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Hurricane Isaac Threatens Gulf Coast; Republican National Convention Begins; Interview with Former Democratic Congressman Artur Davis; GOP Convention Disruption; Unsolicited Advice; Romney Sons Sit Down With Wolf; Convention Roll Call Starts Soon

Aired August 28, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: the Gulf Coast bracing for Hurricane Isaac, the powerful Category 1 storm forecast to slam the region only hours from now packing slashing winds and what could be more than a foot of rain.

We have reporters live on the ground covering this story from every angle across the danger zone. We will bring you live updates from their locations minutes from now. Stand by for that.

Also, our other big story we're covering today, the Republican National Convention right here in Tampa. Looking at live pictures. We're only an hour or so away from the roll call that begins. It will formally put Mitt Romney up for the presidential nomination.

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

All that coming up, but let's get straight to Hurricane Isaac, though. It's closing in on the Gulf Coast right now, expected to make landfall a few hours from now.

It's more than a chilling coincidence for a region marking the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.


BLITZER: In New Orleans, meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers is closing the floodgates to the world's largest pumping station for the first time since it was constructed in Katrina's wake.

Our own Brian Todd is over there. He's on the banks of Mississippi River.

Brian, tell our viewers what's going on.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the first very serious squall of this storm just hit us. It's still kind of present here, not quite as serious as it was a couple of minutes ago, but a very serious band of rain here along the Mississippi River.

You can see some of the whitecaps down here on the river just under the Crescent Connector, the Crescent City Connector Bridge. That bridge we're told is going to remain open. But again they have got to monitor these conditions. We're looking at a Category 1 here pretty soon.

So, this -- and the storm surge that you and Chad were just talking about, that is going to be key, not necessarily on this river, but in other areas. And we talked about the levees that have just been upgraded, $11 billion spent to upgrade the levees, floodgates and walls. This is going to be the first big test of it. We just got this first big squall of the storm here, Wolf. It's coming along.

BLITZER: And they're pretty confident it can handle a Category 1 hurricane even if it stays on the ground for a long time, is that right, Brian?

TODD: They're very confident they can handle a Category 1 and beyond, Wolf.

They think that they can handle it up to Category 4 or 5, almost a Katrina-strength storm. They say that the system as it's constructed now can handle that kind of storm. This is not going to be that. But, again, as Chad mentioned, very slow moving. This kind of rain and much, much heavier is going to be hanging over this area for hours basically starting now. And that's what they're really worried about, some really serious rainfall in New Orleans. They're going to have to activate those pump systems.

Have some video that we can show you. We were just at Lake Pontchartrain maybe about eight to 10 miles north of here just a short time ago. You saw the really first serious storm surge of this thing with the waves really slamming the coastline off Lake Pontchartrain. And people still out there.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu is telling people do not go out there, but we saw plenty of people out by the water. Maybe they're from here and they're seasoned in this kind of thing, but he's telling them don't do what we're seeing these people do here. But that was a very, very serious storm surge. It's a little different here, not as much wind here as it is up there.

But as you can see, we're getting a lot of rain. And I'm getting a bit of a wind squall here as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. We will check back with you.

The president meanwhile has signed an emergency declaration for the state of Mississippi. The National Hurricane Center is projecting storm surges of up to 12 feet in parts of the state.

CNN's John Zarrella is joining us from Gulfport right now.

John, what are you seeing?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, Wolf, and that's exactly what the big concern, of course, here is, water, two kinds of water, rainwater, up to 20 inches of rainwater, and the storm surge from the Gulf of Mexico you see behind me.

See the waves starting to come in now? We just about within the last hour had the first of the real rain and squall that we have seen here at all from Hurricane Isaac. And this, Wolf, here, this is Highway 90. And it runs all along the Gulf Coast here in Mississippi.

And a lot of this is going to go underwater tonight, no question about it. Now, where we are, the elevation is about 20 feet. So, as you drop off down to sea level, not likely that we will see any water up here, but certainly on the lower level of the road down there.

