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Showtime in Charlotte; Leaping Onto the National Stage; Obama Tours Flood-Ravaged Louisiana

Aired September 4, 2012 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The first lady front and center. Michelle Obama ready to seize the spotlight on night one of the Democratic convention.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Everything people own, look at that, left in heaps on the curb. Floodwaters recede, exposing the true extent of damage from hurricane Isaac.

Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin in New York.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman in Charlotte, North Carolina, live at the CNN grill.

And here in Charlotte today, the Democrats officially get down to business. Their convention gavels to order in the afternoon. Then the party will spend the next three days trying to sell the message that we are, in fact, better of now than we were four years ago. They have had trouble with that one so far.

They would also suggest they have a better plan for the future.

Now, tonight's main attraction, First Lady Michelle Obama and a keynote address from San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro.

CNN's Dana Bash joins me now.

Dana, you have inside information from the Obama campaign and what their goals are for these three days.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESONDENT: That's right. Well, they're giving some broad themes. First of all, they say they want to crystallize the difference between the two visions of America and they really are two very different philosophies, especially when you look at the economy between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

And they're also going to talk about building a middleclass from the middle out, not from the top down. Again, a very different vision.

BERMAN: We hear that phrase a lot.

BASH: We heard it a lot.

And I think the two words -- the word we're going to hear over and over again is middle, middle, middle -- middle class. They're going to focus heavily on the middleclass. The other thing they're going to talk about is something they feel they don't get enough credit for, which is the things that the president has done right, auto bailout and, from their perspective, health care reform, which of course, is very controversial.

And the last thing that they say they're going to do which they insist that Mitt Romney didn't do enough of, is give specifics about what they're going to do moving forward for a second term if he gets it.

BERMAN: Interesting. And big speeches tonight, Michelle Obama and the San Antonio mayor.

BASH: Exactly. Now, the San Antonio mayor is fascinating because he is 37 years old. He will be the first Hispanic American to give a keynote address at the Democratic convention. And I talked to a source who's familiar with his speech who said it's going to be similar, akin to President Obama's not even Senator Obama's 2004 keynote address.

Now, I think that's a little danger.

BERMAN: He's setting the bar pretty high right there.

BASH: Raising the bar very high, but apparently, he's got a pretty soaring speech when it comes to his own personal story, but also when it comes to the contrast between Barack Obama and Romney. And of course, Michelle Obama, of course, for years ago -- remember, they had to soften her image. Today, she's a political rock star.

BERMAN: More popular than her husband.

BASH: Incredibly popular and so they want to capitalize on that.

BERMAN: Very interesting. That will be the big story tonight.

But one of the big stories this week at least I think is the weather, which has been fairly lousy. It's important because President Obama is scheduled to give a speech Thursday night outdoors. I want a quick forecast from meteorologist Rob Marciano in Atlanta.

Rob, what is it going to be like here Thursday night in Charlotte?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's a tough call. In this unsettled weather party pattern for the next couple days. For all intents and purposes, Thursday could look much like today, which has some action in the radar scope across much of the Southeast. And that will carry over I think as you gets towards tomorrow and Thursday.

So 60 percent -- anywhere from 40 percent to 60 percent chance over the next three days. Thursday, into Friday we start to reign the atmosphere. Might be a bit of a break. But this point, it looks like the timing will be late Thursday night, into Friday. So, about a 40 percent chance of seeing showers, some of which could have heavy rainfall with them, going a moist almost tropical air mass in the next several days. So when it does rain it can come in fairly hard. We're trying to narrow down the forecast a little bit more as we get closer to it, but at this point, there's a pretty good chance of seeing some rain during the day on Thursday -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Rob Marciano in Atlanta -- thanks very much.

So, Dana, 40 percent chance of rain. When it's rained, it's been really powerful, big thunderstorms. What are the Democrats going to do about this?

BASH: Well, I'm told they will make a decision as early as today, about whether or not they're going to keep the president's big speech out in that stadium, with 70,000 plus people they had hoped, or they're going to move it back into the convention hall, which is where they had the first two days of events.

Look, it's something they really thought they did a good job of four years ago when they had the president out in Invesco Field. It was very different. They say that they're hoping to he keep it in that same venue this time. But they also understand that it is not a great thing to have all these people. It is kind of a security nightmare as well.

BERMAN: And for anyone who thinks we're just talking about something about something trivial here with the weather, this is very significant. This is the difference between an indoor speech and outdoor speech with 70,000 plus people where they signed up with a lot of volunteers last time where they were able to ID a lot of voters in Colorado last time, they pull them to the polls, they were looking to that here in North Carolina.

