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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Tropical Storm Isaac Coverage; Interview with Senator Mary Landrieu; Interview with Los Angeles Mayor Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Tropical Storm Isaac Threatens New Orleans; Republicans Prepare for National Convention; Romney's Wide Gap with Younger Voters; A Convention Collaboration

Aired August 28, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


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SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to a special edition of STARTING POINT. I'm Soledad O'Brien. And we're coming to you live from the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Our STARTING POINT this morning is Isaac. It's on the verge of becoming a full-blown hurricane right now. And it's taking aim at Louisiana. The biggest threat, storm surge, rainfall, CNN's forecasters are predicting floodwaters up to 12 feet.

And with an eye on Isaac, the Republican press ahead with the national convention in Tampa.

We've got a packed show for you this morning. The New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu will join us. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu is my guest. Congressman Aaron Schock of Illinois will talk to us. And Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is going to join us.

Plus, do it yourself expert Ty Pennington will be with us.

It's Tuesday, August 28th. And STARTING POINT begins right now.

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O'BRIEN: Hey, everybody. We're coming to you live from Jackson Square in the French Quarter in New Orleans.

And our STARTING POINT is tropical storm Isaac, which is gaining strength. It happened overnight, getting closer to becoming a hurricane as it closes in on the Louisiana coast. The winds right now are hovering around 70 miles an hour. The storm expected to make landfall tonight or early tomorrow morning as a category 1 hurricane.

Storm surge and rainfall are the biggest concern. Could create storm surges up to 12 feet, we're told. Thousands of people in Louisiana, in Mississippi, in Alabama, are evacuating. But we found many folks right here in New Orleans who have decided to hunker down and say they're going to ride out the storms.

The big question today is, will the levees hold against Isaac? We've got to get right to tropical storm coverage. Let's get right to Rob Marciano. He's reporting for us this morning from the port of New Orleans.

Hey, Rob. Good morning.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Soledad.

As it is where you are, it's getting a bit more breezy. We've had periodic light rain bands coming in. They begin around midnight last night. But nothing substantial. You can see the sunshine behind me trying to break through some of that overcast as having a hard time.

All right. The 8:00 advisory is in. So, let's go over those numbers. It is not hurricane status officially yet. But it is a big storm with a large circulation. Winds are really right there at 70 miles an hour.

But here is the main change. We did drop a millibar in pressure, but inconsequential. It's getting a little bit better organized.

But the main change is that northwesterly movement at seven miles per hour. It has slowed down, which is what we expected it to do, and that's not going to bode well for New Orleans, for Baton Rouge, for Venice, Louisiana, for Morgan City, for Pascagoula and points to the southwest Mississippi area, because that means heavier rain and a rain event that's going to be of longer duration.

So, the track is not as important this close in. We do expect it to continue on that northwesterly track at about 7 miles an hour, making landfall tonight and early into tomorrow morning. The question is how much storm surge and how much rainfall do we get with this. And the rainfall right now is mostly to the southern part of the storm system.

But when you see white on this map, it indicates rainfall that's expected to be over 10 inches, and that's important when you talk about New Orleans. We discussed the levees. That they beefed those up to withstand the storm surge, but you also have to pump out the rain water that's gong to accumulate in the city of New Orleans.

And the pumps, even the modern pumps that they have installed are only designed to pump out an inch for the first hour, and then a half an inch for every hour after that. And you know during a hurricane or tropical storm the rainfall rates can be two, three, and at times four inches per hour. So there's going to be significant flooding in New Orleans and then points northward as well.

So that's the latest from here. We are live along the Mississippi River waterfront. We are also watching what's going on in Lake Pontchartrain, where we were yesterday. That's going to put some pressure on the northern levees there and the channel closures.

So, right now, we are just waiting it out as you are, Soledad, and most of the people in New Orleans. Most haven't evacuated, and they are told now you really shouldn't. So just wait it out as it arrives later on tonight -- Soledad. O'BRIEN: Right. If you're here, it's time to just hunker down. We're getting intermittent rain storms as well and it does look like the sun might break in a little bit as well, the wind is picking up a bit.

Rob Marciano for us this morning -- thanks, Rob. Appreciate it.

The massive storm is triggering hurricane warnings along a large stretch of the Gulf Coast, including the entire Mississippi coast. Some spots are very familiar with disaster. Katrina's storm surge smashed homes in places like Waveland and Gulfport and Long Beach. You might remember those names from Katrina.

On the eastern side of the storm, and they killed more than 200 people in the state. Seven years later, the same places are in the same dangerous position. Many folks evacuating there.

David Mattingly is live for us in Gulfport this morning.

