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Democratic National Convention Set to Begin; Race to Win NASCAR Vote

Aired September 3, 2012 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And happening now: We're counting down to the Democratic National Convention. Some of the party's biggest names are arriving, including the first lady, Michelle Obama.

And out on the campaign trail, a battle of the running mates, sharp dueling speeches by Joe Biden and Paul Ryan.

Plus, the race to win the NASCAR vote -- why President Obama is laps behind, at least right now.

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

We're live here at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Democrats are coming together to make their case for a second term for President Obama. The convention officially opens tomorrow, and the president is making his way here on a campaign swing dubbed "The Road to Charlotte," which right now is winding through Louisiana as he sees the impact of Hurricane Isaac firsthand.

Our White House correspondent Dan Lothian is traveling with the president and he's joining us now live from New Orleans. Dan, what is the president doing right now in New Orleans?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president headed to St. John the Baptist Parish which is just west of downtown New Orleans. The president will be getting briefed by both state and local officials, including Governor Bobby Jindal, who by the way at one time had been considered a potential running mate for Mitt Romney.

The president meeting with him, will also be taking a walking tour of an area that has been impacted by Hurricane Isaac. This is an area that really has been hit hard and continues to have some difficulties in the wake of the storm. Some 2,700 people here in Louisiana are in shelters, and some six deaths have been connected to Hurricane Isaac.

So the president, as you pointed out, came here to see the damage, the devastation up close, and also get a sense of what officials are doing to recover from that storm, Wolf.

BLITZER: He was in Ohio earlier and had some very tough words to say about his opponents. Update us on that.

LOTHIAN: Well, that's right. The president in the battleground state of Ohio where he's visited some 11 times so far this year talking about how his policies have helped the middle class, how Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan's policies and plans are only for wealthy Americans.

But the president taking a swipe at Republicans and their national convention saying they offered new ideas, and then he offered up his own analogy to counter criticism from Mitt Romney that it's time for the country to get a new coach.

The president using terms like unnecessary roughness and a Hail Mary as part of the Romney/Ryan economic playbook because the president said their ideas on Medicare and also their tax plans are flawed.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I have got one piece of advice for you about the Romney-Ryan game plan, Ohio. Punt it away. It won't work. It won't win the game. You don't need that coach. That's a losing season.


LOTHIAN: Now, before showing up at that rally today in Toledo, Ohio, the president stopped off at a deli where he had breakfast with three autoworkers and then later was touting what his administration has done to turn the auto industry around.

As you know, Wolf, that is key to voters in the state of Ohio because the auto industry really has a big impact there directly, indirectly in the income and the economy of that state, Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian in New Orleans traveling with the president. Thanks very much.

Let's get some more now on the president.

Kate Bolduan is with us. Welcome. Great to have you back.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you. Great to be here with the whole team.

BLITZER: She's going to be here all week in Charlotte. Candy Crowley will be here all week. Gloria will -- we will all be here all week having a real good time.

Candy, first to you.


BOLDUAN: We will keep telling ourselves that.


BLITZER: They're going to be celebrating, the Democrats, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Thursday night, the big speech. But you know what happens Friday morning. The new jobs report comes out. We will know what the unemployment rate is, how many jobs were created or lost for that matter. That could put a damper on what we have been seeing here.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Let me argue differently here and say I don't think it will. We have seen not great jobs figures week after week. They have been around the same place. Not horrible news sometimes, but not great news.

There's been some -- you know, sometimes there's 80,000 jobs created. Sometimes, it's 120,000. So it's never great. I think people have already factored this in. Those numbers for the president and Mitt Romney haven't moved.

I mean, through all of those -- and, yes, the economy matters. But I think that's already -- people have already put that in their database for here's what the situation is. And they know that already because it just hasn't pushed any of the numbers.

BOLDUAN: Gloria, let's keep talking about the economy. In the final stretch as we push through post-convention into the final stretch to November, a lot of the talk is of their supposed strengths and how they're doing in terms of their supposed strengths. So how do you think they are doing? We're talking about economy and that kind of concept of changing the way Washington worked for Obama.


BORGER: It's interesting. If you look at the polls neither of these candidates is actually doing as well as he should be doing in certain areas.

Take a look at this recent "Wall Street Journal" poll, who has better ideas to improve the economy? Mitt Romney is ahead 44-38. Lots of people are saying, OK, if the economy is so bad, you have got a three-point margin of error there, if the economy is so bad, why isn't Mitt Romney doing even better on the economic question?

Then take a look at this question. Who would do a better job at changing Washington? Well, that was President Obama's argument. He had the corner on the change market. It looks like he does not anymore have that, Romney 37 percent. So he has succeeded in becoming the outsider, and now it looks like President Obama for better or worse is the insider who hasn't been able to change.


BOLDUAN: ... close it all is then, Candy?

CROWLEY: I think all of these show how close it is.