BASH: And they're bringing in a lot of people in for this. So, they're going to have to figure out what to do for those people. That's part of the reason why they're going to have to make the call early.

BERMAN: All right. Some news today, we expect the decision later today.

Dana Bash, thanks very much.

And coming up at 5:30 Eastern, we're going to talk to Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Maria Cardona. We have a lot more coming up from Charlotte, here at the convention. But right now, let's send it back to Zoraida in New York.

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

It has been a week since hurricane Isaac made landfall in southeast Louisiana. And only now are thousands of homeowners realizing the extent of all the damage. Not in New Orleans where the new levees held, but further west of the city in LaPlace, where it took days for the water to recede.

(BRGIN VIDEO CLIP) TOMMY DEAN, LAPLACE RESIDENT: It would have been nice if they put levee protection around our area, as well as New Orleans. All they did was protect New Orleans. They didn't protect the outer-laying areas. So the water had nowhere to go. So it had to come this way. We have over 10,000 homes out here in LaPlace affected like this. It's a major disaster here.


SAMBOLIN: Lots of people upset about that. President Obama got to se the destruction firsthand when he toured St. John the Baptist Parish yesterday. He assured families who have lost everything that help and answers are on the way.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are getting on the case very quickly about figuring out what exactly happened here, what can we do to make sure that it doesn't happen again and expediting some of the decisions that may need to be made.


SAMBOLIN: So about 125,000 people are still without power in Louisiana this morning. And they are also facing very dangerous heat conditions. I was reading here from 100 to 105-degree range, possibly higher in some locations.

And a wildfire that erupted over the weekend in southern California's Angeles National Forest, is still growing. Some 500 firefighters are battling the flames. Steep terrain, high heat and stiff winds are making it extremely difficult there. Thousands of visitors were forced to evacuate the popular recreation area.

Authorities say the fire started at a campground. The cause, however, is still unknown at this hour.

Well, he's unknown to most of the country, but that could change tonight. Coming up, an up and close personal look at rising star Julian Castro as he prepares to deliver the speech of his life, the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.


SAMBOLIN: Look how cool.

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, live from the CNN grill in Charlotte, North Carolina. There's some awesome time lapse footage from outside this fantastic establishment.


BERMAN: Yes, the 2012 Democratic National Convention kicks off officially here tonight, just down the street from where that really awesome picture is taking place right there. Now, tonight, one of the brightest young stars of the Democratic Party will be delivering the keynote address. Maybe you've never heard of him, but again, not too many people heard of the keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic convention either. And his name was Barack Obama.

Here's Ed Lavandera.


MAYOR JULIAN CASTRO (D), SAN ANTONIO, TX: Hey, everybody. I'm Julian Castro.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's pronounced hoo- lee-AHN Castro. The "J" is silent. Not JOOL-leee-uhn.

But even if you get the Spanish wrong, don't worry. San Antonio's Latino mayor has never mastered Espanol either.

CASTRO: I understand Spanish better than I speak it. I grew up in my household with my mother and grandmother mostly speaking Spanish. So, I understand it. But speaking it back is always the challenge.

LAVANDERA: Julian Castro's grandmother immigrated to San Antonio from Mexico and work as a community activist in San Antonio's Chicano Movement. From those humble begins, Julian and his twin brother went on to Stanford University and Harvard Law School. Now, he's a rising star in the Democratic Party, tapped to give the keynote speech at the Democratic convention, the same speech an unknown Barack Obama gave at the convention in 2004.

(on camera): You get talked about as someone who could be the first Hispanic governor of Texas. Some people even suggested the first Hispanic president of the United States. Do you like that kind of talk? Can you handle that kind of pressure?

CASRO: No, I'd be lying if I said that that's not flattering. Of course, it's flattering to everybody. But the biggest mistake that I can make or anybody can make in this situation is to believe the press, to believe the hype.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Castro was elected mayor in 2009 and then re- elected with 82 percent of the vote. Now, he's 37, the youngest mayor of a top 50 city in the United States.

He's also used to the baby face jokes.

(on camera): I think one of the funnier things that has happened to you when you first met President Barack Obama, he jokingly asked if you were the intern.

CASTRO: That's right.

LAVANDERA: You being asked to do the speech, is that kind of making up for that jab?

CASTRO: No, I don't know. I don't know. But I accept -- you know, I always got the age jokes at different points in my career.

LAVANDERA: Is it still happening?

