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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Democratic National Convention Day One; First Lady In Prime Time; "It's A Major Disaster Here"; Obama Tours Flood-Ravaged Louisiana; Interview with Rep. Barbara Lee

Aired September 4, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


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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: Heaps of debris left right on the curb, flood waters recede exposing the true extent of the damage from Hurricane Isaac.

Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. Thanks for being with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin in New York.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman in Charlotte, North Carolina, live in the CNN Grill at the Democratic convention because now it's their turn.

Today in Charlotte, the Democrats officially get down to business. The convention gavels to order this afternoon then the party will spend next three days trying to sell the message that we are in fact better off now than we were four years ago.

They've had a little bit of trouble with that message so far. They will also suggest they have a better plan for the future. Tonight's main attractions are First Lady Michelle Obama and a keynote address from San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro.

CNN's Dana Bash joins me now. Dana, you've been partying to some inside information about the planning for the goals and messaging this week. So what is the main message?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the first challenge that Democrats know that they have to meet is making it clear to the American people that even if they don't like President Obama, even if they are not satisfied that it is not just about kicking him out.

It's about bringing somebody else in. So they say they want to crystallize the difference and the choices between the two men and they really do have different philosophies, especially on the economy.

Then they want to talk over and over again about the middle class. In fact, it's right in the preamble of their platform, talking about building the middle class from the middle out not the top down.

They want to highlight some of the accomplishments that they feel have not been out there as much as they have been from their perspective, the auto bailout, which actually did help GM and other car companies in Michigan.

And health care reform, which is controversial. They also said that they are going to push forward and give a lot more specifics than Mitt Romney did in his convention.

BERMAN: Michelle Obama first up tonight along with the San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. What can we expect from those speeches?

BASH: Michelle Obama, first and foremost it's obvious what the Democrats want from her. They want to kind of seize on her popularity. She is incredibly popular. She is before more popular than the president.

Four years ago, not so much. She had a pretty harsh reputation. They wanted to soften her image. Now they want to show people what she's been doing over the past four years.

Remind them that she would also be in the White House too if they were re-elected and then Julian Castro is just fascinating, the first Latino keynote speaker for the Democrats.

This is obviously a very, very important part of the electorate, fastest growing. And right now, Democrats, I think are winning in the polls, three to one or something like that.

They want to obviously keep that and so that's why they are going to have this very young, very charismatic mayor of San Antonio out there for the keynote address.

BERMAN: One of things that at least I'm obsessing about here in Charlotte is the weather, which hasn't been good with some serious thunderstorms at night.

The reason that matters is because President Obama is due to give his acceptance speech outdoors on Thursday night. I want to get a forecast on what the weather might be on Thursday from Rob Marciano in Atlanta. Rob, how do things look for Thursday night?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Bad as unsettle as they've been for the past couple of days, John. You're in this kind of soupy tropical air mass where thunderstorms pop up from time to time and when they hit, they hit with some vengeance that's for sure.

Charlotte right now, on the radar scope, showing just a couple of showers around the city. But there's more moisture down to the south and this will again be hanging around this quadrant of the country for the next several days and then be instigated by this front that will try to push through sometime on Thursday, Thursday night.

So the timing of that is going to be problematic. At this point, we have to throw up a 40 percent chance of seeing showers and thunderstorms during the day on Thursday. There's a chance that that front comes through earlier and clears things out a little bit by Thursday night.

But right now, we're three days out can't really make a call on that. But generally speaking, the weather for Charlotte about is problematic as it was for Tampa so neither convention really enjoying some chamber of commerce stuff. John, back up to you.

BERMAN: All right, Rob Marciano is in Atlanta. Forty percent chance, Dana, of rain, which includes thunderstorms. What happens if it gets rained out and when do they have to make the decision?

BASH: Well, you know, Rob was just saying that it's kind of hard to tell three days out. The problem for the Democrats here is that they have to make a decision very soon.

I'm told that they might have to make it probably as soon as today and the reason is because of security. It's because of logistics. They are busing in a lot of people. Tens of thousands of people are going to be expected to be at the stadium.