I think that 31-37 is kind of an amazing figure, because President Obama got that number last time around because they thought, here's somebody that can bring everyone together. Yet, where Mitt Romney polls badly is people don't seem to think he gets them. We talked about this a little bit last week. We have a race that's come down to competence -- and we see Romney scoring higher on who has ideas -- vs. compassion. And we see President Obama doing well on the who cares about the middle class, who relates more to people, who understands you better. That is to me where it's going.

BLITZER: He does especially much better with women too.


BORGER: That's what the last convention was about. I have never seen so many women role models.


BOLDUAN: Just you wait. We're going to get some more today.


BLITZER: You will see a lot of women.

And you will also see a lot of Bill Clinton here on Wednesday night. The relationship between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Candy, talk about that.

CROWLEY: Well, let's see.

Bill Clinton's wife ran against him.


CROWLEY: Where to begin is right.

At this moment, Bill Clinton is a party man. He is the go-to guy. He's the most popular living ex-president. He goes across the board with swing voters, but the base loves him. But I think more importantly, for this convention, and, yes, it's to the base and, yes, it's to the swing votes -- he can make that connection in terms of stick with him, because he can say remember the good old days? And those he would think were the Clinton years.

You can argue there was a dot-com bubble and there was housing bubble and that's what we paid for in the 2000s. But people look back and they think very well of the Clinton years, at least the Democrats do. He handed them a surplus when George Bush took over. So he can say I did this and that's what President Obama is doing.

So he leaps over the Bush years and says, see, so stick with him because that's where he's headed.

BORGER: I think there's a danger, though. Bill Clinton is such a great speaker, right? Huge, fabulous speaker.


CROWLEY: They will be in different forums. BORGER: Right, right.

CROWLEY: Smaller crowds.

BORGER: But in watching Bill Clinton describe, for example, why health care reform was necessary, Bill Clinton very often makes the case for President Obama better than President Obama has made the case for himself.

So we might -- you know, we might see that. He's been very good on that. He also goes off-script sometimes. He won't go off-script here. You can be sure. You can be...



BORGER: No, no, he will not go off-script. But remember he talked about Romney's stellar business career and how maybe this wasn't the right time to take away the tax cuts for the rich and so...

BOLDUAN: Any concern he's just going to steal the show?


BOLDUAN: Overshadow?

BORGER: I think different nights.


CROWLEY: And different forums. Remember, here's where Bill Clinton is going to be and President Obama will be over in that arena with 75,000 people. And he is still the president. No one ever said he couldn't deliver a speech. He's going to deliver a good one.


BORGER: And they're both good speakers.


BLITZER: I will wrap up this excellent conversation by just pointing out one thing, my opinion, that as much as Bill Clinton will energize the base and help this president -- try to help this president get reelected, what really would have helped him even more is if Hillary Clinton could have been here, the secretary of state. She's in Indonesia right now on official business and she's not supposed to come to these political events.


BORGER: She couldn't get far enough away, Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect she may be even more popular out there than her husband at this point. CROWLEY: She surely is.


BORGER: She is very popular.


CROWLEY: Because he's not in politics.

BORGER: I think he's got a 66 percent approval rating.


BLITZER: Let's see what happens in 2016.

CROWLEY: Oh, boy. One-note Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And you know who else is going to really help the president this week? Michelle Obama. She will help the president. She is speaking tomorrow night.


BLITZER: All right, don't go away, ladies.

The first lady, Michelle Obama, was here in Charlotte in the arena just a little while ago and she did a walk-through of the arena drawing applause and cheers from those already inside. She acknowledged them with a nice wave and smile.

The first lady also got to try out the podium where she will deliver her big speech to the convention tomorrow night. She's getting a little feel for this room.

Mitt Romney talks about his faith in ways he never has before, at least in the public. Our CNN special documentary, "Romney Revealed," that is coming up, an encore edition right at the bottom of the hour, Gloria Borger's excellent 90-minute documentary.

Later tonight, at 8:00 p.m., "Obama Revealed," the president of the United States goes one-on-one with CNN's Jessica Yellin. Her documentary also 90 minutes, that starts, premieres at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

But, straight ahead, Paul Ryan and Joe Biden are both out there on the campaign trail today. We're going to hear what they're saying as this race for the White House heats up.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You want to know whether we're better off? I got a little bumper sticker for you. Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive.


BLITZER: Like millions of Americans, Mitt Romney's spent part of this Labor Day out on the water. The Republican presidential nominee and his wife boated to a marina near his home in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, where they also picked up a Sea-Doo that had been in repairs, a Sea-Doo. Mrs. Romney rode it home. There she is. Very cool out there.

The Republican running mate, Paul Ryan, was in the Democrats' backyard here in North Carolina. This is the state where the Democrats will hold the convention this week. Ryan spoke at a rally at East Carolina University, where he compared President Obama to the last one-term Democratic president, Jimmy Carter.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Friends, there's a little gathering going on over in Charlotte. You heard about this?

Now, we know that your governor's over there and your lieutenant governor. And we also know that President Obama is over there. And President Obama is going to be giving a big speech. And there are going to be a lot of speeches, lots of words.

Let me quote President Obama four years ago. "If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from."