CASTRO: Every now and then. But I'm starting to get the gray hair that I need from my 3-year-old daughter and from politics.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): This is the biggest speech of Castro's career. Latinos enjoyed prominent speaking roles at the Republican convention and Castro must convince Latinos to stick with President Barack Obama and turnout in big numbers.

(on camera): But there are a lot of Latino leaders out there who say that President Obama has not been a friend of the Latino community.

CASTRO: Under any score -- immigration, education, health care, in any number of issues, he has been a very effective advocate for the Latino community.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): He's in the midst of pushing for a small sales tax to fund prekindergarten programs for low income children back in San Antonio. Castro enjoys a squeaky clean political image, except for that 2005 San Antonio River walking parade scandal. Castro was a city councilman and couldn't make it to the parade in time. So, his twin brother jumped on the city council float instead.

Castro's political opponent said the brothers were trying to fool the massive crowd. Castro laughs it off now.

(on camera): How can we be sure you're the brother giving the speech tonight?

CASTRO: Well, he says he's a lot better looking than I can. And the wedding ring.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Actually, his brother Joaquin Castro will introduce his twin at the convention. You will see the Castro brothers standing side by side.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, San Antonio, Texas.


BERMAN: You know, his brother is actually a candidate for congress in San Antonio, Zoraida. They're clearly a very underachieving family, at 37 years old, identical twins, you know, setting this country by storm.

SAMBOLIN: I know when we were talking about Marco Rubio, the Republican Marco Rubio, that you mentioned Castro was the up and coming star for the Democrats. So you know a little bit about him, don't you?

BERMAN: Well, no, he is this mayor of San Antonio, very young man, identical twin. He's been very big -- popular in Texas circles over the last few years. He's been in power since 2009. People have been talking about him being as an up and comer in that state as the demographers change.

But this is a very, very big stage for this guy. And as you heard Dana Bash reporting earlier, they're setting this bar high for the speech. They say it will be reminiscing of Barack Obama's 2004 convention speech.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Well, it's nice to get to know him and some funny stories there was well. Thank you, John.

It is 15 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date with this morning's top stories.

President Obama promising help and answers to victims of the devastating flooding in southeast Louisiana. Thousands of people lost everything in places like LaPlace. And many are blaming the new federal levees that worked so well in nearby New Orleans. They believe those levees forced the floodwaters into their neighborhood. President Obama promised to check into those claims and concerns.

Veteran character actor Michael Clarke Duncan is being remembered this morning as a gentle giant. He died yesterday, a month after suffering a heart attack. He's probably best known for his role as a death row inmate in "The Green Mile," alongside Tom Hanks. That earned him a supporting actor Oscar nomination.

Michael Clarke Duncan was 54 years old.

A cameraman in Syria says he caught the moment a fighter jet dropped a bomb on a rebel stronghold. The Syrian opposition saying air strikes yesterday destroyed an entire building, killing an entire family and others. In total, opposition groups say 248 people were killed in clashes yesterday alone. Activists say August was the bloodiest month of the crackdown with 5,000 people killed.

Still, a Syrian government official is calling on citizens who had fled the country to come home, saying that they have no reason to fear.

So should you buy organic? A just published study says it depends on what you're looking for. They found organic produce has no more vitamins and minerals, but the lead researcher says organics are 30 percent less likely to have approximate pesticide residue contamination.

The study also found a 33 percent high risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria in non-organic pork and chicken.

BERMAN: It is about 5:17 in the morning now. We're getting an early read on the local news that's making national headlines.

And this morning, we have papers from the "Charlotte Observer" and also "The Chicago Tribune." But we're going to begin with the Democratic National Convention here in Charlotte.

For more than 1,000 officers on foot, horseback, and motorcycle are handling security here. But "The Observer" says that's only the security you can see. Always makes me nervous people are watching you and you don't realize it.

"The Observer" says 50 agencies are teaming up to take command at a command center to make sure the event is safe, which, of course, is a good thing, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, it is a good thing.

Well, hundreds of thousands of Chicago public school kids return to the classroom today. They could go back on vacation pretty quickly though. The teachers union and school officials are returning to the negotiating table. They are trying to avoid a strike as early as next week.

"The Chicago Tribune" reporting the two sides are at odds over pay, a new teacher evaluation process, and a recall policy for teachers who have been laid off. Union leaders are also worried about school closures. If no deal is reached, teachers may go on strike as early as Monday. This is an ongoing battle with Chicago there.