Hey, David. Good morning.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. You're talking about those evacuations. Those are mandatory evacuations that have been ordered for some targeted positions in two of the three coastal counties in Mississippi. These are low-lying areas, problems that they would expect to see would be from the storm surge and the flooding from the rain that is coming with this storm.

We're looking at a high tide right now in Gulfport, Mississippi. The water is expected to come in just a little bit more. Just a taste of what the storm surge might be later on late tonight as the storm comes in. But right now, everyone just watching the storm, thinking about Katrina, knowing that this storm is not another Katrina.

But at the same time, they are looking to see if they can test some of those lessons that they did learn from Katrina when they rebuilt after all of the destruction here. They rebuilt higher. They rebuilt stronger. A lot of the houses that were blown down and rebuilt have been rebuilt not in wood but in steel and cement.

So people looking at this storm with some confidence. But, again, no one takes anything for granted with these hurricanes as they come ashore along this Gulf Coast. Too many lessons learned in the past. And this one is no different. They are going to be looking for a lot of rain, and they're going be to watching the surf to see where this storm surge actually comes up and how high it will be here. Soledad.

O'BRIEN: David Mattingly for us this morning in Gulfport. Thanks, David. Appreciate it.

Let's get the very latest on Isaac's path and the intensity as well. We are back with Richard Knabb. He's the director of the National Hurricane Center.

Richard, a moment ago, we heard from Rob Marciano that the change from last hour's update to this hour's update is the speed. It seems slow. What's the implication of that?

RICHARD KNABB, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Yes. Glad you asked that question. The slowdown in the forward speed, now down to seven miles an hour, is not good news when it comes to the rainfall totals that could really, really add up as the system moves onshore and inland. Not just going to be a coastal concern, but well inland, a slow-moving and relatively large tropical storm, Isaac could dump up to 20 inches of rain in some spots. Not everybody will get that. But in southeastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi, Alabama, the Florida panhandle, that's just for starters over the next few days. It could penetrate well inland.

And after rain falls, then the rivers can fill up and river flooding can cause a lot of problems, you know, days after landfall and after the rains end. So that's slow motion. And the big size or big problem, of course the big size is the storm-producing part of Isaac.

O'BRIEN: So then what are you thinking about in terms of when it makes landfall? At what time? We've been saying late tonight, early tomorrow morning. What are you thinking about specifically?

KNABB: Well, it depends on exactly where it comes ashore. But because Louisiana sticks out and has a complicated coastline there, it's hard to pinpoint the time where the center of storm crosses land -- but sometime tonight. But because it's so large and sprawling where it comes ashore isn't going to change the outcome for a lot of people, especially if you're on the right side, the onshore flow side, that's where the storm surge will be maximized. And that's why southeast Louisiana and the Mississippi coastline could see storm surge flooding of six to 12 feet above ground level in some spots.

But the other thing is that the center of circulation is just such a small part of the entire thing. The large size is really what we need to focus on. And it doesn't matter if you get the dead center or not. Effects can extend well away from the center.

And the one good thing about it right now is that the north side of it is not as wet as the south side of it and the east side of it right now. So that's sparing the coast from heavy rains at least for now, but it's coming.

O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you. We appreciate it. We're going to keep getting our hourly updates from you.

Richard Knabb at the National Hurricane Center -- thanks a lot.

And folks here in New Orleans obviously watching the weather closely, even folks outside of the Gulf Coast certainly, hoping that improvements to the levee system are going to hold.

Senator Mary Landrieu is a Democrat from Louisiana, joining us this morning.

It's nice to see you.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: Thank you. O'BRIEN: That seems to be the $64,000 question, that this is really a test to the improvements to the levee system. Let's talk about that first. How comfortable do you feel about that?

LANDRIEU: Well, fairly comfortable, Soledad. And I want to thank the people for the United States for the tremendous investments they have made along with us for one of the finest levee systems in the world. We invested $14.5 billion on category -- to protect us from a category 2 or 3. We believe this will be a 1.

But it's not just the storm surge that I want people to really understand. It's the internal drainage that's so important from this area.

O'BRIEN: We were just talking about that, the pumps. Let's talk about that now.

LANDRIEU: We have 78 pumps in a four parish area. They have all been improved and substantially upgraded since Katrina. In fact, the pumping system near the surge near the surge barrier can pump an Olympic sized swimming pool in four seconds. That's how strong some of the pumping systems are here.

So we've made significant investments. FEMA has really stepped up. The Corps of Engineers has really stepped it up.

O'BRIEN: Everybody is talking about the storm slowing down, which means the rain setting which could be problematic.

LANDRIEU: Exactly. And, you know, Katrina brought such a storm surge that people think of hurricanes as only a storm surge situation. But you can have a hurricane like this, which is not very powerful, but it is large, dump a tremendous amount of water, whether it's on Louisiana or Carolina or parts of Florida, and do tremendous devastation, because you've got to have that internal drainage system.