Take a look at this over here, Wolf, a lot of people still out here, still sightseeing and watching the waves come in and taking pictures. And some folks were even in the water just a few minutes ago. We haven't seen a lot of police officers chasing anybody away yet. But, again, we haven't really seen a lot of wind, just that first squall line that came through just a few minutes ago, Wolf.

BLITZER: John, Gulfport, Mississippi, as all of our viewers probably remember, sustained really devastating damage during Katrina exactly seven years ago this week.

So how are the residents preparing now? Are many of them evacuating?

ZARRELLA: The three coastal counties ordered the low-lying areas evacuated, 110,000 people evacuated.

There are 19 shelters open, including two special needs shelters. The Mississippi emergency management officials told us they have about 1,000 people in those shelters as well. You know, the casinos that are along the coast here, they have already been closed down as well. They're done, no business there anymore until all of this is said and done.

And today -- earlier today, we were out and we saw hundreds of people packing sandbags, the county providing truckloads of sand, and these folks were coming out who live in the low-lying areas, Katrina still very fresh in their memories, and saying, look, this time we're not taking any chances.

We know this is not a Katrina by any stretch of the imagination, but we are still susceptible to a lot of rainfall and a lot of storm surge. And they were filling the sandbags and getting ready. And a lot of the folks we talked to said, yes, this is not a Katrina, and we hope that in our lifetimes, we never see another one like that, because you're absolutely right, terrible devastation all through this area seven years ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Hard to believe exactly seven years later we're about to see another hurricane hit this area.

John Zarrella, we will get back to you.

Earlier today over at the White House President Obama spoke about Isaac. He's urging everyone to heed the warnings and take the storm very seriously.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to encourage all residents of the Gulf Coast to listen to your local officials and follow their directions, including if they tell you to evacuate.

We're dealing with a big storm. And there could be significant flooding and other damage across a large area. Now is not the time to tempt fate. Now is not the time to dismiss official warnings. You need to take this seriously.


BLITZER: Very good advice from the president of the United States.

We're just getting in a new picture of Hurricane Isaac from NASA. Take a look at this. We will put it up. We will show you what's going on. There it is. You see the size of this storm. Seems to be pretty well-organized. It's moving slowly.

We're told that that's bad news because it will hover over the Gulf Coast, including Louisiana, parts of Alabama, parts of Mississippi for a longer time, leaving lots and lots of rain. A big danger here is the floods that inevitably will develop. That's the picture just coming in from NASA.

As Isaac heads for New Orleans, so are the storm chasers who make their living putting themselves wherever the worst weather is. We're going to talk with one of them. That's coming up.

Also, a former Democratic congressman is set to address this Republican National Convention here in Tampa later tonight, what Artur Davis thinks about the firestorm he's created. He is taking a lot of heat from his former Democratic colleagues.

And all eyes on Ann Romney and the candidate's wife as she takes center stage later tonight -- what the five Romney sons told me about their mom's big night. I spent some time interviewing all five sons. You will see the interview.

That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: CNN's Ed Lavandera is in one of the areas feeling Hurricane Isaac's wrath right now, Grand Isle, Louisiana.

Ed, I take it the wind has started to pick up. It's only going to get worse.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. There's no question we're starting to see the strongest effects of hurricane Isaac that we've experienced all day. In just the last few moments the rain has just whipped through here in Grand Isle and has really cut down visibility. We're looking back here a little bit toward the north. This is the bay area back toward New Orleans. And we could see for quite a while just a short while ago.

But just beyond the homes right there on the bay, we're also starting to see the storm surge get pushed back over the island because right now the winds are coming out of the north. But here shortly as this storm continues to make its way toward us, this is looking out toward the Gulf of Mexico. And the storm surge will be coming this way.

