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Americans Hurt in Pakistan Blast; Democrats Ready for North Carolina Party; Suicide Bomber Hits U.S. Consulate Vehicle; Better Off Today Than Four Years Ago?

Aired September 3, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news: a deadly explosion near an American consulate in Pakistan. At least two Americans injured.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The stage is set in Charlotte, delegates in town for this week's Democratic National Convention.

Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman, live at the CNN grill in Charlotte for the Democratic convention. We will have more from here in just a few minutes.

SAMBOLIN: We're looking forward to that, John.

I'm Zoraida Sambolin, back here in New York. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SAMBOLIN: We have breaking news in Pakistan, where a suicide bomber riding in a car filled with explosives hit a U.S. consulate vehicle. It happened in the Peshawar, in northwestern Pakistan. That's about 120 miles from Islamabad.

Take a look at the map there. The State Department two American staffers and two Pakistani employees inside the vehicle were injured and are receiving medical treatment, but a Pakistani information minister showed reporters the passport of an American he believed to be dead.

We are following all of these developments and we'll bring you any updates as soon as they come in -- John.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, here in Charlotte, Democrats have Carolina on their minds. The Democratic faithful gathering here for their convention, which kicks off for the Labor Day celebration downtown today. Now, the actual convention business gets started tomorrow with first lady Michelle Obama, the headliner, and the keynote address from San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro.

This week, Democrats will try to highlight what they consider President Obama's first-term successes, but there is this nagging question they're struggling to answer -- are you better off today than you were four years ago?

CNN's Dana Bash joins me right now. It seems like just yesterday, we were on the floor of the Republican convention in Tampa.


Speaking of yesterday, let's go back many, many yesterdays ago to four years ago, and that is really what, as you mentioned, the Republicans have been pressing for Democrats, and it is the key question for Democrats to answer -- are you better off?

Obama officials have been kind of -- it's been tough for them to answer the question. But one Democrat who's usually pretty good at staying on message went off message a little bit, and that is Martin O'Malley, the governor of Maryland, who also is the head of the Democratic Governors Association. Listen to what he said.


BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: Can you honestly say that people are better off today than they were four years ago?

GOV. MARTIN O'MALLEY (D), MARYLAND: No, but that's not the question of this election. The question, without a doubt, we are not as well off as we were before George Bush brought us the Bush job losses, the Bush recession, the Bush deficits, the series of desert wars, charged for the first time to credit card, the national credit card.

SCHIEFFER: Yes, but --


BASH: So, most of that answer was on message, talking about the fact that it's President Bush's problem, but that first answer, no --


BASH: Yes --

BERMAN: No, but doesn't help them.

BASH: No, but doesn't -- Republicans are stepping up, but let's look at the real numbers, break it down and look at where we are now versus four years ago.

Let's start with job growth, which is the number one issue, of course, jobs. In January of 2009, remember, the economy was in horrible, horrible shape. It lost 818,000 jobs. This summer, July 2012, it was up 163,000, it's not great, but certainly, obviously, a lot better than bleeding jobs when the president took over.

The unemployment rate when the president was inaugurated, 7.8 percent. It's up and down. Now it's 8.2 percent, still not great.

Economic growth, another key indicator. January 2009, it was down 5.3 percent, and the economy really has been very slow to recover. It still is only up 1.5 percent.

And this is another key one. The last we'll talk about is home prices, because that really does indicate how people feel about the economy. The median home price was $175,500. That was in January of 2009. Now, it's only $185,000.

So, things are technically better, except for the unemployment rate, but better from a very, very bad point.

BERMAN: And that's why it's such a potent issue for Republicans, because for the Democrats to answer, they answer yes -- they answer "yes, but," and the "but" is what voters I think are more concerned about. It's not as good as they want it to be.

What are Republicans doing today? I know they're going to be talking about this everywhere they possibly can.

BASH: Everywhere they possibly can. They are jumping on Martin O'Malley's "no," those two letters, no, big time. And they have a pretty good spokesman, they think, for the economy, coming right here to North Carolina, Paul Ryan. He is going to be speaking about this issue, really jumping on it.

Then they're going to set up this war room. They're calling it the "Obama isn't working" war room. They've got a Web site to match and they're going to hit over and over and over the idea that the economy, not just the economy is not better, but that middle class Americans, middle class voters, simply they're not feeling it, they're feeling worse, not better.

BERMAN: So, even Paul Ryan coming to North Carolina, where all the action is today.