That's why since hurricane Betsy, we've been fighting for full funding for SELA, the Southeastern Louisiana Flood Control Protection. And unfortunately, we're less than halfway through that.

So it's not just levees. It's not jump storm surge. It's pumping capacity which is important.

O'BRIEN: You had a chance to talk to the Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. What kind of conversations are you having?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, it's a completely new FEMA, completely new Homeland Security Department that exists now. The FEMA that we have now is smarter, it's stronger, and it's more cooperative.

So they have been contacting local elected officials literally for days. They had -- the president himself had a conversation with the governor, the mayor of New Orleans and the local officials just yesterday. So everyone is leaning forward and prepared for what we hope will not be serious, but you never know with these kinds of storms. O'BRIEN: Certainly the anniversary is a terrible one.

LANDRIEU: Yes, it's a terrible one to remember. And people are really frightened. In fact, the children in our family have known no other hurricane but Katrina -- some of the younger ones. And so, they are so afraid. And we keep telling them we can survive hurricanes.

They don't really believe it. You know, they think, why aren't we evacuating.

O'BRIEN: I think a lot of people think that. Who don't know anything about hurricanes? Why are you not evacuating? Is it category 3?

(CROSSTALK)

LANDRIEU: If it's category 3, we'll evacuate. But it's better and safer to shelter in place. That's why the federal government has invested over $55 billion in making this region more resilient.

We have raised 5,000 homes. We have gotten about $15 billion in community development block grant for housing. Our buildings are stronger. The camps are stronger.

So that's a smart investment. And, again, it's a much smarter FEMA, much more cooperative. And I think people are going to see that. And we hope that the flood control system works as well as we've designed it and funded it.

O'BRIEN: Well, we'll certainly be watching.

LANDRIEU: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We'll be here to cover it tomorrow as well.

Nice to see you, Senator. Thank you for talking with us.

LANDRIEU: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning as we continue our special coverage of Isaac, we are also keeping an eye at what's happening at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Not just Republican faces that we're seeing around. Democrats have been crashing that party. One of them is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He's going to join us live, coming up next.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're live from New Orleans. And we're back in just a moment.

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O'BRIEN: Hey, everybody. You're looking at a picture of Jackson Square in New Orleans. Turning out to be a beautiful morning, but the wind is picking up for us. And we've had intermittent rain already this morning. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're coming to you live this morning from New Orleans, because we're tracking Isaac. Other big story, of course, is in Tampa, Florida. Mitt Romney is flying there this morning for the delayed start of the Republican National Convention. He's going to be formally nominated for president after a roll call vote. Let's get right to John Berman. He's live at the CNN Grill in Tampa. Hey, john. Good morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. You know, we just got word that Mitt Romney has taken off from Boston. He is literally in the plane on the way here right now. Here to greet him, along with slew of Republicans, some Democrats, too, who are behind enemy lines trying to get out their own message.

Chief among them is Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa. He is the co-chair of the Obama campaign and the chairman for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte next week. It's so great to have you here. And I'm joined by our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin also.

Jessica has reported, mayor, that President Obama is maintaining his campaign swing today, going to Iowa, speaking at college campuses. He's got more events tomorrow. There's been a lot of talk about what the Republicans should and shouldn't do in the face of this tropical storm Isaac hitting the gulf coast, but yet, the president keeps on campaigning. Is that inappropriate?

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, (D) LOS ANGELES: Well, first of all, let me just say that I think Republicans and Democrats agree that priority number one is the health and safety of the people along the Gulf Coast, and our hearts and prayers are with them. As you know, the Vice President Biden suspended his campaign here in Florida.

The president is continuing his campaign. But at any moment, he may suspend it, given as things develop. I think what's important is that we all understand that priority number one is that we got to take care of these people. I think that Bobby Jindal, Mayor Landrieu, and the president are all working together. The federal, state, and the local, to make sure that people are safe.

BERMAN: You say priority number one is taking care of those people and coming together should be the priority, yet, you're still here. And you're not here, I'm sure, to come together with Republicans on this issue or many. You're here to rebutt the message from the Republican convention.

VILLARAIGOSA: You know, you can rebut the message without being angry, without being divisive, without polarizing. You're right. I'm here to compare and contrast, just as you're here to report. But I'm here to do that in a way that is respectful of the other party. Look, we have differences, and this election is about choices.

And the Democrats asked me to come. But, we also understand that there is a lot that Republicans and Democrats agree with respect to what we need to do to prepare for this storm. And so, you're right, we're here to compare and contrast, but we're also here together, working together to make sure people are safe. BERMAN: Ann Romney takes the stage tonight. She will be talking about her husband. One of the missions, apparently, to close the so- called likability gap. Is that possible?