And it is a logistical nightmare, they have earth wind and fire coming and Mary J. Blige in addition to the president's speech, which they really were hoping would be kind of like it was four years ago without the columns.

BERMAN: Yes, you can't do earth, wind and fire in the rain, right? It's not earth, wind, fire and water, I suppose.

BASH: Yes, it doesn't work like that.

BERMAN: But that will be big news today. We find out if they move inside. We are waiting to hear that. I think it's pretty significant. It's a big decision.

BASH: I agree.

BERMAN: All right, thank you, Dana. We'll see you again soon. We want to take you back to Zoraida in New York now -- Z.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you very much. One week after Hurricane Isaac made landfall in Southeast Louisiana, thousands of homeowners are finally realizing the extent of the devastation there.

Not in New Orleans where the new federally built levee is held up, but further west in Laplace, where the anger level is rising as fast as the floodwaters are receding.

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TOMMY DEAN, LAPLACE RESIDENT: It would be nice if they would have put levee protection around our area as well as New Orleans. All they do was protect New Orleans not the outer lying 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. This is a major disaster here. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: President Obama got to see the destruction first hand when he toured St. John the Baptist Parish yesterday. He assured the families who have lost everything that help and answers are on the way.

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

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SAMBOLIN: About 125,000 people are still without power in Louisiana this morning and temperatures are expected to be in the 90s.

And hundreds of firefighters battling an out of controlled wildfire near Los Angeles. The fire in the Angeles National Forest started over the weekend. Thousands of visitors were forced to evacuate that popular recreation area.

Steep terrain and high heat and stiff winds have hampered all of the fire fighting efforts there. Authorities say that the fire started at a camp ground although the cause is still unknown at this hour.

Up next, live from Charlotte, John Berman talks to actor, comic and radio host, Jay Thomas. What makes him worry about President Obama's re-election chances?

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BERMAN: All right, welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. We are live at the CNN Grill in Charlotte, North Carolina. This is the host city of the Democratic National Convention 2012, which officially kicks off tonight.

We are here talking politics all morning. We're in anticipation of President Obama's speech on Thursday. Tonight, we hear from Michelle Obama and we also hear from the mayor of San Antonio.

We've also been talking about the enthusiasm here. I'm joined right now by Jay Thomas. He is the Emmy-award winning actor and host of "The Jay Thomas Show" on Sirius Satellite Radio. He is also been doing investigative reporting here in Charlotte. Working the party scene here at night to find out what's going on here.

I do want to ask you. You know, what have been the emotions out at night here, late at night, enthusiasm, excitement?

JAY THOMAS, SIRIUS RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: You know what? I'm from New Orleans and I was there for the storm, which is one of the best storms I've ever been in. I've been on CNN three times in the last few months and it was always at a bar. You've been doing this bar thing. Last night, right where we're sitting the governor of Montana, and Dave Barry, the great humorist, he was showing us how to castrate a bull.

BASH: But there was no bull here.

BERMAN: And it was like a mind version of said event.

THOMAS: And I don't know if we figured anything out politically, but it was a lot of fun and I called my son, I think maybe we ought to move to Montana. This looks like a good time. The parties have really been fun here, but you say that Tampa was fun too.

BASH: Tampa was fun, but maybe that's because we could actually go out at night and not get up at 2:00 in the morning.

BERMAN: Yes, but in all seriousness, you have been talking here on CNN and on your radio show about enthusiasm in this election year for the Democrats. You have said with President Obama whom you support, the honeymoon is over.

THOMAS: You get married and you're all excited and four years later you're married. And I was saying that someone said, well, are you doing better than you were four years ago? I'm not doing better than I was 18 years ago.

So I don't know how he answers that exactly. I like him, I think because they say he's aloof and all, I don't know that you could have done much more for these four years other than hold everything together.

I'm hoping the next four years he'll really take off. If he can't, I don't know. I did find out the other day that the Republicans presidents have expanded government spending in the 20th and 21st Century every time they've been elected by much more than the Democratic presidents. I didn't know that myself.

BERMAN: Spending does seem to be a bipartisan activity.

THOMAS: It does. What's funny is the Republican hopefuls keep saying they are going to make jobs. I think if they get in, they'll spend a bunch of government money also.