Four years ago when Hurricane Gustav came through here, there are about three feet of water, where we're standing now, this is one of the higher points of the island. But right now, the storm is starting to intensify dramatically here on Grand Isle. A place that normally has about 1,500 people who live here year round.

I spoke with the mayor a little while ago, he believes the population now is down to about 30, many people heeding the evacuation warning and got off the island. In fact talking to a couple officials here a little while ago there you can see the strong gusts of winds really starting to pick up, Wolf. But some of the roadways starting to get covered up with water, which makes it a very dangerous situation for anybody trying to drive.

But quite honestly, Wolf, right now we haven't seen anybody driving around. Just a few of the emergency personnel that have been left back on the island, which is the majority of the people that are still here right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Be careful over there, Ed. We're going to stay in close touch with you until we can't.

But I assume you have a good place to protect yourself, the crew, everyone else. We stay in close touch with Ed Lavandera in Grand Isle, Louisiana. You can see the wind beginning to pick up dramatically over there.

We'll stay on top of the hurricane story. We're also following this Republican convention here in Tampa. Ann Romney set to speak to the Republicans later tonight in a few hours. Her family will certainly be in the audience tonight.

Here at the convention hall her five sons, all five of them, sat down with me a little while ago. Got a personal look at their mom. Standby for that.

And as hurricane Isaac barrels towards New Orleans, we'll go back live to the Gulf Coast for the very latest.


BLITZER: We'll get back to the Gulf Coast in a few moments. The latest on hurricane Isaac is coming up. There's new information. We're about to get a new forecast as well from the National Hurricane Center.

Meanwhile, the other big story we're following taking place right here in Tampa, the Republican National Convention. About to kick into full swing with a role call of states that will formally nominate Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential candidate. Tonight all eyes will be on another person, a former United States congressman and a former Democrat.


BLITZER: And joining us now, former Democratic Congressman Artur Davis, who's here at the Republican National Convention.

You got a big speech tonight.

ARTUR DAVIS, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: And I got a Florida suntan on top of it.


If somebody would have said to you four years ago when you seconded the nomination of Barack Obama to be the Democratic presidential nominee that you'd be speaking at this Republican convention four years later, what would you have said?

DAVIS: Wolf, I'm sure I would have been surprised. The same way a lot of other people who voted for President Obama in 2008 and who don't plan to vote for him now, if you plan today say to other individuals who walked away from the Obama camp that four years later, they wouldn't be supporting him, they'd be shocked too.

BLITZER: And I was surprised, the letter from the Congressional Black Caucus, I don't know if you received it yet. Among other things --

DAVIS: I think it was meant more for you guys than for me. So --

BLITZER: Well, it's a tough letter.

DAVIS: I've seen the media reports on it.

BLITZER: Given the magnitude of your recent transformation they write, "We can only conclude that rather than a true conversion, your actions are the result of a nakedly personal and political calculation or simmering anguish over failing to secure the Democratic nomination for governor."

Wow, those are strong words -- and you used to be very active within the Congressional Black Caucus.

DAVIS: Well, my grandmother is deceased, but she taught me a long time ago, don't lower yourself to other people's level to get in a fight with them. I recognize that in the African-American community, there's an intense loyalty towards President Obama. And I understand that. I respect that.

There's a huge sense of community pride in the president. And I think some of the individuals who signed that letter were probably looking to get some media attention. Some others I think were sincerely reflecting the sentiment I just described. They're loyal Obama supporters. And I think they struggle with how an African- American cannot be in that camp.

But I'll make the point to you that I've made before, a political party is not a prison. You don't need a permission slip to leave it. Many Americans have left the Democratic Party in the last several years. I'm excited about the choice I've made, honored to speak to this convention tonight.

BLITZER: You've walked around -- I don't know if you've walked around on the floor, not a whole lot of African-Americans on this Republican convention floor right now. You're obviously now one of a handful. How does that feel?

DAVIS: Well, we've got a lot of work to do in the Republican Party. There's no question that for a long period of time that the Republican Party has let others define it with respect to minorities, with respect to equality. I think it's time for conservatives and Republicans to step up to the plate and start defining ourselves.