VILLARAIGOSA: It's possible. You know, I don't know that you can do that with just a speech or even just a convention. He's gone through a very long campaign, and I think most people still feel like they don't know him. You certainly report on that a lot. He's been -- he ran for president before.

He's run for governor and Senate. But, it is possible. And I think they brought some ad men from Madison Avenue to help recast that image, and they might be successful. Obviously, we're going to have to look at just his record, not just what he says or what he does here at the convention.

BERMAN: Jes.

JESSICA YELLIN, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mayor, I'm from your hometown, Los Angeles.

VILLARAIGOSA: Yes, you are.

YELLIN: Forty-eight percent Latino. Latino vote very important to President Obama. And right now, he is winning a majority of it, significantly. But he won 67 percent of Latino vote last time around. Right now, they have a significant two percent more unemployment than the national average.

Do you think that could help Mitt Romney gain an edge in the closing months before the election?

VILLARAIGOSA: I think when it's all said and done that President Obama is going to get somewhere close to 70 percent of the Latino vote. I think he is because the Republican Party and Mitt Romney have gone so far to the right on issues that are important to them. And it's not just immigration where he's talked about the self-deportation of 11 million people and called the dream act a handout.

It's also health care. Nine million Latinos will benefit from the Affordable Care Act. It's also the cuts to education that will come with the Romney-Ryan plan. A 150 --

YELLIN: You're predicting a higher Latino percentage for the president this time around than last time?

VILLARAIGOSA: I am. I think so. I think when it's all said and done, it's going to be very high, certainly, upwards of 65 percent, and I think close to 70.

BERMAN: Mayor Villaraigosa, thank you so much for joining us. Jessica Yellin, too. We're thrilled you came in this morning. Soledad, back to you.

VILLARAIGOSA: -- in Tampa.

O'BRIEN: All right, John. Thank you.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we got the very latest on tropical storm Isaac's track as it closes in on the Gulf Coast. We're going to take you right to the CNN Hurricane headquarters. That's coming up next.

Here's a live picture first, though, from Gulfport, Mississippi where the waves are beginning to roll in. Dave Mattingly is reporting for us from there, updating us on the situation. You're watching STARTING POINT. We got to take a short break. We're back in a moment.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. We're coming to you live from New Orleans this morning. Our very top story is tropical storm Isaac, its massive size, very slow movement, too, and that means that the storm is gaining power as it heads toward the Gulf Coast.

Let's get right to meteorologist, Karen Maginnis. She's live at the CNN Hurricane headquarter in Atlanta for us. Hey, Karen, good morning.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: And good morning to you, Soledad. And yes, the wind is picking up there. We've got a live picture from hurricanetrack.com. It does look like the sea or the surf is a little bit rougher, but the clouds are moving on in. We can expect those weather conditions to deteriorate rapidly as we go towards the afternoon hours.

Hurricane center issued their advisory at the top of the hour. Still, a tropical strength, still expected to make it to hurricane intensity as we go later on this afternoon. Right now, some of the peak winds that we've seen have been right around 40 miles an hour, but those are expected to increase as we go into the afternoon with maybe 50, 60 over hurricane force winds expected.

Right now, as it stands, we're looking at the winds increasing to hurricane intensity during the very early morning hours, coming up for Wednesday, moving onshore very late on Wednesday evening or morning. We will see a Category 1. Let me rephrase (ph) that, by early Wednesday morning, we're looking at hurricane moving onshore, possibly Southeastern Louisiana -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you very much. We appreciate the update.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we've noticed in the last, you know, 20 minutes or so, the wind really picking up a little bit. Anxiety level picking up as well as Isaac is closing in on the Gulf Coast. Many people are evacuating, especially if they're outside the levee system, but some are choosing to ride it out.

We'll tell you why they say they're not going to go anywhere. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Hey, Good morning, everybody. You're looking at Jackson Square in New Orleans, the French Quarter. That's where we're coming to you live from this morning. We're tracking tropical storm Isaac. It's picking up steam, slowing down as well, and expected to make a very serious rain threat there.

And CNN is confirming now that President Obama is going to deliver a live statement on tropical storm Isaac. We're expecting it at 10:00 a.m. eastern this morning. We're expecting the storm itself to make landfall tonight or early tomorrow morning, and that would be seven years to the day since hurricane Katrina, as Isaac barrels through the Gulf of Mexico. Here's what it looks like from space, NASA's satellite imagery shows the huge storm is moving into the gulf, where its sights are now set on New Orleans.

Rob Marciano is at the port of New Orleans this morning. The slow speed is something to watch and worry about there, I think it's fair to say.