BASH: All the action.

BERMAN: Dana Bash, thank you. We're so glad you're here with us all week.

BASH: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: The best thing ever.

Coming up for about a half an hour, we're going to talk to Richard Socarides, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, and Amy Kremer, chairperson of the Tea Party Express. We want to get their opinions on this debate.

And this programming note, chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin's documentary, "Obama Revealed: The Man, The President," premieres tonight at 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time, right here on CNN. You don't want to miss it. It's outstanding.

And meantime, Zoraida, let's go back to you in New York.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much, John.

It is five minutes past the hour.

Someone hauled away the vice president's U-Haul. Joe Biden is in Detroit today and he'll be going ahead with today's plans to speak at a Labor Day rally, even though someone stole his U-Haul overnight right from a Westin Hotel. The U-Haul was filled with equipment for today's events, although the V.P.'s spokesman won't specify exactly what was taken.

Something similar happened to President Obama last October. A truck carrying $200,000 worth of podiums, audio equipment and presidential seals for a three-day presidential bus tour was stolen. That was in Virginia.

New York's attorney general investigating whether private equity firms improperly used loopholes to avoid paying taxes. Among about a dozen firms that were subpoenaed in July, Bain Capital. Mitt Romney's lawyer issued a statement denying Romney's involvement in the tax strategy. New York's attorney general is also the co-chair of a mortgage fraud task force appointed by President Obama.

And the U.S. has temporarily suspended all training of Afghan police recruits. That will give our special operations forces time to double-check the backgrounds of current Afghan police. There's been a dramatic rise in the number of attacks on NATO troops this year with more than 40 reportedly killed either by members of the Afghan security forces or by insurgents disguised as Afghan police.

Of course, the training of Afghan forces critical to the U.S. plan of getting out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, as you very well know.

The Reverend Sun Myung Moon has died. A self-proclaimed messiah, Moon founded the Unification Church which was famous for its mass weddings, in which worldwide followers known as Moonies, married simultaneously. Moon's detractors called him a cult leader, accusing him of brain- washing and duping people out of their money.

He served time in an American federal prison for tax evasion. That was in the mid-1980s. The Reverend Moon was 92 years old.

And a fast-growing wildfire in southern California's San Gabriel Mountains forces 1,500 people to evacuate. Take a look at how big that fire is. Two hundred firefighters are fighting the fire from the ground and by air. More than 3,600 acres have burned so far.

The fire, we understand, is about 5 percent contained. A lot of those that were evacuated were campers.

And nearly a week after hurricane Isaac slammed into the Gulf Coast, there are still new threats this morning. They're posed by rain- swollen rivers and by lakes. We're going to have a live report from inside the damage zone in New Orleans. That is headed your way next.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 11 minutes past the hour. Isaac's leftover is expected to soak parts of the Midwest today. But so far, it has side-stepped most of the Midwestern and Plain States that were hit hardest by the drought.

Meantime, a little later today, President Obama will tour flood- damaged parts of Louisiana as initial inspections reportedly show New Orleans' levees and pumps held up as advertised, as paid for.

George Howell is following all of the developments in New Orleans.

George, what's the latest there? How are the power outages doing?


Well, you see the GNO Bridge behind me, the lights on there, a sign that things are slowly returning to normal here in the city of New Orleans. But I can tell you, the utility Entergy is reporting that at least 129,000 people are still without power. That is still a great source of frustration for many people. But you do find these utility trucks going from neighborhood to neighborhood, trying to restore power.

I also want to talk about what's happening across Lake Pontchartrain, in St. Tammany Parish. That's where many homes, at least two subdivisions, are still under threat of flooding. We're talking about this Pearl River. It's that floodwater coming down from hurricane Isaac, from the remnants of the storm.

But also, there is a navigational canal that runs nearby that feeds into those rivers. There were two locks there that seemed like they might fail just a few days ago, but officials seem more confident that those locks will hold up.

And Zoraida, finally, in Plaquemines Parish, nearby Plaquemines Parish, residents are starting to return to their homes, but they're finding many of those homes under water still. We're talking about that storm surge, seven to 14 feet of water that came rushing in. They're pumping much of that out. They've also breached several levees.

And we've seen federal officials, government officials come to say, you know, they are here to do all they can to help residents recover. Take a listen.


JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We will stay until this recovery is complete. We are here to be part of the team, part of the team in Louisiana, and make sure that hurricane Isaac is put to rest as soon as we can for all of those affected.