BERMAN: You know, when I read "The Chicago Sun Times" overnight that Rahm Emanuel is actually leaving Charlotte early, where he is at the Democratic convention to return to Chicago so he can oversee the negotiations there.

SAMBOLIN: Back to the bargaining table, yes.

BERMAN: An interesting tie in between our two stories.

And for an expanded look at all our top stories, you can head to our blog,

SAMBOLIN: At this week's Democratic convention, there's a lot of talk about appealing to middleclass voters. But what do middleclass voters say they need? Christine Romans with a look, coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Twenty-two minutes past the hour.

We are minding your business this morning. U.S. markets reopened today after the holiday. And stock futures are higher right now, ahead of a manufacturing report a little later this morning.

And Christine Romans is here.

September is historically a bad month for stock.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, historically, it is the worst month of the year for stocks.

But let me tell you, there's an old saying on Wall Street -- sell in May and go away. If you did that, you lost money, because this summer, stocks have done quite well up. During the summer, up 7 percent. And overall this year, more than 10 percent for the S&P 500. Look at that. That's the S&P, almost 12 percent year to date. You can see there was that late spring dip. And then it had a pretty good summer overall. Three big events, though, will decide what happens for the month of September, for your stock portfolio.

There's an ECB meeting on Thursday, a lot of talk about just how far a Mario Draghi and ECB officials will go to try to keep the euro together.

Also, August jobs report. That's Friday. Looking for 130,000 jobs created in the U.S. That's going to be a very important report, for the health of your job most obviously.

And interest rate meeting in the United States on September 12th and 13th.

So all of these things will kind of bake the cake for what's going to happen for stocks and the direction of your money for the month. It's interesting because hedge funds, that's what, quote-unquote, "smart money," they have been moving into cash for some time. We have seen money moving out of stocks into bonds and into safer assets. And we'll watch and see what the fall holds for the stock market.

Another very interesting story I want to bring to you, Zoraida, this morning about the middle class. Pew has done an amazing survey about what it takes to be in the middleclass now. And 86 percent of people surveyed, 86 percent, said a secure job to be in the middle class. Health insurance -- the next biggest thing was health insurance and a job. That's what it takes, according to Americans now, to be middle class.

Let's flash back to 1991 and look what a different world we lived in not even a generation ago. Home ownership was the number one thing to be considered part of the middle class, two or more cars. You would never hear someone say that now. A college education, 46 percent; stocks, bonds or other investments, 41. A white collar job fifth on the list.

So, a generation ago, in 1991 -- that was also a recession, by the way -- in 1991, people said home ownership and two or more cars is what it takes to be in middle class. Today people just want a job. They just want a job.

SAMBOLIN: They felt more confident back then that they would get a job.

But what we were talking about earlier was, what is the magic dollar amount that makes you middle class? I was reading as Michelle Obama is going to open up the DNC, that she was talking about her middleclass roots. And it made me wonder, what is that dollar amount that makes you middle class? Is there one associated with it?

ROMANS: Median income is something like $55,000 for a family of four when you look -- when you think middle. Middle would be right in the middle of all the spread of income in this country. I've heard a lot of people -- some economists peg it a little higher than that. Maybe it's $75,000 to $100,000. But the interesting thing is in so many surveys most people -- some 85 percent consider themselves either working class or middle class in this country. Middle class has become more about values than a dollar amount I think. And there are people who probably technically are no longer middle class who still consider themselves middle class --

SAMBOLIN: Because of their values.

ROMANS: Because of their values.

SAMBOLIN: Good distinction.

ROMANS: Absolutely. Middle class is something -- the reason why politicians appeal to middleclass is because so many Americans consider themselves middle class.

SAMBOLIN: That's how you look at yourself, right?

ROMANS: Right, exactly.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you very much, Christine. We appreciate it.

It is 26 minutes past the hour.

Now back to John Berman. He is live in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention.

Good morning.

BERMAN: Zoraida, it will be all about the middle class here this week, the battle for the middleclass, the key voting bloc. And Barack Obama and the Democrats, they unveil their party platform in just a short while here in Charlotte. We will break it down for you, coming up live from the CNN grill. We're at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Stay with us.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Day one of the Democratic National Convention. First Lady Michelle Obama set to take the primetime spotlight.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It's number one with a bullet. Your chance today to get the book that the Pentagon probably does not want you to read.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Welcome back to EARLY START. We're glad you're with us. It is 30 minutes past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin in New York. BERMAN (on-camera): And I'm John Berman live at the CNN Grill here in Charlotte. We're here because today is the official start of the Democratic National Convention. This is the Democrats' chance to respond to that question, are you better off today than you were four years ago?