Ultimately, I think you can be a good conservative and someone who also cares about lifting people in poverty. Governor Mitch Daniels is one of the most eloquent spokesmen in this country on attacking poverty and he's a hard core conservative. Governor Bobby Jindal in Louisiana has done a tremendous amount to help kids in poor failing schools. He's a hard core conservative, but he still cares.

I think those of us who are conservatives have an obligation to talk about that side of conservatism that also wants to close gaps in this society.

BLITZER: A lot of people are comparing your conversion from Democrat to Republican from someone who supported President Obama to now supporting Mitt Romney to Charlie Christ, the former Republican governor of this state, Florida, who next week will be speaking at the Democratic convention in support of President Obama. So he's obviously changed as well. Can you relate to him?

DAVIS: Oh, he has a right to do whatever he wants to do. I know much about Governor Christ, but I know this about myself -- when I was in the Democratic Party, I was in the conservative wing of the party. Some of the very same people you signed the letter you referenced regularly criticized me when I was in Congress for being too conservative, for siding with Republicans too much.

So, I'll let other people make their judgment about whether Christ's statement now is consistent with his record in the last 15 years. I'm very comfortable that I'm speaking from the vantage of always held the center right in American politics. The problem is there is no Democratic center right anymore.

BLITZER: You were one of those so-called blue dogs, is that right, when you were a Democratic senator (ph)?

DAVIS: I was a conservative Democrat.

BLITZER: And you were comfortable as a conservative Democrat. But that's --

DAVIS: I was comfortable because there used to be a lot of us. In the last four years, the conservative Democratic wing of the party has been sawed off. It's no longer vibrant, consist of only a few members of Congress right now. The Democratic Party has moved in what I view as a reflexively leftward direction. It's not a direction that I share and it's not a direction most Americans share in my opinion.

BLITZER: If you were by chance to run into the president of the United States, Barack Obama, a man you know, worked with him, what would you say to him? He would say, Artur, what's going on?

DAVIS: I would say, Mr. President, I have enormous respect for you and I wish you the best, but reasonable people can disagree. Reasonable people can have different opinions and tolerate each other. And I would say, Mr. President, that's the kind of America that you talked about in 2004.

And I'm willing to bet you the president would say, you know what, I understand that. He'd probably say I'm going to beat you, but I understand that.

BLITZER: Artur Davis, good luck with your speech tonight.

DAVIS: Thank you. I appreciate it.

BLITZER: We'll be seeing it. Thanks very much for coming in.

DAVIS: Good to see you. Thank you.


BLITZER: Much more on this Republican convention coming up here in Tampa including my interview with all five Romney sons. Standby for that.

Meanwhile, hurricane Isaac is packing strong winds, lots of rain and a pretty slow punch to the Gulf that you can see from space. Look at these pictures. We're going to get the latest on its strength and when it's expected to make landfall in just a few minutes a new forecast about to come out.

And there are also curfews in effect across the Gulf Coast including in New Orleans. We're going there live as they brace for this hurricane.


BLITZER: Bracing for Hurricane Isaac all along the gulf coast including in New Orleans. We're going to go back there live in a few moments.

But first, John King is here. John, we're here at the Republican convention. They were moving along pretty much on script, but then Ron Paul and some of his supporters interfered, shall we say. JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We heard a little bit of what will pass for drama at Mitt Romney's Republican convention. Without a doubt, this is now Mitt Romney's party.

However, as they're going through sort of the perfunctory set the stage business, the Credentials Committee, the Rules Committee -- people at home are probably thinking what do I care about that.

Well, that includes who gets to sit here as delegates as the Credentials Committee. Ron Paul supporters lost a few fights with the Romney campaign and with the Republican National Committee.