HOWELL: And, Zoraida, you know, we know that the search-and-rescue operation continues, especially there in Plaquemines Parish. You find that floodwater is still a problem, people are still going -- rather, officials are still going from different homes to make sure people are OK, but we know that this storm was a deadly storm. At least four people killed from it.

SAMBOLIN: And, George, we understand the president is headed to the area today?

HOWELL: President Obama will be here later today. He should arrive around 4:00 p.m. to St. John the Baptist Parish, and that's where he will start to tour this area.

And what he'll see, you know, a lot of areas still without power. You do find some neighborhoods that are flooded and residents just hoping to get back to normal as soon as possible.

SAMBOLIN: All right. George Howell live for us -- thank you very much for that.

It is now 14 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date. Here's Christine Romans with our top stories.


Breaking news to tell you about from Pakistan: a suicide bomber riding in a car filled with explosives hits a U.S. consulate vehicle in Pakistan. This happening in Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan. The State Department is saying two American staffers and two Pakistani employees inside the vehicle were injured and they are receiving medical treatment right now, but a Pakistani information minister showed reporters the passport of an American he believed to be dead.

We're following developments. We're going to bring you any new information as it comes in for us.

Democrats stepping into the convention spotlight this week. Convention week kicks off today with a Carolina fest in downtown Charlotte, a big Labor Day celebration that includes a parade and a concert by James Taylor. The party officially gets down to business tomorrow with First Lady Michelle Obama, the prime time headliner.

A fraternity pledge dies after a night of drinking. Now, Fresno State University and the national organization that oversees the Theta Chi fraternity has suspended the chapter. Fresno police and the university are investigating what happened to 18-year-old Philip Dhanens. He had accepted an invitation to join Theta Chi just last week.

The U.S. likely to stay out. American and foreign officials tell "The Washington Post" the U.S. isn't likely to intervene in Syria's civil war in the lead-up to November's presidential election or even months after it. UNICEF reports last week was the deadliest week yet in Syria's civil war with at least 1,600 people killed. An opposition network says yesterday alone, 144 people died, just yesterday, in the violence throughout the country.

Terrifying moments for spectators at a monster truck show in Eugene, Oregon, this weekend. Video shows the driver losing control of the oversized pickup after hitting a mud pit, crashing into the panicked crowd. Police say three people suffered injuries. Amazingly, none life-threatening.

An Indiana woman didn't know what to do when a National Guard Black Hawk helicopter landed in her backyard. Nikki Schultz (ph) said men in fatigues emerged from the chopper carrying guns. The National Guard says the chopper had been searching for marijuana plants and found some right next to Schultz's property.

John Berman picks it up from here. Hi, John.

BERMAN: That's like --


BERMAN: -- "Red Dawn," you get your house invaded by the military. What's going on? There's a helicopter in my backyard!

All right. Meanwhile, we are getting an early look at what's making headlines in your national papers, starting with the hometown paper in Charlotte, North Carolina. "The Charlotte Observer." hundreds of Occupy protesters descending on the city with their signs ahead of the Democratic National Convention. This city is home to Bank of America's headquarters and nine Fortune 500 companies. Police arrested two protesters after some were spotted with rocks in their hands, and two people were treated after struggling with the heat and humidity.

The protests weren't so bad in Tampa, not really certain whether they'll disrupt things here. But so far, not that disruptive, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: No. I know they said they were expecting a lot more people than actually showed up, so we'll wait and see.

How's the weather today for them?

BERMAN: You know, it's cool, and it's not even light out yet. So, so far, so good, I would say.

SAMBOLIN: OK. So, I have "The Arizona Republic" here. The bandit who apparently couldn't get busted -- an alleged serial bank robber is in custody this morning after trying to get arrested and failing several times. Police in Tucson say 49-year-old William David Leverett was persuaded by his girlfriend to turn himself in to police after she saw surveillance photos on television, but they drove to a police station. No one was there! So, they drove to another police station. They didn't find anyone there, either.

So, finally, they just went right to jail, where he was taken into custody. Authorities believe he is the same guy that the FBI dubbed "Smokey the bandit," suspected in robbing six banks in both the Phoenix and Tucson area.

Imagine that, trying to turn yourself in and finding no one at two police stations. BERMAN: I know, please, please arrest me. Will someone please arrest me?

SAMBOLIN: I think that was the ex-girlfriend, actually. I said girlfriend there. So, anyway, interesting story for you.