Ladies and gentlemen, that is exactly what Barack Obama is doing today. You see, the president has no record to run on. In fact, every president since the Great Depression who asked Americans to send them into a second term could say that you are better off today than you were four years ago, except for Jimmy Carter and for President Barack Obama.



BLITZER: Vice President Joe Biden was campaigning in Detroit, countering the Republicans' main charge against the president, saying, indeed, Americans are better off under this president.


BIDEN: And look, folks, we know who built this country. And we know who's going to rebuild it. It's you.

And instead of vilifying you, we should be thanking you. We owe you. Ladies and gentlemen, you, organized labor, are one of the reasons why this country is coming back.

Folks, let me make something clear and say it to the press. America is better of today than they left us when they left. And if it weren't so hot, if it weren't so hot, I would go into detail why I say that. But let me just sum it up this way, folks.

You want to know whether we're better off. I got a little bumper sticker for you. Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive. Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive. Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.



BLITZER: He said it three times, Kate. I think he's going to say it plenty more between now and November 6.

BOLDUAN: Right. That's not the last we have heard of that.


BLITZER: Pretty good line.

BOLDUAN: It's a good line, but Democrats seem to have a bit of a hiccup in trying to answer are you better off than you were four years ago line as well. We will see, something we will hear a lot more of.

BLITZER: They will make the case.

BOLDUAN: They will make the case.

Also coming up, they are called NASCAR voters. President Obama is laps behind Mitt Romney when it comes to winning their support. You see it right there.

Plus, coming up, the controversial book about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Now we're getting an idea of how it will sell.



BLITZER: They're the voters that President Obama just can't seem to catch.

We're talking about the NASCAR fans, especially important here in North Carolina -- how the Obama campaign is targeting these voters, that is coming up.


BLITZER: North Carolina is NASCAR country. That could be a big problem for President Obama.

Our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, has more -- Brianna.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Charlotte is the capital of NASCAR country. This is where most of the racing teams are based. You have got Charlotte Motor Speedway right up the road. So it's a really good place to talk about the NASCAR vote.

Even though NASCAR fans are not monolithic, they do tend to be white males and a very tough sell for President Obama.

(voice-over): Charlotte, North Carolina, home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, this is the epicenter for the hard-driving, engine-revving sport.

While NASCAR consists of a whole lot of left turns, the typical NASCAR voter steers to the right. Winston Kelly is the head of the Hall of Fame and a NASCAR radio commentator.

(on camera): This might not always be the most supportive group for him.

WINSTON KELLY, NASCAR HALL OF FAME: Well, NASCAR has traditionally as you said been a little bit more Republican. But North Carolina is very much a swing state.

KEILAR: So who is your driver?


KEILAR (voice-over): Steven Eliot (ph) just happens to be visiting from Atlanta during convention week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm kind of a little disappointed. He came in with a big fanfare and with a lot of hope and promise. And I don't think he fulfilled a lot of those hopes and dreams that he was talking about. I think he let a lot of people down.

KEILAR: But the Obama campaign isn't banking on voters like Eliot. They have long been considered out of reach for the Democratic Party. And in the last four years, he's lost even more ground.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The president is facing significant decline, especially with the blue-collar white men. They have been the toughest audience for him right from the outset. But the numbers are getting really bad, possibly the lowest we have seen for any Democratic nominee in possibly 40 years.

KEILAR: Exit polls from 2008 show 57 percent of white males voted for John McCain, 41 percent for Obama. The latest numbers for this summer show the president has slipped 8 percentage points more with this group, and that means President Obama has to increasingly rely on voter who tend to be in his corner, Hispanic, black and young voters, and especially women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's almost impossible for them to make a change in four years. I think the next four years, why not give him another chance to see what he can do for the middle class? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I voted for President Obama, and I will vote for him again, because I don't think that he's had enough time to correct the damage done by the Republican Party. So I just feel that he needs the time.

KEILAR: This coalition of voters holds the key to victory for President Obama, if he can persuade them to turn out in big numbers, and he sure is trying.

OBAMA: I'm counting on you. I'm counting on you. I'm counting on you. If you're not registered to vote, then you have got to go to

That's the big challenge, even with NASCAR voters who will overwhelmingly support Mitt Romney.

(on camera): NASCAR enthusiasts are more concerned about who wins the election in November or who is going to win the Cup?

KELLY: Who wins the Sprint Cup, no question about it.

KEILAR: There are some interesting parallels between NASCAR and politics. The NASCAR season wraps up in November as well. And guess where the final race of the season is that could decide it all. Florida, a key battleground state -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Brianna Keilar on the floor, thanks very much.

She loves NASCAR, by the way.


If I had to pick a favorite, I'm an Indy 500.

BLITZER: Because you grew in Indianapolis -- Indiana.

BOLDUAN: I mean, home state. Yes, exactly.

BLITZER: Of course.

Thanks very much.

That's it for us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"Obama Revealed," CNN's special look at the president of the United States, premieres tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

But, first, a look at his opponent -- "Romney Revealed" starts right now.