So when the Credentials Committee chairman came out and announced the results of those, there was some booing. And then the Rules Committee Chairman came out. John Sununu, as you know, a very prominent Mitt Romney guy has rubbed a lot of the Ron Paul people the wrong way shall we say.

An abrasive guy in some ways, they lost some of the rules fights too so they were chanting point of order because they believed their voice is on voice phone. They believe they carried the day.

Reince Priebus, the chairman said, no, I carried the day. So they are chanting point of order and the convention organizers had the other delegates chant USA. A little bit of a competition.

Look, make no mistake about it, some of the Ron Paul supporters are not happy with the way they're being treated here. Will it affect the outcome of the convention?

No, not at all. But does it tell you something about the Ron Paul legacy and some of the feistiness of his grassroots conservatives, his supporters? We'll see that throughout the convention.

BLITZER: Ron Paul refused to speak because, A, he wouldn't let the Romney people review his speech in advance. And he says he can't fully endorse the Republican presidential candidate.

KING: I don't fully endorse it. Some people out there say almost, you know, Ron Paul only had a moderate number of delegates so what. In a very close election, who knows? Now we expect they're here, expect them to vote Republican.

There is a libertarian candidate running for president, Gary Johnson, he's here in this city this week trying to peel off some of those Ron Paul supporters. It's a little bit of drama here. There are Paul supporters, some Santorum supporters and others who aren't quite happy with Mitt Romney.

But this is not so much about Mitt Romney. This is more the grassroots Paul supporters against what they view as a Republican establishment who wants to keep their power in the halls of party in Washington as opposed to out in the states.

BLITZER: A little tension here at this Republican convention. All right, John, thanks very much.

Let's get straight to CNN contributor and Sirius XM radio host Pete Dominick. He's over at the CNN Grill here in Tampa as well getting some unsolicited advice from his panel. Pete, what's going on?

PETE DOMINICK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you very much, Wolf Blitzer. I'm here with a brilliant panel. We're going to have a great discussion about the future of the GOP.

We're here, of course, at the RNC in Tampa. Let's take a snapshot because Rick Santorum and Chris Christie are speaking tonight. Whose party is this? Let's take a look real quick.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Some Republicans worry that the Republican Party will come off even more conservative. This is from Dan Quayle, quote, "the philosophy you hear from time to time, which is unfortunate, is one of exclusion rather than inclusion. You have to be expanding the base, expanding the party."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Long-term conservative principles that they're to be successful and implemented. There has to be a concerted effort to reach to a much broader audience than we do today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'll see different side of the Republican Party than we've seen in the long time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Republicans Party brain is under water right now. How do you turn that around?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You start turning around tonight.


DOMINICK: All right, so let's start with Karen Santorum because your husband, Rick, is speaking tonight so is Chris Christie. Whose party is this? Is there a fracture or are we trying to make this up?

KAREN SANTORUM, RICK SANTORUM'S WIFE: I think we're united. I think the Republican Party is definitely wanting to continue what they have always done, and that is, you know, keep to our founding principles and keep faith and family and hard work ethic and things like that at the forefront. We're excited.

DOMINICK: Ross, I mean, there's these three different factions at least. You know, the fiscal conservative, the religious and social conservatives and the libertarians. We see what's happening on the floor with Ron Paul. Is there a fracture?

ROSS DOUTHAT, "NEW YORK TIMES" COLUMNIST: Actually, I think compared to some years the Republican Party's pretty united. I mean, Mitt Romney has run a fairly generic campaign in certain ways.

He's run as a sort of I'm, you know, I'm Mr. Republican. I'm for low taxes, strong national defense and so on. I don't think it's been a particularly creative campaign overall.

But I think he's fairly successfully sort of presided over the different factions, kept they will nullified, maybe except during the floor fights going on right now.

And also, I mean, look, you're running against an incumbent who Republicans don't like very much. And the party is at the very least united around the idea of beating Barack Obama. So I think the media narrative of fractures is probably a little overstated this week.