BERMAN: You say you like President Obama, but at the same time, you do say the honeymoon is over. How does he get that enthusiasm back for someone like you who is a supporter?

THOMAS: I think that if you are a person who is going to get Social Security and being helped by the government now, you had better be very careful if the Republican guys get in. Austerity means we don't give you money.

You saw it happen in Greece or France. People go nuts. If they are going to do what they say they are going to do, this is a real choice for people. Not that you have the government giving you entitlements all the time.

I don't think the big guys need more money than they do now. Don't the corporations have more cash than they ever had in the history of the United States? I believe. They look really wealthy to me.

Friends of mine say that the parties are huge now. They book comedians and big corporate events, all of that has come back. But I do believe this is a real choice.

And I think, I mean this, I believe that Romney and Paul, if they really do the stuff they want to do. A lot of my relatives are going to be coming to me for cash.

BERMAN: Your position is pretty clear.

THOMAS: I don't want my relatives to come to me for cash. I want the government to help --

BERMAN: Clint Eastwood calls you and he says he want you to be in his next movie, yes or no?

THOMAS: Yes, I'll be in the next movie. I would also do Mel Gibson's next movie if he called me, yes.

BERMAN: You'll do any movie at this point?

THOMAS: Yes, I will.

BASH: Maybe this is an off the wall question. As an entertainer, I mean, look, these conventions are in large part theatre. What do you think that the president and Democrats have to do to convince those independent voters?

THOMAS: I think he should say what I just said and also if the core doesn't get out there and get excited and vote for him, he's going to lose the election. It's really tight.

I think people are going maybe I'll try this other guy. That is what I don't feel from four years ago, this like, oh, man this is exciting. What did they expect? I mean, he became the captain of the titanic while it was -- I think if the core -- forget the people in the middle who don't know what they're going to do -- if the people that are really crazed about him four years ago don't vote, I think he'll lose the election.

BERMAN: Jay Thomas, thanks for coming.

THOMAS: I'm going to vote twice. I'm from Louisiana, we vote twice.

BERMAN: Good luck with that. Good luck with that.

THOMAS: Thank you.

BERMAN: Let's go back to Zoraida in New York.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thank you very much, John. It is 15 minutes past the hour.

Let's get you up to date with this morning's top stories.

President Obama promising health and answers are on the way for 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 force the floodwaters right into their neighborhoods and President Obama is promising to check into those claims

A hundred and twenty-five thousand people are still without power in Louisiana. It is sweltering hot there.

And we have sad news from Hollywood. Actor Michael Clarke Duncan has died, nearly two months after suffering a heart attack. Duncan appeared in dozens of films and on television. But he is best known for his breakout role as a death row inmate in "The Green Mile". That earned Duncan a supporting actor Oscar nomination.

Fellow actors say the hulking star was a gentle giant. Michael Clarke Duncan was just 54 years old.

A camera man 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 and killing an entire family and others as well. In total, opposition groups say 248 people were killed in clashes that was just yesterday. 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 have fled the country to come home, saying they have no reason to fear.

So, should you buy organic? A just published study says it depends on what you are looking for. It found organic produce has no more vitamins and minerals but the lead researcher says organics are 30 percent less likely to have pesticide residue contamination. He said he also found 33 percent higher risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria in non-organic pork and chicken. So, do your research there.

So, folks, you're rushing with your bag, dodging kid carts and other obstacles, only to see the word "delayed", few things could be more frustrating at the airport, right?

So, Christine Romans is here to tell you which airports have a better chance of getting you to your destination in today's "Road Warriors."

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It is horrible. It is horrible.

Look, navigating the security lines and the baggage claims are just a couple of things that can eat up a lot of time at the airport, but there may be clearer skies ahead. According to a report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. airlines are on track to have their best year for on time arrivals. Let me say that again. Best year for on time arrivals.

The report ranks 29 of the nation's largest airports for the first half of the year. So, what's considered a late arrival is getting to the gate at least 15 minutes after your scheduled time. Salt Lake City ranked number one, almost 90 percent of its flights arriving on time. Go Salt Lake!