BERMAN: Yes, after that.

SAMBOLIN: All right. For an expanded look at our stories, head to our blog,

BERMAN: All right, here in charlotte and around the country, the main question Republicans are asking right now is this -- are you better off today than you were four years ago? Well, our Christine Romans has some answers about jobs and the economy. That's coming up.

You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 22 minutes past the hour.

We are minding your business this morning. You know that big question that came out at the RNC, are you better off now than four years ago?

With the economy ranking the top issue among voters, Christine Romans is looking back at the economic indicators for us to see what they actually show -- Christine.

ROMANS: Good morning, Zoraida. You know, framing the election around, the Republicans are trying to frame this election around this question, are you better off?

They're also trying to talk a lot about debt. The president may have averted a Great Depression, they say, but he did so really racking up the nation's credit card.

Let's take a look at the facts about unemployment. This is the unemployment rate. When the president took office, it was 7.8 percent, now stands at 8.3 percent. So, the unemployment rate is a little bit worse and the jobs situation, when you look at the unemployment rate, has not really improved too much.

But look at jobs lost and jobs gained. When the president took office, look at all of these job losses, hundreds of thousands of jobs lost, and that began under the Bush administration. And now, most recent month that we have data for, 163,000 jobs created.

Is that enough? Of course it's not enough. It's not a robust recovery, but it is a jobs recovery.

But now let's talk about debt, because you heard a lot about this two debt classes at the RNC last week. I'm guessing there will not be a debt clock at the DNC convention this week. But when the president took office, our debt was about half the size of our overall economy. Why this is important is because the bigger your debt gets for the size of your economy, the less room you have -- the less room you have to spend and invest in your economy.

So, now it's at 72 percent of GDP. So, this on its surface looks like under this president he has racked up the nation's credit card.

But take a look. This is really important. When you look at the policies that helped lead the debt to get so big, look at this. These are tax cuts that started under George Bush and extended, I will say, under this president, but these are tax cuts.

Look at how much of our debt is because of tax cuts. Look, these are wars right here in Iraq and Afghanistan. That also began before he was the president. This is the economic downturn. The crisis actually really hurt the economy and helped rack up debt.

And this, Fannie, Freddie, this little line here, this is TARP. This is the bailout kind of stuff. And this is stimulus right here, and this is the debt that we would have from all the other policies, anyway.

So, it's so interesting to look that it is Republican and Democratic policies that led us here, but some of these are more aligned with Republican policies that helped rack up that credit card, and that's why I think you're going to be hearing more from this week, Zoraida -- you'll be hearing a lot more about that from Democrats this week.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, see how they continue to spin the argument here, right? One side versus the other.

Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: We're going to head back to John Berman. He's live in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention, where they're going to be talking a lot about this.

BERMAN: You know, they are. And that graph was really interesting, those economics behind this question are you better off today than four years ago. When we come back, we're going to talk about the politics behind that question -- why Republicans are asking it and how Democrats should be answering it.

You're watching EARLY START, live from Charlotte, North Carolina. More coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Breaking news overnight -- a suicide blast targeting Americans in Pakistan.

BERMAN: The ghost of Reagan in 2012. Democrats are struggling to answer this question --


RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Are you better off than you were four years ago?


BERMAN: Some message trouble for team Obama as convention week begins in Charlotte.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman live at the CNN grill in Charlotte for this week's Democratic National Convention. We will have more from here coming up in just a few minutes.

SAMBOLIN: Looking forward to it, John. Nice to se you.

I'm Zoraida Sambolin, back in New York. It is 29 minutes past the hour.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SAMBOLIN: Breaking news overnight in Pakistan where a suicide bomber riding in a car filled with explosives hit a U.S. consulate vehicle. It happened in the Peshawar in Northwestern Pakistan. The state department says two American staffers and two Pakistani employees inside the vehicle were injured, and they are receiving medical treatment.

The Pakistani information minister showed reporters the passport of an American that he believed to be dead. We are following all of the developments for you, and of course, we'll bring you any updates as they come in. John, back to you.

BERMAN: Thanks, Zoraida.

Meanwhile, we're here in Charlotte with an inside look at this week's Democratic National Convention. They're putting some of the finishing touches on the convention center and the town as we speak. Meanwhile, there is one question that Democrats are being pressed to answer, and it's this -- are Americans better off than they were four years ago?

