points.

BALDWIN: But this poll.

VILLARAIGOSA: In this poll --

BALDWIN: I'm asking you, Mr. Mayor, North Carolina specifically.

VILLARAIGOSA: Yes.

BALDWIN: This was a huge win for the president four years ago. What does it say about a state with a large chunk of voters that are African-American and so far President Obama is not up.

VILLARAIGOSA: This is a state that we've only won once, I think, in 40 years. And so we're going to work hard. That's -- for those voters. That's why we're there in North Carolina. This is going to be the most open and accessible convention. We're going to have 65,000 people. Many of them from North Carolina.

But we've got our work cut out for us. And we're going to talk about what it means to chart a future that's focused on investment. BALDWIN: But before, with all due respect, before we talk about your convention next week. We're sitting in Tampa and we're talking Republicans. And this week specifically, let's talk about it. So the president's actually going to be out and about on the campaign trail in three swing states. So that's a big deal for him. The vice president was supposed to be here today. You mentioned the weather, so he's not here. And then you have the first lady actually on late night television this week. So it seems like quite a push on your side of the ticket with regard to getting out and about. This is supposed to be the big party for the Republicans this week. Are they nervous?

VILLARAIGOSA: I think next week you'll see -- I think next week you'll see the Republicans do the same thing in Charlotte. And this year --

BALDWIN: But for now, this week, are they nervous?

VILLARAIGOSA: What we are is focused. We want to compare and contrast the positions of both candidates. In the case of the Ryan/Romney budget, you have a budget that wants to extend the Bush tax cuts on the top 2 percent of America. They want to pay for it by raising taxes on the middle class, ending Medicare the way we know it.

BALDWIN: But do Democrats feel threatened this week?

VILLARAIGOSA: We feel invigorated and ready to get in the battle. And really what a campaign is, it sets the framework for the camp -- I'm sorry, what the convention is, it sets the framework for the campaign and it really, when people are actually watching, most of us, except for you and I, aren't really watching what's going on. Most of America is working. They're trying to put food on their table, dealing with their kids.

BALDWIN: OK.

VILLARAIGOSA: Kids going back to school.

BALDWIN: OK. Let's talk about what you want to talk about. And that's next week. That's Charlotte. You know you have a huge role. You're opening the convention. But I did want to ask you, we thought it was curious because the whole sort of culmination of the whole week is at Bank of America Stadium. And colloquially, when you talk to folks in Charlotte, that's what they call it, the Bank of America Stadium. Yet Democrats, and I know a bunch of literature are calling it Panther Stadium. Panther Stadium. Do you have a problem with a meg bank sponsor?

VILLARAIGOSA: I don't have a problem with the sponsor. And whoever's talking about Panther -- the Panthers do play there and they're a great football team.

BALDWIN: What will you calling it?

VILLARAIGOSA: I'm calling it the football stadium.

BALDWIN: Uh-huh. VILLARAIGOSA: That, you know, I'm not really focused one way or the other. I can tell you this, we're proud to be in Charlotte. We want to be in North Carolina. We want to compare and contrast the candidates. I mentioned the Ryan/Romney budget. The president's dealing with the deficit, but he's doing it in a way, cutting $4 trillion over the next 10 years, of doing it in a way that protects the middle class and ensures that we're making investments in education and infrastructure and R&D. They're so important for the future.

BALDWIN: What about you? Your job is up next July, is it?

VILLARAIGOSA: Next July.

BALDWIN: Next July. Your name -- you're getting your name out there nationwide. You have a huge role in Charlotte. Do we see a White House run for you in the future?

VILLARAIGOSA: I think what you're going to see is I'm going to take a time-out. I want a time for reflection. I love my job. I'm going to focus on my job. And when people ask me, what's the mayor of Los Angles doing in Charlotte or Tampa, I say it matters who's in the White House. It matters who's in the majority in the Congress.

BALDWIN: OK, I'm going to ask you again? Do we see a White House bid in your future, Mr. Mayor?

VILLARAIGOSA: And so I'm going to focus on my job until I'm finished with it. And then I'm going to take a time out. I'm not looking to run for anything right now. I'm really not --

BALDWIN: Not right now.