DOMINICK: What I see is this is the Tea Party's triumph. I mean, certainly Romney's doing a good job of trying to preside over it. But let's give the Tea Party it's due at once. Three years ago we were laughing at these guys who are these nut cases disrupting these things --

DOUTHAT: Speak for yourself.

DOMINICK: Right. But you had a big chunk of America saying who are these nut cases disrupting townhall meetings? They're going to be a flash in the pan. Three years later, they have effectively taken over a major American party.

And if they win in November, they will have taken over the American government. You will never see a more effective grass roots movement. You have to go back to the civil rights movement to find effective, this is their party and they earned it.

CARLY FIORINA (R), FORMER SENATE CANDIDATE: The things that unite the Republican Party are so critical now. Let's start with our belief that faith and family -- not centralized and expanded.

We will trust a job creator and an entrepreneur over a regulator or a bureaucrat. And, finally, we believe that individuals are going to make better choices for themselves, their families, their businesses than some far away bureaucrat is going to make for them.

Those are fundamental to the direction of this nation. Those are fundamental.

DOUTHAT: The economy as you said also reflects -- I mean, those are sort of generic and over arching principles, right? And I think the success of Romney has been sort of focusing on the principles. And maybe, you know, leaving some of the underlying details --

FIORINA: Right on to the path we choose going forward.

DOMINICK: there's obviously a tremendous amount of difference. Got pretty dirty between your husband and Mitt Romney and let's be honest, there's not a ton of enthusiasm. Mitt Romney's not captain inspiration.

Your husband frankly is a lot more inspiring than Mitt Romney, but can he bring them back together and the people that supported your husband? And the people most importantly support Ron Paul? SANTORUM: We're hoping and praying he can. I do believe he can. He's smart --

DOMINICK: You're hoping?

SANTORUM: I'm anxious to learn more about him. I'm a mother. We know Mitt Romney from running against him. So I see a different person, but I know he's great with national security. I know that he's really good with welfare reform and jobs and the economy and lowering taxes.

I know he'll do everything he can to support families. What I as a mother want to learn more about is Mitt Romney as the father, as the husband. Because it speaks volumes about all of us, you know, when we learn more about how people operate in their daily lives.

DOUTHAT: She's actually just setting the stage for the secret Rick Santorum-led rebellion, which is going to fracture the party in a few hours tonight.

FIORINA: It's so funny how people in the media want so badly for the Republican Party to be fractured. This is in fact a diverse -- it is a diverse party. It is not all one face.

It is in fact a big tent. But around these core principles, to use your phrase, but principles that really mark a fork in the nation, a huge fork in the road.

DOMINICK: The diversify, if the GOP were to build a house, a third would be a church, a third would be condemned because they don't like -- and the third Mitt Romney would buy.

FIORINA: Come on.

DOUTHAT: It would be a great investment. He'd buy that too.

SANTORUM: I'm going to talk kids. We're all different. We're all individuals, but we're still a family. And the Republican Party is so much similar to that.

FIORINA: That's true.

SANTORUM: We're still very much united and together.

VAN JONES, FORMER OBAMA SPECIAL ADVISER: I just think that the party is united. It's united around the Tea Party vision, which is an extreme vision. And part of what you're seeing right now, frankly, Romney you cannot show me a difference between the Romney and what the Tea Party would have to say.

SANTORUM: First of all, I was on the campaign trail for months. And I have to tell you, the Tea Party people are not nuts. They were some of the best and most beautiful people I ever knew.

JONES: They are to the far right. SANTORUM: If you think of the Democrat Party, what's happening is they're so extreme. They're talking about completely usurping the way America, big government, more and more government intrusion into our lives. We don't want that. But with Obamacare we won't get there.

JONES: You mean Romney care. Romney care. In other words you're attacking Obama for adopting your candidate's view.

DOUTHAT: But how extreme can the Republican Party be if it just nominated Mitt Romney, man?