Now, some of President Obama's top advisers have flat out struggled to find a clear answer to this question, but the response that's getting the most buzz this morning came from Maryland's Democratic governor, Martin O'Malley on Sunday. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you honestly say that people are better off today than they were four years ago?

GOV. MARTIN O'MALLEY, (D) MARYLAND: No, but that's not the question of this election. The question, without a doubt, we are not as well off as we were before George Bush brought us the Bush job losses, the Bush recession, the Bush deficits, the series of desert wars, charged for the first time to credit cards, the national credit card.


(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: All right. We're joined now by CNN's Dana Bash. She's back with us, and we're going to bring in some of our guests, Richard Socarides, a former senior adviser to President Clinton and Amy Kremer who's the chairman of the Tea Party Express.

Christine Romans is also joining in our panel right now. And Richard, I want to put you on the spot and ask you, first of all, there was a full day yesterday up Obama advisers struggling to answer the -- or flat out refusing to answer the question are you better off four years ago. The only one who did answer it was Martin O'Malley who said no.

So, let me ask you, sir, are we better off today than we were four years ago?


BERMAN: Explain.

SOCARIDES: Well, you know, I don't think it's that complicated a question, because I think four years ago, we were headed into a great depression. The country was really struggling and headed in a much worse direction. So, I think four years into this, you know, we've made a lot of progress. We have a lot of work left to do, and I think that's why, perhaps, people are struggling.

They don't want to sound like they're, you know, painting a rosy picture. We have a great deal of work to do, but this president has made a lot of progress. I mean, we have for the first time, we're about to have healthcare for every American who wants it. We've avoided a great depression. We've made a lot of progress on the war on terror.

You know, you saw Rahm Emanuel yesterday, right, try to sum it up in six words, like only Rahm can do, the mayor of Chicago and the former White House chief of staff. But, yes, I mean, I think most Americans will vote for President Obama's re-election, and they will answer that question, yes, we are better off.

BERMAN: Well, some of the numbers are not so much better off. We have some stats here to look at. We've already seen the unemployment rate today is higher than it was four years ago. The median real wages are lower than they were four years ago. Gas prices are higher today. And of course, the national debt way higher.

However, Amy Kremer, there are also some numbers that are positive for the president here. If you look at this job growth, like night and day from four years ago, we are minus 800,000 when he took office now. We're plus 100,000. Not great, but a heck of a lot better. GDP growth minus five percent in January 2009, now, 1.5.

Also, home pricing (ph) looking better. So, by many measurements, things are better, aren't they?

AMY KREMER, CHAIRMAN, TEA PARTY EXPRESS: Well, I don't think things are better. And you pointed out --

BERMAN: But these numbers are, right?

KREMER: Those numbers maybe, but those numbers don't tell the whole story. I think when people go to the polls in November, they're going to be voting on one thing, and that's the economy. And, it's not government's job to create jobs. Jobs should be created in the private sector, and under Obamacare, when the IRS is going to -- you know, have 16,000 new jobs, I mean, that's absurd.

It is -- what we need to do is we need to get rid of some of these overbearing regulations, simplify our tax code, and create some confidence in Washington again so businesses will put their money back in their business and put people back to work.

BERMAN: But just on job growth numbers, you know, it's irrefutable that we are better off today than we were four years ago, correct?

KREMER: I -- I mean, those -- that number may be better, but when the median income is down $4,000 per family and when gas is double in price and goods are more? I mean, that is what people are going to be voting on. People are not better off. Families are hurting right now.

BERMAN: Christine, I want to bring you in in New York. Is there one number you look at more than any other to judge if we're better off than we were four years ago?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, there's three legs to the stool that's the personal economy, right? It's your house, it's your job, it's your investment. Your house is worth more today. The housing crisis -- the housing market is bottoming, right? Your investments, stocks are up, you know, they're up over the past four years, no question, but the job is so important.

John, half the jobs that have been created since the recovery, during the recovery, have been low-wage jobs. There's something happening here in the job Market that defies the are you better off label, which is so simple. So, right now, it's so four years. There's something happening on the jobs market that's been going on for 20 years.

And so, this administration has to be so careful about trying to trumpet some of these job gains because, because what's been happening here is it's not something that happened during an election cycle that's just four years, and that's too difficult in election season, right?

BERMAN: Let me ask Dana and Richard this. You know, should have -- should the Obama team have had a better answer yesterday than they did? I mean, this is not a surprise question. There's no trick question here. Don't they have to have a better answer than they did?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They should. There's no question that they should. They danced around it and tried to kind of come up with a middle ground because of exactly what Christine was talking about, because the numbers on their face show that things are better. There's no question.