VILLARAIGOSA: No, not right now.

BALDWIN: We're looking at you.

All right, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles. Good to see you, sir.

VILLARAIGOSA: Good to see you, too.

BALDWIN: Good to see you. Best of luck to you.

VILLARAIGOSA: Thank you. Thank you.

BALDWIN: We'll be following you in Charlotte next week.

And a question for you, would you like to know what it's actually like to experience the Republican National Convention here from the inside?

Tomorrow join the CNN Election Round Table. You have Wolf Blitzer, of course, and CNN's best all-star political team. You can submit your question and get actually answers in realtime. It's a live chat.

When you ask, tomorrow, 12:00 noon Eastern Time, so you have to log onto cnn.com/roundtable. We will see you online.

Next to this, oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico evacuated, shutting down a quarter of daily oil production. What that means for gas prices for all of us across the country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: All right, welcome back. You are looking at live pictures here inside. That's looks like the forum. You can see live pictures inside, that's the CNN Grill. That is where I am sitting coming to you live from Tampa, just off the convention.

Just off the forum where we're the nucleus of Tampa and the Republican National Convention is right now all week long. It's officially been called to order. So let's just continue on because part of this story here. Here are more pictures from inside that forum.

Called to order at the top of the hour by RNC chairman, Reince Priebus. But on the minds of so many people here in Florida and the gulf region is Isaac.

Here is the latest we have. Isaac is still technically a tropical storm. It is moving at 14 miles per hour and gathering power over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Remember you heard earlier that Isaac could turn into a strong Category 1 hurricane as it intensifies across the water there in the gulf. You know, wherever Isaac may land, you could be feeling its impact when you fill up your gas tank the next time.

So the storm is very much so threatening oil refineries in the gulf. So I want to talk about that with CNN's Maribel Aber. She is live at the New York Stock Exchange for us today.

When we're talking prices at the pump and everyone is sort of, you know, we don't like to hear that I suppose, Maribel. How high could prices go?

MARIBEL ABER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brooke. Well, you know, one analyst says if refineries start shutting, down we could see gas prices jump 10 cents in the coming week. You know, at this point, we are seeing mostly evacuations offshore.

About a quarter of gulf oil production is suspended. As you said earlier here, 39 platforms have been evacuated in eight rigs. But four refineries in Louisiana are in the process of closing down. The gulf coast is key, of course, to oil production in this country.

So to put that all in perspective, 40 percent of the nation's petroleum refinery capacity is located along the gulf coast and there's also a huge network of pipelines that funnels it to other parts of the country.

So any disruption to supply in this area could send oil prices higher. So we've been seeing volatility today jumping at first, now slipping, but as you know, Brooke, gas prices have already been rising.

The national average is $3.75. It's gone up five days in a row. So as we watch this tropical storm, we'll see this as it continues -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: We'll watch for it unfortunately, Maribel. Thank you so much for me in New York today.

Now to a story that seems half a world away. Something that we are committed to covering for you at CNN, Syria, the civil war there, new violence.

Look at this. This is the suburb of the capitol city of Damascus where more than 240 bodies have been found.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: At least 113 people were killed across Syria today adding to an already staggering weekend total of 684. Let me say that again, 684 over the weekend.

Syrian rebels also claim to have shot down a government helicopter in the city of Jobar. CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of this video.

But the most chilling developments that come from Daraya just outside the capitol city of Damascus, activists say 245 bodies were found there over the weekend.

And activists say shelling continued. This is a town, this is one of the first cities that revolted against the president's regime and activists say they discovered the bodies. Some of which were found near a mosque.

It is not clear when those people were killed. Government troops reclaimed the city after a weeklong siege followed by scores of executions.

And an Afghan soldier killed two American troops today. The latest in a spat of attacks by Afghan troops against coalition soldiers, 27 American troops have been killed by Afghan forces this year.

This is the green on blue violence we've been reporting on. The military using so-called guardian angels, an armed service members standing watch while our troops eat and sleep.