JONES: A candidate who has to run away from his own fine record because the Tea Party's taken over this party and it won't accept --

DOMINICK: I want to keep doing this, but we have to get back to Wolf, Carly. Thank you all. Throw it back to Wolf Blitzer. Thank you guys very much. We're take a quick break. We'll come back. We'll come back. Great.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're here on the convention floor. We're standing by for the start of the roll call of states that will formally nominate Mitt Romney to be the Republican presidential candidate.

Later tonight, one of the highlights if not the highlight of the night will be Ann Romney. She will take the stage for the first big speech of this convention. Her family and it's a large family, will be in the arena to support her.

Just a little while ago earlier today I had a chance to sit down with her sons, all five of them, to get their take on their mom's big night.


BLITZER: We're here in the CNN Grill with the five, yes, five Romney sons. Let me introduce them to our viewers here in United States and around the world. We'll start all the way to my right, Ben. That's you, right?


BLITZER: And Matt, right?


BLITZER: Tagg, you're the oldest, right?


BLITZER: Yes. Josh and Craig. All of us are here. We're together. We're getting excited because your mom is going to be speaking tonight at the Republican convention. Have you already heard her speech?

TAGG ROMNEY: I have not heard her speech. I saw her up there practicing a little bit, but I didn't get to stop and listen. Very excite today hear what she has to say. I'm sure she'll say nice things about my dad.

BLITZER: Have you at all been consulted on what she should say? Any of you guys been consulted about the substance of the speech?

TAGG ROMNEY: No. She's written most of it herself. She's had some help from speechwriters, but most has been her own thoughts. She'll talk about my dad and his vision and why she should be president and what he'll do once he's there.

BLITZER: She's really an amazing woman. I spent some quality time with her in Iowa almost exactly a year ago. And I got to know her. And I realized at that time you tell me a little bit about her inspiring story because she inspired me. And you've lived with her your whole life.

MATT ROMNEY: Just the fact that she raised us boys and we're still alive is inspiring enough. We gave her so much trouble growing up. Really looking at her, we're so proud of her.

She battled with MS and was really at a low point several years ago. And she's just fought hard. She's out stomping for my dad, you know, hitting the trail every day. We're really proud of her.

BLITZER: And you're a doctor, Ben, so you know something about her medical condition, not only MS, but breast cancer. She's amazing. She's got a lot of emergency. How do you explain that? A lot of MS -- people who have MS aren't as active, as lively as enthusiastic as she is.

BEN ROMNEY: Well, you know, I think MS can take a lot of different forms. We're very glad that it hasn't affected my mom as much as it can affect other people, I think. And she counts herself very fortunate for that.

She's also taking a very active role in making sure that she stays on top of her disease both with conventional therapy and with alternative therapy. She's done a great job of staying on top making sure she eats healthy. She's active. She's fit. All those have helped her.

BLITZER: She told me when I spent time with her. She gets tired once in a while. But she has ways of dealing with it.

BEN ROMNEY: Yes. She talks to us a lot on the trail. And she'll tell us, OK, it's time for me to take a break.

BLITZER: She knows. Her body is telling her.

BEN ROMNEY: She knows, yes. And sometimes she overdoes it a little bit. She's admitted that, but she tries to keep it within a reasonable amount. So she's not overexerting herself.

BLITZER: I ask you because you're the doctor, is there one alternative medical procedure that really helps her? I know the horses have helped her a lot.

BEN ROMNEY: The horses helped her a whole lot. She's done acupuncture and reflexology, little herbal medicine. You know, all sorts of things have helped her.

BLITZER: I know all that kind of stuff works. Tell us a little bit before we move to your dad something you want to share about your mom.

JOSH ROMNEY, SON OF MITT ROMNEY AND ANN ROMNEY: You know, she has just this great motherly instinct. I think each of us in our own way were pretty rough kids and we're pretty naughty at times. And she's had a ton of patience for us, always showed us love and respect. Just a great mom. Kept us in line.

BLITZER: You want to share something else?