ROB MARCIANO, METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it is. It's slowed down to 7 miles an hour now, and when it makes landfall tonight, it likely will slow down even more. So that's going to make this a longer duration event than Katrina was. Katrina was bigger, stronger, and faster. It was in and out much more quickly. Obviously, it did a ton more damage. But this long duration event, it's hard to predict what the outcome will be, because even if you have a category one or even less winds, you get them battering a city for 24, 36 hours, that repetitive pounding is going to do some damage.

And then of course the amount of rainfall when you're talking about a bowl like city like New Orleans, those pumps hopefully will do the job. But those pumps we've been talking about for days now are only designed to pump out one inch of rain for the first hour, and then a half-inch every hour after that. And you know hurricanes and tropical storms dump a lot more than that.

We're at the Mississippi river here. Point out a couple of things. If you look at the waves closely, they seem to be going, well, the wrong way. And this can happen. We get the river water to pile up in situations like this, when you get a persistent wind against the flow of the rivers, it can at least seem like the river is flowing the wrong way. We saw that during hurricane Gustav, and we're likely going to see it today during hurricane Isaac. And this isn't the only river. You can look at the Mississippi as well. They'll do a similar thing. This is part of the storm surge scenario. Six to 12 feet, the tides, and this sort of action, Soledad, will make for some flooding at least outside of the levee -- protected levee walls here. But that means that folks in southwest Mississippi had have to be on guard, and they already are. A lot of those people have evacuated already.

O'BRIEN: Rob Marciano, thank you. Continue to keep watching it for us. We appreciate that.

Also folks are packing up what they can and leaving before the storm hits. But one woman, Angela Young, says she is going to stay in her new home. She is confident she can ride out the storms. She lives in New Orleans east, an area very hard-hit by Katrina back in 2005. But here's why she says she's going to stay.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

In New Orleans east, this middle class community has recovered significantly since hurricane Katrina. The water was up to the roofs there. But this is kind of a typical scene. They were hit by storm surge. It wasn't a levee breach that caused all the flooding. And the storm surge did a ton of damage in this particular area. But what you see here is not that unusual. A home, completely rebuilt, fixed, people living in it.

And back here, a home that actually looks like Katrina just hit. No work has been done on this home in years. There are some 6,000 plus homes in New Orleans east that have been abandoned. And it's a big problem for people in this community, because obviously across the street they don't like to see an eye sore like this. One of the big problems and one of the reasons for this, neighbors tell us, is because of the lack of development here, the closest grocery store, 20 minutes away. Shopping center, 20 minutes away. It took six years before they even built a food mart. And because of that distance, the mall, which was five minutes away, was never rebuilt. It's been really slow bringing people back and developing the region. There is no hospital in this area. They haven't had one since hurricane Katrina. And they're not expected to build one until the end of 2013.

How bad was the damage in McKendall Estates during Katrina?

ANGELA YOUNG, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: It was significantly bad. It was very bad actually. We had about eight feet of waters in our home.

O'BRIEN: So you decided to stay. That seems surprising considering the damage you had last time around.

YOUNG: Well, like I said, I have been monitoring the parish officials and listening to what they are saying on the news, paying attention to what the mayor is saying, for the particular parish that I live in. We have Mayor Landrieu. And also listening to what they're saying about the levees. And they're saying we're going to be ok. I trust that we're going to be fine.

O'BRIEN: How do you feel? Are you anxious?

YOUNG: Actually, no. We're fine. We stocked up on water and nonperishable food items, batteries and things of that nature, to help us in case we lose power. I think that the worst it's going to get in New Orleans east is we'll be without power for a little while.

O'BRIEN: Did you evacuate during Katrina?

YOUNG: Yes, yes. I left -- we left a day before the storm.

O'BRIEN: Are you finding that most of the people in your neighborhood are staying?

YOUNG: Yes. A lot of people are staying. And, again, when I talked to people, they are saying that they are watching the news and watching where the eye of the storm is going to be. You know, everybody is saying that we're going to be ok, so a lot of people have decided to ride the storm out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So while people like Angela say they are going to stay, there are lots of folks outside of the levee system say they are going to go. And the New Orleans mayor has acknowledged there is a higher level of anxiety in the city because of course tomorrow is the seven- year anniversary of hurricane Katrina. Mayor Mitch Landrieu is joining us this morning. It is a terrible coincidence.

MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU, (D) NEW ORLEANS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: We were just talking about what you're concerned about. And maybe category 1 is what they are looking at making landfall. So it's not really the winds you're worried about.

LANDRIEU: Right.

O'BRIEN: It's the speed and the water.