It is the Republican Party's big party, but a storm called Isaac taking some attention away from Tampa. How the GOP plans to stay in the spotlight and my favorite political tag team. Margaret Hoover and John Avlon, joining me live next from the CNN Grill. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Let's talk politics now with my favorite power couple, CNN contributor, John Avlon, a senior columnist for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast," a.k.a. the News Beast as you taught me and Margaret Hoover is a CNN political contributor.

So welcome to you two. Exciting to be here in Tampa, I guess, a real three days instead of a full four this week. John Avlon, my first question to you because we have to talk storm and politics and optics, right?

I mean, we don't know yet as we're anticipating the effects and then aftermath of this particular storm in the gulf. How do you continue on with what should be a big party with the Republicans?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. I mean, look, Mitt Romney needs to own this week. This is his chance to reintroduce himself to the American people.

So the fact that Isaac has looked like it was heading here for Tampa and now unfortunately seems like it's heading for New Orleans. Those folks don't need another hurricane. It is a distraction.

BALDWIN: It is a distraction.

AVLON: It is a distraction from just owning the news cycle perspective. So I think part of the key is to show a degree of compassion for the folks in Louisiana or wherever the storm might hit.

BALDWIN: Like the prayer at the top of the hour.

AVLON: Absolutely, to show folks in the path of the storm are in their prayers, but also go ahead with their plan. They have to execute their plan and reintroduce Mitt Romney and his vision and the Republican to the country going forward.

BALDWIN: Jump in.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I will say though nobody is more ware or more sensitive to a hurricane headed to New Orleans than the Republican Party. I mean, I worked in the Bush White House during Katrina.

We are very, very sensitive. There are things that are different now in New Orleans and in Louisiana as well. For example, gubernatorial leadership, we have a rising star in the Republican Party, Bobby Jindal who will not be here because he's in New Orleans.

So there's a, of course, lot of sensitivity, a lot of eyes on New Orleans. It will be sort of in the thoughts in the present, but also with the hope. It's a Category 2 hurricane. It's likely not going to circumvent the narrative that you --

BALDWIN: We'll keep talking storm, but I do want to talk women with you specifically because we look at these polls, Margaret, and you see the president, I see you shaking your head, but it's quite a healthy lead that the president has.

It's a 29-point advantage in the most recent poll when CNN asked who is in touch with problems facing women. That's quite a divide. How can Romney and Ryan overcome the gap?

HOOVER: Well, the war on women has been an off to discuss topic amongst Republicans. I'm a woman. I'm a Republican. I get there's an absolute gender divide.

BALDWIN: You get it, but how do they close it?

HOOVER: Ann Romney is very, very critical and I also think there are some credible young women leaders. Suzanna Martinez, the governor of New Mexico, Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina -- they will be around during the convention. It's important for Mitt Romney and the party to highlight the women Republican leaders that we have.

BALDWIN: OK, you're a speech writer.

AVLON: Yes.

BALDWIN: How do you -- if you're Mitt Romney and he's practicing at his high school giving this speech, practicing this speech. What are you writing? How do you get into this? What should he say?

AVLON: I think the real key for Mitt Romney is to not only reintroduce himself to the American people, but tell people what his character narrative is. What are the things that have really shaped his character? Things that can help the American people relate to him.

BALDWIN: Make him likable.

AVLON: Make him likable, but that is also, you know, from speech writers perspective, it's about revealing an aspect of yourself, taking the risk of revealing an aspect of yourself so people can connect with you.

So that they see some real emotional honesty and authenticity and so one of the interesting questions is going to be what obvious contender for that character narrative is a car crash he was in as a young man.

BALDWIN: He was declared dead.

AVLON: They said he was dead. He was on a Mormon mission. So it raises the question how much of his own faith story risk, which is so centered to his exemplary personal character, how much of that risk of reveal is he going to get.

BALDWIN: Would you highlight if you're writing the speech?

AVLON: I think he needs to take that risk. I think he needs to tell people genuinely who he is. His faith has shaped his character and by all accounts his character is exemplary so take that risk.

BALDWIN: It's 20 seconds. What would you say?