Well, CNN contributor and Democratic strategist, Maria Cardona, is here with her take along with CNN senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. And Maria, I want to start with the issue of enthusiasm here, because I imagine the Democrats want to address this issue here this week. If we look at the numbers versus four years ago, it's almost a mirror image.

You know, this time around, the Republicans have more enthusiasm for their candidate than the Democrats do. I don't think we have that poll, maybe not, but take my word for it.


BERMAN: The Republicans are more enthusiastic than the Democrats are. How can the Democrats -- you know, how can they get their love back?

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, look -- first of all, John, I think that this was something that we expected even from the first day that Barack Obama took office. It was going to be very challenging to really repeat the kind of enthusiasm that he had in 2008.

But he went into this knowing that, especially given what he was facing when he came into office and all of the hard choices and tough decisions that he was going to make. This convention is going to help with that enthusiasm.


CARDONA: Well, he's going to be talking about exactly what he's going to be doing for the next four years. He's going to be talking about the context under which he accepted the role of president four years ago. He's going to be talking about what he's going to be doing to continue on the path forward for the focus of middle class families, which I'm sure you've heard over and over Democrats say.

BERMAN: Let me read the preamble of the party platform, because that really hammers that point and again and again and again and again. It says we, Democrats, offer the opportunity to move our country forward by creating an economy built to last and built from the middle out.

Mitt Romney and the Republican Party have a drastically different vision, but built from the middle out. How does that juice the enthusiasm?

CARDONA: So, it juices the enthusiasm in several ways, John. First of all, we know that the keys for the Democratic coalition are minorities, African-Americans, Latinos, women. Tonight, who do we have speaking? The very first Latino keynote speaker, Mayor Julian Castro. That is huge. That will cause a tremendous amount of enthusiasm within the Latino community, and it's already causing that kind of enthusiasm.


CARDONA: When you contrast that with what the Republicans are doing and saying, it's a big difference.

BASH: Just between us girls.


BERMAN: I'm here.

BASH: I'm trying to get a real answer here. In all seriousness, you know that there is a lot of Democratic disappointment with the president even in the Latino community on immigration.


BASH: He didn't do anything, really, on immigration reform. Yes, he had a lot of his plate, but that's a big, big deal. And a lot of other things with regard to war, with regard to Guantanamo Bay, there are a lot of depressed Democrats out there who are disappointed in him.

CARDONA: There's no questioning that, Dana. And I think that that is a huge challenge. I mean, let's just put that on the table. I mean, anybody who tell you that's not true doesn't know what they're talking about or isn't facing reality. No question that there is that challenge with Latinos and with the other folks that are part of the Democratic base. But what the president is going to be focusing on is the alternative. What is the alternative?

In terms of the Latino population and the Latino voters, what he did a couple of months ago on the deferred action is a huge piece of what the promise is if he could get Republicans to work with him on comprehensive immigration reform. As we know, there is disappointment, but the Republicans need to be careful with one word. That word is context.

Voters in this election, we've seen this in focus groups, we've seen this in polling, are more willing than they haven't (ph) been in a long time to look at this election in context. Understanding what the president was handed, understanding that he got zero help from the Republicans.

We heard a lot of talk about all the jobs that they want to create, where were they in helping the president do that? He created 4.5 million jobs, really, with no help from Republicans. Where were they on health insurance coverage for the millions of Americans out there who didn't have it? He passed that on his own.

BASH: Which is very controversial. CARDONA: It is, but a lot of Americans like what they have seen, so far. Pre-existing conditions coverage, the doughnut hole for seniors. So, all of those things are things that the Democrats are going to be focusing on.

BERMAN: (INAUDIBLE). You were a big adviser to Hillary Clinton four years ago. Do you ever daydream and wonder that maybe what it would be like if this were her real-life convention?

CARDONA: I don't go there, because I think right now what we're focused on, and I see this every day as somebody who used to work for Hillary. I love the role that she has been playing in Barack Obama's administration. She's been one of the best secretaries of state this country has ever seen.

And her ratings are through the roof. And she has enjoyed herself. There's always 2016. We can dream about that, John. So, let's talk that (ph).

BERMAN: That's a date.

BASH: There you go.

BERMAN: So nice to have you, Dana. Thanks for joining us again. We have a lot more politics, because President Obama is still working his way to Charlotte. Norfolk State University in Virginia will be his last stop before arriving here. He'll deliver a speech there this afternoon.