When the president took over, we were in all-out crisis, but it doesn't answer how people feel.

ROMANS: Right.

BASH: And how people feel determines how they're going to vote, and that is what matters when it comes to the politics of jobs.

BERMAN: Richard, do you want say (ph) a better answer?

SOCARIDES: I mean, I think that we've heard better answers than we heard yesterday.

BERMAN: That's criticism right there.

SOCARIDES: Well, no, listen, I mean, you know, yes, they should have been more prepared for that question. I think, you know, Governor O'Malley was really answering a different question, and that was, you know, have we made progress? Have we made enough progress?

BERMAN: No, no. He was answering the question are you better off --

KREMER: Are you better off --

SOCARIDES: I know. I know.


SOCARIDES: But, you know, I mean, I think what you said is absolutely correct. That they don't want to seem like they're bragging about a rosy picture because things are not rosy. We have a lot further to go. But, you know, these sound bites, you know, where you say government isn't the answer.

We have to get out of this overregulation. I mean, those are nice sound bites, but the fact remains that the economy is headed in the right direction and tax cuts for the wealthy are not the answer.

BERMAN: Amy, I want to give you the last words, because Richard just criticized what you were saying.

KREMER: I mean -- look at the Keystone Pipeline. Get out of the way. Let the Keystone Pipeline be built and how many jobs are going to be created?

SOCARIDES: This is just the kind of thing -- the Keystone Pipeline is not going to solve the job crisis.

KREMER: It will create -- it's not going to solve the whole job crisis, but it will create --


BERMAN: -- the Keystone Pipeline until the six o'clock hour.

SOCARIDES: I mean, defunding the national --

(LAUGHTER) BERMAN: -- got up for us this morning. I really mean got up for us this morning.


BERMAN: And CNN's Dana Bash is here joining us right now. We are so glad you're here. We will talk again the next hour. This is going to be fun this week.


BERMAN: So, how does President Obama feel about Clint Eastwood's shtick at the Republican convention? I guess, no offense taken. In an interview with "USA Today," he shrugged off Eastwood's primetime stunt talking to an empty chair that he said represented Mr. Obama saying, quote, "One thing about being president or running for president, if you're easily offended, you should probably choose another profession."

He also called Eastwood a great actor and an even better director. So, some nice words from the president. If you want to know what it's really like to an experience a Democratic National Convention with people here in the morning yelling at you and arguing about a Keystone Pipeline --


BERMAN: -- tomorrow, you can join a roundtable with Wolf Blitzer and CNNs political team. You can submit your questions and get answers real-time in a live virtual chat. Do not miss the "CNN Election Roundtable" tomorrow at noon eastern by logging on to Now, Zoraida, I want to go back to you in a much calmer New York City.

SAMBOLIN: Listen, I want to have whatever you all are having this morning. Could you send some my way, please?


SAMBOLIN: I would appreciate that. I love all of that. Thank you very much. And the dialogue is really good. Thank you. It is 38 minutes past the hour here.

We have tragedy this weekend at an air show in Davenport, Iowa --


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): -- where a plane crashed and exploded right in front of thousands of spectators. The pilot of a high-performance L- 39 Albatross jet trainer was killed on impact after his plane nosedived into an Alfalfa Field. This was Saturday during the quad City Air Show. The FAA and NTSB are investigating that horrific crash.

A 20-year-old college student has died after plunging 45 feet. This was from the mezzanine section during a North Carolina/Tennessee football game at the Georgia Dome. Isaac Grubb (ph) landed on a 34- year-old man, who miraculously, only suffered minor injuries. A witness who was sitting near Grubb says the Tennessee fan fell after his team scored a touchdown.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was pounding his fist, like, everybody was so excited. And next thing I know, I saw like his feet just go up above his head, and he just tumbled down and landed on the people below us.

TORI ROLAND, WITNESS: I was in shock. At first, I felt like did that just happening? Like, I'm dreaming.


SAMBOLIN: Grubb was pronounced dead during surgery late Friday night at Grady Memorial Hospital. Investigators say Grubb had been drinking before the game, but witness reports indicate that he did not purchase alcohol while he was inside the stadium.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): So, there is fear in part of Washington State this morning. A mysterious shooter has been opening fire on cars. Police are warning people, stay inside. We'll have more coming up.