HOOVER: I also just think we've seen a Mitt Romney on the campaign trail alone in isolation and now we see him with Paul Ryan and we him with his wife, Ann Romney. You get a sense of him as a person when you see him around a lot of people. Hopefully they'll highlight that.

BALDWIN: Ann Romney speaking tomorrow night. We'll all be watching and we'll see you -- will you hang out with me at the grill the rest of the week.

HOOVER: We'd love to come back, Brooke.

BALDWIN: John Avlon and Margaret Hoover, thank you so much. We appreciate it. See you tomorrow.

And still to come, he was the first man on the moon, an icon to so many of us. His face is everywhere here. We're talk with one of the men who knew Neil Armstrong best. Talk to him a couple of months ago. Jim Lovell next.

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BALDWIN: As the world watched Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon and into our history books.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

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BALDWIN: Gives me goose bumps. The Apollo 11 crew returned as heroes, the first humans on the moon. Armstrong died over the weekend, Saturday, at the age of 82 after complications from heart surgery earlier this month.

But for the man who really defined space flight being this iconic American hero actually wasn't so easy for him. Joining me on the phone is Armstrong's fellow astronaut and good friend, Jim Lovell.

Jim, thank you for taking the time to call in. I'm sorry about the passing after your friend. I understand you spoke with Mr. Armstrong two months ago. What did he say to you then?

JIM LOVELL, RETIRED ASTRONAUT, COLLEAGUE OF NEIL ARMSTRONG (via telephone): Well, our conversation two man months ago was some other things we were doing. He was just like he had always been. You know, he was a very quiet individual, but when he did talk people listened to him.

BALDWIN: I want to ask you about that point about him being quiet. We know that infamous line he uttered there on the moon. He was a hero to all of us. He was so private, was he not? Why so quiet? Why his desire to really stay out of the spotlight?

LOVELL: Well, you know, before he made the landing, of course, he was just like the rest of us.

BALDWIN: Hard to believe.

LOVELL: That he'd be pursued by many, many people with the thousands of different things and decided to hold his activities back to things he thought were important.

BALDWIN: Did he walk every day as knowing he was such a pioneer? Did that weigh on him?

LOVELL: He thought about himself as a team member. A member of thousands of people that worked together and he was very fortunate to be the end point of the first landing on the moon. There were many landings after that or several I should say. He just pioneered the way for the actual landing.

BALDWIN: I know for that Apollo 11 mission, Jim, you were Armstrong's back up commander. Do you remember the final thing he said to you before launch?

LOVELL: Yes, I backed him up all the way. In fact, I said don't you feel sick, Neil. Maybe you shouldn't make this one. He was too healthy. He was very positive about it. As history showed he did an outstanding job and supporting the program, supporting the American people.

BALDWIN: You know, you talk about how he was a regular guy before this flight. What inspired his passion for astronomy for space?

LOVELL: Well, I think that his background always led himself to this type of work. You have remember that he was a naval aviator that flew about seven or eight missions in Korea at the time.

He worked for NACA, flew the X-15 rocket ship and then he was selected by NASA to following the space program. So this was his career. This is what he wanted to do. He was very good at it.

BALDWIN: Final question to you, Jim. That is, of course, you know, the moon was huge many moons ago in terms of that space and that step in the space frontier.

And now we're all following every increment of the Mars "Curiosity" rover. What did he make of us getting to Mars? Did you ever talk about that with him?

LOVELL: Can you hear me?

BALDWIN: I'm listening. I can hear you. Talk to me about Mars.

LOVELL: We talked about Mars as a matter of fact when we got together the last time. He wanted to have a definite mission program so that we had a program to have the mission that we could then develop the technology to support those missions. Sometimes we thought together that the opposite was being threw with developing technology and didn't have a mission for it.

BALDWIN: It's pretty spectacular these pictures that are coming from Mars and hopefully there will be blueprints in my lifetime. Jim Lovell, thank you.

LOVELL: My pleasure.

BALDWIN: Mandatory evacuations, they are happening right now all along the gulf coast. I'm about to speak live with a hurricane hunter who just landed from flying through Isaac. Don't miss this.

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