And he's expecting to keep hammering Mitt Romney's economic plan. Yesterday in Toledo, the president used a few football metaphors, more than a few, actually, to make his point.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On first down, he hikes taxes on nearly -- by nearly $2,000 on the average family with kids in order to pay for a massive tax cut for multimillionaires. That's on first down. Sounds like unnecessary roughness to me.


BERMAN: I told you it was more than a few football metaphors. And the president also says the best thing to do with Mitt Romney's economic plan is to punt it. There you go.

You won't be seeing Mitt Romney on the campaign trail today, because he begins several days of debate prep at the home of former Massachusetts lieutenant governor, Kerry Healy. That home is in Vermont of all places, which is an exactly a swing state. His running mate, Paul Ryan, will hold a rally outside Cleveland today, then he heads to Iowa for his next campaign stop.

Campaigning in North Carolina yesterday which is across the state here from Charlotte at the Democratic convention, Ryan repeated his party's message that President Obama cannot run on his record. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president can say a lot of things, and he will. But he can't tell you that you're better off. Simply put, the Jimmy Carter years looked like the good old days compared to where we are right now.


BERMAN: Ryan said in a second Obama term, he said that would take down the country. It would take down a path of debt, doubt, and decline. Vice President Joe Biden, though, he doesn't agree. He was having none of that. He arrived at a rally in Detroit armed with an answer for his Republican counterpart.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Want to know whether we're better off? I've 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!


BERMAN: Twice just for emphasis. The vice president clearly loves saying that. He is due to arrive here in Charlotte this afternoon. Mr. Biden and President Obama will address delegates Thursday night when the convention moves to the Bank of America Stadium for its closing night weather permitting as Dana Bash reports the Democrats will make a decision on that later this morning.

Now, coming up next hour, we'll talk more convention politics. Margaret Hoover, a CNN contributor who served in the Bush administration and a former Bill Clinton adviser, Richard Socarides. It will be awesome, I promise.


BERMAN: But before that, let's send it back to Zoraida in New York.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much, John. It is 37 minutes past the hour.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): The secret service and Detroit police are looking for a person of interest in connection with the theft of Vice President Biden's U-haul. Take a look at this. Do you see that man in the green shirt and the dark shorts? He was there a second ago. They're asking the public for help identifying him.

The U-haul was stolen Sunday morning near a Detroit hotel. It has since been recovered. The Detroit television station says it contained portable metal detectors from Biden's Labor Day speech there yesterday. The secret service will not confirm that. About 125,000 people are still without power in Louisiana one week after hurricane Isaac made landfall. The president touring flood- damaged neighborhoods west of New Orleans yesterday. Residents there are very angry.

They insist the new federal levees that protected New Orleans too well redirecting floodwaters into their communities instead. The president promised to check into those claims.

And today is the day. Despite warnings from the Pentagon, the book, "No Easy Day," a retired Navy SEALs account of the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden will hit the shelves today. It's already number one on Amazon's best-seller list, beating out "Fifty Shades of Grey". The book generating so much hype that the release date was actually moved up from 9/11.

The Pentagon already worried about (INAUDIBLE), has threatened legal action against the author who's pen name is Mark Owen, telling him he violated an agreement not to divulge military secrets.

Prancer in the pool. A family in Colorado finds a deer in their backyard taking a dip and really struggling to get out of the water. The owner called 911 for help, but police couldn't help either. Firefighters eventually showed up. They built a ramp. It took some coaxing, but look at that.

They finally lured the deer out but not before it caused about $2,500 in damage to the pool and to the property. The deer says I live here, too.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): And coming up, one man's will to live.


DANIEL SAMUELSEN, HIKER TRAPPED IN TUNNEL FOR FOUR DAYS: I really thought that I was going to die.


SAMBOLIN: A hiker trapped alone for days without food or water. Find out what he did to survive.


BERMAN: You are looking at live pictures of the convention hall here in Charlotte, North Carolina. It is empty right now, but tonight, that place will be packed and hopping as a Democratic National Convention kicks off in Charlotte. We are live here in the CNN Grill this morning. We are talking politics.

A week ago, Republicans used their convention to paint President Obama's first four years as a disappointment and Democrats to be expected to spend this week pushing back and using considerable leads among minority and female voters to their advantage. As we said, it begins tonight.

This morning, we're joined by CNN contributor and Republican strategist, Margaret Hoover, who worked in the Bush administration. I'm also joined by CNN contributor and former adviser in the Clinton administration, Richard Socarides.