BERMAN: There she is, Charlotte, North Carolina. It is now 74 degrees. Later today, it will be 85 degrees with thunderstorms. Watch these thunderstorms, because remember, President Obama is due to speak outside here on Thursday night, the final speech of the Democratic National Convention.

Now, the president has a few more stops to make on the road to Charlotte. He's going to be campaigning in Ohio today, then he heads to Louisiana to survey the damage from hurricane Isaac. Yesterday in Colorado, we heard a theme the president plans to keep hammering from now until November.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On Thursday night, I'm going to offer you what I believe is a better path forward, a path that will grow this economy and create more jobs and strengthen the middle class. The typical middle class family is paying a total of about $3,600 less in taxes now than when I came into office. I kept my promise.


OBAMA: I kept that promise.


BERMAN: Vice President Biden will be campaigning in Detroit today. He'll be appearing at a Labor Day rally. At a stop in Pennsylvania yesterday, Mr. Biden came down hard on Mitt Romney, accusing him of favoring confrontation over cooperation when it comes to dealing with Iran and Syria.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He said it was a mistake to end the war in Iraq and bring all of our warriors home. He said it was a mistake to set an end date for our warriors in Afghanistan and bring them home. He implies by the speech that he's ready to go to war in Syria and Iran.


BERMAN: The Romney camp was quick to fire back, a spokesman calling Biden, quote, "A politician who has been wrong about every major foreign policy question of the last 30 years." Now, it seems like North Carolina is on everyone's mind today. Credit to James Taylor, by the way, who'll be singing here later.

The Republicans are sending Paul Ryan to campaign in Greenville, North Carolina. That's about 250 miles from here. The VP candidate will be talking about jobs. And the first lady, Michelle Obama, heads to Charlotte today. She will be speaking tomorrow night, the opening night of the convention here.

And as for North Carolina, the host state of the Democratic convention, may be leaning towards Mitt Romney right now. Take a look at a new Elon University/Charlotte observer poll conducted during lat week's Republican convention in Tampa. Mitt Romney has got 47 percent of the vote here, President Obama, four points back.

Mitt Romney, himself, is taking a Labor Day break from campaigning today, but a senior campaign official is defending Romney for not mentioning the troops in Afghanistan during his convention speech. He spoke to CNN's Candy Crowley on "State of the Union."


CANDY CROWLEY, "STATE OF THE UNION": Do you think there is an oversight -- in hindsight, should he have said something?

ERIC FEHRNSTROM, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Well, again, he spoke to Afghanistan in a big speech before the American legion, the night before his convention speech. That was an invitation --

CROWLEY: Sure, but this is a huge, big audience.

FEHRNSTROM: But Governor Romney's convention speech was an opportunity for him to introduce himself to millions of voters who are seeing him for the first time. And in that speech, he accomplished what he set out to do.


BERMAN: Democrats and even some conservatives have said Romney's failure to mention the war in Afghanistan was a major omission.

Meanwhile, there's a major campaign milestone to report for Mitt Romney just days after accepting his party's nomination. He now has more than one million followers on Twitter. He responded with a tweet saying "One million active followers. Thanks, everyone, for your support! Help us keep the momentum going."

And, of course, he added a link to a website for supporters to contribute. President Obama, by the way, has 19 million twitter followers. We at EARLY START have far fewer, but you can change that by following us @EARLYSTARTCNN. Do it right now. We'll get both guys -- we'll beat both Mitt Romney and President Obama -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, we got a way to go, Mr. Berman, for that.


SAMBOLIN: I know. All right. Thank you very much. It is 47 minutes past the hour.

The Midwest is getting another dose of what is left of Isaac, so is D.C. Washington has been getting hammered with really heavy rain. Meteorologist, Alexandra Steele, is following Isaac's leftovers from the storm. We were hopeful that the Midwest would get some much- needed rain. Are they going to get as much as they were expecting?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Well, they're certainly going to get more, and they've gotten a lot. Warm, humid atmosphere, but Washington, D.C., especially last night between about 7:00 and 10:00, streets were flooded, especially Rhode Island Avenue. That's where we had cars under water.

And there was so much flooding on the tracks that the metro stations were closed. And to give you a perspective of what they saw in such a short amount of time, children's hospital had two inches of rain in 20 minutes with 3.5 inches total. Just to give you perspective on the whole, Washington only gets 1.69 inches, not even two inches, for the entire month of September. So, the chance for rain continues.