CRAIG ROMNEY, SON OF MITT ROMNEY AND ANN ROMNEY: Yes. It's just, you know, we're very proud of her for the fight that she's been through and also I think she has a tremendous amount of compassion for people she meets around the country.

She really understands that, you know, you don't always see the troubles people are going through, but she's always very compassionate and very sincere in her dealings with other people.

BLITZER: You love her very much I'm sure like all of you do. On the plane coming here to Tampa today she gave everyone little cakes. You grew up eating those.

CRAIG ROMNEY: That means less for us. We're little upset about that.

BLITZER: She gave me one on the bus last year. Those are delicious.

TAGG ROMNEY: Yes. Those are grandmother's recipe. I guess her grandmother wasn't a very good cook, but my mom wanted to take something from her grandmother anyway.

MATT ROMNEY: She knows she has to hide them from me. She leaves them out, they're gone.


BLITZER: All right, much more of my interview with the five Romney sons coming up later in THE SITUATION ROOM. They get personal and talk about their dad as well. I ask them if they have political ambitions.

Any of these five sons want to be a politician like their father, like their grandfather? Much more of the interview coming up later.

We're also closely monitoring Hurricane Isaac right now. In the next hour, we're going to go live to Grand Isle, Louisiana. We're starting to see the first real bans come ashore.

We're also awaiting a new forecast. Chad Myers' standing by for that.


BLITZER: We're here in Tampa for the start of the Republican National Convention. It began in earnest just a few hours ago. We're standing by for the roll call of the states to begin.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, reports from the floor.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mitt Romney landed in Tampa with his wife, Ann, by his side for her night in the spotlight.

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: I think we will see that my speech is heartfelt. And I think a lot of you've been covering me long enough and you know that I've never gone off of the written text. So this is a unique experience for me.

ACOSTA: Within minutes, the Romneys arrives at the convention. And before you could say teleprompter, then leaving her husband behind closed doors, Mrs. Romney was doing her walk-through for her convention speech.

The man at the top of the ticket still has until Thursday to craft his remarks, but advisors say the candidate, who is often criticized for being too scripted, will open up.

STU STEVENS, ROMNEY SENIOR ADVISER: It will be a clear vision of a Romney presidency and very much from his heart about America. And why he wants to be president and what a presidency would be like.

ACOSTA: Ohio senator and VP short lister Rob Portman says the softer side of Romney could go a long way in firming up his support.

(on camera): They're expecting him to speak from the heart, is the way they're describing it. Is that what he needs to do?

SENATOR ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: Listen, I think he's going to give a great speech. And the American people are going to get a new view of Mitt Romney. They're hearing a lot of attack ads right now. Certainly in my home state of Ohio they're nonstop. I think folks will really like what they see.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Don't forget the man delivering the convention's keynote address, Chris Christie, who could be setting the stage for his own future presidential run. And what's a party without some crashers?

Ron Paul supporters cheered on the Texas congressman as he entered the floor. They're fired up over changes to the convention's delegate rules and Paul wasn't telling them to keep it down.

(on camera): What's your message, Congressman?

REP. RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: Same one I've been giving you for 35 years.

ACOSTA (on camera): Were you OK with the whole process?

PAUL: I think they're expressing themselves rather well.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Meanwhile Democrats outside the convention telling their version of the real Romney.

GOVERNOR MARTIN O'MALLEY (D), MARYLAND: Governor Romney doesn't have what it takes to grow this economy, the lessons he learned as a corporate buyout specialist were not lessons that should be apply today a national economy.


BLITZER: Jim Acosta on the floor. We're going to be checking back with him shortly. We're keeping you posted on two major stories we're following right now.

At the top of the hour, we'll get the latest update on Hurricane Isaac from the National Hurricane Center. We'll go live to Louisiana.

Here in Tampa the Republican convention, we're standing by for the roll call of states. We'll follow that as well. Our live coverage from the Republican National Convention continues right after this.