LANDRIEU: For the folks around the country, one of the things they may not be aware of is the difference on the ground between a one or two or three. Obviously, a three is more serious. The levee system that we have now is designed to protect us against a category three or bigger. So we have $10 billion of investments, 300 miles of new levees, a robust system of pumps designed for a category three or bigger. And we feel pretty comfortable given what we've all been through that we can withstand that kind of push from outside in. But we have a lot of areas that are outside of the levee control system, outside of New Orleans. So we have a lot of concerns down in grand isle and in some areas of New Orleans. But most of New Orleans --

O'BRIEN: So most areas a category 1 would be OK?

LANDRIEU: Well, a category one is very bad. You're dealing with 85 to 120 mile an hour winds and storm surges. But mostly for this storm, it's going slow, which is a problem. You want it to go fast.

O'BRIEN: And the latest update shows it going even slower.

LANDRIEU: This one has moved down to 16, 12, and now to seven miles an hour, which means it will stay over you. And the problem that storms like that pose is they dump a lot of water quick. And no matter how good your pumping system is, if you drop a lot of water and it continues over a long period of time and it's intense, that will create flooding. So we're worried about that.

We're worried about electrical outages. So you remember from Gustav there was an electrical outage that moved throughout the middle of the country and stayed with us for a couple of weeks. Those are our two major concerns right now. We are prepared for them, but that doesn't make them easy.

O'BRIEN: Outside of the levees, you know, and being fine, what are you worried about in terms of folks who are here? A lot of people are staying. Most of these -- these windows are boarded up. They are the exception obviously.

LANDRIEU: First of all, we are in the French quarter. But I have driven around the city, and people are ready. And that's important. But the most important thing in the storms is for people to use common sense to be safe. You can evacuate -- I mean, you can basically secure yourself in place, which is what people decided to do. A lot of people decided to leave. But if you didn't leave already, now is not a good time to get on the highway. We're going to have tropical storms. And the problem is that they're going to last for a long time. People get impatient. And they get bored. They decide to go outside. And this is where most of the fatalities occur in a category 1 storm, where people think it's not that bad, let me go out to the lake front and watch the waves and they get blown into the water. That's not good. So I think people have to be really vigilant and be safe and follow the plan that they planned and execute really, really well.

O'BRIEN: The biggest difference between Katrina and Isaac in terms of communication, because that was a failure.

LANDRIEU: It's 1,000 percent better. You'll remember after September 11 and then Katrina, what we learned in the country is that our intercommunication was terrible between the state and local and federal governments. That's 1,000 percent better. You can see in the ramp-up of the storm the relationship between the federal, state, and local governments. We were on the phone with President Obama, the governor, the mayors, all lined up and ready to go.

All of this is still driven by citizens doing the right thing at the right time in the right place with common sense. And, you know, of course, the more that doesn't happen, and the more the emergency response has to go to places where they shouldn't have to, it drains resources. So this is an all-in game. I'm really pleased with the kind of response we've gotten from the citizens. But we are moving from a preparation phase into now a hunker-down phase. We'll then go into if we have to the rescue phase and then into the rebuild phase. I feel like we're well organized.

But here is the thing. Every storm brings something that's unexpected, and the lesson of Katrina is be ready, you know, for the things that you don't expect. I feel like we are. But, you know, it's a high anxiety time for people.

O'BRIEN: Hopefully there will be no rescue phase.

LANDRIEU: We hope so too. If there is, we're ready for it.

O'BRIEN: We appreciate it. Thank you.

Still ahead, we'll continue to watch tropical storm Isaac from here in New Orleans.

And the Republicans at the national convention today are watching as well. But the party goes on. The fight for the youth vote is heating up. We'll tell you what Mitt Romney's secret weapon is. You're watching STARTING POINT. A short break. We're back in a moment.

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O'BRIEN: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. We're coming to you live from New Orleans this morning. We're watching as tropical storm Isaac strengthens. You can see the folks here in Jackson Square, and some folks who have decided they are not moving. They are going to camp out here during this storm. We have learned that in less than two hours, the president is going to be delivering a statement about the storm. We are going to be covering the storm in Louisiana.

And the other big story today is in Tampa, Florida, Mitt Romney flying there right now. He is en route to join fellow Republicans who are putting on the national convention there for the Republicans. Trying to put it back on track. Can he prevent the message from being drowned out by the tropical storm and the tropical storm coverage? Let's get right to John Berman at the CNN grill in Tampa, Florida. Good morning, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Soledad. You know, President Obama and Mitt Romney may be neck and neck in recent polls, but the former Massachusetts governor does have one serious gap to close -- 73 percent of voters ages 18 to 34 right now support president Obama or are leaning that way. And only 25 percent say they are in Mitt Romney's corner, according to a CNN poll from earlier this month.