Again, it is hot, it is humid, muggy, a lot of moisture in the atmosphere for these storms to tap into. Right now, see a lot quieter. So, certainly good news there. Here's where all of the action is. So, all of this moisture streaming up, Ohio Valley, Tennessee getting into it. Here's where in addition to heavy rain, the severe threat is.

So, some strong, gusty winds today, hail even a possibility around Birmingham. Along the east coast on this Labor Day, the beach is looking pretty good and maybe a nice place to be because it is so hot and humid. There's the severe threat, and west coast looking great. We'll have more weather coming up in just a bit -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Alexandra, thank you very much. Forty-eight minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date. Christine Romans with this morning's top stories.

ROMANS: And good morning. I have some new developments for you on a breaking story we've been telling you about.


ROMANS (voice-over): Breaking overnight, new details of the suicide car bombing in Pakistan that targeted an American convoy. Officials now say two Pakistanis were killed when a car full of explosives rammed into a vehicle used by U.S. staffers. This happening in Peshawar in Northwestern Pakistan.

The state department saying two Americans were injured, but a Pakistani information minister showed reporters the passport of an American he believed was dead. CNN is seeking clarification from both Pakistani and U.S. authorities.

Right now, authorities in Washington State are searching for the shooter who fired at cars and police officers in a town about 90 miles north of Seattle. They're warning people to stay inside. A man was shot in the leg yesterday afternoon in the town of Arlington. Officers say they heard shots coming from the woods.

They called in the SWAT team. When the SWAT team arrived on the scene, it, too, came under fire.

Two beaches were shut down this holiday weekend after a 1,600-pound great white shark washed ashore. This is in Westport, Massachusetts. A fisherman found the dead shark Saturday morning at south shore beach. At first, he thought it was driftwood until he got a little bit closer. Just to be on the safe side, officials shut down ten miles of beaches in New England to swimmers.

The Belgian Grand Prix got off to a messy start on Saturday with a first-corner crash that ended with the championship points leader, Fernando Alonso (ph), and three other drivers. That was a nasty wreck. You know what, luckily, Zoraida, no drivers were injured. Video, however, terrifying.


SAMBOLIN: No kidding. When you see that, you think there must have been. That's good news.

ROMANS (on-camera): Gosh, you know? A bit of a jolt there.

SAMBOLIN: A bit of a jolt. Thank you very much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: Fifty minutes past the hour. Ahead, go ahead, make my Labor Day. Clint Eastwood's convention skit inspires a new right-wing movement. The reason you may see a few empty chairs sitting on lawns today.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I am John Berman in Charlotte along with Zoraida Sambolin who's in New York, and we're looking what is trending on the internet this morning.

And this morning, they are calling it Eastwooding, inspired by Clint Eastwood's interview with an empty chair during the Republican National Convention. There is even an official logo. What's happening is they're asking people to leave an empty chair on their front lawns with an Obama sign taped to it to send a message, in their opinions, the president isn't getting the job done.

Bloggers have asked for this day in recognition of that empty chair that was at the Republican National Convention -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Not surprised, right, that people are doing that, piggybacking off --

BERMAN: They love it. They're trying to -- you know no one is talking about Clint Eastwood movie with (INAUDIBLE) in the 1970s, I think, and all the stuff. We're losing the focus on every which way but losing any which way you can. I'm going to try to bring the focus back to that in the coming days.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, listen to this, we are proving here that you can't buy taste. Forbes has ranked this huge, very wide home on Long Island, New York, the ugliest mansion in America. It's on the market right now, John, for close to $6 million. Interested? The 8,700-square-foot home was built in 1994.

It has six bedrooms, five and a half bathroom, and a suite bar. It looks more like a cruise ship inside, but "Forbes" was a lot tougher on the outside saying that the home's oversized portico (ph) and four- car garage made it look like a hotel or even a gas station.

BERMAN: Yes. I don't know what it looks like. It's just --


BERMAN: Yes, big. And $6 million. Yes. I'll give you 10 bucks for it. We'll call it even.

SAMBOLIN: Ooh, wow. Yes. I don't think they'll take it.

BERMAN: All right. Coming up here from Charlotte, the countdown to the Democratic convention and a bit of a message mix-up heading into the festivities. This is the question, are we better off than we were four years ago? It really depends on who you ask around here. We had a brawl on it a few minutes ago.

We'll try to answer that question when our live coverage from Charlotte continues, coming up next.