Charlotte, North Carolina, Minneapolis, St. Paul, they are number two and three.

SAMBOLIN: Wow.

BERMAN: If you're flying into Chicago, as both of us often do, Midway, you should choose Midway. That ranked number sixth on the list, O'Hare was 24th.

You may have a hard time arriving in the New York area on time. Two New York City airports did not farewell, JFK came in at number 16, LaGuardia ranked number 26. Newark, Newark had the worst on time rating with almost 71 percent of their flights arriving on time. San Francisco and Houston also at the bottom of the list.

There you go.

SAMBOLIN: It's nice to know. Thank you very much.

What if you don't use those top three airports, right? It's terrible.

ROMANS: Well, you can't go to Chicago via Salt Lake.

SAMBOLIN: Therein lies the problem. Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Nineteen minutes past the hour.

Next on EARLY START, what's weighing on middle class minds as Democrats get ready to make their case for four more years.

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SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Twenty-three minutes past the hour. We are minding your business this morning.

U.S. markets reopen today right after the holiday. Stock futures are higher right now.

Christine Romans is here talking markets. September is historically a bad month.

ROMANS: You kind of get back from the summer and you have a lot of things to deal with and we certainly do this year. I mean, first of all, there's the old adage in Wall Street, sell in May and go away, because the summer can be kind of slow and sometimes not great.

But it was a great summer. Stocks are up 7 percent this summer, up almost 12 percent for the S&P 500 so far this year. You can see in May looked like stocks weren't doing so great, but they were up all summer.

But here's what we have to contend with -- three big summer events on the calendar. There's an ECB meeting on Thursday and this is going to be very important for what happens in Europe and Europe's debt crisis. There's a jobs report in this country on Friday. We're expecting 130,000 jobs created, and the jobless rate to stay at 8.3 percent. And the Fed will meet on interest rates September 12th and 13th.

So, a lot going on here -- a lot going on big macro economic things going on. The Fed, Europe and jobs in this country that will probably be directing the way stocks go.

I want to talk about the middle class, too, because the discussion on the campaign trail and discussion around kitchen tables is all about the middle class. Pew did a really interesting survey asking people what it takes to be considered part of the middle class. Eighty-six percent of them said a secure job, 66 percent said health insurance, only 45 percent, less than half, said requirement for middle class today is owning a home.

I want to flash back to 1991, also the beginning of a recession in 1991. It wasn't exactly, you know, ebullient times -- homeownership, 70 percent said homeownership is what you needed, two or more cars, 48 percent. Look at a white collar job down 33 percent.

How different has less than a generation been in this country where in 1991, you assumed you were going to graduate from college and get a job, or you assume that if you had strong vocational skills, you were going to get a job in a factory. Now, to be part of the middle class, most people say, "I need a secure job." It's a not a foregone conclusion anymore in this country.

SAMBOLIN: Well, we were talking about money earlier and I think, you know, for me, I wonder, who is the middle class out there? Who are those people that define themselves as middle class? And how do you define them?

ROMANS: You know, the middle class is getting smaller. The middle class has less money. When we've seen all of these surveys, you can see the census information. The middle -- you know, if you look at the median income in the family, it's something around $55,000 for a family of four. That would be technically the middle.

But I think a lot of people would say it's difficult in the middle to put a kid through college and pay all of your bills and to feel secure. So, that's what's been a real problem lately.

SAMBOLIN: And I think the interesting point you made earlier is that a lot of people define themselves -- they feel like they are part of that middle class.

ROMANS: That's right.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. So, we're asking, do you feel you're part of the middle class, how do you define it? You can go to our blog at CNN.com/EarlyStart and participate in this little poll we're taking, which is really interesting.

ROMANS: Now, the one thing you need to know about your money today, guys, it's 118 days until the fiscal cliff. The fiscal cliff -- that's when huge spending cuts and tax increases automatically go into effect. Every American family will feel it, talk about the middle class. It will mean smaller paychecks and up to 2 million jobs lost. That's according to the CBO.

The CBO also says the fiscal cliff will cause a recession in the first half of next year.

And what are your elected officials saying about this?