I want to kick off with this issue of enthusiasm we've been talking about this morning, because the numbers show that enthusiasm has flipped. Four years ago, it was all in the Democratic side. Now, it's all on the Republican side.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Substantially what you see is a 22 percent decrease in enthusiasm on the Democratic side. So, I think the major challenge Democrats have this week is not only to rally their enthusiasm, but frankly, to unify their party.

You have a lot of, frankly, disenfranchised far left members of the Democratic Party, the left wing of the Democratic Party. They're either protesters here. They feel President Obama hasn't been liberal enough.


RICHARD SOCARIDES, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think the amazing thing about what we're going to see today is a very unified Democratic Party, probably more unified than we've been during the last four years. And I think --


BERMAN: Unified is not enthusiastic.

SOCARIDES: You know, I don't think people are as enthusiastic as they were four years ago. But I think they are as committed. I think they're committed to winning. I think that the Republican Party has gone so far to the right that we're unified in our struggle against a crazy (ph) right-wing party --

BERMAN: Unified in committee don't matter a lick, though, if you don't show up in the voting booth.

SOCARIDES: Well, but you see, committed will get you to the voting place. I mean, I think Democrats want to win. We're unified by wanting to win. And I don't think -- I think the party is amazingly together. I think, you know, this notion that anybody is complaining about anything. I haven't seen a single complaint. There are a couple of dozen protesters on Sunday.

The weather is not great. The people here in Charlotte are on lovely. And I would also say the hotels are a little spread out, but we're having a great time.

BERMAN: So, two complaints --

SOCARIDES: We're going to hear a great speech tonight. We're going to hear Mayor Castro. It was amazing. On paper, he's amazing. He's young, Hispanic. We're going to see --

BERMAN: Margaret wants to make a point here.

SOCARIDES: We're going to see if he can deliver a speech.

HOOVER: It's a great point, because Julian Castro is going to speak tonight, Hispanic. Michelle Obama is going to speak tonight, a woman. And what the Democrats are really doing in order to unify or try to gin up enthusiasm is cater the specific special interest groups' identity politics, because this is really how Democrats rally up (ph) their base. You're unified and that you are against Romney.


BERMAN: Let me ask you this. Ann Romney spoke last night the first night of the Republican convention. Michelle Obama speaks tonight. How are their rules different, do you think?

HOOVER: Well, I mean, first of all, as a sitting first lady, Michelle Obama has probably the highest approval rating of anyone in the Obama administration. So, I think Ann Romney is pretty --

SOCARIDES: But you know, I think her job last week was to introduce herself as -- I think she did a pretty good job, and she became a pretty likable. But everybody loves Michelle Obama. Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama are the secret weapon of the Democratic Party.

HOOVER: I can't disagree with that as a Republican. I mean, Republicans like Michelle Obama. She's a great first lady. She'll do a great job for her party tonight. And Ann Romney will make a great first lady as well.

BERMAN: Let's talk about the platform. You guys both have a unique point of view on a key part of the Democratic platform, which is support for same-sex marriage. Let me read you the quote here from the platform. "We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples."

Richard, I want to put this to you. North Carolina passed a law essentially banning same-sex marriage. It is not popular here. Are you willing to give up the vote in North Carolina for this plank (ph) in the platform?

SOCARIDES: I don't understand what you mean --

BERMAN: Is it worth it for the president to be supporting gay marriage if it's cost him North Carolina?

SOCARIDES: Well, listen, it's not going to cost him North Carolina. It's not going to cost him a single vote because I think the party and Democrats are pretty unified around the issue of marriage equality. And this plank (ph) will be adopted unanimously tonight. And, you know, we saw that the Republican Party is all over the place.

There are a lot of Republicans. There are a lot of Americans who support same-sex marriage. But the Democrats -- BERMAN: Margaret is one of them, by the way.

SOCARIDES: Margaret is one of them.

HOOVER: To John's point, though, you may lose North Carolina, but you're not going to lose North Carolina not because of the same-sex marriage.


HOOVER: If you lose North Carolina, you're going to lose North Carolina because white men, because manufacturing bas (INAUDIBLE), because jobs are really bad, maybe a repression in the millennial (ph) which might have something to do an African-American vote, which might have something to do with marriage, but isn't going to be (INAUDIBLE) because of marriage. The Democrats are the (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: Margaret Hoover and Richard Socarides, we'll have more from this dynamic duo next hour. Thanks so much for being here. It's super fun.