So what does Mitt Romney do about this? He might have a secret weapon on his side. It's the youngest member of congress, 31-year-old Illinois congressman Aaron Schock. He is joining us right now. I am also joined by the eternally youthful Jessica Yellin, our chief White House correspondent.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Oh it's flattering.

BERMAN: Before I talk about the youth vote, Congressman, I do want to talk about something else. Because Mitt Romney's likability is a subject I think we're going hear a lot about today with Ann Romney speaking at the convention.

Some people have said that the former Massachusetts Governor is stiff. One of these people who seemed to say that was your colleague, Republican Sean Duffy from Wisconsin, who seemed to suggest that earlier this morning here on STARTING POINT. Let's listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. SEAN DUFFY, (R), WISCONSIN: Some see Mitt as kind of a stiff guy. He's not very relaxed.

BERMAN: Do you?

DUFFY: Well, he comes across that way sometimes. I mean, the ideas are great. But I think when he is by Paul Ryan or when he's by his wife, he seems to loosen up a little bit and he seems more natural. And I think she's going to -- she's going to show that side of Mitt Romney tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So Mitt Romney stiff? Do you agree with Congressman Duffy?

REP. AARON SCHOCK (R), ILLINOIS CONGRESSMAN: Look, I think every person is different in their persona. The fact of the matter is he's a business guy, he's very -- he's a very serious guy.

But I've spent well over 10 days campaigning with them. Two days nonstop on the bus in Iowa and he is a fun, fun guy. I mean anybody who has raised five boys knows how to have some fun.

BERMAN: So you seem to be saying stiff, but I like him anyway.

SCHOCK: Hey, he's -- you know, what, he's -- he's my -- he's a good guy.

BERMAN: Talk to me about the youth vote. You're 31. How -- how are you going to get Mitt Romney to be more attractive to young people?

SCHOCK: Well, your poll clearly shows there's a lot of opportunity for us to -- to make ground. Look I have two things I would say. One, the intensity among young people is much lower now than it was four years ago, which is a problem for the President. They have really been disenfranchised by the kind of bringing the country together, solving our problems and now a much more divisive and negative campaign. I think that's turned off a lot of young people.

And so when I'm visiting with young people, their major issues are economic issues. They are very disheartened by the fact that half of their graduates last year are still unemployed today. And I think that's a huge opportunity for Republicans who are unified on economic issues to make the case to young people.

Look, there are some issues and social issues, that our party's platform they may not like. But at the end of the day, economic issues, if you poll, are the number one issue facing young people. And I think at the end of the day, young people want to get a job when they get out of college. And Mitt has a pretty good track record when it comes to creating jobs and -- and being a pretty good CEO.

Really we're hiring the CEO of the largest company on earth.

BERMAN: Jess?

YELLIN: The President is today -- the President is today going to college campuses and through tomorrow in some battle ground states. As you say, the energy may be depressed, but he still can get a crowd there. Do you think that Romney could really go on to these same campuses and try to deliver that message but could he really turn folks out to hear it?

SCHOCK: You know I think he -- he can. We did actually a rally at my hometown, at my alma mater Bradley University, during the Illinois primary. We had a two-day notice. We had over 2,000 young people show up on that campus to hear him speak.

I -- I don't believe -- first of all, I think young people want to be educated. I think they want to hear both sides of an issue. And while there may be a certain cool factor with the President, I mean, look he has news conferences at the White House to show his NCAA picks. You know, he's seen, you know, playing volleyball on the beach in Hawaii. You know, there are some certain sizzle factor.

But at the end of the day, young people want -- somebody is going to get him a job. And I think that's where Mitt Romney has the strength.

BERMAN: As we talk about sizzle factor, I thank you.

YELLIN: Yes.

BERMAN: I thank you, I thank you Congressman Aaron Schock. As we go, I want to leave with you this picture. This is the Congressman on the cover of "Men's Health" magazine. I think we have that picture right there. I'd like to show it if we can. You also work out. Are you in better shape than Paul Ryan, yes or no?

SCHOCK: You know, Paul is in excellent shape. He is 12 years my senior. So at 42, if I'm in Paul's shape, I'll be very happy.

YELLIN: So impressive.

BERMAN: Thank you so much for joining us.

SCHOCK: Thank you guys.

BERMAN: You make us all look bad by being in such good shape.

YELLIN: Yes I know.

BERMAN: I should say if you want to know what it's really like to be behind the scenes at the Republican National Convention CNN is the place to come.

Join us for our election roundtable with Wolf Blitzer, CNN's whole political team. Submit your question, get answers in real time. It's a live virtual chat. Don't miss the "CNN Election Roundtable" it starts at noon Eastern Time. You do it by logging in to CNN.com/roundtable.

Soledad, back to you.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, John. Thank you.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Isaac is very close to becoming a hurricane. We have the latest on the storm as it heads our direction in New Orleans. The wind is definitely picking up. It's gotten much gustier in the last 20 minutes or so.