Crickets. Time is running out. Big deal happening next year. Once we get through election, maybe they'll try to fix it.

SAMBOLIN: Can we end on a positive note?

ROMANS: I want to positively encourage Congress and both parties to fix the fiscal cliff.

SAMBOLIN: To get it together. All right. Thank you very much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: It is 26 minutes past the hour.

We're going to head back to John Berman. He is live in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention.

Do you hear crickets?

BERMAN: We hear the crickets all the way down here. They're here. They're there. No.

You guys were also talking about the middle class and the middle class is such a key part of the Democratic Party platform. And in just a moment, we're going to talk to a member, a key member of the party platform committee Representative Barbara Lee of California. She's here for an interview coming up next.

We're live from the CNN grill at the Democratic National Convention. Stay with us.

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BERMAN: Day one at the Democratic National Convention. First Lady Michelle Obama set to take the prime time spotlight.

SAMBOLIN: It's number one with a bullet. Your chance today to get the book that the Pentagon probably does not want you to read.

Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 31 minutes past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin in New York. BERMAN: And I'm John Berman live at the CNN grill here in Charlotte where tonight the Democratic National Convention kicks of with a speech from First Lady Michelle Obama and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who becomes the first Latino ever to deliver a keynote address at a convention.

Tonight, the party will also unveil its 2012 platform, which has been making headlines as the first major party plank ever to formally support same-sex marriage.

I'm joined by someone right now who is a key part of writing that platform, Congresswoman Barbara Lee from California, the first member of the platform committee to speak tonight. She's here with us now.

The platform in addition to same-sex marriage, which I'll get to in a second, talks a lot about the middle class. We've been talking about this all morning.

Let me read you part of this, of what it says in the preamble. "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."

Now, how have things been for the middle class the last four years?

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, first of all, let me just say, if we remember the last four years and what took place prior to the last four years, this country was really on the brink unfortunately of a depression. The foreclosure crisis was looming, somewhat stabilized, we had so many people losing jobs. There was a net job loss.

And the last four years, while we still have a lot more work to do, the economy is beginning to turn around, the private sector is creating many, many jobs. And, of course, as I said, we have much work to do but the last four years -- can you imagine what would have happened had we gone into a depression?

BERMAN: But it still would have been tough on the middle class, yes?

LEE: No one has been saying it has not been tough. It's been on the middle class and it's been tough on those inspiring to be middle class. We can't remember -- we can't forget that there are many people who are still working to become part of the middle class. And so, the tax cuts to the millionaires and billionaires and two wars off budget, you know, all of the economic policies of the previous administration kicked in unfortunately.

So, and so, thank God President Obama stopped the bleeding and saved the country from going into a depression.

BERMAN: The Republicans, of course, say President Obama boosted spending by a huge amount also. We'll leave that there because I do want to talk about another key part of the platform, which is the support -- the first explicit support in a party platform for same-sex marriage. Here's some of the language right here. "We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same sex couples."

How much discussion or debate was there about putting this into plank?

LEE: Well, of course, there's been discussion and debate over the years in terms of marriage equality. But our party is a big tent party. It's an inclusive party and we believe in equal justice for everyone.

And I think this was the right thing to do. Members of the drafting committee got it right away. Thank God Congressman Barney Frank was a member of drafting committee. And it was the right thing to do, and we move forward and put it in as a historic part of our platform and I'm very proud of the Democratic Party for doing this.

BERMAN: Here in North Carolina, they just voted on a constitutional ban on gay marriage, 61 percent to 39 percent. North Carolina is a swing state. So, this could hurt you here, couldn't it?

LEE: Well, I think that the voters will really determine that once the election takes place. But let me tell you, I believe that when people really realize that this is the right thing to do, this is equal justice under the law, that this has nothing to do with any religious issue, that there is a separation of church and state and that our Constitution requires equal justice, I think people will begin to become more educated about it and really be fair and know that -- you know, a person's personal life and person can determine who to love and that that's OK.

BERMAN: If it does --

LEE: If it's about family values, let me just tell you.

BERMAN: If it does cost you North Carolina, is it worth it?