If you want to find out what it's really like to be part of a Democratic National Convention from the inside, you can join the "CNN Election Roundtable" with Wolf Blitzer and CNN's political team. That is today. You submit your questions and get answers in a real-time virtual chat.

Do not miss the "CNN Election Roundtable" today, noon eastern. You do it by logging into Zoraida, I know you're doing it. I am. Back to you in New York.

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


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): President Obama promising flood victims in Louisiana help is on the way. Yesterday, he toured a devastated neighborhood in Laplace. It's about 30 miles west of New Orleans.

Residents there believe the new levees in New Orleans worked too well during hurricane Isaac last week forcing floodwaters right into their neighborhoods. The president promised to look into those claims.

Investigators say they believe a suspected sniper who terrorized Snohomish County in Northwestern Washington State acted alone. He was shot and killed in a stand-off with sheriff's deputies. This was yesterday.

Investigators are trying to find out why the unidentified 60-year-old fired on neighbors and armored vehicles. "The Seattle Times" reporting one man was treated for a gunshot wound to the calf and was later released.

Closing arguments are set today in the Drew Peterson (ph) murder trial. It's a case that almost never made it to court and it was nearly derailed three times by near mistrials as well. The former Bolingbrook, Illinois police sergeant is charged with killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio (ph), drowning her in a bathtub.

It was treated as an accident at first until his Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy, vanished three years later.

And secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is taking a strong message of cooperation and partnership to Beijing today. She'll call on China and Southeast Asian countries to agree to a code of conduct in order to resolve their dispute in the South China Sea. She's also expected to address Beijing's concerns over U.S. efforts to increase its presence in the pacific.

A Salt Lake City hiker breaks his leg in several places after falling into a run-off tunnel. His cell phone, dead. No one hears his screams for help or his banging against the tunnel's walls for four days. That's when Daniel Samuelsen, starving and thirsty, decided to take matters into his own hands.


SAMUELSEN: I found a piece of wood that I thought I could be used as a splint and I tied it to my leg and decided that the only way that I was going to survive was to get myself out of there.


SAMBOLIN: Wow. Well, he crawled for two hours before someone spotted him. Doctors say Samuelse's injuries are so bad his right leg may need to be amputated. But he is alive.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Next on EARLY START, calling for Betty White to make their day. Could a golden girl do better than Clint Eastwood in Charlotte?


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. John Berman along with Zoraida Sambolin. It's about five minutes before the hour right now, and we're taking a look at what is trending on the internet this morning, and this is trending big time.


BERMAN: I see you, Clint Eastwood, and I raise you one Betty White. I can tell Zoraida likes Betty White.


BERMAN: A new online petition calling for Betty White to speak at the Democratic National Convention. Close to 5,500 people have signed it on It says Clint Eastwood, the Republican's mystery guest, gave a bad name to older Americans everywhere with his, quote, "absurd and awkward to watch skit."

Now, 90 years old, Betty White, the golden girl, is eight years older than Eastwood and she actually endorsed President Obama back in May -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: I always say more Betty White all the time. Always a good idea.

All right. So master and commander. Have you seen this?

BERMAN: I've seen it. It's crazy.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Actor, Russell Crowe, who played a charismatic sea captain in that movie was less impressive over the holiday weekend, while at the helm of a kayak, John. Crowe and a friend had to be rescued by the Coats Guard during a kayaking trip in Long Island sound (ph) when it got dark and apparently they got lost. Here's a photo of him. Do you recognize him? Look at him.

BERMAN: Not at all. That's Russell Crowe?

SAMBOLIN: I know. Yes. Right in the middle there. I was shocked. They were found about 10 miles from where they set out. Crowe tweeted his thanks to the Coast Guard for guiding the way, then joked about it saying, "we knew where exactly we were. We ran out of day. Grand adventure." Yes, in the middle of the night, I don't know about that.

But that doesn't look like him. I kept looking at the picture and thinking no way is that him, but it is if you take a close look.

BERMAN: I think that's still the headline there. You know, who cares about getting lost in the kayak. I mean, --


BERMAN: That's quite a picture. Russell Crowe, my goodness.

SAMBOLIN: I wonder if he's working on a movie, and he needs to look like that.

BERMAN: I don't know. We'll just let that hang out there.


BERMAN: We're all thinking the same thing. We'll just let that hang out there.

Meanwhile, we're just hours away from the start of the Democratic National Convention here in Charlotte. Who is at the podium tonight and what will they say? More live from Charlotte coming up next. You are watching EARLY START.