Also ahead, someone who helped prepare the city after Katrina hit seven years ago. Ty Pennington is going to join us up live. He's getting some Republicans and Democrats to work together. Oh, my goodness. Put politics aside to build a house.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

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O'BRIEN: Hey, everybody. Welcome back. You're watching STARTING POINT.

We're coming to you live this morning from New Orleans, Louisiana. And we are watching tropical storm Isaac. The other big story, of course, is in Tampa, Florida. And that is the Republican convention, which is being held there this week. Then it's going to be on to Charlotte, North Carolina for the Democratic convention next week.

There's one man who is trying to bring both parties together in a very unique way. TV personality, Ty Pennington, live with John Berman at the CNN Grill (ph), nice to see both of you guys. Ty let me ask you a question you're -- you're -- you've got a bipartisan something in the works. Tell us a little bit of what you're planning.

TY PENNINGTON, TV PERSONALITY: Well, first of all, our hearts go out to everybody in New Orleans. The last thing they need is another storm heading their way.

But here is the thing. So in the last ten years, I have travelled the country building homes for families. And one thing we've never done is built -- well, two parts of a home in two separate cities and then bring it together to give one deserving military family a brand new home. And that's exactly what the craftsman House United Projects is all about.

So what we'll be doing is building half a home here in Tampa during the Republican National Convention and then the other half of in Charlotte at the Democratic, and we'll bring them together and give to a military veteran who could really use it.

BERMAN: So level with us the other half is being built in Charlotte next week?

PENNINGTON: Right.

BERMAN: Who -- who signed and helped more? The Democrats or the Republicans so far?

PENNINGTON: We've had a lot of delegates that are coming out you know swinging hammers which is -- which is a really cool thing. I mean I think it's great that everybody wants to get involved. And so clearly, you know, I mean I don't think one side is weighing on the other.

But it's something that -- I think everyone can agree on is that someone who served our country like this could really us a deserving house. And so it's good to see that both sides of the house are coming together. BERMAN: The weather here has been tough.

PENNINGTON: Yes.

BERMAN: I mean we haven't been hit by the storm as bad as some people thought we would.

PENNINGTON: Right.

BERMAN: But it still hasn't been good the last two of days. Has that affected turnout?

PENNINGTON: No. Amazing -- well, I think we got sort of lucky with that. But I just left the project site a minute ago, and it's looking fantastic. The house is coming together. And it's really neat to see that, you know, the kind of progress that's being made. So I mean that's something I know a lot about, and it's something that is really passionate to me as well, to see people coming together to make this happen and know that it's going to go to a deserving family. I don't know, it's a great thing.

You've done a lot of work in New Orleans too. Soledad is there right now.

O'BRIEN: Ty let me ask you a question from here in New Orleans. I know in 2005 and 2006 you were working on a project here and doing a similar thing. You know, building for people's homes. I think everybody in the country worries about the Gulf Coast, whenever we hear a hurricane is coming this direction. Tell me about the project you did here and the folks you met here.

PENNINGTON: Well, we've done a few projects there. One once we got there really was after the storm has come in and really rebuilt a church, which was sort of the new community center. And just the stories that you hear coming out of there; what I love about New Orleans is no matter what they have been through, the spirit of that town just is -- it's infectious. And it makes you want to help.

And I tell you what; they have been through a lot. But that spirit is resilient. To hear the stories and the businesses and the families, the people that just literally opened their arms and their hearts to help others, that's what really inspires us.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Us, too as well, as we continue to cover the story from here. Ty Pennington, great job. We're excited to see both halves finished and someone getting that home; someone in the military having an opportunity to get a brand-new home. That's an amazing thing to do, so thanks for doing that.

And for everybody who is volunteering on both sides of the aisle, something they can agree on which is nice to be able to report. We appreciate your time this morning.

We're going to take a short break. Still ahead this morning, "STARTING POINT" will continue live from New Orleans.

We're back in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to "STARTING POINT." We have been broadcasting live all morning from New Orleans. We're going to do it again tomorrow. Tropical storm Isaac both strengthening in intensity, also slowing down in its forward movement, and that's problematic, 7 miles an hour. That means a big rain event here. New Orleans squarely in Isaac's path with landfall expected tonight or early tomorrow morning. And of course they are expecting a storm surge as well. Some calculating that storm surge at 12 feet.

Expecting to hear from President Obama; he's going to make a live statement about Isaac at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. We will take that for you -- cover that for you live when it happens.

Coming up tomorrow on STARTING POINT, we'll be back. We'll do our show from here again from the city of New Orleans. Update on what has happened, what is happening as that storm is passing.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning, everybody.