LEE: Let me tell you -- it's not going to cost. I don't believe North Carolina, because I believe that people really will see that the economy is turning around and it's important to reelect President Obama because he's made major investments already in infrastructure. When you look at the Recovery Act, it saved hundreds and thousands -- millions actually of jobs.

When you look at what has taken place in terms of the economy, that's what is going to be about. I think will want to continue to move forward to continue to turn our economy around.

BERMAN: Barbara Lee, we will hear from you tonight in the convention floor. This is a historic platform. Thank you so much for joining us.

LEE: Thanks. Good to be with you, John.

BERMAN: All right. The Democratic National Convention, as we said, gets going tonight. President Obama says he is hopeful Republicans and Democrats will figure out a way to work together after the November elections.

Today, the president will campaign in Norfolk State University in Virginia. He is expected to keep bashing Mitt Romney's economic plan.

But listen to what he told Jessica Yellin in last night's CNN special "Obama Revealed".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My hope is getting past this election, people women have an opportunity to maybe step back and say, you know what, the differences that divide us aren't as important as the common bonds we have as Americans. Some of that I'm sure will require additional effort on my part. Hopefully, we'll see more effort on the other side as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: As for Mitt Romney, you will not be seeing him on the campaign trail today. He begins several days of debate prep at the home of former Massachusetts lieutenant governor Kerry Healy. He's doing this in Vermont, of all places, which is hardly a swing state.

His running mate Paul Ryan hosts a rally outside Cleveland. Then he'll be heading to Iowa for his next campaign stop.

In just a few minutes, we're going to talk convention politics with Margaret Hoover, a CNN contributor who served in the Bush administration and former Bill Clinton adviser, Richard Socarides. There's a lot to talk about.

But, first, let's go back to Zoraida in New York.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you very much, John. And coming up, one man's will to live.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANIEL SAMUELSEN, HIKER: I really thought that I was going to die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: A hiker trapped alone for days without food, no water, find out what he did in order to survive.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you, New Orleans. It is 80 degrees right now. A little bit later, 91 and some isolated storms I'm sorry to say.

It is 40 minutes past the hour and we're going to get you up to date with this morning's top stories.

We begin there. President Obama promising flood victims in Louisiana that help is indeed on the way. Yesterday, he toured a devastated neighborhood in LaPlace. That's about 30 miles west of New Orleans.

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

A Salt Lake City hiker is talking about his ordeal after falling into a drainage tunnel and breaking his leg. His cell phone was dead as well. No one heard his screams for help for four days.

That's when Daniel Samuelsen, starving and thirsty, he decided to take matters in his own hands.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

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

The Pentagon already worried about loose lips, has threatened legal action against the author whose pen name is Mark Owen, telling him he violated an agreement not to divulge military secrets. A lot of controversy there.

We're going to head over to John Berman. He's live in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention.

Good morning.

BERMAN: Zoraida, a lot going on here at the CNN grill. Soledad O'Brien is here to look at what's coming up ahead on "STARTING POINT."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Right at the top of the hour, on "STARTING POINT", we'll continue the day here at the CNN grill.

Oscar-winning actor and musician Jeff Bridges is going to join us. You know, he already kicked off the party yesterday, downtown in Charlotte, a little rain issue there. But he's here for a serious issue about kids and hunger. We'll talk about that with him this morning.

Also, as you guys have been discussing, Michelle Obama is ready to set the tone for the entire convention with the opening speech, her big speech tonight. We'll hear and preview what she's going to say.

Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland is also getting ready for his big moment on the convention floor. Sources tell us that his strategy is going to be a tough one blasting the GOP. We'll chat with him about that.

Lots of other big political names stopping by the CNN grill this morning as well. North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue will join us and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz will be our guests. All of that and much more as we continue here live in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the DNC, right at the top of the hour.

BERMAN: Jeff Bridges, very cool, "Star Man", my favorite Jeff Bridges film.

O'BRIEN: Yes, really good yesterday.

BERMAN: Yes.

All right. Also coming up, live from the CNN grill here in Charlotte, we'll be setting the stage for tonight's speakers. More on who will take the podium and what they might say.

Stay with us.

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BERMAN: What you're looking at right now? Charlotte, North Carolina, the site of the Democratic convention, now where it's 72 degrees. Later, it will be 82, feeling like 182 with scattered thunderstorms which are serious because it may mean that by Thursday night, they may have to move President Obama's speech indoors.

We want to talk a lot more about what we can expect from the convention tonight. I'm joined by two political all-stars. Once again, joining me Republican strategist, Margaret Hoover, and former senior adviser to Bill Clinton, Richard Socarides. Guys, thank you so much for joining us.

By popular demand, we are going to start this discussion by talking about North Carolina, the state we're in right now. This was a state that Barack Obama won four years ago, narrowly. It was the first time a Democrat won since 1976. But now, things do not look so hot for him.

The most recent poll out just yesterday from the Charlotte observer showed Mitt Romney leading here by four points, 47-43. Margaret, is this still winnable for the president?

MARGARET HOOVER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: This is actually trending red. This is trending towards Romney. Really, it was a perfect storm that caused President Obama to get it last time. It looks like those events may not conspire in his favorite this time. There's 9.6 unemployment in the state.

The governor of the state, a Democratic governor, has one of the highest unpopularity, unfavorable rating in the country.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: But she's doing a great job.

HOOVER: She has 30 percent approval rating. It's the lowest of all the governors in the country.

SOCARIDES: You know, right -- we picked this -- the Democrats picked North Carolina because they hope that coming here to hold our convention would remind people why they voted for President Obama --

HOOVER: And aren't you wishing you'd gone for Richmond (ph)?

SOCARIDES: And we're going to do it again, because we're having a great convention here, and North Carolina is going to go blue.

BERMAN: Answer the question. This is a great question. If you had to do it all over again, do you wish you were in Cleveland?

(CROSSTALK)

SOCARIDES: No, we're happy here. We are very happy here. Those are lovely cities. We're going to visit them all, but we love it here in charlotte.

HOOVER: Virginia and Ohio are genuine toss-ups, and you have a real --

SOCARIDES: Ohio and Virginia are not toss-ups, all blue. All blue.

BERMAN: We have a difference of opinions on the colors here. Let's leave that. Let's talk about the platform a second, because we didn't quite talk about it as much I think any of us would like last time. This is the first time a major party platform has advocacy for same- sex marriage.

I want to read you what says the Democratic Party platform. "We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples." Richard, how big of a deal is this?

SOCARIDES: I think it's a huge deal. I think it's a very important historic marker. I mean, President Obama earlier this year coming out personally for same-sex marriage was also very important. But this will be the first time a national party in their platform comes out for marriage equality, for full equality for gay and lesbian Americans.

And I think it's a very important historic moment. I mean, the Democrats led the civil rights movement, the African-Americans civil rights movement. They're doing it again now.

BERMAN: Margaret, does this put Republicans in a bind?

HOOVER: You know what, the majority of Democrats are in favor of this that this wasn't controversial. The majority of Republicans are not in favor of this. So, Republicans don't think that puts them in a bind. The question is, does it put them in the bind with independent voters? Independent voters, a majority of them, are in favor of freedom to marry.

So, does this put the Republican Party in a bind going forward demographically? If this is the direction that the country is going, yes, I think so. And that's why they actually are forces in the Republican Party that are working a lot behind the scenes and not so behind the scenes in order to try to modernize the party and bring the party up to speed on this issue.

SOCARIDES: The Republican Party is going to get modern some day.

BERMAN: I think so --

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: -- diverse group of people speaking at that convention.

SOCARIDES: That they modern, but they are not modern.

HOOVER: All right. You look at me and say this.

(LAUGHTER)

SOCARIDES: You are modern.

BERMAN: Let me ask you the other topic. Let's look forward a little bit to tomorrow, because tomorrow -- today is a big deal, tomorrow is an even bigger deal, because tomorrow, Bill Clinton will take the stage, your former boss.

SOCARIDES: Yes.

BERMAN: What can he do for this party?

HOOVER: And what can he do that might undermine the president --

(CROSSTALK)

SOCARIDES: He gives -- President Clinton has given some amazing convention speeches. I think he will give another one. He will give another really important amazing speech Wednesday night. I think he can make the case for Democrats and for this president better than anybody.

He is the most popular -- one of the most popular people in American politics, most popular leader in government today. And I think he will make the case brilliantly for Democrats.

BERMAN: Do you, Margaret, think there are some risks here?

HOOVER: Is there not a philosophical difference between Bill Clinton and President Obama? Was Bill Clinton not a new Democrat who believed that the government should help individuals but sort of stay out of the way whereas Barack Obama is the contrast is as a big government liberal.

Are they philosophically cut from the same cloth or can and will they actually help each other or will he maybe undermine him in creating his own legacy?

SOCARIDES: I actually think philosophically and ideologically, they are very close. But I also think it was a different time. And I think that the country needs a lot more government intervention now than they did when Bill Clinton was president. I mean, Bill Clinton served during a time of amazing prosperity. Now, the country needs government to help it get back on its economic feet.

BERMAN: You're coming out in favor of big government here this morning?

SOCARIDES: I'm not coming for big government, but Democrats traditionally believe that the government has a role to play in putting people to work and getting the economy moving. I mean, that is at the core of the debate. The Republicans believe that the free market system alone, if you give money to wealthy people, everybody will get rich. The Democrats do not believe that.

HOOVER: There's a word you know well (INAUDIBLE) triangulation, and because Bill Clinton was elected several times in the southern state, the same people who voted for Richard Nixon and Ronal Reagan had to vote for Bill Clinton. So, he knew how to create a -- make a case for himself that would appeal broadly, which it seems that President Obama from an urban background maybe dozen --

BERMAN: You guys can take this to the bar, behind me. You can finish the discussion amongst yourselves.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: We do have to move on. Thank you so much for coming this morning.

SOCARIDES: Thanks, John.

HOOVER: Thanks.

BERMAN: It's been a blast having you here. Margaret Hoover, former Bush administration appointee, and Richard Socarides, former Clinton administration appointee.

Later, coming up, if you want to experience the Democratic National Convention from the inside, you can join the "CNN Election Roundtable" with Wolf Blitzer and CNNs political team. That is today. You submit your questions and you get answers in real-time. It's a live virtual chat today at noon eastern. You do it by logging into CNN.com/Roundtable.

Zoraida, back to you in New York. ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. It is 53 minutes past the hour. "Best Advice" coming up. And today, we hear from Democratic congressman, Elijah Cummings, of Maryland.

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SAMBOLIN: Fifty-six minutes past the hour. We're going to wrap it up as always with "Best Advice." And here's Christine Romans with that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Such a great way to wrap up the show everyday. You can take it or leave it with you when you go to work. This is "Best Advice" from Congressman Elijah Cummings.

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REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) MARYLAND: Over the course of my lifetime, I've learned the ups and downs quite often some of the most difficult lessons come from painful events. But those painful events often lead us to our passion and to our purpose.

So, when chips are down and problems all around, we need to pause and ask this question, why is this happening for me as opposed as why is this happening to me? And I guarantee you, when you look back, you'll realize that it all worked together for good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Congressman Elijah Cummings is -- and your reaction is --

SAMBOLIN: You know what, I am writing it down. Why is this happening for me as opposed to to me, because at the end of the day, really, that's what we need. We need to be able to step back and take a look at it and see what we can actually take from that moment and learn. But we seldom do that. When we're in the middle of the storm, how do you do that? It's tough.

ROMANS: It's true. And here's so much advice, too, about mistakes, learning from mistakes. It's sort of a similar kind of -- along similar vain and that something bad is happening, right, and you have to figure out how to make something goof come out of this. He's obviously very eloquent. His constituents find him, but that was some pretty eloquent best advice I'll say.

SAMBOLIN: You know what it is, also? It's wisdom, right? Live and learn. The longer you live, the more that you can impart. So, we appreciate that. I'm going to put that up on my Facebook today, because I got to remember that.

And, for all of our "Best Advice," you can go to our blog. It's all there. It's CNN.com/EARLYSTART. We will have it all there for you. And, it is -- it's the end of EARLY START. Thanks for being with us today. Thank you for being with us, and "Starting Point" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.